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Ignite by Slide

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Format: Novel
Chapters: 37
Word Count: 194,688
Status: COMPLETED

Rating: Mature
Warnings: Strong violence, Scenes of a mild sexual nature, Substance abuse, Sensitive topic/issue/theme, Spoilers

Genres: Drama, Romance, Action/Adventure
Characters: Draco, Albus, Rose, Scorpius, OC
Pairings: Rose/Scorpius, Harry/Ginny, Ron/Hermione, OC/OC, Other Pairing

First Published: 06/23/2012
Last Chapter: 05/15/2014
Last Updated: 05/15/2014

Summary:


A mysterious illness leaving a handful of uninfected. A school in quarantine, isolated from the outside world. Danger on all sides, striking seemingly at random. And, at the heart of it all, Scorpius Malfoy, the only man to believe this is a part of a wider, dangerous plot.

The first of the Stygian Trilogy.


Chapter 17: No Smoke Without Fire
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The worst thing about the crisis was that they got used to it. Or, that was what Scorpius said some time around Week Four, and then amended his comment with, ‘and the loneliness. And the chance of being attacked by a crazy mercenary. And the fear of all our friends and teachers dying. And the angry monsters of the Forbidden Forest roaming around. So, really, it’s not the worst thing at all.’

But it was a thing, and it was unpleasant how the abnormal and tense could become such an intrinsic part of their lives. They all had their jobs, except for Scorpius, whose job was more to run around after everyone else and make sure they had what they needed - but he saw Lockett’s approving eye when he buoyed up Albus, or stopped to listen to Methuselah, or made Selena smile, or teased Rose.

That, of course, didn’t stop. Despite their agreement, he would still come down in the mornings with the pot of tea and plate of breakfast for Hogwarts’ earliest riser, wandering into the dungeons and whistling to himself.

‘I’ve got the answer,’ he told her one day by way of greeting, sliding tea and a bacon roll down the desk towards her. ‘I use my guitar.’

Rose frowned at the wall for a moment, then looked at him. ‘There is not a single problem we’re facing that could help with.’

‘Getting into the Headmaster’s study so we can properly adjust the wards.’ Scorpius stepped back, miming holding his guitar. ‘I read about wizards who imbued magic into sound, so certain notes did certain things. It’s how Toil & Trouble get the light-show at their performances - a magic guitar.’

‘Still not explaining anything.’

‘We get a blasting curse, right? And imbue several of my guitar strings with it. So when I play a chord which has all of them at once, it’ll blast the door to Stubbs’ office right off its hinges.’ He swept his hand across the imaginary guitar, as if an open C could solve all of life’s problems.

Rose looked at him solemnly. ‘That’s a really good idea.’

Scorpius blinked. ‘It is?’

‘Of course not.’ She turned back to her paper. ‘It’s a stupid idea and I think just hearing it has made me stupider.'

'Aw, don't put yourself down like that, Weasley. “Stupider” isn’t a word.'

'Did you want something this morning, Malfoy?' But there was the ghost of a smile playing about her lips, and she brushed that errant lock of hair behind her ear, springy and determined to escape as it was.

‘I’m bored,’ he said, going to perch next to her on the desk. ‘And you’ve made absolutely no progress with the potions.’

She looked affronted at last. ‘That’s not true; Professor Lockett’s going to have some test results in once Rourke and the House Elves finish their rounds and it might show -’

‘That this ingredient is doing something but that one isn’t, and so we’re incrementally closer to finding one thing to go in an eventual cure. But not the whole lot. And Jones is still rabbiting on about this ritual, so the cure might be for nothing -’

‘One step at a time.’ Rose stood, her expression softening. ‘But we’re making progress and it will get done.’

‘It’s been weeks,’ Scorpius sighed. ‘And now we get the Prophet, I see how the outside world’s going nuts. The Minister getting flak for not miraculously solving this, the international communities talking about lending aid but then there are articles saying how France and Spain might try to use this to get Britain to side with them on the trade disputes...’

