Lily dashed out of the portrait hole and down the stairs, yawning and hoping she would catch the house-elves in the act of setting the house tables for breakfast. Last night, she had insisted that it would be her who cast the last spell on the Gryffindor table's forks, the one that would trigger the songfest when Al came down for breakfast.
She was huffing and puffing by the time she reached the underground passage that led to the door to the kitchens, so she hid behind a suit of armour until she regained control of her breathing. Then she stole stealthily from shadow to shadow until she reached the fruit painting and reached up to tickle the pear. The door handle immediately appeared and she let herself in.
"Miss Potter! How nice to see you!" an elf called from her place at a huge cauldron. "Can we get you anything?"
Lily smiled at the elf and looked around at the four preparation tables, happy to see that the place settings were just about ready to go. "No, thanks, Calla," she responded. "I'm here to do one last prank on the Gryffindor table. No need to leave your stirring."
"All right, but be quick about it," Calla said and Lily hastened over to the head of the Gryffindor table. Two seconds and a well-cast spell later, she was out the door and slinking back up the seven staircases to Gryffindor Tower.
As she slipped through the portrait hole she whispered for the second time that morning, "Happy Birthday, Albus."
The feeble shaft of sunlight shining through a gap in his bed hangings woke Albus more thoroughly than the steady leak of cold air coming through the same gap. He lay under his warm covers, blinking at the dust particles that danced in the light and wondering why today should be any different than any other Friday, especially in light of the fact that Scorpius Malfoy was still missing. He hated not knowing what was happening with his friend and the sadness and worry of the last week came crashing down on him like a load of giant spell books. With a great sigh, he pushed himself upright and stared, goggle-eyed, at the foot of his bed. It was covered with an assortment of gaily-wrapped packages, all with some variation of 'Happy Birthday, Albus!' written on them. How could he have forgotten his fifteenth birthday? Stupid, really…
Now a little happier about the prospect of getting up, Albus reached for the first gift, which turned out to be from his grandparents. Tucked under a new pair of dragon hide Beater's gloves was an assortment of his favourite home-made sweets. Albus pulled out a rather large piece of chocolate-pecan fudge and sat nibbling on it while he opened the rest of his presents. His friends and relatives had given him the traditional assortment of sweets, new quills, joke items and a pair of hand-knit socks from his Aunt Hermione. He had saved his presents from his parents and siblings until last and now opened the box he was sure the family owl, a barn owl named Dumbledore, had brought to him from his parents. Inside, were a couple of Muggle paperback mystery books, a new pair of fur-lined gloves and a broom servicing kit to go with the new broom they had given him for Christmas. Albus smiled happily at this last item. There was also a long letter from his dad, which Albus decided he'd read later when he had more time to enjoy it.
Albus smiled as he repacked the box and reached for the small one from his brother and sister. He read the note attached to it, "We hope your birthday is something to smile about. Love, James and Lily." They had pooled their money and purchased some pocket-sized Wheezes from his Uncle George, the sneaky kind he could easily conceal to surprise his 'victim' at a moment's notice.
"Hey, Potter! You up yet?" His best mate, Kenneth, popped his head between the curtains, grinning from ear to ear. "Happy Birthday, mate! You like my present?"
Albus grinned back, holding up the extra large box of Bertie Bott's Every Flavour Beans. "Thanks, Kenneth. These are brilliant."
"Good to know," Kenneth said. "Now get your lazy carcass out of bed and down for breakfast. We have Transfiguration in forty-five minutes."
A groan escaped Albus as he slid off the bed and began hopping about on the cold floor. "Did you have to remind me?" he asked as he separated his presents from the discarded wrappings and put the gifts in his trunk.
"Yep. I sure did," Kenneth chortled as he grabbed his book bag and headed for the door. "See you downstairs."
Albus looked at the clock and frowned. He could have sworn it had just pirouetted in place. Shaking his head, he grabbed his toilet kit and headed for the loo. As he passed, something on Kenneth's bedside table rattled as did the lamp shades, discarded clothes and books near Scott's and Brad's beds. Albus shrugged and went into the loo where his toothbrush and toothpaste wouldn't stay put on the side of the sink, instead trying to march around the basin while the water ran. Giving it up for a bad job, Albus returned to his bed to dress and put away his things and get his books for the day. As he walked back towards the door to the landing, more objects behaved peculiarly.
"Weird," he muttered and made his way down to the common room to meet Kenneth, Scott and Brad.
As he entered the common room, books, newspapers, ink bottles, book bags, and anything else not held down began swirling in mid-air, finally landing on the floor and creating a sort of chorus line that bowed and spun in intricate patterns on the floor in front of him. The other occupants of the common room had noticed and were pointing at him and laughing.
"What the heck?" Albus asked nobody in particular and feeling rather self-conscious. "What's going on?"
