Before there was Mercury: Growing Up Weasley (and Potter)

From about the moment we were born, Rose and I were inseparable. Blame it on being born just days apart, blame it on our parents being each other's godparents; whatever, from the time we were put in the same crib at Grandma Weasley's, we were each other's closest friends.

They tell us we started talking the same day. My first word, apparently, was "broom," having seen Mum flying about in a Prophet photograph. Uncle Charlie immediately thought this meant I'd be the next in a line of great Potter Quidditch players at Hogwarts. And I suppose if I were that sort of person, I'd laugh about that more at family gatherings. Rose's first word was "no," then her next word was "green," referring to Mum's Holyhead Harpies kit. We taught each other to read, we helped each other learn to walk. Rose, actually, was slated to go to Muggle primary school near her house when she turned five, but she and I raised such a commotion about being separated that Aunt Hermione finally relented. So we helped each other through Madam Tonks's pre-Hogwarts schooling, as well.

Being related to Molly Weasley means one thing, having a very large, very tightly knit family. Growing up in such a family, one doesn't know any other way of relating to relatives, so when I got to Hogwarts, it wa a bit of a shock to hear that some people had only two or three cousins, and that they were in far-flung places like Queensland or British Columbia. But for us Weasleys and Potters, everyone was a floo call away, an apparition away, or (once they learnt how) a quick drive. Grandma Weasley was – and is – Matriarch par excellence. She has clocks for each of her children's families (Uncle Charlie is still attached to Grandma and Grandpa's. I think Grandma's still holding out hope that her 50-something year old divorcé son will finally settle down). On each of these clocks is an approximate location and condition of each child, child-in-law, grandchild and (now that Victoire and her partner have a little one) great-grandchild. And, should one of these hands move unexpectedly, one could expect a floo-call. Once could expect an "invitation" to tea at the Burrow. And one could expect to be made a topic of discussion at the Weasley (and Potter) Sunday Family Dinner. And one Sunday, when Rose and I were nine, we became that topic.

Sunday, 11 October, 2015. Dad had only been Head Auror for seven years. Reconstruction was over and done with, and any former Death Eaters had long since repented and paid their debt to society. There was no longer a need for groups like The Order of the Phoenix or Dumbledore's Army, and those names had long since been relegated to lines and dates in history books. I suppose it was a combination of a need to maintain relevance and an accident of the calendar that convinced Mum, Dad, Aunt Hermione and Uncle Ron to hold a party for the 20th anniversary of the founding of Dumbledore's Army. The Ministry Ballroom was rented out for the occasion, the press, although not invited inside, were camped out in front, hoping to chronicle as much as they could. Mum and Aunt Hermione had taken the five of us children out shopping for new outfits, and dear old Madam Malkin had returned the favour by setting us up with the most hideous billowing robes you've ever seen. Now, at nine years old, I didn't know much about fashion, but I sure knew ugly. And being dressed up like an emerald-green bat was just embarrassing. Mum, of course, thought the outfit was perfectly acceptable, if a little pedestrian, so she did nothing to help my cause. I begged and pleaded not to have to appear in public like that up until the last moments before we left, but my pleadings fell on deaf ears, so off we went.

I thanked Merlin and Morgana quite loudly when we got to the Ministry that we hadn't gone through the front door past the photographers, which earned me an admonition from Mum that I was to be on my best behaviour, and she wasn't going to be embarrassed by my "antics" in front of her friends. James and Lily got quite a chuckle out of this, but I held my tongue, not wanting to be any more conspicuous than necessary.

Of course, when one looks like a miniature Harry Potter, being inconspicuous really isn't an option when you're nine and don't have a wand. I knew I was in for a long evening when Mr. Thomas's date, a woman I'd never met before, pinched my cheek and told me how much I looked like my father at my age. Now, I know full well that Dad hadn't met anyone Magical until he was eleven, so how this woman knew that was beyond me. Yet before I had a chance to ask, Mr Thomas tousled my hair and remarked on how much I'd grown since he'd seen me last. When I mentioned that I'd been six the last time he'd seen me, he chuckled and went on his way.

After an agonizing 20 minutes or so being cooed over, offered high-fives, having strange women kiss me and strange men tell me things like "there's a good lad," Rose and the rest of her family finally made an entrance. I vigorously waved her over to my back corner table as soon as I saw her.

