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Chapter 26 : Rising Heat
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It wasn't the state the dungeon was in that told Rose something was wrong. It wasn't the way ingredients pots had been knocked over, or how Lockett's pile of books and papers had been swept off the desk. It wasn't how the Professor's neat little case of specific, valuable potioneering tools was gone, though all of these facts concerned her.
It was that there was no plate of breakfast waiting for her, no mug of tea gently steaming to let her know that Scorpius had managed to put it in place and then slip away. It had always been there. Even when he'd been at his most hurt, furious, and withdrawn, he'd still left her breakfast in the morning. Sure, it had partly been a passive-aggressive swipe, a gesture of kindness to make her feel guilty, but it had always been there. Come rain or shine.
He knew she was going to be down here this morning, even if she'd only had about six hours' sleep. She'd said the night before. So what had happened to him?
And, for that matter, what had happened to Lockett and her equipment?
The school was empty as she hurried back through the corridors. Albus, Selena and Methuselah had all proven themselves more sensible than her and remained in bed, getting the sleep they deserved. It could have made the school seem even more like it had been abandoned to the ghosts, but she was used to that in the early mornings.
But something was very wrong.
A House Elf came out of the corridor that led to the Hufflepuff Common Room as she approached the Great Hall, and the little creature squeaked with surprise at the sight of her. Rose paused, eyes narrowing. They weren't usually that jumpy.
The House Elf gave another unhappy squeak. Rose found herself missing Harley for one brief moment; he, at least, would not be startled first thing in the morning. Just unpleasant. 'Good mornings to Miss Weasley!'
Rose eyeballed the creature for a moment more as it just stared, wide-eyed, saying nothing, and she sighed. 'Do you know where Mister Malfoy is?' It felt very peculiar to call him that, but in truth she wasn't sure how she was supposed to refer to him right then.
'Oh!' The House Elf brightened up as if he knew the answer - then his expression fell with clouds of guilt. 'Mister Malfoy left the building early this morning. Mister Malfoy is out in the grounds. Mister Malfoy was brought tea, but threw the cup at Bodger.'
She had no idea if Bodger was this particular elf or another one completely. But tea-throwing was not one of Scorpius' usual habits. 'Where in the grounds?'
'At the Quidditch pitch.' Possibly-Bodger gave another noise of upset when she turned on her heel and started for the front doors. 'Mister Malfoy said he wanted to be left alone!'
Something was definitely wrong.
It had snowed in the night. The sky above was dark still, sun barely casting a pale promise in the east, though the snowflakes in the air were no bigger than fingerprints and upon the ground lay only a thin powder. She strode in the chill across to the Quidditch grounds, swaddling herself in her cloak. The stands stood tall and shadowy and so vast that one person could be swallowed whole by them in the gloom. But she could guess where to go.
She spotted Scorpius the moment she made it to the top of the Slytherin stand, sat on the front row. His shoulders were hunched, his head bowed, and her eyes widened when she realised that not only was his breath misting in the cold air, but he wore only a blazer and shirt and he was shivering.
'You're going to freeze out here!' Rose couldn't stop herself from sounding scolding as she hurried over, unslinging her own cloak and throwing it around his shoulders without thinking.
He jumped, and only then did she see how pale he was, how heavy the bags under his eyes sat. 'R- W- what're you -'
Rose knelt in front of him and pulled the cloak tighter around his shoulders. 'In all these weeks,' she murmured, 'you've never failed to leave me a cup of tea in the morning.'
'M'sorry,' Scorpius said, voice thick from the cold.
'Don't be sorry.' She was beginning to feel the chill herself and slid her hands inside the cloak to find his. They were like ice, but at her touch his fingers wrapped around hers in an iron, desperate grip. 'What happened?'
Scorpius closed his eyes, head bowing, and when he opened his mouth to answer all that came out first was a small, strangled sound. She moved to sit next to him on the bench, pulling the cloak over them both, and wrapped her arm around his shoulder. He leaned in, slumping like a puppet whose strings had been cut, and turned his head to bury his face in her shoulder.
