December came in a week-long slow, gray drizzle that left Hogwarts an uncharming mire of mud. Al picked his way down to Herbology with Scorpius Malfoy, both of them staring at their feet in an attempt not to take a misstep and go sliding down to the greenhouses.
"Are you"--Scorpius slipped a little and caught himself--"looking forward to Christmas hols?"
Al wasn't quite as lucky, and nearly lost his balance on wet and muddy grass. "Yeah," he said. "You?"
Scorpius shrugged. "I guess I'll find out if they've told Grandfather yet--about me being a Hufflepuff, you know. I may have to dress up in green and silver for a week."
"That's just stupid." Al winced. "Sorry."
"No, it is stupid. I hope my parents have thought of a good way to handle it. Grandmother actually thinks it's a good thing that I'm in Hufflepuff. Maybe she'll have convinced him."
"I've heard stories about your grandmother," Al offered. "She's very brave. My Grannydromeda--"
Al laughed. "Andromeda Tonks?"
"Yeah." Al shrugged. "My dad lived with her after the war, and we call her Grannydromeda. Anyway, she said that your grandmother is always full of surprises."
"Well, I hope she's got a good one up her sleeves," Scorpius said, shaking his head as they reached the greenhouses. "Grandfather can be a little odd sometimes."
Al opened the door. "I've heard that, too." He paused. "Since you'll be in trouble anyway, and we seem to know all the same people, do you want to ride back with my brother and cousins and me?"
"That would suitably deflect attention from my House..." Scorpius mused, then looked at the greenhouses. "Wow. Look."
Al turned. Professor Longbottom had filled the greenhouses with evergreen boughs, and they spent the whole class twisting them into wreaths and decorating them with fairies. Al had no idea who would still be around to enjoy them, but it was good to see his own work on the walls of Hogwarts Castle.
Scorpius didn't end up joining them on the train the next week, though he dropped by to say hello. He had quite a lot of friends in Hufflepuff, apparently, and was whisked off by a few of them for a caroling group, which spent most of ride singing in horribly off-key voices as they went up and down the Hogwarts Express.
James got a game of Tarot poker going. Al knew how to play, but Rosie and Artie had to be taught. It took most of the trip. By the end of it, Michael Prince had most of the worldly possessions that had been tossed into the pot, and was wearing Rosie's feathered scarf tied dramatically around his head.
As they drew into London, the game stopped, as everyone watched the Christmas lights of the city go by. Finally, they drew into platform nine and three-quarters, where families were gathered up against the ropes. Al had been with them many times, but he hadn't wondered what it looked like from the train, seeing people leaning forward eagerly. He searched the faces in the crowd, and spotted Lily's bright red pigtails. Dad was holding her on one hip, and waving frantically with the other arm. Al waved back, though he doubted Dad could see them.
"Are they all here?" James asked, looking over his shoulder.
"Dad and Lily, anyway. I'd wager Uncle Bill and Aunt Fleur are here for Artie, and Uncle Ron and Aunt Hermione have to be here for Rosie, but I didn't see them."
"How can you miss Dad?" Rosie asked. "He's practically a giant."
Dad ran forward as soon as Al and James got off the train, and hugged them both. "Happy Christmas," he said. "I'm so glad to see you!"
A camera flash went off somewhere, and Al guessed it would be in some newspaper or magazine, with the surprising news that Harry Potter was fond of his sons. They all ignored it.
Aunt Hermione reached around them to grab Rose from the steps, and hugged her tightly as well. Uncle Ron wasn't there; a clue had broken in the Boyle case, and he and Ruth were off chasing it, but he'd join everyone later. Uncle Bill and Aunt Fleur gathered up their brood, and the whole family swam through the crowd to the cars, which were waiting outside. The adults quickly packed the trunks into the magically enlarged boots, then everyone piled in for the ride to Grimmauld Place. Mum, Teddy, and Grannydromeda greeted them there with enough food to last all evening, and Al happily settled into the parlor to hear everyone's stories.
"I think," Aunt Hermione said, sitting cross-legged in front of the fire, "that Eency is going to try for a spot on the Wizengamot."
"Who?" James asked.
"She's an elf who's been working in Magical Creatures. She's got good ideas, and I've been trying to get her to put her name in. It'll be a great opportunity to take on the humans only law."
Rosie looked up. "Shouldn't you change the law first?"
"Sometimes you need a reason to change a law. Look at the law about werewolves in school. There was no reason to keep it, but no one bothered changing it until it was time for Neil Overby to start."
Al involuntarily glanced over at Teddy, who'd spent the last three years of his Hogwarts life brewing Wolfsbane for Neil (and later, Celia). Looking in that direction was a mistake, as Teddy and Victoire were cuddling and staring at one another and not really acknowledging that anyone else was in the room. He looked at James, who'd also apparently seen it, and was looking a bit green.
Al held up a pillow. James took it and lobbed it in Teddy and Victoire's direction. It hit Victoire squarely on the side of the head, and she turned around to make a rude gesture. Everyone laughed, and all was well.
