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30 July 2007 @ 06:17 pm
HP fic: The Fourth Road Less Travelled  
HP fic: The Fourth Road Less Travelled
This part: 6219 words, PG-13, ships but foreshadowed for now
Warning: contains spoilers for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

a/n: To clear up any confusion on the issue: the previous chapters of this story can be found by clicking the 'road less travelled' tag. For now it's easier for me to organise it this way.



Your storms may cause a branch to break,
My body aches for sleep;
But wasted is your vicious scorn,
I cry but never weep.

(Kailash Puri)

After the dust settled and Albus had had time to reflect, he realised that the oddest part of the whole business was the total ignorance concerning his and Scorpius' friendship. Albus put it down to the fact that the five of them spent most of their free time in the Clubhouse, to which secret hide-out no one else was privy. Yet none of them had taken pains to hide their friendship; if Albus sat beside Rambo in class more than Scorpius, and with Scorpius more than the twins, it was just the way the group's dynamics had played out. They didn't huddle stiff and mute like others did in mixed-House classes. Albus would have thought this, at least, would be a significant clue. But no; it appeared as if the school at large regarded such aberrations as invisible.

When Albus was finally well enough to go back to school after Halloween, a fortnight of classes had come and gone. Rambo had conscientiously kept copies of all his notes and homework with the use of a tricky Duplicating Charm. In a surprising fit of generosity - for the Slytherin wasn't good at sharing anything, his time most of all - Scorpius devoted an entire weekend to tutoring Albus in everything he'd missed. For every minute spent explaining, Scorpius matched it with ten of shouting and two of tearing out his hair. Still, Albus appreciated the spirit of the gesture, if not its execution.

The twins helped in their own unique way by owl-ordering a small mountain of sweets to soothe Albus' sick-bed. Albus had to tactfully dispose of most of these; the List severely curtailed his dining choices. With a little manoeuvring, Albus hoped to hide the extent of his deficiencies from both his friends and the school at large. However, he failed to include James in his calculations; and James turned out to be the factor that rendered his precautions null and void.

In most respects Albus felt prepared to return to school on Monday morning. Although his diet would not have excited even a vegetarian organic lentil farmer, he felt almost completely recovered. He was as familiar with his studies as he ever had been. Headmistress McGonagall had given him a note excusing his lack of homework. He gamely hoped that the worst was over and that soon, normality would return to visit his life - perhaps to stay.

Albus went straight from the infirmary to class and from class to dinner to the Clubhouse. It wasn't until eight pm that night that he discovered something rotten in the state of Hufflepuff.

Albus' initial approval of the V-man and Firefly's antics had long since waned, as it had been based on their slandering of James and nothing else. Albus grew to dislike the way they sought out their victims’ sore points and laced them with vinegar. If that was their idea of House loyalty, it was not one Albus wished to share.

He was hard-pressed to explain his distaste to his friends. Rambo laughed at the things he understood, although most of the slyer insults didn't penetrate his straightforward thinking. When Albus expressed doubts about the entertainment value of the anonymous conversations, Rambo had said: "It's just like celebrity TV. It's not like any of the people they write about are ever going to see it, so it doesn't matter."

Titania had much the same response. She was quicker than Rambo, but that only increased her admiration for the V-man and Firefly. "The things they come up with are so clever. I wish my insults were as witty."

Albus had only to imagine himself as a subject of the slurs to know that they were neither as entertaining nor clever as they were cruel and soul-destroying. But when he confided in Scorpius, his best friend's reply was enough to crush Albus' moral crusade in the bud.

"Don’t be such a little prig," Scorpius had said, with a tone of unadulterated contempt and a tightly curled lip. "Who died and made you the ruler of everything? It sounds to me like these two are the first Hufflepuffs in history to actually possess a sense of humour. They should be given medals, not subjected to your pedantic whining. Please tell me you haven't gone preaching to anyone else."

"No - just Rambo and the twins."

"Good." Scorpius' relief had been as palpable as it was incomprehensible. "Albus, I know you don't find them funny. But other people do - a lot of other people do. 'The majority is always right,' remember?"

"But it's not right to laugh at things people can't help."

'No - Albus, what that means is what the majority does is right. Of course making fun of people is theoretically wrong. But everyone knows that, so they already feel kind of bad for doing it. Telling people something unpleasant that they already know isn't going to make them like you."

"But I didn't -"

"Albus." Scorpius put his hands on Albus' shoulders, his piercing eyes searching out Albus' reluctant ones. "Promise me that you'll stop talking and complaining about this. Do it for me, as your friend who's trying to look out for you."

Nothing else could have sealed Albus' lips. But Scorpius had extracted no promises from Albus to refrain from thinking about it. The more Albus pondered the matter, the sorer he got over it - more so because he had no outlet for his frustration. So the weeks and months had passed away since their conversation. Albus took care to avoid looking at the seventh-year noticeboard and tried to close his ears against the chatter about whatever new scandal had come to light there. It was difficult, but it was also the only sure-fire way to prevent his frustration building so much that he risked breaking his promise to Scorpius.

