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Ignite by Slide
Chapter 35 : That Vital Spark
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 9

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When Rose woke up it was as if all the light the world could contain was bursting in through the Infirmary windows, flooding the room and painting it gold. It was not the first time she'd been conscious since that sudden sharp, bursting pain, a world of white, and then darkness. But the previous occasion was something of a blur of an aching body, Methuselah Jones firing off words at her at a rate of knots, more potions poured down her throat, then sweet, blissful rest.

But she did remember the pertinent details. Scorpius had got the Resurrection Stone. They were on the path to a cure.

A shadow cut through the solid blocks of golden light filled with the floating slivers of silver dust and she blinked upwards to see Selena there, a small smile curling the corner of her lips. 'Welcome back to the world of the living. How're you feeling?'

Rose thought about that for a moment. 'Aching,' she said. 'But my stomach doesn't hurt so much.'

'It might if you sit. But you should be all right soon enough. Once Methuselah flushed you of the dark magic we could use dittany and normal charms and patch you right up. It's just letting the muscles settle now. And stopping Methuselah from fussing.'

'I should thank him.'

'And, apparently, Professor Lockett.' Selena's brow furrowed slightly. 'It was one of her potions he used to cleanse you.'

'Another new one?'

'No, an old one. One of her groundbreaking post-war recipes to cure dark magic injuries. But she has dignified us with her presence again.' Selena smoothed out her sheets. 'I shouldn't complain. We were about to go to hell before she did. And she's convinced she can make this cure.'

'Are they making progress?'

'I don't know.'

Rose frowned. 'How long have I been unconscious?'

'Well, you woke up yesterday evening, that's when we talked. But you'd been unconscious for over a day by then. We only got the Resurrection Stone yesterday morning. A lot's happened in the last few days.' Selena glanced to the bedside table. 'Everyone's been worried.'

Rose followed her gaze to see the drooping petals of the vibrantly purple bunch of flowers sat in a glass vase on the table, and it took her a moment to identify them as irises. She blinked. 'Who brought those?'

'Who do you think?' Selena gave a smile that wrinkled her nose. 'I have no idea where he got them.'

'I have my ways.' They looked over to see the beaming form of Scorpius Malfoy as he swaggered into the Infirmary, a thin box under one arm. 'I heard you were awake.'

Selena folded her arms across her chest and arched an eyebrow. 'She only just woke up, how on Earth did you hear?'

'Maybe I didn't hear and I just happen to have exquisite timing. My point remains.' Scorpius gave Selena a firm look, and she rolled her eyes.

'Fine. Fine. I'm going. I was just checking in anyway, not playing nursemaid, I'll leave that to you, Malfoy.' She gave Rose a wry smile. 'Feel better, Weasley.'

'I'll try to,' said Rose, then Selena was gone and it was just the two of them. She watched Scorpius with uncertainty.

He bounded over to the stool next to her bed and slid his delivery onto the table. It was a narrow box of chocolates, a little bow across the top of it. 'I brought you sweets. Because chocolate heals all ailments almost as well as cutting-edge potions do.'

She smiled despite herself and reached for the box, tugging at the bow and opening it up. Her brow furrowed. 'They're all swirly strawberry ones.'

'Those are your favourite, right?' His forehead creased with worry.

'Yes, but - what did you do, get five boxes and go through them?'

'I did.' Scorpius beamed. 'Albus is going to be very fat off the dregs. It's cold out there, he needs the extra padding.'

Rose fought for words. The aches were fading, partly thanks to the potions, partly thanks to his presence, but they were being replaced with bewilderment. 'Why this? And why the - are they irises?'

He beamed. 'Yes! I saw your face when we were getting on the train at the end of last year and Hector, bless his soul, decided that the perfect parting gift was going to be... a rose. Because your name's Rose.' He tapped his nose. 'You looked like you were trying very hard to not roll your eyes.'

She blinked. 'You noticed that?'

'I notice lots of things.' Scorpius shrugged. 'Also I was still at the stage of wanting to punch his lights out so I saw a lot while I was staring at him and trying to kill him with my brain.'

Rose hesitated, not sure she wanted to say what was on her mind in case it shattered the softly-lit illusion in front of her and brought reality crashing back in. 'I thought we agreed at Christmas that we'd just be friends?'

