"Remember always that you not only have the right to be an individual, you have an obligation to be one."
--- Eleanor Roosevelt.
"Now, Scorpius, remember... your mother and I will write you often, and I am sure your grand-mother will send you some sweets now and again, so you won't get homesick. I'm certain that once you've been sorted and have made some friends in Slytherin House, you'll be too busy having fun with them to be homesick."
"They're going to hate me," the boy whispered, half to himself. He hadn't meant to speak aloud, but his father heard him say it anyway. "They're all going to hate me."
Draco Malfoy knelt in front of his son, tugging on the boy's collar to straighten it. "If they hate you then they aren't worth knowing, are they? Always remember, Scorpius... you're a Malfoy, a part of an old and respected family dating back hundreds of years. Keep your chin up, do your best. Make us proud. That's much more important than what any Gryffindor urchin says about you."
The boy opened his mouth, intending to ask Father where his precious Slytherin House had landed the family, but stopped himself. Draco patted his son on the shoulder and smiled. Scorpius had noticed a while ago that Father's smile, while seeming warm, had an icy quality to it that somehow prevented it from ever travelling to his eyes. Draco Malfoy's eyes were always dull and lifeless, reflecting life and light, like doll's eyes.
"I'll try Father," Scorpius replied. And it was always "Father". Never "Dad", or "Daddy", and never, ever "Papa". Once, he had overheard Michel Zabini call his father "Papa" during a visit to the Malfoy home, and decided to try it out on his own father. The reaction was less salutary than Scorpius had hoped.
The boy's thoughts returned to his imminent trip on the Hogwarts Express. There was no help for it. Father wasn't sympathetic to his concerns. Mother, on the other hand, was very sympathetic. If she had her way, he'd be going to Beauxbatons, or perhaps even the Salem Academy... Merlin, even Durmstrang! Anywhere but Hogwarts, where the Malfoy name wasn't considered "old and respected" but rather "feared and hated". Where Mother had wanted to protect her son from those who despised anyone who carried the name Malfoy, Father had argued it would do no good for Scorpius to hide away for years, only to come back to a hate-filled environment after he finished school. Better to wade his way through such inconsequential gossip now.
If Scorpius had his way, his last name would be anything but Malfoy. He loved his parents, and he knew that they loved him... truly loved him... in their own way. But neither Draco Malfoy nor his wife Astoria were very warm to other people, not even their son, a fact that often caused Scorpius some heartbreak.
The true tragedy was that he never knew why everyone hated the Malfoys. No one, certainly not his father, would explain to Scorpius how it came to be that the Malfoys were pariahs, undesirable even to children and parents who had never met them before.
"You have to forge through it, Scorpius. The people most likely to judge you for the crimes of your grandfather are those least worthy of your notice." Father maintained a constant silence about his own crimes. In his entire life, Scorpius had only been beaten by his father twice. The first time was when he had asked about the tattoo his father wore on his left arm. The other had been after Scorpius asked why the parents of neighbor-children called Draco a "Death Eater", whatever that meant.
Scorpius had learned not to ask so many questions after that.
Mother explained that the Malfoys once were among the richest families in Britain. They'd lost almost everything at the end of the last war. He still didn't know what that meant, because she wouldn't go into any detail. None of the books in the library held any information about the downfall of the family. He had managed to discover that his grandfather, Lucius Malfoy, had died in Azkaban Prison and that this was connected, somehow, to the Malfoys losing it all.
Of course, by that point he'd already stopped asking questions.
"Time to get on the train, my lovely boy." His mother knelt in front of him. She caressed his cheek, then kissed him lightly on the forehead. "Write soon, my beautiful boy. I'm going to miss you." She turned to his father, who stuck out his hand to Scorpius like they were mere acquaintances.
"Good luck, son." Scorpius shook his father's hand, and then watched the man turn and disappear into the mist. His mother stood for a moment, caught in indecision.
