Harry Potter Apparated into the Burrow’s front garden, and was instantly filled with happiness. The country air was fresh and clean, and very welcome after the stench — deliberate, he was sure — of the Kestrel’s visiting team locker room.
But more than that, the smell of a delicious meal was escaping through the chimney, he could see Ginny and her parents through the kitchen window, and he knew James and Al were inside, home for Christmas break.
Harry trudged through the snow to the back of the house, stowed his Quidditch equipment in the broom shed, and entered through the garden door. He was greeted by Ginny, looking beautiful in a soft, pink sweater that made her hair glow all the redder.
“Well done, you!” she said, throwing her arms around his neck and kissing him warmly. He snuggled his face in her hair, and was delighted to find that she smelled liked vanilla biscuits. He was glad to see his wife, but he was also very hungry.
“Yes, congratulations!” said Arthur from his seat at the kitchen table. “I was listening on the Wireless. Quite a feat, catching the Snitch a foot from the ground!”
“Oh, that’s old hat for Harry!” said Ginny fondly, as she and Harry entered the kitchen arm and arm. “He did that back when we were at school!”
Molly turned from the stove. “Now, I’m sure it’s not that easy…. JAMES SIRIUS POTTER!” she shrieked in the direction of the living room. “PUT THAT WAND DOWN IMMEDIATELY!”
“I wasn’t doing anything….” Harry heard, before whoosh! A wand flew across the kitchen and into Molly’s hand.
“Shame on you!” she scolded over James’ cry of outrage. “That’s the fourth time today, and your father just home from a difficult Quidditch match!”
“Fourth time?” said Ginny incredulously, but James obviously thought he was in the right. He came racing out of the living room and up to Harry.
“Dad! Dad! It’s so unfair! Tell them it’s unfair!”
Harry was still in an excellent mood, so he found this little family drama amusing.
“Well, who’s this?” he said with a broad grin. “He looks like my son, but he can’t be, because my son James would say hello to his old Dad after being away at school.”
James’ look of contrition lasted for a split second. “Sorry. Hello, Dad. Good to see you. Now tell them it’s unfair!”
“If this is about not using magic out of school, I’m afraid you’re out of luck,” said Harry, sitting down and accepting a mug of tea from Molly. “You know that’s the rule for everyone.”
“BUT AL GETS TO!!!” James, already thirteen, was so frustrated that he punched his fists at the ground and stamped his foot like a child.
Confused, Harry looked at Ginny, who said, “Al and Rose and their friends are leaving for the Interscholastic Potions competition tomorrow, so they’re officially allowed…” at these words she turned to James, “…to use their wands for practice.”
“Ah!” said Harry, now remembering the permission forms he and Ginny had to sign. He looked at his son with what he hoped was a sympathetic expression, because he was sympathetic, truly. But he felt he should set a good example, and besides, the world was safer when James was disarmed, so he said, “Sorry, James, no joy. Wands are for competitors only.”
James scowled. Harry asked Ginny, “Where is Al, anyway?”
“He’s upstairs, making a mess with DORKius!” grumbled James.
“James Potter!” snapped Ginny. “That is uncalled for! Go to your room!”
“I can’t!” shouted James. “That’s where they are! All of them have taken over the whole upstairs, and…”
James was interrupted by two loud CRACKS from the front garden. Harry heard footsteps running down the stairs, and Ron and Hermione’s daughter Rose, frizzy blonde curls flying behind her, shouted as she ran through the kitchen and out the door.
“It’s Uncle Charlie and Mr. Finnegan with the dragon’s blood!”
“…and now they’re going to get dragon’s blood all over everything,” continued James, “and —“
“James,” said Arthur kindly, but firmly, as he stood and handed his mug to Molly, “how about you join me in my shed? I have all sorts of new gadgets to figure out, and none of them run on magic.”
With all four adults staring at him, James seemed to realize that his Grandad’s shed was the best place for him to be at the moment. Looking somewhat deflated, he followed Arthur to the hall by the garden door, where they put on their jackets and left just as Rose came back through the kitchen door. She moved much more slowly this time, cradling in her hands a small, crystal bottle filled with a dark red liquid.
As Rose carefully climbed the stairs, Charlie and Seamus, wrapped in matching green dragon-hide cloaks, entered the kitchen. Harry hadn’t seen either in quite a while, and they all traded hugs and backslaps.
“Brilliant save today, Harry!” said Charlie as they settled around the table. Under his cloak, he was dressed for dragon-handling in head-to-toe green leather. The color set off his short, red hair.
“That was a fierce catch!” agreed Seamus. He was also completely clad in green hides. Harry noticed that he’d let his sandy hair grow a bit full and long. “You should earn a bonus for that one! The look on the other Seeker’s face….”
“Wait… you were there?” asked Harry. “Why didn’t you tell me you were coming? I could’ve gotten you box seats.”
“Had ‘em, mate,” said Charlie, “thanks to the Irish Ministry.”
Charlie had recently moved closer to home. He and Seamus both worked for the Irish Department for Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures.
Harry grinned. “Yeah, how are things at the Dragon Pound?”
Charlie looked confused, but Seamus just rolled his eyes and said, “I see you’ve been talking to Dean.”
Harry felt inordinately amused by the joke. “He and Luna came to the Cannons match.”