'Tim's dead,' came his muffled, anguished voice. 'This thing's lethal and Tim's dead and Lockett and I couldn't do anything in the end but watch...'
Then he wept, open and shameless, and a detached part of Rose's mind, the part that wasn't holding him close and mumbling soothing nonsense, noted that the first day of snow had come with a blade of cruel ice in everyone's gut.
'I see.' Hermione Granger's patronus looked as sombre as an otter could. 'I'll go and speak with his parents right away.'
Albus nodded, the words he'd just uttered leaving the taste of ash in his mouth. 'Thank you. They should be told in person.'
'There's no "should" about any of this.' Hermione sighed. 'Where's Professor Lockett?'
The sombre silence that had fallen upon the five students gathered for the morning briefing reasserted itself, never fully defeated. Albus looked at the others. Scorpius was still pale and worn, silent throughout the entire briefing. Rose had been halting in explaining to her mother what little she'd been told by Scorpius and later Harley about what had happened to Tim Warwick, but otherwise stayed by his side, anxious and hovering. Selena was sat quiet and red-eyed next to a Methuselah who had so far only frowned at the explanation and stayed quiet, lips occasionally moving as he thought.
It was Rose who went to answer first, and being Rose she tried to use the truth. 'We don't -'
'She's sleeping,' Albus interrupted. 'Or, trying to get some rest. We didn't want to disturb her. Scorpius and Harley told us everything we needed to know.'
Hermione's patronus looked tense for a moment before it nodded. 'Of course. She should get some rest after all of this. I'll speak with her soon; she should forward her notes onto us. It sounds... cold, but the more we know...' She hesitated. 'I assume we're stopping administrating the Alleviating Elixir?'
Albus nodded. 'On the possibility the Professor's initial guess was correct, it seems safer to stop for now. Everyone was doing sort of all right before it.'
'Is it safer?' Rose wrung her hands together. 'What if the Alleviating Elixir's keeping them better, it was just too late for Tim?'
'Impossible to say,' Methuselah said, jerked from his reverie. 'Not enough evidence. Should continue administrating elixir to some and not to others and assess progress -'
'And what if that kills the ones we're wrong about? These are people, not test subjects -'
'Enough.' Albus lifted a hand and Rose fell silent, but he gave his aunt an imploring look.
Hermione sighed. 'Nobody's wrong,' she said. 'The best thing to be done... is to take a look at Tim's body. I know that sounds gruesome but there are spells to be done on the body, even tests to be done on the blood, which might help isolate what happened to him.'
Albus nodded. 'I'll go down when we're -'
'I'll go.' Scorpius lifted his head, blinking like he'd just woken up. 'I know the spells. We've all learned them, haven't we. I'll take a look at him.'
Rose pursed her lips. 'Do you want me to -'
'I'll be fine.' His voice was flat, not harsh, but it was enough to make Rose look as cowed as if he'd snapped.
'I'm so sorry you all have to still be here through this,' Hermione said. 'It's been discussed at the Ministry and we could, if necessary, find somewhere else for you to relocate to. It would still have to be under quarantine but you wouldn't have to be here -'
'We're not going anywhere.' Everyone's head, even Scorpius', whipped around to look at Selena. Despite her red eyes she was still the picture of perfect, immaculate beauty, face and hair done up even more fastidiously than ever, clothes artfully picked. Albus had unkindly wondered what was running through her mind until he saw the waver of her lip as she rose, and realised that it wasn't a lack of caring which had her fussing over vanity - quite the opposite. It was something to focus on, the one thing in all of this chaos she could focus on.
'Tim Warwick's dead,' she continued, 'and this isn't going to get any better. Everyone at this school needs someone to try to help, needs us. We can't just leave it to the House Elves. And the Professor.' This last came with a glance at Albus that held a hint of accusation, and he dropped his gaze. 'We're staying until this is over.'
