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Ignite by Slide
Chapter 9 : Out of the Frying Pan
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 10

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Albus shoved his hands into his pockets as he wandered into the Infirmary to see, to his surprise, only one person left on their feet. ‘...Rose?’

She stood in the middle of the rows of beds, still going through rolls of parchments which shot before her eyes and were deposited into piles - but there were, he noted, no new ones coming in, and fewer overall than there’d been in the middle of the night when students and teachers had still been sending in updates from the dormitories.

Now there were no fresh reports. No updates. No more parchment. And still she was reading the backlog.

‘I’m busy, Al -’

‘I just came from Gryffindor Tower,’ he said, voice a little shaky, and padded over to her. ‘Matthias has taken ill. I just put him to bed.’

It was like someone had put the brakes on her, so suddenly did she let the parchment fall from the air to the floor, so suddenly did she lower her wand. The tension in her face faded, and she brought the back of her hand to her mouth. ‘Matty...’

‘He’s all right,’ said Albus quickly, not knowing what constituted “all right” under these circumstances. ‘He wasn’t too bad, I mean. Just... getting worse. Nauseous. Light-headed. He was a bit stubborn, but I thought it was best he get some rest instead of soldiering on.’

Rose turned away, in the direction of Madam Pheasey’s curtained-off bed, and Albus could see her swatting at her eyes as if he wouldn’t notice. When she turned back she looked pale, her voice watery. ‘Who’s - who’s watching down in Gryffindor Tower?’

Albus winced. ‘Nobody. They’re all - I’ve not done a complete head-count, but nobody was up when I was left, and the beds were pretty full. Look, are you all right, you don’t look so -’

‘I’m not ill,’ she said. ‘But everyone else is, all of the prefects are, Matty was the only one still sending up reports, I’ve not heard anything from Ravenclaw Tower in about two hours, but I can’t - I don’t know if I can leave them alone here -’

Albus looked around the Infirmary. ‘They’re just sleeping.’

‘They are, but there are subtle changes in their symptoms, their temperature, all the time, and I’m trying to - I’m recording it all so we have something to send to Saint Mungo’s as soon as we know what we can and can’t say to the outside world, and how...’ She waved a frantic hand at a quill scribbling on parchment on Madam Pheasey’s desk all by itself.

‘Rose! Rose.’ He crossed the distance to put a hand at her elbow, stop her frenetic gestures. ‘Once the initial symptoms pass, they’re just sleeping. That’s been the case for everyone, maybe they’re hit badly at first but then they just sleep, we can leave them unattended, nobody’s attending on Gryffindor House right now...’ Nobody, he suspected, was looking in on Ravenclaw, Hufflepuff, or Slytherin, either, if the state of emptiness of the corridors was anything to go by. ‘Take a deep breath.’

‘And, what, relax?’ She turned, stricken. ‘I can’t relax, somebody needs to keep an eye on things, it’s been hours since I’ve heard from any of the teachers, God knows where Hugo is, I’ve not had a chance to go down and see Hector, and now Matty is ill, and every single second I’m in here and I feel tired, or hungry, or the sun seems a little bit too bright out there I think it’s me coming down with it too, and I can’t afford to -’

For one horrible moment he thought she was going to cry, and despite all of Albus’ calm and considerate nature, he didn’t know what to do about that; he hadn’t seen Rose cry since they were little. Perhaps she would have, too, if the doors to the Infirmary hadn’t slammed open for two figures to stride in, and Albus’ first, unkind thought was that his best friend was the last person to help in this situation.

It just got worse when he saw Scorpius had the unconscious bundle of Hugo Weasley in his arms.

‘We got - he was vomiting blood,’ said Scorpius in a rush, pale and wild-eyed and wild-haired, and the lanky form of Methuselah Jones stepped up beside him and just nodded frantically as if they needed his affirmation.

