'Phlegethon,' she said, 'is a necromantic virus. It is very likely artificially constructed, perhaps developed off a natural affliction which might affect those living in proximity to a site of great necromantic power. It is fuelled by this latent necromantic power and infuses those humans nearby with such dark magics, afflicting their flesh and their souls.
'This, we all know. But I now know what the end point of Phlegethon is. We've all seen it. Despite how it takes months, especially without outside interference, I imagine this process could be sped up with an amplification of the necromantic power, and the consequences would be dire. Because Phlegethon is turning everyone it afflicts into an Inferius.'
Scorpius winced. 'We know this -'
'Do not misunderstand me,' said Lockett levelly. 'Of course we know it will turn those it kills into Inferi. But I'm not talking about after they're dead. What is happening to everyone in Hogwarts but us, right now, is the very slow transformation of the living into an Inferius. The magical alterations to their body and soul are what would happen to the Inferi. We did not recognise this because such a transformation normally happens after death. This transformation while they are alive is an incredibly slow process, though as I said, it could be sped-up. And the process will kill them, of course, before they rise again as Inferi.'
Methuselah pursed his lips. 'Do not see purpose,' he said. 'People can be slaughtered and raised on a massive scale more quickly. Examples abound through history of armies of Inferi raised in such a way. Why combine the process in one slow-acting plague?'
'It's possible that the prolonged infusion of necromantic energies before the final transformation will render the afflicted more powerful once they become Inferi,' said Lockett. 'But this is entering conjecture. That is what I know for a fact.'
Selena arched an eyebrow. 'Did you find these facts at the bottom of a bottle?'
Lockett straightened. 'I have been working,' she said, voice tense. 'I have continued my research all this time. I have been studying what happened to Timothy Warwick and I have been comparing the swift process he underwent to the slower processes afflicting the other infected since then.'
Methuselah frowned. 'Did not tell us? Could have lent aid -'
Lockett waved a dismissive hand. 'Those are my conclusions and I'm sure I'm right,' she said. 'And this means I have a very good idea of how we can cure Phlegethon. The bad news is what it takes.'
Albus had been sat on a chair in the corner for the entire briefing, not saying a word. Only now did he lift his pale face to look across the room at them. 'The Resurrection Stone. That's why you were asking Downing about it.'
Methuselah's frown only deepened. 'Resurrection Stone works against the dead,' he said slowly. 'And then the recovery, by legend, is incomplete, a pale shadow of the returned person -'
'Because the soul cannot be recovered. That is the great obstacle to magical resurrection. That is why it is always some haunting, horrendous process. The soul has crossed over, and the soul will not return,' said Lockett, voice briefly distant. 'But the Resurrection Stone, by all accounts, did restore the bodies of the dead.'
Scorpius blinked. 'They're being transformed into Inferi, the walking dead,' he said, surprised at himself for making the connection. 'So long as their souls haven't crossed over, you're saying that the Resurrection Stone could restore their bodies without any... side-effects?'
'Got it in one, Malfoy,' said Lockett and, despite everything, he beamed. 'So this is how we cure Phlegethon.'
'Two obstacles,' said Methuselah. 'Neither minor. First: the ritual continues to infect the area. As stated, curing Phlegethon will only lead to reinfection. Second, and more importantly: We do not have the Resurrection Stone.'
'Overcoming those obstacles is... a work in progress.' Lockett picked up some papers from the desk and passed them to Methuselah. 'This is everything Elijah Downing, who participated in the crafting of the ritual, knows about it. Including its full and genuine layout.'
Something sparked in Methuselah's gaze and he snatched at the papers. 'A full layout could allow me to devise how to - yes, Professor, this could be excellent -'
'And the Stone?' said Selena, looking upset at cutting off Methuselah's exuberance with cold reality.
'That one I'm working on.' Lockett's lips thinned. 'I've had the House Elves put up a sign near where you captured Downing. It's a message. I'm telling Thane I want a meeting where we can make a swap for Downing. If he agrees, there and then I'll tell him it's for the Stone. Downing says he keeps it on him.'
