Scorpius had never felt quite so alone as when he stepped away from Albus to make the long walk up to the stool with the waiting Sorting Hat. Even leaving his parents to board the Hogwarts Express at Platform 9¾ had not been quite so hard; there had been excitement, then, to overwhelm his anxiety. But this was the moment of truth come at last and the only delay now was in how slowly he could bear to trudge down the gauntlet of the Great Hall. Scorpius raised his chin proudly and forced his stride to be firm and confident. No matter his trepidation—no, his terror—he would not appear a coward in the eyes of the watching students. He was Scorpius Malfoy and he would do his best to make his family proud. Most of that was out of his hands, though; other than how he comported himself during this trial, everything was up to the Hat.
He didn’t know why they had to do this in front of everyone. Wouldn’t it have been kinder by far to keep the Hat in a small room where it would be just you and it, with no one to watch and see your misery? But then, of course, you would have to be the one to tell in which House you had been put. There were three Houses whose names, Scorpius knew, he would never be able to make himself pronounce if they were what the Hat decreed to be his fate. Perhaps a teacher, then, in the room as well? Just one, standing quietly to the side, who would tell your Head of House and allow you to flee there immediately after the Sorting, not having to face anyone at all.
Scorpius wondered what happened if a student just fainted in the middle of the Great Hall, or refused to put on the Hat. He wondered what would happen if he ran back out the door to the train—but no, there was the lake, and the train was already gone. There was no way to avoid the situation now that he had come this far. He was trapped.
And now he stood at the Hat. There was nothing any more between him and despair. Scorpius swallowed very hard and pulled himself up onto the stool. Far away at the other end of the hall Albus stood at the front of the cluster of First Years. He looked very pale. Then Professor Vector dropped the Hat over Scorpius’s head and all he saw was darkness.
He squeezed his eyes shut. Please Slytherin, he thought as hard as he could. Please Slytherin, please Slytherin! He hoped desperately that Albus was right and that the Hat was feeling kind. “Please Slytherin,” he whispered. There was nothing in this world more important to him than pleasing his family, and Scorpius was certain that the only way to do that was to follow all of the previous generations of Malfoys into the noble House of Salazar Slytherin. His father had said it did not matter but for once in his life, Scorpius did not take his father at his word.
It was stuffy under the hat, and hard to breathe. It smelled vaguely of lemon drops and dust. Scorpius ignored it; the only thing that mattered was what word would next leave the Hat’s brim. He could feel himself trembling and tried to stop. He didn’t want anyone to think he was anything but confident of his imminent placement into Slytherin. His reputation was entirely unformed as of yet and needed no maintaining, but there was the family name to think of. Scorpius would not be the one to bring disgrace to his family, no matter the cost. His father would be proud of him. He would be in Slytherin.
He was Scorpius Malfoy. He was not going to be a disappointment. He was going to do great things, and he was going to wear green while he did them.
There was a quiet sound like muffled chuckling. Scorpius flinched beneath the Hat. “Hello?” he whispered, very quietly. “Can you…can you hear me?” There was no answer. “Please,” Scorpius asked tentatively, his lips barely moving, “please, I want to be—Slytherin—I belong in Slytherin,” he said. “I want—no, I have to be—”
“Oh do you now?” the Hat asked.
Scorpius felt himself sway on the stool, and swallowed hard.
“Yes,” he whispered.
“I think I may be rather a better judge of that than you, Scorpius Malfoy,” the Hat told him.
Scorpius shivered with horror. “Not if you judge me wrong,” he whispered. “I belong in Slytherin,” he said again, his lips barely moving for fear that if he let them, he would scream.
“A mind as quick and hungry for knowledge as yours would do well in Ravenclaw,” the Hat pointed out.
“Slytherin appreciates cleverness as well,” Scorpius argued.
“Anyone brave and stubborn enough to argue with me would be well suited to Gryffindor,” the Hat suggested.
“I won’t even dignify that with a response,” Scorpius sneered coldly. He felt the vaguest sense of movement off to the side, and wondered if Professor Vector had heard him. He dropped his voice, but kept the tone very firm: “Only a fool would entertain the idea of putting a Malfoy in Gryffindor,” he told the Hat, “and none of my research indicates that you suffer from excessive foolishness .”
The Hat laughed at him. “And that indicates to me, little Malfoy, how ideally suited you are to Ravenclaw.”
