Disclaimer: Nothing is mine.
Wow. I…don't know. One day I'll write something good, people, I swear. And there will be much rejoicing.
"I asked Mom about the broccoli thing, you know," James told Harry accusingly, chubby arms folded over his chest, a scowl on his round, freckled face. "She said eating broccoli doesn't make freckles go away."
Harry winced, well aware that he was going to have to deal with this one on his own. Ginny, the traitor, was holed up in the study with her dinner, frantically trying to make her deadline.
"She said that it's just good for you in gen'ral," Al said, gazing up at his father with large, betrayed eyes. His lower lip even trembled a little. The kid was good, Harry had to admit.
Lily stopped sucking her thumb long enough to opine, "Brocc'li's ick!" with great gusto and conviction. Hard to argue with that, really.
Harry was pretty sure Albus had arranged their seats intentionally, all three of them across the kitchen table from him and Teddy. He felt a little like he was being put on trial by messy-haired Munchkins. Messy-haired Munchkins who were more than happy with their roast beef, and quite content with their potatoes, but who had--for the upteenth time--refused to even touch their vegetables.
But this time, Harry had a plan.
He slanted a conspiratorial look Teddy's way, and Teddy winked back. Harry's godson was thirteen, now, and getting more sullen and snappish with each passing day, but the old standby of bribing him with chocolate and butterbeer and ensuing chaos had yet to fail. Teddy was fully prepared to play his part, and to play it damned well.
Harry fought back an anticipatory smile with ease. Stoicism was, after all, drilled into recruits during Auror training, mostly in preparation for the rather bloodthirsty Monthly Anything-Goes Poker Tournament between Magical Law Enforcement and the Department of Mysteries.
Last month's had ended badly--Ron lost his ring finger, wedding ring included, and Hermione got suspicious about the 'vicious Minotaur attack', because she had working brain cells. Harry had been forced to take her aside and mutter something about 'deeply classified' and 'need to know' and 'you should be proud of him, he's doing amazing work, our side really owes him one'.
"Owes him one finger," Hermione had replied waspishly, an entirely-too-knowing look on her face. But even if she really was in on the truth...well, she wasn't about to tell anyone. After all, Draco Malfoy was an Unspeakable, and the April tournament had lost him a good amount of his hair. Permanently.
Besides, Harry and three of his best Aurors had managed to take back Ron's wedding ring back through a beautiful mix of extortion, blackmail, and a quiet Confundus. And fingers weren't all that difficult to regrow, especially since the Ministry Healers were always ready and waiting at the end of Poker Night, bandages and wands in hand. "It's not nearly as bad as it used to be," an older Healer had told Harry as she reattached his eyebrows, back when he was barely out of training. "Whatever it is you guys do in there—well, Alastor Moody used to come out missing entire limbs. We never could regrow his eye, you know."
When Aurors and Unspeakables ante up, they really ante up—and they never bet for money. And poor old Mad-Eye had been notoriously bad at poker.
Harry, on the other hand, was one of the best players the Aurors had. Oh, Snape couldn't teach him to mask his emotions worth a damn, but hell if he was going to lose to Draco Malfoy in front of their combined departments. Over the years, he'd developed a poker face even Hermione couldn't always crack; James and Al didn't stand a chance.
"Now James," Harry said, in his best weary-father voice. "Broccoli really is good for you, you know. All right, so maybe I didn't exactly tell you the entire truth about the freckle thing, but the fact remains--"
"You lied to us," James said, looking away in a show of injured dignity. "How can we ever trust you again, after such de-despicla-despiclable behavior?"
Even the smaller words came out oddly stilted, and Harry had never known his eldest son to say anything like 'despicable behavior' in his entire life. Dear Merlin, was Albus scripting out confrontations again? That boy...
"It hurts inside, Dad," Al said earnestly, confirming Harry's darkest suspicions. Manipulative little sod.
"Bwoken hearts," Lily added happily, thumb firmly in mouth once more.
Teddy, who did not have years of hard poker-night training, dissolved into laughter. "...'hurts inside'!" he crowed, eyes shining. "Broken hearts. Oh, Al, good one."