She lifted a hand. ‘We don’t need to worry about the outside world, Malfoy. We just need to worry about right here -’

‘I am worrying about right here; we still have no idea what Thane, or whoever he’s working for, wants, and I read about the world panicking and people trying to capitalise on the situation and I can’t help but wonder: is this the plan?’ Scorpius’s eyes turned to the ceiling, and his shoulders tensed. ‘Cause uproar and terror and then someone sweeps in to take advantage of it, or someone sweeps in to conveniently save the day, or...’

‘Malfoy.’

‘...or if it’s something more simple, if it’s just someone wanting to see Hogwarts burn, or maybe we’re all lab-rats for some experiment...’

‘Malfoy!’

He didn’t stop at her raising her voice, but he did stop at her hand coming to his shoulder, her touch jerking him back to reality, and Scorpius looked down, blinking muggily, to find Rose Weasley stood rather closer than he’d realised she’d got in her effort to break through to him. She, too, looked surprised, her eyes flickering across his face, before she drew a deep breath. ‘We’re going to get through this.’

He hesitated, but the squirming anxiety in his stomach hadn’t abated. ‘We don’t know that.’

‘We don’t know anything, not for sure,’ said Rose, her hand still on his shoulder. ‘But we have every chance, and a chance is enough if we make it enough. We just can’t give up. We have to knuckle down and fight on, not just for ourselves, but for everyone.'

'So, no pressure?' But he relaxed a shade, bowing his head. 'You're right. People are counting on us. I guess I'm just not used to that.'

'You're better at being relied on than you think you are.’

Then he looked up, all-too aware of her dark eyes on his, of her hand on his shoulder. All-too aware of the calm, utterly convinced tone of voice she used when she was being righteous about something he didn’t quite get - but now she was being righteous about him. All-too aware of the closeness between them, of that springy lock of red hair that had defiantly escaped again to dangle across her face.

On an impulse he reached out for it, and as his fingertips brushed her cheek it was like an electric charge that ran through him and brought everything into sharp, clear focus.

And an awful lot of things began to make an awful lot of sense.

Her lips parted as he brushed the lock of hair behind her ear, and finally hesitation crept into her gaze. ‘Malfoy...’

‘You’re better at making me feel better than you think you are, you know that?’ he mused, but didn’t take his eyes off hers, or pull his hand away.

‘Well, you - you need it.’ She stumbled over her words, more awkward than he’d ever heard her, but she didn’t pull away - nor did she protest when his fingers ran down her cheek to cup her chin, tilting her head up to his, and -

Footsteps outside the door.

Well, of course there are, Scorpius mused to himself bitterly as Rose’s eyes widened and she sprang back, out of arm’s reach, just in time for the door to the classroom to swing open and for Lockett to step in for her morning checkup. The teacher took one look at the two of them then narrowed her eyes suspiciously.

‘What did he do?’ she asked Rose.

Scorpius’ jaw, despite himself, dropped indignantly. ‘What makes you think I did anything?’

'Because Weasley looks flustered and you look smug, so I'd say it's business as usual,' said Lockett, but her usual disinterest had taken over, and she crossed the dungeon to where her papers were, extracting a new stack from under her arm. ‘The test results are in from Rourke.’

Rose blinked, but the spark overtook the guilt in her eyes quickly enough, and she went to join Lockett with, in Scorpius’ opinion, quite unnecessary enthusiasm. ‘Is there anything good?’

‘I’m still checking,’ said Lockett, laying down the papers, and Scorpius sighed as the two of them began to pour over the documents, the test results, the plans, the lists of what they’d done to the lab rats that were also the people they needed to save and he was left standing there, forgotten.

Or, not entirely. Because he could still see the hint of red on Rose’s cheeks that even potions results couldn’t completely remove.

Because my life’s not too complicated, he mused, but nevertheless a twist of a smile tugged at his lips. He shoved his hands in his pockets and headed for the door, whistling to himself. Round two could wait.

‘What’s this?’

He was at the door when Lockett finally spoke, and the tone in her voice - sharp, attentive, rather than with the sleepy, pained disinterest that had been her shield against all of the catastrophes so far - made him stop with his hand on the doorknob.

‘It’s just the results from the Hufflepuff second-years -’

‘But they’re all showing reduced levels of dark magic taint over the last few days.’

