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Chapter 15: Hot and Cold
Scorpius narrowed his eyes as he wandered into the dungeons the next morning. ‘Do you actually sleep, Weasley, ever?’
Rose looked up, expression flickering as she saw him walk through the door. ‘I did sleep,’ was all she said before returning to the papers strewn across the desk, kept carefully away from the line of bubbling cauldrons that Lockett had set up the day before with all of the delivered reagents.
He frowned at the subdued tone of her voice, padding over to slide his tray onto the desk. ‘What, three hours before going back to night-time work?’
‘More like twelve hours and I only got up an hour ago.’ But there was no bite to her voice, and Rose carefully reached for the mug of tea. ‘Thank you.’
A little disquieted at the absence of a ratty Rose Weasley at half seven in the morning, Scorpius headed for one of the cabinets next to Lockett’s desk and tried to keep his voice down. He wasn’t a man to take the school’s motto seriously at the best of times, but something was either very wrong, in which case he didn’t want to pry, or perfectly fine, in which case he had no desire to rock the boat.
Then Artemis jumped out from behind the cabinet and hissed at him, and he swore, loudly. ‘Piss on you, cat!’
Clearly Rose wasn’t subdued from fatigue, because her wand was in her hand and she was on her feet in an instant, gaze sweeping the room. ‘What? Oh. Artemis. Don’t be horrid.’
To his surprise this was addressed to the cat, not him, as was usually the case when he threw abuse at her pet. Scorpius clapped a hand over his chest, where he could feel his heart racing. ‘She’s trying to kill me.’
‘She likes to hunt, and I think she’s identified you as prey.’ Rose put down her wand and went over to scoop up the smoky-coated cat, who immediately did her best impression of a sedate, angelic figure who never meant anyone any harm, purring away. ‘You react and it amuses her.’
‘I aim to please.’ Scorpius glared at the cat. ‘Shouldn’t you leave her in your room?’
‘She can get out, and anyway, she needs exercise. It’d be cruel and, more importantly, she wouldn’t let me sleep.’ Rose returned to her desk with Artemis, who took one look at the paperwork which was of such interest to her mistress, and wriggled out of her arms to sprawl across it. Else she would not be the centre of the universe, and that would hardly do.
Scorpius grunted as Rose, instead of sweeping the cat away like she would any other distraction, instead cooed over her and took advantage of the interruption to eat the poached egg on toast he’d brought down. ‘How’s the research doing?’
‘I’m catching up with what Professor Lockett started on - that is, putting a bunch of antidotes on to brew. We should be able to apply the first by the end of the day, the rest over the course of the week. I’m particularly interested in batches 2 and 5; if they have an impact, we’re almost certainly looking at a curse which won’t allow animals to become carriers.’
‘So we can use the owls?’ Scorpius flicked through the files in the drawer, not looking up.
‘Perhaps. What are you doing?’
But there was pointed curiosity rather than accusation in her voice, and he glanced over, apprehensive. ‘Er. We have to wait until your mother checks in before we can give her the full report. In the meantime, I’m trying to figure out who this “Thane” guy is.’
‘And the secret’s going to be in Professor Lockett’s research notes?’
‘No, but it might be in some old corners of student files.’ Scorpius lifted a finger. ‘I don’t think he was more than thirty, though it is hard to tell with some wizards. That makes it very likely, unless he’s foreign and speaks excellent English or was educated abroad or at home, that he attended Hogwarts in the last ten to fifteen years. There’s been a lot of staff turnover in that time since old McGonagall retired and Stubbs took over and then most of McGonagall’s generation left too, so it’s possible he wasn’t taught much by the current teachers even if he did attend...’
‘He wouldn’t have been taught by Lockett - she didn’t know the name and she’s only been here a few years,’ said Rose.
‘No, but I’m here anyway and if this guy is involved in a huge ritual and huge curses, he’s probably pretty bright. Bright people take Potions. If Professor Lockett has any of her predecessor’s records, he might be in them. Though I’m not finding anything more than five years old in here.’ Scorpius ran a hand through his hair, unwittingly mussing it. ‘But my next stop is Professor Tully’s office. He’s been here for longer than anyone but Stubbs, Sprout, or Hagrid, and he’s taught Defence all that time. If there’s one class some smart-arse who’s put a horrible curse on everyone is going to have been good at, it’s that - even if he focused more on the “Dark Arts” part. And Tully might have kept his old records.’
