The snow fell in a heavy blanket around Hogwarts.
Silence echoed through the halls of the school and in an empty corner of the library, Albus Potter twirled his quill as he watched his cousin and sister pondering over the same chest move for nearly thirty minutes.
“How much longer do you think you can keep this up for?” He asked when Lily instructed a pawn forward and Hugo simply sighed.
“Hours,” his cousin muttered. “Are you almost done with your essay?”
Albus glanced down at the piece of parchment that wasn’t anywhere near done. “Couple more paragraphs, I think.”
“Mum told you to finish that during break,” Lily said offhandedly as she continued to stare at the chest pieces as if they’d place themselves into a winning position through the power of her mind alone.
“Why not just ask Rose for help?”
Albus shook his head at the ignorance of his younger family members. “That would be admitting defeat,” he started, “and besides, you’re sister is about as helpful under pressure as a wounded dragon. She’d never help and she’d follow me around proclaiming me a lost cause.”
Lily smiled as she looked up. “Ask James for help.”
“Of course, the blind leading the blind,” Albus told her with a matching grin. “I don’t need help, you know. I’m a genius.”
“So is Rose,” Hugo muttered and Albus groaned and sunk his face into his arms.
“Children?” Irma Pince stepped clear of a shelf of books and gave them each a stern glance. “Closing time. Off to your house before curfew, please.”
None had the guts to defy her. The witch might have had a soft spot for Rose, but she clearly had no patience for the rest of the Weasleys or the Potters. She particularly detested Fred.
Lily and Hugo sorted the chest pieces into their set, a present to Hugo from his father. The pieces were made of crystal and onyx and Hugo showed the utmost care when handling them.
As Albus rolled up his parchment, he glanced at the old clock on the wall. The common room would undoubtedly be packed with Gryffindors attempting to finish off whatever homework they had ignored over Christmas break. James would probably be in there too, most likely trying out some kind of Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes object that Uncle George had created. It drove Grandma Weasley and his mum mad that Uncle George sent that they called ‘contraband’ to the younger cousins, yet the packages still came every month and the school was never entirely free of Canary Creams and Portable Swamps.
When Madam Pince locked the doors behind them, Albus took the lead up the common room.
“Suppose that I fail Potions, how disappointed do you think my mum would be?” Hugo asked Lily.
“I wouldn’t go home if I were you,” she answered.
“Think I could stay with Nan?”
“Think you should move permanently to Uncle Charlie’s,” Lily giggled. “Although the Howlers might reach you there anyway. I hear there’s no minimum distance for those to travel.”
“Failure is not an option,” Albus told both of them in his best attempt at sounding like Rose. Lily and Hugo burst into laughter.
All three froze in their steps. The voice had reached them from further down the hall and from the darkened corridor came a prefect wearing a scarf in blue and bronze.
Albus recognized her immediately and upon catching sight of him, she slowed down and smiled softly. “Oh, it’s just you. Sorry, Albus. Hi, Hugo. Lily.”
“Hi Manx,” Hugo greeted her animatedly. “How was your break?”
Manx White wasn’t much of talker. In the six years Albus had known her, their conversations had been sporadic, polite, and distant. She was a Ravenclaw prefect, a sixth year just like him who, just like Rose, was a favorite of the professors for her uncanny ability to understand anything.
The smile she gave Hugo wasn’t necessarily happy. He had the impression that she’d trained her face to adapt to that expression when necessary. “It was wonderful, thank you. Did you get a chance to visit the British Museum like you wanted?”
She seemed extremely at ease with the fourth years and already she’d carried out a longer conversation with Hugo than she ever had with Albus. Al knew she had Hugo eating from the palm of her hand when his eyes lit up at the mention of the Muggle world.
“It was fantastic! Lily and I got to spend hours looking through the exhibitions!”
Manx’s brown eyes traveled towards the youngest Potter. “And what did you think?”
Lily was never a shy person, but as she glanced at Manx, Al saw a blush creep up her neck. “I thought it was wonderful. We even spotted some of the magical artifacts that they don’t even know are magical!”
Manx laughed and it was so unlike the image Al had of her that he couldn’t help being surprised. “It’s the wonder of Muggles, I tell you.” She glanced at her watch and frowned. “I have to complete my rounds. Supposedly Peeves has some great prank he is setting up for tomorrow. You’ll see them back to Gryffindor, Albus?”
“Do you need company? Doesn’t Wiley usually do rounds with you?” He asked glancing suspiciously at the empty corridor behind her. Wiley was her fellow sixth year prefect, a spacey beanpole that tripped over his own feet. Albus himself hated having to wear his prefect badge unless he absolutely had to, but he also didn’t like the idea of her walking around with Peeves on the loose.
“Jasper came back with a cold. He’s been sitting up at the tower bemoaning his headache for the last five hours,” she shook her head, “and I rather face all the ghosts of Hogwarts than have to wander about listening to his theory on dragon pox as a cure for ogre fever.”
“Is that even a real thing?” Lily asked looking suspicious.
“Wiley certainly thinks so.” Manx gave her another smile. “Off I go. Good night!”
She swung on her heels of her flats and disappeared back from where she’d come. She left a faint trace of perfume, cinnamon and cloves. Al looked sideways at Hugo. “How do you know her?”
“Slughorn,” Hugo growled under his breath. “That old bat told us that if we wrote an essay on the lecture he was giving his higher level class last term, we’d all get extra points. I needed those extra points.”
“And?” Al could only imagine Hugo’s frustration at having to sit through one of the Slug’s higher level classes. It was worse than eating Hagrid’s cakes.
