Disclaimer: Thanks to J.K.Rowling for creating Harry Potter and his world and letting people play in it. And thanks to Gabriella Du Sult for inspiring me with George/Padma and to St Margarets for Jack Jordan and other next generation inspiration.
'So who's coming?' asked Cathy Preston, reaching for another handful of Bertie Botts' Every Flavour Beans and carefully sorting through for the ones she liked.
Laura leaned back against her bed and fluttered her hands. 'Oh, you know. You guys, obviously.'
That meant the four of them who were lounging around Laura's bedroom at the start of the summer holidays: Laura, Cathy, Callie and Zoe. They'd been friends for six years, ever since Laura started at Hogwarts. She'd always been popular, attracting friends effortlessly, but she'd chosen this little group carefully. Outsiders often wondered what the four had in common but that was exactly the point. Laura liked people who were different from her. She didn't want to spend all her time with the Quidditch groupies or the Gryffindor braves.
She'd liked Zoe instantly, drawn to the older girl's her bubbly personality and endearing ditziness. Cathy had been harder to get to know. She seemed like a typical Ravenclaw, spending all her time in the library, but Laura had seen something beyond that in the lonely second-year and determined to draw Cathy into her circle of friends. Laura had known Callie for years, of course, having grown up just across the road from her. Even when Callie had been Sorted into Slytherin and Laura into Gryffindor, the two of them had just laughed and continued as before.
Laura continued to list her party guests. 'Some of my cousins. The parents wanted to invite their crowd as well. The family are all coming for Dad's fiftieth the night before and then staying the night.'
'All of them?' blinked Callie in surprise.
Laura raised her eyebrows. 'Apparently. God knows where they'll all sleep. Mum can't wait.'
'Yes. But who's coming?' repeated Zoe, meaningfully.
'What's the talent?' giggled Callie and twirled around on Laura's desk chair.
Laura smirked and listed all the most sought-after boys from Hogwarts. 'Jack Jordan. Theseus Blake. Luke Douglas. Eddie Pope. Adam Amoah.'
'What about Bert?' enquired Cathy, one eyebrow raised pointedly at Zoe who instantly felt herself turn red.
'Don't know. Aunt Padma said she hadn't heard anything from him either. His brother's coming, though, if you're after that kind of eye candy.' She added this last comment with the dismissive air of one who could never possibly fancy either twin.
'And what are your parents getting you?' asked Zoe in an attempt to steer the conversation towards safer ground than the Weasley twins.
'They won't say. I've tried dropping hints about the Wizster 2000 but Dad's playing all innocent and Mum just says things like "But wouldn't you rather have some nice new dress robes, dear?".'
'And wouldn't you?' said Callie, who had more clothes than the rest of them put together and still spent her spare hours window shopping at Madam Malkin's and poring over magazines comparing different shades of nail varnish.
'Of course not,' replied Laura scornfully. 'Mum knows that. I already have some perfectly good dress robes. And it's not like I'll ever wear them, anyway. But the Wizster's brilliant. If I want to start thinking about being spotted by a professional team I need a decent broom underneath me.'
Cathy had moved on to the Chocolate Cauldrons. 'Have you talked to them about going pro? What do they think?' she asked through a mouthful of chocolate goo.
Laura began picking at her counterpane. 'I tried dropping hints, you know. Sort of about how well paid Quidditch players are these days and when Dad tried out what was the selection process like and how more and more teams are taking on female Beaters these days.
'And?' prompted Zoe.
Laura sighed and began to pick out Every Flavour Beans at random, putting them into her mouth and chewing as if none of them had any flavour at all. 'Dad says it's always been a difficult, uncertain career and he'd never recommend any young player to take up the professional game when there are so many good amateur leagues around. And Mum says things like "You've always been good at Potions and Charms, dear, why not try for a Healer's apprenticeship?".'
'So what will you do?'
'Try out without telling them,' Laura replied immediately. 'That way, if I don't get in I haven't had the row for nothing and if I do, it's too late for them to stop me.'
'Wish I was like you,' sighed Callie. 'I haven't a clue what I want to do.'
