A/N: This might develop into a story of sorts, but it also may remain as simply a oneshot. Let me know what you think!
The train rolled out of sight of the station; no longer could Albus Severus see the goodbye waves of his parents. It was only Rose's tug on his arm that drew him from the window. He followed her lead down the carriage, searching for an empty compartment they could share.
No luck. Each compartment was already occupied by at least three students, many with more. After several minutes they found James, who was crowded in with a group of his third-year friends—no room for two intruding first-years. Albus's anxiety began to climb. It looked like he and Rose would have no choice but to squeeze in with a group of complete strangers.
His fears were thrown into sharp relief when they came upon a mostly empty compartment, containing only one passenger.
Well, that's all right, Albus assured himself. I can handle one person.
Rose turned over her shoulder and shot him a questioning glance. Albus gave his best approximation of a smile.
Albus's relief was fated to be short-lived, however, as the sharp bang of the opening door drew the boy's attention away from the window and Albus glimpsed his face for the first time.
That didn't stop him from trailing Rose inside and closing the door behind them. He offered a tentative smile to the other boy as he and Rose stowed their trunks. For a moment the Malfoy boy looked baffled, then he scowled. The faint-hearted smile melted from Albus's face.
"I'm Rose," said the girl boldly, once she'd flounced onto her seat. Malfoy's only response was to turn his scowl towards the window, resting his chin on his hand.
"So why are you sitting alone, then?" Rose asked.
The blond head swung around. "What are you, daft?" he said disdainfully. Albus felt his stomach swoop nervously at the boy's unkind words, but Rose was unfazed.
"I just don't see how you ended up with a whole compartment to yourself," Rose continued. "Before we came in, that is, obviously. Lots of other compartments looked pretty cramped if you ask me. So how come no one else joined you?"
Malfoy stared a second longer.
"Do you know who I am?" he asked finally.
"Scorpius Malfoy, isn't it? Since you didn't bother to introduce yourself."
Here she shot Albus a scolding look, reminding him that he was guilty of the same. Albus jumped in his seat.
"Oh, right." He somehow managed to raise his green eyes to Malfoy's grey. "I'm Albus."
"I know who you are," Malfoy sneered. Albus reddened and looked away. "Well if you know who I am," Malfoy went on, "then you really must be thick if you don't know why I ended up with my own compartment."
"Being pureblood doesn't give you any special privileges," said Albus without thinking.
"Privileges?" Malfoy barked with forced laughter. "Who said anything about privileges?"
There was a momentary silence. Albus felt that a puzzle had been put before him: he had to slot all the pieces together, all the things revealed in what Malfoy had said, and, more importantly, in what he had not said.
It came to him easily.
"You're being shunned?" he quietly deduced.
"Look at that," muttered Malfoy, directing his frigid stare at the passing landscape. "Potter, the boy genius." Albus flushed again, but before he could speak—
"But… why?" Rose exclaimed. "We haven't even started our first year! Why on earth would everyone shun you?"
For the first time, the progeny of Draco Malfoy shot them a look completely free of judgment: this was pure bewilderment.
"You really don't know anything."
Malfoy's sneer returned. "Poor Weasley and Potter," he mocked. "No idea what you're about to walk into. My parents would never hide things from me like that."
"Oh, you're full of hot air!" Rose retorted. "I bet you just scowled at anyone who came in until they left you alone."
But Albus wasn't so sure. Especially when Malfoy answered her accusation with a smirk and a shrug.
"Fine, if you like," Malfoy said. "I certainly don't care if you wreck your reputation before ever stepping foot inside the Great Hall."
"If you're trying to make us leave, it won't work," Rose asserted. "We've as much right to be here as you. You're just determined to hate us because our parents didn't get along in school. I think that's just childish."
Malfoy actually shrieked with laughter. "'Didn't get along'?" he parroted. Albus and Rose shared an uncomfortable look. They waited for an explanation, but Malfoy seemed so amused with this statement that he was content to merely smirk out the window, ignoring them completely.
Albus could feel the girl beside him beginning to boil. He knew that her information-greedy, inquisitive nature was currently at war with her pride.
At long last she said, "I'm going to go put on my robes. See you soon, Al."
Rose, seeming to forget that she already had her robes on, stomped to the door. Deciding something, she whirled on the spot. "And I'm a Granger," she snapped. She slammed the door shut behind her.
Albus looked over at Malfoy. When the other boy said nothing—not that he'd expected him to—Albus pulled out a book, trying to ignore the nervous pace of his heartbeat.
While he read, he couldn't help but notice something odd. Whenever students passed by their compartment he instinctively glanced up, distracted by the movement in his periphery. But it unsettled him to discover that most of the students didn't simply walk by. They would stop to stare in at him and Scorpius, whispering to one another.
After the third time this happened, Albus risked another glance at Malfoy.
"Why do people know who we are?" he asked. He found himself surprisingly unaffected by the poisonous glare Malfoy shot him.
