Twelfth Night (Or Al's Best Birthday Ever)

After reading through the morning post, owling her boss to confirm that she'd have the interview on the new Seeker for the Cannons in by that afternoon, and getting her daughter off to the village school, Ginny wasted no time in broaching the topic of concern with her husband.

She would have waited, but with Harry, it was best to strike while the iron was hot.

"We need to talk about Al's party."

Harry glanced up from the letter she'd handed him - the one that had arrived from their youngest son just that morning. Behind the dark frame of his glasses, he looked surprised. "What about it?"

"Have you seen the guest list?"

"I skimmed it." Harry leaned back in his chair, a smile touching his lips. "He seems to have made friends all over the place."

"Including Scorpius Malfoy."

"His name did rather stand out."

It had been the third name on the list, right behind Rose Weasley and Hilary Lee. James had written that Al was thick as thieves with the Malfoy boy and the two girls - although James was prone to exaggeration and given to tattling on Al at any opportunity he got. A not-quite-so-nice aspect of her oldest son's personality, Ginny thought, and one she'd hoped he'd outgrow when he'd gone to Hogwarts.

Apparently not.

But James' habits were of less concern to her at this moment than the prospect of having the Malfoys descend on her house as invited guests. Ginny and Harry had indicated an adult guest could come with the child - not all Albus' intended guests were magical folk, or knew them personally. And, from Harry's non-committal statement, Ginny suspected her husband had to know where this was going - and was carefully sitting on the fence.

"I am not having the Malfoys under our roof, Harry."

"I doubt it'll come to that," Harry said after a moment. "For starters, Malfoy would have to accept."

"And who's to say he wouldn't?" Ginny demanded as she whisked the plates off the table and dumped them in the sink, setting a spell on them to start the washing up.

"I can't see Malfoy being any more eager to have Scorpius associating with Albus than we are to have Albus associating with his son." Harry drank the rest of his tea and planted his hands on the table to stand up. "Look, it's Albus' twelfth birthday and he let us know of the guest list before he sprang it on us. I'm inclined to say 'let him have who he wants' - after all, being invited isn't the same as coming."

He would see it that way, of course.

It had been a few years into their relationship before Ginny realised her husband felt sorry for Draco Malfoy. Sorry! For a Malfoy! For someone who'd never shown Harry anything less than contempt, who'd have seen Harry dead rather than risk his own skin, who'd never even said thanks for saving him during the Battle of Hogwarts.

And that wasn't even looking at his family.

Ginny would never feel anything less than disgust and contempt for Draco Malfoy. She certainly would never countenance his presence at her son's birthday party. And the fact that her son wanted to invite a Malfoy along...

There were a few things she wanted to say to Albus when she got the opportunity. Not that Harry was going to give her the opportunity to say them.

"Ginny?"

"I don't like it," she said and knew her voice was sharp and her gaze flat. "Harry, I won't forget and I don't forgive. And maybe it's not young Scorpius' fault, but I don't want him anywhere near my son."

She heard Harry get up, and turned as he touched her on the arm, warm fingers caressing up and down her arm. "I'm not exactly happy about it myself," he murmured. "But...Albus is growing up - even if he is still a child, and part of that means us respecting his choices."

Ginny was tempted to demand of her husband whether Albus shouldn't be respecting their history with his friend's father, but she knew when Harry had made up his mind. He wouldn't forbid Albus to invite the Malfoy boy along, and if Ginny did, she'd end up being the 'mean parent'.

So she held her tongue. This time, at least.

"I don't like it," she repeated. "But if you're not going to do anything about it..."

"I'm not."

Ginny rolled her eyes. "Fine. Albus can invite who he likes. But if things go bad, I want to reserve an 'I told you so' for later use."

Harry grinned. "I'll save one just for you."

Albus had always liked having a birthday in the middle of summer. It meant presents at breakfast, no chores in the morning, the river in the afternoon, Rose and her family around for dinner, and everyone in town wishing him Happy Birthday.

And it was going to be the best birthday ever this year, because all his friends were coming to his party, not just his family, and it was going to be mad.

And then there were the presents!

He knew what at least one of them would be - a broomstick from Dad. His very own, personal, private broomstick, that Lily and James couldn't borrow. James had gotten one for his twelfth birthday - well, the summer after he turned twelve - and Lily would get one when she turned twelve, but today it was Al's turn.

