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Chapter 6: Afterburn
There was light, but he couldn't move. His limbs were pinned down tight, too tight, and though he kicked and flailed and struggled he still couldn't get loose -
Then he was released, and a gentle hand was at his shoulder, and reality rushed in at the edges. Scorpius looked around sluggishly, and relaxed as he realised he hadn't been constrained, he was just in a bed whose sheets had been tucked in too tightly around him and were now loosened. In the Hogwarts Infirmary, to boot.
Then he realised it was Rose Weasley bent over him, and squinted up at her. He smirked toothily. 'Well, hello sunshine.'
Surprise crossed her face - then disgust, and she pulled back. 'Ugh, you manage to go from unconscious to obnoxious in a flat second -'
'Oh, no, you can't lie, Weasley, you were concerned - your nose did this little crinkle which is entirely different to the crinkle it does when I'm pissing you off, I should know, I pay close attention to these crinkles -'
But he, too, was giving too much away, and he sat up as she pulled back, letting the details of his surroundings sink in. It was daytime, probably around midday from the sunlight streaming in through the windows; a quick glance around showed the Infirmary was quiet, none of the other beds in occupation, Madam Pheasey at her desk at the far end of the ward near the door. He supposed she would come to see him soon, but the tall, broad shape of Professor Stubbs was bent over in conversation with her and they would provide no interruption.
'I'm only here because Al asked me to keep an eye on you,' said Rose, folding her arms across her chest as she stepped away from the bed. 'You're the last one of us to wake up. The others have all been released, and Al went to go see Lily to let her know he's all right.'
Scorpius scrubbed his face with his hands and looked down at himself to see he was still in the same clothes as last night - or, the last night that he remembered - and so was Rose. He felt surprisingly all right - or was it surprising, since he had no idea what had transpired? Either way his head was light but he could concentrate, his muscles ached but nothing beyond what running for his life from centaurs would cause, and as the grogginess faded he couldn't put a finger on why he'd been unconscious in the first place.
Though his mouth did taste a bit gummy, and he swung his legs around to sit at the side of the bed. 'What happened?'
'We don't really know. We woke up here, everyone's fine. They said when we didn't come back last night they sent a search party first thing this morning and found us a couple of miles into the woods, together, passed out. They brought us back here; it's about one o'clock, now...'
'Together?' Scorpius echoed, and frowned. 'We weren't together, or - what's the last thing you remember?'
'That was what we were going to ask you, my boy,' boomed the deep voice of Professor Stubbs, and Scorpius looked up to see the Headmaster approaching the bed, Madam Pheasey fussing in his wake.
'I should check him over, Professor -'
'I'm okay.' Scorpius waved a dismissive hand. 'Really, I feel fine, except I'm a whole world of confused.'
'As are we. Hagrid and the others brought the six of you in this morning. Professor Lockett woke up an hour ago, but we're not entirely sure what happened.'
Scorpius rubbed his temples. 'What did they all say?'
Stubbs stroked his rather magnificent whiskers. 'That you separated a little in the course of the detention - and were separated further by a sudden stampede of centaurs. Professor Lockett, Mister Jones, and Miss Rourke were apparently on their way back to Hogwarts for help when they experienced what they've all described as a flash of bright light emanating from somewhere deeper in the woodlands, and they passed out.'
'That's much what happened to us,' Rose said, as if she'd stated this before. 'Except...' She looked at Scorpius.
'Mister Potter and Miss Weasley said you found what looked like a campfire out in the woodlands,' said Stubbs. 'But they also said you went to take a closer look.'
'I did.' Scorpius frowned as he tried to remember. 'It was a campfire. There were people out there, maybe half a dozen of them? I didn't see much, just... shapes in the dark, silhouettes against the fire. And then that bright, blinding flash of light. It came from them, I think they were chanting or something. I didn't recognise any of it, though.'
Stubbs' expression had gone rather serious, though he didn't stop tugging at his whiskers. 'Chanting. And people.'
'And we weren't together before the flash of light,' said Scorpius anxiously. 'I mean, we were found like that? We weren't. I haven't even seen Professor Lockett and the others since we split up to look for mushrooms. What's going on, Professor?'