Rose turned, and Albus wondered if this would all be too much for her - but then she blinked, her gaze sharpened, and with a flick of the wand she sent one of the beds rolling out and over to Scorpius for him to put her brother down on it carefully. ‘When? How long ago?’

‘Er... Twenty minutes? Yeah, about that, we got here as fast as we could,’ said Scorpius, though Rose was clearly only half listening as she grabbed a handful of potions and went to her brother’s side, checking him over with what was already practiced professionalism.

Albus frowned. ‘Where were you that it took twenty minutes to get here?’ He looked them up and down. ‘You’re all covered in mud.’

‘Um,’ said Scorpius, at the same time as Methuselah guilelessly declared, ‘the Forbidden Forest.’

That did get Rose’s attention, her gaze snapping up from her brother, eyes wide and brow furrowed. ‘What? What were you doing in the Forbidden Forest?’ She paused. ‘What were you doing with my little brother in the Forbidden Forest?’

Scorpius flapped his jaw wordlessly, and Methuselah seemed to see fit to help out. ‘Looking for answers,’ he said, though his own gaze was a bit unfocused. ‘We found Dementors.’

Rose’s eyes flashed - Albus could only note, with sinking gloom, that she was looking a lot healthier all of a sudden - and, even though it was Methuselah who’d spoken, she darted around the bed to advance on Scorpius. ‘You went on some mad-cap hunt for imagined answers into the Forbidden Forest, just the three of you, with my brother and you found Dementors?’

‘We didn’t go looking for Dementors!’ said Scorpius, at last finding coherent words. ‘We went looking for that spot out in the woods we found the other night, you know, the place crazy people were doing some sort of ritual and now everything’s going to hell?’

‘The Dementors were there,’ Methuselah supplied helpfully, he, too, backing off in the face of Rose’s fury.

‘And you thought that was still a perfectly fine place to take a fourteen year-old boy?’ Rose shouted, throwing an angry hand at her unconscious brother.

‘Look, he was fine until he got ill, and that was just as we were leaving - he was better than fine, he bloody well saved us -’

‘You needed saving.’ It wasn’t a question, and Rose’s voice was now not loud but low, dangerously low, and Albus found all of a sudden he didn’t know how to deal with this new, unpleasant vista of his cousin’s rage and upset. ‘You went stumbling into something you weren’t at all prepared to deal with, telling nobody where you were, with my little brother. And now you only think it’s just the illness hitting him - as if that wasn’t bad enough.’

Finally Albus stepped forward, lifting his hands. ‘I don’t think now’s the time to throw blame around -’

Rose’s eyes snapped to him, flashing with an anger rarely turned on him - then she wheeled around to return to Hugo’s side. ‘No, no. Now’s the time for you to all leave while I can get back to being the one doing the only passable impression of a responsible adult.’

It occurred to Albus that having a blazing row in the middle of the Infirmary was not the height of mature behaviour in a crisis situation, but he didn’t think pointing that out would help. Scorpius looked stricken, clearly stuck between knowing when to withdraw and being angry or tired enough to be stubborn, and so he stepped forward, grabbing both Scorpius and Methuselah by the elbows.

‘We’ll go,’ he said, steering them both to the door. ‘Let me know how he is, Rose, I’ll be back in a little while.’ But Rose didn’t answer, and Albus wasn’t going to make her as he dragged Scorpius Malfoy and Methuselah Jones out of the Infirmary.

Once in the corridor, once the doors had swung shut between them, Methuselah shook off Albus’ grip and looked at Scorpius. ‘I’ll go write. Record what we saw. Use it for research.’

Scorpius’ lip curled. ‘Yeah, great, Jones, you go write it down. That’ll help,’ he sneered, but Methuselah seemed immune to the irony in his voice, and just gave an eager nod before going to lope off down the corridor, heading either for Ravenclaw Tower or the Library.

Albus turned to Scorpius, brow furrowed. ‘What did you do?’

