Another long one. If I get the urge to later, I might go ahead and write that article I mention at the end. Alert the story if you'd like to read it. This one is also fairly intense, which is why it's rated M. No nookie – it's a third-year story after all – but you'll see. And now, please enjoy:
The Mercury Chronicles: A Hogsmeade Debut.
What Freddie Weasley didn't know was that we had a mole. How could he know that, as bloody noble and good and wholesome as he is? I'm not going to risk being cut off from Grandmum's treacle tart, but I do believe that if you pressed Molly Weasley, she'd tell you that her first grandson (not counting Teddy, that is), had dirty nappies that could pass for amortentia. Couple this with a father who's a self-made man selling bloody dungbombs and a mother who coddled the hell out of (or in to, more precisely) the child, and we had all the makings of a rather un-repentant prankster. I blame him for James, to be honest. For all their rich-and-famousness, Mum and Dad weren't the spoiling type. Being Gryffindors, though, they did enjoy (and turn their eyes from) a 'good prank.' I guess 'good' is a function of cleverness, maximizing the target's humiliation and minimizing consequences. Provided, of course, that one doesn't count the target's humiliation as a consequence. But, back to our mole.
Hugo was a godsend. Rose was a bit anxious about the boy's sorting; as he'd always been the quiet type. I had him pegged Gryffindor from the start; given his name and the fact that we hadn't told anyone else about the Sorting Hat's weakness. Rose and Scorpius tipped him for Hufflepuff; mostly because he tended to follow Lily around like a lost puppy. I wound up being right.
The day after the opening feast of our Third Year was a Monday, and Hugo and Lily showed up to breakfast with alterations to their uniforms they undoubtedly had not requested. Poor Hugo, the spitting image of his father at that age, had a conjured crown on his head and his Hogwarts cloak was trimmed in faux-ermine. On the back was written "King Weasley" over a set of Quidditch hoops. Lily had received pink hair and a pink cloak, the back of which read 'My daddy's eyes are as green as a fresh-pickled toad.' Ugh. Someone's spent much too much time listening to family Hogwarts stories. Rose, Scorpius and I mysteriously found ourselves covered in breakfast that morning as well, and we were certain that the two events were connected. As we couldn't prove it, we wound up handling the situation the same way we had handled every other such prank over the last two years – a combination of indifference and deference to the faculty, who allegedly were the ones to handle such things. A few dozen finites later, we were able to eat in peace, and the only result was me telling the third year 'Puffs that they needn't go 'rough up' Freddy and James. Lily laughed her prank off with a bubbling "Oh, you boys…" Hugo tried to do this, too. He lasted until lunch, when he surreptitiously stopped Rose on his way to divination.
"I don't know if I can do this, Rose," he said under his breath.
"Are they getting to you, Hugo?" she replied, quite obviously concerned for her rather sensitive younger brother.
"It was a 'Welcome to Gryffindor' prank – at least that's what they called it. When do the pranks stop, then?"
"Dunno, love. They've not stopped for us, but then again, they've been desperately trying to get us to play along since we got here. As a Gryff, you'll probably get off easy."
"How do you guys put up with it? I've never heard of you getting so much as a moment's detention, so you can't have retaliated. Do you really mean to tell me you three just sit there and take it?"
Scorpius and I motioned to each other that we should probably let the two siblings have a moment, but Hugo looked at me with those big blue eyes of his and asked us to stay, so we did.
"Um, Al – I mean, Albus? Would you mind terribly if I sat with you and your friends for awhile at meals, just until I get my bearings around here?" Broke my heart, the wee bastard. How could I say no to that? Pretty easily, it turns out.
"Hugo, come here," I said, and pulled him into a quick but tight hug. "Rose and I, we're your family, too. I know you're not as close with me as you are with Lily and Rose, but we all love you and you being in Gryffindor doesn't change that. Am I right, Rose?" She nodded her head solemnly, and I continued. "But you sitting with us, even just at meals, would ostracize you from the rest of your house, and we just can't have that. I'll tell you what, you let the three of us come up with a way to get back at them for you, and meanwhile you just play along, alright?" Hugo did not look impressed, but he allowed as how as a Slytherin, proper revenge was probably more my bailiwick than his. Rose offered to walk him up to the Divination classroom, as the Ravenclaw third-years had the next period free, and I hustled off to potions after giving Hugo a hearty handshake and telling him that he would be taken care of. It was a kind gesture from Scorpius to give him a handshake as well, and I think this caused Hugo to began to understand that we weren't simply feeding him sunshine. Scorpius began walking me to the Potions dungeon.
