Chapter 12

Albus’s voice seemed to echo across the entire hall.

Will you come to Slughorn’s party with me?

            A shocked silence fell upon the students as if the room had taken a collective gasp. It dawned on Albus that the whole school had heard his pronouncement, including the teachers. He wondered how McGonagall would react, what Hagrid would say. Worst of all, he thought of his brother, who, no doubt, would think Albus had gone completely insane.

Yet he’d made his decision. This was the only way to get Scorpius to trust him. Now, all he had to do was wait for Scorpius’s answer.

He realised, with a sinking feeling, that it was entirely possible that Scorpius would say ‘no’. As the silence stretched, and Scorpius failed to speak, Albus’s hope began to dwindle.

For his part, Scorpius seemed too shocked to answer. He was gazing at Albus, uncomprehending. When at last Scorpius spoke, his voice trembled. “What did you say?” he asked.

Albus blanched at the idea of repeating the question, but he drew a breath. “Will you go to Slughorn’s party with me?” he said again, his voice stronger and louder than before.

Scorpius wavered. “Is this a trick?”

Albus held out his hand for Scorpius to take.

Scorpius looked at it, his brow furrowed. After a moment, he hesitantly, placed his hand in Albus’s and let Albus pull him to his feet.

“Yes,” Scorpius replied at last.

There was an outbreak of muttering. The Great Hall fidgeted, the air growing hot with tension.

“Let’s go,” Albus said quietly.

He retreated from the Great Hall. He could hear Scorpius following after him and slowed down for the other boy to catch up. They walked back to the common room in silence. Albus wanted to speak, but he was afraid of saying the wrong thing; he had a habit of putting his foot in it whenever he spoke to the blond-haired boy. When they reached the stairs leading down to the dungeons, it was Scorpius who awkwardly cleared his throat. “I don’t understand you,” he said.

Albus winced. “I don’t think I’ve made a very good first impression,” he replied, his cheeks warming.

“Do you realise what you just did?” Scorpius said in a quiet voice. “You sided with me. Everyone thinks I killed your roommate and now you’ve asked me to Slughorn’s party. You’re going to get so much grief…”

“Who cares what other people think?” Albus replied, sounding much bolder and braver than he actually felt. “We know the truth. No one’s going to believe McGonagall would let you stay at Hogwarts if you really attacked Arty.”

Scorpius stopped walking. “Albus, they think Voldemort is my father,” he said. “People will believe anything.”

Albus’s stomach was churning by the time they reached the hidden door to the common room. He was glad he hadn’t eaten any dinner for he was certain he’d be bringing it back up again if he had.

When he’d returned to his room, he shut the door and leaned against it. A grey tentacle with white suckers swished past the window, leaving a slimy trail across the glass.

Albus watched the tentacle disappear into the black waters of the lake. He realised he’d been standing in the same spot for at least a minute. He shook himself and searched through his trunk for his green and gold dress robes. He’d shoved them back in with all his other stuff after Slughorn’s last party. Now, the robes were badly creased. He wished he knew the spell for smoothing them out. On second thought, it was probably a good thing that he didn’t: with his luck, he’d end up setting himself on fire.

When he was dressed, he went to stand in front of the mirror. His hair was its usual black mess. He tried to flatten it down, even resorting to digging out his comb, but there were several tufts that refused to lie flat. He pulled at the ends of his sleeves, tried to smooth the creases in his collar and then leaned closer to the mirror to inspect his face. He looked scruffy and tired. He straightened his glasses and rubbed them with his robes to clean off the smudges. It dawned on him that he’d be walking into the party with Scorpius beside him. Scorpius with his smooth skin, his perfectly-styled platinum hair and his expensive silver robes.

            There was a soft knock at the door. After taking one last hopeless glance at his reflection, Albus hurried to answer it.

He did a double-take at the sight of Scorpius. He was in brilliant white robes. He’d changed his hair so that his fringe wasn’t covering his eyes. Instead, it flicked to one side, tapering off into platinum spikes.

“Wow,” Albus said. He felt his cheeks warming. “I like your hair like that. It’s much better than normal.”

“You don’t like it the other way?” Scorpius asked.

Albus faltered. “No, I didn’t mean that,” he replied.

Scorpius was frowning.

“I like your hair both ways,” Albus continued, trying to backtrack, “but this way is much better. I can see your eyes more clearly.”

No response.

“And you shouldn’t hide them because they’re very nice. I mean, I think girls would like them. I don’t really like them – not like that. I like them in a friend way. Because we’re going to the party as friends. Just friends…”

It was as if his mouth had taken on a mind of its own. He wasn’t even sure what he was rambling on about, blabbering like some sort of idiot. What was worse, Scorpius’s expression had become more and more confused the longer Albus spoke.

“Shall we go, then?” the other boy asked.

“Right,” Albus replied, “yeah. Let’s go.”

As they made their way to Slughorn’s office, Albus tried, in vain, to smooth his dress robes, but the creases were clearly too ingrained to be fixed. Scorpius walked at his side, saying nothing.

At the door to the office, Albus paused. His palms were sweating, his skin clammy. It was then that he remembered that both Missy and Salmer would be at Slughorn’s party.

Am I mad? he thought. Scorpius was right. They’re going to crucify me.

“We can go back,” Scorpius told him. “We don’t have to go in.”

“Yes, we do,” Albus answered. He brushed absently at his robes as he reached for the door handle.

“Wait,” said Scorpius.

“We’re going in!” Albus told him firmly. “I don’t care what people say about it!”

For the first time since they’d met, Albus saw a thin smile curve Scorpius’s mouth. It brightened his whole face; his silvery eyes glinted. Albus wished he had his sketchpad. He could feel his fingers tracing the lines of Scorpius’s face, practising the curve of his nose, the sharpness of his jaw. “I wasn’t going to suggest we go back,” Scorpius said. “I was going to do this.” He took out his wand, pointed it at Albus’s robes and muttered, “Vigatursous.” Scorpius passed his wand over the creases in Albus’s robes. The fabric smoothed out until there wasn’t a single furrow left.

“Is there any spell you don’t know?” Albus asked.

For the second time, the corners of Scorpius’s mouth turned upwards.

Twice, Albus thought, his stomach performing a flip. That’s twice I’ve made him smile.

            For some reason, the thought filled him with courage. Once more, he reached for the handle and this time he turned it.

