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Al,

I'll fix this. I just need a couple of weeks to find some dirt on her and then she'll be in Azkaban, all right? Rita Skeeter's a complete liar, Al, no-one'll believe her stupid rubbish for a second. Tell your friend Faith that as well.

I'm sorry I

Then there was a thin scrubbed-raw patch on the parchment where it looked like his dad had started to write something and then Scoured it off, over and over again. The untidy scrawl only started again a few inches further down the page.

didn't realise this could happen, Al, but I swear I can fix this. Everything's going to be fine.

Love, Dad

Dear Dad, Al wrote back.

It's really not that bad. You were right, no-one believes her, so you shouldn't worry about it that much. Faith says she doesn't give a crap what the paper says but cheers anyway.

I know you'll sort it out, so please don't worry about that either.

I love you too

Al.

Al was lying, though (well, except about Faith not caring, that part was true). It didn't seem to matter that people couldn't possibly believe Rita Skeeter's article. People still shouted quotes at him in the hallways - mostly Gryffindors - and pointedly moved away from him in the library, and the only difference seemed to be that now they were doing it while laughing. Al was trying to pretend it was funny too, but it was exhausting him, and the constant fake smile made his face hurt.

A lot of the other Slytherins still seemed to think it was funny too, but with the shadow of Avery looming over them they weren't going to be too obvious about it. Al overheard Lia and Grimalkin at lunch discussing whether it would be funny to follow Al around yelling "MAKE WAY, BABY DARK LORD COMING THROUGH!" Lia decided that it would be hilarious. Grimalkin decided that "Avery would kill us. I'm not joking, Rookwood, I'm not exaggerating to be funny, he would literally kill us stone dead." And they both agreed that being dead would not be very much fun.

And that was only at school.

At breakfast the next day he was literally mobbed by owls trying to drop their letters right onto his head.  The first one he opened was written in tiny handwriting and on paper that smelt sweetly of lavender -

To Mr Albus Potter:

When I was at Hogwarts bad boys like you would have been hung up in chains as an example. Harry Potter deserves better than a son who associates with murderers and bigots! You are a disgrace to your family, and you deserve a sound thrashing!

Yours most sincerely,

Henrietta Fawcett

“...I think someone’s granny is sending me hate mail,” Al said.

“I think a lot of people’s grannies are sending you hate mail, Potter,” Lia said, reading his mail.

“My granny sends me hate mail all the time,” a fourth-year girl chipped in. “She doesn’t like that I’m halfblood. It’s all right, you get used to it.”

“This one says he’s going to send you a curse as soon as he can find a big enough box,” Lia said, opening some more of Al’s mail like she didn’t realise that she was committing a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to a hundred Galleons. “What a total amateur. I bet I could fit a curse in a box this big!” She held her finger and thumb an inch or so apart.

Or, possibly, she did realise and just didn’t care.

“This one says you ought to be more like your brother,” Grimalkin said. “We could take a potato masher to your brain, if that would help.”

“As your prefects it is our responsibility to help you become a better person,” Lia agreed. “Look at this one!” She started handing a very long letter that was apparently just a description of what Al deserved to happen to him around the table. Several people made notes.

Al skimmed through another letter about how he should read some history books and learn from his father’s example and squirmed uncomfortably.

“Potter, anybody stupid enough to believe anything written in the Prophet is unlikely to be any danger to you,” Avery said. “Regardless...” He frowned at the letter he was reading. Several words in it seemed to have been enchanted to change colour, and they were throwing erratic flashes of red across his face. “It would probably be best if you refrained from opening your own mail in the immediate future.”

Al put his head down on the table. This couldn’t be so bad, could it? No-one would seriously mail him curses, they had to be bluffing. His dad would never let hate mail bother him. It was going to be fine.

Another owl landed on his head.






When the lessons were over, Al dragged Faith and Kitty off into a corner of the Slytherin common room - well, dragged Kitty, Faith sort of sauntered agreeably along behind him complaining whenever he got too draggy - and got out the last parcel his dad had sent him, before all this stuff with the Prophet started happening.