'Technically that's not what we agreed. Technically we just sort of said we'd take it sort of slow and figure things out.' He reached for her hand impulsively, squeezing it, and his expression sobered. 'And then I thought my chest was going to implode when I saw you lying bleeding in the snow and I remembered what an utter arse I have been to you.'

'It goes both ways,' said Rose, light-headed.

'Maybe, but this one's my way. And you're not like any other girl but I thought, maybe, I should treat you for a bit like any other girl.' He frowned at himself. 'That was a terrible, terrible way of saying it. Let me try again.' He mimed rewinding himself, gesticulating backwards and ending with letting go of her hand and, despite the sudden coldness at the absence of his touch, she laughed.

'I fuss - fussed - over other girls with chocolates and flowers and jokes and little things like that,' Scorpius said, his voice more calm, sincere as he started again. 'But you're not like other girls. You challenge me. Make me be better. Make me want to impress you, really impress you, with the things that count. With me, not with silly little things. But at the same time I wanted to do these little things because in the middle of everything going to hell in a handbasket I wanted to do something nice and fun, and make you feel a bit special.' He hesitated and again reached for her hand, touch this time more ginger. 'You're more special, though, since you might have just woken up from two days of being semi-conscious after getting slashed up by a lunatic, but you are, right now, the most beautiful sight I've ever seen.'

Her breath caught, and then something amused yet apprehensive entered his gaze. 'But I still got you pretty things. Because it would be really stupid to say that I hold you in such high regard that you don't get pretty things. Because pretty things are nice, and you're also pretty, and girls like flowers, and we both like chocolate.'

And she laughed again, and felt even better when she realised that doing so didn't hurt, not even a little. 'What makes you think you get chocolate? They're mine.'

He gave a look of mock-indignation. 'I went through five boxes for you.'

'I'm sure that was such a hardship.' Rose paused. 'How did you even know I like the strawberry ones?'s

'I'm observant and -' He wilted under her look. 'I asked Albus, okay? He said you always steal those at Christmas.'

She made a face. 'I do not steal -'

But she didn't get any further as that was the point he sat up, leaned forwards, and kissed her.

It wasn't like the previous kisses. This wasn't him suddenly grabbing her, however much she hadn't minded being grabbed by him, or like her pouncing on him, either. Those had been fervent, greedy embraces, where they couldn't stand any inch of their bodies being apart and that fire between them had sparked brighter than anything she, for her part, had ever felt. This was slower, gentler. He was, certainly, mindful that she was sat up bundled in the Infirmary, but his lips were still soft and lingering on hers, his closeness still delicate enough to dismiss any remaining aches, until all she felt was as if she was positively floating.

And when he pulled back it was like a tumble back to mundane Earth. 'Sorry,' Scorpius whispered, not sounding at all sorry. He'd reached up to play with that errant, defiant lock of hair which had not been conquered even by her present state. 'Just you did that little indignant nose-wrinkle and that always makes me want to kiss you.'

'I should do it more often,' she murmured. Then, 'I hear you saved the day.'

To her surprise he looked pained. 'Harley and his elves deserve most of the credit. I'd be a smear in a pool if it weren't for them.'

'I heard it was your plan, though?' She leaned forward to brush her nose against his. 'You're allowed to be pleased. Even smug. You deserve it.'

There was still something about his gaze she couldn't place, some new uncertainty - but then he shook his head. 'I'll be smug when Lockett's cooked up this cure. Then this'll be over, and we can get out, and then, then, I don't have to jump through a thousand and one hoops just to get some bloody flowers delivered.' He grinned, and she laughed, and then that uncertainty in his gaze was gone and Rose could reassure herself that either she'd imagined it or he was just apprehensive of what was to come.

She, for her part, was not. Because even if Lockett had work to do, even if Jones was studying the ritual, even if it wasn't over, she was feeling, right then, like she could take on the entire army of Dementors in the Forest on her own.

* *

It was another two days before Lockett summoned them all to her office down in the dungeons. Selena, Albus, Scorpius, and Rose, helped to walk by Scorpius even if she'd been perfectly mobile for a whole day now and thanks to magic was more or less fine already, got down there in short order to find not just the Professor there already, but Methuselah.

The Resurrection Stone sat on the professor's desk, squat and square and small, insignificant, not looking like it could be the solution to most of their problems. Next to it was a small pile of what Scorpius recognised as focusing gems, crystals which had no power but that which was put inside them, an obscure and unusual form of magic in the modern day as wands had become more and more expertly made.

