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It all happened because of a detention. And that detention happened because of Scorpius Hyperion Malfoy.

Why Scorpius Malfoy happened at all, ever, anywhere in her life, was a question Rose Weasley had asked herself many times before, and would ask herself many times again. It was a point of personal pride for Scorpius that he made her do it at least once a week.

Well, except for during the holidays. But he had better things to concern himself with during the holidays. Also, that could have been considered stalking and her dad was a scary Auror.

But mostly because he had better things to do.

So he was glad when the holidays ended and he didn’t have to worry about a single one of them for another three months. Then his concerns became packing, and how to carry both a heavy trunk and a guitar case, and whether he wanted to bring his Potions books, because he wasn’t sure if he wanted to take Potions at NEWT. He liked Potions. But his father was keen he continue to study it. So that was a mark against it. In the end he brought the books and figured he could think about it later, and was just about regretting it when he trundled onto Platform Nine and Three-Quarters. By then his leg was covered in bruises from the heavy trunk bashing into the back of it.

But that was okay, because he was on his way home.

The route home smelled an awful lot of sweat and stress and engine oil and smoke, and sounded an awful lot like hundreds of parents in bidding frantic farewell to children all-too keen to get away from them. The backing chorus of owls and cats and rats in cages, hooting and yowling, was the finishing touch on the barely-organised disaster that was the half-hour before the Hogwarts Express left for another school year.

Scorpius, for once, ignored everyone around him as he wound his way down the platform, prepared to use his heavy trunk as a battering ram if necessary. A First Year, overawed by the sight of the Hogwarts Express, had to hurl themselves into a pile of luggage to avoid being run over. They had good reflexes. Maybe a future Quidditch player.


His trunk hit another one and swerved out of control. He’d not replaced the misbehaving wheel and it almost crashed into the side of the train before he grabbed it. He uttered a curse that caught him a cold look from several overprotective parents. They, too, were ignored.

‘Stupid or stupider, Malfoy?’

Scorpius wrestled his trunk back under control and looked up - and up - to meet the gaze of the figure whose luggage he’d first hit. ‘What?’’

Hector Flynn rolled his shoulders. Muscles had to make way to let other muscles flex. Behind him stood a gaggle of sixth year boys, lurking at the outskirts of the blossoming confrontation, unlikely to engage unless called upon. But if needed, they would act.

Hufflepuffs hunted in packs.

‘Are you stupid because you can’t steer,’ Flynn said, broad arms folded across his broad chest, ‘or are you stupider because you steered at my trunk?’

Scorpius set down his trunk and straightened. Normally this was enough, but he still had a few inches to go before he could look Flynn in the eye. ‘I’m pretty sure that “stupider” isn’t a word.’

Davies, in the Hufflepuff pack, tried to swallow a guffaw. Flynn gave him a withering look over his shoulder, then glared at Scorpius. ‘You think you’re pretty funny, don’t you, Malfoy.’

This was all too easy. He gave a broad, toothy grin. ‘Five out of five Hufflepuff girls agree.’

Davies stopped laughing. He was still going out with his housemate Rosannah Blake, Scorpius remembered. He thought she was a nice girl. Good sense of humour. Cracking legs. He wondered if Davies had ever seen them. ‘Sod off, Malfoy.’

‘You never did get this “witty repartée” thing down, did you?’ Scorpius cocked his head. ‘No wonder there’s -’

Fortune smiled down to save him from himself as a new shadow loomed, the only one that could rival Hector Flynn’s. A strong hand landed on Scorpius’ shoulder, and if he hadn’t known better he’d have been surprised by the mellow, polite voice. ‘Is there something wrong, Scorp?’

Scorpius didn’t need to turn around to know now was the time to beam at Flynn. ‘Nope. No problem. Just catching up. You know me, Al. I’m sociable.’

‘I know you are.’ Albus Potter looked at the others. ‘Hey, Hector. Had a good summer?’’

Flynn subsided, like most people did when Albus was around. ‘Yeah, Al. Yeah.’ He glared at his boots. ‘You?’

‘Had a great time, thanks.’ Albus gave his usual warm, genuine smile, as if ignorant of the tension. ‘Prague was fantastic. Really interesting; so many people. It’s -’

‘He doesn’t care about Prague, Al,’ Scorpius said gently. Flynn looked stricken; a combination of annoyed at Scorpius for telling on him, relieved that he wouldn’t have to hear about Prague, and worried he’d upset Albus.