'Eat some more Chocolate Cauldrons,' suggested Cathy, handing her the bowl. 'I've had far too many already and I can hardly fit into my dress robes as it is.'
'I don't think it much matters if you don't know,' said Zoe slowly. 'So long as you enjoy whatever you're doing while it lasts, you don't have to know what's next.'
'What's next for me's a proper crack at Jack Jordan,' announced Laura, prompting a universal fit of giggles. 'I mean it,' she added, trying to stem the laughter. 'Hands off, girls. He's all mine.'
Jack Jordan was just like his father, decided Charlie Weasley. He was interested enough in the dragons, but he'd never make it as a keeper. He just liked people too much. Still, the boy was asking sensible questions about the reservation and Charlie was always happy to talk about his beloved animals.
'So you don't let them incubate their own eggs?'
'It varies,' explained Charlie. 'The Chinese Fireballs are incredibly maternal. We'd never take their eggs away because there's no need. Those mums are happy to sit patiently for two and a half years while their mates bring them food.'
'Two and a half years?' queried Jack.
Charlie smiled. 'About thirteen months to hatch and a bit longer to wean the babies.'
'I see. But the others?' Jack grabbed a couple of Butterbeers as Laura's mother went passed and handed one to Charlie.
'Either they just get up and leave before they hatch so the eggs go cold or sometimes they eat the babies.'
Jack looked shocked. 'Eat their own babies?'
'Sure. If their mates aren't keeping them sufficiently well fed.'
'Wow. That's… that's... pretty harsh.'
Charlie laughed. 'That's dragons for you. So we've worked hard at replicating the incubation process and hand rearing the babies.'
'No. Usually hot. How big do you think an eighteen month old Norwegian Ridgeback is?'
Jack shook his head. 'Dunno. This big?' He indicated a height just above his waist level.'
'Try twice that size. And then some.'
'Wow,' repeated Jack. 'So what do you feed them?'
'Little boys who keep asking awkward questions?'
The two men turned to see who had been listening in on their conversation. Laura beamed back at them complacently. 'Sorry, Uncle Charlie. It's just that it's time for Jack to ask me to dance.'
Charlie winked at Jack and disappeared.
'I'm not asking you to dance,' Jack informed her, putting his empty Butterbeer bottle down and looking around him for a full one.
'Shame. I'll just have to tell everyone that the rumours were true.' Laura leaned against the table and looked teasingly across at him.
'What rumours?' he asked suspiciously.
Laura bent towards him, giving him an uninterrupted view of her cleavage and swamping his senses with some sweet fragrance. 'That you dance with two left feet.'
'Is that right?' he muttered, desperately trying not to look at what was right in front of his eyes.
'And that you kiss like the giant squid,' she whispered in his ear.
His eyes flashed. 'Who told you that?'
She shrugged delightedly. 'Is it true?'
Jack regarded her with an air of resignation. 'Come on, then.' He pulled her to her feet. 'I thought you wanted to dance.'
'Hi there, young Ben!'
Ben looked round to see one of his hordes of uncles waving a hand and beckoning him over. 'Hullo, Uncle Bill.'
'Come and join us. We're forming a new society: Weasley Men Against Dancing. You can be in it, if you like.'
Ben gave a crooked smile. 'So long as you don't tell Dad. He'd be mortified if he knew how badly he'd failed with me.' His eyes scanned the dance floor and came to rest on his parents who were clearly having the time of their lives showing the youngsters how to lose their inhibitions.
'So what's this job I've been hearing about?' Bill worked at Gringotts, the wizarding bank, so Ben thought there was half a chance he might understand something about Muggle accounting. He tried to explain about tax returns and financial years and pensions but, perhaps because his own knowledge of such things was fairly sketchy, his uncle soon became completely lost.
'Mm. Tell me again in a year's time when you've worked it out. But they'll pay you?'
'Oh yes. And pay for my training as well. So when I'm fully qualified I'll be on a really good salary.'
'Good for you.'
'And… I haven't mentioned this to anyone yet in case it doesn't work out but… I hope… there's a chance that in six months time they'll transfer me to Edinburgh.'
Bill looked blank. 'So… ?'
