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Ignite by Slide
Chapter 1 : Steam Out
 
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 9


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It all happened because of one detention. And that one 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 so 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 potentially been considered stalking and her dad was a scary Auror.

But mostly because he had better things to do.

And he was immensely glad when the holidays came to an end 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 actually wanted to bring his Potions books because he wasn’t sure if he actually wanted to take a Potions NEWT.

He liked Potions. But his father was particularly keen he continue to study it. So that was a severe mark against it.

So he’d brought the books anyway and decided he could think about it later, and was just about regretting it as he trundled through the hidden passageway onto Platform Nine and Three-Quarters with his leg already covered in bruises from the heavy trunk bashing into 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 frantic in bidding 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 everyone making ready for the departure of the Hogwarts Express upon another start of another school year.

Scorpius, for once, ignored most of the people around him as he wound his way down the platform, entirely prepared to use his heavy trunk as a battering ram. It was the only way to make progress through the chaos, even if 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.

Thunk.

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

‘Stupid or stupider, Malfoy?’

Scorpius scowled as he wrestled his trunk back under control and looked up - and up - to meet the gaze of the broad figure whose luggage he’d collided with. ‘What?’

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

Hufflepuffs hunted in packs.

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

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

Davies, in the Hufflepuff pack, failed to suppress a snort of amusement. Flynn looked over his shoulder to give him a withering look before he fixed his glare back on Scorpius. ‘You think you’re pretty funny, don’t you, Malfoy.’

This had just become 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 thought she was a nice girl. Good sense of humour. Cracking legs. He wondered if Davies had ever seen them. ‘Sod off, Malfoy,’ he snapped.

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

Fortune smiled down to save him from himself as another shadow fell upon them, the only one that could actually rival Hector Flynn’s size. A heavy, strong hand landed on Scorpius’ shoulder, and if he hadn’t known better he’d have been quite surprised at the mellow, polite voice that accompanied it.

‘Is there something wrong, Scorp?’

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

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

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

‘Had a great time, thanks.’ Al gave his usual warm, genuine smile, as if there was absolutely no tension in the air. ‘Prague was fantastic. Really interesting; so many people. It’s -’

‘He doesn’t actually 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 listen about Prague, and worried that he’d upset Albus.

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

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

‘What happened?’ asked Al, rather weary, 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 said indignantly, then waved a dismissive hand. ‘Don’t answer that.’

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

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

‘That’s only because 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 pretty much 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 he knew it was best to not talk about antagonising the extended Potter-Weasley clan in front of them. 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 Al, and by now Lily - looked about as unsure of how to deal with him as he was to deal with them. They’d barely spoken, since 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 Mrs Potter knew how to put on a friendly game face, Mister Potter looked downright taken aback by his presence, even if he extended a hand to shake. ‘Scorpius,’ he said, and blinked. ‘You’re here on your own?’

‘Oh, yeah.’ Scorpius shrugged dismissively 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.’ Mister Potter shoved his hands into his pockets, seeming perturbed. He had the same worried, thoughtful sort of face as his son, even if Al had several inches of height on him and was a good deal broader. Scorpius had wondered where burly Albus had got it the hell 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 just 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 Al 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 definitely don’t respond to “that great lug”,’ said Albus mildly. ‘And I am not a sidekick.’

Trusty sidekick. But I swear you’ve grown about 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 which the smaller boy was still utterly incapable of escaping from.

‘Sidekick rebellion! Sidekick rebellion!’

‘You can say you’re sorry,’ said Al, holding Scorpius in place with little effort despite the flailing and waving and completely futile efforts to break free.

‘You’ve never made me apologise for anything before, Al; I don’t see why I’ll start now,’ Scorpius pointed out, the world mostly the blacks and greys of Albus’ clothing before him. Mrs Potter 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 Mister Potter. ‘You’ll damage the guitar.’

‘Only if you keep struggling.’

‘Oh, it’s a guitar,’ Mrs Potter said, now faced with the challenge of holding a conversation with Scorpius while he was being wrestled by her son. ‘I did wonder.’

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

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

He’d know Rose Weasley’s voice anywhere, and even if he couldn’t see her, 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.’

Mister Potter made a slightly 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 melodramatically. 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.

Mrs Weasley was looking a bit 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 impatiently, and gave Scorpius the kind of look one reserved normally for dirt that didn’t even 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 derisively.