The party was busy and bustling. The office had tripled in size since Albus had last been here, probably owing to some kind of extension charm. The ceilings and walls were draped with green and silver fabrics, giving the impression they were in a tent. There were tables laid out with silver platters piled with food. Waiters carried jewelled goblets on trays.

As Albus and Scorpius stepped inside, they were offered drinks. Albus’s hand shook as he brought a goblet to his mouth for a sip – pumpkin juice. It didn’t settle his stomach. If anything, his insides seemed to churn even worse than ever.

Then, silence fell. It settled over the room like a blanket.

“Albus, my boy!” came Slughorn’s booming voice. “Ah, and your date is…” Slughorn was brought up short by the sight of Scorpius, but he recovered quickly. “Ah, young Master Scorpius. What fine robes. Fine, fine robes.” He nodded to himself, then wandered off to speak to a group of fifth-year students.

The chatter in the room had returned, but every now and again, the other partygoers would send quick, snide glances towards Albus and his partner.

“Please tell me we’re not staying long,” Scorpius whispered.

“We’re not staying long,” Albus replied, managing to get another smile out of Scorpius.

They made their way towards the food, though neither of them ate anything. Albus tried to think of something to say, some interesting topic of conversation to start them off, but his mind was blank, too concerned with the countless pairs of eyes glancing his way.

They ended up sidling towards a dark corner of the room, neither of them speaking and no one else approaching them.

Say something, Albus urged himself.

“The food looks good,” he finally said.

“Yes, I wish I was hungry,” Scorpius replied. “I like your robes, by the way,” he said, averting his eyes to the floor. “What made you choose those colours?”

It was Albus’s turn to look at the floor. “Because of quidditch,” he replied. “They’re the colours of the Brazilian team.”

Scorpius seemed disappointed with this response. “Oh, quidditch…” he said. “I don’t really know much about quidditch.”

“Gonçalo Flores,” Albus blurted, then inwardly groaned. “I’m not a big fan of quidditch either, but there’s this player on the Brazilian team – Gonçalo Flores. He’s… His face is… I think…” Albus let his voice trail off.

“His face?” Scorpius said. “What about his face?”

“It’s interesting,” Albus replied. “Like yours.” The words had come out before he could stop them. This conversation was going from bad to worse. Albus opened his mouth to change the subject, but he was interrupted by the appearance of Drake Salmer and Missy Groombridge. Drake’s cool blue robes clashed with Missy’s pink ones.

“You really brought the werewolf?” Salmer said, his face wrinkling with disgust. “I thought that was a joke. Even Pan the Troll would’ve been better than him.”

Missy’s expression was full of malice. “So, your date is a boy?” she asked Albus. She elbowed Salmer playfully in the arm. “I hope we weren’t interrupting a private moment.”

“We’re just friends,” Albus replied.

“Oh really?” Missy questioned in a voice that said she didn’t believe him. “But I thought you were just telling Scorpion that his face was ‘interesting’.”

Albus had no reply to that.

Scorpius had his arms crossed. Salmer and Missy were grinning.

“Let’s go,” Salmer crooned. “We should leave the two lovebirds in peace.”

“We’re just friends!” Albus repeated, louder this time.

They smirked as they walked off, leaving Albus glaring after them, his fists clenched. “Can you believe those two?” he said. “They actually think we’re together?”

“Well, you did ask me here,” Scorpius replied.

“I know, but it’s ridiculous!”

“Right…” Scorpius said, his voice trailing off. “I’m going to have a look around.”

Albus frowned after Scorpius as he disappeared into the crowd. People gave the platinum-haired boy a wide berth as he passed them. Albus was about to go after him, but then he caught sight of something bright red. The scarlet hem of a set of robes disappeared through a doorway at the other end of the room. There was only one person at Hogwarts who wore that colour.


Albus hurried towards the door, which was closing behind the deputy headmaster. Albus caught it with his foot just in time. He peeked his head through the gap. Thorn’s robe whipped out of sight around the curve of a thin, stone passageway. Albus followed until the sound of voices reverberated to him from around the corner. He stopped in his tracks, recognising his uncle’s voice.

“… shouldn’t have set it loose here,” Neville said, his voice tight and agitated.

It?” replied Thorn, equally irate. “Have you forgotten that the wolf you’re talking about is—”

“I haven’t forgotten anything!”  Neville retorted sharply. “But Hogwarts is no place for wolves. It’s dangerous. After everything that’s happened, I deserve to know what you’re planning.”

“My plans are no concern of yours, Longbottom.”

“I have every right—”

“You have no right! Do not send me any more messages, do not keep attempting to follow me and, Longbottom, do not ever presume to poke your nose into my private affairs again or else I’ll make you regret it.”

“Oh really?” Neville replied. “You’ll do what exactly?”

“Things are changing at Hogwarts,” Thorn said threateningly. “Teachers who can’t keep up will soon find themselves in another profession.”

“How dare you—”

“Remember, Longbottom,” Thorn said darkly, “that you are speaking to your deputy headmaster.” There was a tense silence. “Think about what I’ve said.”

Albus was too distracted, at first, to notice the sound of approaching footsteps. As his brain caught up with his ears, he kicked his legs into action, racing towards the passage entrance as quickly as he could. When he passed through the doorway, however, he was sure that Thorn caught sight of him, those grave eyes narrowing in anger. Albus pulled the door closed, turned on his heel and ran.

He weaved through the partygoers, eyes peeled for any sign of Scorpius. They needed to get out of here. If Albus had heard right, Thorn was the one who’d sabotaged Arty’s potion. Worst of all, Uncle Neville knew about it.

            He knew and he didn’t tell anyone.

Missy stepped in Albus’s path, and he almost crashed into her. “If you’re looking for your boyfriend, he already left,” she told him. She’d ditched Salmer and was now standing with an older student. Albus recognised the upturned nose of her brother, Riley. Missy swiftly turned her back on Albus, pulling her brother by the arm and leading him into a quiet corner. Clearly, she didn’t want their conversation to be overheard.

Albus halted on the spot. He thought of Arty, of the Wolfsbane potion, of Missy’s brother mysteriously getting ill when he should’ve been on guard duty.

He took a single step in Missy’s direction, but then he caught sight of a set of scarlet robes weaving through the crowd. Albus hurried towards the exit. Just before he escaped, he caught sight of Slughorn’s look of disappointment.

Albus moved quickly along the corridors, taking two secret passages to get back to the common room quickly. He needn’t have worried. Thorn didn’t seem to be following him.

