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Ignite by Slide
Chapter 7 : Fever Pitch
 
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 5


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Miranda hung limp and heavy in his arms, like one of Madam Malkin’s mannequins that had run out of magic. Scorpius had always thought of her as tall, one of the few girls he didn’t have to really crane his neck to kiss, but a lot of it was still composure and presence. Now, pale and with blood spattered down her chin and front, she was unfathomably small to him.

And yet impossibly heavy.

The traffic outside the Great Hall, either keen to ignore an altercation between Scorpius and Miranda or wholly uncaring of the unwinding politics, had skidded to a halt, just as frozen as he was. In that second Scorpius’ eyes went to the door to where Albus stood. ‘Al,’ he croaked. ‘Help me.’

Then Albus was by his side, helping him adjust his grip and lift Miranda properly into his arms. And as the crowds in the corridor broke into a panicked hubbub of uncertainty behind them, without another word the two set off to return to the Infirmary.

‘Madam Pheasey!’ Scorpius called the moment they were inside. ‘We’ve got a, er, emergency, she -’

Then they rounded the corner to see Miranda wasn’t the only unconscious person in there. Madam Pheasey stood in the middle of the two rows of beds, half a dozen students either already in beds or being lifted into them by panicked friends and a couple of teachers. The invalids were all pale, unconscious, and most of them also with blood spattered down their fronts.

When Madam Pheasey looked at the three of them, her eyes shone with dull dread - and not a jot of surprise. ‘Get her into a bed.’

‘Madam Pheasey, what’s -’

She pointed to an empty bed from her left, her tone flat, emotionless, and utterly professional. ‘Do I look like I have time to explain, Mister Malfoy? Get her into a bed. And I’ll see to her just as soon as I’ve seen to everyone else.’

All they could do was as they were told, to move to one of the beds and lay Miranda down awkwardly in it, and Scorpius found himself dithering in uncertainty until Albus was at his side, grabbing him by the elbow and dragging him back over to Madam Pheasey. ‘What can we do to help?’

So then they were fetching and carrying, bringing soothing salves across to the the beds, blood replenishing potions to have on standby, and anything else they could do to as Madam Pheasey went from bed to bed, casting her diagnostic spells, and looking more and more troubled even as she said nothing.

Within ten minutes the majority of those still upright had greatly diminished as another three unconscious students were brought in - Saxby of Ravenclaw amongst them. Madam Pheasey dismissed the able-bodied students who were no use to her - too young, too distressed - and rounded up the rest to help.

After ten minutes, the first of these complained of light-headedness and nausea, and was instructed to sit down.

They grew only paler over the subsequent five minutes until Professor Stubbs appeared.

‘Eleven students, Headmaster,’ said Madam Pheasey as Stubbs walked in, clearly past caring about worrying the children still present. ‘And that’s just over half an hour.’

Thaddeus Stubbs, Headmaster of Hogwarts, normally wore a look of confident disinterest. Nothing seemed to faze him, from hijinks in the corridors to Ministerial meddling; he bore it all with a stout gruffness and bull-headed determination, an air of being so above it all as to be untouchable. He’d even worn that mask mostly successfully that morning, to Scorpius’ eye, when he’d been told about the goings-on down at the Forbidden Forest, which now might as well have been a thousand years ago.

This was the first time Scorpius had seen him worried.

‘What are the symptoms?’ he asked, going to Madam Pheasey and following her like a lost dog as she went from bed to bed.

‘It begins with light-headedness and nausea, which will be followed by the patient feeling cold and beginning to perspire. Shortly after they’re losing consciousness; some are vomiting blood beforehand, though so far not in quantities to make me worried about the blood loss, as a small mercy, and I don’t have a case that’s advanced in symptoms since then.’

‘Is this serious? Is this magical? Is there anything you can do about this?’

‘I don’t know, I don’t know, and I don’t know.’ Madam Pheasey looked up from where she had been bent over Saxby to give the Headmaster a worried look. ‘All I can do is get to work, Headmaster.’

Stubbs tugged at his whiskers. ‘I’m going to get on the Floo to Saint Mungo’s and the Ministry -’

Madam Pheasey started, before anyone could blink she had moved to position herself between Stubbs and the door. ‘With respect, Headmaster, you’re not.’