‘Nothing outside of the normal fluctuations -’

‘It is when they’ve been on the batch containing Ashwinder skin, which specifically combats certain kinds of taint.’

‘Does this mean that -’

‘It really does...’

Scorpius turned as the two devolved into half-spoken sentences and excited rustling through papers and books. ‘Does this mean anything in english?’

Rose looked up, eyes flashing, and now the hint of colour in her cheeks had gone. ‘This was one of our more hopeful batches,’ she explained as Lockett cracked open one of their thickest books and was flicking through the pages. ‘But it was reliant upon the illness affecting the cursed through the humours, which wasn’t a guarantee and there are only so many ways to find it out...’

‘...and Ashwinder skin is one of the more prevalent ingredients for combatting dark magic taint of the humours, so its success would indicate that this is it,’ said Lockett, not looking up.

Scorpius blinked. ‘Really? So why don’t we just brew up a whole batch of Ashwinder skin juice?’

‘Because it’s not very powerful and is best used to help purge minor afflictions while supplemented by something more powerful; a truly major antidote could be helped by the presence of Ashwinder skin to isolate and identify the dark magic taint,’ said Lockett, scowling at the paper. ‘But this curse is something else; we need something more powerful than Ashwinder skin.’

‘Boa-constrictor skin?’ Scorpius offered.

They ignored him. ‘What about Acromantula skin?’ said Rose. ‘Its protective qualities makes the slivers quite valuable when it comes to dispelling elixirs and antidotes.’

Lockett nodded. ‘That would work,’ she said. ‘And with it - I don’t know if I can make a cure. But if these initial results are anything to go by, we could make a serious dent on the symptoms and that? Not only could it slow possible deterioration, but... it could put us on the path to an antidote.’


* *



‘Are you sure, Professor?’ If an otter could look sceptical, the patronus that was Hermione Granger’s magical avatar was doing its damndest to try. ‘There are all sorts of fluctuations which are simply natural for these kinds of curses.’

‘With respect, Ms Granger, we don’t know what kind of curse this is for sure,’ said Lockett.

Scorpius was used to his Potions Professor tackling everything with the long-suffering air of an academic who thought teaching would be better without children, and thought a crisis striking a whole school was definitely not Quidditch. But now, doing ten rounds with the witch many claimed to be the smartest woman in Britain, she was stood straight, her eyes bright, shoulders square, ardent and defiant.

For the first time, invigorated.

‘Your name “Phlegethon” hasn’t been coming up with any answers amongst the Ministry think-tanks,’ said Hermione, a little snippish. ‘It could be anything or nothing -’

‘I’m not talking about that,’ said Lockett. ‘I’m talking about Acromantula skin. And, again with respect, you might disagree with what these results mean but I’m the one who’s been studying them day after day -’

‘And you have been forwarding all of your results to us; in even greater detail since the owl messages began again,’ said Hermione. ‘We know everything you know, Professor, and from a look at the latest reports, I’m sorry, but the think-tanks consider this to be within normal parameters of change -’

Scorpius’ brow furrowed. ‘Why can’t we just try?’ he wondered, not wanting to wade in, but Lockett’s shoulders had tensed and, for the first time in his memory she looked truly, properly angry.

Hermione’s patronus sagged. ‘Because Acromantula skin is incredibly difficult to get hold of and dedicating the resources to finding it isn’t something to be done lightly.’

Lockett’s lip twisted. ‘It’s difficult because of the intensive regulations over the last twenty years which have shut down most reagent hunters and farmers,’ she said, voice low and irritable. ‘Regulations that you championed, Granger! So if you want to get your hands on it? Go to the black market! I’ll even tell you who to ask.’

Hermione’s patronus glared at her. ‘Yes, you would know, wouldn’t you, Professor? Shall I just ask the MLE for your file, will the contacts be in there?’

‘No.’ Lockett looked, of all things, smug. ‘Because I wasn’t charged with anything, so the MLE had to destroy their records. A new law which you also spearheaded, so I guess I should be thanking you for getting me out of the situation you got me into.’

Rose made a small noise of protest. ‘Is this really something we need to get into?’ she asked, voice tight.