That evening Rambo and Titania checked the board for new conversations as soon as they entered the common room, a habit they shared with most of Hufflepuff. Albus left them to fetch his Transfigurations essay from a cubbyhole. Rambo and Scorpius had been discussing the selfsame essay in the Clubhouse, and Albus gathered from their remarks that his own wasn't nearly up to scratch. Transfigurations was his least favourite subject, despite the many books he'd read on it over the years courtesy of his godmother. With a reluctant sigh, he took up his quill.

He didn't catch the horrified look shared by Rambo and Titania at the other side of the room. Albus' suspicion was aroused, however, when Rambo let Titania engage him in a convoluted discussion about Quidditch instead of opening a book in her face. Titania was well aware of the exact measurement of Albus' miniscule interest in Quidditch, so when she turned to him and asked his opinion on the Kestrels' chances this season, he knew something was up.

"What happened?" he asked.

"Nothing," said Titania brightly.

Titania was a girl for whom it was physically impossible to leave a stone unturned in her quest for gossip. There was no 'nothing' Titania could not transform into 'something,' often with a helping of invention that was as amusing as it was audacious. Albus, watching her closely, saw her gaze dart towards the noticeboard. He scowled and, abandoning his essay, he made his way across the room. He waited with barely-concealed patience as a giggling batch of fourth-years read the conversations, giggled more, and moved off, still giggling.

Albus feverishly read down the narrow strip of parchment, too fast to comprehend it at first.

So, F, what do you think of the latest evil scheme afoot at Hogwarts?

Indigestible. Can't believe McGonagall had the gall to start giving out her concrete biscuits as rewards in class. Bye-bye perfect Transfig marks - I'd answer every question wrong if it'd get me out of choking down a gingersnap like a clever parrot.

Right as you are, that's not the plot I'm talking about. It seems Slytherin House is nursing a viper at its green and withered breast - no surprise there. We have it on the best authority that Scorpius Malfoy made an poisonous attempt on the life of our own Potter wasp.

Hoho - it seems the apple never falls far from the tree! How many people did old Draco Malfoy attempt to kill during his education at Hogwarts? Refresh my memory, dear F.

I can't count beyond my fingers, V, have you forgotten? And I'm too lazy to take off my shoes. But if we're talking quality instead of quantity, Dicko Malfag was on the point of killing the famous war hero Albus Dumbledore before fellow Death Eater Snape beat him to the finish line.

Those inbred snakes aren't the brightest lot - could it be that little Scorp decided Albus Potter would do to revenge his father on the original Big A?

With the dark side, anything is possible. Never mind that Potter is as much a Dumbledore as you or I.

But when it comes to acrimonious revenge, any Potter would be top of any Malfoy's list. This dates back to the famous Harry Potter's time, when a day without a Potter-Malfoy scrap was a day without sunshine. Just ask anyone who attended Hogwarts before the second Great War.

Seems both sons are carrying on fine old traditions. I don't know about you, V, but I'm rooting for our little wasp.

That goes without saying. But if it came down to wands and fists, my money'd be on Jack-off Potter. Your humble V-man saw him quarrelling with the snakeling in the corridors not two days past. Jack-off had Scorpion-breath bang to rights out there.

Jack-off should watch his back. He'd take Scorpion-breath in a fair fight any day, but every snake born plays dirty. If he's not careful he'll come down with a mysterious and life-threatening ailment, just like his little brother.

Speaking of little brothers, F, it seems Alishan Chatterji tattled to daddy about his big sister Yasmin’s relationship with fellow Claw Doug Boot. Our latest intelligence suggests she might be celebrating her arranged marriage back in Hyderabad a few years early...

His eyes burning with mortification and anger, Albus stopped reading. Pausing only to whip off a messy Duplicating Charm, he stormed back to the table. Rambo and Titania cowered at the look in his eyes.

"What is this - this filth?" he spat. "Disgusting lies! If these idiots are so apparently well-informed, how come they didn't know I had an allergic attack? Just an allergic attack! I was 'poisoned' by nothing more sinister than dust!"

"Well, you see," Titania quavered, "back when you were first ill, and we were all waiting in the infirmary to visit you, James overheard us discussing your birthday party. Scorpius was in bits. He was sure he'd made the cake wrong. James accused him of deliberating sabotaging you ... they got into a fight, and they've been having spats ever since."

"And you didn't tell me this before why?"

"Scorpius made us promise not to," said Rambo staunchly. "He didn't want to upset you while you were getting better. And Albus, James is your brother. Scorpius was afraid you wouldn't be his friend any more if you knew he was beating up your brother."

"So Scorpius is winning?" Albus shook the duplicated parchment. "This suggests that James is coming out on top in their fights."

"Well, you know the V-man and Firefly hate Slytherin more than Gryffindor and Ravenclaw put together," said Titania. "They'd back James as non-Slytherin even if Scorpius had him on his knees begging for mercy."

"No, I didn't know that. But somehow it doesn't surprise me in the least." Albus stayed silent for a while, trying to gather his thoughts. Titania and Rambo made faces at each other, but didn't intrude on his contemplation.

