Chapter 25 : Break the Ice
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'For about the twelfth time,' said Albus, not unkindly, 'Yes.'
You mean, "I hope so,” Rose thought ruefully. Otherwise we're completely buggered. But she didn't say that, just went back to pacing in front of the bookshelf that lined a whole curved wall of the office. She'd tried to read. But worry had wormed in her gut and made the words wash over her, and pacing was more peaceful.
She didn't know how Albus could do it. He just sat there, calm and in control, perched on the uncomfortable stone steps. She, when she'd sat, had claimed the chair on their side of the desk. Neither one of them had gone anywhere near the comfortable headmaster's seat on the far side.
It seemed wrong. Presumptuous. Almost cold. Thaddeus Stubbs was suffering, truly, but he was still master of Hogwarts. The old man wasn't dead yet. And even if he wouldn't mind them sitting in his chair, they minded.
'You know what I'm going to do when I get out of here?' Rose said instead.
Her stomach growled. They'd been here for over twelve hours. Maybe more. She'd lost count. 'Yes. But aside from -'
'Have a shower? Some sleep?'
'I was meaning Hogwarts. This whole thing.' Albus looked up, interested now, and she waved a hand. 'This year. Not just school. But, I mean, it's December now? Or almost.' Losing track of time, of the entire crisis rather than just this half a day trapped in the office, was happening more often than she liked. 'Even if we fixed Phlegethon tomorrow, school wouldn't restart immediately. I'd imagine the whole year's a write-off.'
Albus cocked his head. 'We're in a crisis,' he said levelly, 'and you're thinking about the school year?'
'I think they'd spend the next eight months on recovery, rebuilding, and investigation, and start the year afresh. One extra-big class of First Years. They've done it before.'
'Yes,' said Albus. 'After the war.'
'My point,' Rose mused, 'is that this is months of no school, no preparation.'
'And you're planning a holiday?' He sounded dubious.
'Of course! Oh, don't look at me like that, Al. Any little thing keeps the mind hopeful in a crisis. We don't have to be doom and gloom entirely.'
Albus looked like he was going to point out the hypocrisy of her statement, before remaining judiciously silent. He nodded. 'A holiday. Where?'
'You know the tradition. Finish Hogwarts, travel the world for a year. We'll probably be of age by the time this is all over. We can go off and do that.'
Albus looked a little wistful. 'Scorp and I talked of doing the trip. Once NEWTs were finished.'
She tried to smack down the pang of jealousy in her, and forced a more airy tone to her voice. 'See? This time you get it sooner. A means of recovering from the bloody horrible eon of being trapped in school, we could do with a change of scenery -'
Then there was a horrible, discordant shriek and the door blew in. Not just blew in - was blown off its hinges, sent flying away from the doorframe and broke into three chunks of wood which fell clattering onto the flagstones.
And there, in the doorway, standing in the cloud of dust that had erupted upwards from the shattered door, stood Scorpius Malfoy. Holding his guitar.
Rose stared. 'I don't believe it.'
'You said it wouldn't work, Weasley.' Scorpius swaggered in, head held high, as a long-suffering Selena Rourke and a tired-looking Methuselah Jones followed him.
'No, I said it was the dumbest idea I ever heard,' Rose said, so surprised the banter was instinctive.
'Worked, though, didn't it? Just broke into the Headmaster's Office with it!'
'Actually,' said Selena, groaning, 'he blew off the door to the office. Methuselah was the one who broke through the walls to bypass the magical security. All Scorpius has provided is an unnecessarily destructive version of "Alohomora".'
'Don't everyone thank me at once,' said Scorpius, sticking his nose in the air - and then he grinned, and the superiority was gone for an expression of genuine, contented satisfaction. Those were nicer smiles, Rose remembered, than his smug smirks. Sincere. 'Actually, what Jones did was pretty cool. Even if it was just sitting on the floor for twelve hours instead of blowing a door off its hinges with the power of rock.'