"You don't honestly mean to get us into a bloody prank war with those idiots, do you Albus?"
"Gods, no, Scorpius. This isn't about pranking. This is about revenge. I'll take care of Freddy and James. Believe me, I'll cook up something so good that those prats will never bother us again. If I can't, then Hugo will be the first Gryffindor to sit with us, I suppose."
"Can't have that now, can we?" Scorpius smirked. "We've had such a good run of it for the past year and a half without those simpering morons. It always starts with just one Gryffindor, then there goes the whole bloody neighbourhood."
"Exactly. Leave the revenge up to me, Scorpius." I winked and smiled angelically, and headed down to the dungeons.
The usual crowd had gathered around the Ravenclaw table that evening. Angelica and a couple of other Slytherins from our year, a smattering of second- and third-year Ravenclaws and the entirety of Hufflepuff's third-year and most of their seconds. Scorpius and Rose were working on something for Transfiguration and playing footsie under the table when I walked over to them and motioned with my head that we ought to move to the Slytherin table. After advising the 'Puffs that the three of us needed some 'alone time,' I sat us down and we began to plan.
"You two have your shoes on, then?" I asked. They looked at me sheepishly. I think I may even have seen a blush come across Rose's face.
"Right. What's next, walking through the corridors holding hands? Honestly. If you want to go ahead and make this public, I'll help. Otherwise, keep that to secluded classrooms, hear? Now, on to Hugo." I lowered my voice and brought my head in close to them.
"He's to be our mole."
Watching the realization dawn on their faces of just how bloody brilliant a plan that was brought a triumphant grin to my face. They looked as though they were going to kiss me with happiness. I soaked in that feeling for a good moment or two before continuing.
"Now, how do we plant him?"
Rose and Scorpius set about to thinking – which is something they did (and do) quite well. A minute and a half later Rose piped up.
"I'll send him an Owl tonight, asking him to… right, feign homesickness and come find me at half-past seven tomorrow evening. I'll bring him to Flitwick's classroom, which is always free at that hour – so if you wanted to bring Angelica there, Albus –"
"I am not dating Angelica, Rose," I growled.
"Merlin, man, why not? She's pretty and she seems to have a soft spot for you," commented Scorpius, wholly unnecessarily.
"Tell you what. You leave me alone about that, and I'll consider not letting the whole…" I stopped right there. Rose and Scorpius looked as though their world was about to come crashing down around their ears. Backtracking was imperative.
"I'm – I'm sorry about that. We said this wasn't going to come between us and it won't. Look, carry on. I'll just stop over-reacting." I was embarrassed and they loved it. Rose's turn to bask in the feeling a moment or two before continuing.
"Right. Are we ready then? Anyway, you and Scorpius will wait five minutes after Hugo and I leave and meet us there. Then we'll fill him in. Gentlemen," she grinned, "we have a plan." The next twenty minutes or so were spent getting our stories straight so that when the tyke showed up at our tables, we'd be ready.
And we were. Hugo came to Flitwick's classroom as wide-eyed and eager as any good Gryff, and waited with baited breath for Scorpius and I to show up and get the explanations underway. Hugo was to join Fred and James in pranking, and let the three of us know when and to whom the pranks would happen. As long as none of us were the targets (and by 'us' I mean the three of us plus those who tended to sit at our Great Hall tables more often than not), we'd let the boys and Roxie (and Lily, to my chagrin. I had such high hopes for her.) have their fun. Twice, peripheral members of our group were targeted, and each time we were able to let Professor Venenio (Potions Master and Slytherin Head of House) know what to watch out for, and each time James and Freddie wound up elbows-deep in very dirty cauldrons. Never let it be said that the Slytherin / Gryffindor house rivalry didn't have its uses. I doubt if even Flitwick would have been moved by such base tattling were it not for the rivalry. Well, maybe if Rose had done the tattling. But I digress.
Two weeks later, Rose came up to me in between classes with a very worried look on her face. Scorpius was in tow, of course.
"Albus, love, we need to talk, and quickly."
"Rose, I'd love to, but I have class now. Can we catch up before supper?" She looked at me severely.
"Skive off it then, Albus. This is important." Well, that was an entirely different matter altogether. The three of us had compiled a perfect attendance record in our first two years. So, if Rose thought this meeting important enough to break that record, who was I to say no.
"My dorm room, then?" I asked. If I was to skive off Charms, then I probably ought to at least be out of sight. Their silence indicated their assent.
"Right. Password this year is asp. No, I didn't make it up; it was that snake's turn. Quit laughing and come on."
