Rose and Albus sat with James, Fred and Roxanne on the train. The older three were boisterous and insisted on dousing the lights and closing the curtains - with their wands - so they could play exploding snap in the dark. Albus suspected they wanted to do this just so they could use magic, having not been able to show off for the whole summer holidays. He pulled out one of his schoolbooks. He had already read most of them at least once, or at least skimmed through the most important or interesting bits. He knew Rose had read hers thoroughly, twice.
He was sick with nerves. His dad's secret about the Sorting Hat had made him feel a little better, knowing he couldn't end up in Slytherin if he really didn't want to. He allowed himself to consider it, but tossed the idea aside quickly. James would never let him hear the end of it, and his uncle Ron, no matter what his dad said, would probably never forgive him. On the other hand, he wasn't sure he wanted to be in Gryffindor, either. From what James made out, he and the twins were on their way to being the most famous troublemakers in Hogwarts history - a high target, considering the competition even within their own family. He didn't quite fancy living with that over his head for a whole six years. Ravenclaw or Hufflepuff would be all right, he supposed, but then he'd be all on his own, and it wasn't as though he hated his family, he just didn't want them around all the time.
"Rosie?" he asked quietly as the other three laughed uproariously over a particularly spectacular explosion that momentarily lit up the dark carriage.
"Mm?" His cousin looked up at him from where she sat on the other side of the table, reading by the light of a little Muggle torch she had brought with her. Albus wondered vaguely how she'd known to bring it.
"You want to be in Gryffindor, right?"
Rose shrugged. "I guess. Never thought about it much."
"How can you not think about it? It's all I've been thinking about for weeks."
She giggled and closed the book, leaving her finger between the pages to mark her place. It was Standard Book of Spells, Grade 1. She was probably memorising it, Albus thought enviously. "Well I don't really mind, I suppose. Mum said not to worry about Houses, and the Sorting Hat is always right anyway."
"My dad told me the Hat lets us choose Houses, if we want. It did for him, he says."
Rose's eyes widened. "What? But then what's the point of it? I thought the whole idea was..."
"I dunno, do I? It's news to me I know all about it. I'm just glad I don't have to be in Slytherin."
Rose bit her lip and looked worried. Albus was secretly pleased about this, as it meant he was no longer the only one fretting. "Well..." she thought out loud. "Our parents were in Gryffindor, weren't they? So were all our uncles, and our grandparents. So that's probably where we'll end up."
"Who says? Anyway I have to put up with James all summer already, I don't see why I should have to deal with it at school as well."
Rose looked surprised. "Oh Alby. He's not that bad."
At that point, the pile of Exploding Snap cards went off so dramatically that Fred was forced to put out a small fire in the upholstery with his wand.
"The three of them together are," Albus muttered. "I just want to do well in classes and not get expelled, and not have to come with excuses for them when they keep getting in trouble, and I know that's what I'll have to do if I end up sharing a common room with them."
Rose sighed. "I suppose. But what can you do about it now? Just wait and see what the hat says."
Albus knew this was the only thing he could do, but it didn't make him feel anymore comfortable.
It was James who announced imperiously, hours later, that it was time to get changed into their school robes. Albus rolled his eyes, but did what he was told, worried that he would be the only one still in his Muggle clothes when the train stopped. As it was, it was a another half an hour before the train slowed into Hogsmeade station.
"Firs' years! Firs' years, over 'ere!"
Albus grinned. "Hi Hagrid!" he called, dragging his trunk over to where the huge man was gathering a group of children who all seemed to be about the same height, and the same level of terrified. Rose wasn't far behind him.
"'Ello, you two!" Hagrid beamed at them from behind his bushy beard, black but shot through with grey. "How's yeh mums and dads?"
"Fine," Albus replied, noticing that everyone else was looking worried, as if they also ought to be on a first name basis with the tall man. "Dad says hi, and Mum says to please not let me do a Dennis, whatever that means." Hagrid burst out laughing.
Albus felt a little better as he left his trunk behind and followed Hagrid to the boats, waving occasionally to a couple of people he knew. He was glad that he wasn't doing this totally unaware of what was going to happen, like his dad had done. The girl nearest him was wide-eyed and shaking slightly as she got into the boat with him and Rose and an Asian boy. "Don't worry," he told her as the boats set off by themselves from the shore, and she let out a little squeak of surprise. "Hagrid won't let us drown. What's your name?"
"Belinda," the girl whispered, doing all she could to keep herself in the middle of the boat as much as possible.
"I'm Jian," said the boy, without being asked. "We met on the train - she's Muggleborn."
Albus thought this was a rather rude way to introduce someone, and from the look on Rose's face, she agreed.
"I'm Albus," he said to Belinda. Jian's eyebrows instantly rose, but Albus ignored him. "And this is my cousin Rose. Promise we won't let you fall in."
Belinda smiled back, weakly. Jian was apparently too polite, too intimidated, or too distracted, to enquire further. By the time they reached the other side, Belinda was already somewhat calmer, and Albus had almost completely forgotten about the Sorting.
He remembered all too vividly however when they were led inside the Great Hall and met by Professor Longbottom. Albus could see Lizzie Longbottom, who occasionally joined her brother and parents at the Weasley house for Christmas, somewhere in front of him, whispering excitedly to a blonde companion he didn't recognise. Professor Longbottom smiled at them all and explained the process of the Sorting, though Albus was barely listening. The nerves had ridden up again and were making his heartbeat very distracting.
They entered the Great Hall to a chorus of cheers and applause. It took Albus a while to figure out the layout of the House tables and recognise his brother and cousins at the Gryffindor table. His older cousins, Victoire and Dominique, were sitting a bit further up, also at Gryffindor but surrounded by their friends, most of whom seemed to be boys, Albus noticed. The girls did tend to have that effect on people.
