Scorpius studied his cards carefully. Exploding Snap was, he knew, a game based on the luck of the draw, but it never hurt to pay attention. He watched as Albus Potter put down a seven... no luck there at all. With surprising haste, Rose Weasley countered with a four. This still didn't help Scorpius, either, but the fact that she put it down so quickly told Scorpius that she was getting careless, at least according to all those bridge lessons he had been forced to sit through, courtesy of his mother. He turned over his next card and laid it on the pile.
It was another four.
Scorpius called out, "SNAP!" So did Rose and Albus. The three children looked at each other for a moment, grinning as they all waited for one of the other two to admit defeat. But no one backed off.
Rose cleared her throat. "I do believe I won the pile. I called first," she said.
"You did not!" Albus interjected. "I did! Those cards are mine!"
Scorpius scowled at the other two children for a moment. "I think I called first," he put in. Scorpius straightened in his seat and affected the clipped, phony Received Standard accent his father used all the time. "But I'll concede the win to the lady. Beautiful maiden, you may claim your prize, along with my dearest regard!" With that, he gave Rose the best fancy, overplayed half-bow that he could while sitting on a train-carriage bench.
His new friends... and it came as something of a shock to Scorpius to realize how quickly he had come to associate Albus and Rose with friendship... giggled. After a moment, Albus waved the pile to Rose, who just smiled and scooped up the cards. James, who had been reading during the game, spoke up. "Where'd you learn to do that? That posh accent, I mean," he asked with a wide grin. "Can you teach it to me?"
Scorpius shrugged. "Three years of comportment lessons. My dad likes to pretend we don't live out in the country, but I don't see the big deal," he said in his normal Wiltshire lilt. "I've seen him standing in front of a mirror, talking like a wireless announcer." He slipped back into the RP accent to say, "A Malfoy presents himself as a proper gentleman, Scorpius. There is no excuse for acting like the commons..."
"Sounds like your dad has a real stick up his bum..." opined James. "Who'd want to be all stuck up all the time?"
Before Scorpius could reply, Rose leaned as far over as she could and punched James in the arm. "That's for being a git."
James was still rubbing the sting out of his arm when she leaned over and did it again. "And that's for calling me Rosie. Only my Dad calls me Rosie."
"Okay, okay... just don't hit me anymore. I'm sorry," James relented.
Rose sat back. "I'll have you know that my Mum had a teacher in to teach me and Hugo comportment, too, James. It's just manners. How to sit up straight, and not say things wrong, and which fork to use for dinner." She leaned in on James. "You could do with learning some, you know."
Scorpius watched the emotions crawl across the faces of James Potter and his new friend Albus. He fought the urge to withdraw again, to hide himself from the prejudices that came with being his father's son. After a moment, though, he set his jaw and locked his gaze on James, almost daring the older boy to say something else.
James caught the gaze and stared back for a moment. "Look, I didn't mean anything by ---"
The compartment door opened before James could finish. It was Dahlia. The Head Girl now wore her school robes, and had put on a blue-and-bronze-striped tie. Scorpius also noticed that her hair was different; where it hung to the middle of her back before, now it fell in curls and ringlets to only her shoulders. "All right here, everyone?" Everyone in the compartment nodded. "Good... we're almost to Hogsmeade Station. Time to put on your robes!"
Out of nowhere, James said, "Hello, Dahlia! How are you doing? I hope your ride's been pleasant!" The boy's voice was louder than necessary, and had a strange component to it.
"Oh, hello... um... Potter, was it? It's been fine, yes." Dahlia smiled uncomfortably back at James. She looked at the three first years with a strange expression. "I'll be back in a few to make sure you're ready. So... robes! Chop-chop!"
Albus shook his head and chuckled while Rose just gawked at her older cousin. It was clear that Scorpius had missed something. "What's funny, Albus?"
"James is sweet on that girl," Albus said. He chuckled a moment. "I am so going to tell Mum and Dad about this."
