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Ignite by Slide
Chapter 18 : Powderkeg
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 9

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Albus was a heavy sleeper. Scorpius had learnt this when they were eleven years old and sharing a dormitory for the first time; come rain or shine, come pounding at the door, nothing under the sun or moon could break his sleep. Or that rumbling of a snore that would put the Hogwarts Express to shame. For years it had plagued him until he’d learnt to sleep through it, and then found himself missing the sound when sleeping anywhere but their dorm-room in Slytherin House. But it had always been a necessary evil at best, a nuisance at worst.

And tonight he was counting on it.

The guest rooms were well-maintained, for Selena had fussily arranged that they be tidied every day by the House Elves. This had included, to Scorpius’ endless relief, keeping the hinges well-oiled. Albus' door didn't so much as creak as he stepped into the gloom that was filled only by the rumble of snoring.

If I were a magic map, he mused in the dark, unable to use his wand for light, where would I be?

That wasn’t the real question, of course. The real question was where would Albus put it. Somewhere secure, where it couldn’t go easily missing, but would be quickly and easily to hand in case of a crisis. Scorpius’ first guess was also the right one, as he thought long and hard, then checked the back pocket of the pair of Albus’ jeans slung across the chair at the foot of the bed.

Scorpius grinned ruefully as he brandished his prize, then looked up at the still form of his best friend. Sorry, mate. But it’s better this way. You’re not as expendable as me. Then, not daring to look back in case his guilt got the better of him, he slipped out the door and back into the corridor.

Hogwarts was silent at one in the morning. If Jones was still up, he’d be off in one of the Arithmancy classrooms, up to his eyeballs in studying the ritual that Scorpius couldn’t swear blind he’d even properly remembered. Everyone else would be in bed at this time, due to rise early and work hard and keep on fussing over useful things to do where his only contribution was to fetch and carry and -

When he turned the corner he walked straight into Rose. The armful of papers she was brandishing went flying and scattering down the corridor, and he gave a curse of irritation and surprise, teetering until she reached out to steady him.

‘Malfoy! What are you doing up at this time of night!’

‘I could say the same thing to you!’ he said, trying to regain both dignity and balance, straightening his clothes.

‘I was just off to bed, I had a late night with...’ Rose narrowed her eyes at him. ‘No. Wait. Let’s stick with me asking first. What are you doing?’

It wasn’t as if she was wrong to be suspicious, he had to concede. He was more-or-less in his Quidditch gear, the thick padded leather devoid of Slytherin colours or his flying cap, but it was the most hard-wearing and sturdy clothing he owned, and absolutely ideal for a stupid expedition out into the Forbidden Forest.

It was also, of course, very suspicious.

‘Midnight snack,’ he said guilelessly.

She stared at him. ‘You’re going out into the Forest, aren’t you.’ Her gaze turned horrified. ‘I’m going to tell Lockett -’

‘You can’t!’ His hand reached out to grab her by the elbow. ‘She’ll stop me.’

‘That’s the idea,’ Rose said. ‘Didn’t you hear her? Hear Mum? It’s stupidly dangerous, and there are Dementors out there!’

‘I know. I saw them.’ Scorpius’ jaw clenched. ‘But you don’t understand. They’re getting worse. Tim Warwick was coughing up blood this morning, the worst symptoms are coming back, and I don’t know if we’re going to have the time to wait around for Acromantula skin to be shipped in from Eastern Europe or whatever.'

Rose pulled her arm free, but her gaze did soften. 'Lockett looked... concerned when the House Elves spoke to her today. She didn't say why. Are you sure?'

‘I was there.’ Scorpius bit his lip. ‘She knows, and she’s done nothing about it.’

‘She knows what she’s doing -’

‘As a potioneer, sure. But as someone to make tough decisions? As someone who might need to stick her neck out to get results? Do you really see that in her?’ Rose hesitated, and Scorpius’s heart leapt into his throat with hope. ‘I’ve seen the Dementors, I know what I’m dealing with. I don’t intend to come anywhere near a live Acromantula; they shed their skin, right? And they leave that skin a distance from their nest. I just need to find where by their nest it is and then take a sample. I don’t need to fight a bloody Acromantula. I’m not completely stupid.’ He tried a lopsided smile.