We settled onto my bed in the third-year boys room, Rose snuggling into Scorpius's arms as they sat down. I looked at them quizzically.
"I'd, er, offer you two some privacy, but you happen to be in my room. You know you're going to get caught like that, don't you? We're not at home anymore; my roommates don't knock before coming in. How are you managing this now that we're back at Hogwarts, anyway?" Rose answered for them.
"Ravenclaw doesn't have those silly restrictions on boys going into girls' rooms like Gryffindor and Slytherin. Apparently it was only the male founders who thought it so terribly necessary to protect female students. So, depending on whose room is emptiest, we find a bit of alone time there. Plus, I've become wicked at Imperturbatus, muffliato, and the rest of the privacy charms."
"Waste of a perfectly good Slytherin, I tell you," I laughed, and the two of them made their body language a bit less intimate. "Now Rose, what was so important that we broke our perfect attendance record to talk about it?"
"It's about your new nickname, Albus," Rose said. "We find it troublesome."
"Right. Who's we, and what could possibly be so troublesome about a bloody nickname?"
"We, dear cousin, are Scorpius and I – your best friends, remember? And what is so troubling is the name itself." Rose stopped for a moment to collect herself before telling me what this horrible name was. "Dark Lord Potter."
I almost lost it.
"Tell me you're joking, love. That's it? Dark Lord Potter? James has been calling me that at home since first year Christmas holidays. Scorpius, I love you like a brother, mate, but your girl's gone mental. We skived off of class for Dark Lord Potter?" Neither Rose nor Scorpius seemed as amused about the circumstances as I was.
"Are you quite finished?" Rose asked. I was, and she continued. "I know your idiot brother's been calling you that for years, but somehow he's gotten others to do the same. What you don't understand is the same thing of which I needed to convince Scorpius; namely that this nickname, if it gets out to the general public, will have a decidedly negative impact on our publicity. Remember the flack you took when you got sorted?"
"Right, that's why we had nothing to do with MagicPeople all summer, even when they asked for the interview," I answered.
"Precisely. That will have seemed like grand times indeed compared to what we'll be up against if we don't nip this 'Dark Lord Potter' nonsense right in the bud. Imagine if the Prophet gets it in their minds to write an editorial about Slytherin house as a result. Not as though we can snub them now, is it?"
Okay, I was starting to see her point. We'd done our level best to project a wholesome image to the wizarding press, and had been rewarded by a certain deference from both them and our professors, even if our parents seemed to prefer James and Lily to any of the rest of us, Hugo included. Digressing again – anyway, Rose's point had been made, and now we needed to stop the chatter. This was one time – perhaps the only time in our seven years there – in which we didn't want people talking about us.
"So, what's the damage so far?" I asked. Scorpius tore his eyes from the nape of Rose's neck long enough to grace me with an answer.
"Just your idiot Gryff cousins so far, mate, but you know how much influence they have on their house." While it was true that our study group seemed to grow larger weekly by the end of second year, and had continued to do so through the first couple of weeks of third year, Freddy and James certainly had the upper hand in the influence department. I nodded, and Scorpius continued.
"We figure that if we can get them to stop, it won't have spread to any other houses. But there should be a plan of some sort just in case that doesn't work."
"What about MagicPeople?" I asked. "Is it too late to give them that interview? They're the first ones that would try to hit us in the press after we gave them the cold shoulder and all."
"Too late for them, Albus," Rose answered. "But there's another way to do this. Gentlemen, I have an idea," she announced. "I'll let you know when I've done enough research to involve you in it." Scorpius and I agreed that public image was certainly Rose's strong suit, so we let her go ahead with what she thought was best. I pulled out my exploding deck, and we settled into a couple of rounds of one-eyed dragon three-handed.
About half an hour later the door to my room opened up, and a rather breathless and concerned-looking Angelica made her way over to my bed.
"Albus. Rose, Scorpius. Lovely to see you all. Class is out. Albus, you may want to look more sick. Rose and Scorpius, you may want to look less, um, together. Maybe try to look as though you're here checking up on our poor Albus. I've already told Flitwick that he wasn't feeling so well." Did I mention that I really liked Angelica? Pity that she still didn't want to become our fourth.
"Very kind of you, Angelica, but you didn't have to do that. How did you know I was skiving, anyway?" I asked.
"You looked fine during History of Magic, which is more than anyone else ever does," she quipped. "Besides, I figured you'd need an excuse. It's not as though you've ever done this before. You haven't, have you?" She honestly didn't know. This was one of those moments early on where I began to think 'yes, we really are that good.'