Mumbles of assent passed everyone else's lips, even Scorpius' and Methuselah's, and along with the sympathy and anguish in the gaze of his aunt's patronus, Albus thought he could see a glimmer of pride as she nodded.
'That's your choice,' Hermione confirmed. 'Know that the thoughts of all Wizarding Britain, maybe even the whole of the Wizarding World by now, are with you. You might feel alone but we will do everything we can, even at a distance, to help and support you. You are not alone.'
Although Albus knew she meant it, it was hard to believe so, but he smiled and nodded his way through the farewells until, finally, the patronus blinked out of existence.
Silence reasserted itself in the Great Hall, broken only when Selena turned to Albus, hand on her hip. 'Why, exactly, did you lie to her about Lockett?'
'I didn't lie - I mean, she probably is resting,' Albus said with a wince.
'Probably. Maybe. We don't know that for sure. She could be anywhere.'
'She could be in her room.'
'And until she unlocks the door or answers, we won't know!'
'Look, she's been through a lot -'
'And we haven't?' Selena's nose wrinkled. 'Just because she's an adult and a teacher doesn't make her this sacred cow! Just a regular cow! And right now she's supposed to be the only responsible person in the school and she's not being!'
Albus could see the arguments for Lockett needing some time alone but Selena's points did not elude him. Worse, he could tell she was fuelled more by upset and fear than true accusation, and the last thing the five of them needed was to fall apart. He lifted his hands. 'All right. All right. I'll go down and find her, okay? I'll take Harley, I'll ask him to let me in if she doesn't, I'll check up on her.'
Selena folded her arms across her chest and only then did he see her lower lip wobble. 'Well, good.'
Scorpius wobbled to his feet. 'I'm going to go see Tim.'
'Where is he?' Albus asked.
'The House Elves took him to the dungeons. The lowest parts. It's cool and dry down there. He'll... be all right.' Scorpius' expression wavered. 'I'll be quick.'
He wouldn't want to linger down there longer than necessary, Albus knew, watching his friend as he fairly ran out of the Great Hall. Rose's gaze went with him, and Albus wanted to go to his cousin, reassure her, but he didn't have the words right then. It all felt useless.
So he would focus on the one use he could serve, and do what he'd said. 'I'm going to find Lockett.'
Harley had been dubious and unenthused when Albus asked for his help to find Lockett, but once they'd checked the staff room and her bedroom, Harley unlocking the way for him, concern had set in for them both when they'd found nothing. The dungeons had been swept once again, and Albus had been just considering getting his broom to check the grounds before Harley pointed out that she sometimes spent time up in Ravenclaw Tower.
It felt right. Albus had taken the steps two at a time and easily handled the door-knocker's riddle (the one about the man who makes it not needing it, the macabre answer a coffin - a classic that had Albus suspecting the knocker was running low on inspiration) to let himself in.
And when he entered the common room he was disappointed, but not surprised at the sight which greeted him. 'Professor?'
Professor Lockett was asleep in one of the armchairs before the fireplace in the Ravenclaw common room. At her feet was an empty bottle of firewhisky. She didn't react.
Anger tugged at Albus' gut, and he brought both hands slamming together for a loud clap. 'Professor!'
She jumped at that, jerking into consciousness and kicking the bottle over. It clattered noisily and she looked at him, squinting. 'Potter?' Her voice was thick, slurred.
His jaw dropped. 'What the hell do you think you're doing?'
'Trying to sleep?'
'Hungover.' Lockett bent over, rubbing her temples. 'Quiet.'
Albus sputtered. 'Tim Warwick's dead, Phlegethon's lethal, we have no idea what to do next - do you really think this is time to drink?'
She picked up the bottle. 'Sounds like the perfect time to drink.'
He stabbed a furious finger at the stairs. 'There are four students down there. Kids. One of them watched a friend die, none of them are used to anything like this. They are terrified, frantic, they don't know what to do, and you're hiding up here instead of being with them?'
Something in Lockett's eye flashed. 'What am I supposed to do?'
'Something! Anything! Talk to them!'
