The next morning Albus awoke early with the others only because he didn’t have much choice; apparently he was the only one not to be excited by his Sorting. He wondered if he was the only one who knew about Slytherin House’s somewhat shady reputation, or if his new Housemates were simply the sort of people who approved of that kind of thing.
He looked around the room; out the windows, at the murky glow of the lake. The sound of water was usually soothing to Albus, or so he had always thought every time his family visited a lake or seashore, but now it felt heavy and oppressive. Something large swam by, casting a shadow across the dormitory walls, and Albus shivered.
He turned away from the lake, instead staring blankly at the tapestries that covered the cool stone walls opposite the windows. It took him quite a while to make sense of the old, ornate designs, but then he figured it out: Slytherin was boasting. Every tapestry showed a witch or wizard from Slytherin House in some moment of victory or glory, some moment of revelation or greatness. They were not all pleasant moments, either.
Albus looked away, feeling sick.
He spent ten minutes sitting on his bed just staring at his robes. He knew that Hogwarts uniforms were spelled to change trim color depending on what House their owners were Sorted into, but when he had opened his trunk he still hadn’t been ready for quite that much green.
Everyone else was grinning and talking and almost ready to go. Albus sighed, grimaced, and threw the robes over his head quickly before he could change his mind. Then he followed Scorpius downstairs only because he could think of nothing else to do. Head down, he trailed his new friend through the Common Room; Scorpius was asking someone directions to the Owlery, and whether or not there was time for him to run up there and send a letter home or would he be late for breakfast if he did? Albus didn’t really listen; he certainly didn’t have a triumphant letter to post.
But he followed Scorpius and Lycoris Nott, because it was either that or hang around the Common Room and his new Housemates without them. Better to stick with the one friend he thought he had than sit here with all these—well, with all these Slytherins.
Of which he was one… Albus pushed the thought aside and tried to pay attention to where they were going instead. Hogwarts, fortunately, really was fascinating, and all three First Year boys were soon gaping at their surroundings. Scorpius kept trying to hurry them along, eager to send his letter home, but as he kept getting distracted as well it was hard for him to keep Albus and Nott moving quickly. Albus was just overwhelmed enough by the castle to forget about being miserable when they climbed the wooden stairs up to the Owlery at last. Hogwarts was immense. Albus hoped Scorpius had been paying attention; he knew he’d never be able to find the way back.
Albus stopped near the edge of the large, feather-filled room. There were a few other students in different robes there, all of them short enough to be First Years, all of them no doubt excitedly owling their parents just like Scorpius and Nott were. Albus shrunk towards the corner, hoping that none of them were Rose. Or worse, James. Amidst the flurry of students, birds, feathers, and hooting, it was hard to make out any details, and Albus remained mercifully unrecognized as he hurried to follow Scorpius and Nott back down to the main part of the castle.
He didn’t notice Scorpius shooting him concerned looks, as if in his own excitement the other boy had quite forgotten Albus’s distress until, upon arriving at the Owlery, he had seen that Albus had no letter of his own and then had recalled their discussion on the train ride yesterday.
Now Scorpius watched Albus with a pained look on his face where moments ago relieved joy had beamed. He seemed to regret his own exuberance, or at least the misery that he must have caused Albus with its expression. Scorpius searched for something to say and found nothing at all.
Nott remained steadily oblivious, his own smile still broad. He was a true Pureblood in Slytherin House, like his father and his father before him, and life for Lycoris was good, elder brother or no elder brother.
Albus was not so lucky. As they crossed the threshold of the Great Hall he saw James standing on the Gryffindor table, waving a pumpkin muffin in some kind of reenactment to the amusement of his fellow Lions. Albus dropped his gaze to the floor and dodged to the other side of Scorpius. He made it past the Gryffindor table unnoticed and slunk onto a bench along the table filled with green-trimmed students. Albus piled food on his plate because if he was eating, he could pretend to be focused on that, and maybe no one would notice or speak to him.
Every bite tasted like sawdust on his tongue.
