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Growing Up Magical by TenthWeasley

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Format: Short story collection
Chapters: 10
Word Count: 25,807
Status: COMPLETED

Rating: 12+
Warnings: Mild Language, Mild Violence

Genres: Fluff, General
Characters: Harry, Hermione, Cedric, Seamus, Neville, Luna, Draco, Oliver, OtherCanon
Pairings:

First Published: 12/22/2011
Last Chapter: 06/14/2012
Last Updated: 10/11/2012

Summary:





Once upon a time wasn't all that long ago.

A series of one-shots based around canon characters and snapshots from their childhood. Ravenclaw Best Written for April 2012. Fantastic banner by socal @ TDA!


Chapter 1: Neville
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There was no smell more pleasant, Neville Longbottom thought happily, than the sugary smell of something baking in the oven. He curled his toes under the tightly-drawn blankets of his bed and debated whether to get up or perhaps continue reading his adventure novel for just a few more minutes. It was the summer holiday, after all, and a summer holiday was good for nothing if not lazing about and doing nothing in particular. But just as he was about to pick up the book once more, his brain clicked into gear, and along with the smell of boiling tea came the connection he’d come to associate with it.

His relatives must be coming today.

It wasn’t that Neville disliked his great uncle and great aunt, exactly; on the contrary, Great Uncle Algie told very thrilling stories. Being his grandmother’s brother, he really couldn’t have been more different, stern and austere as she was. And Great Aunt Enid was always good for a Sickle or two if Gran looked away for a moment. No, the problem with having relatives for tea was the fact that whenever they were around, Neville always felt as though his life was in perpetual danger.

For a boy who had reached the age of eight, and had grown up in the wizarding world his entire life, Neville Longbottom had shown a surprising lack of magical ability – namely, none. And Great Uncle Algie was apparently under the impression that this magic was simply buried dormant deep within Neville, perhaps caught in his ribs or something, and he was determined to shake it loose from him. On a very memorable day the summer before, Neville had been taken by tremendous surprise when Great Uncle Algie had simply shoved him off the end of the Blackpool pier, apparently forgetting his grandnephew had never learned to swim. In his credit, he had profusely apologized once it was clear that Neville was in no danger of being drowned.

As though sensing her grandson was up, the imperious and demanding voice of Augusta Longbottom suddenly shouted up the stairs, shattering those rather lucid and horrible memories. “Neville, we do not waste away the day,” she said crisply. From the kitchen there was a sort of tinkling, as though china cups were being shuffled around together. “Please dress quickly and come downstairs. Algernon and Enid are due within the half hour, and I should like you looking decent before then.”

“Coming, Gran,” Neville called back down, attempting in vain to disguise the distinct overtone of laziness from his voice. He swung his legs from bed and shuffled out of his striped silk pajamas as slowly as he thought he could get away with; he had not bothered changing out of them after breakfast several hours previously, seeing no sense in doing so if he was climbing right back into bed. He chose his most nondescript shirt and slacks from his orderly wardrobe – his grandmother never tolerated sloppiness, even in an eight-year-old boy. Perhaps, he thought idly, stuffing his foot into the wrong shoe and only realizing it once he’d begun to lace it, I might be able to work at cleaning things, if I don’t get to go to Hogwarts.

It was Neville’s greatest fear that he might be what he’d heard his grandmother call a Squib – someone born into a wizarding family, but without any magical powers themselves. Gran had made Squibs sound like terribly boring and depressing people, never having any fun in the world – rather like house elves, although he’d never met one of them, either. He’d heard many stories from Great Uncle Algie about his youth at the school, and thought he’d rather like to attend it.

Downstairs, his grandmother was standing in front of the stove, testing a batch of meringue with a toothpick. She looked up as he entered, her rather shrewd eyes glancing at the crease in his trousers, which had become decidedly mussed somehow in the course of his trip downstairs. She did not comment on his appearance, however, and merely turned back to the stove.

“Be a dear and set the table for me,” she said, gesturing vaguely to the tea service set out on the counter. Neville picked it up gingerly and placed the pot of tea in the very center, careful not to touch the hottest parts. His mouth was watering rather badly at the prospect of getting a bit of meringue, and he had to concentrate very hard so as not to burn himself.

“Will Great Uncle Algie be coming today?” he asked, glancing back at Gran before popping one of the sugar cubes into his mouth. She’d never notice, he thought – even he couldn’t tell it was missing.

“As always,” the woman replied, wiping her hands neatly on the small apron fastened at her waist and placing the meringue pan on a cooling rack. “And I would like you to be on your best behavior today. We don’t need any more sorts of near-accidents like the previous one.” Neville shuddered in remembered horror and quickly set a cup down, clattering it a bit too strongly. “And if you would be so kind as to replace that sugar cube, it would put me at ease.”

How did she know? Neville thought in bemused wonderment, shaking his head a bit and eyeing his grandmother suspiciously as he moved to the cupboard to fetch a replacement for the offending cube.

At the precise moment he laid down the final cup and saucer, there was a sharp and strong knock on the front door of the small Longbottom home – Neville could always tell when it was his great uncle who was there. He always knocked twice, paused, and knocked three more times, in rapid succession. Neville didn’t know why; perhaps he had a sort of tic.

“And there’s my favorite grandnephew!” Great Uncle Algie boomed, filling the hall with his magnanimous presence as soon as Neville had finished struggling with the latch.

“I’m your only grandnephew,” Neville replied, as he always did, clasping his hands behind his back. He never knew if Great Uncle Algie forgot this or simply made this joke every time the two saw each other, but he put up with it nonetheless.

His relative’s rather debonair mustache twitched in a smile as he scooped the boy up into his arms, hugging him whilst simultaneously making his way toward his sister’s kitchen and the cooking that waited him there. From his view over Great Uncle Algie’s shoulder, he could see Great Aunt Enid rolling her eyes and shaking her head as she removed her traveling gloves.

“Algernon,” said Gran, smiling one of her rare smiles as her brother and his wife appeared in the kitchen. She raised a slim eyebrow, seeing Neville in the older man’s arms, and it was clear she didn’t approve of him being toted about as though he were once more a child. Neville hastily wriggled to be let down, and Great Uncle Algie complied.

“Something smells rather fabulous, Gussie,” he said, patting her cheek and shuffling a bit to the left to conceal Enid and Neville; the former had just been rummaging about in her slightly moth-eaten coin purse for a Sickle to bestow upon him, as expected. “Meringue, I hope?”

Gran did not comment on her brother’s use of her childhood nickname – he was the only one still brave enough to venture calling her that. “On the stove,” she said, motioning toward it. “Tea will be served in just a few minutes, if you don’t mind waiting.”

“Not at all, not at all,” Great Uncle Algie chuckled merrily, as though someone had just let him in on a wonderful secret. “I’ll find something to do to bide my time, I’m sure.” He surveyed his surroundings with a casual eye, and for some reason currently unbeknownst to him, Neville’s insides were suddenly and rapidly plagued with a hideous feeling of foreboding. And, sure enough, not thirty seconds had passed before he spoke again. “I wonder if young Neville here might not be willing to show me a few of his books and - things?”

Neville swallowed, unsure of what his great uncle had planned, but not liking the way the conversation had turned. “I’m not willing, thank you,” he said as politely as he could manage, scooting towards his gran. She turned upon him with a hawk-like gaze, brandishing a long wooden spoon at him.

“Your uncle has made a request of you,” she said firmly. “Don’t be unkind now, Neville. There’s a good boy.”

He’s only my great uncle, Neville thought sullenly, but saw that fighting wasn’t worth the effort at the moment. “Come on, then,” he said gloomily, turning and making for the stairs up to his bedroom, half-wondering if he would come near death this afternoon or not. You never knew with Great Uncle Algie anymore.

His room was small, but tidy, and a grown man and small boy had no difficulty fitting into it, despite the large amount of furniture crammed in. “What a lovely room you have, Neville,” Great Uncle Algie said, eyeing it all with a considerable dose of pleasure. This was a rather ill-fitting comment, as his relative had been inside his bedroom at least three instances Neville could remember, but he did not touch on this either.

“I have lots of adventure novels,” he said instead, moving toward the small bookcase by his bedside table. “Millicent Mulligan has a new one out – The Adventures of Winston, The Brave Little Bowtruckle. See?” He lifted up the book in its garish green cover to show his great uncle, hoping that if he talked about his books enough he would either distract him or simply run out the clock.

“Very nice,” said Great Uncle Algie, in a tone that signified he really didn’t care too much about bowtruckles, brave or otherwise. He ambled over to the large window across from the door leading back out onto the landing, looking through it at the overcast English sky outside, as though it were the most fascinating thing he’d ever seen. Neville instantly wished he’d thought to close it before his great uncle had arrived.

“Lovely day,” he said calmly, fiddling with the end of his mustache innocently. It was not a lovely day, and his grandnephew sat back on his heels, frowning slightly and preparing to make a dash for the door should Great Uncle Algie appear to be trying any of his magic-squashing tricks. He watched as the old man looked up, and gave a sudden start of surprise.

“What is that?” he cried, pointing with a slightly trembling finger to something that was out of Neville’s line of vision. And, in retrospect, Neville might have suspected this to be a trick, but he was nothing if not a very trusting boy of eight, and so immediately pattered over to see whatever it was his great uncle had spotted.

This was his mistake.

Although considerably old, being Gran’s older brother, Great Uncle Algie moved remarkably swiftly for someone his age. With a slight bump of the other’s elbow between the shoulder blades, Neville found himself pitched headfirst through the open window quite before he could think. A hand wrapped around his right ankle, and then his left, holding them firmly so that he was now dangling from the window, looking at the siding of the little cottage upside-down.

“Uncle Algie!” he bellowed, but instead of anger the predominant emotion in his voice became merely fright, and so the shout sounded squeaky and ill-timed. He wasn’t even sure if Great uncle Algie had heard it at all. “Uncle Algie, please let me back inside!”

“Neville, my dear, Squib-inclined boy,” Great Uncle Algie shouted back, not sounding sorry at all, “we must make that magic appear sometime, eh what? Can’t you get yourself back inside? Try hard, now!”

Neville screwed up his eyes tightly, concentrating very hard, although he wasn’t sure what he was concentrating on. “I… I don’t think so,” he said, ashamed now of the hot tears of fright that had sparked in his eyes. “Could you perhaps let me try when my feet are firmly on the ground?”

There was no response. “Uncle Algie?” Neville shouted back again, now hoping beyond hope that no curious neighbors poked their heads out their own windows to see what was going on. They might take a man dangling an eight-year-old out of a window the wrong way.

From somewhere very distant, as though deep within the house he was now dangling out of, he heard Great Aunt Enid’s voice, which appeared to be shouting up the stairs. “Algie?” she warbled, and Neville’s heart soared. “Algie, darling, come down and have some meringue!”

“What’s that?” Great Uncle Algie made a sort of movement, and Neville smacked into the side of the house painfully.

“Meringue!” shrieked Neville’s great aunt. And, with a little “Ah!” of understanding and delight, Great Uncle Algie promptly let go of his grandnephew’s ankles, and the boy immediately began falling in a decidedly downward direction.

As he plummeted, Neville was oddly allowed enough time for several thoughts to pass through his head. The first of these was that, if today was the day he was destined to die, falling from a window into the garden below was at least an interesting way to go about it. The second of these near-death thoughts was that it wasn’t really Great Uncle Algie’s fault, for one might be prone to distraction upon being offered a meringue. And the last thought was a bit of regret that he wouldn’t get to sample today’s dessert for himself.

This was the last thing he remembered pondering before he bounced right off the cobbles below. And bounced a bit more, and a bit more, and bounced all the way to the end of the small path leading to the front door and right out through the still-open gate before momentum brought him to a rolling halt in the middle of the deserted road.

It took a few moments for the fact that he was alive to sink in, and right as this happened, three extremely flustered-looking figures burst through the door of the house, flapping their hands and crying out hysterically. None of the words coming out of their mouths were intelligible, but they spoke of general panic and distress.

“Merlin, Neville,” Great Uncle Algie said at last, entirely abandoning propriety and kneeling in the dirty road, messing up his suit. “I didn’t mean to – terribly sorry that I –“ He began again to fiddle with the ends of his mustache, at a loss for what to say.

“It’s all right,” said Neville, patting the older man’s arm consolingly. “I’m not hurt. I just bounced.”

The panicky noises stopped with eerie quickness, and Neville blinked at his relatives in turn, trying to make sense of it. “You – you what?” stammered Great Aunt Enid.

“I bounced,” he repeated, with a little shrug of the shoulders.

Gran promptly burst into tears, which shocked Neville even more than the fall from the window had, as sudden changes of extreme emotion were something she simply didn’t do. “He bounced!” she wailed – Neville, however, thought it was a happy sort of wail – and patted about her pockets, seeking a handkerchief with which to blow her nose. “My grandson bounced!”

“I knew you had a bit of magic in you, yes yes!” Great Uncle Algie thundered, ruffling his grandnephew’s hair roughly. “Good show, old sport, good show indeed!”

“I do?” Neville said wonderingly, but this only caused another chuckle and another ruffling of the hair.

“Come along inside, dear,” said Great Aunt Enid, holding out her hand; she too looked a bit flushed from the sudden swelling of emotion this bouncing had caused. Neville took it and staggered to his feet, dusting the dirt off the seat of his trousers. “You need a bit of meringue to celebrate this happy event.” With Gran still crying joyfully, she went back inside to dish up the pudding.

Neville glanced up at Great Uncle Algie, still beaming proudly, and a smile of his own crept across his round face. He was magical after all! His great uncle gestured broadly with a sweep of his hand for Neville to precede him up the path, and the boy did so, not sure now whether even a bit of his gran’s meringue could sweeten up this day any more.

A/N: A brand-new story! I am so excited to get this underway -- really, these stories put me in such a good mood, and I'm a bit giddy even now, posting this. Whether you're coming back or appearing for the first time, I'm so glad you've clicked on this story, and hope you'll continue to read as the stories make their appearances! For those curious souls, I've no idea who I'm including at the moment, or in what order -- I've got some semblance of plots here and there, but my mind's a bit here and there anyway.

Thank you for beginning Growing Up Magical, and if you've made it this far, a review would completely make my day! Hope to see you again!


Chapter 2: Colin
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A birthday was an important day, and most importantly, one that demanded a thorough amount of bouncing.

Colin Creevey could not contain bouncing excitedly in his chair, despite the fact that it was raining rather badly outside. Being born in the spring meant rain for most of the birthdays he had experienced in his six years, and if you were going to be grumpy about that, then he supposed you would be in for a world of disappointing birthdays. And as he was six years old today – practically a grown-up – he was determined that today would not be spoiled.

His mother came in the kitchen to see her oldest son perched excitedly on the chair by the kitchen window, his nose and hands pressed to the glass, and smiled. “Colin, what are you doing?” she laughed, and Colin grinned sheepishly before turning around and inspecting his nose print on the glass.

“Waiting for Dad!” he said, doing another little bounce which he just could not help. “He should be back soon, shouldn’t he, Mum?”

“I expect so,” Mrs. Creevey replied, crossing and ruffling her son’s hair fondly. “But I suppose I should get started on your cake, or it won’t be ready in time for tonight.”