"What's that?" Faith asked.

"It's a badge-making kit. To make badges supporting Victoire," Al explained. He still had to concentrate on the Tournament, even if other stuff that wasn't very nice was happening.

"...why do I want to do that?"

"Because she's my family and you're my friend," Al said and looked as cute as possible. He'd worked out by now that friends + family + big puppy eyes was the best way of getting Faith to help him.

"Oh, fine," Faith said. "Now stop that. I'm going to put the Colour-Change Charm on them, I don't do arty stuff. No complaining."

Since that had been Al's plan all along - he'd already seen Faith practicing her Colour-Change Charms on her cat Pineapple and she was better at that than at drawing, if the stick-figure versions of James' horrible impending death were any indication - he didn't complain. Speaking of James...

Al had been watching Score for most of the day, in lessons at least. He'd still tried to talk to the Gryffindors and Ravenclaws, but they'd just glared at him and moved away and on one occasion threatened him with their pruning shears. Now he was sitting at one of the tables, pen poised over his parchment but not actually moving, head in his hand.

"I actually need to talk to you both about something," Al said.

"Finally!" Faith said. "Go ahead, Tiny."

"James has been telling people about stuff that Score's dad did in the war," Al said hesitantly, not wanting to provoke a rampage. Auror Dawlish had gone on a rampage in Cornwall five years ago, and it had taken weeks to clear up all the rubble and find the dark wizard who'd sent him crazy in the first place.

"That bastard," Faith said apparently on reflex. "What's he been saying?"

"Bad stuff... like murdering loads of Muggles..."

Kitty blanched.

"I know it's made up, though," Al added hastily, "because my dad testified in favour of his dad at the trial and he wouldn't have done that if Score's dad had really been doing all the stuff James said he'd been doing." He thought about it and added "If Score's dad did all the stuff James said he'd been doing he'd never have had time to sleep."

That made Kitty almost smile, and she looked a bit less worried. Al counted that one as a victory.

"Let's just murder Potter," Faith said. "It'd make everything much simpler."

Al wondered if suggesting murder to solve every problem was a Slytherin thing and if so, if he should be doing it more. On the one hand, he loved his house and he wanted to support it, but on the other hand he wanted to support it with the minimum of homicide.

"I don't think that would work," he said.

"You can't just ask him to stop?" Kitty asked. "When my sisters are annoying me I just ask them to stop it and usually they do."

"...lucky," Al and Faith said together.

"Or start telling everyone it's not true," Kitty said.

Al wasn't totally sure that would help either - James was way more popular than any of them, and it wasn't like they were unbiased and impartial witnesses - but he nodded gamely and said "It's got to be worth a try." Kitty smiled.

"Score's grandad was a total evil tosspot, though," Faith pointed out. "If Idiot Potter had just been talking about his grandad no-one would have been able to prove otherwise. Potter's stupid." Seeing the look Al was giving her, she added defensively, "I mean, I'm upset, Score's my friend. I just wanted to point out that Potter's stupid."

"Um," Kitty said. "So...Score's grandad was evil?"

This wasn't going well. "A bit," Al hedged, and then since she would probably find out on her own he decided to be honest. "Actually, he was pretty bad, he was one of the top Death Eaters when-"

Kitty's face froze into a rictus of horror, which was something Al had read about in Auror reports but never actually seen. He wasn't that pleased to have the opportunity.

"That doesn't make Score evil, though," Al added hastily. "Anyway he died before Score was born, so Score can't have picked anything up off him."

"Unless Score's dad really is evil and just very bad at it," Faith suggested brightly.

"Score is probably not evil," Al said, much more loudly than he had intended. Score looked up.

"Thank you for that touching moral judgement, Potter," Grimalkin drawled.

"Don't listen to him, Malfoy. You can be as evil as you like," Lia ordered. "We're in favour of pointless malevolence in this house."

Score still looked uncertain. Al ducked his head and changed the subject.

