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15 August 2007 @ 09:34 pm
HP fic: The Ninth Road Less Travelled  
HP fic: The Ninth Road Less Travelled
This part: 5867 words, PG-13, ships have dropped anchor in deep waters
Previous parts: go here.



They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra, just for you.

(Philip Larkin)

Titania caught up with Albus as he was trawling the Hufflepuff common room, in search of quills and sundry other items he was sure he hadn't left there, but which he hadn't managed to locate in any other logical location. She sat down on an armchair he'd just been planning to tear apart for the sake of what might be hiding under the cushions, and made a pensive face.

Albus decided a few ratty quills could wait a minute. He hadn't seen Titania look that serious since - well, he'd never seen Titania look that serious. Norma could be gloomy when one of her cunning plans was going pear-shaped, but Titania didn't appear to possess an ounce of cunning; besides which, she was terminally happy-go-lucky, except in the half-hour before a meal.

"What's up?" he asked, perching on the arm of the chair.

"I've been thinking." Titania frowned massively. "About Scorpius and Christine. You know, if you wanted to, I could be your girlfriend."

Albus very nearly fell down on the floor.

"What?" he managed.

"It's a bit strange, Scorpius being with Christine like that," said Titania, "but I figure, Rambo could have Norma, and you could have me, and then we'd all be the same again."

Scorpius' words came back to Albus with a thud, and he repeated them: "A girlfriend's not a girl who's your friend, you know."

"Yes, I know," said Titania, a trifle impatiently.

"I don't really want a girlfriend," said Albus. It was a weak reply, but for some reason Titania brightened.

"Oh, that's a relief," she said. "I didn't really want a boyfriend either. No offence, but boys smell funny. I just thought you'd like to keep up with Scorpius."

"Not in that way," said Albus, very definitely. Titania grinned.

"I'm glad we got that cleared up. Do you fancy bringing a picnic down to the Lake later?"

"Sounds great," said Albus. Titania, the worry draining from her face like water swirling down a plughole, clomped off to do whatever it was girls did in the dormitories. Albus collapsed into the armchair sideways, banging his head rather sharply.

"Girls are weird," he informed a small statue of Helga Hufflepuff. She rolled her eyes at him.

Two more sweeps of the room yielding nothing in the small stationary stakes, Albus was about to go tackle the last of his non-essential packing when Penwyn ducked into the common room. Albus immediately shrank behind a bookcase. Penwyn didn't spot him - or if he did, he was making an excellent show of nonchalance, which included slumping on a sofa, unbuttoning the collar of his robes and fishing out his reading glasses to peruse a day-old Prophet.

Albus fingered the tin of Dysentery Drops he kept in his pocket, in readiness for the opportune moment. Ideally he'd hoped to catch both Penwyn and Raymond at the same time, but this chance seemed foolproof. He drew out the tin and opened the lid in tiny increments, squeezing the edges with his fingers to prevent the smallest scraping noise from escaping. The Drops were quivering with anticipation by the time he'd succeeded. Hooking a fingertip into the writhing mass, Albus secured one. It balanced on his nail, gently swaying to and fro.

It had been simple enough to steal a few scraps of food from the prefects' plates. Titania and Rambo were both enthusiastic gastronomists, so it was not considered unusual for them to linger at the Hufflepuff table long after they could reasonably be expected to have eaten their full. However, Albus had come up trumps with Penwyn when he realised Penwyn's disgusting habit of clipping his nails into the fire could work in his favour. Penwyn was a Muggle-born and didn't trust a spell not to sever his whole finger off; not all the exhortations and reprimands Raymond could conjure had yet managed to dissuade him. Albus set up watch on the common room fires and, at length, had managed to sweep up two tiny white crescents from the hearth.

These he'd inserted into a pouch stuck to the lid of the tin. The clippings seemed determined to reside there for the foreseeable future, but after a few minutes of quiet struggle Albus got them to change their minds. He didn't dare use magic, both in case Penwyn felt it, and in case it would affect the Drops in ways unknown.

