"Hello, Rose! Hello, Albus! How was the train ride? Did you have fun? And who is your friend?"
"Hello, Uncle Fred," Rose responded, as she and Albus smiled up at the portrait. "The ride on the train was an interesting experience. This..." She waved in Scorpius's general direction. "... is Scorpius Malfoy, our new friend. We had some sweets, and played Exploding Snap." She put a finger to her lips for a moment, obviously concentrating. "I didn't know you had a portrait at Hogwarts, Uncle Fred. I thought you only had the one that's at the Shop on Diagon Alley."
Albus nudged Rose and pointed to a portrait that contained two people. It was Teddy Lupin's parents. They were higher than Fred's portrait, but waved and smiled anyway.
A group of their new classmates crowded around, and a loud, squeaky boy said, "Oh! I know who that is! That's Severus Snape! Harry Potter himself paid a lot of money to a candy company just to get Snape his own Chocolate Frog card... supposed to be some kind of hero... I've got four o' him, you know!" The other children followed the boy's pointing finger to the portrait of a dark-haired, dour-faced man; his portrait was directly opposite Fred's, on the other side of the plaque.
"So who are the rest of these people? I don't think..." The Chocolate Frog boy seemed to scan the wall of portraits surrounding the plaque. "I don't think any of the others here have Chocolate Frog cards."
"They're named. See?" Rose pointed to Fred's portrait. A small placard on its frame read "Frederick Gideon Weasley, 1978-1998, Gryffindor House". The other portraits on the wall were similarly marked: "Severus Willard Snape, 1960-1998, Slytherin House"; "Colin Ogden Creevey, 1981-1998, Gryffindor House", "Luther Brian Hendridge, 1962-1998, Hufflepuff House". Nearly fifty portraits, all similarly marked, adorned the wall.
Albus turned to say something to Scorpius, and it was only then that he noticed that his friend hadn't joined the other students in staring the portrait wall. Looking around, Al finally spotted the other boy sitting on the top step of the staircase they had just climbed, his back to the entrance hall.
Albus walked over, sat down next to Scorpius and put an arm around his shoulders. "Alright there, Scorpius?"
The physical contact felt strange to Scorpius. It wasn't what he was used to, and it made him just a bit uncomfortable. But he just nodded. "Yeah, alright. Just kind of depressed by it all. They don't get what the wall means, do they?" He looked over at the crowd of first years who were still pointing and commenting on the portrait wall.
Albus looked at them all too. "I don't know, really. Some of them probably do, I'd expect. Most don't yet. The last war was a long time ago... twenty years, almost. That's like forever."
Scorpius stayed quiet. He was thinking about his family. No one in his family had ever really talked about what had gone on, or had really explained what they did during the war. He knew that his father had been involved -- he did know that much -- but the man never actually went into detail about it. And when certain things were mentioned, his father would get angry. Very angry, in some cases. Albus's dad, for example. One just didn't mention Harry Potter around Draco Malfoy, not if one didn't want an argument or a good hexing.
Scorpius knew some things about Harry Potter. Albus's dad was the most famous man in the Wizarding World, after all, and widely thought to be the most powerful wizard alive. Harry Potter was even more famous than Quidditch legend Jonas Gumby, despite Gumby setting an all-time high scoring record last month. Scoring thirty-four goals, single-handed, in one match, was a major accomplishment, but it still didn't eclipse Harry Potter for fame. Scorpius had seen some old books and newspapers scattered around his father's study that talked about Harry Potter as "the savior of the wizarding world", but never before had Scorpius wondered just what that meant in regard to his father, or his father's anger at Harry Potter.
"I have no idea what Father did in the war," Scorpius told his new friend. "But I've always suspected that whatever it was, Father was on the wrong side. My father's not poor, but he always mutters around about how things used to be... he told me once that when he was a boy, we didn't live on an old farm. And then there's the fact that everyone hates us..." Scorpius coughed into his hand, carefully eyeing Albus Potter, and secretly dreading what his friend would say.
Albus merely nodded, prompting Scorpius to continue. "And... and... there's a big hospital in my home town, the Fred Weasley Memorial Hospital... believe it or not they even take care of injured and sick Muggles. It's behind this big brick wall with hedges. I looked through the gates one day and there are white peacocks just wandering around the grounds. I think it's a nice hospital and if I ever really get hurt I suppose it wouldn't be too bad to have to go there."