Ben flushed. He hated having to explain about the things he couldn't do that everyone else took for granted. 'So, I thought I'd get a motorbike and then it's only half an hour to Hogsmeade. I could go home whenever I want.'
There was a strange look on Bill's face but after a moment he leaned forward and squeezed his nephew's shoulder. 'You're a good lad, young Ben.'
Ben grimaced and took a swig of Butterbeer to cover his embarrassment.
'Well?' Jack pulled away and looked at Laura's flushed cheeks and sparkling green eyes.
'Well what?' she replied.
'Any resemblance to the giant squid?'
'Ah.' She smiled and leaned towards him. 'Guess I'll have to go and kiss the squid before I get back to you on that.'
'Or,' Laura gave him her wickedest smile, 'you could just try again.' Before Jack's lips could make contact with hers she'd whirled round on her heel and led him off the dance floor, past the strings of dancing glow worms and the tables laden with food and drink.
'Where are we going?'
'Did you see that?' sighed Callie, looking despondent despite her new hot pink robes which she knew were more fashionably cut than anyone else's at the party. 'I don't know how she does it.'
'How who does what?' asked Caspar Weasley, fifteen years old and, just like his father Ron had been at that age, terrified of any woman over the age of eleven who deigned to talk to him.
'Laura. Makes men follow her wherever she goes.'
'Is that what girls want?' Caspar hoped to pick up some hints.
Callie looked at him pityingly. 'Girls want boys who have the courage to ask them to dance.'
'But Jack didn't ask Laura.' This was confusing.
'Not because he didn't have the courage.'
'Oh. Right. What else?' He pushed another Butterbeer towards Callie, hoping to encourage her to say more.
'What else do girls like?'
Callie closed her eyes dreamily. 'Girls like to be made to feel like princesses in fairytales. And they like men who like them.'
'Okay,' agreed Caspar, uncertainly. 'But how do they know that you like them?'
She opened her eyes and looked at him in despair. 'You talk to them. And listen to them. And do the things you know they like. And don't talk about them in front of your mates as if they're in a magazine. And maybe you could even tell them you like them from time to time. Not too often, because obviously it must hurt a lot otherwise you wouldn't make such a ruddy great fuss about it. Oh God, I've drunk too much and I'm giving relationship advice to an adolescent boy.' Callie buried her curly head in her hands and wailed, 'Somebody shoot me!'
Zoe was enjoying herself. She liked parties like this where there were lots of new people to meet and masses of food and freely flowing drink. She'd just cornered Laura's father and was trying to charm him into telling her indiscreet stories about his youth.
'Before you met Mrs Potter, I mean,' she winked.
Harry shook his head solemnly. 'There aren't any stories from before I met Ginny. My life was a complete blank.'
'But you must have had other girlfriends!' Zoe protested.
Harry took a slice of some delicious looking pastry and bit into it. 'Have you tried these yet?' He offered the tray to Zoe.
'Mm, thanks. Gosh these are good. So, what about those other girlfriends?' she persisted.
Harry laughed. 'Ancient history. I promise you, there are no skeletons in my closet.'
'Except Lord Voldemort,' she retorted, without thinking.
Harry stared at her for a second with those piercing green eyes then began to shake. 'Except… ha ha… That's brilliant!'
'Oh God, I'm sorry,' tried Zoe, red in the face. 'I didn't mean it like that.'
Harry put out a hand towards her. 'Don't go. I…' he panted, 'I'll be fine in just a moment.' Another fit of giggles consumed him. Zoe fiddled with her drink and tried to look round casually as if nothing was wrong.
'Do you know,' he said, when he'd finally regained his composure, 'how rare it is to hear people using his name, even now?'
'Yes, it's odd that, isn't it?' said Zoe, who'd often wondered why this was. 'I mean, I'm Muggle-born, so I didn't grow up with the whole Voldemort-the-bogeyman thing that so many people my age seem to have. Most people at school only said it in lessons when the teachers insisted.' Harry grimaced. 'It just makes people more afraid, don't you think?'
'I always did,' he agreed. 'I always made Laura say it properly.'
'She still does,' Zoe reassured him. 'but people think it's just because she's your daughter.'