"Al, James," Harry said, ignoring Teddy's turncoat giggling, "you've seen pictures of your Uncle Dudley as a boy, right? You remember them? How he looked like a pink pig in a blond wig?"
Their shudders were as informative as their nods.
"He refused to eat his broccoli as a kid," he told them, in a 'I rest my case' sort of tone.
Al and James blanched. "Eurgh," James said, twitching a little.
"But Dad," Al persisted, though his face was scrunched up in disgust, "he turned out all right, yeah?"
"After the grapefruit diet," Harry agreed, and James twitched again. Encouraged, Harry added, "Years and years of the grapefruit diet. But he's not the only example of what happens to the people when they don't eat their veggies. I know of someone else who never had any broccoli as a kid, and he wasn't as lucky as Dudley--no one caught the problem before it became permanent, not with him."
Both of his sons looked reluctantly intrigued. Harry smiled to himself and said, "Teddy? Show 'em."
Teddy grinned evilly, working his metamorphmagus magic with absolute glee. There was a moment of stunned silence, and then Lily clapped enthusiastically and giggled.
The boys reacted a little differently—Al's eyes had gone very wide and very round, and James' jaw practically hit the table. "But...but that's--"
"Yeah," Harry agreed, with his best solemn nod.
Al blinked owlishly, not entirely convinced. The whole child-genius thing was starting to wear a bit thin, as far as Harry was concerned. "So what, you're saying we'll be like...him, if we don't eat our broccoli?" Albus demanded. "All--mean and--"
"Not exactly," Harry said quickly. "What I really meant was...well, look at Teddy. Look at his--well, the gleaming white skin. The baldness. The lack of a nose. The blood-red eyes. These are all well-known results of childhood vegetable-deprivation. Just ask your Aunt Hermione." She had Hugo and Rose to sort out, after all, and she'd promised Teddy an entire cask of butterbeer if he'd add in the forked tongue and the clawed fingers for their show.
Nothing in the world could convince his kids that something was true more quickly than Hermione's word. In that moment, Al and James believed him, totally and utterly. Both looked distinctly queasy.
"Who knows why Voldemort really went evil, in the end?" Harry, who knew very well, asked them sadly. "Perhaps, as his hair began to fall out, as his skin got whiter and whiter, as his eyes turned red...perhaps he, like his nose, became unhinged. Perhaps Muggles, frightened by his physical deficiencies, treated him cruelly or mocked his appearance, and he lashed out at them in self-defense. Maybe he would have been a good person, if only he'd eaten his broccoli as a child. But we'll never know now, I fear."
Albus wasn't the only one fond of writing scripts. Hermione'd had entirely too much fun coming up with that little speech.
Al and James exchanged a wide-eyed, horrified glance, then, as one, turned to their broccoli and started shoveling it down like it was going out of style. Lily frowned at them, then poked halfheartedly at her own greens, not wanting to be left out of the feeding frenzy.
Teddy, shaking with silent laughter, reverted to his normal look, though he kept the red eyes. Harry offered him a furtive low-five under the table, then grinned and leaned back in his chair, extremely satisfied with himself. Well, satisfied until he saw Ginny lounging in the doorway, her eyebrows raised practically to the ceiling.
She didn't say a word, just fixed him with her best What-The-Hell-Did-You-Do-Now-Harry stare. He nodded to the rapidly disappearing broccoli and shrugged, flashing her a rueful smile. She rolled her eyes quite dramatically, but gave in with a near-silent huff and an amused shake of her head.
It was official: his victory was complete.
"Eh 'ad," James said suddenly, around a mouthful of delicious health. He paused, swallowed, and tried again. "Hey Dad. You know Mister Malfoy? I saw him last week, in Diagon, and, well, some of his hair's just...gone missing. And he's always been so pale, like, really, really pale. Did...do you suppose...did he not eat enough broccoli as a kid, d'you think?"
Um. Yeah. And at the next poker night, Harry totally hexes Malfoy's nose off. James and Al take up a collection for him and his poor malnutrioned ways, and Hermione laughs a lot in private and starts the Slytherin Outreach Program, just to rub it in.