Scorpius frowned. 'Do you think they'll do that? I mean, if the Stone's a cure -'
'I suspect the Stone played a part in the conversion ritual. It is still intrinsically tied to the realm of the dead, and so using it to strengthen the gap between both worlds and allow a greater flow of necromantic energy would be logical. I'm not sure they know it's a cure.'
'What makes you think that?'
'If the Resurrection Stone was intended to be used as a cure, I imagine Thane would either do a better job of hiding it from his people or he'd outright tell them. Downing spoke as if he expected his employers to be the ones who'd bestow the cure. No, I think him keeping the Stone's for something else.'
Albus frowned. 'Like what?'
Lockett hesitated, drawing a sharp breath. 'Future infections.' She lifted her hands. 'I'm not saying Thane will hand it over. I'm saying he can be brought to a meeting and not only would I like to meet this man, I believe I can negotiate and then I'm not above double-crossing him.'
'Because surely he won't have also thought of that,' Selena pointed out.
'He might not even reply to this message and then we have to change our plans. But this is what we're doing.' Lockett looked at them all, and the fierceness in her gaze faded. 'I have... not been here the last few weeks. But now I have a plan and we are going to fix this.'
A brief silence met her words before Scorpius cleared his throat. 'I think it's a good idea, Professor,' he said, and that was all it took to have the others murmuring their assent. Even if they didn't believe, they would go along with it. If nothing else, their attempts to do this by themselves hadn't done them much good.
Lockett nodded, at least satisfied with this, and looked to Methuselah. 'How's Weasley?'
'Resting. Prognosis is - unclear.' His expression pinched. 'Still awaiting if her body will, with magical aids applied, reject the dark magic infused in her wound. Overnight will tell the tale.'
'You'll keep an eye on her?'
There was a pause as Lockett rubbed her eyes. 'For the love of God, I don't want to have to tell Hermione Granger in the morning that her daughter's dead.'
The cold snake that had taken residence in Scorpius' gut since he'd seen Rose flat out in the snow coiled tighter. 'Can we see her?' he asked Methuselah.
'See? Yes. Talk to? No.'
Lockett nodded. 'All right. Get some sleep, and take shifts if you're watching Weasley, nobody's staying up all night when Christ knows what response we'll get from Thane. I'll tell you all if something happens.'
That was their dismissal, and the first one of them to go was Albus, fairly tearing himself out of his chair and to the door. Scorpius hesitated, gaze going between his best friend's disappearing at and Lockett - and then his choice was clear. He lifted a hand to the Professor and moving after him.
Albus was around the next corner and halfway down the nearest corridor before he stopped, fists clenched, big shoulders hunched. He had his back to Scorpius but even though he'd come to a halt, he didn't turn. 'Stupid... stupid!'
'It's not the best plan I ever heard,' said Scorpius, apprehensive. 'But it stands a -'
'I mean me! How arrogant was I?' He turned sharply, eyes blazing. 'Five kids against a mercenary, you all warned me -'
'I didn't. I thought it was a good plan.'
'And now Rose is -'
'Downing did that! Not you! And before you carry on, we've just learnt of a possible curefrom Downing, more information about the ritual from Downing!'
'Yeah, because of Lockett! Not because I... God...' Albus scrubbed his face with his hand.
'You didn't do anything,' said Scorpius in a low, firm voice. 'You punched him, big deal. You knocked him over. You didn't do anything more.'
'Only because you three stopped me.'
Scorpius goggled. 'Why do you think I did it, Al? Why do you think I went to Lockett? Not because I cared about Downing's bloody health! If he got eaten by a Dementor I'd fetch the bloody popcorn!' He jerked a finger in his chest with that irrational combination of frustration and concern. 'I did it because I knew you'd hate yourself when you came down from your anger.'
Albus scowled. 'Pretty much hate myself now.'
'Congratulations, Al, we've discovered you have a flaw. "Gets angry when loved ones have been hurt". Get in the queue for hell, but be ready for a long wait 'cos some people have got express tickets. So you lost it, so you're not perfect. Nobody thinks less of you.'
'I think less of me.'