“Where’s Serena?” asked Ginny of Seamus.
“She’ll be ‘round in a bit to rehearse the kids,” said Seamus.
“Rehearse?” asked Harry.
“That’s what she calls it,” shrugged Seamus. “She says she doesn’t want Hogwarts to lose any points due to sloppy presentations.”
Molly came to the table and said, “I’m delaying tea until after the rehearsal, but perhaps you’d like a few savouries, Charlie? Seamus? I have plenty of leek tarts.”
Harry was surprised that she hadn’t offered him anything. He twisted back to look at Molly, just in time for a tray to whiz by his head and land on the table in front of him. On it was a stack of crispy, melty, ham and cheese toasties and a large bowl of steaming onion soup.
“I’ll have what Harry’s having!” declared Seamus gleefully. Charlie clapped him on the shoulder and said ruefully, “Sorry lad. No one gets what Harry’s having around here.”
“I’ll share….” said Harry, starting to hand a toastie to Seamus, but he was blocked by Molly, who placed a bottle of ale on the table and said very deliberately, “Now, Harry, I know you didn’t have any lunch, and we must keep up our strength, mustn’t we?”
Her pointed look was enough to squelch any further demonstrations of largesse.
“Leek tart is good for me, Mrs. Weasley,” said Seamus meekly.
“Same here, Mum,” said Charlie, with a little more cheer.
They ate and conversed until Harry was stuffed. No sooner had he sat back with a sigh and said, “Thanks, Molly,” than a silvery snake Patronus raced around the house, announcing in Serena’s voice that dress rehearsal would begin at 4pm. This elicited squeals from upstairs, a sudden patter of footsteps, and a lot of slamming doors. Harry heard snatches of conversation:
“Boys are changing in here! Don’t come in!”
“How do you get dragon’s blood out of a robe?”
“Oh, no! My hair potion spilled! Can I borrow yours?”
“Just transfigure it!”
“I don’t know how!”
“Aditi! We need help!”
“How many kids are UP there?” asked Harry.
He didn’t hear a rap at the kitchen door, but Molly called, “Come in!”
Serena Serpentia entered, dressed in a formal black traveling cloak trimmed in Slytherin green. Harry hadn’t seen her in quite some time; she and Ginny usually met up at the Charms Society. Harry thought she looked rather fancy; perhaps it was her makeup, or her large diamond snake-hoop earrings. Her dark hair was held away from her face with a green velvet ribbon, and her springy spiraling dark curls fanned out about her shoulders.
Ginny and Charlie called out greetings, while Seamus stood and gave her a kiss.
“Thank you again for allowing us to invade your home, Mrs. Weasley,” she said as she removed her cloak.
“Oh, I wouldn’t call it an invasion….” started Molly amiably.
“I would!” laughed Ginny, as they heard a large crash from above.
Arthur and James came in from the shed just as Serena was levitating her cloak to the rack in the hall. Harry noticed James duck behind the fabric, then sidle along the wall as quickly as he could towards the living room.
“Pahhhh-terrrrrr….” growled Serena in a warning voice.
James froze. Harry glanced at Serena; she looked very stern. Was James in trouble for something? Before Harry could turn to Ginny, James got a reprieve; joyful shouts and pattering feet came from the stairs.
“Serena! Serena! Serena!”
Three young witches, dressed in pristine green-trimmed school robes, burst into the kitchen and flung their arms around Serena’s waist. Instantly her demeanor changed. She smiled broadly and bent over to hug the girls. In a warm voice, she declared,
“There you are! Let me look at you! How are my little Slytherbabies?”
Harry was pretty sure he knew the girls from Al’s letters.
The one with very dark skin and her hair done in hundreds of slender braids was Véronique Kouassi. She was Serena’s cousin on her mother’s side, and her family lived in Cote d’Ivoire.
The one who resembled Parvati Patil, with honeyed skin and thick, dark, wavy hair, was indeed Parvati’s daughter Aditi.
The freckled redhead with masses of bright curls was Clodagh O’Cuinn. Like Seamus, she was from Ireland.
Brunettes, redhead…. all they need is a blonde, thought Harry with an inward smile. Then he noticed one: Rose, who came down the stairs, jumped a little when she saw Serena, and dashed back up again, followed by James, who glanced nervously over his shoulder as he ran.
Harry was instantly concerned. Was Serena playing favorites by House, like her predecessor and hero, Severus Snape? Was she treating the Gryffindors badly?
But Harry’s theory about House favoritism was disproved a moment later, when, with even louder shouts, the boys pounded down the stairs.
Al led the charge, Gryffindor-red-trimmed robes flying. Harry was a little shocked to hear Al call Serena by her first name.
Behind Al were two boys sporting Ravenclaw blue, and finally a boy whose pale, pointed face and white-blonde hair Harry would recognize anywhere: Scorpius Malfoy, the spitting image of his father, Draco. Harry didn’t think he’d ever get used to seeing a Malfoy in Hufflepuff yellow.
“Serena! We did the Fire-Slick!” shouted Al. “And it didn’t even hurt!”
Ginny looked disbelievingly around the table. “Did he say they were playing with…?”
“I find it’s best not to ask,” said Seamus.
Serena disentangled herself from the girls and asked the adults, “Where are we setting up the presentation?”