'What about the Weasleys?'
'Um. Not sure about them all. I'm fairly sure I've heard Bert say it. And Caspar says it but looks all red and embarrassed. Though to be fair,' she added, 'he looks red and embarrassed most of the time anyway.'
Harry looked across the garden to his nephew. He was sitting next to an older girl who appeared to be crying. Harry had a vivid memory of what it felt like to be fifteen and have a girl start crying on you.
'Excuse me,' he apologised to Zoe. 'I think I'd better go and rescue him.'
'You could just go and talk to her, you know,' observed Bill mildly.
Ben looked round swiftly. 'What? Sorry, who?' Even under his olive skin a flush was creeping across his cheeks.
Bill winked. 'The girl you can't keep your eyes off. You could just go and talk to her.'
Ben's face fell. He began to pick at the hole in his jeans. 'No, I don't think so.'
'She looks friendly enough.' Bill admired the slim, curly-headed girl in the bright pink sundress who was now happily playing games with Charlie's grandchildren.
Ben shook his head. 'It's not that simple.'
'Why not?' Uncle Bill sounded as if he remembered the time when it was never simple to talk to a girl.
'She's Bert's girlfriend.' Ben reached for the bottle of Firewhiskey and poured a generous measure but before he could gulp any of the hot, numbing liquid down, a strong hand prevented him.
'I'm sorry, Ben. I didn't know.'
Ben grimaced. 'Now you do. Do you think anyone would mind if I left now?'
'How are you getting home?' There was a definite note of anxiety in Bill's voice.
'Don't worry; I'll be fine. I'm staying at Mum and Dad's so I can just use the Floo.'
Bill nodded and watched him leave, observing with interest the girl in the pink dress who followed him into the house.
'Have you seen your daughter anywhere?' Harry stuck his head into the kitchen where Ginny was simultaneously washing dirty plates, stacking clean ones and putting delicious smelling warm pastries out on to serving dishes. 'Mm. These are good.'
'Hands off. Can you take those trays out, please?'
'Fine. So, have you?'
'Not in here,' replied Ginny.
'I think she's gone off somewhere with the Jordan boy.'
Ginny looked swiftly at her husband. 'Do you think you should go and find her?'
Harry grimaced. 'Not my preferred choice of action.'
'Scared?' She grinned. 'I thought you were the brave Gryffindor?'
He stuck his tongue out at her. 'So are you. And I know whose temper Laura would prefer not to see today.'
'I'm busy cooking,' announced Ginny smugly.
'And I'm being the perfect host,' countered Harry.
'Fine!' Ginny held up her hands in defeat. 'I'll go but if I'm not back in ten minutes you need to come and take these out of the oven, okay?'
'Sure. Love you,' he added, because he knew it would annoy her.
'Were you trying to avoid me?'
Ben picked up the box of Floo powder, hit his head on the mantelpiece and swore under his breath. 'No.'
'Oh right.' Zoe leaned against the doorframe and grinned across the room at him. 'Because I thought perhaps you were, seeing how you haven't spoken to me all afternoon.'
Ben shrugged and didn't meet her gaze.
'020 835 7749.'
He jerked his head up to stare at her in amazement. 'How?'
'Followed you home then looked you up in the book,' she responded without hesitation or a trace of embarrassment.
'I'm not in the book.'
'I know. So I started at the beginning and worked my way through numerically. My parents haven't seen the bill yet, and I'm very glad you weren't 9-something.'
'You didn't.' It wasn't a question.
Zoe grinned. 'It's a magic thing. I can just sense numbers that belong to people.'
'Do you ever give a straight answer to anything?'
She laughed. 'I told you why I wanted your phone number,' she pointed out.
'No, you didn't.'
'Oh, that's right, no, I didn't.'
Ben shook his head, completely bewildered. 'I'm leaving now,' he told her.
'Fine. I'll ring you then.' She was still standing there, watching him with an odd smile on her face when he opened the box of Floo powder. Ben had never hated the fact that he was a Squib more than he did in that moment.
'Um.' He indicated the fireplace. 'Could you…'
She stopped smiling and nodded. 'Where do you want to go?'