Kenneth stopped laughing long enough to say, "Beats me," as the chorus line disbursed and the objects went soaring back to their places.
"Come on, Albus, let's go down to breakfast," Brad suggested, turning towards the portrait hole. "We need to get down there before all the good stuff is eaten by the seventh years."
Albus, Kenneth and Scott followed him through and as the portrait closed, the four boys were met with an eye-opening sight; all along the corridor, the normally stationary statues and suits of armour were bowing, hopping, jumping and twisting on their plinths. As the boys passed each one, it struck a pose and seemed to be mouthing "Happy Birthday, Albus."
Scott elbowed Albus in the ribs. "You've been pranked, mate!" he chortled. "Do you know who hexed you?"
"No idea," Albus said, shaking his head. "I hope this doesn't last very long. The teachers aren't going to be pleased if this keeps up all day."
"I think it's kind of funny," Kenneth said. "Whoever hexed you did a good job."
Albus had to agree as he watched the statuary and suits of armour all over the school dance as he drew near. Nothing happened in the statue-less Entrance Hall, and Albus heaved a sigh of relief as he let his friends enter the Great Hall first. He then stood silently in front of the closed doors and steeled himself for what was surely going to be a big dance-fest if the past few minutes were indicative of what was to come.
"You going in?" a familiar voice asked from behind him.
He turned to see his Cousin Rose standing a few feet away with her other five room mates. All six girls must have seen the dancing statuary for several of them were giggling behind their hands and trying not to point at him.
"Yeah, I'm going in," he said, "but you can go first. I may not have breakfast after all."
"Chicken!" Rose whispered as she passed him.
Albus glared at his cousin and hissed back, "I'm not a chicken!"
"Then come in and face the music," Rose challenged, and tossing her hair over her shoulder, she followed her friends to the Gryffindor table where they took their seats about halfway down the table.
Albus watched her sit down and then walked boldly toward his usual place that was closer to the teacher's table. His entrance into the Hall caused all the dishes, cutlery, and goblets that weren't held down to rise up and begin dancing jigs and reels and waltzes. It sounded like a great Irish clogging dance because there wasn't any music. After the initial gasps and exclamations of surprise, the other students began beating rhythms on the tables while providing background sound effects. When Albus had sat down and taken his place next to Kenneth, the dancing stopped and the dishes returned to their original places.
"As odd as this is," he said as he picked up a plate of toast, "I have to say that was pretty funny."
"I quite enjoyed it," Kenneth said around a mouthful of porridge.
"Yeah, you did," Brad said, pointing to the wet spot on Kenneth's tie, "especially after your breakfast danced onto your tie."
"You're not much better," Kenneth chortled. He leaned over and stage whispered, "He shrieked like a girl when his sausage and eggs landed in his lap!"
Albus shook his head and helped himself to the porridge. "I think I did, too," he said with a small smile.
Lily, who was sitting next to James at the Gryffindor table, had a better view of the Great Hall doors than her brother did and when Albus finally made his appearance, she nudged his foot under the table.
"This is going to be good!" she exclaimed softly as dishes and cutlery all over the hall seemed to sprout invisible legs and started rattling and tapping.
James snorted, "Look at his face! It's positively purple!"
"Do you think he's angry?"
"Nope, not in the least. I think our dear brother is trying to act as if this isn't pleasing him one bit… and he's failing miserably."
"Shall we complete the pranks?" Lily asked, her eyes dancing.
"By all means," James said graciously as the din subsided and everyone went back to their meals.
Lily stood up and called loudly down the table, "HAPPY FIFTEENTH BIRTHDAY, ALBUS!"
James waited, holding his breath. Lily's greeting was the trigger for the next phase of Albus' birthday prank. As soon as his sister sat down he picked up his piece of toast and sat nibbling it while listening intently. He was rewarded several seconds later when the deep voice of one of the seventh year boys started singing Happy Birthday even though he had no idea why he was singing or to whom he was singing. The startled seventh year was quickly joined by others up and down the table, all wishing Albus a musical 'happy birthday.' All over the Great Hall people stopped eating again so they could crane their necks to see why the Gryffindors were disturbing the meal for a second time that morning.
Just as the first Gryffindor chorus finished the other side of the Hall erupted into song; up and down the Slytherin table the burly fifth, sixth and seventh year boys as well as a great many of the girls put down their spoons and forks and began singing "Ring-a-Ring o'Rosies", "Insy Winsy Spider", and "Pop Goes the Weasel". As the faces of the singers grew decidedly pinker by the word, the Gryffindors started another round of Happy Birthday.
"This is too funny!" called a small Hufflepuff whose head seemed to be on a swivel because she apparently didn't know which table to look at. All around her her housemates started giggling.
