Many, many thanks to my betas for this: Alexx, Lynn, Jenn, and Kathy.
In which there is a train, and lots of work to be done
Friday, September 1, 2017
James Potter had burnished copper locks and a Seeker's build. He was not a weedy, red-haired runt. Anyone who dared argue was fixed with a level, storm-coloured stare that shut their mouth faster than any hex. The only exception was his whining, sniveling brat of a brother, who seemed to think that just because he looked like their father, he was in some way superior to James. Slimy git. He took after his namesake far more than he did either of their parents, in James's view. And even if Harry Potter insisted Severus Snape was one of the bravest wizards he'd ever known, James had seen pictures: the man had been a grease-ball.
Better that the little bastard be Sorted into Hufflepuff: he wasn't smart, brave or ambitious enough to fit into any of the other Houses, and that way James wouldn't have to look at his stupid, holier-than-thou face and bloody green eyes. Having his grandmother's eyes didn't make him any less of a git.
Somewhere behind him he could hear Uncle Ron admonishing Rosie about something; probably Slytherins or Malfoys or some other evil. Looking at the scrawny, effeminate little boy with his curling, dirty-blond hair, that Uncle Ron seemed convinced was the spawn of Satan, James couldn't help but smile a little to himself. If that was the worst Hogwarts could boast by way of evil wizards, well... it was amusing.
"Stop smirking," his mother whispered in his ear. "I don't want an incident here." James's features snapped into carefully-schooled emptiness in an instant. It was the safest expression to wear around his father, especially when the man was already wound tighter than a spring. He watched as Harry Potter met the eyes of a blond man at the other end of the platform, and the two exchanged careful, cordial nods. The blond man's expression could have been a mirror of the boy's own, and James found himself wondering if he, too, knew about Harry Potter's incidents. As far as James was aware, no one outside the family and a few close friends knew about them, and the man - Mr. Malfoy, judging by Uncle Ron's reaction - seemed nothing like a close friend. Perhaps he was just naturally guarded.
Mr. Malfoy bent to speak quietly to his son. Out of the corner of his eye, James could see his father doing the same with Albus.
"That, James, is what a complete git looks like," Uncle Ron told him, clapping him on the shoulder. Drat, James thought. Uncle Ron had noticed where his attention lay, and now he was in for a lecture on the eternal evils of the Slytherin House. He was saved, rather unexpectedly, by his mother.
"Bugger off, Ron," she told him sharply. "Don't poison him with those old prejudices."
Amazingly, Uncle Ron did exactly as he was told, slouching off back to his wife and muttering to himself. James looked up at his mother. Her face was tight with irritation, and she was glaring at her brother's retreating back. He knew she had a sharp temper, but she rarely let it show these days; Uncle Ron had obviously forgotten it existed.
"Stop scowling," he whispered to her. "We don't want an incident here." His weak smile tried to make a joke of his mimicry of her earlier words. She met his eyes, and her expression relaxed, back into the kind, docile geniality most people saw.
"You're a good boy, Jimmy," she said, and gave him a kiss on the temple. "Off you go. The train'll be leaving in a minute." Her deep, golden eyes - why did everyone else only see brown? - added emphasis to the message. The sooner he was out of sight, the better. He gave her a peck on the cheek and scampered onto the train, losing himself in the crowd of students. Out of sight, out of mind. It had been his policy for years when it came to dealing with his father and until he was a fully-trained wizard - until he was the greatest wizard in the world - it would be the only one.
Because James, despite what his mother said, was not a good boy. James was an eternal disappointment, forever failing to live up to the imagined glory of his namesake. He was a troublemaker. A hellion. He'd never be Head Boy or the captain of the Quidditch team. If there was a fight among the siblings, it was always his fault, even if he wasn't involved. If he hadn't been sorted into Gryffindor, he suspected Harry Potter would have disowned him outright. Because James wasn't, and never would be, James Sirius Potter II. No matter what his birth certificate said, he was the one and only Jimmy Weasley, and bugger the rest.