Rose bit her lip. ‘We should still tell Lockett. Put the idea to her, get her to help -’

‘And if she says no? She wouldn’t dare go out there to fight an Acromantula, and she wouldn’t dare send us out there because she knows there’d be hell to pay if anything happened to any one of us. It’s better to beg forgiveness than ask permission.’

‘Is that the story of your life?’ Rose asked wryly, but her shoulders sagged. ‘I really don’t think she’d sit around and do nothing if this development was serious.’

‘None of us know what’s serious and what isn’t,’ said Scorpius. ‘And what if she wants to play it safe until the last possible moment and the last possible moment is too late?’

She hesitated. ‘All right. But I still can’t believe you’re looking to wander off into the Forbidden Forest on your own. It’s dangerous, and all the more so right now. So you’re planning on avoiding Acromantulas. That doesn’t mean you will. And what about the Redcaps, the centaurs? The Dementors? Can you even cast a patronus?’

Scorpius frowned. ‘I was planning on taking my broom and knowing when to run away. And yes, I know it’s risky. But am I really going to be doing anyone any good by sitting around at Hogwarts doing absolutely nothing?’

‘You’re not doing -’

‘Albus keeps the grounds safe. You and Lockett work on the cure. Jones is working on the ritual. Even bloody Selena is coordinating the House Elves in taking care of the infected. And what do I do?’ He met her gaze, ardent and frustrated.

Rose worked her jaw wordlessly for a long second. ‘Not go off and get yourself killed in the Forbidden Forest?’

‘It’s about time I earned my keep around here, and if that means going off into the woods to risk my life to help find a cure, then so be it. I can do that. I’m no more valuable or important than anyone else here,’ he said bitterly.

‘I didn’t say you were.’ Rose narrowed her eyes at him. ‘Who did?’

‘My...’ But his voice trailed off, and that was one confession too many. He’d already discussed his father too much with a member of the Weasley clan today. ‘It doesn’t matter. I’m going. I might not have a family member at stake here at Hogwarts, but Tim? He’s a good kid. I looked out for him last year. I’m going to look out for him this year.’

He looked her in the eye defiantly, expecting a similar dismissal to the one he’d got off her brother all those weeks ago, what now felt like a lifetime ago. But instead, Rose straightened her shoulders and nodded. ‘All right,’ she said, and he sagged with relief. ‘Just give me five minutes.’

Scorpius stared. ‘Five minutes to what?’

Rose pushed past him, heading for her room, and only cast him a brief glance over the shoulder. ‘What do you think? Come with you, of course.’

* *

‘The Marauder’s Map.’ Rose sounded grudgingly impressed as she looked at the winding scribbles showing them the way down and through the Forbidden Forest through the light of her wand-tip. ‘Mum and Dad told me all the stories about it, but I only saw James with it once. I told him I’d tell Uncle Harry he’d nicked it, but he just laughed and told me to go ahead.' Her cheeks turned a little pink. 'I didn't dare, in the end.'

'Potter Prime was a bit like that, wasn't he?' Scorpius mused, his eyes attentive as they rattled along the path through the thick, forbidding trees of the forest, six feet above the ground on his broomstick. At this slow speed, Rose could perch at the back, one hand holding the map, the other her wand. But on the way down he’d been flying faster, so for safety’s sake she’d had to cling tightly to him.

He tried to not think about it too much. Now wasn’t the time.

‘What do you mean?’

‘King of all he surveyed. Getting away with everything. I could never tell if Albus loved him or resented him.’

He couldn’t see Rose’s expression, but she sounded rather wry when she spoke. ‘I guess you are Al’s best friend after all. Most people wouldn’t know he’s capable of resentment.’ She sighed. ‘When I think it’s not easy to be the daughter of Harry Potter’s best friends, I remember it’s worse to be the child of Harry Potter. James dealt with it by being... James about it. You know what he’s like. Larger than life. Rode his father’s name as high as he could then put his own spin on it. It sounds bad, but James is his own man now, and it’s hard to not ride your parents’ coattails.’