The wall behind Lockett had once been covered in parchment bearing her scribbled notes and plans for the Phlegethon cure. Now it had a huge chart up there that looked half map, half diagram, and Scorpius peered at it for a moment before he realised what it was.

'I can cure Phlegethon,' was how Lockett started the meeting, both hands resting on her desk. 'But I'm going to need everyone's help.'

She nodded to the Stone below her. 'I could use this Stone and go from bed to bed, drawing on its power and curing each individual in Hogwarts. But this doesn't stop the infection, both within the castle and emanating from the ritual. So that isn't an option. So I've had to become more inventive.'

'Selena had the idea, months ago, of using ritual. Retooling it for our purpose once we have a cure. Now we can do that,' said Methuselah. 'With information from Downing, have been able to fill in gaps on shape and form of ritual and ritual markings. Now have a complete picture on what ritual is and, so, how to retool it.'

'In broad strokes, we're going to alter the physical markings of the ritual and then infuse it with the component energy of the Resurrection Stone. That will stop it from tapping into the necromantic power of the area, and retool it to instead project the healing magic. It will cleanse the same area it infected, curing people, locations, even removing the trace presence of Phlegethon in us,' said Lockett.

'In broad strokes?' said Rose. 'What about the more precise ones?'

'Here's how it'll happen,' said Lockett. 'I'm going to infuse these gemstones here with the healing spell which will include some of the energy contained in the Resurrection Stone. This energy would normally be utterly ineffective once separated from something as old and powerful as the Stone. But, as we know, we only need a lesser effect of the Stone's power. We only need to cleanse living bodies of necromancy. Not bring back the dead. You four will take these gemstones.'

'Four key major power-points of the ritual,' said Methuselah, turning to the chart. It was, indeed, a map of the patch of woodlands the ritual was placed in and, completed by Downing's information, they had charted out where in geographical terms the ritual markings would rest. There was a small, central circle of intricate markings right at ground zero, but it was to the outer circle, not much further in than where Methuselah, Scorpius, and Hugo had run into the Dementors, that he pointed. The outer circle was lined with ritual markings also, most of them focused around four equidistant points of the large ring where smaller circles similar to the one in the middle sat.

'If ritual is physically adjusted and magically cleansed,' he continued, 'it will have a cascade effect to alter the centre and re-link the entire ritual with new purpose. Ergo, each of you goes to one of the four small outer circles. At the same time, I will be traversing the outer ring and making the physical adjustments to the markings there necessary.'

'Once you get there,' said Lockett, 'you will utilise the gemstones to imbue your magic, for one spell, with the Resurrection Stone's energy. I'm informed Albus has been teaching you how to cast patronuses.'

'Patronus,' said Methuselah.

'That.' Lockett couldn't have sounded like she cared less. 'It's the ideal spell for the purpose. Focus your magic, of the patronus and the Stone, into the ritual markings. It should cleanse that sub-circle. Once all four are cleansed and the outer markings adjusted, it's show-time.'

'Anticipating massive magical backlash,' said Methuselah. 'Repurposing entire nature of ritual like this will result in clash of rejuvenating and necromantic energy in manner not dissimilar to initial wave from ritual. Once cascade begins, depart area swiftly. Should not be dangerous as we will remain outside the outer ring.'

'What would happen if we went inside the outer ring during the cascade?' asked Albus.

'Very likely, as necromantic energy sucked back through to central rift and focal point, massive and fatal physical trauma and also possible disconnection of soul from body and its consequential traversing to the realm of the dead.'

'So, death,' said Scorpius, voice flat. 'Horrible, horrible death.'

'Almost certainly.' Methuselah sounded quite calm.

'At this time I'll remain in Hogwarts,' said Lockett, finally showing a hint of emotion other than determination - sheepishness. 'I'll be doing what I can to monitor the state of the people here but also making them as receptive as I can to new cleansing energies. With, unsurprisingly, a potion. It's what I do.' She gave a wry shrug. 'So we all have our part to play. Any questions?'

'I just have one,' said Scorpius. 'Dementors.'

'Not a question,' said Methuselah.

'All right. Dementors?'

'What, specifically, is the query regarding -'


'Will be out there,' said Lockett, lifting a hand to forestall further degeneration. 'Which is a reason for utilising the patronus spell. You will need to use it to defend yourselves, though once your sub-circles are cleansed, the immediate area should be safe.'

