Snape clapped sarcastically. “Oh, yes, truly brilliant,” he drawled. “Being in Slytherin, I assumed you’d be a bit more clever.”
“And you,” Albus said, turning to the old man, who smiled encouragingly. “You’re Dumbledore!”
The man nodded. “That I am,” he said, sitting back in his throne and gazing at Albus. He seemed to be drinking him in. “You look just like your father,” he said fondly.
“He must act like him, too, if he’s already in enough trouble to be here,” Snape said lazily. He raised a thin eyebrow. “What exactly did you do?”
Albus blushed slightly. “I, er, I punched my brother James. After the Quidditch match,” he muttered, avoiding both their gazes.
Snape’s eyebrows rose higher on his forehead; he looked genuinely surprised and curious. “Did you now?” he said. “Well, I’m sure your dear father will be pleased to know how quickly you are taking after him. Are you abysmal at Potions, too? Do you have an over-inflated head or is that just your brother?”
“What do you mean?” Albus said, frowning at Snape as his hand gave a particularly painful throb. He winced.
“Your brother,” Snape said. “You know, the reason you’re here. He was here last year for some reason. Set off fireworks in the girls’ bathroom, I think. Thinks quite highly of himself. But of course,” he sneered, “with a name like James Sirius Potter I wouldn’t expect much better. Potter men seem to have an inability to follow rules or keep their mouths shut. Your father was especially insolent.”
“My father said you were one of the bravest men he ever knew,” Albus said quietly.
Snape merely stared at him, looking surprised. His eyes were suddenly oddly bright. “I see,” he said at last, the silkiness gone from his voice.
“I told you, Severus,” Dumbledore said, still smiling benignly. “Harry thinks quite highly of you. Why do you think he fought so hard to have you put here?”
Snape said nothing, but continued to stare at Albus with an unreadable expression.
The door to the office swung open and Professor Aldebrand swept into the room. She was wearing dark, wine colored robes and a matching hat, which she took off and laid on her desk before sitting down and looking at Albus.
“Sit down,” she said, gesturing to the chair opposite her.
Albus sat obediently, avoiding Aldebrand’s dark eyes.
“You could be expelled for this,” she said. Albus felt his heart drop. Expelled, after two months. What would his parents say?
“Why did you do this?“ Aldebrand said sternly.
Albus shrugged. Snape and Dumbledore were watching curiously.
He looked up into her dark, searching eyes. They seemed to bore into him.
“Why did you do this?’ she repeated, clasping her hands on the desk in front of her.
“I don’t know, ma’am,” Albus muttered.
“You attacked your own brother,” Aldebrand said, her lined face creased in a frown. “Surely you have a reason for doing this.”
“I--” Albus said, staring at his feet again. “I don’t have a reason ma’am. He just said some things that got to me and I-I snapped.”
“What did he said?” Aldebrand said. “What could he possibly say to make you attack him?”
Albus opened his mouth to speak but Dumbledore spoke first.
“Adele,” he said. At first Albus didn’t know who he was speaking to until Professor Aldebrand turned her head slightly towards Dumbledore.
“I think,” Dumbledore said, leaning forward. “That we can count this as a case of typical sibling rivalry. I for one know precisely the type,” he tapped his crooked nose, “I’ve experienced it first hand, as I’m sure you have in the past, as well.”
Aldebrand sighed and gave Albus a long, appraisingly look, during which he tried to look as sorry and as innocent as possible.
“Very well,” she said at last. “You will not be expelled. Though I assure you that if this happens again, you will be punished severly. You will do the detentions Professor Zabini has set for you. I hope this will help you learn your lesson.”
Albus nodded furiously. “Of course, Professor,” he said, his heart suddenly feeling lighter.
She smiled very slightly. “I know what it’s like to be tormented by an older brother.”
“Really?” Albus said, surprised.
Aldebrand nodded. “It’s difficult to be living in the shadow of someone simple because they’re older. Much more difficult for you, I’m sure, as you are already living in the shadow of your father.”
Albus didn’t reply, though she was right.
“Don’t let it bother you,” Aldebrand said bracingly, standing and striding to the window, where she gazed out across the brightly lit lawns. She turned and smiled at Albus. “It will get better. Just look at me,” she said, spreading her arms wide. “I managed to become Headmistress of Hogwarts even though my older brother teased me when we were young.”
“So,” Albus began, hoping he wasn’t asking too personal a question, “So, your brother stopped acting that way?”
Aldebrand nodded and gave him an understanding smile as she moved back to her desk and sat across from him again. “Eventually,” she said. “We were very close.
