A/N: A new chapter, finally. Also, I edited some of the earlier chapters. Nothing major, just changed the timetables a little.
October came and brought with it cold weather. Summer was now long gone and life at Hogwarts was becoming familiar to the first-years.
Everything was not developing for the better for Albus, however. After giving the matter some thought, he decided there were exactly three things that kept bothering him.
First, James no longer spent as much time with him now that he had regular quidditch training. This directly tied in with his remaining two problems.
His second problem was the situation in his dorm room. Lestrange and Parkinson had not gone back to attacking openly, but now they had begun using more underhanded methods. Albus and Scorpius had soon learned not to leave their homework unattended unless they wanted some 'accident' to happen, like ink being poured on them.
They now kept all their belongings inside their trunks, which they kept tightly locked at all times. And yet, even with the flubbers protecting them at night, 'accidents' still happened. Their alarm clocks mysteriously stopped working every now and then, ink seemed to run out at astonishing speed, and Stroulger, who saw all, and heard all, Albus was sure, was only too willing to give some inhabitants of the dorm room the benefit of the doubt.
It went against Albus' convictions to let these things slide, but Scorpius asked him not to end their truce, such as it was.
Albus was sure James would already have thought of a clever way to retaliate and still come out looking mostly blameless, but it looked like he would have to come up with a solution without his brother's pranking genius.
James' absence even seemed to be tied with the third problem. Ever since he had stopped tutoring the three first-years in transfiguration, the rivalry between Rose and Scorpius had worsened. Now even their study sessions, which they both still insisted they were fine with, were just another setting to compete.
Halloween dawned bright and crisp, with a clear suggestion of the winter ahead. From the early morning, Albus was filled with a sense of expectation, which he put down to the feast that awaited him that evening.
The morning classes went by quickly enough, and the defence class in the afternoon was one Albus had been looking forward to almost as much as the feast.
Remus, true to form, had begun teaching them about gnomes just in time to begin the practical part of their lessons that Tuesday, even though they only had a single defence class that day. They were going to degnome the already meticulously well-cared for pumpkin patch, which had already been degnomed the day before by the Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff first-years.
Yes, Remus was that nice.
Hagrid met them just outside of the castle to take them to the pumpkins and explain to them how to avoid damaging the enormous vegetables which he proudly told them were going to be used that evening during the feast.
Albus and Rose began to enjoy themselves right away. At home, degnoming their garden had been a chore, and not always fun, but now, degnoming seemed more fun because it reminded them of home. Colour came to their cheeks as they tossed as many gnomes as they could find towards the Forbidden Forest.
Seeing how almost everyone was enjoying themselves, especially his friend, Scorpius tried to be a good sport. He really did. He tried to catch the gnomes just as Albus was demonstrating, just as his notes from Lupin's lesson from the previous week described, but they all seemed to slide through his arms.
Throwing them was worse. Maybe they sensed that he was more scared of them than they were of him, or maybe he was missing something that everyone else seemed to have figured out, but as soon as he managed to get a good grip, they would try to bite and he ended up letting go again.
"What are you doing!" exclaimed Rose, when she noticed what he was doing. "Don't just let them go. You're supposed to toss them away from the patch."
"I know," Scorpius replied tersely.
Rose sniffed and went looking for another gnome, while still keeping an eye on him. Not wanting to embarrass himself in front of her, Scorpius tried his best to appear unafraid. As soon as he spotted a gnome close by, he dived to catch it, only to let go an instant later, to avoid being bitten in the nose.
"You did it again!" he heard Rose's annoying voice a moment later.
"It tried to bite me!"
"What, and you got scared and let go?"
"I didn't get scared. I just didn't want it to bite me!"
"That's why you're supposed to swing them around your head first, to make them dizzy-"
"I know that," Scorpius interrupted her. He was starting to find her interference more than a little annoying. "I can't do that if they bite me first, though, can I?"
"Hey, what's going on?" asked Albus, who had finally noticed the argument and carefully walked between the rows of pumpkins to join them.
Rose crossed her arms in front of her chest. "Scorpius keeps releasing the gnomes back into the pumpkin patch," she said.
