Chapter 3 : The Melting Pot
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After all, why would a leading researcher come to be an underappreciated teacher?
This question was made all the more pressing by that Professor Lockett was one of those academics who treated students not as the purpose for her profession, but rather as a necessary evil, tribulations to be tolerated until they went away. Hers was an air of long-suffering and rampant disinterest, punctuated by the fact that she had no patience in her teaching to give anything other than the most precise and necessary of instructions.
Scorpius suspected that, had Hogwarts had a different Potions Professor, he might not have taken the subject at NEWT level. Her reluctance to linger on a point maintained his interest in class, and her aloof disapproval of almost anything around her meant she was neither dragged into the games of politics and pawing for a teacher's approval, nor did she pay the hugest amount of attention to what he tried to get away with so long as it didn't disrupt the potions.
Today, he fancied getting away with an awful lot.
He and Albus had paired up on the first day, but with so few of the sixth years taking NEWT-level Potions there was only one class. That meant that they had to share it with Rose Weasley, and she and her partner Matthias Doyle were sat directly in front of them. The class would last several hours.
That was good enough for Scorpius.
Albus noticed him trying to bore holes in the back of Rose's head with his baleful gaze, and as they unpacked their bags he leant down to him. 'Scorp, please. Drop it.' It was part instruction, part plead, and because that was usually enough, because Albus asked so little of Scorpius that he tended to do it readily, Albus must have made the assumption that he wouldn't need to worry about it any more. At least, not right away.
For once, he was seriously, seriously wrong.
The idea of Hector Flynn, at all, doing anything, was angering enough to Scorpius. The idea of Hector Flynn spreading lies about him was a step up, and an insult he wouldn't forget easily. The idea of Hector Flynn having the gall to spread lies about him and Miranda Travers, intentionally and maliciously, was enough to make Scorpius' blood boil, and that Albus said Rose didn't know any better made her no less the target of his ire.
After all, she was supposed to be intelligent, wasn't she? Brilliant little Rose Weasley, the smartest witch in Hogwarts? Wasn't she smart enough to see through Flynn's crude, crude deceptions?
Scorpius knew the truth. She didn't want to see through the lies. And in his anger, that she'd wilfully believe such tall tales about him because it suited her was enough to make him more unforgiving than usual.
'I'll work on a backup batch,' Scorpius had muttered to Albus once they had been set the class's potion by Professor Lockett, an Euphoria Elixir. Since Albus was accustomed to Scorpius mostly chopping things up and making not-so-helpful suggestions of what could be done to 'improve' the potioneering process established for several hundred years, Albus seemed pleased by this prospect. It was likely he thought Scorpius was planning on burning through his frustration by making sure he was busy.
In Albus' defence, this was a common enough pattern of behaviour.
If Scorpius was going to pull this off, then he was going to need to be careful. Hiding what he was doing from Lockett was hard enough; hiding it from Albus, right next to him, was going to be even harder. But all he needed to do, every time he hesitated, was look up at that waterfall of red and hypocrisy sat in front of him, and his resolve was strengthened.
So as Albus read from the book and gave out instructions, Scorpius did what he normally did - prepared the ingredients, chopped and crushed as needed, but did twice as many, and put them in his own, smaller cauldron that bubbled away.
At least, he put some in his own, smaller cauldron. Plenty were palmed, slipped into a pocket in his satchel to be disposed of later. Plenty of them, he didn't need.
They were half an hour in before Professor Lockett wandered past and frowned at the second cauldron on their table. 'Why do you have a cauldron each? Are you trying to mess it up twice?'
'It's the backup batch,' said Scorpius without missing a beat. 'I'm chopping everything, Professor, but I'm also working a step behind Al, so if something goes wrong we can transfer it over.' He prayed silently that Albus wouldn't get it wrong. And, as Lockett nodded with grudging approval, tried his final gambit. 'Can I get some extra peppermint, in that case, from the supply cupboard?'
'I'm only grading you for Potter's, but if you really want to make it harder on yourself by splitting your attention, you can go right ahead.'
It was grudging permission, but it was permission. 'That's okay, Professor. We won't mess it up,' Scorpius promised, and slid from his seat to hurry over to the supply cupboard.