The rest of it?

Well, he could have said that it was present enough that his parents had invited all his friends, but he would have been lying. Albus couldn't wait to see what his friends had brought him.

It was fantastic that Scorpius could come, though!

Albus had been worried that his parents would have something to say about Scorpius' name on the list. Even Scorpius had said Al was kidding himself if he thought his dad was going to let a Malfoy come to Al's birthday party. And Rose - as much as she professed Scorpius to be "okay for an arrogant, know-it-all git who needs a jolly good slap", which, coming from Rose, was both high praise and hilarious - had been a lot more pithy than that.

But there'd been only the owled letter back, the morning before their final exams began, confirming that his parents would arrange for the invitations to be sent out by the end of term.

And now, after what felt like months and months and months (but which was only really one), it was Al's birthday and his party, and his friends were coming, the sun was shining, and it was going to be an awesome day.

Lily, swinging on the gate while Albus played with the Agglepaters and their dog, Bexley, was the first to spot the arriving guests - those that weren't already living in Godric's Hollow.

"It's Hugo and Rose!" Her voice rose shrilly over Bexley's barks, and Al dropped the ball, scrambling out the gate and into the street where Hugo was bounding along, weaving in and out of the amused villagers going about their business. Rose's voice lifted up behind them, trying to call her brother back, but Albus didn't care.

"Happy Birthday, Al!" Hugo yelled. "Hey, Lily! Albus, you have to tell me about what happened at school this year because Rose won't and Mum and Dad refuse to mention it!"

"Yeah, funny that," said Rose, coming up to them on the street. "Maybe if you weren't such a nosey annoying brat..."

"Don't call me a brat!"

Hugo's fists clenched and his face scrunched up. Albus stepped in before his cousins could start brawling in the street - and they would, birthday or not!

"Rose, don't bait him. Hugo, I'm not going to tell you if your family didn't."

"But...!"

"Oh, don't whine, Hugo," Rose said in scathing tones. "You're not going to be told anytime soon, so stop trying to winkle it out of us!" She rolled her eyes. "He's been like this all week."

"I have not!"

"Anyway," Rose continued, not even looking at her brother, "Happy Birthday, Al. You'll get your present later."

Al grinned at his cousin's abruptness. "What have you been doing since the start of summer?"

Rose made a face. "Cleaning house. From top to bottom. Do you know how many nooks and crannies the Burrow has?" She shuddered theatrically. "And Mum made us do it without magic!"

"Although Dad cheats every now and then when she's not looking," Hugo said in conspiratorial undertones.

Rose snorted. "Mum knows he cheats. Mum knows everything...unlike some people I could name."

Albus held up his hands as Hugo turned on his sister. "Don't start," he said. "Not on my birthday." If that was the stick he had to use to beat both of them over the head all day, then he would!

"So is Malfoy coming?" Rose demanded. "Or did he slither out of it?"

"Oh, he's coming," Albus told her. "Him and his mother."

Eighteen months ago, Hilary hadn't even known that a magical world existed.

A year ago, she'd been reading everything she could lay her hands on about the magical world, and spending hours in speculation with her best friend and neighbour Jerry about what their acceptance into the Hogwarts School Of Witchcraft And Wizardry might entail.

Six months ago, she would never have imagined that she'd be attending a birthday party at the house of one of the magical world's most famous individuals.

A week ago, she would never have imagined that the daughter of that famous individual would throw a tantrum just like any other little kid when denied something they wanted.

Apparently, whether magical or Muggle, famous or infamous, people were pretty much the same the world over.

"But James let you ride his broomstick when he got one last year!"

"Yeah, but only after a week and only because I don't crash into trees on the family broomstick!"

Lily's cheeks went pink - very noticeable in her pale skin. "That was once!"

"And all it would take is once. You're not riding my new broomstick, Lily!" Albus yanked it out of his little sister's hands and stalked off with most of the party in his wake, his face mutinous beneath the mess of black hair.

Hilary looked longingly after the trail of boys - they were mostly boys - who were making their way down towards the fields out the back of the Potter home in Godric's Hollow. Scorpius glanced back, looking for his mum - not asking for permission so much as checking that she was okay, but he trotted off with the others.

