A/N: This unexpected, unplanned chapter is dedicated to my dog whose insistent desire to be walked is directly responsible for this idea popping into my head out of nowhere while we strolled through the neighborhood.
So all credit (or blame) goes to Mattingly for this one.
As she struggled up the steps of 12 Grimmauld Place, Astoria Longbottom let out a groan of discomfort. Everything felt swollen…everything ached…everything made her tired. Even the three stupid steps in front of her sister's home gave her trouble. And because the gods of humanity were particularly cruel, most wizarding modes of transportation were now not safe for her given her condition…meaning she had to walk even more than in the past. Life was cruel. Cruel and unforgiving.
She felt her husband place a supportive hand on the small of her back and stubbornly pushed it away. "This is all your fault you know," she grunted.
"As I recall you were involved as well," Neville responded in an entirely too pleasant manner as he knocked on the front door.
Within seconds the door opened and Astoria felt a bit better at the worried expression on the elf who greeted her. "Miss Tori be needing to sit down," Winky commanded as she pushed past Neville and escorted her inside.
"Finally, someone who understands my suffering," she commented as Neville looked on with a smirk.
"I'll get you some tea," Neville replied before heading toward the kitchen.
The elf quickly ushered her to the sitting room and led her to a nearby couch. "Winky be letting Mistress know you've arrived," she informed before bustling away.
She was only allowed to revel in the blissful state of being off her feet for mere seconds before a young boy bustled into the room, stopping short at the sight of her. "Aunt Tori you are huge!" the boy blurted in amazement, eyes bulging.
"Cy! Aunt Tori is here and she's huge now!"
Her other nephew came running in and did his best to not look as amused by her current state. His eyes only bulged slightly. He instantly became her favorite nephew.
"You shouldn't say things like that, Nate," the boy chided before coming over and giving her a hug.
Sorry, Aunt Tori," Nate apologized. He wasn't very convincing.
"What are we apologizing for in here?" Daphne worriedly chimed in as she entered the room.
"Nothing to be worried about," Astoria interjected. "Nate here just made a comment about how large I am at the moment."
"She's huge," Nate repeated. He really liked saying that word.
"That's enough, Nathaniel," Daphne scolded…sort of. The smile on her face took away significantly from the seriousness of her words. Besides, Astoria knew she deserved it based on the number of jokes she had made at Daphne expense during her pregnancies. And she and Neville were the ones who purposely decided to wait so long to have children. Karma was a real bitch.
"Call your dad through the floo and tell him Uncle Neville and Aunt Tori are here," Daphne instructed, causing both boys to scurry out of the room.
Daphne took a nearby seat and appraised her. "Nate's not wrong, you really are huge," she said with a smirk.
"You're loving this aren't you," Astoria mused.
"A bit," Daphne laughed. "What did you call me when I was pregnant? Dagrid?"
"Well I'm paying for it now," Astoria groaned as she tried (and failed) to make herself more comfortable. "Well…Neville and I are paying for it," she said with a soft smile as Neville entered the room and handed over a cup of tea. She was sure it was just how she liked it.
"What am I paying for?" Neville asked cheerfully as he sat down in a nearby chair and pulled her feet into his lap. She bit back a groan of pleasure as he began massaging her ankles. She had the best husband.
"I was just telling Daphne here that I've been a bit out of sorts the last few weeks…"
"That's one way of putting it," he mumbled.
"As much as I enjoy talking about my misery where is the girl of the hour?" Astoria asked. I thought she'd be bouncing off the walls thinking about going to Hogwarts tomorrow." .
Daphne's smile dimmed as she looked at the nearby steps. "She's in her room…she spent the afternoon at the Weasleys and apparently there was a discussion about tomorrow's sorting with the other kids. Artie made a joke about where she would end up and…well you know how she is."
Astoria felt a different type of ache as she thought about her niece. She'd gotten so much of the best parts of her parents…intelligence…loyalty…kindness…but unfortunately she'd gotten the worst bits as well. She worried entirely too much, hated being the center of attention, and had no idea how brilliant she was.
