Chapter 24 : House on Fire
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Scorpius hopped from foot to foot. 'You should have told me sooner,' he said, scowling at Lockett as she shredded newt's skin between her fingers into the bubbling cauldron in her workshop.
'So you could come here and pester me?'
'So I could help!' he said, and felt utterly impotent.
'This isn't helping, Scorpius.' Lockett's voice was surprisingly soothing. 'I left you to keep working because you were doing your radio. It's important work. It's good for people outside to hear from the children, and it's good for them to know they're being heard. I didn't take you away from that because there's nothing you can do.'
'Nothing I can do. About my best friend and - and Weasley, stuck in the Headmaster's Office. You suck at reassurance, Professor.'
Her shoulders sagged. 'We're doing everything we can.'
Scorpius folded his arms across his chest. 'I know you're the Potions Professor,' he drawled, 'so this is kind of your thing. But did it occur to you that maybe there's not a potion for everything?'
Lockett's expression tensed. 'The only person who knows the password to the office,' she said, 'is Professor Stubbs himself. Who remains unconscious. If I can come up with a balance of the Relieving Elixir which can awaken him, then we can get them out.'
'Can you cook one up in three days?'
He tilted his jaw up half an angry inch. 'That's what Jones said. They've got no food or water up there. They can't conjure it, not proper stuff to live off. Three days, he said. That's how long they can last if they're going to be all right afterwards.'
Lockett's expression only flickered. 'It's more of a vague guideline, and with sophisticated healing spells that's not strictly true -'
'We don't have anyone in Hogwarts who can cast sophisticated healing spells!' Scorpius snapped. 'So I don't fancy taking a risk, so that's three days!'
'What do you think I'm doing, Malfoy?' She turned to him, eyes blazing, and at last he heard it. The shake in her voice he'd known all along had to be there, the sound of the burden of being the one responsible for over three hundred lives. The fear. 'I'm trying to fix this!'
'Like you're fixing Phlegethon?'
Her face shifted; it was like he'd hit her. But then one angry finger was pointing at the stairs. 'Get out. I am trying to help Professor Stubbs so we can release them. You are not helping this, Malfoy, I need to concentrate.'
'Or you need to drown yourself in another bottle of Firewhiskey so you don't snap from the pressure?' he snarled, the fear of the moment and tension of the months manifesting itself in that familiar, angry punch against whatever he could reach.
This time she didn't react, just stabbed her finger again at the stairs. 'Out.'
It was one word - one simple, short word - but as he slunk to the exit, defeated and knowing he was in the wrong, he realised he'd never heard anyone sound as furious as Professor Lockett did in that moment.
He stomped down the corridor, up the stairs, hands shoved into his pockets and letting his fear and anger guide the way along the route to the Headmaster's Office. Or, rather, the stairway up, still blocked, still sealed absolutely tightly.
Only now with Methuselah Jones, Selena Rourke, and a whole load of papers sat on the floor in front of it.
His nose wrinkled. 'Oh, what're you two bloody doing?'
Selena lifted a finger to her lips. 'Shh.'
Scorpius crossed his arms. 'No, I won't -'
He barely saw Selena move - but then she was next to him, one hand cruelly grabbing his ear, and she twisted it and pulled him further away from the doorway. 'Will you stop being an obnoxious little troll for ten seconds, Scorpius? Can you do that?'
'Ow, you're pulling -'
'I'll do worse if you don't shut up. But I will explain.' Something glinted in Selena's eyes, and the worry in him abated, just a little bit, as he realised what it was. Sympathy. He slumped and nodded, and she let him go, dropping her voice as she nodded towards Methuselah. 'He's trying to break through the wardings.'
Scorpius wanted to laugh, but stopped himself. 'The wardings. To the Headmaster's Office. The most secure in the castle.'
Selena shrugged. 'He says he can do it,' she said, and spoke with such simple faith that he could only be jealous. He needed a little faith himself. 'Don't ask me how -'
'Two ways of beating wardings.' Methuselah had been sat, cross-legged, on the floor, his wand in his lap. The tip glowed gently. 'Brute force. Very difficult. Requires huge skill. Impossible for one person to do against wards of this kind. Even me.'