"I AM NOT! I just... she's... she's nice, you know?" James snapped back. "And if you tell Mum and Dad I am so going to thump you right on the noggin!" The older boy caught himself and said, "I'm sure I don't know what you mean. She's the Head Girl, and I happen to admire her for her accomplishments so far in that position."
Albus managed to wait until James finished speaking before he started to snicker. In short order, Rose and Scorpius joined Albus in his merriment.
James just sulked.
The younger boys were still laughing as they left the compartment to allow Rose time to don her school robes.
As the train coasted to a stop, the new students got their first look at Hogsmeade Station. The station itself was warm and comforting, with regularly-placed torches spilling their light in overlapping circles that pushed back the night. Outside, the paths were equally well-lit, and carefully tended flower beds lined the walks.
A booming voice was calling out, "Firs' years! Firs' years over here!" somewhere toward the far end of the station. Rose, Scorpius, and Albus followed James, not really sure where to go or what to do. Sure, their parents had described things vaguely, but the actual experience was overwhelming their expectations. The older students all bustled along, hurrying to get back to school. The first years, on the other hand, seemed to wander around for a bit, taking everything in.
Dirt paths led away to a grove of trees, while a path of white cobblestones curved down to the shore of a dark-watered lake. "All right, then." James had come to a stop. "Al, you and your friends go there, to Hagrid. He'll take you to the boats." He pointed them away. They could make out the gigantic man now, walking toward them. "I get to take the carriages this year. I'll see you later, after you get sorted into Gryffindor."
"What happened to my being sorted in Slytherin?" Albus asked, the sarcasm dripping from his tongue.
James smiled at his younger sibling. "Nah... only joking. You're a Potter. You'll be in Gryffindor for sure. And even if being a Potter isn't enough, you're also a Weasley, remember? There's only been one Weasley not sorted into Gryffindor in the past... I don't know... dozen generations, and there's never been a Potter not in Gryffindor ever. So don't worry. You'll do fine." James chucked his brother on the arm, and then walked off. "Enjoy the boat ride!"
"Well, now... Littl' Albus!" Hagrid's booming voice sounded closer than the trio expected and they all jumped. "Sorry 'bout that. Didn't mean to scare ya. It's good to see you, Al... and little Rose as well! Good to see you again, o'course. An' who's your little frien'?"
"Hagrid... I mean Professor Hagrid." The huge man smiled at Albus's correction. Even after twenty years of teaching, it was obvious to everyone who knew him that the large man still gained a pleasant thrill at the thought of being a Hogwarts professor. "This is my friend, Scorpius Malfoy. Scorpius, this is Professor Hagrid. He teaches Care Of Magical Creatures, and is one of my dad's closest friends! They've known each other forever."
"That I have, that I have." Hagrid leaned down and offered his hand to Scorpius. "So... Malfoy, eh? Your dad would be Draco Malfoy, then?" The half-giant's handshake engulfed the younger boy's hand, but it was gentle and friendly. Scorpius forced himself to relax from the first scare of Hagrid's sudden greeting. The large man seemed to study him for a moment before releasing Scorpius's hand. "Well... well... I'm sure a young gentleman like yerself won't have any troubles at Hogwarts. Not if you're smart eno' to befrien' a Potter on yer firs' day."
Hagrid straightened and called out, "A'right now... all firs' years, follow me t'the boats. This way... follow me..." He led the first years down to a pebble-strewn beach and the white, wooden boats that would take them across the black lake and to their new school. Each boat had a lantern hanging from its prow, bringing a little illumination to the gloom of the lake.
Scorpius grinned as he took it all in. He couldn't believe he was at Hogwarts at last. He couldn't stop himself from staring at everything. Scorpius turned to Albus, to share his feeling of excitement, but his friend had stopped moving. Albus Potter was simply stared into the sky.
Worried, Scorpius followed his friend's gaze and looked to the stars. The darkness of the lake allowed the stars to shine clear, but it was just the stars. "Rose," he asked. "What's the matter with Al? He's just kind of... stopped in place."