'Impressive array of enchantment of multiple different items to combine for a more powerful blasting curse, however, Malfoy,' said Methuselah, looking as if he broke through the most powerful wards in the castle on an everyday basis. 'The wards were less difficult to bypass after the two of you had staged your incursion, however unsuccessful.'
Albus' jaw dropped. 'I spent months reading what I could on the office's security. Those wards are insane. I don't care if the two of us breaking through made it easier, they're insane.'
'Yeah, well. So's he, mate.' Scorpius grinned as he jerked a thumb at Methuselah, looking too proud for there to be any sting.
Rose was staring at the Ravenclaw, and drew a sharp breath. 'Jones,' she said uncertainly, 'just how smart are you?'
Selena raised a superior eyebrow. 'Smarter than you, Weasley, which I suspect is sufficient.'
'Out of the two of us, he's not the one who got himself trapped in an office for the better part of a day. I'll agree this time,' said Rose, too downright pleased to see them to rise to the bait.
'Anyway!' Scorpius unslung his guitar, propping it up against the wall. 'Are you two all right?'
Albus stood up, lifting his hands and unable to not grin broadly. 'We're fine, Scorp.'
'Good,' he declared, and strode over to the two of them. Rose's heart leapt into her throat -
- only for him to grab Albus in a bear hug. 'You great big lug, you see the sort of trouble you get into without me?'
Albus laughed, clapping him on the back. 'What, better for you to get into that trouble with me? But then you wouldn't have had the chance to use the Blasting Guitar! When did you make that thing?'
'I was bored and thought I might need it for a rainy day. I won't object to the chance to make a dramatic entrance.'
Selena cleared her throat from the door. 'I hate to interrupt this touching reunion,' she drawled, quite clearly hating no such thing. 'But we should perhaps tell Professor Lockett you're both free and that we now have access to the Headmaster's Office. And go get some food and sleep.' She addressed this last one to Methuselah.
Rose looked at him too. 'Is this going to stay open? Will we now have unfettered access?'
'Hm?' Methuselah had been studying the office walls, and Rose realised with some surprise that he would have never been in there. He'd never had reason to. He didn't get in enough trouble, enough serious situations, and he wasn't a prefect. 'Oh, of course. So long as we don't close the door.' Not that they could, now.
She nodded. 'Then I,' she said decisively, 'am going to get some food and go to bed, because I still have work down in the dungeons tomorrow.'
'Get stuck in a room for twelve hours, get back to work the next day,' Selena mused. 'Sane, Weasley.'
Rose ignored her and looked to Methuselah. 'Thank you, Jones,' she said. 'Breaking us out is truly impressive. And... thank you, Malfoy. The guitar worked.'
'But more importantly,' said Scorpius, going to retrieve his guitar, 'you two are all right, and I looked really cool.'
She looked at him - at the bounce back in his step, at the glint back in his eye, remembering what Albus had said, how so much of what she'd thought she knew about him was either her own mistaken, prejudiced assumption or a downright lie she'd been so quick to believe.
And was far too aware of everyone else present to say anything about it. 'I'm going to bed, then,' she said. 'You should all do so, too. And... thank you.' She headed for the door, the laughing figures of Albus and Scorpius, who was showing off his enchanted guitar, not far behind her, leaving the office a much quieter place.
Selena hesitated by the doorway and looked over at Methuselah once they were all gone. 'Coming? You've been sat on a hard stone floor for hours.'
'Hm? Oh, no.' He waved a hand at her as he padded over towards the headmaster's huge bookshelf. 'Some of these books. Never seen them before...'
'They'll be there in the morning.' Selena's expression flickered.
'Of course. Nothing will happen in meantime,' Methuselah agreed calmly. And took one down off the shelf anyway. 'Ambrosius' Ley-Lines. In the original Latin.'
He opened the book and Selena sighed, shoulders slumping for half a heartbeat before she drew a deep breath and assumed a more assured, controlled - disinterested - expression. 'Well, I'll see you in the morning, Jones,' she said, and turned on her heel to clatter down the stairs out of the office.
Leaving Methuselah Jones at the centre of his handiwork, one of the most impressive feats of magic performed by a Hogwarts student and, as was typical of him, with very little flashing lights or obvious results.