Albus frowned. "Whatever for?"
"I'm not doing anything of the sort! I just had to let go of a gnome, because it tried to bite me."
"Yes, they keep trying to do that," said Albus with a smile, as if that was a curious, if a bit useless little fact, as if that could never actually happen around him.
"Well, I saw you release two gnomes, one after the other. I haven't seen you toss out a single one," said Rose.
"Don't you have anything better to do than watch me?" Scorpius was thoroughly irritated at that point.
"I do. So do us both a favour and do what you were told to do."
"And what's that supposed to mean?"
"Hey, come on, you two. This is such a fun lesson. What's with the drama?" complained Albus.
Fun for you, maybe, Scorpius wanted to say, but he stayed silent.
"Some people don't think it much fun, huh?" Rose said it for him.
"So what?" Scorpius shot back.
"So have you decided you just won't do what you're supposed to, because you don't like the class?"
"No-" Scorpius began, but then he stopped. The question was ridiculous, he wanted to shout, but from the corner of his eye he noticed Albus frowning, like he was considering Rose's theory.
Scorpius knew telling the truth – that he just was not very good at the task – was the only sensible thing to do. But with all the recent competition with Rose, and with Albus doubting him so easily at her suggestion, he just could not do it.
"Really?" Rose was not letting it go.
"Really," Scorpius grit through his teeth.
"Hey, Rose, leave him alone. If he doesn't want to do it-"
"I never said that!"
Unfortunately for Scorpius, a gnome popped its ugly head up right between them that very moment, drawn out by all the noise they were making. With two pairs of expectant eyes on him, there really was only one thing to do.
Scorpius grabbed for the gnome, tried to swing it, but it was faster.
"OW!" he screamed a moment later, gripping his bleeding finger.
Remus was there right away, Hagrid not far behind.
"Is everything all right here?" asked Remus in his usual, mild tone.
"No, nothing's all right! I hate gnomes, and I hate this stupid class-"
Remus was about to admonish him, but then he noticed his bleeding finger. "Oh, did you get bitten-"
"I'm going to the hospital wing, if I may," Scorpius went on without letting himself be interrupted.
"Well, if you feel you have to-" said Remus, trying to be understanding.
"Er, do you want me to-" Albus began to offer to go along.
"Stay where you are!" Scorpius spoke over him. "Enjoy your lesson, then," he could still be heard saying while he wandered off.
Albus glared at Rose, who just shrugged her shoulders.
"Well, get back to work, then. You can check on him after class," Remus told Albus.
That was easier said than done, though. The Slytherins had one more class until tea time. Albus walked with the rest of his house to the history classroom, but the lesson began without Scorpius turning up.
Albus found this a little concerning. It was not like Scorpius to just miss a class. And how bad could a little gnome bite have been? He hurried back to the Great Hall, hoping to find the other boy there, to no avail. He did meet Rose, though, who was about to leave the castle for her herbology class.
"Have you seen Scorpius?" he asked her right away, amidst curious looks from the other Gryffindors around her.
"What do you mean, didn't he turn up for your history class?"
"No. He didn't." He shot her an accusatory look.
"Well, maybe he's still in the hospital wing, or maybe he went to your dorm room. Oh, wait. Remember where he went last time he ran away?"
Fay tugged at Rose's sleeve. "I'll go ahead if you want to look for him," she said.
"No, that's all right. I'm coming," said Rose. "I won't be able to get into the Slytherin common room or dorm rooms, anyway, and he's most likely there." She waved good-bye at Albus and left.
Scorpius was not to be found in any of those places, nor the library where he had gone to the first time they had fought and he had run away. Albus was starting to wish the other boy would get out of that habit. He was also getting a bit worried. Even though Scorpius running away was nothing new, he had never before been hard to track down. And he had never missed class before.
When Rose returned for tea, she immediately asked about Scorpius, looking worried as well, on top of the guilt which had finally begun to seep into her mind. Seeing that, Albus refrained from pointing out to her that the whole situation was her fault.