"Oh thank Merlin," I said. "Rosie, it's been murder, honestly. You'd think they'd never seen a child before."

Rose smiled wickedly. "Oh, well you do look like the cutest little version of Harry Potter I've ever seen, Al. And that green just brings out your –"

"So. Not. Helping," I growled. Rose had a seat and looked at me, expectingly.

"Well?" she said. "You brought the snap cards, right?" I simply cast my eyes downward, rubbing the bridge of my nose.

"Merlin's lacy pants, you're not serious, are you?" Rose asked, fully knowing the answer to her own question. "What on earth are we expected to do here, then? Mingle with these people?"

"Rosie, please. Just – just don't. I'm sitting here looking like a fashion advertisement from 1998, I've been fussed and cooed over for 20 minutes, and bloody James and Lily haven't stopped being precious all night – look at them. I swear; Lily hasn't stopped giggling since we got here. I'm sorry I forgot the cards; I was trying to convince Mum to let me wear anything else up until the last moment. It's been hard enough tonight, honestly. Maybe we can –"

"Rosie, there you are," Aunt Hermione interrupted, seemingly appearing out of nowhere. "Oh, and Al, too. There's someone I want you to meet."

We were dragged over to meet Cho Chang, who sniffled and dabbed her eyes for three minutes, rather than talk. Next came Susan Bones, who managed to simultaneously tousle my hair and pinch my cheeks, for which I'd certainly have given extra credit, had I not been mortified past all sense of irony. Then we were dragged over to meet Michael Corner and Daphne Greengrass, who I'd later know as Scorpius's Uncle Michael and Aunt Daphne. They, at least, were human to us, politely shaking our hands and making small talk with Aunt Hermione so we could escape.

"Good lord, Al," Rose exclaimed in a loud whisper as soon as we were back to our table. "You've put up with that all evening?"

"That actually wasn't bad. I thought Mrs Finnegan was going to rip my cheek right off of my face she pinched it so hard. And Quidditch. They all want to talk about the stupid Quidditch. How much longer do we have, Rosie?"

Rose pointed to a very large clock that was built into the wall over the entranceway. It said 8:45. We were stuck there for another hour and forty-five minutes. It was plain to both of us that we weren't going to survive the evening. We sat in a doomed silence for a moment or two before Rose piped up.

"Let's get them."

"What?" I asked. "You're mad, Rosie."

"No, let's just get them, Al. We know how to use the bloody Floo; we'll just pop over there and pop right back. No one will notice we've left. Or would you rather sit here and dodge old people all night?"

She did have a point. I looked around; we were about five metres from the exit to the VIP Floo connection. James and Lily were being passed about from Hero to bloody Hero, and Mum and Dad were deep in conversation with Minister Shacklebolt, Aunt Hermione and Uncle Ron, with Hugo in tow. Uncle George and Aunt Angelina were at a table with several people I didn't recognise, and none of the rest of our family were at the event. We were in the clear.

I grabbed Rose's hand. "Right. Let's be quick about it, then."

We made an inconspicuous dash for it, casually walking to the rear of the ballroom. We walked upstairs to the VIP floo entrance, I tossed some powder into the fireplace and called out "Headquarters". I used Dad's password "Expelliarmus" when it was asked for. Nothing – apparently the wards on the floo were only keyed to adults. Rose had the same results trying to access her house. I grabbed some more floo powder and threw it into the fireplace.

"Diagon Alley," I called, and the fireplace lit up a brilliant green. Rose had an incredulous look on her face.

"You're mad," she said, and I don't think she thought she was exaggerating.

"Come on, Zonko's is open late, Aunt Hannah and Uncle Neville are at the party, and we'll be in and out. Plus, I have a couple of galleons on me just for situations like this."

"You mean the five galleons in your boot? That's for emergencies, Albus Potter."

"Precisely. Let's go." I grabbed Rose's hand, and we ducked through the floo, exiting into the back room of the Leaky Cauldron.

All in all, the mission went off smashingly, which should have been my first clue that something was amiss. We walked to Zonko's, Mr Zonko wished us good evening as he sold us the cards, and the floo took us right back to the Ministry, where we slipped back in, seemingly unnoticed. By 9:15 we were playing Exploding Snap on a table in the back, with only a brief "Oh, that's where you two are" from Mum. Rose won nine out of the thirteen hands we played before Mum and Aunt Hermione shuffled us back to our respective homes.