Scorpius pulled free of his friend’s grasp. ‘Like I said. We went to take a look.’ He scowled, rubbing his temples. ‘That clearing. Only it was dark, like something in there was blocking out the sun. And then there were Dementors and, really, all I can remember is Hugo pulling me into his broom and getting us the hell out of there.’ He gave a rueful look back at the Infirmary. ‘I hope he’s all right.’

‘It really is just the illness?’

‘Mate, he was more fighting fit than either of us. Jones was bloody useless, and I was...’ Scorpius drew a deep, shuddering breath, and shook his head. ‘Well. If I never see those things again in my life, I’ll be happy. Dementors? Within a couple of miles of Hogwarts?’

Nothing going on is normal,’ said Albus glumly. ‘But Rose isn’t wrong, that was pretty dumb to go off there.’

‘And what else were we supposed to do? Tell you, so you could tell us not to go, and then we’d be none the wiser? It’s not like you’re in much of a position to conduct a rescue mission - you two are the only people we’ve even seen since we got back, and we’ve been gone for three hours.’ Scorpius bit his lip. ‘Are we the only people who’ve not come down with this illness?’

Albus hesitated. ‘I don’t know. I’ve not done a headcount -’

Then they both jumped as a voice came booming down the corridors, unnatural and unfamiliar and coming as if from the very walls themselves. It was male, deep, and rather foreboding. ‘Students and staff of Hogwarts,’ it intoned, albeit rather blandly. ‘Any still healthy and walking are summoned to the Great Hall.’

Then silence.

Scorpius swore. ‘What the hell was that?’

‘I don’t know,’ said Albus, drawing a deep breath. ‘But unless that was Jones, I guess there’s someone else out there.’

‘It was the emergency summons.’ They jumped again as the door to the Infirmary swung open, and out stepped a rather wan-faced Rose. ‘I don’t know how you activate it, only the teachers are supposed to know, but it’s not normally needed.’

‘Then let’s hope it’s a teacher,’ said Scorpius, ‘and not someone trying to get whoever’s left standing to finish us off.’

Rose just grunted and headed for the stairs, inclined to follow the summons but obviously not wanting to get into anything resembling conversation with either of them. Albus fell into step beside her and went to put a hand on her shoulder, but she shied away.

‘I’m not being negative,’ said Scorpius, who clearly didn’t cope very well with the stiff silence they walked in. ‘I’m just saying, this isn’t all an accident, someone’s up to something and this might be a trick.’

‘That is being pretty negative,’ Albus pointed out. ‘And it’s much more likely it’s one of the teachers.’ For some reason Scorpius didn’t argue with this, even if he looked unhappy, and the silence remained as they made their way down the stairs and into the Great Hall.

The Infirmary was far enough away from the Hall that anyone coming from the common rooms should have got there first. That made it likely, unless someone was out in the grounds, that they were the last people there, though Albus prayed that they weren’t as he saw only three figures stood at the dais right at the back of the huge chamber.

‘Piss,’ said Scorpius eloquently. ‘I guess that answers that, then.’

Albus couldn’t disagree with him at the staggering coincidence before them. Because if this was it - if they were the last to arrive, if nobody else was coming - then the only six people still unaffected by this mysterious ailment were the three of them, Methuselah Jones, Professor Lockett, and Selena Rourke.

Lockett didn’t look best pleased, but she waved her wand to rearrange the seats at the head table. ‘I’m beginning to worry that you’re right, Malfoy,’ she said, and sat down herself - not, Albus noted, at the headmaster’s seat, even if she was the only member of staff left walking in the entire school.

‘What?’ said Selena.

‘The six of us. The only people out in the Forbidden Forest the night before last. Or, perhaps, the only people not in Hogwarts then who are now.’ Methuselah pulled out a chair, and she sat down in it. Albus managed to not smile as he realised, from the look on Methuselah’s face, that this was a miscommunication rather than a display of chivalry.