‘You’d better not let Captain No-Neck hear that tone in your voice, Weasley; you’ll break his heart into tiny black pieces,’ said Scorpius, and fancied he spotted a twitch on Mister Weasley’s lips at his address of Flynn. He wasn’t especially 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,’ interrupted Al, voice going serious. ‘And he was looking to pick a fight, Rose.’

‘Because Malfoy is pure as the driven snow.’

Scorpius flinched as Al and Rose, different as cousins could possibly be while still being friends, faced off against one another. He knew that Albus legitimately 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. Legitimately putting 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, then 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 to sweep off for a dramatic exit, ‘but perhaps you should ask Miranda if she is!’

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

Al sighed, and flipped open the card Scorpius had written 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 written so painstakingly in the card. It was always a good move to try to keep affections fresh over the summer, and he’d thought 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 the ribbon off the box. ‘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 Mister Weasley, apprehensive.

‘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 tossing her head again and 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,’ she said imperiously.

‘What? Oh, yeah.’ Al shoved a handful of chocolate in his mouth, and Scorpius threw Mrs Potter 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 Al 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 around awkwardly.

‘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 Mister Potter 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.

Mister Potter picked up the other end of the trunk and suddenly, Scorpius didn’t have so much trouble making it to the train. Apparently a war hero made for a better battering ram.

‘I know sixth year can be difficult,’ Mister Potter 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, rather than frowning suspiciously. ‘Yeah, Al’s great. If he needs me, I’m there.’

‘Good.’ He made the most of the interruption that was flicking his wand to Levitate 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 Mister Potter. ‘What do you think I’m going to need?’

‘I don’t know.’ He, too, seemed cautious, but was by now looking rather more earnest. ‘But I know what it’s like to not have family to see you off on the train.’

This took Scorpius completely 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.’

Mister Potter looked like he was going to say more, but instead hopped off onto the platform. ‘Then I’ll wish you a good year, Scorpius,’ he said, and lifted a hand in farewell as the train began to pull 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; Mrs Potter 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 rest of the crowd of students had swarmed past him, and as he jerked from his reverie with a curse 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 so much as give the time of day.

‘Hey, Scorpius!’

Of course, that was Timothy Warwick, first - no, now second - year in Slytherin. It wasn’t that Scorpius wasn’t pleased to see him, but he wasn’t exactly the company he’d been seeking while he waited for Albus.

‘Hey, Tim.’ Scorpius still summoned a bold grin, and took advantage of the encounter to put his trunk down in the corridor as a break. ‘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 lightly, jovially 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.

Tim scowled. ‘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 reassured the younger boy, then he reached into his trunk. ‘But if you want to really ingratiate yourself with the rest of the team, be a good fellow and stick these dungbombs in Hector Flynn’s luggage.’

Tim’s little face lit up at the prospect and, satisfied with a job well done, Scorpius grabbed his trunk and trundled along to continue the search for a compartment he could sit in without wanting to kill himself.

In the end there was only one choice, and he seriously 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 finally accepted his situation and rapped cautiously on the door before coming in.

‘Anyone else sat in here?’

It was a stupid question, and Scorpius knew it. Of course nobody else was sat in there. Nobody would share a compartment with Methuselah Jones unless they had absolutely 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 likely 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’ own 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 hell of 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 most artfully ruffled and that, if he had to wear a white shirt in the school 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 themselves on Scorpius and smoldered with quiet indignation at being torn from the latest copy of Alchemist’s Monthly. ‘Are you going to play your infernal music?’

‘Are you going to try to talk to me about what you’re reading?’

Jones inclined his head and removed his feet from the bench opposite. Heart sinking, Scorpius let himself in, hauling his trunk into the luggage rack and sadly putting 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 trip 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 precious little new to be seen, and while his thoughts could occupy him for a little while, it wasn’t likely to last until Albus got back.

‘I bet you’ve chosen all of your NEWTs already,’ he said, trying to break the silence.

Methuselah Jones lowered his magazine slowly, disapprovingly. ‘Charms. Transfiguration. Potions. Herbology. Ancient Runes. Arithmancy.’ He rattled them off quickly - though he always spoke quickly - as if he wanted the discussion over and done with.

‘No Defence Against the Dark Arts?’ Scorpius was surprised.

‘There is nothing in that course which is not covered in theory and in essentials by Charms and Transfiguration,’ said Jones. ‘Applying one’s self to any other form of magic and perfecting one’s mental discipline and precise wandwork should transfer to sufficient strength in magical conflict should such a dangerous occasion arise. Not to mention that the course is entirely unnecessary with sightings of Dark Wizards or Dark Beings at a record low.’

