Chapter 1 : Al's Guilt Trip
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As a rule, Rose Weasley had very little to do with Slytherin House.
She didn’t avoid Slytherin House because of its old reputation. That would have been stupid. She avoided it because she simply didn’t like the qualities that defined Slytherins very much. Gryffindor was just the superior house, because the people in it had the superior attributes.
Whatever Albus and her mother said – and they had quite a bit to say on the subject – there was just something about Slytherins that made her skin crawl. They were so... calculating. It simply wasn’t natural to be as manipulative and deliberate as most Slytherins were.
Gryffindors, on the other hand, were much more sensible. They did things because they wanted to, not because they thought it would get them something later. They had courage. They had principles. And above all, they had nerve.
Which was why they were going to stomp the rest of the school in Quidditch for the sixth year running.
That is, assuming her teammates didn't kill her first.
Rose had been working with her friend Natalia on their Herbology assignment in the library when Natalia had asked, curiously, whether Quidditch practice had been canceled.
Rose, who had not been paying very close attention to the time and consequently thought it was significantly earlier than it actually was, had cursed, stuffed her books, parchment, and quill into her bag, and beat a hasty retreat to Gryffindor Tower.
The team was not going to be happy with her.
She was almost fifteen minutes late by the time she burst into the changing room. Her cousin James, was sitting backwards in the chair he and Roxanne had charmed two years before in honour of his being made captain. The lions that had at one point been stationary decorations were constantly on the prowl, moving up and down its legs and across the seat and back.
“Sorry,” Rose panted, slumping against the wall next to the door and trying to catch her breath.
“Thank you for finally joining us,” her cousin said. His mouth was pursed, and while his glare probably wouldn't have killed her even if looks could kill, it probably would have caused a fair amount of discomfort.
“Anything for you, cuz.” She made her way toward the uncomfortable wooden benches facing James and dropped down onto one of them. Her friend Marion squeezed her knee in sympathy. “Thanks,” she muttered.
One of the lions had settled onto the back of James’s chair. It watched them as he started talking, flicking its tail around and occasionally craning its neck to look up at the dark-haired captain. It was definitely a cool effect, and Rose doubted that any of the other House Quidditch teams had anything like it.
“So,” James started, running a hand over his already very messy hair. “We’ve got a great team. A winning team. I don’t need to tell you that.”
“But we love to hear it,” their cousin Roxanne said. She was sitting on the bench closest to James and leaning forward intently. Rose was not sure whether James had appointed Roxanne as his unofficial co-captain or whether Roxanne had appointed herself, but either way, they made a very good team. They had been Beaters on the team since their second year, and Rose personally thought that they were brilliant.
James allowed a slight smirk to creep across his face. “And I love to say it.” His sister Lily coughed pointedly, and he took the hint. “At any rate, since we’re shoe-ins to win this year as well, I just want to put you all on notice: I want us to set records that no one will ever beat. I want us to be remembered as the best team this school has ever seen.” He pounded his fist into his palm.
“Well, we are,” said Roxanne, tossing her long braids over her shoulder. She looked exceptionally pleased with herself; if there was anything Roxanne was not, it was humble.
“Yes, but they’d damn well better remember it,” Rose said.
James gave her an approving nod. He seemed to have forgiven her for her tardiness. “That’s the attitude I want to see. Now, I know we had some grumbles last year, because people were accusing me of favouritism.”
Their Keeper, Tyler, who was sitting with Lily and his sister Annabelle on the next bench over, gave a disgusted snort.
When James had had to replace a Seeker and a Chaser at the start of the previous year, he’d held tryouts that ultimately ended in his picking Lily and Annabelle to fill the spots. At the time, some people seemed to think that James had not really been impartial - and admittedly, appointing two second years who both happened to have siblings on the team had seemed a bit suspect - but the season’s results had proved them wrong.
“They know better now.” He motioned to himself and Roxanne. “We are terrific beaters.”
He pointed at Lily. “We have a seeker who has clearly inherited our father’s prodigious skill.”