‘You might want to try Arithmancy next. A ritual like that is going to have been complicated,’ offered Rose.
‘I would, but Jones is currently tearing the classrooms and libraries apart trying to get to the bottom of the half-arsed ritual symbols I could remember,’ said Scorpius with a grimace.
‘Still. It’s a really good idea.’
Scorpius slid the drawer shut. ‘What’s going on?’
Rose wrinkled her nose. ‘What?’
‘You. You followed advice and slept. You thanked me for bringing you breakfast. You’ve saved me from your bloody cat. And now you’re complimenting me on my ideas. Who are you, and what’ve you done with Rose Weasley?’
‘Am I not allowed to be nice?’
‘To me? No.’ Scorpius folded his arms across his chest. ‘What do you want?’
‘Me?’ Finally she looked tense. ‘Is it possible, Malfoy, that I’m realising we’re in the middle of a disaster scenario and so, perhaps, we shouldn’t be picking on one another?’
‘You didn’t start before now, so I’m wondering what changed.’
‘You -’ Her gaze hardened, and she looked more like the Rose Weasley he knew. ‘You’ve hardly been a saint in all of this. Don’t act like this doesn’t go both ways.’
‘As I recall, Weasley, you’re the one who’s always got a harsh word for me. Even when I bring you breakfast.’
‘You usually bring it with a side-portion of snide superiority. It puts me off,’ she said, voice lowering. ‘And again you play the victim when it’s not like you don’t insult me -’
‘I do not -’
‘You just did! Just now! I tried to be nice and you’re accusing me of trying to manipulate you!’ she pointed out, indignant. ‘You insult me, you insult my friends, you insult my interests, you insult my boyfriend -’
It had been such a long time, or so it felt, since Hector Flynn had even crossed Scorpius’ mind that the stab of anger in his gut was surprising by how fierce it still was. After all this time. His lip curled. ‘Yeah, well, he deserves it -’
‘Because of Quidditch and because he dares talk back against the great Scorpius Malfoy?’ Rose demanded, as despondent as she was outraged. ‘You are not as horribly maligned as you think you are!’
‘And you’re not half as smart as you think you are!’ he snapped, jabbing an accusing finger in her direction before he turned on his heel and stalked for the door.
His frustration off-set the ache in his legs he still felt from the day before, from the desperate flight from and fighting against the Redcaps. Albus had reported that they had come through the wards set up, but all those wards would do was send a warning up to the Headmaster’s Office and flag up if he specifically checked them. Since they’d been flying about the patrol when the Redcaps had come from the Forest and onto Hogwarts grounds, and since they still couldn’t get into the Headmaster’s Office, this identified a serious hole in their security they weren’t sure how to close.
At least they knew, from the wards, that nothing else had come onto the grounds. Just a marauding band of murderous creatures.
Scorpius’ expression twisted as he remembered the fight, as he remembered the shock and fear from shooting himself in the foot, as he remembered the relief as the Redcaps had been driven away and Rose had got to him...
Rose. She’d been afraid, that much had been clear, but he hadn’t thought about it much at the time in his relief and pain. Now he could look back and see it, and his heart sank as he considered that, perhaps, this was why she’d been a bit nicer to him that morning. Maybe she was genuinely trying to put aside their old enmity in the face of the crisis.
And he’d thrown it in her face. First with suspicion, and then discomfort - he knew where he stood with Rose so long as he was antagonising her. And then he’d let his temper get the better of him when it came to Hector Flynn.
‘Stupid Flynn,’ he muttered as he stormed down the corridor. ‘Stupid Weasley with her stupid taste in stupid men.’
By then he was down at the Defence classrooms, and let out his frustration by kicking the door open. It was loud, and sudden, and clearly more than enough to make anyone inside jump, because there was someone inside, and Professor Lockett dropped the stack of books she’d been gathering from Professor Tully’s shelves.
