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Ignite by Slide
Chapter 16 : Cleansing Flames
 
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 5


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‘Prometheus Thane,’ said Hermione Granger’s patronus, its voice still echoing through the Great Hall, ‘is dead.’

‘Amazing, he’s managed to resurrect himself. Someone go write to Voldemort’s old supporters, they’ll be thrilled.’ Scorpius snapped his fingers, and the smile he gave the patronus when it turned its incorporeal gaze upon him was tight, arrogant. ‘Your research is wrong. I’m right.’

‘There are times I forget you’re a Malfoy. This isn’t one of them.’

Scorpius gave an elaborate bow to hide the twisting in his gut. ‘Thank you.’

‘It wasn’t a compliment.’ The patronus cocked its head half an inch. ‘You’ll need to do better than just saying we’re wrong.’

‘Simple.’ Scorpius opened his hands. ‘I remember what happened that night. I saw him. That’s who he looks like.’

'Though memories were tampered with. Simple dispelling shouldn't work,' said Methuselah, nudging his glasses up his nose. 'Obliviation’s more complicated than that.'

'So there's no guarantee your memories are accurate, Malfoy,' said Hermione's patronus, and there was a colder edge to her voice he couldn't place which he really didn't like. For the first time he was glad he wasn’t talking to her face to face. There was an expression some people got, people who’d known his father, his grandfather, where they looked like they were expecting him to show off the less pleasant traits of the family line. He hated seeing it. ‘The memories could have been falsified, or -’

‘I... don’t think they were. I think Malfoy’s right.’ Everyone stared at Rose for a heartbeat. Then they looked upwards to check the enchanted ceiling of the Great Hall and see if the skies were raining blood yet. She cleared her throat. 'I've not been studying the ritual as intently as Jones, but I looked at it to see if it would give any clues as to the curse -’

‘It doesn’t,’ said Methuselah archly.

‘I know that now. My psychic powers weren’t functioning at the time.’

‘I said it wouldn’t.’

‘I’ve studied this illness more, I might have seen something you’ve missed!’

Scorpius raised his hands. ‘While this is fascinating, can we get back to the part where Weasley was telling everyone I’m right?’

Her glare turned on him, but she continued anyway. ‘My point is that an aspect of the ritual was clearly to protect those performing it, and us via proximity, against the curse, the illness. While it’s difficult to protect against spells like that, it’s even more difficult to protect just against one specific spell and allow all others to pass through unhindered. Magic is magic.’

‘You’re saying that the protection against the illness, that night, might have granted Malfoy some protection against the Obliviation?’ said Lockett, eyes beady, but she looked convinced.

‘I think it’s possible it’s the cause of the Obliviation being weak enough that a simple Finite Incantatum could breach it. It’s difficult to say; a dispelling does nothing to the rest of us, but according to Malfoy’s recollection we were all unconscious, our memories didn’t need tampering with.’ Rose opened her hands, gaze landing on her mother’s patronus, and for a moment the determined look in their eyes matched. ‘I believe his memories are accurate.’

Thank you, Weasley.’ Scorpius beamed.

‘Of course, he might be wrong in identifying the person from those memories,’ Rose finished.

He gave her a look of betrayal. ‘You can’t just be nice, can you, Weasley?’

For a moment he thought she was going to shout at him; then she drew a deep, careful breath. ‘I’m looking at the evidence. Not my feelings,’ she said, and the tone of her voice, sincere and firm, was enough to surprise and confuse him into silence.

‘I don’t think it’s impossible for Scorpius to be right,’ said Hermione’s patronus. ‘I just hope he’s not.’

Lockett lifted a hand to forestall any further indignant comments. ‘What did you find? And what makes Malfoy so sure he's our man?'

'He looks like him, to start with,' drawled Scorpius, as if this were the most obvious thing in the world. ‘And in so far as I can make a guess at his skills and personality, he matches. He was a Ravenclaw, an avid member of the Duelling Club, an outstanding student in Defence, Potions, Arithmancy, and others - he broke your record, Ms Granger, getting a perfect score in all three at OWL and at NEWT level.’