As he passed Rose's desk, he heard Matthias leaning over to her and hissing, 'A backup batch? That's a good idea, shouldn't we be -' But he was elbowed into silence before he could finish implying that Scorpius Malfoy ever had good ideas.
It was fine. A backup batch wasn't his idea.
He had to be quick in the supply cupboard, but fortunately for Scorpius, he was actually pretty good at this bit of Potions. One didn't get by as an average student with Scorpius' incredibly lax work ethic without having some natural talent; where he struggled in Potions was remembering specific procedures, following set, dull instructions. Where he excelled was quickly identifying changes, keeping track of his ingredients, knowing just-so how to cut and prepare them - the kind of fly-by-the-seat-of-his-pants talent which made him a good partner to patient, methodical Albus.
It also meant he had a pretty good idea of exactly what was where in the supply cupboard. And, with a furtive glance in the direction of Lockett, who was bent over Saxby and Moore's potion, he grabbed all that he needed.
Fortunately, he was making something simpler than an Euphoria Elixir, something that would take less time, and so within half an hour his potion was bubbling along merrily, exactly how he wanted it to be.
Albus looked over from sprinkling in some frog's brains (apparently the notion of ribbeting was euphoric), and frowned at the colour of Scorpius' potion. 'That doesn't look anything like mine did two steps ago, Scorp. Do you think you... er, did it right?'
He asked it so tentatively, so clearly worried about offending his volatile friend, that Scorpius almost felt guilty. Almost. But not so guilty that he couldn't put a steadfast look of plucky determination on his face and lie through his teeth. 'Yeah, I don't think I chopped that ginger root quite as well for mine as for yours; the juices aren't flowing well enough. You keep on, I think I can salvage it.'
And, not wanting to upset him, Albus returned to his potion and didn't notice when Scorpius pulled out one of the vials he'd taken from the supply cupboard and filled it up, stoppering it carefully.
Job done, it was no small thing to turn the heat up too high, and within moments his 'backup' cauldron was billowing smoke and the concoction was turning black within.
Albus started, but Scorpius flapped at him, pushing him back to the main cauldron and already waving a towel at the smoke - ostensibly away from him, but he took perverse pleasure in wafting some of it at Rose. 'It's okay, Al! You worry about the proper one, I'll - oh, bugger this, I'll just ditch it and we can do yours.'
He thought he noticed a nasty grin from Rose as he went over to the sink with its magically-reinforced drain to safely dispose of the toxic concoction he'd managed to turn his creation into, and if his resolve had been wavering at Albus' frantic, earnest reassurances, it faded with the notion of petty, petty vengeance.
Professor Lockett gave him a withering look of disapproval as he ensured that the gooey, sticky, blackening potion was properly washed away where it couldn't horribly warp, transfigure, or destroy anything. 'How about we save the complicated bits of Advanced Potions for when it's not the first week and we're coasting into the classroom on an E, Malfoy?'
Scorpius hated it when anyone used "we", like that. Scorpius rather hated being condescended, full stop, and Scorpius wasn't in much of a mood to be forgiving.
Chalk up another target. Could he kill two birds with one stone?
'Can I go get some more black beetle legs, Professor?' he asked Lockett before the Potions Professor went back to her desk. 'I think I crushed a bunch getting rid of this.'
A frustrated look flashed across Lockett's eyes. 'All right, all right,' she said in surrender. 'But stop wasting the ingredients.'
'No, Professor. No more backup cauldrons for a while.' He tried his most charming smile, but because he was cooperating, that just came across as suspicious.
At least, it came across as suspicious to Albus, who was looking at his pile of ingredients as Scorpius swaggered to the supply cupboard, and Scorpius guessed he was realising that they didn't need any more black beetle legs. It was too late now, though. Too late for him to not slip the vial he'd concocted behind a box of newts' eyes, too late for him to not swish his wand discreetly over it and mutter a charm, certainly too late once he'd closed the cupboard door behind him and headed back to Albus and his cauldron.
Even if Rose was eyeing him suspiciously herself as he returned, and this time he thought he caught a knowing look in her gaze that had entirely replaced the petty vindictiveness at his being undone minutes beforehand.
All he needed to do now was wait.
'Scorp,' Albus muttered out of the corner of his mouth, distracted as he gamely tried to keep brewing the potion he'd been so far working on with only half of his partner's attention. 'Scorp, we didn't need those beetle legs.'
