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 The following day, an owl arrived for Albus's mother.

"I could have predicted this." She grinned once she'd finished reading it.

"What is it, dear?" Their father folded up the paper he'd been reading.

"Percy," she replied. "He's inviting us all to a meal at the Warlock's Court Hotel on Friday to celebrate Lucy's results. He's hired a room."

James rolled his eyes. "Do we have to go?"

She eyed him sternly. "Yes, James, we have to. You want to congratulate your cousin, don't you?"

"Not particularly," he muttered.

Ignoring him, their father turned to Lily. "It'll give you a chance to catch up with Molly. You'll be attending classes together in a couple of weeks after all. You might even be in the same house."

"Yeah, Hufflepuff." James grinning tauntingly at his sister.

"I won't be in Hufflepuff!" Lily glared at him.

"That's enough." Their father raised a hand. "There's nothing wrong with Hufflepuff. Teddy was there, remember."

"I suppose so," Lily muttered.

"Your mother and I don't care what house you're in, so long as you do your best and enjoy yourselves."

"I'll agree with the last part," James interrupted.

"You could do with placing a little more emphasis on the first part." Their mother gave him another warning look.

"I wonder if Molly's got her wand yet," Lily said. "Mum, can I...?"

"No." Their mother cut her off before she could go any further.

Lily placed her hands on her hips. "You don't even know what I was going to say."

"Yes, I do. You were going to ask if you can bring your wand with you on Friday and the answer is no."

"It's not fair." Lily stamped her foot with annoyance. "Bet if it was James or Albus, you'd let them."

James laughed aloud. "Are you kidding, short stuff? They never let me do anything. You and Al get more freedom than I do and I'm supposed to be the oldest."

"You'll get privileges when you earn them," their mother said, glancing around at all three of her children. "But none of you will be bringing wands with you on Friday and that's an end of it. You can bring wands to family functions when you turn seventeen and not before."

"I wasn't even going to use it," Lily burst out. "I just wanted to show it to people, that's all. You never let me do anything." And she stormed suddenly out of the room.

"She doesn't mean it, Gin." Their father's tone was reassuring. "She's just nervous about starting Hogwarts, that's all."

"I know." Their mother sighed. "I just hate fighting with her when she's leaving in a few weeks."

"I'm going back to school in a few weeks too," James pointed out, as he stretched out on the sofa. "But you don't mind fighting with me."

"That's different," their mother said. "You're just trying to pick a fight. Your sister is upset."

Albus left them to their argument and headed upstairs after his sister.

"You OK?" he asked, knocking on her bedroom door.

"Go away!"

"It's only me," he said. "Albus. Mum and Dad and James are still downstairs."

"I said go away," she repeated.

He paused, unsure whether or not he should do as she asked. Rose wouldn't; he felt certain about that. She'd either wait where she was until Lily came out or, perhaps more likely, just push her way into Lily's room and find out what was wrong. But had he really the right to do that when she'd specifically told him not to?

He sighed. How on earth were you supposed to know when people meant what they said and when they said one thing but really wanted you to do something different? It was a riddle more difficult than any of those posed by the knocker on the door to Ravenclaw tower.

Sighing and feeling like he'd failed at being a supportive big brother, he decided to do as she asked him and headed back downstairs.

"Is she all right?" His mother glanced up at him.

"I don't know. She won't let me talk to her."

She sighed. "Well, just leave her for a bit then. She's bound to be anxious, after all. Remember how you felt when you started Hogwarts."

"Yeah." He bit his lip, trying to think what he could say to reassure her. What would have reassured him two years earlier?

As if aware of the thoughts going through his head, his mother laid her hand on his arm. "Just give her some time. Maybe she just needs to be alone for a while."

Sure enough, she returned downstairs an hour later, the argument apparently forgotten. Perhaps it really had all been a storm in a teacup.

Another argument began on Friday when their mother insisted that James, like everybody else, wear his best dress robes for that evening's gathering.

"I'm not having Percy say I let you dress like a bunch of ragamuffins." She glanced around at James, dressed in dirty jeans, Lily who was wearing shoes with neon laces and too much jewellery, including flashing earrings and Albus who was, once again wearing his favourite t-shirt and trousers.

"Since when did you care what Uncle Percy thought?" James burst out laughing.

"It's not about Percy." Their father entered the room and gave him a stern look. "This is for Lucy, to celebrate her results. And I daresay we'll have to give our congratulations to Louis and Dominique too."