‘If he was so great,’ said Selena, ‘then how come he wasn’t a prefect or Head Boy? I’ve never heard of him.’

‘You make a habit of keeping track of past prefects and Head Boys, Rourke?’ wondered Rose.

‘Miss Rourke is correct,’ said Methuselah, who did have such a habit, just for rainy days. ‘He is neither.’

‘Older members of staff might have heard of him if they were awake,’ said Scorpius. ‘He clashed with many of them regularly. He was arrogant and insubordinate and thought he knew best.’

Albus gave him a fond grin. ‘So, nothing like you?’

‘Nah, mate. His school records are brilliant,’ said Scorpius, with a self-effacing smile. ‘Even his disciplinary record, which is as long as a Weasley’s.’ He frowned, looking at his surroundings. ‘Present company excepted.’

The patronus looked, despite itself, amused. ‘Point made. I have not had access to all of this information, but everything Scorpius had found from the school record matches.’

‘So why’s he supposed to be dead?’ said Scorpius.

‘That is what reports from the Peruvian Ministry have suggested.’ There was a beat as the patronus surveyed them all. ‘The Thane family are very old and were, until eighty years ago, very rich. You won’t have heard of them for two reasons: their fall from grace, and their fondness for international dealings which took them away from British eyes and only intensified when they were disgraced.’

‘Disgraced eighty years ago.' Albus frowned. 'Grindelwald?'

‘Percival Thane, Prometheus’ grandfather, was one of his most avid British supporters, trying to bring his attitudes and sensibilities from the continent. He also gave Grindelwald’s movement a good deal of the family fortune, and so when Grindelwald fell, the Thane wealth and reputation went with him.’

‘So he’s from a line of Dark Magic supporters. That bodes well,’ said Rose, and Scorpius felt another twist in his gut as he looked at the tense expressions of her, Lockett, Selena, and even Albus.

‘The Thanes moved out of Britain; they still had a lot of contacts and influence domestically and abroad, which made people like Percival Thane useful international ambassadors to countries which were still more sympathetic to Dark Magic. The Thanes could keep foreign relations friendly, and they were out of trouble.’

‘They let them keep working for the Ministry?’ said Albus.

Hermione’s patronus gave a rough approximation of a shrug. ‘They hadn’t been charged with any crime. The Thanes stayed abroad, though being a traditionalist, Percival Thane sent his son to attend Hogwarts. This was in the post-war years; Voldemort was gathering strength but this was before the huge surge of popularity in the 1970s. Jericho Thane didn’t seem to show any interest in the movement, and he didn’t return to Britain after he left Hogwarts.’

‘Did he also go into diplomacy?’ asked Rose.

‘Jericho Thane set up an enchantment firm in America, producing high-end magical items. They were rather successful, and even acquired a government contract to produce equipment for the US Department of Magic. It all went wrong in the early 2000s, though, when it was found out they’d been selling equipment to countries against whom the Department and allies, including the British Ministry, were upholding magical embargos.’

Albus quirked an eyebrow. ‘Dark magic-using countries?’

‘Most often, but even some with poor records on Muggle-born and Beasts and Being treatments, like Mongolia. The company was ruined and the Thane fortunes reversed, again. This happened immediately before Prometheus Thane attended Hogwarts.’ Hermione’s patronus looked at Scorpius. ‘Scorpius has covered his school years. Inauspicious and yet successful. He never officially returned to Britain after leaving school, either, but he didn't become an entrepreneur like his father. Prometheus Thane looked like he would become a simple Ministerial aide, and was assigned to the Ambassador to Macedonia, but within two years had abandoned his job and went missing. He would show up a few months later involved with the extremist groups promoting centaur rights in the region.’

Pro-centaur rights?’ Rose looked bewildered.

‘He had been involved in the Ministry’s efforts to make the Macedonians open up a dialogue with the centaurs; the Ambassador thought he was young and idealistic and had been swayed to their side, though even the wizards on the centaurs’ side used extreme and even violent methods to pursue their goals. Within six months the Macedonians had hunted them down, but Thane wasn’t amongst them.