And, as was typical of him, now left completely alone.
'When on earth did you make this?' Albus asked, jaw dropped as he turned the guitar over in his hands. Lightly, very lightly he touched one of the strings, just enough for the softest of sounds, and the response was like a gentle breeze in his face, ruffling the papers on the desk in the corner of Scorpius' room.
Scorpius tried to not grin at his friend's satisfaction, despite the ache in his shoulders. 'The last few weeks,' he said. 'It's just the strings, my spare strings. I've not been playing the magical blasting guitar on Radio Hogwarts. I don't think that'd do the ill kids much good.'
His friend looked up from where he was sat on the hard-backed chair at the table. 'That's a really cool thing you're doing, you know. The radio.'
He waved a dismissive hand. 'I had help. Jones, of all people. I ran across him in the Ravenclaw common room when I was trying to get all the letters written and he started yammering about how the spoken word is something like the fourth-fastest form of communication after... what was it? Thought, light, and magic. Then mentioned the radio. Then started talking about some sort of light-show, but I got him back on the topic of the radio.' Scorpius scratched the back of his head. 'Didn't matter that I'd been a right arse to him, he just dug it right out...'
Albus winced. 'Hey, I'm sorry I wasn't around for you while you've been doing all this -'
'No! No. That wasn't what I meant,' Scorpius said quickly, aghast at the implication. 'Not saying you're an arse for not helping me. I'm saying I'm an arse who had no reason to be... helped.' Silence hung between them, long and heavy, like Artemis sleeping on their faces in the middle of the night. Scorpius shifted his feet. 'M'sorry, mate.'
Albus stood. 'No, no, I'm sorry.'
'For what?' Scorpius' brow furrowed.
'You've been going through stuff. You weren't happy. I should have helped.'
'All right.' Scorpius shoved his hands in his pockets. 'I forgive you for not having the patience of a bloody saint and putting up with me even when I was being an arse.'
Albus' lips twitched, rueful. 'You okay?'
'Me? I'm not the one who was locked in an office for an age.'
'Hours. I'll live. I don't mean today. I mean with everything.'
Scorpius shrugged. 'Why shouldn't it be?'
'I mean you and Rose.'
The old upset stirred in him, the disappointment and frustration and lingering sense of betrayal. 'There's no me and Rose, is there,' he muttered, looking away. 'You spent so much time with her, you should know that.'
'I suspect,' said Albus, 'I don't know her as well as I thought I did.'
Scorpius lifted his hands. 'It's all right, mate. Look - I'm fine, if you want to talk, we'll talk in the morning.'
'It is morning.'
'Then when you've slept. It's been a long day.'
'And tomorrow's going to be long. I'll be back in the office changing the wards.' Albus suppressed a yawn. 'Come up and help me?'
'Yeah. After the briefing.' Although he was relieved, unfathomably relieed that they were talking again, his morning routine had become something of a comfort and he wasn't about to drop it yet.
Albus left the room, leaving Scorpius on his own with the fire crackling, low by now, the guitar left propped up against the table. He'd set to work on it soon after the row, then again in proper earnest after he'd started doing the letters, needing something to keep him busy when he was on his own. Tired of people around him all day, and yet needing more than his own thoughts for company.
It wasn't that impressive a piece of magic. Certainly not when compared to Methuselah's lowering of the wards, which had been astonishing but not very impressive to watch. He'd just sat in front of the door for hours on end, muttering to himself. But blowing a door off its hinges with a magic guitar, even though it was a feat a simple Alohomora could accomplish...
Enchanting spells into objects, when they were just the one spell he could do with his wand with his eyes shut, wasn't that complicated. It was just time-consuming, the sort of time-consuming where one might as well use their wand to cast in the first place. What he'd done was more of a victory of style over substance.
Which suited him perfectly, really.
Scorpius sighed and shrugged out of his blazer, going to dress for bed. It had been a long day, though much easier for him than others. And though he was talking with Albus, though he'd apologised to Albus, though things seemed better, he couldn't shake an edge of discontent.