"Anyway. Badges." He picked a blank one out of the box and turned it over in his hands. "Can anyone think of any slogans that would be good for Victoire?" He'd thought of HOGWARTS, for school unity, and VICTORY, because it was kind of a pun - maybe just VICTOIRE?

"Victoire," Kitty said, but thoughtfully, not like she was making a suggestion. "Victwa. Twa." She contemplated the word for another few seconds."...Twaaa."

"It's French. It means victory," Al said.

"Oh, French," Kitty said, and thought for a second. "'Don't Surrender'?"

Al quite liked that, but 'Don't Surrender' sounded more like an order than a slogan. "'Never Surrender'?"

"Okay," Kitty said, and started writing that out in big, careful letters.

"Victory?" Faith offered, taking the badge from Kitty. "Coloracambiara!" The writing started to shift between black and emerald green.

Al wrote HOGWARTS on his badge and wondered how to bring up his next topic. The problem was that he didn't really want to. He was having a perfectly nice conversation, so why ruin it talking about how apparently everyone was spying on him?

"Potter," Faith said, casting a spell on the first badge to give it a spiky, intricate border, "you know we could have done this sitting at a table? Instead of, like, on the floor in a corner? What are you playing at?"

"...all right, I wanted to talk about who's been telling Rita Skeeter things about me," Al admitted.

"Wasn't me," Faith said. "Kitty, was it you?"

"Nope," Kitty said, trying to draw a picture of Hogwarts Castle on her current badge.

"I'm out of ideas, then," Faith said. "Oh! Idiot Potter did it!"

"How would James have found out Lia's started calling me Lord Aldemort?" Al pointed out.

Faith looked like she was about to come up with a very complicated explanation involving Polyjuice Potion, time travel and trained elephants. Al cut her off before she could get started.

"He would think it was funny, though. I hope she doesn't try to talk to him."

"Maybe it's the portraits," Kitty guessed. "They can talk and listen, right? ...no, wait, there aren't portraits in the dungeons. Can witches make themselves invisible?"

Faith and Al looked at each other, and then Faith grabbed the box of blank badges and flung the contents out in a wide arc all around them. Badges rained completely unimpeded to the floor.

"Faith!" Al said, a bit exasperated.

"What? Now we know there aren't any invisible people around," Faith said.

"Yeah, but we have to pick them up," Al pointed out, scrambling around on his hands and knees gathering up badges. Rita Skeeter couldn't be invisible, could she? His dad had an Invisibility Cloak, but he'd got it from his dad, they weren't exactly common. And they didn't always work perfectly, but in a dark corridor or the Great Hall at dinner time, no-one would notice a foot sticking out or anything like that.

"Hello tiny children!" said Grimalkin, looming unexpectedly.

"What are you up to?" Lia asked. "Is it evil? If it's not sufficiently evil we're permitted to take disciplinary measures."

"We're making badges," Al explained, showing the prefects the ones they'd finished so far.

"Are they evil badges?" Lia asked, at which point Avery stalked up behind them and returned the badges to their box with an absent-minded flick of his wand.

"They aren't evil," Al said. "We're not going to make them be evil, either. Sorry. Avery, would you like a badge? They're to support my cousin Victoire." He held out the badges they'd finished and looked adorable. Avery picked out the first NEVER SURRENDER one and inspected it thoughtfully.

“They’re not evil even a little bit,” Lia warned him.

Avery ignored that and pinned the badge neatly on his robes.

"Good work, Potter."

Lia and Grimalkin exchanged glances, picked out two reading VICTORY, and grinned like they didn't mean it in a particularly Victoire-supporting way. Still, with those three wearing one everyone else in Slytherin would be wearing one soon, so Al decided that one was a victory for him. He showered some hasty thanks and praise on Avery - it was getting to be habit - and settled back down to making badges.







Al handed the badges out at the next Charms Club, since that was when he saw the most people from another house when they weren't busy with classwork. Everyone was talking about the Triwizard Tournament - it was only a week and three days until the first task now - and Al was hoping he'd be able to get people to wear the badges for the first task, at least.