‘A year later he was in Belize, involved in the magical conflict there with Guatemala. This was a war which broke out over trade disputes; there was little which connected it to the cause in Macedonia. When that conflict ended he was briefly arrested by authorities in Egypt for affiliation with a pro-Dark Magic group in Cairo.’

‘Of course he was,’ mused Albus.

‘Except,’ said Hermione’s patronus, ‘that he made a deal, gave them information, and was let go. The assessment of the Egyptians was that he had no idealistic links with the movement, and was nothing more than a wand-for-hire.

‘The rest of his record reads much like that. Where groups or governments would pay for someone with skills, Thane could be hired. He was recorded as being involved in fights, in the development of magical items and even, yes, some custom curse-work. But nothing of this sort of scale. The last time he appeared was working with insurgents in Paraguay three years ago, and he was reported killed in an explosion from an attempt to disrupt a government protection ritual which went awry.’

‘So he fought, a lot, against governments and for Dark Magic causes,’ Albus said.

‘You’re hearing selectively,’ said Rose, much to Scorpius’ surprise. ‘He worked with pro-Centaur rights groups as well - and didn’t the Paraguayan magical government collapse three years ago and it was the insurgency that took over?’

‘The new government is much more popular, domestically and abroad. I think quite a few witches and wizards in Britain would have been called insurgents twenty-five years ago,’ agreed Hermione’s patronus.

‘So instead of a follower of bad causes, he’s a mercenary without a cause. I’m not sure if that’s better,’ said Albus.

‘No, which is why I hope that Scorpius is wrong and that he isn’t who we’re dealing with. He’s not the most dangerous person I can imagine out there, but he is dangerous - he has a lot of contacts and has demonstrated himself to be astonishingly resourceful in extreme circumstances; he’s had the sort of experiences most witches and wizards his age couldn’t dream of. And worse, there’s no telling of his motivations - I see no obvious reason why he would engage in plaguing Hogwarts of his own accord, and if he is working for someone, his allegiances lie, as Albus says, with money. There’s no telling what they want.’

‘Does it... matter?’ Selena blinked as everyone turned to her. ‘I mean, of course it matters to find out who did this, but does it matter to us? He set up the ritual, the school’s been cursed - he’s going to be in Tahiti by now drinking something out of a coconut with a little umbrella in it.’

‘He might still be out there,’ said Albus, tensing. ‘Something sent those Redcaps after us.’

‘Not necessarily.’ Methuselah nudged his glasses up his nose. ‘Ritual uses Dark Magic components. Ritual remains, continuing to spread infection. Ritual has had corrupting influence upon Forbidden Forest. Centaurs were agitated on Day Zero. Likelihood remains that agitation of local magical life is due to continual presence of magic of ritual.’

‘So not only is the ritual continuing to keep sick people sick, it’s continuing to mess up the area? Great.’ Albus sagged.

Hermione’s patronus shifted to look at Lockett. ‘Before Scorpius prompted me for my findings, you said you had good news, Professor.’

Lockett blinked, as if she’d forgotten any such thing - but then she brightened, and Scorpius raised his head. He hadn’t heard anything, not from her and not from Rose when he’d brought down breakfast as usual. Rose, too, looked curious; she clearly hadn’t been included in Lockett’s findings.

‘I do. I’ve still not been able to identify what “Phlegethon” is in a magical sense; it doesn’t match anything in terms of reagents, curses, cures, rituals, or so forth. But I’m pleased to say that the results from the latest batch of remedies have come in, and though the effect on the symptoms of the infected has been minimal there has been an effect.’ She straightened, the first genuine smile in weeks toying about her lips. ‘I am confident in expressing that this curse cannot be transmitted by anything other than humans.’

The patronus looked pleased, but Scorpius merely looked bewildered. ‘How, exactly, does that help us?’