I manage it. Instead, Scorpius said, ‘Al manages it.’

‘No, he doesn’t. He’s more like Uncle Harry than James is.’

Scorpius grinned toothily. ‘You’re saying Harry Potter should have been a Slytherin?’

‘Apparently he almost was.’

Scorpius half-turned on the broom in surprise. ‘What? The Boy Who Lived?’

‘Yes, Uncle Harry told me so, and I think we’re almost there so you might want to drop your voice,’ said Rose in a maddeningly calm voice.

‘Then you might want to put your wand out.’



They stopped, silent and alone in the dark as the light from Rose’s wand dimmed, and Scorpius stayed put for a long moment as they let their eyes adjust to the gloom. By what little moonlight broke through the trees and shone down around them they could make out the boughs and trunks and what poor pathway there was between them - and, over on their left, off the path and along a greater distance than he was really happy with through undergrowth, a rise.

‘Is that it?’ Scorpius whispered.

Rose nodded, gesturing for him to start in that direction. ‘The Map’s not great this far out,’ she said, folding it up and putting it away. ‘It’s all a bit vague. But this is where the Acromantula nest at least used to be.’

‘I’ll stay as high as I can,’ said Scorpius. ‘Keep an eye out for wherever they might shed their skins.’

‘Why don’t they just shed in their nests?’

‘Apparently it throws off predators this way.’

‘First: what the hell hunts an Acromantula, and second: How the hell do you know that?’

‘I do read, Weasley,’ said Scorpius with a small smirk as their broom swished its way in between the trees towards the rise. Truthfully, he’d only read all this that day, though she didn’t need to know this. ‘But unfortunately I have no idea about the other answer, and I pray we never find out.’

They fell silent as they got closer to the rise, keeping a good fifteen feet off the ground, or more if Scorpius could manage it. Rose’s free hand, her other clutching her wand, wrapped around his waist and she held tight as he moved between the trunks, ducked under the boughs, and then finally up as after the rise came a huge dip in the ground and a small clearing in the trees.

In the pit below he could see movement; the deliberate motion of one leg moving, then another, at once entirely perfect and in synchronisation and at the same time as if each limb had its own arachnid agenda. Scorpius shuddered as he looked down to see the sluggish and disinterested forms of a good dozen Acromantulas as big as dogs milling about the nest. The nest itself was a hole in the ground, going deeper, and he didn’t want to begin to think how many were down there in such a tight, enclosed space.

He shuddered again, and Rose’s arm around him tightened. ‘I didn’t know you were arachnophobic,’ she whispered.

‘I’m not. I have a perfectly rational fear of giant poisonous spiders gathered together in their nest,’ Scorpius murmured back, then broke off his flight to begin a perimeter sweep. If the Acromantulas had noticed them, up high but potentially silhouetted against the moonlight that streamed down more freely into this gap in the trees, they were showing no sign of reaction - for now.

For the most part the Acromantulas were gathered around their nest, though occasionally he would spot one skittering through the undergrowth out of the corner of his eye, and his grip on the handle of the broomstick twitched as if he needed to pull away even if they were a good distance off, and airborne to boot.

‘I wonder if they can jump?’ he said without thinking.

Rose stiffened. ‘I wonder why the hell you put that idea out there?’

He fell silent again, eyes sweeping through the darkness, before Rose touched his shoulder and pointed down to the left. ‘There.’

Scorpius frowned, but as he moved in closer, he could indeed make out the shape of what looked like an Acromantula a good twenty metres away from the main nest, in a dip so deep he could only properly see two legs sticking out from under rock and undergrowth. ‘Is that a skin or just another one?’

‘It’s not moving.’

‘Spiders are pretty good at staying still.’

‘All the ones away from the nest are moving. This one isn’t. Move closer.’