‘I’m not?’

‘I don’t know what’s going on yet, truly - but this is very likely a contagion, Headmaster, and I have yet to isolate how it’s spreading. Until I can identify that, sharing air along a Floo line, even sending out paper that’s been handled by someone who’s been potentially exposed, all have the risk of taking this illness beyond Hogwarts’ walls. Hogwarts is an isolated place. It should remain so until we know anything more.’

Stubbs’ jaw dropped, and he worked it wordlessly for several seconds, before clearing his throat. ‘I already sent a letter to the Ministry this morning, Madam Pheasey - it’s too late to -’

‘It most certainly is not. If this is serious, we cannot risk spreading this rather rapidly developing illness even further.’

Stubbs folded his arms across his chest. ‘And how am I supposed to tell the outside world that something’s going on at Hogwarts; how am I supposed to tell the outside world that we need help and that we need them, until we know more, to stay away?’

Silence fell upon those still on their feet in the Infirmary, all of whom were staring at the exchange. Even Pheasey didn’t have an answer, though she still wore a look of gimlet determination, clearly not budging.

Then Scorpius found his voice, and inspiration, and cleared his throat. ‘...what about a portrait, Headmaster? There’s a Headmistress Lillyvick in your office, and there’s one in Saint Mungo’s...’

Stubbs turned, looking as if he’d forgotten anyone else was there, and snapped his jaw shut. ‘Good idea, Malfoy.’

Scorpius hurried to fall into step beside him on the way to the door. ‘Headmaster, do you think this has anything to do with what happened out in the Forest?’

‘I don’t know, Malfoy, but now’s not the time to -’

‘I mean, it’s recent, and who knows what the people out there were -’

‘Malfoy!’ Stubbs growled, glaring at him out of the corner of his eye. ‘I don’t know. I don’t have answers. Stop with the wild conjecture, and just make yourself useful. One step at a time.’

Then he swept through the doors, leaving a rather lost Scorpius Malfoy to watch the Headmaster step around the two well-built Quidditch players who came in, dragging a third, familiar shape between them. Under the circumstances, even Scorpius couldn’t drum up satisfaction at the sight of Hector Flynn slumped and barely conscious.

And he certainly couldn’t drum up any satisfaction as he saw Rose following in her boyfriend’s wake, almost as pale as he was.

Scorpius side-stepped the procession of Quidditch players and was at her side quickly, hand coming to her elbow before he could stop himself. ‘You’re not feeling light-headed, nauseous, are you?’ he said, eyes running across her face.

She frowned. ‘I’m fine,’ she said, so hotly he had to believe her. ‘It’s Hector; he fell off his broom, Malfoy...’

Rose stepped past him, going to follow the Hufflepuff Quidditch players as they got their captain to join the ranks lining the beds, and before Scorpius could move after her, apologise, explain, or even help, there were more students coming in through the doors, pushing in between them, some of them being dragged by friends and most of them looking far, far worse than Rose had.

Whatever was happening, it was happening quickly.


* *


It was shortly before what would normally be dinner time that the message went out to all corners of the school for everyone - everyone who could, that was - to make their way to the Great Hall. This was almost six hours since the first student had been admitted to the Infirmary, and in that time, according to Madam Pheasey, a full third of Hogwarts had begun to show symptoms.

The Infirmary was becoming overrun. At first, any sickly student who was still conscious was sent instead to their dorm room to rest; while Madam Pheasey still voiced her concerns about contamination, there was obviously little point in trying to isolate the sick when they came from all Houses, all years. Whatever the illness was, it was in the school now, and all the unafflicted could do was hope.

But within another hour, unconsciousness alone qualifying a student for a bed in the infirmary was pushing matters; someone suggested converting the Great Hall, but the Matron insisted that, too, would likely be overrun at the current rate. All they could do was keep only the illest, the ones who needed close attention, in the Infirmary. Everyone else had to be put up in their dormitories to rest. Teachers and prefects were rounded up to supervise and do what they could to tend to them.