'I was just being thorough, Al,' said Scorpius, trying to as quickly as possible slice up the rest of the ingredients they needed while at the same time not make any mistakes; he didn't want his friend's marks to suffer because of his little misadventures.
'Scorp.' Albus didn't sound convinced, but he did sound worried, very worried - and not without good reason, because if Scorpius had done something and hidden it from him all this time, then it probably meant it was something Albus would try to stop him from doing. 'What've you done?'
But Rose's suspicion would prove to be a blessing in disguise for Scorpius, for she muttered to Doyle that she was going to resupply them, and headed for the supply cupboard herself, giving him curious glances all the way.
Scorpius was glad, now, that he'd taken a NEWT in Potions. He could never have done this in his OWLs; part of the greater academic challenge was encouraging the students to be responsible for their own supplies, gathering and selecting and counting them, rather than just being given exactly what they needed ahead of time.
Now, all he'd had to do was wait until Rose eventually made a trip to the cupboard.
And now, as she got there, as she opened the door, he ignored Albus and flicked his wand under the desk, muttering the second part of the incantation he'd put over the stopper on the vial behind the newts' eyes.
He'd specifically chosen a spell which would just make the stopper pop, so the potion inside would ooze, out of sight, into the potions supplies. He'd specifically chosen the most harmless and disgusting of the potions supplies, the various animal and insect parts. And he'd specifically chosen a diluted and low-grade Exploding Fluid.
In great amounts it could have blown the entire storage cupboard sky-high. In the amounts Scorpius had used, just as he said the incantation, just as Rose stared suspiciously into the shelves, potion met substance and just gave merely a small eruption.
A small eruption enough to blow out two shelves and cover Gryffindor's finest prefect with not just newts' eyes, but frogs' guts, snakes' skins, and other deeply unpleasant animal remains and potions ingredients. Including Scorpius' favourite, the Doxy eggs.
Yelps of surprise and horror filled the Potions Dungeon as students reeled back in surprise or desperately leapt to protect their precious concoctions, depending on how particular they were feeling or how close to the supply cupboard they were. Only Methuselah Jones, in the back, did nothing more than lift an eyebrow and sigh deeply to himself.
But the greatest sound of all was from Rose, who let up a wail of distress and disgust as the dust settled, the cupboard creaked and threatened to collapse in on itself, and she found herself coated in all kinds of unpleasantries.
And just as Professor Lockett leapt to her feet to hurry over, she turned to the rest of the classroom and caught, before he could hide it, Scorpius' flash of a triumphant smile.
He tried to look just as horrified as everyone else, but it didn't quite work - and he wasn't sure he wanted it to. It was satisfying, immensely satisfying, to have done something like this to her and for her to know it was him. Half of the pleasure of vengeance was the target knowing that this wasn't just a random act, this was retribution.
And then her eyes met his, and flashed, and she whipped out her wand. 'You!'
Scorpius had made all kinds of mental provisions for this scheme. He'd considered what to do if Rose didn't go to the cupboard, if someone else found the vial before he could use it, if he botched the creation, even if Professor Lockett had caught him making the Exploding Fluid.
He had made absolutely no kind of provisions for if Rose, upon his gleaming moment of triumph, tried to kill him stone dead.
She uttered an incantation, one which Scorpius didn't know but made Albus leap to his feet, shouting her name. And then, for a few seconds, as Lockett hurried over to the cupboard, shouting to try to regain control and the rest of the NEWT class remained in utter chaos, nothing happened.
Then Scorpius' nose began to itch. A lot.
It would transpire there was no reason for him to recognise the incantation. It had never been recorded in a single spell-book, because it had been one of those custom little hexes cooked up by a witch of Hogwarts almost twenty-five years ago, and had barely been uttered since. But there was every reason for Rose to know it, and every reason for Albus to recognise it.
It had, after all, been invented by Ginny Potter.
The next ten seconds were the longest of Scorpius' young life as he suffered the effects of the Bat-Bogey Hex, but he did know that he owed Albus yet another debt of undying gratitude as his best friend finally stopped shouting at his cousin for long enough to remember and cast the relevant counter-curse. Afterwards he even bent down to pick up the dishevelled, quivering wreck on the floor that was Scorpius after he had suffered a fate more unpleasant than anyone might have anticipated.