Professor Longbottom had produced the Sorting Hat, which was not nearly as impressive as Albus had imagined. It began singing, which he also had not been told about, and he found the sound rather more annoying than interesting. He looked up at the staff table and saw a few familar faces, including Headmistress McGonagall, Professor Flitwick and Firenze, who was standing, but looked nonetheless comfortable. He had met them all several times at the annual memorial service held at the school, and various family events. He liked Professor Flitwick, who he had outgrown at the age of eight, but still found McGonagall rather intimidating.
He jumped when Rose nudged him and he realised that the singing had stopped and Neville had already started reading out the names. He was instantly glad that the names were in alphabetical order by last name, not first. He watched, trying to calm his pounding heart, as Ascott, Belinda, was sorted into Hufflepuff. Lizzie, when her turn came, also ended up in Hufflepuff, which she seemed happy with. Albus thought her mother might have been a Hufflepuff. Professor Longbottom certaintly looked pleased enough, but only allowed himself a wide smile at Lizzie as she sat down at the clapping Hufflepuff table.
Immediately after Lizzie was read out, came 'Malfoy, Scorpius'. Albus looked up, interested. He had been too worried about James' taunts at the train station to have paid proper attention to the blonde boy. The room certainly seemed to have gone rather quiet at his name. He looked very small, and very pale, as he stepped forward to have the hat put on his head. He sat there for a long time. Eventually the hat opened its brim and yelled "RAVENCLAW!"
Albus blinked in surprise. Weren't all the Malfoys supposed to be in Slytherin? Certainly there was some whispering as well as scattered applause from the Ravenclaw table as the boy, looking relieved rather than disappointed, went to sit down at the empty end. He didn't have much time to worry about it though, because Professor Longbottom was saying, "Potter, Albus". There was a whoop from the Gryffindor table, accompanied by quite a lot of whispering from the whole room. Albus didn't dare look at James, who was almost certainly the culprit of the unexpected cheer. He clenched his teeth and sat on the chair as though it might be the last thing he would ever do. The hat, as it came down, slipped slightly over his eyes. He jumped as the hat's voice, apparently inside his head, began ruminating.
'Another Potter, eh? Well, let's see. Gryffindor would do, of course, plenty of bravery here, but I sense reservation. A little more ambition, perhaps?'
'No no no!' Albus thought quickly. 'I'm not ambitious at all. Opposite in fact. I just want to study and pass my exams and not get expelled.'
'Are you sure? I believe I sense a desire to live up to certain expectations, to be as well-loved as your father, perhaps?'
'I don't want to be famous,' Albus insisted, beginning to panic. What if what had happened with his dad had just been a fluke, and the hat was really just going to make up its own mind?
'Famous is not the same thing as being well-loved. But if you're sure, better be -
Albus let out a breath he hadn't realised he had been holding. He opened his eyes and immediately spotted James, staring at him open-mouthed. He took off the hat, handed it back meekly and hurried over to the Ravenclaw table, which had suddenly burst into enthusiastic applause.
"All right!" one of the older students exclaimed as he sat down. "About time we got a Potter!"
"Better hope he doesn't immediately lose us points," grumbled another. "Potters are famous for that."
Albus found himself sitting almost immediately across from the Malfoy boy, who seemed to be doing his best not to stare at him. He forced himself not to look at James, Fred or Roxie, and brought his attention back to the Sorting, feeling the pain in his chest subside. It was done now, anyway. At least he could make his own way, even if he wasn't sure how easy it would be to make friends with people he didn't even know...
He was to be proven wrong on this at least. Rose was the very last person to be Sorted, and barely two seconds after touching her head, the hat yelled "RAVENCLAW!"
Albus gaped at her as she skipped, beaming, up to the table and sat next to him. "But... you wanted Gryffindor!" he exclaimed at her over the applause.
"Changed my mind," she said, grinning at him. "You didn't think I'd leave you all alone here, did you?"
Albus felt a strong urge to hug her, but had to resort to grinning back as Professor McGonagall was standing up to begin her welcome speech.
Rose woke up later than she had meant to, the next day. She had stayed up until past midnight, unable to sleep in an unfamiliar bed surrounded by strangers. In the girls' dormitory, she didn't even have Albus to talk to. She gave up eventually and pulled out her copy ofA Standard Book of Spells, reading it until she eventually fell asleep.
By the time she got down to breakfast, Albus was already there with the other first years. There were four first year boys in Ravenclaw, and five girls.
"Timetables," Albus said cheerfully as she sat down, handing her one. "Professor Flitwick brought them, they're the same for all of us."
Excited, Rose skimmed the timetable as she ate. "Transfiguration first," she said eagerly, "with Hufflepuff."
"Oh yeah," Albus said, looking a bit guilty. "Um, I told Lizzie I'd sit with her. That ok?"
"Of course," she said, though she felt secretly a bit put out. They met Lizzie and began trying to find their way to the Transfiguration classroom, leaving the rest of the Ravenclaws to catch them up.
"So, Lizzie Longbottom," Albus teased as they climbed the giant staircase in the entrance hall. "How are the Hufflepuffs taking you having your Dad on staff?"
"Oh it's so embarrassing!" Lizzie sighed dramatically. "But not too bad. I mean, so far, they've all said they like Dad, and at least he's not my Head of House, as well. I don't think I'll have it as bad as Tony."
Rose remembered there had been some trouble some years ago when Lizzie's brother Anthony, now a fourth year Gryffindor, had started school as the first student in over a century to have a parent in the staffroom. He certainly wouldn't be the last, as the new Hogwarts teachers were nearly all recent graduates themselves. Experienced educators, Rose remembered her mother remarking, were sadly thin on the ground.
"I'm sure I'll do well in Herbology," Lizzie was saying. "I mean, I've been helping Daddy with the garden at home since I was two, and when he's at home he doesn't shut up about his classes… but when Tony did well they all thought it was favouritism… until he got in a fight about it and Dad was furious and gave him detention. I think they mostly shut up after that."
With some directions from other students and a rather irritated ghost, they eventually made it to their classroom. Albus and Lizzie went to sit together near the front, while Rose, sighing slightly, sat at the empty desk opposite them. She pulled out her textbook, her wand and some parchment, and began flicking through the pages, wondering what they would be learning.