Colin snuggled happily into his seat, turning back to watch the rain-splattered view he had of the path, hoping at any moment to see his father walking up it. Every year on Colin’s and Dennis’s birthdays, their father made a big show of walking to the village to pick out their present. He would leave early in the morning, but every year Colin always woke up to see him off, and then waited anxiously for his return. Dennis never seemed as interested, which Colin could not understand.

“Is it a chocolate cake?” he asked now, momentarily distracted by the sounds of his mother reaching under the sink to pull out the baking pans. This gave him another chance to inspect his nose print, which was rather impressive-looking at this point.

“Of course,” his mother said, laughing again, now pulling out the box of cocoa as though to prove herself. “I know it’s your favorite.” Colin beamed and did another happy bounce.

Dennis pattered into the kitchen at that moment, trailing his blanket behind him – it was rather filthy, Colin thought, watching as his little brother went immediately to his mother and wrapped himself around her legs. “The sky is wet,” he informed her helpfully, his clinginess impeding her ability to move.

“Yes, Dennis,” she said, trying to coax him off her legs. “You need to let go, honey, or your brother’s cake won’t get baked.” Dennis’s head swiveled to look at Colin and, smiling sunnily, he did as his mother asked. He had apparently forgotten that it was Colin’s birthday.

“Happy birthday, Bubba!” he sang out, now waddling toward the chair by the window and wrapping himself around Colin’s feet, which were sticking straight out in front of him. Colin patted his brother’s head, trying to avoid touching the blanket, now wrapped around Dennis’s shoulders like a shawl.

“Wait, wait,” Dennis sang, disentangling himself and pattering back across the kitchen. “I have a present for Bubba.” Both Colin and his mother watched as he turned the corner, heading back to the bedroom the boys shared. Mrs. Creevey shook her head in amusement and turned back to the cake mix.

The four-year-old returned promptly, carrying the only other thing more disgusting than his filthy blanket. When he was born, Colin’s parents had purchased a stuffed rabbit for Colin to give his little brother, and every night since Dennis had slept with it. It was even more ragged and gray than his blanket, and every year on Colin’s birthday Dennis tried to give it to him as a present, knowing full well that Colin would hand it right back. He tottered over to the kitchen hair and thrust the rabbit onto Colin’s lap.

“Ta-da!” he said, and Colin smile bravely, picking the rabbit up gently by the ear.

“Thank you, Dennis!” he said, patting his brother on the head again. “But I think the rabbit might have a better home with you.” Dennis did not argue, promptly grabbing his toy off Colin’s lap again and running back to his room without further ado. Colin could hear him singing a little song from the distant bedroom.

A noise at the door just then made Mrs. Creevey and Colin both look up, and the door swung wide to admit Colin’s father, completely drenched from the rain outside, which had increased since Colin had begun his window vigil. He tottered over at once and wrapped his arms around his father’s middle, not caring that he was being dripped on.

“Happy birthday, sport!” Mr. Creevey said cheerfully, ruffling Colin’s hair as his mother had done. With a broad wink, he reached inside his sopping coat and pulled out a mysterious-looking box, wrapped in ordinary brown paper and tied with twine. Colin let out another bounce, nearly slipping on the puddle of rainwater his father had created.

“Go on and open it,” his father said with another wink, crossing over to Colin’s mother, who was now ladling cake batter into a pan. He kissed her on the cheek as Colin hopped back up on his chair, ripping into the brown paper with childish enthusiasm.

“Oh!” Colin lifted the lid from the box and squirmed about gleefully, for inside was something he had not ever dreamed to have – a camera, a camera of his very own. He lifted it gently from the tissue and held it on his lap, delicately touching its lens and admiring its large flash bulb.

“Charles,” Mrs. Creevey said, hints of both admonishment and admiration lurking under her words. “A camera? He’s six years old!”

“He’s plenty old enough for a camera,” Mr. Creevey argued, having removed his coat and boots and was now warming himself by the stove where the cake was baking. “I wasn’t much older than him when my father gave me a camera. And he’s mature, Jeanie, you know that.”

“Yes,” Mrs. Creevey admitted, biting her lip all the same, “but still… How did you afford it?”

“Never mind that,” Colin’s father said, kissing his wife on the cheek. “Let that be my affair.”

The previous conversation, of course, had been lost on Colin, who had tuned out the entire world in favor of inspecting his camera inch by precious inch. There was even a strap, lovely and smelling of new leather, and this he placed gently around his neck. He looked up at his father, blinking, the large grin on his face telling enough of the gratitude his six-year-old heart felt.

“The film’s already inside,” his father said, chuckling. “Why don’t you run on and try it out?” Unable to form the words to thank his father properly, Colin leapt up and hugged him, and then ran from the kitchen, the camera banging against his skinny chest.

He had reached the corridor leading to his and Dennis’s bedroom when he stopped suddenly, an even-more wonderful revelation blossoming suddenly in his head. Sometimes, on very special occasions, Mr. and Mrs. Creevey would let Colin stay up later than his normal bedtime in order to listen to the wonderfully exciting radio programmes that came on then. His favorite ones always talked about spies – spies who trailed dastardly criminals through alleyways in heavy rainstorms, taking pictures and bringing justice to the city once more. Colin looked at the camera in his hands, a small thrill zipping through him.

Maybe he could be a spy! It was, after all, raining, and he had a camera. He was practically a spy already. With a little leap, he turned off the lights in the corridor. It was not as dark as the alleyways in his radio programmes, but it was a start. Creeping down to his bedroom on tiptoes, he poised the camera, prepared to take his first shot.

The door to the bedroom was ajar, and he could still hear Dennis singing faintly from inside the room. He nudged the door open with his foot, peeping his head inside and bringing the camera up to his eye. Dennis was sitting on his bed, holding his stuffed rabbit by its frayed arms and making it hop along the bed.

Colin’s finger pressed the button, and with a brilliant flash, the camera whirred and clicked. Dennis gave a small yelp and tumbled off the bed in fright, still clutching the rabbit to him while his feet became tangled in the blankets.

“Gotcha!” Colin cried, clutching the camera to him and doing a little victory dance in the doorframe. “And so the brave town of… erm… Creevey, is saved by our hero!” He wasn’t entirely sure why he was saying that, other than it was what always came at the end of his spy programs, but it had a nice ring to it.

Dennis had now gotten over his fright at being startled out of bed, and he trotted over to his brother, eagerly inspecting the new camera looped around his neck. “Cool!” he said, reaching out a chubby forefinger and poking it reverently. “A camera!”

“Yeah!” said Colin enthusiastically, bouncing again. Another thought occurred to him, conjured from the memory of his spy programmes. Spies always needed sidekicks, didn’t they? He surveyed Dennis, standing before him at about half Colin’s height, with chubby, rosy cheeks and a little-boy smile. He would have to do.

“Hey, Dennis,” Colin said, lowering his voice conspiratorially; his brother instinctively leaned closer. “How would you like to be my sidekick?”

“What’s a sidekick?” Dennis whispered.

Colin paused. “I don’t know exactly,” he said at last, “but you follow me around and help me with stuff.” Dennis tilted his head to the side, thinking about it, and then nodded excitedly.

“Then let’s go,” Colin said, putting a finger to his lips. Dennis ran back inside the bedroom, came back with his filthy blanket, threw it over his head, and tiptoed after his brother down the corridor.

The boys’ parents were still in the kitchen, talking about something that Colin couldn’t make sense of – he thought it was about politics, or something of that sort – and neither of them noticed their sons sneaking through the back door out into the rain. Colin gently closed the door behind him and stood facing his brother under the dripping gutter.

“Now let’s find something to uncover,” he said, and a terrible thought suddenly occurred to him. “Give me your blanket,” he added. Dennis’s lower lip protruded.

“Why?”

“So the camera doesn’t get wet!” Colin said, as though this were obvious. Dennis didn’t look happy, but he handed the blanket over anyway, and the older boy tried not to grimace too obviously as he gently wrapped it around the camera, leaving the lens exposed.

At the end of the back garden path, near the little fence that separated the Creevey yard from that of their neighbors, crouched the neighbor’s tabby cat, Idgie. Idgie was washing himself by the gate, a fact that Colin found rather pointless, considering it was still raining. He turned to Dennis and tried to put on his best spy-face, although the radio programmes did not tell what sort of a face that was. “Follow my lead,” he whispered, and knelt down on the ground, then laid flat on his stomach.

“What are you doing?” said Dennis, now sucking his thumb for comfort in the absence of his blanket, blinking as rain dropped from his hair into his eyes.

“Spies always have to crawl to avoid being seen,” said Colin, gesturing for Dennis to get down on the ground.

“But I’m a sidekick.”

“Sidekicks too.”

Dennis frowned again – obviously this was not what he had had in mind when he had signed up for the job. But he was a sidekick, and a loyal sidekick he would be. Grimacing at the mud, he laid on his belly and wriggled around a bit, trying to be comfortable. Colin gripped his camera tightly in his left hand and began to scoot himself along the ground with his right.

It was very difficult, though, pulling himself along this way, and he only managed to cover three yards or so before stopping to rest. Dennis was even further behind, having refused to remove his thumb from his mouth and resulting in his needing to use only one arm as well. “I’m wet, Bubba,” he whined around the thumb.

“Just let me get the picture,” Colin said, “and we can go inside.” But while he was crawling, the blanket had fallen over the camera lens, and it was rather difficult to untangle with one hand. He flipped over onto his back, now coating that side of his shirt with mud as well, and tried fiddling with it. His finger hit the camera button, and a dull flash shone from beneath the blanket. “Oops,” he whispered.

“Colin! Dennis!” The two boys started guiltily as their mother’s voice broke through the patter of raindrops, and they looked up to see her standing on the threshold of the back door, frowning. “What on earth are you two doing crawling in the mud?” she shouted sternly.

“We’re… we’re being spies,” said Colin, hoping this would be a suitable explanation.

“I’m being a sidekick,” Dennis added brightly, now sitting up and still refusing to remove his thumb from his mouth.

“You cannot be spies in this weather,” Mrs. Creevey said firmly, hands on her hips. “Colin, you are going to ruin your new camera, and I’m not even going to mention that I just did your washing, too, and now you’re here getting your clothes all dirty. Come on inside and get out of those wet things.”

Colin didn’t want to point out that he had a blanket over the camera, nor that she had distinctly mentioned the washing right after she’d said she wouldn’t, but stood up obediently and helped Dennis from the muck. “Come on, Dennis,” he said sadly. “You can be my sidekick some other time.”

The two brothers walked back into the house, the mud and rainwater squishing splendidly under their shoes, and marched into their room to change clothes, the smell of chocolate cake already wafting through the house.

*

When Colin’s pictures were developed around a month later, he was rather disappointed to find that they all came out blurry, not counting the accidental picture of the blanket. All except one – the picture he had taken of Dennis playing with his rabbit, which was so remarkably clear that even Mr. Creevey had felt the need to comment on Colin’s photography skills.

And, although he could never prove it to his family or convince them otherwise, Colin was sure that from time to time he saw Dennis’s little filthy stuffed rabbit hop in and out of the picture.

A/N: Even though Colin was Muggle-born, I feel like he definitely deserved a one-shot of his own -- not only because he is just so darn adorable (and really, he was so loyal in the books, it just melts my heart), but because he turns out just as magical when all is said and done. So here's to you and playing spy, Colin, and may you do so forevermore.

Thank you guys so much for the already-tremendous reaction this story's gleaned! I am so amazed and grateful, and I hope you all will stay with me as these stories get written. Don't forget to leave a review!


Chapter 3: Luna
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The stones of the little wall that separated the Lovegood property from the surrounding hills was warm under Luna’s chin as she leaned her arms on it. Her chin rested on top of her hands – she was the perfect height for this, being a rather small five-year-old, despite her pronounced maturity for that age – and her eyes were directed a bit downhill, at an orchard that was visible some ways off. The sun was quite high overhead, and the child’s large, silver-blue eyes kept flicking between it and the orchard, thinking.

If she looked hard enough, and tilted her head just slightly to the left, she thought that she could see the small dark figures of other children playing in that orchard. They weren’t out there every day, but she always looked for them whenever she was out in the front garden nonetheless. Some days it got a bit lonely, having only her mother and father for company and rarely anyone more her age. Xenophilius and Iona Lovegood doted on their daughter, of course, and she was really quite happy living where she did.

But on certain days, she wondered what it might be like to play in that orchard.

A distant shriek echoed up from the little valley where the orchard sat, rolling over the grass, yellowed from constant sun exposure, to touch pleasantly on Luna’s ears. She’d only heard vaguely of the people who lived near the orchard, in a house that had a funny name. Something about animals, she thought, frowning suddenly – the Nest? The Den? Her dad didn’t talk about the neighbours a lot, but he did seem to like them. Maybe he could have them over for dinner soon, so she’d have someone to play with, if only for a few hours.

A sort of shuffling sound came from the grass beside her, and Luna swiveled her eyes up to look at her mother – her beautiful, graceful, intelligent mother, whom Luna already knew she took after very much. Iona smiled down at Luna, adopting a similarly relaxed pose on the long, low wall. Her long, straggly blonde hair, very much like Luna’s own, was tied up in a knot at the nape of her neck.

“What’re you doing?” she said, smiling and looking out in the direction of the orchard as well. Luna tapped an irregular beat on the wall with her fingers and snuggled a bit closer to her mother.

“Just looking,” she said, hoping to play off the loneliness – she didn’t want her to feel as though she wasn’t being taken care of, because really, Luna loved her mother almost more than anyone else in the world. Her tiny hand slipped into her mother’s larger one, and Iona squeezed it gently.

“Mummy, who lives down there?” she asked suddenly, pointing toward the little orchard in the distance; one of the children there was now chasing another one around, from the looks of things, and it looked like rather a lot of fun.

“Those are the Weasleys. We’ve told you about them,” her mother reminded her. “They have a girl about your age, too, and a whole mess of boys a few years older.”

Luna wondered for a moment why they didn’t give the boys baths if they were so messy, but she supposed it was one of those grown-up things that she didn’t understand. “It would be fun to play with them,” she admitted then, nudging a rock with her shoe and watching as the beetle that had been hiding beneath it ran for shade. “Do you think we could have them over for dinner?” she blurted suddenly, the thought that had crossed her mind previously suddenly finding form on her lips.

Iona’s forehead puckered in thought, and she tucked a strand of hair back into her bun as she contemplated this, tilting her head exactly as Luna had. “Not tonight, I think, dearest,” she said at last. “Your daddy’s on a deadline, and he’s feeling a bit worn out at the moment. Why don’t we ask him later?”

Luna’s father produced a magazine, she knew, on one of the floors in their house – it was a noisy machine, and lots of fun to watch, as long as you didn’t stand too closely. He always seemed too busy for company, and she accepted this without much debate. Besides, it wasn’t so bad, Luna rationed, removing her hand from her mother’s to bend down and pick a particularly long blade of grass. And they could have a very cozy tea tonight, too, just the three of them and some biscuits and – if they were very lucky – some Gurdyroot Infusion.

“But you know,” Iona continued, a small and slightly mischievous smile twisting her lips. Luna looked back up at her hopefully. “You’ve always got a playmate with you, all the time. Haven’t you met her yet?”