"Hurry on to the train, Scorpius. Have fun at school. Write to me, please!" And then she too, was gone.
Scorpius shrugged his shoulders, not quite sure what to do just then. He cocked an eye toward his owl. "Well, Iris, I guess it's just the two of us now." The barn owl opened one eye, blinked, then went back to sleep.
With a deep, depressing sigh Scorpius pulled his baggage cart along the train, looking for a likely compartment. The first several were already full of older students, chattering away about whatever it was they chattered about. They were laughing together, smiling at each other, and just being together in a manner of which Scorpius had little experience. Shortly he'd be expected to interact with the other students as one of them. The thought gave him a case of the willies.
Several students stared at him as he passed. A large percentage accompanied their stares with smirks and comments to their compartment-mates. Some gave him the courtesy of making their sarcastic remarks soft enough that he couldn't hear them. Scorpius kept his eyes lowered enough to avoid the curious gazes of his fellow students, but raised enough to watch for empty compartments.
Others made sure he could hear them. One older girl turned her face away from Scorpius and said to someone nearby, "Oh my... they're letting any piece of gutter trash attend Hogwarts these days!" The sheer venom in the voice caused Scorpius to whip his head up. He didn't know who the girl was, but her face was twisted into a cruel smirk. She looked right back at him. "Go back home, little snake... no one wants you here."
He kept walking.
The next to last compartment was empty. It was a struggle but Scorpius managed to wrestle his school trunk, his suitcase, and his owl's cage up and into the train. "Sorry about all the bumping and shoving, Iris. I have to get you stowed." It took some minutes, but in the end his trunk was snug under his seat, while his owl was tucked into the overhead rack. At long last, the boy sat back and took a deep breath. He was on the train to Hogwarts. Now all he had to do was survive the next seven years.
A few short minutes later, Scorpius felt the train jerk into motion. He watched the city move past his window, turning into the countryside. He pulled one of his schoolbooks from the carefully bound stack, and opened it at random. Reading the procedure for making a potion that cured boils wasn't the most exciting of activities but at least it would help the time pass.
He had made it halfway through the Forgetfulness Potion when the inner door to his compartment slammed open. "You there... you're in our carriage. Get out, now."
The speaker was a large boy, at least four or five years older than Scorpius. Behind the speaker he could see two more boys and a girl. They carried the cruel, heartless grins that only bullies could ever seem to pull off well. From the colour of their tie, Scorpius could tell that they all belonged to Slytherin. His father wore that tie all the time; it couldn't be anything else.
"Didn't you hear me, you pathetic slug? Get out!" The intruder grabbed Scorpius by the arm and shoved him out the door. Scorpius crashed into the far wall, the impact causing him to bite his tongue hard enough to bleed. He rolled over, scrambling to his feet. Scorpius had to jump aside as his books were thrown at him, followed by his trunk, and then his owl, still in its cage.
"Hey! You can't just..." Scorpius began to protest. His words stopped as the ringleader stepped out and slapped the eleven-year-old across the face.
"Can't? Can't? Let me educate you on proper protocol, you ignorant slug!" The older boy pulled Scorpius closer with one hand. With the other hand, the bully grabbed his own robes and thrust a brass pin forward. The badge was embossed with a snake wrapping itself around the letter P. "This is a prefect's badge, Mister Scorpius By-Your-Leave Malfoy." Scorpius looked shocked for a moment and the boy continued. "Oh yes, we know who you are." He pushed Scorpius off, but continued looming. "I'm McCorkindale. My friends are Roberts, Leatherby, and Bletchley. You'd do well to remember our names. This pin" --- again the boy thrust it into Scorpius's face --- "says I can do whatever I sodding want, when I sodding want to do it, to whomever I sodding want to do it to, and there's nothing you can say about it!"