‘We can use owls,’ said Rose, beginning to beam. ‘We can get supplies shipped in quicker, we can initiate communication as fast as an owl can fly to Hogsmeade -’

‘And we can send messages in to you. Thank you, Professor. I’ll need to review your findings so I can present them properly to the Minister, as only he has the power to authorise a change in the quarantine protocol like that, but that should be cleared up with a matter of days, if you’re right.’

Grins spread across the faces of all of them, even Lockett, and Scorpius fought to force his own. It wouldn’t do to look dour, or at least unenthused, when stood in the middle of them like this. They’d ask questions. And for such a curious soul, Scorpius hated questions. He felt perfectly comfortable with this hypocrisy.

They drifted off after that, Lockett set to give Hermione’s patronus an extensive verbal briefing on their findings, as they still couldn’t ship the physical documents out of the castle without the Minister’s say-so. Albus went back to check on the warding, as he’d been doing more regularly since the Redcap incursion, and so, eager to avoid the eyes of the others, Scorpius said something about heading for the Library, which would prove to be an utter lie as his feet carried him out of the Great Hall, onto the grounds, and in the direction of the lake.

Day Fourteen. September was dying all around them, and with it, summer; the trees were turning from the joy of green to the glory of gold, and wistfully he could remember autumn spent kicking up piles of leaves and magically catapulting conkers across the courtyard at Hector Flynn -

No, no, he’d not really cared about Hector Flynn when he’d been younger, had he? A Quidditch rivalry alone didn’t make him a target for torment. Who had it been? Scorpius frowned to himself as he reached the edges of the lake, the sun bright in the clear, late morning sky, its rays reflecting off the water and almost bright enough to blind. It was hard, he considered, having enemies. So many people to keep track of.

‘Al didn’t mean it like that.’

Scorpius blinked as Rose’s voice cut through his reverie and he turned to see her crossing the lawn towards him, Artemis a smoky bundle in her arms, for once appeased. Seeing the outside, getting fussed over, and not having to walk seemed to be the cat’s ideal state of being.

His waved a hand vaguely. ‘Who did I throw conkers at in third year?’

Rose looked a bit taken aback by the question. ‘Me?’

‘Nah, I only kicked leaves at you. And only once, Al told me off so I stopped. There was somebody.’

For some reason she was taking his question halfway seriously, her eyes going to the stretch of water as she stopped next to him. Artemis squirmed in her arms and looked up at him with bright, inviting green eyes. Despite himself, Scorpius reached down to scratch behind her ear - and immediately she latched onto his index finger with sharp teeth.

‘You bastard,’ he hissed, yanking his hand back.

Artemis just went back to curling up against Rose, who ignored the entire interchange as if he hadn’t sworn at her cat and her cat hadn’t decided he was her favourite snack. Eventually she nodded. ‘Saxby. It was Saxby you used to torment.’

‘Oh yeah, he reported me to a prefect for setting off a stink-bomb on the Express and Slytherin started the year with negative points.’ Despite himself, Scorpius grinned. ‘Saxby’s all right. He unclenched.’

‘I think his options were to unclench or have a nervous breakdown.’

‘Poor guy. I mean, it’s got to suck being a smart guy in a House with Methuselah Jones, who casts an academic shadow so long Boggarts probably grow in it, but that’s Jones. He’s probably not even human, it doesn’t really count to be beaten by Jones, he’s just unreal. But he didn’t even have a shot at second place with you around...’

He glanced sideways to see her shift Artemis into a one-handed hold as she brushed that springy, disobedient lock of hair behind her ear, the movement surprisingly bashful. ‘Yes, well,’ Rose said awkwardly. ‘I wasn’t the only one to beat Saxby in tests. Matty always did very well.’

Matty,’ Scorpius echoed with a frown. ‘Why do you call him that, Doyle hates that?’

She tilted her nose up. ‘You’re not the only one, Malfoy, who can do things just to get a rise out of others.’

He fought a grin. ‘Why’d you two break up, anyway? You seemed, you know, pretty good, pretty similar...’

