Rose Weasley watched Platform 9 and 3/4 as long as she could, waving frantically at her mum, dad, and Hugo. Albus Potter, too, waved, not quite managing to hide a sniffle as the train pulled out of sight of the station. Already James had gone off to find his friends, and Rose and Al had a compartment to themselves. The solitude suited Rose just fine. She loved her family - you couldn't not love the Weasleys as far as she was concerned - but sometimes she wished she didn't have quite so many cousins. The fact that Al tended to be quieter and more thoughtful meant that they tended to spend much of their time together and, too often, as little as possible with their cousins.
Al silently handed her a chocolate frog just as the compartment door slid open and the blond boy from the platform - a Malfoy? - appeared. He stared silently at them. Al raised an eyebrow at Rose who shrugged her shoulders.
"Everywhere else full?" Al asked the boy.
"Yes." His answer was clipped and cold, his gray eyes darting back and forth between them.
"You can sit with us if you'd like," Al said, waving to the empty seats.
Still he hesitated, and Rose, frowning, asked "Is it because I'm a Weasley?"
The boy looked taken aback. "No. It's because I'm a Malfoy."
"Well, I'm a Potter and I'm pretty sure we're allowed to sit with whomever we want."
"You really want me to sit with you?"
"I don't know," Al said with an exaggerated sigh and an exasperated look at Rose. "I'm starting to think you might be a bit thick."
"My name's Scorpius," the boy said, stepping into the compartment and sliding the door closed.
"I'm Rose, and that's Al."
"I know who you are," Scorpius said with a little roll of his eyes.
"Chocolate frog," asked Al, holding one out.
Scorpius reached for it, unwrapped it, and had the frog halfway to his mouth before he stopped. "This isn't…it's not…"
"Poisoned?" Rose asked, trying not to giggle at the look of deep suspicion with which Scorpius was regarding the candy.
"I've been to your Uncle's joke shop. Am I going to burst into a canary if I eat this? Will I croak the rest of the day?" Scorpius stared at the frog, now struggling in his grip, as though it might hex him at any moment.
"It's just a chocolate frog, mate," Al said, grinning.
Scorpius's cheeks colored, and he took a tentative bite. Rose watched his fingers tap anxiously on his knees, saw the stiffness of his posture and the way he kept himself angled toward the compartment door, as though he might have to make a run for it.
"What's your Quidditch team?" Rose asked, hoping to settle his nerves.
"Falmouth Falcons," Scorpius said immediately, and Rose saw his shoulders just barely relax.
"I take it all back," Al said. "You can't sit with us. The Falcons?"
"I suppose you're a Harpies fan?" Scorpius asked dryly. "Since your mum played for them."
Rose laughed. "Al's a Puddlemere fan. Aunt Ginny is so ashamed of him."
"Least I'm not a Cannons supporter," Al shot back.
"You can't possibly mean the Chudley Cannons?" Scorpius asked, aghast.
"They're my dad's team!" she exclaimed loyally, sticking out her tongue.
"Do you play?" Al asked.
"Yes," Scorpius said. "I'm guessing you do, too?"
Rose burst into laughter. "Al loves to watch Quiditch."
"Real nice, Rose," her cousin scowled. "You can't play either!"
"We're not the best fliers, though I at least can stay on a broom," Rose admitted, still laughing at the memory of the last time Al had tumbled from the sky. "Our fathers still aren't over it."
"My brother James is going to be a chaser for Gryffindor this year. My little sister, Lily, is the one with the real talent, though."
"And my brother Hugo's a fair flier. I just got my mum's incompatibility with broomsticks."
"Least you know what the Wronski Feint is," Al said, and Rose beamed at him.
"I've always played keeper," Scorpius said.
There was a long pause as Al dug in his bag for more chocolate frogs and Rose stared at Scorpius. He still looked so scared, even more scared than she felt, and she wondered what it must be like to have everyone know your last name out of fear rather than love.
"My dad said that your family wouldn't like me," Scorpius said suddenly, staring at his hands.
"My dad told me that it doesn't matter what someone's born, but what they grow to be." The matter-of-fact tone of Al's voice reminded her of her Uncle's. "It's not your fault you're a Malfoy,"
"And it's not our fault we're Weasleys," Rose said.
"Oi. Potter, here," Al objected indignantly.
"You're half Weasley," Rose argued. "The point is that it's all rather silly, in the end. What difference does it matter what your last name is or what house you're in?"
Al snorted. "Of course it matters what house you're in. What if it was Slytherin. No offense."
"I'm not going to be in Slytherin," Scorpius said, sounding completely unconcerned.
"Well, it wouldn't matter to me if you were," Rose said hotly.
"That's what my dad said," Al sighed. "What a load of rubbish."
"Ravenclaw wouldn't be so bad," Scorpius said carefully.
"No," Al agreed. "And anyway, my dad says that the sorting hat takes our choice into account."
Rose secretly found that knowledge comforting because she'd rather be a Hufflepuff than a Ravenclaw. Logically, she knew that it didn't matter what house she was in, that her parents loved her no matter what. She also knew that Ravenclaws did more than study - Victoire was a seeker and a prefect after all - but deep down, Rose wanted to be more than her mother's brain. She wanted to be brave like her both of her parents and selfless like her Uncle Harry and funny like her Aunt Ginny. She wanted to be a Gryffindor more than anything in the whole world.