In any case, he was relieved when he passed through the hidden door, entering the flickering green light of the common room. Albus was surprised to find himself comforted by the Slytherin colours, the dungeon-room feeling strangely homely. The emerald flames of the torches that had once seemed creepy and ghoulish now relaxed him.

He was called over to one of the tables by the great arched windows that looked out into the depths of the lake. Pan was waiting for him. To Albus’s surprise, Scorpius sat opposite her, still wearing his white dress robes and gazing out of the window distractedly.

“So,” said Pan as Albus sat down, “was the party like eating flobberworm slime or like being attacked by a giant dung beetle?”

Albus ignored the question. “I saw Thorn at the party and I followed him,” he said, “and I heard him talking to my uncle Neville.”

“Your uncle?” Scorpius questioned, turning to look at Albus for the first time.

“Professor Longbottom,” Albus replied.

“Well?” Pan prompted, impatiently. “What did you hear?”

“Thorn is the one who tampered with the wolfsbane potion,” Albus said. “And somehow my uncle knew about it.”

Scorpius’s eyes widened. “Professor Longbottom is involved in all this?” he said, his tone disbelieving. “I can’t imagine him working with Thorn. I always got the impression they hated one another.”

“I think they do,” Albus replied. “But I know what I heard. They were talking about a wolf and my uncle was telling Thorn it was dangerous.”

“Well, we know it was dangerous,” said Pan. “Arty nearly killed you.”

“Missy and her brother were at the party too,” I said. “They were talking together. It seemed like they didn’t want anyone to hear. What if they were talking about Thorn? What if he’d convinced Riley not to come to my room to guard me last night?”

Scorpius shook his head. “I doubt Thorn would let a student know his plan in case they told someone,” he said. “It’s more likely he stopped Riley from guarding you some other way.”

Pan tutted. “Thorn must’ve cursed Riley to make him sick,” she said. “What a psycho.”

“But why?” Albus asked. “Why did Thorn tamper with the potion? Why did he want Arty to lose control like that?”

Scorpius shifted in his seat, looking uncomfortable.

“Spit it out,” Pan told him. “We’re all friends here.”

“Well, isn’t it obvious?” Scorpius said. “Most of the school hates me because of my family and because of who they think my father is. Don’t you think the same thing applies to Albus?” He gestured towards Albus’s hair, then his glasses. “Some people never stopped supporting Voldemort’s idea of wizards ruling muggles. Harry Potter defeated Voldemort and crushed that dream. Albus, you look just like your father. There are people out there who might not like you for it.”

The nagging fear that had been in the back of Albus’s mind, reared up, spreading through him like a virus. “Did you read the Skeeter article?” he asked Scorpius.

“I think everyone has,” Scorpius replied. “The woman’s a hack, but that doesn’t mean she’s wrong. Your house was broken into, Albus.”

Albus sat forward in his chair to hide the fact that he was clutching his stomach. “You really think I’m in danger?” he asked.

“Arty easily could’ve killed you,” Scorpius replied. “If Professor Thorn had something to do with it, then maybe he’s an old Voldemort supporter.”

“Now you’ve done it,” Pan piped up. “Albus will be worrying for weeks.”

“I’m fine,” Albus said, careful to keep his voice even. “Scorpius is right. I need to be on the lookout.”

“We all do,” Scorpius replied.

Pan nodded. “Yeah, we’re not going to let Thorn do you in,” she said.

Albus paled. “Great, thanks,” he muttered.

A few minutes later, Pan waved them goodnight as she descended the stairs to the girls’ dormitories. Albus and Scorpius made their way to their rooms.

“Thanks for inviting me to the party,” Scorpius said when they reached their floor. He stood outside his room, arms crossing his chest so that the sleeves of his white robes hung down in front of him, a wall of pearly material.

“You’re welcome,” Albus replied.

Scorpius paused, watching Albus closely. It was as if he was waiting for something, but Albus couldn’t figure out what it was.

Maybe he’s just waiting for me to go to my room and leave him alone, Albus thought.

He was about to do just that when Drake Salmer came sauntering down the steps. His polished shoes tapped on the stone, his blue robes looking almost black in the shadowy emerald light. “Oh, it’s the lovebirds,” he said, his lip curled. He stopped beside Scorpius, who was doing a good job of pretending Salmer wasn’t there. “It’s bad enough that I have to share a room with Voldemort’s son, but now it turns out you’re a crazy werewolf and a gayboy to boot. I’ve told McGonagall I want a new roommate. My father agrees. He’s written to the school.”

“What a shame,” Scorpius quipped. “I’ll so miss your pleasant conversation and clever wit.”

Salmer scowled at him, then his gaze slid towards Albus. “No wonder the school hates Slytherin,” he breathed, “with scum like the two of you in our house. I thought Harry Potter’s son might actually be a good thing for Slytherin. I assumed, at least, that you’d be a good quidditch player, but you’re a liability. You’ve thrown your lot in with Scorpion, the school freak. Well good luck to you. I hope you’re both very happy together.” He sneered at each of them in turn before disappearing through the door.

“Do you think we’ll ever live this down?” Albus asked. “Are people going to think we’re a couple?”

Scorpius shrugged. “Does it matter?”

“It’s just so ridiculous!”

“Yes, you said that before,” Scorpius said. “You don’t have to keep repeating it.” He turned towards the door. “Night, Albus.”

For what felt like the hundredth time, Albus found the door to Scorpius’s room slamming in his face. What had he said this time?

He headed into his dormitory, stopping in the doorway when he saw someone was already inside. Arty was packing his things into an overflowing trunk. He wasn’t being careful about it. In fact, he was pelting stuff into his case as if he were in a great hurry.

“You’re really leaving, then?” Albus asked.

Arty didn’t even look up as he reached into his wardrobe and pulled out an armful of clothes and robes. “I have to go,” he said, emptying his arms into the trunk.

“Arty, it wasn’t your fault,” Albus told him.

“Slughorn brewed the potion wrong,” Arty replied as he continued to frantically pack. “He could do it again. This could happen again.”

“But I don’t think Slughorn got the potion wrong at all,” Albus said. “I think someone sabotaged it on purpose.”

Arty froze in the middle of emptying his bedside table. “Are you serious?”

Albus nodded.

“Who?” he asked.

Albus hesitated, not sure Arty would believe him. “Thorn,” he said at last.

Arty screwed his face up in confusion. “The deputy headmaster?” he replied sceptically.

“I overheard him talking about it.”