"Make way! Baby Dark Lord coming through!" Dan Gunn yelled, leaping around in front of him and flailing like a baboon on Bacchanal Brew. Al tried to look on the bright side. At least it would attract attention.

"Gunn, stop that," Violetta ordered, marching over to them. Dan grinned at her, ruffled both her and Al's hair and bounded off.

Violetta sighed and glanced at the box of badges Al was holding. "What are these?"

"Badges!" Al said. "To support Victoire. She's my cousin, you know. So I made badges for everyone to wear so she'll know we're all supporting her." He gave her his sweetest, sunniest smile. She smiled back, and took a HOGWARTS badge.

"This is very nice work - is it yours?"

"The charms are Faith's," Al told her, hoping she would go and talk to Faith - not that he wouldn't normally have liked to talk to Violetta, but he was trying to get to as many people as possible. Violetta pinned the badge onto her sweater and excused herself. Al went looking for someone else to push a badge on to.

"So when do people start actually doing Charms?" Harriet Kendall asked from behind him. "Since that's what we're pretending to be here for."

"It'll start soon, this is just...socializing. Before all the work," Al said. Harriet and Simon Townsend had been a surprise: Al, Faith, Score and Kitty had been heading for the common room door when they had suddenly popped up and said "Hello. We are suffering from a sudden inexplicable desire to learn Charms. Please let us accompany you to your boring club."

Then Simon had pointed helpfully at Avery to explain the inexplicable desire.

It was a bit weird, Al thought. Like he had bodyguards to go to Charms club. Though at least it wasn’t just him. Simon Townsend was over by the refreshments table, apparently trying to see how many digestives he could fit in his mouth in between checking on Score. Al hadn’t thought either of them would need actually bodyguards for anything.

"Bugger socializing, I'm going to get a drink,“ Harriet decided. “Come on, Potter." She dragged him over to the table, which Al didn’t actually mind since that was where everyone else had ended up.

Once they’d got there, Simon greeted them with a wave and something incoherent that sprayed digestive crumbs everywhere.

"Thank you, Townsend, that was completely disgusting. Shouldn’t you be a bit closer to Malfoy?”

Simon choked down the digestives and answered “I can see him from here, I’ll notice if he falls down dead or something.”

That started a squabble, so Al took the opportunity to sidle away from them as nonchalantly as possible. Harriet broke off mid-sentence to say "Stay in sight, Potter," and went back to sneering at Simon, who just peacefully munched on some digestives and congratulated her on all the particularly vicious insults. (Al was starting to suspect that was a hobby of theirs or something.)

Anyway, Al decided he wasn't going to spend any time thinking about how bad he was at Stealth & Tracking and wandered up to Ann Seancey, the Gryffindor girl who was scared of Lia and Grim, while looking as harmless as he possibly could.

"Hi!"

Seancey leapt about fifteen feet into the air with a cry of "Jesus!"

"Sorry," Al said, with his most genuinely apologetic grimace. "Do you want a badge? They're free, and they're to support Victoire, and I thought since she's in your house-"

"Have Rookwood and Grimalkin been anywhere near them?" Seancey demanded.

"No," Al lied, with a little confused frown for good measure. Seancey stared at him for several seconds as if she was trying to read his mind. Al just blinked at her.

"I'll take this one," Seancey informed him, and flicked her wand to make one of the VICTOIRE badges float up out of the box. "But I'm not going to touch it until Professor Brand's checked it for me, so there." She glowered at him, added a "Lord Aldemort" for good measure, and then looked very confused about how she was supposed to get it into her pocket without touching it.

Still, she'd taken one. Al decided that was a victory for him and went bouncing off to look for someone else. He kept count: fourteen people took a badge, though Dan Gunn squinted at him a bit first and asked miserably “What are you going to do to me if I say no, my dark master?”

“...I’ll feed you to the Tibetan Biting Wasps,” Al told him.

He winced exaggeratedly and took a badge.