“I thought we’d have it here in the kitchen,” said Molly. “The table’s very sturdy, and it expands.”
Ginny stood. “Okay, you lot, let’s get cracking and make ourselves useful.”
Harry didn’t know how to be useful, but Ginny didn’t mean him, anyway. She, Molly, Charlie, and Seamus set to work Accioing items from around the house, and expanding not just the table, but the kitchen as well.
Arthur headed for the living room, and Harry was about to follow when Al finally noticed him.
“Dad! You made it!”
Al launched himself at Harry, knocking him backwards a few steps. Harry laughed and hugged his son.
“Of course I came to watch you… set yourself on fire, or whatever.”
“DAA-ad!” wailed Al in mock exasperation. “I’m not going to set myself on fire!”
“I’d prepare for fire,” said Serena dryly, eyes on a long scroll of parchment.
“You’re Harry Potter!” exclaimed one of the Ravenclaw students, a pale, dark-haired boy with an aristocratic air who seemed vaguely familiar. He extended his hand and approached with such formality that Harry had to stifle a laugh.
“I’m Jason Finch-Fletchley. You attended Hogwarts with my father.”
Harry managed a sober expression as he shook Jason’s hand. “Yes, I remember your father very well,” he replied.
“Maybe you remember my mum!” said the other Ravenclaw student, a tall Black boy. “I’m Terrance Hobbs, but my mum’s last name was Johnson.”
“Angelina, of course!” exclaimed Harry, shaking the boy’s hand. “Your mum was our Quidditch captain in my 5th year.”
“And this is my friend, Scorpius,” said Al, practically dragging the little Malfoy over.
“Hello, sir,” said Scorpius softly, eyes on the floor.
Harry was filled with empathy for the shy boy, who likely felt the weight of his family’s complicated legacy with every introduction. He bent over and extended his hand.
“It’s nice to meet you, Scorpius.” Harry didn’t see any reason to mention his father.
Scorpius hesitantly reached out his own hand and shook Harry’s. He finally looked directly at Harry and said, “It’s nice to meet you, too, sir.”
Serena handed the parchment to Véronique, saying, “Roll this for me, please,” and immediately opened a new one. To the rest she asked, “Are you all properly dressed? We’re missing someone. Where’s Miss Weasley?”
“ROHHHHSE!” shouted Al so loudly that Harry and Serena both winced.
“Maybe try running upstairs next time, eh, son?” said Harry.
“Or use a Patronus!” said Aditi.
Al scoffed. “I can’t make a Patronus! I’m eleven!”
“Goals, Potter, goals,” said Serena dryly from behind her scroll.
“I’m here!” cried Rose, running down the stairs. She rushed up to the other girls. “I had to clean my robe. How do I look?”
Serena glanced up. “Like you fell off the turnip truck. Now quit fooling around and get dressed. We start in ten minutes.”
She turned back to the parchment, not noticing Rose’s face turn red and eyes fill with tears.
Horrified, Harry was momentarily frozen between yelling at Serena and comforting his neice. But before he could speak, Véronique said,
“That’s the wrong robe, Rose. And you have to fix your hair.”
“The wrong….?” asked Rose helplessly.
Harry realized that Rose’s robe wasn’t like the others’; it was overlarge, and didn’t have colored trim. And her hair was a frizzy explosion that partly obscured her face.
With the air of having done this often, Aditi patiently explained, “You need the Potions Team robe with the satin trim, like ours. The one Professor Serpentia handed out at practice. And you have to style your hair; it’s supposed to be off your face when you compete.”
Rose’s lip trembled and her voice quavered as she said, “But this is the only robe I have!”
That caught Serena’s attention. “What do you mean, that’s the only robe you have? What happened to your team robe?”
“You what?” growled Serena dangerously.
Harry quickly intervened. Placing a hand on his Rose’s shoulder, he asked gently, “What happened to your robe, Rose?”
Rose looked at the ground. “I left it at Hagrid’s.”
“At… Hagrid’s? Why was your robe at Hagrid’s?”
“Well, Professor Serpentia gave it to us just before I was to have tea with Hagrid, so I brought it with me, and he wanted to see it, so I put it on, and then there was a big yowling outside, and we ran out, and it was a fox near the chicken coops, and….”
Serena made a hissing noise and snarled, “You wore your team robe in a chicken yard?”
“No! No! I took it off to keep it clean, and I put it on the fence, only…. only…”
“Only what?” asked Harry.
“…it was the fence shared with the magical goats, and….”
The students gasped, and Al wailed, “Rohhhse!”
“Well, Hagrid said he would fix it, but he didn’t do it in time for the Hogwarts Express, and….”
Rose looked up at Harry beseechingly.
“….Dad said that Mum wore this robe to her Investiture, so it should be okay!”
Harry was pretty sure that if there were just one thing in the universe upon which Serena Serpentia and Hermione Granger Weasley would reliably agree, it was the unsuitability of the garment that was currently engulfing his niece. Hermione, after all, was a stickler for following the rules. Ron, not so much.He looked at Serena. “What can we do?”
Harry was thinking along the lines of popping over to Hogwarts, but with a thoroughly aggravated expression, Serena whipped out her wand and pointed it at Rose.
“This is the very last time I’m going to fix your clothing, Miss Weasley,” she said severely. “After today, you’ll either learn some tailoring charms or sew. it. by. hand.”