'My parents' house.'
Zoe threw a pinch of powder into the fire and when it flashed green gave the direction. Ben muttered something which might have been a thank you or might have been a swear word and stepped into the flames, his cheeks red with embarrassment.
'Laura!' Ginny Potter's sharp tones cut through the endearments Jack was whispering in her daughter's ear. 'Come out here now!' She waited while the teenagers emerged from the undergrowth, rearranging their clothes and removing stray leaves. 'Your father's waiting. He wants you to cut the cake and open your presents.' She waved Laura on but put a hand out to restrain Jack. 'And he wants you to keep your hands off his daughter. Understand?'
Jack flashed his most charming smile but Mrs Potter remained unaffected. 'Kissing only. In public places. And fully clothed. Is that clear?'
'Quite clear, Mrs Potter. And with your daughter?' Jack gave her a mischievous grin that was definitely flirtatious.
Ginny tried to feel offended. 'You…' She laughed. 'You're worse than your father ever was. Now get back and remember who her father is.'
'Yes, ma'am!' He winked and Ginny rolled her eyes.
'Any word on Bert?'
George raised his eyebrows to heaven and looked significantly across the fairy-lit garden at Padma. 'Not here,' he murmured. 'Come inside for a chat?'
Once an older brother, always an older brother, reflected Bill, getting up and following George into the house.
'We haven't heard anything for nine days,' announced George.
'Is that normal?'
George shrugged. 'What's normal for Bert?'
Bill acknowledged the point and offered his brother a refill.
'Thanks. Look, it's probably nothing, but he's usually pretty good at checking in with Ben every couple of days, even if he doesn't always come home.'
'Actually, I think that might be the problem.' George stretched out and stared into the fire.
'The girl?' queried Bill.
George turned to look at him briefly. 'You've heard?'
Bill shook his head. 'Not really. Only that I put my foot in it earlier about someone Ben said was Bert's girlfriend.'
George's gaze returned to the fire. 'Something like that. I don't think it was… is… that serious with Bert. But it's no good. He's bound to get his heart broken one way or the other.'
'Does Bert know?'
'I didn't think so, but now I wonder… What else would keep him away?
Bill refrained from giving the obvious answer. 'What does Padma think?'
George waved his glass in a hopeless gesture. 'In her more rational moments she thinks he's had a row with Ben over Zoe. But most of the time she's convinced something's happened to him out in the field.'
The two men sat in sympathetic silence until they were discovered by their indignant wives some time later.
'So, what did you want for your birthday?' murmured Jack into Laura's ear as they revolved slowly on the dance floor in full view of both their parents.
'I can't tell you here,' she mouthed.
'I'll guess,' he suggested. 'You can nod if I get it right.'
'Okay,' she grinned.
'Um.' He pretended to think. 'A new broom?'
Laura flung her head back and laughed out loud. 'Actually, that's true. I wanted a Wizster 2000.'
'And did you get one?' She nodded. 'Do you always get what you want, Laura Potter?'
She tilted her head consideringly, so that her sleek dark red hair fell to one side. 'Always.'
'So what else did you want? To be the prettiest girl at the party?'
He was mocking her now and she was a little alarmed at just how good his guesses were getting.
'Doesn't every girl want to be the prettiest on her birthday?'
His dark brown eyes regarded her seriously and then relented. 'Perhaps. And do you think you got that wish?'
She batted her eyelashes and smirked. 'Of course. My dad said so and he's always right.'
'Of course. So then, was that it? No, you're a demanding girl. I think you wanted something else too.'
Laura waited. 'I think you wanted to be kissed by the handsomest man at the party.' He smiled a little and she noticed the whiteness of his teeth against the brown skin. 'Am I right?'
'Not quite.' He looked at her with dancing eyes. 'I wanted to be swept off my feet by the handsomest man at the party.' She leaned in closer. 'And it hasn't happened yet.'
Jack grasped her tightly and lifted her into the air, swinging her around so that she squealed in delight. Then he lowered her gently until her lips met his with her feet still some inches from the floor and kissed her thoroughly. 'Happy birthday, darling.'