He was already doing so, swinging around to an angle where he might be able to see better under the overhanging - and then when he did he immediately regretted it. Even from this distance he could see the limbs Rose had spotted were just the remains of one spider’s skin - further under the rock there were more, piled up on top of one another, dense and packed and though motionless still enough to make his skin crawl.

Scorpius was no stranger to fear, especially not having come face-to-face with a group of Dementors. But the sensation that started in his belly and crawled up his throat was different - not just fear, but a creeping, insidious, revulsion. ‘This was not my best idea ever.’

‘It was a pretty good one,’ said Rose. ‘You’re going to have to let me down and then head back up.'

He frowned. 'What?'

‘Visibility down there’s going to be awful. I wouldn’t be able to spot an Acromantula coming up until it was on top of me. I definitely wouldn’t be able to tell if the whole nest came over. But if you let me down I can grab a bunch of samples and then if you fly up to about here again you can keep a lookout. If you see an Acromantula coming in, just swoop down and catch me.’

Scorpius worked his jaw wordlessly for a few moments until he found his proper indignation. ‘Why you?’

‘Because I have more experience than you at farming reagents; I have a better idea than you what makes a good sample. You have the better eyes, and you’re the better flier - if I were keeping watch and we needed to make a swift getaway I’d have to pick you up and swap so you could fly.’

His shoulders sagged. ‘You know I told your Mum I’d stop you from going off and doing something stupid like running off into a cave to get Acromantula skin?’

‘Clearly Mum doesn’t know you if she thinks that you’re the person to stop someone doing anything stupid, and if she thinks that I wouldn’t do something because of you.’ As he looked over his shoulder, Rose’s smile was a ghost in the dark, and she looked at him with forced whimsy. ‘Don’t worry, Malfoy. I’ll come back every time.’

So that’s what that feels like.

He let her down a short distance away from the pit of Acromantula skins - he was unable to think of it in any other terms - then rose to the previous position, shoulders tense, keeping a close eye out. While the nest, a good distance away, was his primary concern, he still looked sharply at any sign of movement through the undergrowth, whether it was an Acromantula peacefully going about its business - or a leaf buffeted by the wind.

And the only movement that made him jump was the sight of Rose, far below, waving at him to come down.

She was crouched over one of the skins, so big that it honestly looked to Scorpius like a whole Acromantula. She beckoned him closer as he landed, and reluctantly Scorpius swung his leg over his broom, leaving it hovering and ready for them to depart, and padded over.

‘I just need you to hold this bit down while I sever it... then we’re done,’ Rose muttered.

He made a face, but shook his sleeves over his hand, gripped the end of the leg-skin she was gathering, and yanked it free as her wand ran over the base to sever it. She took it from him as they straightened, stowing it in the bag she’d slung across her shoulder.

‘I have a few samples,’ Rose said, looking pleased with herself. ‘So we’ll not only have enough, we should have a variety. I don’t know why Hogwarts doesn’t allow more farming of Acromantula parts from here, it wasn’t hard at all -’

Then she stopped short, eyes widening and locking over his shoulder, and there was a rustle from behind him. Of course you said that, Scorpius mused as horror rose in his gut, and he spun on the spot -

Just in time to see an Acromantula lunge off the top of the rocky outcropping that shielded them from sight of the nest - but also blocked it from their view - and hurled itself forwards. It was still a good distance away, and for whatever reason didn’t close the gap in one single bound, just dropped to the ground a couple of metres off.

On top of Scorpius’ broomstick, bringing it crashing to the ground.

Rose stared at the Acromantula as it paused, mandibles twitching in the night air, and drew a sharp breath. ‘Oh, bugger.’

Then three more crested the hill where it had first arrived, and Scorpius realised why it hadn’t gone for them: it had been waiting. For reinforcements.

‘Good assessment,’ he agreed, reaching for her elbow. ‘Run.’