‘Has it occurred to you that having a boyfriend who’s similar might be really, really annoying?’ Rose scratched Artemis’ belly. ‘And nice try, Malfoy, to get me to tell you it’s none of your business and storm off, but you’re not dodging the issue.’

‘What issue?’

‘You didn’t answer me when I got here. Albus really didn’t mean it.’

Scorpius assumed an expression of innocence. ‘Didn’t mean what?’

‘Don’t be like that. He didn’t mean what he implied talking to Mum. About people with parents involved in Dark Magic, like he wasn’t surprised Thane turned out to be a nasty piece of work after his grandfather’s connections. I saw the look on your face.’

‘And here was me thinking I’d do well at poker.’

She swatted him on the arm and he looked at her, surprised. ‘I’m trying to help, you idiot,’ said Rose, but she spoke wryly, not angrily. ‘There’s no way he thinks that sort of thing about you - that because of your father and grandfather, you’re automatically going to go bad. If he did, don’t you think he’d have run a mile that first time on the Hogwarts Express instead of sitting with you?’

Scorpius couldn’t fight the awkward, self-conscious smile that rose to his lips at the memory. He’d been eleven years old and alone on the Hogwarts Express and avoided by any student with parents who’d known to tell their children, “don’t get close to the Malfoys” until, of all people, Harry Potter’s son had introduced himself. Of course, Scorpius had only tolerated him then because he’d known it would piss his father off...

But then his expression turned stiff. ‘I don’t want to be the exception.’

‘You’re not. Al’s a smart guy. He’s just tired, and unsurprisingly he’s keen to paint Thane as a great big evil. It’s always easier, Mum says, for us to think people who’re against us are complete monsters. That way we don’t have to think about the ways we’re like them.’ Rose looked him up and down. ‘Except that’s all you can think about with Thane, isn’t it?’

Scorpius managed to force a scoff. ‘Yes, I think that because we both have complete arseholes for ancestors I’m predestined to become some sort of rogue mercenary wandering the globe. Actually, that sounds pretty cool; sign me up for that, pronto.’ He turned to her, defensive now her words had hit uncomfortably close to home. ‘What do you want, Weasley?’

She met his gaze, unflinching. ‘To try to make you feel better, because you’re obviously upset.’

He gaped. ‘Why?’

‘Because I realised something.’ Now Rose did look a bit more awkward, and drew a deep breath. ‘We’re stuck in this together.’

‘Well noticed -’

‘Stop it, stop being a prat, Malfoy, and listen to me.’ Again, she spoke more wryly than harshly, and relaxed as she rolled her eyes. ‘This is the point. We’re in trouble, we’re in hard times, and they’re not made any easier by you and me going at each other like we’re competing for... for...’

His lips twisted as she flailed for a word. ‘House Cup?’

‘You never cared about the House Cup. I never cared much about the Quidditch Cup. We never did actually compete. But, whatever.’ Rose waved a dismissive hand. ‘It doesn’t help. We’re in this together. We can’t just be at each others’ throats, making enemies of one another because of what we think or... assume the other did.’ She looked briefly bashful, then shoved the hesitation away and pressed on. ‘We have to stick by each other. So consider this a peace offering.’

‘Peace offerings usually involve, you know, offerings. What’ve you got?’

‘I’ve got this cat.’ Rose looked down at Artemis, who purred. ‘My offering is that I won’t give her to you so she can maul your face off?’

Scorpius narrowed his eyes. ‘I will accept your gracious offering. What’s brought this on? The good news?’

‘In case you didn’t notice, Malfoy, I tried to have this conversation three days ago. You just didn’t listen,’ said Rose, tart at last.

‘Oh, no.’ He shook his head, turning to look back across the shining expanse of the lake. ‘That doesn’t sound like me. I always listen to you, Weaselby.’

She didn’t answer, but also turned to the lake, watching the glorious light of dying summer as the sun wrung out the few bright beams it had left for the year. Then she dumped Artemis into his arms and laughed as he yelped when the cat clawed up his shoulder, onto his head, and used it as a springboard to bound into the tree above them.