“Were?” Albus said without thinking. There was a glimmer of sadness behind Aldebrand’s eyes. Snape made a noise of disapproval. “Sorry, I--”
“No matter,” Aldebrand said, holding up her hand. “My brother, Silvius, was killed,” she said, “over twenty years ago. One of the many causalities of the Second War. The war that your father helped to end. The war that both of these men died for.” She gestured to Snape and Dumbledore and Albus glanced up at them.
“I’m sorry,” Albus muttered, wished he hadn’t asked.
“It’s quite alright,” Aldebrand said and Albus looked up to see that she was smiling again. She stood and moved across the room to the door, which she held open for him. “I think it’s about time you went to the Hospital Wing. Madam Pomfrey will need to mend that hand.”
She placed her own wrinkled hand under his chin, lifting his eyes to hers.
“Chin up,” she said. “I know it’s difficult now being your father’s son, but you have your whole life ahead of you to make your own mark.”
Albus smiled. “Thanks, Professor.”
She patted him on the shoulder as he stepped out onto the landing. As she closed the door behind him, he heard Snape’s voice.
“Perhaps you’re right, Dumbledore,” he said as Albus stepped onto the revolving staircase, “he more than just looks like his father.”
Dumbledore chuckled. “Well, of course he does, Severus. I don’t doubt that he is well deserving of his names; all three of them.”
Albus made his way down to the hospital wind on the first floor, where, to his surprise, Rose and Scorpius were waiting for him, still wearing scarves and cloaks.
“Hey,” Scorpius said as Albus approached them.
“Hey,” Albus replied. There was a pause as he looked at them both, feeling more embarrassed than he had sitting in Aldebrand’s office. He glanced around. The room was empty except for them. “Is James already gone?”
Rose nodded, looking both nervous and reproachful. “He left a few minutes ago with the rest of the team and Quinn to celebrate. Madam Pomfrey fixed him up in about a second.”
“Good,” Albus said, nodding at the floor. He looked up at them both again. “I’m sorry. I was…stupid.”
Scorpius smiled. “Don’t apologize to me,” he said, “I was about to hit him myself after what he said about Slytherin.
Rose frowned at him. “But he shouldn’t have been fighting, Scorp.”
Scorpius blinked. Rose rarely used his first name, much less his nickname. “Well,” he said, regaining his conposure, though smiling faintly, “I’m not saying Al should have hit James, but you can’t act like James wasn’t out of order. Kissing Quinn just to make him mad.”
“I agree that James was being a bit of, well, a bit of a--”
“Pig?” Scorpius offered.
Rose frowned, though the corners of her mouth twitched. “However,” she ploughed on, “He likes Quinn and she likes him. He might not have had the best intentions in trying to make Al mad, but he’s not messing Quinn around.”
As she finished, Madam Pomfrey came bustling out of her office, wand in hand.
“Why didn’t you tell me you were here?” she said as she sat Albus down on one of the beds and began examining his hand, muttering angrily about Quidditch.
“Should be banned,” she said as she pointed her wand at Albus’ hand, which felt very hot and then very cold. “All this bad blood between students, and brothers at that!” She conjured a long bandage from the tip of her wand, which she wrapped around Albus’s hand.
“Leave that on for a few days,” she said, still sounding flustered and disapproving. “It may be stiff for awhile, but you’ll be fine.”
Albus moved his fingers experimentally. They were tight, as though he had not used them for a long time, but the pain was gone.
“Thanks,” he said, glancing up at Madam Pomfrey.
She gave him a swift nod and muttered, “Well, I just hope I don’t see you as much as I saw your father,” as she moved back to her office.
“Well,” Albus said, standing up, “You probably want to go celebrate with the rest of the Gryffindors, don’t you, Rose?”
Rose nodded, muttering an apology.
“Don’t be sorry,” Albus said as the three of them made their way out into the corridor. “Your House won fair and square.” He paused and then said, in a resigned voice, “When you see James, can you tell him…tell him that I’m sorry?”
Rose looked impressed and nodded, smiling as Scorpius shook his head behind her.
They had reached the marble staircase. Rose waved goodbye as she continued down the corridor to go to the Gryffindor tower while Albus and Scorpius made their way down to the entrance hall.
“Are you really sorry?” Scorpius asked skeptically as they descended the stairs to the dungeon corridor.
“Yea, I am,” Albus said earnestly.
“Because you hit him or because you got in trouble for it?”
Albus grinned. “Maybe a little bit of both.”
Whatever degree of sorry he had been feeling multiplied ten-fold at breakfast on Monday when Driscoll landed in his cereal bowl and dropped a bright red envelope in front of him before taking off again and spraying the table with milk.
“Oh, no,” Albus muttered as he picked up the envelope, which was addressed in his mother’s handwriting. He recognized it only too well, for he had watched his mother send at least half a dozen to James the previous year.