The three Slytherin girls shrieked and put their heads together, whispering. Harry was perplexed. He asked,
“Rose, exactly how many times in your first half-year of school have you needed robe repair?”
Rose looked at her feet again.
“Stand back, Potter.” said Serena, aiming her wand.
“WAIT!” shouted the Slytherin girls in unison.
“Let us do it!” exclaimed Véronique.
“We can do her robes, Professor, I know we can!” said Aditi.
“I can do the silver clasps!” volunteered Jason.
“I can do her boots! I’m good at shoes!” said Scorpius.
“And I can do her hair; it’s just like mine!” declared Clodagh.
Serena lowered her wand and considered the group carefully.
“We need to run a full dress rehearsal tonight, without running late, because you all need your sleep before tomorrow. We’re already late for our 4pm start. Do you think you can finish within the hour?”
“Yes! Yes! Definitely! We can!” shouted all the kids, even Al and Terrance, whom Harry noticed hadn’t bragged about their skills in fashion charms.
“All right,” said Serena slowly. “I’ll allow it…”
The students began to jump and squeal.
“…but be warned that rehearsal starts at 5pm sharp. You will not be late.”
At that moment, Serena reminded Harry so much of Severus Snape that he felt a chill, but the students just cheered and dragged Rose upstairs.
As Serena stalked off to help Seamus unpack a trunk full of equipment, Ginny approached Harry.
“Wow,” she said. “I can’t believe Serena was so…”
“Severe,” said Harry.
“Lenient,” said Ginny simultaneously.
“What?” they said to each other.
“Don’t you think she was too hard on Rose?” said Harry.
Ginny scoffed. “Harry, Rose lost an expensive uniform that she needs for tomorrow. Serena chucked two Hufflepuffs off the third-year team for a lot less. Rose must be pretty important to the demonstration.”
“I wonder how?” asked Harry, thinking of his brilliant, but absent-minded, niece.
Serena, Seamus, Ginny, Charlie, and Molly completed the transformation of the Burrow’s kitchen into a miniature competition hall, complete with a dais, a spotlight, and a very small set of semi-circular bleachers. This last was added by Serena when she realized that the later start allowed more people to watch the rehearsal.
Hermione and Ron, still in work robes, arrived first, with Rose’s younger brother Hugo in tow. Not long after came Seamus’ muggle-born cousin Emma and his Muggle father, Joe, who had become a great friend of Arthur’s.
Harry was especially happy when Victorie Weasley arrived with Lily, both laden with brightly-colored shopping bags. Lily shrieked, “Daddy!” and slammed herself, and her packages, against Harry’s legs.
Finally, George arrived with two people whom Harry didn’t know: a pretty woman with thick auburn hair who looked vaguely familiar, and a muscular, dark-haired man whom Harry assumed was Charlie’s new boyfriend, because they kissed hello.
The guests spread out around the lower level of the Burrow, chatting and drinking warm cider. (There was a separate cauldron of mulled cider for the kids.) At a quarter to five the lights in the Burrow slowly dimmed and brightened several times, and Serena’s snake Patronus whipped around the rooms, calling in her voice, “The lighting rehearsal begins at 4:45. For your comfort and safety, please take your seats now. The rehearsal begins at 5pm.”
In twos and threes, the crowd made their way to the bleachers. James reappeared, and the four spectating cousins sat together. Harry did a quick count; there were seventeen people in the stands, which were in the Weasley’s kitchen, and yet it all somehow seemed perfectly normal.
He smiled as he squeezed Ginny’s hand and said, “I love magic!”
When everyone was seated, darkness descended upon the audience. Short segments of instrumental melodies began to play, and the dais was lit by a series of colors and spotlights, all timed to the music.
“Where are the lights coming from?” asked Arthur, looking around for the source.
“Well, if you don’t know, I’m sure I don’t!” laughed Joe, who sat beside him.
Finally the lights and music stilled, and the dais was bathed in purple. Serena’s voice, calm and cool, filled the room.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, please take your seats. The Hogwarts Potions Experience is about to begin.”
Harry heard rustling and muffled giggles from the direction of the stairs. The competitors had arrived.
Suddenly the stage burst to life! Loud, energetically-thumping music played as brightly-colored lights raced around the room. A new voice sounded, a man, was it….?
“Ron!” exclaimed Hermione, giving him a good-natured slap on the arm. “You didn’t tell me you were in on this!”
Ron grinned as his voice enthusiastically said, “Members of the Potions Society! Honored Judges! You’ve read their notes! You’ve seen their films! Now welcome live and in-person… The Hogwarts First-Year Potions Team!”
The students started to cheer.
“In order of appearance….”
As their names were called, the spot-lit competitors ran onstage, bowed, and remained illuminated.
“Aditi Patil and Terrence Hobbs!”
“Scorpius Malfoy and Clodagh O’Cuinn!”
“Jason! Finch! Fletchley! and Aaaaalbus Pottaaahhhhr!”
“And with an encore performance of her Wizlet Prize-winning spellwork…. ROHHHHHHSE WEEEEEEEASLEEEEEY!!!!”
Rose ran onstage, and Ginny gasped. The kids had effected an amazing transformation. Rose’s tailored black robes shimmered in the lights, and the red trim sparkled with sequins. Her shining blonde hair floated behind her in a cloud of perfect ringlets. Diamond studs twinkled in her ears, and her skin seemed to glow.
