It wasn't every morning that Scorpius Malfoy's Daily Prophet was used as a landing pad: only on the days his paternal grandparents sent a letter. Their snowy owl, Maleficus, refused to drop the envelope and fly away like a common messenger. He swooped down onto the table and remained until fed a treat. During seven years at Hogwarts, Scorpius had only once tried to reward the owl with an appreciative pat instead of food. He still carried a scar on the tip of his right index finger.
On the first day of March, after Maleficus delivered an envelope and left behind the usual pile of shredded newspaper, Scorpius said, "Hand over your business section, Nott."
Across the table, Nathanial Nott's horsy face turned mulish. "Why is it always mine? Why not take Goyle's?"
"He's still reading the political cartoons."
Nott handed over the section of paper. "The cartoons are in the business section?"
"No." Scorpius plucked a green apple from a fruit bowl to eat later. "Double Potions today, Edgar. You set up, I'll clean up." He'd be on time, but not early, and needed his Potions partner to assemble the ingredients.
Beside him, Edgar nodded and took an enormous bite of muffin.
"Only half? Why not stuff the whole thing in your mouth?" Scorpius asked when he bent to retrieve his schoolbag.
"Uncouth." Edgar's smile displayed berries stuck between large teeth.
Scorpius shook his head as he walked away. They'd sit their exams and leave school in a few months. Maybe then, his best mate would stop pretending he was another Gregory Goyle. That would be a welcome change. In Scorpius' opinion, it was one thing to be underestimated by adversaries and quite another to be called the missing link between man and troll. Edgar never seemed to take offence at slights, but Scorpius wasn't as forgiving. Although he didn't misuse his authority as Prefect, he still settled scores, albeit in a more subtle, untraceable manner.
In the Entrance Hall, instead of heading for the Slytherin common room, Scorpius ducked into the chamber reserved for first-years before they were Sorted. It was quiet, and better yet, private. He wouldn't have to guard his reactions.
Scorpius recognised Grandfather Lucius' handwriting on the envelope, so he broke the seal with extra care. The anti-tampering charm prickled his fingertips as it disengaged. He wondered what would happen if someone else had tried to open the letter. Would it have exploded in their face? Burnt their fingers? He decided he didn't want to know, and that he was stalling.
It was only a letter, thin and flat. There were no objects inside that, while not Dark, per se, could become so if a wizard had the right spell—which always happened to be included. Mere words on parchment; how bad could it be?
Scorpius read the letter and cursed. Then he read it again.
In three weeks time, an elite order will hold a ceremony to initiate new members. It will be my very great pleasure to share further details when I meet you at King's Cross.
No greeting, no signature, no naming the group: he was expected to know who was writing and what was implied. And he did. Scorpius had grown up hearing stories from the grandfather who slipped into the nursery after parents bid their son goodnight. The tales of clever Slytherins amused and enthralled until the night of his eighth birthday.
The tip of Grandfather Lucius' wand illuminated the smile Scorpius never saw him give to anyone else. "Are you too old to be read stories now?"
"No, sir." Like the smiles, the stories made Scorpius feel special. "Is that a new edition of wizard tales?" he asked eagerly. Bound in black dragon hide, the book had a red snake on the front.
Grandfather sat on the edge of the mattress and opened the book. "This is better than made up stories. Unlike those Muggles with their round table—yes, I'm aware of what your mother gives you to read—wizards created a circle of power. They became the Knights of Walpurgis."
"Real knights with swords?"
"Spells that cut like swords, wielding magic Muggles only dream of." Grandfather's voice took on a far-away tone. "Their name was changed to suit a powerful leader, but when he died in battle, bold knights who remained loyal to old ways reformed the circle and reclaimed their heritage."
Scorpius was unsure. "This isn't about . . . Voldemort . . . is it?" His mum and dad wouldn't like that.
"No. The Knights of Walpurgis formed centuries before the Dark Lord was born and they will continue as long as wizards draw breath." Grandfather's smile became conspiratorial. "Shall I begin?"
Mum and Dad still might not like it. They said the past was buried and people should live for the future. He looked at the book. His grandfather really wanted to read him the stories, and Scorpius was curious. "Were you a knight?"
"I still am."
"No, he isn't like us." Grandfather gave him a meaningful look.
Scorpius felt thrilled and disloyal at the same time. He loved his father, who wasn't bold or daring. Father worried about Scorpius being safe and wouldn't let him have a racing broom. "Yes, sir," he said. "I'd like to hear a story."
The memory caused Scorpius to curse again. Loudly. It didn't relieve his frustration. He would do almost anything for his grandfather, but not this. Understanding someone's beliefs didn't mean sharing them, and tales of cunning and adventure didn't change the fact that the Knights of Walpurgis were wizard supremacists. They revered purity of blood and married cousins—even ugly ones they didn't like. No way would Scorpius accept "knighthood."
