Questions and Answers


Story Summary:
What happens when the past collides with the present and threatens to cast the Potters' and Weasleys' lives into disarray...

Chapter 76 - Everything's Fine


Ginny massaged the back of her neck, trying to work out the kinks that had taken up residence there the past few days. She knocked softly on Al's bedroom door, then slipped inside. He was sitting up in bed, reading Victor Krum's autobiography yet again. 'It's getting late,' she told him.

'Summer hols, Mum,' Al said shortly.

'Turn out the light by midnight,' Ginny ordered. When Al didn't reply, she added sharply, 'I mean it, Albus.'

Al said nothing, his eyes narrowing slightly, increasing his resemblance to his father.

Ginny ran a hand through her hair a few times and perched on the edge of Al's bed. 'Listen, Al, it's not that your dad and I think you aren't capable of playing with England in a year or two, it's just that...'

'And what do you know?' Al snorted. 'You only played for, what? Five seasons? And then quit to have a baby?'

'That's not why I quit.'

'That's not what the writers say.'

'If anyone's in a position to say why I quit playing, that would be me - the person who made the decision...' Ginny folded her hands together and studied Al. 'I've been around Quidditch longer than you've been alive,' she stated calmly. 'I know the game, on a professional level, as much as most scouts and players. I've played with excellent Seekers and horrible Seekers. You do have what it takes to be one of the best Seekers the game has ever seen. You just need some time to get more... mature.'

'What's that supposed to mean?' Al muttered, scowling.

'Tell me the difference between professional and school Snitches,' Ginny challenged him.

Al sat up, eyes glowing. 'That's easy, Mum. Professional-grade Snitches are faster, they can change directions on angles that school Snitches can't even begin to do. Sometimes, it's like trying to catch water, they're so quick.'

Ginny reared back a little, startled. He had just accurately described her experience with professional Snitches. 'That's about right,' she said faintly. 'But so are the players. You've just turned fourteen. The youngest player on the English squad is twenty-two. They're larger, more experienced...'

Al brandished Krum's book. 'But Krum started playing with Bulgaria when he was fifteen!'

Ginny sighed. 'True,' she admitted. 'He also has an entirely different build than you. And if you'll look at the photograph of his first year with Bulgaria, he's already the size he'd be during his first World Cup. But still, that's still a full year older than you are now. Why can't you wait another year...?'

'Because they want me now,' Al explained, with the barely disguised impatience teenagers often employed with their parents. 'They might not want me next year.'

'Believe me, Al, if they want you this badly now, they'll want you a year from now,' Ginny persisted. 'You needn't rush into things.'

'You don't think I can do it,' Al blurted.

'I just think you ought to wait a bit,' Ginny retorted.

Al threw the book on the night table and slide down into the bed. 'I'd like to go to sleep now,' he mumbled sullenly.

Ginny reached over and gently squeezed one of his knees. 'Al, darling...'

'Good night, Mum.'

Stung, Ginny slid off the bed, and jabbed her wand at the lamp next to his bed, then strode from the room, flicking her wand at the door. The door slammed behind her, and Ginny's shoulders jerked, as the sound reverberated through the corridor. 'I'm supposed to be the adult,' she muttered under her breath, as she barged into her bedroom. Harry peered at her shortsightedly, while he polished the lenses of his glasses on the hem of his t-shirt.

'Dare I ask?' He settled his glasses on his nose and looked at her expectantly.

'He's not going to listen to us,' Ginny said morosely. 'Either of us.'

'I could have told you that,' Harry smirked.

Ginny slumped into Harry's arms. 'What are we going to do with him?' She twisted so she could see him. 'Maybe we should let him practice with the English team,' she suggested. 'Just once, so he can see what we're talking about.'

Harry shook his head. 'We've already told him no. That might get his hopes up unnecessarily.'

'Then what do you suggest?' Ginny asked stiffly.

The silence spooled out between them. 'I don't know...' Harry finally admitted.


