Albus Potter mumbled something along the lines of a “goodbye, excuse me,” and slipped out of the compartment. He glanced around, but the hallway was deserted; he hoped he wouldn’t run into James. He really didn’t think he could handle his brother just now.
He couldn’t even handle his cousin Rose. She was far too excited for him to cope with, and fifteen minutes in a compartment with her had his stomach doing a strange combination of pirouettes and Wronski Feints. He didn’t think throwing up all down his front would make a good first impression, even if his robes were still safely packed away out of vomit range.
Victoire had decided to be a “proper older cousin” and had ushered him and Rose in with her and some other seventh years. She and her friends were brightly chatting up Ravenclaw to Rose, trying to convince her that it would be a waste of her brains to go to Gryffindor, and Rosie was enjoying the stories and giggles like a kid in Uncle George’s shop.
Albus just felt ill.
You couldn’t pick your House, of course, no matter what dad had said to make him feel better, but Rose didn’t seem worried at all. And why should she be? Victoire was right, she was practically guaranteed a slot in Ravenclaw if the general Weasley trend were to somehow not land her in Gryffindor.
Ravenclaw wouldn’t be so bad, even if Albus was a bit worried about that whole riddle-not-password thing dad had told him about their Common Room. It would be bloody embarrassing to get stuck outside the door because you were too stupid to get yourself into your own House—but not nearly so awful and mortifying and shameful as getting stuck in Slytherin.
James seemed convinced that that was where Albus was heading, but even James often didn’t know when he was being serious or blowing hot air. Albus really hoped this was a case of the latter…but he feared it wasn’t. If he did get stuck in Slytherin House, he honestly didn’t think he’d ever be able to talk to his brother again.
He’d probably be banished from the family or something, anyway.
Albus trudged down the train’s corridor like he had rock cakes for shoes. The giggles and shouts from the compartments he passed slowly hammered his heart into his throat and he had to keep wiping his hands on his jeans to dry them off. He felt clammy all over. He just wanted to snatch a minute alone, but everywhere was packed with kids: eager to return to Hogwarts, gabbing with friends they’d missed all summer; even the other first years he spotted looked excited.
Albus wanted to jump off the train and run home.
He settled for the very last compartment, the only empty one on the train. He slid the door closed behind him with a heavy sigh of relief, then froze. He’d been wrong, it wasn’t empty.
A small, pale boy jerked upright on the bench and stared at him, clearly as shocked as Albus was himself. “Sorry,” Albus. “I uh, I thought this was—didn’t see you, I mean, I thought it was empty, didn’t mean to barge in…” He turned and tried to pull the door open and escape but his fingers were sweaty and slipped on the handle.
“It’s all right, really,” the other boy said quickly.
“Well, I didn’t want to intrude, I mean.” Albus glanced away from the door and banged his hand into the traitorous latch. He muttered some words he’d learned from James.
“No, it’s fine.” The other ran a hand through his hair which, Albus was jealous to see, promptly behaved and laid flat and looked nothing at all like something that one of Hagrid’s pets had chewed on. Albus fussed briefly at his own hair, even though he knew it was a lost cause. So much for a good first impression.
“There’s plenty of room,” the other boy continued politely. “I’m not waiting for anyone or anything. I mean, I’ve got friends on the train of course,” he added quickly. “I just, well, actually, I just left them. I ah, wanted some peace and quiet.”
Albus nodded, giving up on the impossible door. “Me too. I mean, that’s why I came back here. They’re all so…excited.” He flopped down on the opposite bench with a sigh.
“Oh yes,” the boy across from him nodded in hurried agreement. “I’m excited as well, of course. It’s just, I’m a bit nervous, also, to be honest. Just a bit.”
“Me too,” Albus admitted. They sat a moment in awkward silence. “Actually,” Albus confessed, “I’m a lot nervous.”
The other boy winced. “Yeah. So am I.” They shared a watery smile.
“My name’s Albus.” He held out a hand.
The other reached across and shook it. “Scorpius Malfoy. Pleased to meet you.”
They sat in silence for another minute. Albus shifted uncomfortably. He wanted reassurance, but he didn’t want to admit what for.
“So, uh,” he ventured at last with a cheery smile, “excited for the Sorting?”
Scorpius’s face went greenish and he nodded stiffly.
Albus smirked without humor. “Yeah,” he said, “me neither.”
Scorpius looked out the window, away from Albus. “Well,” he said gruffly, “I’d hate to disappoint anyone.”
Albus swallowed. “Yeah. Same here.”
They sat in silence for a while, not meeting one another’s eyes. Albus picked at the dirt under his nails. Then as if on some silent cue, they both spoke suddenly at the same time in a nervous burst:
“I’m worried I might not make it into Slytherin.”
“I’m afraid I’m going to end up in Slytherin.”
They stared at each other tensely, then Scorpius snorted. Albus tried to swallow a grin. Then they were both laughing and Albus felt the clammy feeling fade to a dull albeit persistent niffler in the pit of his stomach.
By the time the snack trolley came by, they were chatting happily and with nausea lessened enough to allow them to enjoy the products of said trolley (which, Albus noted, did not include the fingers of potential students who hadn’t made it through last year’s Sorting, so James was a filthy liar). Albus shared some of the less embarrassing stories about his brother; less embarrassing for him, that is,not James. Scorpius confessed that he often wondered what it might be like to have a brother, and Albus assured him that it couldn’t possibly be worth it and he was better off without. At least these days. Brothers apparently changed after they went to school, and they turned into annoying jerks.
“Cousins are fun, though,” he added. “I’ve got a bunch of those, and they’re much nicer than James is.”
