Author's Notes: I'm not sure if this concept is as strong or clever as I want it to be, but I wrote it so I hope somebody enjoys. ;-)
Seven-year-old Albus Potter had a secret, and it was eating him up inside.
He couldn't tell his mum or dad, or James or Lily. They were the ones he was hiding it from. They would be furious if they found out. This was a betrayal of the whole family; he was sure to become an outcast if they knew the truth about him.
Eventually he decided to ask Uncle Ron for advice. Uncle Ron wouldn't care—probably. Maybe. Hopefully.
He laughed after Albus had finally managed to whisper exactly what was bothering him. "You really think your mum and dad are going to care about something like that, Al? Really?"
He shrugged, feeling his face burn. "I dunno. Maybe? You know how Mum gets about stuff like this. Not to mention James..."
"Well, I can't make any promises about him," Uncle Ron said with a grimace. "But your mum isn't going to be mad. People are allowed to be, you know, a little different. I mean, she and I don't agree about this sort of thing but she still talks to me, right?"
Albus looked up. "So—you wouldn't care? If Rose or Hugo were—different from you the way I'm different from Mum and the others?"
Uncle Ron winced, and for the briefest moment his face twisted into an involuntary scowl.
"No. Of course not."
Somehow Albus wasn't convinced.
Despite Albus' mood, the rest of the Potter family was in quite high spirits. The reason was readily apparent when he came down for breakfast the following day to find the others already gathered around the table and cheering excitedly.
"Mum's passes to the Championship just arrived!" James exclaimed before Albus could ask. He held up the Sports section of the Prophet. "And the Harpies walloped the Prides, so that means it'll be them against the Montrose Magpies!"
"Oh. That's nice," Albus said dully as his mother slid a plate of pancakes in front of him.
"The last time they were in the Championship, Mum was still playing Chaser!" Lily added excitedly. "It was against the, uh—uh—"
"The Ballycastle Bats," their mother supplied, taking her seat. "Ah, that was a great game! Lasted two days." She suddenly reached across the table and pushed her husband on the shoulder in mock anger. "And then your father goes and sleeps through it when we finally win!"
He laughed. "I'd been watching for thirty hours straight! Unlike you, I didn't have a reserve so that I could take a nap in the middle of the game."
She launched into a long recap of the decade-old match, with James and Lily "wow!"ing at all the right parts. It was only as she finished that she noticed her younger son staring at his plate, picking at his pancakes and frowning to himself.
"Albus? Are you alright?"
"Huh?! Oh...yeah, fine. I'm just not very hungry today."
"You barely touched your dinner last night. Do you think you might be getting sick?" his father asked.
Albus shrugged. "Maybe. Can I be excused?"
He slouched out of the kitchen. Harry and Ginny's concerned gazes followed him, while James simply stole Albus' uneaten pancakes and continued talking about the upcoming match.
Harry suspected that something other than indigestion may have been bothering his son, so he came into Albus' room after breakfast and asked him if anything was wrong.
After a lot of coaxing and a promise not to tell anybody, Harry managed to get Albus to stammer out his secret.
Like Ron he started to laugh, then forced himself to stifle it as Albus' face turned both pink and petulant.
"Is that what's been bothering you so much the last few days? Al, neither your mum nor I really care about something like that."
"Mum would," Albus said firmly. "And you know James and Lily would make fun of me if they knew." His shoulders slumped. "I don't want to feel this way, Dad. I've tried not to. But I just—can't stop thinking stuff like this. Even though I know it's bad," he said, his lip quivering.
"Al," Harry said, putting one hand on his son's shoulder. "This isn't about bad or good. There's nothing wrong with feeling this way. I mean—lots of people do, obviously."
Albus looked away and muttered something like "Not in this family."
Harry hesitated. "I've gone through...phases like this, over the years."
Albus looked up, startled. "You—You have?"
"But—you're married to Mum."
"Well...I fell for your mother before I had really thought to, er, explore my options in that area. If I hadn't, well...but I'm perfectly happy with things the way they are," he added quickly, as Albus continued to gape at him. "But if you're not...well, there's nothing wrong with being a little different. Don't feel like you have to hide your feelings just to suit the rest of the family."
Albus looked down at his feet. Harry patted him on the back.
"Come on. Why don't you and I go tell your mum right now?" Albus looked up in horror. "No, really, Al—you'll see that this really isn't anything that you have to worry about."
"N—No! I mean—n-not yet. You won't tell, will you?"
Harry sighed. "I suppose not. But I promise, you're making a big deal out of nothing, son."
The next few days were spent preparing for the Championship, which failed to distract Albus from his troubles. His mum had ordered a set of dark green Harpy robes for each member the family, and kept talking about how cute they would look as their own five-person team. Meanwhile at the Burrow, all of their relatives were either jealous that the Potter siblings got to go to the match or bitter that their own favorite teams had been knocked out of the running.
"I'm going to be a Beater for the Harpies when I grow up," James said proudly, swinging his bat as though fighting an invisible opponent. "Follow in my mum's footsteps."