“I’m not ,” Scorpius insisted, a little too loudly. “I’m not,” he said again, whispering this time. “The only place that I am ‘ideally suited to’ is Slytherin , and you—you have to recognize that,” he pleaded, his voice breaking despite his best efforts not to let it.
“And what are your ambitions then, Scorpius Malfoy, if you think you are so perfect for the house of ambitions and great deeds?”
“I am a Malfoy,” Scorpius told the Hat coolly, “what ambition do I need beyond that?”
The Hat laughed again, its chuckle warm in his ears, although it sent shivers of ice up his spine. This Hat held his fate, his entire future, in its next decision; that wasn’t fair. The Hat had belonged to Godric Gryffindor after all, hadn’t it? It must surely be biased, as its owner must have been, and Scorpius thought it was wretched that they were all made to adhere to the absurd ramblings of an antique piece of headgear, especially one that had belonged to such a brash, foolhardy man as Gryffindor was reported to have been. It wasn’t fair and he did not approve.
Scorpius didn’t care if no one had ever mounted a successful argument against the Sorting Hat before, in all the years that Hogwarts had been in operation; no one else had ever had his family’s team of lawyers to aide them, not to mention Scorpius’s own sharp wits and sharper tongue. Let the Hat say what it would, Scorpius would be in Slytherin in the end, and if the Hat disagreed—well then, it could just get used to disappointment, and maybe some long-overdue re-upholstery!
“You don’t upholster a hat, boy,” the shabby old thing chided him.
“That won’t stop me,” Scorpius sneered.
The Hat chuckled. “Threats have never worked against me, child,” it said, “not when they came from Tommy Riddle and not now coming from you. But I will give you points on attention to detail; no one else has planned out quite so elaborate a court case against me before, and in less than three minutes, too. I am impressed with your faculties, Scorpius Malfoy. I sense great things from you.”
Then the Hat moved and Scorpius couldn’t breathe or move or think. He opened his eyes but still saw only darkness. The pause between motion and speech was no longer than the gap between one shuddering heartbeat and the next, but to Scorpius it seemed to last for several eternities. Then—
“SLYTHERIN!” the Hat shouted.
Scorpius sagged, almost falling off the stool in suddenly limp relief. The Hat was lifted off his head and Scorpius didn’t bother trying to marshal his expression into something dignified; he was too busy grinning so broadly that it felt as if his face were about to split.
Slytherin. The Hat had said Slytherin, for him. Scorpius swallowed hard against a sudden lump in his throat and walked on wobbly legs towards the applause rising from Slytherin’s table. He almost tripped over the bench when he tried to sit down but no one seemed to notice; they were too busy shaking his hand and clapping him on the back. A few people made a point of turning away from him but Scorpius didn’t care; he was in Slytherin, and it didn’t matter if not all of his Housemates wanted him with them; there was nothing they could do about it now.
From the green and silver-clad environs of his new table, Scorpius looked for Albus in the dwindling crowd of First Years. The boys grinned at one another excitedly. Scorpius had made it in to his beloved Slytherin; now Albus just had to make certain not to follow him. Scorpius waited impatiently, clapping distractedly for Lycoris Nott when he, too, was sent to Slytherin’s table. Scorpius paid little mind to the other names and the Houses they went to; that was all irrelevant. Then, “Potter, Albus,” said Professor Vector and Scorpius sat up suddenly along with everyone else in the Great Hall—
And then he realized what she’d said. The dark-haired, disheveled boy from the train, the one who’d commiserated with him about the terrors and despair of the Sorting, the one who’d suggested he ask the Hat directly—his name was Albus Potter. Scorpius realized that no, his burgeoning friend had not mentioned his last name during their brief introduction; only the Sorting, and their families and fears. Scorpius raised his eyebrows. Well, no wonder he was nervous. If this Albus Potter was the son of the famous Harry Potter, Boy-Who-Lived and defeated the Dark Lord, then he had quite a bit to live up to as well.
What was really shocking, of course, wasn’t that Albus had neglected to mention his surname; no doubt he was used to everyone he met knowing who he was already, and perhaps too he preferred to avoid the curiosity and fame engendered by advertising such a well-known familial connection. Either way, the single-name introduction was not the surprise; it was that Albus had not reacted to Scorpius’s name in any fashion. Scorpius stared in utter bafflement as Albus hurried up to the Sorting Hat. He paused at the stool to grin at Scorpius who quickly raised his thumbs in a gesture of good luck. He hoped that Albus couldn’t see his bewilderment. Albus was still smiling when the Hat dropped over his face. Scorpius crossed his fingers and tried to master his shock.
