Our Obligations

Pancakes and Panic Attacks

Chapter Four: Pancakes and Panic Attacks

"You know, you don't have to do that." Ginevra Potter smiled at her husband. "Merlin knows, you complain about it enough. Hire a service already." She smiled at her daughter, who was holding a cup of milk expectantly. "Okay, Lily… you can add the milk now."

Ginny broke open eggs into the mixing bowl and began whisking them together with flour and sugar. With the seriousness that only a nine-year-old whose been asked to help cook could muster, Lily carefully poured the milk. The concentration the girl was displayed almost made Ginny laugh, but she knew that Lily would hardly appreciate it.

Harry watched the two of them together for a moment before turning his attention back to the mail. This morning there were a dozen or so letters waiting for him when he awoke, just as there had been every morning since his defeat of Voldemort at the Battle of Hogwarts. Occasionally, there was an actual serious piece of correspondence… but most of it was simply fan mail.

Smiling at the serene picture his wife and daughter created, he said, "I know... I know… I admit that the service you use doesn't cost much, and it's not like we couldn't afford expanding our account to handle my mail as well… but it just seems to be so impersonal. A form letter response and an autographed picture. I mean really, such impersonal contact with your fans might be fine for a retired Quidditch star, but when you're the Savior of the Wizarding World, shouldn't you be more… Savior-like?"

Ginny laughed and returned his grin by sticking her tongue out at him. She knew that he hated the titles with which the press had him labeled. She waved her wand toward the stove and a ladle spread clarified butter onto a griddle that was swiftly heating itself to the proper temperature.

Harry scanned the names and addresses on the letters. Most were from people he'd never heard of before. "Ah… got another letter from Aubrey Maturin… his writing is a good sign. Perhaps I'll check with his doctors to make sure he's well enough for visitors."

At the stove, Ginny was carefully dropping the batter onto the griddle. Next to her, Lily watched the entire process from a safe distance. "That would be wonderful, Harry. Such a sad case. I do hope he's doing better."

Aubrey was one of the elite few fans that the Potters had actually sought out to meet for one reason or another. The reason in Aubrey's case was simple: the boy was an orphan and terminally ill. The one thing he had wanted more than anything else in the world was to meet his hero, Harry Potter, something that Harry couldn't bring himself to refuse. Not only had Harry befriended the boy, he paid for any medical care the child had needed.

"And here we go… a letter apiece from James and Albus. " Harry carefully set aside the rest of the letters and concentrated on the mail from his sons. James had started his second year at Hogwarts the day before. For Albus, on the other hand, this was the first time being away from home for school.

Lily came over to her father. "James first, daddy! He's the oldest, so he goes first." Harry smirked at the directive tone in his daughter's voice. It was common, he had found out, for some young children to be very legalistic… they made up rules for every occasion, sometimes at the drop of a hat, and expected the people around them to follow those rules. Rather than being the trouble-maker her older brother seemed to becoming, Lily looked to be on her way to following in her Uncle Percy's footsteps.

"Lily," Ginny said. "Sit down and eat your breakfast."

Harry lifted his arms as he opened James' letter. Ginny placed a plate of Scotch pancakes, already slathered in jam, in front of him. She placed another plate at Lily's customary place. "So… what does James have to say for himself?"

Harry reread the letter, his cheerful grin slowly spreading to include his entire face. So intent was he on his son's letter than he never noticed he was speaking. It wasn't very loud, but his daughter heard him anyway. "Oh my… Malfoy is going to shit flobberworms when he hears about this."

Lily – a living example of the saying "little pitchers have big ears" – immediately perked up. She thought about the meaning of what her Dad just said, and while she thought she understood, it wasn't totally clear. "Mum, what does Daddy mean when he says Malfoy is going to shit flobberworms?"

Ginny turned back to the table, nearly dropping her own plate. "LILY LUNA POTTER! That is no language for well-behaved children to use! I don't ever want to hear that sort of talk come out of your mouth again! And YOU!"