“Also our mother’s.” Lily was definitely the classic build for a Seeker; short and slim, she could practically disappear into the sky on a dreary day. Sometimes it was only her bright red hair that allowed them to spot her.
“Also our mother’s,” James agreed. He nodded at Tyler. “We have an amazing Keeper.”
“Thank you.” Tyler actually got up and bowed. His white teeth flashed in a startling contrast to his deep brown skin, and his glasses teetered dangerously on the edge of his nose before he straightened and pushed them back up. “Thank you very much.”
It occurred to Rose, not for the first time, that her team could really be quite ridiculous.
James swept his hand at the three remaining girls. “And we have a dynamite team of Chasers.”
Annabelle leaned over to exchange high fives with Rose and Marion. She and Lily were barely four months apart in age, and like Lily, she had yet to hit her growth spurt. However, what she lacked in height, she more than made up for with her speed and her dexterity.
“Thanks, cousin dear,” Rose said.
“Yeah, we really appreciate the vote of confidence,” Marion added. She could clearly sense that James’s speech was almost over, because she reached behind her and quickly began to gather her kinky curls into a loose braid.
James grinned before continuing. “Now, I know that on most teams, I wouldn’t need to say this, but please, let’s avoid serious transgressions for the week or so preceding the match. I really don’t need anyone in detention for a game.”
“What if we’re absolutely sure that we won’t get caught?” Roxanne asked, her brown eyes shining.
“Then I have to wonder why I’m not there with you,” James shot back, and she laughed. “No misbehaving unless I’m there, too.”
“That I can live with.” Roxanne got to her feet. “I just thought that you wanted to ruin all my fun. I was ready to be very disappointed in you.”
“Have you met me?” She grinned, and he swung one leg over the back of the chair and stood. “Come on, we’ve lost enough daylight as it is. Thanks to Rose,” he said pointedly.
“I really am sorry,” Rose told him as they grabbed their broomsticks and followed the rest of the team out the door. “I was trying to finish an essay and lost track of time.”
He reached out and ruffled her hair. “Just don’t let it happen again,” he said, trying to look severe.
He failed miserably. James was not very good at looking serious.
Unless, of course, someone was late to Quidditch practice - and Merlin help you if you forgot about one.
She grinned. “I’ll do my best.”
“Good. I don’t want to have to replace you.” He kicked off.
She laughed and did the same. James really was one of her favorite cousins.
When they trooped into the dining hall several hours later, Roxanne and James were both covered in dirt. They had taken a break halfway through practice to imitate some of the less talented and more slow-witted Beaters they’d known in their time at Hogwarts. They’d each landed in the dirt at least twice. Neither of them seemed to care.
The sixth years peeled off and sat down toward the end of the table while Rose, Lily, and Annabelle continued on. The latter two joined a group of their fellow third years, including Rose’s brother Hugo, about halfway down the table. Rose waved to him and continued up the table until she found her cousin Albus with some of their friends.
She poked him. “Hey, squeeze over.” He inched closer toward Colleen, who Rose shared a dormitory with, and she sat down between him and another yearmate named Alex.
Albus handed her a plate. “Here, I saved you some food. I didn’t want you to get stuck with what no one else wanted.”
The steam of the potatoes and carrots wafted up as she took the plate, and she inhaled deeply. “Thanks, Al.”
He smiled. “You’re welcome. How was practice?”
“Good,” she said around a mouthful of potatoes.
“Do you think we might have a chance of winning this year?” asked Alex in a mock tone of concern.
Rose swallowed. “Oh, I think we’ve got half a shot,” she said airily. “James certainly seems to think so.”
Colleen laughed. “Well, I don’t envy you getting all your work done with practice and prefect duties on top of it! It’s O.W.L. year.”
Rose shrugged. “You want to go tell that to James?” Everyone gave a snort of amusement. “No, I’ll be fine. I just won’t sleep or get caught breaking the rules.”