From anyone else it would have sounded like bragging. Scorpius knew Methuselah Jones didn't brag, and he felt a smidgen of whatever faith was keeping Selena Rourke relaxed in this crisis. 'What's the second way?'
'Wards are like a locked door. Just as you can break them down, you can unlock them. Requires a key. Or, convincing the ward that you have a key.'
'Can you do that?'
Methuselah's brow furrowed briefly, and he lifted his wand, gaze unseeing, sweeping it across some magical field visible only to him at that moment. 'Yes. Maybe twelve hours.'
'Twelve hours?' Scorpius blinked. 'How come you didn't try this before?'
'Never had the urgency. Or means.' He nodded at the door. 'They broke in. Left a hole in the wardings. Patched itself up, part of the security. But - like a scar. Can use that. Loosened everything. Should make it easier.'
Selena had noticed something in Methuselah's voice that Scorpius hadn't, and he felt her stiffen. 'Should?' Scorpius remembered only then that Methuselah didn't deal in uncertainties like that. For him, it either would, or it wouldn't. Normally.
His brow furrowed again. 'If fundamental principle is correct,' he admitted. 'Insufficient information available to appropriately judge if theory will work. Not without trying.'
She started, looking like her faith had taken a dent. 'You said you could do this.'
'Believe I can. Certainty impossible.' Methuselah actually hesitated, gaze tearing from the invisible magical fields and landing on her. 'Didn't want to worry you.'
This is one hell of a time for him to develop that kind of emotional awareness, thought Scorpius, and scowled. 'There has to be another way. This is two long shots and they've been in there, what, eight hours already?'
‘Eight hours won't kill them,' Selena muttered as Methuselah returned to his work.
'It all adds up. You and I should be doing something.'
'I am doing something. Helping Methuselah.' She gestured at the papers. 'It's quicker if he doesn't have to go fetch parchment, books, food and drink, himself. He spends more time here. It helps him. What're you doing to help, Malfoy?'
'I'm trying to find something!' Scorpius protested, voice still low. 'I don't like sitting around being all useless.'
Selena sighed, again with that awful sympathetic edge. 'You could see how the House Elves are doing on their rounds; I haven't had the last report off Harley -'
'House Elves!' Scorpius snapped his fingers. 'Can they get in?'
She blinked. 'I don't know; wouldn't we have tried that by now?'
'If you say that about every idea, nothing will ever work,' said Scorpius.
'Philosophical of you, Scorpius,' she said with an edge in her voice. 'But if you want to go harass Harley in the kitchens and irritate him right now, be my guest.'
'Sure, Selena. Because if there's a chance he can help us, I'm going to leave him alone because he might be "irritated".'
They had paced the room, checking every inch of it for an exit, or a clue, or something. Normally, the office should have opened up from the inside, but with the wards detecting their break-in, the door remained solid and unmoving. The windows hadn't opened at all. The paving stones had blocked the hole they'd made perfectly. There was no way out.
Nor was there any scribbled clue about how to get out, a password, or some control mechanism to open up the wards from the inside. So they had made themselves busy, optimistic that the others would come to get them. Some time. Eventually.
Albus had found the hefty tome they'd been looking for; the magical book which gave him all the control he wanted over the wardings and protections of the castle and the grounds. Except for this room. Because with their break-in, no commands from inside were being accepted. But still he had settled down to study it, occasionally making a noise of interest as Rose had browsed the book.
But that had been eight hours ago, and, bored, restless, worried, thirsty, and hungry, Albus had begun to wander. Rose watched him from where she sat on the rug on the floor, some of Professor Stubbs' more esoteric books laid out before her, as he prowled the walls like a trapped tiger, glaring at portraits, at display cases, until eventually he stopped by one.
'You think this could help?'
Rose raised an eyebrow. 'Were you thinking of carving down the door?'
Albus shrugged. 'I've got no better ideas.' He thumbed the latch of the display case containing the Sword of Gryffindor. 'I mean, it's damn magical, isn't it?'
'I think everything in this room is "damn magical",' Rose mused, tired and cranky, but Albus didn't reply as he reached up to grab the hilt, tilt the sword off the bracings it hung upon - and then swore loudly as it dropped in his hand as if it weighed a sheer tonne, pinning his fingers to the floor before he snatched them away.
