September 1st, 2017
Albus Potter mumbled something along the lines of a “goodbye, excuse me,” and slipped out of the compartment. He glanced around, but the hallway was deserted; he hoped he wouldn’t run into James. He really didn’t think he could handle his brother just now.
He couldn’t even handle his cousin Rose. She was far too excited for him to cope with, and fifteen minutes in a compartment with her had his stomach doing a strange combination of pirouettes and Wronski Feints. He didn’t think throwing up all down his front would make a good first impression, even if his robes were still safely packed away out of vomit range.
Victoire had decided to be a “proper older cousin” and had ushered him and Rose in with her and some other seventh years. She and her friends were brightly chatting up Ravenclaw to Rose, trying to convince her that it would be a waste of her brains to go to Gryffindor, and Rosie was enjoying the stories and giggles like a kid in Uncle George’s shop.
Albus just felt ill.
You couldn’t pick your House, of course, no matter what dad had said to make him feel better, but Rose didn’t seem worried at all. And why should she be? Victoire was right, she was practically guaranteed a slot in Ravenclaw if the general Weasley trend were to somehow not land her in Gryffindor.
Ravenclaw wouldn’t be so bad, even if Albus was a bit worried about that whole riddle-not-password thing dad had told him about their Common Room. It would be bloody embarrassing to get stuck outside the door because you were too stupid to get yourself into your own House—but not nearly so awful and mortifying and shameful as getting stuck in Slytherin.
James seemed convinced that that was where Albus was heading, but even James often didn’t know when he was being serious or blowing hot air. Albus really hoped this was a case of the latter…but he feared it wasn’t. If he did get stuck in Slytherin House, he honestly didn’t think he’d ever be able to talk to his brother again.
He’d probably be banished from the family or something, anyway.
Albus trudged down the train’s corridor like he had rock cakes for shoes. The giggles and shouts from the compartments he passed slowly hammered his heart into his throat and he had to keep wiping his hands on his jeans to dry them off. He felt clammy all over. He just wanted to snatch a minute alone, but everywhere was packed with kids: eager to return to Hogwarts, gabbing with friends they’d missed all summer; even the other first years he spotted looked excited.
Albus wanted to jump off the train and run home.
He settled for the very last compartment, the only empty one on the train. He slid the door closed behind him with a heavy sigh of relief, then froze. He’d been wrong, it wasn’t empty.
A small, pale boy jerked upright on the bench and stared at him, clearly as shocked as Albus was himself. “Sorry,” Albus. “I uh, I thought this was—didn’t see you, I mean, I thought it was empty, didn’t mean to barge in…” He turned and tried to pull the door open and escape but his fingers were sweaty and slipped on the handle.
“It’s all right, really,” the other boy said quickly.
“Well, I didn’t want to intrude, I mean.” Albus glanced away from the door and banged his hand into the traitorous latch. He muttered some words he’d learned from James.
“No, it’s fine.” The other ran a hand through his hair which, Albus was jealous to see, promptly behaved and laid flat and looked nothing at all like something that one of Hagrid’s pets had chewed on. Albus fussed briefly at his own hair, even though he knew it was a lost cause. So much for a good first impression.
“There’s plenty of room,” the other boy continued politely. “I’m not waiting for anyone or anything. I mean, I’ve got friends on the train of course,” he added quickly. “I just, well, actually, I just left them. I ah, wanted some peace and quiet.”
Albus nodded, giving up on the impossible door. “Me too. I mean, that’s why I came back here. They’re all so…excited.” He flopped down on the opposite bench with a sigh.
“Oh yes,” the boy across from him nodded in hurried agreement. “I’m excited as well, of course. It’s just, I’m a bit nervous, also, to be honest. Just a bit.”
“Me too,” Albus admitted. They sat a moment in awkward silence. “Actually,” Albus confessed, “I’m a lot nervous.”
The other boy winced. “Yeah. So am I.” They shared a watery smile.
“My name’s Albus.” He held out a hand.
The other reached across and shook it. “Scorpius Malfoy. Pleased to meet you.”
They sat in silence for another minute. Albus shifted uncomfortably. He wanted reassurance, but he didn’t want to admit what for.
“So, uh,” he ventured at last with a cheery smile, “excited for the Sorting?”
Scorpius’s face went greenish and he nodded stiffly.
Albus smirked without humor. “Yeah,” he said, “me neither.”
Scorpius looked out the window, away from Albus. “Well,” he said gruffly, “I’d hate to disappoint anyone.”
Albus swallowed. “Yeah. Same here.”
They sat in silence for a while, not meeting one another’s eyes. Albus picked at the dirt under his nails. Then as if on some silent cue, they both spoke suddenly at the same time in a nervous burst:
“I’m worried I might not make it into Slytherin.”
“I’m afraid I’m going to end up in Slytherin.”
They stared at each other tensely, then Scorpius snorted. Albus tried to swallow a grin. Then they were both laughing and Albus felt the clammy feeling fade to a dull albeit persistent niffler in the pit of his stomach.
By the time the snack trolley came by, they were chatting happily and with nausea lessened enough to allow them to enjoy the products of said trolley (which, Albus noted, did not include the fingers of potential students who hadn’t made it through last year’s Sorting, so James was a filthy liar). Albus shared some of the less embarrassing stories about his brother; less embarrassing for him, that is, not James. Scorpius confessed that he often wondered what it might be like to have a brother, and Albus assured him that it couldn’t possibly be worth it and he was better off without. At least these days. Brothers apparently changed after they went to school, and they turned into annoying jerks.
“Cousins are fun, though,” he added. “I’ve got a bunch of those, and they’re much nicer than James is.”
Scorpius raised an eyebrow. “I don’t know, I have a few cousins myself, and I really wouldn’t recommend their company.”
Albus laughed and tried to prod his chocolate frog into a few more jumps but all it managed was a feeble sort of half-hop that tipped it onto the floor and then there was a mad scramble to catch it before it skittered off under the benches or out the door.
Then somehow most of the ride was gone and they were fiddling with their robes and had fallen into a nervous silence. Albus was finding it hard to swallow and he really, really wished he hadn’t eaten those last two pumpkin pasties. The Fizzing Whizbees might have been a bad idea too, come to think of it…
He hoped he wasn’t going to be ill. He’d just put his robes on. He glanced across to try and get Scorpius talking, hoping for a distraction, but Scorpius looked even sicker than he felt.
“So, um…nervous?” Albus asked, then realized what a stupid question that was, and wished he hadn’t spoken.
Scorpius just nodded shortly, as if unable to force out speech. They sat in silence again, and Albus fidgeted. But Albus wasn’t very good at silence; even with just his siblings and parents and usually Teddy, his house was never quiet, and once all the other relatives who tended to stop over at odd times were added to the mix, Albus was more comfortable around chaos than anything else. He just wasn’t generally the one causing the noise, so he couldn’t think of anything to say to cancel out the silence.
“Who are you so afraid of disappointing?” he finally burst out with.
Scorpius wrenched his eyes from the window to look at Albus, who for a minute was afraid he’d gone too far, and offended the other boy, but then he spoke, slowly and with apparent great effort: “My family,” he said quietly. “Especially my father.”
Albus nodded. “Yeah. My family, too. Dad promises they won’t care, but…”
“You don’t believe them.” It wasn’t a question, and Albus didn’t need to ask to know that Scorpius felt the same way.
“No,” he agreed anyway. “He says he won’t, but…”
There was silence for another long minute, and they felt the train slowing down. Albus wondered if that was the screech of the brakes he was hearing, or if someone was screaming distantly inside his head. He shifted uneasily on the bench and wished he knew how to Disapparate. He wished he’d never come to Hogwarts. He wished…
“I hope you get into Slytherin,” he told Scorpius suddenly.
The other boy gave him a watery smile in response. “And I hope you don’t,” he replied.
Albus grinned. It was a weak, tremulous grin, but it was still an attempt at a smile, and somehow it made him feel better. He lurched to his feet. “Well,” he said. “I guess we’d better go.”
“Yeah.” Scorpius stood up, but made no move to go further. “I guess so.”
As if on some invisible signal, they both turned quickly and pulled down their trunks. Albus had brought his into the compartment when they decided to change into their robes; Rose hadn’t even noticed Albus coming in, she was so enraptured by Victoire and the other Ravenclaws who were fawning over her. Albus wondered if he’d be able to find her; he would have felt better with her at his side during the Sorting, but she was probably long swept away by the crush of students.
At least he had Scorpius with him, so he wouldn’t be exactly alone. It was odd, the way they were both so afraid of the same thing, and yet the exact opposite as well. As much as Albus hoped he would be sorted anywhere but Slytherin, he hoped Scorpius made it into that dreaded House. Clearly the other boy was mental, wanting to go there, but it was what he wanted.
Albus hoped that wouldn’t make them enemies; he was starting to think of Scorpius as a friend, and it would have been great to start school with a friend already made, especially one he wasn’t related to.
The First Years were clustering—you could spot them by the anxious looks on their faces and the way they huddled together and, of course, by the lack of colors on their clothing to indicate House status—so Albus and Scorpius made their way to the end of the pack. Albus looked around for James or Rose, or any of the other Weasleys, but the sea of robes somehow seemed to contain no familiar faces.
Then he heard a gruff, very large voice calling, “Firs’ years over here!” and Hagrid was looming over the crowd. Albus grinned with relief. “Come on,” he said to Scorpius and shoved his way as quickly as he could over to the half-giant, leading the rest of the First Years who all followed with much less eagerness.
“All right there, Albus?” Hagrid asked, and Albus beamed.
“Hey Hagrid!” For a minute the nerves were all gone. It was impossible to be nervous with Hagrid around (as long as he didn’t have any animals with him).
Hagrid patted Albus’s shoulder, almost knocking him down. “Righ’ then, go on inter the boats.” He gave a very large, very unsubtle wink and dropped his voice down to what was probably Hagrid’s approximation of a whisper. “I’ll see yeh inside,” he said. “Gotta get this lot over the lake firs’ yeh know.”
Albus grinned. “Right,” he said, and led the way to the boats he’d been waiting to see for as long as he could remember. His stomach felt like it had grown wings and elation bubbled up inside him. He knew he was smiling like an idiot but he couldn’t stop himself, he was too excited. Finally, Hogwarts…
Albus jumped into the first of the small boats and looked around for Rose. He heard Hagrid greeting her, but they were too far back in the crowd for Albus to spot his cousin over the heads of the other First Years. Scorpius climbed into the boat next to him, looking like he might soon be ill.
“Don’t worry,” Albus said reassuringly, his own anxiety for the moment forgotten in the combination of Hagrid’s familiar presence and the excitement of being here at last. “Hagrid’ll get us there fine. He does this every year.”
Scorpius nodded but didn’t look in any way comforted. “Right,” he said in a very sharp, shrill voice.
The two students who joined them for the boat ride over looked like they were every bit as anxious and uncomfortable as Scorpius, and none of them spoke as the boats splashed through the wide lake, Hogwarts looming in front of them like some dark, light-speckled shape spilling out of fog and legend.
Victoire and her friends waved goodbye, shouting encouragements and good luck before bustling off in an excited gaggle towards where Rose knew the carriages with their invisible thestrals waited to take the older students up to the castle.
Rose took a deep breath and pushed her way through the crowd towards the burly figure of Hagrid, easily visible over the throng of students milling around him. She kept an eye out for Albus, but he seemed to have vanished without a trace. Rose knew that he’d followed Victoire into the compartment too, but at some point, he must have walked out again without her noticing.
Rose felt sort of bad about that. She and Al had talked about Hogwarts for years, excited at the idea of getting to go together, and she’d meant for them to stick together the whole time. Seventh year Ravenclaws were just so distracting, especially when they were all paying attention to you.
Rose wasn’t exactly shy, but she was far from outgoing, at least for a Weasley. She wasn’t as bad as Hugo, who would duck behind her, or their parents, or the nearest book to try and avoid conversation with strangers, but she wasn’t like James or Dominique or Fred, either; wasn’t like any of the rest of them except for Albus. She’d been flustered by the Ravenclaws fussing over her, flustered and embarrassed and, all right, a little flattered, too.
And she’d forgotten Albus. Rose had to find him and apologize for that—not that he shouldn’t apologize, too, for running off without saying goodbye. The jerk. They were supposed to walk into Hogwarts together, and she could hardly do that if she couldn’t find him, now could she?
Rose huffed in irritation and tried to squirm through the crowd. The first years in front of her were clustering tightly together, though, seemingly intimidated by Hagrid (which was silly, because he didn’t have anything dangerous with him) and thus pressed too close to one another to let Rose easily slip through. She thought she caught sight of Albus’s untidy black hair near the front of the pack as they trooped down towards the lake, but just then Hagrid spotted her and bellowed a hello, and by the time Rose finished greeting their half-giant almost-uncle, she had quite lost sight of her cousin.
She spotted him again at the boats, but his already had its full compliment of four: a short girl with thick braids and glasses, another with a mop of curls who looked seasick already, and a small, pale boy with blond hair who was huddling at Albus’s side like he was afraid of the water. Rose frowned. Why hadn’t Albus saved her a seat? Surely he must have expected that she’d catch up with him eventually.
Rose huffed in further irritation and climbed into a boat of her own. She was too busy scowling at Albus to pay much attention to her own companions, offering only a perfunctory greeting in response to the scrawny boy who caught her hand and shook it excitedly. She didn’t catch his name, but thought she could hardly be blamed for that, because Hogwarts had suddenly come into sight.
Everyone was reduced to breathless silence, staring at the towering castle that had loomed, suddenly, up over the dark lake. Rose felt a grin spreading over her face that she couldn’t possibly have stopped.
She didn’t bother to try.
Rose practically bounced up the long steps and longer corridors, skipping to the Great Hall. She still hadn’t worked her way over to Albus, but she hardly cared anymore. This was Hogwarts! She was grinning all over and felt positively fit to burst. She’d never been this excited before in her life, except maybe on the first day dad had let her ride his broom all by herself. Maybe that.
But maybe not.
Then Professor Vector swept in, looking tall and imperious and imposing. Rose shrank back a little, her smile faltering—just a little bit. Vector was intimidating. Rose gulped, suddenly glad that Arithmancy was one of the elective classes that one couldn’t take until third year. At first that had seemed the height of unfairness but now, staring Professor Vector in the eye, Rose had to admit that she was a little bit relieved that she wouldn’t have to face the Deputy Headmistress in the classroom quite yet.
Rose shuffled her feet, which had suddenly become very interesting, and avoided making eye-contact with anyone. Her stomach felt funny and empty, despite the veritable feast of junkfood that she had consumed on the train, and her hands hung like heavy lumps of ice at her side. She crossed her arms tightly over her chest and swallowed hard. She wouldn’t be afraid. She couldn’t be, not if she wanted to be a Gryffindor...
Not that being a Ravenclaw would be bad, of course. And then she’d be with Vicky and Dom...that would be fun...and Albus was really clever, too, so maybe he’d be with her, even if she ended up there, and not in Gryffindor where he would probably be.
Weasleys were always in Gryffindor, all evidence of Victoire and Dominique to the contrary. They were exceptional, and so they were exceptions. But Gryffindor was still the family house and Rose had to admit, deep down inside, that she’d rather go there than anywhere else, even Ravenclaw, where the people were bookish and brilliant and, truth be told, probably more like her than the Gryffindors were.
But she was a Weasley, darn it!
Rose shook her head furiously then combed her hair back out of her eyes. That was silly nonsense, thinking like that. It wasn’t like she’d have a choice, anyway. The Hat decided, and the Hat’s word was law. Rose knew, because she’d done her research. She would be in the house it picked for her, and it didn’t matter which one she’d decided to prefer. It wasn’t like the hat took input from the students, after all.
Not that it mattered. Ravenclaw would be fine. Sure, dad would be a little bit disappointed—she knew he would be—and maybe mom, too, even, but not much. Not as much as dad had pretended he would be, to tease her.
And they’d get over it quickly, just like Uncle Bill had when Victoire was first sorted. He’d been startled and wounded for all of one-half-of-ten-minutes before he was prancing about, crowing with pride over how clever and smart and brilliant his daughter was, to be sorted into Ravenclaw. Not even Rose’s mum had been a Ravenclaw, Bill had preened, and she was the smartest person anyone knew. Rose’s mum had been amused by that, but Rose’s dad had tried to work out whether or not it was an insult before his wife had sighed, smiled, and told him to stop being ridiculous.
And Uncle Bill had done the same thing when Dominique had been sorted—baffled and hurt, then proud and baffled—and, odds were good, would soon end up doing the same thing when Louis got to Hogwarts.
So Rose wasn’t worried, not about the sorting. Vaguely it occurred to her to wonder what her parents’ reactions would be to Hufflepuff or Slytherin, but only vaguely. She was going to be in Gryffindor, or in Ravenclaw; everyone knew that. She’d never even entertained the idea of the other two houses. It would have been a waste of time.
And Rose Weasley was far too sensible to let herself waste time.
By the time they had trooped up from the boats and into Hogwarts, Albus’s heart had climbed back into his throat and he felt sure that he looked just as pale and nauseated as Scorpius. The blond boy offered him a tremulous smile. “I hope you don’t get sorted into Slytherin,” he said quietly.
Albus did his best to return the weak grin. “Hope you do,” he whispered.