Harry looked up from the letter, unaware of what he had done, but very aware that he had done something to upset his wife.

"You will watch your language. Harry, for… I… Watch your language from now on, especially in front of the children!" Harry's confused look defused the situation almost instantly. Ginny coughed, and then sat up straighter before cutting into her pancakes. Calmer, she addressed her daughter. "Lily… that word isn't for polite use at the breakfast table. Don't say it again."

Lily was confused for a moment. "Don't say what? Shi…"

"DON'T." Ginny's eyes flared in exasperation. "Yes, that word. Don't say it again."

Harry just sat there, looking sheepish. "Sorry about that, Gin. Just slipped out, I suppose. Um… James sends his regards, and has some surprising news. Just caught me off guard."

"Well," Ginny prompted. "Let's hear it. What does it say?"

Harry took a bite of his pancakes, nodded, and began to read:

Dear Mom and Dad,

Al and I (and Rosie) have all made it to Hogwarts safe and sound. The train ride was boring. I spent most of it reading one of my new textbooks and watching my younger brother, my cousin, and their new best friend Scorpius Malfoy playing cards. They invited me to play but I thought it was best to not get involved. I stayed alert, just in case the slimy git tried to attack them by surprise.

It was really disgusting, Dad. Malfoy and Al were thick as thieves, the two of them. Made me wonder if all those jokes about Al being a Slytherin weren't so much jokes as real life. HA HA. Just joking… Al made it into Gryffindor just like Mom said he would.

I rode up to the castle with Roxanne and Louis. Roxy says she's going to try out for one of the Chaser positions opening up this year. She figures she's a lock, since Fred's Quidditch Captain this year, but I think she's dreaming. Just because he's her brother doesn't mean he won't make her try out and all. She also says that she's thinking of asking Horace Hubbard to go with her to Hogsmeade, since she can go there on the weekends this year. Horace is that boy I told you about, with the nose, and the pimples. What she sees in him I don't know.

I didn't get to tell Dominique about that thing we talked about that day, but I will the first chance I get, I promise.

Hagrid and Uncle Neville… I mean Professor Longbottom… both say "Hi." Hagrid also wanted me to tell Mom that he thinks he found the shoe you lost at the last Victory Day party, whatever that means.

With Love,

James.

PS. Malfoy actually managed to get sorted into Gryffindor. Is that the greatest prank ever, or what? It turns out he's pretty much okay, and not a slimy git at all. He's got a great sense of humor and can keep up with me when it comes to talking Quidditch, even though he says he never plays.

While her father spoke, Lily managed to stuff nearly half of a pancake into her mouth. She chewed a couple of times and then said, "Fred's nice. I know he's going to let Roxy play Quidditch. She's brilliant. She's the best chaser in the fambly." She suddenly looked sheepish. "Except you, Mommy. You're the best Chaser ever!"

"That's okay, Lily… Roxy is pretty good." Ginny stared at Harry for a moment before chuckling. "Oh my. A Malfoy in Gryffindor. Whatever will the society pages say?" She suppressed a laugh. She knew that she shouldn't find the situation so humorous, but she also knew that she simply couldn't help herself. "So… what does Albus's letter say?"

Harry sipped his tea and took another bite of pancake, then opened the second letter.

Dear Mom and Dad,

I was worried that I wouldn't make any friends at Hogwarts but can you believe it I made one right after we left the train station! His name is Scorpius Malfoy and he's great! He and I played Exploding Snap with Rose. Rose likes him too. He sat in our compartment because he was thrown out of his own. They even threw his trunk out into the passage. He'd probably have stayed there but the Head Girl, her name's Dahlia, she came by and put him in our compartment, which is why we met him. I think he's going to be my best friend. We talked to Uncle Fred's portrait in the Entrance Hall, and met Professor Dunstan who is my favorite teacher so far! And you'll never believe it! All three of us were sorted into Gryffindor! Me, Rosie, and Scorpius

I told Scorpius to call me Al like everybody in the family does. We're trying to think of a good nickname for him, but Scorpius isn't that easy a name to make shorter. Plus, his middle name is horrid, so there's no help there. I don't know why his mom and dad thought Scorpius Hyperion Malfoy made a good name. Scorpius told me last night that when he grew up and got married and had kids, he's going to name them normal names like Joseph or David or Edward. I thought that was a pretty good idea.