"No. This is the first time we've ever done this," I answered. Then I had a thought.
"Have you heard of any nicknames about any of us, Angelica?"
"You mean besides that Dark Lord Potter rubbish the Gryffs are going on about then? Nothing about the other two here, but it's kind of amusing if I'm honest. Come on, then. You've got about as much 'Dark Lord' in you, love, as your idiot brother has 'Minister of Magic'. Nothing to concern yourselves about, though. The 'Puffs won't stand for it, and the 'Claws just think it's ridiculous. Surprised you lot hadn't heard about it. Oh, and congratulations, I guess." She added that last part looking at Rose and Scorpius's entwined fingers. They pulled away from each other as if they'd touched a still-hot cauldron. "Don't worry," Angelica went on, "I won't tell."
"Right. Appreciate that, Angelica," Rose offered, and she and Scorpius made their way off of the bed. "Albus?" she looked at me and asked, "Would you mind walking Scorpius and I to the door?" Angelica was peeved at this, and didn't bother to hide it.
"Oh no, I'll just go. Terribly sorry for having interrupted. Carry on, of course," and she huffed out of the room.
"What was that about?" asked Scorpius.
"Slytherin," I answered. "With all of these naturally devious people wandering about, there's no need for any kind of subterfuge whatsoever. We actually find it a bit insulting. So when Rose asked for me to walk you two out rather than simply asking Angelica to give us a moment, that was a bit of a faux-pas, Slytherin-wise." Rose was mortified.
"Oh my. Oh… Albus you simply must apologize to her for me. She's such a nice girl, honestly, I…"
"I know, love. Come on, maybe if I actually do walk you out it won't be as bad." I got them to the door just as several of my classmates came walking in the opposite direction. Slytherins were loners by nature, and we respected each other enough to give each other room to operate. But we were friendly with each other, and several of them even sat with us at the tables. Several that weren't even named Angelica. Angelica who was sitting on one of the green leather high-backed chairs waiting for me to come back into the common room. I pulled up a chair next to her.
"She didn't mean anything by it," I offered.
"Yes, I know she didn't. Felt just terrible for snapping at her the way I did, you know."
"No need. She asked me to apologize to you, in fact."
"It's okay, really. She's a 'Claw, she had no way of knowing that girls don't do those things here. The lot of us girls would be sorted Slytherin if they got us at thirteen instead of eleven, I tell you." We shared a soft chuckle at this, Angelica gave me a copy of her Charms notes, and I went into my room to make myself scarce.
The next day found us sitting at lunch with most of the usual suspects when an owl dropped off a note for Rose. She looked just about as excited as I'd ever seen her when she opened it, hands shaking. Her face contorted this way and that as she contemplated the parchment's meaning. Scorpius looked at her and asked,
"Perhaps the three of us can figure this out together, love?"
"Right. We'll discuss this during our free period after Herbology then. Meanwhile, we ought to go over these puffapods one more time before class, don't you think?" We did, and our harvest was (of course) the largest of the class. After class Rose simply flung the parchment down onto the Slytherin table where we were seated.
"Name your terms. –Norma."
"Wicked," opined Scorpius, looking at the parchment as if it were a winning lotto ticket.
"Wicked perhaps," countered a rather nervous Rose, "but do you know who Madam Norma is? She runs Teen Witch Monthly. She could break us in two, or worse, forget about us entirely."
"She's not going to forget about us, love. You're Rose bloody Weasley; who could possibly forget you?" I could see it in her eyes. Until the fateful summer of '23, that moment was the closest Rose ever came to kissing Scorpius in public. He got her. He wasn't going anywhere. Rose somehow composed herself and continued.
"Well then, we had better come up with a damned good list of terms, because we certainly won't get another opportunity like this."
As you can imagine, Rose did most of the planning. Our terms were simple: we wanted complete control over our public image. In return, we would give Madam Norma carte-blanche access to our Hogsmeade itineraries as well as two interviews a year. In addition, we also asked that she mention some of our favourite shops, such as Miss Patil's in Diagon Alley. Our offer was followed up by an invitation to Madam Puddifoot's for lunch, which we gladly accepted.
Two weeks before what we were calling our début – the first Hogsmeade weekend – Rose got a curious look on her face after reading a note dropped off at our tables by a school owl. She looked at the two of us and whispered "Flitwick's classroom, 8pm sharp," and we nodded our heads and went on with our conversation about our plans for Hogsmeade. 8pm came and we found an even more nervous than usual Hugo pacing the floor in front of the chalkboard.