The next day I heard Grandma's voice in the floo; and a rather high-pitched exchange between her and Mum. By the time Mum announced that she was heading over to The Burrow for tea, I knew there had been a flaw in the plan. Grandma had been watching her clocks again. Mum didn't return quietly.

"Albus!" she hollered up the stairs. "Albus Severus Potter, you will get your arse down here this instant!"

I thought it best to feign ignorance and nonchalance, so I gracefully walked down the three flights of stairs.

"Yes, Mum?" I asked. "What can I do for you?" In retrospect, the cool demeanour was probably a misstep on my part.

"Don't you dare take that sarcastic tone with me, young man!" she replied, slamming her hand on the dining room table for emphasis. "You know full well what you did!" Mum stopped for a moment to collect herself.

"Diagon Alley. You and Rosie went, completely unaccompanied, to bloody Diagon Alley. What in the Nine Hells could have possibly convinced you this was a good idea?"

"Well, I'd left the –"

"I don't want to hear it. You had no business leaving the party, going out by yourselves – it was 9:00 at night, for Merlin's sake."

"But nothing –"

"I SAID I DON'T WANT TO HEAR IT!"

It was all I could do not to break down into tears in front of her. She sent me back to my room to consider my behaviour, and assured me that Dad would hear about this straightaway. I slowly climbed the stairs, thoroughly chastened, and more than a little shocked. Mum raised her voice at us all the time; mostly to be heard across a room full of family and/or friends, or because she didn't feel like conjuring a bloody Patronus every time she wanted to speak with us up or down several flights of stairs. But she never screamed like that, which was disconcerting. To make matters worse, James and Lily had been gleefully listening in on the proceedings.

"Ooh," James started. "Look who's in trouble now! Little Albie's got Mum all riled up. Betcha won't get any supper! Betcha won't get any pudding!"

"Bugger off!" I grumbled. James only grinned in response.

"Mum! Albus told me to bugger off!" he shouted down the stairs.

"James, leave your brother alone! He has enough trouble already without you making more. And Albus, mind your language!"

I slunk into my room, closed the door, and waited for Dad to come home. Dad wasn't screechy; rather, he had this quiet air of disapproval about him that just made you want to hide under the covers for a decade or three. He simply told me that he was very disappointed, and that I wasn't to come downstairs until supper, by which time a suitable punishment will have been determined. This punishment turned out to be an apology to Grandma for worrying her, and a week without pudding. I was more than a little irked that James's prophecy had turned out to be correct.

Rose hadn't gotten off much lighter, to be honest. In addition to her apology to Grandma, she was made to write 20 cm on the "Snatchers" of the Second War - Rose wasn't much for sweets, so no pudding with dinner was no problem for her. We commiserated during breaks at Madame Tonks's, and she was kind enough to let me have her biscuits at lunchtime, which I saved until after supper and ate clandestinely in my room. I, in turn, wrote some family anecdotes I remembered for her report. It was rough going for a pair of nine-year-olds, but we managed well enough.

The worst of it didn't come until the following Sunday; one week after our adventure to Zonko's. As there was no grand event that day fêting our parents' actions in the Second War, Sunday meant dinner at The Burrow. To be honest, I didn't think much of it at the time; it was to be a Sunday Dinner like so many others. We'd go, sit in the garden while the others played Quidditch, play a few score hands of Snap, and then there would be dinner. We'd feign interest in stories of dead uncles and feats of derring-do, roll our eyes at tales of zany pranks gone awry, and pretend we didn't know the words to the post-war songs that were popular seven years before we were born. Somewhere in there we'd get up, go into the sitting room, and resume our epic Exploding Snap Battle. Rose would win, and we'd start wandering towards our parents, conspicuously tired.

I knew this Sunday was going to be a little different when James, Freddy and Roxie tried to engage Rose and I about our excursion. Apparently, word of our exploits had made its way through the entire family, and it was of such importance that it got between James and a Quaffle. James had a wonderful time describing just how mad Mum had gotten, and the glorious pastries he'd had access to after supper over the past week. I rolled my eyes at the nonsense, but that just seemed to egg him on. So Rose and I went inside to play our Snap game peacefully, sitting on the floor by our uncles and Grandpa.