The bottle came flying out of Lockett's hand to smash against the wall next to the fireplace. Despite himself, despite that the bottle had been going nowhere near him, Albus flinched.
'What the hell am I supposed to say?' Lockett shouted, rising to her feet. 'He's dead and I'm sorry, but not a thing I could do could stop it? I'm sorry, but I think it might have been my potion that killed him? A potion which, by the way, Weasley and Malfoy almost killed themselves trying to get reagents for? How is that going to help anyone? How is it going to help anyone for me to go down there and tell them I don't know what to do?' There was a dangerously hysterical, panicked, grieving edge to her voice at that last, anger fading for fear.
Albus wavered a moment, but held his ground. 'Other people are getting on with it Professor. Scorpius, right now, is going to check over Tim's body to find out for sure what happened, so we know for sure what killed him. If we're getting on with it, getting back to work, why can't you?'
'Because it's not your responsibility!' It was as if her legs had been taken out from under her with this admission and, as quickly as she'd risen, Lockett sank back onto the armchair, crumpling to bury her face in her hands.
His question hadn't meant to be a challenge, but a genuine reassurance. Life goes on. Albus didn't have the answers and he wasn't even sure what happened next, but if he was certain of one thing it was that they couldn't afford to stop, to stall, to land flat on their faces.
Or they wouldn't rise again.
'You're just kids,' Lockett mumbled through closed hands. 'You get stuck in, and we wouldn't be this far without you, but at the end of the day you're doing a stellar job just by keeping your heads in all this. I'm a professor. A teacher. A grown-up. An expert in her field. You probably couldn't have a better candidate to be the one-and-only adult here in Hogwarts. All of this - every single thing that happens inside the quarantine - lands at my door, and nobody elses.
'And I just watched a kid under my care could die. To you, he was a classmate, a friend. To me?' She drew her hands slowly down her pale, worn face. 'He was my responsibility, and I failed him. I thought I was done watching kids die. No. Be murdered.' A long silence met her words as Albus fumbled to find his own, and failed. Eventually she drew a shaky breath and continued.
'The first person I knew who was murdered died all of six months after V- You Know Who's return was public, in my last year at Hogwarts.' She'd faltered on the name and for a moment continued to stumble on words. 'She was a Muggle-born girl my age, and she was going out with my boyfriend's best friend. He had a good, Pureblood mother of a good lineage. She didn't. And so Death Eaters killed her.' Lockett closed her eyes. 'I didn't even know her that well, but I can still remember the last time I saw her, at a party a couple of days before she died. Energetic. Happy. Alive.'
Finally she looked at Albus. 'It changes everything, doesn't it? We're not safe. We've known we've not been safe for months, but it's only now that we understand it. Understand that any one of us could be taken away at any moment, even ourselves, and understand that we are powerless to stop it.'
Albus drew a deep, uncertain breath. 'We're not powerless until we give up.'
Lockett's lips twitched. 'That's a lovely rhetoric but it's just empty words. We are powerless against this. I did everything - everything to save Tim. I tried things I hadn't dared try before. I can't afford to experiment with phoenix ash; literally, there isn't enough in the world to experiment. Nor with captured sunlight. But I gave it my best shot because it was do or die, and... it turned out to be die.'
He stepped over. 'Under pressure, at the eleventh hour, you still had a card up your sleeve, Professor. And you believed in it enough to try it. That's not powerless. Try again - take that idea, perfect it!'
'That was my best go! I'd been considering that cure for an age, I just didn't try it because I wasn't confident in it and couldn't waste the shot and since it didn't work I have no better ideas.' Lockett looked up at him. 'Don't you understand? That was my best shot. That was everything I had to throw against Phlegethon, and Phlegethon won.'
Albus opened his mouth - and then shut it again as frustration surged within him. 'Fine. All right. You want to give up? You want to go back to hiding away and drinking to make this go away? Sure. But I'm not giving up, and I'm not letting the others give up, either. With or without you.'