He cringed. ‘I - sorry, Professor.’
‘You almost gave me a heart attack.’ Lockett scowled, bending down to retrieve the books.
‘I really am sorry,’ he said, remorse at picking a fight with Rose spilling over. ‘I’m just - it’s only eight o’ clock and it’s already shaping up to be a crappy day.’ He hurried over, hunkering down to help her with the scattered pile.
‘You’re not upsetting my assistant, are you?’
He winced, passing her a book as he stood. ‘Little bit.’
Lockett rolled her eyes. ‘On the one hand, she tends to curse your name for a good hour after you two bicker. On the other hand, she channels all of that energy into her work. I don’t know if I should clip you around the ear or bring you in as an occasional pick-me-up.’
Scorpius gave a wan smile. ‘I aim to serve.’
‘It’s really one of your fortes, I know,’ drawled Lockett, putting the book on the top of the stack. ‘What did you do this time?’
Instinct made him tilt his chin defiantly. ‘What makes you think it was me?’
‘Remember how we got into this mess in the first place?’
‘Technically, causing a detention trip to the Forbidden Forest is why we’re all hale and hearty instead of bedbound. So, in a roundabout way, I saved us. What brings you down here, anyway, Professor?’
Lockett sighed. ‘Tully’s always made a habit of keeping abreast of cutting-edge research into Dark Magic. I was wondering if he had something useful. I know Ms Granger will get us the best the wizarding world has to offer, but I don’t want to assume we have time to waste.’
‘Cheerful. You’re good at cheerful, Professor, did anyone tell you that?’
She tensed. ‘I’m here to get us through this in one piece, Malfoy, not to hold your hand through it.’
‘Technically, in six pieces. I don’t want to become some creepy gestalt with Jones, thank you so very much.’ Scorpius shrugged, heading over to one of Tully’s filing cabinets, pushed up against the wall. ‘And, you’re right. I mean, we’re just a bunch of sixteen year-old kids being asked to take care of a school of our sick and possibly dying friends, family, and teachers. Why would we need hand-holding?’
Only silence answered his words, and with a small frown, Scorpius didn’t look up as he began rifling through Tully’s files. When Lockett did speak it was in a low, awkward voice. ‘I didn’t want to lie to you.’
He looked up, confused. ‘Lie to us?’
‘About how bad this is.’ Lockett sighed. ‘You’re all young, but you’re not stupid, and I wasn’t much older than you when -’ She looked away, gathering words. ‘This is serious. You know it’s serious, but I know you’re not thinking this through to its fullest extent, which is probably wise. But we could die. All of us; every single person in Hogwarts. If this curse turns more virulent, if this mysterious immunity wears off, if we can’t find a cure and this curse turns fatal, then all of the well-wishing in the wizarding world won’t save us.’
Scorpius swallowed, mouth dry. ‘But -’
‘They won’t send people in to become infected. They might like to think they will, and, sure, they’ll continue to work as hard as they can from the outside, but it’s not as good as having people on the inside. I’ve seen this sort of thing across the world, and when it comes down to it, Britain’s no more enlightened than anywhere else on the globe. The worst things I’ve seen wizards do to one another happened on this island. So they will support us, as best they can, but at the end of the day we are on our own in here, we are the ones who are responsible for all the lives under this roof, and we must do what we can while we still have time.’
Silence sank across the Defence classroom, until Scorpius reached into himself and found that most common of protections, the one which worked against everything: his smirk. ‘Wow, Professor,’ he said, with a cheer he didn’t feel. ‘You were right, you really should just say nothing because you really suck at pep-talks.’
Lockett gave a wry nod. ‘Apparently so. Would you believe I was once good with people?’
‘Not for a second.’
‘But you are.’ She jabbed a finger at him. ‘You make people laugh, or you at least keep people’s minds off the crisis. That’s important. Why do you think I’ve not given you any specific jobs yet? No, I didn’t expect you to be as useful as you were with the House Elves, though that’s a convenient bonus. But I know you, Scorpius. You’ll make a nuisance or a joke of yourself wherever you go, and we need you to do that.’