The next instant, though, they too were singing. The girl's eyes widened because she suddenly couldn't stop singing, "Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens, bright copper kettles and warm woollen mittens…" along with the rest of the Hufflepuff table, which had taken up the "Do-Re-Mi" song.
James grinned at Lily. "This is better than I thought it would be."
His sister giggled behind her hand, "I can hardly wait to see the teachers' faces when the Ravenclaws start in."
"You bet," James said, and he picked up another piece of toast and slathered it with marmalade. He glanced wistfully at the sausages he'd put on his plate earlier, but didn't dare pick up his fork; he didn't want to join in the singing until he'd had a good laugh over what the Ravenclaws would soon be belting into their spoons.
Right on time, the entire Ravenclaw table—or rather all of those who had been eating with their forks—stood up, grabbed their spoons and began belting, "We don't need no education, We don't need no thought control. No dark sarcasm in the classroom. Teachers leave those kids alone! HEY Teachers! Leave those kids alone!"
The other three tables had momentarily paused in their singing, the singers' mouths hanging open while those not singing had their heads together whispering frantically. James listened hard and was able to catch some of the phrases flying around him in quick succession:
"They're going to get in so much trouble!"
"Whoever did this is gonna get it!"
"Wish I'd thought of this prank."
The conversation between two Hufflepuff first year girls took the cake, though, in his opinion.
"Who's Albus? Is it his birthday?"
"Yeah, dummy, he's over there! Albus Potter, the kid turning bright red!"
Momentarily, panic seized James. Did we choose the wrong house to sing that song? he asked himself.
However, when James looked at the teachers they were all laughing behind their napkins or chuckling into their goblets. Professor Wolcott caught his eye and actually winked as all four house tables began competing against each other to see who could sing their songs the loudest. Glad that the headmaster wasn't going to reprimand him for interrupting breakfast, James picked up his fork, speared a sausage, chewed thoughtfully, and then joined his housemates in serenading Albus.
The noise level rose steadily all the rest of breakfast. James kept glancing down the table at his brother hoping Albus would catch on or at least become annoyed enough to tell somebody to stop singing. Unfortunately, Al didn't and as people finished their breakfasts, they began drifting off into other parts of the castle still singing their assigned song: James could hear snatches of "Pop Goes the Weasel" mixing with "'nother brick in the wall" and "Happy Birthday dear Albus…" all fading away as the singers walked away from the Great Hall.
It was still quite noisy when Albus finally seemed to catch on that he might have something to do with making the singing stop and finally yelled, "ENOUGH! STOP SINGING!"
Instantly, every single singer stopped singing; the Ravenclaw performers gratefully sagged back onto their benches, the Hufflepuffs stopped popping up and down when their note was to be sung in the "Do-Re-Mi" round and the red-faced Slytherins slunk out of the Great Hall, creating blissful silence that seemed to permeate the entire castle.
James winked at Lily and speared his last piece of sausage as their brother walked over to them, causing the dishes nearest him to get up on their rims and quietly do their jig. (James sighed happily at this sign that his dancing dishes spell was beginning to wear off.)
"Did you do this?" Albus asked, sweeping a hand in a wide arc that included the dancing dishes as well as the remains of the house table singing competition.
"Are you angry?" James asked.
Albus shook his head. "Nope, I'm not angry at all," he said, grinning. "You got me good, James. Thanks. I needed the laugh."
Lily glared at her brothers. "I get credit, too," she said indignantly. "I helped James find the spells and potion he needed to pull all this off."
Albus smiled. "Thanks, Lily." He paused and then asked, "Did you see the look on Parkinson's face when he started singing the spider song? That was just about as good as watching Professor Flitwick's expression when his house started that Pink Floyd song Dad likes."
"I was afraid the teachers wouldn't like it, but they couldn't stop snickering," Lily said. "Professor Longbottom and Headmaster Wolcott even joined in for a bit."
"I saw that, too," Albus said. He sighed and looked around the quickly-emptying Great Hall. "Alas, Transfiguration calls," he said melodramatically and hurriedly left to go to his first class of the day, leaving a trail of rattling dishes in his wake.
James called after his brother, "Happy Birthday, Albus!" Then, turning to Lily, he said, "Thanks for your help, sis. We put a smile on his face."
Lily stood up and grabbed her bag. "That we did, big brother, that we did. See you at lunch," she said and quickly followed Albus.
James lingered a few seconds longer to grab one last rasher of bacon before he, too, headed for his first lesson.
Brodie could hardly restrain himself from blurting the news he and Garrett had found the cave/castle combination as the two strode into the Auror office and turned towards the small conference room. He knew there would be many more long hours of planning and waiting before they would actually be able to undertake the freeing of Scorpius Malfoy and possibly capturing the Matron and her followers, but just the fact that they now knew where Scorpius was lightened his mood considerably. He wanted to share that feeling with the other tired-looking members of Ron's team.
