"You know, it wouldn't kill you to be a bit friendlier."
Rose Weasley didn't even look up from her homework. "I know," she said, pausing to scratch her nose with the tip of her quill. "And it likewise wouldn't kill him;" she jabbed her quill over her shoulder to indicate the subject of their discussion, "To unbend that stiff neck of his." She looked up then and met her cousin's green eyes. "Friendship takes two, Al, and you know that. Maybe you can teach him." And she returned her attention to the parchment covered with Transfiguration notes.
Albus Severus Potter leaned back in his chair and let out a gusty breath, making his fringe flutter. Yes, a continuing and solid friendship takes two. He did know that. But he definitely disagreed with Rose on one point; it often took just one gesture to begin that friendship.
Al knew what it was like to feel like an outcast. He had been made fun of because of his name for years, by both the Muggle children he knew at home in Godric's Hollow and the wizard children he had regular contact with. And the fact that he was a miniature duplicate of his famous father didn't help one bit; it seemed to make people less likely to approach him. He never understood why being a Potter attracted so much attention while at the same time generating so little respect.
He sighed. "I guess I just think it's a shame that people are making him feel like more of an outcast, that's all."
Rose grunted. "Then you go fix it. I'm staying right here."
Scorpius Malfoy sat on the other side of the common room, hunched over his homework and hoping that no one would notice the flush on his cheeks. He could hear the conversation between Rose Weasley and Al Potter, and it made him angry and embarrassed at the same time. He didn't need their sympathy, and he certainly didn't need their friendship.
Scorpius had been stunned, and absolutely mortified, when he had been sorted into Gryffindor. For a moment he had thought it was some sort of joke; when Professor McGonagall first lifted the Sorting Hat from his head he had stayed on the stool for a moment, waiting for someone to laugh so he would know that his chain was being jerked.
But no one had laughed, and Professor Sinistra, the new Headmistress, had gestured to him to take his seat with the other scarlet and gold clad students. He had felt tears sting his eyes as he slid off the stool, but he was determined that they would not fall. He sat on the absolute end of one of the benches and didn't speak to anyone during the entire feast. He followed the rest of the house to the tower in complete silence and ignored his dorm-mates as he prepared for bed. It was only when he was enclosed by the scarlet hangings that he allowed the tears to fall. But he sobbed in total silence.
The next morning he had avoided all of his classes and found his way to the Headmistress's office. He sat on the cold stone floor, with a wall at his back, and waited for Professor Sinistra to appear. Her surprise at his presence was obvious, but she had escorted him back to her office and listened as he pled to be allowed to sit beneath the Sorting Hat again. Surely, he thought to himself as he noticed the silver and green décor of the office, a fellow Slytherin would understand how he felt.
But she hadn't. "I'm sorry, Mister Malfoy, but the Sorting Hat does its job only once each year. Even if I were to put it on your head right now it's doubtful that anything would happen." She had stood up then, and come out from behind her desk to sit in the chair beside him. "What house you get sorted in to does not define who you are," she explained. "Every student at Hogwarts combines the best of all four houses; where you get sorted is just an outward sign of what quality you have the most of."
"So I'm recklessly stupid like a true Gryffindor?"
Sinistra had smiled then. "No. But I would wager that you have more than your fair share of nerve. And I've seen that you're polite, which is a part of being chivalrous." She regained her feet. "I think you'll be an outstanding addition to Gryffindor House."
"But. . ."
"But my family?" he had wailed, unable to stop the tears. "My father. And my grandparents! How can I tell them?"
"The same way most everybody tells their parents, I would imagine."
"But I can't! I'm the first Malfoy in seven generations to not be in Slytherin! I'll be kicked out of the family! Disowned!"
Professor Sinistra grew stern. "That is errant nonsense, Mister Malfoy. No one disowns a child because of what group they are a part of at school, and I'm sure your parents are no different. I knew the both of them when they were at school here, so I think I'm safe in saying that they won't mind as much as you seem to."
Scorpius had snuffled a bit and then wiped his nose on his sleeve. "I guess you're right. My father did say I should be more concerned about how well I do in my classes."
"Then it's settled. You'll be staying in Gryffindor House."
That conversation had taken place over a month ago. Scorpius had spent the better part of the first week of school trying to write a letter to his parents, breaking the news of their son the Gryffindor, only to end up crumpling each effort up before pitching it into the fire. After four days with no letter yet written (and with his neglected homework piling up) he had decided that this news was too important for a letter.