Alice Longbottom and Artemisia Creevy followed them, talking animatedly with each other, but Hilary didn't know either of them. If Alice's twin Shawna had gone it would be a different matter since Shawna was in Hufflepuff house at school, too, but Shawna was playing with the Agglepaters' new puppy, Bexley, and didn't have much interest in brooms and flying.

She looked around for Rose. If Rose went, then Hilary could go...but Rose was nowhere to be... wait. Was that her, dragging a nearly-hysterical Lily behind some bushes?

Hilary followed, curious, then stopped when she realised that Rose was delivering a lecture to her young cousin.

"Think about it, Lily! If you got a brand new broomstick, would you let James and Al play with it?"

"They already have their own brooms!"

"But it's still his gift." Rose sounded earnest and reasonable, and Hilary wondered at yet another side to the girl she'd come to be friends with over the year. Her first encounter with Rose had included a temper tantrum that had made paint peel - literally. "You wouldn't want someone playing with one of your gifts before you had a chance to enjoy it, would you?"

The pause was long before Lily uttered a sulky, "No. But he shouldn't have yanked it out of my hands!"

"Nope, he shouldn't," Rose agreed. "But if you go about making a fuss about that, everyone will just say it's his birthday, and you'll be in trouble for making a scene."

"It would serve Albus right."

"Maybe. But would it serve your dad right?"

Hilary didn't get that leap of logic. Apparently, neither did Albus' little sister. "Dad?"

"Well, Scorpius Malfoy is going to tell his dad that the Potters think nothing of fighting with each other in public - in the middle of parties, no less."

"It's not like Mr. Malfoy thinks much of us anyway."

"Yeah, but now he'll think he's justified," Rose said. "And you wouldn't want that, would you?"

Lily sniffled. "No. But it hurt when he pulled the broomstick away!"

"Then go tell your mum or dad about it. And you know, Albus might even have to apologise for being so rough."

The red-haired little girl thought about this for a moment, then headed for the house.

Rose exhaled, put her hands on her hips, and spotted Hilary. She rolled her eyes. "Albus so owes me."

Hilary began to laugh. "You were good."

"I was, wasn't I?" Rose looked as pleased as the proverbial cat who'd gotten the cream, making Hilary laugh even harder. "It'll be scary when she and Hugo come to Hogwarts - they've both got terrible tempers."

"Oh, and you're one to talk!" Hilary nudged her.

"Yes, but I keep mine in check most of time!"

"Except in detentions. And when arguing with Albus. Or telling Scorpius to grow a backbone." Hilary reeled off the scenarios she'd witnessed since her third week of school when she'd landed in detention for punching Francis Zabini in the nose for calling her a Mudblood. Rose, Albus, and Scorpius had all been in detention, too - for various misdemeanours. And somehow, Hilary had found herself friends with the three scions of three notorious families.

Rose shrugged. "I can't help it when they're such idiots! They deserve everything they get. Anyway, did you want to go down to the field and hang around in the hope that Albus lets us have a ride on his new Lightning Flash?"

"The chances of which are just slightly better than Scorpius telling his dad about Lily and Albus fighting," Hilary pointed out. "Why did you say that, anyway? Scorpius isn't a tattle."

Weird as it was given his family history and her family background, Hilary considered Scorpius Malfoy a friend. Even weirder, given her background, she rather thought Scorpius considered her one of his friends. Or, at least, someone he could tolerate without being mean. Oh, he was snide and sarcastic, and annoyingly superior at times, but he was nice to her - sometimes nicer than Hilary's old friend Jerry, who'd been sorted into Slytherin, and now tended to snub her.

But whatever Scorpius Malfoy's faults, he wasn't a coward and he didn't carry tales.

"Scorpius isn't a tattle," Rose agreed, then broke into a broad grin. "But Lily doesn't know that, does she?"

Astoria Greengrass-Malfoy had been to many parties before - as her father's daughter, as her husband's wife, as herself. This was the first she'd been to where she was her son's mother.

And also the first where her ancestry and her husband's were more likely to see her avoided than welcomed.