Seventeen didn't, though: of those seventeen, four claimed they’d just seen someone waving to them on the other side of the room and had to leave immediately, twelve flat-out refused to take one, and one said that wearing a badge with someone's name on it counted as idolatry of false gods and was therefore against his religion. Al decided that he’d at least managed to get fourteen people to take one, so it was a victory for him anyway.

He turned back towards the refreshments table - he was pretty sure he'd gone out of Harriet and Simon's sight by now, but they didn't seem terribly bothered - and found Score, standing in the middle of an almost empty space that had formed around him, talking to Lew.

"Hullo, Al," Lew said casually as he came up. Score just looked blankly at the floor.

"Hi! Do you want a badge?" Al asked. "They're free and they're to support the Hogwarts Champion!"

"'kay," Lew said, and picked one out at random. Al beamed at him  and turned his attention on Score. He hadn't talked to Score since he'd found out what James had been saying, actually. Unless it had been that Score had been avoiding him, because the couple of times Al had tried to talk to Score he hadn't been able to find him. Mostly Al had just been staring at him in lessons trying to figure out what to say, which was a bit rubbish and not practical at all. Plus, Score had looked extremely nervous and sort of creeped out every time he looked up and saw Al watching him.

"Hi, Score! Do you want a badge too?"

Score looked up and just stared at him. His face was blank, but his eyes were burning.

Al took two very quick steps back. "...is that a no?" Score looked really mad. Why was he mad? Al switched back to talking to Lew, hoping Score would relax if Al gave him a couple of minutes to calm down.

"So how are your lessons going?"

"Fine," Lew said. "The James Potter telling everyone about how Scorpius's dad eats babies is related to you, isn't he?"

"He's my brother," Al said. "I hadn't heard he was telling people Mr Malfoy ate babies. Is he telling people your dad eats babies?" he added to Score, understandably concerned.

"No, it's...it's a Muggle thing, eating babies, don't worry about it," Lew said.

"Muggles eat babies?" Score asked, startled out of the blankness and looking completely horrified.

"Do Slytherins actually murder people? It just means evil, don't worry about it, nobody eats babies," Lew said. He looked like he couldn’t believe he’d ever have had to clear that up.

"What's James actually been telling you, then?" Al asked, before everyone could get distracted by Muggles not eating babies.

"Various things," Lew said with a shrug. "I did some independent research and found out it was all a bit made up, but everyone else in my house believes it. I've tried to tell them it‘s not, but they'd all rather stress themselves out, so.” He shrugged again. Al glanced quickly at Score to see his reaction, but he’d just blanked over again.

"Anyone want another custard cream?"

“Is a chocolate bourbon out of the question?" Score asked. Lew shrugged again - this shrug seemed to mean 'I'll see what I can do in the field of chocolate bourbon acquisitions' - and headed off to the biscuit plate on the refreshments table.

"Lew's nice," Al observed, on account of not having anything more useful to say, and looked back at Score.

Score had fixed him with a glare that could have stripped paint.

"Erk!" said Al. "I mean - are you all right?"

Score kept up the relentless glare.

"I'd like a badge, please," Score said coldly. "I'd like to show support for my school." He said it like he actually meant "I'd like to rip off your head and play Quidditch with it'.

Al offered him the box helplessly. Score picked out one of the badges that said NEVER SURRENDER and pinned it onto his robes, darting a quick, defiant look at Al as he did, and stalked off after Lew again.

Al just stood there, clutching his box. What had that been about?

He was starting to wonder if Score might just be completely mental. Being friends with two mental people would be really hard, but Al thought he could manage it.








 

When there were three days to go until the first task of the Triwizard Tournament, Score found himself browsing through the shelves of the Potions section in the library with two particular aims in mind: firstly, to find a copy of Swivenwick's Almanac of Moon Phases and Potion-Making, and secondly, to ignore the Ravenclaws whispering loudly and very obviously at the nearest table.

A copy of the Almanac was not forthcoming. Score straightened up, wondering if he could reserve a copy. He was fairly sure he had heard that reservations were limited to third-years and above - in which case, it would be simpler to just ask his father to buy him a copy.

