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Chapter 10 : Cooking on Gas
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It was dark by the time the four students and Professor Lockett had finished going through their roll call and assessment and judged that every person who should have been on school grounds had been accounted for. The student populace of Hogwarts, once they'd realised what was transpiring was very serious indeed, had been committed in making sure friends didn't go off alone. Anyone who had been taken ill had got themselves, or been taken, to the Infirmary or their bed.
The good part of this was that there were no missing people, perhaps lost somewhere and incapacitated. The bad news was that it confirmed what they already suspected: the six of them were the only humans in Hogwarts who had not been afflicted.
And there were an awful lot of people for six of them to take care of.
Professor Lockett had dismissed them, suggesting they get a good night's sleep before they reconvened in the morning, though Rose had absolutely no idea what morning was supposed to bring. The light of day granted no comfort but the truth, and the truth was the least comforting thing Rose could imagine right then.
She'd known she wouldn't be able to sleep, so she didn't bother to head back to Gryffindor Tower. And why, exactly, would she want to sleep there? On her own, surrounded by her sick friends, classmates, and family? It was all right for Albus, he had Scorpius - who hadn't shown up to the Great Hall and was probably dossing off somewhere - and Selena for company, and Methuselah Jones didn't operate like normal people. But she'd be alone. The prospect wasn't encouraging.
So although she had no plan to go anywhere else, when her feet had found themselves sluggish on the way up the stairs, when they'd begun to wander elsewhere, Rose hadn't stopped them. It took ten minutes before she'd realised they were falling into the pattern of her patrol route - not her new one, she'd only done that twice, but the one from last year, the one she'd done several times a week as a neonate prefect, her and Matthias...
Colour rushed to Rose's cheeks as she remembered the time they'd spent on those patrols paying very little attention to anything but each other. Cheryl had been wrong; it hadn't been with Hector that she'd neglected her prefect duties. But those days were long gone now, and though it was for the best, though she and Matthias had been wise to break up before they had ended up completely hating one another, she found herself occasionally, wistfully, missing him.
Perhaps not him, per se. When he did that snorting laugh whenever he was right, she still found it insufferable, and not in an adorable way. When he forgot something she'd asked him to do, or remember, because he got too caught up in whatever was right in front of his nose, she still found it incensing. But there had been a closeness there, a companionship and an understanding which, for all Hector could make her heart race and her head spin with just a charming smile, felt like it had slipped completely from her grasp...
There was a light on in the records office.
Rose's hand came down to her wand, tucked into her pocket. The others had all gone to bed. Professor Lockett had been heading for the dungeons, likely to lock herself away with her potions research to see if she could do anything to help. There was no reason for a light to be on, no reason for anyone to be poking around the records, and as she padded down the corridor she could see the door was ajar.
Pausing just outside, she stopped, listening intently, but all she could hear from inside was the rustling of papers and the opening and closing of the wooden cabinets that lined the walls. Whoever was inside was looking for something.
She hesitated. It made sense that what had befallen Hogwarts was not an accident. It made sense that someone was targeting the school. It made sense to go and get backup rather than she, an underage witch, try to take matters into their own hands.
But that could take time, and if they were gone before she got back...
What would Mum do? Probably have a perfect spell to knock the door open and bind whoever was on the other side up all in one fell swoop, before finalising a treatise on the defensive techniques best employed on Hogwarts grounds. Not very useful.
Rose's lips twitched. What would Dad do?
She waited until the rustling got closer to the door before she acted. Then, in a flash, she was through the door and one hand was at the back of whoever stood by the near cabinet, flattening them face-first against it, the other pressing her wand against the back of their neck.
They gave a rather undignified noise of shock. 'Ow, ow, what the - Weasley?'
Rose scowled. 'Malfoy? What're you doing here?'
'I'm sure I don't have to answer that while you're trying to flatten my nose against Drawer 34D,' was Scorpius' nasal reply. 'Let me go, will you?'
Rose did, only a little abashed. The blood was pounding in her ears, she was rather proud of herself for taking Scorpius by surprise quite so effectively, and besides - her father was unlikely to object to her pinning a Malfoy against the wall.