‘Oh.’ But, as ever, Albus let it roll off him. ‘I guess we’d best be going. Rose should be here soon, Hector.’

‘Perhaps you’ll have time to discover fire, the wheel, and walking upright,’ Scorpius offered, but Flynn didn’t do more than scowl as Scorpius was steered away by Albus, who dragged along the trunk as if it were empty.

‘What happened?’ asked Albus wearily, once they were out of earshot and trundling along the platform.

‘I accidentally crashed into his trunk.’

‘Accidentally, or “accidentally”?’

‘Accidentally! Do you think I’d start something this early in the year?’ Scorpius waved a dismissive hand. ‘Don’t answer that.’

Albus didn’t, but there was a tilt to his jaw which said he disapproved. His disapproval was not new to Scorpius; nobody’s was. The only difference was that Scorpius actually felt guilty when Albus disapproved, perhaps because he didn’t push the issue. Or perhaps that was just the effect Albus had on everyone.

‘You know if something happened I’d have to help you,’ Albus said with some difficulty. ‘And then I’d get it in the neck from Rose.’

‘Flynn can’t get it in the neck from her because he doesn’t have a neck, muscle-bound freak that he is,’ Scorpius grumbled. ‘Besides, I thought Weasley complaining at you about me was business as usual by now?’

‘That doesn’t mean I like it. But I do have to listen. She’s family.’

Scorpius didn’t answer, because they were reaching Albus’ family by then and talking about antagonising the extended Potter-Weasley clan in front of them seemed unwise. At least it was just Albus’ parents and sister, and Scorpius managed to find one of his most cheerful, friendly grins for them. Normally he wouldn’t have bothered; normally he’d have slunk off somewhere else. But this was for Albus. ‘Hey, Mister Potter, Mrs Potter. Little Potter.’

The only comfort Scorpius could derive from the whole thing was that the Potters - barring Albus, and by now Lily - looked as unsure of how to deal with him as he was with them. They’d barely spoken, as the two friends spent no time together during the holidays, and so fleeting interactions at the station had been the extent of it. And a limited extent it was since Scorpius had for years been trying to hide his father from society at large.

But while Ginny Potter knew how to put on a friendly game face, Harry Potter looked taken aback by his presence, even if he extended a hand to shake. ‘Scorpius.’ He blinked. ‘You’re here on your own?’

‘Oh, yeah.’ Scorpius shrugged as he shook his hand. ‘I came on my own last year; I figured out how to submit the paperwork for a Portkey application and it’s just been easier.

‘I know you were alone last year, I just thought that was a one-off.’ Harry shoved his hands into his pockets, seeming perturbed. He had the same worried, thoughtful sort of face as his son, even if Albus had several inches of height on him and was a good deal broader. Scorpius had wondered where burly Albus got it from, then wondered if the Boy Who Lived could have also been built like a Beater if he hadn’t spent his childhood in a cupboard. That’d stint anyone’s growth.

‘Why do I have to be “Little Potter”?’ Lily complained, putting an end to the awkwardness. ‘I’m in fourth year; this is ridiculous now.’

Scorpius scratched his chin. ‘And Potter Prime has flown the coop. Very well, Little Potter; from this day forth you shall no longer be known as “Little Potter”. Rather, you shall be known as... “Potter”.’ He lifted a dramatic hand.

Lily rolled her eyes. ‘You’re so weird.’

‘I will take “weird” over “lynched”.’ Scorpius clapped Albus on the shoulder. ‘And you only get such a vaunted title because my trusty sidekick here is Al, or Albus, or “that great lug”, or...’

‘I don’t respond to “that great lug”,’ said Albus mildly. ‘And I am not a sidekick.’

Trusty sidekick. But I swear you’ve grown three inches in six weeks; what are you feeding him, Mrs Potter? The house?’ Scorpius poked him in the shoulder.

‘You can stop poking me any time.’ Albus grinned.

‘Make me, you great lug -’

And Albus did, wrapping one bear-like arm around Scorpius’ neck and bending him over in a painless headlock.

‘Sidekick rebellion! Sidekick rebellion!’

‘You can say you’re sorry,’ said Al, pinning Scorpius with no effort despite the flailing.