Their friend Damien, who was sitting across from them, shook his head. “You never get caught,” he said. “You can be out half the night, and no one ever seems to find you. What’s your secret?”
Rose exchanged a glance with Albus, who shook his head. “Sorry. Family secret. If we told you we’d have to kill you.”
This was greeted with the usual chorus of laughter, and after a few more minutes of idle conversation, the empty platters were replaced with cakes, pies, and biscuits.
Their fellow fifth years finished dessert before she was even finished with dinner and headed back up to Gryffindor tower, but Albus kept her company until she’d had her fill. By that time, the Great Hall was nearly deserted, and she sighed. “I should probably finish my Herbology essay, huh?”
“Probably,” said Albus. “Do you want to join me in the library?”
She looked at him suspiciously. “Who will you be with?” She, James, and Roxanne might be discriminating about their company, but Albus really took all of the interhouse cooperation stuff to heart. You could never tell what kind of people he’d be working with.
The look he gave her was remarkably similar to the one James had given her for being late, but unlike his brother, Albus could hang onto that look for hours at a time if he really wanted to. “You know, if you just gave people half a chance—”
That meant Slytherins. She looked at him, exasperated. “See, this is why I ask.”
“Your mother would be very disappointed in you,” he told her. The expression on his face said that her mother was not the only one.
She groaned. She hated it when he tried to guilt her. It usually worked. “Just tell me who.”
Of course it was. Of all of Albus’s Slytherin friends, Scorpius Malfoy was by far her least favorite. She rubbed her temples. “Al, I’m really not in the mood to—”
“Rose, you can be such a bigot.”
She jerked back, stung. “I’m not a bigot! I just think that Gryffindors make better company!”
“You know, not everyone in Slytherin—”
She put her fingers in her ears. “Lalala I can’t hear you.” She swung her legs over the bench and walked away. “Bye!”
When she glanced back at him, the irritation had morphed into a look of hurt.
She sighed. After practice, she could use a bath. Maybe she’d put off work a little longer.
When Rose had finished her bath and gathered up the schoolwork she needed to get done, she felt a pang of guilt. Albus really had looked hurt at dinner, and while spending any time with Scorpius Malfoy tended to leave her feeling exceedingly irritated, letting Albus down wasn’t sitting well with her conscience.
She sighed and went back down the steps to the common room. James and Roxanne were sitting near the fire; when she came downstairs, they hailed her, and she collapsed into one of the armchairs.
“Albus off with his other friends?” James asked.
Rose wrinkled her nose as she tried to braid her wet hair. It wasn’t working very well; she could never understand how girls like Marion could just reach back and do it so easily. “Yeah… I just don’t get it. I feel bad, but I just don’t get it.”
Roxanne watched her struggle for a minute and then rolled her eyes. “Come here,” she said, patting the couch. James scooted over to give her room, and Rose said down with her back to Roxanne, who took hold of her hair and began to separate it into three parts.
“I guess he’s just a better person than some of us,” Roxanne said as she began to twist the parts together. James made a face, and she added, “Oh, come on, James, you know it’s true. Albus is probably the nicest little Weasley cousin to attend this school.” James gave a half-hearted shrug of acknowledgment, and she wound a hair tie around the end of what, knowing Roxanne, was probably a perfect braid. “Feel okay?” Rose nodded. “You’re done, then.”
Rose fell back into the couch and shook her head. “Personally, I don’t see what the problem is with sticking with the people you like. It's not the history that's the problem. I just don't like Slytherins because I don't like people are calculated, ruthless, annoying...”
“Hear, hear,” said James and Roxanne together.
Rose sighed. Despite her cousins' support, the guilt was becoming overwhelming. “I should probably go meet him, anyway. He looked really hurt at dinner when I basically blew him off.”
James sighed. His distaste for Slytherin was clearly warring his brotherly instincts. “Maybe you’d better, then. Who’s he with, do you know?”
“Yeah.” Rose wrinkled her nose. “Scorpius Malfoy.”