‘And there’s something out there,’ said Scorpius firmly, slapping his palm down on the table. ‘I saw something the other night, there were people out there, and you all saw this wave of light. And now there are Dementors out there...’

Lockett frowned. ‘Dementors?’

‘Jones and Malfoy decided to take a field excursion with my little brother to pull them out of the fire,’ intoned Rose, who looked like fatigue was catching up with her. ‘They found Dementors at the site myself, Al, and Malfoy stumbled across the other night.’

‘You mean the site I went to investigate -’

‘One thing at a time.’ Lockett spoke quietly, but the five students all fell silent, looking up the table at her.

She wasn’t a big woman, she wasn’t an imposing woman, and right then she looked about as worn and scared as Albus felt, but she was a teacher, and in times of crisis anyone - especially a group of sixteen year-olds - were still going to be inclined to flock to a figure of authority to tell them what to do.

He just desperately hoped she knew what to tell them to do.

‘We can’t fuss about answering what’s going on out in the Forest until we know what’s going on here, at Hogwarts, and have the situation under control. We have several hundred people infected with what looks to be a highly-contagious magical illness. That will need curing, yes, but in the meantime, they will need caring for, and they will especially need to be kept safe if there is something wrong out in the Forest.’

Albus cleared his throat. ‘What’s the latest from the Ministry?’

‘The latest from the Ministry is that I don’t know the password to Professor Stubbs’ office,’ said Lockett with a touch of irritation. ‘And I have yet to figure out an alternate means of getting in touch with the outside world. Madam Pheasey, before she became infected, determined that this is a magical illness, and that physical contact or sharing air are enough to transmit it. So pieces of paper, opening a Floo directly from somewhere that’s been lived-in by the afflicted, maybe even just sending an owl could all lead to this illness spreading.’

‘What about us?’ said Selena, after a few moments of opening and closing her mouth worriedly. ‘I mean, if we’re not infected, can’t we just leave?’ There was a beat, and she shifted in her chair. ‘I don’t mean abandon people, I just mean physically go and tell them what’s going on. It wouldn’t even be me, it would be you, Professor, or Weasley, or Jones, someone smart...’

‘We’re still assuming that we won’t become infected,’ said Rose.

Scorpius scoffed. ‘Are you actually saying that what happened in the Forest has nothing to do with -’

‘Of course I’m not - though we should consider the possibility that it is something else - I’m saying that just because it’s got something to do with what we witnessed doesn’t mean our health couldn’t be a coincidence! Or maybe we’ll become infected in time! Or -’

‘Impossible to discern the nature of our immunity, if any exists,’ said Methuselah, turning to Selena. ‘Even if we remain uninfected we could easily be carriers, just as letters would be. Or perhaps the illness could be in us even if we are not feeling its ill-effects.’

‘Basically, we’re not leaving,’ sighed Albus.

‘Quite,’ said Lockett. ‘But we do need a way for back-and-forth contact with the Ministry now we’ve lost the paintings. However - I’d be surprised if the Ministry aren’t sitting here wondering the exact same things we are. And communication is something they have a lot more resources to bring to bear on than us. Still, think about it - think about alternative paintings, if any spring to mind, try other ideas.’

‘Chocolate Frog Cards?’ said Selena. ‘I mean, aren’t your parents all over them?’ She looked at Rose and Albus.

‘They’re cheap,’ sighed Rose. ‘And very numerous, and very stupid. It’s best to find ones with good-quality magical oils and paints, and ideally ones done by the same artist. That’s why the Lillyvick was such a good option, she called back the same artist to do her Headmistress’ portrait as the one who’d done hers for Saint Mungo’s - and the headmaster portraits are, um, special.’

‘I didn’t know that,’ mused Scorpius.

‘And here I was thinking you’d have a good idea,’ Rose muttered.

‘Not today.’