'Well, I don't.' Scorpius folded his arms across his chest. 'It's still thanks to you we got Downing. So we have all this information from him. And furthermore, we were circling the drain before you suggested this plan. You gave us something to focus on, work towards. So you made some mistakes. So you're only human.'
'This was a bit more than a mistake -'
'But nothing went wrong. You know why?' Scorpius punched him on the arm. 'Because we're all in this together. We all make mistakes, we're all screwing up here and there, and the important thing is that we got each other's backs. You got us most of the way with Downing. Don't think of it as you failing at the end. Think of it as us taking up the baton for the last stretch.'
Albus drew back, expression crumpling. It seemed like the words had hit home but they were nevertheless pummelling, weakening him. 'I just can't help but think my dad would be so disappointed in me.'
'If your dad felt anything like how we feel when he was off killing Voldemort, I think he's going to understand. Besides. We don't need to tell him. We don't need to tell anyone -'
'That's dodging my responsibility -'
'Like you let Lockett dodge responsibility for hiding away when you covered for her to your aunt?'
Albus winced. 'That was different, she'd been through a lot and I didn't think any good would come of reporting her, I thought she deserved a chance to sort it out...' His voice trailed off, then his expression darkened with mock-aggravation as he heard his own argument. 'You're a manipulative sod, Malfoy.'
Scorpius gave a wan smile. 'Sometimes I use my powers for good. But I don't want to see you hurting yourself on this. Are you going to be all right?'
Albus sagged, rubbing his eyes. 'Yeah. Yeah. I'm going to get some sleep, I think, and I'll do a shift on looking in on Rosie. Are you going down there?'
'That was my next stop. Jones looks dead on his feet and I think Selena's bullying him into going to bed. So I'll wake you in a few hours?' Scorpius had no intention of doing any such thing, but he was prepared to fib to Albus' face if it meant his friend might actually get a full night's sleep.
Besides. Scorpius knew he himself wouldn't be able to sleep even if he tried. So he left Albus down in that corridor, despite his worries and misgivings, trusting that his words had hit home adequately and that his friend would perhaps, finally, be able to get some rest. And then wound his way through the school to head for the Infirmary.
Anyone who'd been resting in there after the outbreak had been moved to their own beds. It had just been easier, especially with most people stable enough to not need more regular attention and observation than what the House Elves could give. So the big room was dimly-lit, the sconces on the wall casting warm shades of fire across the walls, shadows looming across every corner.
Selena was still there, stood at the foot of the one occupied bed in the room. She was hugging herself, shoulders taut, and obviously hadn't noticed him as he padded in through the door, so focused was she on watching Rose.
Rose, who was a pale bundle under blankets now, her breathing shallow, hair a mess spread out across the pillow. Despite the colour faded from her face she looked quiet and peaceful, as if simply in a deep sleep, though the illusion was not enough to fool the man who'd carried her back to Hogwarts with her blood on his hands.
He stepped quietly up to Selena. 'How is she?'
Selena jumped, then grimaced as she steadied herself. 'Oh, Scorp... she's resting, like Methuselah said. He wants her to sleep, so he's given her a potion to make sure she does. It's all about how much she -'
'Fends off the dark magic in the wound, or it won't heal.' Scorpius gave a jerky nod, lips thinning, and didn't take his eyes off Rose. 'Jones is asleep?'
'He's in his room. I'm not sure he's asleep.'
'You should join him.' Scorpius frowned. 'I actually meant get some sleep. Not literally with him.'
She brushed some hair out of her face. 'I might go see if he's sleeping. If not we might as well be sleep-deprived together,' she said without shame or embarrassment. 'You staying?'
'I'll watch her for a few hours. Then I'll wake Al.'
'You'd better, you're not staying here all night.' Selena sighed. 'You're staying here all night.'
Scorpius' lips twisted. 'She was hit with a spell aimed for me...'
'Thrown by Downing - what is it with you men? Taking blame for things completely out of your control?'
'Because then it's back under our control. Sort of. Enough that we don't feel like victims. Apparently it's better to be the perpetrator.'
'Well, that's silly.' Selena paused, then turned to him. 'You'd better kiss that girl.'