Molly made a face. "You can't! The Harpies only let witches on their team!"
"Well, that's dis—dis—" He screwed up his face, trying to remember that word Aunt Hermione always used. "—displinicration. Besides, I think I fancy being the only bloke on a team full of girls," he said, grinning.
Louis, still stung by the Harpies' victory over his beloved Prides, stuck his tongue out at James. "They'll let you on because you're a girl anyway. Only girls support the Harpies."
"Hey—put that bat down! Hey!"
Louis ran into the house with James in hot pursuit and Molly chasing him in turn. Albus watched them, sitting beside Rose on the grass. She scowled.
"James is being stupid today."
"Yeah. It seems like he's always picking fights with people."
Rose looked at her cousin and frowned. "You okay? You seem sad."
"Yeah." He paused. "Can I tell you a secret?"
He told her.
"Really?!" She stared at him. "Does your mum know?"
"No." He looked away, watching a gnome wander among the weeds. A long moment passed. "...So what do you think?"
Rose hesitated. "Well, I don't care."
"I sort of figured you wouldn't. But my dad and Uncle Ron both say I should come clean. Do you think that's a good idea?"
"I think your mum will kill you if you do."
"But you just said it was no big deal!"
"No, I said I didn't care. But if I was Aunt Ginny, I would care a lot."
Albus laid on his dark green bedspread, staring morosely at the ceiling.
There was a knock on the door. "Come in," he said dully.
It was his father, holding two boxes in his arms. "Hello, Al. How are you doing?"
He shrugged, sitting up. "Alright, I guess."
"Still worried about...?"
He nodded. His father smiled weakly, sitting on the edge of the bed. Without a word he passed the two boxes to Albus.
"What's this?" he asked, even as he began to open the top one.
"The Harpy robes your mum ordered from Quality Quidditch Supplies. I just picked them up."
"Oh." He closed the box, placing it on his bedside table and examining its twin. "Then that's this?"
"A...little something extra I bought especially for you."
Albus looked inside and blanched, quickly closing the box as though terrified of its contents. "What am I supposed to do with this?!" he asked in horror.
Harry stood. "Whatever you like. I'm not going to force you to do anything you don't want to. But Albus..." He knelt down again, looking his son directly in the eye. "You're worried about nothing. Your mum loves you. She's not going to get mad at you over something so silly. Do you understand?"
Albus looked away. "What about James and Lily?" he mumbled. "They won't get mad either?" His tone was bitter and sarcastic.
"Well...your mum and I won't let them bother you about it," Harry said simply. "Look—I know it's hard to be different from other people. Believe me, I know. I just think you'll be a lot happier in the long run if you stop bottling this up. It's nothing to be ashamed of. But it's your choice."
He left Albus to think about that. The boy sighed, put the second box on top of the first one and laid back down, turning to face the wall.
There was a poster hanging by his bed, of the Holyhead Harpies from that year when they went to the Championship against the Bats. The seven witches all stood in a huddle, sticking out their tongues and giving each other rabbit ears. Albus stared up at the younger version of his mother, frowning to himself. For a moment he couldn't help but feel like she was glowering down at him, but when he actually looked at her face he saw that she was smiling and laughing like always.
He turned over onto his other side, facing his bedside table and the two boxes.
He lay thinking for a long time.
"I can't believe you forgot to pick up your own Harpy robes!" Ginny ranted, digging through Harry's half of the closet. "You knew the store is going to be closed today!"
"I'm sorry. Must have slipped my mind somehow," Harry lied.
"Hmph." She paused, taking out his green dress robes. "This might work..."
"No, it won't. It's not even the right color. I'll just wear something else."
She groaned. "But we were going to look so cute, all dressed up together! Now you're messing it up. Years from now the kids will look back at our family photos and wonder, 'Who is that random dark-haired man standing with us?'"
Harry surprised Ginny by wrapping his arms around her from behind. "Come on, now. Are you really going to get this mad at me just because of that?"
He was pouting playfully, but something in his tone made Ginny pause. "What are you getting at?"
"Nothing. I'm just saying, it's not as if the whole family has to be identical, do we? One of us can stand out from the crowd."
"...I suppose that's true," she said slowly, still trying to puzzle out his meaning.
Unfortunately, Harry didn't offer any more hints. He grinned, giving her a kiss on the cheek. "Good. Are the kids all ready to go?"
"I know James and Lily are. I'm not sure about Albus—I hope he's over whatever bug he had, it would be terrible if he got sick and one of us had to take him home in the middle of a week-long game..."
She extracted herself from Harry's arms and walked down the hall, pausing to knock on Albus' door. He gave a loud yelp from inside.
"Don't come in! I'm—not dressed yet."
"Well, hurry up! We want to leave early so we don't miss our Portkey!" She started off down the stairs. "James? Lily? Hey—no rough-housing!"