“I ended up sitting next to Manx. I must have looked like a bloody idiot gaping at the Slug, so she actually made her notes seem like English and helped me polish my essay. Thank Merlin she took pity on me otherwise it would have been the most wasted hour of my life!”
As they resumed their walk back to the seventh floor, Lily turned back to Hugo with a frown. “Did you know that McGonagall considers her to be one of the brightest witches in Hogwarts history?”
“I thought after Aunt Hermione and Rose, no one cared anymore,” Al joked.
“Oh, I’m serious!” Lily said exasperatedly. “Supposedly she and Rose have been competing in every class since they started in Hogwarts. I overheard McGonagall and Flitwick talking about her before we went home for Christmas. Flitwick said that if Manx bothered to be here, that she could be the best student he’s ever had.”
“Uh, Manx is here. She doesn’t look like someone who skips classes, you know.”
“So basically you are saying that she belongs in Ravenclaw?” Hugo asked as they crossed into another staircase that led to the Fat Lady.
“Laugh all you want, but that wasn’t what I meant,” she breathed out.
“What did you mean?” Al asked starting to get curious. Lily often had a very different way of looking at things.
“Well, whenever people talk about smart people it’s always Rose or Scorpius, but never Manx White. It’s like she’s an after thought.”
“You just had to bring him into the conversation, didn’t you?” Al groaned. “And as a side note, whenever someone talks about smart people, they always say my name.”
“You’ve been stuck in the same essay for two weeks,” Hugo pointed out.
“Oi! Support me.”
Lily sighed as they stopped in front of the Fat Lady.
The portrayed woman sat in a corner, dozing. She opened her eyes only slightly. “Password?”
“I mean that if she’s as brilliant as McGonagall thinks she is, why don’t we hear about her at all? And did Flitwick mean about ‘being here’?”
“Password?” The Fat Lady demanded again.
“Maybe because everyone is too busy making up rumours about the rest of us?” Hugo asked innocently. “And honestly, if her grades are good, why should she care about being the best? Not everyone is competitive like Rose, you know.”
“What exactly would you like to hear about her?” Al asked. “I mean, she’s a prefect, does that count? And she must really hate listening to Wiley talk about magical ailments if she rather walk around by herself chasing after Peeves.”
Lily shrugged, tossing back her hair. “I don’t know. I’d never talked to her before, but I thought she was rather nice. Are you friends with her?”
He wasn’t. He didn’t know much about her at all except that if she let her hair dry naturally it usually curled in to a lion’s mane. He’d learned that after sitting behind her in Charms during their fourth year.
“Password, please!” The Fat Lady demanded and suddenly the picture swung towards them and James stumbled out of the Gryffindor Common Room.
James Sirius Potter threw his arms open wide and swept up his younger sister right off the floor. He gave her a few good shakes and set her down again. The smile he gave them would have charmed the socks off any other Hogwarts student, even professors for that matter. James was starting to turn into a strikingly handsome young man, growing into his strong jaw and his bright brown eyes. He wore his hair long. It fell low over his brow and he tossed his head in a effort to force it back. Girls loved that even if in Albus’ opinion he looked like an idiot.
He was all lean lines and a five inches taller than Albus was. Their grandmother thought that James was well on his way to be the tallest of the Weasley grandchildren, taller even than what Hugo promised to be.
“I hope you weren’t thinking about going for a walk?” Albus asked as he effectively blocked the way. “The kind that could get you into trouble.”
James’s smile would have fooled anyone else. “As a matter of fact, I was only coming to find you. How’s that essay coming?”
“Well, now that you found us, you might as well let me pick your brain and help me finish this,” Al told as he shoved his brother back towards the common room.
“Is that safe? Picking his brain? Shouldn’t we let it rest a while and see if it heals?” Lily asked casually.
James, as always, was the first to laugh. He considered Lily’s wit much of his own doing. “Maybe we can work on that essay in the kitchens? Doesn’t that sound nice? They have scones there. A nice, fresh pot of tea. Maybe some butter beer.”
“Maybe we can just work on it here?” Al told him as he dropped his bag by a couch and sat down.
“Where is your sense of adventure?” James demanded. He was nearly vibrating as he walked around the Common Room.
Lily stood on her tip toes to kiss James’s cheek. “I’m off to bed.” She dropped another kiss on Albus’s hair. She liked being affectionate when no one but family was around. She turned to Hugo. “Breakfast at eight?”
“Might as well,” he nodded resignedly. He checked his watch. “I think I’m going to bed, too.”
James groaned. “You people give our family a bad reputation. Who sleeps before midnight anyway?”
“People who care about their grades?” Lily asked as she began the climb to the girls’ dormitory.
“I do have good grades and if I didn’t, I’d be awesome enough without them, Lily!” James shouted after her. He turned to Hugo who was still, very slowly, walking towards the boys’ dormitory. “Aren’t I, Hugh?”
“Of course. Your mum tells us you’re special all the time.” He managed to escape up the stairs just as James tossed a pillow at him. Several seconds later, his head popped back down. “I thought of something else, Al.”
“Huh?” Al looked up from his essay.
“About Manx White,” Hugo clarified. Albus narrowed his eyes, he had already nearly forgotten about their run in with her. “Manx likes listening to the stories that Harmonious Bercaisos tells after dinner.”
“The ghost Bercaisos?” Al asked thinking about the waxy, obese ghost that tended to float around carrying a harp.
“Yup. She stays after dinner most nights to listen to him. Good night!”
“’Night,” Al mumbled.
“Why are we talking about Manx White?” James asked suspiciously.
Albus thought about the question. About simple, laid back and entirely self-reserved Manx White. “I have no idea.”