Rose jumped at the shout and the clatter of metal, straightening. 'What - did you just drop the Sword of Gryffindor -'
'You try picking it up!' snapped Albus with unusual irritation. 'It's like it's made of solid - I don't know what, but solid something really heavy!'
She got up, padding over with curiosity. 'Goblin steel,' she mused, 'is supposed to be perfect in balance and weight. Maybe it's part of the security wardings.' She bent down to grasp the hilt and carefully pulled.
And then she was holding in her hand the most beautifully balanced sword she'd ever hefted. Not that Rose had any experience of swords, but this wasn't like a weapon, it wasn't even like a wand, an extension of her being. It was like it was her being. A smile tugged at her lips. 'See?'
Albus eyed it. 'I don't get it,' he said, and reached out again. She shifted her grip to try to slide the hilt into his hand - and then his hand was jerked down, and he swore again as he dropped the sword. 'What the -'
'Fascinating.' Rose tilted her head, curious. 'Get out your wand. Can you levitate it?'
He looked grudging, but lifted his wand and did so, the blade bobbing in the air. With a disgruntled expression, Albus levitated it back in the brackets. 'So much for that idea.'
'I could try to hack the door down,' Rose mused, 'but I don't think we'd get very far with my arms.'
'What's that all about, anyway?' asked Albus, brow furrowed as he glared at the Sword of Gryffindor as if it had personally offended him.
'I never heard about this before, but I suppose it's inevitable when it was last used almost exclusively by a bunch of Gryffindors. I suppose it doesn't want to be wielded by a Slytherin.'
She looked at him, smiling a small, sly smile - and immediately regretted it when she saw the look on his face. Albus had been raised with the stories of their parents, and many of those tales included the feats their fathers had performed with the Sword of Gryffindor. Killing a basilisk. Destroying a horcrux. She knew that Albus was never trying to be his father, but she realised how knowing he never could be like him in one little but heroic way had to sting. Especially when tired and stressed.
'Well,' said Albus, and turned away. 'I'm a Slytherin. We're meant to use our brains, not our brawn.'
The grumble was a self-aware one, poking fun at his House's arrogance as much as her House's reputed preference for thuggery over thought, and he knew it was made sillier by that he was one of the burliest of their year and she was one of the smartest. It was meant to be a distraction, but she'd allowed so many of those to slip through before, and now she was trapped here and who knew when they'd get out?
So she drew a deep breath, and closed the case to the sword. 'Al? Why did you get Sorted into Slytherin?'
There was a long, awkward pause, and she didn't turn around. 'I told you,' said Albus, voice tense. 'Sorting Hat did it.'
'You know your dad always said you could ask for its preference.' She bit her lip. 'Didn't you ask it to put you in Gryffindor?'
He was right; he'd told her before that the Sorting Hat had done it, every time she'd asked. But she'd never asked the second question, not because it hadn't occurred to her, but because she knew Albus wouldn't lie to her and she wasn't sure she wanted to hear the answer.
So she didn't turn as he inhaled sharply and, eventually, said, 'No.'
Rose closed her eyes. 'Because of Scorpius.'
'Because of Scorpius.'
It hurt to hear what she already knew, and she couldn't blink back the tears as she turned. He stood in the centre of the room, bigger and broader than her but suddenly very, very small in the face of her upset and his shameful admission. 'We used to do everything together, Al,' Rose whispered, voice hoarse. 'Thick as thieves. Best of friends. We did everything together, and then we were going to go to Hogwarts together.'
'And then nothing was the same again. The Sorting Hat called Slytherin for Malfoy. And then you were next, and then it took all that long time, and then finally it called Slytherin for you.'
Albus looked forlorn, miserable. 'You could have asked to come with us,' he mumbled guiltily.
'I shouldn't have had to!' This exploded out of her, upset more than angry - over five years' worth of upset escaping in a burst she didn't manage to clamp down on, and the words kept coming. 'We were best friends! Our whole lives! And then you turned your back on me for - for what, a six hour train ride?'