'Nothing good,' said the Headmaster. 'Madam Pheasey has examined you all and found nothing wrong.'
'We were unconscious,' said Rose, looking skeptically at the matron.
'It seems likely this flash, or blast, was an expelling of magical energy,' was the cool, calm answer. Madam Pheasey didn't take well to having her skills or diagnoses questioned. 'Sometimes a sudden, overwhelming wave of such magic can overload what a witch or wizard is capable of coping with, and the body shuts down as a defence mechanism. Effectively harmless.'
'So long as you don't bang your head when you fall down,' said Scorpius chirpily, but his smile became fixed as he looked at Stubbs. 'So what're you going to do, Professor?'
Stubbs looked serious, but seemed to realise he was dealing with students, and he forced a smile. 'Everything will be in hand, Mister Malfoy. The Ministry will be sending some officers down today, and Professor Lockett can no doubt direct them to where they need to look -'
'Professor Lockett didn't see that clearing, sir.'
Rose looked at him. 'Malfoy... could you even find the place again? We were a bit lost.' She spoke more gently than usual, and his surprise at her not taking the opportunity to correct him sharply was enough to make him, for once, listen to her.
He hesitated. 'I don't know. But I could try.'
'We'll see,' said Stubbs in the way grown-ups did when they were trying to appease people they viewed as children. 'In the meantime, don't be concerned about it. Everyone's unharmed, and it's probably nothing more than some young 'uns fooling around in the woods at night.'
But his eyes made it clear he didn't believe what he was saying himself, and so instead Scorpius looked at Madam Peasey. 'Are we both good to go?'
'Miss Weasley has been perfectly fine to go even if she's been sat here for the last hour,' said Peasey with a hint of irritation. 'I see no reason to keep you behind. But come back the moment you feel anything even remotely strange.'
Scorpius hopped to his feet as the two adults left, straightening his bedraggled hefty, practical clothing. He quirked an eyebrow at Rose. 'An hour, Weasley? You waited for me for that long?'
'You took longer than anyone else to wake up.' Rose stuck her nose in the air. 'And Albus was worried.'
She turned to go, and he fell into step beside her, smirking. 'Oh, yes. Albus was worried. Come on, admit it, Weasley, you were agonising.'
'Agonising, yes, over whether or not I'd be rid of you for good.'
But he would swear he could see the hint of a smile tugging at the corner of her lips, and he stuck his hands in his pockets as they headed for the doors out of the Infirmary. 'And then your life would be so much less interesting.'
'Try annoying. Think of all I could get done in the peace and quiet without you?'
'I know, things like work, and reading, and wouldn't it all be so terribly boring?'
She actually looked like she was, maybe, going to laugh - and then they stepped out into the corridor and there, waiting by the Infirmary doors with bedraggled hair and bags under his eyes, stood Hector Flynn with the most forlorn face Scorpius had ever seen him wear. He must have stolen it off a particular upset first year.
'Oh, babe, you're out, you must have been in there for ages - your brother said you were okay, but...'
Rose's smile died for a frown of guilt, and Scorpius tried to not gape as he put two and two together. But she went to her boyfriend, who pulled her into a bear hug and Scorpius could only wonder if he knew how to properly use his freakish size and strength to not crush her in the embrace.
'I'm fine! I didn't mean to keep you worrying, I just...'
Then she pulled back, and Scorpius knew she had no excuse for why she'd kept Flynn outside waiting while she'd sat at his, Scorpius', bedside to make sure he would be all right. Even promises to Albus would probably not suffice.
And so Scorpius was unsurprised when Flynn turned his gaze darkly upon him. 'This loser kept you behind?'
Scorpius sighed. 'How the hell, Flynn, could I detain her in the Infirmary, even if I wanted to?'
But the last five words came out with more of a sneer than he meant, and suddenly instead of sniping at Flynn, he'd sniped at Rose - as if he wouldn't ever have wanted her company in the Infirmary, and just as quickly as she'd opened her mouth to forestall Flynn, she snapped it shut again with an expression of distant hurt.
Flynn squared his shoulders. 'I don't know, Malfoy, but I know she wouldn't have even been out there last night if it hadn't been for you.'