Luna looked about her curiously, half-expecting to find someone standing behind her that she had never noticed before. Her mother knelt down and gestured at the wall in front of them, where the sun was still casting the shadows of the two upon it, slightly darker than the stone itself.

“My shadow?” said Luna doubtfully, her own mouth twisting in disappointment.

“Your shadow’s not just a shadow,” Iona explained, and as she spoke, she stuck up the second and third fingers of her right hand, folding the rest down. “She grows as you grow, and she plays whatever you want to play. Do you know what we need to do?”

“What?” Luna asked excitedly, matching her mother’s tone of voice without helping it; perhaps there was more to her shadow than she’d always thought, after all.

“I think we need a shadow-naming ceremony,” she said importantly, rising up from the ground and brushing the dirt and grass off the knees of her robes. Luna, who had of course remained standing, clapped her hands excitedly, for a ceremony sounded very much like a party.

“What do we do to name my shadow?” she asked, holding her hands above her head and doing a little twirl, which she just could not help in all the excitement – it did not take much for her to get excited about little things, even should they fall right on the heels of temporary disappointment.

“It’s quite simple,” said Iona firmly; she was making all of this up as she went along, of course, having seen the exact sort of lonely expression Luna had worn not five minutes earlier, but the child need not know that. “What we’ll do is –“ Her eyes cast about the front garden, and landed on a patch of dandelion weeds a few paces away, their tops thick and fluffy with seeds. She walked over and promptly plucked one from the ground, handing it to her daughter. Luna held it so closely to her nose that she went slightly cross-eyed.

“All you have to do is think of a name for your shadow, and then blow the dandelion,” her mother said, “and the little seeds will carry its name away and plant them in the ground, so you’ll always remember your shadow.”

“But what’s a good name for a shadow?” the five-year-old asked, again momentarily dismayed. She was never very good at naming things, and her plush animals all had names like Cat or Mr. Duck or Sir Puppy. Iona tilted her head to the side for a second time, thinking very hard about this.

“Why don’t you try closing your eyes, and thinking very hard,” she said, her voice so low it was almost a whisper now, quite fitting for this seemingly magical moment. “And whatever comes into your head will be the name your shadow has chosen for itself, I imagine.”

Luna grasped the thin, stringy stem of the dandelion so hard it was very probable that it might snap in her small hands. She closed her eyes tightly, as her mother had prompted, able to feel the skin wrinkling at the corners, and tried to think of a name. But all that came to mind was Miss Shadow, and she felt that, for these purposes, such a name just would not do.

A word suddenly burst before her tightly-shut eyes, as though appearing in thin air, and she puckered her lips and blew before she could question it. The small dandelion seeds floating away through the warm air, bobbing and dancing before settling down to perch in the grass. Iona smiled fondly, watching at the last trailed away over the edge of the hill.

“And what did you name it?”

“Dandelion,” Luna said promptly, clasping her hands behind her back and looking thoroughly pleased with herself. Iona smiled and tweaked the end of her daughter’s braid.

“That’s a lovely name,” she said, and turned to the wall where Luna’s shadow still projected. She gave it a little bow, and her own shadow did the same. “So very nice to meet you, Dandelion.” Luna giggled, and she watched as Dandelion did the same, her hands flying to her mouth in exactly the same motion as Luna’s. Her mother had been right!

Leaving Iona in the front garden, as she had suddenly turned her attention toward the small dirigible plum bush growing by the front door, Luna ran inside to inspect her newfound shadow friend within the house. The sounds of odd bangs and thumps from upstairs where her father was working momentarily distracted her, however, and curious as ever, she trotted up the little spiral staircase to inspect the magazine machine.

To her surprise, however, her father was not in the room when she entered, and the massive machine was churning all by itself, spewing glossy magazine pages at an alarming rate. Luna tentatively stepped closer – she had never been alone with it before – and from the corner of her eye, she saw her shadow friend do the same.

She didn’t know why she had never stopped to look at her shadow before. It was exactly an elongated replica of herself in silhouette – almost like a twin, she thought, standing on her toes and stretching her arms out to the side experimentally. And she realized everything had a shadow, too, as she watched Dandelion’s long arms brushed the shadow of the magazine-maker, despite the fact that Luna herself could not touch it physically. It was as though her shadow was melding with the other shadow, forming one very abstract-looking splotch on the wall. She moved a bit closer, still walking on her tiptoes.

Unfortunately, she was too engrossed in what was on the wall to look where she was going, and walked right into the side of the machine. Being small, as she was, her forehead pressed a rather odd-looking button, and the machine gave a great shudder, groaning incessantly. Luna stepped quickly backward in fright, shrinking into the wall where her shadow was, and Dandelion disappeared for a moment as the machine bucked and quivered, seeming to take on a rather monstrous life of its own.

All at once, without any sort of warning at all, the machine began shooting out magazine papers at an unprecedented rate, rocketing out of the little spout so fast that they missed the tray entirely and smacked into the opposite wall, sliding limply to the ground. Pages loosed themselves from their bindings and fluttered through the air, twirling a bit whimsically before landing next to the magazines that had miraculously remained intact.

A head appeared at the top of the staircase a few feet away, peeping over the floor with wide and confused eyes. Luna’s father, clutching a steaming mug in one hand, had made his reappearance. Upon seeing exactly what sort of disaster had befallen his little studio, the confused look changed to one of shock, his eyes nearly bugging out of his head.

“I – what –“ His eyes fell on his small daughter, still flat against the wall lest she should be crushed by the onslaught of tumbling magazines. Her own eyes were popping out of her skull, as well, although for slightly different reasons. Quickly, Xenophilius set his mug precariously on the banister and hurried over in the direction of the machine, fully getting smacked in the face with one of the pages as he went.

“Blasted thing – Luna, what’s – such a mess –“ As was customary, her father seemed to be unable to complete a sentence as he attempted to pick his way across the floor, which was now covered in very slippery pages. Finally giving up the effort, he withdrew his wand from an inner pocket of his robes and waved it in the general direction of the press. With another groan and shudder, it whirred to a stop, clacking every few seconds. The slew of pages dissipated, and finally stopped all together.

Xenophilius looked rather accusingly at her, and Luna was under the distinct impression that whatever had occurred was not her fault. She clasped her hands in front of her, crossing and re-crossing her thumbs for something to do besides meeting her father’s accusing gaze.

“Luna, dear, would you care to tell me how this happened?” he said with a tremendous air of patience, bending down and picking up one of the dislodged magazine pages, which listed some rather stirring debates on the ethics of using Billywig stings in Fizzing Whizbees (“Levitating sherbet balls are delicious, and if I’m eating stings, all the better to threaten my enemies with!” writes Magdalene Herbert of Wisbech…”).

“I’m not quite sure,” said Luna brightly, hoping that a cheerful disposition would be the way to go in this particular instance. “I do believe it was my shadow, though.” And now that she thought about, could she be sure that smacking her head into the machine had been the cause of it all? Dandelion’s hand had disappeared into the shadow of the machine, after all. Suspicious stuff, that.

Xenophilius blinked, but he didn’t seem at all adverse to this idea. “Hmm,” he said instead, abandoning collecting his strewn work for a moment and looking thoughtful. “How interesting... Luna, dear, have you been playing amongst milkweed lately? It is said to cause one’s shadow to do funny things… Does your nose feel any heavier than normal?”

Luna poked her nose with an inquisitive forefinger, but it didn’t feel any different. “I don’t know,” she said again. “What’s milk have to do with anything?” she asked suddenly, wondering if the milk she had poured on her porridge that moment might make her nose fall off.

“Oh, nothing,” said Xenophilius a bit distractedly, wading through the small ocean of pages and laying a warm and perhaps forgiving hand on his daughter’s head. “But I think it might be a good idea to clear out of here for a minute, sweetheart. Daddy’s got a bit of a mess to sort through.”

“Okay,” chirped Luna agreeably, stepping tentatively away from the wall, pleased to see that Dandelion reappeared as she did so. Her father picked her up and swung her over the paper, depositing her on the small landing at the top of the stairs, and she caught a distinct whiff of Gurdyroot Infusion from the mug that was still sitting on the banister.

She eyed her shadow from the corner of her eye, and stretched out a hand toward it as Xenophilius bent over once more to resume collecting his magazine pages. Dandelion’s shaded fingertips touched her small ones, and she felt a little tingling feeling shoot up her arm, remembering her mother’s words about a shadow being a constant friend.

Feeling considerably less lonely than she had an hour or so earlier, Luna tripped downstairs to inspect the milk – just in case.

A/N: Luna is a rather tough character to write, but I enjoyed the challenge immensely -- she seems just the sort of person who might think of her shadow as a friend. I admire a lot of qualities in her, and, having a lot of imaginary friends myself when I was younger, I think her imagination is certainly one of them.

A million thanks to my dear friend Melissa (WitnesstoitAll), who looked over part of this story in advance and was generally lovely in her expertise in all things Luna. Thank you for reading, and if you've made it this far, please don't forget to leave a review!


Chapter 4: Draco
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“But Mummy, why can’t I go to the party?” Draco Malfoy’s pout, which just peeked over the edge of his thickly quilted bedspread, was a rather impressive one to behold. His mother sighed and smoothed away a nonexistent wrinkle on the sheet, not feeling like trying to explain herself for the umpteenth time that day.

“Because, Draco,” Narcissa said patiently, her teeth only gritted slightly. “You are seven years old, my dear, and that is much too young to be staying up with Mummy and Daddy’s boring adult friends. You wouldn’t have any fun.”

“Yes, I would,” he said petulantly, pushing his lip out even farther, if possible. This situation was entirely new for him – normally, if he pouted enough and perhaps worked up a tear or two in the very corner of his eye, his mother would bend to his whims. And now, simply because he was being denied, he knew more than anything else that he must go – there were no doubts in his mind.

He didn’t know exactly what this party was for – his father had mentioned something about a promotion at the Ministry – but he had certainly been around to witness the planning and preparing that had turned the mansion upside-down for the better part of a fortnight. Maids and other hired help had been bustling about, polishing the crystal and scrubbing the floors and making all sorts of wonderful-smelling things, including cherry tart, which happened to be Draco’s very favorite dessert. He had tried to get in the way as much as possible, hoping that he might annoy someone so much that they would invite him to the party just to shut him up, but this brilliant plan had come to no fruition. And he had tried so hard, too.

The long, ebony banister that bordered the mansion’s main staircase had never been polished so perfectly. Draco kept looking at his reflection in it, popping his head back and forth and becoming more and more delighted with the mirror-like shine. His mother and father should have parties every weekend, he decided, sticking his tongue out at the slightly distorted reflection of himself in the end post.

“Excuse me, Master Malfoy,” said a voice behind him, and a very tired-looking maid sidled over, clutching a scrubbing brush and a bucket of polish. Draco stepped back pleasantly, as he had been waiting for just such an appearance.

“Are you going to the party?” he asked brightly, now sitting down on the nearest step and watching as the maid started working on polishing the staircase railings. She blew a strand of coppery hair out of her face and gave him a slightly exasperated look.

“Yes, I got sucked into helping serve the champagne,” she said a bit grumpily, temporarily forgetting she was talking to a small boy, and the son of her employers, at that.

Draco put on his most charming smile, tapping his toes in their shiny leather shoes on the flagstones. “I could help you,” he said slyly. Of course, should she say yes, he had no intention of actually sticking around and helping, but she needn’t know that.

The maid was apparently a bit smarter than she looked, however, for she just shook her head, not looking up at him. “Sorry, tyke,” she said with a small grin, plunging the scrub brush back into the polish. “I don’t think you’ll be much help.”

Draco scowled, and, standing up, wrapped his arms about the banister, hanging like an odd sort of koala bear. “Please?” he tried now, attempting to shimmy up the slick, newly-cleaned wood. The maid scowled right back.

“Get off that, please, I’ve just cleaned that.”

Draco tilted his head at the reflection he rediscovered in the wood and pretended he didn’t hear her. “When I’m old,” he said, grunting with the effort of pulling himself up the banister, “I’ll throw lots and lots of parties. And I will always invite everybody to them.”

“Great,” she grumped. “And in the meantime, I’ll thank you not to go messing about with my work.” Scowling anew, Draco slid sideways off the banister and plopped down onto the step he had recently vacated, running up the stairs without further ado on the very tips of his toes.

He must find a way into that party.

He peeped over the edge of his quilt now as Narcissa stood up from where she’d been sitting on his bed, crossing to his speckled mirror to check her appearance before descending to the ballroom. Draco was normally very proud of his mother’s looks – surely no one else had a mother quite as beautiful as he did – and tonight she looked very elegant indeed in black, lacy dress robes, her pearls at her throat. But he was too stubborn to tell her so.

“Good night, Draco,” she said pointedly, seeing that her son’s grey eyes were still watching her balefully from the little bed in the corner. Draco sighed noisily and flopped back on his pillow, staring furiously at the small cracks in the ceiling as though they were to blame for his misfortune. He waited until his mother’s heels had tapped their way authoritatively out of his room, and the door had been shut behind her with a small click.

A very wicked grin cracked the boy’s pale, pointed face as soon as he knew he was alone. Of course he wasn’t going to be cooped up here all night – what a silly woman his mother was! At this very moment, he could hear the faintest strains of an orchestra tucked away in the downstairs ballroom, warming up their instruments for the dancing. Now was the perfect opportunity to sneak in – see what was going on, say hello to a few of his parents’ friends, and perhaps, if he was very lucky, make away with a slice of cherry tart before his mother noticed he was out of bed.

He turned over onto his stomach, wiggling around in his very roomy green-and-silver striped pajamas and watching the ticking hand of the cuckoo clock across from his bed, which counted the hours and minutes using miniature snakes, and revealed a little hissing snake every hour as well. There were only minutes to go until nine o’ clock, and that was when he would make his move. Draco wiggled again, more impatiently this time, and kept his ears pricked for any sound of movement outside his bedroom door. One suspicious look from his mother, and it would all be over.

But nothing made a sound; everything in the external corridors seemed quiet and hushed, as though they too were waiting for nine o’ clock to chime. The little silver snake, ticking away and inching closer to the large numeral 12, gave another tiny shudder, and he narrowed his eyes, willing it to go faster. So it happened, that, when the snake suddenly leaped out of the little hinged door it normally hid behind, its small tongue flicking in and out as the hour chimed nine times, he was so shocked that he tumbled out of bed and rolled a few feet before coming to a stop.

He popped back up instantly, wondering if his mother had heard any sort of noise, but there were no approaching footsteps from outside his door. Nevertheless, Draco decided the most suitable maneuver for this sort of operation was an army crawl – just in case. Thankful that his pajamas slid quite easily over the stone floor, he shuffled over to the door on his stomach and inched it open just a crack. The corridor seemed to him to be like the mouth of a vast cave, wide and yawning and stretching on forever.

At the end of that corridor was the main staircase. And just down the main staircase was the ballroom. And inside the ballroom was the party. Draco smiled just a bit to himself, and his eyes slid over to the next door on the left, a few yards down the hall.

His father would be changing into his best dress robes by now, and his mother was probably touching up her lipstick before going downstairs to greet the first of her guests. He knew he had only moments to spare. Steeling every nerve in his small, wiry body, Draco poised himself on the door frame like a bird preparing to take flight, waiting for some sort of signal, although exactly what that signal was he hadn’t the foggiest.