Then the First Years stopped talking entirely because a stern looking witch with short silvery hair and long black robes stood in front of them. She looked down at the students with a blank expression on her sharp, angular face. Albus took a step backwards, wishing that he wasn’t in the first row of their small crowd.
Hagrid shifted his way through, First Years scattering to either side like a very nervous sea being parted by the half-giant’s bulk. He winked at Albus again but this time said nothing. “Here’s the firs’ years, Septima,” he told the imposing witch.
She nodded. “Thank you, Hagrid. You may go ahead to the Great Hall, I’ll bring the new students in a moment.”
“Right yeh are,” said Hagrid, who turned around for another wink and a wave before shuffling off down the hallway.
“Well,” said the witch, “welcome to Hogwarts.” Her face could have been made of slate for all the cheer it showed but Albus noticed, maybe just with wishful thinking, that her dark eyes were merry. “I am Professor Vector. You will follow me to the Great Hall, where you will wait patiently and without talking while you are called one-by-one up to the Sorting Hat in alphabetical order. You will then have the Hat placed on your head, whereupon it will announce into which House you will be placed for the duration of your studies here. You will not argue.”
Albus was really beginning to have serious regrets over losing track of Rose. He wished she were standing next to him right now. His cousin almost always seemed to know what to say. And right now Albus would have just liked to be able to hold her hand.
“You will follow me now,” the silvery-haired witch said, “and you will do it without talking, please.” It didn’t sound much like a request. Albus tried to shift backwards to let the other students go first, but no one seemed eager to follow their guide. Vector turned back around to the immobile First Years. One of her eyebrows tilted upwards at a sharp, almost ninety-degree angle. “Now, please.”
This time they followed, stumbling over each other. The First Years bunched up in a huddle at the threshold of the Great Hall, unwilling to walk too far into it. The sky was every bit as impressive as everyone had told him it would be, but Albus had no eyes for the stars and clouds over his head right now. He was staring at the four long tables and the distant stool with the ratty old hat perched on it.
He looked at the staff table at the end of the hall, and the professors perched there, and couldn’t manage to return Hagrid’s smiling wave. He looked away from the teachers and his eyes landed on the table of gold and red. His brother was there, grinning, and somehow Albus met James’s eyes across the crowded hall. James punched the shoulder of a young wizard next to him and pointed towards the First Years; towards Albus. A whole crowd of Gryffindors turned to look. Albus couldn’t hear what James was saying to them but then he saw his brother stick out his tongue between his teeth and knew that James was hissing.
All of a sudden Albus couldn’t hear anything at all for the rushing in his ears. He squeezed his eyes shut because the room was spinning and Albus didn’t think it was due to an enchantment. Someone far away was singing but Albus couldn’t hear it. He was too preoccupied trying to breathe in great, ragged gulps of air. He felt himself sway and knew that he would just die of mortification if he passed out here in front of James and everyone else in the Great Hall.
Someone put a hand on his shoulder and the room settled back into place. Albus pulled his eyes back open and normal sound returned to the world. The singing was coming from the Hat, which seemed to be finishing up. Its voice was surprisingly strong for a tattered, ancient piece of headgear, but Albus knew that the Hat was more than it looked to be and singing was one of the smallest talents in its repertoire. It was also the least frightening; the song didn’t worry Albus, although he did wish he’d paid attention to the rest of it instead of tuning out all but the last few lines:
“…and that is why
You needn’t try and read your hearts
To know your minds, my friends,
For the Sorting is tonight!”
“You all right?” Scorpius whispered as the rest of the hall cheered the Sorting Hat. He didn’t move his hand away until Albus nodded.
“Yeah,” he said. “Thanks.”
Scorpius’s smile was sickly. “Don’t mention it,” he said, his tone clearly indicating that he knew exactly how Albus felt at that horrible moment.
Then talking was done again because the stern looking witch that had led them into the hall had walked up to the Hat and the stool and taken a long scroll out of her robes. “Adams, Corran,” Professor Vector announced, and a short wizard with a mop of brown curls scrambled up to be Sorted. His face was very red and he looked horrified at having to be the first of the First Years. He was sent off to Gryffindor amidst cheers and applause and Albus felt nothing but jealousy.
He craned his neck to look back at the rest of the First Years and at last caught sight of Rose about halfway back in the crowd and very pale. Albus tried to smile at her but he had a feeling he didn’t manage it very well. Rose just blinked owlishly at him, her cheeks so white that her freckles seemed to be swimming a few inches away from her face. Albus looked away again, his eyes blurring as students pushed past him up to the stool and the Hat and the scroll of names.
Next to him, Scorpius was at least as pale as Rose if not more so. He had laced his fingers together tightly and was twisting them back and forth against each other. He didn’t seem to realize he was doing it. Albus couldn’t believe he was actually thinking it, but he really, really hoped that Scorpius got sorted into Slytherin. Of all places. Some people, Albus decided, were utterly mental.
As long as he ended up anywhere else—it didn’t even have to be Gryffindor, he wasn’t picky. Just because most of his family had always been in Gryffindor—Albus didn’t care. Just not Slytherin, anything but Slytherin. He’d love to prove to James that he was good enough for Gryffindor, but there was nothing wrong with Ravenclaw or Hufflepuff, either. Victoire and Dominique were both in Ravenclaw, much to Uncle Bill’s proud chagrin; Albus could have joined them there, gladly. And Teddy was gone, but he’d been a Hufflepuff, and anywhere Teddy had been had to have been awesome, because he was. Just because most of the family was in Gryffindor didn’t mean Albus had to be, too. Just so long as he wasn’t in Slytherin.
But crazy Scorpius actually wanted to be. Albus glanced over at his new friend, then back up at the Sorting Hat. Under the cover of the applause from the Ravenclaw table as the Sorting Hat sent them “Lloyd, Alexis,” Albus leaned over and whispered quickly to Scorpius, “dad told me sometimes the Hat will listen to where you want to go.”
Scorpius started and turned to look up at Albus, his grey eyes wide. “Really?” he asked, his voice strangled.
Albus nodded but not as firmly as he would have liked to. “It did for him,” he said. Then he shrugged. “Can’t hurt to ask, right?”
Scorpius nodded slowly and might have smiled but then the professor said, “Malfoy, Scorpius,” and he shuddered instead. The two boys exchanged a brief, sickly smile that meant good luck, hope I’m not sitting next to you in a few minutes, then Scorpius tossed his head back and walked very firmly up to the Hat. Someone at the Gryffindor table shouted something garbled and rude but Scorpius didn’t seem to notice.
Albus crossed the fingers on both his hands and hoped as hard as he could manage. The Hat dropped down over Scorpius’s wan face and sat there for what seemed like an eternity. Albus could see Scorpius’s lips moving a little bit, and knew without hearing what he had to be whispering over and over: “Please Slytherin, please Slytherin, please Slytherin.” Albus knew, because he was going to be thinking just the opposite very shortly. He bit his lip and waited almost as anxiously as if he had been the one up there on that stool.
Albus wondered what was taking the Hat so long. Several of his fellow first years started to fidget, and they weren’t the only ones. Even the teachers seemed to find the Hat’s deliberations more time-consuming than usual, or so Albus assumed from the odd looks they kept exchanging and the occasional muttered comment he was too far away to hear. Albus noticed some of the older students checking their watches, and a flurry of whispers started to travel around the hall.
Scorpius swayed on the stool, and Albus worried that the pale boy was about to topple off of it in a faint. His feet itched to run up so that someone would be there to catch the wobbling wizard before his skull hit the hard stone floor, but Albus bit his lip and forced himself to remain in place. Besides, Professor Vector was standing right next to the stool, and seemed to have inched a little bit closer to Scorpius while they were all waiting on the Hat, so probably she would be able to save him if he fell.
Albus was biting his lip so hard that he tasted blood. Seconds seemed to be passing like hours, and the low murmur of noise in the hall grew steadily louder.
Then finally the Hat’s brim split and it shouted, “SLYTHERIN!”
For a moment, there was nothing but silence, as everyone tried to pretend that they hadn’t jumped; after being silent for so long, the Hat’s shout had caught nearly everyone off-guard. Then Professor Vector raised the Hat off of Scorpius’s head, revealing an incredibly broad grin on his pointed face, and someone let out a relieved whoop that started the rest of the school reflexively applauding. Albus Potter cheered louder than anyone at the green and silver table.
(In fact, the Slytherins didn’t seem to be cheering quite as loudly for Scorpius as they had for their other first years, but maybe that was because Albus was himself shouting loudly enough to drown them out, or maybe it was just because they were still flustered by the Sorting Hat’s strange delay.)
Albus completely missed the destinations of the students who were on the list between the he and Scorpius, because he was too busy grinning at the pale boy from across the room. Albus actually jumped in surprise when his own name was read off and he hurried up to the Hat amidst a scattering of giggles and hushed voices. He grinned at Scorpius as he climbed up onto the stool and before the Hat dropped over his eyes he saw the oddly startled-looking boy offer an encouraging “thumb’s up” of good luck.
Albus took a deep breath and inhaled a musty, slightly spicy smell. The Hat smelled like age and mildew and possibly lemon drops. He was glad that Scorpius had gotten where he’d so wanted to go, but part of Albus was disappointed to think that he might not get the chance to know the other boy better. He really thought he’d been starting to make a friend and it would be a shame to lose that when they’d gotten along so well. But of course, it didn’t mean they couldn’t be friends; look at his cousins Victoire and Dominique, neither of them had had any trouble making friends outside their House and granted they had a little bit of an edge there but—
Then the Hat spoke and Albus almost fell off the stool. “Interesting,” it said in his head. “Very interesting indeed.” Albus’s mind went blank and the rushing was back in his ears. The Hat was inside his head. Or was it speaking aloud? It hadn’t said anything for the other First Years, just the name of their House when it was done thinking, but maybe he just hadn’t been able to hear what it said because it hadn’t been out loud.
“Yes, quite a peculiar case…seem a lot like your father, I remember him well…and I do think you'd do best in...”
Then it said, and its voice was a loud roar that echoed through the Great Hall of Hogwarts, “SLYTHERIN!” and Albus’s whole world went cold. He hadn’t even—he hadn’t been thinking, hadn’t been asking, had just blanked when he’d needed to—he hadn’t asked, hadn’t gotten the chance to—
Albus Potter slipped numbly off the stool and almost fell over his own feet as the Sorting Hat was lifted up and the bright light of the Hall rushed in again. It couldn’t be real, it couldn’t have happened, not like that, he hadn’t even asked, hadn’t even tried—
But the Hat had spoken, and the stern-faced teacher gave him a gentle push in the direction of the table on the wrong side of the room, the wrong side, and everything was blurred and oddly hushed and all Albus could see through the haze covering his vision was the stricken face of Scorpius Malfoy staring at him in horror.
He walked jerkily over to the green and silver table and almost collapsed on the bench next to Scorpius. He didn’t notice the difference in reaction to his Sorting than to all the ones that had come before, didn’t notice the whispers and the looks of surprise and the very slight, very startled and mostly automatic applause that eventually managed to follow the announcement of his House. He didn’t dare turn around and look at James, didn’t dare turn and look at anyone; not at his family, not up at Hagrid or Neville, not even at Rose in the dwindling crowd of First Years or Scorpius on the bench next to him.
He sat in a blank stupor until the Sorting got around to “Weasley, Rose.” Then Albus jerked out of his dismal fugue and managed to focus his eyes on the girl with the mane of dark red hair who trotted up to the stool, swallowed hard, and vanished beneath the Hat.
It sat there for a very, very long time, then announced, “GRYFFINDOR!” and that table broke out in wild, Weasley-led applause.
Albus didn’t hear the last two names after Rose’s. He just put his head down on the table, unable to watch his cousin walk over to the Gryffindor table. He could hear his brother’s whoop over the rest of the cheers and thought quite seriously about running out of the Hall so he could go be ill somewhere in private.
“What’s wrong, Potter?” someone asked, and Albus had never realized before that his name could be used as a swear, but in the mouth of that Slytherin boy—his Housemate, he thought before he could stop himself—it sounded fouler than anything even Uncle George had ever come up with. “You don’t look overwhelmed with good fortune.” Someone else laughed, then two or three others joined in.
Albus wanted to die.
“If I had to look at your ugly face across from me,” a girl’s voice interrupted, “I’d keep my head down, too.”
Albus peeked up from his arms. The three boys across from him—and they all looked like they were at least Fourth Years, maybe older or maybe they were just big—had all turned away to look at a skinny witch with a long black plait down her back. The three students between Albus and the girl were trying not to meet anyone’s eyes and looked like they were debating whether it would be safer to duck under the table or jump off the back of the bench when the curses started flying.
“Watch yourself, Vaisey,” said the boy who had spoken first. “Just because you’re not a Firstie this year doesn’t mean you shouldn’t still know your place.”
The girl raised her eyebrows. “Wow,” she said dryly, “your threats have gotten even less creative than last year, Muggins.” She crossed her arms inside the sleeves of her robes and the three students between Vaisey and Muggins tensed. So did Muggins and the two boys flanking him. One of them reached under the table but he didn’t come out with his wand just yet.
The Headmaster was speaking, but no one at this little section of the Slytherin table was listening. The three older boys stared at the witch and Albus wondered if any of them knew how to blink.
“No one’s scared of a little girl, Vaisey,” said the boy on the right of the one who’d spoken first. The other one, the one who had reached for his wand, said nothing.
“Really,” drawled Vaisey. “Why don’t you go ask Avery if he’s scared.”
“Second Years need to be careful,” said Muggins, scowling. “Bad things can happen to snotty brats in Hogwarts.”
“Before or after they tutor Fourth Years in Transfiguration, Muggins?” she asked sweetly. “Or, I’m sorry, did your friends not know?”
Muggins went red, possibly with embarrassment, possibly with fury, and he reached into his robe. The three students between Vaisey and Albus ducked.
“Muggins,” Scorpius drawled, almost to himself, and Albus jumped. “Sounds a lot like Muggle.” He looked up, innocent curiosity the only thing detectable on his pointed face. “Did your family only come into magic recently?” he asked politely.
Muggins turned away from Vaisey, forgetting his wand. “Are you calling me a Mudblood, Malfoy?” The older boy stood up and leaned across the table, looming over the two First Years. Albus flinched and wasn’t sure if it was at the suddenly threatening proximity of the older boy or from his venomous language.
“Heavens no,” sneered Scorpius, and somehow when he tilted his head up to look at the Slytherin towering over him he still managed to look like he was looking down his nose at him. “I would never be so vulgar,” he said coldly. Scorpius shook his head mournfully, his eyes never leaving Muggins’s face. “And in front of ladies, too,” he added, voice absolutely dripping with derisive melodrama. “Appalling.”
A few students snickered. Muggins went pink. An older boy with tightly-cropped dark hair leaned over the boy who still hadn’t brought his hand and wand up from under the table. He thumped Muggins on the back of the head. “Way to impress the First Years,” he said. A few people laughed. “Now shut it before someone decides to hex your tongue off.”
Muggins sank down in his seat looking mutinous but quieted. His two friends matched his posture and expression. The older boy rolled his eyes. Albus noticed that he was wearing a Prefect badge. “Sorry about that, Vaisey. Malfoy.” He didn’t say Potter, but he met Albus’s eyes and nodded civilly.
“Don’t worry about it, Tremblay,” the girl replied with a shrug. “If Muggins wasn’t putting his foot in his mouth we’d have to test him for Polyjuice or a pulse.”
There was more laughter and Muggins stood up, flanked by the other two boys. They glowered at Vaisey and Scorpius, but wouldn’t look at Tremblay. The three Fourth Years shuffled off to find seats further down the table.
“True,” said Tremblay. He reached across the table and shook Scorpius’s hand. “Welcome to Slytherin, anyway.” He smiled wryly, as if to silently add, such as we are…
“Thank you,” Scorpius said, and the relieved grin was back on his face. “It’s a pleasure.”
Albus’s heart sank. For a minute he’d been too distracted by the impending scuffle to remember, but everyone around him was wearing green and silver. Then a copper-brown hand was in front of his face and he looked up to find Tremblay staring at him expectantly. Albus shook the hand quickly.
“Thank you,” he said, although his voice was very small.
“Hmm,” was all Tremblay said, then the Prefect turned away from the two First Years to resume whatever conversation he’d been having before the interruption.
“Nicely done, Malfoy,” Vaisey said and nodded. Then she turned away, too, and the students around them slowly resumed their talking. At some point food had arrived on the tables but Albus hadn’t noticed. The Slytherins descended on the feast.
Albus put a chocolate trifle on his plate but then just stared at it. He didn’t think he could eat right now. Or maybe ever.
“Hey.” Scorpius no longer looked triumphant; in fact, he looked miserable. “I’m sorry,” he said.
Albus shrugged. “Nah, thanks for telling them off. It was pretty—”
“No,” Scorpius interrupted, “I mean, sorry that you’re here.”
“Oh,” said Albus. “Thanks.” He managed a weak smile. “Congratulations.”
Scorpius seemed to be trying to keep his own grin in check. “Thanks,” he said.
Then someone else leaned across the table to ask Scorpius something, and Albus tuned it all out again. He remembered the so-excited-it-was-almost-illegible letter James had sent home right after his Sorting. Into Gryffindor.