Then colour again rose to her cheeks as she realised the other interpretation of what she'd just thought. 'I ask again, what were you doing here, Malfoy?'
'Being attacked by a crazy prefect.' Scorpius straightened his ridiculously fussy blazer and shirt, turning to face her. But the effort was for little; his clothes were still rumpled and muddy after the day's affairs, and his hair, normally fastidiously styled, was particularly wild. 'What brought you here?'
'The light was on.'
'And you wanted to kiss the records room goodnight? Or did you just come to berate me again?'
Rose's stomach twisted. The sight of him coming through the Infirmary doors with her brother in his arms was one that would likely stay with her for the rest of her life. 'I'm serious, Malfoy.'
'So am I! I don't remember having to answer to you.'
'I'm a prefect -'
'And that counts for, what, exactly, right now?' Scorpius cocked his head. 'Prefects, teachers, whatever, it doesn't matter.'
'So you thought it was time to divert the great parade that is the life of Scorpius Malfoy through the records office for... for... what...?' Rose looked around haplessly, her insult dying in her confusion. 'What do you want?'
He looked at her for a moment, then sagged at last. 'I'd hoped to get this all sorted myself; everyone else has a job to do -'
'I didn't ask for your self-pity, Malfoy.'
His eyes flashed. 'Fine.' Scorpius folded his arms across his chest. 'I was trying to get the House Elves to help. We can use them to make sure each and every invalid at Hogwarts is cared for - given food and drink, given potions, monitored, everything. While the rest of us try to figure out what the bloody hell we can do.'
Rose stared at him for a moment. Something had landed in her throat, something unpleasant and tart, and it was difficult to speak past it, difficult to push past the bitterness that laced her voice when she finally did open her mouth. 'That's... a really good idea, Malfoy.'
Scorpius grinned as he obviously realised that had hurt to say - but the grin died just as suddenly, and despite herself she noted the room seemed darker for it. 'Except that they won't help,' he said, gesturing haplessly around him. 'The Foreman says they'll only do the job they've been contracted for, and that's to do with cooking and cleaning and little else, certainly not to do with "playing nursemaid".'
She made a noise of exasperation. 'I always told Mum they got really too big for their boots - but why were you here?'
'Looking for a copy of their contracts, or an - I don't know, an employee's handbook. Something defining their rights and responsibilities I could use to persuade them. Or, failing that, something I could use for reference to draw up a new contract, I'm sure the Ministry would agree to have them paid for helping out, but...'
'Have you taken three years of contract law?'
Scorpius looked at her, clearly unsure if this was a gibe. 'Um. No, I must have missed that in the NEWT course options -'
'I mean the House Elves who accepted all the reforms have become pretty fanatical when it comes to adhering to these laws - they've learnt to use them absolutely to their advantage. The clever ones will find any loopholes that exist, closing the ones which hurt them and exploiting the ones which get them what they want. They're like small, unionist goblins or something these days.' Rose's nose crinkled.
Scorpius' gaze had been locked on her as she'd been speaking, and there was a split second when she finished that she just peered back. He shook his head, blinking. 'Um. Well, that's a pain. I imagine the Foreman here at Hogwarts is a clever one.'
'Yes. "Foreman" is just a colloquialism. He's something like General Manager. If you try to pin a contract on him, he will take you for a ride.'
Scorpius cocked his head, a smile playing at his lips - this one more gently amused than wry and sarcastic. 'How do you know all of this?'
Rose sighed. 'My mother did more than just help kill Voldemort, you know. You think I didn't hear every single success and failure, victory and defeat, of the House Elf Rights Movement? The worst of it had passed by the time I was born, but still, it's riveting stuff, I assure you.'
'Of course.' Scorpius shook his head. 'I forgot.'
'You've never lived until you've had dinner at my parents' house listening to my mother witter on about the complexities of incorporating House Elves as government employees...' Her voice trailed off, and she lifted her gaze as something struck her.
Scorpius just grinned obliviously. 'I'll have to try it sometime -'
'That's it!' She got to her feet, snapping her fingers.