Speaking of David, there's a boy in my year that is mental for Chocolate Frog cards. He says he once saved up nearly fifty galleons to buy one of Dad's Chocolate Frog cards that had dad's autograph on it. He wants to know if I can get Mom to autograph one for him. Just to get him to leave me alone I told him I'd ask, so Mom, let me know if you mind signing a Chocolate Frog card. I didn't promise him anything, if that's what you're thinking. I'm hoping he doesn't realize that Aunt Hermione and Uncle Ron have frog cards too.

I'll write again on Saturday and let you know how my classes went. Hogwarts is great!

Love,

Albus S. Potter, Gryffindor House

Harry looked at Ginny with a question in his eyes. Ginny looked back for a moment, then sighed and seemed to sink into herself. "Alright. Fine." She stood from the table and walked out of the kitchen. Harry finished his pancake, and then poured himself some more tea, listening to her rummage around their shared office.

He opened the first of his fan letters and skimmed it. The usual. "Dear Harry…" funny how being a fan always put you on a first name basis… "I've always been a blah blah blah… ever since you… blah blah blah…" He took another sip of his tea and without looking up called "Bottom drawer of your desk, right hand side, dear." He continued reading. "Love, Miranda Gump, Leicester. Hmm…. Put that one in the form letter and autographed picture pile."

Ginny returned to the kitchen carrying a quill, a bottle of ink, and a Chocolate Frog card. It had always embarrassed her somewhat to admit that they kept a small horde of the cards featuring themselves in the house, but she did have to admit that it made it loads easier when someone asked for an autographed card, yet forgot to send them a card to autograph. Of course, they only supplied cards to children when they asked. Adults could go out and purchase their own bloody cards, couldn't they.

Ginny signed the card with a flourish, and then handed it over to Harry for inclusion when he wrote their reply. She hoped it wouldn't become a habit, signing cards for their children's friends. "Well, at least Albus isn't wasting any time settling into school. That's good." She could only imagine what was going on at the Malfoy house this morning, if they received similar letters.

XxxxxxX

Hermione ate her toast and jam hurriedly as she read the letter from her daughter Rose. Ron, attending to the dirty dishes, saw her left eyebrow rise. It was followed by the smirk that Ron recognized as being his wife's reaction to something that was rather more interesting that straight amusing. This puzzled Ron. He couldn't image what could have happened in his daughter's trip to Hogwarts that would cause that reaction. No Dark Lord's had risen since the fall of Voldemort. No escapees from Azkaban. Nothing dangerous. So what could have happened?

Nightmare images of his little Rosie meeting a smooth-talking, Dark Arts-loving, blond haired Slytherin Lothario and falling madly into the eleven-year-old equivalent to true love flashed before his eyes, but he dismissed them quickly. Rosie had inherited her mother's brains, and those brains included enough intelligence to see when a snake was being a snake. He worried for a moment that one of his nephews or nieces had been injured or was involved in some misbehavior, then dismissed those worries as well. Hermione would have said something already.

At last, he couldn't restrain himself any longer. "So… what does Rosie say?" Hermione looked up at him, and Ron could see the wheels spinning behind her eyes. He could see it. She was wondering how much to tell him and how much to just let him find out on his own.

"Well…" Hermione began, "she starts her letter with an in-depth description of the train. She rode all the way up with James and Albus, and she's made a new friend who shared their compartment. Oh… and she said 'Hi' to Fred's portrait on the Remembrance Wall. And she was sorted into Gryffindor."