Albus didn’t think he could bear to write a letter of his own. He didn’t know where to begin. Although James would probably take care of that for him. He’d be crowing with victory over Albus’s devastating Sorting. Or maybe James would be swallowed by the Giant Squid before he got the chance to write anything. Albus could hope.
He stared at the untouched trifle. He decided to pour himself some pumpkin juice instead; it seemed like a safer bet than sweets. He managed to get the pumpkin juice down and keep it there. It didn’t taste like the pumpkin juice they had at home.
Albus tried very hard not to cry.
Scorpius had never felt quite so alone as when he stepped away from Albus to make the long walk up to the stool with the waiting Sorting Hat. Even leaving his parents to board the Hogwarts Express at Platform 9¾ had not been quite so hard; there had been excitement, then, to overwhelm his anxiety. But this was the moment of truth come at last and the only delay now was in how slowly he could bear to trudge down the gauntlet of the Great Hall. Scorpius raised his chin proudly and forced his stride to be firm and confident. No matter his trepidation—no, his terror—he would not appear a coward in the eyes of the watching students. He was Scorpius Malfoy and he would do his best to make his family proud. Most of that was out of his hands, though; other than how he comported himself during this trial, everything was up to the Hat.
He didn’t know why they had to do this in front of everyone. Wouldn’t it have been kinder by far to keep the Hat in a small room where it would be just you and it, with no one to watch and see your misery? But then, of course, you would have to be the one to tell in which House you had been put. There were three Houses whose names, Scorpius knew, he would never be able to make himself pronounce if they were what the Hat decreed to be his fate. Perhaps a teacher, then, in the room as well? Just one, standing quietly to the side, who would tell your Head of House and allow you to flee there immediately after the Sorting, not having to face anyone at all.
Scorpius wondered what happened if a student just fainted in the middle of the Great Hall, or refused to put on the Hat. He wondered what would happen if he ran back out the door to the train—but no, there was the lake, and the train was already gone. There was no way to avoid the situation now that he had come this far. He was trapped.
And now he stood at the Hat. There was nothing any more between him and despair. Scorpius swallowed very hard and pulled himself up onto the stool. Far away at the other end of the hall Albus stood at the front of the cluster of First Years. He looked very pale. Then Professor Vector dropped the Hat over Scorpius’s head and all he saw was darkness.
He squeezed his eyes shut. Please Slytherin, he thought as hard as he could. Please Slytherin, please Slytherin! He hoped desperately that Albus was right and that the Hat was feeling kind. “Please Slytherin,” he whispered. There was nothing in this world more important to him than pleasing his family, and Scorpius was certain that the only way to do that was to follow all of the previous generations of Malfoys into the noble House of Salazar Slytherin. His father had said it did not matter but for once in his life, Scorpius did not take his father at his word.
It was stuffy under the hat, and hard to breathe. It smelled vaguely of lemon drops and dust. Scorpius ignored it; the only thing that mattered was what word would next leave the Hat’s brim. He could feel himself trembling and tried to stop. He didn’t want anyone to think he was anything but confident of his imminent placement into Slytherin. His reputation was entirely unformed as of yet and needed no maintaining, but there was the family name to think of. Scorpius would not be the one to bring disgrace to his family, no matter the cost. His father would be proud of him. He would be in Slytherin.
He was Scorpius Malfoy. He was not going to be a disappointment. He was going to do great things, and he was going to wear green while he did them.
There was a quiet sound like muffled chuckling. Scorpius flinched beneath the Hat. “Hello?” he whispered, very quietly. “Can you…can you hear me?” There was no answer. “Please,” Scorpius asked tentatively, his lips barely moving, “please, I want to be—Slytherin—I belong in Slytherin,” he said. “I want—no, I have to be—”
“Oh do you now?” the Hat asked.
Scorpius felt himself sway on the stool, and swallowed hard.
“Yes,” he whispered.
“I think I may be rather a better judge of that than you, Scorpius Malfoy,” the Hat told him.
Scorpius shivered with horror. “Not if you judge me wrong,” he whispered. “I belong in Slytherin,” he said again, his lips barely moving for fear that if he let them, he would scream.
“A mind as quick and hungry for knowledge as yours would do well in Ravenclaw,” the Hat pointed out.
“Slytherin appreciates cleverness as well,” Scorpius argued.
“Anyone brave and stubborn enough to argue with me would be well suited to Gryffindor,” the Hat suggested.
“I won’t even dignify that with a response,” Scorpius sneered coldly. He felt the vaguest sense of movement off to the side, and wondered if Professor Vector had heard him. He dropped his voice, but kept the tone very firm: “Only a fool would entertain the idea of putting a Malfoy in Gryffindor,” he told the Hat, “and none of my research indicates that you suffer from excessive foolishness.”
The Hat laughed at him. “And that indicates to me, little Malfoy, how ideally suited you are to Ravenclaw. Oh, I admit, you are no Gryffindor, boy; I said that just to rankle you. But as far as Ravenclaw is concerned—”
“I’m not a Ravenclaw,” Scorpius insisted, a little too loudly. “I’m not,” he said again, whispering this time. “The only place that I am ‘ideally suited to’ is Slytherin , and you—you have to recognize that,” he pleaded, his voice breaking despite his best efforts not to let it.
“You are more suited to Ravenclaw than you are willing to credit, boy,” the Hat told him kindly. “It is no bad thing; given your great respect for knowledge, I cannot see how you could entertain so fleetingly Rowena’s tower of study. You would do well there, and be happy for the friends you would find, and happier still for the opportunities provided in that House: the things you would learn and the studies you would master.”
“I have nothing against Ravenclaw,” Scorpius murmured, “not her house, nor her ideals, and I certainly have nothing against knowledge or intellect. But Ravenclaw is not the house for me—and you know it. I know you do.”
“I do not say that you are entirely unsuited to Slytherin; merely that to give so little thought to Ravenclaw as you have done might be doing you a disservice.”
“Putting me in Ravenclaw—or anywhere other than Slytherin—is the only disservice you could do me,” Scorpius retorted firmly. He clenched the seat of the stool hard with sweaty palms, and tried not to gulp aloud when he swallowed. “That’s where I belong—the only place I can possibly belong.”
“And what are your ambitions then, Scorpius Malfoy, if you think you are so perfect for the house of ambitions and great deeds?”
“I am a Malfoy,” Scorpius told the Hat coolly, “what ambition do I need beyond that?”
The Hat laughed again, its chuckle warm in his ears, although it sent shivers of ice up his spine. This Hat held his fate, his entire future, in its next decision; that wasn’t fair. The Hat had belonged to Godric Gryffindor after all, hadn’t it? It must surely be biased, as its owner must have been, and Scorpius thought it was wretched that they were all made to adhere to the absurd ramblings of an antique piece of headgear, especially one that had belonged to such a brash, foolhardy man as Gryffindor was reported to have been. It wasn’t fair and he did not approve.
Scorpius didn’t care if no one had ever mounted a successful argument against the Sorting Hat before, in all the years that Hogwarts had been in operation; no one else had ever had his family’s team of lawyers to aide them, not to mention Scorpius’s own sharp wits and sharper tongue. Let the Hat say what it would, Scorpius would be in Slytherin in the end, and if the Hat disagreed—well then, it could just get used to disappointment, and maybe some long-overdue re-upholstery!
“You don’t upholster a hat, boy,” the shabby old thing chided him.
“That won’t stop me,” Scorpius sneered.
The Hat chuckled. “Threats have never worked against me, child,” it said, “not when they came from Tommy Riddle and not now coming from you. But I will give you points on attention to detail; no one else has planned out quite so elaborate a court case against me before, and in less than three minutes, too. I am impressed with your faculties, Scorpius Malfoy. I sense great things from you.”
Then the Hat moved and Scorpius couldn’t breathe or move or think. He opened his eyes but still saw only darkness. The pause between motion and speech was no longer than the gap between one shuddering heartbeat and the next, but to Scorpius it seemed to last for several eternities. Then—
“SLYTHERIN!” the Hat shouted.
Scorpius sagged, almost falling off the stool in suddenly limp relief. The Hat was lifted off his head and Scorpius didn’t bother trying to marshal his expression into something dignified; he was too busy grinning so broadly that it felt as if his face were about to split.
Slytherin. The Hat had said Slytherin, for him. Scorpius swallowed hard against a sudden lump in his throat and walked on wobbly legs towards the applause rising from Slytherin’s table. He almost tripped over the bench when he tried to sit down but no one seemed to notice; they were too busy shaking his hand and clapping him on the back. A few people made a point of turning away from him but Scorpius didn’t care; he was in Slytherin, and it didn’t matter if not all of his Housemates wanted him with them; there was nothing they could do about it now.
From the green and silver-clad environs of his new table, Scorpius looked for Albus in the dwindling crowd of First Years. The boys grinned at one another excitedly. Scorpius had made it in to his beloved Slytherin; now Albus just had to make certain not to follow him. Scorpius waited impatiently, clapping distractedly for Lycoris Nott when he, too, was sent to Slytherin’s table. Scorpius paid little mind to the other names and the Houses they went to; that was all irrelevant. Then, “Potter, Albus,” said Professor Vector and Scorpius sat up suddenly along with everyone else in the Great Hall—
And then he realized what she’d said. The dark-haired, disheveled boy from the train, the one who’d commiserated with him about the terrors and despair of the Sorting, the one who’d suggested he ask the Hat directly—his name was Albus Potter. Scorpius realized that no, his burgeoning friend had not mentioned his last name during their brief introduction; only the Sorting, and their families and fears. Scorpius raised his eyebrows. Well, no wonder he was nervous. If this Albus Potter was the son of the famous Harry Potter, Boy-Who-Lived and defeated the Dark Lord, then he had quite a bit to live up to as well.
What was really shocking, of course, wasn’t that Albus had neglected to mention his surname; no doubt he was used to everyone he met knowing who he was already, and perhaps too he preferred to avoid the curiosity and fame engendered by advertising such a well-known familial connection. Either way, the single-name introduction was not the surprise; it was that Albus had not reacted to Scorpius’s name in any fashion. Scorpius stared in utter bafflement as Albus hurried up to the Sorting Hat. He paused at the stool to grin at Scorpius who quickly raised his thumbs in a gesture of good luck. He hoped that Albus couldn’t see his bewilderment. Albus was still smiling when the Hat dropped over his face. Scorpius crossed his fingers and tried to master his shock.
Perhaps, though, Albus simply didn’t know; there was no reason for Harry Potter’s son to have memorized the names of every Death Eater his father had ever faced. It seemed rather unlikely that Albus had not recognized Scorpius’s last name, but could it possibly be any less unlikely that he had known but did not care? Absurd.
Potter, after all, was one of the names that his father had cautioned him to be politely wary of. Grudges, his father had warned, often run in families. Scorpius had intended to follow his father’s advice and skirt any such potential conflicts by avoiding close interaction with the interested parties. Yet Albus had come into his compartment on the train and not cared; they had talked for hours and found all their differences only led to more in common; found that they were in fact in nearly identical situations albeit on opposite sides of the issue at hand: Sorting and Slytherin. They had been so alike; Scorpius in truth was disappointed with himself, because he had almost hoped upon his own successful Sorting that Albus would in fact be sent to Slytherin as well, despite the other’s dire misgivings. He could not in good conscience wish for such a thing, of course; that would be too cruel to a person he hoped to count as a friend. But a small, selfish part of him had—
Had hoped that Albus Potter would be sorted into Slytherin.
Scorpius could not imagine why Albus was worrying. The Potter-Weasley clan, Scorpius well knew, were a notoriously Gryffindor-centric family. He could not off the top of his head think of a single member of that particular family tree who had worn the green and silver that he was so proud to newly claim as his own. He glanced over at the red and gold table but couldn’t tell if anyone there was showing extra, familial interest in Albus’s Sorting; all the Gryffindors were excited. Scorpius bit his lip and hoped that Albus would be joining them soon.
The hat opened its brim. “SLYTHERIN!” it roared and everyone went silent.
Scorpius stared in unadulterated horror at the slack-jawed face of Albus Potter. No one moved. Scorpius didn’t even breathe; he imagined that Albus wasn’t, either. Professor Vector gave the stunned boy a light push and he stumbled towards Scorpius, towards the Slytherins. Scorpius couldn’t even reach out to help him drop limply to the bench; he was too stunned to move.
The Sorting had taken only seconds—less than a minute, surely—but in that handful of moments, the entire world had upended. Albus Potter, son of the Boy Who Lived, had been placed in Slytherin.
Distantly, someone realized that applause was expected, and started clapping. Another set of hands joined in, then another, and slowly people shook off their daze enough to jerk their hands together a few times while they stared and whispered. Albus didn’t seem to notice, but his Housemates applauded no more eagerly than anyone else in the Great Hall. A few of them made a point of looking away from their newest member. Scorpius noted their faces; he would pin names to them later and be watchful. He wished he’d been aware enough to make note of who had been less than eager to see his own arrival at their table, but he’d been too excited to think that far ahead.
Albus didn’t appear to see anything. He sat limply, his eyes glazed. Scorpius put a hesitant hand on Albus’s back, but it went unnoticed, and he removed it again. His senses awash with horror, Scorpius paid no note to the names and students that followed Albus Potter’s heart-stopping Sorting.
Then Albus jerked upright and turned to stare at the Sorting Hat and the red-haired girl approaching it. “Weasley, Rose,” had been her name, so she was some relation to Albus although Scorpius could not have guessed exactly; some sort of cousin, no doubt, but beyond that there were too many options possible. But Albus cared where she was sorted and, after the unexpected greening of Albus Potter, Gryffindor shared his tense silence. The Hat sat in long deliberation, although it did not feel quite as long as it had when it had been on Scorpius’s head; could it be possible that something was wrong with the Hat? Scorpius fought down a flush of panic; if there was something wrong, if they all had to be re-Sorted, what if he turned out not to belong in Slytherin after all? What if that had been a mistake, too? He would be relieved for Albus, of course, but not enough to alleviate his own despair. To have been Slytherin for minutes, then have it snatched away from him—Scorpius knew he could not face that.
Anything but that.
He twisted his fingers together so hard they ached and stared at the red-haired girl hidden beneath the Sorting Hat. It had to be functioning properly; in over a thousand years, the Hat had never, as far as Scorpius knew, been accused of failing in its task. No student had ever successfully put forth any argument to overturn the Hat’s decision. Scorpius was certain of that; in his anxiety over his own sorting, he had spent the weeks preceding his arrival at Hogwarts researching the sorting process and searching for precedent of overruling the Hat, just in case.
He had found none.
(That hadn’t stopped him from planning to be the first, if the Hat had mis-Sorted him, but he was enormously relieved that he would not have to make that desperate attempt.)
He wished now, though, for Albus’s sake, that he had come up with some sort of precedent on which to build the grounds for a case; something more than sheer bravado and desperation, that is.
The Hat’s brim opened and Scorpius bit his lip; would it be easier for Albus if she were sorted here too, or would seeing family be a constant reminder of his misfortune? None of them had any say in the matter, though; only the Sorting Hat.
“GRYFFINDOR!” it announced and shrill cheers erupted from the table in question. The echoes reverberating off the distant, magic-shrouded ceiling were loud enough to make Scorpius flinch. Rose Weasley received the loudest applause of the evening.
Albus put his head down on the table.
“What’s wrong, Potter?” A burly student sitting on the other side of the table—Scorpius would have bet he was in his Fourth or Fifth Year—smirked viciously. He said Albus’s name like it was a curse. “You don’t look overwhelmed with good fortune,” he said, and a handful of Slytherins laughed.
Scorpius’s face drew into a tight frown but before he could speak someone a few seats down the table did. “If I had to look at your ugly face across from me,” a skinny girl with a black braid said, “I’d keep my head down, too.”
The speaker and his two cronies turned away from Albus to look at the girl that had dared interrupt them. The three students sitting at the bench between the girl and Albus drew in on themselves and looked around for an escape. Scorpius raised an eyebrow and surreptitiously fingered his wand.
“Watch yourself, Vaisey,” the offensive boy growled. “Just because you’re not a Firstie this year doesn’t mean you shouldn’t still know your place.”
Vaisey was a name that Scorpius recognized, although he was unfamiliar with the girl herself; she came from an old family, whoever she was, and she didn’t flinch easily. “Wow,” she drawled, painfully unimpressed, “your threats have gotten even less creative than last year, Muggins.” She crossed her arms inside her sleeves, probably grasping a hidden wand, just like Scorpius. All three of the boys across from Scorpius and Albus tensed and one of them dove for a wand that he didn’t bring into sight yet.
“No one’s scared of a little girl, Vaisey,” lied the minion on the right of Muggins. He hadn’t dared reach for his wand, though, Scorpius noted.
“Really,” said Vaisey coolly. “Why don’t you go ask Avery if he’s scared.”
“Second Years need to be careful,” Muggins said, ignoring the implied threat. Whoever Avery was, he had apparently learned not to trifle with this Vaisey. Nonetheless Muggins continued ominously, “bad things can happen to snotty brats in Hogwarts.”
Vaisey graced her target with a saccharine smile. “Before or after they tutor Fourth Years in Transfiguration, Muggins?” she asked blithely. “Or, I’m sorry, did your friends not know?” She blinked innocently. The two boys flanking Muggins seemed startled at the news, clearly unsure of its validity but prepared to believe the girl. Scorpius didn’t bother to hide his smirk.