But his hand caught nothing but air, because it was her grabbing him by the back of the collar and yanking him away as the two of them turned and broke into a flat sprint. Scorpius saved one last forlorn look over his shoulder for his broomstick, abandoned where it lay on the ground pinned under an Acromantula’s body - and then promptly regretted it as he saw the four gigantic spiders hurtle along after them, joined by a half-dozen more cresting the rise and clambering down in their wake.

‘I know I should have asked this earlier!’ barked Scorpius, bounding over a fallen tree-trunk as they scrambled down the hill, uncaring of whatever direction they were headed in apart from away. ‘But how did your dad and Harry Potter survive this place?’

‘They were rescued!’ panted Rose, ducking under a low-hanging branch that whipped at Scorpius’ hair as he hurtled behind her. ‘By a flying car!’

Scorpius stumbled. ‘Great!’ he cursed, staggering until Rose grabbed his shoulder to right him, barely breaking pace. ‘Don’t suppose you have one of those going spare?’

They were at the bottom of the hill now, gravity and terror and a sudden flight lending them a good lead on the spiders and a strong burst of speed. But Scorpius risked another glance over his shoulder to spot more spiders than he could easily count, and they were gaining on them.

'No,' Rose was panting, desperate. 'No, I forgot to -' Then she screamed, and when Scorpius’ head whipped forward to see a tall figure in a dark robe standing before them, for one horrid second he thought it was a Dementor.

We’re going to fucking die out here.

Then the figure extended a hand and magical light came shooting from the top of a wand, past them and into the throng of Acromantulas that hurtled behind them. There were inhuman shrieks and thuds as the horde was struck by the magical wave, sent flying up into the air, and for long seconds after they landed heavily they swayed or skittered about in a disorientated, angry fashion.

‘It won’t last!’ shouted the figure ahead of them, who reached down into the undergrowth - and pulled up a wooden door set into the ground. ‘Down here! Quickly!’

Without thinking Scorpius shoved Rose up to the figure and the door, which led to a narrow passageway burrowing its way down, the walls sealed with stone. There was already light down there, and in the flickering gloom Scorpius realised that this was not some old ruin - whatever this bolthole was, it was recently made.

It was also very small, taking them less than fifteen feet underground before opening up to a small chamber no bigger than their rooms at Hogwarts, a lantern filled with a magical blue light on the downtrodden dirt floor providing illumination and throwing monstrously long shadows along walls.

But it wasn’t outside, above ground where the Acromantulas roamed, and so right then Scorpius didn’t care.

Or thought he didn’t care, as he flopped to his knees once he was in the chamber, panting for breath, uncaring of the monstrous shadows, uncaring at the sound of the hatch above being shut, uncaring of the footsteps of their unexpected saviour following them down - until his gaze came up to Rose, who was still standing, still clutching her wand, and pointing it in the direction of the steps.

The moment their saviour entered the chamber her lips were moving. ‘Stupe-’

To close the hatch, the robed figure had stowed their wand. Rose had been stood ready, waiting, the words of the spell on the tip of her tongue, and still Scorpius watched as their saviour moved like a blur. One moment he was stood with empty hands facing off against an armed and ready Rose - the next his wand was in his hand, magic flashing from the tip and striking her. She barely had time to let out more than a muted sound of shock and surprise before dropping like a sack of potatoes.

Rose!’ Scorpius sprang to his feet, going for his own wand - then stopped as he found himself staring at that of their ‘saviour’, now pointed straight at his chest. He went cross-eyed peering at the tip that still glowed with magic, then looked up, along the black-clad arms and, finally, into the cowled face which was visible through the flickering light of the magic lamp.

‘I would heartily recommend against it,’ the black-robed man said, his voice lyrical, educated, calm. ‘She’s unharmed. But you both have a curious way of showing gratitude.’

Scorpius’ heart was thudding in his chest loud enough for the sound to fill his ears. His fists clenched and unclenched impotently, but the mixture of fury and terror was enough to make his knees shake, make his breath come more raggedly than their mad race through the undergrowth had, and despite his blinding concern for Rose, lying in the dirt next to him, he couldn’t tear his eyes away from the face before him. ‘You.’