He leaned in, as if conveying a secret. "But Albus... the hospital's main building looks like a big house, not like an actual hospital. And it's got my name... 'Malfoy' I mean... on the front gate. I don't know what it means, but it makes me wonder. It's like... it was a forbidden topic at my house. I wasn't allowed to ask questions about the war, or what Father did during the war, or why my grandfather died in Azkaban, or why my grand-mum was always drun.... um..." Scorpius stopped, almost afraid of saying anything more for fear that Albus would laugh at him. But finally, he went on. "Why my grand-man was always drunk all the time. Father says it killed her, her drinking. I never knew why."
Albus nodded. "I know what that's like, believe me. No one in my family ever talks about the war, other than to tell me that it happened a long time ago. My folks, and my aunts and uncles... they're all supposed to have been these big heroes, but I haven't ever really heard why. I mean... look over there." Albus tipped his head toward the wall quickly. "My Uncle Fred died during the war, but I don't know how, or what happened. His twin brother, my Uncle George, once told me that he'd give me the full story 'when I was old enough', but when is old enough? You know?"
"Yeah." The boys stared at the shadows a moment. They were brought back around when, with a loud clunk, the double doors opened and Professor Dunstan returned.
The old man gestured for the students to come closer. "Now children... if you would form up into two lines, please? Two lines." The first years shuffled around, nervously, until they were roughly in two lines, side by side. Scorpius managed to find a place in line next to Rose, and Albus was in line just ahead of him. He could hear that chatty Anderson girl babbling in a whisper behind him somewhere, and could see the Chocolate Frog card collector in line ahead of Albus.
"Yes, that's it. Yes, well done, children. Well done," Professor Dunstan proclaimed. Scorpius was swiftly becoming convinced that the jovial teacher was the type of old gentleman who could find something to be cheerful about even if he was up to his neck in quicksand and sinking. He'd probably be a fantastic teacher just because of that alone. "Now, children," he continued, "when we enter, we will walk down the centre aisle in two columns, all the way up to the dais in front of the teachers' table. I'll direct you to spread out in front of the head table, so the teachers can all get a good look at you." The old man smiled widely, catching everyone's eye.
Holding up a rolled up length of parchment, Dunstan continued. "I'll call you up one at a time, alphabetically, from this list." Professor Dunstan waggled the list, making sure all the children saw it. "You'll sit on the stool; I'll place the Sorting Hat on your head; and after you're sorted you can join your Housemates for the feast. Won't that be nice? Now, children... follow me!"
The students followed Professor Dunstan into the Great Hall. Four long tables stood, two to a side, between which a long aisle formed. The air above the tables was filled with hundreds of lit candles, floating unsupported. Above the candles hung a row of banners, each a yellow-ochre and featuring a heraldic badger. Rose leaned toward Scorpius and whispered: "That's the Hufflepuff crest. Professor Dunstan said that his house won the House Cup last year. I suppose that's the reason for the banners."
Scorpius wasn't listening. His attention was on Albus, who had suddenly slowed considerably. The other boy's attention was on the stars... the ceiling of the Great Hall of Hogwarts was enchanted to perfectly simulate the actual sky, and tonight was a clear, crisp summer night. As before on the shores of the black lake, Albus had become captivated by the stars. Scorpius smirked and grabbed his friend by the shoulders, carefully guiding him and preventing him from smacking into someone else. Albus looked down and smiled thanks.
There were other distractions, in any case. Albus and Rose waved toward the inner, right-side table. Scorpius quickly surmised that the table in question was the Gryffindor table; not only was Albus's older brother James sitting there, but James was surrounded by a mass of red-haired children that must have been the extended Weasley-Potter clan. Rose had mentioned that she and Albus had 'about a dozen' cousins and siblings all attending. The pack of kids returned the greetings with a friendly wave or nod as the two newest members of the family to become Hogwarts students marched up to the front of the Hall for sorting.
The columns of first years reached the open space before the dais and spread out as directed. In front of them sat a wooden stool, and upon it was the most ragged hat any of them had seen. The hat was so old it was purple in some spots, threadbare and patched, with black, sooty, singed places along its crown. On the whole, it looked like something that had been left too close to a fire for far too long.
The assembled children all started when a tear in the hat, near its band, opened wide and the hat began to sing. Scorpius didn't pay much attention to the song... he was too busy looking around to pay much attention. He spotted Hagrid, the giant of a man they had met at the train station, seated on one end of the teachers' table next to a dark-skinned woman in a tall, violet witch's hat.
Past a mad-looking gypsy woman sitting at Hagrid's elbow sat a soft-looking man to whom Albus and Rose gave a jaunty wave as well. The man, obviously a teacher, gave the cousins a nod and a quick smile, but covered it swiftly with a mask of emotionless sincerity. It was obvious the man knew his two new friends, but he was obviously just being official... it wouldn't do for the professor to show any favouritism, even to two children he obviously was friendly with.