James and Roxanne both winced. “Well, on your own head be it,” Roxanne said.
“Yeah, thanks for taking one for the team,” called James after her as she left.
She climbed out of the portrait hole and set off toward the library. Why did Albus have to be such an open-minded person? It must have been his father’s influence, which had flown right over James’ head, just as Rose's mother’s had flown right over hers.
When she got to the library, she spotted Albus over in a corner with Malfoy. Thankfully, there wasn’t anyone else there—Al had several Slytherin friends, and the only one she could halfway stand was Noah Nott. The others seemed to hate her quite as much as she hated them, and she didn't like dealing with more than one at a time, especially when Malfoy was involved.
Rose had never quite understood why Scorpius Malfoy disliked her quite as much as he seemed to - she couldn't recall ever doing anything particularly bad to him - but especially over the course of the last year, he'd been getting progressively nastier toward her, even when she really was trying to keep a civil tongue in her head.
Of course, according to Albus, her version of "civil" left a little to be desired, but at least she was trying.
She dropped her books on the table and slid into the chair next to her cousin. He and Malfoy both started and looked up at her.
“I - er - thought I’d get out of the common room for a bit. James and Roxanne will probably be causing some kind of commotion at some point anyway.” She smiled sheepishly at Albus, who grinned back.
"Probably." Before she could toss her bag onto the table, too, he reached over a squeezed her hand. "Thanks," he mouthed.
Rose wasn't sure if she felt better because she'd at least managed to make her cousin happy or worse because apparently it didn't take much to do so. Rather than waste time figuring it out, she looked across the table. “Hello.” Today, she was determined to be polite to Malfoy. She wouldn't let anything he said bait her.
He stared at her for a minute before forcing a smile onto his face and returning the greeting.
That mission accomplished, Rose pulled out her Herbology homework. She always got her work done, even if it meant not sleeping, but on the rare occasions she did a half-assed job on any of it, she made sure it wasn’t Herbology. It was one of her favorite subjects, and Neville was definitely her favorite professor. She refused to let him down.
“Oh, is that Herbology?” asked Albus. “I was having trouble on that, actually. I feel like I missed something about Fanged Geraniums last class, because I have no idea what it has in common with Devil’s Snare.” He grinned. “Other than that they’re both plants, and they both attack people.”
Malfoy sighed and rested his head on one of his hands. “I hate Herbology, personally. I can’t wait to be done with it.”
Rose bristled. “Professor Longbottom is an excellent teacher."
“Did I say he wasn’t?” Malfoy asked, looking faintly surprised. “He’s a good professor. It’s just a stupid subject, and I don't like dirt.” Rose resisted the urge to call him a useless pretty-boy as he shot Albus an annoyed look. “And I am never going to forgive you for convincing me to take Care of Magical Creatures.”
“Professor Woodmore is also amazing,” she snapped.
“Right, because we really need to learn how to take care of acromantulas.”
“It could be useful!”
Malfoy looked like he was about to laugh, but managed to quell it at the last moment. He looked back down at his work, and she frowned. He had a good profile.
She shook her head to clear it, helped Albus with the Herbology question, and then returned to her own work. After another half hour, Albus got up. “I’m going to go get something from the kitchens. Do either of you want anything?”
Rose groaned inwardly and tried to send a telepathic signal to her cousin to please not leave her alone with Malfoy.
Albus clearly needed to work on his cousin-telepathy, because he seemed to take her silence as a no and turned away. After Malfoy shook his head, too, Albus left, and Rose looked resolutely down at her schoolwork.
“Tell the truth,” said Malfoy’s voice, and she looked back up. “Do you really like Care of Magical Creatures?"
“Of course I do.” Professor Woodmore could certainly be a bit eccentric sometimes, but she really was a great teacher.
And while she liked acromantulas more than really made sense, she was definitely more tame than Hagrid, who had taught the class in their third year.
Malfoy laughed and looked back at his work. “Whatever you say, Red.”