"Nox. Colloportus. Imperturbatus. Hugo, what's so important that it couldn't wait until Saturday? We've homework to do, you know." Rose had a quick hand with the charms that added a sense of urgency to the situation.
"They're planning something big for you guys for the Hogsmeade weekend. It's… well, you're not going to like it."
"It's okay, Hugo," I offered, "go ahead and tell us."
"James told Fred how you lot have been planning for this weekend since the summer; how much you've thought about what you're going to wear and how you're going to look and all, and Roxie thought that hexing your clothes would be the right thing to do to get back at you for those two detentions."
"How'd that dizzy bint know it was us?" grumbled Scorpius. Roxanne was not known as one of the brightest apples ever to have fallen from the Weasley family tree.
"That's why they hit second-year Ravenclaw, to see if you were the ones who ratted on them. They're in quite a huff about the whole thing – now might be the time to end this while you still can."
Scorpius was a bit cheesed off. Rose and I were livid. This was a rare display of emotion from the three of us, and Hugo was beginning to feel afraid for his safety, and perhaps this feeling was not without merit. He excused himself quickly, mentioning something about it being his turn to make sure Roxanne studied that evening. We laughed that off as a bad job, and Hugo felt a bit more at ease as he made his way up to his common room. Rose and Scorpius turned to me with eerie synchronicity after the young Gryffindor had left.
"Right, so why do I have the feeling that this is my nut to crack?" I said, cracking a smile.
"They don't call you Dark Lord Potter for nothing, oh dastardly Slytherin," replied Scorpius, cuddling up to a rather exasperated Rose. Actually, they did call me that for nothing, but it was a well-timed line nonetheless, so I let it go. I agreed to work on a plan of attack, and they agreed to be subtler about their relationship. By Monday evening I had something to work with, so we met again under an imperturbable in Flitwick's room. After I laid out the general plan, Rose and Scorpius began to help with specifics.
"and that's where I'll become – how did you put it, Albus? – Charming?" Rose asked.
"Right. Do you have any charms that you can think of off of the top of your head?"
"Diffindo is a good start," said Scorpius, who was nearly as good at Charms as Rose. "Then there's always a levitation charm. If we bring some small objects with us, Waddiwasi can come in handy, too."
"You surprise me, Scorpius," I said. "Maybe you should be the one with the nefarious sobriquet."
"Hardly, my liege," he replied, chuckling and giving me a mock bow. "Malfoys would never stoop to dark – oh wait. Yes we would." We had a good laugh at his family and continued our work.
"All in all a good idea with the Waddiwasi Scorpius, but they can trace those flying objects by their imprint on the target. Let's keep this as clean as possible. Rose, you're our charms expert, so you'll be performing them. I wouldn't trust anyone else to do this with a foreign wand. Scorpius, you'll need to be the lookout. Sorry, mate, but this is kind of a family thing. I'll be the master of ceremonies. Lends a bit more gravity to the whole affair if Dark Lord Potter is the one running it, don't you think?" Scorpius looked a bit taken aback, but held his tongue. Rose would tell me later that he hadn't appreciated the 'family' comment, so we wound up scuttling the lookout and bringing Scorpius inside. Our plan was sound, though, and we didn't wind up needing a lookout. We were ready.
A week before the trip, we found ourselves once again debating wardrobe. Well, I say once again, but in reality this is the first time Scorpius was ever involved in one of Rose and my tête-à-têtes. He had style, even at thirteen, but it was his own style, and Rose wanted to make sure he matched. This led to an argument or two between them, but good sense would win out, as one might imagine. I had picked a more earth-toned wizarding ensemble at first, but Rose quickly nixed that idea in favour of a Slytherin-green sportscoat, white oxford, grey flannel trousers and black penny-loafers. Muggle-chic to be sure, but Rose wanted to keep things conservative.
(As an aside, I don't think I ever really appreciated exactly how much impact my dad had on wizarding fashion as a whole. Before he went to Hogwarts, wizards had absolutely no idea how to dress themselves at all, unless it was in the flowing robes and long cloaks of our people. By the time the war was over, though, many wizards – and not just the young – were very comfortable making fashion choices that were decidedly muggle-inspired. Trousers, long the purview of only the muggle-born, were seen on purebloods with regularity. T-shirts made their way into youth fashion, and one could often see trainers peeking out from under severe black robes as Ministry officials made their ways through the corridors of their impossibly large office building. We've come a long way from mackintoshes and kilts, I tell you.)