At that moment, however, he heard Lucius give a little cough, and before he could think twice, he had bolted. The emerald carpet runner that padded the stone floor muffled his footsteps very nicely, and by the time his father had cleared whatever had seemed to be in his throat, Draco stood at the top of the broad staircase, panting slightly and feeling immensely pleased with himself.

The soft murmur of indistinguishable voices could be heard from this vantage point, as well as the various plinks and thumps coming from the orchestra and the silverware both. He clutched the spindly rails of the staircase in both hands as, inch by coveted inch, he scooted down them, half expecting one or both of his parents to catch him at every step. From the doors leading into the ballroom, flung wide in welcome, a soft and gold-colored light filtered through. His stomach clenched in glee.

The doorbell rang quite suddenly, and Draco jumped, scooting further into the shadows of the staircase. A butler in stiff, stately robes who had been hired for such a purpose admitted two people into the mansion – a suave-looking man in plain black robes and a woman in floating crimson ones, wearing some sort of fuzzy animal about her neck. The small boy wrinkled his nose at this last detail.

“I told you it was much too warm for this dreadful thing, Robert,” the woman was saying in a rather screechy voice, gesturing towards the fur about her neck.

“I didn’t make you wear it, Estelita, for Merlin’s sakes,” grumbled the man called Robert as he ran a hand through his slick, pomaded hair. Neither of the pair had acknowledged the butler until the man, removing his top hat, clicked his fingers together. The butler took the hat and, making a little bow, turned to place it atop the hat stand beside him.

While his back was turned, Draco darted out of the shadows, bare feet pattering pleasantly on the stone floors, and slipped into the ballroom behind Robert and Estelita.

He hardly even recognized the place from how it normally looked – dark, ominous in all its wood paneling, and almost small. The candles and lamps lit up every obscure corner, making the room seem three times its normal size, and it was already crowded with people – musicians, waiters, and dozens of well-dressed people, sipping bubbly drinks from crystal flutes and making polite conversation. Draco’s jaw plummeted earthward, and he felt his heart skip a beat or two in childish excitement. This was certainly better than staying in his room!

The orchestra was in the corner, the violins pulling their bows across the strings in long arcs, and Draco stopped to watch them interestedly. But before he could wander over and inquire further, he caught sight of the maid he’d spoken to earlier across the hall, moving down the table with her wand and lighting the candelabras. She knew he wasn’t supposed to be here, and she had seemed just nasty enough to turn him in for it, too.

“Excuse me,” said Draco, tapping on the knee of the first-chair violinist; he had to reach up to do so, as the orchestra was seated on a slightly elevated platform. “May I hide here?” The man blinked at him through his thick spectacles, but before he could offer a response, Draco imagined he saw the maid’s head turn in his direction. He ducked down instinctively, crawling between the music stands and the legs of the musicians, pardoning himself rather politely all the while.

And not a moment too soon – at that moment the doors to the ballroom banged open loudly, and a delicious shiver of fear ran up Draco’s small spine as he crouched between two unsuspecting cello players; they were peering intently at their sheet music and had not noticed his approach. A very familiar sound of footfalls met his young ears, and he burrowed further down, determined that his mother should not find him.

The cello player on the left, reaching down to polish his spectacles with his shirttail, suddenly became aware of the little blonde head in very close proximity to his right elbow. “And what are you doing down here, little fellow?” he asked in surprise, quickly readjusting his spectacles upon his nose as though fearing he might have been imagining Draco’s appearance.

“Shh,” Draco said, holding a finger to his lips in pantomime, and pointing in the general direction of his mother, who he could now hear asking people loudly if they had seen him. But the man did not seem to meet this need for secrecy. He stood up from his chair, clutching the neck of the cello for support, and waved his bow in the air. Draco hunched further underneath the chair.

“Excuse me, madam,” the wizened old musician boomed out in a surprisingly loud voice; the general murmur that had been a background to the affairs died down somewhat. “You haven’t misplaced a little boy, by any chance?”

“Yes, I have,” Draco heard Narcissa say in a flustered sort of voice. “He was supposed to be in bed – I left him there half an hour ago.” There was a slight pause, and Draco craned his neck to attempt to see goings-on without being spotted. Unfortunately, he glanced up just in time to see the musician’s strong hands reaching for him before they grasped him firmly under the armpits and hoisted him up.

“Hey!” he cried in a somewhat embarrassingly squeaky voice, kicking his legs in futile attempts to be released. “Put me down – she’ll see – !” The cello player was surprisingly strong, however, and Draco found himself being plunked down, barefooted and pajama-clad, in front of his mother. She wore a very stern frown.

“Erm. Hello,” he said in his most pleasant voice, toying with the inlaid flooring with his toes.

“Draco Lucius Malfoy,” his mother said in a very icy voice, her mouth set into a hard and thin line. “Would you care to explain to me why you are out of bed when I specifically told you to stay put?” From the corner of his eye, Draco saw the coppery-haired maid watching with interest, and suddenly felt a bit silly.

“I… wanted a piece of cherry tart,” he invented, in what he thought to be a rather sudden flash of inspiration – and, after all, it was only a half-lie. Narcissa sighed, but did not ask why he was seeking it amidst the orchestra, for which he was unconsciously grateful. Instead, motioning to one of the waiters, she asked for a plate and a slice of tart to be procured for her son.

“And this time, when you go up to bed,” she added frostily, as Draco happily took the plate of pudding from the formally-dressed waiter, “you’ll stay there, Draco. I mean it.”

He nodded, and impulsively wrapped his arms about Narcissa’s waist, still holding the plate. “Good night, Mummy,” he said cheerfully, and without further ado skipped from the hall, not seeing his mother watching him in bemusement the whole way. Nor did he stop to acknowledge his father, whom he met at the base of the stairs as the latter was making his way into the party, who wondered why on earth Draco was out of bed and clutching a plate of something red and sticky-sweet.

And a few minutes later, sitting in bed later with cherry juice dripping deliciously down his pointed chin, he thought the whole adventure had very much been worth it.

A/N: Wee Draco! I just want to pick him up and give him hugs -- this has been one of my very favorite chapters to write thus far, because he just seems to be so full of fun here. I always wanted to sneak into parties I didn't belong at when I was younger, but unfortunately, never got the chance. Then again, I never had anything quite so nice as cherry tart to tempt me.

Thank you guys so much for all the reads and reviews that I've received on this story thus far -- it's really an incredible reaction, and I am so appreciative of it all! You are amazing!


Chapter 5: Oliver
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There was such pandemonium and excitement swirling about Oliver Wood’s head that he really didn’t know quite where to look first. He clutched his father’s hand tightly, eyes nearly popping from his head, as people passed back and forth under the supports holding up the Quidditch pitch, calling to friends and laughing about jokes that passed far above his six-year-old head. And as far as the eye could see, the patrons were clothed in gold and navy – robes, hats, painted faces – in honor of Puddlemere United. It was Oliver’s very first Quidditch game, and he was having a hard time comprehending it all.

“Dad?” The small boy tugged at his father’s hand, his eyes trained on a man standing a few yards away. The stranger was clutching a bottle of butterbeer and glancing in a pocket mirror; the little golden bulrushes, painted on his face in such a way so that they waggled whenever he took a gulp of his drink, were starting to rub off.

Ewan Wood, who had been studying the tickets clutched in his left fist with a furrowed brow, looked down at his small son, but said nothing. “Can we go and find our seats now?” Oliver asked impatiently, finally looking away from the painted man and hopping from foot to foot eagerly. “I don’t want to miss the game!”

His father smiled gently, ruffling Oliver’s thatch of brown hair affectionately. “Just as soon as I find out where we’re going, boyo,” he said jovially, squinting at the tickets again. Oliver suspected he had forgotten his reading glasses at home, and wished that he could make better sense of the wiggling arrows pointing spectators to their seats. He absolutely could not miss the release of the Quaffle. He just could not.

Ewan had been eager to let his son come to today’s game, despite the fact that he was, in fact, six years old (although, if Oliver did say so himself, he was practically a grown-up). Oliver had been begging for some time, but his mother had maintained for a long time that he was too young for such a rough sport.

“It’s not like he’ll be out there on the field,” Oliver’s father had pointed out to this latest argument, which had occurred only the night before. Oliver was supposed to be upstairs, brushing his teeth, but hadn’t been able to risk sneaking downstairs to overhear what his parents were saying.

“Not yet,” Margaret Wood had snapped, clattering pans about so loudly that the small boy had instinctively covered his ears. “But just you wait – he’ll get all infected with that sports rubbish, and next thing we know he’ll be jumping off buildings on brooms after pebbles and what have you –“

“You can’t jump off a building on a broom,” Ewan had said patiently, and there was a pause while he puffed on his customary after-dinner pipe. “The broom’ll just carry you away, you see,” he continued, the little cloud of smoke he’d released shuffling its way over to Oliver on the stairs. He’d tried very hard not to sneeze.

“Enough of that funny business,” his mother had retorted, but the biting edge to her tone was lost; she knew defeat when she saw it. “Take him, then, but you’ll be the one putting him to bed if he’s too excited to sleep tonight.”

And of course, forgetting that he was supposed to be in bed, Oliver had let out a rather large cheer.

He still couldn’t quite believe where he was now, following close behind his father as the latter finally began moving in a definitive direction, still checking the tickets anxiously. Oliver hung onto the tattered brown hem of his father’s overcoat and tried not to get lost in the crush of Puddlemere fans milling about, looking for their own seats.

“Dad, is Puddlemere United a good team?” he asked, as father and son began to mount a set of rickety steps leading up near the top of the oval-shaped pitch. Ewan glanced at his son over his shoulder and, in doing so, nearly lost his balance.

“A good team?” he thundered, grasping for the banister to steady himself. “Lad, they’re the best, and don’t you forget it!” He leaned forward to tweak Oliver’s nose, and the boy rubbed it bashfully. “Oldest team in the league, and Dumbledore’s favorite, if you believe the Monthly Quidditch Enthusiast.”

“Dumbledore?” Oliver repeated wonderingly, not one to doubt the Enthusiast. He’d heard some fantastic things about the old wizard from his father, who admired him greatly, and he knew that when he went to Hogwarts Dumbledore would be his headmaster. If this team was his favorite, then they must be good.

“Ah. Here we are.” Ewan consulted the tickets for a final moment, and then began an awkward sort of sidelong shuffle down the row, already thick with people. Oliver followed as best he could, picking up his robes so he wouldn’t trail it through spilled drink or over people’s shoes, until they finally found their seats about halfway down the row.

And it was not a moment too soon, for no sooner had Oliver sat down – after checking for splinters, of course, which he knew to be the prudent thing when sitting upon a wooden seat – than a sharp whistle blast ricocheted around the pitch, seeming to come from everywhere all at once. He winced, and then a booming voice followed the whistling.

“Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the first bracket of the southwest division of the British and Irish Quidditch League Cup – Puddlemere United versus the Tutshill Tornadoes!” There were a lot of big words in that sentence, and frankly, Oliver didn’t understand most of them, but he did recognize the team’s name; and from the cheering that echoed it, he assumed it was a happy thing, so he clapped along. Ewan smiled down at his son fondly and patted his knee a few times.

The invisible voice kept right on talking – he was saying names now, and Oliver thought that they might be the names of the players – but he was too excited to pay a terrible amount of attention. Down on the pitch, tiny specks dressed in navy and carrying brooms had been spotted, and he was on his feet in order to see them better.

“Is that them, Dad? Is that them?” He was jostling his father’s arm without quite realizing it, and Ewan let out a deep chuckle, unspeakably amused at the excitement lighting up his son’s eyes. Some emotion that didn’t quite have a name was rocketing through him, and he felt like bouncing up and down. The little players – they really only looked like action figures from this height, nothing more – waved tiny arms, and Oliver fought the impulse to wave back.

The other team, the Tornadoes, was clustered on the other side of the pitch, and as Oliver watched, two of the players met in the very middle, shaking hands. And then they were returning to their teams – there were brief huddles – and then –

“THEY’RE OFF!”

Fourteen players, clad in two different shades of blue, shot into the sky, melding with its own blueness, and the cheers from the crowd were deafening. Oliver realized that he had climbed into his father’s lap for a better vantage point and did not remember how he had gotten there at all. His hands were twisted about in the old brown overcoat, his eyes trained on the sky. In the background, but not really registering on Oliver’s mind at all, was the running commentary from that invisible voice.

“Griffiths of Puddlemere passes to Kenton – Kenton back to Griffiths – intercepted by Earls of Tutshill – back to Griffiths – up the field – near miss from a Bludger from Rowin – Griffiths up the field – she shoots – TEN POINTS FOR PUDDLEMERE!”

The navy-and-gold side of the pitch screamed and whistled, stamping their feet with such ferocity that Oliver could feel the whole pitch sway a bit. His heart was thrumming loudly in his ears, bright spots swarming at the edges of his vision, but he didn’t dare look away.

It was the most thrilling, the most exciting, and the flat-out best thing he had ever seen in the entirety of his six years.

“Son.” For a moment, Oliver couldn’t quite spot the source of the voice – was it the mysterious, faceless announcer, calling him out? – and then he recognized it as that of his father. But it sounded faintly squashed, as though coming from beneath a pillow.

“Son, please get your hands off my face.” And Oliver looked down to realize that he had entangled his fingers rather spectacularly in his father’s beard in the excitement, nearly poking one of his eyes out with his right thumb. He quickly removed the offending hands.

“Thank you,” Ewan said, readjusting his cap, which had been knocked askew in the exchange. But Oliver barely heard him – his eyes were already trained back on the sky.

*

The game did not end until night had fallen and the last traces of pink had disappeared over the opposite edge of the pitch. And somehow, throughout the entire game – through the dive that Ballard had nearly forgotten to pull out of, and the massive interception right before Williams thought he had seen the Snitch, and the actual chase once Williams had seen the Snitch – he had completely forgotten to be tired.

Now, of course, that the game was over and a firm victory had been chalked up for Puddlemere United, Oliver was starting to yawn a bit. But he couldn’t let his father see that he was struggling to keep his eyes open, because he didn’t want to look too babyish for such things, and not be allowed to go to any more Quidditch games.

“And what did you think?” said Ewan as they walked back down the steps towards the flat land stretching out in all directions from the stadium base. Oliver tried not to think of the long walk they still had to take to make it home.

“Can we go to another one?” he said eagerly instead, stepping over a bit of dropped Cauldron Cake. Ewan laughed and squeezed Oliver’s shoulder, partly to make sure he wouldn’t fall flat on his face in the descent.

“As soon as we’re able, boyo.”

They came to the bottom of the staircase, and Oliver frowned – this didn’t look familiar at all. He glanced back at his father to see him wearing an expression of similar distress. “Did we go down the wrong set of stairs?” he asked, fighting off another sudden wave of sleepiness.

“I – well, I thought they were the right ones,” Ewan grumbled, fishing about in his pockets for the tickets. “Damn things… Misleading, these are.” He took his hand off his son’s shoulder to aid in the search.