“My name is Rose.” She already wanted to kill him. This was why she didn’t buy into being all buddy-buddy with the Slytherins. The people in them could be huge jerks.
Though admittedly, most of Albus's friends were not quite as bad as Malfoy.
“Whatever you say, Rose.” He pretended to consider it for a minute. “I think I’m going to call you Red, though.”
“What is your problem, Malfoy?” she demanded through clenched teeth. She tried to call her cousin's smile back to her head as a reminder of why she shouldn't just get up and leave. She was doing this for her cousin. She loved her cousin. Her cousin was her best friend and did any number of favours for her. She owed this to her cousin. She -
“Well, I can’t just call you Weasley. There are about a million of you at this school. And if you’re going to call me Malfoy, I might as well make it even. Would you prefer Cherry?” He raised his eyebrows at her and pretended to listen attentively. “I’m all ears.”
“Go to hell."
“Whatever you say, Cherry.” He smirked at her and leaned back in his chair, twirling a quill.
She could feel her ears starting to burn, and was grateful for her mass of curls, which thoroughly hid them. “What is your problem?” she repeated.
“Well, Red, to be honest, I think that you’re a bit of a self-satisfied snob." He laid down the quill and cocked his head to the side to study her.
Rose jerked back. “I’m a self-satisfied snob? Well, you’re an amoral git.”
Malfoy shrugged. “At least I don’t walk around like I own this school, just because I’m smart and good at Quidditch. Doesn’t make you Merlin, you know.”
She glared at him and managed to swallow the retorts that were coming to mind. “If I wasn’t afraid of hurting Al’s feelings, I’d get up and leave right now.”
“Aren’t you a Gryffindor? Aren’t Gryffindors supposed to be brave?” he asked. The chair’s front legs met the floor again with a thump. “And here you are, letting fear take over.” He shook his head. “Tut-tut, Red.”
“It’s not the same thing, and you know it.” She was now imagining dumping his ink well all over his stupid blond hair. “At least my house doesn’t pride itself on being heartless and scheming.”
“It’s actually ruthless,” he corrected, a glint in his grey eyes. Rose had always rather liked grey eyes, and they were utterly ruined on him. “And we’re just ruthless to get what we want.”
“Oh, well, that’s so much better. As opposed to Gryffindor, where we all actually have strength of character.”
He rolled his eyes. “Whatever you say, Cherry. Say, do you prefer Cherry or Red?” When she just stared at him, he smiled. “I promise I’ll go with the one you choose.”
She thought for a moment. "Red."
“I’ll keep that in mind.” He went back to his work. After staring at him for another second or two, wondering how on earth anyone could be so unpleasant, she did the same. When Albus returned, they were both completely absorbed in work, and neither of them spoke to him when he sat down. Rose could see Albus looking from her to Malfoy for a moment before pulling out his Transfiguration essay.
When they left the library at closing, Rose felt that she’d at least been fairly productive, even if dealing with Malfoy had gotten her blood boiling.
When they parted with him at the stairs, Albus called, “See you in Divination, Scorpius!”
“Can’t wait,” came the answer, several steps below. “Later, Al. I’ll see you around, Red.”
Albus looked at her. “Red?”
She shook her head and said through gritted teeth, “Ask him.”
“Oh, did you get nasty at each other when I went to the kitchens?” He sighed. “Come on, Rose.”
“He started it,” she snapped. “Why is he your friend again?”
Albus shrugged. “I dunno. Because I like him, I guess.”
There were some things about Albus that she would never understand. “Whatever you say.”
She could see Albus roll his eyes, but he chose not to reply. “Thanks for coming and making the effort, anyway.”
“Was it really that important to you?” she asked.
“Well, not to put too fine a point on it, but yeah.” He hesitated. “Look, Rosie, you’re a terrific person. It’s just nice when you make an effort to get to know my friends who aren’t already your friends. Or at least don’t actively avoid me just because I’m with them.”
She bit her lip. There was altogether too much sense in that for her to argue with. “If it means that much to you, I’ll make more of an effort. Even if it just means sitting there ignoring them.”