‘You got hammered on the practical, huh?’

‘Irrelevant.’ Jones jerked the magazine up peevishly. ‘My marks were still top of the year in every OWL subject, including Defence Against the Dark Arts.’

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 had ever beaten him were in various practical tests, most especially in Defence, and Scorpius had laughed so hard he’d thought he’d rupture something when Albus had then gone on to beat them both in such practical exams.

‘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.’

‘Yes. That’s what I mean. I saw Adeline Turner. Are there going to be further reprisals? If so, I suggest you seek another compartment.’

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

‘That doesn’t mean there won’t be others,’ said Methuselah Jones disapprovingly, 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 in the next one over, finally briefing their seventh-year colleagues on their duties for the train in specific and the year in general, and Al didn’t think it sounded any more exciting another time around.

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

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

‘Yeah.’ Rose looked down at hers, still in its box, and deftly tugged the card out without releasing the gently ribbeting confectionery. She made a face. ‘You know, when I was little, it was cool my parents were on these. But over the past few years, whenever I pull out a card with Mum on it I just feel judged.’ The card went in the first bin they passed as they wandered the train corridors. ‘It didn’t hurt you to sit in there for ten minutes, anyway, Al.’

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

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

Al 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 will defend him, and then we’ll just end up in a row.’

Rose looked at his stubborn expression and sighed. ‘Fine. But if he’s gone and upset Hector then that’s absolutely not my problem, and I don’t want to have you come 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, though,’ said Albus staunchly. ‘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 Al’s eyes, but he let out a deep, calming breath. If he could help it, Albus would never say anything in anger. Everything had to be calm, well-measured - which was just frustrating for everyone else. ‘I don’t like him, Rose, I really don’t,’ he said at last. ‘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.’ Al 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,’ Albus pointed out.

‘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,’ said Al calmly. ‘And we’ve had this conversation over and over.’

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

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

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

Most people stopped when Rose Weasley called their name, usually with a sinking sense of guilt and a conviction that they’d done something wrong. Her counterpart in Gryffindor sixth-year prefecting, Matthias Doyle, was no exception, and he froze in the door to their carriage. ‘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?’ Matthias gave an uneasy smile. It was one thing for Rose to mock her cousin and his friend, but most people were wary of embarking on what looked rather like a family conflict. ‘Sorry. He’s two carriages back, in 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 back from that with Hestia and the others.’

They headed down the train. It was early enough on the trip that most people were happy to stay in their compartments, catching up on all they’d missed in the summer, enthusing together. Soon enough they’d start wandering to go find other, broader acquaintances 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 just a shame you only really know him through his rows with Malfoy, and through Quidditch. He’s not all that bad.’

‘I’ll trust your judgement, Rose.’ Al gave a pleased little 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 Al was disapproving of her; now she might stand a chance at getting through the trip to Hogwarts without an aching, nagging sense of self-doubt.

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

‘Though between you and me he’s not half as good a kisser as Matthias,’ said Rose, with a sudden burst of that old sense of companionable sharing she’d missed since she and her cousin had been Sorted into different Houses - right as Albus opened the door into the compartment, and then 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. Al, stricken with embarrassment at his error, pulled the door to, but Scorpius slammed against the glass, pressed up like a mad thing.

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

‘I heard that!’ Scorpius hissed through the gap in the door. ‘I totally heard -’

‘You heard nothing,’ Rose snapped, pointing accusingly at him.

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

‘Just - just go,’ she said, waving her hands in the air.

Albus opened the compartment door to slip in, but Scorpius stayed in the doorway, his 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 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,’ he said, expression going sombre, though she didn’t believe it for a moment. ‘My lips are sealed.’

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

‘Oh! Weasley -’

He probably wasn’t actually going to bellow the revelation down the corridor. He probably wasn’t that cruel, and Albus would almost certainly stop him. He was almost certainly just trying to make her panic with the thought that he would, right before he said something entirely innocent and then grinned at having successfully wound 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 that had been a Head Boy’s bribe, which she pulled from the box and threw at him.

It arced through the air, twirling and spinning, to land on Scorpius’ face - and, with a low ribbet, stuck on.

He clearly hadn’t been expecting that and reeled back, arms flailing, to crash into the compartment wall, completely taken aback for the few seconds it took him to realise just what had landed on his face. But the sight and spectacle had 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.


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