Hermione’s patronus looked at her daughter, and its little shoulders sagged. She turned back to Lockett. ‘I cannot dedicate huge swathes of Ministerial resources to pursuing something this dangerous and difficult without being sure.’

I’m sure.’

‘The think-tanks disagree.’

‘Your think-tanks are made up of Ministry yes-men who told you for years that your regulations wouldn't stifle Potions research and development,’ thundered Lockett. ‘The use of highly dangerous reagents gathered by hunters and farmers of volatile magical creatures is what allowed us to make the significant breakthroughs in curing dark magic ailments which you pointed out I made my name on! As you said, I am an expert on this subject and I say your advisors are wrong!’

The patronus tensed. ‘I happen to agree with them.’

‘Oh, really, does your ‘O’ at NEWT-level Potions tell you this?’ Lockett sneered. ‘I hate to burst your bubble, Granger, but being incredibly smart doesn’t count for anything when you’ve been involved in politics and legislation for the past twenty-five years! I know it would do you a disservice to call you a jack of all trades, master of none, but this is not your specialisation and it is mine!’ She threw her hands into the air. ‘I might not be able to give you the right answer when it comes to what’s best for the children or what’s best for securing Hogwarts or even what’s best for deconstructing a magical ritual, but on this issue I am right, and you know that I’m right, and to hell with the fact that it treads on one of your precious new enlightenment laws!’

They all stood in silence, Rose’s eyes wide as she stared at the floor, Albus and Selena also averting their gaze. Methuselah was watching with dispassionate interest, and Scorpius couldn’t stop looking between Lockett and Hermione as if they were in a tennis game, watching as they spoke, watching their reactions to the other’s angry words.

Finally, eventually, the patronus took a deep breath. ‘You know it will be difficult,’ it said in Hermione Granger’s low, careful voice. ‘I have to be sure before I send agents to Eastern Europe, or maybe even Australia, to gather the reagents.’

‘Eastern Europe,’ said Lockett coolly. ‘The subspecies on the Australasian sub-continent have too many varieties for me to be happy with them.’

‘So, diplomatic negotiations with countries not very happy with us right now,’ Hermione said.

‘Not happy because of all of these regulations affecting their trade,’ agreed Lockett. ‘But, yes. And I’m sure. I know how difficult it is, friends of mine went to prison because of how difficult it is - still waiting on that Geber Prize for the Elixir of Clarity, by the way. But I wouldn’t ask for this lightly.’

Albus frowned. ‘Isn’t there an easier way to resolve this?’ he wondered. ‘I mean, isn’t one of the biggest Acromantula nests in Europe just a few miles into the Forbidden Forest?’

It was astonishing to see Lockett and Hermione suddenly become united after such a fierce argument. ‘Absolutely not!’ the Professor exploded, just as Hermione barked, ‘No!’ equally vociferously.

‘Acromantula are exceedingly dangerous,’ said Lockett, eyes wide. ‘Going after them is the sort of matter which requires expertise, training, and experience; it is not the sort of task for an underage witch or wizard to undertake, or even for a researcher such as myself to attempt!’

Albus shrugged. ‘Dad did it.’

‘By being incredibly lucky,’ Hermione said tensely. ‘If I could get your father and your uncle to talk to you, they would say exactly the same thing as me: that it’s far, far too dangerous.’

Rose stepped up. ‘But they did manage it,’ she argued. ‘And even if it was dangerous, they did it because it was necessary - they did it for you, didn’t they?’

'Even if we consider that it wasn't a ridiculously dangerous thing for a pair of twelve year-olds to do,' said Hermione, ‘the Forbidden Forest has, by all your reports, been considerably more dangerous in the past few weeks than ever before. Marauding Redcaps? Stampeding centaurs? Dementors? You can’t go in there.’

‘I would rather wait until the Ministry can find the reagents,’ Lockett agreed. ‘The infected are stable; I know they’ve deteriorated to the point where none of them are conscious for any particular length of time, but the House Elves are keeping them cared for, and the waiting time is still a more acceptable risk than us dying in the Forest.’

‘We wouldn’t all die,’ offered Selena, ‘because you couldn’t pay me to go out there.’