Anyway,’ said Lockett. ‘My point is that we have other things to focus on than communication. Or even than finding answers or a cure. We need to make sure everyone in Hogwarts is accounted for and taken care of. Now, the illness doesn’t seem to have particularly unpleasant symptoms after it initially hits - it just seems to keep the patients fatigued and weak - but this is still a few hundred people who are going to need feeding, who are going to need watching, who are going to need taking care of. And there are only six of us.’

‘Shifts?’ Rose wondered unhappily. ‘One in each house, on a rotation?’

‘That doesn’t leave much time for sleep,’ mused Albus.

‘I’m still thinking about it,’ said Lockett. ‘But first things first. Here’s a full class list, house by house. I want Weasley on Gryffindor, Rourke on Slytherin, Jones on Ravenclaw, and Potter on Hufflepuff - I’ve written their password at the top. Make sure that each and every person on those lists is accounted for. If you find someone from a different house in the dormitories, make a note of it, and then come back here and we’ll see if there’s anyone missing, and take it from there. I’ll make sure the staff are accounted for, but then I’ll be going through Madam Pheasey’s notes and the notes and research anyone else made so that when we know how to get in touch with the Ministry, we can give them the most up-to-date and accurate information.’

Albus reached for his roll of parchment, feeling the dour fear settling down upon them all. While now they had a better idea of what was going on instead of the frantic uncertainty of mere hours ago, that was proving to be little comfort. Uncertainty had meant it was possible that it wasn’t actually that bad.

It really, really was. And while they now had things to do, ways of keeping themselves busy, the list of responsibilities with no end in sight was looking to loom on and on.

Lockett shifted her weight. ‘I know this is a lot to take on,’ she said, faltering and clearly not very good with this kind of effort to buoy people up in a crisis. ‘I know that you were supposed to be having a lazy Sunday about now, and thinking about NEWTs and Quidditch and boys and girls. And I know you’re all only sixteen, and that all of a sudden everyone around you is horribly ill and we don’t have any answers.’

She paused, and Albus hoped she would say more, or that would have been perhaps the worst pep-talk ever. But then she cleared her throat and carried on. ‘But the best minds of the Ministry will be on this. They’ll get in touch, they’ll get us an answer. And all we have to do in the meantime is make sure our friends are all right, and take care of them. Okay?’

They all nodded mutely, but it was Rose who found the strength to break the silence, Rose who finally pushed back her chair and got to her feet. ‘I’m going to get up to Gryffindor Tower,’ she said, and looked at Albus. ‘I’ll check in on Lily for you.’

‘Thanks,’ he said, and stood as Selena and Methuselah did, pausing only as Scorpius looked up the long table at Lockett.

‘What about me, Professor?’ he said, looking rather small in his chair, and only now did Albus stop to think about how he’d come face to face with a Dementor that day and by all accounts had not come off too well.

For once, that made him uncertain. Because he knew enough about Dementors from his father to realise that a bad reaction like the one Scorpius had reportedly had didn’t just happen, and he had no idea what darkness his friend’s mind had conjured up.

Lockett hesitated. ‘You can come with me to check on the staff, Malfoy,’ she said.

Her uncertainty was clear enough, and Albus saw Scorpius wilt - then pause, as if something had struck him, and he straightened, giving one of his small, conspiratorial grins. Under the circumstances, Albus wasn’t sure if he should be worried or heartened by the sight of it.

‘No,’ said Scorpius. ‘That’s okay, Professor. I’ll make myself useful. I’ve got an idea.’

* *

When Scorpius Malfoy said “I’ve got an idea”, standard procedure was to duck and cover. That Professor Lockett had just looked suspiciously at him and told him to be on his way was an indication of how absolutely dire everything in the school was becoming.