Muggins himself flushed red and reached into his robe. Things were about to get nasty if no one stepped in.
“Muggins,” said Scorpius, drawing his voice out as if he were musing over the word. He set his face in an expression of completely innocent curiosity, as though he was doing nothing more than making polite small talk over tea. “Sounds a lot like Muggle,” he continued, his tone light. “Did your family only come into magic recently?”
All four potential combatants and the three students who would have been caught in the line of fire turned to stare at Scorpius. So did several others around their portion of the long table. He ignored them all to focus on Muggins. He was clearly the ringleader of the three boys, so his cronies would be no threat once he was neutralized. Scorpius didn’t think Vaisey wanted to start a fight; she seemed like someone who wouldn’t instigate, but would be only too willing to jump into the fray after someone else cast the first curse.
Less chance of getting in trouble that way; very sensible. Scorpius approved of the strategy. Better, though, to avoid the fracas at all if such a thing were possible. He smiled overly-pleasantly at the older boy and wrapped his fingers more securely around his wand.
Muggins stood up and leaned across the table, trying to threaten Scorpius with his bulk and proximity. It might have worked better if the large table hadn’t been between the two of them. It would also certainly have been more threatening if in his distraction he hadn’t forgotten that he had been about to draw his wand, and now did not. Still, his voice contained an impressive amount of potential violence when he spoke: “Are you calling me a Mudblood, Malfoy?” Muggins asked.
“Heavens no,” Scorpius replied, his words full of scorn. He could feel his lip curl in a sneer and did nothing to try and stop it. “I would never be so vulgar,” he informed the Fourth Year. He shook his head slowly side to side but didn’t take his eyes from Muggins’s face. “And in front of ladies, too,” Scorpius added in a cold drawl. “Appalling.” Despite his melodramatic tone, Scorpius genuinely thought it was; that sort of language was intolerable in any company, let alone within the environs of a school. His opinion of Muggins would have plummeted if it could have. From the sound of snickering around them, he wasn’t the only one to find this thuggish fellow distasteful.
Someone else who clearly thought along those lines leaned over left-side-minion, the one with the hidden wand, and thumped his fist on the back of Muggins’s skull. “Way to impress the First Years,” the new speaker said. “Now shut it before someone decides to hex your tongue off.” From his tone, by “someone,” he meant he himself. The badge on his chest proclaimed him as a Prefect, and Scorpius wondered why he hadn’t involved himself in the discussion when it had first appeared to be escalating towards magical violence.
Muggins quieted mutinously and shrank in on himself. As was expected of their kind, the minions followed his lead. The Prefect turned to look at Scorpius, Albus, and the girl who had first come to Albus’s defense. “Sorry about that, Vaisey,” he said to her, his voice bored. “Malfoy,” he added with a respectful nod. Scorpius noted that while he nodded at Albus as well, he did not say Potter.
Vaisey shrugged. “Don’t worry about it, Tremblay,” she said easily. “If Muggins wasn’t putting his foot in his mouth we’d have to test him for Polyjuice or a pulse.” Scorpius couldn’t help but grin at that; he also couldn’t wait until he could try brewing potions of such complexity.
Muggins and his minions stood up to a chorus of laughter. They shuffled off to find seats elsewhere, away from their targets-turned-tormentors.
Tremblay smiled. “True,” he said, and reached across the table to shake Scorpius’s hand. “Welcome to Slytherin, anyway,” he said. There was a wry twist to his smile that said that he recognized the less impressive elements of their House as much as he did the nobler ones.
Scorpius didn’t care; this was Slytherin. Whatever faults he might find in some of his Housemates and their attitudes, there was no where else he would rather be than right here. “Thank you,” he said, and meant it. “It’s a pleasure.”
Tremblay then extended his hand to Albus, whose face fell. He shook hands politely, though, and managed a very quiet, “thank you.” He looked utterly miserable. Scorpius remembered what had started the nearly disastrous confrontation and his own heart sank to join his companion’s.
Tremblay grunted noncommittally and turned back to his earlier conversation. “Nicely done, Malfoy,” Vaisey told him and then she, too, turned her attention elsewhere. Gradually the audience of students did likewise, their lack of focus aided by the food that had turned up on the long tables.
Scorpius watched Albus worriedly; there was despair in his new friend’s eyes and Scorpius felt responsible. Albus picked a single chocolate trifle from the feast and put it on his plate but he didn’t eat it. Scorpius spoke quietly, trying to avoid attracting the attention of their fellow students. “Hey,” he said, “I’m sorry.”
Albus shrugged listlessly. “Nah, thanks for telling them off,” he said, missing the point entirely. “It was pretty—”
Scorpius interrupted him. “No, I mean, sorry that you’re here.”
“Oh,” said Albus. “Thanks.” He swallowed, and struggled, and smiled weakly. “Congratulations,” he told Scorpius.
Scorpius couldn’t help but smile, much as he wanted not to; he was still too overjoyed and suffused with relief. Any mention of his placement in Slytherin House would, Scorpius figured, elicit from him overpowering glee for some time to come. He couldn’t wait to write to father and mother. “Thanks,” he said, and would have said more, but he was interrupted by one of his new Housemates.
Rather than be rude and further draw attention to Albus, he turned away to politely reply and was soon caught up in conversation. Scorpius tried to keep one eye on the Potter boy, though; he looked glazed again, and miserable, and more homesick than could possibly be imagined. Scorpius determined to look after Albus as best he could and try to help him come to terms with the sorting. It was hard not to spontaneously cheer with his own joy, but one look at the despair on Albus’s face was enough to sober him.
After all, their positions could so easily have been reversed. Scorpius shuddered and avoided looking at the red and gold table on the other side of the room. He knew that being thus incarnadined was a fate which he could not have borne under any circumstances. Scorpius raised a toast to their House and grinned at his fellow students’ enthusiasm for the subject.
Nothing had ever tasted quite so sweet as that first cool draught of Hogwarts pumpkin juice.
Albus drifted vaguely through the rest of the feast and barely heard the Headmaster’s final start of term speech. He clapped automatically at the teachers’ introductions, because Scorpius nudged him, but he caught a glimpse of Hagrid’s face and the large professor was looking at Albus with wounded confusion. Albus looked down at his plate and sat very still for the rest of the evening.
When the students were dismissed to their Houses, Scorpius had to pull Albus along by the sleeve of his robe and even then he just walked mechanically behind the shorter boy. He didn’t notice Rose waving as the Gryffindors passed by on the way to their own distant Common Room. He didn’t notice James and his cluster of friends hissing at him as they left. He didn’t notice the gossiping portraits or the moving stairs or the lights shining in the hallways and rooms. The glories of Hogwarts passed unobserved in front of his blank eyes. He followed along in the midst of the animated Slytherins and didn’t notice anything until they were in the dungeons and then their Common Room.
Then Albus looked around at the silver and green banners and the heavy wood cabinets and the antique chairs and the cupboards filled with all manner of bottles and jars. There was a large fireplace with bright embers smoldering in its grate, the mantlepiece above carved from solid stone and decorated with snakes and skulls. Heavy desks, their wood dark with age, lined the walls in between the cabinets, and the windows all showed the murky depths of the lake outside. He looked at the titles of the books shelves along the wall opposite the fireplace, and didn’t recognize a single one.
Then it sunk in that he was far away from everything that James had described and there was no way to get there now. Gryffindor Tower, up at the top of the castle, was literally as far away as it could possibly be. Albus sat down heavily in an intricately carved chair that proved to be decidedly more comfortable than it looked like it ought to.
“Are you all right?” Scorpius had sat down next to him and looked concerned.
Albus forced a smile. “Yeah,” he said, “of course.”
His attempt at false cheer just caused Scorpius to raise a skeptical eyebrow. “Right,” he said. “And the other one has bells on it. Seriously, Albus, are you…well, I mean, obviously you aren’t all right, but…”
“I’ll be fine,” Albus lied. “It was just, you know, unexpected.” But it hadn’t been unexpected, and that was the problem. James had known, and he had been right.
Scorpius nodded, still looking inexplicably miserable. “I’m really sorry,” he said again, but then they were interrupted.
“Unexpected’s right enough.” A tall, skinny boy with a pinched face stood over Albus, arms crossed and frowning. “What’re you doing here, Potter?”
Albus shrank down in the chair but did it with a glare. “Sitting,” he said. “What about you?”
Someone snickered. The tall boy looked unimpressed. “I’m where I ought to be,” he said coldly. “Shouldn’t you be off getting fawned over by the lion cubs?”
“Oh, leave off, Edwin,” someone else drawled from behind Albus. A shorter boy with the same pinched face but paler, neater hair walked up.
“Keep shut, Lycoris,” the older snapped grumpily. “It’s your first day, what do you know about it?”
Scorpius smirked. “I think he knows the Sorting Hat isn’t commonly held to make mistakes,” the blond boy said smugly.
Edwin looked over at Scorpius with a glare. “You’re a First Year too, Malfoy,” he sneered. “What do you know about it?”
“I know it’s a sentient object created during the Founding of Hogwarts and it’s been in charge of assigning students to their Houses ever since,” Scorpius said mildly. “And I know that no one’s ever been able to make a valid case against its choices.” He crossed his arms. “Some of us have read Hogwarts, A History, you know,” he added scornfully.
Lycoris snorted. “Some of us are swots,” he murmured.
Scorpius glanced up. “There’s no need to be jealous,” he said calmly.
Lycoris frowned, then shrugged. “Sure,” he replied amiably. “Jealous, that’s me. I can’t help it, Malfoy,” he continued with a crooked twitch of a smirk and a very sarcastic eye-roll, “you’re just so cool.”
Edwin threw up his hands in disgust, possibly missing the satire or possibly just annoyed in general. “My own brother!” he grumbled. “Your first day here and you’re already embarrassing me. I should have expected this.”
A skinny blond girl propped herself up on Edwin’s shoulder. “This your baby brother then, Nott?” she asked, looking down her upturned nose at the three First Years.
“Unfortunately,” Edwin muttered. He scowled. “Not making me too proud right now, though.”
“Oh, shove off,” the younger Nott brother said. “You’re just peevish because you tried to show off for your girlfriend and it didn’t work.”
Edwin and the blond girl quickly stepped apart. “She’s not my girlfriend,” he snapped. “You shut your mouth. C’mon, Smith, it’s probably about time for these babies to go tuck themselves in anyway.” The two older students scowled at the three First Year boys and stalked off across the Common Room.
“Well, well.” Another student ambled over, this one dark-haired and elegant looking. “That’s more teeth than I expected out of First Years,” he said. He raised an eyebrow. “But then, you are a Malfoy.”
Lycoris scowled. “And a Nott,” he added tetchily.
“Of course,” the other boy said. He held out a hand. “Avery. Marcus Avery.” Scorpius and Lycoris both shook it.
Then Scorpius waved a hand to indicate the black-haired wizard slumped in the chair next to him. “And this is Albus Potter.”
Avery looked a little less than thrilled. “Right,” he said. “Potter.” He only hesitated a moment, though, before he offered a hand to Albus as well.
“Er,” Albus said, “it’s a pleasure.”
“I’m sure,” said Avery. He glanced back at Malfoy and Nott. “Well, welcome to Slytherin, at any rate. Sorry about Edwin—of course, you must know how he is.”
Lycoris nodded with a smirk. “Indeed,” he said. “Insufferable show-off.” The younger Nott shrugged and continued smugly, “it’s because he knows I’m going to be a better wizard than he is. It preemptively hurts his ego.”
Albus snorted. Scorpius seemed to be trying not to grin.
The black-haired girl with the long plait down her back, the one that had interrupted Muggins at the feast, sauntered over to them. Vaisey, Albus recalled. He wondered if he’d ever be able to keep all the names straight. There were so many people in Slytherin.
He felt ill again. Slytherin.
“You bothering the First Years, Avery?” she asked.
The elegant boy took a step backwards, then scowled at the witch. “Simply saying hello, Vaisey. I don’t think they need a babysitter for basic greeting etiquette.”
Vaisey snorted. “Right, because you’re such a master of proper behavior. Shove off.”
Avery narrowed his eyes but turned and stalked away, tossing his head as if to indicate that he had better things to do than hang around anywhere she was going to be. Vaisey watched him go and rolled her eyes. “Tosser,” she muttered.
“Er, it was nice to meet you,” Albus called sweetly after the hastily-retreating Slytherin.
Scorpius grinned. “Lovely manners,” he murmured. Albus stuck out his tongue at the blond boy.
Vaisey perched on the arm of the chair on the other side of Albus. “Well, I see you lot are making all sorts of friends already.”
Scorpius shrugged and scanned the Common Room idly. Very few people were actively looking in their direction, but most of them still seemed to be watching. “I suppose they can’t help it,” Scorpius said drily. The corner of his mouth lifted in a slight grin. “Flies to honey, perhaps?”
Vaisey snorted again. “You might actually be funny,” she said. “Just watch yourselves, children. It can get tough around here when you have sharp wits and weak wands.”
“Shouldn’t worry,” Nott said. His voice was very bored but his eyes darted around the room anxiously.
“I don’t,” said Vaisey. “I just hate messes.”
“Besides,” Nott continued, frowning, “we’re hardly children. And you’re only, what, a Second Year, right?”
“So?” Vaisey asked, her green eyes flinty slits.
Nott swallowed. “Just asking,” he said meekly.
“That’s what I thought,” said Vaisey.
Albus and Scorpius both smothered their laughter with their hands, then caught each other’s eye and gave up on restraint. Nott scowled at them.
Vaisey smirked. “Well then, children,” she said, “you should probably head on up to bed. You have an early morning, and I won’t have baggy eyes making my House look bad.” The smirk turned a little bit frightening. All three First Years nodded, gulping. “Good,” Vaisey smiled and stood up. She patted the closest boy—Albus—on the head and sauntered off.
“I think she might be frightening,” Nott said quietly.
Scorpius and Albus nodded.
“Anyway,” said Scorpius, “I suppose you two have already figured out one another’s names, but,” he shrugged and performed the introductions anyway. “Albus, this is Lycoris Nott. Lycoris, this is Albus Potter.”
“Yeah, I kind of got that,” Nott said drily. He and Albus shook hands. Albus tried to smile friendlily but wasn’t confident that he’d been able to pull off the expression. He felt too miserable for a proper sort of smile. Nott turned back to Scorpius and frowned. “So how did you two meet up, then?” he asked, glancing sideways at Albus.
“Met on the train,” Scorpius replied. To Albus’s relief, he didn’t go into detail. Maybe Scorpius was no more eager to admit to his own pre-sorting anxiety than Albus was, even though Scorpius’s had worked out all right in the end, while Albus’s…hadn’t.
The blond wizard turned back to Albus. “I’ve known Lycoris for ages,” Scorpius said. “He’s all right.”
“Oh, thanks for the stunning recommendation,” Nott said drily.
“No problem.” Scorpius smiled sweetly. “Any time you need a reference…”
Albus felt the tremulous hint of a grin make it onto his face although his stomach still felt hollow and knotted up. Maybe he’d be able to live through this if he had a friend or two. Maybe.
“Whatever,” said Nott, “I’m taking the creepy little witch’s advice and turning in.”
Scorpius nodded. “Decent enough idea,” he said. “You coming, Albus?”
Albus nodded. “Yeah,” he said quickly. It was hard enough even being in this room at all; sitting there alone would have been unbearable.
The three First Years stood and walked downstairs to their dormitory. Albus’s stomach sank lower with each step. Somehow he felt that if he were to actually sleep in that room, that would be his last hope of escape gone.
But he really was tired, and he could think of no where else to go. So while Nott and Scorpius laughed and joked and talked about Hogwarts and their excitement over morning classes, and pulled out quills and parchments to write long, excited owls to be sent off to parents the next morning, Albus opened the green silk curtains on his old four-poster and crawled underneath the thick green covers and hid his face in the soft gray sheets. He tried very, very hard to be brave, but while he did manage to keep quiet, his pillow was soon damp.
Albus Potter didn’t sleep until long, long after midnight had come and gone and then his dreams were full of nightmares and green, hissing snakes.
The next morning Albus awoke early with the others only because he didn’t have much choice; apparently he was the only one not to be excited by his Sorting. He wondered if he was the only one who knew about Slytherin House’s somewhat shady reputation, or if his new Housemates were simply the sort of people who approved of that kind of thing.
He looked around the room; out the windows, at the murky glow of the lake. The sound of water was usually soothing to Albus, or so he had always thought every time his family visited a lake or seashore, but now it felt heavy and oppressive. Something large swam by, casting a shadow across the dormitory walls, and Albus shivered.
He turned away from the lake, instead staring blankly at the tapestries that covered the cool stone walls opposite the windows. It took him quite a while to make sense of the old, ornate designs, but then he figured it out: Slytherin was boasting. Every tapestry showed a witch or wizard from Slytherin House in some moment of victory or glory, some moment of revelation or greatness. They were not all pleasant moments, either.
Albus looked away, feeling sick.
He spent ten minutes sitting on his bed just staring at his robes. He knew that Hogwarts uniforms were spelled to change trim color depending on what House their owners were Sorted into, but when he had opened his trunk he still hadn’t been ready for quite that much green.