'That's - what, dinner at your -'
'No, no - come on!' Despite herself she grabbed him by the sleeve and was off, out the door and down the corridor before Scorpius could summon so much as a bewildered request for elaboration.
'Where're we going?' he asked, stumbling to keep up before he caught his balance and drew level.
'The kitchens. We're going to talk to the Foreman.'
'Um, I don't have any kind of a contract -'
'We won't need one.'
'What do we -'
'You'll see.' In reality, she had absolutely no reason to leave him hanging. But he gave a scowl at her elusive answer, and for once she could enjoy being the one to needlessly irritate, when normally he was the one misbehaving and she was the frustrated one slapping down the law to curb his fun. He didn't seem to know how to cope with the roles reversed.
For her part, it was quite refreshing.
They didn't talk on the way down, unless she counted Scorpius' bitter mumbling to himself about women and their elusive ways, which she tried to not listen to because it kept making her want to laugh at him, and she had no desire for Scorpius Malfoy to suspect she might be laughing with him.
The kitchens were quiet when they got there. Rose couldn't pretend she knew much of the operations in and around Hogwarts, so she didn't know how normal this was - but it was late, past what would have normally been dinner time. All that had been brought up for the few people still on their feet were some rather forlorn sandwiches, half of which had been eaten by Albus before he'd realised that no more were coming. There was clearly little work for the vast majority of the House Elf kitchen crew.
But Foreman Harley was still there, still at his desk, reading a miniaturised version of the Daily Prophet which bore the date of Saturday's edition, likely the most recent he could get his hands on. He lowered the paper and frowned over his gold-rimmed spectacles at them as their footsteps echoed through the kitchen.
'What did you want, lad? You still can't come and go as you please -'
'Foreman Harley, isn't it?' Rose headed over to the desk, plastering on her most polite smile. 'You're the General Manager here of the House Elf staff?'
'Aye...' Harley narrowed his eyes, but he did put his paper down. 'And what did you want, little missy?'
Scorpius poked his head around Rose, quirking an eyebrow at the elf. 'Steady on, now, "little missy" is a bit -'
Condescending. But Rose would be damned if she was going to let Scorpius' sudden and unexpected bout of chivalry turn Harley hostile. Her pride could take some demeaning from a diminutive representative of House Elf middle-management. 'It's Miss Weasley, actually,' she said, and got a glazed-over look in response. It was a common expression she encountered whenever anyone thought they might have to march into the intellectual battle of figuring out the Weasley family tree, which could be more vicious than the Whomping Willow. 'I don't know if you've met my mother, actually - Hermione Granger.'
That did get Harley's attention, and his boots swung off the desk, the little House Elf hopping to his feet. 'I, er - no, not had the pleasure,' he said gruffly, then wiped his hand on his suit jacket and extended it to her. 'Charmed, m'sure.'
Scorpius' jaw had dropped, but Rose ignored it to give another polite smile as she shook Harley's hand. 'My associate here indicates he's brought you up to speed on the situation that's currently striking Hogwarts?'
'He has, Miss Weasley. Terrible affair, it is, truly terrible.' Harley stood straight, trying to puff his little chest out.
'And I understand that your hands are quite tied when it comes to the matter of the House Elf staff adapting their schedules and responsibilities in a time of a crisis like this?'
Harley gave a look of false apology. 'Our contracted responsibilities are pretty clear, Miss Weasley. If you'd like for you and I to sit down and negotiate something else, I bet I can get some tea put on -'
'I'm not in a position to negotiate on behalf of the Ministry or Headmaster Stubbs,' said Rose. 'But I'm not sure that's going to be necessary.'
Harley had been moving for the closest fireplace, a small one where a kettle stood on a nearby table. He stopped at this, looking suspiciously over his shoulder. 'Aye? And why's that?'
'Because Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry is the property of the Ministry of Magic, funded by the Ministry of Magic, which means that all employees, teachers and other staff, are Ministry employees and are bound by the same rules and regulations.' Rose clasped her hands behind her back and prayed that her memory wouldn't fail her, pausing while she scrambled for errant facts gathered under tiresome circumstances.