'Yes, Flynn. I made her hex me in the face, I made Professor Lockett take us out to the Forbidden Forest, and I totally made the Forbidden Forest become a place of crazy danger overnight. For someone who insults me all the time, Flynn, you have a rather high opinion of my capabilities!'
Flynn snorted. 'Someone's got to.'
Scorpius extended a hand. 'Oh, come now. That's the retort you're going to go with? I'll play fair, Flynn, I'll let you have another go at that one. I'll be a gentleman even if you never are -'
Flynn's eyes flashed, but that was where Rose finally put a hand on his arm, expression going abruptly weary. 'Hector? He's not worth it, and I... think I want to go see Hugo and get some sleep.'
Scorpius looked at her and opened his mouth, but realised that while there were several things he wanted to say - to apologise, to hope she was all right, to express regret if he'd made her uncomfortable while she waited for him in the Infirmary - he knew none of them would go down well in front of Hector, and so would be wholly unhelpful in making her feel better.
'Yeah,' he said instead. 'I'll go see Albus.'
And he left before Flynn could say something else, or before he could say something he'd regret, and without letting his gaze linger on Rose for more than another split second he shoved his hands back in his pocket and turned to slope down the corridor.
He ached. Regardless of any magical waves or whatever Madam Pheasey wanted to say had happened to them, he knew what it was like to exert himself after a wave of adrenaline and fear, and knew he was paying for their mad dash through the woodlands. But it was worth it, if it meant they didn't wind up trampled or murdered by rampaging centaurs.
He'd suffered worse than this.
He found Albus down through the front doors, out at the bottom of the steps. In September they were still granted the occasional flash of summertime, and this Saturday was no exception. The student body knew to take advantage of the good weather as it lasted, and so that was either where Albus had found his sister or the two of them had wandered out there, now sat at the foot of the steps, bathed in sunshine.
They had their backs to him, and Scorpius hesitated as he wandered down the steps. He was anxious about intruding on family time on the best of occasions, and this wasn't it. Did they want more time to themselves after the worry of their going missing the previous night? Was Albus still angry with him after the row the previous day, even if it now felt like a lifetime ago?
Best to wait, he figured, and turned on his heel - just as Lily glanced over her shoulder and spotted him. 'Hey! No running off, Scorpius!'
Scorpius froze, guilty, but Albus turned and got to his feet, and within seconds he'd bounded up the steps between them wearing a great big silly grin and had clapped him on the shoulder. 'You're out!' He hesitated. 'Rose didn't walk out on you, did she?'
'She followed your orders to the letter, don't you worry.' But Scorpius couldn't stop grinning as Albus relaxed. 'Are you okay?'
'Me? Fine! It was you we were worried about, sneaking off like that, not waking up when the rest of us did. Did Stubbs talk to you?'
'Yeah, they're going to talk to the Ministry, have some people check it out. Grown-up stuff. I bet they'll only talk to us if there's anything Lockett can't answer,' Scorpius waved a hand, and they went to perch on the steps down where Albus had been sat and Lily remained, her expression open and curious. 'So I bet it's all around the school.'
'That Crazy Malfoy got the detention attacked by centaurs in the Forbidden Forest?' Lily offered.
Scorpius grinned. 'That's what they're saying? Outstanding.'
'It's not,' said Albus.
'Nobody knows what's going on,' said Lily in a matter-of-fact manner. 'So they'll believe pretty much whatever they're told. That's how the best rumours start.'
'Little Potter has the truth of it.'
She stuck her tongue out at him. 'You said I got to be "Potter" from now on.'
'I know, but isn't just plain "Potter" so dull?' Scorpius scratched his head. 'What about something more exciting, like Omega Potter?'
'Then you're mixing Latin and Greek, if James was Potter Prime.'
Scorpius looked flatly at Albus. 'Your sister reads too many books.'
'Some of us like good exam results,' said Lily.
Scorpius clutched his hand across his heart. 'You wound me, Potter. And I only call you that because "Ultima Potter" sounds a bit sinister.'
'So you are feeling recovered,' said Albus dryly.
Scorpius gave a broad, toothy grin. It seemed that, even if Albus harboured any lingering anger towards him over the Potions incident, he was inclined to put it to one side. Albus wasn't fickle by nature; he doubted he'd go back to being angry with him when he stopped being worried, but even if he did Scorpius was quite happy to lap up the attention like an overly keen labrador.