There was no way to tell Grandfather, either. Lucius Malfoy's word was law. Everyone in the family did as he said and if someone disagreed with him, he acted as though he or she hadn't spoken. It was fiendishly effective. Scorpius had used the tactic himself on his dorm mates, Nott and Willoughby.
He found it easy to imagine Grandfather tossing his letter of refusal in the rubbish bin, discounting it as nerves. Scorpius would get off the train and find himself railroaded into so-called knighthood.
Unless he didn't go home.
The idea was radically appealing. Malfoys didn't stay at school over holidays, so if Scorpius broke tradition and remained at Hogwarts Grandfather would know why, and he'd have to deal with it.
Cheered, Scorpius entered the dungeon with a minute to spare. Every classmate looked in his direction except one: Rose Weasley. She arranged implements on the table she currently occupied all by herself. That was interesting. Albus Potter had never missed a class before.
At the blackboard, Professor Blackwell halted writing in her elegant script. "You have made your grand entrance, Mr. Malfoy. No need to linger in the doorway. Be seated."
A few Gryffindors sniggered; amused the Head of Slytherin House didn't give Slytherins preferential treatment, no doubt. They'd heard too many Professor Snape stories from their parents.
Scorpius knew the way to get on her good side. He said, "Beg pardon, professor, I was reading the list of ingredients."
Thin brown eyebrows winged upwards. "And have you deduced the potion you will be brewing?"
He quickly scanned the list. Monkshood, Echinacea, wild hops, elderflower, porcupine parts, a drop of dragon blood . . . "A version of Pepperup Potion, ma'am?"
"Ten points to Slytherin. Along with a generous monetary donation, Glover Hipworth bequeathed Hogwarts the right to brew his formula for non-commercial use." Professor Blackwell smiled a little. "Each seventh-year Advanced Potions class is invited to help replenish the hospital wing stores, with fifteen points awarded for successful brewing."
When the professor resumed writing instructions, Scorpius took his seat. He pulled his hair back and tied it with a band. "Where's Potter?" he asked in an undertone, glancing at the table diagonal from theirs. Weasley was lining ingredients up in what appeared to be alphabetical order.
Edgar said, "Sick."
Scorpius' gaze flickered to the girl whose reddish brown hair flowed over her shoulder. Not looking up when he walked in; extra-compulsive organisation; no ponytail—the pieces of her unusual behaviour abruptly clicked into place. Rose Weasley, Head Girl, was nervous about brewing a potion without the Head Boy standing by.
Edgar clearing his throat brought Scorpius' attention back to the potion he was supposed to be brewing. He picked up a silver knife and reached for a jar. "I'll handle the porcupine pâté," he said. His friend was squeamish about body parts.
Although the instructions given were minimal, Scorpius didn't doubt his ability to brew the potion. Seventh-years were routinely expected to complete the practical portion of the lesson and then discuss theory. Besides, a failed potion didn't necessarily equal a low mark. Professor Blackwell was strict, but fair. She allowed students a second chance to achieve success.
As Scorpius raised the temperature of the magical flames beneath his cauldron, he couldn't help notice that Weasley had failed to do likewise. What was she thinking? Blackwell hadn't specified temperature, but the potion was curative and left steam dribbling out the ears. Obviously, the brew had to boil, not simmer.
The handle of his wooden spoon clanged against iron when he stirred. Weasley threw him look of irritation, and then her eyes slid to the flames licking the sides of his cauldron. She turned away. Within seconds, her fire matched his.
Those actions were enlightening. Scorpius had wondered over the years whether Miss Top of the Class actually had the instinctive grasp of potions making she and her cousin were credited with. The two were always whispering. Professor Blackwell never caught them at it, and he had never cared enough to tell anyone except Edgar, who figured Weasley was continuing her mother's tradition of assisting her Potions partner. Covert observation gave Scorpius the opposite idea, now proven.
Rose Weasley wasn't like him, only needing to read information to utilise it. She was probably the type that learned by doing—that was why she was always taking notes, even when the assignment was silent reading. She excelled in Potions through imitation and practice, and now here she was, faced with a new potion with no partner to imitate. How would she do?
Not well, he decided near the end of class. His potion poured into the flagon like liquid smoke. From her slumped shoulders, Weasley's potion would not do likewise. How would she handle it?
If he hadn't been watching, Scorpius wouldn't have believed it. Rose Weasley deliberately tipped her cauldron over.
Gasps echoed against stone walls.