The kitchen crowd roared. Harry looked over to see what Hermione thought of all this. She was jumping up and down, using her fingers to whistle like a Muggle.
Someone tapped Harry on the shoulder. It was Seamus.
“Betcha wish you had this great an intro!” he said with a grin.
The students formed a circle around the perimeter of the dais. They pointed their wands at the center, then slowly raised them. As they did, the Weasley’s sturdy wooden kitchen table seemed to rise up from underground, and eight smoking cauldrons appeared in a line across its center.
As the music rose in intensity, the kids ran behind the cauldrons, faced the audience, waved, and with a loud blast of music,
Harry was baffled, and so, apparently, were the others. The sudden silence was filled with astonished whispering. Where had the kids gone? Surely they hadn’t Apparated! It was impossible! But then there was a sudden joyous whoop from Arthur.
“It’s Muggle magic!” he cried. “Bloody brilliant!”
“Ahhhhs” of understand swept through the small crowd, and they applauded and cheered.
Mysterious, moody music began to play, and the dais was once again filled with purple light. Potions ingredients appeared around the cauldron at the right-hand end of the table. Ron’s voice had a whispery, conspiratorial sound as he announced the first competitor, Véronique, who crossed the stage to stand behind the cauldron.
In a magically-amplified voice, she said, “Esteemed guests, today I will brew the Draught of Tranquility. These ingredients have already been prepared and accepted by the judges. I’ll begin by filling my cauldron with one quart of chilled water.”
As Véronique added ingredients and waited for reactions to happen, she explained the history of the potion and how it’s used. Within a few minutes, a lavender liquid was bubbling in the cauldron.
“It’s finished!” declared Véronique. “But how will I test it?”
She said this last so loudly and deliberately that Harry expected someone to run onstage. He didn’t expect it to be Neville Longbottom!
Neville made a big show of jumping and shaking and twitching.
“I’m so nervous!” he shouted. “Somebody give me something to calm down!”
“I have something here, Professor!” said Véronique, dipping a large silver spoon into her cauldron and offering it to Neville.
“That looks delicious!” said Neville, still twitching. “But Gran told me never to take potions from strangers. Is it safe?”
“Of course it is!”
There was a pause, while Véronique froze and Neville twitched in silence.
Véronique repeated, loudly, “OF. COURSE. IT. IS.”
There was some rustling off-stage, and then:
“I’LL be the judge of that!”
Molly Weasley, dressed in the spangled purple robes and hat that Fred and George had bought her for Christmas of ’96, stomped up the steps to the dais, brandishing her wand and a test tube.
“Mum’s playing the judge!” gasped Ginny.
“I can’t think of a better person, can you?” said Arthur. Harry had to agree.
Molly dipped her wand into the potion, and then into the test tube, which filled with lavender smoke.
“It’s safe!” she declared to the audience, holding the tube out for all to see.
As the audience applauded, Neville put his mouth around Véronique’s spoon and swallowed the potion. He theatrically yawned and stretched, saying, “I feel so relaxed!”
And suddenly, the potion took effect, and he was relaxed… extremely so! He swayed on his feet.
“Oopsie-daisy!” declared Molly, who transfigured an armchair just in time for Neville to collapse into the cushions. Neville looked dreamy as he gazed out at the audience.
“Oh, wow! Look at you all out there! You’re all my best mates!”
“Is he acting?” whispered Hermione, looking concerned.
“Oh, no!” said Véronique, still in her stagey voice. “Professor Longbottom is too relaxed to chaperone the boys! What will we do?”
Terrence ran onto the stage. “We’ll have a party in our hotel room!”
“Great idea!” slurred Neville, whom Harry suspected was actually serious at this point.
Aditi ran onstage. “No, you won’t! You’ll help me brew a potion to wake him up!”
Molly addressed the audience. “And I will judge if it’s safe!”
Molly’s last word was accompanied by a thunderclap, and Molly, Neville, and Véronique disappeared. Yellow light filled the stage, and the music began again, this time a gently lilting version of the first tune. The Draught of Tranquility ingredients disappeared, and new ones appeared around the cauldrons at the other far end of the table. Terrence and Aditi stood behind them as Ron’s voice, now sounding calm and happy, announced their names.
“Esteemed guests,” said Terrence, “today we will brew the Pepper-Up Potion.”
Aditi continued, “These ingredients have already been prepared and accepted by the judges. I’ll begin by adding 1 ounce of armoracia rusticana.”
Terrence and Aditi each brewed a portion of the recipe, explaining as they went.
“Now,” said Aditi, with a tense smile that didn’t quite reach her eyes, “it’s time mix our brews together.”
She and Terrence exchanged a look before they pointed their wands at his cauldron. They solemnly chanted, “Wingardium Leviosa,” and the cauldron, wobbling a little, began to rise.
The audience was hushed. Harry could tell that every adult wanted to draw a wand and help. Hermione bit her fist. Ginny literally sat on her hands. But despite a disturbing amount of rocking, Terrence’s cauldron lined up with Aditi’s, and the contents poured smoothly in.
You could hear everyone let out their breath. Then they burst into applause. Terrence and Aditi looked up at the audience in delight, and the cauldron shot forward and bounced on the dias!