Prometheus Thane narrowed his eyes. He looked much the same as the picture Scorpius had found in the Ravenclaw records except, of course, older. But more than years lined his face; a thin scar lined his chin, and there was a harshness to his features which only experience, rather than mere time, could bring. He’d been handsome as a youth; as a man, he was perhaps no less picturesque, but now with a vicious edge to his bearing.

‘What about me?’ he said.

‘Okay, forget you - what did you do to her?’ Scorpius edged over to Rose.

‘Please. If I wanted you dead or hurt it would have been the easiest thing in the world to do nothing as you were killed and eaten by Acromantula. She’s Stunned. It’s a strong one; it’ll take maybe ten minutes to wear off, and I doubt you’ll be able to revive her.’ Thane’s wand twitched at him. ‘Now, what makes you think you recognise me?’

Scorpius’ breath caught. ‘Your memory charm? Didn’t work so well. You’re more efficient than you know, Thane; you were so good at protecting yourself from magic with that ritual you even protected me.’

‘So you know about the ritual. I see.’ Thane gave a curt nod. ‘No matter. It stopped nothing. And I can’t see how knowing who I am has helped you in any way.’

‘Oh, I don’t know.’ Scorpius forced one of his knowing smirks. ‘It's amazing what you can find out with a little digging. Just one thread can unravel a lot.'

Thane sighed. 'I've seen a man play poker with a bad hand; you’re a boy trying to play poker with no cards, Scorpius. You don’t know anything.’

He cocked his head. ‘You know who I am.’

‘The Daily Prophet knows who you are, it knows that you’re one of the few students still alive and upright at Hogwarts, and process of elimination alone could identify you even if you didn’t have the bearing of your forefathers about you. Not to mention that it is my business to know what is going on at Hogwarts at this exact moment,’ said Thane. ‘To boot, the lady in your company is Rose Weasley, daughter of Ronald Weasley and Hermione Granger, who leads the Ministerial Task Force that seeks to end the Phlegethon affliction. I know exactly who you are.’

Scorpius grinned toothily. ‘And now I know what Phlegethon is.’

Thane rolled his eyes. ‘You just see how much good that does you.’

The forced smile faded at the implied threat, and Scorpius took a careful step towards Rose. When Thane didn’t look about to stop him, he crouched beside her. She was on her side, eyes shut, completely out for the count; without thinking he tried to shift her into at least a less uncomfortable slouch on the floor, and noted that she was breathing normally.

Two months ago he wouldn’t have known how to spot normal breathing at a glance.

‘What are you going to do with us?’

Thane made a distant sound of frustration. 'I didn't kill you before, Scorpius. I didn't leave you to die now - I saved you. What do you think is going to happen?’

‘I don’t know. What were you doing out there?’

Watching you,’ said Thane. As Scorpius didn’t move, he went to sit on the bottom step in the chamber, wand held deceptively casually in his hand. ‘Just like I watched you when you went into the woods and found the Dementors. But then you made it away of your own accord. This time you weren’t so lucky. So I intervened. The Acromantula would have been too dazed by my spell to realise you went down here; they’ll be frenzied in the area for several minutes, but then they’ll settle down and return to their nest. We’re far away from it now that when you leave, so long as you head north, you shouldn’t fall foul of them.’

Scorpius wrinkled his nose. ‘Let me get this straight. You saved us, and you’re not capturing us, you’re going to let us go?’

‘What would you propose I do? Stand by idly and watch two children get killed by Acromantula? Or be even more of a monster and save you only to murder you myself in this miserable hole?’

‘You...’ Scorpius sputtered. ‘You’ve cursed Hogwarts with a horrible illness!’

‘And nobody has died,’ said Thane amiably. ‘So I fail to see where my past record might indicate I would, by action or inaction, murder two defenceless children. At the very least it would make my life considerably more difficult were I to kill a child of the Weasley family and a child of the Malfoy family. Not all crimes are equal, boy.’

Scorpius looked at the bag that was still slung across Rose’s shoulder, the one containing the reagents they’d gathered. ‘We’re...’