Which, considering Madam Pheasey herself had failed to so much as put a dent in any symptoms yet or develop a sophisticated diagnosis, was very little more than keep an eye on the ill. Scorpius himself had stayed in the Infirmary, refusing to be kicked out by Madam Pheasey even when Albus and Rose had left to conduct their prefect duties. Miranda was amongst those still in the Infirmary, amongst the students where blood loss remained a serious concern, and he couldn’t help but linger.

Still, when the summons came to the Great Hall, Madam Pheasey sent him packing along with every other helper.

Scorpius had never seen so few numbers gathered for any kind of announcement in there, with barely more than half the student body in attendance, others all incapacitated or still remaining at bedsides. Not all prefects had been kept behind, though, as Scorpius could see Albus at the Slytherin table, and went to join him. Neither one of them said a word.

Up at the front, there were several notable faces missing from the staff. Obviously Madam Pheasey remained in the Infirmary. Stubbs was there, as was a pale-faced Lockett and others. Professor Sprout was probably still supervising in Hufflepuff House, but Scorpius knew that Tully’s absence was not because his Head of House was in the dungeons, but he, too, had been taken ill.

Even if this situation had only been going on for six hours, Professor Stubbs looked as if he’d aged about ten years. He stood at the Headmaster’s podium with little of his usual forthright strength, simply waited there with his hands on the plinth and stared at them all until what little mumbling there was grew silent.

‘You must all know what has been going on here.’ He spoke quietly, his voice a rough grumble, but it still echoed across the Hall. ‘Hogwarts has been struck by a terrible affliction we still don’t understand. I shan’t sugar-coat the situation for you: We know very little of what is going on.

‘What we do know is that this illness is striking quick and hard. You all know what symptoms to look out for - do so. Don’t be stubborn, or ignorant. If you see the signs in yourself or in your friends, rest immediately or make them rest. Don’t accept excuses. Don’t make excuses. If it’s bad, get to the Infirmary. Otherwise, get to your dorm rooms and make sure a prefect or a teacher knows. I need everyone to look out for one another, so nobody is left alone, nobody is unattended. After this meeting, everyone is to return to their common rooms, and a teacher will be there to make sure everyone is accounted for.

‘Madam Pheasey is working hard to combat this illness. She has been able to make the afflicted comfortable and keep them stable. Nobody is in any danger of serious harm.’ Stubbs gave a smile which didn’t reach his eyes, and while Scorpius didn’t think the Headmaster was lying, he heard the unspoken “or death” in his word, along with the ominous “yet”.

‘She does believe this is magical in nature; which is good, because Hogwarts has a bit of experience at dealing with magic. She also believes that even those not suffering from this illness have still been exposed to it and so are potential carriers. I have been in communication with the Ministry, and they are fully aware of the situation.’

Stubbs looked down, clearly dreading what he was about to say. ‘By Ministerial edict, Hogwarts is under quarantine. Nobody is to leave the grounds, and no witch or wizard is to approach. Until we better understand the nature of this affliction, we are not to communicate with the outside world by Floo or by letter.’

A hubbub broke out at this, worried and panicked mutterings, especially from the younger students - and with a pang, Scorpius realised that for many of them this was their first week at Hogwarts, ever. For some, it would be their very first exposure to the magical world.

He didn’t envy them.

Stubbs lifted a hand, but they did not quieten; he cleared his throat and took a deep breath. ‘Silence.’

Silence did, indeed, fall, and the wide, terrified eyes of the students of Hogwarts turned on their weary Headmaster, who didn’t look as if he had many answers for them. ‘We still have methods of communicating with the outside world,’ he continued, though this was little comfort. ‘And Madam Pheasey is ensuring the best minds of the wizarding world are furnished with her findings. Every resource the Ministry, every resource magical Britain, has to hand will be focused on bringing this problem to an end. Have no doubt - this shall not last.’

Scorpius did doubt, at least, that Stubbs could know such a thing, but he had to respect that the Headmaster was rather good at making it sound like he certainly believed it.

‘And you are, right now, in one of the best possible places. We may be at risk, but we are in a good position to answer that risk. We have some of the best minds and best resources here to hand or easily contacted. We have the facilities to keep the sick stable and comfortable while we bring this situation to an end. If anything can be done, then it is here, at Hogwarts, where it shall be done.