Harry’s “Watch out!” blended with everyone else’s cries, but Serena, who had obviously expected this, appeared from the wings and levitated the cauldron off stage.
“Sorry, Professor!” said the duo, looking abashed.
“Keep going!” hissed Serena as she departed.
Aditi’s voice sounded a little nervous as she said, “We just have to add one more ingredient, and then we must give it to Professor Longbottom straightaway.”
There was a moment of silence, and Harry suspected that once again, Molly hadn’t heard her cue. But when Aditi loudly repeated, “We. Must. Give. It. To. Him. Straight. Away,” it was Scorpius and Clodagh who led Neville back onstage, each holding one of his hands. Al followed behind, carrying a chair.
Neville saw the audience and tried to wave, nearly lifting Clodagh from the ground.
“Hello, again!” he slurred. “Lovely to see you! Do you all have draughts of tran… tran….”
He turned circles in place, dragging Clodagh and Scorpius with him as he peered around the stage.
“Where’s Molly? Is Molly here? Molly, the watching people need draf… draf… drinks!”
Harry stifled a laugh. The audience around him started to titter.
Al put the chair down firmly and said, “Sit here, Professor, and we’ll get everyone a butterbeer.”
Scorpius and Clodagh pulled Neville to the chair and sat him down.
“Do it fast!” Clodagh urged Aditi in an undertone.
Aditi turned to the audience. “The last ingredient is citric acid.”
She lifted a small glass bowl of white powder and poured it into the cauldron. Harry heard fizzing. Terrence stirred the potion with a wooden paddle, counting seven turns as he did. Then Aditi produced a small bottle with a funnel, and Terrence used a ladle to pour in the liquid.
Aditi ran around the table to Neville. “Here’s something to perk you up!”
This time Molly was right on cue. Before Neville could take the bottle, she strode across the stage, wand and test-tube in hand, saying, “I’LL be the judge of that!”
She dipped the tip of her wand into the bottle, then into the test tube, where bubbles formed in black and white. She thrust the tube at the audience.
As the audience applauded, Molly handed the bottle to Aditi, who handed it to Neville, saying, “Drink this quickly, Professor! Drink it all down at once!”
“Thank you, kindly!” said Neville, making a little bow from his char. “Bottoms up!”
He put his lips on the bottle, tipped his head back, and drank it all down.
“I say! That’s delicious! It’s….”
Neville gasped, and his face turned red. He shut his eyes, and steam came out of his ears!
Everyone knew, of course, that ear-steam was the classic side-effect of Pepper-Up Potion, so they all cheered. Looking far more alert than before, Neville stood and applauded Aditi and Terrence. In turn, Terrence said to the audience,
“Let’s thank Professor Longbottom for being such a good sport!”
Harry leapt to his feet, and saw that all of the D.A. members had done the same.
“Way to go, Neville!” shouted Seamus. “That’s the Gryffindor spirit!”
Steam still pouring from his ears, Neville bowed, then said, “Let’s get back to the contest! Our next competitors will show you a hair-raising good time!”
At Neville’s last word, there was another thunderclap. This time everyone vanished, and the stage was bathed in green light. A more rhythmic version of the music played as the Pepper-Up ingredients disappeared and new ones emerged around two cauldrons on the right side of the table. Ron’s voice sounded bright and cherry as it announced, “Scorpius Malfoy and Clodagh O’Cuinn.”
Clodagh and Scorpius held a stagey conversation as they walked to their cauldrons. Clodagh said,
“My hair is driving me crazy. It’s so flat!”
Harry thought Clodagh’s halo of red curls was the opposite of flat, but Scorpius said,
“I know the perfect potion to fix that!”
Clodagh replied, “What kind of potion can raise my hair?”
“Three guesses,” Ron whispered to Hermione.
“Ron!” she admonished, although she looked amused.
Scorpius turned to the audience. “Esteemed guests, today we will brew the Hair-Raising Potion.”
“Of course!” said Clodagh, dramatically raising her arms, palms up, to indicate how obvious it was.
Scorpius continued, “These ingredients have already been prepared and accepted by the judges. I’ll begin by adding three rat tails and a quart of pineapple juice.”
Clodagh and Scorpius mixed their ingredients and talked to the crowd. Harry wondered if there would be another levitation near-miss, but Scorpius simply measured some liquid from his cauldron and added it to Clodagh’s, who poured the bubbly, green mixture into a bottle. She looked at it with exaggerated suspicion.
“Is it safe?” she asked.
“Sure, it is!” Scorpius practically shouted. Harry knew what would happen next.
“I’LL be the judge of that!”
Molly came onstage, tested the potion, and thrust the fizzy, green tube at the audience.
She handed the bottle back to Clodagh, saying, “Best to start with just a sip, dear.”
But Clodagh must have tested this potion before, because she downed the whole bottle.
“Yummy fruit flavor!” was all she could say before FWAP! Her curls snapped straight into a massive, sun-like corona around her head.
“Oh, my!” exclaimed Molly, looking genuinely surprised.
“Wicked!” laughed George. His friend, however, was horrified.
“I hope there’s a cure for that!” Harry heard her whisper.
“How do I look?” asked Clodagh.
“See for yourself!” Scorpius thrust a mirror at her.