Scorpius raised an eyebrow. “I don’t know, I have a few cousins myself, and I really wouldn’t recommend their company.”
Albus laughed and tried to prod his chocolate frog into a few more jumps but all it managed was a feeble sort of half-hop that tipped it onto the floor and then there was a mad scramble to catch it before it skittered off under the benches or out the door.
Then somehow most of the ride was gone and they were fiddling with their robes and had fallen into a nervous silence. Albus was finding it hard to swallow and he really, really wished he hadn’t eaten those last two pumpkin pasties. The Fizzing Whizbees might have been a bad idea too, come to think of it…
He hoped he wasn’t going to be ill. He’d just put his robes on. He glanced across to try and get Scorpius talking, hoping for a distraction, but Scorpius looked even sicker than he felt.
“So, um…nervous?” Albus asked, then realized what a stupid question that was, and wished he hadn’t spoken.
Scorpius just nodded shortly, as if unable to force out speech. They sat in silence again, and Albus fidgeted. But Albus wasn’t very good at silence; even with just his siblings and parents and usually Teddy, his house was never quiet, and once all the other relatives who tended to stop over at odd times were added to the mix, Albus was more comfortable around chaos than anything else. He just wasn’t generally the one causing the noise, so he couldn’t think of anything to say to cancel out the silence.
“Who are you so afraid of disappointing?” he finally burst out with.
Scorpius wrenched his eyes from the window to look at Albus, who for a minute was afraid he’d gone too far, and offended the other boy, but then he spoke, slowly and with apparent great effort: “My family,” he said quietly. “Especially my father.”
Albus nodded. “Yeah. My family, too. Dad promises they won’t care, but…”
“You don’t believe them.” It wasn’t a question, and Albus didn’t need to ask to know that Scorpius felt the same way.
“No,” he agreed anyway. “He says he won’t, but…”
There was silence for another long minute, and they felt the train slowing down. Albus wondered if that was the screech of the brakes he was hearing, or if someone was screaming distantly inside his head. He shifted uneasily on the bench and wished he knew how to Disapparate. He wished he’d never come to Hogwarts. He wished…
“I hope you get into Slytherin,” he told Scorpius suddenly.
The other boy gave him a watery smile in response. “And I hope you don’t,” he replied.
Albus grinned. It was a weak, tremulous grin, but it was still an attempt at a smile, and somehow it made him feel better. He lurched to his feet. “Well,” he said. “I guess we’d better go.”
“Yeah.” Scorpius stood up, but made no move to go further. “I guess so.”
As if on some invisible signal, they both turned quickly and pulled down their trunks. Albus had brought his into the compartment when they decided to change into their robes; Rose hadn’t even noticed Albus coming in, she was so enraptured by Victoire and the other Ravenclaws who were fawning over her. Albus wondered if he’d be able to find her; he would have felt better with her at his side during the Sorting, but she was probably long swept away by the crush of students.
At least he had Scorpius with him, so he wouldn’t be exactly alone. It was odd, the way they were both so afraid of the same thing, and yet the exact opposite as well. As much as Albus hoped he would be sorted anywhere but Slytherin, he hoped Scorpius made it into that dreaded House. Clearly the other boy was mental, wanting to go there, but it was what he wanted.
Albus hoped that wouldn’t make them enemies; he was starting to think of Scorpius as a friend, and it would have been great to start school with a friend already made, especially one he wasn’t related to.
The First Years were clustering—you could spot them by the anxious looks on their faces and the way they huddled together and, of course, by the lack of colors on their clothing to indicate House status—so Albus and Scorpius made their way to the end of the pack. Albus looked around for James or Rose, or any of the other Weasleys, but the sea of robes somehow seemed to contain no familiar faces.
Then he heard a gruff, very large voice calling, “Firs’ years over here!” and Hagrid was looming over the crowd. Albus grinned with relief. “Come on,” he said to Scorpius and shoved his way as quickly as he could over to the half-giant, leading the rest of the First Years who all followed with much less eagerness.
“All right there, Albus?” Hagrid asked, and Albus beamed.
“Hey Hagrid!” For a minute the nerves were all gone. It was impossible to be nervous with Hagrid around (as long as he didn’t have any animals with him).
Hagrid patted Albus’s shoulder, almost knocking him down. “Righ’ then, go on inter the boats.” He gave a very large, very unsubtle wink and dropped his voice down to what was probably Hagrid’s approximation of a whisper. “I’ll see yeh inside,” he said. “Gotta get this lot over the lake firs’ yeh know.”
Albus grinned. “Right,” he said, and led the way to the boats he’d been waiting to see for as long as he could remember. His stomach felt like it had grown wings and elation bubbled up inside him. He knew he was smiling like an idiot but he couldn’t stop himself, he was too excited. Finally, Hogwarts…
Albus jumped into the first of the small boats and looked around for Rose. He heard Hagrid greeting her, but they were too far back in the crowd for Albus to spot his cousin over the heads of the other First Years. Scorpius climbed into the boat next to him, looking like he might soon be ill.
“Don’t worry,” Albus said reassuringly, his own anxiety for the moment forgotten in the combination of Hagrid’s familiar presence and the excitement of being here at last. “Hagrid’ll get us there fine. He does this every year.”
Scorpius nodded but didn’t look in any way comforted. “Right,” he said in a very sharp, shrill voice.
The two students who joined them for the boat ride over looked like they were every bit as anxious and uncomfortable as Scorpius, and none of them spoke as the boats splashed through the wide lake, Hogwarts looming in front of them like some dark, light-speckled shape spilling out of fog and legend.
Write a Review A Sorted Affair: Chapter One: Albus