Harry strode off the lift and turned toward the Auror Department on Level Two. He looked straight ahead pausing at a cluster of cubicles long enough to bark,' Iain, Bree, Andre - my office. Now.'

Baffled, the three Aurors shrugged, used to their Head's moods, and followed him to the Head Auror's office at the end of the corridor. Harry threw his bag down, the seams of the old leather messenger bag creaking as the contents shifted. 'I would like to know how a blatant case of Muggle baiting somehow escaped our notice?' he all but shouted.

Bree and Andre exchanged confused glances. 'What Muggle baiting?' Bree asked uncertainly.

'My cousin was attacked near his home on Saturday evening,' Harry said bitingly. 'And somehow we missed that.'

'That's because it wasn't a wizard,' Andre told him.

Harry blinked. 'What?'

Andre rubbed the back of his neck. 'I've had the trainees follow him the past few weeks. To work on their stealth and disguise skills. Your cousin doesn't run the same route every night, you see. And it's good for them to tail a moving target like that.' He coughed lightly. 'Stealing a leaf out of your book,' he informed Harry. 'And considering he's related to you, I thought it would be a good idea to have someone keep an eye on him from time to time, in case anyone sympathized with that Obliviator bloke we put away last winter.'

Indignation dissipated quickly, and Harry's body seemed to collapse on itself. 'But he... he told me yesterday it was someone magic... He said they mentioned me...'

Andre nodded. 'Yeah. Erm... They saw it. Someone had been following him for a few days. They mentioned it to me in their daily reports, and Jack even rang the police, but they told him nothing had happened - no attempted assault or harassment - so there wasn't anything they could do.'

'Unbelievable,' Harry muttered, massaging his temples. 'Not you. The police. Very helpful of them.'

'Dominic said the bloke jumped out at your cousin, and started slashing. Yelling that he was an abomination. Jack Stunned him, tied his wrists together, while Dom tried to do something about the wounds, but neither of them are very good with Healing spells. Dom said your cousin saw Jack hex the attacker. And then they argued about whether to call you after they'd called 999 to come take your cousin to a hospital.' Andre heaved a sigh. 'I imagine that's what he heard... And Jack and Dom didn't recognize the attacker from the magical community.'

'That's because Dom and Jack are practically infants and wouldn't know Lucius Malfoy if he came back from the dead and stood in front of them starkers doing the can-can...' Harry rubbed his temples. 'Why didn't you tell me you had the trainees following Dudley?'

'I did,' Andre stammered. 'Two days before we started...'

'You did?' Harry blurted. He vaguely remembered having a conversation with Andre, and murmuring assent to whatever it was he had said.

'Harry?' Bree ventured. 'When was the last time you had a nice holiday?'

'And going to America in March doesn't count, because that was work,' Iain stated.

'Insubordinate. The lot of you,' Harry muttered resentfully.

'You taught us,' Bree huffed. 'Learned from the expert.'

'So?' Iain asked archly. 'When what the last time you had a real holiday?'

'The only reason you can get away with this is because I've known you so bloody long, you know,' Harry groused. 'And it was four years ago. Before James started Hogwarts.'

Iain turned to his wife. 'I'd say he's overdue for one, don't you?'

'Hmmm.' Bree gazed at Harry thoughtfully. 'I do. Far overdue.'

'Gits,' Harry muttered.

'They're right,' Andre said. 'You do need a break.'

'Later,' Harry retorted. 'After we figure out who attacked my cousin.' He turned to Andre. 'Where is the attacker, exactly?'

'Police have him in custody,' Andre replied. 'I can find out exactly where before lunch.'

'Brilliant. Arrange a time for me to go in and question him.' Harry bent and grabbed the strap of his bag and swung it to his desk. 'As soon as possible. The sooner the better. This afternoon if you can. If not, first thing tomorrow morning.'

'Harry...' Bree hesitated. He was in a rare mood this morning and she didn't want to tilt the balance any further than necessary. 'It's not... You shouldn't...' She bit her lips and appealed wordlessly to Iain. He arched a thick brow in response, but heaved a sigh and plowed ahead.