‘Thank you, as always, for your courageous and sensible contribution, Rourke,’ sighed Lockett. ‘But for once you have the right of it. If the Ministry can produce the Acromantula skins, we can use them for an elixir I am confident will alleviate the symptoms. And the extent of the success might just point us in the right direction for a cure.’

‘Despite my misgivings, I will trust your judgement on this, Professor,’ said Hermione’s patronus reluctantly. ‘And I had best see about it shortly, so I’ll leave you all to your day. But before I go - I wonder if I could borrow Mister Malfoy for a conversation?’

Everyone stared at Scorpius, who blinked. ‘Me?’

‘That’s your name,’ mused Rose, looking a bit put-out, but she stepped back. ‘I’ll see you tomorrow, Mum,’ she said, and with that signal, they all slunk back, heading off their separate ways to their separate works, and leaving Scorpius alone in the Great Hall with the patronus of the mother of the girl he’d tried to kiss just that morning.

For one bizarre moment he thought she knew and was going to admonish him, so awkward did the patronus look, like it was finding this just as difficult as him. ‘I have a favour to ask of you, Mi- Scorpius,’ said Hermione’s patronus.

He opened his hands uncertainly. ‘Sure.’

‘Keep Rose and Albus out of trouble.’

His brow furrowed. ‘That’s really not my specialty,’ he said. ‘I’m more the one who finds the trouble -’

‘I mean with this Acromantula skin business. I know my nephew, and I know my daughter. They both have more than a little of their fathers in them. From dogged determination to streaks of loyalty which go beyond sense and reason.’ The otter tilted its nose in the air, as if it was above the disadvantages of such virtues and never made any misjudgements because of them. ‘Their younger siblings and younger cousins are ill here. They may see going off into the Forest as chance to help. I wouldn’t be surprised if they try.’

Scorpius shoved his hands in his pockets. ‘I don’t know, Al’s pretty sensible and I don’t think Rose broke a rule in her life before I got her landed in detention. I think you underestimate them.’

‘And I think you might be underestimating family bonds, Scorpius.'

He scowled. 'Look, I get it, okay? I get what's at stake. We’re still talking about my friends, my classmates, people I lived with for years, people I played Quidditch with. Hogwarts is more of my home and my family than Malfoy bloody Manor and my father are!’ The admission came, hot and angry and before he realised he was saying it, but once he’d started he couldn’t stop. ‘Al’s like my brother, and I know that’s pretty pathetic when he’s got a brother, but if he was in danger and marching into a nest of Acromantulas could save him, then sure, I’d do that!’

Silence fell across them - silence as Scorpius realised he’d made Hermione’s point for her, and silence as the patronus regarded him, looking surprised at the outburst. Then it gave a vague approximation of a smile. ‘I suppose Harry was right,’ it mused.

‘What’s that supposed to mean?’

‘That you do understand why Albus or Rose might do something stupid. And I would like you to keep an eye on them to stop them. For their own good.’

There was a pause as Scorpius chewed on his lip. ‘First, I want to know what’s going on with Lockett.’

‘What do you mean -’

‘Talk about her being arrested? The black market? If there’s something dodgy about the woman responsible for our safety, I’d like to know.’

‘Headmaster Stubbs wouldn’t have hired her if he didn’t think she could do the job.’

‘That’s an evasive answer if ever there was one,’ Scorpius pointed out. ‘Because it doesn’t mean you don’t think Stubbs was wrong.’

The patronus hesitated. ‘I don’t think Stubbs was wrong,’ said Hermione at last. ‘But I don’t think it was his best decision ever. Nathalie Lockett is a world-class potions researcher. I wasn’t exaggerating. After the war she developed the most important salves and potions for easing ailments caused by dark magic, and changed the lives of hundreds of victims of Death Eater attacks. And as the years went on she moved into augmentative potions, which is a rather less-respected field of research and one where galleons, not saving lives, is the most significant motivator.’

‘If money was her motivation, then becoming a teacher was pretty stupid,’ Scorpius observed.