Scorpius’ eyes widened and he shoved his fingers in his ears as Albus opened the letter with shaking hands and Ginny Potter’s voice erupted around the Hall, magically magnified in the Howler.
ALBUS SEVERUS POTTER!
His mother’s voice roared around the room. Heads turned curiously in his direction.
I AM APPALLED! I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT TO SAY TO YOU! FIGHTING OVER A QUIDDITCH MATCH?! I CAN’T BELIEVE YOU WOULD DO THIS! I EXPECTED BETTER OF YOU, ALBUS! YOU’RE FATHER IS SO DISAPPOINTED, HE CAN’T EVEN SPEAK! IF YOU DO ANYTHING LIKE THIS AGAIN, YOU WON’T BE GOING ABCK TO HOGWARTS AFTER CHRISTMAS OR EVER AGAIN UNTIL YOU’VE LEARNED TO GROW UP!
The letter burst into flames, the smoldering pieces falling to the table, black and burnt. Albus stared at them in shocked silence. Several people laughed before going back to their breakfast and the usual babble of talk broke out again.
Turning in his seat, Albus glanced at James, who was smirking at his plate. Rose had done as Albus had asked and apologized for him, though James had either ignored it or did not care, because his attitude towards Albus had not changed. Albus was also being treated with sneering disgust by the other Gryffindors and Quinn refused to talk to him; even Neville still seemed disappointed and distant.
He had given up on trying to get Rose to steal the Marauder’s Map from James and as he had not seen either mysterious figure on the grounds, he decided to push it from his mind, which was full to the brim with information as their Professors tried to get through all they could before the end of term. With hours of studying and his two weeks detention with Zabini, during which he cleaned and organized the entire Potions storeroom, he had developed a constant, dull ache behind his eyes.
The looming Christmas holidays, to which Albus had been looking forward to, now looked solely like a time for him parents to lecture him. In addition to this, he would not even have Scorpius as support, as he was spending Christmas with his grandparents and Albus was quite sure that neither his nor Scorpius’ parents would allow them to see each other outside of school. Albus wondered if, perhaps, they would blame his misbehavior on Scorpius being a bad influence. He swore to himself that he would make his parents see that it was not Scorpius’ fault and that James was not innocent in the matter.
The week before break began, Albus was attempting to work on his last Astronomy essay of the term, though the amount of excited talk and laughter in the common room was making it difficult to concentrate, when Scorpius came through the opening in the wall carrying a brightly wrapped package under his arm.
“Oh no,” Albus said, staring at the package. “Is it the ninth? I though it was tomorrow! Don’t tell me I forgot your birthday.”
“Relax,” Scorpius said as he sat down next to him. “It’s from my Aunt Daphne. She just sent it early.”
“Oh, good,” Albus said, sitting back and continuing on his essay. “Well, then, you’re waiting for your present.”
Scorpius grinned, glancing at Albus’ essay. “Sirius is the main star in Canis Major, not Procyon, that’s Canis Minor,” he said.
“What? Oh, thanks.” Albus scratched out his mistake and scribbled the correct answer over it. He frowned in concentration as he jotted down a conclusion.
Realizing that Scorpius was watching him, he glanced up. “What’s up?” he said, rolling up his finished essay and stuffing it in his bag.
“Oh, nothing,” Scorpius said quickly, looking away.
“Scorp? What’s up?” Albus said firmly in a tone that reminded him a little too forcefully of his own mother.
“Are you, er, spending the holidays with Rose?” Scorpius said, blushing slightly.
“Part of it,” Albus said, lounging back in his chair and allowing the heat of the fire to warm him through. “I’m going to Marshwood Downs--”
“What?” Scorpius interrupted.
“Sorry, that’s our house,” Albus explained, “Marshwood Downs in Oxton Mills. Just south of Dorchester. I’m going there first but we always spend a lot of the holidays at the Burrow--my grandparents’ house. It’s in Ottery St. Catchpole. That’s where Rose’s family lives, too, just over the hill.”
My Aunt Daphne lives in Ottery St. Catchpole,” Scorpius said, looking suddenly sheepish.
“Really?” Albus said, curious. “I though your family all lived in that Malfor Manor place? Only my parents have mentioned it a few times.”
“Er, no,” Scorpius said, still faintly pink, “That’s my grandparents’ house. I spend a lot of time there during the holidays but I don’t live there. Besides, my Aunt is my Mum’s sister, not my Dad’s. She has a little cottage by the river. She never married so she likes to have me round to visit sometimes.”