'You can't,' he said bluntly. 'It's against protocol.'

Harry slapped a hand flat against the surface of his desk. 'Damn the bloody protocol!'

'But Harry, it's an enormous conflict of interest,' protested Bree.

'Would any of you be able to tell if the person in question was indeed magical?' Harry said pointedly.

Andre muffled a pungent curse. 'Most of the usual suspects,' he said defensively.

'And those who aren't the usual suspects?' Harry asked evenly. 'Would you know?'

'Fine,' Iain relented, albeit most reluctantly. 'But we - and that means the senior Aurors who aren't the Head - will run the investigation,' he countered.

Harry glared at him, eyes narrowed belligerently, lips pressed together in a thin line. 'Fine,' he relented.


Ginny set her bowl in the sink and gave each of her children a gimlet eye. 'No friends can come over, unless you've arranged it with either your father or me,' she said, gulping the last of her tea. 'James is in charge, and if any of you get hurt beyond the capabilities of essence of dittany, you're to firecall your grandmother. Understand?'

'Mum?' James ventured. 'I'm going to be sixteen in September. I think we'll be all right.'

Ginny nibbled a bothersome hangnail on her thumb and studied her oldest child. 'Very well. Just make sure you eat more than Every Flavor Beans and butterbeer for lunch, please.' She leaned closer to James, whispering in his ear. 'And for Merlin's sake, do not let Lily try to cook anything.'

James' face grew stricken. Lily had tried to make their lunch during the Easter holiday and it had not gone well. Even the neighbors' dog turned his nose up at it, and that dog ate nearly anything that landed in their garden. 'No, Mum,' he said hastily.

'Right, then,' Ginny said briskly, swinging her bag over her shoulder. 'Lily, you've got that class at the comprehensive school at two. Make sure you leave by one-thirty. Your dad ought to be home by four at the latest. I'll be home by six.' She quickly kissed James, Al, and Lily in turn. 'Bye...' She dashed out the door, pulling her wand from the pocket of her trousers, almost simultaneously turning as she did so, and Apparated to Holyhead.

She reappeared in the midst of a milling crowd outside the Harpies' stadium. In recent years, Gwenog had taken to introducing the team, from the actual squad itself to the reserves and down to the practice squad before starting pre-season training. It allowed the Harpies' fans a chance to meet their favorite player, for children to take a photograph with them, and later, there would be an exhibition match between the team and the reserves. 'I didn't expect to see you here,' exclaimed a gravelly voice behind Ginny. 'With you being the Quidditch editor and all.'

Ginny spun around, managing to smile at Gwenog. 'And as the editor, I get to decide to cover certain events, if I want.' She gestured around them at the sea of dark green and gold. 'And you can hardly expect me to stay away.'

Gwenog tilted Ginny's chin up a bit. She looked a bit wan and her smile didn't seem to reach her eyes. 'Something's bothering you.'

'It's nothing,' Ginny demurred.

'Hmmm.' Gwenog gave Ginny the same sort of look she had when Ginny had missed a particularly easy goal. 'You find me after the game. We'll talk.'


Draco hooked a finger into the curtain covering the window, and pulled it aside, looking out over Green Park. 'She said I needed a hobby.'

'Do you?' Andrew speared his patient with a look.

'I suppose I might.'

'What do you enjoy doing?'

'I don't know...'

Andrew scribbled a few things in his notebook. 'Is there anything you ever wanted to do? Music lessons, art? Sport, perhaps?'

Draco frowned, watching the ebb and flow of traffic in the street below. At length, he finally said, 'Daphne grows flowers and herbs. The conservatory and flowerbeds outside the house... They're beautiful and all hers. She can read four languages. I'm sure if there was a fifth one she wanted to learn, she'd do it...'

'She sounds like a remarkable woman.' Andrew suddenly grinned. 'You're falling in love with her.'

Draco's mouth snapped shut. 'I... Erm... That...' he stammered.