At that precise moment, a figure stepped out from somewhere to the Woods’ right, dressed in rather sweaty robes of navy and gold, a broomstick slung over his shoulder. Oliver let out a very audible gasp and instinctively reached for his father, still searching fruitlessly for the tickets. It was Allmore, the Puddlemere Keeper, and he was here.

Allmore looked around at the tiny noise – it was easily overheard, as most of the rest of the crowd had dispersed for home – and grinned when he saw that it had come from the small six-year-old boy. “Well, hello,” he grinned, tipping a broad wink in Oliver’s direction. He smiled back as best as he could, eyes popping, completely star struck.

“Hello,” he managed, and then giggled out of nerves and stepped forward a bit from his father’s side. “Thank you for the game.” Was that what you were supposed to say to Quidditch players after a match? He wasn’t sure, but he thought it sounded rather grown-up and important, so he said it anyway.

Allmore grinned again and knelt down so as to talk to Oliver on a better eye level. “Thanks, sport,” he said, sticking out his hand for the boy to shake. Oliver did so. “What’s your name?”

“Oliver.”

“Good name.” Allmore stood up a bit and stretched his spine, the broom acting almost like an extension of his arm as he did so. “So, you liked the match, huh? And you’re a Puddlemere fan?” He pretended to look stern now, but there was a sort of jesting light in his eyes that made Oliver’s nerves dissipate just slightly. He nodded his head.

“Good for you,” Allmore laughed. “That’s the right answer. You going to play Quidditch someday?”

Oliver looked briefly at his father, who had by now realized who his son was talking to and had stopped patting his pockets for the missing parchment slips. Ewan’s smile was almost as large as Oliver’s as he raised an eyebrow, as if to ask, Well, are you?

“Yes,” said Oliver firmly. “I’m going to be a Keeper.”

“I like the sound of that!” Allmore winked again and started off in the direction he’d originally been walking in. Before he disappeared completely, he turned and said over his shoulder, “Don’t lose sight of that goal, sport.” And he disappeared into the thin trickles of the exiting masses, leaving Ewan and Oliver standing there, both duly impressed.

“Well, how about that,” Oliver’s father said with a low whistle, pushing his cap back on his forehead a bit to scratch around where the brim had sat. “I’m going to have a Keeper for a son, then?”

“Yep,” Oliver said happily, grinning with pride and excitement. He hadn’t given it a moment’s thought before Allmore had asked about it, but as soon as the words had passed his lips, he was almost certain that was what he wanted to be. “And I’m going to play for Puddlemere United.”

Ewan let out a booming laugh and swept Oliver up into his arms, tweaking his nose again. “That’s my boy!” He jerked his head in the opposite direction of the way where Allmore had disappeared to. “Now, come on – home’s that way. I seem to have misled us.”

And the pair set off contentedly for home, Oliver’s thoughts already in the sky, playing Quidditch forever and ever. It was a happy future indeed.

A/N: Well, this update was a bit slow in coming until I actually formulated a little idea and sat down to write the darn thing. And then I wrote it all in one sitting in the span of about two hours, so that's proof of what productivity can do when you're not lazy! I sort of forgot going into this how much I hate writing Quidditch -- it's quite hard for me to pretend I know anything about sports, imaginary or otherwise -- but that being said, I was quite pleased with how this turned out. And I couldn't just not write about Oliver!

Thanks so much for all the reviews and favorites so far. I really am just blown away -- you guys are incredible!


Chapter 6: Hermione
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Hermione Granger had never realized just how different it was to grow up without siblings until she started primary school.

To say she was afraid of starting wouldn’t have been putting matters quite into proper terms. And, in fact, she had been very excited to go all summer, ever since her mother had told her where she would be spending her days that autumn. The thought of a room filled with toys and books and, best of all, children her own age was one that greatly appealed to the small five-year-old. She was so excited that, upon leaving the car with her mother and walking up the sidewalk to St. Lucy’s the first Monday in September, she was the one dragging her mother, instead of it being the other way around.

“Hermione, slow down,” Mrs. Granger laughed, fighting to keep hold of her daughter’s hand and prevent the strap of her pocketbook from slipping down her shoulder at the same time. “We won’t get there any faster if you rush, you know.”

Hermione frowned - that defied logic, surely - but obliged, slowing to a graceful walk and pressing herself a bit closer to the hem of her mother’s coat. “Mummy,” she said, tilting her head back to look at the two-story building, which, to her small height, seemed massive. “Will I like school?”

It was the first and only time she allowed her mind to stray into the possibilities of all the bad things that might happen. After all, Stevie Moore lived just down the street, and he’d already been in primary school for a year. And one of his favorite pastimes was scribbling rude words on the sidewalk in charcoal. She wondered for just a moment if there would be any such words scribbled on the walls of her classroom. She rather hoped not.

Mrs. Granger placed her hand on Hermione’s head in a gentle, calming sort of way, and the little girl’s fears dissipated almost at once. “You’ll love it, Hermione,” she said earnestly. “And you already know how to read, and that’s something a lot of boys and girls your age are still learning how to do.”

“Really?” She felt a happy little flush creep across her small cheeks. Her mother nodded. Hermione began to daydream just a little bit, thinking about how she could teach all her classmates to read, and then they would look up to her. She’d be some sort of hero!

Unfortunately, as yet there was no opportunity to speak of. All they had done so far was go around and tell the rest of the class their names, and then the teacher - a very nice-looking woman by the name of Miss Randolph, plump and pleasantly aged, like a kind grandmother - had let them explore the room a bit.

Hermione had immediately gravitated towards a long table in the middle room, set with paper and crayons. Fresh crayons, with the tips still sharpened, and that slight waxy smell still about them! She didn’t know if it would be odd or not to smell the crayons, and so refrained from sticking her nose right in the box, but the temptation was overwhelming.

A gap-toothed girl with long, curly blonde hair came over at that moment and stood at the place across from where Hermione sat, studiously working on a picture of a farm. Pigs were rather hard to draw, and she’d been working on it for some time at that point, a carnation pink crayon clutched tightly in her fist.

“What are you doing?” asked the girl, sticking her forefinger in her mouth and sucking on it a bit. Hermione smiled. She thought the girl was called Nora.

“I’m drawing a pig,” she said. She shoved the box of crayons at Nora, who looked wary of them. “Do you want to draw too?”

“Okay.” Nora removed her finger from her mouth and, with a slight measure of discomfort, Hermione watched as she used the same finger to rummage around in the box before withdrawing a garish green crayon. She bent her head over the paper, long hair obscuring her drawing. Hermione resumed work on her pig.

“Look!” Nora crowed after some minutes, holding up the drawing for Hermione’s inspection. It looked sort of like a pig, too - that is, if a pig were the color of a lime. Hermione frowned.

“You drew it wrong,” she said helpfully.

Nora frowned. “No, I didn’t.”

“Pigs aren’t supposed to be green. They’re pink.” Hermione attempted to pass her the crayon she had been using.

The little blonde girl snatched her paper back quickly, sticking her tongue quickly out at Hermione before scowling deeply. “I can draw pigs any color I want to, thank you very much.”

Already Hermione could see that primary school had certain rules that one must adhere to - it was like a small society all its own, with its own governing body and its own set of rules. She had been trying to help Nora - maybe she hadn’t known that pigs were supposed to be pink? - and all she had done was make the other girl mad.

She felt a bit small now. This was going to take a lot more getting used to than she’d first thought. Hermione scuffed her feet backwards and forwards a bit, dragging them over the squeaky linoleum on the floor. It was the same sort that her parents had in their waiting rooms, where she’d spent a lot of time growing up. It was where she’d learned to read, too. She suddenly wished she had a book in front of her - books were often better company than people, a fact she already knew at five years old.

“Do you like books?” she asked now, trying to make up for lost time. The frown on Nora’s face lessened slightly, but she didn’t say anything.

“Let’s go read. Do you want to go read?” Hermione was rather anxious to get away from the offending box of crayons now, lest Nora start coloring purple cows or blue ducks. She didn’t think she’d be able to handle such incorrect coloring again, but Nora wouldn’t like having to be corrected a second time.

“I can’t read,” said Nora staunchly, her eyes narrowing a bit in wariness. “Miss Randolph said she would read to us later. And besides.” She lowered her voice conspiratorially and leaned toward Hermione, abandoning all ill feelings as she appeared to want to let her in on some deep secret. “That corner by the bookshelves is the boy corner.” She leaned back in her chair knowingly.

Hermione couldn’t see why this was such an issue. “So?” she said bluntly. “There’s lots of room. We can share.”

“No! That corner is for boys.” Nora said this as though it explained everything, but she obviously saw how confused her companion was. “Boys have… They have…” She lowered her voice so much for the last word that Hermione had to lean even closer to hear. “Cooties.”

“Cooties aren’t real,” Hermione said, feeling proud to know something that this girl didn’t know. Nora frowned again.

“Yes, they are. My older sister told me all about them, and she’s a big kid. She’s in second grade.” Nora leaned towards Hermione again. “Do you have an older sister?”

The five-year-old girl shook her head. “But if cooties were real,” she said, “then why doesn’t my daddy have them?”

“Grown-ups don’t have them,” said Nora dismissively, as though this were an obvious explanation. “But you can’t go over to the boys’ corner. You’ll catch cooties and then you’ll get ammonia and then you’ll die.” As though to emphasize this fact, her gray eyes widened, and she popped her forefinger back in her mouth.

“That’s dumb,” said Hermione. “Watch. I’ll go over there right now.” And to prove her point, she pushed back her chair, glancing instinctively over to the corner where Miss Randolph sat. If for some reason that corner was just for boys, and was full of cooties, she didn’t want to get in trouble for breaking rules. But the teacher was engaged in helping two girls clean up a spilled bin of wooden blocks, and didn’t seem to notice.

The corner in question was surrounded on three sides by bookshelves, about half the size of the walls, and absolutely crammed with well-loved picture books, their pages torn and bent. There were a few boys sitting in the space among them, although none of them seemed to be reading. This seemed rather pointless to Hermione - why would you bother sitting by so many books if you weren’t going to bother reading them? - but that was not the question she had come to ask.

The boy farthest from her looked up from his plastic train - she remembered he’d introduced himself as Tommy. “What do you want?” he said rudely, jutting his chin out a bit in an effort to make himself appear tough. Hermione frowned.

“A book.”

“You can’t come in our corner,” said Alfie, a little blonde boy next to Tommy. “You’re a girl.”

Hermione sat herself down on a vacant cushion by the window and tilted her head to the side, pretending to study the books there. Tommy poked her shoulder with the train, perhaps thinking she hadn’t heard his friend.

“I’m trying to read,” she said in a withering sort of voice, the best she could manage, as she hadn’t been the one to walk over and sit down in the first place. “You’re just playing with trains.” Tommy scowled.

“Girls have germs,” informed the third boy helpfully, although a bit ironically, as he was picking his nose at the moment of speaking. “You’re germy.” He withdrew his finger from his nose, inspected what was on the end of it, and then deliberately wiped it on the plush cow behind him. Hermione was suddenly glad that she didn’t have brothers.

“I am not,” Hermione said determinedly, with a little frown. She abandoned her search of the bookshelf and folded her legs beneath her, crossing her arms over her chest. “That’s rude.” Tommy ran his train into her again, hoping it might persuade her to leave.

For years, Hermione had no explanation for what happened next. And strictly speaking, it wasn’t a huge deal. She could have forgotten all about it had she not believed herself to be firmly innocent for it having happened in the first place. But quite suddenly, and with no warning whatsoever, three books from the bookshelf by Hermione’s head flew into the air, smacking each boy in the face in turn, and returning quite neatly to where they had come from.

The group of them all sat there for a moment, quite dumbstruck, their small mouths hanging open as though they couldn’t believe what had just happened. Then, as one, they stood up from their little patch of carpet, yelling various things and tottering over to Miss Randolph, still engaged in picking up the blocks.

Hermione stood up too, her cheeks feeling very hot. She didn’t know how those books had flown off the shelves, and she knew that her entire primary school career was about to be ended before it had begun. And there were so many things she had been anxious to learn! She’d never learned multiplication, or how to climb the rope in gym, or how to write in cursive…

“Slow down, Tommy,” Miss Randolph was saying from across the room, her hand on his head. “What is it that you need to tell me?”

“That girl” - he pointed across the room to where Hermione was still standing on the carpet, defiant - “threw books at us, and she has cooties and now we need to go to the nurse and get a vacation.”

A crease formed in the instructor’s already-wrinkled forehead. “A vaccination?”

“Yeah!” Tommy nodded his head up and down in fervent eagerness. Hermione ran over to them to make sure the facts could get messed up before she could save herself.

“I didn’t throw anything!” she said hotly, coming to a stop and planting her fists on her hips. “They were telling me to go away because I had germs, even though I washed my hands today, and I don’t want to be kicked out of school.” She took a deep breath and caught the eye of Alfie, the blonde boy, who was glaring at her fiercely.

“I’m sure I don’t know what happened,” said Miss Randolph at last, lowering herself a bit to be on eye level with the rest of them, “but no one’s getting kicked out of school. And there are certainly no such things as cooties.” She said this last with a rather significant look at Tommy, who sucked in his lower lip.

“So I won’t have to leave school?” An intense wave of relief washed over her, and she beamed.

“I will have to ask each of you to sit in the corner for ten minutes, to think about what you have done,” the teacher continued on gently, but for Hermione, this was nothing compared to the prospect of not getting to learn multiplication.

She directed them to four chairs, each set up in various corners of the room, and Hermione crossed to hers, if not happily, than with no ill feeling. She would get to continue on in school, and what was more, the cooties issue had been satisfactorily solved. For the rest of that school year, she generated a modicum of respect in the classroom simply for being the one to put the matter at rest - and she did eventually learn to hold her tongue where coloring was concerned.

For six years, however, there was a nagging feeling in her mind about those books. Just how had they flown off the shelves?

A/N: You know, I think -- and I'm not sure if this is a good thing or not -- than Hermione and I had rather similar kindergarten experiences, looking back on how I wrote this. I was a rather bossy little child, going so far as to inform my teacher when she skipped pages of books (as I'd read most of the ones she had), and telling off a boy for sliding around on his carpet square.

Then again, that boy dripped melted crayon wax on my finger while it was still searing hot, so he probably deserved it.

Thank you guys so much for all the reads and reviews -- you blow me away. It's just as simple as that. Don't forget to review, as always, and thanks again!


Chapter 7: Cedric
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Cedric Diggory couldn’t seem to get to sleep, and not for any sorts of reasons as flat pillows, or twisted pajamas, or lights hitting his eyes at improper angles. All of these had, of course, factored into sleeplessness in the past, but things were drastically different tonight. Because tonight - and he was absolutely, positively, and unequivocally sure of this fact - a monster was lurking underneath his bed.

Cedric was lying as still as he possibly could, covers drawn right up under his nose so that every breath he took was fraught with the smell of mothballs, still potent though his mother had taken out his winter quilt over a month ago, and even after several washings. His ears still peeked out around the sheets, and he was listening hard for any telltale signs of this monster. It was a tricky creature, but thankfully, Peter Mackenny from down the street had told him just what to look for.

“They don’t breathe very much,” the boy was saying. They had been sitting side by side on the swing set of the neighborhood park, and Peter was scuffing his feet through the gravel underneath, talking in grave, serious tones. “Sometimes they’ll snore, but it’s always really, really quiet snoring.”