‘I encourage all of you before me, those still hale and hearty, to be patient, and to be calm. Classes are of course suspended until further notice; I encourage you all to do your part to support Madam Pheasey and the staff in keeping the situation under control.’

Scorpius scowled. ‘In what world does he think we have this “under control”?’ he muttered, and got a sharp elbow in the ribs from Albus for his troubles.

‘Do not fall to panic. Follow the instructions of your teachers and your prefects; they are, now more than ever, here for your continued safety. Do not wander the school alone; stay with a friend, and be mindful of your health and theirs. Nobody is helped by you soldiering on if you feel ill, but refuse to admit it.’

Idly Scorpius wondered if Stubbs was taking his own advice, from how pale and worn he looked.

‘As soon as we know anything, so will you all. But stay safe, stay calm, and we will get through this all. Thank you for your time. Please follow your prefects and assigned teachers back to your common rooms.’

The students began to file out, but they had been in some disarray to start, and as the Houses clumped together at the big doors, Scorpius found himself not next to Albus - who had moved to the front, as one of the few Slytherin prefects on his feet - but with the lofty form of Methuselah Jones by his side.

‘Serious issue, Malfoy,’ Jones hissed down at him, as if he thought this was discreet.

Scorpius blinked up. ‘Yeah, Jones. Plague. I know.’

‘No.’ Jones shook his head. ‘You mistake me. These circumstances. Not random. Deliberate infection. No natural magical illnesses match any of these symptoms -’

‘Do any unnatural magical illnesses match?’

‘No. But could be made. Created. Requires significant investment of magical power - the like of which was witnessed last night in the Forbidden Forest.’

Scorpius winced. On the one hand, he didn’t strictly disagree with Jones’ hypothesis - the timing was really too unfortunate for any other conclusions to be reached, though he appreciated the fact that Hogwarts was too busy reeling and trying to minimise damage to go out and stage an investigation. And Jones was highly-strung enough to leap to all sorts of conclusions, he suspected.

‘Perhaps, but have you gone and told the Headmaster about this?’

‘I have,’ said Jones, bobbing his head. ‘As have you - what you witnessed last night. He expresses something will be done. But they have lives to save. People to care for. Not expeditions to send out to the Forest. And they should.’

Another wince. ‘I really don’t know what I saw last night, Jones.’

‘You could tell me. I could research it, or you could show me the location. We are in the way so long as we are of limited aid to Madam Pheasey or unafflicted. In this, we could contribute. Help.’

Scorpius opened his mouth, even if he didn’t know what he was going to say. He couldn’t disagree with Jones’ logic, nor could he deny that he wanted to do something, and fetching and carrying for Madam Pheasey seemed quite pointless - or at least, something anyone could do. His doubt remained with one instinct howling at him from his bones: Albus would tell him not to.

But before he could respond there was a quick shout from Professor Bagnet, Head of Ravenclaw, from the front of the columns. They had lingered too long outside of the doors from the Great Hall, and most of the students were going their separate ways, being funnelled off to their separate houses.

‘Talk later, Malfoy, Jones. Get with your Houses.’

Scorpius gave Bagnet a nod, and shrugged at Jones. ‘Look, it’s a good idea. But we’re just students. Professor Stubbs has to have a plan.’ He didn’t wait for a response before turning his back on the taller student and heading for his housemates.

He trotted up to the front of the Slytherin column, next to Albus. Linwood had been taken ill and was up in the dorm room; with Miranda, Hollis, and Bellamy also afflicted that had almost halved their year. ‘Stubbs didn’t look well,’ he muttered.

‘He’s got a lot of his mind.’

‘Do you think he’s ill?’

Albus scowled. ‘Of course not.’

‘Why not? This looks like it could happen to anyone. It happened to Tully; he looked a state when he was brought into the Infirmary.’ Scorpius was speaking quickly, even as he tried to keep his voice low so he wouldn’t be overheard by the first and second-years. Nerves made words tumble past his lips, wise or otherwise. ‘What’re we going to do if Madam Pheasey falls ill?’