Several long moments passed in silence before Al finally spoke again. "What's it like?" he asked, his gaze fixed on Scorpius. "Being a Malfoy?
"What's it like being a Potter," Scorpius asked with a long suffering sigh. "Think of that and then imagine the exact opposite."
"But your father's done so much since the war," Rose said tentatively. She knew her parents did not care for Scorpius's father, but she also knew that there was a certain grudging respect that they had felt for Draco Malfoy, the work he'd done, and the causes he'd supported since the war. She'd once heard her mum claim he was trying to buy his way into everyone's good graces, but even her dad had pointed out that no matter the motive, the Malfoy money was finally doing some no-strings-attached good.
Scorpius sat quietly for a long time, before finally catching Rose's eye. "Why are you being so nice to me," he asked quietly. "I know what my dad did to your mum."
Rose frowned. "What'd he do to her?"
"Loads," Scorpius sighed again, turning his attention to the blurred green of the countryside.
It took a while to coax Scorpius back into conversation, and, when Rose finally succeeded, the rest of the trip to Hogwarts passed quietly, all three of them ignoring their earlier conversation. Al read his potions text while Scorpius and Rose played a seriously competitive game of exploding snap. At one point, James stuck his head in and jerked back when he saw Scorpius. At Rose and Al's pointed looks he'd gone on without saying anything. Scorpius pretended not to notice, but Rose saw him relax just a little bit more after James left without making a comment.
When they were nearing the castle and pulling on their robes, Rose finally spoke up again. "I hope we're all sorted together."
Scorpius's eyes flashed to hers. "You mean the Weasleys?" he asked.
"Albus Severus Potter," Al muttered mutinously.
"No, I mean the three of us," she said.
"You've just met me," Scorpius pointed out.
"We're excellent judges of character," Al said. "Why d'you think we were avoiding my brother?"
"And even if we're not in the same house," Rose said, ignoring the pair of them, "You have to come to visit Hagrid with us for tea next week."
"Just don't eat his rock cakes," Al said, digging for his hat.
Scorpius didn't say anything, just followed them out of the compartment and down to the boats. Hagrid called out to she and Al, and Rose couldn't help but notice the strange look he gave Scorpius. Scorpius, too, had noticed, so she took hold of his arm. "Come along, then," she commanded, pulling him into a boat. "We'll all ride together."
"She gets bossy when she's nervous," Al said, and a corner of Scorpius's mouth pulled up into a reluctant, crooked smile.
They sat huddled together for the ride up to the castle, Rose and Al sandwiching Scorpius in. She waved to Parminder Thomas and Martin Shacklebolt, who were speaking animatedly to a dark haired girl Rose had never seen before. Al pulled a face at Katie Finnegan, who'd put ink in his tea the last time their parents had been to visit Katie's parents, Seamus and Lavendar. Scorpius kept his eyes on his hands, and Rose was glad when she saw the looks some of their soon-to-be classmates were giving him.
"Breathe," she whispered to him, squeezing his arm.
"Told you," Al said. "Bossy."
When they finally arrived at the castle, Rose felt herself tearing up. She'd waited her whole life for this moment - to arrive and be sorted and roam the grounds with Al. She could barely believe it was all real. Scorpius, too, stood staring in awe at Hogwarts, and Al had to drag them both inside. They huddled together as they were led into the Great Hall and with every name that was called, she found herself feeling more and more nervous. Finally, Headmistress Sinistra called out, "Malfoy, Scorpius."
At once there was a rush of whispers through the hall and Scorpius, head bowed, headed for the hat. Rose reached out and grabbed Al's hand. Al squeezed back hard. "Not Slytherin," he begged. "Please not Slytherin."
Rose found herself wishing hard for Scorpius to be sorted into Gryffindor. It seemed as unlikely as Al being put into Slytherin - he didn't have an ambitious bone in his body - but still she hoped. The hat sat on Scorpius's head longer than it had for anyone else, and when it finally yelled, "Gryffindor," Rose's gasp of relief seemed to be the only sound in the hushed hall. She tried to catch Scorpius's eye, but he sat himself at the very farthest edge of the table and stared without expression at the gold plate in front of him.
When it was Al's turn, he trotted up to the hat and had barely managed to get it over his wild mass of dark hair when it sorted him into his parents' house. With a grin he walked across the hall, ignoring his brother and sitting down next to Scorpius. She saw them, heads bent together, and, for the first time that day, Scorpius smiled. A real smile that wasn't nervous or apprehensive or shy.
Because she was a Weasley - and the only one in her year - Rose's name came last. As she approached the hat, Al gave her a thumbs up and Scorpius grinned at her. She sat on the stool, and when the hat hit her head it almost groaned.
"Another Weasley? Gryffindor tower will run out of space. But you have your mother's mind, and a thirst for knowledge. Ravenclaw would suit you quite well. And you have ambitions, quite big ones I see, and a thirst to prove yourself. Slytherin would take you far."
"Gryffindor. It has to be Gryffindor," she begged.
"I don't know," said the hat, unsure. "Ravenclaw would - "
"He needs me," Rose said. "Gryffindor."
"Well, if you're sure," the hat seemed to sigh, and it sent her to Al and Scorpius's side.