With that final word, he shoved Scorpius backward. The younger boy tripped over his own books and while falling bumped his head on the wall. McCorkindale finished his rant with a sneer. "Now shut it and learn your place." With that, he slammed the door closed. Scorpius could see the bully's friends laughing at him through the windows of the compartment.
Tears began to form. He couldn't help it. He tried not to cry but couldn't stop. Scorpius wiped at his nose and sobbed. Then, still crying, he tried to stack his things as neatly as possible, but gave up halfway through. He propped himself up against the wall, dropped his head into his hands, gritted his teeth, and tried to will himself to stop crying. It didn't work... at least it didn't work well... instead he got angrier, and in his anger he cried that much harder.
He failed to notice that he wasn't alone any longer. "Well, look at this young gentleman here." Scorpius looked up, shocked. An older girl... maybe as old as his tormentors, maybe not... knelt down so that her face was level with his. She was pretty, but not beautiful. Her nose was a bit too short and flat for her face, and her eyes, Scorpius noted, were the same gray color as his own. She looked kind, though, and that kind look made her a refuge to the crying boy.
The girl tucked a lock of her blonde hair behind her ear. "Hello, there. My name's Dahlia... are you okay? Are you hurt?" She smiled at the boy and helped him to his feet.
Scorpius spoke in sobs. Behind the grief and the anger he was a bit embarrassed. He hadn't spoken in that stuttered cry-speak since he was a baby. "I'm... okay..." he said between sniffles. "They threw me... out... of my compartment. Said I... couldn't... do anything... about it." He pointed toward his tormentors and said a word he'd heard Father use once, when Father found his Grand-Mam asleep on the chaise, surrounded by a small collection of firewhisky bottles. The foul word was unfamiliar to his mouth, but somehow made him feel so much better.
The girl, Dahlia, smirked at the obscenity. "Well... we'll see what can be done, alright? Here... let's find you another compartment." She walked him past one full of children, then to another that only had three; two boys and a girl. At this one, Dahlia stopped and nudged him inside. "Make yourself as comfortable as possible. I'll be right back with your things."
The three students already in the compartment looked at him with varying degrees of shock and, in the case of the oldest of the three, disgust. He sat, trying to stay as far away as possible from his new travelling companions. Other than their colouration, the children in the compartment resembled each other enough that it was clear they were siblings, or perhaps first cousins. The girl had thick, almost bushy red hair and was covered in freckles. The older boy was likewise freckled, though not to the same extent. He and the younger boy had messy black hair.
All three stared at Scorpius for a moment before the younger of the boys spoke up. "Aren't you Scorpius Malfoy?"
Scorpius nodded, knowing what would come next. "Yeah."
The older boy's scowl increased. "Slimy git. Slytherin, he's got to be," he muttered. He opened his mouth to say something else but was interrupted by the other boy.
"Shut it, James! He's not a Slytherin yet, just like Rose and I aren't Gryffindors yet." The boy pointed at Scorpius. "For all you know, he could end up in Gryffindor and I could end up in Slytherin, just like you were joking. What if Rose gets sorted into Slytherin? What then? It could happen you know. Are you going to call us slimy gits, then? Huh?"
The girl, Rose, looked confused and shook her head. James, which was apparently the older boy's name, was still simmering. "He's still a slimy git. You heard Uncle Ron's stories about the Malfoys. You know what Uncle George always says..."
The younger boy waved the comment away. "Do us all a favor and stop speaking. Please, James." Turning to Scorpius, he extended a hand. "I'm Albus Potter, but everybody just calls me Al. Look, I'm sorry for my brother here. He's as thick as a stone and he doesn't know when to stop talking." Scorpius saw the younger boy give his brother a venomous look. Then Al indicated the girl. "This is my cousin, Rose."
She held her hand out. "Rose Weasley. Nice to meet you, I suppose." Her smile was thin, yet it seemed genuine.
"Scorpius Malfoy. Thanks for letting me sit here. Sorry to disturb you. If you want, you can just ignore me... most people do."