As the other students started filing in, someone eventually came and sat next to her. She looked up and was surprised to find it was the Malfoy boy. She wasn't totally sure what to think of him. Based on her parents' stories about his father, she had been sure that he would be cold, mean, even vicious towards her and Albus. But as far as she knew he hadn't said more than two words to his housemates, or anyone, since they had first arrived.
"Hi," she said nervously, thinking it might be rude to just ignore him.
He looked up at her, his expression unreadable. "Good morning," he replied. She was surprised to find that his voice was slightly accented – French, she was sure. She might not have noticed it except that she was used to hearing her cousins Vic, Dom and Louis speak in the same way.
"Comment ça va?" she tried.
The pale face lit up and he began speaking eagerly in very fast, fluid French that was totally unintelligible to Rose. She shook her head. "Um, sorry. I only know a bit, from my cousins."
The eagerness subsided, but he continued to smile at her. "Oh well," he said, suddenly shy again.
"I'm Rose Weasley," she introduced herself, holding out a hand.
He must have known who she was before, from the Sorting, but he seemed to hesitate and his manner flattened slightly when she spoke her name. He shook her hand, a bit reluctantly. "Scorpius Malfoy," he replied, then, after a moment, "you have French cousins?"
"Three of them," she explained. "Their dad is my dad's brother, he's all Weasley, but their Mum's French. Is yours?"
"No," Scorpius replied. "I just live there. All my friends are French. We speak English at home, though."
"Right," Rose chided herself. It was difficult to remember actual facts about the Malfoys, such as where they lived, when her father's numerous rants about the 'bloodsucking little ferret' kept ringing in her ears. "Did you want to be in Ravenclaw?" she asked, unable to stop herself.
He managed a little half smile that didn't quite reach his eyes. "Father wanted me in Slytherin, but mother was a Ravenclaw, so he can't complain."
"He'd be furious if I'd ended up in Hufflepuff, though."
Scorpius laughed softly. "He'd kill me."
Rose was trying to decide whether or not he meant 'he'll kill me' in the traditional figurative sense, or the literal, when the teacher walked in.
Transfiguration was very interesting. Professor Ashborne covered most of the first chapter of the textbook, and set a short essay that Rose was sure she could at least start, if not finish, over lunch. The time seemed to fly. Scorpius didn't say anything else, but took notes in a neat, elegant script that would have put all her cousins to shame. The second half of the class was spent trying to turn matchsticks into needles, which Rose did on the third try, and Albus on the fourth. She grinned at him from across the desk. Scorpius, she noticed, had done it on the first try. She wondered if her dad had meant what he had said about her beating Scorpius in every test. It didn't look likely so far. Professor Ashborne seemed to be doing her best not to look impressed.
"That was fun," Rose remarked off-handedly when the class was over, and they were packing up their bags.
"I suppose," Scorpius replied, shrugging.
"You're very good at it," she tried. Albus was already waiting by the door, staring at her impatiently.
"Not really," he replied, in a manner that seemed annoyingly over-modest. "I've already covered most of the Transfiguration work for this term."
"Oh, so have I," Rose said quickly, not wanting him to think she was a complete dunce. "I've read the textbook three times, and some of my mother's old books from second year –"
"I mean the practical work," Scorpius interrupted. He didn't sound as though he was boasting at all, in fact, he was barely meeting her eyes, as though he was a bit ashamed.
Rose stared at him. "But, the Statute for the Restriction of Underage Wizardry…"
"Oh that." Scorpius smiled at her. "Don't think my father cares too much about that. Anyway the laws are different in France. You can practice magic at home as long as you're supervised."
Rose was immediately jealous and fascinated all at once, but Scorpius was already heading to the door, and she had to hurry to keep up. "You've met my cousin Albus, right?" she asked, by way of introduction.
"Mm." Scorpius nodded awkwardly to Albus, who nodded back. Rose didn't think that was a very good start. She was sure her mother would insist that they at least try to get along, especially as they were going to be sleeping in the same room for the next seven years. They continued to the Great Hall in awkward silence, until Rose spotted two familiar, tall, blonde girls up ahead. "Vic, Dom!" she called. The girls turned back, and Rose grinned at Scorpius.
"Guys, this is Scorpius," she said eagerly when the girls had reached them. "Scorp, my cousins Victoire and Dominique."
Scorpius seemed a bit taken aback, but he recovered quickly "Je suis très heureux de faire votre connaissance," he said to Victoire, who let out a little sigh of delight and began chattering to him in French. Rose grinned triumphantly at Albus, who gave her a confused look.
"Let's go eat lunch," she said to him, and led him into the Great Hall.
"Why are you talking to Malfoy?" he asked her before they had even sat down.
She rolled her eyes. "Why shouldn't I talk to him?"
Albus made a face. "Well, it's not that I mind, but won't your dad go spare?"
Rose thought about this. "Quite possibly," she decided. "But Mum would shut him up. Anyway we can't just ignore him completely, he's in our house. In your dormitory," she added.
"Yeah," Albus agreed, but he sounded worried. "His family are Death Eaters, though."
"Were Death Eaters," Rose corrected. "And he seems nice, so far. I think he's a bit lost. I mean, it's all right for us having our whole family, and the Longbottoms, and the Lovegoods, and everyone. Imagine coming here from another country and leaving all your friends behind, and not knowing anyone."
At this point, Scorpius entered the Great Hall, and Rose waved him over. Scorpius sat down as though expecting a whoopee cushion to go off.
"Your cousins are nice," he said, in response to her questioning look.
"I knew you'd like them," Rose said proudly.
"Their mother's family lives quite close to mine, actually," Scorpius said thoughtfully. "But I've never met them. Probably they're not what my father considers the 'right sort of people'."
Albus turned to stare at him indignantly. "And what are the 'right kind of people, then?" he snapped.
"Search me," Scorpius sighed. "Hardly anyone as far as I can tell." He looked up at Rose. "You... you called me Scorp, before."