‘You’ve never made me apologise for anything before, Al; I don’t see why I’ll start now,’ Scorpius pointed out, his world now the blacks and greys of Albus’ clothing. Ginny laughed and he wasn’t sure if he was ingratiating himself or becoming some sort of performing monkey; either, however, was better than the confused, trying-too-hard looks of Harry. ‘You’ll damage the guitar.’

‘Only if you keep struggling.’

‘Oh, it’s a guitar,’ came Ginny’s voice. ‘I did wonder.’

‘Dad hates it; I figured that’d be a great reason to take it up,’ said Scorpius, then realised he’d said too much. The good thing about being in Albus company was that it was easy to say anything without reservation - the problem was when other people were there too.

But he was saved from this revelation by more footsteps approaching and an arch, familiar voice. ‘Are you finally taking him in hand, Al?’

He’d know Rose Weasley’s voice anywhere if he couldn’t see her. With his face still crushed against Albus’ rib cage and all his efforts to free himself proving futile, Scorpius could still find words, and the breath to utter them. ‘He never could, Weasley, but if you’re offering to take me in hand I’m sure we could figure something out.’

Harry made a flustered sound. ‘Al, I’m sure he’s had enough -’’

‘He’ll never learn if you’re a soft touch, Dad,’ said Al amiably, but he let Scorpius go and his friend rose, clawing at his throat. Never one to turn down a scene, he was even more incited to do so if it’d make things awkward for Rose, and he tried to finish the effect with a broad, cheesy grin. Only to realise he’d made a pass at her in front of her parents. His smile faltered. ‘Hi, Mister Weasley, Mrs Weasley. Weasley. Hugo.’

Lily gave her cousin and classmate a dubious glance. ‘How come you get to go by your first name?’

Because it irritates Weasley if I’m nice to her brother, thought Scorpius, but he couldn’t say that.

Rose’s mother looked perturbed. ‘Mrs Weasley is my mother-in-law, please don’t -’

‘Mum, nobody needs to hear your modern subversion of traditional family roles,’ said Rose, and gave Scorpius the kind of look one reserved normally for dirt that didn’t have a place on the bottom of shoes. ‘Malfoy.’

She sounded so disapproving that Scorpius could only summon his brightest and most charming smile, the one with extra teeth. ‘Weasley. You’re looking delightful; a pleasure, as always.’ He turned to Hugo. ‘I saw you made Gryffindor Captain. I’ll see you on the pitch.’

‘I’ll beat you on the pitch,’ said Hugo cheerfully.

‘Potter Prime might have carried off the Cup in his final year, but we got it the year before. You’re going to have one hell of a fight on your hands.’ Scorpius extended a hand. ‘I’ll tell you what - you can win the Cup after Al and I graduate, okay?’’

‘It’s good you remember winning two years ago; you’d better hold on to that memory, as it’s the last you’re ever going to see of victory.’ Hugo didn’t shake the hand, but he did grin, and Rose gave a disapproving toss of the head as her family betrayed her by being civil to Scorpius Malfoy.

‘Quidditch,’ she sniffed.

‘You’d better not let Captain No-Neck hear that, Weasley; you’ll break his heart into tiny black pieces,’ said Scorpius, and fancied he spotted a twitch on Ron Weasley’s lips. He wasn’t surprised that Hector Flynn wasn’t a father’s first choice when it came to his daughter’s boyfriends. ‘He’s around, by the way.’

Rose narrowed her eyes. ‘You haven’t been antagonising him, have you?’

‘Would I do a thing like -’

‘He’s with Davies and the others.’ Albus’ voice went serious. ‘And he was looking to pick a fight, Rose.’

‘Because Malfoy is pure as the driven snow.’

Scorpius flinched as Albus and Rose, different as cousins could possibly be while still friends, faced off against one another. He knew Albus didn’t like Hector Flynn, but he also knew that Rose would just believe Al’s sole motivation was to defend him. Which Rose wouldn’t care about. Antagonising people was one thing. Teasing people was one thing. Driving a wedge in between family members was not on his -

‘Scorpius Malfoy!’

Another angry female voice, though it took him a few seconds to recognise this one, and he forced a smile he knew even as he turned was going to fall flat. ‘Adeline!’

He was greeted not by Adeline Turner, compatriot of Rosannah Blake and Her Cracking Legs, but by a box of Chocolate Hearts hurled in his face. He staggered, caught them, straightened, and now there was an angry Adeline Turner in front of him.

‘Let me guess,’ he said, forlorn and irritable at once. ‘You’re allergic to chocolate?’