"Who aren't making half as much fuss about their results," James pointed out. "And Dominique's are her N.E.W.T.s." He paused for a moment. "Mum, have you heard how her trial with the Arrows went?"

She shook her head. "No word yet, not publically anyway. She might have been told something on the quiet."

"I hope she gets in." He sounded a good deal more enthusiastic now he was talking about Quidditch.

"Maybe she'll have some news tonight," their mother said.

Albus hoped she would and that it would be good news. He was looking forward to seeing all his cousins, he realised, to hearing about Dominique's try-out and her N.E.W.T. results and Louis and Lucy's results and how Molly felt about starting Hogwarts. The hotel might be a bit stuffy, but he was sure they'd have a good time anyway.

When they reached the hotel, Rose's family, Percy's and his grandparents were already in attendance.

"So glad you could make it," Percy said. "Charlie couldn't make it, I believe." He pursed his lips a little disapprovingly. "But everybody else is coming, I'm pleased to say. After all, we had to do something to celebrate. Ten Os is quite an achievement, don't you think?"

Lucy shifted awkwardly and Albus couldn't help feeling she found her father's boasts embarrassing.

"Yes indeed," Albus's father agreed. "Well done, Lucy. I'd never have managed a result like that."

"It was more of a relief than anything," she said.

"Nonsense." Her father cut her off. "Everybody knew you could do it. You take after me. I always said that."

"And I suppose I get no credit." Audrey was smiling as she spoke.

"Well, perhaps she takes after both of us.

Rose turned to Lucy.

"How difficult are the O.W.L.S?"

"To be honest, they weren't as bad as I'd been fearing, but it is as well to start studying as soon as possible. Three years seems like a long time, but the longer you let things go, the harder fifth year will be."

James yawned audibly, but before he could say anything, the door opened and Bill entered the room, followed by Fleur, Victoire, Dominique and Louis.

"Well done, Lucy." Bill reached out to give her a hug. "What was it? Ten Os?"


"Fantastic result, wasn't it?" Percy slipped an arm around his daughter's shoulder. "How did Louis do, by the way? You never said."

"One E and three As." Fleur's tone was slightly brittle.

"Oh, what a pity. And Bill did so well in his own exams."

Louis shrugged. "You don't need O.W.L.s. to succeed in life, Uncle Percy. Look at Uncle George. He got even less than I did and he's coining it now. And it's not like the Arrows cared how many O.W.L.s Dominique got."

"They offered you a place on the team?" James grinned at Dominique in delight. "I knew they would. You're a fantastic player."

"Well, nothing's official yet." She bit her lip. "I'm reluctant to start counting my dragons before they've hatched. But they did seem pretty encouraging."

"They went through the whole training schedule with her afterwards," Fleur said. "I doubt they'd do that if they weren't planning on offering her a place. What do you think, Ginny?"

Albus's mother paused, clearly reluctant to commit herself. "It does sound promising. Did they say when they'd let you know?"

"Early next week," Dominique replied. "I'm pretty nervous, to be honest."

"Try not to worry too much," Albus's mother advised her. "From what you've said, it sounds like you've an excellent chance and even if it doesn't work out, there  will be plenty of other opportunities. The fact they were encouraging is a really good sign. It means even if they can't find a place for you, somebody else will. And..." She paused for a moment before continuing. "There are other careers to be had in Quidditch too, as well as playing. Look at me and what I'm doing. So I'd be wary about taking it for granted you won't need O.W.L.s." She turned to Louis and gave him a stern glance. "You never quite know the turns your life might take. I certainly never thought I'd end up as a journalist. Having seen Skeeter's treatment of Harry, I was pretty anti-journalist in my teenage years."

"Oh, we got the better of her in the end." Albus's father grinned. "Or rather Hermione did."

"Temporarily."  Hermione sighed. "Look at all the trouble she caused again last year.

Albus couldn't help noticing Victoire wasn't contributing much to the conversation. She'd hardly even congratulated Lucy.

Maybe she was considering Dominique's chances of making the Arrows team. He certainly would be if it were James or Lily.

"Are you planning to play professionally yourself some day?" he heard Dominique ask James, who shrugged.

"Maybe. I haven't really given that much thought to what I'll do when I leave school. It's years away still."

"Wait another couple of months," Lucy said, grinning, "and you'll have half the staff waiting to hear your decisions. Adulthood is coming closer than we think."