The Drop on his fingertip swarmed the two clippings, reaching out pseudopodia to enclose them in a loving embrace. If the Drop ate them or dissolved them Albus couldn't tell, and didn't greatly care. He brought his hand to his lips and whispered, "Penwyn Jones."

The Drop leaped, scattering into a hundred thousand tiny droplets like the spray of a fountain. It disappeared from Albus' sight and he guessed that it had camouflaged itself. He watched from behind the bookcase as Penwyn suddenly grimaced in pain. He clutched his stomach, and a haze of sweat broke and shimmered over his forehead.

Albus had expected to feel ... triumphant, or at the very least satisfied, to see his enemy brought so low. What he felt instead was a dragging sensation in his lower belly, the one he got when he forgot to complete his homework or write home in time for the last weekly post. He shook his head in annoyance and headed for his dormitory. He was just being silly. Penwyn deserved what he got; and Albus was glad, nothing but glad.

+_+_+

Professor Longbottom looked unusually grave when he met Albus in the hall and asked him to go to the Headmistress' office. Although he was the same age as Dad, Professor Longbottom had a young face, and it was always merry even though he rarely smiled. When he did smile his years told on him, because the action brought out all the lines carved deeply around his eyes and mouth.

He wasn't smiling now. "The Headmistress will fill you in when you arrive," he replied to Albus' question. "She'd rather talk to you herself about this matter."

"All right," said Albus. He deliberately cleared his mind. There were so many things his godmother might want to speak to him about that it was of no use getting nervous, or trying to figure out which one it was.

Professor Longbottom left him at the foot of the spiral stairs. Albus carefully measured each step, calculating just how long he could drag his feet. There was a niggle at the back of his mind, demanding to know why he was dawdling, but he refused to pay attention to it.

The afternoon sun slanted into the office from the high, stained-glass windows. The weather was warm enough to preclude lighting a fire, but Headmistress McGonagall was wrapped in three or four grey shawls over a winter-weight woollen robe. She looked up when Albus entered, creaking over the honey-coloured wood floor.

"Come here," she said, with a small smile. "I want to show you something."

Albus obeyed, although tight bands seemed to be crushing his chest. There was no reason to be afraid, and yet he was. McGonagall spread a sheaf of photographs across her desk. Albus could not detect movement, so he guessed they were of Muggle origin. When he got close enough to see them clearly, he gasped.

The children in the photographs were painfully thin, eyes huge in their emaciated faces. Each child was hunched over, skin dropping in folds from bones Albus could count in their dozens. They all had distended bellies, which were at odds with their otherwise starved-looking frames.

"These boys and girls live in Africa, where there is a chronic food and clean water shortage," said McGonagall. "I won't go into the details, many of which I am unclear about myself. If you decide to take Muggle Studies in third-year you will learn more than I can tell you. The people of Africa are poor, ravaged by war and civil unrest. Children -" McGonagall took off her glasses and pinched the bridge of her nose "- children are always the first to suffer in situations like this. They are malnourished, as you can see. But they are also ill, because they must drink unclean water if they want to drink at all. One of the diseases most common among these children is amoebiasis."

"Amy - what?"

"Amoebiasis - a disease with painful symptoms of cramping and diarrhoea. It is caused by ..." McGonagall paused, frowning "... little bugs in the water, I believe. They get in when the water supply is contaminated." She waved her wand. The photographs stacked themselves neatly and zoomed into a desk drawer, which opened to receive them. "Aside from the obvious discomforts, amoebiasis is a serious condition because the body loses salt and water, without which it cannot function properly - or eventually, at all."

Albus stared at the floor. He didn't want to look at McGonagall's face any more. He didn't know why she was telling him this either, but that was a secondary concern.