Albus didn't like Scorpius' deception; it smacked too much of the sort of underhanded tactics the V-man and Firefly were already accusing him of using merely because he was a Slytherin. But to be scrupulously fair, Albus had never revealed the extent of the rift between himself and James. As far as any of his friends knew, the brothers simply shared the usual sibling antipathy found in all families. Albus certainly didn't approve of James and Scorpius fighting, but he would be inclined to lay all the blame at James' door. If Scorpius was merely defending himself, Albus was rooting for him all the way. Even if he were the initiator of the fights, Albus' loyalty to his chosen friend would overcome his loyalty of duty towards a family member.

Of course, Scorpius couldn't be expected to be inspired with this knowledge. Albus quickly forgave him for the cover-up pending further investigation. For now, the cold heat of his anger was focused on the malicious content of the seventh-years' gleeful conversation.

"Do you think you two could leave Scorpius and me alone in the Clubhouse tomorrow?" said Albus slowly. "And Titania, could you get a message to Norma? There's something I need to discuss with Scorpius. Privately."

"Sure," said Titania. "Albus, is there anything we can do? I - I didn't agree with what you said before, but they're wrong about Scorpius. His father - but Scorpius would never do anything like that."

"Of course he wouldn't," said Albus, and his voice would have withered evergreens. "As it happens, there is something you three can do. I know you're as good at gathering information as any seventh-year, Ti. Find out who the V-man and Firefly are - I want names, their real names."

"What are you going to do?" asked Rambo, when it was clear Titania had been cowed into silence. Albus looked up, and something in his face made Rambo grip his wand tightly under the table.

"Destroy them, of course," said Albus Potter.

+_+_+

When Albus entered the Clubhouse for the first time alone, he was shocked at the change in the decor. Gone were the cheery rugs and beautiful window frames; gone were the worn hammocks and friendly campfire. In their place was a stark chamber, painted scarlet and tiled with mirror-like black mosaics. The walls were hung with battle flags and implements of war. The fire that burned did so in a subdued manner, buried deep in a forbidding metal-wrought hearth. The light was insufficient to cast more than shadows.

Ordinarily Albus would have been rather intimidated by such a room; but the iron had entered his soul. The chamber was fitting for the deeds that would come to pass within its walls. On the matter Albus thought no further. He sat in one of the high-backed mahogany chairs to await Scorpius' arrival.

Scorpius exclaimed aloud when he entered. "What happened to this place?"

"I don't know," said Albus. 'Or care' hung in the air between them. Before Scorpius could speak again, he pushed the duplicated parchment across the oak table. "I want you to read this."

Scorpius snatched up the parchment and read quickly, his pale face flushing as his eyes flicked down the page. "Is this some kind of sick joke?"

Albus shook his head. "That's the V-man and Firefly's idea of social commentary. Would you like to defend them again?"

"I - no." Scorpius' face filled with a deeper, uglier colour. "Is this your way of getting back at me for saying that?"

"You were wrong about them, but it wasn't your fault." Albus took the parchment out of Scorpius' lax hands and folded it into his robes. "So you have been fighting with my brother?"

"Yes." Scorpius lifted his chin.

"I'm not angry about it," said Albus. "One day I'll tell you exactly why, but right now I want to discuss something far more important."

"And what's that?"

"Revenge." Albus smiled. "Won't you sit down?"

"I don't understand." Scorpius remained standing. "Revenge for what?"

"You, of course," said Albus. "You think I'm going to stand by and let them insult my friends when and how they please? And insinuate that I'm some pathetic sickly weakling who can't defend himself, but has to rely on his big brother to do it for him? No."

Scorpius put his hand on the back of a chair, his fingers shaking slightly. "My father was never a Death Eater. Never! But some of what they're saying is true. Your father and mine were enemies once, Albus."

"Oh." Albus frowned as he digested this. "So did your father really try to kill Dumbledore?"

"I don't know," said Scorpius, looking anguished. "He never speaks about his childhood - nothing before when he met Mother. She’s only told me a little, and then only when I pestered her about it."

"Huh. Dad's the same," said Albus. "All he'll say about Hogwarts is that it was the first real home he ever had, and that he met Mum and Aunt Hermione and Uncle Ron there. It's not what you'd call informative."

"Perhaps it'd be better to let this slide," said Scorpius. "These two obviously know more about our own parents' pasts than we do -"

"I don't care!" said Albus fiercely. "I don't care what our parents did. We're us, and we're best friends. I never liked what the V-man and Firefly were doing, but I was the only one. Now you must see what they really are."

"Yes, but only because they turned on me," Scorpius pointed out.

"Isn't that enough to show you that it's always wrong? Imagine if you were every single person they turned on - what then? And McGonagall is a great teacher and she got a First-Class Order for her part in the second Great War. They have no right to insult her biscuits - they don't deserve to clean her cauldrons!"

"All right, Albus." Scorpius sat down. "Breathe. You've convinced me. I don’t particularly want to let them get away with insulting my family either. What's your plan?"

Albus took a deep breath. "I've put Titania on to finding out who the V-man and Firefly really are. After that ... I have no idea. I was hoping you'd have one."

"Let me see that parchment again?" Scorpius inspected it. "You used a duplicating charm on the original, right? The writing is a bit blurred."