Scorpius squinted. 'What? Now?'
'No! But this is so stupid! You like her, she likes you. So things are tough right now, so what? All the more reason to make amends. Don't do the stupid guy thing.'
'Which stupid guy thing are we talking about in specific right now?'
She poked him in the arm. 'You're going to fuss and flap while she's injured and then be all stand-offish and stupid when she's better. Just remember this. Remember how you feel right now.'
'Scared stiff she's going to die? I'm not about to forget any time soon.' The snake of ice was still coiled tight in his gut.
'It's bad enough it takes near-death experiences for people to get over themselves. Don't let a near-death experience go by and do nothing about it. I already want to smack you once.'
'Well, I was worried about being hurt and betrayed but I guess if the threat of a smack is hanging over me...'
'I mean it.' Selena stamped her foot. 'If you don't man up and kiss the girl when she's better, if you’re not actually honest and sorting all of this out, then I swear I... I...' She flailed for consequences. 'I will!'
'You'll kiss Weasley instead?'
'You know what I mean!'
'Hardly ever.' Scorpius reached out to put a hand on her shoulder. 'You should get some sleep.'
'Don't you dare dodge this again.'
'Sleep, Selena.' He gave her a gentle push towards the door.
She finally subsided, giving a nod and sloping towards the corridor. She was almost there and Scorpius had almost turned his attention entirely back onto Rose before Selena hesitated and turned. 'I'm sorry,' she said, voice awkward. 'About the part I played. Helping Miranda lie, I mean. I didn't spread the lies but I knew they were lies and I let her.'
Scorpius looked over his shoulder and his lips twitched. 'How's that for taking blame for things not your fault?' But his smile softened and he gave her a nod. 'Jones is lucky to have you, Selena.'
She gave a small, bashful, sincere smile, then shrugged. 'Yeah, well. Make sure you get some sleep, Scorpius,' she said, then finally turned and left the Infirmary. Leaving him alone. More or less.
Scorpius' shoulders sagged and he moved to the side of the bed to drag a stool over. He sat down awkwardly, wringing his hands together before, on an impulse, he reached out to grab Rose's. It was colder than he'd hoped, and she didn't so much as stir at the contact.
'I'm not going to talk,' he mumbled, stroking the inside of her palm with his thumb. 'Because I don't want to do the thing where I'm honest now you're unconscious and then when you're better I suddenly close down and all that. Because I'd really, really hate...' His voice trailed off, and he sighed. '...to prove Selena right.'
Even his joke didn't get a reaction.
'So I'm calling this a planning session. Right? For you and me to have a talk, a proper one, when you're better. Because I haven't even thanked you properly for Christmas... no, no.' He stopped himself, grimacing. 'This can wait.'
His gaze roamed across her face. She looked small, so much smaller than he ever thought her to be. He knew she always came across as taller than she was, knew that whenever he got up close he was surprised by how much he had to crane his neck to look down at her. Her presence was so much larger than her actual height.
And now she was reduced, brought low by the injury, as if all of her energy was turned inward for once to fight the corrupting dark magics that would, if they weren't purged, kill her. Scorpius had read enough accounts of wounds sustained in the war to know these were the tough ones, the ones not easy to heal, and how something seemingly minor could still cause trouble if it simply never patched up.
A gut wound with that much blood was not minor.
He tightened his grip on her hand. 'You're going to fight this, you hear?' he said, voice holding a threatening shake. 'I'm not losing you, too. You're going to fight this.' He drew a ragged breath. 'Just imagine it's, like, me when I'm being super annoying and all you want to do is wipe the smug smirk off my face -'
Then there was a polite, awkward cough from behind him, and Scorpius jerked up to see Professor Lockett stood at the foot of the bed, expression grave, clutching a folded sheaf of parchment.
'I'm sorry to interrupt,' she said quietly, sincerely. 'But it seems there's been a response to my message. Harley just found this hammered onto the signpost. I think you'd better read it.'
Scorpius let go of Rose's hand only reluctantly and, with some bewilderment, reached out to take the parchment. He unfolded it.
