Chapter 1 - Namesakes
— CHAPTER ONE —
Albus was glad to be back for his second year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. It was already starting better than the last one, because this time, the second-years were allowed to take the coaches, so they didn't arrive all damp and cold from the lake ride – he thought, as he followed the chattering, joking and laughing crowd of students up the stairs to the Great Hall.
Soon, the Sorting Hat would have dealt with the first-years – Al remembered how scared and worried he himself had been, when he had been waiting for his own sorting, and he smiled fondly at the memory, – and then the Feast will begin (his stomach rumbled at that), and the beds and soft pillows were already waiting for them all in their dormitories …
Al stepped over the stone threshold into the warm and bright-lit Great Hall. His cousin and one of his two best friends, Rose Weasley, was already at the Gryffindor table; she had saved Al a seat and was beckoning him to hurry up and join her. Al just cast a final glance at his another best friend, who was veering off for the Slytherin table, and who turned back to wave him a timid 'see-you-soon', but then misstepped and bumped into a gangly sixth-year Ravenclaw boy who then—
—and then, the next thing Al knew, he was standing alone at the back of the Great Hall, panting heavily and his wand clutched in his fist, while everyone around was gaping open-mouthed at him or whispering between themselves. The Home table right in front of him was knocked over, with its golden dishes and cutlery scattered and glittering brightly all over the Hall floor. And there was blood on the floor too. Al's wildly-pumping heart skipped a beat, as he looked around at everything he'd done.
Headmistress Wilkins, a middle-aged witch with dark, silver-streaked hair, was striding fast towards him, her midnight blue robes billowing behind her. Al had never seen her so angry, in fact, he'd never seen her angry at anyone.
'Are you out of your mind, Potter!? Why in the world did you do that?!' exclaimed the Headmistress, then paused and seemed to forcibly collect herself. 'No, this will have to wait until I'm finished with all this. Seeing as Professor Longbottom isn't back from that Ministry business of his yet, I'll have to deal with you, instead of your Head of House. Go and wait at my Office until I sort out this mess! Go now, boy!'
His heart fluttering and his legs shaking, Al dazedly walked out of the Great Hall, barely registering stunned looks from Rose, his fellow Gryffindors or any other students, and stumbled down the stairs. When he was alone again in the corridor outside the Hall, he broke out into a terrified run, and stopped only when he reached the Headmistress' Office, where he paused to catch his breath.
An ugly gargoyle statue, that stood guarding the entrance, eyed him warily. For a very long time, the statue used to stand right in front of the staircase, and you'd have had to know the right password to get past it, but, after it had been hit by a particularly nasty curse during the last Wizarding War, nowadays it just stood crookedly beside the entryway and occasionally pecked at unwary passers-by. Al ducked low, avoiding the gargoyle's beak, and climbed up the moving stairs, and past a heavy oak door into a large, circular room.
It was the first visit up here for Al, – unlike for his brother James, who seemed to think that school rules were meant to be broken: well, seriously, talking a poor house-elf into taking a tray of Puking Pastilles into the staff room, just so that he'd have a teacher-free day, wasn't such a bright idea (luckily, Professor Flitwick had seen enough of Weasleys' Wizarding Wheezes products in his days to recognise them before Professor Slughorn could get a taste); especially, when James got a month's worth of detention and also spent half the summer paying for the prank at home; Scorp joked that James would have had much less trouble, if he'd taken the Puking Pastilles himself; Al wasn't so sure about the Pastilles, but, knowing his Mum's punishments, he was inclined to agree – so he just stopped in his tracks and stood there, gaping at the surroundings, his imminent and, most definitely, terrible punishment or, even worse, expulsion, momentarily forgotten.
On every free, flat surface of the room, there were books, all kinds of them, all neatly stacked, and, among them, some weird mechanisms and other magical-looking objects, and even an occasional Muggle item. If Rose were here, she would have already picked up a copy of Let's Get Familiar: The Owner's Guide, or A Short History of Nearly Everything, and started reading it.
On one of the few empty armchairs, there was a small, black cat sleeping, who at the sight of Al pricked its ears upright and gave him a short, nervous stare with its pale yellow eyes. No, not plain black – a dark smoke tabby: Al caught a glimpse of its silvery white undercoat, as, in a flash, the cat slid down from the armchair and scarpered for some secret hiding place.