'He -' Albus opened and closed his mouth. 'You still had everyone, in Gryffindor. He had nobody, Rosie. Absolutely nobody. I wasn't turning my back on you, I was being a friend, to the kid who was trying so hard to be cool but was clearly so bloody happy when I sat in the compartment with him, and then the train ride was so fun, but I knew who he was and I saw how alone he was and -'
'And so that made it all right to go to him over me?'
'I didn't really think it through!' Albus admitted, eyes widening. 'He got Sorted, and then it was my choice, and I'd just figured I'd ask for Gryffindor but - he was the first friend I had who wasn't family, and I kind of panicked and asked for Slytherin! It was a split-second decision, Rosie, honestly.'
'But it tore us away forever.'
'It didn't have to!'
'What did you think was going to happen?' Rose snapped, more angry than she needed to be about Sorting at the age of sixteen - but her eleven year-old self had never managed to say all of this, and now her turn had come. 'You didn't think it would change? We wouldn't live together, have class together, see each other unless we went out of our way to see one another -'
'And you didn't!' said Albus, indignant but not accusing. 'You didn't spend any time with me, you stayed away from me, you said - even though on the train you'd been so chatty, too - that you didn't like him, that you hated him, not because he was a Malfoy but for no reason, for no reason at all -'
'Because he took you away from me!'
The words came spilling past her lips without her meaning to let them go at all, and then rang out in the suddenly cavernous office, echoing and impossible to miss or mistake. Rose winced, lifted a hand as if she could catch them and cram them back into hiding, but they were gone, and Albus was straightening up slowly, as if seeing her for the first time.
Or, perhaps, the first time in five years.
Rose let her hand drop uselessly. 'It was you and me, Al. For years. Of course I love James and Lily, and Fred, and all the others. But it was never like it was with us. And it's never been since.'
'You've had friends,' Albus began falteringly.
'Hestia, and Cheryl, and - and I love them, they're great, they really are, but we just don't...' Rose's voice trailed off. She'd wondered, when she was younger, if she simply had a skewed perspective on friendships. The bonds her parents had made were born in war, after all, how could normal school life compare? But then she'd got older and looked around and saw how easy people made it, and realised that while there was nothing wrong with her Gryffindor classmates, she just didn't have much in common with them.
Well, except for Matthias. But he was a whole different issue. Cheryl and Hestia had rolled their eyes at her when she got excited about study, and in turn she'd laughed at Hestia for this bit of gossip, or Cheryl for that bit of sporty obsession, and while their differences had made them stronger, they'd been perhaps a bit too different for one of those deep, resounding bonds.
The kind of bond Albus had with Scorpius.
The kind of bond that had made her hate Scorpius for five years.
Albus looked thoroughly ashamed. 'That's why you never liked him.'
Rose tilted her nose into the air, knowing the truth sounded petty and childish, but saying it anyway. 'I was jealous.'
'You know he didn't pull us apart -'
'No, but being in different Houses did. And that happened all because of Malfoy.'
'That's why you'd never join us if I wanted to spend time with you. That's why you sniped at him all the time. And then it became all-out war, because he pushed back, and then the two of you couldn't possibly be in the same place at the same time without it becoming an argument.' Albus sounded remarkably bitter. 'That didn't really help, did it?'
'Oh, don't act like I'm the bad guy here, Al, he gave as good as he got.'
'Maybe.' Albus paused, wetting his lips, and squinted. 'But then what the hell has been going on between you two?'
The answer wasn't a simple one to begin with, but since she'd just confessed why she hadn't been able to stand Scorpius for five years, the truth sounded even more ridiculous. Rose felt her cheeks colour. 'Um.'
'Right.' Albus folded his arms across his chest, obviously understanding at least a little. 'So you can't stand him, but - that's a bit mental, isn't it?' He hesitated, looking concerned. 'Is that why it went wrong? Hell, Rose, I know everything is a bit crazy now, but messing around with someone you can't stand isn't really...'
His voice trailed off, and a sudden wave of affection burst from her at him. Even though he'd defend Scorpius, even though he'd disagree with any reasons she could give for hating him, here Albus was, still trying to protect her from being hurt by him.
'Maybe,' Rose said in a small voice, 'the crazy situation made me realise he's not such a rotten guy after all.'
Albus sighed, and looked suddenly, inexplicably, frustrated and apprehensive. 'You never listened to me before,' he said, and ran a hand through his hair. 'So what happened?'