"Yeah, I did."

"It's shouldn't be too hard to fix up a standing charm on the parchment they use - do they put up a fresh sheet each day, or add to the same one?"

"They add to the same one - they have a Never-ending Parchment."

"One of them's loaded, then," said Scorpius, sounding distracted. "If Rambo helped me I could fix the charm to another parchment in here - maybe using a lodestone. Norma has a crystal she keeps in her pencilcase. That should do it."

"What are you thinking, Scorpius?"

Scorpius looked up, eyes alight with malice. "That we play these berks at their own game."

+_+_+

The magic was impeccable, but the outline concept flawed. Albus realised this in under a week, as things started to spiral out of control.

Titania stayed on lookout in the common room while Rambo and Scorpius worked together on fixing a Duplicating Charm to run from the Hufflepuff common room to the Clubhouse. They hit a snag in finalising the spells that would transfer any new conversations on the Never-ending Parchment directly on to the parchment in the Clubhouse. Meanwhile, Titania took Bushy-Tailed Brew two nights running in order to keep watch on the Never-ending Parchment. She got zero marks on an essay she handed in for Charms ('utter balderdash - did you sleep-write this?' was the comment) but was rewarded for her toil at four am on the second night.

"It's Penwyn Jones and Raymond Skeeter-Cresswell," she informed them in the Clubhouse the next afternoon, triumphant despite looking like an insomniac raccoon. "That or they're lackeys for the V-man and Firefly. Me and Rambo are going to tail them every chance we get, as well as Raymond's girlfriend Mary Macmillan. They're sure to drop some clues if we listen carefully."

"Penwyn Jones, the prefect?" Albus frowned. "But they're not very popular. How on earth do they find out all this stuff?" He'd been following the latest conversations as research; the vitriol was always within spitting distance of the truth.

Titania shrugged. "Maybe we'll find that out."

The next day Rambo had an inspiration for their prototype that both cleared the snag and earned him a detention for shouting in class. Scorpius spent the whole evening with his head buried in Advanced Enchantments for the Enterprising Sorcerer to add the final touch: the ability to respond to the conversations at a distance. Finally all that was left to do was pick an alias.

"What about Berto Blastnoggin?" suggested Albus.

Scorpius wrinkled his nose. "The kid in the VD Wallflower books?"

"Yeah - he's cool and he's always fighting bad wizards. It's perfect."

"If you say so," muttered Scorpius. Albus resolved to ask Scorpius why he wasn't a fan later; it was time to see if the network of spells held up.

"I'll go back to the common room," he said. "You stay here and write something. If it works I'll stay there; if not I'll come back."

"Titania and Rambo had better stick with me for a while," said Scorpius. "You’ll make people suspicious if you all go back early."

Albus took up a position at the table that allowed him to see the seventh-year noticeboard without appearing to stare at it. He was instantly aware of Scorpius' response, for it stood out in pulsating green compared to the black ink of the rest of the conversation. He couldn't read the words, but those nearby could. There were a number of sniggers and rolled eyes. Penwyn Jones, who was sprawled on a sofa, sat up a little straighter. To his credit he didn't immediately investigate the source of the ruckus, but Albus saw him fish his glasses out of a pocket.

Pretending to walk to the fire to sharpen his quill, Albus glanced at the noticeboard. He had to stop himself grimacing in horror. Scorpius had written: "You guys are really insulting. Why don't you use your real names, or are you too afraid? - Berto Blastnoggin."

Clearly Penwyn and Raymond had a rapid response system comparable to the one Albus and his friends had set up, for a response from the V-man came through as Albus watched. "Well said, Mr Blastnoggin - or should that be Sir Troll? Such brave words from someone using the pseudonym of a character from a kid's book!"

Albus hurried away, to the sound of claps from the gathered Hufflepuffs. He had an inkling that things were going to go badly wrong - and he was right.

The conversations quickly disintegrated into slanging matches. Scorpius was no match for the combined might of the V-man and Firefly, who had a long history of squashing their opposition - even if it didn't usually answer back. They responded to every taunt with a joke, to every threat with a taunt. They didn't take Scorpius seriously, but by provoking Scorpius' temper they drew out of him more information than he should have divulged. Albus seriously doubted that this was a coincidence.

Whatever mysterious mechanisms the two seventh-years used to collect information were turned on them, as Albus and Scorpius discovered when a conversation they'd shared was reported verbatim on the Never-ending Parchment - complete with woundingly witty comments. Albus had been asking Scorpius about Jewel, who was thriving under his care. It was an innocuous conversation, but more than the horrible things the seventh-years implied in their comments Albus resented the invasion of his privacy. It seemed that Albus had been dishonourably discharged from Hufflepuff House due to his friendship with a Slytherin. The full scourge of the V-man and Firefly's scorn soon lacerated him as much as Scorpius. People in the common room began to stare and whisper behind their hands when Albus entered.

Worst of all, nothing could dissuade Scorpius from responding to whatever the Hufflepuff duo threw at him. Albus remonstrated with him about the foolishness of continuing with the idea and they nearly came to blows outside the Slytherin common room. This was duly reported in the Never-ending Parchment, winding Scorpius up so much he revealed unambiguously who he was.