And now Scorpius could see that the supply cupboard had collapsed in on itself, that Rose was in a hell of a state, and that Professor Lockett had turned particularly pale.
'Malfoy! Weasley! Right here, right now!'
For someone so small, she really knew how to shout.
Scorpius didn't even need Albus' help to get to the front; something in Lockett's command was enough to reach into his lizard hindbrain and force his legs to propel him forwards entirely of his own accord, regardless of how bedraggled and attacked he'd been by the Bat-Bogey Hex.
And now he was regretting having assumed Lockett to be a soft touch.
The Potions Professor stood before her desk, hands on her hips, brow furrowed to make her gaze even more steely. Rose was still trying to look like the indignant, wronged party, her head held high, jaw set. The effect was rather ruined by her occasionally dripping newts' eyes out of her hair.
Lockett looked at her first. 'Weasley, I assume you have an explanation for this?'
'Me?' Of course she would be indignant at being accused. 'Malfoy did something to the cupboard, I'm sure of it -'
'Upon what are you basing this theory, Weasley?'
'I saw him,' she said, and Scorpius' gut twirled. 'I saw him go to the supply cupboard with a vial. When he came back, it wasn't there. I was going to investigate, see if he'd put something in there.'
'I never did,' Scorpius thundered, knowing a modicum of outrage was necessary if he was to get out of this with his skin intact. And yet, excessive denial would not do him any good. It was a delicate balancing process.
Rose glowered at him. 'Then what was in that second botched cauldron, Malfoy?'
'It was a backup potion! It was botched! I had a lot on my mind, I did it wrong, I got rid of the lot of it -'
'Or you were just getting rid of the evidence!' Rose whirled around to point an accusing finger at Albus, who looked a mixture of disapproving, stunned, and distressed. 'Al! You were sat next to him all along; you had to know he was brewing something other than this draught!'
Scorpius' breath caught as Rose committed the mortal sin of forcing Albus to choose, publicly and severely, between him and between his family. That had been the unspoken agreement between the Weasley-Potters, one which not even James in his hijinks had broken, and of all the times to break it, a situation involving a teacher was especially unforgivable.
But that didn't necessarily save Scorpius, because the reason why it was such a mortal sin was that, even if he was upset with Rose for putting him in that position, Albus wouldn't necessarily side against her on that principle alone.
And he had to have guessed by now that Scorpius did it.
Lockett looked down the line of desks and seemed to miss all of the subtleties at play as Scorpius gave Rose a look of utter disgust, though she was too busy staring at Albus. 'You were next to Malfoy all this time, Potter. I know you're a student of good record. Can you confirm for me, beyond all doubt, that Malfoy was only brewing a backup batch of your draught?'
Albus' jaw worked wordlessly for a few moments, and though Scorpius felt the condemnation from Lockett in his hesitation, after several seconds he squared his shoulders. 'I'm not answering that, Professor,' he said. 'She's my cousin; he's my best friend.'
Lockett looked bewildered. 'Not answering - I'm going to have to take that as a condemnation of -'
'I'm not saying he did it!' Albus protested. 'You can't just blame him based on that -'
'Oh, for Merlin's sake, look at yourselves, the three of you!' Lockett threw her hands up in the air. 'Whoever did this has wrecked a whole slew of potions ingredients and completely ruined one of the early, integral classes in this Potions NEWT. If a single one of you had any respect for your own academic prospects or those of your peers, you would be eager to put this entire situation to rest right away.'
Rose made a noise of protest. 'I'm the victim -'
'Proper reaction upon being the subject to a petty prank, Weasley, is not to turn around to someone you merely suspect of having done this and hex them in the face.' Lockett glared, and Scorpius realised he'd never seen the Potions Professor legitimately angry before now. 'Detention. Tonight. All three of you. Malfoy, because I'm confident enough you did do this, Weasley, for attacking Malfoy, and Potter, who apparently has the same opinion as a First Year about honesty and still thinks it's called tattling.'
She waved a hand dismissively. 'Now, everyone, try to finish these bloody potions. I will be forgiving to the class in marking these concoctions; Weasley and Malfoy should consider themselves to by default have a grade one mark lower than the lowest mark of anyone in this room.'
Rose's lower lip wobbled. 'May I go and clean up in the Prefect's Bathroom next door first, Professor?'