At which point he had run up against another obstacle. Use of the Floo Network to call home was restricted to emergency situations. And Professor McGonagall did not consider being sorted into Gryffindor House to be much of an emergency, despite Scorpius' pleas and near-tantrums.
It was Professor Hagrid, ironically enough, who came to Scorpius' rescue. He had come across the young boy sitting under a tree on the lakeshore, absently tossing pebbles into the water. As Hagrid watched he saw Scorpius wipe tears from his cheeks. When he looked closer he was amazed to see that the boy – who, with his blond hair and grey eyes, was clearly a Malfoy – wearing a scarlet and gold necktie.
Hagrid's new boarhound (Fang having died at a ripe old age just five years previously) Bloat started straining at his lead, eager to investigate a (potential) new friend. Hagrid released him from the lead and Bloat took off like a rocket, baying like he was out for blood.
Scorpius had surged to his feet at the first noise, and made as if to run away. He didn't even get turned around before Bloat was on him, barking happily and licking his face. He jumped up once, and Scorpius fell over, landing hard on his backside. Hagrid arrived on the scene at that moment, shouting for Bloat to get down and behave himself, but the words quickly died in his throat when he saw Scorpius.
The boy was laughing. And smiling. And doing his best to return the giant boarhound's affection with an awkward hug. It made Hagrid grin in response.
It took almost two hours of tea, cakes, and sympathy before Hagrid learned what had driven the young Malfoy to the lakeshore with tears on his cheeks. Once the truth was out he didn't hesitate; he allowed Scorpius to call home from the fireplace in his hut, which (he explained) was connected to the Floo Network independently of the rest of the castle and grounds.
The conversation had not gone as expected. While his parents had been unable to mask their initial disappointment Scorpius was surprised at how quickly they got passed it. His father hadn't said very much, but he had nodded in agreement as his wife emphasized that was important was that he study hard and do well. It wasn't until the end of the conversation that his father brought a negative note to the situation.
"Where are you calling from, son?" Malfoy had asked. "They don't allow students to call home except in emergencies."
"I'm at the gamekeeper's house," Scorpius had replied. "And I should probably go before both he and I get in trouble."
His father's eyes had widened. "You're at Hagrid's?!"
Scorpius nodded. "I do need to go, Father. I'll write soon!" And he pulled his head out of the fire and his eyes, after a brief spinning sensation, re-focused themselves on the comfortable surroundings of Hagrid's hut.
"Not as bad as ye thought it would be?"
"No. In fact, much better than I was expecting," Scorpius said, resuming his seat at the table and picking up his tea. "Although my father did seem surprised that I was with you."
Hagrid smiled. "Well, yer dad never did like me much. Yer granddad neither."
And Hagrid had proceeded to tell the boy the story of Buckbeak the Hippogriff's trial, "execution", and how he had been saved by Harry Potter and Hermione Granger-Weasley. Scorpius listened intently, exclaiming in shock at some of the worst parts. He wasn't really surprised to learn that his grandfather had been the driving force behind wanting to execute an innocent animal; he knew from things that his mother occasionally said that Lucius Malfoy had a checkered past that included more than one act of cruelty.
But it was the names of Buckbeak's saviors that had stood out in his mind.
"Al's father and Rose's mother," he said when Hagrid mentioned them.
"That's right," Hagrid said, beaming. "I guess you know the two of them pretty well."
Scorpius had nodded, not trusting himself to speak. It wasn't long after that he had excused himself, pleading homework, and left the gamekeeper's hut, with promises that he would visit again.
And now he sat, uncomfortably aware of the conversation between the two cousins. He didn't know why their words bothered him so much; he didn't care about them and he didn't care about stupid Gryffindor. He'd be just fine without any friends, thank you very much.
That decision made he gathered his books, parchment, and quills, stuffed everything into his bag and left the common room, head high and neck every bit as stiff as Rose Weasley had claimed it was.
The next day was Halloween, and being a Tuesday it also meant a double dose of Charms immediately after lunch. The class would normally not bother Scorpius, as Charms had rapidly become his best subject. But double classes meant practical work with a partner, however, and his assigned partner was Rose Weasley, a fact that neither was terribly happy with.