Scorpius was to be our wizard-wear champion that day, appearing in royal blue robes with a black hooded cloak and silver clasp. With his desperately pale and angular features and his enigmatic family background, Rose decided he would make the perfect 'mystery man' in our group. Rose, who enjoyed a bit of mystery herself, decided on a hybrid outfit of a sky-blue cloak and a floor-length grey flannel dress that could easily mimic witches' robes.
"I was looking over some old clippings," she told us as we started planning, "to see what it was the press found so bloody fascinating about mum, dad and Uncle Harry. I really think they liked the idea of a melange of blood – pure, half and muggle – that they had. It was rather emblematic of the cause, you know. So for our concept, we should emulate that to some extent, even though you two are as pure as it gets, and my muggle-born mum saved the bloody world."
It had taken three days and several sheets of parchment full of sketches to get right, but once we were all in agreement, there was no denying we were dressed to kill.
The morning of the Hogsmeade trip, we met for a leisurely breakfast, talked about a three-footer for Transfiguration that was due Monday and where we were going to meet our contacts in Hogsmeade. Oh, and there was that little matter of the pranking Gryffindors to take care of. At half-past nine, Hugo was dispatched to the Gryff common room to tell his cousins that he'd caught Rose and Scorpius snogging in Flitwick's classroom, and might that not be a perfect opportunity to launch the prank, so that they'd not be able to snitch without being found out. Never mind that they'd never – ahem – express themselves anywhere where they'd have even the remotest chance of being caught, but Freddy was much too busy fumbling with the brassiere clasps of every Gryffindor girl old enough to wear one to suss that out.
Flitwick's classroom was suitably dark when Freddy showed up alone (good boy, Hugo!), and with that clever, mischievous grin plastered on his face like a trained chimp. Rose was quick with her wand, but her voice was a good bit higher in pitch than usual.
And when she got to
Scorpius and I jumped into synchronized action. He hit Freddy with a full body-bind while I plucked the wand from the prankster's hand. Rose donned a pair of black driving gloves made of a rather supple lambskin before picking the wand up, and we began. Rose levitated Freddy off of the floor using his own wand.
"How does that wand feel, Rose?" I asked. I must have interrupted her concentration, because she dropped him from three feet in the air back onto the stone floor.
"Not bad at all, love, but my concentration seems a bit off. Mind if I have another go?" The grin on her face as she said this would freeze firewhiskey. I would come to love this grin on her, but this was the first time I saw it in all its glory. She had another go. Pity that her concentration didn't improve much. Scorpius was the transfiguration master, so he conjured up some ropes that bound Freddy good and tight as Rose muttered
"Finite Incantatem," and released Freddy from his body-bind using her own wand.
"What the fuck, you lot? We're just hav—" I didn't want to hear anymore, so I hit him with a Silencio.
"Language, Freddy," I said, pacing around my poor, unfortunate cousin. "You're probably wondering why we brought you in here this morning, aren't you?"
"Diffindo," muttered Rose, waving Freddy's wand in a slashing motion. A red trickle quickly appeared on Freddy's right cheek.
"Do note that that was your wand Rose used, so I wouldn't go advertising our little spat." Freddy's eyes opened very wide as he touched his fingers to his cheek and saw drops of red drip from them. He got a hardened look in those eyes just as quickly, though. I continued, smiling sweetly at my bound cousin.
"Now, you're the ringleader of a group of troublemakers that's done nothing but harass the three of us since we arrived at Hogwarts. This stops now. Am I clear?" Our good Gryffindor was unmoved. A little cut on the cheek wasn't going to stop him. Pity, that.
"Diffindo, Diffindo, Diffindo," called out Rose, and Freddy's tacky red striped rugby jersey was split down the middle, and a gash had opened where his right nipple had been. A puddle of urine had formed underneath him, leading me to believe that our message was getting across.
"I'll ask again, Freddy. Am I clear when I tell you that your pranks on us will stop now?" Freddy nodded through tears. "Good lad."
"Petrificus Totalus. Rictusempra"
We let these two spells go for a bit before ending them with a finite. As the finite came from Freddy's wand and not Scorpius's, the magical bindings were still in place, through which Freddy was visibly shaking.
"Right, now as Professor Rumplemast is so fond of saying at the end of each class, here are the takeaways, Freddy. Those are a couple of first-year spells you were under, cast by someone else's wand. Look at the amount of agony they've caused you. Remember; this is a school of magic, not a school of chicanery. Now, all the three of us have ever asked for is to be left alone to study magic. There are quite a few others who share this desire, and they have chosen to sit with us. You might want to consider allowing us to do this." I then walked up to him with my wand out, pointing it forcibly at his neck. He evacuated the rest of his bladder before I had the chance to speak.