The cousins missed tea again that afternoon, as they searched every part of Hogwarts they could think of where Scorpius could be found, but he seemed to have vanished from the castle.
It was only when their theory of magic class was about to begin that Rose slowed down. Albus, who was also aware of the time, frowned at her.
"Well, go ahead, then. I'll look some more for Scorpius," he told her.
"But what if he goes to the class? I's not like him to play truant."
In fact, Scorpius had never even considered missing a class. As much as Albus dreaded having to listen to Green for an hour, while waiting for the lesson to end so he could go back to looking for his friend, he knew there was a chance Rose was right. Resigned, he walked with her to their class.
Scorpius did not turn up to that class, either, something that did not escape Green's notice.
"Mr. Potter," she addressed him as soon as she had noted down Scorpius' absence. "You seem in the habit of sitting next to Mr. Malfoy. You wouldn't happen to know his whereabouts, would you?"
"Er, no. I'm not sure-"
"Mr. Lestrange. Mr. Parkinson. Do either of you know where your dorm mate might be?"
Albus felt like pointing out to her that he lived in the same dorm, but held his tongue, knowing full well it would do no good.
"He had to go to the hospital wing earlier today, Professor," answered Lestrange. "Our defence against the dark arts class got a little out of hand."
Rose wanted to protest at that point, but Albus held her back.
"I see. How unfortunate," said Green, sounding anything but. "I hope he recovers until tomorrow. It would be a shame if he were to miss astronomy as well. Would you be so kind as to take notes for him and give him his homework?"
"Yes, Professor," answered Lestrange, as if that was the most natural thing.
Albus was now sure Green had known about Scorpius before class. He was angry at himself for falling into her trap. Now Scorpius would have to deal with Lestrange having his homework on top of everything else.
Alan walked up to him before Albus could rush away after class.
"I hope Malfoy will be all right," he began, sounding reasonably genuine.
Albus really wanted to go look for his friend and did not have time for a chat with the Hufflepuff boy, but he did not want to be rude. "Er, yes, so do I. Actually, Rose and I were going to look for him-"
"You still haven't found him, then?" asked Fay.
"Er, no. But we didn't have much time earlier," said Rose.
"Maybe he's still not back from the pumpkin patch," Alan said unexpectedly.
"The pumpkin patch? When did you see him there?" Albus asked immediately.
"Oh, I saw him after history, when I was walking to my herbology class. I asked him if he forgot that we had history, but he said no. He said he had something more important to study. Then he walked off. And I'm pretty sure he was headed towards the pumpkin patch. He didn't find degnoming all that easy, did he? We had the same class with Professor Lupin yesterday, and I-"
"Thank you, Alan," interrupted Albus. "I'm sorry but we have to be off, Rose and I. There's something we need to discuss with Scorpius."
"Oh, all right. I'll see you-"
"Yeah, see you later!" With that, Albus grabbed Rose's arm and they both ran out of the castle and towards the pumpkin patch.
It was late afternoon and so late into the year the sun set early. There was barely any daylight left when the cousins stepped outside. In near silence, they approached the pumpkin patch, hoping their search would come to an end when they got there.
From some distance still, they saw a dark shape right at the onset of the pumpkin patch, almost blending in with the landscape.
"Is that-" began Rose, keeping her voice quiet by some instinct.
Albus slowed down, forcing her to slow her steps as well, to stay next to him. They approached cautiously, quietly, feeling frightened and foolish at once. The closer they came, the less the figure resembled Scorpius. It was clearly a human, but larger, likely an older student or an adult. Albus was about to speak, when the figure straightened, revealing another shape behind it, which looked a lot more like Scorpius.
Everyone came to a full stop, waiting with bated breaths. The stranger seemed to be listening for something, then looked around in one rapid motion.
Things happened very quickly at that point. The figure turned to fully face them, drawing a wand at the same time. Albus pushed Rose and jumped in the opposite direction, just as ropes shot out towards the spot they had vacated, only missing them by an inch.
While their attacker looked from one to the other, deciding which target to pick first, the cousins had time to draw their own wands.
"Who are you?" shouted Albus, drawing attention to himself.