Her shoulders slumped. 'Hector.'
Albus scowled, more than he ever had before in his obvious disapproval of Hector Flynn, but for once she felt too downtrodden to defend her boyfriend. Especially since she knew full well he was only her boyfriend until she could stand the guilt of dumping him.
'That's really silly, Rose,' Albus said at last.
She sighed. 'I know. I don't know if I'm just kidding myself, but - he's conscious, he's suffering, how the hell do I tell him that I'm dumping him? And doing that to him for, well, Malfoy, who doesn't exactly have the best track record with girls? It's one thing to mess myself around for that, but to mess Hector around for that when the last thing he really needs is getting his heart broken for nothing is a pretty grade-A bitch thing to -'
Albus spoke in a low tone, lifting his hands to cut her off - and that was why she stopped, why she hesitated. Because he looked, all of a sudden, incredibly, incredibly tired in a way she'd not seen before. He drew a deep breath. 'There's nothing wrong with Scorpius' track record with girls he actually cares about.'
Rose drew a sharp breath. 'Yes, I've heard Rourke's little conspiracy theory, but -'
'There are two things you need to know,' said Albus, cutting her off again, even though he didn't raise his voice. 'The first thing is that Scorpius didn't cheat on Miranda; he doesn't do that - she cheated on him.'
'Yes, Rourke said -'
'The second thing is that she cheated on him with Hector.'
Rose froze, Albus' words thudding into her like he'd punched her in the gut. She faltered as he stared at her, and he had to be watching her face to make sure she was doing exactly what she was - quick, quick mathematics.
Malfoy and Travers broke up right before the Defence exam. You and Hector got together after the Hufflepuff-Slytherin match. That's one week later, he couldn't...
She'd not been betrayed. But she had been lied to, a lot. And then every time Hector had thrown a sour look at Scorpius, every time Scorpius had lashed out at Hector, and worse, every time she had been unpleasant to Scorpius because of the enmity between them even though it was he, Scorpius, who was the victim, not Hector, flashed through her mind.
Rose lifted a hand to her lips. 'Oh, crap.'
Albus's shoulders had slumped, and he crossed the gap towards her. 'Rosie, I'm sorry, I wanted to tell you, I really did, but Scorpius made me promise not to -'
'Why didn't he want people to know?' said Rose, nose crinkling, bewildered.
'He just wanted it to blow over and go away! Miranda had told everyone he'd cheated, and everyone believed it, so he knew if he started telling the opposite it would turn into a match of "he said, she said", people would pick sides, it'd get unpleasant - easier still to just keep his head down and wait for it to blow over, he said,' Albus explained, obviously not buying it himself.
And easier for Malfoy if people believe he's a little shit, than trying to scramble something reputable for himself. Or, more likely, than everyone thinking he's a victim.
'And Hector...' Her mouth went dry. 'The lying little -'
'I'm not going to ask you to keep this secret,' said Albus in a rush, 'because the world's ending, so bugger this idiotic schoolyard stuff. And you're not wrong to not want to hurt Hector, but frankly, he's a big boy - but more importantly, you need to be happy and level in this, because we're always half a step away from going mental as it is!'
It was the most selfish she'd ever heard Albus, and she knew he'd only gone so far because he was, really, right. She might have been protecting Hector, but what the last couple of weeks had done to her sleep cycle alone was frankly horrific. Rose wasn't sure what snapping felt like, but she was getting a pretty good idea of what being strained felt like.
'Maybe,' was all she said, though, reeling from the news, from what it meant, from all the mistaken assumptions she'd been making for months about Scorpius and his behaviour - and the reminder of why she'd been so quick to think ill of him in the first place.
It was like Albus was reading her thoughts, because his hand came to her arm, touch warm and reassuring. 'I really am sorry, Rosie,' he mumbled. 'If I'd known at the time what I was doing, I wouldn't have - don't think I weighed and measured it and picked this kid I'd just met over you. I really didn't think about it. I just acted.'
Is that why you're like this now? Those five seconds under the Sorting Hat changed the whole course of your life, you know this. And mine, and Scorpius'. Have you dared do something impulsive since?