I’m not,’ Adeline said, tossing her astonishingly blonde hair and already turning for a dramatic exit, ‘but perhaps you should ask Miranda if she is!’

The gathered congregation of Weasleys, Potters, and a Scorpius looked confused as she left, and even Rose seemed more bewildered than satisfied that Scorpius had been berated. Scorpius scratched his head. ‘I have no idea what Miranda has to do with anything.’

Albus sighed, and flipped open the card on the top of the box of chocolates. ‘From the looks of things,’ he said with a wince, ‘everything. Like always.’

Scorpius’ heart sank as he recognised his own handwriting, recognised the note he’d thoughtlessly scribbled in the card. It was always a good move to try to keep affections fresh over the summer, and he’d figured a box of chocolates sent a few days before term started was just the kind of warm up a girl like Adeline would like. It was unfortunate, then, that he’d written not her name on the card, but his ex-girlfriend’s.

‘Well,’ he said, and yanked off the ribbon. ‘I guess that’s only four out of five Hufflepuffs after all. Chocolate Heart, anyone?’ He extended the box to the assembled.

‘They don’t have anything in them, do they?’ asked Ron, gaze guarded.

‘Do you think I’d offer you one if they did?’ pointed out Scorpius, and Rose gave her father a look of utter betrayal as he grinned and helped himself to a chocolate.

But he wasn’t the last to take one, and within a few seconds Rose was looking irritably up at the large clock hanging over Platform Nine and Three-Quarters. ‘Al, we should probably be heading up to the Prefect’s Carriage.’

‘What? Oh, yeah.’ Albus shoved a handful of chocolate in his mouth, and Scorpius threw Ginny an amused look.

‘This. This is why he’s built like an Abraxan.’

‘You’re the one who’s feeding him right now,’ she pointed out.

‘Get us a compartment, Scorp, won’t you? I won’t be long, I doubt they’ll have anything to tell us we didn’t hear last year.’

‘We don’t know that, Albus!’ exclaimed Rose, but he was too busy bidding his parents a heartfelt goodbye, and then Rose’s parents were dragging her away from her indignation to say their farewells, and Scorpius lingered at the outskirts, fiddling with his trunk to pretend he had something to do other than stand there.

‘Guess we’ll see you in a few months, Mister Potter, Mrs Potter; Mister Weasley, Ms Granger,’ Scorpius said at the end, feeling oddly formal; Rose’s mother beamed at the correct address and both Rose and her father rolled their eyes.

So that was where she got it from.

‘Here, that trunk’s looking a bit heavy, let me help you get it onto the train,’ offered Harry abruptly, and after he gave his son and daughter one last hug and kiss, the group split. Hugo and Lily were keen to set off, chatting excitedly, while Rose and Albus started for the forward carriage. Harry picked up the end of the trunk, and suddenly Scorpius didn’t have so much trouble making it to the train. A war hero made for a better battering ram.

‘I know sixth year can be difficult,’ Harry said awkwardly when they reached the train door. ‘And I’m glad Al is going into it with a good friend. I can’t deny I was a bit worried, when he was Sorted into Slytherin, if he’d be all right. But you two seem to have each others’ backs.’

Scorpius tried to look polite. ‘Yeah, Al’s great. If he needs me, I’m there.’

‘Good.’ Harry made the most of the interruption that was Levitating the trunk up onto the train. ‘And we’re grateful. So if there’s something you need, Scorpius, anything at all, you let me know, okay?’

It was with unguarded suspicion that Scorpius now looked at him. ‘What do you think I’m going to need?’

‘I don’t know.’ Harry looked more earnest. ‘But I know what it’s like to not have family see you off on the train.’

This took Scorpius by surprise, and he had never been more grateful for the interruption of the train’s horn. They both jerked at the sound, and the parents and students around them erupted into the frantic flurry of last-second reminders, farewells, and arrangements. ‘That’s okay, Mister Potter,’ Scorpius said, and now he was grinning again, all charm and easy manners. ‘It works out best for everyone this way.’

Harry looked like he was going to say more, but instead hopped onto the platform. ‘Then I’ll wish you a good year, Scorpius,’ he said, and waved as the train pulled away.