'It's not just a message,' Lockett said, voice tense. 'That's a low-end magical contract, a binding one. If you sign it and break it you'll be in for a world of pain.'
'Why would I sign...' But Scorpius' voice trailed off as he read the message, written in a neat, stylish hand. Although he'd never seen Prometheus Thane's penmanship before, he recognised it immediately.
I agree to a meeting to arrange the release of my man only so long as the meeting is on my terms, which are as follow.
We will meet at the old centaur seeing-pools to the east, six miles beyond the grounds, at dawn tomorrow. The centaurs have long departed the region. You will bring Downing to the meeting and there we will arrange for his release. You will only have one of your people beyond Hogwarts' grounds for the duration of this meeting, and that person will be Mister Scorpius Malfoy.
If you agree to these terms then you will both sign this message and replace it where it was found. This will be a binding agreement to ensure no trickery.
Scorpius squinted. 'Me? He wants to meet me?'
'I don't understand why,' said Lockett, and exhaled. 'Of course, it's ridiculous -'
'I'll do it.'
Lockett's lips thinned. 'I had a feeling you were going to say that.'
Scorpius stood up, straightening his shirt. 'Look at it this way. If he double-crosses us, you lose the least valuable of your people.' Something niggled in his brain, something he couldn't quite place.
'I take issue with that logic,' said Lockett. 'And anyway, we'd lose Downing.'
'This was your idea, the exchange,' Scorpius pointed out. 'Don't you get cold feet on me now. He was never going to say, "Ooh, yes, please take my artefact of awesome ancient power in exchange for a grubby merc".'
'I could hope.' Lockett scowled. 'You'll have to go alone.'
'That's what he wants, yes.'
'I really don't like this. He's up to something, it's dangerous, and I note the contract places no restrictions upon what he can do.'
'He has us over a barrel, yes.'
She folded her arms across her chest. 'We should reassess.'
'We could do that,' Scorpius agreed. Then he snatched the quill on the bedside table next to Rose and, before Lockett could do more than give a squawk of indignation, scribbled his name at the bottom of the letter.
'What're you -' Lockett narrowed her eyes. 'Great. Now if you don't attend you're going to fall over just after dawn with incapacitating agony that'll last, what, a week?'
'Which is why I'm going.' He extended the letter to her. 'Can you go get Harley to put this back in place?'
She thinned her lips. 'Fine. You stubborn idiot. But when I get back, we are talking and we are planning.'
'Good. I'd like to not walk into this empty-handed.' Scorpius nodded amiably, hands shoved in his pockets, and kept his cheery grin on as Lockett turned, glowering at him briefly, and headed for the door.
Then he looked back to Rose, who had not stirred at all during the exchange, and he reached out to take her hand gingerly again. 'Don't worry,' he told her. 'I'm going to be fine. We're going to have this conversation. What do I keep telling you, Weasley? I'll come back. Every time.
'Besides.' His smile turned wry, smug, confident. 'I have a plan.'
Methuselah answered the knocking at his bedroom door wearing his flannel pyjamas and a confused expression. He squinted, bereft of glasses, at Selena. 'Something wrong?'
'No, nothing's wrong.' She forced herself to release her own arms, to stop hugging herself. 'Or, no more wrong than it already was. I just...' Her voice trailed off and a long silence met her words as he just continued to peer. She sighed. 'Can I come in?'
'Hm? Oh.' He stepped back to allow her inside and she padded through the doorway.
She'd not been in his room before. It was the most fastidiously tidy boy's bedroom she'd ever seen. Already had Methuselah laid out the next day's clothes on his armchair, and his desk by the window was stacked with neatly arranged piles of parchment and books she was sure were in an order which made perfect sense to him.
'I'm sorry,' she blurted out. 'Were you asleep? I shouldn't have woken you -'
'Was only endeavouring sleep.' Methuselah's brow furrowed. 'Something is amiss.'
'Nothing new -'
'Then old matters may remain amiss. Time no guarantee of solution.' He'd closed the door behind her but still stood by it, one hand on the handle, the other hanging awkwardly by his side, like he wasn't sure where to put it.