‘Gathering Acromantula skin. You think you can use it in a possible cure, or at least to alleviate the symptoms of Phlegethon. I know.’

‘And you’re... not going to stop us? At least take the parts off us?’

Thane gave a ghost of a smile. ‘No.’

‘Why the hell not?’

‘It’s not what I’m here to do.’

Scorpius stared at him for a long moment, but there was nothing in Thane’s face which gave any indication of anything - no smugness, no satisfaction, nothing but a calm professionalism that allowed for cold efficiency and yet reasonable politeness.

‘You’ve cursed Hogwarts, given yourself an immunity to this - to Phlegethon - which has accidentally spilled over to us. Or was it accidental? Did you want some people still in the castle, unaffected?’ Unthinkingly his hand had come down to Rose’s, who remained lying still on the ground, her grip cold and limp. ‘If it’s an attack, it’s an ineffective one. You could be stopping us from bringing possible cure reagents back to the school - unless you know they won't do anything.' Scorpius' brow furrowed as he thought aloud, watching Thane's eyes for any hint of a reaction. 'Or you just don’t care. So what is this? Does it matter that it’s Hogwarts you’re striking? Is this some sort of vengeance against the school? Or... a test-run for the curse, where Hogwarts makes the perfect place to observe how it spreads, to observe how people react to it? Or some elaborate cover-up where you’re only targeting one, or a handful of people, and because people are seeing it as an indiscriminate attack they don’t even suspect a personal motive...?’

Thane’s gaze remained neutral and, desperate, Scorpius pushed on. ‘Or is this a diversion? You want something from Hogwarts and this makes the perfect cover? Or you want something somewhere else in Britain, in the whole world, and right now everyone’s eyes are on the crisis at Hogwarts so your allies can do... do... something under everyone’s noses!’

Still no response from Thane, and dull silence fell upon them until he pulled out a silver pocket-watch, examining it with cold disinterest, and put it away again. ‘The coast should be clear now,’ he said plainly. ‘I’ll leave first, and make absolutely sure. You will wait at least two minutes and then you should head north. You’ll find the path that should take you back to school. Be careful; Dementors are still out there.’

He placed a strange emphasis on the word “careful”, as if he actually did care, but Scorpius just frowned. ‘What’s to stop me from going after you sooner?’

Thane got to his feet and nodded at Rose’s still prone form. ‘Her,’ he said. ‘She’ll still be out a little while longer. More than I need. Or you could follow me on your own and leave her potentially undefended if there are any Acromantula still out there.’

Scorpius ground his teeth impotently as the tall, black-robed figure gave him a brief bow. Despite himself, he couldn’t find a single trace of mockery in the gesture. ‘It has been a pleasure, Mister Malfoy. Good evening,’ said Prometheus Thane, before turning on his heel and trudging up the steps. There was the sound of the hatch being opened, the sound of footsteps crunching through undergrowth, and then nothing but silence.

The moment he was sure the coast was clear, Scorpius scrabbled to Rose’s back pocket, muttering a wry apology, and yanked the Marauder’s Map out. His wand shook as he ran it over the parchment, as he uttered the words to bring the ink to life, and quickly he unfurled it far enough to find them. They were in a far corner, way into where the map marked the boundaries of the Forbidden Forest, and the details were becoming sketchy, vague. Nevertheless he could still see the mark for the Acromantula nest - which they were mercifully far from by now - and the two little dots converged together that bore their names.

Even though Thane had to be nearby still - though he was sure he’d have heard the crack of Disapparition from here - there was absolutely no sign of him on the map.

Scorpius lowered it, shoulders drooping, and sat back down next to Rose, one eye on her, the other eye on the stairs leading back up into the night-time forest. Her breathing was steady, and finally he could see the twitch of her fingertips and eyelids which suggested that Thane had been right, that it was just a heavy Stun she had been affected by, and that she was already beginning to shake it off.

All he had to do was wait.

And then get the hell out of the Forbidden Forest.

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