Perhaps, though, Albus simply didn’t know; there was no reason for Harry Potter’s son to have memorized the names of every Death Eater his father had ever faced. It seemed rather unlikely that Albus had not recognized Scorpius’s last name, but could it possibly be any less unlikely that he had known but did not care? Absurd.
Potter, after all, was one of the names that his father had cautioned him to be politely wary of. Grudges, his father had warned, often run in families. Scorpius had intended to follow his father’s advice and skirt any such potential conflicts by avoiding close interaction with the interested parties. Yet Albus had come into his compartment on the train and not cared; they had talked for hours and found all their differences only led to more in common; found that they were in fact in nearly identical situations albeit on opposite sides of the issue at hand: Sorting and Slytherin. They had been so alike; Scorpius in truth was disappointed with himself, because he had almost hoped upon his own successful Sorting that Albus would in fact be sent to Slytherin as well, despite the other’s dire misgivings. He could not in good conscience wish for such a thing, of course; that would be too cruel to a person he hoped to count as a friend. But a small, selfish part of him had—
Had hoped that Albus Potter would be sorted into Slytherin.
Scorpius could not imagine why Albus was worrying. The Potter-Weasley clan, Scorpius well knew, were a notoriously Gryffindor-centric family. He could not off the top of his head think of a single member of that particular family tree who had worn the green and silver that he was so proud to newly claim as his own. He glanced over at the red and gold table but couldn’t tell if anyone there was showing extra, familial interest in Albus’s Sorting; all the Gryffindors were excited. Scorpius bit his lip and hoped that Albus would be joining them soon.
The hat opened its brim. “SLYTHERIN!” it roared and everyone went silent.
Scorpius stared in unadulterated horror at the slack-jawed face of Albus Potter. No one moved. Scorpius didn’t even breathe; he imagined that Albus wasn’t, either. Professor Vector gave the stunned boy a light push and he stumbled towards Scorpius, towards the Slytherins. Scorpius couldn’t even reach out to help him drop limply to the bench; he was too stunned to move.
The Sorting had taken only seconds—less than a minute, surely—but in that handful of moments, the entire world had upended. Albus Potter, son of the Boy Who Lived, had been placed in Slytherin.
Distantly, someone realized that applause was expected, and started clapping. Another set of hands joined in, then another, and slowly people shook off their daze enough to jerk their hands together a few times while they stared and whispered. Albus didn’t seem to notice, but his Housemates applauded no more eagerly than anyone else in the Great Hall. A few of them made a point of looking away from their newest member. Scorpius noted their faces; he would pin names to them later and be watchful. He wished he’d been aware enough to make note of who had been less than eager to see his own arrival at their table, but he’d been too excited to think that far ahead.
Albus didn’t appear to see anything. He sat limply, his eyes glazed. Scorpius put a hesitant hand on Albus’s back, but it went unnoticed, and he removed it again. His senses awash with horror, Scorpius paid no note to the names and students that followed Albus Potter’s heart-stopping Sorting.
Then Albus jerked upright and turned to stare at the Sorting Hat and the red-haired girl approaching it. “Weasley, Rose,” had been her name, so she was some relation to Albus although Scorpius could not have guessed exactly; some sort of cousin, no doubt, but beyond that there were too many options possible. But Albus cared where she was sorted and, after the unexpected greening of Albus Potter, Gryffindor shared his tense silence. The Hat sat in long deliberation, although it did not feel quite as long as it had when it had been on Scorpius’s head; could it be possible that something was wrong with the Hat? Scorpius fought down a flush of panic; if there was something wrong, if they all had to be re-Sorted, what if he turned out not to belong in Slytherin after all? What if that had been a mistake, too? He would be relieved for Albus, of course, but not enough to alleviate his own despair. To have been Slytherin for minutes, then have it snatched away from him—Scorpius knew he could not face that.
Anything but that.
He twisted his fingers together so hard they ached and stared at the red-haired girl hidden beneath the Sorting Hat. It had to be functioning properly; in over a thousand years, the Hat had never, as far as Scorpius knew, been accused of failing in its task. No student had ever successfully put forth any argument to overturn the Hat’s decision. Scorpius was certain of that; in his anxiety over his own sorting, he had spent the weeks preceding his arrival at Hogwarts researching the sorting process and searching for precedent of overruling the Hat, just in case.
He had found none.