Everyone else was grinning and talking and almost ready to go. Albus sighed, grimaced, and threw the robes over his head quickly before he could change his mind. Then he followed Scorpius downstairs only because he could think of nothing else to do. Head down, he trailed his new friend through the Common Room; Scorpius was asking someone directions to the Owlery, and whether or not there was time for him to run up there and send a letter home or would he be late for breakfast if he did? Albus didn’t really listen; he certainly didn’t have a triumphant letter to post.
But he followed Scorpius and Lycoris Nott, because it was either that or hang around the Common Room and his new Housemates without them. Better to stick with the one friend he thought he had than sit here with all these—well, with all these Slytherins.
Of which he was one… Albus pushed the thought aside and tried to pay attention to where they were going instead. Hogwarts, fortunately, really was fascinating, and all three First Year boys were soon gaping at their surroundings. Scorpius kept trying to hurry them along, eager to send his letter home, but as he kept getting distracted as well it was hard for him to keep Albus and Nott moving quickly. Albus was just overwhelmed enough by the castle to forget about being miserable when they climbed the wooden stairs up to the Owlery at last. Hogwarts was immense. Albus hoped Scorpius had been paying attention; he knew he’d never be able to find the way back.
Albus stopped near the edge of the large, feather-filled room. There were a few other students in different robes there, all of them short enough to be First Years, all of them no doubt excitedly owling their parents just like Scorpius and Nott were. Albus shrunk towards the corner, hoping that none of them were Rose. Or worse, James. Amidst the flurry of students, birds, feathers, and hooting, it was hard to make out any details, and Albus remained mercifully unrecognized as he hurried to follow Scorpius and Nott back down to the main part of the castle.
He didn’t notice Scorpius shooting him concerned looks, as if in his own excitement the other boy had quite forgotten Albus’s distress until, upon arriving at the Owlery, he had seen that Albus had no letter of his own and then had recalled their discussion on the train ride yesterday.
Now Scorpius watched Albus with a pained look on his face where moments ago relieved joy had beamed. He seemed to regret his own exuberance, or at least the misery that he must have caused Albus with its expression. Scorpius searched for something to say and found nothing at all.
Nott remained steadily oblivious, his own smile still broad. He was a true Pureblood in Slytherin House, like his father and his father before him, and life for Lycoris was good, elder brother or no elder brother.
Albus was not so lucky. As they crossed the threshold of the Great Hall he saw James standing on the Gryffindor table, waving a pumpkin muffin in some kind of reenactment to the amusement of his fellow Lions. Albus dropped his gaze to the floor and dodged to the other side of Scorpius. He made it past the Gryffindor table unnoticed and slunk onto a bench along the table filled with green-trimmed students. Albus piled food on his plate because if he was eating, he could pretend to be focused on that, and maybe no one would notice or speak to him.
Every bite tasted like sawdust on his tongue.
Their first class of the day was, mercifully, Transfiguration, which was inside the halls of Hogwarts. Albus would not have to venture outside to the greenhouses or near the edge of the forest and was thus unlikely to encounter Professors Longbottom or Hagrid, although both those trials loomed inevitably. Albus was in no way ready to face any professors that he considered family, but he knew that he was going to soon have to.
It had never before occurred to him that there could be a downside to having so many familiar faces at Hogwarts.
Fortunately Professor Tobias Sixsmith wasn’t one of them, and Albus could slink into his classroom amidst the greenish sea of his Housemates in relative anonymity. Then the Hufflepuffs filed in as well—they were to have Transfiguration together, Albus remembered belatedly—and while no one there was familiar either, a few of them pointed and whispered when they caught sight of Albus. He shrunk down in his seat, wishing that Scorpius was taller. The dainty blond boy barely came up to Albus’s nose, which made him rather difficult to hide behind.
One of the girls in his House whose name he did not know rushed over to a Hufflepuff boy who looked so much like her that they had to be related. They sat at desks just off to the side of the two that he and Scorpius had claimed and, staring unblinkingly at Albus, they began to whisper to one another furiously. Albus felt his face flushing and tried to ignore them.
Scorpius glanced over at them and his face curled scornfully. “Gossips,” he muttered coldly. “How appalling.” Albus couldn’t help but grin at the haughty disgust in his friend’s voice. The siblings caught sight of Scorpius’s scathing expression and quickly looked away. They pulled out their Transfiguration books and pretended to be engrossed.
Before Albus could say anything to Scor, the Transfiguration Professor swept into the room. He was a tall, slightly broad fellow—although everyone looks rather tall when you’re eleven, so Albus might have been misestimating his height, he supposed—with gray-streaked brown hair. He had a short, close-cropped beard and dark brown eyes that snapped at the class over thin glasses. An oddly jagged scar ran down the left side of his face and neck, disappearing beneath the high collar of his robes.
“Sit down and be quiet, please,” Professor Sixsmith said even though almost everyone had already fallen silent upon his entrance. His voice was deceptively mild but somehow it seemed to promise that anyone choosing to disobey would regret their brashness. Albus gulped and noticed Scorpius shrink a little beside him.
Sixsmith studied the room in silence, his dark eyes lingering a little on each student’s face. Albus squirmed under the scrutiny and tried to look like he was neither noisy nor stupid. He had a feeling he wasn’t pulling it off very well. Finally the professor seemed satisfied with his inspection. He turned back to face the front of the room but none of the students dared to whisper behind his back. “Transfiguration is one of the most difficult and specific types of magic,” he began. As he spoke, words appeared on the blackboard written in a firm, neat hand. “You are not conjuring from nothing or mixing parts together; you are taking an existing, fully-realized object or creature and turning it wholly into something else. You can even give an inanimate object a semblance of artificial life.”
He turned to face the class, his expression stern. “As such, it is a delicate and often dangerous bit of spellwork, and those who enter into Transfiguration haphazardly or on a whim often find nothing but regret. This will not be happening in my classes,” he said quietly, and Albus swallowed. Sixsmith continued: “You will learn the theory behind Transfiguration until I am satisfied that you understand it. Only then will you engage in practical demonstrations of magic. I want you all to take out your wands,” he told them, and the class scrambled to pull their shiny new wands out of their robes. Excitement traveled through the students like a quiet murmur although it was tempered with confusion; hadn't he just been telling them that they wouldn't be doing magic right away?
“Examine them closely,” the professor commanded, and the class obeyed eagerly. They were all anxious to start using their wands, brand new and beautiful and a sign of impending adulthood clutched in nervous, sweaty hands. “Now, put them away,” Sixsmith said. Sad and startled faces looked up at him in bewilderment. “That will be the last time you see those in this room for at least a week, longer if you disappoint me.” He waited while the students returned their wands to their robes and bags, most of them quite reluctantly. Albus shoved his back into the pocket of his robe quickly; he didn't want the stern teacher to think that he was dallying or thinking about disobeying.
Professor Sixsmith launched into a complex lecture then, and intricate drawings appeared on the board next to his words. Everyone fumbled for their quills and began writing frantically; when a board was filled, it would wipe clean to create space for the next set of notes and no one wanted to miss anything, not when permission to actually use magic might be denied them based on their inability to memorize everything presented today. Eventually Sixsmith came to the end of his lecture with another admonishment about the dangerous of rash Transfiguration. He returned to his desk and sat reading a very old looking book while the students worked on copying down the diagrams he’d drawn for them.
For a while there was nothing but the sound of quills scratching. One of his legs was starting to fall asleep so Albus shifted potions then winced uncomfortably; he had put his wand away too hurriedly and now it was digging painfully into his side. He glanced up at the professor but Sixsmith seemed absorbed in his book and anyway, he wasn’t going to do any magic. Albus set down his quill carefully so he wouldn’t drip ink anywhere and pulled out his wand. He tugged on his robes, trying to rearrange them so that he could put it away comfortably, but he was distracted by a muffled giggle.
Albus glanced over his shoulder and saw the cross-house twins staring at him again. They were smothering laughter into their sleeves. Albus frowned at them but it didn’t seem to have any effect. The Slytherin girl smirked back then pulled her face into an exaggerated pout. She ran her fingers down her cheeks, imitating tears. Albus felt his face grow red. The Hufflepuff boy grinned and copied his sister. A small flare of red sparks shot out the tip of the wand Albus had forgotten he was still holding. He quickly turned back around and shoved it beneath his robes but it was too late. Professor Sixsmith was already there in front of Albus’s desk, scowling down like some terrible great statue, his frown carved deep and heavy on his scarred face. Albus swallowed, eyes wide.
“Mr. Potter,” the professor said, and Albus shrank down in his seat. “Do you have a problem with your hearing?”
“No, sir,” Albus said quietly.
“Then I suggest you develop the ability to listen to orders,” Sixsmith said coldly.
Albus gulped and nodded and tried to explain but the Transfiguration Professor cut him off. “No excuses, Mr. Potter, no special allowances,” he said. “I will expect at least four inches on my desk by the end of the week detailing the importance of the theory behind Transfiguration magic. Include at least two examples of those foolish enough to rush into spellwork before they achieved proper background understanding and what difficulties they caused themselves.”
“But I didn’t—” Albus began.
“Don’t lie to me,” Sixsmith snarled. “I do not tolerate hijinks in this class and if I catch you at them again I will have you removed. Five points from Slytherin.”
Albus gaped, horrified, but Professor Sixsmith had already swept away with one last glare. A mutinous whisper hissed through the room but none of the green-clad students dared protest aloud. “Not fair, a Potter losing points for us,” Albus thought he heard someone mutter, but it might have just been his imagination. Sixsmith disappeared into the back of the room and bent down to answer a Hufflepuff’s quiet question.
Albus, his vision swimming, fought back tears. Five points? But he hadn’t even meant to do anything! Sixsmith hadn’t let him explain! His Housemates already seemed cross to have him amongst them, and now he had lost them five points in the very first class of his first day? He turned around to glare at the siblings, who dissolved in quiet laughter. Albus sighed and dropped his head onto his desk, not even caring if he smudged his incomplete drawing.
He lay there listlessly until the bell chimed to signal the end of class. Sixsmith started and looked around the room, seemingly annoyed, then shrugged. “Study your notes and read the first chapter of your textbook,” he told the students as they hurried to shove their belongings back into their bags. “I expect you to be able to participate intelligently in discussion next class. Dismissed.”
Albus dragged himself to his feet with a heavy sigh and started shoving his books into his bag. His notes were terribly smudged, he’d never finished writing down everything, and somehow his day was worse now than when it had started and this morning that hadn’t seemed possible. Maybe Scorpius would let him copy from his notes later.
But Scorpius was already up and gone, shooting away from the desks so fast that he forgot to take his ink bottle and quill with him. The small, pale boy hurried off, obviously eager to distance himself from the out-of-place idiot who had just cost them five points and earned the ire of a professor that it was so apparently a bad idea to cross. Albus’s heart dropped all the way into his shoes and kept on going. He’d lost the one friend he had and now he was in Slytherin all alone.
Scorpius reached the green-and-yellow-clad siblings and stopped. They turned to look at him and he held out a hand. “Scorpius Malfoy,” he introduced himself politely.
They both nodded back, a little bemused, but shook his hand in turn. “Maureen Stebbins,” said the girl. She jerked her head towards the boy standing next to her. “My brother, Matthew.”
“How do you do?” Matthew said, not entirely naturally; probably some sort of parental figure had drilled him on proper manners before allowing him to head for school.
Scorpius ignored him, turning back to Maureen. The pleasant expression on his face was gone and his grey eyes brimmed with scorn. “Well done,” he sneered, his voice like ice. “That’s five points down and the year’s barely started. Clearly you’re going to be quite the credit to our House, Miss Stebbins. Thanks.”
They both gaped at him and Matthew scowled, his hands drawing into fists. “Don’t talk to my sister like that,” he snapped. “Your stupid friend’s the one that—”
Scorpius raised a chilly eyebrow. “I’m sorry,” he drawled, “did I give some indication that I felt like chatting with you?” Matthew fell silent so fast that his jaw clicked when it shut. He was a good head taller than the Slytherin boy, but somehow Scorpius had shut the Hufflepuff up with a single look. “Why don’t you find your way back to your fellow badgers,” he suggested dismissively. “I’m sure there’s someone there willing to tolerate your presence. Hufflepuffs are supposed to be a patient lot, aren’t they?”
Not waiting for a response Scorpius looked back to Maureen, her brother no longer relevant to him. His sneer deepened. “And you had best learn some House loyalty yourself,” he told the young witch sternly. “One doesn’t have to be a Ravenclaw to be smart enough to realize that getting a Housemate into trouble in front of a professor isn’t a very good way to endear oneself to the rest of us.” His frosty expression made it quite clear what he wasn’t saying: Slytherins weren’t known for being forgiving, and Malfoy was obviously going to spin this incident as Maureen’s fault. He smirked unpleasantly, nodded at the stuttering Stebbins twins, and turned on his heel to saunter casually back over to where Albus stood watching, mouth agape.
The Slyther-puff twins caught each other’s arms and hurried away, each taking it in turn to shoot dark looks at Malfoy’s back as they went.
“Wow,” said Albus. “That was…wow. Thanks.”
“Hmm?” said Scorpius, tucking his reclaimed quill and ink bottle carefully into his bag. “Oh, don’t worry about it,” he said dismissively. “It was really nothing.”
Albus shook his head. “Well, thank you,” he repeated firmly.
Scorpius nodded distractedly and fastened the straps of his bag. “You have ink on your face,” he pointed out helpfully.
Albus scowled and scrubbed blindly at his whole head with his sleeve, thankful that their robes were black and the smears wouldn’t show. Scorpius watched in silent amusement for a minute then shook his head and pushed Albus’s arm out of the way. He pulled a cloth handkerchief from his pocket—who carried those anymore? Albus wondered—and reached up to wipe away the ink that Albus apparently couldn’t manage to remove. “There,” Scorpius said. “You’re presentable again.” He rolled his eyes and returned the stained handkerchief to his robes. “Now come on,” he continued, slinging his bag onto his shoulder. “We’ll be late for our next class if we don’t hurry it up.”
Albus grabbed his own things, still rubbing at his nose in case any ink had escaped his friend’s attention, and trailed after the shorter boy. He grimaced and hoped that History of Magic would go better. At least, from all accounts, Binns was just boring and rarely seemed to even notice that he had students, which Albus hoped meant that he wasn’t much for taking points. Five down was quite enough to be getting on with for one day, Albus figured.
The bell finally rang, signaling the end of morning classes and the start of lunch. History of Magic had been just as boring as father had warned him it would be, although the novelty of a ghost professor was, at least for the moment, still quite intriguing. A double period of it, though…well, an hour-and-a-half was a terribly long time to sit in one spot and stare blankly at the droning, transparent figure of a long-dead professor. Scorpius hadn’t fallen asleep, but he’d noticed a few of his classmates nodding, their eyes glazed.
To keep himself awake, Scorpius had focused on taking extravagantly detailed notes, although admittedly they were spotted throughout with a few distracted doodles. There was an especially intricate sketch of a broomstick on the top of his third page where he had zoned out for a solid fifteen minutes. The new Firebolt had just come out and Scorpius very much wanted one. He’d spent nearly half-an-hour drooling over it in Diagon Alley when they were there getting his school supplies. For once, though, father had said no when he’d asked for one; Scorpius couldn’t take the broom with him to school and, father had reasonably pointed out, by the time he came home there would inevitably be a new model out that Scorpius would like better. That was no doubt true. He was admittedly fickle when it came to broomsticks, but it was hardly his fault that the manufacturers just kept outdoing themselves.
Scorpius didn’t see why First Years couldn’t have brooms. They had flying lessons, after all, so why shouldn’t they be allowed to bring their own brooms to class, even if they were restricted from using them unsupervised until they had passed the course? It simply wasn’t fair. He’d only been here one day but Scorpius already knew that he was going to terribly miss flying. And besides, if he was going to try and make the House team next year, he’d be at quite a disadvantage after spending nearly a year unable to practice.
He wondered if Albus liked Quidditch; he hadn’t asked. Scorpius glanced over at his new friend and opened his mouth to speak but thought better of it. Albus still had a glassy, zombie-like glaze over his eyes from Binns. If he wanted to get more than monosyllabic responses, Scorpius decided, he’d probably better wait a few minutes for the History of Magic fugue to pass.
Scorpius grinned to himself, still excited to be at Hogwarts even after the numbing ordeal of History class. He didn’t know how everyone else was managing to drag themselves along so unenthusiastically. Yes, Binns had been dull and the lectures smothering and yes, they were halfway through their first day of classes and still hadn’t been allowed to do more than stare longingly at their wands, but still. They were at Hogwarts, and in Slytherin, and Scorpius felt like he was going to simply burst with excitement.
He practically bounced down the stairs to the Great Hall, jumping over the false step that the rest of his classmates were stumbling on; he hadn’t meant to jump it, hadn’t known it was there until Albus tripped on it, but he’d been taking the stairs two-at-a-time anyway and had simply lucked out. He grabbed Albus’s arm and dragged the taller boy back up out of the hole in the steps; Albus looked startled and sulky but Scorpius just grinned at him. At least the sudden shock of finding the floor not waiting where it ought to have been seemed to have jerked the messy-haired boy awake again.
“So do you play any Quidditch, then?” Scorpius asked. “Well, I mean, obviously not proper Quidditch with full teams or anything, but I guess just sort of playing at it, you know, flying around with a Quaffle and such. That sort of thing? Father and I do, all the time, and sometimes Lycoris if he comes over, although he’s not very good, and usually has to be coerced into it…”
Albus blinked. “Uhh...yeah,” he said, shaking his head to clear it the rest of the way. “I mean, um, actually, we do a lot of it with teams, in fact. Just, like, my family—there’s so many of us we can manage proper teams, usually.”