Rose nudged him to get his attention. The sorting had just begun, with Professor Dunstan calling Bianca Anderson up to the stool. The girl looked unconcerned until the hat was placed upon her head. Her eyes popped open as wide as they could be, and her mouth formed a shocked "O". After a handful of seconds, the tear in the hat opened up and it called out, "HUFFLEPUFF!" Everyone applauded as she went to join her new housemates, the students at the Hufflepuff table most of all.
The three friends all nervously awaited their turn. Scorpius eyed the Slytherin table; the older students, whom Scorpius assumed were all sixth or seventh year, including McCorkindale and his cronies, were all staring right at him. When they noticed him studying them, they all smiled and nudged each other and made comments to each other. Scorpius sighed. He'd best get ready to start ducking... he knew once he was sorted there, he'd be in for it.
Albus, on the other hand, kept looking nervously over at the Gryffindor table. Scorpius had told him about his brother's teasing. He had heard James Potter tell his little brother that he had been kidding about Slytherin, but it was clear to Scorpius that Al was worried that now, at the last minute, something was going to go wrong and Albus would be put in Slytherin House by mistake.
Scorpius turned back to the Slytherin table. He studied it with a look of resigned hopelessness on his face. The Malfoy boy sympathized with his friend's anxiety. He knew that Albus was, like himself, feeling the entire weight of his family on his shoulders. And there was absolutely nothing to be done about it.
On the other hand, Rose didn't seem to be worried about a thing. She was calmly awaiting her turn, and showed no signs of nervousness or fright at the possibility of being put in 'the wrong place'. Since the professor was calling them all out alphabetically, she'd be near the end of the line. "Of the three of us," Scorpius thought to himself, "I'll be sorted first, followed by Potter a bit later, then Rose at the tail end."
Scorpius watched as watched as Edward LaGarande joined the Ravenclaw table. His gaze traveled over the other Ravenclaws, just taking in all the faces. At the far end, close to the teacher's table, sat his guardian angel, Dahlia. He'd never thanked her for assisting him, and for some reason he felt an overwhelming need to do so. She caught his glance and smiled at him for a moment, before returning her attention to the boy next to her. It did confuse him... why would she be so nice to him? She didn't even know him, after all.
The boy next to him nudged him in the side. Scorpius turned to Albus with a questioning look. "Scorpius, they just called you..." Albus looked a bit scandalized.
"Mister Malfoy? Scorpius Malfoy? Come on, lad... no need to worry..." Professor Dunstan had seen many a first year come close to panic during the sorting. He tried to be soothing. "Come on up. It's your turn."
It seemed to Scorpius Malfoy that every step he took toward the stool and the sorting had taken forever. His legs felt leaden, as if they were chained to heavy weights. But soon enough, he took his place on the stool.
Ah... another proud child of the ancient Malfoy line...
The voice sounded between his ears and all around him. The hat was talking to him! In his head, the hat was talking directly to him! Scorpius realized instantly that it must have been talking to the other students also, but that since he hadn't heard a word it must be only a mental communication!
Well... this is interesting, isn't it? I haven't had to take this long to sort a Malfoy in... well... never you mind how long it's been. You have your family's sense of ambition and cleverness, but not their thirst for power. You've an agile mind, no doubt about that. You're determined to not let your friends down... that's good, Mister Malfoy... dependability and loyalty are always in short supply... and you've a drive to do what's right with no fear for the consequences... so... where to put you?
The hat paused for a moment, and then continued.
I can see your overt aversion to your father's old House, so despite my initial impulse to drop you in amongst the Slytherin, I must carefully consider... where shall you go? Outside of the Slytherins, the Malfoys are pariah. It's almost expected of a Malfoy...
Scorpius set his jaw as he responded to the hat's almost sarcastic commentary. "I don't give a fig for what's expected of a Malfoy. I want to be with my friends, even if everyone hates me for it!"
Well, young man... with spirit and determination like that, there's only one place to put you.
Scorpius felt the tear open wide, and the crotchety, ancient voice of the hat called out, "GRYFFINDOR!"
Scorpius's breath escaped him in an excited gasp. He hadn't even been aware he'd been holding it. He stood up from the stool and waited. The entire Great Hall was utterly silent for a moment, and then angry murmurs could be heard from the Slytherin table. The students at the Gryffindor table simply stared at him, wide-eyed. Scorpius suddenly felt like something had gone drastically wrong. Professor Dunstan seemed to catch himself, nodded without smiling, and removed the hat.
Scorpius ran to the first open seat at the Gryffindor table, his head held high and his chin set. They aren't going to see me react, he told himself. I'm a Gryffindor, now and forever.