She'd resigned herself to being greeted coolly by the Potters and their friends and politely ignored for most of the party. This wasn't about her, her husband, or their family names, but about Scorpius and the friends he'd made at Hogwarts - however unexpected, unusual, or unwelcome those friends might be. For her son, she would endure the scorn of the Potters and their social circles.

She did not expect little Rose Weasley to meet them at the gate of the Potter's house, arms folded, her hair afire by the light of the morning sun.

"Gracing us with your presence, Malfoy?"

"I add that certain something to any party," Scorpius retorted, sounding happier than Astoria had heard since term finished. "Missed me, Weasley?"

"Of course! You're useful to practise hexes on," she added airily. "Well, come on, then, you can help me prank Fred!"

Scorpius took two steps after her, then paused and turned back to Astoria. She was touched by his concern - her thoughtful, sensitive son who'd grown up in the shadow of his infamous father and grandfather - and began to wave him on. It would be selfish to keep him by her side all afternoon.

"Rose!" The woman who stepped out of the house was a fair show of what her daughter might be in thirty years. "What are-? Ah. Astoria."

"Hermione."

They'd met at various Ministry functions - things that the Malfoys had to be seen at, even if most of the attendees would rather have seen them dead. Strangely, Hermione Granger-Weasley had never given that impression to Astoria, even if her husband always made a careful point of snubbing Draco.

"Mum, Mrs. Malfoy. Mrs. Malfoy, Mum. Come on, Scorpius - I have to work out a way to get Fred back for the trick he pulled at Easter!"

"Rose..." Hermione lifted one finger, stopping her daughter in her headlong rush back into the house. "This is Aunty Ginny's house, remember?"

Rose sighed. "I remember."

"And Albus' party."

"Like I'd forget that!"

"And...?"

Astoria hid a grin at the huffy sigh. "And I have to behave! Mum, you said all this morning!"

"And what does it say that I'm saying it again?"

"Dad would say you're nagging."

"And I would say that you're getting very close to missing out on beach privileges when we go down to Brighton, young lady. Now," Hermione stepped aside. "Behave. And Scorpius, enjoy yourself."

"Yes, Mrs. Weasley."

And they thundered off through the house, their feet echoing across the wooden floor.

"About as elegant as a herd of elephants," Hermione said dryly. "Come in, Astoria. We don't Crucio here."

As she walked in, Astoria reflected that there were undertones to that pronouncement that she was missing entirely. On the other hand, given her husband and his history with Potter, Weasley, and Granger, she didn't really want to know.

Hermione turned out to be an island of friendliness in a sea of cool politeness. So far as Astoria could tell, she was being genuinely friendly, too. It was a relief to have at least one person who wasn't going to judge her by her husband's family; she began to see why Scorpius had become such fast friends with the Potter boy.

She glimpsed Scorpius from time to time through the afternoon, his white-blond head easily identifiable amidst the other kids as they played down in the fields out the back of the Potter's home and the village. He was most often in proximity to the Potter boy and the Weasley girl, although there was a little dark-haired girl he also seemed to hang out with, as well as several boys that she presumed were his Slytherin friends.

Then she saw him in a toe-to-toe argument with a bigger boy - darker skinned, with short curly hair that had a distinctly red tinge to it.

Things seemed to be getting heated, and Astoria half-turned, wondering if things were going to develop into a fight and if she needed to go in there and break it up.

She turned as someone came up beside her - dark hair, rimmed glasses, and the scarlet scar on his forehead. Harry Potter himself. "I wouldn't," he murmured.

"Sorry?"

"He can defend himself if he needs to - although I don't think he will."

And, when Astoria looked back towards the field, neither Scorpius nor the Weasley he'd been fighting with were even looking at each other. Instead, both were staring at two tow-headed boys who flashed beaming grins at them, dropped their buckets then ran for the hills, one of them pausing to grab the Weasley girl, hoist her over his shoulder, and vanish off into the thick scrub of the hills.

"Uh-oh."

"What just happened?"

Potter was rubbing his neck with one hand. "I'd say the Scamander twins just doused your son and young Fred Weasley with water, then ran off, taking Rose as a hostage."

Scorpius slicked back his hair and wrung out his shirt. Hilary hovered to one side, caught between laughter and dismay at his predicament. Al had gone for a towel, pausing to reassure Scorpius' mum, who looked like she wanted to come down and baby him.