Ron watched his wife for a moment. "Go on."

Hermione grimaced. "Well, apparently her new friend was a first year boy who got bullied by some Slytherins. The head girl apparently came to this boy's rescue and put him in with Rosie and James and Albus. She spent the ride up playing exploding snap and getting to know this boy, so apparently she has a new friend. The boy got sorted into Gryffindor too, it seems."

Ron almost snarled. "The Slytherins bullying around a first year boy… that sounds familiar. I suppose Draco Malfoy's son was at the heart of it, was he?"

Hermione nodded, rereading the letter. "Actually, it appears that he was."

Ron's anger grew. "I knew I was right telling her to avoid that Malfoy boy. Can't trust them for a moment, can you. Not even all the way to Hogwarts and Malfoy's son is bullying around other First Years."

"Ron."

"I will never, not to my dying day, understand what drove Harry to testify in Draco Malfoy's defense. Once a Death Eater, always a Death Eater, I say."

"Ron!"

"So… does she say what Longbottom is planning to do about Scorpius Malfoy and his band of bullies? I mean, it would be Neville's job, since their victim was sorted…"

"RON!"

"… Into Gryffindor. What? What's the matter, Hermione?" Ron looked puzzled, as he often did when she derailed one of his carefully crafted rants.

"Scorpius Malfoy wasn't one of the bullies. He was the victim of bullying Rose and Albus befriended. Don't you understand, Ron? Scorpius Malfoy was sorted into Gryffindor!"

Ron sat for a moment, his jaw working up and down in that same blank way that cattle do. Then his eyes brightened up and he laughed. "Well… that's good then. It's good that they stood up for someone who needed standing up for. I'm right proud of her. I'm sure he'll be a credit to our old House." Ron's eyes twinkled. "Plus, this is sure to give Draco Malfoy a case of the winds."

Hermione opened her mouth to admonish her husband. He really was quite childish in some ways, despite being nearly forty years old. Before she could even begin, Ron's demeanor changed.

"Of course, he growled, "if she ends up marrying him, I'll disown her."

XxxxxxX

Draco Malfoy found he couldn't speak. His anger had verged into absolute apoplexy. He reread his son's letter for the seventh time since its arrival. Opening his mouth the second time to say something, he found once again that nothing would come.

"Draco… whatever is the matter?" Astoria Malfoy, poised as always, sat at the other end of the table, a cream-coated strawberry perched at the end of her fork. She could tell something had gone drastically wrong, but Draco hadn't said anything. "Is our son all right? What does he say, Draco?"

Draco's expression hardened. "What does he say? What does he say? Only that he's spit on hundreds of years of heritage and tradition." He angrily thrust the letter across the table to her. "Read it for yourself!" He stood and walked out of their dining room.

Astoria read slowly through the letter, enjoying her strawberries and cream as she did so. "Oh… Gryffindor… well…" Astoria herself, as most of the people in her family, had been a Slytherin when she attended Hogwarts. But her family had also produced several Ravenclaws, a small handful of Hufflepuffs, and even a rare Gryffindor or two throughout the course of its history. Things like family tradition and blood purity had never mattered as much to the Greengrasses as it did to her husband's family.

"Honestly, Draco…" she began as her husband strode back into the room. As she spoke he took up his silver-headed walking stick and traveling cloak while she continued reading the letter. "So for the first time in anyone's memory, the Noble House of Malfoy has prod…" Her voice failed her suddenly.

"Astoria, I'm going to Hogwarts and see about getting this error corrected. I shall be back as soon as I can." Draco was still livid, but he'd decided on a course of action.

Before he could leave, she stopped him with her eyes. Her voice was pure basilisk venom. "Sit." When she truly wished to, Astoria Malfoy could lace her voice with iron. "Now."