"My father always said that was one of your lot's weaknesses." Albus didn't have time to question the meaning of 'your lot'—a very smug and superior Malfoy was still talking. "You don't tell each other anything. My grandfather shared everything with my father, and now my father shares everything with me. Yours is an idiot for not doing the same."
"You don't know anything about my father, and I'll thank you not to call him names," Albus said coldly.
"No, Potter," was the snide correction, "it's you who don't know anything about your father. If you did, you wouldn't've asked me why everyone knows who we are." Scorpius looked towards the glass in the compartment door, beyond which stood a gaggle of girls, perhaps fourth-years, who stared at the two boys unabashedly, their expressions ranging from disgust and loathing (for Malfoy) to admiration and confusion (for Albus).
Malfoy turned away indifferently. Albus's stomach twisted as he pondered why that might be. Was he so accustomed to such looks that they no longer bothered him?
"Fine, then," he said. "Tell me."
"Why should I?"
"Because taunting someone loses its charm quickly when the taunteé doesn't even know what he's being taunted about."
A smirk that seemed more amused than mean-spirited danced across Malfoy's face. Leaning comfortably back in his seat, he began to talk.
Albus didn't think he'd ever been less concerned about the Sorting Ceremony than at the very moment he stood waiting for his name to be called. That was because his mind was filled with nothing but the incredible tale that Malfoy had told him on the Hogwarts Express.
He couldn't believe it. His dad had defeated the Darkest wizard that ever lived. His dad was famous, was "the Boy-Who-Lived," was "the Chosen One."
How could his parents not have told him?
It sure explained the looks he was getting now, some of which came from students, but many of which were, quite unnervingly, coming from the Head Table. Albus shifted on his feet. The professors weren't being half as subtle about staring at him as they probably thought they were.
"Granger, Rose," announced the Transfiguration teacher, Professor Luvarian.
His other thoughts fell to the wayside as his cousin stepped up to the stool, shaking slightly as she did. The Sorting Hat was settled onto her head. After a moment a blush rose up in her cheeks, and her eyes flickered nervously around the Hall. Rose bit down on her lip just as the Hat cried,
Albus stared at Rose in shock as she slid off the stool, her eyes downcast and whole body tense. Ravenclaw? But… but Rose had been a shoo-in for Gryffindor! If she couldn't get into Gryffindor, what were his chances?
The Ravenclaw table erupted in thunderous cheers, some rising to their feet to greet their new addition. Eyes flashing up, Rose slowly broke into a grin. Beaming, she ran to join the other first-years at her table, flushed now with what Albus thought might be pride.
…Was it possible that Rose had wanted Ravenclaw?
The momentary shock passed, and Albus's thoughts returned to their previous fixation. Now he ruminated on the other half of the story, the explanation of Scorpius Malfoy's fame. Not surprisingly, the nature of Malfoy's reputation was far murkier.
Scorpius's father, Draco Malfoy, was a known rival of Albus's dad—Harry Potter—at school. In his sixth year Draco followed his father's footsteps and became a Death Eater, a servant for the Dark Lord Voldemort. The next year, both he and his parents abandoned their loyalties to Voldemort during the final battle and they went on to lead normal, non-Death Eater lives. But it seemed no one cared about Draco Malfoy's change-of-heart, not when his father, Lucius Malfoy, had been one of the most notorious Death Eaters. Many were furious that Lucius had managed to avoid imprisonment after Voldemort's defeat, thus the Malfoys were now treated as social pariahs, Draco's son being no exception.
A dark mutter echoed around the hall as the boy took his seat and the Sorting Hat was placed upon his head.
Malfoy stared out above the heads of the other students, no expression on his boyish features. As they all waited to hear the Sorting Hat's verdict, Albus thought back again to their conversation.
"Now Slytherin House has become synonymous with 'Death Eater.' No mind that what it actually stands for is cunning and ambition," Malfoy told him. There was no mistaking the bitterness in his voice.
"You don't want to be in Slytherin, then?"
Malfoy stiffened and didn't look at him. "I didn't say that."
Scorpius was a puzzle, that was for sure, and Albus didn't really know what to make of him. Certainly his extended stay under the Hat was a sign of some conflict within the boy.
The weathered voice rang out,
This time, unlike every time before it, the House in question did not clap, hoot, or stomp its feet. There was a smattering of applause from the Slytherin table, but it was a far more muted welcome than anyone else had received. Even the Slytherins were embarrassed to get the son of a famed Death Eater. Albus felt a pang.
He thought about his fear, a fear he'd harbored for years, about being sorted into Slytherin. But… hadn't his parents always taught him not to judge anyone based on their blood status or their House? Why then had his parents also, perhaps without meaning to, taught him to hate Slytherin? His parents weren't the only ones at fault, of course. Uncle Ron had always been the most vocally disparaging towards Slytherin.
Did his family carry the very same prejudices that Albus had been taught were so wrong?
A hush fell over the Great Hall. Swallowing, Albus forced his body into forward motion until he plunked down on the rickety stool, his mouth dry as ash. Professor Luvarian came up behind him, and then the leathery fabric touched his head.