He turned on his heel, storming back the way he'd come, but Lockett wasn't done yet, her voice carrying across the common room. 'Be careful of being a hero, Potter,' she said, voice hoarse. 'They do a great job of getting the people around them killed.'
The room of the dungeons where Tim Warwick's body had been laid out was dark, dry, and cold. Colder at this time of year, but Scorpius just stood there in his shirt, sleeves rolled up, breath misting in front of him. Rose had scolded him all the way back to the castle about him trying to give himself pneumonia, but he didn't feel it. Hadn't felt anything, really, since he'd been dragged into the bedroom by Harley except for a distant numbness.
Even the brief flash of warmth from when he'd let himself let go, let Rose hold him as he sobbed, was fading from memory. That would not happen again; she'd made that perfectly clear in the past and she'd just felt sorry for him. It could not be a habit, could not be something he'd rely on. It would only end.
Pushing his hair out of his face, Scorpius tried to not look at the body laid out on the stone slab in the empty chamber, and pulled out his wand. The spells to examine the body, feel the flow of life - or lack thereof now - within him were simple enough, diagnoses he'd done over and over for the living and which were only slightly different for the dead. He didn't even need to concentrate on the results; his wand would remember what it had found, and could regurgitate answers for Methuselah later.
But when he was done he knew he'd need blood, and then he had to look at the body.
Tim had never been a big kid. Slight of build and fast; that was why he was going to make a great Seeker, Scorpius had thought. Now he looked even smaller, certainly not twelve - no, he was thirteen, God, his birthday had been weeks ago, while he'd been unconscious. It had been in one of the letters.
Thirteen. Dead at thirteen.
He dropped his wand. 'What the hell!' This was shouted - no, screamed, his throat raw - at the wall, at the darkness, at nothing. At everything. 'Him? You take him? Of all of us, of every person in this school, it would kill you to take, I don't know -' Scorpius stopped, unable in that moment to think of anyone he'd stand to see die. There was nobody. But he would have rather suffered the loss of any of the infected before he'd suffer the loss of Tim.
He sagged, hands bracing against the slab the body lay on, and the grief surged up again, twisting his gut and choking in his throat. 'I'm sorry, Tim. I'm so, so sorry. I tried, I really did - the Acromantula skin - it was to save you, you know...'
Then the sobs cut off his voice and it was a struggle to stay upright as he stood over the small, pale body of Phlegethon's first victim. Of his friend.
'You were - I mean -' He stopped, chest heaving, voice wavering, and tried again. Tim's body swam before his vision, cloudy through the unshed tears, and he slammed his eyes shut as the illusion let him believe, for a moment, that this wasn't real. He would not con himself. The shattering of hope would be too much.
'Al being my friend is - great. But he's Al. He sees the best in everyone, no wonder he could see even the best in me. But you? You're just - you were - oh, Merlin...' He choked as the past tense rose up before him, a looming reminder that they would never again talk Quidditch, never again plot to stuff Hector Flynn's bags with dungbombs.
'...you were just a kid. But you still thought I was cool, didn't you. Don't know why.' Scorpius rubbed furiously at his eyes, vision still blurred. 'Nobody else does. Al doesn't count. They tolerate me. Even when Rose was snogging my face off, she still thought I was a bit of a pillock. But you were just a decent, friendly kid who didn't think I'm useless.'
He stared at the far wall, the darkness before him shimmering through the tears. 'My father's called me useless for as long as I can remember. A waste. A layabout. A disappointment to the family name. Not good at school. Not interested in business. Not a proper, proud young gentleman of the Malfoy line. Only good at Quidditch. I hate him.'
It was the first time he'd said it out loud, the first time he'd dared to until now. Until he was stood alone in the dark with the body of a friend. 'I hate him, I hate him, and he drove my mother away and now she's on the other side of the world just to get away from him, but he won't even let me go to her...'
Three years. Three years since his mother had left and his parents had separated and that, still, he had told nobody - not even Albus.