”Wow,” Scorpius said, suddenly jealous. “That sounds brilliant.”
Albus shrugged. “Sure,” he said. “It’s fun. And I guess having that many cousins and uncles and stuff ought to be good for something, right?” He smiled, one of the few genuine smiles that Scorpius had seen him manage since his Sorting.
Then the noise from the Great Hall washed over them and Albus suddenly went pale. Scorpius decided to ignore it and plowed on, asking, “can you believe we aren’t allowed to have our own brooms? Just because it’s our first year? What do they think’s going to happen, we’ll get homesick and try to fly back, get lost and land amidst a bunch of Muggles, wreck the whole Statute of Secrecy? Ridiculous,” he scoffed grumpily.
Albus almost grinned again. “Yeah,” he agreed, “it’s bollocks. And don’t think James hasn’t been just rubbing it in like crazy that he’s got a broom at school this year and I don’t.” He made a face.
“That’s your older brother, right?” Scorpius asked.
Albus nodded, his face going sallow. “In Gryffindor,” he muttered, ducking his head. Scorpius frowned and couldn’t think of anything to say. They had reached the Great Hall, though, so he used the excuse of working their way through the milling crowd to avoid saying anything at all.
Students were clustered at the entryway, greeting friends (and enemies) that mostly hadn’t seen each other all summer. There were more knots of people all throughout the Great Hall, some at their tables and some stopped in the middle of the aisles. Fortunately the prospect of food was a tempting one, and many of the students were at least trying to work their way eventually to their seats.
As First Years, Albus and Scorpius didn’t really have anyone to greet—not with Albus clearly trying to avoid his family—so they went straight through the crowd as best they could, aiming for the table against the far wall where their green and silver-clad Housemates were already gathering. Scorpius glanced over to make sure that Albus was keeping up and saw that the taller boy had his shoulders hunched in and his head tucked down and he was shooting quick, furtive glances over at the Gryffindor table, as if trying to hide from them. Scorpius looked over at the table and couldn’t see a single Gryffindor paying Albus any attention or even glancing Slytherin’s way. He looked back at Albus and couldn’t help but smirk; he wondered how the much taller boy thought he’d be able to keep out of sight by hiding behind him.
Neither boy looked back at the Gryffindors in time to see a tall witch with a mane of bushy red hair stand up and wave wildly in Albus’s direction. She stared crossly at the oblivious boys who passed her by without a word, then she sat back down in a huff amidst her fellow Gryffindors. She pulled a book out of her school bag and began to read while she attacked her food in earnest.
Scorpius and Albus easily found a clear spot along the benches at the Slytherin table; most of their Housemates were still making their way through the press of students clogging up the entrance. Lycoris had wandered off somewhere else so it was just the two of them again. Scorpius didn’t mind; Lycoris seemed hesitant and somewhat bewildered by Albus Potter and this way Scorpius could focus on trying to cheer up his new friend without trying to deal with the other boy at the same time. Besides, he didn’t think Albus wanted anyone else, even Lycoris, to know how truly miserable he was about being Sorted into Slytherin.
Not that he was doing a very good job of hiding it right now. Albus had sunk down at the table like a puppet with its strings cut. Scorpius elbowed him lightly. “Hey,” he said, “cheer up. It’s just five points,” he told him, even though he didn’t think it was the points that were bothering Albus right now. “I’m sure we can make that back up in no time.”
Albus managed a vague smile. “Thanks,” he said. He paused. “What do you mean, ‘we’?” he asked. “You haven’t lost any points.”
“Yet,” Scorpius pointed out reasonably. “Besides, not only do I want my House to win the Cup this year, but I’d make a really rubbish friend if I wasn’t willing to help you out.”
Albus grinned but the expression was tremulous. “Are we friends, then?” he asked hesitantly.
Scorpius shrugged, trying to appear more confident than he felt. “I’d think so,” he said. “At least, I’d like us to be.”
Albus managed a proper smile this time. “Cool,” he replied. “Me, too.”
Scorpius grinned broadly. “Then hurry up and eat,” he said. “Maybe we can get to our next class early and win some of those points back.”
Albus nodded firmly and attacked his food as if it were the only thing standing between him and eternal glory. Scorpius grinned and filled his plate with slightly more discretion than the dark-haired boy. He liked food as much as any eleven-year-old, but there were limits to the amount he could comfortably ingest. Albus didn’t seem to have those.
Scorpius couldn’t help but snicker when the other boy swallowed a little too fast and ended up coughing pumpkin juice up all over his treacle tart. Albus glared and eyed the brimming pitcher of juice with obvious thoughts of retribution in his green eyes, but just then Professor Sixsmith swept by on his way up to the dais to join the other professors that had come down for lunch.
“Later,” Albus muttered to Scorpius, who grinned innocently in response. If Albus was making retaliatory threats, he had to be feeling better. Scorpius toyed with the idea of flicking cherries at his new friend’s head but decided that now was no time to risk such an assault, not when they were five points down already.
Besides, Albus would probably throw something back, and there was no way Scorpius was going to class with dirty robes. What kind of an impression would that make? He shuddered and decided to move the pitcher of pumpkin juice back further from the edge of the table.
No sense risking disaster, after all.
As it turned out, he might as well not have bothered with his prudence.
Halfway through lunch the students were interrupted by a flurry of hooting, feathery visitors. Generally the owl-post arrived in the mornings, but this being the first day of the year, most of the students—whether they were first years excitedly/anxiously telling their parents how the Sorting had turned out or older students writing their first of many “so I forgot to bring my…” notes—had sent letters off with breakfast, and replies were just coming back now.
Scorpius eagerly scanned the crowd of birds, his food forgotten. He had, of course, received a letter that morning, along with a small parcel of welcome-to-school treats, but as his parents could not yet have been aware of anything that had happened at Hogwarts, such as Scorpius’s great good fortune, it had consisted mainly of vague encouragement and hopes that he would enjoy his time at school. Now that they must have received his own letter detailing his arrival at Hogwarts and his first impressions of the place and, most importantly, news of which House he had been Sorted into, they would write again to congratulate him, Scorpius was certain.
That first letter this morning had very carefully made no mention whatsoever of the four Houses at Hogwarts; Scorpius’s parents knew that he had been worried about not making it into Slytherin, and hadn’t wanted to risk bringing up what might have been a delicate topic, not before they knew the results of their son’s Sorting. Scorpius’s father had assured him in no uncertain terms that it didn’t matter at all what House he was chosen for, but Scorpius had been unconvinced. Now, though, it was a moot point, because he was in Slytherin, and he was certain that his parents would be just as thrilled and nearly as relieved as he was.
Scorpius’s whole face lit up when he spotted his father’s golden masked owl soaring through the window. Scorpius barely waited for the bird to settle itself on the table before he snatched the attached scroll from its leg. The owl hooted in annoyance but Scorpius ignored it, eagerly unfurling the thick parchment. He read it with a steadily broadening grin. He’d known they would be pleased but they sounded even prouder than he’d hoped.
Scorpius looked up from the letter at last, smiling broadly. His ecstatic expression shattered, however, when he caught sight of the face of the boy sitting next to him. Albus was staring unblinkingly at the Gryffindor table and his face had gone chillingly white. Scorpius turned around to see what the dark-haired boy was staring at but saw only a raucous sea of red and gold. He tried tracing along Albus’s fixed eyeline and finally spotted a boy to whom Albus had to be related. He seemed a little taller than Albus, although it was hard to tell from so far away, and he had dark, messy red hair, freckles, and a face so like Albus’s that Scorpius would have been surprised to learn they weren’t related. This must be the James that Albus spoke of with such wretched jealousy.
James Potter was perched on the Gryffindor table, his feet on the bench that his more civilized Housemates were sitting on. A small group of them seemed to be staring at him while he gave some sort of a performance. There was an owl perched next to him drinking out of his forgotten goblet. James appeared to be reading aloud from the letter the owl had brought him and was garnering much amusement with his recitation. As Scorpius watched, though, a tall First Year girl with bushy red hair stalked over to him from further up the table. She snatched the letter from his hands and launched into a short but ferocious lecture that had James’s friends laughing while the boy in question ducked his head as if fending off blows. The girl stomped off with the letter and James moved to shoo the owl away from his drink while his friends laughed.
Scorpius turned back around but the bereft look on Albus’s face was unchanged. Scorpius wondered that he hadn’t gotten an owl from his parents but then, he hadn’t sent a letter of his own that morning, either. Maybe Albus’s parents were waiting to hear from him first and had just assumed that Albus hadn’t had a chance to post an owl before morning classes. Scorpius thought about suggesting that Albus write one now, they could run it up to the owlery before lunch ended, but he didn’t know what to advise Albus to say in it, and Scorpius furthermore didn’t know if he’d have wanted to write one himself if their situations had been reversed.
He looked back at the Gryffindor table and shuddered. Suddenly, Scorpius was no longer hungry. “Hey,” he said to Albus, “are you done eating?”
Albus started, as if he’d forgotten the other boy was there, and wrenched his gaze away from his brother and the other Gryffindors. “Oh…yeah,” he said, looking down distractedly at the half-eaten food still on his plate. He grimaced. “Yeah, I’m done,” he said. Albus stood up and shot another glance towards the students clad in red and gold. He didn’t notice how close he was sitting to the table until his knee banged into it.
Albus yelped and dropped back onto the bench. He put a hand out to catch himself but it skidded on the smooth surface of the table and knocked into the pitcher of pumpkin juice. That tipped forward and slopped its full contents out across the table, the girl next to him, and all over Scorpius Malfoy’s robes.
The girl shrieked, said something nasty to Albus, and hurried out of the room with a scowling friend at her side. Scorpius stared down in shock at the cold liquid, then up at Albus, whose expression echoed his own. “Sorry!” Albus gasped. Then his lips twitched. He fought against it, but couldn’t prevent a small snicker from escaping. Scorpius glared at him. “Sorry,” Albus said again, but a laugh followed his words.
“Well,” Scorpius said dryly, “I suppose it’s a good thing we were done eating as I definitely need to go change before class.”
Albus managed to somehow look contrite and amused all at the same time. “I’m really sorry,” he said, grinning.
Scorpius cocked an eyebrow. “Not yet you aren’t,” he said calmly.
Albus didn’t have a reply for that. Scorpius stood up, wrung out his robes as best he could, and picked up his bag. He tossed his head back firmly and strode out of the Great Hall, Albus hurrying at his heels and torn between muttered apologies and stifled giggles. Scorpius did his best to ignore the squelching sound his feet made, and the occasional snicker as someone looked up, and the clinging, wet robes that flapped around his legs. He was drenched from his chest all the way to his feet—he’d no idea how one pitcher could have held so much liquid—but he would be damned if he’d look like he was embarrassed. After all, he hadn’t been the one to spill the pumpkin juice.
Albus Potter was clearly going to have to die for this.
Rose huffed in irritation, sending a dark scowl down the table at her cousin. James Potter ignored her, too caught up in some no-doubt-obnoxious joke with his fellow second years to pay any attention to her disapproval, no matter how obvious she made it.
She couldn’t believe him.
Ordinarily Rose quite liked James. He wasn’t her favorite cousin—that was Albus—but he was brilliant, and witty, and irrepressible, and a lot of fun to hang around with. And while she didn’t hero-worship him to the extent that Albus did, she admitted that she did look up to James Potter quite a lot. When he wasn’t being exasperating, and sometimes even when he was. But right now he was taking exasperation to a whole new level.
Rose had known the Potters all her life, and she would have known, even without seeing the letter, that everything James was pretending it had said was nonsense. Aunt Ginny and Uncle Harry would never have written things like that! They had, in actuality, asked James to look out for his little brother, and to be nice to him, and to tell Albus that they were proud of him, and hoped he was settling in well, and they were looking forward to hearing from him as soon as he had time to write.
(They had also told James not to break too many school rules this year, or take any advice from Uncle George, but Rose knew as well as the Potters must have that James would certainly ignore that bit of the letter.)
They most certainly had not told James to make all sorts of really horrible jokes about snakes, and shaming the family, and how Albus must have been switched in St. Mungo’s at birth for a baby python or something, and all sorts of nonsense that had had James’s friends laughing uproariously but that Rose was sure Albus would have been really upset to overhear. She’d told James as much, and told him not to be a prat, and he’d told her not to be such an Uncle Percy so Rose had taken his letter and stormed off.
Now she was looking for Albus to tell him what the letter had really said, and ask him why on earth he hadn’t written to his parents yet, but he seemed to be nowhere to be found. She had already walked up and down the whole Slytherin table, and he didn’t seem to be there.
Finally in frustration she scanned the table and selected a girl whom she thought had to be a first year, like she and Al. “Excuse me,” said Rose.
The girl turned around and her dimpled smirk faded when she saw Rose. “What?” she asked curtly.
“Do you know Albus Potter?” Rose asked politely. “He’s in your House.”
The smirk was back. “Oh yeah,” the girl said, “did you know he’s lost five points already?” She giggled.
“No, well, that’s a shame,” Rose said, resisting the urge to turn and check the hourglasses across the hall. “Anyway, I was just wondering if you knew where he was?”
“Already left,” the girl replied. “Hiding behind his stupid little friend.”
“Right,” said Rose. “Okay. Well, thanks anyway.”
The girl shrugged and turned back to her meal.
“If you see him, can you tell him that Rose is looking for him?”
The girl shrugged again, not bothering to look back at Rose or acknowledge her further.
Rose backed away from the green-and-silver table. How had she missed Al leaving?
Then she shook her head ruefully. She’d been skimming her Transfiguration textbook, preparing for class, and—predictably—gotten carried away and sucked in. She wouldn’t have noticed Albus even if he’d sat down right next to her.
Rose sighed. Well, she’d find him eventually.
The castle wasn’t that big, after all.
Hogwarts was too large, Albus decided. Even leaving lunch early like they had, heading all the way to the dungeons and back again meant that now he and Scorpius were practically sprinting and they were, he just knew, still going to be late.
If only it hadn’t been Herbology next…the greenhouses were just too far away! Fortunately being in such a rush meant that Albus had not yet had time to realize or focus on the fact that Herbology meant Professor Longbottom, which meant Uncle Neville.
Neville Longbottom wasn’t really Albus’s uncle—he had more than enough of those, anyway—but he was such a close friend of Al’s parents that he might as well have been. Albus had grown up with the Longbottoms around all the time, and their children, Frank and Alice, were as close to the Potters as any of their actual Weasley cousins. Frank was in James’s year, and one of his best friends; Alice would be in Lily’s, and was one of hers. There was no middle Longbottom to be Albus’s especial mate, but he’d always been close enough to Frank and Alice anyway.
And, had he had time to think about it, he would not have been in any way eager to see Neville Longbottom right now, not while he was in the brand new silver-and-green robes that marked him as an outcast.
Neville was, everyone always said, the Gryffindor: the very epitome of the best of that house. He was, in fact, not just the Herbology instructor but also the current Head of Gryffindor House at Hogwarts, and had probably been expecting to have both Albus and Rose to look after this year. In fact, he had probably been expecting Albus even more than he had Rose; everyone had been teasing Aunt Hermione for the last year or so about how it would be all her fault if her kids got sorted into Ravenclaw, which even Uncle Ron had to admit had seemed quite possible.
But Rose was in Gryffindor, right where a Weasley was supposed to be, while Albus…
Albus was in Slytherin.
And now he was late to Herbology. He burst through the door to Greenhouse One a step behind Scorpius, the both of them panting and pink-cheeked from their sprint down the lawn. Scorpius still looked a little embarrassed from the juice incident, and now hurriedly smoothed his hair down, tugging at his robes to neaten them. Albus didn’t bother; Neville had seen him in far more disreputable condition than this before, and had to know that no amount of neatening would ever affect his unruly hair.
Professor Longbottom (Albus reminded himself to be careful to call Neville that when he was in class; it wouldn’t be proper to refer to him as “Uncle Neville” while he was at Hogwarts) looked over at the late arrivals. He was frowning, and his eyes narrowed coldly when he spotted Scorpius, who flushed even more under the scrutiny. Fortunately Scor was so pale already that it would be hard for anyone who wasn’t looking closely to tell how embarrassed he really was at their tardy entrance.
“You’re late,” said Professor Longbottom. He looked more cross and intimidating than Albus had ever seen him. Uncles clearly got scary when they were being professors. Albus reminded himself to be especially careful to treat Neville like a teacher, not a family member, while he was at school. “I won’t tolerate that sort of disrespect in my class,” the Herbology instructor continued sternly, “nor any other sort of disrespect, towards me or anyone else—just you remember that.”
”Sorry, Professor,” both boys said, flinching. Albus crossed his fingers behind his back and hoped that Neville wouldn’t take any points; he couldn’t stand the thought of losing more than he already had, not on his very first day.