She allowed it, but the rest of the Potions class was icy and awkward. Albus was clearly furious, and barely said a word to Scorpius as he, eager to make amends as a puppy who'd made a mess on the carpet, desperately tried to prepare their ingredients with the greatest of particular care. When Rose returned she didn't even look at the two of them, but it was Matthias Doyle who suffered the brunt of her ire, getting barely a kind word for the rest of the hour.
And pretty much everyone else was prepared to use what spare moment they had between trying to salvage their potions to glare venomously at Scorpius.
He didn't care much about their disapproval. It wasn't just that it was fleeting - once the initial irritation had worn off, they'd probably be telling stories about how ridiculous Rose had looked in such a state, and how hilarious he'd looked under the effects of the Bat-Bogey Hex, and in a day they'd have something new to worry about.
He was more bothered by Albus' anger.
When the class was dismissed, Al didn't even wait for Scorpius, just threw his paper and quills into his bag and stormed out. Scorpius, like a kicked puppy, slunk about putting everything away, but made sure he wouldn't be the last to leave the classroom. Fortunately, Methuselah Jones had made a beeline for the front desk the moment Lockett had tried to dismiss them, likely keen to argue about having been only given an 'E' in one of their very first potions brewed under exceptional circumstances.
At least this would let Scorpius slink out without suffering Lockett's judgemental eye.
But out in the corridor, Albus hadn't left - one way or another he'd run into Rose, and as the rest of the class were desperate to get far, far away, he had rounded on her, as angry as Scorpius had ever seen him.
'...completely unfair! You know that was a horrid thing to do to me, Rose! Lockett was probably going to blame him anywayand you just dragged me in? For what? To make a point? To punish me for being his friend?'
Rose flipped her hair, not backing down an inch, and Scorpius just lingered in the doorway, knowing he couldn't pass them without being noticed, wishing he was invisible. 'If it's possible to punish you for your friends, Al,' she said, 'then perhaps you should think really hard about your choices in friends.'
'You're sounding like a broken Quidditch result announcement, you know that, Rose?' said Albus in his nastiest tone, which was more like being barked at by a lovely, fluffy, bouncy Golden Retriever. 'And before you throw stones at me, perhaps you should think harder before you believe every stupid word out of Hector Flynn's mouth!'
'What does that have to do with anything?'
'You know full well that he's nothing but an obnoxious windbag! And if you want him for company, then that's entirely up to you, but it becomes my business when it's making you behave so utterly reprehensibly!'
Of course they were related; they were the only two people in Hogwarts who would use the word "reprehensibly" in the middle of a screaming row. But Rose just tossed her head again and went to storm past. 'My behaviour,' she said, 'isn't what needs questioning here. I'll see you later, Al. In detention.'
Actually, she would probably see them in Charms that afternoon, but Scorpius didn't think that correcting her would help. Instead he just hovered around the doorway, and just as one argument died, another was born - this one between Methuselah Jones and Professor Lockett behind him.
Scorpius shuffled into the corridor and shut the door. The sound was very, very loud in the tense silence, as Albus just stood there and glared in the direction where Rose had left. 'I'm sorry I got you in detention,' Scorpius told Albus' ankles quietly.
Albus whirled to face him, and as Scorpius flinched, his friend's anger faded. But what was left in its place was aching, gloomy disappointment.
'I asked you to leave it be,' Albus whispered forlornly. 'I asked you to, because you know she doesn't know any better. Because it's not even her you're angry with, it's Miranda and it's Flynn. But you did it anyway, because, what, you'd have to wait two hours before you could do anything to them?'
Scorpius stared at his own shoes, which were a bit of a mess after the day's catastrophes, and said nothing.
'And even then, you can't have it both ways, Scorpius! You don't get to say that you prefer it if people believe the lies, you can't refuse to try to clear your reputation and then behave like we're still in Third Year when people - shockingly enough - act on this reputation in a way you don't like!' Albus made a noise of frustration and ran his hand through his hair. 'I'm going to get some lunch and then I'm going up to the Quidditch pitch. I'll see you in Charms.'
Then he left, too, his desire to not be around Scorpius for the time being patently, painfully clear, and every one of his footsteps ringing out on the stone floor was like an extra stab of Albus' disappointment in Scorpius' gut as he left him behind, alone.
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