He was trying to not think about that. Trying to not think about how Tim Warwick had been tossing and turning, sweating and barely conscious when he’d looked in on him that morning. Trying to not think about Albus, desperate in worry over his sister. Trying to not think about Hugo, pale and limp in his arms as he’d half-carried, half-dragged him through the woods, propped on his broom, then up through the school.

Trying to not think about Rose, and the look on her face. It wasn’t her anger at him that lingered, though - it was that haunted look behind the eyes, and alongside it hummed Hugo’s angry accusation outside of the forest.

Who have you got to worry about apart from yourself?

Unhelpfully, he had a long way to walk. Trooping down the stairs into the dark underbelly of Hogwarts, though at least he had to watch his footing, make sure he didn’t trip and kill himself, and that allowed him to concentrate. He’d only been here the once before, on an ill-advised venture he’d never bothered with again, and he knew what to expect. First the chill of the underground, far from the sun, far from the fires.

Then the warmth, comfortable at first but stifling once he stepped into the broad, open chambers of the Hogwarts Kitchens.

This place never slept. Anywhere which had to provide constant food for so many people didn’t have the luxury of shutting down, and even in the grips of a crisis Scorpius suspected that wouldn’t change. More to the point, he suspected nobody had told them to stop.

He was just relieved to see every House Elf bustling around the place was on their feet, hale and hearty. The nearest one stopped when he walked through the door, though, eyeing him suspiciously.

‘Students aren’t supposed to -’

‘I have permission from Professor Lockett.’ The excuse came easily, even though it wasn’t strictly a lie - though it wasn’t strictly the truth, either. Perhaps that was why it sprang off the tongue so comfortably. Scorpius was always better when obfuscating. ‘I need to talk to the foreman.’

The elf’s eyes narrowed, evidently displeased, but with the invoking of a staff member’s name he was clearly not about to disagree. He jerked a hand, turning away, and led Scorpius through the bustle of the warren of the kitchens; the many huge, stone ovens built into the wall, the steps leading down to the cool store rooms for supplies.

And then, at the far end, the little steps up to the foreman’s desk. It was elevated, of course, so everything could be keenly watched, observed. Scorpius knew that he’d have been spotted, knew that he’d been expected - and was ridiculously, inexplicably nervous.

This was a House Elf, for Merlin’s sake. Why was he fussing as if he was about to approach some implacable authority figure?

‘Foreman Harley!’ the elf who’d escorted him squeaked. ‘Got a student for you. Lockett sent him!’

‘I heard ya.’

Foreman Harley had his feet up on his desk. He wore boots, tiny boots fitted perfectly for his little House Elf form. They gleamed. As did the pocketwatch which dangled from a chain, as did the gold-rimmed spectacles that sat on his broad nose. His suit was tailor-made, little tie tightened right up to his neck, the buttons on his fitted waistcoat shining.

He sat up, expression as if this was the most long-suffering challenge of his day, and narrowed his eyes over his spectacles at Scorpius. ‘So. Mistress “I want coffee, not tea, Moroccan blend if you’ve got it” Lockett thinks she can send someone down here to tell us what to do?’

Scorpius hesitated.

It had been twenty years since House Elves had been liberated from their servitude - mostly thanks, he knew, to the exceptional work of the mother of one Rose Weasley. Since then, the laws governing the employment and rights of House Elves had come thick and fast but had been respected to various degrees, by the elves themselves as much as their employers.

His father still kept a House Elf, one whose family had served the Malfoys for an aeon. All laws were followed and upheld. By the creature’s own choice it lived in nothing more than a loincloth, slept under the stairs, and withstood the abuse of Draco Malfoy’s temper whenever anything went remotely amiss. Some things only time could change.

So he wasn’t accustomed to the breed of House Elf who had accepted and embraced the new laws, the new rights. He never had to deal with them - even at Hogwarts they maintained a policy of moving around unseen, though he had no idea how that interacted with the new respect and wages they could command from their employers.

It looked like it wasn’t through humility.

