Draco Malfoy knelt before his eleven-year-old son.
The spitting image of his father but scrawny for his age, Scorpius met Draco’s gaze with intense anguish. He gulped nervously.
“There’s nothing to be afraid of, Scorpius,” Draco continued firmly, placing his hands reassuringly on his son’s slight shoulders. Scorpius squirmed uncomfortably under the weight of his father’s grasp. “You come from a long line of Slytherins; proud, great men of honour.” Scorpius winced. “I do not doubt you’ll do me proud.” Draco added in response, with all the warmth he could muster. It was clear he was struggling with making such a sincere admission in so public a place.
“Leave him be, Draco.” Scorpius’ mother called patiently from behind Draco. Naturally she had been listening in on their exchange - staying silent, as usual – and now came to her son’s rescue, as usual.
Scorpius grimaced up at his mother. She smiled back at him forlornly, placing a hand on Draco’s shoulder as he hoisted himself up from the ground. Before either of them could speak again, Draco’s attention seemed to have been caught by something further down the platform. Scorpius followed his father’s gaze. A small huddle of people, adults and children, all but one with red or black hair, was conversing happily. Two of the children had to be his age. Maybe they would be in his year. He turned back to his father in time to see Draco exchange a solemn nod with the black haired man.
Draco suddenly turned back to his son, again placing a hand on his shoulder. He sneered, his voice deathly serious, “You don’t owe those people anything. Don’t let them make you think any differently. You’re a Malfoy, a Slytherin. You’re proud above all.” And with that, Draco dropped his hands to his sides and the tense moment passed.
“I’m going to miss you, sweetheart.” Astoria chimed, her voice breaking as she stepped forward to embrace her son. Scorpius’ heart began to beat faster. This meant she was saying goodbye.
As usual, Draco looked mildly perturbed by Astoria’s blatant demonstration of affection for her son, but allowed himself a smile, nonetheless, as he mussed his son’s hair. “See you at Christmas, son.”
“Have a wonderful time,” Astoria whispered, pulling him in for another hug. Scorpius groaned, praying no one was watching. At this rate, he’d have his head in a toilet by teatime.
“Bye mum, dad.” Scorpius mumbled, offering a weak smile to his parents before turning to head for the dreaded train.
Scorpius felt heavy with anxiety. This was exciting, he reminded himself. At least, it was supposed to be. He wished he knew someone - just one other kid would have been fine, but no, Aunt Daphne’s kids had to be babies, and girls at that.
Stepping wearily onto the train, Scorpius half-heartedly inspected his surroundings, trying his best to soak in every detail of this momentous occasion. Dragging his trunk behind him, he turned left and travelled down the aisle, discreetly peeking into compartments - all full of cheerful, chatting students – as he passed.
Growing more disillusioned by the second, Scorpius came to the last compartment of the carriage. Careful not to be seen, he leant against the wall of the aisle to peer into the compartment, that was, mercifully, only half occupied.
With a sinking feeling in his stomach, however, Scorpius instantly recognised the compartment’s inhabitants: the black-haired boy and the red-haired girl. Scorpius gulped.
Shuffling on the spot, he deliberated. Hauling his trunk through the open connection to the next carriage did not sound remotely appealing to him at this stage, but his father’s words echoed in his ears. He didn’t owe them anything. What did that even mean?
Mustering courage from somewhere - he couldn’t think where - he bravely slid open the compartment door, grimacing. The kids, who had been excitedly chatting amongst themselves, fell silent as their eyes came to rest on him. The redhead turned a distinct shade of pink while the black-haired boy’s eyes darted from his companion to Scorpius in concern.
“Hello.” Scorpius greeted them, rather lamely. “Everywhere is else full.”
The black haired boy looked as though he could have a full-blown panic attack at any second, but the redhead seemed to come to her senses. She gestured to the empty seat beside her cousin with a determinedly civil expression. The seat beside her was occupied by a satchel full to the brim with rectangular shaped objects of all different sizes.
Scorpius set about lifting his trunk onto the rack above the seat. The awkward silence ensued until he had finished and taken his seat. It appeared his travelling companions were engrossed in a silent dialogue, one that clearly involved a lot of raised eyebrows and wide eyes.
The redhead seemed to come to a decision. She turned pointedly towards Scorpius, cleared her throat and said very matter-of-factly. “Hello, my name is Rose Weasley. Nice to meet you.” And immediately turned to glare equally as pointedly to her friend.
“Albus Potter.” The black haired boy conceded unwillingly. “We’re cousins.” He nodded towards Rose.
“Potter, as in Harry Potter?” Scorpius couldn’t refrain from asking. He was merely curious. Everyone knew who Harry Potter was.