He didn't even try to look polite now, just turned and folded his arms across his chest. 'You can get to the point if you want -'
'So, under the... Emergency Affairs Act of 1873? '74. 1874, any and all Ministry employees whose work and responsibilities have been affected by a Crisis Situation as designated by the Ministry are contractually obligated to aid and follow the orders of the most senior Ministry official present regardless of job description until the crisis is over. For their own safety and to ensure the crisis passes.' Rose paused, and heard Scorpius let out a low whistle from over her shoulder. She didn't look at him.
Harley shifted his weight, looking dubious. 'That's not in our contracts.'
'Your contracts are Hogwarts-specific contracts, but it would have been in the Ministry Employee Handbook you'd have signed a form confirming you've read. It governs all Ministry employees.' Rose tucked an errant strand of hair behind her ear. 'The Ministry have declared the quarantine of Hogwarts, which counts as a crisis situation, and under the circumstances the most senior Ministry official on-site is Professor Lockett.'
The elf paused, working his jaw wordlessly, before he stabbed an accusing finger at her. 'That rule's in place to make sure people, like, get out the building safe and sound. Not to press-gang us into doing whatever bloody Lockett says until this quarantine is lifted!'
'If we want to talk about intent,' said Scorpius, stepping up, and Rose silently hoped he wasn't going to undermine her, 'what about the clauses in the contract for all Hogwarts staff to work towards the "betterment and safety of the school and its students"?' He wore a particularly smug grin, the like of which he usually turned on her, but this time she could appreciate its usefulness as she saw Harley's hostile expression sink.
'A clause too vague to be - piss.' Harley scowled between them both. 'Fine. Fine. I'll have the bleedin' kitchen staff reallocated to follow Lockett's instructions on the care of the sick, an' a few put to one side to make sure them of you bastards who ain't ill are getting fed.'
'Something better than sandwiches filled with leftovers,' said Rose a little tartly.
'If you insist, your highness.' Harley gave a bitter little bow, and Scorpius snorted, his smug grin back to being obnoxious. 'Now get out of here; if we're all back to work then this place is for staff only, and you two ain't staff.'
Her heart soared at the victory. 'Thank you for your cooperation, Foreman,' said Rose with a happy little bounce, but Scorpius was already tugging her back towards the door. She didn't resist, and the two of them near burst from the kitchen. He'd closed the door behind them and they were halfway up the stairs before Scorpius stopped, clapping his hands together and burst out laughing.
'That - was - brilliant!' he howled, turning on her and near-hopping with glee. 'Did you see his face, little bureaucratic bastard? It was like he'd swallowed a lemon! Where the hell did you learn about Ministry employment law?'
She grinned despite herself, suddenly quite abashed at his shamelessly enthusiastic praise. 'Er, my Dad, he had to make a bunch of Ministry employees cooperate on a manhunt. He said one of his keen trainees had read the handbook religiously and caught them out so they had to help him.'
'That's amazing,' Scorpius gushed. 'You completely had him, I couldn't have ever remembered any of that stuff.'
Rose again tucked the errant lock of hair behind her ear. 'I don't know, you remembered that clause in the Hogwarts contract...'
'Yeah, since I read it all of five minutes ago.' He shook his head, still wearing an expression of disbelief. 'That was so cool.'
'Well, it was your idea, really,' she said bashfully. 'Getting the House Elves to help is going to be really useful; I had no idea how we were supposed to keep up with taking care of everyone and now we can focus on coordinating with the Ministry. Though you really didn't have to get so defensive when he called me "little missy".'
Scorpius straightened, hands in his pockets, his smile turning playfully crooked. 'I know you've got a thick skin, Weasley, and I know you don't need me to stand up for you, but he was bloody out of line. I'm the only one who's allowed to piss you off like that.'
Suddenly the stairway seemed narrower, closer, quieter - the sounds of the kitchen below faded away, the light from the next floor up seemed further away, and again that pesky lock of hair bounced out from behind her ear. Rose worked her lips wordlessly for a few seconds, before clutching at the first strand of thought she could find, just to break the silence.
'I know you didn't mean for anything to happen to Hugo...'