Not actually looking at the mirror, Clodagh said to the audience, “This might be a problem. I’ll never be able to wear a hat! What can I do?”
Harry heard Al’s muffled “Go! Go!” offstage before, with a lot of stamping and stomping, Al and Jason pounded onstage.
“We can help you!” they boomed simultaneously.
“I don’t see how,” said Scorpius. “This is a very strong potion. It has to wear off.”
“Oh, no!” shouted Clodagh, rocking from side to side with her palms to her cheeks, obviously relishing her dramatics.
“Fear not, fair maiden!” cried Al.
And then he and Jason started to giggle, which made Clodagh giggle. Scorpius was bent over, red-faced, in his effort not to laugh.
Serena’s voice growled from offstage, “Settle down and stick to the script!”
“F-f-f-ear not!” choked out Al again.
“Pahhhtterrrr…!” warned Serena.
Al continued, “Sweet damsel, we can brew you a potion to tame your wild mane!”
“I think it’s an improvement, actually,” whispered Ron to Hermione.
Getting into the spirit, Clodagh clasped her hands to her cheek and said, “I would be most obliged, kind sir!”
The audience laughed, and Seamus murmured, “Serena’s gonna murder ’em.”
“I’m going to murder him first!” declared Ginny in an undertone, referring to Al. Harry couldn’t respond, because, like Scorpius, he was trying his best not to snort.
There was a pause before a flustered Molly realized she should speak. Somewhat unsteadily, she said, “And I will judge if it’s safe!”
Once again, there was a thunderclap. Molly, Scorpius, and Clodagh vanished, along with the hair-raising ingredients. They were replaced by new ones around two cauldrons on the left side of the table. The stage was bathed in blue, and the music was bright and upbeat. Ron’s voice had a new intensity as it announced, “Jason Finch-Fletchley and Albus Potter!”
Now more composed, Al and Jason stood behind their cauldrons and addressed the crowd.
“Esteemed guests,” said Al, “Today we will brew the Hair-Smoothing Potion, invented by my ancestor, Fleamont Potter.”
“Is that true?” asked Harry of Ginny in surprise.
Hermione turned around and said, “Of course it is! I told you that back in first year!”
Jason continued, “These ingredients have already been prepared and accepted by the judges. I’ll begin by adding ten porcupine quills.”
Harry felt proud of Al. Now that the giggles were gone, he explained his steps with confidence and clarity. When it came time to combine the potions, he and Jason steadily levitated Al’s cauldron, deftly poured the contents into Jason’s, and returned the cauldron gently to the table. The audience burst into applause. Harry thought that this must be why Serena put up with their shenanigans.
The boys put the creamy lotion into two large bottles.
“We have finished!” said Jason, returning to his stagey voice.
“Excellent!” said Al, just as dramatically. “Does anyone need their hair smoothed?”
“Clodagh does!” said Lily excitedly to Victorie.
“Shhhh!” admonished Victorie, as the audience chuckled.
“I do!” called Clodagh as she stepped onstage. Scorpius followed behind her with a chair, which he set at center stage before leaving.
“Have a seat!” said Al, as he and Jason stepped out from behind the table. “We will fix your hair!”
Clodagh sat, but made an exaggerated doubtful face. “But is it safe?”
“Of course it is!” said the boys together.
By now the audience was ready. The moment Molly appeared, they shouted,
“I’LL be the judge of that!”
Joe elbowed Arthur. “Molly’s got a catch-phrase!”
Arthur asked, “What’s a….” but Molly had tested the potion and was thrusting the tube into the air, declaring,
As the audience applauded, Al and Jason filled their hands with lotion from the bottles and applied it to Clodagh’s hair. Even though she was sitting, they had to stand on tiptoe and stretch to reach the tips of her spiky ‘do. When her hair was thoroughly drenched and began to wilt at the roots, they took combs from the table and worked them through, using successively smaller instruments. Eventually, Jason cast a drying spell while Al continued to comb.
Harry had expected Clodagh’s hair to return to its naturally curly state, but instead it was sleek and straight, like Hermione’s had been at the Yule Ball in their fourth year. He supposed that curl restoration was beyond the skills of first-years.
“Wow, that’s a lot of work!” said Ginny.
Hermione turned backwards. “And that’s why I don’t do it very often!”
Al handed Clodagh a big hand mirror. This time she looked at it. “What do you think?” he asked.
“It’s beautiful!” she exclaimed.
“What do you think, esteemed guests?” asked Jason of the crowd. “Is it beautiful?”
As one, Harry and Ginny stood and led the crowd in stamping and cheering. When the noise died down, Clodagh looked into the mirror and said,
“My hair looks nice, but I hate these spots on my face. I wonder if there’s a potion to heal my skin?”
Suddenly the room was plunged into darkness. An exciting, pulsing version of the music filled the air, and a wheel of colored spotlights spun on the center of the stage. The four spectating cousins started clapping to the beat, and everyone joined in. Slowly the stage grew brighter, and Harry saw that the Weasley’s kitchen table was bare except for a single large cauldron at the center.
“This is it! This is it!” whispered Hermione excitedly to Ron. She was bouncing with anticipation.