Rose looked up. "Oh my. That's pretty." She smiled at the confused look on Scorpius's face. "Didn't you say you grew up in the country?"
"Yeah... we have a house near Salisbury, in Wiltshire. Used to be a farm, though we don't... you know... farm. Why? What does it matter?"
"Al's a city boy. He grew up in Islington. Have you ever been to London? At night you can't see the stars, there's so much light and so many people. I don't think Al's seen the sky like that before in his entire life. My family lives in Sidmouth, in Devon. It's a small town, so we can still see the stars." She tugged on her cousin's sleeve. "Albus... Albus! Come on!" Rose's voice broke Albus from his reverie.
Hagrid waved the children forward. "No more then four t'a boat, now. No more then four t'a boat. Thas' it, now. In yeh go." Albus, Rose, and Scorpius all scrambled into one of the craft. A pretty black girl, who introduced herself as Bianca Anderson, joined them.
"My dad told me that the lake has merpeople in it, and a giant squid, and Grindylows," babbled Bianca, clearly nervous. She settled on Scorpius as her 'conversational partner'. "He says that in his seventh year they had some sort of contest and some students had to go swimming to find things down there despite the monsters. Do you think we'll ever have to go swimming down into the water? I'm don't really swim, you see, and I think I'd not do very well at all." She spared a glance at Scorpius, and then continued. "I hope we don't have to actually do any magic to prove we belong here. I haven't done much magic. You know, the usual kid's stuff -- making your toys float and bouncing your baby sister down the hall -- nothing flashy like my parents can do, of course. Is that the giant squid over there? No. Just a branch or something floating in the water. Too bad. I think I might like to see the giant squid. I haven't actually ever seen one before you see. Have either of you seen one? Me neither. I wonder what the teachers...."
Albus leaned toward Rose and whispered, "Sad, really... such a shy, reserved girl. We're going to have to work to draw her out."
"You reckon so?"
Scorpius, on the other hand, looked stricken. With his eyes alone, he signaled for help several times, which caused Rose to actually laugh out loud. She covered herself by turning the laugh into a cough, covering her smile with a hand.
"Oh my," said Bianca. "Are you all right?"
Rose cleared he throat but couldn't bring herself to speak.
"She's fine," Albus said.
"That Hagrid fellow... is he an ogre or something? Perhaps a part troll? My parents never said anything about an ogre on the Hogwarts staff. I suppose he's a servant of some kind. I mean, look at how he's dressed after all. Maybe a groundsman or a stable master. Oh! Do you think they have horses here? Or maybe unicorns? Or hippogriffs? That would be exciting, to see a unicorn. My mother says there are unicorns in the Forest, but that we're not allowed to go in there because it's dangerous. Look at the castle! Isn't that beautiful?"
It actually took a moment for the other three children to realize the girl had stopped talking. The boats approached close enough for the lights of Hogwarts Castle to become visible. The small fleet passed swiftly beneath the canted bridge and into the old, cave-like passage in the rocky promontory on which the castle itself was built. Ever-burning torches, placed regularly along the walls, lit the cave. Their affect was such that it was just bright enough for the children to see the stone dock ahead. Beyond the dock, a twisting staircase led up to the castle itself.
"Now, when yer boat gets t'the dock, climb ou' and step to the bottom o' the stairs there. Don' go up yet. Yu'll all go up a' once hafter me. Allrigh?" Hagrid's booming voice echoed in the cave as his boat docked. He stepped out and stood, waiting to assist those children who needed help. Scorpius's boat was the fifth one to dock, and as he was the first one out, he lent a hand to Albus, Rose, and Bianca Anderson in turn.
When all of the boats were unloaded, Hagrid counted the assembled first years – twice, just to make sure. "Yep... thirty sevin o' yeh. Alrigh', firs' years... follow me." He trudged his way up the three flights of stairs, walking slowly enough to allow the youngsters behind him to keep up. At the top of the stairway the children found themselves in the entranceway to Hogwarts.