At the very back of the Office, Al could see an enormous desk, covered with more books, also quills and sheaves of parchment; and the walls all around him were covered up to the ceiling with portraits of old wizards and witches (Former Headmasters of Hogwarts!, remembered Al) who all turned at the unexpected visitor and started whispering between themselves; a few even sidled down into lower frames to get a better look at him. Al felt a bit self-conscious under all the stares and lifted his hand absent-mindedly to smooth down his dishevelled hair. He found that he was still holding his wand, so he stuffed it inside his robes and stepped even further into the room.
'What are you doing here, boy? Shouldn't you be at the Feast right now?' asked a quivery voice right into his ear. 'What's your name, son?' Al jumped in surprise and, upon turning, found himself looking into the pale eyes of an ancient wizard or, more exactly, his portrait. On the painting, above a white wisp of the wizard's hair, there was also a name lettered, but it was far too high up for Al to read.
'I'm – I'm Al. Al Potter, sir, and, um, the Headmistress told me to come here and wait for her,' Al gulped nervously. 'I think I'm in trouble.'
The ancient-looking Headmaster tutted silently with the few teeth he had left, and the murmur and whispers from other portraits hummed up a notch louder. Through all that, a cold, snide voice behind Al's back remarked aloud: 'How typical. Only a Potter would get into trouble before the new school year had even started,' and another, kinder voice said reproachfully: 'Now, now, there, Severus, there is no need for that.'
At the mention of his middle name, Al spun around. There, directly behind the Headmistress' desk, hung a large portrait of an old wizard with a long, white beard and blue eyes, glinting behind half-moon spectacles. And the owner of the first voice was, most likely, the younger, sour-looking wizard with shoulder-length, black hair and dark robes, standing in the frame with his hands folded behind his back as if he was about to give someone a lecture; he was in a smaller portrait, which was hanging left, and slightly higher, than the first one. Al knitted his eyebrows, feeling that he had definitely seen both wizards somewhere, but, at the moment, he just couldn't recall where exactly.
The dark-haired wizard's eyes slithered over Al's face and narrowed, as the wizard's upper lip curled in detest:
'Definitely a Potter: he looks just like his father.'
'Well, I, for one, would say he looks more like his paternal grandmother, don't you agree, Severus? Especially with those eyes and that hint of red in his hair,' the elder wizard's spectacles glinted mischievously.
The younger wizard received this observation with an irritated grunt, and then added rather spitefully:
'That's so like Potter, to give his son such a common Muggle name …'
The elderly wizard cast his colleague a reproachful look, and Al, who previously just stood there gaping at the two, suddenly felt defiant and strode right up to the desk.
'It's only friends that call me Al! Or Asp – like my initials – because my full name Albus Severus is too long and old-fashioned –' and here Al noticed the loopy writing on the old wizard's portrait that said Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore. ' – Oh.'
The white-bearded wizard only chuckled:
'Asp? I wish I had that luck with my initials!'
The younger wizard froze and looked suddenly lost for words. Al read his name too: Severus Snape. 'Oh – '
'Oh, you're them! Um – I mean I'm named after you! Dad's told me that I was named after two Headmasters of Hogwarts!' Al looked excitedly from one former Headmaster to another.
'How nice of Harry to name a son after us, don't you think, Severus?' Albus Dumbledore turned with a merry smile at his still speechless colleague. 'That's even better than having your name on a Chocolate Frog card …'
Chocolate Frog cards! That's where he'd seen them!, suddenly remembered Al, and added sheepishly:
'Dad said that I was named after two bravest men he'd ever known …'
Dumbledore smiled kindly at him:
'That's quite flattering, really, but I'm not so sure that's quite entirely deserved –'
'Speak for yourself, Dumbledore,' Severus Snape seemed to have recovered his faculty of speech, and his sour expression too; 'I, personally, have risked my neck for that trouble-seeking father of his enough times to be, at the very least, called brave.'
'Oh, indeed, indeed, you're quite right, Severus, forgive me. The old age must be finally getting at my memory.'
The portrait of Headmaster Snape only scoffed at that, and then frowned at Al, who, by now, was feeling vaguely relieved to be so lucky as to never have Professor Snape as a teacher.
Dumbledore smiled at Al again.
'So, Al, tell me, why is it that you're here, and not at the Feast, enjoying a treacle tart?'
'Um, I – well, I – I tried to hex someone, sir, but missed him, and hit the Hufflepuff table instead, and it just fell apart, and then the Headmistress told me to come here and wait,' blurted out Al.