He drew a deep, shuddering breath. 'I'm sorry, kid,' Scorpius groaned. 'This isn't on you. I'm just - shit, this isn't fair, there's no way this is fair, and I'm just going mental talking to myself in the dark, alone - I'm alone, because you're dead -' Finally he blinked away the tears and looked down at Tim.
And Tim's open eyes looked up at him.
Then Tim opened his mouth.
Scorpius swore and threw himself backwards, but tripped and sprawled onto his back. For a second he wondered if he'd been imagining things.
Then Tim sat up.
'The hell!' For the briefest of moments Scorpius had imagined that they'd been wrong, that Tim hadn't been dead after all, that there'd been a mistake or he'd just been dreaming and the boy was all right, was getting back up again, that the nightmare was over.
But no living thing moved like that, in such a jerky, unnatural way.
Not for the first time, Scorpius was glad his best friend was Albus Potter. Not for his unending supportiveness, steadfast loyalty, good nature and sense of humour, not this time. But for the fact that he was the top student in Defence Against the Dark Arts, and sometimes Scorpius got to crib his notes. So he knew exactly what was in front of him.
He snatched for his wand and pointed, but it might as well have been sparks he shot from the tip as he yelled 'Stupefy' by instinct. The magic hit Tim - the Inferius - but it just kept going, rolling off the slab and landing on the floor with a sickening crunch of flesh hitting stone.
The hiss escaping its open mouth was enough to make Scorpius' blood run cold. 'Tim? Oh, please...' But there was no pleading with an Inferius. He knew this. And he knew, deep down, what he had to do.
'I'm sorry.' He took a deep breath, and grabbed his wand with both hands to stop it from shaking. 'Incendio.'
The effect was instant. Flames engulfed the Inferius - it was easier, already, to think about the body in those terms - and the entity that had once been Tim Warwick tried to clamber upright, tottered - and then fell and continued to burn. It had been like setting fire to paper.
Scorpius lowered his wand and crab-walked away from the body, chest heaving, breath holding a shuddery edge of hysteria. He couldn't tear his eyes away from the smouldering mass, already going out, which was by now mercifully unrecognisable. He scurried to the door and grabbed the handle to haul himself to his feet, legs shaking so badly he was surprised he didn't fall again.
Then he opened the door and ran.
'We're going to stop all applications of the Alleviating Elixir,' said Albus. The five students were sat in the staff room, after Methuselah of all people had pointed out it wasn't being occupied any more and meetings like this were what it was there for. Without Lockett, without a morning briefing with Hermione to bring them together, meeting in the huge Great Hall, felt far too grand and formal.
They needed something cosier. Closer. More reassuring.
'Could be a mistake,' said Methuselah. 'Big mistake.'
Albus stoked the fire crackling and warming them. 'Maybe,' he said. 'But Scorpius' spells didn't disprove Professor Lockett's hypothesis that it made Phlegethon worse for Tim, did they?'
'That the theory has not been disproven does not prove it.'
'I agree,' Albus said, 'but we're not taking that chance. We'll keep an eye on everyone, by ourselves and with the House Elves, and make any future decisions when we know more. So you might want to say goodbye to any of the people who've woken up. Chances are the fatigue will take them again.'
He looked to Selena and Rose most of all. They were the ones with friends and family to look on, along with himself. Methuselah had yet to pay a visit to a single sleeping student, and as for Scorpius...
With Tim gone, there was nobody he'd visited of his own accord.
Scorpius was sat in one of the overstuffed armchairs, head in his hands. 'This is unreal,' he groaned.
'Feeling any better, mate?' Albus winced.
'I'm not feeling. Is that better? It's like I'm in a nightmare I can't wake up from.' Albus knew it was a testament to how drained Scorpius was that he would even speak so candidly. 'He was just - he was all still and cold one moment, and then the next...'
He shuddered, and Albus crossed the room to place a hand on his friend's shoulder. Scorpius calmed, looking up at him and giving him a wan, grateful look. Never before had Albus seen him so rattled, so scared, let alone so willing to openly be lost and openly be thankful.
Methuselah nudged his glasses up his nose. 'There is some good of this. We know more.'