* *


Two days later Scorpius was stood in his room, changing out of his Quidditch gear after joining Albus on a mercifully-quiet patrol. Since the Redcap attack they’d taken to doing them twice a day, which meant for more fun in getting out flying, but more shredded nerves as every bit of movement they saw around the perimeter was thought to be an attack until they looked twice and realised it was just a deer or squirrel.

So he took longer than he might have done to unwind after each patrol. Took an extra-long shower, even considered trying to get tea sent up if he thought the House Elves wouldn’t send him instead something horrible. As such he was still in his dressing-gown, emerald-green and luxurious enough to make Selena jealous, when there was a hammering at the door and Albus' familiar voice.

'Scorp! Hey, Scorp, open up!'

Albus was still in his Quidditch gear, but wore a beaming smile despite his fatigue when Scorpius let him in, and he stood in the middle of the room. ‘Owls are in. Lockett must have given the go-ahead this morning when we were checking out the north side. They’ve been sent from Hogsmeade; only took them a few hours.’

Something twisted in Scorpius’ gut. ‘...from the Ministry?’

‘From home.’ Albus was still grinning, and now Scorpius saw he brandished a bundle of papers. He pulled one free and the sick feeling deepened in Scorpius’ stomach before he saw, when Albus shoved it into his hands, that it was just a blank piece of parchment. ‘Look!’

‘I’m looking,’ said Scorpius slowly, ‘and yet, I see nothing.’

Then, the ink ebbing up from the paper itself, words spread onto the surface in a tight, cursive script. Mister Padfoot would like to say the impression is mutual.

Scorpius looked at Albus, confused. ‘What is this?’

‘James sent it.’ Albus beamed.

‘He sent magical insulting paper.’ Scorpius quirked an eyebrow. ‘Our salvation is at hand.’

Mister Wormtail would like to point out that you seem to need all the help you can get. Mister Moony adds that even magical insulting paper would likely raise the level of discussion in this crisis.

‘Cute,’ drawled Scorpius to the parchment. ‘What do you think of me burning you?’

Mister Prongs most courteously invites you to shove it.

‘Give it here,’ said Albus at last, and pulled out his wand. ‘This was my Dad’s. My grandfather - Prongs - he made this.’

‘Your grandfather was James Potter,’ Scorpius pointed out. ‘Unless something heinous happened with Lily Potter that I’d really rather not know about.’

‘James Potter is Prongs. Here.’ Albus tapped his wand on the parchment and drew a deep breath. ‘I solemnly swear I am up to no good.’

Scorpius swore as the paper changed. Not because magical paper was anything unusual in his way of life, but as the words scrolled out and then the ink swirled and shifted to present the perfect, to-scale depiction of Hogwarts and the grounds, going on and on as Albus unfolded it further than it had looked like it was capable of folding, it seemed the only appropriate response. ‘The hell is this?’

‘The Marauder’s Map.’ Albus sounded infinitely proud. ‘My grandfather and his friends made it. My uncles Fred and George stole it from the old caretaker’s office, then gave it to my Dad. James nicked it from his desk drawer in his third year - how do you think he managed to give the prefects the run-around like he did? He had this map! It shows everything and everywhere on the school grounds, and better - it shows where everyone is.’

Scorpius peered down at the paper gleefully. ‘This is going to make everything easier. From finding each other to the patrols to...’ He paused and frowned. ‘Well, that’s about it for now, but it’s something!’

‘Isn’t it? I caught James with it once in our fourth year, and I was a bit hurt he didn’t give it to me after he left school,’ said Albus with a small frown. Scorpius looked at him sharply - that sort of confession from Albus was like anyone else admitting they’d been heartbroken by such an oversight. ‘He said he wanted me to earn it, which probably meant he wanted me to jump through hoops. But this was the first letter in. He said he thought we’d need it.’

‘More than he bloody will playing Quidditch, anyway!’ Scorpius agreed. ‘Is that the only letter through?’