"Did I?" Rose felt a bit silly. "Sorry - people in my family shorten people's names all the time. I guess its automatic. Do you mind?"
Scorpius, to her surprise, looked pleased. "Not really," he said. "Just no one's ever given me a nickname before."
By the time Charms came around, Albus had almost resigned himself to the fact that Rose wasn't going to give up on Scorpius Malfoy. She had chatted with him, amiably, all through lunch, mostly about lessons. The boy was alternately shy, then sarcastic, mostly just answering her questions rather than venturing those of his own, always in his slightly accented, highly educated voice. Albus thought he was a bit weird.
He was distracted, however, by James, Roxie and Fred, who cornered him just as they were finishing lunch. "So," James said, a bit awkwardly. "Ravenclaw, eh?"
"Yup," Albus said, watching the twins warily. He thought Roxie looked a bit sad, but Fred had his interminable cheeky smile on, as usual.
"Shame. Would have been cool to be in the same house."
Albus stared at him. "You never thought that. You kept saying I'd be in Slytherin."
James shrugged. "Was only teasing."
"I know, but still."
James was looking over at where Rose and Scorpius were waiting for Albus. "Isn't that the Malfoy kid?" he asked, from the advanced age of twelve.
Albus shrugged. "Not so far. He's all right." In a weird, shifty way, he added to himself.
"Now now Alby," Fred chuckled. "Don't go sullying the Potter name by befriending a Malfoy."
Roxie rolled her eyes. "Let him alone, Fred. He can be friends with who he wants. Anyway he can hardly be bitter enemies when they have to share a dormitory."
"Oh yeah, I can just see his dad dropping him off at our house for dinner," James laughed.
Albus went red. "Shut up," he mumbled. "We're not even friends, just talking about school stuff. And he won't come to our house anyway, he lives in France."
He escaped the Gryffindor trio and joined Rose and Scorpius on the way to Charms.
"Who was that?" Scorpius asked, surprising them both by asking a question.
"My brother and our cousins, Fred and Roxanne," Albus explained.
Scorpius raised an imperious eyebrow. "They don't look like your cousins."
"So? Their mum has dark skin. Fred turned his hair red once, but it didn't suit him at all."
Rose giggled. To Albus' surprise, so did Scorpius. "How many cousins do you have?" he asked.
Albus grimaced. "Er... nine. First cousins, anyway. Ten if you count Teddy, he's sort of our adopted cousin. And five uncles and four aunts."
Scorpius' eyes widened. "How do you all fit?"
"We don't, usually. We only see each other all together at Christmas, and even then not everyone all at the same time. It gets a bit crowded."
Charms was much like Transfiguration had been, except that there was a desk with three seats in it which Rose pounced on immediately, so they all sat together. They had Charms with the Gryffindors, none of whom Albus or Rose were particularly familiar with. A few of them muttered ominously while glancing in their direction. Albus distinctly heard one of them say "Potter", before he was shushed by the others. He was used to people staring at him, and talking about him. It was one of the disadvantages of having a famous father. He didn't mind too much, it was just part of his life he had to put up with. Albus was proud of his father, who was seen as a hero by a lot of people.
A lot of people were also staring at Malfoy, and that a bit more openly. The boy was noticeably uncomfortable, and kept twitching every time he caught someone at it, while Professor Flitwick chattered excitedly about Charms.
To Albus' disappointment, there was no practical portion to their first Charms lesson. He had quite enjoyed Transfiguration, mainly since it hadn't been nearly as difficult as he had expected. Perhaps he wouldn't be quite as much of a failure in Ravenclaw as he thought, after all. He listened carefully to the lecture and even took some notes, until he forgot to notice the people staring or muttering.
After class, he started talking excitedly to Rose as they left the classroom, chatting about how long it would be before they got to make things fly. They went quite a long way before they realised Scorpius was no longer with them. "Should we go back for him?" Rose wondered aloud. "Maybe he got lost."
Albus snorted. "Maybe he just wanted some time alone," he suggested, mentally adding away from you. His cousin could be overwhelming when she wanted to be. Then he thought he heard a noise, like something glass smashing against stone. "Did you hear that?" he asked. Everyone else had by now gone past them, heading for their common rooms.
"Oh, come on then," Albus sighed. He and Rose walked back down the corridor the way they had come. A couple of turnings later they found Scorpius. He was standing against a wall, faced by three much taller boys. They were all Gryffindors. "-back to your Death Eater dad," one of them was saying. "Surprised you've got the nerve to come here."
"That was my only inkwell," Scorpius said in a small voice.
"Aw, pity." The tallest boy, who seemed to be the ringleader, was holding Scorpius schoolbag. It was leather, a good make but quite old, Albus thought. He pulled out the Charms textbook and looked at it. "How old's this book, Malfoy? First edition, or something?"
Scorpius mumbled something that sounded like "...was my mum's." The boys laughed and the tallest one chucked the book into the pool of ink and glass beside him.
Albus had had enough. He took a step forward, and had to hurry to keep up with his cousin, whose face was already Weasley-red. "Give that back!" Rose demanded. The boys all looked surprised.
"Sorry Malfoy," tittered one of them. "Didn't realise you had backup."
"Give it back to him," Albus echoed. He glared up at the tallest boy, who was about twice his own height. The tallest boy looked like he might like to argue, but then one of the other Gryffindors leaned over to mutter something urgently in his ear. The leader's eyes widened in surprise. "You a Potter?"
"James' kid brother?"
Albus felt like heading the boy in the nadgers, but restrained himself. He knew that was his Gryffindor heritage thinking, and there was enough of that sort of stupidness happening already. "I'm his brother, yeah."
"Well..." the boy looked worried, and puzzled. "What are doing sticking up for him?" he jerked a thumb at Scorpius, who couldn't seem to decide whether to glare at his shoes or stare at Albus and Rose. "He's a Malfoy."
"His dad was a Death Eater!"
"So? I bet lots of people's dads or mums were Death Eaters."