‘She’s not the only person in the school with healing training -’

‘What do we do when they fall ill?’ Scorpius’ brow furrowed. ‘What do we do if everyone falls ill?’

‘Scorp!’ A few younger Slytherins looked in their direction, startled, and Albus dropped his voice. ‘You’re panicking. Stop it.’

‘Stop it? Gee, Al, I never thought of that tactic before -’

‘It’s not helping. Pull yourself together, mate, we’ve got to stand firm on this one.’

Scorpius kicked at the steps as they went down them. ‘This has to have something to do with last night.’

Albus blinked, as if their foray into the Forbidden Forest had flown completely from his mind. ‘Is that what Jones wanted?’

‘Come on, mate - weird things going on in the Forest, the very next day a mysterious illness strikes Hogwarts? That can’t just be a coincidence.’

‘It might be.’

‘We should talk to Stubbs about it.’

Albus looked at him. ‘Did you tell him everything you saw?’

‘Yeah, but -’

‘Then he knows all you know, and everything Pheasey knows, and anything Hagrid or anyone who went looking for us knows. He’ll have told the Ministry. They’ll be on it. They’re not stupid, Scorpius. They don’t need us for this.’

‘So the one thing I’m trying to be assertive on, they don’t need me for; what they do need me for is to just be a well-behaved, silent, out-of-the-way student.’

‘I know, it sounds really hard for you.’

But Albus gave a wan smile, and Scorpius couldn’t help but smirk back, too. It was a bad joke - but exactly because it wasn’t the time for jokes, it helped.

Scorpius had a feeling they were going to need all the help they could get.


* *


The sun shone down on Hogwarts the next morning, just to be as contrary as possible. Scorpius woke up early to the sound of Oakes coughing and sputtering himself awake, pale as a sheet and slick with sweat, and all he could do was try to feed him one of the potions Madam Pheasey had sent out to each dormitory, something she said could fight the symptoms but which Scorpius suspected just kept the afflicted asleep.

That left just him and Albus as the only unafflicted Slytherin sixth year boys, and there was no sign of Albus. A scribbled note left on his bed explained it, and made Scorpius’ gut twist into knots any boy scout would be proud of.

It just said ‘Lily’s ill. At Infirmary.’ No more explanation was necessary, really.

Scorpius took a shift watching over the ill, two hours without breakfast, wandering between the dormitories. It was more boring than anything else; the sickly were all weary, most of them sleeping from the affliction or Madam Pheasey’s potions. Those who were conscious didn’t make great conversationalists, but he was Scorpius Malfoy, and if nothing else could usually find something to say to make people either smile or roll their eyes at him.

But he knew people enjoyed rolling their eyes at him, and that was what counted. If a student was healthy but not taking on a shift or helping a teacher, right then, there wasn’t much they could do.

Still, Scorpius couldn’t shake Methuselah Jones’ suggestion from the previous night from his thoughts, though going off on his own seemed like a really dumb idea. So he decided to head for the Infirmary when his shift was over - if he couldn’t help down in the dreary Slytherin dungeons, maybe he could help Albus. If only a little.

The last time he’d been in the Infirmary, it had been a mess of fuss and bother and panic, a dozen people on their feet racing from bed to bed at the instructions of Madam Pheasey and all non-stop action. Now there was panic, still - but little action. Every bed was filled up, only two or three prefects were on their feet going between the afflicted and, in the centre of it all, stood a wild-haired Rose Weasley.

She was surrounded by levitating pieces of parchment, all unrolling before her eyes as she flicked her wand to dismiss them, or make notes on them. Several rolled up at her feet when they were done, but others formed themselves into paper planes and shot off, perhaps to just the other side of the Infirmary where they were received by a prefect or simply attached themselves to the foot of a bed, or off, through the doors into the depths of Hogwarts.

Scorpius ducked as one swished overhead, then paused, transfixed by the most frantic display of organisation he’d ever seen. There was no sign of Albus, but also - he noted with a mixture of relief and concern as his eyes swept down the rows of beds - no sign of Lily. Miranda was still there, he couldn’t help but note - but Flynn was not, likely having been discharged to Hufflepuff House.

‘Can I help you, Malfoy?’