Draco Malfoy glared at his wife. He hated being told what to do. He had always hated being told what to do. But in eighteen years of marriage to Astoria, the one thing he had learned was when not to argue with her. This was obviously going to be one of those times.

He set aside his walking stick and sat. His roiling emotions played over his face like storm clouds in autumn. "Astoria. Darling." He had learned the trick of enunciating each word separately and precisely from his father. It was a useful trick when you couldn't afford to raise your voice to someone.

"Draco…. He's met… and worse, been befriended by… that slut Parkinson's bastard whelp. Putting a stop to that imbroglio is much more important than some fool's errand trying to get Scorpius resorted. Do you understand me? I don't want him anywhere near that tart!

"I hardly think that this is the time to bring up old…"

Astoria rolled her eyes. "Oh do be quiet, Draco. By Merlin, there are times you are thicker than marble." She closed her eyes, placed her palms on the table and counted to twenty, in Latin. When she was calmer, she looked back at her husband. "Really… storming up to Hogwarts and whining to Rajapaksa, Flitwick, and worst of all Longbottom won't accomplish a thing and you know it. They'd just tell you the same thing I'm telling you now: your son is a Gryffindor, and you'll have to either accept that fact, or else disown the child and hope that the next one…" her eyes narrowed dangerously, "… if there is a next one… follows in your family's grand tradition of being exclusively Slytherin."

She watched her husband's face, and then intentionally added a note of sympathy to her voice. "Do you remember my cousin? Cyril? He was there at our eighteenth anniversary party? He was in Gryffindor House, you know. And I seem to remember you saying that he was… what were your exact words again? Draco?" Astoria smiled. It wasn't a friendly smile, but rather was the self-satisfied smirk of someone who knew they had just won a point.

Draco sighed and rubbed his forehead with a gloved hand. "Yes, I remember. I said that he was 'an all right sort of chap' and that he should come round for dinner some time."

Astoria nodded. "So. Now that is settled, let's discuss something much more important. What do you intend to do about Parkinson's larva apparently deciding to take our son under her wing?"

Draco was still rubbing his forehead. His headache was only getting worse. "And what would you have me do, Astoria?"

"Forbid him from associating with her." Astoria couldn't understand why her husband was being so stupid about it all. He always had been more of a pretty boy than a great intellect, and she accepted that when she married him. Added to his abrasive personality, his less than stellar intelligence occasionally caused her to regret what was, essentially, a political marriage. She was fond enough of Draco Malfoy, but no one could ever accuse them of being overly loving to each other.

"Tell him… tell him anything, Draco. Tell him that her family and ours have always been at knife-point with each other. Tell him she's a plague-carrier, for all that I care, Draco. Just stop him from associating with her."

"There's every possibility that nothing will be said, you know." Draco finally looked up. He stared into Astoria's eyes and immediately regretted saying anything. His wife was now angrier than ever.

"Draco… do you remember the talk we had right after we first got married? Do you remember the arrangement we made?" Astoria lifted her cup and took a sip of her tea. She made face and returned the cup to the table. "I hate cold tea," she muttered.

Draco shifted in his chair. This was not a conversational direction in which he was comfortable traveling. "Of course I --"

"Good." She interrupted curtly. "And what were the rules of the arrangement, Draco?"

He fumed. With one hand he resumed rubbing, just above his left temple. "Astoria…"

"What were the rules, Draco?" She was glaring at him now.

He sat in silence for a moment. "Fine." He took a deep breath. "Rule One: We must be discreet. Rule Two: Our children must never hear a word of it. Rule Three: We never acknowledge it if someone does find out. And…" he trailed off.

Astoria glared again. "And Rule Four: No bastard children! Remind me again, Draco… which one of us violated rule four?"

He at least had the good grace to look guilty about it. "If it is that much of a concern to you, you tell him."

This, however, was not something Astoria was prepared to do. "Oh no… this is the bed you've made. Now you must lie in it."

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