‘It wasn’t her first choice,’ said the patronus tensely. ‘She was a member of the team that developed the Elixir of Clarity, a particularly ingenious development which has become prized in all sorts of lines of work: from academics who wish to sift through a complex issue to curse-breakers who need to solve a problem quickly. But along the way her team was involved in the smuggling of illegally-farmed reagents bought on the black market. They were arrested. Lockett had been only marginally involved in the smuggling and, in exchange for all charges against her being dropped, gave testimony against several of her colleagues. They’re in prison. She went free, finished the work on the Elixir of Clarity, and now holds the bulk of the credit for it internationally. But nobody would hire her for such breaches in ethics and disloyalty to her team, so she had to leave the world of research.’

‘And was hired by Professor Stubbs to work at Hogwarts.’ Scorpius made a face. ‘That’s cold.’

‘You can see, I hope, why I don’t place the highest of trust in her assumption that these reagents are the only way. Other potioneers are more careful before reaching such conclusions, more sure, because they must be. To her, the regulations interrupted her work, rather than saving lives.’

‘I hate to say it, Ms Granger,’ he said. ‘But right now the regulations aren’t helping save lives.’

The patronus straightened with a hint of indignation. ‘I will do all I can to get what you need quickly,’ it said with Hermione’s voice. ‘But now I have answered your question, will you do what I’ve asked?’

Scorpius’ shoulders sagged. ‘Fine. All right. I’ll try saying “no” to Albus. There’s a first time for everything.’

‘Thank you,’ said the patronus. ‘You know it’s the right thing to do.’

He groaned and ran a hand through his hair. ‘Was that all, Ms Granger?’

‘I...’ The patronus hesitated. ‘Your father came into the Ministry the other day to ask for an update.’

‘Really? The Prophet’s lack of news wasn’t enough for him?’

‘He was asking about means of extracting you from Hogwarts.’

Scorpius narrowed his eyes. ‘Just me?’

‘He didn’t specif-’

‘But it’s what he meant, isn’t it.’ Hermione didn’t answer, and Scorpius clenched his fist. ‘You think that’s what I want? To get out of here and leave everyone else behind to put up with all of this? Even if the quarantine and risk of infection didn’t make that impossible?’

‘I didn’t say that -’

‘You were thinking it.’ Scorpius closed his mouth to bite off another angry accusation, and exhaled slowly. ‘At least a bit. I mean, clearly you trust me to try to help Al and Rose, but you wondered a bit, didn’t you? If this was what I wanted, if I’d take any get-out my father tried to politically wrangle for me?’

Hermione’s patronus looked wryly amused. ‘Your father has never been capable of wrangling anything out of or past me.’

‘Yeah, well, that’s why all of his business interests these days are abroad.’ Scorpius straightened and stabbed an accusing finger at her. ‘I’m not leaving anyone behind. I’m not leaving anyone in the lurch. I might not be the smartest, or the strongest, or the most powerful, or even the most charming, but these are my friends and I don’t care what my father would want for me, I’m not leaving.’

‘I’m sure your father only wants what’s best for you -’

‘No, he wants to make sure there’s still an heir, because even a duff Malfoy’s better than no Malfoy at all.’ Scorpius scowled and shoved his hands into his pockets. ‘Don’t judge me by him. I’m not him.’

‘If I thought you were your father, Scorpius,’ said Hermione’s patronus in a calm, mellow voice, ‘I would never have asked you to do something difficult for the sake of your friends. I would have thought it a waste of my breath.’

There was little more to say after that than stilted, formal goodbyes, and he slunk from the Great Hall alone, listless. But the anger that had been ignited in his chest when she’d told him of his father’s request didn’t go away, and after his outburst at Albus over the letter weeks ago, he didn’t want to repeat what his best friend already knew and was surely tired of hearing: Draco Malfoy was a bastard. Normally he might have gone to harass Rose to keep his mind off it, but the near-miss hours beforehand made that seem a poor notion indeed.

Though that was an issue he could deal with later. For now he wanted to be somewhere his anger wouldn’t be a problem.

Without thinking he stormed down to his usual shelter against the world, the Slytherin common room. He was stood in the middle, the green light from the great windows showing the lake underwater spilling across him, by the time he realised where he was, and that he had no business here.