Uncle Charlie asked if we wouldn't rather be playing outside with our cousins. I thought it would be poor form to reply that I'd just as soon not be anywhere near those idiots, but I didn't have to, thanks to Uncle Ron.

"Actually, this might be good. We might want to keep these two where we can see them," was how he started.

"Right. A little young to start with the adventuring, aren't they?" Grandpa weighed in. "You lot weren't causing trouble like that until you'd hit Hogwarts." Ugh. More odious comparisons.

"Did they really manage to get to Diagon Alley all by themselves?" asked Uncle George. "Harry, you probably could have picked up some floo-travel pointers from these two."

"Of course, the brainy one over there probably taught your boy how it's done, what?" asked Uncle Bill, slapping Dad's shoulder roughly.

"Enough!" Rose said, not quite shouting, but certainly loud enough to make herself heard. "We're right here, you know."And Rose grabbed my hand and led me to the front yard to continue our game.

Rose had only beaten me another eight times when we were all called to wash up for dinner. We queued up with our cousins at the scullery (with no small amount of pushing and shoving), sat down and tucked in. No one could prepare a meal for twenty like Molly Weasley. Of course, no one could open up a conversation with a loaded question like Molly Weasley, either.

"So, did you children enjoy the party last week?"

There were a few snickers from James and the twins, but mostly we just nodded yes and continued to attack the roast beef as if it had wronged us in a previous life. Grandma was unsatisfied, of course, and continued on with her questioning.

"What about you, Rosie? Did you have a good time?"

"It was fun, I guess," Rose replied, remembering to swallow before speaking.

"And what about your little excursion? Was that fun, too?"

"Mum, leave it be," pleaded Mum, but that just got things started.

"I think I'd like to hear the answer to this, Ginny," Grandma pressed. "These two had me worried half to death, and I'd like to know if it was worth it."

"Gin's right, Mum. Leave 'em be," offered Uncle Charlie. I started to have some hope for this afternoon after all, until he continued speaking. "Their parents were up to no good at their age, too, and look at what that's brought us."

"Right," said Uncle George. "All the big talk at the DA reunion; they probably just wanted to show there's a bit of the old adventure in the next generation, too. Couple of Gryffindors like that; I wouldn't expect anything less."

I wanted to be calmer about this, really. But it's tough to put forth an air of nonchalance when one is pinching the bridge of one's nose, shaking one's head. Dad looked at me pointedly.

"Yes, son? Something you wanted to say?"

"Snap cards," I grumbled.

"Come again?"

"Snap cards. Albus had left his bloody snap cards at home, so he and I went to get them. Couldn't get through the floo to our house, couldn't get through at his, so we went to Zonko's to pick up a new deck. That's all. It wasn't an adventure, it was an errand."

"Rosie, what have I told you about your language?" Aunt Hermione interrupted.

Uncle Percy was shocked. "Wait. There were 20-some living, breathing members of Dumbledore's Army right there in one place, and you would have rather played Exploding Snap?"

"Don't we get enough of that Second War stuff here, though?" I asked, in what would be a defining moment in my young life. "Honestly, any of those stories I hadn't heard already, it's only because I'd forgotten them in place of something relevant."

I'd never heard The Burrow quite so quiet, and I had a sneaking suspicion I was in leagues over my head, but, they say 'in for a knut, in for a galleon,' so I kept going.

"You dress me up in robes ten years out of fashion, send me to this place where everyone thinks they know me because I look like Dad, force me to make small talk with people who just want to pinch my cheek and remind me how much I look like dad, before making actual conversation with another adult, and you wonder why Rose and I look for an escape?"

I looked at Rose; she was smiling, which was earning her a glare from Uncle Ron. This was my only opportunity to save some face, and I was going to take it.

"Rose, feel like finishing that game we were playing? I don't think I'm hungry anymore. Excuse us, please," I said, and Rose and I joined hands and walked to the sitting room to play some Snap.

We played the rest of the evening, most of which was accompanied by a steady beat of self-righteous cacophony, which Rose and I blissfully ignored. Sure, there were consequences; I was watched much more closely, both Rose and I got a good talking-to about the importance of history and family, and James started his "you're going to Slytherin" nonsense. And it wasn't as though the tedious comparisons to Dad and Aunt Hermione stopped then, either. But it was that moment there that galvanised Rose and I as a team, and turned us into a force later on in childhood. Before that, we were the best of friends. Afterwards, we had a common cause.