"We're in for it now," said Albus. He was standing with Scorpius in the Clubhouse, watching the crowing comments appear on the duplicated parchment.

Sure enough, a summons was handed to Scorpius as soon as they turned the corridor from the Clubhouse. The note requested him to appear immediately before Headmistress McGonagall and Assistant Headmaster Longbottom.

"I'm to escort you," said the horse-faced Gryffindor prefect who'd carried the note. "Come along then, Malfoy."

"I'm coming too," said Albus.

"The note asked for Malfoy only," said the prefect.

"And how do you know that? Did you open the note given to you by the Headmistress?" demanded Albus. "I don't think she looks too kindly on sneaks."

The prefect turned cherry red and made no further objections. Albus ignored Scorpius' scowls and shooing gestures and marched beside him all the way to the Headmistress' office. There the prefect spoke the password and left them.

"Come on," said Albus. Scorpius had turned whiter and whiter as they walked. "And stop looking at me like that. This entire plan started with me and I'm going to tell them so. Catch me leaving you to take the rap for this on your own!"

"I wasn't going to bring the rest of you into it," murmured Scorpius.

"I don't see any need to tell them about Rambo and Titania's part in it," said Albus. "But we're in this together, Scorpius. Understood?"

Scorpius nodded. Satisfied, Albus lead the way.

"Hello Mr Malfoy - and Mr Potter." McGonagall raised her white eyebrows. "I gave to understand that only Mr Malfoy was to be summoned to this meeting."

"I know - but I'm here to confess," said Albus robustly. "Getting revenge on Penwyn and Raymond was my idea. I wouldn't have brought Scorpius into it except that they insulted him too."

"I think there's been a misunderstanding," said Longbottom. "We're not here to chastise either you or Mr Malfoy for your parts in this petty mud-slinging. You've none of you broken any rules in this matter. No matter how unpleasant, we can't legislate for every insult spoken or written in this castle."

That didn't sound right to Albus, but he wasn't about to take on Professor Longbottom in a debate over ethics. He buttoned his lip and let Longbottom speak.

"But we are of course aware of the contact initiated by Mr Malfoy, and this is why he is here." Longbottom turned to Scorpius. "We believe you are the last person to have had contact with Raymond Cresswell-Skeeter before his disappearance."

"Disappearance?" Scorpius' fine brows drew together. "What, he's gone missing?"

Longbottom glanced at Headmistress McGonagall. "Yes. Penwyn Jones was here not an hour ago in a lather of worry. It seems Raymond failed to show up to a study group in the Library for the first time in his life. He isn't to be found anywhere in Hufflepuff Wing. A search is being carried out in the larger castle as we speak. We were hoping you might have some information as to his whereabouts, Mr Malfoy."

"Hopefully he fell off the Astronomy Tower." Scorpius' voice was roughened with justifiable anger, but Albus didn't like the expression on McGonagall's face. "But I have no idea."

"I've been with Scorpius since classes ended," added Albus. "If anything's happened to Raymond, Scorpius isn't responsible."

"You are prepared to swear on this?" Professor Longbottom's face was solemn.

"On my life."

"Very well. That's good enough for me. Headmistress?"

"Yes. I believe you, Albus. But if you happen upon any information after this, would you please let us know? And Mr Malfoy, I ask you to refrain from using your ingenious form of communication until we have located Mr Cresswell-Skeeter."

"Okay," mumbled Scorpius. Albus sent him a sharp look, but Scorpius was staring sullenly at the floor.

"All right, boys, you may go."

"Goodbye, Professor McGonagall, Professor Longbottom," said Albus. Scorpius didn't say a word all the way back down the winding stairs. As soon as they reached the foot Albus turned on him.

"What was that about? Why were you so rude?"

"Me, rude?" Scorpius laughed unpleasantly. "That's rich. I'm rude, but they're not? 'Oh, you're a Slytherin and a Malfoy, so we won't believe you unless someone more trustworthy vouches for you!' The epitome of politeness, I don't think!"

"Let me get this right - you're angry because I stood up for you?"

"I'm angry because you had to!" shouted Scorpius. "Why wasn't my word good enough for them?"

"Oh, maybe it was the way you mentioned having a death wish on the boy who's missing?" Albus rolled his eyes. "Get a grip, Scorpius. They wouldn't have taken it kindly if I'd said that either."

"It was true! Aren't you the great defender of truth and justice?"

"Yes, which is why I got you out of trouble back there." Albus was swiftly tiring of this conversation. "I'm going back to the Clubroom to see if Raymond's left any more messages. You coming?"

"No." Scorpius turned on his heel and strode away. Albus shivered. He'd never seen Scorpius in such a black temper.

It was nearing dinnertime when Scorpius entered the Clubhouse. Albus had nearly given up on seeing him again that day. He'd just been considering writing Scorpius a note to apologise - though for what Albus wasn't sure. He dearly wanted to clear the air and was regretting his own sharp words, but he knew he wasn't in the wrong. The whole debacle had set his nerves on edge.

Scorpius looked like a changed boy. His eyes were bright and his cheeks a brilliant hue - not the deep scarlet of rage, but a rosy pink. "Albus, you won't believe this," he said.