They began working on Levitation Charms that day, and after Professor Patil lectured on the importance and theory for nearly an hour the class split into their partnerships and started to practice. Each duo had a different item that they were supposed to make fly, although all were equally lightweight. Scorpius and Rose had handkerchiefs, each a bright blue (a choice no doubt dictated by Professor Patil's history as a Ravenclaw).
"You have to make sure and pronounce the spell correctly," Scorpius reminded Rose, having observed that she sometimes had problems in that area.
Rose glared at him. "I know how to pronounce this spell. I performed it when I was only six months old, for your information."
"I bet you didn't say the words when you were six months old," Scorpius said under his breath.
Rose flushed hotly. "You do it then!" she retorted. "Show the whole class how bloody clever you are!"
Scorpius paled, compressing his lips to contain the angry words he wanted to hurl at his "partner". There was no way that he would give Rose Weasley the satisfaction of knowing she had gotten to him. He half-turned his back to her and picked up his wand. "Wingardium Leviosa!" he chanted, and with a swish and a slick of his wand the hankie lifted off of the desk and wafted through the air, coming to a stop in front of Professor Patil. She grinned and floated the hankie back to the desk that Scorpius and Rose shared.
"Well done, Mister Malfoy!"
Scorpius blushed and dropped his head to conceal his satisfied smile. He heard Rose exhale behind him; an angry, gusty breath that he imagined stirring the curly hair that fell in front of her face. He kept his back to her, but when he glanced up he met the eyes of Al Potter, who was grinning at his cousin's anger. He angled his head to Scorpius in a nod of acknowledgement.
The bell rang immediately after that, and Rose shoved her books and parchment into her bag so roughly that Scorpius was surprised the bottom didn't fall out. She swung the bag violently on her shoulder, nearly hitting him in the head as she did so, and stalked towards the door. As he watched he saw Al catch up to her and say something to her which made her flush and turn her anger on him.
"Do you still think we can be friends with him?" Scorpius heard her say from clear across the room. "Because I won't waste my time, and unless I'm seriously mistaken neither will anyone else. He's a nightmare, honestly! No wonder everyone stays away from him!" And she stormed out of the room, leaving the rest of the first year Gryffindors trailing in her wake.
Scorpius sat at the desk, stunned by the vehemence of her words. He had known that most of his classmates looked askance at him and didn't seem interested in talking to him, even for homework help. But to hear it stated so clearly, with no possibility of misunderstanding, made his stomach sink and his eyes sting. He gathered his belongings and bolted from the classroom, rudely brushing past Rose, Al, and two other Gryffindors in the corridor.
"He heard you," he heard Al hiss at his cousin. Rose's response, if she had one, went unnoticed.
Scorpius made his way to what his mother had said had been her "secret place" during her first year at school. "Go there is you ever feel the need to just get away," she had told him. "It's the perfect place to be alone and gather yourself, should you ever need it."
He needed it now. He was upset to the point of tears, and angry with himself that he had actually let Rose's words affect him like this. I don't care, he thought as he made his way down the main staircase to the dungeons. I don't care, I don't care, I don't care!, he chanted in time with his strides.
It wasn't easy to find the spot, unless you knew what you were looking for. It was a cubby-hole of a place – actually little more than a niche – hollowed out of the stones that supported the staircase. It had probably been started as a storeroom or a broom cupboard. Why the project had been abandoned Scorpius neither knew nor chose to wonder at. He simply slipped into the space, sat against the wall, rested his head on his knees, and gave vent to his angry tears at last.
He was still there nearly three hours later when he heard male voices nearby. He jerked out of the half-doze he had fallen into just as two enormous seventh year Slytherin boys turned the corner of his hiding place and froze at the sight of him huddled there.
Scorpius stayed seated, with his knees drawn to his chest, hoping that his position would keep his scarlet and gold Gryffindor tie invisible. He looked up and met the eyes of one of the boys that loomed over him
"What's this, then?" the older boy asked. "A snotty little first year hiding in his hole?"
"Who cares, Liam," his companion responded, his voice bored and listless. As Scorpius watched he put his arm around the boy he called Liam and ran his fingers through Liam's hair. "There're plenty of other places we can go."
Liam roughly pushed his companion away. "I care. He doesn't look stupid, and has probably figured out what we're doing here." he growled. He turned his attention back to Scorpius. "Stand up, snotty," he ordered.