James laughed, wrestling his little sister into a headlock as she elbowed him in the stomach. He released her at Ginny's rebuke, straightening up and smiling innocently. "How do I look?" he asked, holding out his arms. He was dressed just like his mother and sister, his robes dark green with a golden talon on the chest.
"How do I look, Mummy?"
Lily made a face, but Ginny ignored her. Harry came down the stairs, wearing dark blue robes (now Ginny made a face) and carrying a duffel bag enchanted with an Undetectable Extension Charm. "Alright, is everything you lot need already in here?"
"Yeah, come on, let's just go already!" James said, hopping up and down.
"Wait a minute. I'm pretty sure we had three children earlier today," Ginny drawled. "Albus!"
Ginny turned, then blinked as she saw her son standing near the top of the stairs. Unlike his mother and siblings, Albus was not wearing a dark-green Harpies uniform. Instead his robes were black and white in alternating sections, with the image of a bird stamped across his chest. His shoulders were hunched, his hands were balled into fists, and he was looking away as though expecting someone to punch him in the face at any moment.
James started to laugh. Ginny stared for a moment, then spun around and slapped her husband on the arm. "Merlin's beard, Harry! You forget your own robes and then pick up the wrong ones for Al?!"
"N-No. Dad didn't mess up," Albus stammered, his cheeks turning pink. "I'm wearing these because I—I-I'm supporting the Magpies in the Championship."
James' jaw dropped. Lily gaped.
"Why?" she asked, as though this were a mind-blowing proclamation.
"Because...they're my favorite Quidditch team," he muttered in a very small voice. "I—l-like them more than I do the Harpies."
Ginny stared. Albus seemed to be working hard to avoid her gaze. Harry was looking pointedly away.
James' face flushed as he pointed dramatically at his brother. "Traitor!"
"Traitor!" Lily agreed, though she didn't quite know what the word meant.
"I said hush," Ginny repeated, climbing the stairs and putting an arm on her younger son's shoulders. "Albus can support whatever Quidditch team he wants to."
"I-I can?" he asked, finally looking at her face as she guided him down the stairs. "Y-You're not mad?"
"Of course not," she said briskly, stepping onto the ground floor. "Have I ever been mad at any of your uncles or cousins for supporting other teams? Though I am a bit curious what prompted this change of heart."
Albus looked sheepish. "You know...stuff."
"What kind of stuff?" He didn't answer. "Come on, Al—I want to know. And I'm not going to get angry over something so silly."
"Well..." He took a deep breath. "It's just that the Magpies have Absyrtus Hamilton and he's a great Seeker, and they've always had great Seekers, they even had Eunice Murray who was like the best Seeker ever, and I guess the Harpies' Seeker is okay but she's just not as good, she even lost against Puddlemere United and their Seeker stinks and the Harpies haven't had a good Beater since Gwenog Jones retired but the Magpies have the best Beaters except for maybe the Falcons and they've won the League Championship more times than any other team and James is right, it is dis—displinatory that the Harpies won't let in any boys—"
"Hey, leave me out of this!"
"—because all the other teams have boys and girls so why should there be an all-girls' team if there's not one just for boys, and I know you really like the Harpies and I should support them because you used to play for them and I've tried to like them more, I really have, but I can't help it everything I read about the Magpies makes them sound so great and even your articles make them sound great and you took us to that match they won against the Wasps and that match was so great, did you see how Hamilton caught that Snitch I want to play just like that one day and maybe green is better than just plain black and white and the Harpies' symbol looks cooler but none of that really matters, because otherwise I would probably just support the Ballycastle Bats because I really like butterbeer."
A long silence followed. Ginny stared at her son, who waited anxiously for a response.
"Those are all perfectly valid reasons," she said finally. "You've clearly put a lot of thought into this."
Albus gave a sheepish smile, which to Ginny made his whole face light up beautifully. He turned away, trying to avoid the dirty looks that his siblings were giving him.
Harry reached over and ruffled his hair. "Well, this is good news for me! I was feeling pretty embarrassed, thought I was going to be the only Potter without a Harpy robe."
"Yes, funny how that worked out," Ginny said, giving her husband a shrewd look. He winked.
James scowled, furious that Albus was somehow getting away with this treachery. "Can we just go now?"
"We really should," Harry said, checking his pocket watch. "Alright, Al, everything you need is in the bag, right? Well, then..."
They walked over to the fireplace, where they would Floo to the Leaky Cauldron to catch a Portkey to the stadium. Harry held James and Lily's hands tightly and stepped into the emerald flames, leaving Ginny behind with Albus. Her arm was still around his shoulders. She leaned toward him.
"You know, you're right. Ever since Gwenog retired, all the Harpies' Beaters have been absolute rubbish."
Albus hunched his shoulders again, giving her a cautious look. "R-Really? You think so?"
"Yeah. And that Absyrtus Hamilton is an amazing Seeker. Seeing both these teams together is going to be brilliant."
Albus gave another sheepish grin. Then mother and son, looking rather strange in their opposing outfits, stepped forward together and disappeared into the fireplace.