As Sophia grew up within the cocoon of her immediate family such concerns were not much of an issue. But the expectations and spotlight of being the first born child of the slayers of Voldemort seemed to affect her over the last year as her upcoming attendance at Hogwarts loomed. Even one of her prettiest features, her startling green eyes, were now a negative…a neon flashing sign to everyone who saw her that she was Harry Potter's daughter.
There was also the fact that Harry had become a Quidditch legend in his fifteen years at Chudley. Since his retirement there had been many debates about which of Harry's accomplishments, defeating Voldemort or securing a league title for the Cannons, was more impressive. The fact that he'd done it five times in his career and the Cannons had dropped back to their familiar place at the bottom of the table without Harry made it the clear choice in Astoria's mind.
Astoria wasn't a Quidditch expert but based on her build and flying skill she knew that Sophia could be an excellent Seeker if she wanted to. But the girl always chose to play Chaser…to be one of the three helping the team as opposed to the one most likely deciding the outcome. Astoria couldn't blame her…the poor girl had enough pressure to deal with and Astoria suspected the fact that her father would be starting his first year as the Defence Against the Dark Arts instructor wasn't helping.
She loved all three of the Potter children but Sophia held a special place in her heart. She was the first, she was a girl, and she was the most like Daphne. And it appeared she needed a pep talk.
She gave a soft knock on the bedroom door before poking her head in. "I can't believe you made your favorite Aunt walk all they way up those stairs to find you," she joked.
"Sorry, Aunt Tori," Sophia mumbled, before taking a seat at her desk.
"S'all right," she replied as she plopped down on the nearby bed, "one of us had to come tell you to stop being ridiculous and I drew the short straw."
"Mum told you," Sophia replied, frowning at her mother's betrayal.
"You know none of us care what house you are sorted in-"
"I know," Sophia said as she rolled her eyes, "Mum and Dad have been telling me that and 'checkers not chess' non-stop for the last week and it's driving me mad."
"So why are you hiding up here than?"
"I am not hiding," Sophia lied, shooting a thoroughly unconvincing glare at her. She was so much like Daphne.
"Okay," Astoria continued in a much softer voice. "Why don't you tell me why you're not hiding up here instead? I mean, I walked all the way up here….it's the least you could do."
Sophia looked to be deep in consideration for several seconds. "You promise you won't say anything?"
"Of course, Soph. Spill."
Sophia picked up her recently purchased wand and stared at it as she began speaking. "Mum and Dad think I'm worried about being sorted into Ravenclaw but that's not it. It's just…I want to be sorted into Ravenclaw."
"Isn't that a good thing?" Astoria asked kindly.
"Dad told me that the sorting hat takes into account where we want to be sorted and I wish I wanted to be sorted into Gryffindor…or Slytherin. But I don't. I want to be a Ravenclaw. Almost everyone in our family…even the Weasleys….is a Gryffindor or Slytherin….they wanted to be a Gryffindor or Slytherin. You, Aunt Dora and Teddy are Hufflepuffs. I hate being different."
Sophia casually waved her wand and blue and bronze sparks filled the room. "That weird old man at the wand store wouldn't shut up about Dad and his wand. He made me try every wand in the shop with a phoenix feather. He looked so disappointed when the one with the thestral hair chose me."
"Did your dad look disappointed?" Astoria asked, already knowing the answer.
"Of course not," Sophia replied brusquely. "But he's my dad…he's not allowed to say anything."
Astoria thought back to some of the truly awful parents she had grown up around. They would have had no problem expressing their displeasure with their children over something so stupid…Lucius Malfoy immediately sprung to mind. Even Neville's Gran still casually insulted Neville from time to time simply because he wasn't his father. Sophia didn't realize how lucky she was but Astoria thought that was understandable…she had no real concept of how lucky she had been as a child either.
Astoria knew Sophia's worries would seem silly to her when she grew up but unfortunately that did not help in the here and now. Eleven year old Sophia didn't want to hear 'it will get better'.
An idea popped into her head that could make her niece feel better about her choice. Daphne and Hermione would be furious with her for a bit but it would be worth it and she knew they would eventually understand. Besides, Sophia was going to find out eventually, anyway. At the very least it would distract Sophia from worrying for a bit and allow her to enjoy her last evening at home.
"Dobby!" she called and the elf appeared instantly. "Is Master Potter home yet?" At the elf's nod she continued on. "Can you have him come up to Sophia's room right away?"