"Well, we're not all as organised as you, you know." James sounded huffy.

"James!" His mother glared at him. "Lucy was just making conversation. Have some manners."

He shrugged.

"Sorry," Lucy said. "And I'm not as organised as you seem to think. I've really no idea what I want to do either, although the teachers have been really pushing me for a decision."

"You should really think about coming into the Ministry with me," Percy said pompously. "Keep up your current grades and you should have no problem."

His lecture was interrupted as George and his family burst noisily into the room.

"Sorry we're late," George said. "I just couldn't stand the thought of listening to Percy pontificate for any longer than necessary."

Albus stifled a giggle and James, Louis, Lily and Hugo didn't even bother trying to hide their laughter.

"George!" Angelina slapped his arm. "The children are listening."

"Oh, I'm sure they'll soon figure out what he's like. If they haven't already. My kids are smart, you know. Even if they don't get seven hundred Os or whatever it is."

"We're all very proud of Lucy." Grandpa Weasley interrupted before George and Percy could start a real argument. "And of Dominique and Louis too, of course."

"Well, they certainly all did better than I did." George grinned.

"That's just what I was saying," Louis said. "And it didn't do you any harm, did it? You've got a thriving business."

"Quite right," George said. "Put it there, son." He raised his hand to high-five his nephew. "Much overrated, these exams are."

"Oh, don't encourage him, George." Bill sighed. "It's not that I'm expecting straight Os or anything. Percy, Hermione and Lucy have filled the family's quota for geniuses."

"Don't be so modest, dear." Grandma Weasley interrupted him. "You got twelve Os yourself, I seem to remember."

"And Rose looks set to follow in her mother's footsteps." Albus's mother grinned.

"All right. We're a family of overachievers," Bill said. "Especially if we add in Ginny's Quidditch career and Dominique's chances, along with George's business acumen and Harry having saved the entire country from the most dangerous Dark Wizard in who knows how long. I'm just saying that while exams aren't everything and our kids have many other talents as well as their exam grades, it's still worthwhile doing your best."

"Hear that, James." His mother gave him a significant look.

He rolled his eyes.

"I think we'd better sit down." Audrey gave a tight smile. "They seem to be getting ready to serve."

They had just begun their starters when Victoire finally broached what was on her mind.

"As everybody's been discussing their plans for the future...," she began, crumbling a breadstick in her hands.

"Have you finally decided on a career?" Percy asked eagerly. "Those hours in Gringotts are hardly a long-term option, are they? It doesn't seem like you've been getting that many recently."

"Well, she got a fair bit of work over the summer," Bill said, "but now the tourist season is over, things will probably quieten down again, so if you're thinking of something else..." He glanced at his daughter questioningly.

She looked slightly embarrassed, Albus thought, probably regretting she'd raised the topic in front of the whole family like this.

"Well, I was sort of thinking of spending a few months abroad," she said tentatively. "Maybe travelling a little. After all, if I want to work in wizarding tourism, it would be good to familiarise myself with some of the more popular destinations. And living in a country really is the best way of improving your language skills."

"I think that's a marvellous idea." Fleur clapped her hands approvingly. "I remember my first trip to England as a teenager. It was such an experience and I was pretty much confined to Hogwarts. You'll have so much freedom. You will love it."

"Thanks Mum."

"Travelling's all very well." There was a disapproving note in Percy's tone. "But it's really time you started thinking about making a permanent career for yourself. It's never too soon, you know. I was younger than you are now when I started work at the Ministry."

"For a boss who couldn't even remember your name, if I remember correctly," George put in. "Now, what was it he called you again? Ah yes, Weatherby, wasn't it?"

"Never mind that." Percy sounded irritated. "My point is..."

"I think it's quite a good idea actually." Bill smiled at his daughter. "You'll learn a lot and have fun at the same time. Times have changed since we were young, Percy. The risk of war is over. Young people don't have to get a lifetime's experience into their youth anymore. So long as they get a few qualifications first, I don't see any harm in their having some fun  before settling down. I certainly enjoyed my years in Egypt."

"That was completely different. You had a good career as a cursebreaker."

"It wasn't exactly what Mum would have chosen for me though." Bill smiled across the table at Grandma Weasley.

The banter continued, but Albus couldn't help noticing Lily and Molly remained quiet, perhaps realising just how soon they would be leaving their families for months on end.

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