Their first class of the day was, mercifully, Transfiguration, which was inside the halls of Hogwarts. Albus would not have to venture outside to the greenhouses or near the edge of the forest and was thus unlikely to encounter Professors Longbottom or Hagrid, although both those trials loomed inevitably. Albus was in no way ready to face any professors that he considered family, but he knew that he was going to soon have to.
It had never before occurred to him that there could be a downside to having so many familiar faces at Hogwarts.
Fortunately Professor Tobias Sixsmith wasn’t one of them, and Albus could slink into his classroom amidst the greenish sea of his Housemates in relative anonymity. Then the Hufflepuffs filed in as well—they were to have Transfiguration together, Albus remembered belatedly—and while no one there was familiar either, a few of them pointed and whispered when they caught sight of Albus. He shrunk down in his seat, wishing that Scorpius was taller. The dainty blond boy barely came up to Albus’s nose, which made him rather difficult to hide behind.
One of the girls in his House whose name he did not know rushed over to a Hufflepuff boy who looked so much like her that they had to be related. They sat at desks just off to the side of the two that he and Scorpius had claimed and, staring unblinkingly at Albus, they began to whisper to one another furiously. Albus felt his face flushing and tried to ignore them.
Scorpius glanced over at them and his face curled scornfully. “Gossips,” he muttered coldly. “How appalling.” Albus couldn’t help but grin at the haughty disgust in his friend’s voice. The siblings caught sight of Scorpius’s scathing expression and quickly looked away. They pulled out their Transfiguration books and pretended to be engrossed.
Before Albus could say anything to Scor, the Transfiguration Professor swept into the room. He was a tall, slightly broad fellow—although everyone looks rather tall when you’re eleven, so Albus might have been misestimating his height, he supposed—with gray-streaked brown hair. He had a short, close-cropped beard and dark brown eyes that snapped at the class over thin glasses. An oddly jagged scar ran down the left side of his face and neck, disappearing beneath the high collar of his robes.
“Sit down and be quiet, please,” Professor Sixsmith said even though almost everyone had already fallen silent upon his entrance. His voice was deceptively mild but somehow it seemed to promise that anyone choosing to disobey would regret their brashness. Albus gulped and noticed Scorpius shrink a little beside him.
Sixsmith studied the room in silence, his dark eyes lingering a little on each student’s face. Albus squirmed under the scrutiny and tried to look like he was neither noisy nor stupid. He had a feeling he wasn’t pulling it off very well. Finally the professor seemed satisfied with his inspection. He turned back to face the front of the room but none of the students dared to whisper behind his back. “Transfiguration is one of the most difficult and specific types of magic,” he began. As he spoke, words appeared on the blackboard written in a firm, neat hand. “You are not conjuring from nothing or mixing parts together; you are taking an existing, fully-realized object or creature and turning it wholly into something else. You can even give an inanimate object a semblance of artificial life.”
He turned to face the class, his expression stern. “As such, it is a delicate and often dangerous bit of spellwork, and those who enter into Transfiguration haphazardly or on a whim often find nothing but regret. This will not be happening in my classes,” he said quietly, and Albus swallowed. Sixsmith continued: “You will learn the theory behind Transfiguration until I am satisfied that you understand it. Only then will you engage in practical demonstrations of magic. I want you all to take out your wands,” he told them, and the class scrambled to pull their shiny new wands out of their robes. Excitement traveled through the students like a quiet murmur although it was tempered with confusion; hadn't he just been telling them that they wouldn't be doing magic right away?
“Examine them closely,” the professor commanded, and the class obeyed eagerly. They were all anxious to start using their wands, brand new and beautiful and a sign of impending adulthood clutched in nervous, sweaty hands. “Now, put them away,” Sixsmith said. Sad and startled faces looked up at him in bewilderment. “That will be the last time you see those in this room for at least a week, longer if you disappoint me.” He waited while the students returned their wands to their robes and bags, most of them quite reluctantly. Albus shoved his back into the pocket of his robe quickly; he didn't want the stern teacher to think that he was dallying or thinking about disobeying.