'Why would you want to hex someone at the Welcoming Feast?' Dumbledore's eyebrows rose in surprise, and Snape sneered: 'Probably he was just trying to show off his duelling skills in front of the whole school –'
'No!' Al protested loudly, and a few wizard portraits huffed or muttered indignantly at such impertinence, but Al ignored them: 'You see, there was this boy – he pushed my friend and made his nose bleed, and then he also called him a “filthy Death Eater spawn” (several nearby portraits gasped) – and then I told him to apologize to Scorpius, but he didn't, just laughed, so I hexed him! Or, at least, I tried to,' added Al lamely, and then continued: 'Just because Scorp's in Slytherin, and his father used to be a Death Eater, it doesn't mean that he's bad! I know he's not; he's my best friend! And he never even hexes anyone for calling him names! I know that Scorp's not bad, but most people just think that if he's a Malfoy, then he must be evil, and it's so untrue!'
Both of Al's two namesakes just stared at him.
'Your best friend is a Malfoy, and a … ?' uttered a stunned image of Severus Snape, and Albus Dumbledore's portrait remarked softly: 'It's good to see that old grudges don't carry on into the next generation …'
Al took a quick breath.
'Yes, well, he is. Except maybe my cousin, Rose. And I'm very sorry about the table and everything, but if anyone says something like that to my friends or pushes them around, I'm not going to stand there and do nothing! And I'd do all that again!'
'I most certainly hope not, Mr Potter, or I'll have no other choice, but to expel you.'
Al started at the sound of the Headmistress' voice. In his agitation, he didn't hear her come in.
'I'm very sorry about what I did at the Hall, Professor … I was just trying to defend my friend … ' Al lowered his eyes guiltily and fell silent.
'And by friend, you mean the unlucky Mr Malfoy?' quietly asked the Headmistress, and Al just nodded. 'It was noble of you to stand up for your friend, but that's no excuse for –'
'Ah, Clara, young Mr Potter here was just explaining to us the unfortunate circumstances that made him miss his dinner tonight,' spoke up Dumbledore, 'It seems to me, the boy just overreacted: you know, the hunger and tiredness from the journey. Actually, both of you must be quite tired by now. If I may, I'd suggest delaying any punishment for tonight or, better yet, leaving to decide upon it to his Head of House when he's returned.'
Headmistress Wilkins considered this for a moment; meanwhile, the image of Severus Snape studied Al's face without saying a word, as if looking for something.
'And if I may make another suggestion – as a former Gryffindor myself – I can see that the boy could use some of Professor Longbottom's lessons at the Duelling Club. Just so that he wouldn't be hitting tables the next time,' here Dumbledore conspiratorially winked at Al, to which Al gave a nervous smile in reply, but the Headmistress, who had chosen that very moment to close her eyes and tiredly rub the bridge of her nose, didn't notice anything.
'Well, we'll see about that in due time,' said the Headmistress with a sigh, 'but you're right, Professor, it would be better to take this matter with a clear head; I'll see about it tomorrow. Right then, Potter, you'd better go off directly to your bed now, while everybody is still at the Feast; there's been enough excitement for you tonight.'
'But, Professor, what about Scorpius … ?'
'Don't you worry about that. One of your cousins – Rose, I believe – insisted on accompanying him to the Hospital Wing, and by the morning, his nose will be right as new. Mr Malfoy, by the way, wouldn't say who pushed him, but he did say that it wasn't you and that you were only standing up for him,' the Headmistress paused, and her grey blue eyes surveyed Al briefly. 'Well, off you go now, and no more fighting on the school grounds. Oh, yes, and the new Gryffindor password will be Mandragora.'
Al's stomach chose to grumble aloud just then, and the Headmistress's lips twitched at the corners. She added softly: 'I'll have the elves bring something to your room. Goodnight.'
'Goodnight, Professor,' meekly replied Al, and glanced at the portraits of his two namesakes for the last time, before heading out of the Office for the Gryffindor Tower. Snape was still watching him a thoughtful look, and Dumbledore smiled warmly in farewell:
As Al hurried through empty corridors and staircases, and later climbed through the portrait hole into the Gryffindor Common Room, he pondered about everything that happened. Uncle Neville – that is, Professor Longbottom – was going to be so disappointed with him: he must have lost the Gryffindor House a lot of points tonight, and, even though his Herbology teacher was always fair, there was bound to be some punishment for what he did; thought Al unhappily, as he climbed up to the boys' dormitories. His Dad – well, more like, Mum – will be mad at him too, when they hear about this.
The only good thing was that now everybody would know to lay off Scorp – unless they wanted to fight him too – thought Al, as he chewed up a piece of cold pie he found on his bed-stand, pulled off his robes and climbed into his bed.
That, and meeting his two namesakes.
Just before his eyes closed and he fell asleep, Al had wished that he would ever have another chance to talk to them both. There were so many things he would have liked to ask them.