Hmmm… Tricky indeed. Very bright, I see, and eager to learn. But there is more, much more. Courage you may have, but it is tampered by fear. Gryffindor might help you to overcome.
Though perhaps more fitted for noble Slytherin. There is greatness in you, oh yes, powers of creation and endurance. You have ambition—but like your courage, it lies hidden. Slytherin could make you great indeed. But I suppose you too will not wish to join that House.
Albus felt certain he detected an insulted tone behind that statement. 'You too'? Could it be possible the Hat meant his father?
Let us dig deeper, deeper. There is loyalty here, it seems, a strong desire for all things fair and just, goodness me. Why yes, Hufflepuff might suit you well, very well…
I don't want Hufflepuff.
Albus's eyes widened as he realized that he had indeed spoken these words to the Hat. He'd made no conscious decision up until this point, but suddenly he knew exactly what he wanted.
The Sorting Hat was unquestionably irritated now.
Not Hufflepuff? Then where shall I put you? Ravenclaw would not do. Thus it is Gryffindor you seek. I must warn you, it will not do so well for you as Hufflepuff.
I don't want Gryffindor either. I want Slytherin.
In the ensuing silence, Albus could feel his heart preparing to give out on him at any second. He was uncomfortably aware of how long he had now been seated on the stool; the students were beginning to whisper to one another. He screwed his eyes shut so he didn't have to see.
Slytherin? Are you quite sure?
You said I would do well there, didn't you?
Why yes, but I do not see—Ahhhh…
Albus squirmed uncomfortably as the image of a certain blond-haired Slytherin rose to the surface of his thoughts, accompanied by a rush of sympathy and a need to mend what had been broken.
Perhaps I judged too quickly, said the Hat in a sly voice. Courage you do have, to brave the hated House in your pursuit of justice. Gryffindor might do well with you after all.
It isn't Gryffindor I want.
You must be certain. I do not only decide where you sleep for the next seven years, you know—I decide the course your life will take. Things will be far different for you in Slytherin than in Hufflepuff or Gryffindor.
In truth, Albus wasn't sure at all. What would his parents think? What would James think, and Rose? Wasn't this exactly what he'd dreaded for so many years? And now he was asking for it?
Very well. Then there can be no question. It must be—
A resounding gasp echoed off the ancient stone walls, with a few screams thrown in for good measure. Albus's eyes shot open, his panic skyrocketing as he was confronted with so many shocked, scared, even repulsed faces. He stumbled off the stool, nearly losing his balance. His eyes turned of their own accord to the Gryffindor table. James stared back at him as if this were the first time he'd ever truly seen his younger brother, and he didn't know whether he liked what he saw.
Fighting to keep the tears at bay—that was all he needed now, to earn a reputation as Hogwarts's biggest ninny on the very first day—Albus walked towards the Slytherin table, each step ringing out like a gong. The Slytherins were silent, not even granting him the meager welcome that Malfoy had earned.
A hesitant clap sounded. Albus gave a start and tried to spot the person responsible, but soon the clap spread, rippling outward, growing louder and louder until the mass of Slytherin students jumped to their feet, screaming and hollering and making the biggest ruckus of the night.
Almost stopping in his tracks, Albus forced himself to finish the trek and slide into the empty seat next to Scorpius Malfoy, the only Slytherin who had failed to join in. He watched Albus with a distrustful eye.
At the behest of Headmistress McGonagall, the Slytherin table finally silenced itself and the Sorting Ceremony was able to continue. Soon it was finished, and, after a few announcements from the Headmistress, the feast began.
A hand stuck itself into his face.
"Jemima Blishwick," introduced the girl behind the hand. Albus craned his neck up to see her. "Fifth-year, House prefect, team Chaser, and the baddest bitch in this place."
A round of laughs and whistles followed this statement, accompanied by shouts of,
"Damn right you are."
and "Work it, bitch, work it!"
This earned another round of laughs and a feral grin from Jemima.
Albus grasped her hand. "Albus Potter."
"Welcome to House Slytherin, Al," she said, her low voice carrying some heavy meaning in the otherwise innocuous words. Albus would have been hard-pressed to guess whether it was her way of saying, "Watch your back, punk!" or "Good luck; Merlin knows you're gonna need it."
Soon everyone around him was making introductions, pumping his hand up and down, including him in the conversation though he didn't speak a word.
The only exception, once again, was Malfoy, who no one spoke to and who spoke to no one. He merely sat in silence at Albus's side and ate his food. Deciding that Scorpius was a problem for another day, Albus let himself share in the camaraderie of the Slytherin table, leaving the other boy to his own solitary devices.
Glad though he was to receive this hearty welcome from the Slytherins, Albus could still feel eyes branding him with judgment all throughout the meal. He couldn't help but wonder whether he'd made a very very bad decision. Had a momentary fit of insanity just ruined his next seven years?
Had it ruined his whole life?