His brow furrowed. ‘You mean I’m the clown?’
‘I mean Albus finds your company reassuring. Selena finds your jokes funny. And Rose argues with you to blow off steam, and she feels better for it. I’d wager she enjoys it.’
‘Nobody knows what’s going on with Jones. But I’m sure you’ll figure it out. Everyone’s got a part to play, Malfoy. You? You’re my wild card.’ Lockett shifted the books under one arm. ‘I’d best go and make sure you haven’t incited my assistant to heights of murderous rage this time, however.’
‘I thought you just said she enjoys it?’ Though she seemed more legitimately offended this time, Scorpius reflected gloomily.
‘There is such a thing as too much,’ said Lockett, voicing his concerns, and headed for the door. ‘Keep on smiling, Mister Malfoy. Most people can’t even see through it.’
Then she was gone, and Scorpius was left with the very strange sensation of having been reassured and encouraged but also lightly mocked and even, in some ways, put down. Class clown. Your father would be so proud.
That sarcastic thought did put his mind at ease, though, and he returned his attention to Tully’s filing cabinet as Lockett left, flicking through the many different files, racing back through the years of old student records kept by the fastidious Defence teacher.
Wild card. Well, this wild card’s about to blow everything open, Lockett... His fingers found a file, and a slow smirk broadened across his face. Bingo.
‘I’m bored,’ sighed Selena emphatically.
‘Bring me that book,’ said Methuselah as if he hadn’t heard her, not even looking up from where he was drawing on the classroom floor in chalk.
She sighed again, but did so, picking up the thickest tome on top of his pile and delicately picking her way over to him, mindful of not scuffing the markings. ‘Do you want a particular page?’
‘Chapter seventeen. Nahuan symbology.’
She wrinkled her nose as she opened up the thick book, brushing through pages. ‘Nahuan?’
‘Indiginous culture of Mesoamerica -’
Selena bit her lip. ‘And who’re they, Methuselah?’ she asked gently.
He did look up, blinking owlishly behind his thick-rimmed glasses, and looked surprised. He was always doing that when she asked him questions, and at first she’d thought it was arrogant astonishment that she didn’t know what he knew. ‘Aztec. But that is a modern word. Artificial. Not what they would have called themselves.’
That was why she knew he wasn’t looking down at her - he answered questions with the same enthusiasm as did when he blabbered on about anything. She suspected he was actually surprised that she bothered to ask instead of her eyes glazing over or getting irritated, like everyone else did.
‘You think the ritual uses Aztec magic, then?’ she said, putting the book down in front of him, again careful to not block his markings.
‘Possible. Suspect a lack of European origin to this magic. Rituals for mass effect rare in Common Era; most recent examples found in studies into Mesoamerican magical culture. Regrettably, don’t speak Nahuatl. Do you?’
It took her a moment to realise he wasn’t being sarcastic. ‘I don’t think I’ve ever heard Nahuatl.’
‘Nonsense,’ said Methuselah, picking up the book, and she sighed again, anticipating yet another misunderstanding as he failed to grasp that not everyone else was as ridiculously fixated with studies and books as him. ‘Chocolate.’
Selena blinked. ‘I beg your pardon?’ For a moment she wondered if five minutes of conversation had suddenly passed her by unnoticed.
He looked up. ‘Chocolate. Nahuatl word. You’re speaking Nahuatl when you say “chocolate”, “tomato”, “shack”, or “axolotl”.’
‘Which I say all the time.’ She stepped away to return to her chair next to his desk, pressed against the wall so he had more space to scrawl in chalk. ‘Do you have any idea what this does yet?’
‘As suspected,’ said Methuselah, though he had voiced so many suspicions to her she had no idea which one he could be referring to, ‘the remote implementation of a spell. In this case, a curse. On a massive scale.’
‘Can you tell what curse?’
‘No.’ He shook his head, moving to continue with the circle of chalk and the particular markings he was making on the floor, thick book balanced open in one hand. ‘Nature of ritual means spell is irrelevant. Could be applied to any spell.’