Scorpius' gaze snapped around. 'Good? Good? A boy is dead, Jones, I don't see the good in this!'
Methuselah looked confused. 'It is only sensible that we look at what we can gain. That Phlegethon transforms the victims into Inferi in the final stages is useful -'
'Useful?' Scorpius launched himself upright, shaking off Albus' hand. 'Are you actually a robot, Jones? Don't you understand what's happened? He was thirteen and you're saying this is good?' Albus put his hand back on Scorpius' shoulder, genuinely worried he was going to do something rash, though Methuselah still sat there, agog.
Then Selena rose to her feet, eyes flashing. 'Stop it, Malfoy, you know that's not what he means! You know he's just saying that now we know more, and we'd be fools to not try and use it!'
'I watched him die!' Scorpius roared, and Albus grabbed a fistful of his blazer. 'And then I watched him get back up again! I had to fucking set fire to him! Don't you tell me what -'
Then Rose was next to Albus, placing a hand on Scorpius' shoulder. 'Nobody - nobody - is saying this doesn't matter, of course Tim mattered, but maybe from what you found out we can figure out how to make sure this doesn't happen to someone else, Scorpius!'
Scorpius yanked himself out of Albus' grip and rounded on her, and the brief hope Albus had had that she might have been the one to diffuse the situation died. 'Don't you "Scorpius" me,' Scorpius snarled. 'I don't need you going soft on me only to throw it right back in my face when you remember you're supposed to hate me! Shouldn't you be saying goodbye to your precious Flynn?'
Rose stepped back like she'd been slapped, and Albus drew a deep breath. 'Enough!' he barked, loud enough to cut Scorpius off. They all stopped and stared at him, surprised, unused to him raising his voice. Even the furious Scorpius looked startled.
Albus lifted his hands. 'We're on our own for a bit. No Professor Lockett. So this is what we're going to do. No Alleviating Elixir. Watch every single student. Selena, you continue coordinating the House Elves. Methuselah, I know you've been working on that ritual and you keep it up, but I want you to back up Rose - who's the most familiar of us with Lockett's possible cures. You're both going to go over the diagnosis spell results Scorpius got off Tim.'
Scorpius glowered at the blazing fire. 'And I go back to being useless?'
'Not at all,' Albus said. 'We now have access to the Headmaster's Office. That means we have control over all of the wards in and around Hogwarts. You and me are on security full-time.' In truth, the wards made securing Hogwarts an easier job, and one he could probably do himself. But Albus wasn't about to admit to that.
Selena still looked rattled, upset by the day's revelations and Scorpius' outburst. 'No Lockett - so who put you in charge, Potter?'
Rose pursed her lips, voice going sardonic. 'Rourke, try to not be a bloody idiot all your -'
'Not helpful, Rose,' Albus said calmly, and turned to Selena. 'I put me in charge. Is that a problem?'
To his surprise her lips twitched, and she tossed her hands in the air. 'And the son becomes the father,' she drawled.
'Something like that. Or more like, someone's got to do it. We have to try. You miss one hundred per cent of shots you don't take.' Albus drew a deep breath. 'You all know what you've got to do. And the friends, the family who're still awake won't be for much longer.' He looked at Rose. 'Can you tell Lily I'll be there soon?'
She nodded, and they filtered out of the staff room. But when Scorpius turned to go, Albus planted a hand on his shoulder. 'Hold on, mate.' Scorpius frowned but didn't shake him off, and Albus waited until they were alone before continuing. 'C'mere.'
The surprise from his best friend was almost palpable when Albus turned him and pulled him into a bear hug. But after a moment of tense uncertainty, Scorpius was grabbing a fistful of Albus' jacket, face buried in his shoulder. 'You're all right, mate,' Albus murmured, shutting his eyes.
'I'm not,' came back Scorpius' muffled voice. 'M'really not.'
And despite his bravado, despite his act of taking control, Albus knew that after the day they'd just had, none of them were all right - perhaps would never be all right again.
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