"I suppose you're wondering why I brought you up here to give a lecture on Muggle diseases," said McGonagall. "I won't keep you in suspense any longer. Amoebiasis is more commonly known as dysentery."

The edge of Albus' vision went black. He heard a loud thump. He thought at first that something had fallen, before he realised it was his own heart hammering in his ears.

Amoebiasis is more commonly ... painful symptoms ... cannot function properly ... dysentery ... painful ... dysentery ... dysentery...

"I -" Albus swallowed and tried again. "I -"

"If I had any doubts of your guilt, your face would be all the proof I needed," said McGonagall. "Although Helga the Bronze is usually a reliable witness." She stood up and patted his shoulder once, firmly. "I'm going to leave you alone for a time. I trust you won't try and leave this office without my permission."

Failing utterly to dredge a single word up from his barren throat, Albus nodded. McGonagall gave him another tight smile and swept from the room, her gnarled hands clutching her shawls close to her body.

How long Albus stood staring at the floor he never knew, for there were no clocks in the room and he had never learned to tell time from the position of the sun in the sky. He certainly remained still long enough for a vicious cramp to tighten its claws into his neck. He might well have stayed like that until McGonagall returned, or kingdom came, but for hearing the sound of his own name whispered from behind.

It wasn't often that anyone called him by his full name, Albus Severus Potter. If he'd been more alert he would have heard more clearly that the whispers ran 'Severus,' 'Albus, no,' 'Oh, Severus,' 'Albus,' 'Albus Potter - Albus Potter!"

Albus turned slowly, his eyes searching for the hidden whisperers. All around the walls portraits of former Headmasters and Headmistresses slumbered, hands stretched over rubicund waists, faces drooped with age and sleep. Only two Headmasters were awake. By the time Albus' eyes drifted over to them, they were both staring at him.

"Albus Potter," said one, rolling the name around in his mouth like a sweet. He had a terribly stooped posture for one so young, whipcord thin arms ending in compulsively twitching fists, and hair like rotten seaweed. "Didn't take you too long to get yourself pulled in front of the Headmistress for your antics, did it? Blood will out - he was right about that, at least."

"Oh, hush," said the other man, a smile flickering under his magnificent white beard. "You're still annoyed by the name order, aren't you?"

"I don't have the slightest idea what you're talking about," said the younger one loftily.

"How did you know my name?" asked Albus. The younger man rolled his eyes.

"We live in this office. Don't you suppose that we heard the Headmistress arranging this meeting for you?" he said.

"That's logical -"

"Of course it is!"

"- but not necessarily true," finished Albus. The old man winked at him. He was wearing a sumptuous robe of periwinkle blue, embroidered with crystals in a pattern that looked like the constellations of the Milky Way.

"We knew your father, and your grandfather," said the old man. "You are very like both of them, so you had to be either James or Albus."

"Most people don't know my second name, though," persisted Albus. He shifted his eyes to the younger man's frame, but he'd disappeared. A second later he strolled into the old man's portrait.

"You have a much nicer background," he complained. "Of course I was palmed off with Impressionistic shadows. They are excruciatingly boring."

The old man said nothing, but said it with an expression that suggested he'd heard the complaint once too often.

"Why don't you ask an artist to paint in something else?" asked Albus. "My friend Scorpius is great at ink drawings. He could put in some dragons or anything."

The younger man dropped the orange he'd filched from the fruit bowl on the old man's table. Shaking his head in a show of indifference, he said, "Why on earth would I want ink drawings? I'm an oil painting!"

Albus shrugged. "Give you something new to complain about, wouldn't it?"

"He's got you there," chuckled the old man.

"Scorpius," said the younger man, retrieving his orange. "That's an old Malfoy name."

"You are friends with a Malfoy?" said the old man, his eyes briefly flaring blue fire.

"I can't believe this! Even paintings give me stick over it!" exclaimed Albus. "Yes, I'm friends with a Malfoy. Watch out, the sky may fall in!"

