Title: Pumpkin Diplomacy
Author: Lisse
Author Email: lisse@schnoogle.com
Category: humor
Keywords: Musketeers Halloween post-Hogwarts
Spoilers: None
Rating: G
Summary: Four future Musketeers discuss Jack-o-lanterns, Alexandre Dumas and You-Know-Who, among other things. A ficlet/prequel to "As Thick As Blood".
Disclaimer: This story is based on characters and situations created and owned by JK Rowling, various publishers including but not limited to Bloomsbury Books, Scholastic Books and Raincoast Books, and Warner Bros., Inc. No money is being made and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended. Athos, Porthos, Aramis and D'Artagnan are the creations of Alexandre Dumas. Rory Malfoy, Jim Chang-Potter, Brian Weasley and Maureen Wood belong to themselves. I'm just giving them free rein.

~~

"So then you scoop out the pumpkin guts like *this* and you throw it over *there.*" Maureen Wood demonstrated by flinging her handful of orange goop at a prefect. It landed on the boy's robe with a loud splat. "And then you act really innocent," she finished hurriedly, turning her attention back to the pumpkin as the prefect scanned the Common Room for the source of the attack.

Brian Weasley rolled his eyes. "Or you could do things normally for once."

"Some of us can't cast Wingardium Leviosa yet," Maureen said airily. "Right, Jim?"

The final member of their little trio just grinned and shook his head. "Don't look at me," Jim Chang-Potter said firmly. "I'm not breaking up another fight." There might have been a twinkle in his green eyes, although it was hard to tell; they were half-covered by unruly black bangs. He sat back on his heels and peered at their pumpkin. "I think it's deformed."

"It's a Jack-o-lantern," Brian said. "I think it's supposed to look like a troll sat on it." He pointed across the crowded Common Room, where second-years Harriet Black and Leah Harris had produced something that didn't really resemble a pumpkin anymore. It was covered with lurid purple polka dots and had sprouted random patches of bright green fur. "See? Even ours is better than that."

"Maybe they're trying for most original," Maureen suggested doubtfully. "I'll bet you a Sickle that Professor Lupin is kicking himself for letting us do this."

"You mean have a Jack-o-lantern contest instead of learning more about redcaps?" Jim laughed. "I think it was Professor Sprout's idea. She was saying the Hufflepuffs needed a break."

"*I* need a break," Brian muttered. He tucked his wand back into his pocket. "So what do we do with a lopsided pumpkin?"

"You could always try for best effort."

All three friends looked up at the girl standing over them. She was very small, even for a first-year, and she was holding a tiny, perfect Jack-o-lantern.

Maureen heaved a put-upon sigh. "Go away, Rory. We know our pumpkin stinks."

"No need to rub our faces in it," Brian added sourly. "Don't you have some Slytherins to go kiss up to?"

Rory Malfoy's lips pressed into a thin line at that particular suggestion. She wasn't particularly well-liked among her fellow Gryffindors. The general consensus was that the Sorting Hat had made a big mistake. Malfoys belonged in Gryffindor like a basilisk belonged in a chicken coop. "It was an honest suggestion," she said sharply. "You three need all the help you can get."

"Let me put it this way." Maureen held up one hand, fingers spread wide. "Would. You. Please. Sod. Off." With each word she dropped a finger, until she was brandishing a fist.

Jim and Brian looked at each other. Sure, Rory was annoying, but that didn't mean she needed a punch in the nose. "Calm down," Brian said as he leaned over and got a grip on Maureen. "We don't need another detention."

"Since you've already had...what? Ten?" Rory's lip twitched. "The Three Musketeers strike again."

Brian blinked. "The what?"

"Musketeers."

More blinking.

Rory heaved a long-suffering sigh. "Aramis? Porthos? Athos? Alexandre Dumas?"

Blink blink.

"The Three Musketeers are famous swordsmen," Rory said finally. "They're from a Muggle book. I thought one of you would know."