Arty paused for a moment. Albus thought he might be reconsidering his plan to leave, but then he grabbed a nearby drawer and tipped the whole thing upside-down into his trunk.

“What are you doing?” Albus asked. “You’re innocent. It wasn’t your fault and… didn’t you hear what I said?”

“Albus,” Arty said as he threw yet more stuff into his already overflowing case, “it doesn’t change anything. Actually, it makes it worse. If you’re right, then the deputy headmaster of Hogwarts tampered with my wolfsbane potion!”

Albus stumbled over his next words. Indeed, the fact that Thorn had purposefully sabotaged Arty’s potion seemed like a very good reason for Arty to leave. “You can’t go!” he cried. “Come on! Thorn’s not stupid enough to do it again!”

Arty slammed his trunk closed and hoisted it upright. “Thanks for trying, Albus,” he said. “I mean it. But I have to leave.”

“Arty…” Albus muttered pitifully as the other boy dragged his trunk towards the door. As he passed by Albus, he clapped him on the shoulder and smiled sadly.

He left the room without another word, the door clicking shut in his wake.

Albus was left alone in the green glow of the dormitory, the room tidier than it had ever been, and yet, at the same time, much less inviting. The place felt empty without Arty’s clothing strewn across the floor, stolen food from the kitchen littering his bedside table or his open trunk spilling out its contents of sweets and robes and bent quills.

Albus sat on the end of his bed and shuddered at the thought of spending the rest of the year, perhaps the rest of his school life, without a roommate. He didn’t much like the idea of coming back to this room alone every evening, especially knowing there was a good chance someone was trying to kill him.

The thought struck him cold.

Someone’s trying to kill me.

            It couldn’t just be a coincidence that Albus’s family home had been broken into and, days later, Thorn had tried to have him murdered. Was it possible that Rabastan Lestrange had been behind the break-in? If so, were Rabastan and Thorn working together?

Albus couldn’t get himself to believe it. For one thing, Uncle Neville seemed to be in on the plot, and though his uncle had been acting a bit odd recently, there was no way he’d get involved with someone like Lestrange. Neville hated anyone connected with the dark arts.

Although, it wasn’t as if Neville had been cosying up to the defence against the dark arts teacher. Quite the opposite. Was this the reason Neville and Thorn were always arguing? Had Neville known about Thorn’s plan to hurt Albus and he’d wanted to stop it?

Why not just tell McGonagall his fears? Albus thought.

His mind went around and around in circles, trying to make sense of everything that had happened and yet coming up with no answers. The only thing he did know was that his friend Arty had been forced to leave Hogwarts because of what Thorn had done.

Now, there wasn’t even a trace of Arty left in this room. Albus glanced around, trying to spot some lingering evidence of his werewolf roommate. His eyes fell upon the rectangular mirror sitting on the mantelpiece above the fireplace. It was the present Aberfa had given to Arty. Albus turned it over. There was a message on the back.


            So you can sort out your untidy hair in the morning.

            From Aberfa.


Albus returned the mirror to its position on the mantelpiece. At least he had one thing of Arty’s with which to remember him, but it left Albus feeling no less miserable about his roommate’s departure.

He got undressed and climbed into bed. The emerald flames in the sconces dimmed. Albus, who thought he’d grown used to the numerous strange creatures that glided past the window, now felt unsettled each time a fish darted by or a bit of pondweed drifted in the current.

Shutting his eyes and wishing for sleep to come, he decided that, without Arty, his evenings were going to be very lonely from now on.


The next morning, Pan was waiting for him in the common room with an embarrassed-looking Scorpius at her side. Apparently, she’d caught him on the way to breakfast earlier that morning and convinced him to eat with her and Albus instead. While they made their way to the Great Hall, Scorpius repeated again and again that he would’ve preferred to go down to breakfast earlier to avoid the rush. It was a Sunday and it would be busy.

Pan rolled her eyes at him. “You can’t always be scared of everyone,” she said. “The more you hide away, the more all those other idiots we go to school with will think you’ve got something to hide.”

“You won’t be saying that when people start jinxing us in the corridors,” he replied.

She gestured around at the corridor they were currently walking along. “No jinxes so far,” she said.

Scorpius looked uneasy. “We’ll see.”

Yes, they did see. They saw at least twelve hexes, which all thankfully missed their target, bar one, a nasty horn-tongue hex that caught Albus full in the mouth and grew his tongue to a three-foot rhino horn before Scorpius was able to undo it. By the time they reached the Great Hall, all three of them were panting from dodging wayward spells, their robes lopsided and their wands clutched tightly in their hands. Not that Albus’s wand had done him much good, nor Pan’s for that matter. Scorpius was the only one who’d managed to fend off any of the hexes with counter-spells.

“I hate to say ‘I told you so’,” Scorpius said to Pan as they went to sit at the Slytherin table, “but ‘I told you so’.”

“They’re gits, all of them,” Pan grumbled as she plonked herself onto one of the benches. “I’m going to punch that third-year’s lights out if I see him again. He would’ve got me with that sardine hex if I hadn’t leaped behind that suit of armour.”

Albus suppressed a grin at the memory of hundreds of sardines shooting out of the suit of armour’s mouthguard.

“If he’d got me,” Pan continued, “all those sardines would’ve been coming out of my mouth!”

“Actually,” said Scorpius, “they would’ve come out of your nose. I guess the spell worked differently for the suit of armour because it didn’t have one.”

Albus lifted a goblet to his face to hide his amused smile.

Danielle, who had been listening in on their conversation, leaned forward, her fork held suspended in the air with a piece of bacon on the end of it. “Sardine hexes are horrible,” she said. “I’m glad they didn’t get any of you.” She sent Albus a shy smile.

Albus felt slightly breathless as he blinked stupidly back at her.

“Actually, Albus did get hit,” Pan said. “His tongue was about the size of a giant flesh-eating slug before Scorpius fixed it.”

Albus felt himself deflate. Danielle was no longer smiling shyly at him; she was staring at his mouth, perhaps wondering if his tongue still resembled a large snail.

“Thanks, Pan,” Albus muttered once Danielle had returned her attention to the other Slytherin first-years, all of whom were flatly ignoring Albus, Pan and Scorpius. Even Aberfa – the only other remotely friendly Slytherin – was refusing to look their way.

“How did you cope with it?” Albus asked Scorpius as he picked up a slice of toast. “Being ignored like this?”

Scorpius shrugged. “I usually just read a book,” he replied. “It definitely helped my studies.”