"Whose blood will out now?" asked the old man quietly.

"Shut up," said the younger man, without rancour.

At that moment, the office door opened and Professor McGonagall entered, trailing Professor Longbottom. "Who were you speaking to - oh, I see you've met your namesakes."

"My what?"

"Albus, let me introduce you to two of our greatest former Headmasters - Albus Dumbledore and Severus Snape."

Albus gaped. "Well. You could have said something."

"That wouldn't have been half so amusing," said Dumbledore serenely. Severus kept mum, shooting Albus a glower from under his thick eyebrows.

"Regarding your attack on Penwyn Jones," said McGonagall, settling in behind her desk, "I have decided not to punish you. For one thing, I've become aware that Jones and his accomplice have been abusing their authority because of that issue with the Never-ending Parchment. For another, it is nearly the end of term -"

"Please, Professor," said Albus, "I think I need a punishment."

McGonagall exchanged a startled look with Longbottom. "I don't believe I've ever heard a student ask for punishment before."

"You should have been around in my day - you would have learned a thing or two," drawled a portrait behind the desk.

"Shut up, Phineas," said McGonagall, almost reflexively. "Very well, you can spend the day mucking out the greenhouses with Professor Longbottom. But first, you will please tell me why you believe you need to be punished."

"I didn't think," said Albus. "I've been - I am - sick. You said it was painful. I never thought ... I should have thought."

"You couldn't have been expected to know," said McGonagall.

"I knew it was going to make him sick," said Albus fiercely. "I wanted him to be sick! And he deserved to be sick, because he was mean and cruel even before he started in on me. But I don't like the way it made me feel - knowing that I was the one who made him sick. I should have thought of that."

"All right," said Professor Longbottom, coming forward and ushering Albus towards the door. "I'm going to find you the dirtiest, nastiest weeds to root out of my vegetable garden. If that doesn't make you feel appropriately castigated, then nothing will."

Albus nodded. "I'm sorry, Aunt Minerva."

"I know you are," said McGonagall. "And I'm happy that you are. This is something you should feel sorry about, so don't try to bury the feeling too soon."

Albus nodded in agreement and let Longbottom guide him out. He caught a last glimpse of his namesakes, standing together in one portrait. Dumbledore had his hand on Severus' shoulder. For one short, strange moment, the look on Dumbledore's face reminded him of one Albus sometimes saw on Scorpius'. Just as quickly it was gone, and so was Albus.

+_+_+

Albus smoothed down the front of his new dress robes. He wouldn't have revealed the information for the world, but he actually really liked them. Mum couldn't believe that he'd grown out of his Christmas ones already. In spite of the extra expense, she didn't complain the way she did when James shot up a dozen centimetres in three weeks, or when Lily kicked the toes out of her new shoes. Albus knew that Mum was secretly delighted that Albus was growing at all. He knew he was, although there remained the tickle of resentment at being different, at being treated with special care just because he was ill and not like the others.

Unlike the Christmas robes, these were soft and didn't itch. Nor did they have collars with ambitions towards death by strangulation. The best thing about them, though, was the colour. The new robes were a rich, deep shade of burnt umber, with a simple pattern of brown squares along the hemlines and cool curved buttons made of yellow bone. Albus didn't care one way or another what colour suited him the best, but he thought the blue and silver combination was too girly. And the buttons had totally stolen his heart.

He was dressed and ready well before Dad, and a whole hour before Mum. His parents had both insisted that he wake early - seven am on a holiday! Scandalous! - in order to be prepared on time. Albus had fixed himself cornflakes while Mum and Dad were still abed and groaning about getting up; had been showering in the second bathroom by the time Dad shuffled downstairs; and had even tackled his hair with a comb when Mum eventually showed her face to the world. No one in his family was an early bird, but Albus - used to the broken sleep patterns that were a gift from the horrible potions god - was at least able to force himself when necessary. His parents clearly lacked the same discipline.