“Cool,” Albus said. Scorpius rarely spoke of his family and when he did, he often seemed embarrassed by them. He smiled as he spoke of his Aunt, though.
“So, you’ll all be at this Burrow place?” Scorpius said, fiddling with the sleeve of his robes.
“Well,’ Albus said, sitting up, “Some of the family are spending the holiday other places. My Uncle Bill and Aunt Fleur are spending it with her family in France, my Uncle Charlie is in Romania studying dragons and can’t leave work, Uncle Percy and Aunt Audrey are staying with Audrey’s family in Wales.” He frowned, ticking them off on his fingers. “So, it looks like it’s just my family, Rose’s family, Fred’s family and my grandparents. And Teddy will probably stop in.”
“Who?” Scorpius said, frowning again.
“Teddy Lupid,” Albus explained, “My Dad’s godson. His parents were killed during the War. He lives with his grandmum but stops by a lot. He’s a good bloke, you’d like him.” He rubbed his eyes and yawned. “Well, I can’t take this noise, I’m off to bed. ‘Night, Scorp.”
Scorpius nodded but didn’t reply, his eyes fixed steadily on the dancing flames.
Dodging Max, who tried to offer him what he knew to be a cancary cream, Albus climbed up to the dormitory, which was empty. He tossed his bag by his trunk and moved to his bedside table, where he poured himself a drink of water. He drained the glass and poured another.
Just as he raised the glass to his lips, he glanced out the window in front of him. He gasped and inhaled quite a lot of water. Coughing and sputtering, he felt the glass slip through his fingers and shatter. Ignoring this, he ran to the window, pressing his forehead to the glass and peering into the darkness.
He had seen it again. The ghostly, glowing figure that had eluded him for over a month. Cursing softly, he wiped the window clean of his breath and frost and squinted over the snow-covered grounds. He shifted and gasped in pain as a shard of glass pierce his foot.
Gripping the window to steady himself, he tried to ignore the searing pain in his right heel. The hooded figure was there, too. It had just appeared, striding through the snow, hunched and draped in its black cloak.
They moved across the grounds, the white figure barely visible against the snow glittering in the moonlight as it glided along. It left no footprints. The second figure strode slightly behind; something in the way it walked looked hesitant, reluctant. It stopped suddenly and began gesticulating angrily.
Albus wished he had a way to here wheat it was saying. He tried pressing his ear to the icy glass but all he could hear was the howling of the wind across the lake.
The white figure turned and faced the other. Then, without warning, it threw up its hands and the cloaked figure fell to the ground, shaking. There was a glint of sliver sweeping through the air and the snow around the cloaked figure turned red with blood.
Albus clapped a hand to his mouth to keep from screaming, something he was sure the cloaked figure was doing by the way it thrashed and threw back its head.
Suddenly, they both froze, staring into the darkness. The cloaked figure stood, pulling out what Albus new was a wand.
The white figure passed into the cloaked one as it had so many night before on Halloween and they vanished just as Hagrid came striding into view, wrapped in his thick moleskin overcoat, he beard and hair flecked with snow and Fergus swaying on his shoulder, a scarf wrapped around him. He came to the bloody snow and knelt down, glancing around and calling out for a victim that Albus knew was not there.
The door opened behind Albus and he turned to see Scorpius standing there.
“Max tried to force fee me a Canary Cream so I--” he spotted the broken glass and Albus’ stark white face. “What’s wrong?”
Albus collapsed on the bed, griping his head in his hands and taking long, deep breaths as he tried to slow down his racing heart.
Scorpius sat down on his own bed.
“Saw them again, both of them,” Albus said. He examined his cut foot, pulling out the long sliver of glass embedded in his heel--which he tossed in the bin--and wrapping his whole foot in a sock.
“Are you serious?” Scorpius said, looking scared.
Albus quickly recounted everything he had seen; when he reached the part about the snow staining red, Scorpius looked faintly sick.
“We should tell someone,” He said.
Albus pulled out his wand, pointed it at the shards of glass on the floor and muttered, “Reparo.”
The pieces flew back together, all expect the one Albus had pulled from his foot, and the repaired glass came to a rest on Albus table.
“I’m going to talk to my dad about it when I get home,” Albus said firmly. “He dealt with all kinds of crazy things when he was here. He’ll help.”
“Good idea,” Scorpius said.
Albus ran his fingers absentmindedly through his untidy black hair. Scorpius watched him anxiously, as though he was afraid he would start displaying strange symptoms.
“Are you okay, Al?” he said in a concerned voice.
“Yea,” Albus said as he stood to change into his pajamas. “Yea, I’m fine.”
He didn’t like lying but he didn’t want to admit to himself that he felt like he was going mad, much less to Scorpius. Much less to his best friend.
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