"But his dad like... tried to kill your dad!"
Albus decided not to argue the technical inaccuracies of this suggestion. "That's their business. Its certainly not any of yours. So you can just leave off and go pick on someone your own size. And actually, I'm glad I'm not in Gryffindor now, if they're all great big bullies like you." This was perhaps not the most impressive speech ever, but it was about the best an eleven-year-old could manage. He was quite proud of it.
The boy shrugged, as though he had planned this all along, and handed the bag back to Scorpius. "Grown up for a first year, aren't you? Better think about where your priorities lie, Potter," he said, and let the others usher him away.
Rose was staring at him with her mouth open. "That was aces!" she announced with astonishment.
"Gits. We should tell Neville on them."
Scorpius was still standing pressed up against the wall, clutching his ancient bag to his chest as though it were a life support. "What did you do that for?" he asked sharply.
Albus rolled his eyes. "Geez, sorry Malfoy. Next time we'll let them mess up all your stuff."
"Are you okay?" Rose asked. Malfoy turned on her as though to deliver a scathing retort, but Albus saw it die in his mouth. No one could resist her mothering voice. She got it from Gran. It made you want to give her a cuddle and tell her all your worries.
"They broke my inkwell," Scorpius said instead, swiping quickly at his eyes.
"Well, you can borrow mine," said Rose kindly.
Scorpius blinked at her. "Really?"
"Course you can. Or you can sit with Albus and borrow his, because one of us will probably take turns sitting with Lizzie. Right Albus?"
Albus nodded vaguely, though this seemed like a lot of organisation. It was probably best to head it off before she decided who they were going to sit next to during meals.
"But... but..." Scorpius looked at her helplessly. "He was right. My dad did try to kill your dads... both of yours. I'm not an idiot. He hates your family. And you want to be... to be..."
"Friends?" Rose suggested.
Scorpius gaped at her. "I can't be friends with a Potter!" he squeaked. "And especially not a Weasley! My dad will... he'll..." he grimaced. "I don't even know what he'd do."
"Well," Albus said sensibly. "He doesn't have to know about it. Anyway it'd be dumb to be enemies, wouldn't it? What'd that solve? Nothing, it seems to me."
Scorpius turned to stare at him, instead. "You are grown up for a first year," he said out loud. Then, without waiting for an answer, he continued. "It might work. My parents hardly ever talk to anyone from England, except my Grandparents, and I don't see how they could find out about it." He smiled faintly. "I sort of like the idea of doing something they don't know about."
"Right then," said Rose, as if the matter was settled. "Lets go back to the Common room and change for dinner. These new robes are really itchy."
And the matter did seemed to be settled. Looking back on it a few weeks later, Scorpius wondered how everything had happened so quickly. He hadn't expected to make any friends at Hogwarts at all, let alone the offspring of arguably his father's two - possibly four - least favourite people. But he liked Rose and Albus. They were nice. They reminded him of some of his friends back in France, except that they weren't scared of him, or playing with him because their parents wanted them to. They didn't ask uncomfortable questions. No one seemed to mind that all his books and equipment were second hand (family heirlooms, was his father's argument, and no one, unsurprisingly had taken him up on it).
He supposed they must know about his grandfather going to prison all those years ago, and the fees and the inquiry, and all the raids and damages paid, and how that had left them with nothing except the old manor house which his grandfather refused to sell. His own parents mainly lived off his mother's dowry, which had long since run out, and his mother had to convince his father to sell another 'family heirloom' every time things got desperate. Neither of them ever seemed to consider getting a proper job. He supposed it was one of those things that his father would say was Not Done'. It seemed to Scorpius that there were a lot of things that were Not Done, and yet somehow they still got done, by someone.
But no one asked about any of that, which saved him having to explain. And they didn't mind having to share their ink or books either. Albus would occasionally make a dark and disapproving face whenever Scorpius unpacked his bag at the end of the day to reveal yet another ruined book or quill, because even little Albus Potter, son of the famous hero, couldn't stop everyone from hating him. Scorpius started to make more of an effort to hide the damage, but he couldn't help having to read off other people's books, or borrow quills, just to get his homework done.
Scorpius hadn't wanted to go to Hogwarts. His father hadn't wanted him to go either, one of the few times father and son had actually agreed on something, albeit for different reasons. And it was one of the few times his mother had got his way in an argument.
"Absolutely NOT!" he remembered his father yelling the night his letter had come. He had hid behind the bannister at the top of the stairs and listened. "I am not sending my son to that - that place! Did you know LONGBOTTOM is a teacher there now? Well I say teacher -"
"What is the alternative, darling?" his mother answered. She said 'darling' in a hard sort of voice she rarely used. "Durmstrang? You know I couldn't bear to send him so far away. And you know Beauxbatons is out of the question."
His father growled. Scorpius wondered why it was out of the question. All his friends were going to Beauxbatons. He didn't have many friends, perhaps two or three who he really liked. They were sons and daughters of old wizarding families, though not nearly as crazy as his own, he thought. They lived in normal houses like Muggles lived in, and used electricity and computers and the postal service. Not that his parents knew anything about that of course. Whenever the Malfoys visited the electricity was all turned off, and the computers hidden away in cupboards. His parents arranged the meetings mainly to keep their son well-educated in the wider wizarding community. Sometimes they went into Wizarding Paris, though of course they hardly ever bought anything. Scorpius Malfoy had always known he was a wizard. He had been about five or six when he had found out that he was the sort of wizard that most other wizards despised.
It had been a long argument, but his mother had eventually won out. Durmstrang, no matter how extensive their Dark Arts program was, was simply too far away. Half the classes weren't even in English. It was Hogwarts or a minor wizarding school, and even Scorpius knew that his father would rather die than admit that he couldn't afford to send his son to a real wizarding school. He couldn't, but they had made him study for two years in Charms, Transfiguration and Potions in order to get a scholarship. He didn't tell Rose or Albus any of this. He liked them, but he wasn't totally sure he could trust them yet. He didn't want his Gryffindor tormentors finding out.