Ginny watched the Hogwarts Express pull away from the station. Things would be much quieter this year, with only Hugo and Lily left to be entertained. Three more Weasleys and a Potter shipped off to Hogwarts this year: it had to be some kind of record. Likely only the Blacks had ever had more family members there together at one time, and they had always been a more diverse group than the easily identifiable Weasleys.
Around them, the platform was rapidly clearing. Ron and Harry were talking quietly, hopefully about something work related. Of course it is, Ginny thought. This was Ron, after all. He might not be the quickest on the uptake, but he understood Harry better than almost anyone. She need not fear he'd say something stupid.
Hugo and Lily were hanging onto Hermione's hands, jumping up and down and demanding treats because they weren't allowed to go to Hogwarts again this year, for all the world as though they were five instead of nine. Bill had seen his three to the platform, then departed in a rush for work. George hadn't come, even though it was Fred's first year; it had been up to Hermione and Ron to bring the boy. What a family, Ginny thought. Big, dysfunctional, problematic... but under the stern eye of Molly Weasley, it all seemed to still work, somehow. If not for Molly, then they might all have fallen apart years ago.
"We're going to head off to work," Ron announced. "You'll be alright getting home on your own?" he asked Ginny. A subtle push from Ron prompted Harry to give her a kiss on the cheek, then the one-time Golden Trio Apparated away to the Ministry to begin their day's work, leaving Ginny with Hugo and Lily. Always picking up the mess, that's me, she thought resignedly, putting on a big smile as she promised the two a stop at the sweet shop while she ran errands in Diagon Alley.
They found him in the third-to-last compartment on the train, his nose buried in a book. In the center of the compartment an elaborate card castle was being constructed of Exploding Snap cards, each one flicked into place with a casual wand gesture. He probably couldn't even see it from behind the big book, but still he built unerringly. The boy really was a study in practiced concentration and patience, one thought. They shuffled into the compartment, not wanting to intrude but knowing their presence was expected.
"Have a seat," he said, at once dismissive and gracious. They did as they were told, sitting attentively on the train bench opposite him. Long minutes stretched out before the book closed with a snap, and the card model of Hogwarts castle was sent back to its box.
"So," he said, meeting the eyes of each of the three opposite him in turn, "how was your summer?"
Scorpius Malfoy, sole heir to Malfoy Enterprises and the ancestral holdings and properties of both the Malfoy and Destrier families, huddled behind his Quidditch magazine and hated his father. He'd wanted to go to Beauxbatons, as his mother had, but Father wouldn't stand for it. He had insisted Scorpius be sent away from his beloved France to dreary Scotland, to study in this provincial little hole.
Mama had screamed, and thrown priceless vases and statuettes, and locked herself in her room for days, all to no avail. Father had spent those days in his study, reviewing the last financial quarter as though nothing was wrong. A week ago, Mama had stormed into the study, dumped Father's tea over his head, and declared that she would commit suicide if forced "to do without ma puce". Father had ignored her until she pulled out her wand and pointed it at his beloved financial summaries. Then he had simply asked what kind of flowers she wanted at her funeral.
So here he was, on board this mouldy old train on his way to a mouldy old castle in the middle of nowhere, to suffer through seven years of hell. Mama had gone to stay with her parents for an indefinite period of time, which seemed to faze Father not at all. He, as he had told Scorpius, would be staying in London for the time being, because the next few years were a critical time for the growth of Malfoy Enterprises.
"There's room in this compartment," a voice said as the door slid open. Of course there is, Scorpius thought acerbically. Most of these English brats knew better than to encroach upon the space of one who was so obviously their superior, but apparently this quartet was too dense. Well, three of them, at least: the fourth, a thin, willowy blond with a copper tint to her pale-gold hair, was quite obviously refined.