'How're the others?' he asked instead. 'Jones and Selena were long gone.'
'Lockett's fine,' said Albus. 'And Jones and Selena have gone right back to normal.'
'Her no longer crawling up his arse the moment he's not the only person she's deigned worthy of spending her time with?'
Albus' expression pinched. 'More like him sweeping right off back to the Library the moment he was up and allowed to go as if she'd never existed.'
'Well, I'm sure she'll struggle to recover from the body blow of a catch like Methuselah Jones slipping through her fingers. I'm surprised she was giving him the time of day to begin with.'
'Because you're still persona non grata, which makes me persona non grata by association, and I honestly think she'd die before she tried to ally herself with Rose.'
Scorpius scratched his nose. 'We are using a hell of a lot of Latin here today.'
'But seriously, Scorp.' Albus frowned at him. 'What did you see?'
'In the clearing?' He sighed. 'Nothing much, really. Just what I told Stubbs. There were people out there, a small group of them, and I don't think it was just a bonfire. It was big, really big. If you and the others saw this wave of blinding magical light, I think I saw, I don't know, the start of it?'
'People?' Lily leant forwards. 'What were they doing?'
'Chanting? That's what it sounded like. I couldn't make anything out. Seemed ritualistic, though. But I never took Arithmancy, I wouldn't have a bloody clue what they were up to.'
Albus looked sternly at Lily. 'Don't you go spreading rumours, now. The Headmaster will deal with it.'
'Oh, really, Al, I've got the centaur thing to keep me busy all day. But people expect me to know what's going on - you're my brother and Rose wouldn't tell Hugo anything juicy.'
'I bet Flynn was hanging around the common room for her,' said Scorpius, gaze going distant.
'For her, or for information on her. Like a lost lamb.' But Lily still grinned, even if Scorpius couldn't find it in his heart to be angry at her. She was young enough that a foolish fixation with the fact that Hector Flynn's face was allegedly pleasing to look at could be forgiven. 'He went down like a shot when I told him she'd gone back down after seeing Hugo.'
'We were going to take it in turns to keep an eye on you,' said Albus, and fiddled with his sleeve. 'I think she was a bit worried, you know.'
'I know,' said Scorpius calmly. 'I promise I won't let her know you told me that.'
A pained expression crossed his face. 'That's not -'
'I'm hungry,' said Scorpius on an impulse. 'Is lunch still on? I want lunch.'
Albus looked up as he stood. 'Lunch? Something weird's happened in the Forest and you want lunch?'
'The Headmaster knows. The Ministry knows. They'll probably send your Dad to check everything out and then he'll save the day, and then, there'll be cake.' Scorpius liked cake. 'So I say we go have some tea in the meantime.'
'Scorpius sometimes talks sense, Al, you should listen to him when he does.'
'Your support, Potter, is appreciated as always.' He gave her a little mock-bow and she rolled her eyes at him again. 'But she's right. Come on, Al. Let's get some food inside you, or you'll stop growing. You know we couldn't possibly have that.'
Albus grumbled and looked concerned, but he still went along with it, and by the time the two of them were wandering into the Great Hall, Lily having detached herself to go seek her friends out, everything felt like it was normal. It was a bright, sunny Saturday. The whole of the year was stretched out before them - with hard study, yes, but also Quidditch, and the promise of upsetting Hector Flynn even more. And Albus appeared to have, if not forgotten Scorpius' transgression, then at least forgiven him for it.
Perhaps being terrified out of his wits in the Forbidden Forest was considered adequate punishment.
The school was rumbling with the rumours of what had happened that night, and this for once put the two of them firmly back in the centre of positive attention. Even over lunch they found themselves harassed on all quarters. Selena Rourke wasn't considered the most approachable person by other houses, and there was no way either Methuselah Jones or Rose Weasley would farm this opportunity for attention.
But Scorpius was happy to regale one and all who came to them over dinner time with a blow-by-blow account of the evening's hijinks, and the more Albus rolled his eyes, the more heroic he made his friend's saving them from the centaurs sound. It was just as well that lunch ended when it did, else there was a high risk of the story ending up being that Albus had fought off a hundred centaurs with only a broken branch, shirtless.