‘Including a cure?’
‘Hypothetically.’ He looked up, eyes brightening. ‘Had not considered this. If cure takes form of spell, not potion, could be used to reverse effects. Brilliant.’
Her cheeks coloured a hint. ‘But if this is just how they infected everyone... why are you still researching it? Why are you drawing that?’
‘Could be wrong,’ said Methuselah, though he didn’t sound very convinced by the notion. ‘But ritual contains further components.’
‘Indeed,’ he said, as if this explained everything. At her look, he nudged his glasses further up his nose. ‘The implementation is continuous. Not one single application; it persists.’
‘So... if anyone was cured...’
‘They would be infected again. Unless immune. Yes. Unless specifically downpowered, this ritual was designed to continue to inflict the curse upon the area.’
‘How do you downpower it?’
‘I don’t know.’ Methuselah scowled. ‘More pressingly, knowledge is irrelevant.’
Selena quirked an eyebrow. ‘I don’t see how downpowering the ritual that’s making everyone sick is irrelevant.’
‘Perhaps not irrelevant. But not the most pressing obstacle.’
‘I know, I know, we have to cure it first.’
‘Yes. But also.’ He looked up. ‘Ritual site is infested with Dementors. Minor obstacle.’
Selena looked at him, searching for a trace of irony she couldn’t find, then covered her face with her hands. ‘Oh, we are so screwed.’
‘Nonsense.’ Methuselah got to his feet, dusting himself down. ‘Knowledge is power. Dementors can be outmanoeuvred. Ritual can be assessed and deactivated. Curse can be identified and cured.’
She drew her hands down her face, peeking at him in between fingers. ‘You really think so?’
Selena let out a deep breath, then got to her feet, more reassured than she’d expected one single word to make her feel. If nothing else, she had realised one simple fact: Methuselah Jones didn’t lie. Not through any sense of integrity, but the idea genuinely seemed to not occur to him.
‘It’s getting a bit late,’ she said, and watched as his eyes darted to the clock on the wall with surprise. Though he had many talents, keeping track of time was not one of them. ‘And I need to be up early to do the rounds with Harley. You’re not going to be up much longer?’
‘Onto something here,’ said Methuselah, gaze sweeping over the chalk marks. ‘Results. Soon. But shall endeavour to be in bed not long after midnight.’
‘I’ll take it,’ she said, heading over to him.
He looked at her guilelessly as she approached. ‘Your assistance has been most useful. Both to talk to and in bringing things. Thank you. For giving me help.’
‘You’re welcome,’ she said, then stretched up on tiptoes to kiss him on the cheek. ‘And thank you.’
He blinked at her, gormless now as well as guileless, though she couldn’t tell whether her words or her actions confused him more. ‘Why?’
‘For giving me hope.’
Selena was no amateur. She knew the right thing to do after that was leave, quickly enough to show determination, not so quickly it looked like she was fleeing, and she managed to be halfway out the door with her back to him before she let a slow smirk tug at her lips.
Let’s see how he analyses that.
She was in her bedroom not long after. While she knew Methuselah wouldn’t decorate a room to save his life, and that Scorpius and Albus, as boys, probably drew comfort from making their guest rooms tips, and Rose probably didn’t spend enough time in there to add a personal touch, she had taken great pains to make her room hers. She’d had dear Harley bring her trunk up from the Slytherin dormitories and done what she could with her meagre belongings.
Just unpacking had been a start; being able to open up her wardrobe to find all of her clothes hanging up, like they would at home and she rarely had space for them to do at Hogwarts, was comforting. The fire crackled, the room had a warm glow, and all in all Selena regretted that she’d have to be up early to do what pitifully small work she could contribute.
So she was particularly irritated when, just as she’d got into her pyjamas, there was a hammering at the door. She scowled in its direction. ‘Who is it?’
‘It’s Rose,’ came the voice from the other side. ‘I’m sorry to wake you; can you open up?’
With little grace and less speed, Selena put on her large, fluffy dressing gown and oversized fuzzy slippers and sloped to the door, opening it only enough to talk, rather than inviting entrance or conversation. She had little desire for either with Rose Weasley. ‘What is it?’