"But Al, Daddy said I was to stay away from him. He's a bad lot," a red-haired girl announced. Scorpius sneered at her, letting her know exactly what he thought of her and her Daddy.
The black-haired boy who had first spoken - Al; what a nasty, common name - shrugged. "He looks pretty harmless to me."
"But..." the red-head protested.
"Nonsense, Rosie. Your father, he has bias, no?" The other girl swept in and offered one hand, daintily, to Scorpius. "I am Gabrielle Delacour-Weasley," she informed him, as graciously as any properly-raised young woman. He took her hand gracefully and brushed a kiss across her knuckles.
"Scorpius Destrier-Malfoy. Enchante." Perhaps there was some hope for this rustic hell-hole after all, if there were a few more civilized folk like her.
"And these," Gabrielle waved a languid hand at her entourage, "are my cousins. Frederick, Rosalind and, of course, Albus." The others murmured a polite hello, Rosalind still watching him suspiciously. "Sit, sit," she ordered the others. She herself dropped into the seat next to Scorpius and looked at his magazine with interest. "Do you like Quidditch?" she asked. The other three were murmuring among themselves, but Scorpius ignored them and focussed on Gabrielle.
"I've never really played," he admitted. "We play polo at home, so of course I'm a very good flyer. Father thought I might try for the Quidditch team." He didn't add that Father had sneered when he said it. Father didn't think much of the delicate niceties of Wizard Polo, nor the 'milk-sop' fliers that played it. But then, Father was disparaging of a lot of things.
Gabrielle was nodding. "Oh, yes. My sister used to play polo, before Uncle Charlie found out. He made her switch to Quidditch too," she added, as though imparting a great secret.
"Uncle Charlie was right," Albus piped up from the other side of the compartment. Scorpius sent him a withering sneer that said he had not been included in this conversation. "Don't bothering sneering at me, Malfoy. It doesn't do anything."
"Yours is nothing like so scary as James's," Frederick added. Albus glared at his cousin, who shrugged. "I really don't see what your fuss is, Rosie. If he's an evil wizard he should at least be able to out-sneer James."
"Foo," Gabrielle said, as though pronouncing judgment on the entire matter. "James's sneer is very lovely." Only this girl, Scorpius thought, could say that and have it be a compliment. "My sister likes Quidditch," she added, returning to their previous subject. "I'm sure you will too." Her eyes lit up very suddenly, and Scorpius would be the first to admit it made her very pretty indeed. "Why, you must be Draco Malfoy's son, no?"
"Yes." Father was quite well-known in England, or so Mama had said, although in the two hours since they had arrived on the platform Scorpius had begun to suspect he was somewhat notorious, rather than simply well-known.
"Then we are related too," Gabrielle declared happily. For some strange reason, something seemed to sink in the pit of Scorpius's stomach. "Let me think... your great-grandfather's sister married the brother of my great-grandfather's sister-in-law, I think. Which makes you..." Her delicate lips moved silently as she tried to work it out. Not related at all, Scorpius thought, with a strange feeling of relief. "Oh, but perhaps on the other side..." Gabrielle continued. "My great-grandmother was a veela, and so was your great-great-grandmother, I think... but of course veela don't keep genealogy in the same way as wizards..."
Across the compartment, Albus sighed. "Ignore her," he advised. "She'll come back to the present eventually."
Gabrielle stuck out her tongue at him. "I happen to find our family history interesting, thank you. In any case, Scorpius, we are cousins," she declared, giving him a hug as though he were in fact her long-lost brother. Perhaps, Scorpius thought as Rosalind started protesting against being related to him at all, I can put up with these others. At least for the sake of Gabrielle.
George was tinkering in his workshop when his sister arrived. She came by every day, whenever she found a chance to leave the children with Molly. She had been invaluable to his work all these years, helping him in his research and the development of new products for WWW. Over the years, Ginny had become such an integral part of the company that George didn't think he'd be able to let her go, even when Fred came back. Well, Fred would understand that, so it wouldn't be a problem.