After about a fortnight, James had recovered from his resentment at not being asked to the Lovegood-Scamander wedding. He was now in favour of mocking Albus about the 'freakshow,' as he called it, although not in their parents' earshot. Dad liked Luna a lot, but Mum thought she was a bit loopy - something she didn't reveal to Dad, but on which Albus and James had both picked up. In the last few days James had turned sulky again, so Albus braced himself for a torrent of abuse one way or another. James' inconsistency was not the most annoying thing about him, but it was certainly very trying.

Albus had avoided James while eating breakfast and getting dressed by the simple expedient of being up before James would dream of opening his eyes. Nine o'clock, while still ludicrously early by James' holiday standards, was a realistic enough time to arise - particularly when the chance of brother-baiting presented itself.

"You look like a carrot," was James' opening shot.

"I like carrots," said Albus. He'd at last located what he presumed to be his hairbrush, languishing under the sink in the main bathroom. Although he washed it a couple of times a week, brushing his hair was not something Albus regarded as a necessity. Given how tangled it got t’weentimes, it was also a considerable trial when he did get around to it.

"You're lucky," said James. "Only rabbits eat a stupider diet than you."

Albus shook his head, amazed not at the crudity of the insult, but at the lows to which James would stoop in his attempts to wound him. The venom in James' tone more than made up for the unsophisticated words.

"I'll bring you back some sugared almonds," he offered, and ducked the cushion James hurled at his head.

At last Mum and Dad were ready, dressed to the nines in their Christmas robes. 'The only way we're growing these days is outwards,' Dad had joked. Mum had flattened Dad's hair with pomade and covered her own face with make-up. They both looked stiff and unnatural, but Albus said, "You look nice" anyway.

"Thank you, darling," said Mum. She barely moved her lips in case her lipstick would smudge.

"All ready, then?" Dad took Albus' hand in a vice-like grip. "On my mark!"

With a wrench, Dad Side-Along Apparated Albus. He could hear the whoosh as Mum travelled in space-time beside them. Five seconds later they'd arrived at an immense and perfectly circular clearing in the middle of an orchard. The trees were a sight to behold; although it was midsummer, each was laden down both with white blossom and blushing fruit. Albus didn't even know how that was possible - maybe the fruit was fake? He resolved to try an apple later and find out.

The trees along the perimeter had been strung with pennants in all colours of the rainbow and more besides. Tall, spindly lamps had been set up at intervals. For the moment the tiny globes, springing out on crooked arms like bunches of cherries, glowed faintly blue and purple. A large flower-smothered arch had been set up at the opposite end of the clearing; poinsettias glowed amidst huge sprays of babies' breath.

Luna, whom Albus recognised from visiting her cottage cum wand-shop a year before, was standing under the flowered arch with a tall man. Albus guessed this was Rolf. Both of them were dressed in eye-searing yellow. Rolf's collar was so high it nearly scraped his eyeballs every time he moved his head. Luna's décolletage, on the other hand, swooped to her navel. As he followed his parents closer, Albus was relieved to see that any actual skin so revealed was covered in a layer of sheer butter-coloured satin.

Morse was posted at a flower-heaped table halfway between the Apparition site and the flowered arch. He grinned widely, manoeuvring his gaze between Mum and Dad so it fell directly on Albus. Morse's robe was printed with hundreds of sunflowers against a black background; he wore his pale hair loose to his shoulders, woven with yet more, miniature sunflowers the size of Every-Flavour Beans.

"Welcome, Mr and Mrs Potter," said Morse. He placed a garland of sunflowers on Mum's head, and handed a single great bloom to Dad; it magically affixed itself to the front of his robe. Morse gave Albus one sunflower as well.

"These are very pretty," said Mum, touching her new head-dress uncertainly.