He was just as glad that whatever Al had said - whatever Al's dad was saying now - she seemed to be refraining from fussing over him. That was the last thing he wanted at a party full of Weasleys.

Meanwhile, the Weasley kids were organising rescue parties. Or seemed to be. Scorpius frowned as bits and snippets reached his ears. Rescue parties?

"Are they serious?" Hilary whispered as Fred Weasley handed Hugo and Molly Weasley a handful of Weasley Whizzers with the solemn instruction to use them wisely. A frown furrowed her brow as assorted kids were armed, while others looked on in general confusion. "Or is this another joke?"

"I...think they're serious," Scorpius said, as Al ran out of the house with a towel. "At least, I guess they are."

"But it's Rose!"

Scorpius silently agreed. Whatever else he might think of Weasley, she didn't need rescuing. Except when she really really did. Which wasn't very often. And usually involved professors with grudges.

On the other hand, there was the flavour of adventure about a rescue party...

He was still pondering it when Al handed him the towel. Scorpius began drying himself off a bit - not that it would make that much difference. Whatever the Scamanders had tossed at them, they'd been accurate - and thorough!

"Hey, Malfoy!" Fred Weasley's yell across the field caught his attention. "Are you coming or are you going to stay here like the yellow-bellied ferret you are?"

"Fred!" Al snapped.

"He's a Malfoy," Fred said, hands perched on his hips, looking every inch the troublemaker he was. "He's free game."

"Not at my party, he's not!"

Scorpius glared at the older boy. He was grateful for Al's defence, but he wasn't going to hide behind him. "You've got an issue with my family, Weasley? That's your right. But you're going to deal with me. And I'm not yellow."

"Really?" Weasley sneered. "So why aren't you gearing up?"

"To rescue Rose?"

"Yeah."

Scorpius rolled his eyes. "Maybe because Rose doesn't need rescuing?"

"Malfoy, in case that bucket of water washed your brains out - or whatever you have in place of brains - the Scummy-anders just doused the two of us and kidnapped Rose."

"And you think that means she needs rescuing?" He looked around at the assorted Potters, Weasleys, and the other kids watching them. Pride lifted his chin. "For someone who knows Rose, you don't know her very well."

"And you think you do?"

"I know I do." This smirk usually grated on Rose; he figured it would have much the same effect on her relatives. "I know that Rose isn't sitting around waiting for a rescue. I know that the Scamanders have gotten themselves into more trouble than they know. And I know that Rose would be utterly insulted to think that anyone would imagine she'd need rescuing from anything." Even if she did.

After all, it had taken her nearly two months to forgive Scorpius for getting her off the hook with Professor Edgecombe. And even after that, she'd been grudging at best.

Fred looked taken aback, but he rallied swiftly enough. "It's okay, Malfoy. You don't need to justify being a coward."

Scorpius' hands curled into fists as he started for Fred Weasley, ignoring Albus' warning call and Hilary's hand on his arm.

Then, down by the river, something went off with ear-popping force. Heads turned as a wisp of smoke rose above the trees, uncurling with gentle slowness - like the legends of Lord Voldemort's Dark Mark. Except that this wasn't an ominous sign - at least, not for Scorpius.

"Uh-oh," sang Hilary, almost under her breath.

A minute later, a sodden, not-quite-redheaded girl marched out of the bushes, ploughing through the knee-high grass like a thunderstorm on a mission. Rose Weasley was on the warpath; heaven help them all.

She headed for the house, only pausing to detour past Scorpius, Al, and Hilary, grabbing the towel out of Scorpius' hands as she went.

"Seeing as you're not using that, Malfoy..."

Scorpius let it go, lifting his hands up in a show of harmlessness as she stormed past him. But he couldn't quite keep the smirk from his mouth as he glanced back at an astonished Fred Weasley.

Rose felt much better once she got cleaned up by her mum and checked on by Albus. She ate the slice of pie Hilary brought her, and snapped at Malfoy when he sidled up to see how she was doing. He snapped back, calling her ungrateful and a snob, and a very satisfying argument ensued.

"All better?" Her dad inquired, coming over when Scorpius flounced off.

"Much," Rose said, dusting crumbs off her hands.

"So," her dad commented in the tone of voice that was fooling nobody, "you're friends with Scorpius Malfoy."