Scorpius slowly uncurled his legs and got to his feet. As soon as the scarlet and gold in his school uniform was visible Liam sucked in his breath. "Not just a snotty little first year," he said, stepping closer and pulling Scorpius' tie free from his sweater. "A brave and chivalrous Gryffindor, no less!" He grinned, looking like a feral animal ready to attack its prey. Despite his fear Scorpius held his ground and didn't back away.
Suddenly the other boy approached and whispered in Liam's ear, making his expression change to surprise, astonishment, and then absolute animal pleasure. He reached out and began running the silk of Scorpius' tie through his fingers.
"So it's not just any Gryffindor," he said, his voice a quiet growl. "It's the Malfoy whelp. A Slytherin traitor." His hand tightened on the tie.
Scorpius bit down on his lower lip. He wanted to say I didn't betray Slytherin; Slytherin House betrayed me, but he held his tongue. He didn't flinch when Liam tugged on his necktie, pulling him closer, although his neck was starting to feel the strain from looking up at his interrogator.
"Don't you talk, whelp?" Liam asked, pushing his face closer to Scorpius. He tugged on the tie, tightening it around the younger boy's neck. Scorpius made a small, strangled noise, but no more. His lack of response seemed to further anger his captor. "Would you make more noise if I knocked every last tooth out of your mouth?"
The spell came out of nowhere and lifted Liam off of his feet. Astonishment made him release Scorpius, who dropped to his knees on the hard stone floor. He caught a brief glimpse of the black and red hair of his rescuers before snatching his own wand from his bag and pointing it at the older boy whose name he had never learned.
"Petrificus Totalus!" Scorpius shouted. The more passive of his tormentors froze in place, teetered slightly on his feet, and then toppled on to the floor; only his eyes continued to move, twitching from where his friend Liam hung in the air, cursing creatively, to where Scorpius knelt, his hand white-knuckled on his wand, to where two other first year Gryffindors stood.
"What should we do with this one?" Rose Weasley asked, her wand still trained on Liam and keeping him floating almost two feet above the floor.
"Any ideas, Scorpius?" Al Potter asked.
It took a moment for Scorpius to recover from his shock at who had come to his rescue. "Just one," he replied to Al before standing up training his wand on Liam. "Incarcerous!" And thick, vine-like ropes sprang from his wand and wrapped the older boy securely.
"Finally," Rose said with a sigh of relief. She lowered her wand and Liam fell to the floor with a resounding thud. "Maintaining that spell is harder than it seems in class," she said, casting an apologetic glance in Scorpius' direction. In response he simply gathered up his bag and hurridly walked away from his mother's "special place".
"Let's get out of here," he said. "It'll be a long time before I come to the dungeons for anything other than Potions class, I can tell you that."
They were in the main entrance hall before he spoke again. The noise of the Halloween feast spilled out of the Great Hall, and Scorpius stopped halfway there. Al and Rose did likewise, glancing quizzically at him and at each other.
Scorpius cleared his throat. "I don't want to seem ungrateful for the help," he began. "But why, exactly, did you two come after me?"
Rose flushed and glanced at her cousin. "Well, we noticed that you hadn't been in class all afternoon, and. . ." Al stopped speaking and looked at Rose, clearly expecting her to continue."
"We. . . Well. . ." She flushed an even brighter red. "We were concerned, all right? A lot of older students think a first year out on his own is fair game for hazing, so. . ."
And with those words Scorpius finally understood what it really meant to be a Gryffindor. It was an instinct that told you to protect and defend people, even people that you may not like. It was a feeling of all people being treated equally, no matter what. It was foolhardy at times, beyond doubt, but it was an instinct that he realized he shared. He was no longer ashamed to call himself a Gryffindor.
"Ummm, thanks," he mumbled under his breath. "I. . . Thank you." he said, meeting first Rose's blue eyes and then Al's green ones. "I guess this means, maybe. . ." He felt himself flush a little. "Friends?" he asked, and extended a hand.
All grinned and shook his hand. "I think that would work. Rose?"
Rose hung back for a minute, looking embarrassed. "I don't. . . You know. . . I. . ." she stammered.
Scorpius couldn't hold back his grin any longer. "Apology accepted, Rose."
She laughed then, and they shook hands. "I guess there are some things you can't share without becoming friends," she said before dropping his hand. "But. . ."
"Do you have some sort of nickname?" Rose asked, turning and walking towards the Great Hall. "Because I don't think I can handle the next seven years of saying 'Scorpius'."