'Do you like her?'


'Do you enjoy spending time with her?'


'Can you see yourself with her in ten years? Fifteen? Twenty?' Andrew shot at him in a rapid-fire manner.

'I would like to,' Draco admitted. He hadn't realized how lonely his existence had been, even with Daphne in the house when he hadn't made an effort to try and get to know her.

'You don't have to do the same things she does, you know. It's perfectly acceptable for married couples to have different interests.' He retrieved his notebook and leaned back in his chair. 'Now then. We were speaking about you.'

'I want to...' Draco turned back to the curtain, fiddling with it. 'I, at one time, fancied myself quite the expert in potion-making...' he confessed. 'I toyed with the idea of...' He took a deep breath. 'Writing...' he said in a low voice.

'Writing what?'

'It's stupid...'

'What's stupid is if you don't try,' Andrew threw back at him.

'Book,' Draco murmured, directing the word at the window. 'But it's not going to happen...'

'Why not?'

Draco turned around to face the Healer. 'In case you've forgotten, I remain on probation. And will continue to remain so until the Ministry decides I'm no longer a threat. Considering they haven't changed their minds in the past twenty years, I see no reason for them to do it now.'

'You won't know until you try,' Andrew pointed out. 'Have you been banned from publishing?'

'I...' Draco's mind raced through the conditions of his probation, darting through the tiny lines of precise script. 'I'm not sure. But who would want to buy something I wrote?'

'Who said you had to publish it under "Draco Malfoy"?'

'Do you know how much I detest it when you answer my questions with a question?'

'A great deal, if you're anything like my other patients,' Andrew said with a smile. 'But if that's something you want to pursue, then it behooves you to at the very least make the attempt to find out if your probation will be an impediment.' He pointed his ballpoint pen at Draco. 'At some point, Draco, you're going to have to stop talking about things and start doing them.'

'I don't suppose you'd be so good as to tell me when that's supposed to happen?'

'Nope. That's something you're going to have to figure out.'

'Will there ever be a time where you just tell me how and when to do something?' Draco grumbled in exasperation.

'Would you listen?' Andrew asked dryly.

Draco's head tilted to the side as he considered the question. 'Probably not.'


Gwenog pushed a glass to Ginny across the small table tucked into a small corner of the pub. 'I hear England wants your youngest boy.'

'How did you find out?' Ginny asked.

'It's Quidditch,' Gwenog replied simply, as if it explained everything, and it did. Quidditch was a rather small community, so word - if there was any at all - tended to travel quickly. She sipped her own drink. 'They're idiots, if you ask me. He needs to fill out some so he can defend himself. He's liable get knocked off his broom as soon as they blow the whistle to start the game. Sad day when team captains stop listening to their own scouts.'

Ginny stared into her drink, swirling it slightly. 'They sent a letter to us in March, asking if he could try out for the team. Not as a reserve, but the actual Seeker. We told him no. For the same reasons you've just said.'

'And he's gone off into a sulk?' Gwenog guessed, all too familiar with the way particularly talented Quidditch players could behave.

'Something like that...'

'Have you thought about letting him practice with the team, just so he gets a taste of it?'

Ginny shook her head, brows drawing together. 'No. That's entirely out of the question.' She set her elbows on the table and leaned closer to Gwenog. 'Do you remember the mob of reporters that came to every game my first season?'


Ginny nodded shortly. 'Even with a mere practice, can you imagine the media circus that would be? First of all, there's his age. Second, there's the small matter of his parents,' she added deprecatingly. 'No,' she repeated. 'This has to be handled privately.'

'That is a problem,' Gwenog agreed. She tapped her fingers on the scarred surface of the table for several minutes. 'Your family games...' she began.

'What about them?'

'You pull your punches, no?'

'Well... Yeah, of course we do,' Ginny replied matter-of-factly. 'Even then, someone usually ends up with a bloody nose, or black eye. Had a few broken noses, fingers, and arms in the past.'

'Perhaps you shouldn't with Al next time.'