He was gone from sight within seconds, but Scorpius still stared at the door as the train trundled and chugged from the station, wondering what to make of it all. The Potters had not previously treated him with much more than confused politeness; Ginny seemed to be warming to him, but she had always taken him in stride the most easily. James had teased him, but only a little, and Lily melodramatically suffered his presence. This overt gesture from Harry Potter was new and bewildering. But by the time Scorpius decided that this was something he wouldn’t have to worry about for months, if at all, most of the students had swarmed past him, and as he jerked from his reverie he realised he was going to have hell finding an empty compartment.

It would prove, in fact, impossible. Most were full to the brim with laughing groups of reunited friends, but it was another two carriages before Scorpius found anyone he was inclined to give the time of day.

‘Hey, Scorpius!’ It was Timothy Warwick, first - no, now second - year in Slytherin, head sticking out of the compartment he and his friends had claimed.

‘Hey, Tim.’ Scorpius paused in the corridor. ‘How was your summer?’’

‘I trained a whole bunch. Got my Dad to take me out on the moors; we did some great flying!’

‘Is that so? So I’d better see you at the tryouts in a few weeks, huh?’ Scorpius punched him on the arm. ‘Otherwise we’re going to be flying without a Seeker.’

‘You’ll find someone,’ Tim said in a matter-of-fact manner. ‘And that someone’s going to be me.’

‘It might just be. The Captain’s a friend of mine, see.’ Scorpius winked.

‘I can get in on my own merits -’

‘I know, kid, I know. I look forward to seeing it - I’ve got high hopes for you!’ He reached into his trunk. ‘But if you want to ingratiate yourself with the rest of the team, be a good fellow and stick these dungbombs in Hector Flynn’s luggage.’ It wasn’t really bribery. Tim would do it just to be a friend. Indeed, his face lit up at the prospect and, satisfied with a job well done, Scorpius continued the search for a compartment he could sit in without wanting to kill himself.

In the end there was only one choice, and he considered sitting in the corridor on his trunk for the whole journey. But that wouldn’t do - some prefect would eventually tell him off, and he didn’t want to give Rose Weasley that kind of opportunity on a plate - so he rapped on the door. ‘Anyone else sat in here?’

It was a stupid question. Of course nobody else was sat there. Nobody would share a compartment with Methuselah Jones unless they had no other option. Most of the rest of the Slytherins would be sat together, and that meant Miranda. After his run-in with Flynn, he was running low on social currency with other Houses. So it had come to this. Stuck, until saved by Albus, in the company of Hogwarts’ most boring student.

It wasn’t entirely Jones’ fault. He’d been off to a bad start when his parents had named him “Methuselah”, which wasn’t a name you gave a child unless you wanted them to sprout fully formed and aged eighty from their mother’s womb. Perhaps Jones hadn’t fulfilled the physical requirements, but he acted like he was in a rush to catch up with these expectations. He was tall but gangly, and never anything but fastidiously presented. Scorpius liked to present himself well, but that came down to making sure his hair was artfully ruffled and that, if he had to wear a white shirt as uniform, he made sure it was an expensive white shirt which fit well and made him look good. There was a fine line between looking good and being fussy, and Methuselah Jones was far over the ‘fuss’ line and still accelerating.

Dark eyes behind horn-rimmed glasses locked on Scorpius and smoldered with indignation at the distraction from the latest copy of Alchemist’s Monthly. ‘Will you play your awful music?’

‘Will you talk to me about what you’re reading?’

Jones inclined his head. Heart sinking, Scorpius hauled his trunk onto the luggage rack and sadly put his guitar up there beside it. Normally he’d have played a little to make the trip go faster; it usually got someone’s attention and playing at home was more about annoying his father than about relaxing with music. It was the kind of thing he associated with the journey back to Hogwarts, and he would be sad to miss it.

He missed Albus more.

Bereft of his two main forms of distraction, Scorpius sank onto the bench opposite Jones and let his gaze wander to the view beyond the window. He’d seen it a dozen times or more already. There was little new to be seen. ‘I bet you’ve chosen all of your NEWTs already,’ he said, trying to break the silence.

Methuselah Jones lowered his magazine slowly. ‘Charms. Transfiguration. Potions. Herbology. Ancient Runes. Arithmancy.’ He rattled them off in his usual fashion, like he wanted discussion over and done with.

‘No Defence Against the Dark Arts?’

‘Nothing in that course not covered in theory and essentials by Charms and Transfiguration,’ said Jones. ‘Expertise in other forms of magic, mental discipline, and precise wandwork transfers to sufficient strength in conflict should such arise. Sightings of Dark Wizards or Beings at record low anyway.’