Half an hour of chatting and some mumbled forgiveness didn't fix everything. Wounds didn't heal overnight. And there was still the matter of Rose. No, not all was well, by any means.
He slept. And when he was awoken arguments with friends suddenly couldn't have been any less important.
The ticking clock on his bedside table said it was four in the morning, but the figure of Harley poking him in the ribs was saying, 'Malfoy! Get up! Now!'
He jerked awake, a House Elf's nose in his face enough to stir anyone to consciousness, and gathered his wits - scattered about the room in his sleep - to try to find some retort. But there was no scathing edge in Harley's voice, just a dark edge speaking plainly that this was no retaliation for his invasin of the kitchen. This was all business.
'The Prof wants you. Now. You decent? Get decent.'
Scorpius stumbled out of bed and found nothing more than his loaders on the floor in the two seconds he had before the House Elf grabbed him by the wrist. 'Lockett? What's going on?'
'It's serious,' snapped Harley, then the world twisted.
He'd Apparated before. Side-along had happened several times, and his father had insisted he have some tuition over the summer holidays of his own, describing the meagre few hours' training Hogwarts provided as inadequate. Scorpius suspected he just didn't want the indignity of his son failing the exam the first time around. But while normally Apparition had him snapping and twirling through the world, when dragged by Harley it was more like side-stepping into thin air and emerging the other side.
'How...?' he gasped as he emerged in a gloomy room cast in a dim, emerald light. 'You're not supposed to be able to do-' Then he realised where he was, and a House Elf Apparating on Hogwarts grounds was no longer his biggest concern.
He knew the gloomy green lighting. This was a Slytherin dormitory. The second year boys' dormitory, to be precise, except all of the beds had been cleared out save one. Tim Warwick's. The curtains had been thrown back around the four-poster, and surrounding him was a gaggle of House Elves. By his bedside table, upon which was a small pot over a bunsen that was beginning to bubble, stood the frantic form of Lockett.
Scorpius' mouth went dry. 'Oh, hell.'
'Foreman can go where he needs to go, Malfoy,' Harley said, voice serious as he pushed him towards the bed. 'And you're needed here.'
Lockett turned, a vial of green liquid in her hand. The lights of the bunsen and the sconces cast dark shadows across her face, and her hair was wild and spiky, bags under her eyes. 'Scorpius, get here.' Her voice was bland, mechanical, and impossible to disobey.
He didn't remember commanding his legs to move, but then he blinked and was by the bed. The sheets had been yanked off Tim's bed, leaving his surprisingly small, pale form just clad in sweat-sodden pyjamas. He was shaking.
'What's going on?' Scorpius tried to say.
'Feed him this,' Lockett said instead, dipping a spoon into her bubbling pot and pressing it into his hand, 'and talk to him.'
'Do it!' Finally an edge crept into her voice and it was one of hysteria.
'Okay! Okay!' The moment Scorpius realised he hadn't picked up his wand, Harley was pressing it into his hand. He leant over Tim and brought the spoon to his mouth, muttering the incantation which would trick the boy's body in the simple, gentle way to make him swallow, to make the liquid go down properly, to stop him from choking. This wasn't an easy charm. But it had become second nature by now, and he didn't even think about it.
'Hey, kiddo.' His voice sounded hollow and alien even to his own ears. 'I saw yesterday's post; there's a letter for you in it. Sorry I didn't get it to you, I was pretty... caught up. I'll tell you the whole thing, I promise, the letter and the amazing adventure. But in the morning, all right? The Prof's going to make you...' But he sounded unnatural, unconvincing, and Scorpius hesitated. 'What the hell am I supposed to say?'
The air cracked around them as two more House Elves bounced into reality and the room. 'Professor! Scarab wings and shredded lotus leaves here for you!' Harley barked, taking packages off them and bustling to Lockett.
She didn't so much as thank them, just yanked the jars opened and nudged amounts into the small, bubbling pot. Scorpius had seen her do this before; toss ingredients into a potion with seemingly wild abandon and disregard, when in truth she knew exactly how much to put in, when, and with more precision than the finest scales or more accurate recipe. He'd seen it when she'd made the alleviating elixir, but now she was barely watching what she was doing.