Scorpius' expression twisted and she felt guilty for what had not been intended as an admonishment. 'No, I - I'm sorry, you weren't wrong, he just... he wanted to help and I didn't want to stop him and, really, it's just as well I didn't. He was better than Jones or I out there. Braver against the Dementors. I don't know if we'd have made it back without him -'
'I'm still glad you're okay.' Rose swallowed. 'All of you, I mean.'
His grimace faded for another smile, but it wasn't one of his usual smirks - rather, something altogether softer, more tired, more quietly amused. 'Like I said, Weasley,' he said, and his voice seemed lower in the gloomy stairway. 'I'll come back. Every time.'
Then he was lifting a hand, and for one awful second she thought he was reaching for that bloody lock of her hair which was refusing to cooperate, and in a panic she turned away, back to the stairs leading up, and hurried along. 'We'd - we'd better tell Professor Lockett -'
She didn't look back, and it took a moment before she heard Scorpius' footsteps on the stairs behind her, and another before he spoke. 'She's going to be up to her eyeballs in potions by now. It can wait until morning, I'm sure...'
'There's no time like the present and somebody's got to tell her -'
'You don't have to do everything yourself, Weasley.'
Rose hesitated. 'Let's just see if they've put any more food up in the Great Hall yet, I only had a sandwich for dinner and you've not eaten...' Despite herself she let a fussy tone creep into her voice, the sort of tone her grandmother used to devastating effect - the only voice she knew worked even on her own mother.
'I was fine -'
'You're notfine, Malfoy, we can't have people passing out because they've not eaten, we've got enough on our plates already -'
'Or not, as the case may be.'
She cursed herself for snickering at the bad joke, and gave him a reproachful look. 'We have a responsibility.'
'I know,' said Scorpius, drawing abreast of her as they reached the top of the stairs and came into the corridor. 'You keep reminding me. Like it's a small animal that needs feeding I neglect.'
So they made their way back to the Great Hall, where the light from the few lit sconces remained gloomy - but were greeted by the rather splendid sight of half a roast chicken and trimmings, still warm, that the House Elves had already been enterprising enough to have brought up and placed on the high table.
'Oh, good, I'm bloody famished,' said Scorpius despite his earlier protestations, and with no apparent discomfort at seating himself in a teacher's place, he pulled up a chair and helped himself to the chicken.
'Me too - were you going to share that, Malfoy?'
He grudgingly sliced her some of the breast before doing a fine impression, she thought, of her cat as he set about the chicken leg, and she piled up vegetables onto his plate before he could stop her.
'You're a bloody menace, Weasley -'
'Someone has to take care of you; clearly Al doesn't do it properly.'
'Volunteering to take his place?'
Her nose lifted in the air haughtily. 'I prefer to not supplant others.'
But there'd been an edge she couldn't keep out of her voice, and Scorpius was looking at her suspiciously over the chicken leg. Her mind went blank on how to divert him, and when he finished chewing and swallowing she was silently grateful when he said, instead, 'Why were you down in the record office?'
For some reason that question was easier to deal with. 'I didn't fancy going back to Gryffindor Tower alone.'
Scorpius' forehead wrinkled. 'I can understand that. I'd really rather not sleep in the same room as Bellamy, Oakes, and Hollis if they're all ill, it's just weird. And I've even got Al.'
'Yes, I was thinking about making up one of the visitor bedrooms and just staying there. We all should do that, really, we don't want to be in the House Elves' way. And it can't be much fun for Rourke or Jones on their own.'
'If Selena had a problem with it, you bet we'd have heard by now,' he said. 'And I don't think Jones lives on the same planet as anyone else. Besides.' He reached for one of the napkins as he tossed his abandoned chicken bone onto the plate, and wiped his mouth with rather shockingly little decorum for a son of the Malfoy household. 'I doubt we'll be here long.'
Rose hesitated. 'You really think?'
'Come off it. The Ministry, Saint Mungo's, the brightest people in Britain, are all going to be working on it. I'd be surprised if we're still here even in a week's time,' said Scorpius, helping himself to some pumpkin juice and wearing a broad, confident smile which looked entirely unlike his silly grins or the softer smile he'd worn down in that quiet moment in the stairway minutes before.
Which was why she knew he didn't believe a single word he was saying.