A fat old man stood at the head of the stairway; as the children approached, he gave each and every one a large, friendly smile. "Oh, capital, capital..." To Scorpius, the man looked a bit like a purple-clad Father Christmas. His beard and moustache were both bushy and white, and Scorpius took a liking to the man. Whoever he was, he seemed to be friendly.
"The new class of firs' years, Professor. All safe an' sound!" Hagrid announced with pride.
The older man nodded. "Thank you, Professor Hagrid, thank you! Wonderful work, as always. I'll see you inside." Hagrid stepped past the students and the old man, and entered through two large double doors. The old man cleared his throat.
"Now... Your attention please? Yes, your attention? Thank you! I am Professor Dunstan. In just a moment, I will escort you through those doors, where you will join your fellow students in our traditional First Night Feast. But before you can do so, you will have to be sorted into one of the four Houses. Those Houses are Hufflepuff, Slytherin, Gryffindor, and Ravenclaw. While you're here at Hogwarts you should strive to see your House as a family of sorts. Do well in your classes and your achievements will earn your House points. Do badly, and your misbehaviour will cost your House points. At the end of the year, the House that has achieved the highest total number of points wins the House Cup."
The old man's face split into a wide grin, and Albus noticed for the first time that the man had dimples. Big, visible, warmth-inspiring dimples. "I'm proud to say that last year, my own Hufflepuff House was the recipient of the Cup, but it was a close race I assure you. Be that as it may, I am sure that you all will perform admirably and bring pride to the long and honourable traditions of your Houses."
He gestured the children forward with a sweep of his arm. "If you would all gather here, I will make sure they're ready for you. Feel free to talk amongst yourselves while I am gone, of course. I'll be back in a jiff!" With that, the Professor left through the same doors Hagrid had passed through.
"Oh my word... the paintings... they're moving!" The surprised voice of one young girl echoed in the large room. She stepped toward the wall, gaping at the portraits hanging there. "It's like... like... magic!"
Scorpius looked at Albus, who looked at Rose. "Muggle-born," all three said at once. Rose walked over to the girl and introduced herself. Scorpius continued to take the room in, occasionally nudging Albus to point out a particularly interesting painting.
When Rose returned, she looked white as a sheet. "Al, Scorpius... you have to come over here! Come look at this! Come on! Now!" She grabbed her cousin's hand and tugged. Albus shrugged at Scorpius and followed. Scorpius hesitated for a moment, then followed. To him, it didn't look like his friend Albus had had much of a choice; for an eleven year old, Rose Weasley was very tall, very strongly built, and towered over her cousin. Though Scorpius had no way of knowing, she took after her father in that regard.
When the trio had stopped, Al spoke up. "All right, Rose... What's the matter? What did we need to see?"
The girl just waved her arm toward the wall. "Look! Look at the wall!"
Scorpius couldn't for the life of him think of why a wall of paintings could concern him. This all changed when he saw at what she was pointing. A large bronze plaque, cared for and magically shined, hung in the middle of a wall carrying dozens of portraits. Upon the plaque were three stanzas of a poem. As Scorpius read the words, he recalled his parents and how reluctant they were to ever speak of the last war. He recalled how his grandmother would burst into tears for no reason that he could ever understand. Somehow, despite only being eleven, he got it. He understood.
The words on the plaque almost glowed.
They shall not grow old, as we that are left grow old.
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.
They mingle not with their laughing comrades again.
They sit no more at familiar tables at home;
They have no lot in our labour of the day-time.
They sleep beyond England's foam.
But where our desires are and our hopes profound
Felt as a well-spring that is hidden from sight
To the innermost heart of their own land they are known
As the stars are known to the Night.
Rose tugged on Albus's sleeve. She pointed at one of the portraits. In it, a tall, lanky red-headed young man smiled down at them and waved.
"Al... I think that's Uncle Fred."
A/N: The poem quoted above is the "Ode of Remembrance", a formal excerpt of a much longer work, "For the Fallen", by poet Laurence Binyon (1869-1943). It was originally written to honor those British soldiers who gave their lives in the service of their country during World War I, but has since been used to honor the war dead of any era.