Rose’s tone was as cold as ever, and Scorpius winced as he straightened. ‘Not meaning to interrupt, Weasley. You’re looking really busy -’

‘I am - what do you want?’

‘I was looking for Albus. And, you know, Lily. Is she okay?’

‘In so far as one can be “okay” while they’re afflicted - she’s not as bad as we thought.’ Rose’s shoulders slumped, and Scorpius realised she’d been stood ramrod straight. It didn’t look like she’d relaxed one iota in hours. ‘We had her taken back down to Gryffindor House; Al’s with her.’

Scorpius shoved his hands in his pockets. ‘Are you all right?’

‘I’m busy; since Diarmuid fell ill I’ve had to run things here, and I haven’t even had a chance to go and see Hector, and...’ Rose stopped as a paper plane came swishing in. It floundered in the air before Scorpius caught it, and she snatched it from his hand to unrolled it with a flick of the wrist. ‘Oh, bugger.’

‘Bugger?’

Bagnet’s ill; he’s being put up in the Ravenclaw common room, but that’s another teacher...’

Scorpius looked around the Infirmary. ‘Where’s Madam Pheasey?’

Rose jerked her wand towards a curtained section at the far end. ‘Oh, back there, where she’s been since three in the morning when she collapsed. Professor Stubbs was brought in about two hours later, as was Sprout...’

Scorpius’ jaw dropped. ‘The Headmaster’s out. The Matron’s out. The Deputy’s out. All of the Heads of Houses are now out. Who the hell is left from the staff?’

‘I don’t know, Malfoy!’ Her voice went one pitch higher and Rose actually stomped her foot. The few prefects in the room - and they were all fifth years, Scorpius noted, all young and new to the job and suddenly enlisted as authority figures in a school which had just gone to hell in a handbasket - looked nervously in her direction, but didn’t pause in their work.

He suspected they didn’t dare stop. If they stopped, they had to figure out how to start again.

‘I’ve been in here since Diarmuid sent word for me at three in the morning and he didn’t last until eight and I’ve not had a chance to stop; I only know what people tell me and there are fewer and fewer reports coming in from every house and I haven’t even been able to go and see my boyfriend today -’

Scorpius lifted his hands at the onslaught. ‘Okay! Okay, I was just asking -’

‘And I don’t need you, of all people, coming down here and demanding answers and -’

‘Okay! Weasley! Stop! I’m sorry!’

It was the first time he’d ever apologised to her, for anything, and Scorpius was keenly aware that it wasn’t his fault, that it wasn’t actually him she was even angry with. For some reason that made it easier - but she barely seemed to notice, just turned her back on him and went back to her notes.

‘If you want to make yourself useful, Malfoy, find me a teacher who’s still conscious.’

The rest of the prefects were staring at him desperately, clearly bidding him to leave so their leader-by-default could recover her composure and keep on telling them what to do. Because that was what it all boiled down to. Finding someone who could tell them what to do.

He suspected that Rose’s instruction had been rhetorical, but she had a point. If Stubbs had taken ill, along with Madam Pheasey, Tully, and the rest of the Heads of House, Hogwarts was in serious danger of having lost not just its expertise, but anything resembling a chain of command. Someone had to be found, and someone was going to have to make the tough decisions.

Or just hold their hands while everything burned around them.

The corridors were more or less empty; the only people Scorpius passed were on their way between common rooms and the Infirmary, or the few prefects who could be spared for patrols, which he suspected they conducted just so they had something to do which they could pretend helped. With the teachers succumbing and most of the students, too, these were probably also self-appointed duties.

It was bizarre what people would choose to cling to at the end of the world. Scorpius was prepared to make an effort to pitch in, but if he wanted to find something familiar and reassuring in a time of crisis, he didn’t think it would be scheduled patrol duties.

He was going to be much more assertive than that.

Finding a teacher would prove a long and weary process. After he was done checking the private rooms and was left with only a scant handful of candidates who could possibly be on their feet, he figured he’d check the staff room before he went from common room to common room to at least confirm which teachers were out of action.