Neville seemed to notice Albus for the first time. “Albus,” he said, “right, I forgot you were…well, come in and grab some stools. We’ve already gotten started.” He scowled at Scorpius again and seemed to be debating saying more, but whatever it was, he kept quiet while the two shamefaced boys slid into the room and joined their housemates as unobtrusively as possible. “Just make sure you’re on time next class,” Professor Longbottom finally said, his voice grudging. “I’ll let it go this time, because it’s the first day, but…”
Albus breathed a small sigh of relief. He wondered if Neville had let them slide on points because he knew Albus; he certainly wasn’t going to complain about that even if it wasn’t, strictly speaking, fair. Anything to keep from losing any more points than he already had.
“Thanks, Professor,” Albus said quietly, with a smile that he hoped looked appropriately grateful. Scorpius just nodded fervently, his own expression overly sincere in an attempt, Albus was sure, to look ingratiating and repentant.
Neville sniffed. “Right, well…I was just explaining how the Greenhouses are off-limits outside of class, especially Greenhouse Three. Anyone who gets caught poking around there gets a month’s worth of detention, no excuses.” He grinned. “That is…anyone who doesn’t get eaten by the plants.” Several of the students gulped nervously despite Neville’s teasing wink.
Albus knew for a fact that despite his jovial tones, Professor Longbottom was entirely serious about the voracity of certain flora. He made a mental note to go nowhere near Greenhouse Three. Getting eaten by a flower bouquet would be just too embarrassing for words.
“Of course, if you ever have any homework that requires you to visit the greenhouses outside of class, or even if you just want to spend some extra time studying there on your own, I’ll just arrange for myself or sometimes some older students to come supervise,” Neville continued, the half-joking menace now gone from his voice. “All you have to do is ask. Still, some of the plants can be dangerous, even in here—”
The students, as a clump, edged towards the center of the room, away from the green, growing things that filled the greenhouse. Only one of them—a tall, dark-skinned girl in pigtails—moved closer to the plants, her eyes bright and curious.
“But make sure you pay attention to my instructions and you’ll be fine,” Neville finished with a chuckle. “Why, I haven’t had a student accidentally turned into fertilizer for, oh…two, three whole years!” He laughed.
“That’s a joke,” Neville added quickly when the students went pale. Albus grinned weakly. Very funny, Uncle Neville.
“Slytherins,” Neville muttered to himself, too quietly for most of the class to hear him, “no sense of humor…”
He cleared his throat. “Anyway,” he said, “today we’re going to be starting on the basics. I want you all to break up into pairs, and then I’ll show you what we’re going to be doing…”
The students quickly divided into nervous little clusters. Albus watched the awkward dance of people who didn’t know one another very well trying to find a promising partner. He was glad to think that he already had a friend, and didn’t have to worry about finding someone to work with. It was just like what he and Rose had always talked about when they planned their time together at Hogwarts, although she wasn’t here of course. Albus hoped that his cousin had found a mate in her house to help her out the way he had Scorpius. Albus grinned at his friend, glad that they were there together.
Scorpius grinned back, although he looked nervous. Albus thought about maybe mentioning to Uncle Neville later that while it might be funny, joking about carnivorous plants with first year students who didn’t know him well enough to understand that it was a joke, and he’d never let anyone get eaten, might not be the best way to put a class at ease.
Professor Longbottom looked over at Albus and Scorpius with a frown. He seemed confused and unhappy about something, but was clearly unwilling to say what. Albus smiled back brightly, wondering why Uncle Neville was acting so weird.
Then he remembered what colors he was wearing, and his face fell. Right, he thought miserably, Slytherin. Of course. I…forgot.
He couldn’t believe he’d managed to. He’d been so mired in depression over his sorting, he hadn’t thought that he’d ever be able to think about anything else, but he and Scorpius had been so caught up with getting to class—Albus still a little amused, although he couldn’t admit it to his friend, by the whole unfortunate accident with the juice—and then dodging punishment, and preparing for their first messy lesson, that it had hardly occurred to him to think twice about what colors he was wearing, and how disappointed in him Uncle Neville had to be.
But he was, of course; that explained the strange attitude and the weird looks he kept giving Al and Scorpius, like he was leery or suspicious of something. That something had to be Albus himself, of course.
Albus Potter, first year Slytherin.
Albus sighed and looked down at the large pot in front of him. He tried to cheer himself up with the idea of teasing Scorpius about having been so concerned with getting cleaned up to make a good first impression; from the looks of things, they were about to end up covered in dirt anyway, so his fastidious efforts would all be in vain.
He managed another smile at the thought, but really didn’t feel much better. He wished he could just toss himself into the pot, and stay there until Scorpius had covered him over with enough dirt so that neither Uncle Neville nor anyone else could see him.
Professor Longbottom stepped back to the front of the room and waited for everyone to settle down so he could continue the lesson. It didn’t take long; all that talk about getting eaten by plants at least seemed to have instilled in the class a concern for listening to their teacher’s instructions. If that had been Neville’s goal, Albus thought, he had certainly succeeded. Even the girl with the pigtails looked attentive, although she was one of the few students smiling. Everyone else looked nearly as baleful as Scorpius, and several of them were standing well back from their pots as if afraid the ceramic might actually bite.
Albus forced himself to peer inside his. He didn’t want Uncle Neville to think that no one in the class was excited for the lesson, even if he, himself, had rarely felt less like learning anything.
At least his awful, awful robes might soon be ruined. That thought helped somewhat more, even if he did have far too many spares back in his trunk. One set of green-and-silver down…a long, long year’s worth still to go.
Rose Weasley filed out of the Transfiguration classroom, feeling every bit as subdued as the rest of the students. Professor Sixsmith was decidedly more…intense than Rose had expected. She couldn’t help but be a little bit excited, though, at the same time. He seemed to really know what he was talking about.
Rose was elated at the idea of learning not just the art of magical transfiguration, but the base theory behind it, too. Now that was how magic was supposed to work: everything integrated and sensible and according to the rules of logic. She’d known that was how it had to be all along, no matter how haphazard it looked when her dad and Uncle Harry were bandying spells back and forth. She’d known that, underneath all the fun and games, magic had to make sense, had to follow the rules, just like everything else. And she’d been right!
Then her eyes lit up even more. There, trooping up the hallway, were several short, muddied, disheveled first years, all of them clad in green-and-silver. So, she thought to herself, they must have just been down at Herbology, with Uncle Neville. Rose waded through the Gryffindors and Ravenclaws that clogged the hall between them and hurried over to the pack of Slytherins.
She was trying to catch sight of Albus, whom she still hadn’t gotten to speak to since they’d stupidly gotten separated on the train. Rose didn’t understand why he’d had to go running off in the first place; it wasn’t as if Victoire and her friends had spent the train ride talking about girly things, and Albus could very well have sat with them like he’d been supposed to.
Boys and their silly egos, she thought, rolling her eyes. She stepped around a dark-skinned girl with pigtails who was surreptitiously cradling a handful of leaves, and saw her cousin at last.
“Albus!” she shouted, “hey, Al!”
The dark-haired boy—he was easy to spot, next to that really short blond one—had his head down and his shoulders hunched, and he didn’t seem to hear her. He darted a glance towards the Gryffindors, completely missed noticing Rose’s wave, and started walking faster. The pale boy next to him had to trot to keep up.
Rose frowned and shoved ahead, pushing her way through the crowd. “Hey, Albus!” she called.
Albus peeked over his shoulder. This time Rose caught his eye and grinned. Albus tugged the sleeve of the boy next to him and they both stopped.
Rose hurried to catch up, noticing that Albus didn’t look particularly happy to see her. Surely he couldn’t be cross that they’d gotten separated before the Sorting; that had been his fault, not hers!
Probably it’s just because he’s all muddy, Rose told herself. Uncle Neville must have given them a really tough lesson.
“Hey, Al,” she said. “How are classes going?”
“Fine,” Albus mumbled.
“I think it’s brilliant, have you met Professor Sixsmith yet? He’s marvelous. Really clever. And what about Professor Binns? Can you even believe it, a ghost professor? Of course, he was a little dry, I guess, but I’m sure he can’t be as bad as everyone says, right? Once we get the boring early history out of the way—not that history’s boring, but you know preliminaries…anyway, you’ve just been down to Herbology, haven’t you? I can tell. How’s Uncle Neville? Is it brilliant being in class with him? I’ll bet it was a lot of fun, I can’t wait, I don’t have Herbology at all until tomorrow. Have you been to the library yet? I haven’t, I was just about to go try and find it, I’m done with classes for the day, how about you?”
Rose took a breath and only then realized that she’d been babbling. She grinned. “Sorry, I’m a little excited. Actually, I’m a lot excited—it’s Hogwarts! Can you believe it? This is so excellent, being here at last!” Rose caught herself bouncing on her toes, and settled quickly.
“Yeah,” said Albus unenthusiastically, “excellent. Sure.”
Rose frowned. “Al,” she asked, “is something wrong?”
“No,” said Albus quickly, “of course not.” He looked a bit sickly. The skinny boy next to him offered Al a sneering smile that he probably thought looked encouraging. An answering one flickered briefly across Albus’s face. “This is Scorpius,” he announced. “Scor, my cousin Rose.”
The small, pale boy held out a hand politely. “A pleasure to meet you,” he said.
“Right,” said Rose, shaking his hand distractedly. “Al, are you sure there's—”
“Everything’s fine,” Albus said crossly.
Rose frowned. “Okay,” she said. “Well, if you’re getting sick or something, you should go and see the—”
“I’m not sick!” Albus insisted.
“Okay!” snapped Rose. “Sorry for caring! Merlin…” She crossed her arms with a huff. “Anyway, I just wanted to tell you, James got a letter from your parents, and—”
Albus went paler than his new friend.
“Goodness, Al, I really think you might be getting sick,” Rose interrupted herself. “You’re down in the dungeons, aren’t you? Maybe the damp is getting to you, or—”
“It’s not damp!” Scorpius protested.
Rose glared at him for interjecting. “Anyway,” she said pointedly, turning back to Albus, “I really think you should go up to the hospital wing and see if you can’t take something. You don’t want to get sick your first week of classes, you might never catch up if you miss the very first days!”
“I’m not sick,” Albus mumbled. “I have to go.”
“Well—don’t you at least want to see what your parents wrote?” she asked. “I’ve got it here in my bag somewhere, I took it from James because he was being a prat, they want to hear from you, and…” Rose looked down to rummage in her things; where had she put the letter? Was it still in her Transfiguration book?
“And, um, and they said…something about settling in…” There it was, tucked in chapter seven of A Beginner’s Guide to Transfiguration, just like she’d thought. Rose pulled the parchment out and tried to smooth it flat before she handed it over. “And if you had any…questions…to…” She trailed off, staring down the hallway. Albus was hurrying away from her, the shorter boy scuttling at his heels. Rose frowned.
Surely he couldn’t be in that much of a hurry to get to his next class. Granted, he had to wash up from Herbology still, but he could have at least managed a good-bye…
Rose sniffed in annoyance and shoved the already-crumpled letter back into her bag. Well, she thought crossly, so much for manners…
Rose tugged her school bag more securely over her shoulder and set off down the hallway in the opposite direction from the one that her cousin had taken. So what if Albus didn’t want to come along? She, at least, was going to go and find that library.
“What’s the hurry?” Scorpius asked, panting slightly as he hustled to keep up with his longer-legged friend.
“Nothing,” Albus mumbled.
“I mean, I’m as eager as anyone to get this muck off,” Scorpius wrinkled his nose in disgust, “believe me, but surely it could have waited until you were done talking with your cousin? She seemed friendly enough—maybe she’d have waited while we washed up, then we could have gone looking for the library together? I mean, we don’t have any more classes today, either,” he continued, “and it might be fun.”
Albus said nothing.
“We could still go back and catch her,” Scorpius offered. “I’m sure she hasn’t gone far.”
“No thanks,” said Albus. He was looking very fixedly at his feet.
“Albus…” Scorpius slowed to a stop.
Albus continued on a few more steps, then sighed and leaned against the wall. He closed his eyes. “Yeah?” he asked, his voice heavy with defeat.
Scorpius looked at his friend. He thought about what it would be like to be in Hufflepuff, or in Gryffindor, or even Ravenclaw. He thought about the look of disappointment he could imagine so clearly upon his father’s face; the shame on his mother’s. He thought about the chill dismay of grandparents, and of a long line of ancestors staring down the branches of the family tree and finding their last descendant wanting.
He thought about Slytherin, and he thought about family. He thought about the look of brokenhearted horror on Albus’s face when the Hat announced his fate, and the way his own heart had fluttered when it had hesitated to name his own.
“Never mind,” he said. “Come on, let’s go wash up. Maybe we can scout the castle a bit so we won’t get so lost trying to find our classes tomorrow. We might even stumble into something interesting—it’s Hogwarts, right? So you never know.” He tried a cheerful smile and was relieved when Albus offered a wan one of his own in return.
“Right,” said Albus, “you never know.”
Albus cast one last, mournful look over his shoulder along the hallway down which Rose had disappeared, then he followed Scorpius down to the dungeons. He tried to ignore the voracious butterflies working to eat him from the inside out, and asked Scorpius about his favorite Quidditch team instead.
By the time they crossed the main staircase they were so mired in amiable debate over the disparate merits of the Harpies and the Wasps that Albus never even noticed his brother walking past with his boisterous gang of Gryffindors.
But James Potter saw him.
These last two chapters were uploaded together, because they were both so short, and rather linked. Make sure you didn't miss reading the previous one.
“Ick,” James muttered to the boy next to him, “snakes.”
All five boys nodded agreement with the sentiment. “Merlin…I wish we didn’t have Transfiguration next,” complained the tallest of the group, a skinny boy with a head full of messy gold curls.
“Can’t be late for Sixsmith,” the dark-skinned and dreadlocked one standing beside him said, grimacing. “Not even to tease snakes…” Seth Jordan shook his head mournfully.
James sighed. “I wish we had more understanding professors,” he whined. “Not even your dad lets us skive class to uphold Gryffindor's honor,” he added grumpily, elbowing the round-faced boy next to him.
Frank Longbottom shrugged. “Not my fault,” he said. “I try and talk to him about it, and he makes me feed Cuddles.”
The other four boys—all of whom had seen Professor Longbottom’s venomous tentaculla at its feistiest—shuddered. “All right,” said James, less grudgingly than he meant to, “we’ll let you off the hook on that one.”
“Sixsmith won’t let any of us off the hook if we’re late the first day,” pointed out Andrew Thomas, who was just an inch taller and a shade paler than Jordan, although his hair was cropped much closer.
“Right,” said James, “so save our hides now, find the snakes again later?”
Everyone nodded. “Fair enough,” Thomas said for all of them, and the Gryffindors took off up the stairs at a speed that would have gotten them scolded if any of the more staid professors had seen them. Fortunately, James Potter’s Marauder-luck held, and they arrived, panting and rumpled, just in time to slide into their seats before the bell rang.
Professor Sixsmith walked to the front of the room looking just as stern, just as scarred, and just as strict as he had last year. “Put your wands away, class,” he instructed, “and take out your books.”
Not a single student—not even James—dared to groan, although he really, really wanted to.
“Now that you have the basics of Transfiguration down,” continued Sixsmith, “which you hopefully have not managed to forget over the summer—we’ll soon find out,” he added with a wolfish grin, “—it’s time to discuss the real theory behind the magic…”
Five tired and muddy girls trooped downstairs to their dungeon dormitory. The round-faced girl with the brother in Hufflepuff—Maureen Stebbins—was the first through the door, and she was complaining loudly: “This is supposed to be a school, isn’t it?” she said. “Why are we doing manual labor?”
The girl behind her was a little shorter and paler, with thick braids—now half-unraveled—that framed her sharp face. She had round glasses, high eyebrows, and narrow eyes beneath heavy lids. Her lips went thin with displeasure, giving her a singularly unimpressed look. Her name was Suellen Howel, and the glance she directed at her new housemate was withering. “Manual labor?” she repeated. “You re-potted half a bush. Actually, you took about three shovels of dirt and then started wailing about worms and bugs, if I’m remembering correctly. I’m pretty sure it was Sarah there who did most of the actual work while you pouted.”
“I didn’t mind,” Sarah Hitchens said quietly. No one seemed to hear her.
“Just look at me!” Maureen protested. “I’m all muddy! And I think there was a bug in my hair.” She shuddered delicately.
“I’m pretty sure that’s just your hair,” Suellen said dismissively, and shoved past Maureen.
The fourth girl—Annelise Dane—tittered. She had a wilting bow in her long black hair, and she held her muddied robes out gingerly away from her ankles, but she seemed as much resigned to the dirt as she was displeased by it, and offered no complaint. In fact she almost skipped as she crossed the room to her bed and started gingerly disrobing. “At least it wasn’t raining,” Annelise observed cheerfully.
Suellen yanked her own muddy robes off with brisk efficiency and plodded over half-dressed to drop them unceremoniously in the corner hamper. She pulled a braid forward for a quick, cross-eyed inspection, and decided that they needing tending. She kicked her shoes off on the way back to her bedside, yanking the ties from her braids as she walked so she could comb them out and plait them afresh. “Seems to me it would make more sense to put a washroom down by the Greenhouses, so we wouldn’t track mud all over the castle after class,” Suellen observed to no one in particular.
Sarah Hitchens, a mousy girl with wispy hair, round features, and a light dusting of freckles across her button of a nose, shrugged silently. Sarah turned her back modestly on the other girls, her plump cheeks pink, and shyly worked her way out of her muddied robes and into fresh ones. She added her dirty clothes to the pile in the hamper, tucked her reading glasses into the pocket of her new robes, and slipped up the stairs without speaking again.