(That hadn’t stopped him from planning to be the first, if the Hat had mis-Sorted him, but he was enormously relieved that he would not have to make that desperate attempt.)
He wished now, though, for Albus’s sake, that he had come up with some sort of precedent on which to build the grounds for a case; something more than sheer bravado and desperation, that is.
The Hat’s brim opened and Scorpius bit his lip; would it be easier for Albus if she were sorted here too, or would seeing family be a constant reminder of his misfortune? None of them had any say in the matter, though; only the Sorting Hat.
“GRYFFINDOR!” it announced and shrill cheers erupted from the table in question. The echoes reverberating off the distant, magic-shrouded ceiling were loud enough to make Scorpius flinch. Rose Weasley received the loudest applause of the evening.
Albus put his head down on the table.
“What’s wrong, Potter?” A burly student sitting on the other side of the table—Scorpius would have bet he was in his Fourth or Fifth Year—smirked viciously. He said Albus’s name like it was a curse. “You don’t look overwhelmed with good fortune,” he said, and a handful of Slytherins laughed.
Scorpius’s face drew into a tight frown but before he could speak someone a few seats down the table did. “If I had to look at your ugly face across from me,” a skinny girl with a black braid said, “I’d keep my head down, too.”
The speaker and his two cronies turned away from Albus to look at the girl that had dared interrupt them. The three students sitting at the bench between the girl and Albus drew in on themselves and looked around for an escape. Scorpius raised an eyebrow and surreptitiously fingered his wand.
“Watch yourself, Vaisey,” the offensive boy growled. “Just because you’re not a Firstie this year doesn’t mean you shouldn’t still know your place.”
Vaisey was a name that Scorpius recognized, although he was unfamiliar with the girl herself; she came from an old family, whoever she was, and she didn’t flinch easily. “Wow,” she drawled, painfully unimpressed, “your threats have gotten even less creative than last year, Muggins.” She crossed her arms inside her sleeves, probably grasping a hidden wand, just like Scorpius. All three of the boys across from Scorpius and Albus tensed and one of them dove for a wand that he didn’t bring into sight yet.
“No one’s scared of a little girl, Vaisey,” lied the minion on the right of Muggins. He hadn’t dared reach for his wand, though, Scorpius noted.
“Really,” said Vaisey coolly. “Why don’t you go ask Avery if he’s scared.”
“Second Years need to be careful,” Muggins said, ignoring the implied threat. Whoever Avery was, he had apparently learned not to trifle with this Vaisey. Nonetheless Muggins continued ominously, “bad things can happen to snotty brats in Hogwarts.”
Vaisey graced her target with a saccharine smile. “Before or after they tutor Fourth Years in Transfiguration, Muggins?” she asked blithely. “Or, I’m sorry, did your friends not know?” She blinked innocently. The two boys flanking Muggins seemed startled at the news, clearly unsure of its validity but prepared to believe the girl. Scorpius didn’t bother to hide his smirk.
Muggins himself flushed red and reached into his robe. Things were about to get nasty if no one stepped in.
“Muggins,” said Scorpius, drawing his voice out as if he were musing over the word. He set his face in an expression of completely innocent curiosity, as though he was doing nothing more than making polite small talk over tea. “Sounds a lot like Muggle,” he continued, his tone light. “Did your family only come into magic recently?”
All four potential combatants and the three students who would have been caught in the line of fire turned to stare at Scorpius. So did several others around their portion of the long table. He ignored them all to focus on Muggins. He was clearly the ringleader of the three boys, so his cronies would be no threat once he was neutralized. Scorpius didn’t think Vaisey wanted to start a fight; she seemed like someone who wouldn’t instigate, but would be only too willing to jump into the fray after someone else cast the first curse.
Less chance of getting in trouble that way; very sensible. Scorpius approved of the strategy. Better, though, to avoid the fracas at all if such a thing were possible. He smiled overly-pleasantly at the older boy and wrapped his fingers more securely around his wand.
Muggins stood up and leaned across the table, trying to threaten Scorpius with his bulk and proximity. It might have worked better if the large table hadn’t been between the two of them. It would also certainly have been more threatening if in his distraction he hadn’t forgotten that he had been about to draw his wand, and now did not. Still, his voice contained an impressive amount of potential violence when he spoke: “Are you calling me a Mudblood, Malfoy?” Muggins asked.