'Phlegethon is fighting back. Gold spoon,' she said without missing a beat, and a House Elf selected one of several spoons and knives laid out on a table they'd dragged over, putting it in her hand. She stirred twice, counter-clockwise. 'I might have been - wrong.'
Scorpius tensed. 'Wrong?'
'I thought the elixir was alleviating the necromantic energy in the afflicted without being able to uproot the core,' said Lockett. 'It might have just been driving it out of parts of the body and pooling it in others. The white vial, the morning dew, now!' Another House Elf holding a rack of vials bustled out of the crowd to appear at her side and Lockett plucked up one seemingly at random. No more than a drop went into her concoction, which now glowed a gentle silver.
'So they appear to get better,' said Lockett, dipping in the gold spoon for another single stir. 'Because parts of their body are cleansed of the disease. But where Phlegethon's been pooling it's been doing - damage. Harm. On a serious basis. I was wrong.' Her voice shook as she confessed this again.
'But what's happening to Tim?' Scorpius demanded desperately.
Lockett stared at her concoction for a heartbeat, then turned to Harley. 'There's a chest in my office,' she said, and from around her neck she yanked out a key on a length of chain, which she broke in her haste to give to the House Elf. 'Marked with a symbol of the sun and chained down. Bring me the whole chest.'
Harley actually bowed before he disappeared.
Scorpius' mouth went dry. 'What's happening to Tim?' he repeated.
Lockett turned to him, shoulders stiff. 'Phlegethon pooled in his heart. He's dying.'
'The House Elf on night shift found he was having another attack and woke me. I've been trying everything; flushing potions, rejuvenating elixirs, charms to give him the strength to fight it back, but it's no good. I just can't diminish Phlegethon.'
'So what are you doing? Why did you bring me here?'
'Because I need your help! Because of all the people who can wake up, you're the one he's closest to!'
'Shouldn't you be getting Jones or Rose -'
'Rose will follow my instructions to the letter and do a damn fine job, and Jones will take his time and theorise and ponder and come up with something brilliant, but I don't need a second pair of hands and I don't have time. What I need from you, they can't give. Talk to him, Scorpius!' Lockett jabbed a finger at Tim, lying there drenched in sweat.
'What do I say? Why?'
'Because there are forms of magic I cannot quantify or define and they are the only thing I think can save the boy. Magic of the heart and gut which can tether him here and give him the will to fight off the necromancy.'
Scorpius' jaw dropped. 'You're telling me to say some nice words and hope he gets better?'
'Of course not.' The firelight cast jagged shadows across Lockett's face. 'I'd never trust anything so wishy-washy. Which is why I need to give it a helping hand. But I need you. Give me your hand.'
He obliged without thinking, then there was a sharp pain at the tip of his forefinger. 'Ow!' Scorpius stared at the needle she'd produced as if from nowhere, and was now dangling over her pot. 'The hell are you doing?'
'Don't give me that look. It's one drop, I'm not feeding him a chalice of your blood. But blood's life, and a wizard's blood is magic, and your blood, Mister Malfoy, is more magical than anyone awake's. Heritage might not mean much for raw talent but no amount of egalitarian mumbo-jumbo is going to deny the sheer power of pure blood.'
The pinprick of blood she'd drawn dripped into her small pot, and silvery steam came pouring up. Lockett barely missed a beat. 'I don't need you to believe. But you're a component in this spell that can save the young man's life. Tell me about him.'
'If you can't talk to him, talk about him!'
Scorpius hesitated - then a choke escaped Tim Warwick's dry lips, and the House Elves began to flap around him as if keeping him cool and comfortable could fight a dark ritual of blackest magic. 'He's - he's a good kid. He's bright, he's funny. He's Muggle-born and I think it's cool, he knows all their music and he finds everything amazing and he was going to be my new Seeker!'