"Because if we have to do something like this again, it will be Roxie we come after." Two well-aimed Diffindos later, and his left nipple was in the same shape as his right one. "Think that might hurt your dear old sis a bit more? Right, now Scorpius is going to fix you up, and then release you. When he does, you're going to tell us what you've learned today, and what you're going to do to make sure that none of my friends ever gets pranked again by anyone in Gryffindor house. And I have a lot of friends, don't I? Is this clear? Any retaliation for this by anyone to anyone will result in more pain for you and your sister. Anything that even looks like retaliation will be dealt with as such. Also, I don't think I have to tell you how unwise it would be for you to try to rat us out, either to our parents or the faculty. Firstly, you don't have a shred of evidence, save that you cast some pretty poor cutting charms. Casting those could get you expelled, you know. Secondly, who would believe that the three of us, who haven't so much as sniffed detention in two plus years, would break so many rules all at once? Do you understand this?" Freddy nodded, quite defeated. Our work was done.
"Think we ought to obliviate him, just to be certain?" was Scorpius's question as he was healing Freddy's cuts and repairing and cleaning the blood from his clothing.
"While I'd love to have Freddy be your first test-subject for that spell, Scorpius, I think it's much better for all if he remembers exactly what happened. Pity about the scarring, but that's why third-years oughtn't be healers now, isn't it? Now, what did you learn from today's lesson, Freddy?"
Freddy's mouth was moving, but no sound was coming out. I took the silencing charm off of him and asked him to repeat himself.
"I said, no more pranks on you and any of your minions." That earned him a backhanded slap across his face, right where he'd been cut earlier.
"My what?" I spat.
"Your friends, I mean. Your friends. No pranks on you or your friends."
"And what you had planned for the Hogsmeade trip?"
"Already scuttled. We were going to get you in the back as you left, but then I took all the hexed spell balls with me. They got, er, soiled in my trousers pocket, so they're useless now. My leg is probably covered in green and black letters spelling out 'Swot' as I sit here," he said sheepishly, looking at the floor.
Scorpius and Rose were busy cleaning up the blood and urine from that floor as I finished with Freddy.
"How many people know about this little encounter?" I asked him.
"Four," he replied.
"Good. Now what are you going to tell your cohorts when they see that the three of us haven't been pranked?"
"I'll tell them that you lot found out about it somehow and convinced me not to go through with it. Then I'll tell them that they don't want to get in the way of your kind of convincing, so they ought not press things. They'll leave you alone if I tell them to."
I looked at Rose and Scorpius for confirmation. They thought a minute, then Rose nodded her head.
"That will do nicely. Scorpius? Will you be a doll and release Freddy from your excellently crafted bindings?" As soon as the bindings were off, Freddy ran for the door. I hit him with a tripping jinx that left him sprawled out on the stone threshold, clutching a fattened lip.
"Firstly, the door is locked, you ignorant git. Secondly, where are your manners? You neither excused yourself, nor did you wish us a good day. And all with a lady present, honestly!" Rose put on a sufficiently scandalized expression, and I turned back to Freddy.
"Right. Excuse me then, Albus, Rose, Malfoy. Er, good day, and can you let me out now?" Rose walked over to Freddy, placed a kiss on his cheek and handed him back his wand.
"You'll need this, dear," she said, and hit the door with an alohomora. Freddy tore off for the Gryffindor common room just as Scorpius had scourgified the last of Freddy's bodily fluids from the classroom.
"So," I said, looking at Rose, "when are we due in Hogsmeade to meet Madam Norma?"
"Eleven-thirty, love," she replied. "We'd best get ourselves together." Arm in arm in arm we made our way from the classrooms, past the entrance hall, through the Great hall, and I was released at the top of the Dungeon stairwell to change into my carefully-crafted outfit for what was to be a very important day.
Having grown up in London, I wasn't quite prepared for the level of sheer tackiness so prevalent in less sophisticated parts of the world. We arrived at Madam Puddifoot's without incident – a victory in itself – and were quickly ushered to a corner booth. The booth was decorated much like the rest of the tea-shop, with brightly-coloured leaves and miniature pumpkins literally swinging from the ceiling. Garlands of miniature horns-of-plenty were in attendance, and the staff were covered head-to-toe in shades of brown and orange. I was suddenly very grateful to Rose for having vetoed my earlier outfit.
Madam Norma was much more properly attired, in smart lavender and mauve robes quite suitable for a woman on the other side of seventy. Hair, make-up and footwear all attested to the fact that, at least in terms of fashion, we were in the presence of a very knowledgeable witch. After genteel and polite greetings, we sat down to business.