'I don't know,' Ginny said doubtfully. 'It might backfire...'

'Just an idea, Gin. You don't have to do it. But if he's a fraction as hard-headed as you are, that might be what it takes.'

Ginny rubbed her hand over her face. 'I can't do it,' she groaned. 'I can't do that to my child...'

'He's not a child anymore,' Gwenog huffed. 'Acting like one, though.'

'It's manipulative,' Ginny stated flatly. 'And I refuse to be a party to it.'

'Your choice,' Gwenog said with a shrug. 'But you can't hold a kid like him down for very long, yeah? Try that, and you'll lose him.'

Ginny's eyes closed against the sting of tears. 'I know.'


Harry nudged the tray in front of Dudley with a cautious fingertip. 'Blimey. I thought the food in our hospital was disgusting...' His nose wrinkled at the odiferous, yet somehow limp in appearance, fish fillet that sat inertly on the plate. The roasted potatoes hunched in an arid clump next to it. For pudding, there was something that resembled cake, topped with desiccated peaches. There was a small carton of milk provided with the meal, but it seemed to require both hands to open it, and Dudley was currently making do with one. The other was bound in a sling.

'It's a ploy,' Dudley proffered. 'To make us get out of here sooner.' He grinned. 'I keep trying to convince Aaron to sneak in something edible, but the ward sister terrifies him. Terrifies me, as well,' he confided.

'Reminds me of one of my teachers at school,' Harry mused, tilting his chair back a little, so he could peer at the sister through a gap in the curtains, marching between beds. If she'd worn wizarding robes, they would have billowed about - quite like an overgrown bat. 'He was rather intimidating at times.' He snorted mirthfully. 'Unless of course, you were an insolent brat, like I was.'

'Speaking of that...' Dudley began. 'Did you look into it?' he asked significantly.

'I spoke to some members of my department this morning. They've had the two trainees following you for the past several days, apparently. Evidently, you're good practice.'

'Never run the same route two days in a row,' Dudley said proudly.

'It seems you vary your route daily,' Harry correctly wryly. 'Be that as it may, they saw it all. They were the ones that rang for help. It seems that you were semi-conscious and heard them arguing about what to do next.'

Dudley looked gobsmacked. 'So it was just some random nutter?' he whispered incredulously.

'It looks that way.' Harry gently touched Dudley's uninjured arm. 'I'm to pay your attacker a visit in the morning, just to make sure. We really do try to keep tabs on people who don't like your sort.'

'I thought they didn't think like that so much anymore,' Dudley said in obvious confusion.

Harry sat back in the hard, straight-backed chair. 'Mostly, we don't. It still doesn't stop people from looking for something - or someone - to blame for their lot in life.' He looked his bewildered cousin in the eye. 'I promise you, if it is one of ours...' He trailed off and the rest of the thought hung between them, unsaid.

Dudley's eyes widened briefly at the cold, hard light that flashed in Harry's eyes, repressing a shiver. For the merest sliver of a moment, he almost pitied the wizard that crossed Harry, much less threatened a family member. Harry nodded once, then unfolded his lanky frame from the chair.

'I have to go. Ginny's working a bit late tonight, and the kids have been by themselves all day.'

'Make sure they haven't killed each other, eh?'

'Something like that.' Harry patted Dudley's back in farewell, and walked down the corridor, almost running right into Aaron.

'Oh, good. You're here...' Aaron slipped a hand into the jacket of his suit and presented Harry with two envelopes. 'One is for you. I promised Ginny the other day I'd send her a recent photograph of Sarah.' He thumbed the topmost envelope aside, revealing one addressed to a certain house in Little Whinging. 'I don't suppose you could post that one for me...?'

Surprised, Harry took both envelopes. He ran a thumb over the Dursleys' address and glanced at Aaron. 'You think they'll open it?'

Aaron looked down at the envelope, the address written in his painfully neat penmanship, the image of Petunia leaning avidly forward for news of her granddaughter, all the while maintaining a perfectly aloof facial expression. 'I think she will. Whether she keeps it or tosses it into the dustbin...' He shrugged. 'That is entirely something else.'