‘You got hammered on the practical, huh?’

‘Irrelevant.’ Jones jerked the magazine up. ‘Still top of the year in all OWLs, including Defence.’

That was why he tolerated Jones, Scorpius remembered. He had consistently driven Rose Weasley into second place across the academic tables for the past five years. The only times she’d beaten him were practical tests, especially Defence, and Scorpius had laughed so hard he’d thought he’d rupture something when Albus beat them both in that OWL.

‘You’re not going to be followed in here by girls, are you?’ Jones asked him suspiciously.

‘No. At least, I don’t think so.’ Scorpius blinked. ‘I kind of pissed them all off.’

‘Quite. Saw Adeline Turner. You anticipate further reprisals? If so, suggest you find another compartment.’

‘I came here to get away from that,’ Scorpius said. ‘I think she’s done all she’s going to do.’

‘Does not preclude others,’ muttered Methuselah Jones, and returned to his incredibly dry reading while Scorpius wondered how he could amuse himself for at least an hour in a small compartment in utter silence.

* *

‘I told you there wouldn’t be anything new,’ said Albus as the sixth-year prefects let themselves out of their compartment. They could hear the new Head Boy and Head Girl next door, briefing their seventh-year colleagues on their duties, and he didn’t think it sounded more exciting another time around.

‘We didn’t know that, Al,’ Rose sighed. ‘Besides, what were we going to do? Tell Diarmuid “sorry, this is a waste of time and brain cells” and leg it?’

‘No, that would be rude,’ he said. ‘And not after he gave us Chocolate Frogs.’

‘Yeah.’ Rose looked down at hers, still in its box, and tugged out the card. She made a face. ‘When I was little, it was cool our parents were on these. But now whenever I pull out a card with Mum on it, I just feel judged.’ The card went in the first bin they passed down the corridor. ‘Anyway, it didn’t hurt you to sit through that.’

‘My point was that you didn’t need to be in a fuss to get there in the first place.’

‘I was in a fuss to get away from your odious little friend.’

Albus tensed. ‘Can you not talk about Scorpius like that behind his back?’

‘Why? Al, you know I’d say it to his face -’

‘But then he’s there to defend himself. Otherwise I’ll defend him, and then we’ll row.’

Rose looked at his stubborn expression and sighed. ‘Fine. But if he’s upset Hector then that’s not my problem, and I don’t want you running to me to play peacemaker. It’s not my job to keep Hector in line, and it’s not your job to keep Malfoy from getting himself into trouble.’

‘It is my job to back him up when Flynn’s being belligerent,’ said Albus. ‘And Scorpius has his reasons for not liking him.’

‘Would those reasons be that Hector doesn’t think the world revolves around Scorpius Malfoy?’

Something flashed in Albus’ eyes, but he let out a deep breath. If he could help it, Albus would never say anything in anger. Everything had to be calm, well-measured - which was frustrating for everyone else. ‘I don’t like him, Rose, I really don’t. He’s arrogant and thoughtless and he’s always looking for an opportunity to show off.’

‘That reminds me of someone quite close to you, Al...’

‘I mean it.’ Albus gave the kicked puppy frown she hated. It tended to work. ‘He likes to look good by putting other people down, and he’’s got a nasty temper.’

‘He’s funny, and he’s nice, and he’s uncomplicated, and I can handle him, Al.’ Rose rolled her eyes. ‘When you’re my father, you can lecture me about the people I go out with - but I’ll still ignore you.’

‘You lecture me about the friends I keep.’

‘And you ignore me. But seriously, Al, did you see Malfoy sucking up to our parents?’

‘He offered them chocolate. He was embarrassed at what happened with Adeline and wanted to cover it up. And yes, he was making more jokes than usual, but did it occur to you that he was nervous and wanted to make a good impression? It’s what he does. And w’’ve had this conversation over and over.’

‘We have,’ Rose agreed. ‘But where has he gone? Bellamy and Miranda and all the others were in that last compartment...’

‘He’s still avoiding Miranda. At least in confined spaces. You know, where he can’t dodge or hide.’

Her lip curled. ‘Lucky girl.’ But Albus looked both disappointed and irritated, and Rose sighed, looking up and down the corridor. ‘Matty?’

Most people stopped when Rose Weasley called their name, usually with a sinking sense of guilt, a conviction that they’d done something wrong. Her Gryffindor prefect counterpart, Matthias Doyle, was no exception, and he froze in the carriage door. ‘I didn’t even dock those Hufflepuffs any points!’