Ron’s voice was once again exuberant as it practically shouted, “Members of the Potions Society! Honored Judges! Our final competitor, direct from Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, demonstrating the extraordinary spellwork that earned her the 2017 Wizlet Prize…. ROHHHHHHSE WEEEEEEEASLEEEEEY!!!!”
The spectators leapt to their feet and cheered as Rose ran to her place behind the cauldron. She looked flush and nervous, but she smiled and waved to the crowd.
The music ended with a crash. The stage area grew dark again, with just a simple white spotlight illuminating Rose and a shelf behind her that was full of equipment. Harry and the others applauded some more, and then settled back in their seats.
Rose said, “Esteemed guests, today I will brew a seven-rainbow-layered skin-healing gelée.”
“What??” Ginny was open-mouthed in amazement. She leaned forward and whispered to Hermione, “Isn’t that the potion Serena demonstrated in your eighth year? That’s really hard!”
“I know! I know!” whispered Hermione back, a huge smile on her face. She looked so proud she could burst.
Once Rose began to brew, her nerves melted away. Nothing had been prepared in advance. Rose pulled lots of equipment and ingredients from the shelves. Her demonstration reminded Harry of a Muggle cooking competition, in which the chefs set things to braise and bake and freeze far in advance of the finish time. Harry was surprised to find himself fascinated.
Halfway through, Rose produced a second wand.
“What’s that for?” Harry asked Ginny.
“Lots of extra points!” whispered Ginny as she sat at the edge of her seat.
“To create the right consistency,” corrected Hermione.
Rose used both wands to make the potion spin like a ferris wheel while it changed color from emerald to plum to scarlet to orange before turning crystal clear. Harry thought this was an excellent time to clap and cheer, but he noticed that everyone else was unnaturally still and silent, as if they were all holding their breath. Then he remembered what Ginny said about seeing this potion demonstrated at Hogwarts, and realized that most everyone else knew what was supposed to happen next.
Rose set a narrow, wooden platform next to her cauldron, and placed a row of five globe-shaped glass bowls on the top. She used a ladle to carefully fill each globe with the clear liquid.
“And now,” she said, “I will finish my potion.”
Harry saw Hermione grab Ron’s hand and squeeze.
“Magic! Magic! Magic! Magic! Magic!”
With each word, Rose tapped a bowl with her wand, and a stunning orange color bloomed. Then the potion began to swirl, and finally solidified into seven layers of rainbow colors, from violet at the bottom to red on top. It was one of the most beautiful things Harry had ever seen.
There was a moment of utter silence as the audience absorbed what they had just witnessed. Then, as one, they jumped up and stamped and cheered harder than ever before. Rose beamed with joy.
With the tension broken, the crowd was ready to participate. When Molly stepped on stage, they yelled,
“I’LL be the judge of that!”
When Molly tested the potion and thrust the tube at the audience, they shouted with her,
Then George started a low chant: “Weasley… Weasley… Weasley… Weasley…” and everyone joined in, getting louder and louder and louder as Rose flushed red. She tried to speak a few times, but couldn’t be heard. Finally Serena’s voice sounded,
“Let’s have ALL the competitors join Miss Weasley on the stage.”
The other kids looked a little confused as they ran across the dais. Clodagh, Albus, and Rose huddled together. Harry guessed that they hadn’t expected such a raucous reception and were changing their plans. Finally, without trying the potion, Clodagh hoisted a globe into the air and said, “My skin is healed!”
Her last word triggered the pulsing music, and Ron’s voice exuberantly announced each competitor, who took their bows in turn. Rose’s bow triggered another round of the Weasley chant.
Harry heard Seamus laughing as he told Charlie, “Mam always says be careful what you wish for. Serena wished you lot would cheer on the kids. Bet she’s sorry now!”
There was more on-stage whispering, and then all the kids waved enthusiastically and left the dais. The cheers continued until the stage went dark and the kitchen lights came up. The audience began to climb down the bleachers and congratulate the students, who were gathered by the stairs.
Harry suddenly felt exhausted. He sat back down and watched as Ron and Hermione gushed over Rose, Victorie hugged Molly, Lily chatted up the Slytherin girls, and Ginny complimented Al and the boys.
Someone sat down next to Harry. It was James. Harry waited for him to speak.
“I guess that was pretty cool,” said James finally.
Harry was deliberately casual. “I thought so.”
James was silent again for a bit, and then suddenly said,
“Yeah?” Harry turned to James, who was still watching the crowd.
“Sorry I was such an idiot about the wand rule.”
“I appreciate the apology,” said Harry, “but perhaps you should say that to your Gran, yeah?”
“Yeah, I guess I should.” He started to climb down the bleachers, then stopped and looked back at Harry.
“It’s good to see you, Dad.”
“Likewise,” said Harry, with a grin. “Maybe congratulate your brother while you’re down there?”
James turned and ran down the stairs towards Molly. “We’ll see!”
Serena’s voice filled the room. “Potions Team: Upstairs for notes, now!”
The competitors pulled away from their family and friends and pounded up the staircase.
Someone new sat down next to Harry. It was Ginny. She took his arm.
“We have to remove the bleachers,” she said.
“And by “we,” you mean….?”
“Not you!” laughed Ginny. “Go relax in the living room. I think we’re skipping tea and going straight on to dinner.”
Harry smiled and said, “I love that plan!”
He kissed Ginny, and hand-in-hand, they joined their family.