Not a moment later, the stranger's wand was focused on him, but Rose was faster. Her trip jinx was not very strong, but it hit, and made their attacker miss Albus. The cousins exchanged a look as the stranger's wand was redirected towards Rose.
"Let's cross the streams!" said Albus. They both cast the trip jinx simultaneously. The double dose was a lot more effective, sending their opponent sprawling on the ground.
A moment later, the stranger was up and running towards the Forbidden Forest.
As soon as that person, whoever it was, had disappeared from sight, the cousins rushed over to Scorpius, who was tied up with ropes, crouching on the ground. Once the cousins had finally untied him, the blond boy sank back to the ground and Albus and Rose joined him, sitting down in front of him.
"Who was that?" Scorpius asked. There was a catch in his voice and his breathing was fast and shallow, but he successfully fought back tears.
"You couldn't tell?" Albus asked right back.
Scorpius shook his head. "She was wearing a scarf up to her nose, and a hood over her head. And I was-" He stopped to swallow past a lump.
"Well, we couldn't even see that much. We were too far away," the other boy told him.
"It was a woman?" asked Rose, but would not look directly at Scorpius.
The blond boy nodded, also not looking at her. "Yes, but that's all I could tell."
"What did she want?" asked Albus.
"I don't know! I was about to go back to the castle when – when—"
"Maybe if you told us what happened – I've been trying to find you all afternoon."
"Oh," said Scorpius, managing to sound appropriately sheepish. "Well, I met the matron, Madam Bell – healed the bite right away, asked me why I had even bothered to go to the hospital wing. We had history after, and that meant listening to Binns drone on and on when I was still..." He sent a furtive glance in Rose's direction. "A bit upset about before-"
Rose cleared her throat after Albus urged her on none too gently. "Er, yeah. About that. Maybe I went too far. I'm sorry I accused you-"
"Yes, well. If I'd just said that I didn't know what to do... I've never had to degnome a garden before. And my parents always go on about 'the advantages of children raised in magical households'..."he said with a passable imitation of his father's way of talking.
Scorpius shook his head. "Not once. So you see, I really didn't know what to do. I wasn't just pretending to be bad at it-"
"I never even thought that might be the case," Rose tried to explain. "You always try to be the best in every class. That you might have problems with something as simple as degnoming-"
"That's why I came here instead of history. I wanted to get better at it before our Thursday defence class. But the professors got here soon after and began cutting down the pumpkins for the feast this evening. So I hid and waited for them to leave. It took so long – they kept talking and arguing and joking – They really need better hobbies. It was already too late for the theory of magic lesson when they finally left and I thought better miss the class than be late and have to explain things to Green. So I stayed here and tried to find some gnomes-"
"They'd all have left by then – no people, no pumpkins-" said Rose.
"Yes, well, I didn't realise that. But before I was ready to give up, that – that person turned up. Wouldn't say anything, not even when I asked her who she was, just pointed her wand at me and tied me up before I could do anything-"
"Well, she's an adult and you're only a first-year," Albus tried to reassure him.
"You managed all right," came the quiet reply.
"To be fair, there were two of us and we attacked her before she could decide which of us to deal with first," said Rose.
"And we learned the spell we used from you," added Albus.
"So, what did she want, then?" Rose went back to the more important topic. "What was she trying to do when we got here?"
"She kept looking at the ground," Scorpius answered with a frown. "She cast another spell after she had restrained me. I don't know what it was – she was casting silently – but if it did anything, I did not notice. Then she began searching the ground all the way around me. And that's when you turned up," he finished his tale.
"I wonder what she was looking for," said Rose and started searching the ground around her.
"It's getting dark, Rose," said Albus. "I don't think we'll find what it was now. Let's go back. I think the feast is about to begin."
"But what if-" began Scorpius, but then stopped.
"What if what?"
"Nothing, just..." At Albus' questioning look, Scorpius shrugged. "What if she comes back and tries to attack me again..." he finished in a sheepish voice.
"Oh, all right. Let's give it a try," Albus conceded.