‘Have you seen Malfoy? Albus doesn’t know where he is, it’s almost feeding time, and he’s not in his usual nap places.’

‘Did you try calling for him?’ Doyle gave an uneasy smile. It was one thing for Rose to mock her cousin and his friend, but most people were wary of engaging with a family conflict. ‘Sorry. He’s two carriages back, with Jones.’

Methuselah Jones?’ Albus looked disbelieving.

‘Maybe he’s finally cracked,’ Rose said optimistically. 'Or maybe Jones is going to kill him. Come on, Al, you can keep an eye on that carriage and I’m just one down with Hestia and Cheryl.’ They headed down the train. It was early enough that most people were happy to stay in their compartments, catching up on all they’d missed in the summer. Soon they’d wander to find others and then prefects might be needed to keep an eye on things. It was the calm before the storm and they intended to make the most of it.

‘I don’t want to pretend like I don’t appreciate you looking out for me, Al,’ Rose said at last. ‘About Hector, I mean. It’s a shame you only know him through his rows with Malfoy, and Quidditch. He’s not all that bad.’

‘I’ll trust your judgement, Rose.’ Al gave a tight smile and she felt reassured, like making him feel better was the morally right thing to do. It was an infuriating gift of Albus Potter’s that when he smiled, the world smiled with him. ‘I hope he’s more decent than I’ve heard. You deserve someone decent.’

‘Oh, he’s just uncomplicated. I’m hardly going to be able to discuss the finer points of my Transfiguration essay with him, but that’s okay, you know?’ Rose waved a dismissive hand. It was impossible to feel at ease while she thought Albus disapproved; now she might stand a chance at getting through the trip to Hogwarts without an aching, nagging guilt.

‘I don’t. But you seem to, and that’s the important thing,’ said Albus as they reached a compartment and, much to their joint surprise, saw Scorpius Malfoy, bored out of his skull, sat across from Methuselah Jones and his incredibly dull magazines.

‘Though between you and me he’s not half as good a kisser as Matt,’ said Rose with a sudden burst of that old sense of companionable sharing she’d missed - right as Albus opened the door. He stared at her in horror at his mistake.

If Jones heard her, he didn’t let on. But Scorpius was up like a shot, eyes lighting, and he bolted at the door. Albus, mortified, pulled it shut, and Scorpius slammed against the glass.

Rose felt colour rise to her cheeks. ‘Oh, Albus!’

‘I heard that!’ Scorpius hissed. ‘I totally heard -’

‘You heard nothing.’ Rose pointed at him.

‘I’m sorry,’ Albus muttered. ‘I’ll shut him up.’

‘Just - just go.’ She waved her hands in the air.

Albus opened the compartment door to slip in but Scorpius stood there, grin huge, bright blue eyes locked on her, blond hair wild. ‘Don’t worry, Weasley,’ he said in that calm voice which meant he was going to do something horrid at any second. ‘Your secret’s safe with me.’

‘It had better be,’ she said through gritted teeth. ‘If I hear a peep about this from anyone, Malfoy, and I mean anyone -’

‘You can trust me.’ His expression went sombre and she didn’t believe it for a moment. ‘My lips are sealed.’

She knew Albus would keep him in line, especially on something that mattered, so she just hissed, ‘Good!’ and turned on her heel, stalking down the corridor towards where people she liked would be waiting.

‘Oh! Weasley -’

He probably wasn’t going to bellow the revelation down the corridor. He probably wasn’t that cruel, and Albus would probably stop him. He was probably just trying to make her panic, then say something innocent and grin at winding her up.

She didn’t care, because she was ready for it.

‘Shut up, Malfoy.’ Rose turned, but it wasn’t her wand that was in her hand, but the Chocolate Frog she’d pulled from the box, and she threw it at him. It arced through the air, twirling and spinning, to land on Scorpius’ face - and, with a low ribbet, stuck on.

He reeled back, arms waving, to crash into the compartment wall, staggered until he realised just what had landed on him. But the sight and spectacle caught the attention of other compartments, and a ripple of laughter ran through the carriage as Scorpius Malfoy floundered in the face of confectionery - and then, as was his wont, played up to it with more melodramatic flailing.

Wearing a small smile and not looking back, Rose Weasley swept out of the train carriage, her work done.

It was shaping up to be an all right sort of year.