She looked away. 'I didn't think I'd sleep. I didn't want to go back to my room. I can't help thinking about Rose. If she dies, I - I mean, I was sad when Tim Warwick died, but I didn't really know him, but she's my friend...'
He stepped forwards but still hesitated, hovering not far away but not close enough for comfort. He was still, she reflected wryly, unsure on where boundaries were, on what was acceptable or welcome, still cripplingly self-conscious when it came to taking action.
'More will be known in morning,' was all he said at last, weakly.
'If she'll live or not.' Selena wrapped her arms around herself again. He just nodded, expression fallen. 'Can I stay here tonight?'
Methuselah's brow furrowed. 'Um. Yes?' But his uncertainty sounded more like he was unsure what was going on with her than unsure if he wanted to give his assent, and he shuffled over a few more steps. 'If you will feel better.'
'I don't really want to be alone tonight,' she said, and watched him as he went to raise a hand, then hesitated and stopped. She gave a small smile. 'You are allowed to initiate, you know. I don't think there's any time where you'd want to reach out for me and I wouldn't want you to.'
'Premise assumes there is any time I don't want to,' he said awkwardly, and seemed surprised when she gave a small smile in response. 'Don't want to presume...'
'So you've said.' She stepped forwards and took his hand in both of hers, astonished at how he could make her feel shy sometimes. The feeling wasn't unwelcome. 'So presume this: I like you, I like being around you, and you pretty much have to never worry about it being unwelcome if you want to hold my hand, or hug me, or kiss me. Especially not in private.'
'Words "pretty much" become vague. But. Point is taken.' He gave his own small smile. 'And you should presume this: Never going to not want to spend time with you. Don't even need to ask.' Then he stepped forward, free hand coming to cup her chin, tilting her face up, and the thrill at this, the first time he'd really taken the initiative, ran through her like the world's best lightning-strike. Then he wrinkled his nose. 'Double-negative incredibly vague,' Methuselah reflected. But still he leaned down and kissed her, and grammar was left far behind.
She'd never slept next to a boy before, Selena mused some time later when they were curled up in his bed, her having claimed a spare pyjama shirt of his which fit like comforting tent. She'd had her share of fumbles with boys in their dormitories, in bedrooms during holidays, on judiciously-facing sofas in common rooms. But they always ended with one or both parties stealing away with a thrill, back to their own beds or simply on with the rest of their days. So even though she’d done less with the boy lying next to her than some before him, this, lying bundled up in his embrace, was a first.
And it was a place where she might, perhaps, be able to sleep.
Scorpius slept only fitfully.
He'd stayed in the Infirmary until Lockett had come back, the Potions Professor still twitchy and irate. She'd threatened several times to just tie him up and dose him through the week's worth of pain that breaking the magical contract would bring about - better than death, she'd said. But in the end he'd got his own way.
Despite it all, Lockett was still too much of a risk-taker to refuse him this chance. This chance which could get them the cure and save them all.
But it didn't mean he would sleep. Harley was set to wake him at five in the morning, which meant he wasn't liable to get more than a few hours in bed, but it was still better than nothing. Or, at least, it would have been if he hadn't spent an unknown period of time just staring at the ceiling.
Eventually he gave up, crawled out of bed, and went to spark a light at the candle on his desk. He hadn't spent much time in his room the last few weeks, too busy out and about, and the stack of papers he'd accumulated in his time here had just grown. It had got bigger over Christmas, as he'd kept the tags with the presents he'd been given, hoping to thank people at some point.
His gaze fell on the Quaffle at the corner of the table. He'd not thanked Lockett for it. Today was the first time they'd spoken in weeks, despite his best efforts, and it had been all business. Not personal. Not wondering where she'd got this, and more, why she'd given it to him.
He picked it up, tossing it from hand to hand idly - and then it slipped out of his grasp and knocked a stack of papers over. Scorpius swore, bent to recover them - and realised what they were. These were the letters that had come at Christmas, the pile atop which his father's message had sat, and he'd not looked any further than those hate-filled pieces of parchment. The rest had sat abandoned for weeks now.
And one had landed with a definite thunk.