Pan sighed. “So, we’re in a house that everyone hates. But no one in our most-hated house wants to talk to us. We are the least popular students in the whole school.”

“A fair assessment,” Scorpius said.

Albus buttered his toast and took a large bite out of it. Scorpius took out a book and started reading. Pan, meanwhile, was gazing out of the window at the distant quidditch pitch.

Albus scanned the staff table for any sign of Thorn or Uncle Neville, but neither of them was there. He wondered how long it would be until Thorn made another attempt on his life and, if he did, what form the attack would take. Arty had left the school, so that was one option gone.

Maybe he’ll abandon being sly and just avada kedavra me in the middle of the corridor.

The dark turn of his thoughts was interrupted by the arrival of the post owls. Not expecting any mail, Albus carried on eating his toast without paying much attention to the flock of birds whizzing in and out of the rafters. When a familiar reddish-brown owl alighted on top of his goblet, however, he dropped his toast at once.

“Salvador!” he gasped. He hadn’t been expecting a reply to his mum’s letter so quickly. The little owl pecked Albus’s finger, then brushed its head against his palm, hooting softly. Albus tickled under Salvador’s neck. The owl hooted louder this time, then stuck out its leg, on which was attached a letter. When Albus unclipped it, Salvador gave him another nip, fanned its auburn wings and flew off.

“Is it from your mum?” Pan whispered.

Albus nodded. He’d known it as soon as he’d seen the handwriting on the envelope. Scorpius was busy detaching a letter from his own owl – a beautiful eagle owl with unusually pale feathers – and he soon became absorbed in reading what he’d been sent.

Trying to remember what Albus had written in the letter to his mother, he tore open the envelope and began to read.

My Dearest Albus,

            Firstly, I need to have a moment to gush and be soppy. I know you won’t roll your eyes at me like James, but I also know you’ll think I’m being overly emotional. But I can’t help it. When Minerva told us what happened with Arty’s wolfsbane potion, I think I almost collapsed. Your father went white. We were both terrified you’d been given the curse. I’m so glad you’re okay. As soon as we heard, I wanted to come visit, but Minerva said to wait until things had quietened down. I understand Arty has decided to leave Hogwarts. I feel awful for him. But, selfishly, I can’t help feeling slightly relieved. I don’t think I would’ve been able to sleep otherwise.

            As it turns out, your father and I will be seeing you soon anyway. We’ll be coming to Hogwarts to discuss something with Minerva in a couple of days.

            As for your father, Lily and me, we are all absolutely fine. Rita blew the break-in completely out of proportion. I don’t want you to worry about us at all. We’re all very well and the ministry has put twice as much magical protection around the house. It’s been a bit of a pain actually; your letter had to be checked by two separate officials before I was allowed to go near it.

            Albus, I’m so pleased you’re making friends. I’m sure Pan is a lovely girl, and she’s right to tell you to worry less. There’s nothing to be anxious about.

             Finally, on the topic of Scorpius Malfoy, I think it’s wonderful you’ve made another friend, especially since I’ve heard he hasn’t been very warmly welcomed by the rest of the students. To be honest, I can’t help loving him – even if he’s a horrible little so-and-so – because he helped save your life. For that, he gets a free pass. Your father isn’t against your friendship with him, but he wants me to warn you to be careful. He keeps reminding me how untrustworthy Draco Malfoy was when we were at Hogwarts. It’s true – he wasn’t very nice. But Scorpius is his own person. He isn’t Draco Malfoy any more than you’re Harry Potter. So, my advice – think about your father’s warning and just keep it in the back of your mind. Anyway, enough said.

            Lily misses you like mad, by the way. She can’t wait to come to Hogwarts next year.

            We all miss you.

            All our love,

            Mum, Dad and Lily.


Albus folded the letter and tucked it into the pocket of his robes. His mum’s words had left him with mixed feelings. On the one hand, the knowledge that even his family’s post was being double-checked by the ministry gave him some hope that if Rabastan Lestrange really was trying to attack them, he’d have a much harder time doing it now than he would’ve done before. On the other hand, his father’s warnings about Scorpius filled him with unease. How would he react when he found out Albus had taken Scorpius to Slughorn’s party?

As to his mother’s repeated assurances that everything was fine and that Albus shouldn’t worry, he couldn’t quite bring himself to believe her. Something was going on. She was trying to protect him, trying to keep him from being afraid, but the fact was – someone had tried to break into their house. There was every reason to worry.

“Everything okay?” Pan asked.

Albus nodded. “No news,” he replied, but then he remembered what his mum had written about visiting Hogwarts. “Oh, except that my parents are coming here to speak to McGonagall.”

She leaned closer. “You think it’s about what happened with Arty?” she whispered.

Scorpius was frowning. “I think it must be,” he said. “Because my dad told me the same thing – he’s coming to Hogwarts to speak to McGonagall as well.”

“That makes sense,” said Pan. “McGonagall won’t want the werewolf incident in the paper.” She turned to Scorpius. “I reckon she’s worried your dad might report the whole thing to the Daily Prophet.” She turned to Albus. “And your mum actually works for the Prophet.”

“Yeah, I suppose so,” said Albus.

Scorpius continued to read silently to himself for the rest of breakfast, leaving Pan and Albus to talk about their growing pile of homework and then Slytherin’s chances of winning the quidditch house cup. That particular conversation drew the attention of the other Slytherin first-years. Salmer and Missy turned hawk-like expressions on them.

“Perhaps,” said Salmer, “Pan the Troll will be so horrifically ugly that she’ll blind the other team and we’ll win by default.”

“Don’t be silly,” Missy said, “the troll’s broom will snap in half from her weight before the match even starts.”

Albus contemplated throwing his goblet of pumpkin juice at one of them, but a look from Pan changed his mind. “Not worth it,” she whispered.

“What’s the matter?” Salmer teased her. “You gone deaf as well as dumb?”

To everyone’s surprise, it was Scorpius who piped up. “She’s pretending you’re not there,” he said to Salmer. “It’s easily done. You’ve got about as much personality as a pin cushion, after all. Oh, and Missy I don’t think you should be questioning anyone’s quidditch skills, especially after last practice when your robes got caught in one of the broom twigs and you cried because it ripped the silk lining.” He put his book in his bag and stood up. “See you around.”

Albus and Pan, both suppressing laughter, followed after him. Once they’d escaped to the Entrance Hall, Scorpius sagged against the wall looking ashen while Albus and Pan fell about laughing.