The elf nodded and turned a worried look to Sophia who was once again sadly considering her wand. "Kreacher and Winky have made Sophia's favorites for dinner and Dobby prepared dessert to be extra sweet…just the way Sophia likes it."
"Mum's not going to like that," Sophia said.
"Daphne Potter instructed Dobby to make it that way for Sophia. Dobby thinks she will miss Sophia very much…so will Dobby," the elf finished quietly before popping out of sight.
"Good thing your mum doesn't know you want to be a Ravenclaw," Astoria said, "I reckon she would have told Dobby to use salt instead of sugar."
"That isn't funny, Aunt Tori," Sophia shot back.
"I'm sorry…you are right," Astoria replied in her most consoling tone as she internally cursed her insensitivity. Her normal blunt approach didn't work so well with insecure eleven year olds. She tried again.
"Did your dad ever tell you that he told the hat-"
"Not Slytherin," Sophia interrupted as she rolled her eyes, "and he ended up marrying a Slytherin. "I've heard that story a million times."
"Ahh…but did I ever tell you what I told the hat? I believe my exact words were 'anywhere but Ravenclaw.'"
At her niece's incredulous look she continued on. "All the Ravenclaws I knew were dreadfully dull, you see."
Before Sophia could reply in protest the door swung open, revealing Harry. "Sophia, everyone is here and dinner is about ready…you need to come down."
"We're working on it," Astoria interjected. "But I need you to do me a favor first. I need the notes."
Harry looked very confused. "What notes?"
"The three notes," Astoria continued as she gave him a significant look. "You know…the notes."
Harry's eyes goggled as recognition dawned. "Are you serious? I thought you all agreed to wait- They are going to kill us when they find out."
"It's for a good cause," Astoria commented. She glanced toward Sophia and knew she had him. Harry's children had always been his weakness.
'I can't believe I'm doing this," he mumbled as he reached for several nearby pieces of parchment and hastily scribbled a line on each before handing them over.
"Don't worry, Harry, I'll take the blame," Astoria assured.
"You're nine months pregnant! They'll have to focus their energy on a target they can actually take their frustrations out on. And they know a lot of spells," he muttered, dragging a hand nervously through his hair.
Sophia had watched the exchange between her father and aunt in fascination and was now staring hungrily at the three pieces of parchment as if they held the answers to the meaning of life.
Harry looked at Sophia pointedly and cryptically declared "not until you're seventeen," before leaving.
"Where was I?" Astoria continued as Harry left the room and she refocused on Sophia.
Sophia's excitement dimmed as she remembered what Astoria had been saying before her father arrived. "You said you hate Ravenclaws," she supplied, betrayal evident in her voice.
"I never said hate…just that they were dreadfully dull…and I don't think that anymore. My point is I was as clueless as your father. Even your mum says she wished she'd been sorted into Ravenclaw."
"You're just saying that to make me feel better," Sophia replied, staring once again at her wand. Although she was frowning there was a bit of hope in her voice.
"I can prove it," Astoria continued on, "do you remember us telling you about how ill I was growing up and that your Mum and Dad helped Aunt Hermione come up with a cure?"
"Yes," Sophia sighed dramatically. "What does that have to do-"
"Patience, Soph. Patience. I promise you will enjoy the story."
Sophia's eyes were once again drawn to the mysterious pieces of parchment in Astoria's hand. She waited quietly for Astoria to continue.
"Your Dad cast the spell to cure me the year before you were born but we had to wait a bit to make sure the curse was actually gone," she continued. "We all agreed we would celebrate when I was symptom free after five years. Your mum was well into her pregnancy with Cy at the time so she didn't get to join in the fun. Because Daphne couldn't join us and because we enjoyed ourselves so much the girls all agreed to celebrate again after ten years.
On the ten year anniversary your Dad, Uncle Ron and Uncle Neville volunteered to watch all the kids so me, Daphne, Hermione, and your mum's friend Tracey could celebrate again. Your Mum and Hermione are pretty serious most of the time but when they decide to let loose they really go all out. That night we had a lot of fun…"
Sophia was hanging on her every word now. The thought of her mother having fun seemed to be particularly fascinating to the girl.