Cedric bit his lip and wiggled a bit uncomfortably on the swing. He wanted to appear brave, but it was a rather frightening thought, having a monster under one’s bed. “Do they… do anything?” he said, in a rather quivery sort of voice.

Peter tipped his head to the side thoughtfully. “Not usually,” he replied, with a casual one-shouldered shrug that Cedric felt did not suit the dire nature of the situation. “Sometimes they’ll gnaw on your toes or hands, just to sort of see what you’d taste like.” He kicked a particularly large stone, and it went zipping across the swing set’s enclosure. “They don’t kill people, normally.”

Cedric gulped. “Normally?” he squeaked, clutching his scarf a bit more tightly around his throat. Peter shrugged again.

“Nah, it’s mostly pretty harmless.” He suddenly looked sideways at Cedric, giving him a nastily knowing grin for such a small boy, his eyes widening a bit under his white-blonde fringe. “Haven’t you ever gotten little cuts - on your fingers, or on the backs of your hands - and wondered how they’d gotten there?”

Cedric looked down quickly at his hands - he had indeed received the very cuts his friend spoke of, and on more than one occasion. But he couldn’t let him know that that scared him. He hastily thrust his hands back into his jeans pockets. “That’s stupid,” he informed Peter plainly. “Any sort of monster has no business being under my bed.”

Peter raised an eyebrow in a gesture that spoke well beyond his years. “All right, then,” he said coolly, standing up from the swing and standing imperiously over Cedric. “Don’t say I didn’t warn you.” With that last admonition, he sauntered off, swaggering a bit as though proud of himself.

As soon as he was gone, Cedric slowly removed his hands from his pockets and looked down at them. And there, on the middle finger on his left hand, was a small nick, faintly red against his pale skin. He looked up quickly and swallowed again.

“There is no monster under my bed,” he said aloud, determined to convince himself. But even afterwards, as he began to make his own way home, tiny doubts still lingered.

It was this conversation that was playing in Cedric’s mind as he lay there, listening anxiously for any monster-sounding snores from beneath him. All was quiet and still, save for the distant ticking of the grandfather clock in the entryway downstairs. He wriggled around a bit, perhaps to goad the monster into making some sort of response, but nothing moved in the darkness. He pulled the quilt up more tightly, entombing his ears fully, and squeezed his eyes shut tightly. Cedric began attempting to think of pleasant things to lure him into sleep.

Raindrops. Birthday cake. Ice lollies in summer. Flying in front of Dad on his broom. Petting large, friendly dogs -

Cedric froze at once, his eyes shooting open just as quickly as he’d closed them. For while he had been compiling a list of happy things in his mind, he had heard it most distinctly - a sort of shuffling sound, distorted by the quilt, but it was very possible that it might have been a monster snore. A monster, here, in his bedroom!

He poked his head over the side of the bed tentatively, eyes straining through the gloom for any telltale signs of frightening beasts, but all remained quiet. He withdrew his head quickly and yanked the quilt over his head, trembling a bit. What should he do? Was it worth going and waking up his father?

Yes, Cedric decided, peeping one eye out from beneath the quilt. Amos Diggory was a great man, probably the best wizard who had ever lived, ever. Surely he would know how to combat this problem. His gaze swiveled over to the clock on his bedside; their luminous hands showed that it was just a little before midnight.

But there was still the problem of the monster! He leaned over bravely and again laid his eyes on that deeper blackness that was the shadow of his bed against the normal nighttime darkness. He had to make a run for it - and if he never made it back, then he would have died bravely, for the noble cause of ridding the world of bed monsters.

Cedric gathered the quilt about him and sat as tall as his small six-year-old frame would allow, holding his head with as much dignity as one could when it was shrouded in one’s bedclothes. And then, mustering all his courage, he made a wild leap from the bed, landing precariously and nearly careening into the door to his bedroom.

He imagined he could hear the monster stirring, wondering what the occupant of the bed above it was doing leaping from bed at odd hours of the night, and didn’t hesitate a moment further. With a small squeak, or perhaps too, borne from minute amounts of fright, he pattered rapidly down the hall and past the bathroom. The nightlight within glowed eerily, and he picked up his pace down the stairs, treading on a bit of quilt and nearly pitching headlong down them.

The door to his mother and father’s room was shut tight, and he eased it open as quietly as possible, not wanting to wake his mother, who would surely worry about both husband and son going off to battle monsters at midnight. His father murmured something as the hinges gave a faint squeak, and he turned over, face towards Cedric. The small boy crept up to the side of the bed and tapped his father’s cheek with a blanket-covered forefinger.

“Dad?

Amos gave no indication of having heard his son, apart from another unintelligible murmur. Cedric frowned mightily and tapped his father’s cheek with more insistence.

“Dad? Dad, wake up! Dad!” Tap tap tap.

With a great, rumbling sort of sound that might have been called a snort, should someone have deigned to assign it a name, Amos jerked awake. “What? Wazzat?” He blinked blearily, and his eyes focused on Cedric, looking at him dolefully from under his quilted shroud. “Cedric?” He reached for his own bedside alarm clock and brought it close to his face, trying to decipher the numbers upon it. “What on earth are you doing up, son?”

Cedric sighed a little breath of impatience and trepidation. “I have a problem, Dad.” Amos blinked at him, and the boy leaned closer, cupping his hand to whisper into his father’s ear in a rather moist fashion. “There’s a monster under my bed.”

His father rubbed a tired hand over his sleep-filled eyes and set the alarm clock back on the nightstand none too gently. “There is no monster, Ced,” he said, a bit grumpily. He reached to ruffle his son’s hair but missed, and instead lightly smacked him in the face. “Sorry, son.”

“Dad.” Cedric was not about to give up so easily, and shook his father’s arm, tossing him to and fro on the flat pillow. “I heard it snore. You have to come and see!”

Letting out the third under-the-breath mumble of the evening, Amos swung his feet from the bed, rubbing his eyes again with a sound like sandpaper on concrete. “All right, all right.” He reached over and his fingers groped around for his wand, which he found lying next to the alarm clock. “Let’s go see whatever’s making this noise of yours.”

Cedric followed his father out of his parents’ bedroom, quilt still clutched around him and covering his head in its protective cotton embrace. The walk back upstairs to his own humble abode seemed interminably long, and Cedric just knew that the monster lay in wait for them, breathing its rumbling breaths, perhaps drooling on his area rug…

Amos flicked the light switch on, and his son immediately jumped as close to him as possible, clutching him around the middle. The suddenly-bright room looked as it always did, the walls painted a pale blue and stuck everywhere with posters of the various teams Cedric and his father had seen at Quidditch matches. With a sort of painful groan and the cracking of knees, Amos Diggory knelt down, ignited the tip of his wand, and shone it into the shadowy space beneath his son’s bed.

“See, Ced?” he said gently, motioning for Cedric to kneel beside him; he shook his quilt-covered head fervently. “There’s nothing there,” the older man explained patiently, waving the wand around to prove his point. And it was true - apart from a dust bunny or three, underneath the bed was virtually empty.

Cedric was not to be fooled.

“But Dad,” he said in a loud whisper, tiptoeing a few inches closer. “I bet he can turn invisible.”

Amos let out another long, world-weary sigh. “It’s late, Cedric. Why don’t we talk about this in the morning, hmm?” He reached out to ruffle the boy’s hair again, and this time managed to avoid hitting Cedric square in the face. He helped Cedric into bed and tucked the quilt firmly around him, so that he looked more like an ancient Egyptian mummy than a six-year-old boy.

But just as soon as the light was turned off once more, and he could hear his father’s footsteps padding back down the hall to his own bedroom, Cedric found that, once more, he could not sleep. Of course the monster could turn invisible - bed monsters would have been extinct if they hadn’t developed that ability - and now it was probably even angrier because Cedric had tattled on it!

He craned his head an infinitesimal amount over the side, and imagined he could hear the monster licking its hungry chops, waiting to make Cedric a meal. He called out in one last vain attempt to salvage his life, for he had too much left to do to die right now at the hands of an angry bed monster.

“Psst. Monster,” he said softly, bringing the quilt up to his nose so that his plea sounded a bit muffled. “I’m a little thin to be eaten. You can wait until I get a bit fatter. I don’t mind.” He thought about this a bit more, and then added, “Plus, I had a bath tonight, so I probably taste like soap.”

There was, as expected, no answer from below, but he still couldn't stop his limbs from trembling just a bit. The quilt quivered slightly and made his nose tickle.

His father wasn't going to do anything about the monster, and his mother was, more than likely, still fast asleep downstairs -- and anyway, Cedric surmised that she might be afraid of such a monster. She often had to call her husband in to kill spiders, and those were much, much smaller than bed monsters. There was only one thing for it: He would have to do something about it himself.

But what could a six-year-old boy, bereft of wand and virtually any magical ability, except for that one time he exploded that teakettle, do to stop a monster?

A sudden idea popped into his head. He was reminded of the time he and his parents had taken a holiday to the coast, and had stayed in a very large and very fancy hotel. The people who were staying in the room above the Diggorys had been very rude and had sounded as though they were doing a sort of aerobics routine on their floor. The noise had been so obnoxious that Amos had eventually gone down to the front desk and asked for a change of rooms. But if noise from above could drive out humans, perhaps the same principles applied here.

Cedric darted his eyes about the bedroom, looking for the noisiest thing within reach, and he spotted his luminous alarm clock once more, its hands ticking away in a friendly sort of fashion. It would have to work.

He carefully snaked a hand out from beneath the quilt and snatched the clock, bringing it quickly back to him in case the monster wanted to nibble on his newly-exposed arm. The ticking was much louder at this proximity, and he quickly twisted the small knob on the back, setting the alarm for five minutes hence. He hoped that the monster couldn’t hear the clock ticks, for five minutes was an excruciatingly long time to wait out such a horrendous beast, and it could probably eat him in that span of time.

Quiet as a mouse, Cedric slithered from beneath the quilt and the sheets, wiggling his toes as he climbed up and hovered over the rumpled bed in a half-crouch. The clock ticked with insane loudness, matching his own small, thumping heartbeat almost stroke for stroke. When that clock rang, he told himself, then he would shout and jump about, making the bed shake to combat the loudness. And then - then the monster would be gone for good! He would be a hero! People would write books about him, and poems, and maybe songs -

With a shrill ring and a little vibration, the clock rang, quite before Cedric had been expecting it to. He let out a little squeak and dropped it, and it fell onto the floor with a thunk, shuddering away from him in small increments with its buzzing.

Suddenly remembering his plan, Cedric began to hop up and down on the bed, singing a small song of both heroism and improvisation:

"Monster, monster,
I don’t like you
So please go away, right now,
Because I am being loud
And monsters don’t like loud things!"

He liked this verse so much that he started to sing it again, in a slightly higher voice than he had used before, to give it a bit of variation. And in fact, he was so thoroughly into his song that he completely missed his parents’ running footsteps until both of them had burst into his room. His father snapped the light switch.

“What - on - earth - are - you - doing?” Amos bellowed, enunciating each word to its fullest and breathing a bit like an out-of-breath bull. Cedric stopped jumping and singing at once; the alarm clock, still buzzing, had somehow made its way under his bureau. Cedric’s mother sleepily knelt down and grabbed it with a look of slight consternation, hitting the button to turn off the alarm with more force than was perhaps necessary.

“I’m - the monster, Dad,” said Cedric a bit timidly, plopping back down onto his bed and peeping under it. “Look, Dad, it worked! I scared him away!”

Amos shared a look with his wife, who was still clutching the alarm clock to her nightgown-clad chest. “Now you listen to me, Ced,” he said slowly, turning back around to face his son and talking through his teeth. “There are no monsters. None. Your mother and I” - and again, he looked back at his wife - “would not let monsters into this house. Is that clear?”

Cedric bobbed his head in agreement. He suddenly felt rather foolish, although, he thought, it was worth it for a bit of bed-bouncing. He decided it was probably for the best to deflect as much further embarrassment as possible. “Well, good night,” he said promptly, throwing himself back onto his pillow and pulling the quilt up to his chin. “Have a good sleep, family.” He closed his eyes, and so missed Amos rolling his before leaving the room. Cedric’s mother followed soon after, replacing the clock and turning out the light on her way out.

When the room was dark again, and the sound of his parents had completely faded from the house, Cedric opened one eye and smiled, suddenly feeling intensely sleepy.

There was no sleep, he thought to himself, closing his eye again and burrowing further under the covers, quite as good as the sleep that came after defeating a bed monster.

A/N: Baww, wee Cedric. He is just so adorable, and I think that's why this chapter turned out to be one of the longest, if not the longest, of the bunch I've written. The more I wrote, the cuter he got, and if you think it's easy to tear yourself away from writing a small child with a quilt over his head -- well, you've never tried it! Such a brave lad, defeating bed monsters.

Anyway. Thank you very much for reading and reviewing -- you all are fantastic! We've got, I think, 3 or 4 more chapters to go, so stick around. I do hope you enjoy them!


Chapter 8: Harry
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The summer air was swelteringly hot, and, Harry Potter thought lazily, rather difficult to breathe - it was as though his lungs were sucking in thick, warm liquid, rather than their usual quantity of oxygen. It wasn't an entirely unpleasant sensation, but it did make his brain feel a bit woozy, and a woozy brain was not something to be desired when one was trying to avoid one's great lump of a cousin, and his equally massive gang members.

The nine-year-old boy craned his neck around, peering back up the sidewalk he'd just traversed, as though expecting Dudley to have materialized there. Thankfully, there was no sign of him, and the less Harry went without seeing him, the better his day was sure to be. It was already two o' clock, and he hadn't seen him since breakfast that morning, which meant that everything was going rather better than expected. But, as Harry had circled all the houses around Privet Drive already (the farthest he was allowed to go on his own), he knew it was only a matter of time.

It was only this summer, he thought, that Dudley really seemed to have come into his own as far as knowing the power of his own ham-like fists. Before school had ended, it was as though he was always afraid he'd get in trouble if he hit Harry too hard - this wasn't the case, of course, as Harry largely suspected Uncle Vernon would have patted Dudley fondly on the head and rewarded him with a chocolate bar if he should have, say, broken his nose.

Briefly, Harry stopped and reached up to poke the bridge of his glasses, freshly mended with clear tape. Perhaps Dudley knew about the potential chocolate reward, as well.

The play park loomed into sight as Harry trotted on up the curb, holding his arms out while he balanced on the crumbling concrete. Despite having only been built a few years previously, some older boys had already managed to tear it up in a rather admirable fashion. Rude words had been painted onto the creaky old merry-go-round in the park's center, and no one had yet devised a proper way of removing them, although for a large part of the previous summer the area had smelled like turpentine with their efforts. The swings were still intact, but there was no telling how long that would last.

Perhaps, Harry pondered, he might be able to stop and have a quick go on them before he had to move off to keep ahead of Dudley. He'd already passed the park before and there had been no sign of Dudley or Piers, or Malcolm or Gordon. He turned his head to look behind him once more, but the air hung thick and heavy, the silence marred only by the clicking of sprinklers and cicadas alike.

Just a quick turn - only a swing or three - and he'd be off again.