‘You’re awake,’ said Rose with relief.
‘I don’t speak in my sleep to you, Weasley, of course I’m awake. I was about to do my face and then go to bed, though. What is it?’
Rose’s face twisted. ‘Artemis ate a mouse and threw up on my bed.’
Selena’s expression set. ‘There are no words for how delighted I am you’ve come to tell me this now.’
‘I need some clean bedsheets.’ Rose sighed. ‘But Harley hates me and we’re at a critical juncture of potion brewing and I need a good night’s sleep and -’
‘And you thought I’d ask him for you.’
Selena rolled her eyes. ‘You’re half right,’ she said, tying her dressing gown more tightly closed. ‘We’re going to ask him.’
‘Because you’re right in that he hates you - I can’t imagine why - and probably won’t help you if he thinks he has a choice. But if I go with you then maybe you’ll learn how to talk to him and then maybe you won’t need my help in future.’
Rose’s brow furrowed as she fell into step beside the be-slippered Selena. ‘I know how to talk to House Elves.’
‘You patronise them. Just because your Mum was all-important in the rights movement doesn’t make you either the House Elf messiah or expert.’
‘I don’t...’ Rose’s voice trailed off, and Selena gave her a look of suspicion as stubborn Rose Weasley seemed to concede defeat.
‘You patronise a lot of people,’ Selena continued, rather enjoying this opportunity to be both vicious and right. There was maybe something to it. ‘We don’t all have to take it, you know.’
‘I don’t think you do - I mean, I don’t condescend people!’ Rose said indignantly.
‘Doyle. You two break up and then suddenly it’s like he’s supposed to disappear when you don’t want him to be around, but come when you click your fingers. Kirke, there to make you look good, there to shut up when you’re supposed to do the talking -’
Rose scowled. ‘As opposed to your deep and meaningful relationships? Abena, who keeps you around so you can blabber on and she can look cool and superior to everything?’
‘Hawkins, there to make you look fun when I think you’d die if you tried to have half as much fun as she does -’
‘Or Oakes, there to be dumped but you can pretend to still be such good friends when he’s clearly not over you!’
‘That’s rich coming from you considering Doyle - and what about poor Saxby, where you flounced into his party only to ruin everyone’s fun?’
‘He’s a prefect! He’s supposed to set an example, not ply first years with Butterbeer!’ They had stopped now, facing each other in the corridor, voices rising angrily.
‘There were no first years! You just had to put down the boot of authority!’
‘It’s called being responsible, Rourke, not that you’d know anything about that! Your only responsibility is to do exactly what Miranda Travers tells you to do!’
‘And why, exactly, do you care about the wellbeing of Miranda? You hate her!’
Rose scrunched up her nose. ‘What does that have to do with anything? I don’t care!’
‘You seem to care an awful lot how apparently terrible Scorpius was to her!’
The accusation rang out, echoing about the corridors, and Rose stared at her, stunned, bewildered. ‘What on Earth do you mean? Of course I care if he’s horrid -’
‘Why should that affect you?’
‘Because he’s Albus’ friend!’ Rose almost stomped her foot. ‘And Al’s silly about Malfoy and refuses to see when he’s not a good friend!’
‘Or, maybe - and bear with me, I’m about to do something radical, and throw the truth around.’ Selena lifted her hands. ‘I understand that Scorpius is the evil one, the big bad wolf who managed to separate the Albus-sheep from the Weasley-fold, and now he must be hated because Albus is the only Slytherin in your entire weeping willow of a family tree and that brings dishonour to your ginger genes or something.’ She suspected that there was more to it than that, but the way Rose scowled confirmed she wasn’t completely off-track. ‘But that doesn’t mean you have to jump to believe every negative rumour as if it’ll justify it.’
Rose squinted. ‘What do you mean?’
Selena sighed. ‘Who, exactly, do you think that Scorpius cheated on Miranda with?’
There was a pause as Rose opened and closed her mouth, obviously fishing for words. Eventually, she tried, ‘Rosannah Blake?’