"Thank you," said Morse. "They're part of my wedding gift to Luna. The ceremony will start shortly - are any of you hungry?"

Albus started to nod, but a sharp glare from Mum halted him abruptly. But Morse had already seen it. He waved his wand and a plate of powdered doughnuts floated over to Albus.

"You can't -" said Mum.

"Wheat and gluten free," said Morse.

"Thanks!" Albus quickly picked up a doughnut.

"There will be more refreshments afterwards," said Morse. "Don't worry, Mrs Potter, you can get a doughnut then." Mum looked torn between laughter and outrage.

A swish and crackle of magic signalled the arrival of more guests. Albus looked over with interest, and nearly dropped his doughnut when he spotted a familiar head of blonde curls.

"Scorpius!" he yelled, forgetting entirely his mother's instructions about how to behave politely in company - not one of which included shouting in public.

Scorpius lifted his head and caught sight of Albus. The hint of a smile lifted the side of his mouth. He was with his parents and dressed, as they were, in white robes with silver collars and cuffs. After shaking off the disorientation of Apparition they all made for Morse's flower table, where Albus was waiting.

"You never told me you were coming!" said Albus joyfully, as soon as they got near. "Oh - hello Mr Malfoy, Mrs Malfoy. How's Celerity?"

"Fine, thank you," said Mr Malfoy stiffly. He was tugging on his collar, obviously suffering from the same robe-designer as Albus had at Christmas.

"She is perfectly thriving," said Mrs Malfoy. Her smile glittered as brightly as her jewels, which included a diamond pendant dropping between her breasts. Albus tried very hard not to think the word 'breasts' again. "We left her with my parents in Italy. Thank you for inquiring."

"No problem," said Albus.

"I don't believe I've had the pleasure," said Mrs Malfoy, turning to Mum and Dad.

"Oh - I'm Mrs Potter, Ginny Potter," said Mum. She held out her hand to shake, but Mrs Malfoy ignored it, sailing in to gently clasp Mum's shoulders and kiss her on both cheeks.

"Delighted," she murmured. "And you are?"

"Harry Potter, at your service," said Dad. Mrs Malfoy's eyes widened, her blue irises like pools of sky.

"I'm honoured, sir," she said. She kissed Dad, who went bright red and mumbled something incomprehensible. Mum glared at him.

"What brings you here, Mal - uh," said Dad. He was looking over Mr Malfoy's shoulder.

"I'm acquainted with Luna," said Mr Malfoy to Dad's shoes.

"Ah yes. She stayed in your house once, I recall."

"More than once, actually, when we became friends."

"Luna certainly has odd tastes in friends."

"You can say that again, Harry."

"I hope you're not implying what I think you're implying, Draco."

"Uh, Father?" Scorpius tugged Mr Malfoy's sleeve. He'd already pinned on his own sunflower. "Morse has something to give you."

"My apologies," barked Mr Malfoy. He spun around so fast he nearly knocked his wife over and squashed his sunflower on to his robes. Mrs Malfoy was far more graceful in her acceptance; the coronet of sunflowers looked like a crown atop her creamy hair.

"This is an interesting custom," she said. "Is it for luck?"

"I say it is," said Morse. "Luna loves sunflowers, and I think they're such happy, cheerful flowers - all these are good things to bring to this wedding. It doesn't really matter what's lucky for other weddings."

"How true." Mrs Malfoy gifted him with a brilliant smile, which Morse returned dreamily.

"Your robes are, uh, very beautiful," offered Mum, when the silence had strung out for several seconds.

"Oh! Thank you." Mrs Malfoy took Mum's arm. "There's this fascinating little boutique in Rome - let me tell you all about it -"

"Want some of my doughnut?" asked Albus, holding it out to Scorpius.

"Thanks." Scorpius broke off a bit and popped it into his mouth. Then they both stared up at their fathers, who were standing with arms crossed and looking in opposite directions.