Feeling considerably happier, and not quite so conscious of the thick sludge that seemed to be passing for summer air, Harry set off for the swing set at a brisk trot. The flapping rubber soles of his trainer crunched loudly on the gravel, louder still to his own ears because he was concentrating on being as quiet as possible. The swings seemed to beckon him like old friends, rattling their cheerful chains at him. He plopped onto the rubber, enjoying the clinking sound the buttons of his jeans made on the swing -

"There 'e is!" There was a great crackling and rustling from one of the large shrubberies bordering the park, and with what seemed to be a tremendous effort, Gordon - one of Dudley's newer cronies - emerged from the thorny green leaves. From spots to the left and right of Gordon's place in the foliage, three other boys were wriggling their way from between the branches.

Harry sat momentarily frozen on his swing, sweaty fingers wrapped around the chains. The only thought that managed to cross his brain at that particular moment went something like: Oh, so they were hiding in the shrubberies so I wouldn't see them! That's a bit clever, actually -

And then he bolted, chucking the swing behind him in a desperate attempt to slow his pursuers down before sprinting across the flat, entirely visible ground of the park. Judging from the gorilla-like grunts behind him, his tactic worked, but it would only buy him seconds. Privet Drive and the relative safety to be found there was too far, much too far...

There was only one thing for it. With an extra burst of speed, borne of sheer adrenaline and a bit of luck in that he weighed at least half what each of the gang members weighed, if not more, he scrambled for the line of trees bordering the opposite side of the chain-link fence.

Most of these trees were half-dead with the intensity of summer, following upon an unusually harsh winter (it had snowed a foot and a half, Harry remembered now, although he couldn't say why this particular detail was so clear in his mind as he sprinted for his life). There was, however, one viable option left to him, and it came in the form of a broad-leafed tree, extraordinarily ugly, with a stout, sturdy trunk, right in the middle of the fence. It would be easy to climb.

Which also meant, of course, it would probably be easy for Dudley to climb. But this was - perhaps literally - a matter of life or death, and at that moment, Harry very much valued the former of the two options.

With quick fingers, he wrapped his hands around a low-jutting branch and hoisted himself onto it, silently arguing with his trainers as the peeling soles decided to catch briefly on a bit of rough bark. He hoisted himself off the ground and onto the next branch as quickly as possible just as one of the gang members (it didn't quite matter who yet, as they were all a threat) made a grab for the dangling laces of the previously-offending trainer.

"You can't hide up there forever, Potter!" That voice belonged rather unmistakably to Dudley, and Harry paused in the tree, peering down at his cousin's face from his slight height. That was another thing his cousin had taken to doing that summer, calling him by his last name. Then again, that wasn't quite so bad as the names Harry called Dudley behind his back; "Piggly-Wiggly" was a current favorite of his.

"I think I'll try anyway, thanks," he called back down, climbing onto the next branch and halting for a bit of a breather. This, however, was a mistake; with a very nasty grin, Dudley moved for the tree and placed his fat hands on the lowest branch, one Harry had used to push himself up only a few moments ago. He prayed for a brief moment that it might break – it wasn’t such a far-fetched wish, after all.

“You’re going to wish –“ Dudley grunted, with tremendous effort, but whatever Harry might have wished he never did find out. A very curious thing happened at that moment that cut off all speech, for the moment Harry’s cousin had hoisted himself onto the branch, he slipped right off, as though the bark were covered in thick grease. He fell back to the ground with a massive thud; Harry laughed loudly, unable to help himself.

Piers tiptoed over to Dudley, sticking his head over his friend’s, upside-down. “You fell off, Dudley,” he said helpfully. “Harry’s still in the tree.”

“I know he’s still in the tree,” the massive blond boy snapped irritably. He scrambled ungracefully to his feet, his face bright red; he looked for all the world, in Harry’s slightly biased opinion, like a plump tomato fresh off a vine. The squeezing feeling of panic in his chest eased somewhat as, this time, Malcolm made to climb up the branch that had just sent Dudley sprawling.

He managed to get up onto it, too, and then the branch seemed to sway heavily. Harry watched in a fascinated sort of manner as Malcolm was sent right back to the ground, nearly landing on Dudley in the process, who had to make a hasty retreat so as not to get squashed. Harry remained untouched in the topmost branches.

What was the tree doing? But no – trees didn’t have minds of their own… but it was preventing any of the boys from climbing what Harry had so easily scaled, only minutes before, as if by magic…

Dudley’s face had now turned a shade of purple that would have given Uncle Vernon a splendid run for his money. He balled his great hands into fists and shoved them into the outer pockets of his letterman’s jacket – it had once been his father’s – and glared up at his cousin with fierce, piggy eyes.

“I guess I’ll see you back at the house, then, Dudders,” Harry called down, waving a mocking hand down at him, and nearly losing his balance in the process. Dudley scowled further, whether at the use of his nickname or at the allusion to the fact he couldn’t really touch Harry within earshot of his parents, Harry couldn’t tell.

“Come on.” With a kick at the tree – his foot didn’t seem to collide with it – Dudley sauntered morosely out of the park, every now and then glancing back at Harry, as though contemplating making another assault on his tree. He apparently decided against it, at any rate, because before too long, the sound of the boys’ progress was lost to the shuffling of leaves and spare newspapers skipping along the baking concrete.

Harry patted his tree fondly as soon as he was positive that he was alone. It looked significantly less lonely now that it had protected him. But that's impossible, he told himself firmly, trees didn’t protect people. Dudley was just outsmarted by it, and that’s not so unusual, really…

Still, he reckoned, it might be a good idea to build a sort of hideout up in that tree. Just in case.

Across the way, leaning against another bit of chain link fence, Harry spotted a couple of half-rotted wooden planks that someone had discarded there, rather than driving them all the way down to the dump. He figured they might serve his purpose, and, after peering from between the sundried leaves to make absolutely sure Dudley wasn’t lurking about for a surprise ambush, he scrambled back down the tree. He stepped gingerly on the branch that had tossed Malcolm and Dudley off, but it was just as sturdy as it had been when he’d used it to climb up initially. Strange…

Trying quite firmly to keep his mind focused on the task at hand, Harry trotted quickly across the bark and stooped to pick up one of the planks. It was rather lighter than expected, although quite cumbersome, too, due to its length. He dragged it awkwardly across the hard-packed dirt of the play park, and thought, for a moment, how odd a passerby might find the scene before him: A scrawny boy of nine years, in too-big clothes and broken glasses, dragging a bit of wood over to a tree.

The wooden plank – and, after some minutes had elapsed, its brother – proved surprisingly easy to hoist into the tree. He laid them crosswise to form a small seat on two adjacent branches, and gingerly tested their weight, hoping against hope that whatever mercy the tree had shown him earlier, it would prevail now and not cause him to fall like a rock.

Miraculously – magically – the wood held. It was a bit bendy and still a bit rotted, but Harry could tell that it would last – at least for the time being – and that was all that really mattered at the moment. He swung his legs back and forth, rather pleased at what he thought to be a spot of genius at having picked such a good tree for his fort.

His fort. He rather liked the sound of that.

And he could bring all sorts of things up here, really! Already his mind swam with the vision of it – a sign, painted in slightly drippy black paint, telling Dudley to keep out or else. Perhaps one of the old couch cushions, slightly ripped, that had been placed in the garage by Aunt Petunia, because she couldn’t stand messes. He didn’t care for the pattern, but such was the way of things in matters like this. And biscuits – he knew where Dudley had hidden his stash!

A rather self-satisfied smile crossed Harry’s face, and, bouncing just once more to make absolutely sure that the wood would hold, he scrambled back down the tree. The stifling, humid summer air seemed just a little less suffocating in light of the new plan that had suddenly formed in his mind. Taking one last look at his little tree – which suddenly looked like the most beautiful tree in the world – he started off for home.

*

No matter how many times Dudley tried to climb that tree – and he tried for an extraordinary number of years after that incident – he was never quite able to reach Harry’s fort, whether it was occupied or not. And somehow, when all the other trees of the park were cut down one summer to expand on the residential lot adjacent, that one ugly tree escaped unscathed.

A/N: First and foremost, I've got to dedicate this chapter to NaidatheRavenclaw. This isn't the first time something like this has happened, but just by talking with her about how I had no ideas for this particular chapter -- lo and behold, an idea was born! It's scary, really, how suddenly some of these ideas come upon us writers.

And I have made an executive decision regarding this story: Two more chapters until completion! One more little childhood snapshot, and then an epilogue. So this feels like as appropriate a moment as any to say a massive thank-you to those who've given the story this sort of response. I never imagined it would mount up to this, and you all are the reason I'm writing these stories in the first place. So thank you, very much -- you mean a lot to me!


Chapter 9: Seamus
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Seamus Finnigan thought it was a very lucky thing that he had the privilege of growing up in Ireland. At such a young age, he didn’t quite have the capacity to be largely patriotic, but he loved the smell of grass, and in a place noted for its abundance of green, grass was never a scarcity. Accordingly, he spent much of his time outdoors, and so on a night like tonight, one of the town’s yearly festivals, which required much sitting on the grass, he was quite content.

It was, he thought, his favorite thing in the world, the grassy smell - until that particular festival night, in which Seamus, at the very tender age of three, discovered the glorious invention that was fireworks.

“Now, you’re to be sittin’ here and not running away from your mum,” his father was saying - it was the onset of the evening, and there was a massive stack of wooden logs in the middle of the town square, around which people were already gathered. Children a bit older than Seamus were running up and down, waving sparklers, many of them with black-painted faces and smudged hands, supposedly representing demons and devils of their own imagining. He watched them with interest.

“He’s fine, Johnny,” said Seamus’s mother happily, pulling him over to sit on her lap. He frowned and tried to wriggle away - she’d just blocked the best bit of the view. “You go on and find your mates, now, you’ve been itching to run to them ever since we arrived.”

“Margie, my dear -“ Mr. Finnigan started to say, smiling ruefully, but she cut him off with a shake of her head. He grinned more broadly now and clamped a hand on Seamus’s head briefly, kissed his wife chastely on the cheek, and hustled off into the fading daylight, one hand clamped over his tweed cap to keep it from blowing away.

“Where Daddy going?” Seamus asked, frowning, almost not waiting to hear the answer; another little boy had just run by, a sparkler clutched in each fist. He desperately wanted one. “Can have a sparker?” he asked instead, not waiting for the answer to his previous question.

Margie Finnigan frowned. “Dear boy, you are rather accident-prone,” she said, nonetheless lovingly. “No sparkler for you this year. Perhaps next year.” She plopped a kiss on his head, but it did nothing to appease the small boy; he wiped it off in a rather disgruntled fashion, and instead turned to yanking up handfuls of grass.

It was a rather nice alternative, but it wasn’t a sparkler. It didn’t look like such a bad thing, after all, even if he was - well, whatever his mother had called him. Something that made such pretty lights, and smelled so sharp and tangy (nothing like grass!) could not possibly hurt him.

From the side pocket in the dress she wore, Seamus saw his mother pull out a polished, carved stick, muttering something under her breath as she did so. He had seen this stick before, although whenever his mother caught him looking at it, she made sure to put it out of his reach quickly enough. It was a secret, she had told him, and must never be discussed with his father. Was that understood?

She poked the basket looped carefully over her arm with the stick, rummaged about in it, and lo and behold, her hand emerged clutching a cheese sandwich – one of his absolute favorite foods. “Careful, now,” she laughed, as her son began wolfing down the sandwich with characteristic gusto. “Best not to be getting a tummy ache.”

Seamus wondered now, licking the last bits of butter off the tips of his fingers (his sandwiches never lasted quite long enough), if that stick was a sparkler, and eyed it from the corner of his eye. Mrs. Finnigan caught him looking and put the stick quickly back in her pocket, miming zipping her lips with the thumb and index finger of her right hand. He nodded and yanked up another fistful of grass, feeling rather bored.

It wasn’t as if his having a sparkler was such a bad thing anyway, he thought grumpily. Three years old – actually, four in only a few months – was perfectly old enough to be handling such things, in his opinion. He might have started that small fire in the kitchen once, but that was an accident. And anyway, he was quite sure his mother had all but forgotten the incident.

He tossed up another handful of grass and glanced at his mother to see if she noticed, as she never much liked it when Seamus made messes. But Mrs. Finnigan had, unbeknownst to Seamus, received a visitor to her little spot of grass in the form of Abby O’Flannery, one of the Finnigans’ neighbors. She was holding the hand of her own little girl, Moira, and the two women were already deeply engrossed in conversation.

And, Seamus suddenly thought with a wicked sort of revelation, not paying any attention to him at all. Not even Moira was looking at him long enough to notice if he slipped away, and he desperately wanted a sparkler… As quietly as he could, he scooted around behind his mother, checked once more to see if she’d seen him (she was still yammering away), and took off full-tilt for the center of the square.

Being a rather small boy for his age, it was a curious thing for Seamus to be thrust, rather unexpectedly, into a throng of people: Legs dressed in slacks or protruding from beneath skirts was about all he could see, and it was quite easy for him to get quickly and hopelessly lost. He’d been heading for the statue of the bearded man in the center of the square – it was because of him, the boy faintly recalled, that his town held this festival at all – but wherever the statue was, he couldn’t see it anymore.

“Are you lost, son?” said a deep, kindly voice from somewhere above him. He craned his head back, squinting to see if he could recognize who the voice belonged to, but the man who had spoken was a complete stranger to him: All thick brown beard and ruddy red cheeks and dark eyes that looked nonetheless kind.

“No,” said Seamus plaintively, although this was sort of a lie. “I’m looking for sparkers.”

The man’s eyebrows, just as thick as his beard, creased a bit. “Did your mum say you could play with those, then? You look a bit wee, son –“

“I’m not your son,” Seamus said fiercely, crossing his arms over his chest to emphasize the point. For some reason, the strange man chuckled at this, as though he had just heard a rather amusing joke, but Seamus was quite serious. “And I’m not lost.” He put as much condescension and scorn into the words as possible, as he had heard some of the older boys do sometimes.

The man raised his eyebrows this time, but said nothing. He sauntered away, disappearing quite quickly into the crowd, and Seamus was almost instantly sad to see him go. They had been having such a good time! But now he was on the quest for a sparkler, and a sparkler he would find.

At that moment someone else passed him, and he saw that this time it was someone a bit nearer his own age – a girl, maybe six or seven, and carrying red and orange crepe streamers; they fluttered behind her as she ran. The ridges of her cheekbones were chalked black with soot.

“Where you get that?” he asked her, pointing to the streamers. She looked at them, as though surprised to find that they were there, and pointed back the way she had come with an indifferent little shrug of her shoulders. Seamus looked about him once more, hoping a bit that he might yet see the statue and get a bit of his bearings, but no such luck.

The air was getting closer and more smoky, filled with that sort of tangy smell that Seamus liked even better than sun-warmed grass, but he couldn’t even enjoy it now. He had wandered away with no idea where he was headed, and he didn’t even have a sparkler to show for it. A small knot of panic clenched in the bit of his stomach, and he moodily willed himself to get control. Getting all nervous and twitchy would help nobody at the moment.

He took several deep breaths, trying to fill his lungs with air as much as possible, and tugged on the skirt of a woman passing by. She looked down at him in a rather surprised manner. “Do you know where my mummy is?” he asked baldly.