‘Nope, Blake was going out with Davies at the time and you bet that one would have gotten out, Abena fancies Davies so she’d do anything to break them up.’ Selena gave a smug smirk as she considered the delightful opportunism of her friends.
Rose dropped her hands. ‘All right. I don’t know.’
‘Exactly.’ Selena gave a smile that didn’t reach her eyes. ‘Do you know why? Because there was nobody.’
For someone so smart, Selena mused, Rose Weasley could sometimes be very stupid, and this stupidity prevailed as Rose’s forehead knitted. ‘I don’t understand,’ she said at last. ‘Then how come the rumours started?’
‘Because Miranda started them. And Abena and I spread them,’ said Selena, utterly shamelessly. ‘Oh, she thought she was convincing, but we put it together soon enough. Of course, it was too late then, and what were we to do? She’s our friend, it’s not like we’re going to judge her for what she did.’
Rose looked a mixture of confused and horrified. ‘For making that up about Malfoy? Why would she -’ Then, finally, her brain caught up with her - quicker, Selena had to admit, than she’d expected. Certainly quicker than Selena had been, even if she was getting all the evidence in one fell swoop.
‘It was a pre-emptive strike, wasn’t it,’ said Rose. ‘She cheated on Malfoy and then told everyone else that it had been the other way around first. Is that why he didn’t try to deny it? Because once she’d told everyone, it just became a case of his word against hers and then a popularity contest on who got believed?’
Selena shrugged. ‘You’d have to ask Scorpius,’ she said, and the dumbfounded look on Rose’s face was enough to waylay the guilt in her gut. As Miranda, when she woke up, probably wouldn’t thank her for having said this much, and at the end of the day she was still one of Selena’s best friends.
As ever, she preferred to not linger on such thoughts. It never helped. ‘Come on, Weasley.’ Selena reached for the other girl’s arm, actually careful and sympathetic for a moment, feeling a little guilty for having baited her so about her ignorance when she really had little reason to know better. ‘Let’s go get you some more bedsheets.
‘So long as you keep your vomiting cat the hell out of my bedroom.’
Rose slept fitfully that night, but woke, as always, with the dawn. As always, she was down through the Great Hall before breakfast was brought up, and down in the dungeon to get to work where she’d left off the night before, going through Lockett’s notes to apply the ingredients which needed adding as the time to brew the potions went by.
But her heart wasn’t in it. Her mind kept flickering to the conversation - the argument - the night before with Selena, how she’d thrown in her face not just her ignorance about what had happened between Scorpius and Miranda, but how she treated people in general. Normally, she wouldn’t have cared if Selena - who drew strength from putting others down and whose social life was an echo chamber of smug superiority - wanted to cast aspersions on her lifestyle and conduct. It wasn’t as if this was an opinion she valued.
Still, it was the second time in as many days that she’d been criticised for her behaviour, and that would leave anyone shaky.
You had no reason to second-guess the rumours about Malfoy. It’s not as if Al protesting he’s “not that bad” counts, Malfoy could torch half the school and Al would still defend him. And if Al knew he was so innocent, why didn’t he say? Why was he so evasive, expecting you to take his word for it but refusing to give you evidence? You’re his cousin!
Not that this counts for anything, any more...
But this course of bitterness was cut off by the door bursting open, and a quick glance at the clock showed it was eight o'clock, later than usual for Scorpius to arrive on his morning rounds. But arrive he did - a mug of tea in one hand, his hair wild, wearing the same rumpled clothes he’d worn the night before.
She hardly noticed this, standing from her desk. ‘Malfoy -’
‘Weasley!’ His eyes were bright, manic, and he stormed forwards to press the teacup into her hands. ‘Morning!’
‘Look, Malfoy - I know we argued yesterday and I know we always argue, and even though I was trying to be nice and you started it - but anyway, I wanted to apologise.’ It was a lousy apology, she knew - because, really, Rose knew she’d not done anything wrong other than let herself be baited by him.
But it wasn’t really the previous morning she was apologising for.
‘Never mind that now!’ declared Scorpius, clearly not hearing a single word she’d said, and he grabbed her by the wrist. ‘Come with me!’