The clapping surprised him. Over the murmuring, disrupting the silence came a determined, enthusiastic clapping. Scorpius lifted his head to see the mousy-looking professor who had nodded to Rose and Albus standing in front of his chair, clapping and smiling. The instructor's welcoming, friendly smile told the boy that everything would be okay. Over at the Ravenclaw table, Dahlia stood and began clapping as well. That started the cascade as the other Gryffindors applauded his inclusion in their house.
An older Gryffindor boy, sixth or perhaps seventh year, leaned past the new Gryffindor first years and extended a hand. "Welcome to Gryffindor. Congratulations. Never thought you'd have it in you." The boy was grinning, and his welcome seemed genuine. "I'm Fred Weasley."
Scorpius was confused for a moment. "Weasley? You mean like Rose?" Scorpius pointed to the thinning crowd of unsorted First Years.
"I'm her cousin, yeah. Why? Can't you see the family resemblance?"
Scorpius admitted he couldn't. Fred Weasley was tall, like several of the other Weasleys including Rose, but where the other Weasleys he'd seen were redheaded, light-skinned, and freckled, Fred had dread-locked hair of burnt umber, and his cafˇ-au-lait skin had nary a freckle to be seen.
Scorpius felt rather than saw someone sit on his far side, at the first empty spot on the bench. He turned, immediately smiling as Albus sat down. The newly-arrived boy was talking a mile a minute. "This is brilliant! We're in the same House! This year is going to be fantastic! Oh, hello, Fred!" The older boy waved and laughed. Albus's cheerfulness was infectious. "I guess now all we need to do is wait for Rose."
"So um... sorry, I missed your sorting, Albus." Scorpius was sheepish. He didn't mean to miss his friend's sorting. "So Fred's really your cousin?"
Albus merely nodded. "Yeah, of course... can't you see the family resemblance?" The way it rolled trippingly off of Albus's tongue, and the fact that Fred used the same line word for word, told Scorpius that the line was an old, moss-covered joke amongst his family. Scorpius was more attentive as the remaining students were sorted. Scorpius worried that Rose Weasley might end up somewhere else. She was the last to be called, and Scorpius quickly realized he shouldn't have worried. It took no time whatsoever for the hat to send Rose to the Gryffindor table.
A tiny man with long, grey hair stood on his chair at the center of the teachers' table. Scorpius was amused to see the man seemed to be balanced on a stack of books. The man picked up his goblet and rang it thrice with a spoon. "Congratulations, congratulations. Well done, First Years. For those of you who are new to Hogwarts, let me welcome you. I am Professor Flitwick, your Headmaster. Before we start what I am sure will be a magnificent welcoming feast, I'd like to make a few start-of-term announcements."
The Headmaster cleared his throat. "To begin with, the Forbidden Forest is, as the name indicates, off limits for all students."
"Secondly, our caretaker Mister Filch" -- Scorpius followed the Headmaster's pointed hand to where an ancient, almost doddering man stood near one of the side doors -- "has informed me that he has posted his yearly list of banned items." The Headmaster smiled. "Those regular customers of the Weasley joke shop can thus find a list of their mail-order products by reading that list."
"And lastly, Professor Longbottom" -- the Headmaster gestured aside, and the meek-looking professor who clapped for Scorpius's sorting stood for a moment -- "has announced that those students wishing to enter the Dueling Club this year should inform him no later than the first of October. Just as a reminder, the Dueling Club is only open to fourth years and above. Now, let's tuck in, and let's all have a great year this year!"
The Frog card collector, whose name had turned out to be David Creevey, leaned into the table from his position across from Scorpius. "That was Neville Longbottom? The Neville Longbottom? The Serpent Slayer? Caretaker of the Sword of Godric Gryffindor himself? One of only three people to have dueled Lord Voldemort single-handedly and survived? Him?" The boy seemed scandalized. "That can't be him! He looks like a gardener!"
James Potter reached out and grabbed the front of the boy's robes in one hand. He pulled the new Gryffindor close and growled, "He is a gardener, Creevey. He's an amazing gardener. He teaches Herbology. But even more important than his being a gardener, he's your Head of House, and he's the bravest, most powerful, most dangerous wizard in the world after my dad. So show some respect, all right?"
The Creevey boy just nodded in response, obviously gob smacked. Scorpius grinned at his friend's brother. James stared for a moment, then grinned widely back. The older boy gave Scorpius a thumbs-up, and then nodded to Albus as the food suddenly appeared on the table. All of the kids dove right in, attacking the platters with gusto.
Scorpius was in the middle of his third helping of roast chicken with potatoes before he thought to wonder what his father was going to say when he found out where he had been Sorted.