"Yes, thanks! We'll ignore you then." James stared daggers at Scorpius, as if wishing he'd burst into flame. Scorpius just turned to look through the windows into the passage. That girl Dahlia was ordering three of his tormentors around. From his vantage point, he couldn't see McCorkindale, nor could he tell how it was she had intimidated the other seventh years to collect his possessions. Once everything was up, the seventh years carried his things into his new compartment.
Dahlia was continuing a rant she had started earlier: "And if I hear of you trying any reprisals on this little boy, I'll make you smart for it. Do you understand?" There was a stern quality to Dahlia's voice that made Scorpius believe every syllable. "Now go pick McCorkindale off of the floor and leave the kids alone."
As the bullies left, she smiled at Scorpius. "Don't worry, Mister Malfoy... you're going to be safe here. At least until the end of the year."
"The end of the year?" Scorpius asked.
"Yes, when I finish Hogwarts."
She waved at him, and then started out. She pulled herself back into the compartment. "Oh, and Scorpius, always remember that holding a grudge is a lot like swallowing poison and then waiting for someone else to die of it. It's usually not worth the effort." With those last words, Dahlia disappeared down the passageway.
"So how do you know the Head Girl?" asked James Potter after a long moment.
"I don't," Scorpius said with a shrug. "I mean, really, the only people I know are you three. I didn't even know she was Head Girl." He opened the door and looked into the passage, but his guardian angel had disappeared.
"Really? The only other students you know are us three? But you don't know us. I mean, other than our names, I mean." Albus seemed shocked. "Your dad's all famous and everything. I mean, not as famous maybe as my dad, but everybody knows about the Mal..."
Scorpius looked away, trying not to cry again. His expression soured as he said, "Yeah, everybody knows my family." He wiped his nose on the sleeve of his robes again. "And obviously, everybody knows that I'm just a slimy little git who can't be trusted. Obviously. What else can a Malfoy be, right? Everybody either hates me or is afraid of me. Which means no, I don't know anyone coming here. I've no friends whatsoever, and I know I'm going to hate it at Hogwarts because I'll be all alone for seven years." He sniffed, and then turned to stare at the train's passageway. There was nothing to stare at, so he picked a point at random and just... stared. "I'm going to get sorted into Slytherin, where no one will trust me, and that will cause me to be even more hated than I already am by everybody else in the school who isn't in Slytherin."
Albus and Rose exchanged several glances, while James just glared. Albus broke the silence. "Have... have you ever heard of a man named Sirius Black?" Scorpius shook his head. "Dad... my dad... he's always telling us stories about the people he grew up with and who raised him. This one guy, Sirius Black, was my Dad's godfather. Dad says Sirius Black was brave, and inspirational, and funny, and generous, and one of the kindest people he ever knew. And he was one of the Blacks, and they were the among worst families around. Worse than the Malfoys."
Scorpius snorted at this. He'd been taught his heritage. "My grandmother was a Black."
That didn't even slow Albus, who smiled. "One of my great-grandmothers on my mum's side was a Black. Rose's too. The same great-grandmother... Cedrella Black." Scorpius watched as the other boy thought for a minute. "Now that I think about it, I think my great-great-grandmother on my dad's side of the family was Dorea Black. That makes me and James and our sister Lily Blacks two-times over. Hey!" The other boy's sudden enthusiasm made Scorpius raise his head and stare. "Maybe we're cousins or something!"
Scorpius smirked. "Yeah, maybe we're cousins. But your name isn't Malfoy, it's Potter. I mean, I appreciate the sympathy, but it doesn't really help." Scorpius maintained his steady stare, trying not to look at his travelling companions. The other two were very quiet. They were no doubt working up the courage to throw him off of the train... while it was moving.
He felt a tap on his shoulder. "Um... Scorpius?" It was the girl, Rose. He turned back toward her. "Would you fancy a game of Exploding Snap?"