“Sure.” Albus shrugged, with a wary glance at his cousin.
“Scorpius Malfoy.” Said Scorpius, looking from Albus to Rose.
“We know.” Rose admitted seriously. Scorpius regarded her with curiosity. Why should they know that?
Albus grimaced, it was clear to Scorpius that he was struggling with some great burden as he considered his cousin with concern. “She’s not supposed to get too friendly.” Albus confessed hurriedly.
Scorpius hadn’t expected that. “Too friendly? What does that mean?”
“I dunno.” Albus shrugged again.
“Well I don’t owe you anything.” Scorpius countered with the only explanation he could think of.
“We only just met you.” Rose replied, puzzled. Her nose wrinkled up in confusion. “What could you possibly owe us?”
“Money or something?” Albus suggested.
“I dunno.” Scorpius conceded, truly lost. He was sure he had never met these people in his life. How could he have borrowed money from them? His dad was weird. He let out a quiet chuckle thinking of it.
Rose – who had been observing him intently the whole time – followed suit. Taking his cue from Rose, Albus began to laugh too. The tension seemed to seep from the room entirely. Even Albus appeared to have relaxed, kicking his feet up to rest on the seat beside Rose, who tucked her feet up from under her to sit on them.
“So what house do you think you’ll be in?” Rose asked conversationally.
“Slytherin.” Scorpius replied automatically.
“No wonder you shouldn’t get too friendly, Rose!” Albus remarked, throwing his arms up in the air. “He’s a Slytherin!”
“Not yet!” Scorpius retorted, affronted. “And what’s wrong with being a Slytherin?” He demanded. His dad was a Slytherin, after all. They couldn’t be that bad.
“Nothing,” Albus muttered quickly, bowing his head.
“So what about you then?” Scorpius asked, all of a sudden feeling very defensive.
“Gryffindor.” Rose and Albus replied simultaneously. They shared a small smile, evidence of a secret Scorpius clearly wasn’t in on.
“What’s so great about Gryffindor?” Scorpius asked genuinely. Wasn’t Slytherin supposed to be the best house?
“My parents were in Gryffindor.” Rose responded simply, as though that settled it. She glanced longingly at the satchel that sat on the seat beside her.
“And mine, and all my uncles and my brother is too,” Albus stressed.
“That would have to be the only downside to Gryffindor…” Rose mused out loud, more to herself. She glanced again at the satchel, this time surrendering and pulling out a red leather bound tome.
“My parents were Slytherins.” Scorpius stated in resignation, as if that settled the matter.
Albus and Scorpius both had slumped at the very thought of the impending sorting. Sensing the sensitive nature of the subject, Rose made a hasty effort to redirect the conversation. “So are you a Quidditch fan?” She asked, peeking over the top of her book and absentmindedly fiddling with one of her red braids. She had diverted her gaze to Albus before she’d even completed the question, but unnecessarily. Both boys perked up the mention of Quidditch.
“Yeah, of course.” Scorpius replied. “Falmouth Falcons.”
Albus gaped at him in horror, “Falcons?!”
“What about them?”
“They’re so…” Albus looked to Rose for support. “Mean!”
Scorpius just gave a non-committal shrug, feeling the colour rise in his cheeks. Wrong house, wrong Quidditch team… he was never going to make friends. “Well, my dad… He goes for them.” Scorpius mumbled, not meeting either of their eyes. He had the distinct impression, however, that Rose was studying him over her book. “Who do you go for then?” he asked Albus.
Now it was Albus’ turn to go red. “Harpies.” He replied shortly.
“Holyhead Harpies?! That’s a girls’ team!” Scorpius laughed.
Rose made no effort to hide her piercing glare behind her book.
“Yeah, but my mum used to play for them.” Albus snapped heatedly. “And she’s got a massive scar on her knee thanks to a Falcons player!”
“Your mum used to play Quidditch?” Scorpius asked reverently, deflecting the Falcon comment. “Cool…”
Albus smiled, visibly pleased.
“What about you, Rose?” asked Scorpius.
“I suppose Canons, if I cared…” Rose replied, not bothering to look up from her book.
“But the Canons are terrible!” said Scorpius.
“Her dad’s mental,” Albus explained.
They fell into a lingering, but not uneasy silence. Albus fiddled with his wand, twisting it around his fingers. Scorpius stared out the window for the most part, wondering how long this journey was going to take. But Rose could not be torn from her book. She kept the book so close to her face, Scorpius was sure her nose must be touching the page.
Scorpius eventually broke the silence. “Is she always like that?” he asked Albus in hushed tones. From the small smile that played on her lips, Scorpius was sure Rose heard him.