"Try me," said Albus.

Scorpius drew a shoebox out of his pocket and placed it on the table. He lifted off the lid to reveal a small dark animal curled up inside. Albus, mindful of his allergies, backed off with his hand over his nose. He quickly cast an Air Purifying Charm. "What is that?" he honked, with his fingers pinching his nostrils shut.

"It looks like a vole," said Scorpius.

"If you say so," said Albus, who was no naturalist.

"No, I mean it's a disguise. Watch."

Scorpius backed away from the table to stand beside Albus. Despite his blocked nose, it smelled to Albus very much as if the little vole had been incontinent quite recently. He opened his mouth to demand a fuller explanation from Scorpius when a flash of blue-white light distracted him. He blinked away the after-glare and nearly fell over in surprise. Sitting on the table was none other than Raymond Cresswell-Skeeter, who was looking exceptionally fed up.

"I think I know what it is," muttered Scorpius. "People can change into animals, they're called Animagi -"

"I know, McGonagall is one!" Albus stared at Raymond with mingled admiration and disapproval. "But he's underage."

"No, I'm not," said Raymond. "And neither is Penwyn. We're both registered - check if you like."

"Penwyn is an Animagus too?" said Albus, confused.

"Er ... yeah," said Raymond, biting his lip.

"So that's how you know so much about everyone." Scorpius jabbed the duplicated parchment with his wand. "You change into animals and spy on them!"

"Don't sound so outraged," drawled Raymond. "Surely they give you lessons in sneakery down in the dungeons?"

"Yeah, they do," said Scorpius. "That's why no Slytherin Animagus would be stupid enough to get caught by a kitten!"

Raymond looked discomfited. Albus grinned. "You don't mean Jewel -"

"Yep. He was playing with this little squeaking thing when I got back to my bedroom. I put it in a box to release outside tomorrow, but it seems like Raymond here can't keep up his Animagus form indefinitely. He changed back for an instant - just a second, but that was enough."

"Listen, chaps, there seems to have been a misunderstanding." Raymond slid off the table. "You've had your fun, but I think I'll be off now."

"I don't think so," said Scorpius. He was smiling, but the smile sent shivers down Albus' spine. It clearly didn't have a much more positive effect on Raymond. "I'd like an explanation for what you were doing in my dormitory."

"I got lost." Raymond shrugged, spreading his palms helplessly. "Things look different from a vole's point of view."

"Really? Then I wonder why you were able to find my box of letters from home, tip it over and drag some of them under the bed before my cat caught you." Scorpius was tapping his arm with his wand, which began spitting out little orange sparks that gouged holes in the table. Raymond's eyes widened. "That's certainly an interesting coincidence. From a vole's point of view, what were you planning to do with them? Make a nest?"

"Now look here, you two," spluttered Raymond. "I don't have to explain myself to a bunch of kids -"

"No, you don't." The sparks shooting from Scorpius' wand were growing bigger. "You can explain to McGonagall instead - explain how you've been spying on people for years, probably long before you were registered Animagi. Explain why you were snooping through my personal belongings. Oh, and you can explain all about how you've been selling stories to the Prophet. I'm sure she'd be fascinated to hear that."

"I don't know what you're talking about," said Raymond, who was white to the lips.

"Neither do I," said Albus, baffled. "Care to explain, Scorpius?"

"I found a copy of the Daily Prophet in the common room the other day." Scorpius took a battered scrap of newsprint out of his robes. "There was an article about Yasmin Chatterji by Rita Skeeter. It's horrible - all about McGonagall flying in the face of ancient traditions and bullying parents. Seems McGonagall stopped Yasmin's father from taking her out of school because she was dating Doug Boot. I thought it was a bit strange that Skeeter knew about it. Then Titania found out that the V-man was Raymond Cresswell-Skeeter and it all fell into place."

"It's not against school rules to talk to your own mother!" Raymond glared at Scorpius. "Your own record isn't exactly snow-white, Malfoy. Fighting and attempted murder -"

Scorpius snarled incoherently. Albus threw his arm across Scorpius' chest to stop him attacking Raymond. "If you're going to be a tabloid journalist when you leave school, you'd better learn to stick to reliable sources," he said to Raymond. "If anyone's guilty of attempted murder it's James - he used to force-feed me mudpies when we were babies."

"I don't see what -" began Raymond.

"Did I say you could speak?" said Albus. "You make a valid point or two. You haven't broken any school rules, so we can't report you. You have broken rules of honour, so we will bury you. Now, you can agree to stop these stupid conversations forever, after you formally apologise to my friend Scorpius for making up those heinous lies about him. Or we can lock you in here until we find a way to permanently transform you into a vole, at which point we'll feed you to the Great Squid."

"You're despicable, Potter," spat Raymond. "This is what comes of consorting with people outside your House, of mixing with Slytherins. Listen to yourself! You even sound like him." He jabbed a shaking finger in Scorpius' direction.

"No," said Albus. "I sound like me - Albus Potter, the Hufflepuff."