It wasn't just Gryffindor, either, he was realising. Slytherins didn't think much of him either, though their reasons were a bit more complex, perhaps. The Ravenclaws, by merit of his being one of them but also perhaps because they were too intelligent or too busy to concern themselves with hand-me-down grudges, mostly ignored him. He wasn't really sure what the Hufflepuffs thought, though through Albus and Rose he was becoming friends with their friend Lizzie Longbottom and her housemate Belinda Ascott. Belinda was the first real Muggleborn he had ever properly met. He didn't think there was any difference between her and anyone else. He kept his father's rants about Muggleborns to himself, just in case, however.
Being friends with Lizzie was a good thing, because his least favourite and definitely worst subject was quickly becoming Herbology. "This is stupid," he sighed one afternoon in October, poking his flutterby bush with his wand. "Its not doing anything."
"That's because you're just jabbing it, silly," said Lizzie patiently, putting her hand over his and showing him the wand movement. "Now ask it nicely."
He blinked at her. "But its just a plant."
"Plants are people too, I always say," said Professor Longbottom as he was passing. Scorpius was a bit wary of Professor Longbottom. He was one of those people his dad really didn't like, even if he seemed perfectly nice most of the time. But he was Lizzie's dad, and Albus' Godfather, so he couldn't be that bad.
"But they aren't, though," he said quietly, shrinking back in his seat.
"Pretend then," said Professor Longbottom. "You've got an imagination, don't you, Mister Malfoy?"
Scorpius was quite good at pretending. When he was little he had played pretend games with his friends. Robin Hood, Peter Pan, King Arthur all featured prominently, once his friends had told him the stories or secretly leant him books. He liked being the hero. He tried pretending the bush was a person. Please bloom? he thought at it. For a minute nothing happened, then, reluctantly, the bush put forth one tiny bloom, fluttering weakly. He sighed.
"You can't be good at everything," said Rose. She and Lizzie's bushes were covered in delicately fluttering blossoms.
"We're Ravenclaws," Albus pointed out. To Scorpius' solace, his bush was also mostly devoid of blossom. "Aren't we meant to be good at everything?"
Albus and Rose got letters from their parents quite often. Scorpius did not. Everyone was too polite ever to mention this, however. He wondered if they ever wrote home about him. He doubted it. From what he understood, Rose's dad especially felt about the same way about his dad than his dad felt about him.
"Mum says Teddy's got a job," Albus announced from where he was reading on the sofa in the Common Room.
"What is it?" Rose asked.
"Something in the Ministry, she says. Spywork, probably."
"Well, it probably is. Andromeda talked him out of being an Auror, I guess, but he's always wanted to be a spy. He's suited to it. Metamorphmagus," he added to Scorpius by way of explanation.
Scorpius thought about this for a moment. "That rings a bell, for some reason," he said thoughtfully. "That's people who can change themselves to look like other people, right?"
"Yup," Albus nodded. "He inherited it from his mum."
"Is his mum someone called Nymphadora?"
Rose laughed. "Yeah, but everyone calls her Tonks. Anyway she died a long time ago, before we were even born. Why?"
Scorpius shrugged. "Dunno. Heard my father talking - well, yelling - about her, I think. Guess we're related, in some way."
Albus frowned. "I guess you are, if it comes to that," he thought. "Tonks was a Black before she got married - oh right," he said, snapping his fingers. "That's it, Teddy's gran is your grandmother's sister, Andromeda Black."
"Oh, her I know about," Scorpius said. Forget his father, try getting his grandmother to shut up about her estranged sister once she got started. And now he thought about it, he seemed to recall her mentioned some sort of halfbreed mutant boy who was bringing shame on the family lineage, or something. He changed the subject before he could accidentally say anything like that.
He hated the way his father's speeches seemed to bleed into his mind. But he did them so often that Scorpius knew some of them by heart. Pureblood wizards were tops. Mudbloods and Halfbloods weren't worth a second thought. The Ministry was a foolish establishment with no decent government, which was why there was no one properly qualified running the country. But what Scorpius saw was that being a Pureblood of the kind his father thought he was really meant going around forcing people to believe what you believed in, and killing them if they didn't like it. This seemed stupid to Scorpius, and thinking this made him feel guilty. He didn't much like his father, but he was still his father, after all. On the other hand, he had to be careful that the poisonous words he had heard so often did not ever come to his lips, even as a joke. At Hogwarts, among these strange new people, that was the sort of thing that was Not Done.
One afternoon in late November, Albus came into the boys dormitory to find Scorpius sitting on his bed, holding something that belonged to Albus. Scorpius quickly pulled the white cords out of his ears, looking guilty. "Sorry," he said quickly.
"It's okay," Albus shrugged, "you can listen to it if you want." Then, unable to stop himself, he added, "I'm surprised you know how to work it." Scorpius, like uncle Ron and Grandpa Arthur, often seemed to consider Muggle things about as alien as if they really had come from another planet.
"Oh, Raoul had one," Scorpius explained. Albus vaguely remembered him mentioned Raoul as one of his friends from France. "Yours is different, though. Very different. I like this music." He showed Albus the iPod screen. Albus grinned.
"Johnny Cash? He's ancient."
"It's your music."
"Yeah well, James set it up. He's weird like that about some music."
"I like it."
"How'd you get this thing to work, anyway? I thought Muggle stuff went all weird around magic."
"Er." Albus looked guilty. "Its modified... a bit. Don't tell anyone though, that sort of thing's still a bit murky, legally. Mum fixed it so it won't run out of battery and put a solidifying charm on it. The rest of it's all Apple magic, though."
"Apple magic?" Scorpius was looking at him as if he'd gone totally mad.
"Take too long to explain."
Scorpius was turning the device over in his hands. It was an old one, at least four new models had come out since he'd got it, but while it still worked Albus didn't see much point in getting another. He didn't even use it that often. "You want it?" he asked. He wasn't sure why he said it. Perhaps it was the look of wonder and longing on Scorpius' face.