“No, I don’t,” she said roughly, and pushed on. Seamus frowned – that was quite rude – and the cold clammy panic began to climb up a bit further in his ribs. He twisted the hem of his shirt anxiously in his hands and tried to crane his head about for his mother. She can’t have been left too far behind…

But there was so much noise and confusion, and everywhere people were yelling and laughing so loudly… Seamus felt tears well in his eyes, quite without meaning for them too, and tried desperately not to cry. He was almost four, and surely four-year-olds didn’t cry!

"I'm lost!" Seamus managed aloud, in a very frightened, timid sort of voice, but it was so quiet that he knew nobody could possibly have heard him. He couldn't even summon the courage to say it again, for fear of making it undeniably true. My mummy and daddy will never find me, and I'll have to live all on my very own, he thought desperately. And I'm not even allowed to use the knives to make myself cheese sandwiches.

Somehow, he half-wished that he'd never ventured off in search of a sparkler.

"Seamus? Is that you?"

Quite suddenly, with a wonderful, rushing feeling of relief, Seamus turned on the spot and found himself looking up into the rather incredulous face of his father.

"Daddy!" Seamus held out his arms, almost weak-kneed with happiness, and Johnny Finnigan lifted up his son with something close to incredulity. Seamus nuzzled his face into the crook of his father's neck, breathing in the smell of skin and soap and aftershave deeply.

"But what are you doing in the middle of the square?" his father asked him again, as he clearly didn't yet have a grasp on the entire situation.

The small boy knew that, in that moment between being asked a question and answering it, his face burned with embarrassment at such blatant disobedience on his part; he felt rather foolish for sneaking away now.

“Looking for sparkers,” he said in his best innocent little-boy voice, which always worked on his father like a charm. And, sure enough, Mr. Finnigan rolled his eyes and pushed his cap back a bit farther on his head, but made no more comments about the incident.

“Well, all right then. We’ll get you a sparkler, if you promise not to tell your mum.” Seamus’s father tipped him a broad wink, and there was something so absurd and yet so wonderfully natural in the gesture that the small boy giggled, snuggling deeper into his arms, feeling quite safe once again.

It was that night that Seamus’s fascination with all things fire and explosions was born, even superseding his love of the small of the grass that so frequented his native country. When Johnny Finnigan found his beard set alight by his son’s experiments, he was sorely sorry for having given into the boy’s desire for a sparkler. And when Seamus, a few months later, developed the oddly unnatural habit of having sparks shoot out his fingers, and Mrs. Finnigan had to confess to her less-than-Muggle bloodlines, well, Johnny was less surprised than he felt he perhaps ought to be.

A/N: It seems so natural for Seamus's chapter to have dealt, even minutely, with fire and explosions that I'm almost quite sad this didn't get written before now! He's so small and Irish, it's very impossible not to love him here, but I've got bias, I suppose. But really. He burned his dad's beard off! How endearing!

Just the epilogue to go, guys -- oh, wait, that just hit me. That is one more chapter. One more chapter is not a lot... Thanks so much for making this story, well, what it is. I suppose I'm starting my appreciation gushing in advance, but honestly, I'm thrilled at the responses. You guys truly are awesome!


Chapter 10: Epilogue
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The sun was shining down rather brightly through the broad glass roof of King’s Cross station, twinkling and glinting off Harry Potter’s glasses in a way so as to temporarily blind him. He had been forced to come to a stop right in the middle of a bustle of people, pushing and vying to get on this train or that one, and so had quite lost sight of his wife, as well as Ron and Hermione.

It hadn’t been all that long since he’d been back here – as the former Boy Who Lived, he spent a fair bit of time traveling to Hogwarts and acting as guest speaker to some of the older Defense Against the Dark Arts lessons. But today marked the first time he’d been on Platform Nine and Three-Quarters on the first of September since – he frowned slightly, trying to remember accurately. He’d missed seeing Teddy off alongside Andromeda, he remembered, because he’d sent his godson a large box of Chocolate Frogs the day after as a way of apologizing. Could it be that he hadn’t seen the Hogwarts Express properly since his own sixth year?

“Dad?” Harry felt a small tug on the hem of his shirt just as he heard his son’s inquiry, and, still squinting a bit from the glare, looked down at James, who was all but glued to his leg. “Dad, where are we going?”

“I told you,” Harry responded, not unkindly, and placed what he hoped was a comforting sort of hand on the boy’s head. “This is how you’re getting to school, son.” He looked up and narrowed his eyes, trying to see past two rather burly businessmen. “Now, we’ve lost your mum and brother and sister. Do you see them anywhere?”

James stood on his tiptoes, but unfortunately, his trainers didn’t provide much elevation, and although he was tall for his age, he was nowhere near as tall as the London working class. Just as his son was about to tell him this, however, Harry caught sight of a head of flaming red hair – no, two –and reached down to take his son’s hand and lead him in the right direction.

Dad.” James yanked his hand out of his father’s and reached up to ruffle his own hair; Harry had no clue where he’d picked that particular trait up, but he was constantly doing so. “I’m eleven years old now,” he added stubbornly. “I can take care of myself.”

Harry just managed to keep himself from laughing; it was, he thought lovingly, a very Ginny thing to say. “You sure can,” he agreed. “Let’s go and find your mum.”

Ginny, Ron, and Hermione were clustered around the barrier between Platforms 9 and 10, obviously waiting for Harry and James to catch up to them. Albus was clinging to Ginny’s hand and looking about him a bit warily; next to Hermione, Rose Weasley was doing the same. Both of them would be off to Hogwarts themselves the year after next, but James was going off alone.

Lily and her cousin Hugo, who were also close in age, were running about Ron’s legs, playing a sort of version of tag with Hugo’s toy bear, Mr. Stuffing. “His leg touched your hair!” Lily was now shrieking triumphantly, hopping up and down and waving the poor old bear above her head. “You’re out, Hugo, you’re out!”

“Lily, please give your cousin back his bear,” Ginny said automatically, her eyes scanning the crowd around her. Her brown eyes locked on Harry, and her shoulders visibly relaxed. “There you are!”

“Sorry,” Harry muttered, unable to help grinning at Ron, who smiled back. “Shall we -?”

They were cut off as someone shouted first Ron’s name, then Hermione’s, and finally Harry’s. The three of them turned in sync and saw a pale arm waving wildly above the heads of the milling people. The arm eventually morphed into the rest of a person, and they saw Seamus Finnigan, one of their old classmates, holding the hand of a small brunette woman – his wife, presumably – and clasping a tiny freckled boy to his other hip.

“Thought you lot might be here,” he said as he came up to them, grinning slightly and letting go of his wife’s hand for a moment to brush a bit of hair out of his eyes. “Weird, isn’t it, assembling on the platform again like this? This is my wife, Moira,” he added.

“Very,” Harry said firmly, reaching out to Moira for a handshake, which she accepted gracefully. He smiled at the boy, whose cheeks turned pink as he buried his face in Seamus’s neck. “This one’s not going to Hogwarts, is he?”

“Not yet,” Seamus grinned, knocking the boy’s head lightly with his own. “Although he’s turned his mum’s roses blue three days in a row, so it won’t be long before – Kathleen!” He interrupted himself quickly, and Harry, Seamus, and Moira all turned to see a girl about James’s age, standing a bit behind the rest of the Finnigans, poking at something on the ground with the toe of her shoe.

“She’s a bit of a scatterbrain,” Moira said, almost apologetically. Harry smiled politely and made a mental note to tell James to steer clear of Kathleen Finnigan.

Ron, Hermione, Rose, Hugo, and Lily had all already gone through the barrier to Platform Nine and Three-Quarters, and Ginny was waiting with their two sons. James was chewing nervously on his bottom lip, and held out his hand for Harry’s, seemingly without thinking about it.

“It’s all right,” Harry said, taking the small hand in his and wrapping his other around the handle of the trolley. “We’re just going to run, now, it’s okay…” And, suddenly remembering quite vividly the first time he had done this, at James’s age, he broke into a light jog, towing his son along – the brick wall loomed up in front of them –

And they were onto the platform, hauling back on the trolley to prevent it from zipping onto the tracks in front of the large scarlet steam engine. James gaped open-mouthed at it, his hand still clutching Harry’s tightly. “Am I going to be riding on that?” he half-whispered, pointing at the train.

“Yep,” Harry said, unable to keep himself from grinning. “C’mon, pal, let’s find your aunt and uncle.”

Movement from the corner of his eye stopped him briefly as he moved away from the barrier; he glanced to his left, and then quickly did a double take. For the briefest moment, he thought he’d seen Colin Creevey standing there – but it couldn’t have been, because Colin was dead… He swallowed against the lump in his throat, and his eyes moved up to the man standing behind the boy he’d initially mistaken for the former Gryffindor, and was surprised to see Dennis – he barely looked like he’d aged at all.

Harry lifted a hand in greeting, still slightly in shock at how much Dennis’s son resembled his brother, when heard Ron calling from somewhere behind him. He and Hermione had found Luna and her husband, Rolf, each standing behind an identical boy.

“Hello, Harry,” Luna beamed as he and James walked over to join the little group; Ginny and Albus were there, as well. “Did you have a lovely summer holiday?”

“Erm.” Harry glanced sideways at Ginny, who had hurriedly busied herself with fixing the bow in Lily’s hair as she tried not to laugh. “I don’t really get holidays anymore, Luna. It’s kind of hard for the Ministry to just, you know… shut down.”

“Ooh, yes,” she said happily, absentmindedly smoothing the hair of the boy in front of her – Luna’s twin boys (they had matching names, Harry knew – something like Lucas and Liam, but odder than that) had started Hogwarts the year before. “It’s rather funny to think of you in an adult job,” she added, smiling at him again.

Before Harry, who was, by this point, thoroughly flabbergasted, could answer, she turned to Ron, whose ears had gone rather red from contained laughter. “Do you work at a joke shop? Your brother’s joke shop?”

“Oh. Yeah.” Ron scratched the back of his head and tried to look casual. “But we don’t get a summer holiday, either.”

“You should put an advertisement in the Quibbler,” Luna informed him, as though he’d not mentioned the holiday. “I’ll ask Dad – you send me an owl as soon as you get home.” Rolf, who had watched the conversation rather passively until this point came up, looked Ron with sudden interest, fiddling absently with his mustache.

Still smiling a bit dreamily, Luna wandered off with Rolf and the twins in two, and Ron and Harry watched them go with identically bemused looks on their faces. “I can’t decide if that’s a brilliant marketing strategy, that bluntness,” Ron said at last, “or if she’s mad.”

“A bit of both, I’d expect,” Ginny spoke up, having conveniently finished arranging Lily’s hair. Harry grinned at her.

“I’m a bit concerned about that adult job bit, though,” he laughed. “Though it’s sort of weird seeing Draco Malfoy strutting about the Ministry like he owns the place, instead of his father.”

Hermione scoffed at that. “Surprise, surprise,” she muttered.

James tugged on his father’s hand, having resumed chewing on his lip. “Dad,” he whispered impatiently. “Am I supposed to get on the train?”

“Don’t you want to say goodbye to your family first?” Harry ruffled his son’s hair for him, and James pouted. Apparently, he only liked it messy when he was the one to mess it up. But he didn’t move from his spot, instead looking at the cluster of people over his father’s shoulder. Ron and Ginny were arguing about something that had appeared in that morning’s Prophet – Oliver Wood had been quoted in support of a charity Quidditch tournament sponsored by Amos Diggory, in memory of Cedric – and Hermione was telling off Hugo, who had apparently kicked a now-crying Rose in the leg. None of the group was paying any attention to either Harry or James.

“Why did I have to get born first?” James asked, so quietly Harry nearly missed the question entirely. “I don’t get anyone to go off to school with – I’m going to be all alone.”

“You have Teddy,” Harry pointed out gently. “And Fred, and Roxanne, and Dominique. Lots of cousins.” He smiled, thinking just how many of his nieces and nephews would be running about the castle. “And there’s always Neville. Or Professor Longbottom, I suppose. He’ll have you over for tea any time.”

James didn’t look too sure of this particular fact. “But it’s not the same,” he said, and suddenly, with a sort of painful feeling in his chest, Harry could hear the five-year-old James again, small and scared and desperately afraid of the unknown, as he always had been.

He knelt down in front of James, who was fiddling with the hem of his jacket and determinedly not looking at his father. “I know you’re scared,” Harry said, placing a hand on both of James’s shoulders. “But you’re going to love school. I promise. And you can write home to your mum and me, whenever you like. You’ll be all grown up -”

“But what if I still want to be a kid?”

Harry paused, and then wrapped his son in a hug, taking James a bit by surprise. When he pulled away, he had to laugh a bit at the slightly shocked look on his son’s face. “James, you don’t have to give up being a kid forever to grow up,” he said. “Look at Uncle Ron – he works in a joke shop –“

“Oi! That better not be my name I’m hearing!”

Harry and James laughed. “You’re still growing up, James,” he continued, ignoring the look of suspicion on Ron’s face. “This is a great time of your life, and your mum and I are so proud of you. We all are.” He gestured with one hand toward the small knot of people standing on the platform – people who had come to see James off. The first day of the rest of his life.

James leaned forward and threw his arms around his dad’s neck, and this time, it was Harry who was surprised. “Thanks, Dad,” James muttered, and then quickly drew back lest anyone should be watching. At that moment, the train gave a loud whistle, and a burst of white steam erupted from the black smokestack.

James! You’re going to miss the train!” Lily screeched, bobbing up and down. Harry laughed and walked over to his daughter, picking her up and kissing her cheek. James was moving his way around the cramped circle of well-wishers, saving a hug for Harry (and Lily’s leg) last.

And then, with last-minute good-byes and promises to write, and the promise of parcels of joke sweets cut off from Ron’s lips by Hermione’s reprimand, James boarded the Hogwarts Express. Harry watched as the train slowly began to edge out of the station, a lump rising in his throat yet again.

“First one off to school,” said a voice beside him. Harry looked down at Ginny and smiled, drawing her to his side with the arm that wasn’t busy holding Lily.

“First one,” he agreed, the final car of the train disappearing around the curve in the tracks. A sort of wistful smile turned up the corners of Harry’s lips.

Don’t grow up too fast, James.

A/N: It seriously feels like I just typed out a big, long list of thank-you messages for Growing Up Weasley. And now I've come to that bittersweet moment when I've got to do it all over again! These stories have been incredibly fun to plan and write and post, and the reviews -- I can't even tell you how much I love responding to them. A few people have been asking, and I'll tell you that, for now, I think I'm done with these Growing Up short story collections. It's time for me to take a break, however permanent, but nobody knows what the future might hold!

And now the acknowledgements, as always happens in a story like this: To Sarah and Mel, who've helped out with this story more than they know. It wouldn't be here without them! And to all my regular reviewers, too: MadamePuddifoot, Akussa, RosieQueen, BKL8008, Cassie, and Ariana, and anyone I'm forgetting (which, knowing me, is probably at least one person). If you've ever reviewed or read this at all, thank you. Thank you so, so much -- I won't be able to say it enough! You guys are what keeps me writing, end of story, and I'm so glad to have you stop by.

Keep reading, keep writing, and don't grow up too fast, guys. That kid in you, he or she is still there. Embrace it! ♥ 


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