“I shouldn’t have done that,” Scorpius mumbled.

Once their laughter had died down, Pan patted Scorpius on the shoulder. “No, probably not,” she said. “But I’m glad you did.”

Before they could head back to the common room, Professor McGonagall emerged from the grounds. “Ah, Potter, Malfoy!” she called. “I was hoping to run into you two!” She marched imperiously towards them, her robes fluttering in the breeze from outside. “I want to see the two of you in my office Tuesday after lunch.”

“What’s it about?” Albus asked.

“Never you mind, Potter,” she replied. “I’ve spoken to Professor Winter and he’s given you both permission to skip class on Tuesday. Don’t be late.”

Struggling not to look too pleased by the thought of a break from Winter and his brutal transfiguration lessons, Albus nodded.

McGonagall strode off into the Great Hall without further explanation.

Pan sent Albus and Scorpius scathing looks. “Gits,” she said. “I can’t believe you get to skip transfiguration.”

Scorpius didn’t look at all pleased. “I hope this doesn’t set me back too far in my studies,” he said. “Will one of you come with me to speak to Professor Winter to find out exactly what I’ll be missing?”

Albus and Pan exchanged glances. So, this was what it was like to be Scorpius’s friend.

“Fantastic,” Pan said under her breath.


After finding Professor Winter, they returned to the common room and spent the rest of the morning catching up on homework, namely their herbology essay on the cultivation, uses and properties of fluxweed. Scorpius had already completed his essay, and so he was practising the transfiguration of a hairclip to a worm, a spell which seemed to be causing him some difficulty.

“We’ve not done any animal transfiguration yet,” he said. “It’s trickier than I thought it would be.”

In between his spellcasting, Scorpius helped Pan and Albus with their essays, pointing them to the books they needed or else rewording their sentences to sound less ‘simple’.

It wasn’t long before Scorpius managed to get his little hairclip to stretch itself into a worm. The little bug concertinaed its way across the table, even travelling over the top of Pan’s parchment so that her essay had a line of slime across the title.

When their herbology homework was done, they had an equally tedious essay on Saturn and its two largest moons to complete. Even Scorpius didn’t seem overly enthusiastic about the topic. They worked together to collect research – Scorpius doing most of the heavy-lifting – and it took them so long that by the time it was done, they’d missed lunch.

Pan decided to go to the quidditch pitch to practise for her upcoming match. Scorpius took out a book and settled into a comfy chair by the glowing green embers of the fireplace. Albus checked over his essays a few times, then challenged Scorpius to a game of wizard’s chess. To Albus’s great surprise, Scorpius wasn’t very good. He didn’t plan his moves out and didn’t anticipate Albus’s strategies until it was too late.

“Oh, this is a silly game,” Scorpius said irritably after losing for a third time running. “I’m going back to my book.”

Albus laughed. He put away the chessboard and told Scorpius he was going for a lie-down, but, in truth, he wanted to finish his painting of the Black Lake.

Once again, the emptiness of his room struck him cold as he walked inside. He took out his paints and his canvas from their hiding place in his wardrobe and surveyed his work. The painting was dark and spooky. Just like the real thing, he mused.

Albus lost track of time as he added the last few details to the canvas, mixing his oil paints to get the highlights he needed and trimming his smallest brushes so he could add the glisten of scales to the fish and finish the watery veins of the pondweed. Albus had only just stepped back to admire his work when Scorpius knocked for him. Apparently, they were already late for dinner.

As usual, the other Slytherins mostly ignored Albus, Pan and Scorpius as they ate. On the staff table, Thorn and McGonagall were speaking to each other in quiet murmurs. Slughorn sent the headmistress resentful glances while, on the opposite end of the table, Uncle Neville pretended Thorn and McGonagall weren’t there. He stabbed at his food and nodded along to Professor Sinistra, a blank look on his face that clearly betrayed he wasn’t listening to a word she said.

Once they’d finished eating, Albus, Pan and Scorpius left the Great Hall for the common room, but as they passed into the Entrance Hall, loud, angry footfalls approached them from behind. Albus turned around just as a hand clamped around his upper arm. The brown-haired, freckled face of his brother loomed over him, the usually mischievous expression replaced with a look of mixed astonishment and annoyance. “What’s got into you?” he seethed. “Are you trying to be as unpopular as possible? Or are you just trying to make my life as difficult as possible?”

Pan cleared her throat. “We’ll meet you in the common room, Albus,” she said, backing away and pulling Scorpius along after her.

Albus waved them off, then fixed a defiant gaze upon his brother. “Scorpius is my friend.”

“You asked him on a date!” James exclaimed.

“I’m not gay,” Albus replied in a hushed voice.

“Then ask a girl next time!” James retorted harshly. “And if you have to ask a boy, don’t ask the one who everyone thinks is a murderous werewolf!”

“He isn’t—”

“He’s Draco Malfoy’s son!” James interrupted, his face going red. “Look, Albus, I’ve stuck my neck out for you since you first started, sticking up for you, but my mates are starting to think you’re a complete freak. How am I supposed to have your back if the whole school hates you?”

Albus tried not to look too hurt by his brother’s words. He dug his nails into his palms, lifted his chin defiantly. “These mates of yours sound really swell.”

James turned his gaze to the ceiling as if searching for strength. “Albus, it was bad enough when you were just a Slytherin, but then everyone found out you’re a terrible flier, then you started hanging out with Scorpius, and then you asked him on a date. It’s just… It’s too…” He drew in a deep breath. “I think it’s best if we’re not seen around school together. When we’re at home, you’re my brother, but when we’re at school, we don’t know each other.”

Albus clenched his jaw. He didn’t speak in case his voice wobbled. Instead, he simply nodded his head. His brother nodded back. James glanced about, as if checking no one had seen them together, then paced into the Great Hall.

Albus watched him go, swallowing the lump in his throat.

I really am an outcast, he thought as he made his way to the common room. His fingers traced the snake embroidered on his school robes, but, for once, he didn’t feel ashamed or saddened by his house symbol. It dawned on him that a lion had never really been his animal – proud and boastful. He’d much rather be a snake – quiet and unseen.

When he arrived in the common room, neither Pan or Scorpius asked him about his conversation with his brother, for which he was extremely grateful. He didn’t want to have to repeat it. Instead, Pan challenged him to a game of wizard’s chess while Scorpius watched over the top of an enormous textbook he was reading. Pan won two out of the three games. Scorpius fell asleep with his textbook in his hands. Albus had to shake him awake when it was time to go to bed.