So she smiled up at him, and though the smile was weak it was sincere as she stepped forward to wrap her arms around his broad shoulders. ‘It’s all right, Al,’ Rose said. ‘I mean - it was a long time ago, and... we were kids. The most important thing is that we’re here now, yeah? Together, going forwards?’
Albus smiled, his hug firm, warm, pleased at the acceptance of his apology. ‘Yeah,’ he said. ‘Forwards.’ He gave a crooked grin. ‘And, you know, hopefully... the hell out of here.’
The tiny edition of the Daily Prophet was lowered to reveal narrowed, irritable House Elf eyes. 'You're not allowed down into the kitchens, Malfoy, this is my -'
Scorpius crossed the distance before Harley's sneered announcement was finished. The House Elf's feet were propped up on his miniature desk, and Scorpius grabbed him by the ankles, pushing him so he was tipped back on his chair. His hands flailed, he tried to kick himself free, but to no avail - he was suddenly at Scorpius' mercy, to be tipped over backwards as the wizard pleased, and all he could say was an objecting, panicked, 'Oi!'
'We are in a crisis,' Scorpius snarled, 'and all you can think about is your bloody territory?'
'Let me down, you overgrown ape!'
'You're like a poor man's goblin! Give you a bit of freedom and some money and then you're just another obnoxious little shit, aren't you!'
'I'm warning you, Malfoy -'
'Or what? You'll sneer at me again? Swan around like you're superior, like we're the villains even if we gave you your precious freedoms?'
Harley was still flailing in some panic, the other House Elves in the kitchen frozen by the scene before them. Lacking their foreman's brusque nature, they didn't rush to interfere. But at Scorpius' words, something flashed in Harley's eyes, despite his position of weakness. 'I forgot I was supposed to be grateful that you stopped treating us like slaves and gave us the barest smidgen of common decency! So kind, your highness!'
Scorpius swore, and pushed. Harley went tipping over backwards, little arms flailing, and hit the ground with a clatter. His chair spilled him out onto the hard stone floor and for a few seconds he just lay there, sprawled out, stunned.
When he did speak, his voice was low, wry, if pained. '...thank you for the reminder on why I hate your kind.'
'I don't have time for this.' Scorpius circled the desk to stand over Harley, anger flashing in his eyes. 'The Headmaster's office.'
Harley blinked. 'What about it?'
'Get me inside! Or get Rose and Albus out, I don't care.'
The House Elf sat up gingerly, and began dusting his rumpled suit off. 'What makes you think I'll do that?'
'Because they're trapped there. Because you can help, so you should.'
Harley's expression stiffened. 'Should I, now.'
'You House Elves can come and go wherever you please in the castle. I don't know why you didn't help us get into the office before, but I don't care, I need you to do it now, to get in there and get them out.'
Scorpius straightened. 'What?'
Harley picked himself up off the floor. 'You come down here. You threaten me. You knock me over. Then you demand I do something, and act all outraged as if I'm the arsehole here for not jumping for the opportunity to help you out.'
Scorpius' expression twisted. 'You hate wizards that much? You hate us so much that you won't bloody save two from being trapped, just because of your stupid pride?'
'My pride? How's yours, little Malfoy?' Harley's smile was twisted, cruel. 'All you have to do is say "please". Will you do that for your friends, or is that too demeaning for you?'
There was a pause as Scorpius swallowed, hard. He wanted to pick Harley up and shake him until the answers came out, but realised this approach was getting nowhere. The idea of conceding made him feel sick in his gut. But then he thought of Albus, and Rose, and shame swept over him, shame at how he'd treated them as much as how he'd just behaved for their sake.
He had to get them out. He had to.
Scorpius wetted his dry lips. His voice was a low croak, like the word had to be dragged from him when he spoke, but nevertheless came sincerely. 'Please.'
Harley regarded him for a moment, studied his face as if he could spot any hint of mockery or lie. Then he straightened, seeming satisfied - and turned to amble towards the fire. 'Sorry,' he said. 'Can't help.'
'I can't get into the Office.' Harley shrugged as he extended his hands to the fire, rubbing them for warmth. 'House Elves can enter by Headmaster's invitation only. He has to renew it every day. We can't get in.'