Jim stared at her. The Malfoy family had a reputation for taking pureblood pride to the extreme. He tried to wrap his mind around the idea of one of them touching anything non-magical with a ten-foot pole and failed miserably. "You read Muggle books?"

"Of course I do," Rory said irritably. "They're really quite good. Much more interesting than that Jamie Ingles nonsense."

Maureen's eyes lit up. She was probably the only witch in the world who hated that particular series, which were about a Squib's adventures in a Muggle boarding school and had such inane titles as "Jamie Ingles and the Temple of Osiris." Jim personally didn't see anything wrong with them. He and his nine-year-old sister Lily took turns reading them to their baby brother Cedric.

Brian narrowed his eyes suspiciously. "Your granddad *lets* you read those books?"

"Of course not. I have to hide them." Rory hesitated for a moment, then held up her pumpkin. "See? I carved one of them." And sure enough, there was a rather well-done picture of a man with a big hat and a sword on the Jack-o-lantern.

"Why does he have those weird clothes?" Maureen asked.

Rory shrugged. "I don't know. Some of my family lived in France back then and this is what they wore. There's portraits all over my house. Grandmother likes to tell me all about them. Poncy gits."

There was an awkward silence. Jim was starting to think that Rory didn't like her grandparents very much. He almost asked what her parents thought, but then he remembered that she didn't have any parents. Rory's father had been murdered when she was two years old and her mother had abandoned her when she was a baby. It was common knowledge and Jim had never given it a second thought. But now he looked at his housemate's expression and wondered what it would be like to grow up without any parents.

He looked back at her Jack-o-lantern, casting about for a way to break the tension. "So which one is he?"

"D'Artagnan. He's my favorite."

"I thought there were only three of them," Brian said slowly.

"There are. D'Artagnan joins them later. He has to prove himself." Rory clutched her Jack-o-lantern against her robes. For a Malfoy, she looked decidedly uneasy. "So what are you going to put on your pumpkin?"

Jim pointed to the drawing Brian had made on a piece of paper. It was a very fearsome face, complete with slitted eyes and fangs. He and Maureen hadn't seen the need to plan their whole Jack-o-lantern out, but Brian had insisted.

Rory didn't speak. If Jim hadn't known any better, he would have said the quick-tongued girl was looking for something to say.

"Do you like it?" Brian asked.

She nodded slowly. "It's very nice. I'm not sure You-Know-Who would like being a Jack-o-lantern, but it's a good drawing."

All three friends looked at each other. "What do you mean, You-Know-Who?" Brian said finally.

"It looks like You-Know-Who. I would know. Grandfather's library is full of books about the Dark Arts and stuff. They have pictures."

Jim felt a little sick. "We just wanted it to look like a basilisk or something. It wasn't supposed to be..." He looked away from the drawing. His mom and dad didn't talk about the war very much -- and they never mentioned the Dark Lord. Somehow he had imagined someone more human. "Is that really what he looked like?"

"Of course it is."

"Don't be a know-it-all," Maureen muttered. "You're worse than Brian." At this Brian gave her a sour look, which she ignored.

Jim crumpled up the snake drawing. "So much for that. Now what are we going to do?"

Rory worried her lower lip. "You could always do the other three Musketeers. My pumpkin wasn't big enough."

Maureen shook her head. "We don't know how they look, genius."

"*I* do," Rory said smugly. Then the superiority vanished. "And I...I could help you, if you want."

Jim looked down at their pumpkin. In all probably any Musketeers carved into it would be lopsided and deformed. Maureen and Brian just watched him. Somehow this was his choice.

He smiled up at her. "Sure. We need all the help we can get."

Rory's face lit up, and suddenly she didn't look at all condescending. She set her Jack-o-lantern down and knelt right in the middle of the pumpkin goo. A short time later they were huddled together, giggling as orange projectiles went flying in all directions.

And somehow the lopsided pumpkin found itself sporting not three Musketeers, but four.