In his room, Albus climbed into his four-poster, his head full of his brother’s words. He couldn’t deny that the conversation had hurt. Who wanted to hear they were so unpopular that their own brother didn’t want to admit they were related? To distract himself, Albus took out his sketchbook and pencils. He sat up in bed, drawing vague shapes and textures, the lines soon taking on a life of their own. He saw that he’d drawn claws, a muzzle. Those jagged lines he’d sketched turned into a snapped bedpost. The shape of a wolf, crouched on a ruined four-poster took form. Finally, Albus let himself draw something he’d been avoiding ever since he’d come to Hogwarts. He outlined the perfectly-styled hair, the slim figure, the angular features, the pointed chin. At last, he sketched Scorpius’s wide, terror-filled eyes as he stood face-to-face with the wolf.

Albus wanted to turn the page and start again, only this time Scorpius’s face would take up the whole picture, but he closed the pad and set it on his bedside table.

Before he went to sleep, his eyes caught on the rather sad-looking purple blessboom plant on his bedside table. It was meant to be his herbology project, but, what with everything that had happened, he’d pretty much abandoned it – and the abandonment showed. Albus doubted the thing would ever grow any berries. Its waxy leaves were drooping pathetically.

Sighing, he began singing to it, glad for the first time that he no longer had a roommate.


The next two days passed quickly, albeit coldly. The weather hurried them along between classes, the wind so bracing that students were avoiding all the exterior corridors. Thankfully, it was so cold that the other students seemed too preoccupied with keeping warm to expel any extra energy hexing Albus, Pan and Scorpius. Nevertheless, they found themselves having to dodge the occasional jinx whenever they travelled the castle. Due to the severe cold, their herbology lesson first thing on Monday morning was not anticipated with any enthusiasm. The Slytherins and Gryffindors waited outside Greenhouse 1, huddled in their cloaks, shivering. Albus tucked his hands under his arms to keep them warm. Scorpius, who seemed to dislike the cold the most, was wearing white velvet gloves, a white woollen scarf and a pair of white earmuffs, but, despite this, his teeth chattered loudly.

As usual, there was a substantial divide between the Slytherins and Gryffindors, each house keeping a safe distance from the other. It was Ace, Rose and Berwick who breached the gap, coming to stand in front of Albus, Pan and Scorpius, their arms folded over their chests in a supercilious pose. “We heard Arty left Hogwarts,” Rose said. She fixed Scorpius with a superior look. “People are saying you attacked him.”

“It isn’t true,” Pan replied defensively.

Rose ignored her. She turned her attention on Albus. “Remember what we told you before,” she said. “Us Gryffindors are looking out for you. But you should be helping yourself as well, Albus. I don’t think it’s wise to be hanging around with dangerous individuals, especially when a known death eater recently broke into your house.”

“Thanks for your concern,” Albus replied, “but Scorpius is my friend, and I’m perfectly capable of looking after myself.”

“Suit yourself,” she said, “but we’ll be on the lookout anyway.” Berwick cracked his knuckles and Ace sent Scorpius a menacing sneer.

When Uncle Neville ushered them all into Greenhouse 1 a few minutes later, if they’d been hoping the classroom would be warmer inside than out, they were sadly mistaken. The greenhouse may as well have been open-topped for all the good those glass walls did at keeping in the heat.

Uncle Neville had given them each a perfectly round, green pod with a single spike in the top. They reminded Albus of spiked Christmas baubles. These, Uncle Neville said, were called grave lanterns. “They grow in wet places,” he told the class. “Does anyone know what they are used for?”

Scorpius and Rose both raised their hands. Neville chose Rose.

“They are used to decorate wizard graves,” she answered proudly. “If prepared correctly, they glow in the dark. The colour of their glow can change depending on the weather.”

“Perfect answer,” Neville replied. “Five points to Gryffindor.” He went on to tell them that they had to cut off the spike at the top of the grave lanterns, then cast the herbivicus spell on them. “But if you take too long casting the spell,” Neville continued, “your lantern might explode. So make sure you put on your goggles. The pus can sting.”

Danielle was gazing at her grave lantern with horror-filled apprehension. Scorpius was already cutting off his spike. Pan was checking her goggles were on properly. Albus, meanwhile, was distracted by the slump of his uncle’s shoulders, the detached tone of his voice.

What does he know? Why is he letting Thorn push him around? Doesn’t he know that he can go to my dad for help?

Albus remembered, with a jolt, the sight of Professor Sprout lying face-up on the ground, shuddering in pain. Had she discovered Thorn’s plans too? Was that the reason Uncle Neville wasn’t going to the Aurors? Was he afraid the same thing would happen to him?

            Albus ended up getting so lost in his thoughts that he nearly ran out of time to cut the spike off his grave lantern. In his rush, he did such a bad job that the mutilated ball shuddered slightly, made a gurgling sound, then exploded in a shower of grey pus. The goo struck Albus full in the face. Pan’s ear got a good soaking as well. Scorpius had managed to deflect most of the pus from hitting him with a spell, but a single splash had got him on the end of his nose. Laughter echoed around the greenhouse. Rose and Ace were particularly amused.

After herbology, it was double astronomy with the Ravenclaws. They were tasked with drawing a star chart and then told to label it from memory for their homework. Professor Flitwick had them learning the colour-change charm. Scorpius managed to cast it on his second try, turning his desk from brown to bright purple. The lesson descended into chaos when people started practising the spell on each other’s clothes. Albus left the classroom with yellow robes and pink shoes.

“Can’t you undo it?” he asked Scorpius on their way out of class.

“Why would I do that?” Scorpius replied, grinning. “You look so pretty!”

Albus’s cheeks became so hot he thought they must be glowing.

History of Magic was its usual hour of complete boredom. To add insult to injury, they were given an essay on the most influential ghosts of the last century to finish by next lesson.

The Slytherins’ list of homework was no laughing matter by the end of the day. Thankfully, in becoming Scorpius’s friend, Albus and Pan had gained a much-needed font of knowledge on all things essay-writing and book-studying. Unlike the two of them, Scorpius actually listened during their lessons and even took notes when Professor Binns’ rambled on about goodness-knows-what. As a result of Scorpius’s intervention, they had their star charts completed in no time at all and, as for Binns’ essay, Scorpius let them copy most of his work since, in his words, the topic of influential ghosts of the last century was a pointless waste of time anyway.

