"Stop it!" I felt myself shout as I was shoved towards the barrier. I closed my eyes, waiting for impact – but then felt a rush of oxygen through my lungs. I opened my eyes and realized that I had passed through the barrier; however, my earlier scream had been quite audible, and several wizards were staring at me. I felt blood rush to my face. I wanted to vanish into thin air.
My brother James, of course, was no help, cackling at me like the banshee I deep down knew he was.
"Oh, shut it!" I snarled at him furiously, wishing he'd gotten run over by a truck.
James, however, ignored me and kept sniggering. "You're such a pansy, you'll never get into Gryffindor like this!" he wheezed in between laughs.
"Mum!" I moaned.
"What? We all know it's true!" he yelled when dad shot him a look.
Mum turned to face James, her expression vicious. Her hair looked as if it were on fire, and her eyes blazed. Steam was practically flowing out of her ears. When mum was mad, I could almost imagine her with horns and a demon's dress. James gave a visible gulp. "... Yes, mum?" he said timidly.
"James Sirius Potter, what," mum said slowly, her voice tight with anger, "have I told you –" she let another slow breath out –"about troubling your brother?"
She'd used James's full name.
His full name.
This meant one thing, and one thing alone...
James was doomed.
James trembled at being subjected to mum's wrath. "I was only joking, Al knows I didn't mean it – don't you, Al?" James turned his wide fearful brown eyes towards me hopefully, running his hand through the Potter hair we both had inherited, but I could only shrug apologetically – we all knew there was no getting him out of this.
I'll write your will, I mouthed to James, being the oh-so-helpful brother I was. Can I put myself down for all your quidditch things? Oh, and that awesome signed poster you got from The Ghouls?
James glared at me. Shut your face, he mouthed back.
I could only shrug, mentally wincing for James. There was nothing that could save him now...
Except for Lily! Lily, my fiery, mischievous younger sister, had started learning quidditch a few months ago, and last week, she'd accidentally fallen off her broom. While she had broken no bones, she had sprained her ankle very badly. Mum had fixed it in a heartbeat, but Lily still liked to milk it all she could.
I frantically started gesturing towards Lily, hoping James would understand. His eyes widened and, when mum turned around to ask dad something, he hissed, "If you help me this time, I'll forget all about asking Fred for help with getting my revenge on you for filling my bedsheet with bugs."
Lily pondered over this for a while, and gave a sharp nod. "Deal."
"Good. Now work your magic!"
Mum turned away from dad and back to James, and continued her lecture. "James Sirius Potter, I have put up with this unacceptable behavior for far too long! You have been insufferable, impertinent, brazen and quite possibly the most insolent boy your age I know! Is this how Harry and I have raised you? To endlessly make fun of your brother? Because, believe me, I will not put up with it any longer! I refuse to let you get away with it! Throughout your vacations, I –"
Lily suddenly fell to the ground, clutching her feet. "Mum, my ankle!" she cried. "It's throbbing!" Lily somehow morphed her features into those of anguish as she moaned piteously. My sister had stunning acting skills, I had to give her that. If I hadn't known she was lying, I would've been quite taken in.
Mum's head instantly whipped away from James, her doe brown eyes filled with concern. "What's the matter, Lily, darling? Did you twist your hurt ankle again? Wait a second, I'll get it fixed in a moment –"
I leaned over towards dad. "Why's mum more riled up than usual today?" I asked in a hushed voice. "She's normally a lot calmer about these things, and I can see the dark shadows under her eyes."
Dad smiled ruefully. "Mindful as ever, Al," he remarked.
"Well, we can't all be like James, can we? Merlin knows the world couldn't suffer enough," I said, smirking.
"Hey!" James shouted from the background. "I can hear you!"
Obviously, Dad and I ignored him.
"You know, your mum's not the only one who looks just about brain-dead." Dad nudged me. "Oh, and by the way, if your mum gets wind of what I said, I'm denying it."
"But seriously, Al, you look like you're about to pass out, right here, right now. First day of school jitters keeping you up?" Dad asked knowingly.
"I didn't catch a wink of sleep yesterday!" I yelled, yanking my hair in annoyance. "Morag The Hag and his bloody cats kept me up all night long!"
"Al, you know Morag's role in the War was pivotal," Mum said reproachfully, apparently done "healing" Lily's ankle. Mum was an amazing witch, don't get me wrong, she could throw a mean hex – but when it came to healing? Merlin help us all if she ever decided to make a living out of it.
"How do we care what his role in the War was?" James demanded, apparently taking my side. "And what does pivotal even mean?"
"Excuse me?" Mum looked like she was about to go off again. "Do you have any idea how dangerous the War was? If your father hadn't defeated Voldemort once and for all, we wouldn't be here!"
I rushed to help James. Sure, Mum was rather like a time bomb waiting to go off, and James put his toe over the line more and more every time, but he'd taken it too far.
"Mum, you know that's not what James meant. It's not good for us all to live in the past. You and Dad should know that better than anyone else, remember?"
"He's right," Dad said quietly to Mum. "Just let it go." After the War, Dad had experienced one of the worst cases of PTSD St. Mungo's had seen. Mum had been the only one who could help him heal mentally, apart from Uncle Ron and Aunt Hermione.
Mum, who had turned slightly pale, nodded. Suddenly she noticed the crowd that was gawking at the famous Potter family. "What are you all staring at?" she said furiously. "There's nothing to see here! Mind your own business!"
The crowd disassembled, unwilling to experience Ginny Potter's infamous temper.
"Al, a second," Dad said. I nodded. I knew where this was going. Mum dragged James and Lily off. "Do you remember what I told you about Houses?" he asked.
"I do. I thought about it, and..." I took a deep breath. "I know what you said about the Sorting Hat taking my choice into account, but... I'm going to let it choose for itself."