But checking the teachers’ private rooms took the better part of an hour, and by the time he was done he could count on one hand the teachers who were unaccounted for - and not a single one he’d found so far was even remotely on their feet. He was dreading the staff room; he would need a password to get in, and if a teacher had wandered in and fallen ill there, he wouldn’t know, couldn’t know.

He hoped they wouldn’t be that dumb. But Scorpius had been outwitting teachers for years, and so didn’t consider them to be especially bright.

But he rapped on the door to the staff room anyway, and waited a full minute of silence before he rapped on the door again, this time pressing his ear against the wood while he waited for any indication of life from within.

Not that an unconscious teacher sprawled on a sofa inside was going to make much of a noise.

He was just about to give up, and turned away to pad back down the stairs, when there was a creak of wood from the door, and then it was opened half an inch to show a sliver of a pale face and one worried eye. ‘Malfoy?’

It was Lockett, and Scorpius stared in astonishment. ‘Professor?’

‘What do you want?’

He gaped, working his jaw wordlessly for several long seconds. ‘What do I... Professor, everything’s going to hell out here -’

‘Go find Professor Stubbs.’

‘Professor Stubbs is ill!’ Scorpius waved his hands in the air. ‘So’s Pheasey, Tully, Sprout, Bagnet, Hidgen, and - and just about everyone! I’ve not even seen Hagrid about! Rose Weasley is running the Infirmary and I don’t think there’s a single common room which has better than a prefect running supervision of the sick!’

Professor Lockett hesitated - but then she stepped back to open the door to the staff room. He had worried, for a moment, that her paleness was a sign of illness, but she just looked tired, and seemed steady enough on her feet.

So he couldn’t help but narrow his eyes at her. ‘What were you doing in there?’

She opened and closed her mouth, gesturing to a pile of books on the coffee table in the staff room. ‘I was - I was reading, and...’

Scorpius’ jaw dropped, and tried to not think about the half-empty bottle next to the books. ‘You were hiding!’

Lockett straightened up, finally indignant. ‘I was not -’

‘You were! Everything’s going to shit and you locked yourself up in the staff room where nobody could get to you with a bunch of books and some bloody Firewhiskey!’

‘I was trying to find some sort of solution -’

‘We don’t need a solution right now!’ snapped Scorpius. ‘All right, maybe we do, but you know what we need more? We need someone to take charge. It looks like a good two thirds of Hogwarts are out of action and the only people doing anything are for the most part under age and certainly not qualified!’ He stabbed a finger back down the stairs. ‘You need to get out there, Professor, and go to the Infirmary, to the common rooms, and let them know that the entire staff aren’t out of action and that a bunch of schoolkids aren’t on their own!’

He didn’t know where the indignation came from. Scorpius didn’t do righteous indignation; it took a lot before someone could stoop so low as to affront him, and a good part of him wasn’t angry with Lockett, it agreed with her. Hiding away from the woes of the world was an incredibly tempting prospect, and a small voice in his head suggested he could just hide away in the staff room with her.

Then another voice came, quieter and more bitter and prone to speaking up when it was least appropriate, least helpful. That voice pointed out that she was supposed to be responsible and was refusing to be; that people were counting on her to be the grown up, the responsible one, the caring one, and she wasn’t -

Scorpius clamped his jaw shut to stop himself from saying anything more, but Lockett was just staring at him, abashed and frozen on the spot. So he threw his hands in the air. ‘Fine. You know what? Stay in there. Hide. Let Rose Weasley crown herself the panicking Queen of Hogwarts and I’ll be the court bloody jester and everything can go to hell in a handbasket.’

Without waiting for a reply he turned on his heel, stomping down the stairs. If Lockett said or did anything, he was away too quickly to witness it, and soon Scorpius was striding along the corridors, hands shoved sulkily into his pockets.

He wondered if he should report back to Rose - but the news that the only teacher he’d been able to find had been hiding and refusing to take action (and was possibly drunk) wasn’t news he fancied passing on to anyone, let alone a highly strung Rose Weasley. The truth wouldn’t be doing her any favours under the circumstances, even if she’d find out eventually. She needed good news. They all did.

Or, at least, they needed answers.