The Ravenclaws were still whispering, with brief interludes of muffled laughter. Score hated to be paranoid, but he was reasonably certain they were talking about him on the basis that they had been studying in the traditional Ravenclaw fashion - quietly and obsessively - before they had noticed he was there.

This, Score decided, was one of the many, many reasons Slytherin was better than Ravenclaw. Slytherins would have either gossiped far more subtly or just run up, thrown a bag over his head, dragged him down to the dungeons and been halfway through the ritual sacrifice by now. ...obviously the former would have been preferable, but there was no denying that the Slytherins were just more efficient.

By now the whispering had spread to a pair of fifth-year Hufflepuff girls sitting closest to the Ravenclaws: they were darting suspicious glances at him behind their textbooks and either didn't care whether or not he noticed or were not cut out to be superspies.

Score did his best to ignore them. The small matter of his father's war crimes would have come up sooner and later (not to mention his grandfather's and great-aunt's - it would have been nice to have some relatives on his father's side who hadn't been completely evil) and he had firmly decided that it was better to get it over with sooner rather than later.

...Unfortunately, all the blind optimism in the world couldn't change the fact that he had been unwelcome from the start, he was in urgent need of tuition in Defence Against the Defence Against the Dark Arts Professor, one of Harry bloody Potter's foul brats was spreading lies about his father out of pure vicious attention-seeking stupidity and the other one - Score didn't have the least idea what sort of game Albus Potter was playing, but he was entirely certain he would not like the results. His father had warned him quite enough about the Potters and Score had no intention of trusting one of them in a hurry.

In conclusion, Score's life was wonderful. He feared he might spontaneously burst into song.

He turned away from the Potions section and its infestation of idiots and headed for the Transfiguration section, where there should be firstly a basic guide to the theory of trans-elemental transfiguration which Harper had recommended and secondly a textbook large enough that he would be able to beat himself to death with it if the Transfiguration section was found to be similarly swarming with imbeciles.

Much to Score's relief, it wasn't. He located the textbook he wanted quite easily and proceeded towards Madam Pince's desk, hoping that he would be able to complete the rest of his library-related transactions with the minimum of suicidal impulses. Unluckily, that was not to be the case, as the elder Potter brat and his inept duo of minions chose that exact moment to find out where the library was.

"Oi, Louis," said the Potter, in a voice loud enough that if there was any justice in the world all the books would have leapt from their shelves to bludgeon him unconscious, "where's the Transfig section again?"

It was at about this point that Score remembered that he was in the Transfiguration section. Unfortunately he realised this the moment after one of the Potter minions pointed at him. Even more unluckily, being platinum blond tended to make one instantly recognizable.

Potter looked tremendously pleased by this new turn of events, and while Score hated to run away he suspected he would hate to be thrown out of a window more. He exited the Transfiguration section at high speed and found himself in the Care of Magical Creatures section of the library. Unfortunately for Score, the Care of Magical Creatures section of the library turned out to be a dead end.

Stuff Hogwarts and its endearingly convoluted architecture, Score decided. He glanced around for an escape, allies or, worst-case scenario, improvised weaponry. There were no other Slytherins about, which would obviously have been the best option, but to his surprise he found a potential ally. Oksana Zelenko, Durmstrang champion and, from what he'd overheard at the dinner table, quite a pleasant girl and most importantly quite poor at English, was curled up in a window-seat with a Russian copy of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.

Score had intended to keep this as a last resort, but short of a death-defying plunge out of the window there didn't seem to be many alternatives, and that was precisely the situation he was trying to avoid. He glanced up quickly at the highest shelf, spotted a book with a distinctive green leather cover, and sauntered over to Oksana as casually as possible.

"Excuse me-" he greeted her in Russian, pleased to see that it still came easily.

"I asked you all to leave me in peace!" Oksana said, and looked up. Her mouth fell open.

"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to interrupt you," Score said, and took a step backwards.