"The pogrebin skins?" he asked hopefully as she set a package down on the bench.
"They finally arrived," Ginny answered. "Are you sure nothing else will work? Luna managed to get them for us this time, but I doubt we'll be able to import enough for a decent production run."
George sighed. "I'm trying. You know that was always..." he trailed off. He'd promised himself he wouldn't think in those terms: it wasn't fair to Fred.
"I know," Ginny said hurriedly. "I was just wondering if anything had occurred. I'll check my books, and see if there was a successful substitution in anything else."
He felt the corners of his mouth lift weakly. "Thanks, Gin. You're a life-saver."
"Oh, hush. I brought lunch, too."
It was only mid-afternoon, and already he was exhausted. It felt good, though. The physical tiredness of rushing around London's Wizarding business district to a seemingly-endless line-up of meetings and presentations, the mental exhaustion that came of always being that one step ahead, knowing everything first and most intimately so he could plan accordingly... the exhilaration of doing it right, time and again. Other business-wizards thought there was something uncanny about him, and the way he and his companies always came out on top. Oh, there were whispers of corruption and unsavoury business dealings, but nothing ever stuck.
And nothing ever will, he thought with satisfaction. He was successful because he worked hard and thought ahead, and for no other reason. With his chequered past, he couldn't afford the slightest whiff of the underhanded to come from his company: a discrepancy in the petty cash and the watch-dogs would be screaming that he was murdering children in developing countries or something equally horrible. He wouldn't let all that he had worked so hard for fall prey to their small-minded vindictiveness. His parents might call their exile voluntary, but they had been driven from the country all the same. He wasn't about to let the same happen to him.
A discrete vibration of the magic mirror in his pocket announced a call from his head secretary. He smoothed the tiredness from his face and pulled it out.
"Mr. Malfoy, the delegation from Turkey has arrived early," the man said.
"I'll be right there," he assured the man, putting the mirror away. Time - and Turkish businessmen - waited for no man, not even Draco Malfoy.
"We're home!" After the way the door had slammed, Ron's shouted announcement was largely unnecessary, but it had become his habit over the last few years, so Ginny didn't mind. It added a semblance of normalcy. She wiped her hands on a dishtowel and made her way to the front hall, where Hermione, Ron, Harry and Arthur were all hanging up their work cloaks. To most people, it seemed strange to have three families - or even just such a large extended family - living in a single house, but Ginny liked it. It worked for them.
Hugo and Lily came bounding down the stairs to throw themselves at any adult with open arms. Molly came out of the kitchen, wiping her hands as Ginny had done, and giving a welcoming hug to each of the returning family members, just as she did every day.
"Go wash your hands now," she ordered kindly. "Supper's almost ready. Hugo, would you go fetch your Uncle George in?"
"Sure Grandmum." The boy scampered off, no doubt hoping for a bit of extra dessert as a reward for his helpfulness. Little scamp, Ginny thought with an inward sigh. As though we'd forget those pastries he nicked not two hours ago.
"Ginny." Harry gave her a careful kiss on the cheek in greeting. "Where's Al?"
Ginny sighed and reached out to cradle her husband's cheek with one hand. So it begins. "He's at Hogwarts, Harry."
Harry looked startled. "Why?"
"Because he's eleven." He was confused now. The expression on his face would have torn her heart, had it not been shredded so many years ago. "He'll be fine, Harry. Now go wash your hands for supper."
"Getting ready for supper. You saw her just a second ago, Harry."
He nodded slowly, as though realizing the truth of her words. "Yes. Yes, Al is at Hogwarts and Lily is getting ready for supper." He smiled suddenly, his fragility gone. "I'll just nip off and wash up. Frightful day at the office, but supper smells divine, Gin." He walked away, calling out to Arthur about a new car magazine he'd picked up today.