Scorpius frowned as he reached the top of a stairway down, hands still shoved in his pockets. He’d been trying to ignore this idea all morning, since he’d got up to find a sickly Oates, since he’d read the message from Albus. It had rattled through his head all night, even pestering him in his sleep, and the revelations of the morning, of a sick Stubbs and Pheasey, weren’t helping it rest.

With a sigh, he turned and headed towards Ravenclaw Tower.

He’d been there before - students cared a lot less about visiting the common rooms of other houses than they reportedly had in his parents’ days at school, when such an idea had been near-sacrilegious. To his knowledge, his father had never stepped foot in a common room which wasn’t Slytherin’s. But one didn’t do so uninvited, and one certainly didn’t do so without an escort. If nothing else, it was a pointless endeavour when three out of the four Houses required passwords for access.

Scorpius would have preferred trying to guess a password, out of the near-infinite options, than contend with the threshold to Ravenclaw Tower.

He’d never paid much attention to the riddles before. That had been for his Ravenclaw associates to deal with, even if they’d taken their time pondering a bit before figuring it out. But they’d always got there in the end. So he’d just occupied himself with talking to anyone else they were with, or whatever distracting thought was passing through his head, and had never stopped to so much as listen to what the door had to say to him.

He frowned at the eagle-shaped door-knocker. ‘Look, you,’ Scorpius growled. ‘I’m not a Ravenclaw. This is an emergency. You’re going to bloody well let me -’

Then the door-knocker shifted before him, as he’d seen it do before, and the gold mouth of the eagle opened. From it emanated that awful monotone he’d always been able to block out, and now he had to concentrate to pay attention.

A cat has three kittens,’ it intoned in a voice so dull Scorpius thought he might fall asleep instantly. ‘Their names are January, February, and March. What is the mother’s name.

Scorpius’ jaw dropped. I don’t fucking know, he wanted to snap, but knew it wouldn’t help, and so just stood there, sputtering for several long seconds - and then even longer as his mind went utterly blank, and when he fought to, at last, find his voice, all he could say was a whispered, strangled, frustrated, ‘What?’

Correct.’ The door-knocker stilled, and then the door swung open, showing him the winding stairs up to Ravenclaw Tower, but Scorpius just stood there, jaw still dropped, staring into space.

Again he sputtered. ‘What?!’ When the door-knocker wasn’t forthcoming, he grabbed it. ‘What does that even mean? Was “what” the answer? How does that make any sense you stupid inanimate piece of crap?’

But then, several long seconds after it had opened, the door began to swing shut again. Scorpius had seen this happen, access only granted for a short period of time and large parties had to dash through the doorway, so he slid in, bewilderment left behind despite the boiling frustration in his gut, and he looked up the stairs to the Ravenclaw common room.

At the top he found a sight not so dissimilar to the desolace he’d left Slytherin common room in. The prefects, or those assertive enough to take something resembling charge, were left helplessly checking the dorms and likely finding themselves with absolutely nothing to do. Everyone else was milling together, and much to Scorpius’ surprise, even the scions of Ravenclaw weren’t distracting themselves by reading, or playing chess, or discussing deep philosophical matters. They were just clumped in the seats in the middle, muttering to one another about nothing in particular.

Except for one of them. He was silent, and he was reading, sat on his own in a corner, as if he didn’t have a care in the world other than how quickly he could make it through his copy of International Cauldron Standards, and Scorpius had to reflect that the world would actually end before he himself would bother reading such a thing.

But it wasn’t so odd that Methuselah Jones might find such a book captivating, or that he’d be able to read it in the middle of a crisis, but it did make him stand out - which was just as well, for he was, indeed, Scorpius’ target.

None of the Ravenclaws gave him much attention, even as a Slytherin in their common room - such oddities were beyond their interest. But Jones didn’t so much as glance at Scorpius, not even when he crossed the common room to sit opposite him, not even when he cleared his throat pointedly. It was only when he reached out to tug down the top of the book that Jones looked up, eyebrow quirked with indignation.

‘Malfoy. You best be -’

‘It’s just a sodding book, Jones, it won’t combust if you don’t read it for five seconds.’ Scorpius scowled and took a deep breath, meeting the other boy’s gaze. ‘You know what you were suggesting last night? About going out there to find that spot in the Forest? I’m in.’


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