"No!" Oksana put her book down open on the windowseat and stood up. "Your Russian is so good that I mistook you for one of my schoolmates - please, take it as a compliment? How can I help you?"

Score could see into the Transfiguration section from here: he glanced back pretending to be looking back at the shelves and saw Potter and his idiot disciples gathered around one book, pretending to stare at it blankly ("What is this strange device? Can it be used for Quidditch?") while actually watching him with the absolute minimum of stealth.

"I was having trouble getting a book down from the top shelf, and I wondered if you would be able to help me," Score lied.

"Of course!" Oksana loped past him to the bookshelves. "Which is it that you wanted?"

"Three books to the right of the one with the green cover - yes, that one," Score said, pointing exaggeratedly, and Oksana stretched up to get it and passed it down to him.

"Thank you!" Score said, with a slight bow. He was fairly sure it was proper ettiquette at Durmstrang for lower-school students to bow to upper-school students, at least if the lessons his grandmother had given him were accurate.

"Oh, no," Oksana said, blushing. "Really, it was a pleasure to help - our Minister for Foreign Relations lectured us so much about making friends with you all, but very few of us speak English so it has been a bit tricky." She smiled. "How did you learn Russian?"

"Malfoy! Hey, Malfoy!" Potter Idiot Senior shouted, and went off into peals of laughter. Score didn't look around.

"My parents planned to send me to Durmstrang originally," Score admitted. "And having lessons in a language that I didn not understand would have been problematic, so they hired a tutor to teach me. He always said I was doing well, but it is nice to have confirmation from someone not paid to say that."

Oksana smiled, at least. "So why are you-" She looked past him and frowned. "Are these friends of yours?"

Score looked around as though he hadn't the least idea who she was talking about.

"Oh, them," he said dismissively in English, before switching quickly back to Russian. "They're just acquaintances of mine. Ignore them." He kept his voice low and turned away from Potter and the Potterettes as he spoke. His grandmother had taught him very specifically to never reveal anything more than was necessary.

"Malfoy!" Potter shouted, dashing up and skidding to a halt in front of them because he was a savage raised in a cave who didn't know that it was improper to run in a library. He was grinning all over his hideously befreckled face. "Who's that?"

How literally retarded did Potter have to be not to recognize the Durmstrang Champion? Perhaps he had been kicked repeatedly in the head as a child. Score schooled his face into the blankest, calmest mask he could and said "Oksana Zelenko. The Durmstrang Triwizard Champion." Had that been slightly more confrontational than he'd intended? Dammit. In the future, stuff manners, he was going to let Harper get herself out of the trouble she got herself into.

"So...why are you talking to her? Does she even speak English?" Potter prompted, and grinned like he'd just thought of something amazing. Potter thinking at all should qualify as amazing, for that matter. "Are you asking for tips on the Dark Arts?"

Potter Minion Number One laughed obediently. Potter Minion Number Two looked equal parts bored and angry, but then Score suspected that was the only facial expression he had.

"I can recognize their tone, if not their words," Oksana said coolly, and drew her wand. "Leave, children. You are not wanted here." She spoke very clearly and made shooing gestures, to be sure that her meaning would be understood.

Potter and Potter Minion Number One laughed, Potter sweeping his hair about dramatically as he did.

"What, leave? Our own library?" Potter repeated, reconsidered, and added "This is our library and we shall not be parted from it! We shall fight for our library! Go back to the snowy steppes from whence you came, dark shadow of...dark shadow of..." He glanced at his minions.

"She's from Durmstrang," Potter Minion Number One supplied helpfully. Dear God, it was like watching a farce.

"...dark shadow of Durmstrang!" Potter finished, with a flourish. Potter Minion Number One clapped.

And these were the people making Score's life a living hell? Score was deeply, deeply shamed.

"Are they babbling inanely? It is difficult to tell, but I think that they are," Oksana said to him conspiratorially. "At Durmstrang, the lower-school children respect their seniors. Vsegdasmekha!"

Potter fell about laughing, and it took a second for Score to realise that that was the intent of the spell. Oksana aimed her wand at Potter Minion Number Two.