Garrett had barely closed the door before Brodie crowed, "We found the castle!"
Four heads turned in their direction and the hang-dog weary expression on Ron's face evaporated instantly to be replaced by a tired grin.
"Good work, you two," he said, as the other three stepped away from the maps they'd been studying and came round the table to congratulate Brodie and Garrett.
Unfortunately, the euphoria brought about by the announcement lasted only seconds as the six realized just how much more they needed to do before they could close the investigation. They stared at each other for several seconds before Terry took a clipboard from its place on the wall. Brodie glared at it for a moment, then turned towards the coffee urn in the corner of the room and poured a cup of the strong, stale brew. He was going to need the caffeine if he wanted to stay awake for the planning meeting.
Garret and Brodie had just finished with their report. The two sat hunched over their coffee mugs as everyone waited for him to make the next move.
"Good work, gents," Ron said as he stood up and walked to the door. "I need to report this to Deputy Robards. Terry, go ahead and start planning the mission while I'm gone. You can brief me when I get back.
Terry nodded and began the planning meeting as Ron slipped out the door.
"You got a minute?" he asked Robards a few minutes later.
Robards looked up from his parchments. "How goes the investigation?" he asked.
Ron couldn't help smiling. "We've found the cave, sir," he said. "We're now planning the surveillance mission."
"Excellent. I'd like to sit in," Robards said, flicking his wand over his desk, clearing it. He followed Ron back to the conference room where they found the others reviewing one of Brodie's Omniocular recordings.
"Impressive castle," Robards commented as he and Ron sat down.
"Yes, the cliff it's on is over a hundred and fifty feet high, according to the relief map," Terry said, pointing to an enlarged version of that portion of their Muggle relief map. "It would have been very dangerous for Scorpius to attempt to climb, had he been able to reach its base, even with releasable sticking charms on his hands and feet."
Ron studied the map, shaking his head in amazement. "Hugo tells me Scorpius is fearless on a broom, so I don't think the kid would have thought twice about trying to climb it."
"I'm just glad he's smart enough not to attempt it," Robards commented. He looked over at Terry. "How much of the particulars have you covered?"
"We'll Disapparate to the Muggle village of Stonehaven and set up observation points in this snow field, at the castle and on brooms facing the cave entrance," Terry answered. "At this moment, we don't know whether there's a land-based entrance in the snowfield, so we'll need to check that out before we establish a surveillance base."
Robards stood up. "I've seen enough to know you have this well in hand. Report in when you can," he said.
Ron nodded. "Will do, sir," he murmured and turned his attention back to Terry and the others.
"Welcome, Mrs Potter," Mr Hale greeted her. "It's nice to finally meet you."
Shyly, Ginny entered the therapist's office. She clutched her handbag and waited to be told where to sit.Mr Hale walked over to a grouping of several chairs and a sofa. "Come, have a seat, please," he said, taking one of the armchairs.
Ginny sat on the very edge of the middle sofa cushion with her bag on her lap. She felt as tense as a cornered Kneazle and ready to run only because she knew there were anti-Apparition spells on this part of The Groves that prevented her from leaving the facility that way.
Mr Hale smiled at her and asked gently, "Why are you here, Mrs Potter?"
She didn't answer right away, and when she did, her voice sounded strange in her ears as she said, "I've had some—wait, that's not true—a lot of trouble coping with the fact that Harry doesn't need me now as much as he did right after his accident." She had been staring at her shoes as she said this and now looked up, feeling quite vulnerable as she added, "Can you… can you help me?"
Mr Hale smiled, his face softening into a caring expression. "Do you want to be helped?"
Ginny nodded. "I do," she whispered.
Mr Hale leaned forward a bit in his chair. "Good. We shall get to work, then. Will you describe the sorts of trouble you've been having?"
She took a deep breath, gathering her thoughts. And as she began her answer, Ginny felt a sense of peace creep over her, something that hadn't happened very often since Harry had been hurt. It's begun. I'm going to be all right, she thought, soon…
*A/N: I'm really excited about this chapter, mostly because I had so much help on it. When I originally planned to have James and Lily prank Albus for his birthday, I asked my readers to come up with a prank, mostly because I was fresh out of ideas. I am grateful to Hedwig_edwiges for suggesting and allowing me to use her "Be Our Guest" prank which caused the objects around Albus to dance as he passed. I also thank Rosina Ferguson for creating the "Tuning Forks" prank which caused so much havoc in the Great Hall. Both of these pranks were great fun to write and I hope you two like how they turned out.
As always, many thanks go to my pre-beta team of Jedi34, Mutt n Feathers, RebeccaRipple, Rosina Ferguson, and RSS. Thank you for squeezing time from your busy schedules to read and comment on this chapter. Thanks, Aggiebell, for being such a great beta.