Even people like Oakes and Bellamy, even Selena herself and Abena Tau, were inclined to listen, because if nothing else Scorpius knew how to tell an entertaining tale and however much Miranda might give them their marching orders, they weren't going to miss a good show.
It was possible, he wondered, just possible, that everything might go back to normal. That this excitement might override old upset. That he could stop having to watch his every word and every move in case it backfired in his face, and Scorpius' heart soared at the prospect.
Then, as lunch ended and the groups filtered out at their own pace, he saw Rose walking out hand in hand with the bulky form of Hector Flynn, and he couldn't help but scowl.
He was still wearing that scowl when he and Albus left the Hall, and still wearing it when he almost walked straight into the tall and usually hard-to-miss figure of Miranda Travers, lurking outside and for once looking rather naked without the support of her entourage of Selena and Abena, pale in the gloom of the hallway with the bright sun outside.
She stepped back as he staggered, and gave a smile that didn't quite reach her eyes. 'Scorpius.'
He froze, good mood almost entirely fizzled out by now. 'Miranda.'
She smiled at Albus, stood warily at Scorpius' side like a big watchdog, and tilted her head. 'Albus.'
Scorpius knew that tone. It was the tone she used when she was politely trying to get Albus to go away so they could talk in private, and usually it was a prelude to bad things. But thwarting her would also be a prelude to bad things, so he glanced at his friend and gave him a wan, reassuring smile.
Albus grimaced. 'I'll just... be over there,' he mumbled, not bothering to come up with an excuse in the midst of this facade, and wandered towards the main doors. He lurked in the open doorway, big frame silhouetted against the sunlight, and Scorpius could only be reassured that if something went down, there would be witnesses.
Not that there weren't plenty, people still passing by the Great Hall in their dozens on their way about their Saturday business, but Scorpius liked the idea that at least one of them would be on his side. He fixed his gaze on Miranda. 'What can I do for you?'
She played with a lock of dark hair in an innocent manner he knew to be entirely deceptive and yet was very distracting. 'Are you all right? I heard from Selena what happened...'
'She's all right, isn't she?'
'Yes, but they said you got nearer to whatever it was.' A frown marred her perfect brow. 'That you went to investigate. That sounds awfully risky, you couldn't have had any idea what was going on -'
'And I still don't,' said Scorpius, suddenly very weary. 'What do you want, Miranda?'
Her eyes flashed with brief indignation, but the mask of control slipped back across her face almost as quickly. 'Can't a girl express concern, Scorpius, really?'
'Sure. But a girl can also have an ulterior motive, and you, Miranda, are all about the ulterior motive.'
The frown came back. 'That's unkind.'
'And yet, true.' He shoved his hands in his pockets. 'Come on, let's not beat about the bush. What is it? Now I'm the centre of attention for another fifteen minutes you can't get away with trying to make me a social pariah? People don't want to listen to you if you're telling them to stay away from the guy with the interesting story, so you've got to change your tune?'
She tilted her jaw defiantly, but looked rather unsteady about herself. 'You must have a rather low opinion of me if you're making that sort of accusation.'
Scorpius' lip curled. 'Gee, now why would I have a low opinion of you? Why would I think you're going to do whatever you think you have to in order to keep everyone's attention, everyone's good opinion, on you, no matter what bullshit you have to spill? Now, if I said something mean, surely you could go run again to your good mate Flynn to weep on his shoulder, I'm sure he'd love it just as much as -'
Looking back, it was hard to tell when everything changed. She'd looked a bit pale, a bit drawn, since the conversation had begun, but he'd thought it was nothing more than a trick of the light. And as they'd continued she'd looked less steady, on her feet and about herself, but he'd just thought it was his words hitting home, finally making an impact where they'd bounced before.
So while the warning signs had been there, he'd ignored them. Ignored each and every one until her eyes lost focus as he spouted his righteous vitriol, the colour drained completely from her face, and before he could finish the crowning point on his accusation, she cut him off.
Not by talking. But, rather, by bending over as her mouth opened for a spray of blood to spatter down on the smooth stone floor, his messy clothes, and, even as he caught her before she collapsed, leave stains across her perfect porcelain skin.