"We had agreed there would be no photographers until afterwards, Madam Norma," was Rose's opening salvo. She had practiced saying that with a smile for days, knowing full well that photographers would at least be nearby. Madam Norma did not look put-off by this in the least.
"Of course, my dear girl," she said. "And they shan't take any pictures until you are satisfied with our agreements. Please let me begin by saying how impressed I am that the three of you have put such thought into your public images. Rose, your assessment of the symbiotic nature of our relationship detailed in your first letter to me was so well put. The better your image is in the press, the more young witches want to read about it. And the more often that happens, the more magazines and advertising space my company will sell. Your mother is so dreadfully intelligent, dear, but for the life of me I don't know where you picked up that savvy of yours."
Rose's smile blossomed across her face as she calculated an answer.
"Albus and I spent much of our childhood at Ministry functions, Madam Norma, usually on the outside of adults' conversations looking in. I suppose watching how their actions were portrayed in the next morning's Prophet gave us a bit of insight into the construction of popular opinion, but then when our own pictures began to appear in publications such as yours, we took matters a bit more seriously." Rose was on her game. Scorpius had a proud grin on his face – not yet having developed that cagey expressionless demeanour at which he is so good.
"Excellent answer, young lady," gushed Madam Norma. "It is so refreshing to be able to drop all this pretence and façade and simply sell magazines. Now, let's talk about your characterizations…"
And that's the way it went for the next hour and a half. It was decided that in the public eye, I would be the leader, Rose would provide the personality and Scorpius would be the mystery. There were exclusivity agreements that protected TWM, there were agreements that allowed us to have final say on photographs, and we agreed that TWM would be the 'venue of choice' for all post-event interviews. We told Madam Norma about Rose and Scorpius's relationship, and nearly fell out of our seats when she suggested we keep it under wraps.
"That was my thought, too, Madam Norma," Rose intervened. "Witches will go on and on about who they think ought to be together with whom, but once they've actually found out the truth," Rose and Madam Norma looked at each other before finishing the sentence in unison:
"they'll just find something else to talk about!"
And we all shared a hearty laugh. Scorpius very wisely brought up the spectre of over-exposure, which was handled deftly. Madam Norma laid out a vague timeline through which we could finally shed some of our wholesome image, which came as a great relief to the three of us. The planning session gradually developed into a small interview session, and we were then photographed walking arm in arm in arm through the streets, walking into Honeydukes and Scrivenshaft, and just about anywhere that wasn't Madam Puddifoot's. (Madam Norma relies on Puddifoot's for most of her gossip, but she thought the décor would not do our image much good at all. We agreed.)
As we were wrapping things up and looking forward to a bit of time to ourselves, Madam Norma had one last agenda item for us. We needed a name.
"Your parents had 'The Golden Trio,'" Madam Norma said, "which even though it was that parasite from the Prophet who came up with it, fit them perfectly. That's why it's still used. However, if we don't coin a name for your group today, believe me, a week after this article hits, someone else will. Any ideas?" We thought for a moment, and Scorpius spoke first.
"The public is going to naturally want to link us to their parents," he said, pointing at Rose and I, "so we ought to simply find something that replaces Golden in the name."
"Mercury," I offered. And the more I thought about it, the more it made sense. "Mercury. It's another metal that is used as an adjective, and the adjective fits us perfectly. None of us are doing the things we've been programmed to. We don't follow the Quidditch, we pay no attention to houses or points or any of that other rubbish, and work as hard as possible not to be nailed down to a type. Mercury it is."
And so it was. The Mercurial Trio made its debut in the pages of Teen Witch Monthly's November edition, which appeared at school a week and a half following our interview. The cover story was a boy-band from the States, and we were buried in the "Look who's at Hogwarts" section of the magazine. There was a 'candid' shot of us exiting Honeydukes, and a bit of background gathered from 'unnamed insiders'. I knew we had done something right when a fifth-year Ravenclaw girl asked me to sign her copy as she sat down with us at the tables after supper. Angelica gave me a squeeze around the shoulders and a warm "very well done" after she had read her copy. Mum and Aunt Hermione sent Rose and I warnings about how we play the press; something about not forging the weapon they'd use against us. They were wise to us, of course, given their occupations and experiences. You'd have thought they'd have been more congratulatory, though. No matter. We had etched our own place in wizarding society, and done it on our own terms; something neither grades nor house nor Quidditch nor anything else would have been able to give us. We were free.