Scorpius lifted his hands. ‘I wasn’t sent by Professor Lockett,’ he amended, voice all smooth politeness. ‘She just gave me permission to come down here. She doesn’t know what’s going on. Like always.’

Although he was still rather resentful of Professor Lockett for hiding in the staff room, his opinion wasn’t actually as low of her as he made it sound. It just seemed like a good idea to play along with this House Elf’s obvious disapproval of the woman in question.

Foreman Harley slumped back. ‘Yeah? Then what did you want, pipsqueak?’

Scorpius was not accustomed to being addressed as “pipsqueak” by someone half his size. He shoved his hands into his pockets. ‘Did lots of people eat the breakfast you sent up this morning?’

‘Nope.’ Harley made a noise of irritation, and waved the House Elf who’d escorted Scorpius over back to work. ‘Wastrels, the lot of you. Don’t know good food when you see it.’

‘And not that many had dinner last night. And almost nobody had lunch, did they.’

Harley tilted his spectacles down an inch. ‘You can cut to the chase any time you like, boy.’

‘Nobody’s told you what’s going on. Up there.’ Scorpius jerked his head up. ‘I bet Professor Stubbs didn’t have the chance before he was taken ill.’

The House Elf’s eyes narrowed. ‘Still not the chase. Don’t make me cut there.’

Scorpius did reel back a bit at that. He knew so little of how to deal with House Elves that it was difficult to gauge how serious the threat of being stabbed was. He straightened. ‘There’s an illness,’ he said at last. ‘Sweeping the school. It’s taken out all but half a dozen people, and Hogwarts as a whole is in quarantine.’

‘Huh.’ Harley scratched his nose. ‘They did say the rooms were awful full this morning.’

‘Students have been sent back to the dormitories to stay there, even when ill. There are too many of them to put in the Infirmary.’ Scorpius looked around, and found a stool which came up to his knee on his side of Harley’s desk. He pulled it up and perched on it, now with the unusual perspective of being able to look the House Elf in the eye. ‘It’s all going to hell.’

Harley drew a deep breath. ‘So you’re saying they’re not going to need dinner tonight.’

Scorpius nodded. ‘That is, in fact, what I’m saying.’

There was a pause. Then Harley reached across his desk for a fat brass bell, which he lifted and rang, over and over, loud enough to make Scorpius clamp his hands over his ears. By the end, Scorpius couldn’t tell if silence had fallen or if he’d just been deafened, but once all activity had ceased, once all House Elves in the kitchens were looking up to their Foreman, Harley spoke.

‘All right, boys and girls! Kitchen staff are done for the day, go put your feet up!’ Harley gave a wide, toothy grin at Scorpius as the House Elves exploded into satisfied hustle and began to bustle their way out of the kitchen.

‘Wait, what - that wasn’t what I meant,’ Scorpius stammered, half-rising. ‘There are sick people -’

‘Oh, yeah.’ Harley reached for a quill. ‘Better send a memo down to housekeeping -’

‘But you have to help.’ Scorpius’ eyes widened. ‘You’re the biggest workforce in Hogwarts, you’re unharmed. Sick people need checking on, caring for, feeding, watering - I don’t know! We’re six people, we can’t do all of that ourselves, we’ll be run ragged!’

‘Sorry, kid,’ said Harley, hopping to his feet. ‘We’re hired to provide catering and cleaning for Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. We ain’t hired to play nursemaid to some poorly first years.’

‘It’s the whole school!’ Scorpius snapped, standing. ‘What do you think you’ll do, leave? You can’t leave, the Ministry have the place under quarantine! You’re just going to sit down here in your rooms and do absolutely nothing?’

‘No, no.’ Harley put his hands in his pockets, every inch the tiny executive, and turned. ‘We’ll do what we always do, kid. We’ll do what we House Elves have lived by since the Liberation.’ He scowled. ‘We’ll do what we’re contracted to do. And nothing more.’

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