It was like a cemetery. Peaceful and quiet and funereal, and once that thought had lodged in his head, Scorpius couldn’t make it leave again. He’d always thought the common room was morbid, and had seen through the forced smiles of older students telling him it was dignified or even cosy when he’d been a first year.

He’d grown up to be one of those students lying to the younger ones. But that was how it was, wasn't it? The older and allegedly more sensible lying to the younger. Because of the assumption that the younger couldn't handle it, couldn’t be sensible about what was in front of them, and the young resented the thought until they grew up and made all the same choices as their predecessors...

A cough from the direction of the dormitories interrupted his morose philosophising, and Scorpius turned, frowning. Then another, and another, all sounding like just one person, and he broke into a jog on the stairs up, into the Second Years' dormitory.

His heart clenched into a fist when he saw the pale, thin form of Timothy Warwick lying on his bed, wracked with the choking coughs of a reflex action that made his body writhe and blood-flecked spittle fly from his mouth. Semi-conscious, in the sort of delirious, barely-aware state that was the closest any of the afflicted came to awake these days and only for very short periods, he jerked on the bed - and then the sound of coughing changed abruptly to choking.

‘House elves! Elves!’ Scorpius bellowed as he flew across the dorm, to Tim’s side, hauling the boy to sit upright and over, head down, no longer choking on his the blood that again surged up. Lockett had said something about it being a natural and even helpful reaction to a magical curse, an effort of the wizard’s body to purge taint within, but she’d also said that it was a sign of that corruption being virulent.

Scorpius had only paid so much attention to the reports of the ill, but he knew none of them had been coughing up blood in weeks.

‘Easy, Malfoy! Easy! We got him!’ Harley had arrived without Scorpius noticing, along with two of his compatriots, and they were on the bed in an instant, helping him keep Tim upright. ‘Grab that potion!’

Scorpius flapped over to the bedside table as Harley pointed, hand wavering over three different concoctions. ‘Which?’

‘Oh, you inattentive tosspot - the green one! It’ll make it better so he can sleep!’ Harley shouted over the sound of Tim’s coughing and choking. ‘Unstopper it, give it here, I’ll feed it him!’

Scorpius did so, and then stood by the bedside table, watching in utter helplessness as the elves ran through a well-practiced routine of holding up Tim so he could breathe, so he wasn’t going to choke, and so Harley could, with aid of the natural magic which made all of this possible, feed the barely-conscious boy the whole bottle of the potion. Within seconds he was relaxing, slumping, and the elves were getting him back into bed.

‘No, no - get him new sheets, he got blood on these,’ said Harley, brushing down his crumpled little suit which, too, was flecked with blood. He turned to Scorpius and tossed him the empty bottle. ‘Good job you were here, Malfoy,’ he said grudgingly. ‘It’s not good when they get like that.’

‘They haven’t been like that in weeks,’ Scorpius said. ‘Have any of the others been like it?’

Harley shook his head. ‘Nope. S’worrying. We’ll let Lockett know; she’ll know what to do,’ he said, with a firm nod and a confidence that Scorpius, remembering what Hermione Granger had told him only minutes before, couldn’t quite share.

‘Yeah.’ Scorpius frowned, putting the empty potion bottle away and shoving his hands in his pockets. Are they getting worse? ‘Well, I’ll be off.’

Harley gaped as he headed for the door. ‘Isn’t he your friend? Don’t you want to be around when Lockett gets here?’

‘I really don’t,’ said Scorpius, mind racing, and though he knew how cold and callous he had to sound, he couldn’t care less at that point. 'In fact, don't even bother to mention to Lockett that I was here.'

'Why?' Harley's face twisted. 'Someone might know a Malfoy gave a damn about someone for five seconds?'

'Exactly,' said Scorpius, not bothering to sound convincing, though his wry apathy did its own work. ‘And I’ve got places to be. Things to do. Books to read.’

Without waiting for an answer he left quickly, with no desire to give Lockett the impression he’d been anywhere near this situation, knew anything about it. But that wasn’t the only reason for his swift departure. Time was not on his side, and he had urgent business to attend to.

Urgent business in the Library.



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