"What? No!" Scorpius exclaimed, putting the thing down quickly on the bedside table. He was flushing red in embarrassment.
"You can if you -"
Albus stared. He'd never seen Scorpius so emphatic about anything before. "Because your dad might find it?" he asked, insightfully.
"No, because… you can't just give me things!" the boy replied, looking as if he might cry. "I don't need your pity."
Albus blinked. "I just thought you might like it. But it's okay. You can still listen to it if you want."
He told Rose about this confusing incident later, and she nodded sagely. "Well of course he wouldn't just take it from you," she said in an infuriatingly knowing tone of voice. "He's proud. It's like how Dad gets sometimes when people try to give him free stuff. You must have noticed."
"Well I know his family lost their fortune in the war," Albus said. "But its not like they're destitute, or anything, is it? I mean he had magic tutors, and things."
"Has he ever told you that straight out? No, I think his parents home-schooled him. He hates having to borrow our books and things, too, you know, but he doesn't have much choice when all he's got is his mum's old school stuff. And have you seen him eat? Like there's a famine on the way."
"Oh come on," said Albus, disbelieving. "Are you telling me his family don't even have money for food?"
"I'm not telling you anything," Rose shrugged, picking up her quill to start her Potions essay. "Just what I've seen."
Scorpius had to stay at Hogwarts that Christmas, and he didn't seem surprised. "We don't really do Christmas at my house anyway," he said. "I'd probably just be in the way." Guiltily, Albus wondered if it was because he would be one less mouth to feed.
Their first night at home, everyone went to the Burrow to catch up over dinner. Albus' mum kept hugging him randomly, and Lily, Louis and Hugo wouldn't stop asking questions about Hogwarts. He and Rose did their best to answer them. James, Fred and Roxanne spent a lot of time chuckling and muttering to each other. Albus hoped they hadn't done anything to the dinner. He hadn't realized how much he'd missed his Gran's cooking.
The topic of Scorpius had to come up eventually, of course. "Neville tells me you've been spending a bit of time with the Malfoy boy," Ginny said, about halfway through the main course.
"What?" Rose's dad became instantly alert. "He never said anything to me."
"Of course he didn't, Ron," said Aunt Hermione, giving him that look that suggested she was resisting the urge to roll her eyes at him. "He knows what you're like."
"Neville says he's a bit shy," Ginny continued. "I'm glad they're all trying to get along."
James snorted into his dinner. "Get along?" he snickered. "The three of them are together all the time. They follow each other around, like little ducklings."
Albus felt his face heat. "Well someone has to," he snapped at his brother. "To protect him from stupid Gryffindors who think its fun to tear up his books and call him names."
"What?" James looked taken-aback. "I never-"
"Oh I know you never. Just leave off Scorp. He's all right."
"I like him," said Dominique, to everyone's surprise. "He speaks fluent French, Mama, and he's always really polite, unlike some people I could mention."
Albus glanced up at his Dad. The expression on his face was one of those unreadable ones that could go either way.
"You kids just watch yourselves around the Malfoys," Ron said, carefully avoiding his wife's gaze. "Shy or not, you never know what they're going to do, but its usually something horrible."
"Oh Dad," Rose sighed. "Scorp doesn't have a horrible bone in his body." She turned to Albus. "What are you getting him for Christmas?" she asked.
Albus grinned. "Actually I do have a sort of an idea," he said.
The next week, his and Rose's family went Christmas shopping. Half the day was spent in Diagon Alley, the other in Muggle London. Albus took Rose to a discount store where they spent some pocket money each to buy a last-generation iPod. Once they got it back to Albus' house, they took it out of the packaging and synched it up to the family computer. Then, as an afterthought, they went online and found some new music that they thought Scorpius might like, and downloaded until they had gone quite over-budget. They owled it to Hogwarts with a note attached saying, "Happy Christmas - don't eat it all at once!" Albus thought this was hilarious.
Rose supposed Scorpius must have liked the gift, because the hug he gave her on their return to Hogwarts could have rivaled one of her Gran's best. She hardly had enough time to be surprised. She hadn't thought Scorpius was the hugging sort. Perhaps he wasn't, but was just now making an exception. "No one's ever given me a present like that before!" he said, banging Albus on the shoulder. Rose supposed this was the boy version of a hug. "Did you get the sweets I sent? I got them off the House Elves." Albus, who had inherited the knowledge from his father, had passed on the secret of the location of the kitchens before they had left.
"We got them," Rose said, grinning. Scorpius, who had met them where they disembarked from the horseless carriages at the school gates, walked with them through the grounds. "Did you have a nice holiday?"
"It was great!" said Scorpius with real enthusiasm. "Christmas dinner was amazing, and there were decorations and the suits of armor sang Christmas carols and I did all my homework and Madam Hooch let me practice flying with some of the third years. Bit lonely though," he added, smiling at them. "Glad you're back."
Rose smiled. She remembered how the boy had been the first day she had met him: quiet, a bit sarcastic, and wary of anything anyone said or did in case they were secretly making fun of him. Now he was almost normal, she congratulated herself inwardly. "How were yours?" he was asking now.
"Oh, the usual," Albus said. "Christmas dinner at Gran's, Quidditch in the garden, lots of kissing and so on." He made a face, and Scorpius laughed. His cheeks were flushed red against his pale skin as they walked through the snow up to the castle.
"You need some sun," Rose told him, nudging him in the ribs with her elbow. "You're as pale as the grey lady."
"Thanks," he said, rolling his eyes at her.
"Like Jack Frost," Albus joined in. "There's icicles in your hair."
Scorpius scooped up a handful of snow and lobbed it at him, and things descended quite rapidly from there.