She was too bemused to stop him from dragging her out of the dungeon and up the stairs, hurrying along the corridor, and they were halfway up the castle before she found her breath in all the confusion. ‘Malfoy! Stop, what’s going on? What do you need me for?’
‘Al’s still doing wards and that’s super-important; Lockett’s not up yet and Selena’s doing the rounds and Methuselah’s still crazy in the face so it’s you or nothing and this is big, Weasley, it’s really big!’ He spoke in a rush, not stopping for air even as he took the steps two at a time.
‘Did you get any sleep?’
‘Of course I did, Weasley, do you take me for a hypocrite as well as a fool? I had a good two hours on top of a book in the back of a library; it was perfectly fine. Drink your tea -’
‘We’re running, Malfoy, I’m trying to not spill it -’
Then he skidded to a halt, and Rose looked confused as she realised they were at the door to Ravenclaw Tower. Scorpius gave another one of his broad grins, even more manic in his utterly exhausted eyes, and rapped sharply on the door.
‘Come on, you bastard,’ he hissed as the door-knocker transformed. ‘Give me your best. I’m ready for you.’
‘A man has nine children. Half of them are boys. How is this possible?’
Rose wrinkled her nose. Normally she was quite good with the Ravenclaw tower riddles. Normally she wasn’t in the middle of a crisis zone and in the company of a deranged Scorpius Malfoy. ‘An axe?’
‘Ha!’ He gave a loud bark of success. ‘See? Your stupid puzzles are even vexing the brilliant mind of Rose Weasley!’ It took her a moment to realise he was shouting at the eagle-headed doorknob, not her, and Scorpius’ grin only widened. ‘But I’m on to you and your tricks. I know how you work - it’s not about smarts, it’s about being a pedantic-minded git and -’
‘A man has nine children. Half of -’
‘They’re all boys.’ Scorpius let go of her wrist to fold his arms across his chest, and just looked even more smug as the doorknob stilled and the door swung open. He turned his toothy grin on her. ‘I’m on to him.’
‘Malfoy...’ She was beginning to sincerely wonder if he was having some sort of fit. ‘What on Earth is going on?’
‘Come with me.’ He gestured for her to follow before he bounded up the stairs to the Ravenclaw common room, taking them two at a time. She’d been in here several times before - the last had been for the infamous party of Saxby’s that Selena had called her a killjoy over - but never when it was empty, and the sense of isolation was disconcerting enough for her to come to a halt at the top of the stairs.
But Scorpius didn’t stop; he carried straight on, storming across the comfortable sitting area and making for the library, and she reluctantly fell into step behind him. Stack after stack they passed, until finally they weren’t in front of a shelf of proper books, but files and folders and she realised they had come to Ravenclaw House’s collection of student records and achievements.
‘Let’s see...’ Scorpius waved a hand around in a flourish, but she suspected this was more for the sake of theatrics than any real hesitation, and he reached down to pluck one book in particular from the shelf. ‘2009’s records. Ravenclaw House - its sons and daughters, its greatest scions, its finest achievements. Do we have what we want from Quidditch? Of course not, they lost that year. What about Charms Club? Of course not, far too mundane and boring. The prefect records? No, no, that requires trust of authority, and our man doesn’t have that...’
‘What man?’ asked Rose, finally impatient.
‘Here.’ He stopped at one page and turned the book for her to see. It was a picture of a youth, not much older than her, rather lanky in build with a mop of sandy hair and rather fine cheekbones. He reminded her, she thought, a little of Scorpius himself, right down to the hint of a smug grin that tugged at the corner of his mouth, but she didn’t voice the thought. She didn’t think it would be appropriate.
Because the top of the page bore the words “2009 Duelling Club Champion”, and the bottom of the page bore the name. She didn’t recognise the face - but she knew the name, and she knew the nature of Scorpius’ grin, which was both smug and, around the edges, taut and worried.
Her breath caught. ‘Is this him?’ He just nodded, jaw tensing, and she reached out to take the book, to look at this fifteen year-old picture, and her fingers ran gently over the name written underneath it.