Scorpius didn’t only prove useful when it came to homework, he also provided much needed support during lessons. In potions the following morning, Pan managed to brew a moderately successful antidote to common poisons, a feat she definitely wouldn’t have accomplished without Scorpius whispering instructions in her ear every couple of minutes.

Even though Albus didn’t need Scorpius’s help in potions, the fact that the two of them were back on speaking terms meant he wasn’t distracted glancing in the direction of the platinum-haired boy every few seconds. Albus’s antidote to common poisons turned out to be almost perfect.

“You are a true potion master, my boy!” Slughorn bellowed at the end of the lesson. “Twenty points to Slytherin!”

After lunch that day, Pan skulked out of the Great Hall towards transfiguration, while Albus and Scorpius headed towards McGonagall’s office. “It must be about Arty,” Scorpius said as they discussed for the tenth time why McGonagall wanted to see them.

“You don’t think it’s about me asking you to Slughorn’s party, do you?” Albus asked, his stomach turning over in dread.

“I think that’s unlikely.”

McGonagall was waiting for them when they entered her office. She was sitting behind her desk in the ornate headmistress’s chair. There was an officious expression on her face. She gestured to two of five empty chairs in front of her desk. Albus and Scorpius sat down.

“The others should be here any moment,” she told them without explanation.

Albus debated questioning her, but decided against it. He had a strong suspicion she wouldn’t answer him anyway.

Without warning, the fireplace turned a bright, emerald green. It was the familiar colour of Floo flames. The glow of the flames gave McGonagall’s office a distinctly Slytherin-like feel.

Albus watched curiously as a familiar, red-haired woman leaped out of the fireplace, followed shortly after by an equally familiar black-haired man. Albus’s parents dusted off their sooty robes, his dad wiping his glasses clean so that he could see. Albus’s mum was the first to regain her bearings. She wasted no time pulling Albus into a back-breaking hug. Shortly after, Scorpius was subjected to the same treatment. “Thank you for saving Albus’s life,” she said to him, her eyes glistening. Lastly, she moved onto McGonagall, who was also forced to endure a hug. She did so with little grace.

Albus didn’t think he’d ever seen his mother get so emotional. It dawned on him, with renewed vigour, how close he’d come to being killed. It sent a stab of fear through him.

Albus’s dad hugged him with slightly more restraint, though there were definite tears swimming in his eyes. He offered Scorpius a stiff handshake, gazing intently at the boy as if trying to determine whether or not he was trustworthy. He didn’t seem to come to a conclusion, his brow furrowing as he stepped back to sit in a chair next to Albus’s mum.

When the fire turned green once more, and another figure came spinning through the flames, Albus only had to get a glimpse of the platinum hair to know who the man was. Draco Malfoy flicked his wand, banishing the dust from his suit with little effort. He hugged his son, then swept his gaze over the Potters. He nodded politely to Albus’s mum, then turned to Albus himself, his gaze lingering upon him for what felt like minutes. Albus got the impression Draco was trying to get the sum of him, just as his own father had done with Scorpius. Albus only hoped he wasn’t falling short of the mark. Draco didn’t even acknowledge that Harry Potter was in the room.

Draco Malfoy sat down beside his son. The similarity between them was striking, and yet Draco didn’t have the same level of beauty as Scorpius, his face broader and his eyes sunken. Albus reasoned that Scorpius must have inherited his elegance from his mother, along with his almond-shaped eyes.

Albus noticed that his own father’s hands were balled into fists. The tension in the air was palpable. Draco was leaning back in his chair as if he was completely at ease, but the tightness in his jaw said differently.

The meeting started off calmly. McGonagall recounted the events of the werewolf attack and commended both Albus and Scorpius for managing to subdue Arty without hurting him and for managing to escape unharmed. Then she moved onto what was clearly the main purpose of the meeting.

“Unfortunately,” McGonagall said, her tone becoming unusually pitchy, “there was another boy who was involved in the events that evening. Anton Salmer’s son seems to think he saw Scorpius turning into a werewolf. His father is, as you know, very influential at the ministry and has many connections with our wizarding news.” McGonagall shared a knowing look with Albus’s mother at this.

Draco was no longer lounging in his chair. He was sitting forwards, face reddening. “Salmer is going to publicly accuse my son of being a werewolf?” he said.

“Anton Salmer has enough influence to give the story weight,” McGonagall replied. “At present, it is only a rumour. But we don’t want to get to the stage where the school is under investigation or, even worse, get into a situation where young Mr Malfoy is forced to leave Hogwarts.”

Draco leaped to his feet. “This is outrageous!” he hissed.

“Yes, it is,” McGonagall agreed in a monotone, “but your son’s reputation being what it is, the threat of this story going public is very real and could cause a lot of damage.”

Draco went rigid. The anger in his face drained to steely coldness. “I see,” he said. “I see how it is. Of course, if it was the son of Harry Potter being threatened, we wouldn’t even be having this conversation. Anton Salmer would’ve been treated with the contempt he deserves.”

“But Scorpius is not Harry Potter’s son, he is your son, Draco,” McGonagall replied, her volume rising.

Draco sat down. His posture was unyieldingly straight, but there was something sad and defeated about him. He seemed to Albus like a carving of precious metal that had been stripped of its shine, its value. “Then, what are you going to do about it?” Draco questioned her.

“Anton Salmer has a simple request,” McGonagall said calmly. “If we agree to his terms, he will keep Hogwarts and Scorpius out of the headlines.”

“Dare I ask?” Draco prompted.

“It is a pathetic request on his part, really,” McGonagall said. “He wants Scorpius to be moved out of his son’s dormitory.”

Draco almost laughed. “Is that it?” he said. “Fine. Do it. I don’t want my son sharing a room with the Salmer kid anyway.”

“Yes,” McGonagall replied. “The problem is, the only room available is currently Albus Potter’s.”

There was a moment of silence in which only the faint crackle of the flames could be heard. Albus saw that his father’s knuckles were now pure white.

Draco looked as if he’d swallowed something particularly nasty, but the look of distaste slowly faded from his expression and he nodded. “Fine,” he said. “Perhaps the Potter boy will be a lesser evil in any case.”

McGonagall took an audible breath of relief. She turned to Albus’s parents with calm confidence. “Ginny? Harry?”

“Yes, fine with us,” Albus’s mum answered.

“No,” said Albus’s dad, his voice much louder and more forceful than his wife’s. “It’s not happening.”

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