'Doesn't hurt to try, then, I suppose.' Harry tucked the envelopes into the pocket of his trousers and left the hospital. He found a postbox on the street and pulled out the envelope meant for Petunia and stared at it until the name blurred and swam, then finally dropped it through the slot.


Andre stopped by Harry's desk and handed him a small slip of paper. 'He's in Brixton.'

Harry's brows rose. Brixton had a somewhat dodgy reputation, despite its numerous reforms. 'What do I need to take with me?'

'Photographic identification. Like a driving license...'

'I've got that...'

'You'll be searched, but we have one of the Aurors in there, and they'll be responsible for the search, so you won't have to worry about your wand.' Andre consulted the slip of paper clutched in Harry's fingers. 'Glynnis Fry... One of the older Aurors...'

Harry nodded. Glynnis had been with the Aurors for years before he joined the department, and was close to retirement. Working as a liaison between the Ministry and His Majesty's Prison Service was a way for her to ease out of active service and into retirement. 'Thanks.' Andre's head bobbed once and his mouth opened, then snapped shut. 'What?' Harry asked. 'You've never felt obligated to keep your opinions secret.'

Andre's face tightened for a moment. 'It's just... All indications point to this being nothing. It's an enormous allocation of time, resources, effort...'

Harry folded the slip of paper between his fingers. 'Not if it keeps someone who enjoys hurting people - magical or otherwise - from being able to do it again,' he said grimly. 'I want to talk with Dominic and Jack when I get back, all right?'

Andre exhaled through his nose. 'Fine.'


Harry was greeted by Glynnis, the corner of his mouth turning up briefly at the sight of the usually grandmotherly woman outfitted in a severe police uniform. 'Harry Potter to see Joseph Alderton,' he said genially.

'Photograpic identification, please,' Glynnis intoned in a bored sort of voice.

Harry dug his wallet from the pocket of his trousers and thumbed his driving license from its sleeve, then handed it over to Glynnis, who pretended to examine it. 'I've got you set up in a private interview room. And I've, ah, taken care of the video camera...' she said in a low voice. She handed Harry back his license and added, 'You need to fill out this form, sir.' Harry quickly scanned the form, and dutifully filled in the information. 'Right this way, sir.' Glynnis motioned for Harry to follow her. He emptied his pockets, save for his wand, which Glynnis, as promised, pretended not to notice, and allowed her to scan him with a metal detector, before allowing him through the door behind her. She took him to a room containing a small table and two chairs, one of them occupied by Joseph Alderton.

A look of surprise flitted over Alderton's face, then just as quickly smoothed into vague neutrality as Harry took the other seat. Harry frowned and folded his hands together on top of the smooth surface of the table. 'Who's your family?' Harry asked quietly.

'Haven't got one,' Alderton said sullenly.

'I can look it up,' Harry said mildly.

Alderton looked uncomfortable. 'I'm from Hampshire,' he said finally. 'I went to a boarding school, starting with year six.'

'What's the name of the school?'

'St. James'. In Lincolnshire.'

'Hmmm.' Harry studied the man sitting across from him. 'Is there a reason why you were sent all the way to Lincolnshire?'

Alderton shook his head. 'No idea,' he said. But something in his eyes made Harry take pause.

Harry leaned across the table. 'You weren't told why you were sent to a boarding school?' His lips pursed. 'Even I was informed why I was sent to one...'

'My parents just said it was for the best.'

Harry sat back in his chair. 'Why did you attack Dudley Dursley last Saturday evening?'

'Haven't been convicted yet,' Alderton corrected.

'Fine. Allegedly,' Harry grunted, far too familiar with legal niceties.

'I don't like him.'

Harry blinked. 'Do you even know him?'

'I know his kind.'

Harry stiffened with barely suppressed outrage. 'I'm sorry... What do you mean by "his kind"?'

'His kind. Abominations.'