Scorpius frowned and picked up the envelope, which had definite weight and bulk to it. He turned it over, the handwriting absently familiar to him but he couldn't place it, and broke the seal.
Something fell out and clattered on the table, and Scorpius reached out to pick it up with a frown. It was a pocketwatch, made of solid silver that danced in the candlelight, the lid engraved with an intricately-detailed sigil of a raven. With bemusement, his attention turned to the letter.
The feeling that stirred in his chest was a peculiar mix of horror, apprehension, but above all something more pleasant yet complicated he wasn't yet sure how to identify by name.
I hope by now you have seen the present from my family as a whole. If not, go open it, and come back.
Good. Enjoy it for many years to come, and we positively will not take "no" for an answer. It was the decision of the four of us, with suggestions from Rose and Albus, and my wife went to some effort to acquire such an advance model. If you think that makes it awkward to accept the gift, imagine how awkward that will make it to return it.
But I wanted to write to you more personally to express my gratitude. Not just for all you have done for the families at Hogwarts, including my own, but what you have done for my son. I will not deny I was apprehensive all those years ago when Albus was Sorted into Slytherin, not for what this said about him but for how it would affect him. Our family is overwhelmingly Gryffindors, and I know how partisan Hogwarts can be about its House lines, albeit less than in my day. I feared he would be isolated.
He was not, because he has had you as a friend, the most unlikely friend I could have expected for him. Within days of his arrival at Hogwarts his letters home were filled with tales of his new friend Scorpius, what the two of you had got up to, all you had explored. I am a firm believer that people are made better by having good friends, and just as I trust my son is growing up to be a good man, I know this would have been impossible if he did not have a stalwart best friend. For your loyalty and kindness to Albus, I cannot thank you enough, though I know you will not need thanks.
I feel I should also apologise, then, because I have not done enough for you. James and Lily often have had friends over in the holidays, or gone to visit, and I know most of them personally. I know Rose and Hugo have been much the same. But you and Albus always stayed apart outside of school, and while I would not want to make assumptions regarding the reasons, I am sorry I did not work to find them out. That I let matters lie. And I am sorry if my enmity with your father has in any way made it harder for you to be friends with my son. It should not have.
I know your father is a difficult man. I have begun to put more pieces together since last we met. On the one hand, I would want to assure you that he is no monster. I would not be alive today if he were weaker, more cowardly. On the other hand, I will not pretend that he is a saint, and I know his dealings in the business world over the last quarter-century have perhaps eroded the lingering innocence left behind after the war.
But above all it does not matter half so much as you might think, and you have proved that to the world these past few months - and proved it to me and my family just by how good a friend you have been to Albus. I know it is a lonely thing, though, to not have a family to turn to in these times. When I was your age I had others who would give me guidance, would take me in. Now I have a family of my own I know it is not quite the same. But it is something, and so I would make this offer to you, one I should have made years ago: You will always be welcome in my home if you need it, Scorpius.
Last of all, I heard from Albus that your seventeenth birthday passed without fanfare and even, surprising me about your father, with certain traditions left overlooked. I believe I can start to make amends for my failings in this. Please find enclosed a pocketwatch. It is yours. It once belonged to my godfather, Sirius Black, until he was incarcerated in Azkaban, and as he died before his name was cleared it remained locked up with his personal effects until it came into my possession. He was another man who lived life to the fullest, was staunchly loyal to his friends, and who made himself what he was despite the beliefs and attitudes of his family.
I believe this makes it only appropriate I give it to you. As a reminder of how we can make ourselves, as a reminder of those who came before, and as a gesture of my gratitude for all you have done for my family. If nothing else, your grandmother was a Black, something we have in common.
Feel free to write to me at any time about anything. Feel free to not respond to this, I certainly do not want to obligate you in any way and I appreciate I may have misunderstood how matters lie. But please accept the gifts, because you more than deserve them. Your actions over the last few months have been nothing short of heroic. Have a Merry Christmas.
- Harry Potter’
Scorpius did, eventually, move from the table and get to sleep. But only after he'd wiped his eyes thoroughly.
I can do this. I can save the day.