"You! You're no Hufflepuff. You're a disgrace to your House, to your -"

A resounding crack cut through Raymond's diatribe. His eyes bulged for a moment before he toppled sideways, crumpling gently on to a rug. His fall revealed Titania standing behind him, holding Advanced Enchantments for the Enterprising Sorcerer. She lifted the skirt of her robe delicately to prevent it touching Raymond's legs as she hopped across his prone form.

"I'm starting to see what you like about this book, Scorpius," she said, dusting off the cover. Her smirk changed to a frown as she took in Albus' and Scorpius' expressions. "What? My sister is a Slytherin. It's not a disease. I just knocked a bit of sense into him."

"You're fantastic," croaked Scorpius.

"Yes, I know," said Titania smugly. "I'm also starving. Let's drag this git into the hallway and go see if there's anything left for dinner."

"We should probably tell McGonagall that he's been found," said Albus, not without reluctance.

Scorpius shook his head grimly. "Someone will stumble across him soon enough. With any luck it'll be a Slytherin who'll leave him for dead."

"With any luck it'll be a Slytherin who'll help him to the infirmary," countered Albus. Scorpius' scowl was chased from his face by a tiny grin.

"Usually they're the same person," he said.

"I know," said Albus, slinging his arm around Scorpius' shoulder. With Titania skipping ahead, they entered the Great Hall - together.
 
 
Current Mood: awakeawake
Current Music: mika: big girls (you are beautiful)
 
 
 
ang \\: hp \\ i'm waiting for my momentcallmeang on July 30th, 2007 05:46 pm (UTC)
Oooh, this just gets better and better!
every Starbucks should have a polar bear: Yellow boys kissingscoradh on July 30th, 2007 05:56 pm (UTC)
Phew - I was a little worried about this one. Thanks!
The Rec Ho...ravenqueen55 on July 30th, 2007 05:54 pm (UTC)
~ They have no right to insult her biscuits ~

The thought of Albus defending the honour of McGonagall's biscuits CRACKED ME UP!!! Oh...too funny. Oh, and GO JEWEL!

Great update!
every Starbucks should have a polar bear: Kirihari: party weaselscoradh on July 30th, 2007 05:57 pm (UTC)
It's the little things like that that always hit me in books, so I suppose I try to emulate the idea. :D

Thank you!
kali: Facilis Descensus Avernokalichan on July 30th, 2007 05:58 pm (UTC)
Probably telling you how much I adore this story is a bit like sending coals to Newcastle (do they still have coal in Newcastle?? Anyway.), but I had to do it regardless. It's just so good. I love the characterization of young Albus Severus, (he's quite scary, actually, perhaps there's more in a name than is commonly thought) and ditto young James. I love how you reference the earlier relationships of the world (Sirius & Regulus leap to mind when I read about James and Albus), while still making the world very much your own. The house politics are also beautifully explored, which I appreciate so much. When I first thought of next generation Hogwarts, I so wanted Dudley's child to be there on the platform, and it was so delightful to see it so awesomely done. I heart Rambo! Scorpius and Albus' relationship is so fulfilling to my H/D heart, but it succeeds without replacing the old ship - it really stands on its own, and that's so impressive. And I think the discussion of Albus' illness is stunning, and I am dying to see what happens next with that.

Thank you so much for writing this; I will be following it with the greatest of anticipation.
As soon as I have a moment, I'll be reccing it at epilogue_hp as well.
every Starbucks should have a polar bear: Colour of dreamsscoradh on July 30th, 2007 06:16 pm (UTC)
No, I think Thatcher put an end to all that. :P

So, um, wow? Your comments ... they cheer my soul, honestly. This fic started on a spur of the moment whim to add something to the melting pot of NG fic. I never imagined it'd get even this far or generate so much interest. I'm bloody glad it did though.

So thank you - for your reply and for the future rec'ing - always appreciated! ♥ ♥ ♥
pucklingpuckling on July 30th, 2007 06:17 pm (UTC)
Nice touch with Rita Skeeter's kid at Hogwarts, though I cringe to imagine any spawn that she might produce. Also, icon love.
every Starbucks should have a polar bear: Blue kissscoradh on July 30th, 2007 06:47 pm (UTC)
I cringe to think how they would be produced. Do you think a Quick Quotes Quill would be involved?

lol, I found it just this afternoon tucked away in a screensaver folder. It is v. clever, imo. :D
(no subject) - puckling on July 31st, 2007 05:39 am (UTC) (Expand)
Katnilyveth on July 30th, 2007 06:26 pm (UTC)
*___* Loving it!
every Starbucks should have a polar bear: stealin ur virginityscoradh on July 30th, 2007 06:52 pm (UTC)
Thank you!
trying to find once upon a timeattempt_unique on July 30th, 2007 06:36 pm (UTC)
I love this series so far. Your OCs work perfectly.
every Starbucks should have a polar bear: Death of Ratsscoradh on July 30th, 2007 06:53 pm (UTC)
Thank you, I'm quite attached to them meself. :D
jacked up on cheap champagnemizbean on July 30th, 2007 06:38 pm (UTC)
I finally caught up with chapter 3 this morning, and now you've posted chapter 4! I'm really enjoying this so far, and I love your Albus like a mad thing. Actually all the kids are great. Can't wait for more.
every Starbucks should have a polar bear: Sanada: Smilingscoradh on July 30th, 2007 06:56 pm (UTC)
I don't know why I like writing kids so much - I don't really get on with them IRL (they seem to be so ... irrational?). Still, it's fun - and not just for me, it seems. Thank you!
nymosy: constipatednymosy on July 30th, 2007 06:41 pm (UTC)
Omg. Best future-fic ever. I just read all four chapters and I'm utterly and completely in love.