"You're acting stupid," Albus told his father.

"Father, stop being so impolite," reproved Scorpius. With that, they by mutual accord left their cold-hearted sires and went to finish off the doughnut in peace.

+_+_+

Albus sat on the grass, which was leaving a wet patch on the seat of his robes, and watched as Morse married his mother to Rolf Scamander.

When Morse got to the part about cherishing his new family, Rolf put up a hand to knuckle his eyes. Luna took it and kissed it, and with that they were married.

"Is this quite legal?" whispered Scorpius in Albus' ear. His breath on Albus' neck made him shiver and giggle.

"I have no idea," he replied, "but I don't think Luna Lovegood is the type to care, one way or another."

"Yeah," said Scorpius and, meditatively, added, "Does she look a bit ... pregnant, to you?"

Albus stared at the blushing bride. There was a certain suggestion of roundness to her abdomen. "A little brother or sister for Morse!"

"A little usurper," countered Scorpius. Albus smacked him in the arm.

"I thought you'd got over that horrible attitude," he said.

"I have, for myself. But Rolf isn't Morse's father, whereas he is the father of this kid. Both of them are going to be totally wrapped up in this baby, who's only half-blood to Morse."

"I don't think that'll be a problem for them," said Albus. He watched as Rolf gathered his wife and step-son into a bear hug, from which no sunflower emerged unscathed.

"Huh, well." Scorpius stretched out his legs, setting the white silk a-whispering. "I have something for you. I was going to send it, but I remembered you were coming to this wedding too."

"Oh, what? But I didn't make you anything."

"So?" Scorpius pulled a red braid out of his pocket. "Here, it's a friendship band."

"You made this?"

"No, it was the little gremlins who live at the bottom of the garden." Scorpius rolled his eyes. "Hold out your hand." He tied the band in a firm knot just below Albus' wristbone. Albus held it up to his face to admire it. The band was a work of breathtaking intricacy, a pattern in a hundred shades of red - from post-box to vermilion - flowing seamlessly all the way around.

"I learned how out of this old book I found," said Scorpius. "Made a little one for Celerity too. By the time we get back to school I'll have made one for all the Club members."

"You are very amazing sometimes," said Albus. He opened up Scorpius' palm and laid his own hand flat against it.

"What, only sometimes? I'm insulted."

"Don't be," said Albus. "I mean, you do have to sleep and all. No one amazingly sleeps."

"I could manage it, I bet."

Albus smiled sleepily. Hopefully there would be food soon; it seemed an awful long time since cornflakes at seven am, or even doughnuts at eleven.

For some reason Morse, Luna and Rolf seemed to be in charge of refreshments. They were making the rounds of the clearing with silver trays of tall flutes. Albus perked up. "Do you think those are alcoholic?"

"Who cares? It's a wedding. Live and let live, celebrate the moment, etcetera."

"I meant, do you think we'll be allowed to have one?"

"If we don't ask, we can't be refused," said Scorpius, with stunning logic. They snuck past their mothers, who were both laughing incredulously at the lack of waiters - although they didn't hesitate to help themselves to the champagne cocktails. Scorpius was just about to lift a glass, while Morse was chatting to some schoolfriends, when Rose stomped up to them.

Albus knew Rose loved pink, which had been fine when she was younger and her hair more golden than red. It had darkened steadily as she got older; and, fashion philistine though he was, Albus could tell the combination of auburn hair and shocking pink robes was a bad one. This was even leaving aside the fact that her robes were sashed as high as any woman's, though she was barely twelve.

"What do you think you're doing?" she snapped.

"Playing the tambourine - what does it look like?" Scorpius' voice was lazy, but his eyes were rock-hard.

"Those are champagne!" she shrilled. "I'll tell your mother."

"Tell tales all you like - see if I care. C'mon, Albus."

"We can always try Luna -" Albus began, when Rose cut in.