Even with three pairs of eyes, it was not an easy task, especially as it was already quite dark and they did not know what they were looking for. They retraced Scorpius' steps to his previous hiding place and after a good half hour of searching, they found their snitch – that is, the snitch bearing Dougal McBride's signature that Albus had found and that until then they had believed to be fake.
"I must have dropped it when I was hiding here from the professors," said Scorpius.
Neither of the cousins found it surprising that he had had it with him. It was not uncommon for one of them to carry it around and play with it as if it were a toy.
"So do you think that's what she was after?" asked Rose.
"Maybe," said Albus. "But can we go back while we try to figure that out? I don't want to miss all of Halloween dinner."
The feast began earlier than the usual dinner time and everyone else had already gone to the Great Hall by the time they returned to the castle. It was eerie, to wander Hogwarts' completely empty corridors. From some distance still, they heard the noise of loud, cheerful chatter coming from the Great Hall, but at the entrance they hesitated.
"Someone's bound to notice us sneaking in," cautioned Scorpius.
"So what? I'm not going to miss dinner because of that! Let's just go in!" said Albus.
"Well..." began Rose. "We are already late, so what if we just – very quickly – had a look at the other snitch in the trophy room?"
"I agree," said Scorpius, and he and Rose exchanged a quick, awkward look.
Albus almost whined in frustration, but he let his friend and cousin drag him away. Holding their snitch next to the one behind the glass case, one thing became clear: what they had found was no cheap copy. It matched the other one down to the tiniest scratches, even after all the time it had been in their possession.
The next question that needed to be answered was which one was real and which was fake. They were stumped. Without even knowing the obvious spells like finite incantatem, there was nothing they could do except ask someone for help.
"We can't go to the teachers," Scorpius vetoed the obvious solution. "Everyone will know then and if that woman hears about it, she'll know we found out what she was after."
That left Albus' brother and cousins. Neither he nor Rose could believe that any of their older cousins would help them without asking too many questions. That left James – and possibly Fred, though he was hardly an improvement.
"Don't even think about it!" said Albus as soon as asking James began to look like an actual possibility. "First, he's only a year older than us, and not a bit wiser. And then, have I ever mentioned how quidditch-obsessed he is? He'll take our snitch, to 'investigate' it, and we'll never see it again!"
The other two agreed to at least let the argument go for the moment, but then Scorpius suggested they have a look at where Albus had found the snitch – to look for more clues. His friend was beginning to wish he had never found it – or at least never told the other two about it – but he was too happy to see his cousin get along with Scorpius to be a spoilsport.
If the deserted corridors around Hogwarts' main entrance had been eerie, they were downright creepy down in the dungeons. Well, at least it suited the theme of the day, thought Albus and almost despaired thinking that that would be all the Halloween celebration he would get.
They approached their favourite hall in the dungeons and suddenly came to an abrupt halt. There was noise coming from that direction. The three exchanged looks, to make sure the others had heard it too, and they were not imagining it.
Albus was about to suggest once again that they go back, when they were suddenly bathed in icy cold. They all screamed.
"Oh, do excuse me, I wasn't expecting any more visitors," said the ghost of Sir Nicholas de Mimsy-Porpington, better known as Nearly Headless Nick.
The boys had until that point had very little contact with the resident ghosts. The Slytherin House ghost, the Bloody Baron, did not really associate with students, much less first years. As such, ghosts were still a bit of a novelty to them. Rose, however, was a different matter.
"Rose Weasley! Welcome, welcome! I have to say, I'm very pleasantly surprised that you remembered. Or your parents, I suppose." While talking, Nearly Headless Nick led the three youngsters towards the entrance of the hall.
Inside, a surprise awaited them. The hall had been decorated with an excess of black fabric and was illuminated with eerie blue light. A long table was set up in the middle, with what looked like rotten food spread out along the whole length. A banner on the far wall read 'A grave 525th deathday'. There were more ghosts in that one room than they had thought there were in all of Hogwarts. A vague memory began to resurface in the cousins' minds. Something about the scene recalled one of the stories their parents had told them of their school days.
"Rose, is this-" Albus began to ask in a whisper, but he stopped when another ghost floated their way.