Professor Sixsmith launched into a complex lecture then, and intricate drawings appeared on the board next to his words. Everyone fumbled for their quills and began writing frantically; when a board was filled, it would wipe clean to create space for the next set of notes and no one wanted to miss anything, not when permission to actually use magic might be denied them based on their inability to memorize everything presented today. Eventually Sixsmith came to the end of his lecture with another admonishment about the dangerous of rash Transfiguration. He returned to his desk and sat reading a very old looking book while the students worked on copying down the diagrams he’d drawn for them.
For a while there was nothing but the sound of quills scratching. One of his legs was starting to fall asleep so Albus shifted potions then winced uncomfortably; he had put his wand away too hurriedly and now it was digging painfully into his side. He glanced up at the professor but Sixsmith seemed absorbed in his book and anyway, he wasn’t going to do any magic. Albus set down his quill carefully so he wouldn’t drip ink anywhere and pulled out his wand. He tugged on his robes, trying to rearrange them so that he could put it away comfortably, but he was distracted by a muffled giggle.
Albus glanced over his shoulder and saw the cross-house twins staring at him again. They were smothering laughter into their sleeves. Albus frowned at them but it didn’t seem to have any effect. The Slytherin girl smirked back then pulled her face into an exaggerated pout. She ran her fingers down her cheeks, imitating tears. Albus felt his face grow red. The Hufflepuff boy grinned and copied his sister. A small flare of red sparks shot out the tip of the wand Albus had forgotten he was still holding. He quickly turned back around and shoved it beneath his robes but it was too late. Professor Sixsmith was already there in front of Albus’s desk, scowling down like some terrible great statue, his frown carved deep and heavy on his scarred face. Albus swallowed, eyes wide.
“Mr. Potter,” the professor said, and Albus shrank down in his seat. “Do you have a problem with your hearing?”
“No, sir,” Albus said quietly.
“Then I suggest you develop the ability to listen to orders,” Sixsmith said coldly.
Albus gulped and nodded and tried to explain but the Transfiguration Professor cut him off. “No excuses, Mr. Potter, no special allowances,” he said. “I will expect at least four inches on my desk by the end of the week detailing the importance of the theory behind Transfiguration magic. Include at least two examples of those foolish enough to rush into spellwork before they achieved proper background understanding and what difficulties they caused themselves.”
“But I didn’t—” Albus began.
“Don’t lie to me,” Sixsmith snarled. “I do not tolerate hijinks in this class and if I catch you at them again I will have you removed. Five points from Slytherin.”
Albus gaped, horrified, but Professor Sixsmith had already swept away with one last glare. A mutinous whisper hissed through the room but none of the green-clad students dared protest aloud. “Not fair, a Potter losing points for us,” Albus thought he heard someone mutter, but it might have just been his imagination. Sixsmith disappeared into the back of the room and bent down to answer a Hufflepuff’s quiet question.
Albus, his vision swimming, fought back tears. Five points? But he hadn’t even meant to do anything! Sixsmith hadn’t let him explain! His Housemates already seemed cross to have him amongst them, and now he had lost them five points in the very first class of his first day? He turned around to glare at the siblings, who dissolved in quiet laughter. Albus sighed and dropped his head onto his desk, not even caring if he smudged his incomplete drawing.
He lay there listlessly until the bell chimed to signal the end of class. Sixsmith started and looked around the room, seemingly annoyed, then shrugged. “Study your notes and read the first chapter of your textbook,” he told the students as they hurried to shove their belongings back into their bags. “I expect you to be able to participate intelligently in discussion next class. Dismissed.”
Albus dragged himself to his feet with a heavy sigh and started shoving his books into his bag. His notes were terribly smudged, he’d never finished writing down everything, and somehow his day was worse now than when it had started and this morning that hadn’t seemed possible. Maybe Scorpius would let him copy from his notes later.