Eventually even Maureen was suitably tidied and, one-by-one, the girls trooped back out of their dormitory. The last one left was Tammy Rosethorn, a tall girl with dark-skin and long pigtails, who had stood silently to the side while the others changed and chattered. Now she darted to the door and glanced out, making sure that all of her dormmates were truly gone.
Tam shut the door, frowned at its lack of a latch, and hurried to her bed. She gently withdrew her hand from the pocket of her robes, producing a bright green swath of foliage. Tam grinned at the plants and laid them down tenderly on her bedcovers.
She dropped to her knees and dug, one-handed (the less muddy one), through her trunk until she found a small cup. It was decorated with pictures of flowers and a Muggle cartoonist’s idea of a fairy. Tam grimaced automatically at the cup—it was the sort of thing one might use for teeth brushing, and the sort of design that only a mother would think was acceptable to foist upon a girl of eleven—and then she darted out to the washroom. She came back with a cup half-full of water, into which she slowly trickled a handful of dirt that she had dug out of her other pocket. Then Tam scraped her robes clean, adding that dirt to the handful already in the brownish water; she walked over to the hamper, and did the same with her roommates’ discarded robes. Finally she sat on the floor and scavenged what bits of earth she could from everyone’s shoes.
That done, Tam used two fingers to stir the murky solution around, stopping when it turned into a thick, muddy sort of water. Only then did Tam gently add her plants to the solution, balancing the leaves carefully along the rim of the cup so that the scrap of foliage hung suspended in the liquid. She placed it gently on the windowsill, squinting up uncertainly through the murky, hazy green light that filtered through the lake. Tam edged the cup into the very corner of the stone shelf, between the thick curtain and thicker glass. It would be hard for anyone inside the room to notice the cup sitting there, and outside the window there was the lake; no one would be casually walking by on that side of the glass.
Tam grinned at her little plant. Then she jumped up, and ran off to wash up before anyone noticed that she was missing.
Rose Weasley’s jaw hung open. She walked up and down the aisles, lettings her fingers trail lightly over the spines of the books that lined the endless shelves. She had never seen so many books together in one place before in her life, not even at Flourish and Blotts, or any of the other bookstores her mother frequented.
Rose felt, in a lot of ways, that she was more her father’s daughter than her mother’s. She was loud, short-tempered, and had a ferocious love of flying. She hated waiting for things, and she loved playing chess. Her bushy hair was red, her pale face was freckled, and her eyes were bright blue. She was big for eleven, gangly, and she smiled easily.
But then there were books. Rose loved reading more than anything else, even flying—although one would be hard-pressed to make her admit such a thing out loud. Even her father had to agree, though, that as likely as one was to find Rose up in the skies, it was even more likely—regardless of weather—to find her curled up around a bound bundle of papers. And Rose loved books themselves, not just what they contained. She loved the smell of books, the weight of them in her hands, the feel of paper on her fingertips. She loved the sound pages made when they turned, and she loved the way bookmarks jutted out, like a half-told secret.
Right now, in the Hogwarts library, she was practically in heaven.
Rose wandered the stacks aimlessly, a big grin on her face. She passed between sections and subjects with no goal in mind, no purpose to her direction, save to see everything and touch as many books as she could—a sort of tactile “hello,” and a promise to come and read them all, later. She reluctantly steered well clear of the Restricted Section, passing those forbidden shelves with a wistful little sigh. Her mother had presented more than one lecture on the importance of treating that section of books with distance and respect, and Uncle Harry had detailed the frightening security measures that Hogwarts kept their more dangerous books under.
Besides, there were plenty of other books to see. Rose figured that by the time she had read the rest of the library, she would be in fifth year at least, and ready to be trusted with the books in the Restricted Section. Uncle Neville would give her permission, Rose was sure, even if she had had to promise her mother that she wouldn’t take advantage of her near-familial relationship with her Head of House. Mum didn’t need to know; and besides, by fifth year, Rose was sure she’d earn the right to read in the Restricted Section, no matter what teacher she asked.
Right now, she couldn’t help herself. Rose had meant to explore the entire library, every last inch, before she gave in to the temptation to start reading. She had meant to map it out properly, to make a plan, to approach the order in which she read the books logically. But there were so many books, so many shelves, and the smell of musty paper was heady in her nostrils. She sat down, half-dazed, at the nearest table, and tugged an open book towards her. Rose bent her head and leaned in, her bushy red hair tumbling down around her face, and she started to read.
Several minutes or hours passed without Rose being in any way aware of them. She only looked up when a hard, cold hand closed on her shoulder, and then she turned to face the interruption with a gasp and a glare. “I beg your pard—!”
The indignant exclamation died on Rose’s lips. A very tall, thin man was peering down at her from behind a pair of narrow spectacles. He had a sallow, pinched face, and thin eyebrows that were drawn into a dark scowl. His wispy grey hair looked like it had started the day out slicked down tight against his scalp, but had since managed to escape in tufts and tendrils that floated above his head like smudgy stormclouds. He wore high-collared, dark brown robes that nearly matched the old wood of the bookshelves, and his long sleeves were bound up around his elbows, so as to keep them from trailing across the pages as he read. His mouth was small and puckered, as if he subsisted on a diet comprised of nothing but lemons.
When he spoke, his voice was curt and breathy: the kind of voice that never raised above a whisper, even when it screamed. “What do you think you’re doing?” the thin man asked Rose.
“Reading,” she replied, blinking dumbly, her mind still half in the book.
Hazel eyes narrowed behind his flat spectacles. “Don’t be smart,” he whispered waspishly.
Rose had to bite her lip to keep herself from saying, “I thought that was the point of libraries.”
“You know very well these books are off-limits,” the spindly librarian snapped. “If I have to tell you one more time—”
“But you’ve never even told me once!” Rose protested. “I’m sorry! I just got here! I thought only the books in the Restricted Section were off-limits, I didn’t know there were others that students weren’t allowed to access!” She took a deep breath, fighting tears. If she was banished from the library, if she wasn’t allowed to read all of those beautiful, priceless books...
“Don’t be ridiculous. I know what books are in which section, and you aren’t going to—” The librarian stopped and peered at her more closely. “You’re new,” he said. He blinked a few times, studying her. “First year?”
Rose nodded. “I’m sorry, I didn’t know—”
He leaned across Rose and snatched the book away from her. He moved in fast, jerky motions, reminding Rose unpleasantly of insects. “How did you get this book out of the Restricted Section?” the librarian asked her.
Rose gasped. “I—I didn’t!” she cried. “It was lying on the table, I just found it here, I just sat down because it was lying here open, I haven’t even checked the title yet, I was just reading because—because I couldn’t help it...so many books...” Rose’s voice trailed off with an unhappy whimper.
The librarian’s eyes darted between Rose and the book a few times, then finally fixed on the girl. “Just lying here,” he repeated flatly, “I see....Well in that case, you should know better than to take books that others are reading. It’s incredibly rude.”
“There was no one here,” Rose protested. “I’m sorry, I just saw it sitting here, open...”
“Books,” the librarian said coldly, “do not just sit around in my library.”
“I’m sorry,” Rose repeated.
The librarian gave an unhappy sniff. “Don’t do it again,” he told her curtly, and spun around before she could say anything else. Rose watched in silent horror as the tall, spindly man walked away, cradling the heavy book to his chest like it was a baby made of porcelain. His head darted around, peering down between bookshelves, as if searching for something, but he didn’t seem to find it. Rose cautiously leaned out around the edge of the Invisibility shelf, and watched him return the book to the Restricted Section. He chained it tightly in place, and wedged it delicately in between its fellows. Even from halfway across the library, Rose had the sense of something cold and angry settling down in the shadows.
She shivered and turned away, feeling miserable and envious. A blur of dark hair and black robes jerked backwards into the stacks. When Rose walked over to see who it was, there was no one there. She looked around. A group of Ravenclaws sat laughing quietly at one of the far tables. Two older Slytherins were bent in a whispered argument over an old book at another, and a lone Hufflepuff sat curled up in a chair, a thick leather volume open on her lap and a smile on her face. There didn’t seem to be anyone else in the library this early in the term, and Rose couldn’t see where the silent watcher had vanished to.
Rose frowned, wondering if he or she had been responsible for leaving the Restricted Book lying on the table, and getting her in trouble with the librarian, but with no sign of the potential culprit, there was nothing she could do.
After a brief, inner debate about the merits of asking to borrow a book for the night (she decided against it; she would come back and try again tomorrow, when the librarian would hopefully have forgotten about her), Rose sighed and left the library. She moved on tiptoes, trying to be absolutely silent, as she passed the high desk at which the librarian was sitting. His glasses had slid down low on his thin nose, and his arms and shoulders were hunched in crab-like around a thick leather-bound book. The sign on his desk indicated that he was called Master Nez, and further detailed the potential punishments of students caught defacing, mistreating, or stealing books from the library.
Rose hunched her shoulders and walked faster. She could feel Master Nez’s cold eyes on her back every step of the way.
Albus and Scorpius climbed up out of their dungeon, both damp and freshly scrubbed, and wearing clean robes. Scorpius’s pale hair was combed neatly back from his forehead, while Albus’s dark mop hung lank and untidy around his ears. He brushed his fringe distractedly out of his eyes and straightened his glasses.
“Okay,” Albus said, “so where to first?”
“Let’s go up,” suggested Scorpius. “We can explore the dungeons later, because we won’t have to worry so much about curfew then, what with our common room being right there. I say we climb all the way to the top of the castle, and see what we find on our way.”
“All the way to the top?” Albus repeated dubiously. “That’s a lot of unfamiliar ground to cover...”
“Well, if we don’t make it all the way, we can always pick back up tomorrow,” Scorpius replied. “Obviously anything interesting we find on the way we can stop to look at, we don’t have to make it all the way to the top right now. But it makes a good directional goal, doesn’t it?”
Albus shrugged. “I guess so,” he agreed.
The boys began climbing, stopping often to peek through doorways and peer out windows. More than once they traipsed down promising-looking hallways, only to find that in the shifting architecture of the castle, they had emerged somewhere they had already been. They were soon thoroughly lost, and not at all concerned.
“We can always ask a portrait how to get back,” Scorpius assured Albus, when the other boy ventured doubts that they would be able to find their way to the Great Hall in time for dinner. Several painted figures lining the walls waved cheerfully to the two first years, and called out greetings of varied degrees of warmth and welcome.
The delights of Hogwarts were distracting enough that it took the two boys quite some time to climb to any great height. The sunlight slanting in through the wide windows was warm and golden with the color of late afternoon when they found the door:
It was tall, and deeply carved, and held closed by a heavy lock. “What do you reckon is in there?” Albus asked.
“No idea,” Scorpius replied, and the two boys trotted over for a closer look. Scorpius tugged at the lock.
Albus took a nervous step backwards. “My dad told me he found a giant three-headed dog in the castle once,” he started to say, but Scorpius turned around with a wide-eyed grin and cut the story off.
“It’s open,” he said, voice hushed.
Albus went pale, then grinned. “Really?” He moved forward, joining Scorpius next to the door. The lock was, indeed, open, its hook threaded through the door’s latch, but not fastened.
“I think they just forgot to close it properly,” Scorpius said. He shrugged. “Probably never even realized.”
“Who’s ‘they’?” Albus asked.
“No idea,” said Scorpius, “whoever meant to lock it up, I suppose...should we go in? I mean...”
Now it was Scorpius’s turn to shrink away with nerves, as Albus pushed forward. “Absolutely,” he said, “let’s see what’s in there.” Albus tugged the open lock out of the latch, looked around, and then placed the heavy lump of iron on the floor next to the doorframe. “Ready?” he asked. Scorpius nodded mutely, and Albus nudged the door open.
The boys peered inside, hesitating on the threshold. The room was very dark inside, as it lacked windows, but as their eyes adjusted they realized that there was a faint luminescence coming from somewhere. At first they thought the walls were wet, but then they realized that the glittering was really caused by what looked to be a hundred mirrors, lined up side-by-side along both sides of the room.
Albus and Scorpius exchanged a wary glance, and eager nods, and slipped inside. Scorpius was careful not to let the door latch closed behind them. They looked around. The mirrors stretched out down the long room as far their eyes could see. It was hard to tell if there was a door—or maybe more than one—at the far end of the room; it (or they) could have just been a reflection.
“This is...what is this?” Albus asked.
“Mirrors,” Scorpius answered simply.
“I can see that,” said Albus, “but why? What for?”
The boys stepped forward cautiously, peering at the double line of mirrors. A closer inspection revealed that they were none of them the same, although all looked old and elegant and were of nearly equal height, towering over the short eleven-year-old Slytherins’ heads.
“I wonder if—”
But what Albus wondered, he never said, for suddenly the floor gave a great lurch, or seemed to. The mirrors flashed with a dazzling brilliance that made both boys cry out, and fling their hands over their eyes.
Albus blinked stars away, and the world swam back into focus. Then he blinked again, because what he was looking at didn’t make any sense. Everything had a weird, unreal sharpness to it, and glittered with a strange pale light. Around him stood several other Albuses, all looking dazed and lost and half-blind. He turned, and saw only more of the same. None of the green-robed figures had the white-blonde hair of his friend; there was no sign of Scorpius anywhere.
“Scor!” Albus called out, and saw about half of the doppelgangers open their mouths to do the same, although no sound came out. Albus turned around again, getting frantic. In the corner of his eye, he saw a hundred other Albus’s whirling in place. “Scorpius! Can you hear me?”
The only answer was a flat, empty echo. Albus started forward, and found the whole world swirled around him when he moved. He stumbled sideways, and managed another step, and then fetched up in front of one of the other Albuses.
This one seemed taller, his hair tame and his green eyes narrow. He glared at Albus and crossed his arms in front of his chest. He was wearing bright green Slytherin robes, and there was a Prefect’s badge pinned to his chest. He shook his head at Albus in a really disapproving fashion, then swung his hand as if to swat Albus away.
Albus stumbled backward, avoiding the blow, and turned around. Waiting for him was another Albus, this one red-faced with anger and shouting, although Albus could not hear his words. Albus quickly backed away, turning instead to face a quiet Albus whose head was hung morosely, and who had tears dripping down his face beneath his glasses. He held a gleaming knife in one hand, and was carving into his arm. The red blood stood out sharply on the green of his robes.
Feeling sick, Albus scrambled away. He toppled over and fell, crawling on his hands and knees. A low, wavering sound started to fill the room, like wind being distorted through a long tube. Other Albuses loomed at him from the sides, saying horrible things that Albus couldn’t make out. He covered his ears anyway, and staggered to his feet.
“Scorpius!” he yelled. “Where are you? What is this?”
A figure stepped forward. Albus hurried towards it, then jerked to stop when he realized that he was facing not Scorpius, but himself again. This Albus was grinning unkindly. His robes were long and black, and swirled like smoke around his legs.
Albus took an involuntary step backwards.
“Please,” he stammered, “please just let me go—let us leave. I’m sorry, we didn’t mean to, whatever you are, we didn’t know...please...”
The Albus in front of him moved closer, his steps slow and measured. No matter how fast Albus scrambled backwards, he couldn’t get away; it was like in those Muggle movies about Inferi that James liked so much, that Lily wasn’t allowed to watch...
The strange light made the advancing Albus’s eyes flash momentarily red. He reached for the sleeve of his robe and started to raise it.
Albus screamed, turned, and bolted. He shoved blindly past incorporeal reflections of himself, keeping his head down and his watering eyes narrow. He tried not to look at any of his other selves, and refused to glance over his shoulder, not wanting to know if he was being chased.
A small, cold hand found his own, and Albus clutched it tightly. “Scorpius!” He gasped in relief, and together the two boys pelted—not for the door, they had no idea where the door was; they were just running away.
Albus saw, out of the corner of his eye, that the doppelganger Albuses had been joined by several Scorpiuses, none of them looking any happier than the Albuses. They were strangely quavery, almost translucent. Several of the apparitions reached out, although none touched the boys as they ran past. They seemed to be as insubstantial as gleams of light on a mirror, but sharp enough to cut.
The world flashed brightly, glaring in Albus’s eyes as he ran, and he finally gave up and closed his eyes, running totally blind. His fingers were locked tightly around Scorpius’s, the other boy being the only tangible thing in this place, and the only hint that the world was still, somewhere, real.
“This way!” Scorpius cried, and tugged Albus sideways. He stumbled after his friend, and then slammed into something hard and solid that fell open in front of him.
It was the door.
Scoripus’s foot caught in the hem of his robes, and he tripped, dragging Albus down with him. The boys sprawled hard on the stone floor, fetching up against the far wall of the corridor. The door swung shut, shutting out the brilliant, sharp-edged light within, and leaving the two boys in comparable darkness within the dimly-lit halls of Hogwarts.
They lay in an awkward pile, panting, as cold sweat ran down their faces and their limbs trembled. “What...what was that?” Albus finally gasped, when he could speak again.
Scorpius shook his head mutely, his pale face clammy.
Eventually the boys struggled to their feet. Albus found his legs were shaking so badly he could barely walk. He swallowed several times, fighting down nausea, and stared at the door. There was no sign of the strange light behind it, or the multitude of waiting Albuses, or the mirrors.
“We should probably lock that,” Scorpius said quietly.
Albus could not agree more.