She shrugged. "He's tolerable. For a Malfoy."

"Doesn't take after his dad, then." Dad looked over to where Rose's mum was talking with Scorpius' mum. "I wouldn't trust Draco Malfoy as far as I could throw him."

It was probably a warning, but Rose didn't mind. Dad only knew Scorpius' family; Rose had seen Scorpius almost daily for the last nine months, in every mood from snidely superior to down and desperate. Okay, so he was a stuck-up git with no respect for why the rules were there, and he thought himself way cleverer than he was, but he wasn't bad. Just annoying.

"Ah," her dad murmured as the Scamanders slunk in the back gate of the house, muddy and scorched. "I wondered whether we'd be seeing these two again..."

Rose smirked at them, then quickly wiped the smirk off her face when Uncle Rolf took his offspring by the shoulders and frog-marched them over to the bench where Rose was sitting.

"I believe these two owe you an apology," he said in his deep, quiet voice. "Lysander, Lorcan."

"She singed us!"

"Without a wand!"

"We'll probably be scarred."

"Emotionally, if not physically."

"Besides, it's not as if we're sorry."

"We'd do it again in a heartbeat."

Aunt Luna drifted past, frowned, licked a finger, and rubbed at a scorch mark on Lysander's brow. "Apologies should always be given, for the form of things, even if the heart is absent." Upon the scorch mark's failing to come off, she added, "And I was going to make plimpie soup tomorrow."

The twins looked at each other - blond like their mother, hazel-eyed like their father, with identical expressions of chagrin that subtly changed to cunning. Then, in unison, they chorused, "Sorry, Rose."

Rose felt her dad nudge her and rolled her eyes. "Apology accepted," she muttered, hoping they'd go away.

No such luck.

Lorcan sidled closer. "So now we're forgiven, do we get a kiss?"

"Just a little one?"

Uncle Rolf coughed, a smile hiding behind that great moustache of his. "Boys, I think that we should get you two presentable for the rest of Albus' party. You leave Rose alone for a bit, now." As he and Aunt Luna herded them away, Rose heard him mutter, "At least a couple of years."

She flushed. Beside her, Dad shook with suppressed laughter and she jostled him. "Dad!"

"Sorry, Rosie. It's pretty funny from where I'm sitting."

She pouted - for all of two seconds before Albus raced up. "We're playing Quidditch, Rose, come on! My team against James' team. Uncle Ron, can you umpire? I don't trust Fred not to cheat. Or James, for that matter," he said darkly.

"You just want to try out your new broomstick," Rose accused him as she stood up.

"Well, duh," said Al, grinning as they rushed out the gate past Uncle George who neatly stepped out of their way.

"Try not to break Roxy's neck!"

"Can we break Fred's?" Al called back.

"Oi! I heard that, you blasted ingrate," Fred shouted, already up in the air on one of Aunt Ginny's 'old' brooms from her professional Quidditch-playing days.

It took a few minutes to organise teams. Albus argued that he should get to choose his own team because it was his birthday, James argued that Al would only go and pick all the best players. They sorted that out by choosing players turn by turn. Rose ended up on Al's team, along with Scorpius, Hils, the Agglepater brothers - Fidel and Alberto, and Alice Longbottom. Rose's dad split the field up, after being informed by Aunty Ginny that afternoon tea would be ready in half an hour, so they'd better play fast.

"Right, you lot," called her dad. "A quick game's a good game, and if you don't win...you're losers."

"Ron!"

Rose's dad shot her mum a brief grin, then stomped on the catches of the box, letting the Bludgers and Snitch zoom out and tossing up the Quaffle.

It was a crazy game - Weasley Quidditch matches generally were - but this game had a competitive edge Rose hadn't expected. Maybe it was the fact that James seemed to be egging his team on, while Albus was playing it friendly. Maybe it was that there were non-Weasleys mixed in with the Weasleys - and the game was more serious to them.

Maybe it was because Scorpius scored half the goals for Al's team - easy passes past Fred's attempts at Keeping, while Al snatched the Snitch right out from under James' nose.

There was a moment when Rose wondered if James was going to start a fight with his brother - it wouldn't be the first time a Weasley party had descended into violence between the Potter boys, although it was usually Al throwing the first punch when James taunted him too far.