'That package, there!' Lockett snapped at a House Elf as the steam rising from the little cauldron faded, and what she was handed over was no bigger than an envelope. As Scorpius watched she unfolded it and shook no more of the dark powder on than she would if seasoning her dinner.
'What is that?'
'Phoenix ash,' Lockett said as if a thousand galleon-an-ounce reagent was no more consequential than eye of newt, and Scorpius would always remember that this, of all times, was the moment he realised how dire the situation was. Not the look on Lockett's face or the state of Tim, but the fact that she was pouring a once-in-a-lifetime ingredient into this potion.
When a life hung in the balance, nobody cared about the cost.
'He stuck dung-bombs in Flynn's bag, just 'cos I asked him to,' Scorpius blurted out. 'His dad let him go flying over the summer even though he panicked all the time.' Oh, Merlin, his parents - 'It might be sad and pathetic because he's got friends and family who matter to him a whole lot more than I do, but he's like the little brother I never -'
Harley appeared with a crack and a twist in the air, carrying an oaken chest almost as big as he was. The lid had a stylised sun carved and burnt into the wood, and Lockett was yanking the lid open almost before the House Elf had put it down.
'What is that?' Scorpius asked as he saw the row upon row of cylinders maybe a foot long slotted into the chest, each with their own symbols of suns and moons carved upon them. Lockett ignored him, tossing them to one side, ignoring what might have once been a careful system until she pulled out one.
'Some potions can only be made at certain times of the year,' she said, and crossed over to the tiny cauldron sat on Tim's bedside table, so small and inconsequential it was hard to believe it was being used for the most tremendous potion-work Scorpius had ever witnessed. 'It's to do with lots of things - alignment of stars, presence of other celestial bodies, sometimes the location, weather, the air -'
'Yeah, but what's in it?'
Lockett held the cylinder over the potion and drew a deep breath. 'Sunlight at dawn from Mount Olympus on Midsummer's Day.' Then she cracked the cylinder open and for half a heartbeat the room was filled with bright, blazing light. When it faded he could see that inside the cylinder was lined with mirrors, endlessly reflecting mirrors.
And the potion's shimmer was golden.
'We're ready,' she said, and dipped in the gold spoon. 'Here - Scorpius, come here.' The first word had been uttered harshly, but she faltered and visibly forced herself to relax, softening her voice.
Scorpius had found himself standing closer and closer to the throng of the half-dozen House Elves, dressed in good shoes and silk pyjamas and feeling quite foolish and useless, but his legs obeyed the command and he slunk to her side.
To his surprise, Lockett grabbed his hand. 'This is a long shot,' she said, and sharp green eyes met his, suddenly gentler, more reassuring. 'I called you here because you've got the best chance of helping - your friendship, your closeness - but this is a long shot, you hear me? If this doesn't work, it's not because you didn't try enough or didn't care enough.'
Again his lips were dry, his tongue feeling like it was plastered to the roof of his mouth like it was suddenly made of sandpaper. He wanted to ask more questions, felt doubt surge up within him along with the bile, but all he could do was give a mute, numb nod.
'Come on.' She didn't let go of his hand and was holding it tight, so tight this couldn't be part of the magic and couldn't be just for his own benefit, and at about the same time Scorpius realised his knees were shaking he saw her bring the gold spoon towards Tim and saw that she was, too.
Harley clambered up on the bed to crouch next to the boy. Tim's face was pale as chalk, his hair plastered down on his forehead through sweat, and his small form - he was so, so small, Scorpius couldn't help but notice - was wracked with occasional spasms. With a gentleness he was surprised the House Elf possessed, Harley ran a finger down Tim's throat, and he stilled slowly.
'It's now or never,' he said, voice gruffer than usual. 'He's fading, fast.'
Lockett drew a shaking breath. Scorpius was standing as to block the light from the fireplace from falling on her face, so it was just the flickering from the sconces that found her now - and with it they found every wrinkle, every crease on her ageing face. 'Well,' she murmured. 'I guess it's time to find out if I'm a genius after all.'
And she slipped the gold spoon and its shimmering golden liquid into Tim Warwick's mouth.