“Heavens no,” Scorpius replied, his words full of scorn. He could feel his lip curl in a sneer and did nothing to try and stop it. “I would never be so vulgar,” he informed the Fourth Year. He shook his head slowly side to side but didn’t take his eyes from Muggins’s face. “And in front of ladies, too,” Scorpius added in a cold drawl. “Appalling.” Despite his melodramatic tone, Scorpius genuinely thought it was; that sort of language was intolerable in any company, let alone within the environs of a school. His opinion of Muggins would have plummeted if it could have. From the sound of snickering around them, he wasn’t the only one to find this thuggish fellow distasteful.
Someone else who clearly thought along those lines leaned over left-side-minion, the one with the hidden wand, and thumped his fist on the back of Muggins’s skull. “Way to impress the First Years,” the new speaker said. “Now shut it before someone decides to hex your tongue off.” From his tone, by “someone,” he meant he himself. The badge on his chest proclaimed him as a Prefect, and Scorpius wondered why he hadn’t involved himself in the discussion when it had first appeared to be escalating towards magical violence.
Muggins quieted mutinously and shrank in on himself. As was expected of their kind, the minions followed his lead. The Prefect turned to look at Scorpius, Albus, and the girl who had first come to Albus’s defense. “Sorry about that, Vaisey,” he said to her, his voice bored. “Malfoy,” he added with a respectful nod. Scorpius noted that while he nodded at Albus as well, he did not say Potter.
Vaisey shrugged. “Don’t worry about it, Tremblay,” she said easily. “If Muggins wasn’t putting his foot in his mouth we’d have to test him for Polyjuice or a pulse.” Scorpius couldn’t help but grin at that; he also couldn’t wait until he could try brewing potions of such complexity.
Muggins and his minions stood up to a chorus of laughter. They shuffled off to find seats elsewhere, away from their targets-turned-tormentors.
Tremblay smiled. “True,” he said, and reached across the table to shake Scorpius’s hand. “Welcome to Slytherin, anyway,” he said. There was a wry twist to his smile that said that he recognized the less impressive elements of their House as much as he did the nobler ones.
Scorpius didn’t care; this was Slytherin. Whatever faults he might find in some of his Housemates and their attitudes, there was no where else he would rather be than right here. “Thank you,” he said, and meant it. “It’s a pleasure.”
Tremblay then extended his hand to Albus, whose face fell. He shook hands politely, though, and managed a very quiet, “thank you.” He looked utterly miserable. Scorpius remembered what had started the nearly disastrous confrontation and his own heart sank to join his companion’s.
Tremblay grunted noncommittally and turned back to his earlier conversation. “Nicely done, Malfoy,” Vaisey told him and then she, too, turned her attention elsewhere. Gradually the audience of students did likewise, their lack of focus aided by the food that had turned up on the long tables.
Scorpius watched Albus worriedly; there was despair in his new friend’s eyes and Scorpius felt responsible. Albus picked a single chocolate trifle from the feast and put it on his plate but he didn’t eat it. Scorpius spoke quietly, trying to avoid attracting the attention of their fellow students. “Hey,” he said, “I’m sorry.”
Albus shrugged listlessly. “Nah, thanks for telling them off,” he said, missing the point entirely. “It was pretty—”
Scorpius interrupted him. “No, I mean, sorry that you’re here.”
“Oh,” said Albus. “Thanks.” He swallowed, and struggled, and smiled weakly. “Congratulations,” he told Scorpius.
Scorpius couldn’t help but smile, much as he wanted not to; he was still too overjoyed and suffused with relief. Any mention of his placement in Slytherin House would, Scorpius figured, elicit from him overpowering glee for some time to come. He couldn’t wait to write to father and mother. “Thanks,” he said, and would have said more, but he was interrupted by one of his new Housemates.
Rather than be rude and further draw attention to Albus, he turned away to politely reply and was soon caught up in conversation. Scorpius tried to keep one eye on the Potter boy, though; he looked glazed again, and miserable, and more homesick than could possibly be imagined. Scorpius determined to look after Albus as best he could and try to help him come to terms with the sorting. It was hard not to spontaneously cheer with his own joy, but one look at the despair on Albus’s face was enough to sober him.
After all, their positions could so easily have been reversed. Scorpius shuddered and avoided looking at the red and gold table on the other side of the room. He knew that being thus incarnadined was a fate which he could not have borne under any circumstances. Scorpius raised a toast to their House and grinned at his fellow students’ enthusiasm for the subject.
Nothing had ever tasted quite so sweet as that first cool draught of Hogwarts pumpkin juice.
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