Dad's look of pride clearly meant he'd misunderstood.
"But this doesn't mean I'm fine with Slytherin yet!" I said hurriedly. Dad's face fell. "While I don't hate it anymore, and I understand that Houses don't define who you are, and I remember you telling me about the good Slytherins, like Severus Snape, but... I'm still not sure. But... I think everything will turn out okay."
Dad looked relieved. "Well, I'm glad about that," he said. "Look, so far, the only bad thing about Slytherin so far is the freezing cold, and luckily for you, McGonnagall had the dorms renovated, so that's that, right?"
I laughed, and the tension diffused instantly. "Yeah. And... thanks, Dad."
Dad smiled. "Any time."
"Al! The train's about to leave!" James yelled from far away. I hugged dad one last time and walked towards the train.
While I didn't know what House I would be Sorted in, I knew what was ahead...
But was I ready for it?
"Al," James said, looking at me unusually seriously. "I think you should get your own compartment."
"Why? " I asked. "You're not going to start flinging pies at people's faces like you usually do when you're mad, are you? Or shove your pirate skull underwear in their noses? Or – OH MY MERLIN PLEASE TELL ME YOU'RE NOT GOING TO DO A REPEAT OF THAT TIME WHEN YOU TAPED YOURSELF TO A BROOMSTICK WITH GEORGE'S FIREWORKS, TIED THEM AROUND YOUR UNMENTIONABLES, AND –"
"NO!" James yelled, looking traumatized. "Merlin's pants, it's nothing like that! And that was long back!"
"That was last Friday!"
"It's irrelevant to this conversation!"
"Look, someone's been teaching you big words again, James!" I said with mock pride. "This is great! If you're not careful, someone might think you're growing up!"
James glowered, clearly fed up of me. "You know what? Fine. Blast whatever I was going to tell you, since I doubt you care."
I stared at James, speechless. I had clearly just experienced James feeling hurt about something I had said. I rushed after him. "Wait!" I called. "I really want to know what you were going to say, I do! Why do you think I should find my own compartment?"
James hesitantly turned around, his scowl fading. "Al, it's your first year. You're going to have to make an impression on others, and this is your chance to make a good one. I mean, no pressure, but you really don't want to be known as the dorky kid who keeps clinging to his older brother." James paused, and noticed my crestfallen face. "Not that I think of you that way," he said hurriedly, "but others might. You know what I mean?"
"Unfortunately," I sighed, "I do."
James grinned at me and punched my arm lightly. "Come on, man up, you sissy! You're a Potter! Potters aren't sissies! Otherwise they get their heads dunked down toilets by yours truly!"
"There's the immature brat we all know and don't love," I mumbled. "I was hoping he'd never resurface."
James winked and walked away, his arm raised in farewell.
Time to find a compartment...
"Is this seat taken?"
I looked up and saw a boy who had ruffled, platinum blonde hair. He looked around my age. "No," I said, "You can sit if you like."
"I think I might just take you up on that," he said, his mouth curling into a lopsided grin. "The name's Scorpius," he said. I suddenly realized that I'd seen him at the platform.
"You're a Malfoy, aren't you?" I asked curiously, picking at my robes.
Scorpius sighed but didn't deny it. "I'm a Malfoy," he admitted. "Unless that's a problem?"
"No way," I said to him, grinning. "I'm Albus, and that's Justin –" I pointed to the scruffy, mousy boy who was huddled at the corner seat, "Benson –" I waved my hand toward the boy next to Justin; he smiled at hearing his name and nodded, "and Zoey," I finished, looking at the blonde girl beside me. Scorpius raised one eyebrow at Zoey, taken aback by her presence. Zoey, clearly noticing Scorpius's somewhat surprised look, quirked an eyebrow.
"Forgive me if I'm mistaken," Scorpius said, leaning forward and placing his elbows on is knees, "but shouldn't you be in a compartment full of annoying girls, swooning over famous celebrities and whatnot?" he asked, his grey eyes challenging, as he stared questioningly at the seemingly innocent and harmless blonde-haired, blue-eyed girl. Zoey noticeably bristled.
"Well, I absolutely beg your pardon for having the audacity to not sit with brainless twats who keep going on and on about their new favourite celebrity of the day, and giggling over every single bloke to ever set foot into Hogwarts, including Professor Flitwick, and discussing the best hair products to use; oh, I plea for your forgiveness, Your Majesty!" Zoey snarled. "Maybe you would be better off joining them, since your hair's probably shinier than the lot's, even though they keep using all those trashy products that are going to cause their hair to fall off!"
Scorpius looked taken aback, grudging respect showing on his face for the fiery girl. Zoey was, in many ways, quite similar to Lily, I noted to myself.
"Well, appearances most certainly can be deceiving, am I right?" He nodded to me. "No need to bite, I was just assessing you."
"Assessing me!" Zoey spat out in disbelief, narrowing her eyes. "What gives you the right to go around assessing people?"
Scorpius grinned, unfazed by the fuming girl in front of him, and I was startled by his quick change of mood. "I just wanted to make sure you wouldn't be all weepy and annoying like those clingy girls," he said, and Zoey relaxed a bit. He stuck his hand out at her. "Truce?"
Zoey hesitantly shook Scorpius's hand, and immediately pulled away, as if his touch burned.
Scorpius turned to me. "So, Albus, around half of the second years at Hogwarts bet their galleons that we would be enemies right away," he remarked, a mischievous twinkle in his eye that I had come to recognize from Fred, James and my own self, and I knew we'd be friends right away.
"Let's test that theory, shall we?" I said, grinning.
I might be the youngest Potter in Hogwarts (so far), but as long as I had friends with me every second of the way, I would be fine.