"Near the end of the night Tracey suggested we do something to memorialize what we'd accomplished and we were all so happy and relaxed at that point and…well…"
She handed the first parchment to her niece.
"Astoria Longbottom has a tattoo of a lightning bolt on her right wrist," Sophia read aloud, clearly confused. "I don't understand. I've never seen-"
Astoria held up her arm for inspection, confirming that the note spoke the truth. Sophia's mouth dropped open in shock.
"Oh it gets better," Astoria supplied as she held out the next piece of parchment.
Sophia quickly came back to her senses and hungrily snatched the next piece of paper. "There is no way. Aunt Hermione?"
"And this one's my favorite," Astoria continued, handing the final piece of parchment to Sophia.
"Mum!?" Sophia nearly shouted before staring off into the distance…her worldview now forever changed.
"The next day your mum and Aunt Hermione were panicked at what they had done so we cast a spell so they would be a secret just between us." Astoria was all set to explain the charm they'd used before she was interrupted by her niece.
"The Fidelius, like we have on the house," Sophia concluded, "and Dad's the secret keeper!"
"You smart people are so annoying!" Astoria exclaimed in mock disgust. "I didn't know about that charm until seventh year!"
Sophia smiled at the compliment and Astoria knew it had been worth sharing the secret with her.
"I still don't know what this has to do with me not fitting in," Sophia said in confusion.
"I'm getting to that and stop saying stupid things. You fit in perfectly," she admonished, drawing another smile.
"We were all set to keep it a secret for the rest of our lives but then I changed my mind. You were nine at the time and we already knew where you were most likely headed at Hogwarts. I thought, once you turned seventeen, we could let you know our secret and if you wanted we could complete the set."
She pointed at the paper revealing her secret.
She then pointed at the parchment telling Hermione's secret.
Then her mother's parchment.
Finally, she pointed at her niece.
That drew another smile from her niece and she continued on. It was now time to be a little blunt. "As smart as you are you're still eleven years old and eleven year olds can be dumb."
"Hey!" Sophia protested through her laugh.
"Your dad was dumb at eleven because he didn't want to be a Slytherin. I was dumb at eleven because I didn't want to be a Ravenclaw. And you're dumb because you worry about things you don't need to worry about. Don't worry about wanting to be a Ravenclaw, be proud of it! I know we all are. And if any of the kids your age make a comment than they're dumb. Okay?"
"Okay," Sophia replied. "Mum really said I could get that tattoo when I was seventeen?"
"It's to do with your father," Astoria said before playfully rolling her eyes. "She pretended to be embarrassed the next day but I could tell she liked it. Your Aunt Hermione too."
"Why the right wrist?" Sophia asked as she stared in amazement at the newfound discovery once again.
"It was your mum's idea. She said she wanted to see it every time she was doing something mundane…casting a spell…using a quill…eating…to remind her of your Dad and what he means to her…and what all of us mean to each other. Well after she said that we started crying and instantly decided to do the same."
Astoria looked down at her own wrist and smiled…her sister really was smart. That symbol meant so many things to her at this point beyond Harry: Neville…her chance at a long and full life…Sophia, Cy and Nate…the little hellion in her belly that had been making her life miserable recently that she couldn't wait to meet.
She was broken out of her thoughts by her niece. The girl was way too smart for her own good.
"Hold on. How can I remember that Tracey got a tattoo? You didn't show me a parchment for her."
"You sorted that out did you?" she replied. Astoria knew she'd enjoy this bit. "Tracey didn't need the Fidelius to keep her tattoo a secret."
"Why? Does she always wear long sleeves to cover it up?" Sophia asked, trying to solve the riddle.
"She was the only one who didn't get it on her wrist," Astoria supplied. At Sophia's inquisitive stare she pointed to her bottom.
Sophia barked out a laugh.
"I will never forget the look on your dad's face when Tracey showed it to him," Astoria offered, drawing even more giggles.
She reached both hands out toward her niece and continued. "All right, I think we've done enough not hiding up here for the evening. Help me get up from this bed."
Sophia let out a groan as she pulled her up. "You're really heavy, Aunt Tori."
"I take it all back. Ravenclaws are the worst," she grumbled as they headed toward the door.