'Against what, may I ask?'

'Against the natural order of things.'

'Which is?'

Alderton smiled thinly. 'You wouldn't understand, would you? To be born something different from the rest of your family? To know they loathe you, and wonder where they went wrong with you?'

Harry swallowed around the large lump in his throat. 'I...' He took a steadying breath. 'I understand far more than you think.'

'Yeah, right,' Alderton snorted. 'Are we done here?'

'Yeah, we're done...' Harry stayed seated as Alderton rose from the chair and slouched to the door, knocking to notify the officer on the other side he was ready to leave. He remained there long after Alderton had left, thoroughly confused. Everything he'd said had more than one meaning. And Harry hadn't missed the expression on Alderton's face when he walked into the room. He was hiding something.

Or perhaps he wasn't hiding anything at all, and Andre, Bree, and Iain were right - he needed a nice long holiday, and was looking for shadows where none existed.


Charlie glanced down the long table during the usual family Sunday lunch. Al normally sat next to Rose, but this afternoon, he was all the way on the end, next to his oldest boy Owen, who rarely spoke, unless addressed directly. Al slumped in his chair, molding the pile of mashed potatoes into peaks and valleys, shooting resentful looks at his parents. Charlie knew why. It was one of the worst-kept secrets the family had. He'd heard all about it from Isabella.

Charlie idly tore a roll in half, absently buttering it, wondering where time had gone. He could still see the newborn Albus, cradled in Ginny's arms, hardly larger than the doll she'd had as a little girl. Even then, as a baby, he'd been stubborn - hardly a feat considering both of his parents had legendary amounts of willfulness. Mere words weren't going to convince his nephew he was far too young to play professionally. And Charlie, once considered a top prospect for England himself, before he took off for Romania, knew what he was going to do. It was just going to take a great deal of careful planning.

He looked across the table at George, and jerked his head toward the door. George nodded, then Charlie nudged Bill in the ribs. George's eyes narrowed at this silent byplay, but cottoned on rather quickly, and in the guise of separating Jacob and Fred from a minor tussle, tapped Ron on the shoulder and gestured to the door. When Ron started to prod Harry, Charlie began to cough loudly and dramatically. George leaned down to Ron and whispered, 'Leave Harry out of this one, eh?' Ron eyed him in bemusement, but slowly drew his hand back and wrapped it around the handle of his knife.

After pudding had been served and devoured, Charlie remarked to Bill, 'Bit stuffy in here. Think I'll go for a bit of air...' He strolled out into the garden, followed at irregular intervals by Bill, George, and Ron. A silvery crane perched with nonchalance on the stone wall, and as they approached, flew off in the direction of the old treehouse. Charlie was sitting on the floor of it, his back braced against a wall, face tilted to the sun streaming through the window.

'So?' George asked, taking a spot on the floor next to Charlie.

'So the game next week,' Charlie began, his voice barely above a murmur. 'Albus wants to play with the big boys, let's show him what it's like to play with the big boys.'

Ron gaped at him. 'Are you mad?' he spluttered. 'Blimey, Charlie, he'll be lucky to get off with a concussion...'

'Exactly,' Charlie confirmed.

'Ginny's liable to hex us all,' Bill mused.

'Risk we'll have to take,' George shot back.

'Harry and Ginny will never approve of this,' Ron said nervously.

'And that's why we won't tell them,' Charlie said. 'They're both smart, after a few minutes they'll figure it out. But they'll be able to claim they knew nothing... And if young Albus acts like a git on his broom, and I'm sure he will, well...' Charlie shrugged.

'Should we play like Falmouth, or like we have morals and ethics?' Bill asked.

'I don't think we ought to play dirty,' George stated. 'But I think we ought to use professional-grade equipment. Especially the Snitch.'

'So no aiming Bludgers at his head, eh?' Ron asked.

'No,' Charlie replied. 'But don't make it easy for him. Apply pressure, try to unseat him. We've all seen professional matches. We know what they can do, and we're capable of doing most of it.'