‘No, there’s...’ Albus’ voice trailed off, and his shoulders sagged. ‘There were plenty. Mum and Dad wrote to me, Uncle Ron and Aunt Hermione wrote to Rose, there were letters for Selena and Jones...’ He cringed.

Scorpius sighed, and wasn’t sure if the twist in his gut was loosening from relief, or if it was just numbing from disappointment. ‘And nothing for me. Of course not.’

‘What? Of course there is!' Albus looked horrified at the idea, and pulled a sealed letter from his pile of papers, handing it over. ‘There’s just... the one... I mean, letters from abroad would take longer, they could only have written them this morning, too...’

‘From the three pages you’re holding from your mum and dad I think it’s clear they’ve had that bad boy written in advance and just waiting for when it could be sent,’ said Scorpius, turning over the letter, the address in a familiar hand, and cracking open the seal.

Silence fell upon them as Scorpius unfolded the single page of letter inside and read, and Albus shifted his feet awkwardly. The clock on the wall ticked with, Scorpius thought, unnecessary volume, and he could hear the creak of the leather of Albus’ uniform with every uncomfortable fidget he gave.

Then Scorpius gave a flat snort and looked up. ‘Well, that was about as heartwarming and affectionate as I should have expected.’

Albus sagged. ‘Oh, Scorp, I really do think he just doesn’t know how to -’

‘“Scorpius,’ Scorpius began to read. He straightened up, whole body language becoming the kind of arrogant self-control that might be expected of a scion of the House of Malfoy, and his voice became tighter, more aristocratic. ‘“I expect this letter finds you in agreeable health” - expect, note, not hope, and agreeable, not, you know, good. “It was to my satisfaction to learn that you have not been afflicted,” blah blah blah, indications that everyone else is lesser so it doesn’t matter that they’re infected, oh, and now, my favourite bit: “The name of Malfoy is back on household lips with your involvement in this crisis. It would be most disappointing if you brought the family into ill-repute by any mistakes your inattentive nature and lack of dedication could cause.”’

He got no further. When he’d started reading, the anger that had settled in his heart had been cold - that same cold, frozen disappointment and frustration that had marred his relationship with his father for most of his life. But speaking the words out loud, saying them even to Albus, who knew more than most and had likely guessed the rest, was too much, too raw, and Scorpius ripped the letter in half with a noise of anger, scrunching them up.

Into ill-repute!’ he echoed with a bark of bitter laughter. ‘As if you becoming a Death Eater wasn’t a bloody stain on the family honour!’ One balled-up half of the letter was hurled into the fireplace. ‘As if Lucius going off and murdering people for Voldemort didn’t give us a bit of a dodgy reputation!’ The second half followed it in short order, and Scorpius clenched his fists, driving his fingernails into the palms of his hands even when it hurt. 'But you have to hope that I don’t screw this up? One second you make it sound like everyone else can die so long as the Malfoy survives, and the next you make it sound like you’re expecting me to make a national joke of myself!’

Albus was by his side by then, reaching awkwardly to put a hand to his shoulder, but Scorpius shrugged it off angrily, going to storm over to the fireplace and glower at the flames that flickered as they consumed his father’s hateful words.

‘I’m sorry, mate,’ said Albus instead, sounding cowed. ‘Guess I should have saved the good news of the map ‘til last, huh?’

Scorpius scrubbed his face with his hand, tensing his shoulders. ‘No, I - thanks. Thanks for giving me something to laugh at. For bringing me the letter. For listening to me rant.’ Then he turned, and when he did he wore the lopsided smile that was his favourite and most comfortable shield. ‘So my Dad’s an arse. That’s hardly going to make the front page of the Prophet, now, is it?’

‘No, but it’s not cool that he’s still being like this even as we are now. It’s not a time for him to be petty, or to be superior. You’re family -’

‘Not everyone’s family’s like yours, Al.’ Scorpius managed to keep his words light and gave a casual shrug. Albus looked about as unconvinced as was possible, but he didn’t push it, and Scorpius crossed over to pat him on the shoulder. ‘Come on. Let’s go take a look at that map...’



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