The week leading up to Christmas Day was spent in a flurry of shopping and playing. Lily insisted on being in charge, and neither Al nor James minded.
Christmas Eve took them to the Romp, Uncle Ron and Aunt Hermione's house. The gnomes in the front garden had set up a Christmas village among the pumpkin vines, and Hugo--who had apparently helped--showed them through it. Lily and Hugo had developed their own games over the autumn, and halfway through the afternoon, they'd gone to the orchard, where there seemed to be some kind of elaborate battle going on against the rain clouds. Al, James, and Rose settled in the library. Rose put her nose in a book, and proceeded to ignore both boys. Al drew half-heartedly. He wasn't very good, but at least it was something he was better at than James. James went to the bookshelves, and started scanning the titles. He pulled a few down.
Rosie kept glancing up over the top of the book she was reading, then looking down quickly if James noticed.
This went on for fifteen minutes before she slammed her book down and said, "Bloody... James, what are you looking for?"
"Pookas," James said, not engaging the frustration in her voice. "I'm wondering if the pooka got Si and his dad out of school."
Rosie raised her eyebrows. "I think someone might have noticed a fire-breathing horse in the Great Hall. Or any odd animal it might appear as."
"What if it came as an owl?" James asked. "We might not notice an owl."
"We would if it were carrying a boy and a grown man," Rosie said.
James bit his lip and stared at the shelf.
Rosie got up and knocked three times on the end. A series of different books slid up. "Honestly, James, it's my house. You could at least think to ask me for help here!"
James's jaw dropped. "I did ask you for help. Al and I came into Ravenclaw and asked straight out about the runes."
"But I could have helped in the library!"
"I can use the library!" James looked at Al. "Al, did you see me having any problem at the library?"
Rosie pulled out several books and dumped them on a table. "But I could have been more help. I could have found things for you!"
"Why would I go all the way to Ravenclaw to ask you to do things I can do perfectly well?"
"Because..." Rosie apparently couldn't follow this up, because she turned on her heel and stormed out.
"What?" James asked.
Al shook his head. "Just read, James." He got up and went after Rose.
She'd gone out to the front garden, and was tossing peas to the gnomes, looking sour. She looked up sharply, then looked away again. "What?"
Al sat down beside her. "You don't have to be library girl," he said. "Just because your mum was--"
"I like being library girl. I'm a Ravenclaw, remember? We like that sort of thing."
"There wasn't even time for you to argue with the Hat," Al said. "It tried to put me in Ravenclaw, too, but I said I wanted to be a Gryffindor."
"I wish you were a Ravenclaw. I'm all alone there."
"I know I've seen a few other Ravenclaws."
"You know what I mean."
Al thought about arguing, but it wouldn't be true. He just said, "Yeah, I guess."
Rosie sniffed. "It tried to put me in Gryffindor, and I asked for Ravenclaw instead. I thought I'd really like it. I wanted to be different."
"So... what's the problem?"
"I didn't want to be this different! I always thought we'd have adventures together, like Mum and Dad and Uncle Harry did."
"We did! You were at the roundhouse. And come to think of it, you helped in the library."
"But James solved that without me."
"He's smart." Al shrugged. "So you don't get to be the designated Smart One. So what?"
"If I'm not going to be the smart one, what am I supposed to be?"
Al watched the gnomes for a while, then said, "I don't know. Personally, I'm just hanging on and seeing what comes up. Maybe I'll be the one who says, 'No, you really shouldn't do that.'"
"If so, you're not doing a very good job of it."
"Well, maybe something else."
Rosie was quiet for a while, then she smiled. "You could be the damsel in distress."
"I don't know about damsel, but I could be in distress. James always made me play Mum when he told about the Chamber of Secrets."
"I thought he made Lily do that."
"Lily kicks him in the shins when he tries."
Rosie laughed. "Well, fine, you be in distress. And I'll... oh, I could be the naysayer, who always says he's not as smart as he thinks, and makes him wonder if he's right. Or maybe the real hero who he never thinks about asking for help."
"I like it."
She laughed. "Good. We should go back and make sure he hasn't spilled the whole library. Mum will kill us if she has to recatalogue the whole thing again."
They went back in, and found James in a stack of books. He looked up awkwardly at Rosie, then gave her a book with a harp on the cover. "I don't suppose you can read this one?" he asked.
She took it and scanned a few lines. "It's English, you twit."
"It's like the book in Irish. It's just written in runes. Like a code. Al, look, it's like what we did last year."
Al looked at it, then smiled sheepishly. "I didn't memorize any of it last year."
She rolled her eyes. "Fine. How did you know it was about the pooka?" she asked James after reading for a while.
"There's a picture of it," he said, and took the book to flip to the back. The picture showed a horse flying through the night, fire flaring from its nostrils.
Rosie examined it. "The caption says that the Pooka can be called by a descendant of Brian Boru, since he's the one who tamed it."
"Like the Chamber of Secrets!" Al said.
"Or that it can come on its own. There was supposed to a tribute." Rosie looked up from the book. "I wonder if someone fell behind on the payments."