'Should we tell Percy?' wondered Bill. 'Even though he doesn't play...'

'He keeps score,' Ron interjected. 'We ought to let him know.'

'So it's us against...?' George asked Charlie.

'Adults against the kids?' Bill guessed.

'George and me as Beaters,' Charlie said slowly. 'Bill, Ginny, and Teddy can play Chaser. Ron, you'll play Keeper, and Harry will be the Seeker.' He paused, chewing the inside of his cheek. 'We'll need Vic to provide any medical assistance, too...'

'She can do that,' Bill said.

'What about the kids' team?' George wondered.

'Parker plays Keeper,' Ron said. 'Maddie, Izzy, and Victoire as Chasers. Fred and Jacob will be the Beaters, and Al, of course, is the Seeker.'

'James won't play?' Bill asked in surprise. 'Or Rosie?'

'Nobody under sixteen plays this one,' Charlie decided.

'That's rather arbitrary,' Bill argued.

'Yeah, but Maddie's almost of age,' George responded. 'And the twins are like a bloody wall.'

Charlie stood, stooping slightly under the low roof of the treehouse. 'So we're in agreement?'

Bill glanced at George and Ron. They each gave him a jerk of the head with a cocked brow that he took to mean assent. 'Yeah,' he muttered, replying for them all.


Al leaned against the apple tree, toying with a Snitch, releasing it, letting it fly away, then snatching it from midair. Harry had told them their grandfather James used to do it all the time to impress people with his Quidditch skills. It sounded like a good idea, and Al thought it was a good way to improve his technique.

Isabella perched sideways on her broom, swinging her feet so the tips of her toes swished through the tall grass of the paddock. Every time Al let go of the Snitch, and caught it with a smirking flourish, she rolled her eyes. After he let out a self-satisfied bark of laughter, she burst out, 'Oh, for Godric's sake, we know you're good already! Give it a rest, yeah?'

Fred and Jacob's mouths dropped open in identical faces of shock. Isabella could be blunt, but she rarely used such an irate tone. 'Iz...' Fred said in a hushed whisper.

'Like the rest of you weren't thinking the same thing,' she grumbled.

'Well, none of us were going to actually say it,' Parker murmured.

A muscle in Al's jaw jumped as he ground his teeth together. 'What do you know?' he huffed belligerently to Isabella. 'You're just a bloody scout. Those who can... do. Those who can't...' He trailed off and left the rest of the thought unspoken, but his meaning was abundantly clear. Isabella's opinion, according to Al, was worthless, since she wasn't actually going to play the game, except as a recreational activity with the family.

Isabella went rigid. Her hands curled into fists, fingernails biting into her palms. She wanted nothing more than to Apparate home, find the letter on her bureau from Appleby, offering her a place on their Reserves, and return to the Burrow to brandish it in Al's face. She briefly considered smacking the smug look off his face, but swallowed the bile that rose in the back of her throat and stalked in the direction she'd seen Charlie walk toward after lunch. She nearly ran headlong into her father.

Charlie steadied Isabella, looking at her in concern. She vibrated with rage, barely holding it in check. 'What is it, cariad?' he asked gently.

'I know you're planning something,' she said, her voice shaking.

'Maybe,' Charlie hedged.

Isabella looked over Charlie's shoulder and gestured at her uncles strolling down the paddock. 'The four of you. You're plotting something.' She sniffed the air delicately above him. 'And no alcohol was involved.' George, Bill, and Ron slowed as they joined them. Isabella gave them each piercing looks before she turned back to Charlie. 'If it's got anything to do with Al, I want in on it.'

'Iz... Izzy... I don't think...' Charlie began, but Isabella cut him off with a hand, slashing through the air.

'Dad... I'm done trying to talk to that little wanker,' Isabella hissed. 'I want in.'

Charlie cupped his daughter's face in his roughened hands. His thumbs swept unheeded tears from her cheeks and he lightly kissed her forehead. She wasn't to be dissuaded. 'All right.'