Scorpius Malfoy leaned back in his seat and watched the scenery slide by as the Hogwarts Express chugged steadily northward out of London. At the moment, he was alone in his compartment, and for now that was fine with him; he needed the time alone to come to terms with the events of the last week. For the first time in his life, he was glad to be going back to school. The beginning of the holidays had been fun enough, but the attack on his father's warehouse had so seriously spooked his parents that the atmosphere at Malfoy Manor had been tense and silent since the break-in had occurred. They had cancelled every appointment and activity—including their annual New Years celebration and Scorpius' trip to Diagon Alley with his mates—and sealed the fireplaces and estate gates with maximum-security enchantments. His father had even conducted most of his business from the library while the repairs to the outer office were being made.
Scorpius sighed, letting the tension escape from his body and feeling sorry for himself to a certain extent; all that caution had taken its toll on him since he'd been forced to endure the last week alone in the mansion. It would be good to step back into the familiarity of Hogwarts and the established daily routine of lessons, homework and Quidditch.
The door to the compartment banged open as five other fourth year boys—two Ravenclaws, a Gryffindor, a Hufflepuff and one of Scorpius' Slytherin roommates—came in, talking and joking amongst themselves. They fell haphazardly onto the benches, each greeting Scorpius in their own way.
"Hey there," Scorpius managed to say. It was nice to have the company, he decided, even though he didn't feel very talkative at the moment.
"How were your holidays?" a boy named Ben asked.
"Alright. Yours?" he answered.
"Pretty good, if you like being cooped up in a sick room most of the time," Ben answered. "My little sister and brother both had Dragon Pox over Christmas and Mum wouldn't let me go anywhere for fear I'd give it to someone."
"You weren't sick, were you?" Scorpius asked, edging away from Ben a few inches.
"Naw, I had the pox when I was ten. Mum was just being cautious."
"Tough luck," Scorpius responded and looked out the window again.
The other boys had settled in while the two were talking and now a boy named Evan asked, "Anyone up for Exploding Snap?" He had taken three packs of cards out of his bag and was waving them about.
"I'm in," Ben and Scott said together, making the others laugh.
Evan looked at Scorpius. "You playing, mate?"
Shrugging, Scorpius slid down onto the floor with the others as he answered, "Sure." Any distraction would be better than thinking about the week just passed.
"Sweet. You playing with me or Neal?"
"Neal. He's not as annoying as you," Scorpius joked half-heartedly as Evan gave him a look.
Evan handed out the cards and soon all six boys were competing to see whose eyebrows would be singed first.
Scorpius had just ignited his for the third time when the door to the compartment opened and a tiny Hufflepuff girl walked in.
"Erm, I'm looking for Scorpius Malfoy," she squeaked as Ben's cards exploded.
Scorpius raised his hand. "I'm him," he said. "What's up?"
"I have a note for you," the girl said, holding out a small, tightly-rolled scroll.
Scorpius took it and set it on the floor beside his bag. He felt slightly suspicious about it and didn't want to open it. "Thanks," he said.
The girl eyed the scroll. "Erm, the man who gave that to me said to tell you to open it straight away and not to forget," she said.
He picked up the scroll again. It made his fingers tingle a little. "All right, I'll read it in a minute. Anything else?" he asked, setting it down again.
The girl shook her head as she glanced between Scorpius and the rest of his friends. Then, without further reply, she turned and scurried away, blushing furiously because Neal had smiled at her.
Scorpius picked up the scroll and turned it over in his fingers. He was almost afraid to open it, especially when he thought about what the girl had said, the man who gave it to me…
"What's it say?" Scott asked, leaning over to inspect the scroll.
Shrugging off his apprehension as a by-product of the week just past, Scorpius broke the seal and began unrolling the parchment. As he did, the train seemed to lurch, the Exploding Snap cards all exploded at once and without warning, he felt the yank to his middle that signalled the activation of a Portkey. His surprised yelp was cut short as the Portkey wrenched him away from the train.
The distress signal from the Hogwarts Express arrived in the Situation Room just as Garrett Carmichael was thinking about going to lunch. The Auror Office had been very quiet all morning, so Garrett had been able to get the bulk of his parchment work caught up while he sat monitoring the specialized fireplaces. Sunday duty was a monotonous responsibility every Auror had to endure once a month, and this particular Sunday, that duty had fallen to Garret and a witch, Auror Mary Beth Pendergast.
Auror Pendergast looked up from the report she was writing as a bright silver polar bear bounded into the office. "That's the Hogwarts Express driver's Patronus!" she exclaimed, causing Garrett to turn around.
The bear opened its mouth and a deep bass voice said, "Hogwarts Express Distress Alert: A student has been kidnapped. Train will delay in Retford. Headmaster has been notified."
Garrett and Auror Pendergast stared at the polar bear as it dissolved into mist. Then Garrett grabbed a clipboard from its place on the wall between the fireplaces and began reading aloud the procedures listed on a bright yellow piece of parchment.
"'Contact Head Auror. Assemble Auror team(s) necessary for emergency.'" He stopped there and looked up at Auror Pendergast. "Which team is on call this weekend?" he asked, already knowing the answer.
Auror Pendergast consulted another clipboard. "Ron Weasley's team of Bones, Boot, Carmichael, and Chambers," she answered. She eyed him enviously. "Looks like you get to escape this monotony, Carmichael. Better call the team and have them meet you here."
Garrett shook his head. "No, I want to meet the Express as soon as possible. I'll have them meet me in the freight car of the train. That train is filled with children. We can't take any chances. I'm calling Baker's team as back-up. If anything, the extra Aurors can help the prefects maintain order," he said, thinking out loud.
"Very well," sighed Auror Pendergast. "I'll stay here and contact Robards to see if he wants to meet you there or let Weasley handle the coordination."
"Thanks," Garrett said, and turning his back to her, he quickly composed a message for his Patronus to deliver to the ten other Aurors. A moment later, multiple eagle Patronuses left the office on their urgent mission.
It took only fifteen minutes for all the Aurors to assemble in the freight car of the Hogwarts Express. Garrett had arrived first and was pleased to see that both Baker and Weasley arrived within seconds of each other. Garrett briefed them and Weasley immediate Apparated to the front of the train to talk to the driver.
He returned a few minutes later looking grim. "Scorpius Malfoy is the student who was taken," Ron reported. "Susan, would you go to the Prefects' compartment, please? The Head Boy and Girl are with the student who delivered the Portkey to Master Malfoy. Apparently, the girl is so distraught they can't understand a thing she's saying. Get her calmed down enough to take her statement.
"Garrett, you and Brodie go to the last compartment in the first carriage. Interview the five fourth years who were riding with Scorpius Malfoy. It's a mixed-house group of friends in that compartment. Terry, see if you can locate Mr and Mrs Malfoy. They must be notified of their son's disappearance. If they ask you if their son's disappearance has anything to do with the other matter, be honest with them and confirm the possibility. Answer any questions they have truthfully. The rest of you, fan out and see if anyone saw anything suspicious on the platform before the train left at eleven o'clock. Report back to me as soon as you have something. I'll tell the driver he can resume the journey."
The Aurors scattered. Garrett and Brodie followed Susan nearly all the way up the train, which had stopped on a siding at the back of the Retford goodsyard. When they reached the proper c