“That’s all I’m asking,” he said. He put his arm around her shoulder and ruffled her hair. “Thank you, Rosie.”
“It’s only because you’re my favourite cousin,” she told him.
“I’m telling James.”
“Oh, shut up.”
When they reentered the common room, he made a beeline for the stairs to the boy’s dormitory, waving goodnight over his shoulder. She shook her head and went over to join James and Roxanne, who’d put homework aside and were playing a match of exploding snap at a table in the corner.
Rose slumped into the chair next to Roxanne, dropped her head onto the table, and groaned.
They both looked over. “That bad?” asked James.
“Worse." Rose looked up at the two of them. “How does anyone get to be quite that unpleasant?”
James glanced around the room. “Albus here?”
“No, he went up to bed.” Rose let out a sigh. “Thankfully. I’m making an effort, but god, I can think of poisons that would have been more pleasant than that.”
“Well, what was so awful about it?” asked Roxanne. Rose looked at her sharply, and she held up her hands. “I’m not challenging you that it was! I’m wondering what, of the many things he could have done, he did do.”
Rose sat up straighter. “Well, he called me a coward.”
Their reactions did not disappoint her. “Jerk,” they said at the same time, and each cast a threatening glance toward the portrait hole, as though they were contemplating hunting him down right then.
"Well, there's more."
They both looked back at her.
“He basically said that I was a conceited brat. No,” she paused, thinking for a moment. “No, he called me a snob. He said I walked around like I owned the school.”
Her cousins were now wearing identical scowls.
“Prick,” James said.
“Useless pretty boy,” Roxanne added.
Rose was already starting to feel better. James and Roxanne could have that effect on her.
“Look, Rosie, if you think it’s warranted, we’d be happy to go show him not to mess with our baby cousin."
Rose though that Roxanne calling her their baby cousin was slightly rich, considering that both Roxanne and James were less than a year older than she was, but she let it slide.
“Yeah, you know, hex his bag so it breaks,” offered James.
“Or charm his stupid hair some ridiculous colour."
“Orange, maybe,” suggested James. “Not green, for sure. He’d just wear that as a badge of honour.”
“How about red?” Roxanne grinned. “You know, for Gryffindor.”
Rose giggled. “I like that. He kept calling me ‘Red.’ That'd show him.” She pulled her braid over her shoulder and fingered it. “I like my hair.”
“Oh, he’s just trying to get a rise out of you,” said Roxanne.
“Yeah, but we’ll show him,” promised James.
“Don’t tell Albus."
They both looked at her. “Do you think that we’re stupid?” asked Roxanne.
“Yeah, I don’t need him writing home that I’m being a jerk to his friend. I don't mind howlers, but still, if I can avoid them, I try to."
James had gotten many howlers over the course of his Hogwarts career. The year before, he and Roxanne had really gotten into the spirit of Halloween, hexing pumpkins in the Great Hall to shoot off sparks at odd intervals and charming suits of armor in very trafficked areas to randomly shout “Boo!” The caretaker had eventually caught them trying to charm the lights in the Potions classroom to be come out orange. They’d each gotten three detentions, and James’s parents had sent him a howler in which his mother yelled that it was all well and good to fool around but that if he had the time to do that then when he took his O.W.L.s at the end of the year he’d better not fail any of them.
Both James and Roxanne maintained that it had totally been worth it.
Rose got up. “I should get to bed,” she told them.
They waved goodnight, and put their heads together, clearly brainstormed a good plan for making Malfoy miserable. She smiled. That would teach him to mess with the Weasley clan.
As she changed into her pyjamas and crawled into bed, she realised that this would probably only add fire to his accusation that she walked around like she owned the school.
Oh, well. He was wrong. And who cared what he thought, anyway?
A/N: Thanks for reading! If you have a moment, I'd love to hear your thoughts - even though this story is done, I'm still occasionally going back and editing it, and seeing reviews always makes me feel happy. :)