“Yep.” Albus replied simply. “Always.” He sighed. “Everywhere. At the dinner table – Gran doesn’t like that, at the Quidditch – her dad doesn’t like that, even on Christmas Day!”
“It’s not like I read all day Christmas Day!” Rose found the strength to tear herself away from her book. “Just a bit…”
“During presents, at dinner, when we played Quidditch…” Albus listed.
“It was a really good book!” Rose cried. “Anyway, there’s nothing wrong with reading, Al. You read.”
“Not all the time!”
“A lot!” Rose taunted.
Albus suddenly turned to Scorpius apologetically, “There’s nothing wrong with reading,” he insisted.
Scorpius just shrugged. He didn’t like reading at all. The place in his stomach that seemed to throb with anxiety gave a little jolt. Was he going to have anything in common with anyone at Hogwarts?
Another silence, this one not so comfortable.
Why couldn’t he be a Muggle? Then he could have gone to Muggle school and made lots of Muggle friends back when he was little. He wouldn’t be in this horrible mess if he was a Muggle. He didn’t have a clue how you were supposed to become friends with strangers. He didn’t know any kids his age. Flora and Persephone, Aunt Daphne’ kids, were two and four – babies. His dad didn’t have any friends - except for Mr Goyle – and no lady in her right mind would go anywhere near him, let alone have kids with him…
Yep, Muggles had the right idea, Scorpius concluded.
Scorpius was half-asleep, staring out the window again when Albus stood and reached up for something in his trunk. Scorpius was not impressed when he discovered it was a book, but watched on anyway as Albus sat down again and began turning the dog-eared pages. Out of sheer boredom, he squinted to make out the title, The Wonderful World of Wizard’s Chess.
Scorpius’ heart skipped a beat. “Wizard’s chess!”
Albus looked up at him in surprise. “You play?”
“You bet I do!” Scorpius couldn’t contain his glee. A fellow chess player! Finally, miraculously, something they had in common!
“Brilliant! I love it, but Rose sucks.” Said Albus.
Rose gave an irritated harrumph from behind her book.
“Why don’t we have a game? Do you have a set? I’ve got mine-”
In their excitement, neither of the boys had notice the compartment door slide open.
Another black-haired boy, who looked so much like Albus that he simply had to be his dreaded brother, stood arms-crossed in the doorway, accompanied by a tall boy with curly blonde hair and a smug look on face.
“What’s he doing here?!” The intruder demanded, incredulous.
“This is my brother James.” Albus explained with a roll of his eyes. “And his friend Will-”
“Finch-Fletchley.” The friend added genially.
“Finch-Fletchley,” Albus concluded dully.
James leant against the door frame, “Your dad will be so mad, Ro-Ro…” He teased gleefully.
“Don’t call me Ro-Ro.” Rose muttered through gritted teeth, unmoving from behind her book. With a sudden jolt, she snapped her book shut and glared pointedly at her cousin, “There’s nothing wrong with Scorpius being here. He can sit wherever he likes. Leave him alone, Jamesy.”
And with that, she returned to her book. Scorpius was filled with a rush of affection for the redhead.
James looked mildly perturbed, but rounded on his brother. “At least you’ll have a friend in Slytherin, now, Al.” He grinned.
Albus frowned, muttering, “Sod off, James.”
Seemingly satisfied with the results of his teasing, James was off, Will Finch-Fletchley in tow, sliding the door closed with a resounding thud.
Albus seemed embarrassed, but James’ interruption didn’t faze Scorpius in the slightest. They’d already established that there was nothing owing, that no one really understood what ‘too-friendly’ meant. Scorpius was far too concerned with getting this chess match going.
“Do you have brothers and sisters?” Albus asked him glumly.
“No,” Scorpius replied. “But I wish I did,”
“No, you don’t.” said Al with a bleak shake of the head.
And so they played; Albus was good, better than Scorpius had expected. The chess match occupying their hands, the boys – Rose occasionally speaking up from behind her beloved book – got to know each other. Albus talked about his family - Scorpius was very envious of Albus’ many uncles and aunts and cousins, they talked Quidditch - both agreeing Pride of Portee would win the Cup this year.
It was a close match - but Scorpius’ main opponent and teacher had been his grandfather - who did not take failure very well. Scorpius won.
When the train came to a steady halt, the anxiety that had so kindly left Scorpius’ stomach a few joyous hours ago decided that it should make a reappearance. Suddenly, thoughts of the imminent sorting seemed to chain Scorpius to where he sat. Only very begrudgingly did he manage to pull himself up to collect his trunk and trudge off the train, his new friends at his side as a giant man with a bushy beard called out into the night, “Firs’ years! Firs’ years this way!”