"Albus is my cousin," she said. "He stays with me."

Albus stared at her, too surprised to even laugh. Scorpius grabbed his wrist. "You must be joking," he said. "After what you did to Mouse? You're lucky he even looks at you, never mind hanging out with you when all your stupid little friends aren't here."

"Don't you insult my friends, Malfoy." Rose spat the name like a swear-word. "What do you know about it anyway?"

"Enough to know that you don't deserve a moment of my friend's time," snarled Scorpius.

Albus let himself be pulled away, not even looking at Rose. He was incensed by her presumption, but he also felt a wee inkling of pity for her. He knew he wouldn't like to be friends with someone who had done what Rose did, even if it was to a person she hated. Maybe her friends were starting to feel the same way.

"You dare walk away from me? Malfoy! Are you listening to me?" Rose grabbed the collar of Scorpius' robes. Scorpius shoved his elbow back to free himself, catapulting her into Morse's back. Champagne went everywhere, but mostly on Rose. She launched herself on Scorpius, spitting like a cat. Scorpius grabbed her hands to prevent her clawing his eyes out. Albus threw himself atop Rose and tried to roll her away.

"What on earth is going on here?" thundered Aunt Hermione, red-faced from sprinting across the clearing. "All of you, stop fighting at once!"

Albus obediently released Rose and got to his feet. Scorpius managed to pry Rose off his chest. Albus helped him up. Scorpius' once-immaculate robes were soiled with grass-stains, but they were nothing to the wreckage of Rose's.

"Daddy!" wailed Rose, and threw herself into Uncle Ron's arms. She hid her face in his chest and began to cry loudly.

"Now see here," blustered Uncle Ron, "just what have you been doing to my daughter, you little devil?"

"She grabbed me. I was trying to get her off." Scorpius was breathing heavily. Almost unconsciously, Albus edged closer to him.

Within seconds they were joined by Mr Malfoy and Dad. "What's going on here?" asked Dad.

"That bastard's son attacked Rosie, that's what!"

"I did not!" said Scorpius loudly, as Mr Malfoy chimed in, "How dare you make these baseless accusations? Ask your own precious daughter what happened."

"Rose?" Aunt Hermione shook her daughter's shoulder. Rose burrowed deeper into Uncle Ron's chest, making a growl of protest. "Come along, dear, tell us what happened."

"I don't want to!" bawled Rose, lifting her head for a moment - just long enough for Albus to see that she wasn't crying at all.

At that a thousand thrusts and parries issued from the mouths of the adults assembled. There was Uncle Ron, bellowing about how Malfoys were scum and not to be trusted; Mr Malfoy sneering that by all accounts Rose was a spoiled madam and beaten by a Mudblood and a Malfoy in the rankings to boot; Aunt Hermione shrieking, first at one person and then another, calling her husband to task for yelling and Mr Malfoy for using the M-word; and Dad, too, his face red as a tomato, yelling that he'd always known Malfoy's brat would be a bad influence and here was the proof.

Scorpius went very white, looking too shocked even to speak. Albus took a deep breath and shouted.

"SHUT UP! JUST ALL OF YOU, SHUT UP!"

The surprise of hearing the enraged order worked for half a second. Then Aunt Hermione said, "Albus, dear, we're just trying to get to the bottom of this -"

"There's no need! I'll tell you. Rose wanted me to play with her instead of Scorpius. I refused, and she tried to stop us leaving."

"Ridiculous," said Uncle Ron. "Rosie wouldn't do that. None of it makes any sense. Why wouldn't you want to play with her - your own cousin?"

"Because," panted Albus, at the end of his tether, "she's a bitch."

After that, all hell broke loose.
 
 
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(Deleted comment)
every Starbucks should have a polar bearscoradh on August 15th, 2007 10:44 pm (UTC)
I tell my parents to stop being stupid all the time ... pity they don't listen to my voice of ultimate wisdom! *g*