"Tell them to go."

Potter flailed about on the floor in hysterics, and it was glorious to behold.

"I think she wants you to leave," Score said, as blandly as he could. Potter Minion Number One hauled Potter to his feet and draped him half over his shoulder. Potter wheezed and gasped like a landed fish. Score was struck by a sudden desire for a camera.

"Come on, Fred, let's go-"

Potter Minion Number Two glowered at Score and said "You're dead, Malfoy." Oh no! Not unimaginative death threats!

Then Potter Minion Number Two sloped off with Potter (still wheezing) and Potter Minion Number One (still with no discernable personality).

"Do you think I should have taken the spell off?" Oksana asked a little ruefully, slipping her wand back into her blood-red robes. "At Durmstrang we usually don't - it encourages them to find the counter-spell and learn from their mistakes - but in hindsight that was a little undiplomatic of me." Her smile was warm and crooked and fleeting. "Why were - oh." She frowned.

"Is something the matter?" Score asked her.

"I meant to ask why they were so impolite - but they were wearing red ties and yours is green. Is it a problem with your houses?"

"...yes," Score said, deciding to simplify the matter as much as possible. Oksana shook her head exasperatedly.

"We do not have houses at Durmstrang. We just have our years, and all students in the same year should be friends. That is a much better way of doing it, I think, if you will forgive the undiplomacy.” She rubbed the back of her neck thoughtfully. “…Why did your parents send you here?"

"My father didn't want me to go to school so far away," Score said dismally. "It is starting to look like a silly idea, though."

Oksana frowned and was about to reply when a raucous voice shattered the silence: "Potter? What the hell are you doing now, you silly bastard?"

That would be Harper, arriving just after the nick of time. Score was very tempted to just stay there chatting to Oksana and leave her to it, but then he wouldn't be able to watch her kick Potter around the library.

"He got hexed, now go away before I make you regret it," Potter Minion Number Two barked. "Finite Incantatem!"

Score padded back to the entrance to the Transfiguration section and watched intently. Oksana followed him.

"Another fight? Is this normal in your library?"

"That girl's a friend of mine. It's normal for her," Score explained.

Harper was standing over Potter and the Potter Minions, grinning like a loon and holding a stack of books on decorative Charms for God alone knew what reason. Potter was still wheezing helplessly on the floor. Potter Minion Number Two's countercurse obviously hadn't worked.

"Finite Incantatem!" Potter Minion Number One tried. Again, that didn't seem to help.

"...In hindsight, I am glad that I did not take the spell off for them. They look as if they need the practice," Oksana observed.

"Finite Incantatem," Harper said, with a flick of her wand. Potter stopped laughing.

"Haha," Harper added smugly, and stuck her tongue out at the Potter Minions. Score frowned. That was out of character for her...unless...

Potter was getting unsteadily to his feet, Potter Minion Number One having volunteered himself as a crutch. He'd gone bright red. Interesting. Score hadn't known prolonged exposure to the Tickling Charm could have that effect.

"Thank you, Faith." Oh yes. Score had briefly forgotten Harper's first name. "That was... surprisingly nice of you..."

"No, that was showing off," Harper corrected. "Rictusempra!"

Potter went down again like he'd been hit by a ton of bricks, and Harper laughed so hard that for a moment Score thought she'd managed to hex herself as well. Potter Minion Number Two drew his wand and lunged at her, roaring, at which point Harper threw her stack of books into his face.

The consequences would probably have been terrible, but at this point Madam Pince grabbed Harper and Potter Minion Number Two by the ears and hauled them both out of the library. Potter Minion Number One followed with Potter draped over his shoulders, giggling feebly. From the noises from the corridor immediately afterwards, though, Harper and the Potter Minions's squabble had escalated into a full-blown duel. Score fought the urge to go and assist her.

Attending Hogwarts was a stupid idea, easily on par with all the stupid ideas his father had ever had. He almost wished he could just ask for a transfer to Durmstrang.

 

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