"Oh, your honorary student guests. Haven't seen them in a while," said the portly ghost.
"Oh, do be sensible. It's been twenty-five years since then," said Nearly Headless Nick exasperatedly. "These are their children. At least, two of them are. Rose Weasley here is in my House, like her parents, and this is the famous Harry Potter's other son." Scorpius was not introduced. The ghosts soon found another topic and floated away, Nearly Headless Nick leaving them with the suggestion to 'mingle'.
"What is all of this?" asked a very astonished Scorpius once they were among themselves again.
The cousins tried to explain as well as they could. Together, they managed to reconstruct enough of their parents' tale to make sense of the ghosts' comments.
"But why? Why did your parents attend once of these parties?" The blond boy looked around and tried not to pinch his nose at the smell of mouldy food.
Albus and Rose looked at each other for an explanation and then they both shrugged.
"Right. Well, it looks like we won't be able to do much investigating after all. And this, er, party is very interesting, I suppose, but I'd rather go to the Halloween feast now."
"Me, too," agreed Albus.
"Me, three," added Rose.
However, before they could leave, an angry Snape burst through the door, then immediately came to a standstill when he saw them. For one moment, the four living humans stared at each other in perfect stillness. A moment later, Snape was towering over his students.
"You three again! How are you involved in this?" he thundered. His voice carried through the whole hall, silencing the gloomy conversations around them.
"Wh-what?" stuttered Albus. "Involved in what? Professor," he remembered to add at the last moment.
"In whatever scheme your brother and cousin cooked up with Peeves this time. Don't tell me you didn't know anything about it again."
"But we didn't! We're here as guests!" said Rose indignantly.
"What seems to be the problem here?" said Nearly Headless Nick, who had floated over to find out why his party had been rudely interrupted.
"We finally managed to restrain Peeves, who was playing his version of trick-or-treat in the Great Hall. Do you know what he told us? He said you had put him in contact with some students – whom he refused to name – who promised to sneak him into the Great Hall if he stayed away from this very hall tonight. Does any of this sound familiar?"
"They said they'd get him to stay away..." Nearly Headless Nick began to mumble, but then he stopped. "I'm afraid you're right," he then said in a brave voice. "I did convince Peeves hear out some students. But I had no idea what they meant to tell him. However, I am aware of my mistake and whatever I need to make up for-"
"Who were those students?" interrupted Snape.
"I'm afraid I can't tell you that. I promised I would keep that a secret."
"I can't." he said with grave finality.
"You-" Snape clenched his fists, then took a deep breath and turned towards the three students again. "Now, I know, and you know, that those students are James Potter and Fred Weasley. But if you don't confirm that, I'll have no evidence against them. And as I found you three here, for no good reason, I'll have to assume that you were the students responsible."
Albus stood there with his mouth open, not wanting to believe that his teacher – his least favourite tacher, yes, but nevertheless, a teacher – would stoop to blackmail.
"But we did have a good reason, Professor," Scorpius piped in meekly. "Or at least I thought so before. My friends told me about how their parents came to Sir de Mimsby-Porpington's five-hundredth deathday party twenty-five years ago. I thought that was really interesting and wanted to see for myself, and that's why we came here..." he finished very quietly.
"That is true, I had the great honour to count Harry Potter, Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger as guests of honour to my five-hundredth deathday party," confirmed Nearly Headless Nick, looking a lot more favourably at the blond Slytherin boy who actually remembered his real name.
Snape's expression went from disbelieving to a particularly twisted sneer. "One of these days..." he began darkly, then unclenched his hands and took another deep breath. "You are going to march out of here now, and straight to the Great Hall, where you belong. And no more strange excursions. Move!" he almost shouted the last word.
Despite the clearly dishevelled appearance of the Great Hall, the three friends were happy to see that there was still plenty of food on the tables. Before parting to go to their respective House tables, Rose and Scorpius spoke simultaneously, and so quietly that only Albus could overhear:
"Thanks for saving me earlier," said Scorpius.
"Thanks for saving us," said Rose.
After that day, neither of them ever questioned any more that they were friends.