The first time Scorpius ever saw Harry Potter was at the memorial service that year. The service was held annually at dawn on the second of May, and consisted of a slow walk through the grounds towards the stone memorial that stood at the edge of the Forbidden Forest. Scorpius had seen it plenty of times, but never looked really closely, or thought about what it meant. All the students attended, even those who were studying for NEWTs or OWLs. And lots of people came from all over the country, including the Minister for Magic, and - Scorpius felt he should have expected this - Albus and Rose's parents. Their adopted cousin Teddy also came, and walked at the head of the parade with Rose's father and Albus' mother. Albus explained that walking at the head of the parade was anyone who had lost immediate family in the big battle. "My Uncle Fred," he explained at Scorpius' question. "And both Teddy's parents died."
Scorpius didn't ask anything else.
He felt sick, standing there in the darkness as they watched the candles being carried by the families of the dead being placed all around the memorial. Perhaps it was only that he hadn't had anything to eat yet.
"Today," said Headmistress McGonagall, her ancient reedy voice carrying over the crowd in the still morning air. "We celebrate not only the lives of those who died here, nineteen years ago, but remember those who perished all over England during the year of terror. We remember those who fought bravely to free us from tyranny. Who gave their lives in order that we might live. Who stood for light against the darkness. We will remember them."
"We will remember them," the crowd intoned softly. The sun began to appear on the horizon as people came forward to leave flowers, or little letters or packages around the memorial. He saw Albus' mother put a handful of what appeared to be brightly-coloured stones on the sandy-grey surface. Albus cousin Teddy - his own cousin, he reminded himself - left an envelope and a small rock to weigh it down. Mr Potter put a hand on his shoulder. Scorpius thought - they were only Victoire's age, some of the kids that died. And some of them had kids of their own. And they were fighting for Hogwarts to be what it is now - a safe place, where even someone like him could find friendship and happiness. And his own father had been on the other side.
Where are you, Father? he asked silently, watching the sunrise. You should be here, saying sorry for helping hurt these people. Because they ARE people. You think of them as less than human, because of who their ancestors are. Why should that matter? Why should any of your stupid rules matter? No wonder some of these people look at me the way they do. They think I think like you. Well, just wait. I'll show them. I'm going to be the worst Malfoy ever in the history of Malfoys.
"Scorp?" it was Rose.
"Er… you okay?"
Scorpius forced a smile onto his face. "Yeah. Breakfast?"
"Um… well. My parents and Hugo and the others are sort of coming inside to eat with us, sort of thing."
"Oh." He felt something squirm in the bottom of his stomach. Hunger, he told himself.
"You can eat with us, if you like." She seemed to think this a perfectly sensible suggestion, but over her shoulder he could see her Dad - the tall, scary redheaded man - give him a look that suggested that if Scorpius didn't run along, he might just get eaten himself.
"No thanks," he said. "I think I'll sit with Lizzie and her mum." Mrs Longbottom had introduced herself quite politely to him earlier, and he quite liked the plump blonde lady. "Is that okay?"
"Course its okay," she said, smiling back at him. The smile was a bit sad, and so was the one he gave her in return. One day, he thought determinedly. One day we'll be able to sit together and no one will care. No one will say a word. Because I'll prove to them that I'm not going to be like every other Malfoy.
Rose studied hard for her exams. Despite her father's objection that first-year tests put far too much pressure on the students, and were never actually as difficult as the teachers made out they were going to be, she was determined not to disappoint her mother by not coming top in everything. Her mother would never say she was disappointed, of course, but she would be, all the same.
Rose needn't have worried. She passed everything with flying colours, and so did the two boys. They were after all, Ravenclaws, despite some occasional behavior which would have made most people think otherwise. They both liked to read almost as much as she did, and the three of them spent many enjoyable evenings just reading together in the common room. Scorpius worked hard to stay on top of things, and Albus seemed to have inherited his paternal grandfather's knack for just picking things up as he went along. No one was more surprised at this than Albus himself when he came equal first with Rose in Charms, Defense Against the Dark Arts and Transfiguration. Scorpius aced Astronomy and Potions, and, with Lizzie's gentle tutelage, passed Herbology.
By the time summer came around, Rose was looking forward to going home, but her mood was dampened slightly by Scorpius' obvious reluctance. He fretted about how he was going to do his homework with only half his books, until Rose offered to lend him hers. "I can borrow Albus'," she pointed out. "Or I bet my mum's got some old copies lying around somewhere. She never gets rid of books." He looked like he might argue, but she changed the subject before he could say anything.
Then, on the morning of their departure, he handed her his beloved iPod. "You better take this," he told her with a sigh. "I'm dead if Father catches me with it."
"Oh." She looked at him sadly. "Okay." Scorpius loved his iPod. He never went anywhere without it. He listened to it in bed, while studying, while eating and - Rose was shocked to learn - he had even learned the trick of hiding the earphone cord up his sleeve so he could listen to it in class while appearing as if he was merely leaning on his hand. She had done her best to put a stop to this but she suspected he still did it when she wasn't looking.
"We'll put some new music on it," Albus said, attempting to lighten the mood as they boarded the train back to King's Cross.
Scorpius' face lit up. "Oh yeah! Please. You know what stuff I like."
"I know what stuff you sing in the shower," said Albus.
Scorpius flushed. "I do not!"
"Do too. And in your sleep, sometimes."
Scorpius looked mortified, and Rose burst out laughing.
Their parents were waiting for them when they got off the train at King's Cross. "Bye," Scorpius said quickly.
"See you next year," said Albus, and Rose nodded, not knowing what else to say. It seemed unfair that she and Albus were going home to a summer of fun, playing Quidditch, spending time with their family, visiting Uncle George's shop, and Scorpius had to spend his summer cooped up alone in a house with his parents. Rose had decided that her father had been partially right, at least. Draco Malfoy was not a nice person. Quite possibly he was a horrible person, maybe even an evil person. She couldn't help thinking that Scorpius didn't deserve to put up with that sort of thing.
Scorpius hurried off, and Rose caught a glimpse of his parents through the crowd. Mrs Malfoy quickly hugged her son. Mr Malfoy said nothing but put a hand on Scorpius' shoulder and led him away. Rose felt the iPod in her pocket like a lead weight, and closed her hand around it. He would be okay, she told herself. It was only a few months, after all