But Scorpius was already up and gone, shooting away from the desks so fast that he forgot to take his ink bottle and quill with him. The small, pale boy hurried off, obviously eager to distance himself from the out-of-place idiot who had just cost them five points and earned the ire of a professor that it was so apparently a bad idea to cross. Albus’s heart dropped all the way into his shoes and kept on going. He’d lost the one friend he had and now he was in Slytherin all alone.
Scorpius reached the green-and-yellow-clad siblings and stopped. They turned to look at him and he held out a hand. “Scorpius Malfoy,” he introduced himself politely.
They both nodded back, a little bemused, but shook his hand in turn. “Maureen Stebbins,” said the girl. She jerked her head towards the boy standing next to her. “My brother, Matthew.”
“How do you do?” Matthew said, not entirely naturally; probably some sort of parental figure had drilled him on proper manners before allowing him to head for school.
Scorpius ignored him, turning back to Maureen. The pleasant expression on his face was gone and his grey eyes brimmed with scorn. “Well done,” he sneered, his voice like ice. “That’s five points down and the year’s barely started. Clearly you’re going to be quite the credit to our House, Miss Stebbins. Thanks.”
They both gaped at him and Matthew scowled, his hands drawing into fists. “Don’t talk to my sister like that,” he snapped. “Your stupid friend’s the one that—”
Scorpius raised a chilly eyebrow. “I’m sorry,” he drawled, “did I give some indication that I felt like chatting with you?” Matthew fell silent so fast that his jaw clicked when it shut. He was a good head taller than the Slytherin boy, but somehow Scorpius had shut the Hufflepuff up with a single look. “Why don’t you find your way back to your fellow badgers,” he suggested dismissively. “I’m sure there’s someone there willing to tolerate your presence. Hufflepuffs are supposed to be a patient lot, aren’t they?”
Not waiting for a response Scorpius looked back to Maureen, her brother no longer relevant to him. His sneer deepened. “And you had best learn some House loyalty yourself,” he told the young witch sternly. “One doesn’t have to be a Ravenclaw to be smart enough to realize that getting a Housemate into trouble in front of a professor isn’t a very good way to endear oneself to the rest of us.” His frosty expression made it quite clear what he wasn’t saying: Slytherins weren’t known for being forgiving, and Malfoy was obviously going to spin this incident as Maureen’s fault. He smirked unpleasantly, nodded at the stuttering Stebbins twins, and turned on his heel to saunter casually back over to where Albus stood watching, mouth agape.
The Slyther-puff twins caught each other’s arms and hurried away, each taking it in turn to shoot dark looks at Malfoy’s back as they went.
“Wow,” said Albus. “That was…wow. Thanks.”
“Hmm?” said Scorpius, tucking his reclaimed quill and ink bottle carefully into his bag. “Oh, don’t worry about it,” he said dismissively. “It was really nothing.”
Albus shook his head. “Well, thank you,” he repeated firmly.
Scorpius nodded distractedly and fastened the straps of his bag. “You have ink on your face,” he pointed out helpfully.
Albus scowled and scrubbed blindly at his whole head with his sleeve, thankful that their robes were black and the smears wouldn’t show. Scorpius watched in silent amusement for a minute then shook his head and pushed Albus’s arm out of the way. He pulled a cloth handkerchief from his pocket—who carried those anymore? Albuswondered—and reached up to wipe away the ink that Albus apparently couldn’t manage to remove. “There,” Scorpius said. “You’re presentable again.” He rolled his eyes and returned the stained handkerchief to his robes. “Now come on,” he continued, slinging his bag onto his shoulder. “We’ll be late for our next class if we don’t hurry it up.”
Albus grabbed his own things, still rubbing at his nose in case any ink had escaped his friend’s attention, and trailed after the shorter boy. He grimaced and hoped that History of Magic would go better. At least, from all accounts, Binns was just boring and rarely seemed to even notice that he had students, which Albus hoped meant that he wasn’t much for taking points. Five down was quite enough to be getting on with for one day, Albus figured.
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