'You just made me ask,' Scorpius growled, 'even though you couldn't help? Why?'
Harley gave him a sidelong look, lidded eyes narrowed. 'To teach you a lesson.'
Scorpius snorted angrily. 'I don't have time for this,' he snapped, turning to storm towards the stairs.
'Oi! You don't get to pull that tripe and run, boy!' Harley called out, but Scorpius ignored him, stomping across the kitchens, sending House Elves scattering out of his path -
Then his feet were yanked out from under him, dragged forwards and up in the air, and he went flying over backwards. He hit the ground on his back hard, hard enough to knock the air out of his lungs, and lay on the floor gasping for long seconds. When Harley's pointed face appeared above him he scowled, his voice coming out in a gasp. 'You just used magic on me!'
'You just tipped me out of my chair. Who struck the first blow, Malfoy? No, don't get up.' A small, exquisitely tailored boot was planted on Scorpius' shoulder with surprising force. He could probably push it off, but he was still stunned from his impact, and just lay there.
'Let me make some simple things clear to you. This. Right here. This is why I hate you. Because you act all nice, give us the lip service of politeness, but when your back's to the wall, you go right ahead and treat us like we're second rate. Less-than. Here to answer your whims. If I were a wizard you wouldn't have dreamt of coming down here and abusing me until I did what you want. You might have shouted and snapped, but you wouldn't have attacked me.' Harley crouched down, bringing his nose level with Scorpius'.
'I see what you lot think. I see, at the heart of it, the same disregard, like there always was. And you lot - all of you - you've got the gall to be offended when I don't lick a wizard's boots? When I don't act like they're the best thing since sliced bread for managing to say "please"? For not treating them as saints when they extend to me the same basic courtesies their mother would have given them a thick ear for not showing another wizard when they were little?
'Oh, but you've changed. You've all given us our freedoms. Bollocks. You can't give someone freedom. You can't give 'em rights. You can't give 'em equality. It was always ours, you just trapped it. You don't thank a warden for letting out a man wrongfully imprisoned. We don't thank wizards for not pissing on us quite as much as they used to.'
Scorpius drew a sharp breath now his lungs would let him, and looked indignantly up at Harley. 'You don't need to take you being pissy at all wizards out on me.'
'No, I don't. But you need a lesson, Little Malfoy, more sorely than other wizards. At least they get they're supposed to act polite to us. You've been a little shit since we first met, and you still expect me to think you're different to your family? After this fiasco I ain't rushing to tell the unions to lift the blacklisting on your house. Like father, like son.'
Scorpius snarled, grabbing Harley's boot and pushing - but the House Elf clicked his fingers, and suddenly it was like he weighed as much as Albus, because try as he might, he couldn't push him off. 'Like hell -'
'You was in a crisis, Little Malfoy. Things important to you was in danger. And what did you do? What was the first thing you did? Come treat me like shit. It didn't occur to you to ask. You put you first, what you need, what you want. And it's the same all these damn weeks. Malfoy's got a problem, so Malfoy will be a little shit to everyone in Hogwarts. Forget that others are having a worse time. No, nobody suffers as much as a Malfoy, and he's going to be a petulant child and make sure everyone else sees his terrible woes. You just made one mistake coming down here, Malfoy. 'cos I don't have to put up with it.'
Harley stepped back, removing his boot, and jerked a stubby finger at the stairs. 'Now get out of my kitchen. And don't even think of coming down here without an invitation or I'll have you ironing my shirts just for the pleasure of talkin' to me.'
And all Scorpius could do once he'd picked himself up off the ground, dusted off his blazer, tried to shrug off the stares of the kitchen House Elves, was straighten with what precious little dignity he could muster - and slink towards the stairs.
It was time to do something more productive. Something he'd told himself he'd do a long time ago.
A/N: Been a long break between chapters, I know! Real Life, doing that Thing It Does. Can't guarantee a return to some of the past speed, though I have a little bit of a buffer left. Hopefully soon I can get RL under control, and finish the Actual Proper Writing I'm wrangling with so I can enjoy Ignite while I deal with the anguish of Editing. I am determined to get this all wrapped up, and get to your reviews, and other such fun stuff, sooo... thanks for hanging in there, guys!
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