I could leave a long, detailed review extolling the story's every virtue, or I could squeal incoherently like a fangirl--

Or I could say "please write more"!

every Starbucks should have a polar bear: Blue haired boy w/ phonescoradh on July 30th, 2007 06:59 pm (UTC)
I certainly will write more. It's finally Christmas in this timeline *sighs with relief* so that should be interesting.

You know, a little squealing can go a long way. *thoughtful*
X-parrotxparrot on July 30th, 2007 06:41 pm (UTC)
This is much fun! James & Albus's rift makes me emo but Albus is intriguing, so righteous for one so young; and Scorpius is such a prickly little darling.
every Starbucks should have a polar bear: Art thou a witch?scoradh on July 30th, 2007 07:00 pm (UTC)
I have to keep reminding myself that I'm writing 11-year-olds. *slaps forehead* At the same time, illness has a way of prematurely aging children. Albus probably came in for some of that. :D Thank you!
November: Gandalfnovnonna on July 30th, 2007 06:58 pm (UTC)
You updated! ♥

I am continuously being astounded by your characterization. Your OCs are getting better and better as the updates go on. Reading this chapter felt like I was watching a kids detective tv show--except a good kids detective tv show. Hogwarts: P.I. (lame title, I know).

Albus sure is bursting into his own now, and little Scorpius is so cute when he's angry.

Also, I love the fact that you've incorporated magical fiction into the story. I've always wondered whether wizarding kids had any other form of literacy entertainment that went past the realms of "The Adventures of Martin Miggs, the Mad Muggle" comic books. Now I know ^-^ Thank you.
every Starbucks should have a polar bear: Not the het!scoradh on July 30th, 2007 07:08 pm (UTC)
I actually feel the same way myself, which is a first for me. I don't think I've written 10,000 words before without at least one kiss. That why all the mad plotz are coming in. :D

Oh god, I can't imagine they're all like Hermione and reading Hogwarts, A History for fun. And parents like the Weasleys Snr were so hyped up around Muggles, I can't see them waltzing into Waterstones for some Diana Wynne Jones. It makes sense that they have wizarding fiction.
(no subject) - novnonna on July 30th, 2007 07:26 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(Deleted comment)
every Starbucks should have a polar bear: Attention bunnyscoradh on July 30th, 2007 07:13 pm (UTC)
I imagine Rita gave her son some hints about conquering from the inside and all that. ;D

Thank you! ♥
Alexis: addictjapanimecrazed on July 30th, 2007 07:04 pm (UTC)
This is fantastic! Humorous stories that deal with serious issues are my favorite, and so few people write them well. Love this.
every Starbucks should have a polar bear: Dirty Pair: Phewscoradh on July 30th, 2007 07:17 pm (UTC)
Wow, thanks! I wouldn't have called this the funniest fic I ever wrote, so I'm glad you can see the humour (deep) within it. :D
karadin on July 30th, 2007 07:08 pm (UTC)
Ahha! Fabulous! I love how all these kids stick up for each other! And I detest James, just like his namesake.
every Starbucks should have a polar bear: Cooler than youscoradh on July 30th, 2007 07:21 pm (UTC)
Loyalty R Us in Hufflepuff. (God, that rhymes.) Thankee!
The Goddamn Wolf Womanslythwolf on July 30th, 2007 07:20 pm (UTC)
I think, in comments over at sarahtales's review of DH, I may have accidentally encouraged someone to steal Rambo Dursley. I mentioned him in recommending that sarahtales read this fic, and I think somebody misunderstood me and is now planning to write him hirself. Oops?

I love this. I love the parallel between the notes on the 7th-year board and internet forums. I love Albus, I love Scorpius and I love Jewel.
every Starbucks should have a polar bear: 4 Weddingsscoradh on July 30th, 2007 07:23 pm (UTC)
Lol. It's not like I technically own him anyway - someone already asked could they write a story about him in Spanish. Rambo has already got his own fandom going! :P

Yup, well, that's where I got the idea from. Iforums can be treacherous places to navigate, even among friends - or so I find. ♥
Camden: AS/SPicabusing_sarcasm on July 30th, 2007 07:20 pm (UTC)
This is one of my very favorite AS/S stories. Your boys are so clever and sweet and wonderful, and I LOVE your OCs. Titania is my homegirl. I absolutely adore her...
every Starbucks should have a polar bear: Platinum Pair: dirty great snogscoradh on July 30th, 2007 07:26 pm (UTC)
I think Titania has a lot to do in life to make up for being named after a fairy queen. Hee, plotbunny.

Thank you! PS, I love your icon - nice colour contrast. Who is Albus in it?