Then there was a whistle - but not from Rose's dad. Sharp and piercing - an unabashed attention-getter - it emitted from Aunt Ginny who was surveying the play from down below.

"Game's over, boys," she said, fixing her sons with a wry smile. "Afternoon tea is being served."

Albus knew James would make him pay for getting the Snitch, but what was he supposed to do? Just let James have it? No way! Besides, it was Al's party and he could fly how he wanted.

James was just jealous that Al and his team had been winning even before Al caught the Snitch.

Scorpius came up alongside him as they reached the worn track up through the gate. "Is your brother going to cause trouble?"

A glance back showed James scowling at Lily, and he shrugged, turning back to Scorpius. "Nah. He'll just sulk a lot and be snippy all afternoon." And probably most of the night, too. James was nothing if not precious about his skill at Quidditch, and to lose the Snitch to his younger brother...?

Yeah, birthday or not, James was going to make him pay for winning.

But Al wasn't going to think of that now - not when all his uncles and aunts, and the family friends he'd known all his life, and the friends he'd made at Hogwarts were gathered around the party table with his granna's magnificent sponge cake sitting in the middle, piled high with cream and raspberries and little curls of chocolate.

Not that the cake was the only food - there were cupcakes and Fizzing Whizbees, and MouthMints, toffees and caramels, cakes and pastries... Butterbeer for everyone, and Aunt Hannah's strawberry mint tea - made specially with the exploding mint Uncle Neville grew in his garden.

And all of it for him.

He waited as the guests all came in and stood around, eagerly eyeing the food. But nobody started yet - Al's dad was going to make a speech, just as soon as Rose stopped talking into his ear, her expression earnest. Al's dad looked at her, asked a question which she answered, and then nodded, and she grinned and scampered off.

Al had thought about it before asking his dad to promise not to embarrass him by telling stories about the things Al had done as a kid. His dad had laughed but promised.

"Thanks for coming to Albus Severus Potter's twelfth birthday," his dad said when everyone was assembled. "While many of you have seen Al grow up from the baby that Ginny and I brought home all those years ago - and a lot of you have grown up with Al yourself, there are some of you who've only just met him in the last year. We're just as glad to see you here as we are to have all the people we've known for years.

"I'll keep this short since it's Al's party, and I know you're all hungry for the spread that's been laid out for us today. As you all know, the eleventh birthday is when kids get their letter from Hogwarts. But several years ago, Ginny and I decided that we wanted our kids' twelfth birthday to be the important birthday."

Green eyes looked at Al - the green eyes that Al had inherited from his dad, along with the untidy black hair and the need for glasses. Al looked at his dad, not sure if he should say something - James would have said something smart - but Al wasn't like that.

"Twelve is just when you've realised the world is bigger than what your mum and I have shown you. You've had a year at Hogwarts and you've begun to see that there's a lot out there and you've got a lifetime to explore it. You're still a child yet, Albus, and you'll always be my child and your mum's, but you're also becoming your own person - you've changed so much even in the last year while you were away at Hogwarts - good changes. And to Ginny and me, that marks the start of growing up."

Al's dad glanced over at Al's mum, and something passed between them - a tender look, a rueful smile.

"In the coming years, we're not always going to agree with your choices, what you want out of life, what you want to do with your life. You're going to think that we're holding you back, or not telling you everything you want to know - and it might be true, for what we think are good reasons. But whatever you go through, whatever you choose, we want you to remember that we love you and we're here for you, and we're proud of you. So Happy Birthday, Al, from both your parents."

There was a bit of clapping - mostly from the adults - but a few of the kids joined in, too.

And then Uncle Harry nodded at Rose, who'd moved to stand at one corner of the yard with her wand out and raised. She nodded at Scorpius and Hilary, who'd positioned themselves at the other corners of the yard, their wands out and pointed at the sky.

"Pyriclastis!"

The sky above the house exploded in fireworks, glittering explosions of colour and light that drew 'oohs' and 'aahs' from the guests - and some shouts from the village as others spotted the display, bright and noisy in the air above their heads.

But Albus stood there, amidst his family and his friends, beneath a sky full of fireworks called up by his three best friends, and grinned until his cheeks hurt.

Best birthday ever.

- fin -