"I had an accident," Weasley told the teacher who hurried to Evanesco the dripping mess. She looked down at her spoon as though evil spirits possessed it. "I—I need to start again. May I stay after class?"
"I prefer my students to eat lunch," Professor Blackwell said. "You may wait until your partner returns to class to brew the potion."
Weasley's jaw clenched. "Please ma'am. I want to make up my work right away. I'll—I'll have sandwiches with tea this afternoon."
"Very well, but remember, my next class starts at one o'clock sharp."
"Yes, ma'am." Weasley lugged her cauldron over to the basin in the corner to scrub it by hand.
Scorpius absently labelled his flagon, unable to get his head around what had happened. Why didn't Weasley take Blackwell up on her offer? Why did she insist on trying to brew the potion without Potter?
He tried to put the whole thing out of his mind. It didn't work. Halfway through lunch he told Edgar, "I'm going to the library," and left.
A Disillusionment Charm allowed Scorpius to slip into the dungeon unnoticed. He watched Weasley put elderflower into her cauldron and then read the notes she must have written down after class. In a sudden move that made him blink, she picked up the notebook and hurled it across the room. "I did it wrong, this won't work!"
"Of course it won't," he said, breaking the charm. "You don't know what you're doing." He retrieved the notebook and flipped through the pages. "Look at the other notes. They're detailed. Precise." Scorpius found the instructions for Pepperup Potion. "Half the directions are missing. Only a Gryffindor would think she could muddle through with this."
"Accio notebook!" She snatched her possession out of the air. "What are you doing here, Malfoy?"
"My duty as Prefect. If there's some brain fever going round, I need to know whether it's contagious or only strikes Head Girls."
Her mouth dropped open. "I don't have brain fever!"
"Really?" He walked over to give her potion a stir. "I think you're out of your mind to try to brew this without help."
"I don't know what you're talking about."
"Yes, you do. That's why you wrote down 'Malfoy sprinkled elderflowers into the potion counter-clockwise' and why you got so upset when you forgot." When she didn't speak, he asked, "Why didn't you wait for Potter? There's plenty of time to make up the assignment."
"No, there isn't," she said. "I have schoolwork and exams and essays I have to finish before holiday because I'll never find time to write them at home, much less revise for N.E.W.T.s." Her voice began to rise. "I wanted to get this done and now I've wasted my second chance and I won't get another—" She took in a breath and asked sharply, "What are you doing?"
Scorpius was ladling her potion into a flagon. "I have a second try left. We'll switch labels."
Blue eyes darkened. "Why would you help me?"
He shrugged. "It's like the story of the clever Slytherin. He helps a hag and afterwards she repays the favour."
"I'm a hag?"
"Metaphorically," he said, "Although there's potential, in a hundred years or so, if you stop brushing your hair."
Weasley flushed as if he'd paid her a compliment. "What kind of favour?"
"Don't know yet, but that's the deal. Take it or leave it."
She looked at her failed potion. "I won't do anything immoral."
"Hags aren't asked."
Her cheeks reddened again. "That's my stipulation. Take it or leave it."
Scorpius answered by casting a spell to switch the labels.
"Where did you learn—don't tell me," she said. "I'd probably have to give you detention."
He neither confirmed nor denied. He glanced at his watch. There was plenty of time to check out a book from the library before the next class.
"Is that it?" Weasley said when he made to leave. "No handshake or anything?"
Scorpius considered for a moment and then reached into his schoolbag. Her eyes widened when he offered the apple. "I thought you'd appreciate the Muggle symbolism," he said. "Take a bite."
A/N: Finally, I've taken a bite out of this story! :D I originally planned to start writing in December, but a couple of WIPs took longer to finish than I expected. So much so, I had to edit the note on the prequel, Tale of the Pumpkin Thief, to read January. I cut it close, but at least I won't have to go back for another round of editing.
Jo said in a 2003 BBC interview that the Death Eaters were once called the Knights of Walpurgis. She said, "I don't know if I'll need it. But I like knowing it." That goes double for me.
Professor Blackwell was inspired by Elizabeth Blackwell, a resourceful businesswoman and artist who in 1737 not only drew specimens, but engraved copper plates and hand coloured the images for an up-to-date herbal (reference book) that earned the support of the English Society of Apothecaries and sprang her physician-without-a-license author husband from debtor's prison.
Apples symbolise knowledge and temptation in many Muggle cultures and religions. For Twilight fans (no, I haven't read the books), I'm well aware of the apple on the cover of the first book in the series. I thought it fitting that a Slytherin's apple be green. ;)
I'll try my best to update every Friday, alternating between Scorpius and Rose's povs. I hope readers will look forward to Rose's perspective next chapter and be so kind as to review this one.