Ginny went back to the kitchen to help her mother take care of their family.
Standing at the front of the Great Hall, looking out over the crowd of black-clad students as the Deputy Headmaster made his ponderous way through the list of names, Albus wished there was some way he could sink through the floor. He wondered if James had gone through this the year before, then decided that he probably hadn't. James didn't look at all like their father, so likely no one would have made the connection until his last name was read out. But Albus had seen pictures, and except for his face being a bit rounder and his wrists being not quite so skinny (and the lack of infamous scar), he looked just as Harry had on his first day at Hogwarts, right down to his glasses.
Among the sea of faces he could pick out his relatives. Fabian's shock of white hair glowed as brightly as a ghost from his place at the Ravenclaw table; his sister Victoire's shimmering blond was as easily recognizable under Gryffindor's scarlet banners. And, at the far end of the Gryffindor table, paying absolutely no attention to the ceremony, sat James, his light copper hair glowing like a sun in the candlelight. The bastard had probably picked his place just for that purpose.
He found himself wishing that he had his mother's last name, so that he could be at the far end of the line with Rosie and Fred. Gabrielle was up near the front, the Malfoy boy hanging off her every word. Well, that was understandable, Albus allowed. Everyone loved Gabby, even though she talked as much as her nickname implied.
And here he was, all alone, stuck in the middle of the pack. Albus Severus Potter, named after two headmasters, son of the great Harry Potter himself, a boy with a world of expectations resting on his shoulders (after all, it wasn't like James was about to live up to his heritage).
Gabby was soon sent to join Fabian in Ravenclaw and, after what seemed a great amount of time spent under the hat, Scorpius was sent to Slytherin. Albus felt a small, satisfying twinge at that: now he wasn't the only one who was alone. The blond boy made his way slowly across to the green-decorated table. His greeting, Albus noticed, was decidedly lukewarm, and no surprise. Well, not to anyone but Scorpius himself, Albus suspected: he had the impression that the boy didn't know too much about his family's history here. He wondered why the boy hadn't gone to Beauxbatons or Durmstrang instead.
The Sorting continued until, at long last, his name was called. A distinct hush fell over the room when the Deputy Headmaster said "Potter, Albus." He wondered if the same thing had happened to his father. Gingerly, he sat on the stool, and the cap dropped over his eyes.
Oh, said a little voice in his ear. It's you.
Yes, Albus thought back at it. It is. Could you put my in Gryffindor, please? Dad had said your choices counted for something with the Hat, after all.
Because that's where your father was, of course, the Hat said. But this is a question of what's most suitable for you.
Gryffindor, Albus assured it. Both his parents had been in Gryffindor. All four of his grandparents had too. Probably Fabian and Gabrielle were the first Weasleys in decades to be Sorted into any other House. He doubted there had ever been a Potter who wasn't a Gryffindor.
Family history? You're descended from the Blacks on both sides, and they've had members in every House. The Hat sounded like it was trying to be kind, but really it was just dragging things out, and Albus had a horrible, sinking feeling he wouldn't be in Gryffindor. Dad would be so disappointed. He was aware that his Sorting was taking a while, and that the students were growing restless, wondering what was making it take so long. I've had a recommendation that you go to Hufflepuff, but I really think you have a better chance with...
Biting back a curse, Albus pulled the Hat from his head and handed it back to the Deputy Headmaster. The murmuring in the Hall was louder now, as students wondered how the son of the great Harry Potter had ended up in that House. Albus took one, wistful look at the Gryffindor table, and his brother caught his eye. James was glaring at him - no, not at him, but at the Hat. He wondered why: James ought to be ecstatic that they weren't in the same House. He shuffled down to the Slytherin table and took a seat next to Scorpius.
"Do you know," drawled the other boy, with an obvious disregard for self-preservation, "I think we two may be the least welcome people in this House."
"Yes," Albus sighed. "I think you're right about that."