'The cascade effect will also eradicate them,' said Methuselah. 'They will be destroyed with the cure. More queries?'

Selena stuck up her hand. 'Evil mercenaries?'

'Actually do appear to have left, Scorpius was right,' said Albus. 'They're not showing up anywhere on the wards or the maps. They could be further out, but they're definitely not watching the castle.'

'Then I only have one more question,' said Rose. 'When?'

Lockett drew a deep breath. 'Tomorrow,' she said. 'Noon. On which note, how're you feeling, Weasley?'

'My wounds are clean and so they were no trouble to patch up,' said Rose. 'I feel fine. And I'm going,' she added, shooting Scorpius a look.

'You two could swap,' he said, gesturing between her and Lockett.

Lockett winced and raised her hands. 'I'm going to trust Weasley on this. Besides. There is a reason my part keeps me at the castle.'

'Because you're bricking it?' wondered Selena.

'Essentially, yes,' Lockett admitted, and her lips thinned. 'I have never cast a patronus, not even in practice. I know I will be less than useless against Dementors. I would, in fact, probably be an active burden.'

'That's upsettingly honest,' said Selena.

Rose drew a sharp breath. 'Does my mother know this is happening?'

'In a manner of speaking,' said Lockett.

'Which means "no"?'

'Which means she knows the cure is happening, she just doesn't know I'm sending you off into the evil site of evil ritual Dementor-infused doom in order to enact it. Does anyone still have a problem with this?'

The five students exchanged looks. Albus shrugged. 'I don't see that we have a choice.'

Lockett straightened at that, brow furrowing. 'You do have a choice. There might be other ways. I can take time to work to find other ways. We could even run the risk of getting experts brought in from outside into the infection zone to arrange the cure -'

'And what if they fall over vomiting blood halfway through it?' pointed out Scorpius. 'It's very sweet that you're giving us this sort of fake element of choice thing, Professor, but we're doing this. Because we might not have a choice, but we're choosing to do this.'

Rose patted him on the arm. 'That doesn't actually make sense, sweetie.'

'You know what I mean!'

Lockett rubbed her eyes, looking much more tired and old than she had at the start of September, and just gave an exhausted nod. ‘So be it. It's six o' clock now.' She glanced to the clock on the wall. 'And I recommend everyone gets a good night's sleep. We're going to need it tomorrow.'

Methuselah immediately began to gather up his stack of papers and Selena wasn't long behind him out the door, but Scorpius lingered and gave Albus and Rose a small smile. 'I won't be long,' he said.

They nodded, and Lockett was watching him dubiously as the others filtered out and left the two of them on their own. 'I don't want another pep-talk, Malfoy.'

'I wasn't going to give you one.' Scorpius shoved his hands in his pockets. 'Why, do you need one?'

'No, but it's what usually happens.'

'That's not true. Sometimes I bitch and moan at you.'

She straightened, lips thin with what he could now tell was disguised amusement. 'What can I do for you, Scorpius?'

He drew an uncertain breath. 'I wanted to thank you. For coming the other day. With Albus and Downing. I know you didn't have to.'

'I did,' said Lockett, gaze dropping. 'Admittedly, I also "had" to be around before that, but I managed to dodge those responsibilities.'

'Except you were working on Phlegethon all this time. The Stone theory.'

'Not all the time. Don't paint me as if I was hiding away but virtuously working on this, away from the eyes of others.' She sighed. 'I realised it had gone too far with Potter and Downing. My abandonment of you had gone too far. I didn't want to get anyone else hurt - and then there I was, meaning you children had to do things you shouldn't have to do, at your age, ever...'

'I thought you said a few days ago that we're not children.'

'No.' Her lips stayed thin. 'You're not. But you should be. And you should stay children for as long as possible. So if there's something I can do, anything, to take responsibilities off your hands... I'm explaining this terribly.' She brushed her hair back. 'I've seen what happens to people who grow up too fast because of evil in the world. I should let that happen to the five of you as little as possible. Your parents' generation still carry the scars, and I know those scars sometimes fall down on you. You don't need your own scars.'

'We've still got them.'

'That doesn't mean I stand by idly and let Albus Potter dangle in front of temptation to go to extreme lengths to interrogate a mercenary. Not when I can do something about that.' She gave a smirk without humour. 'My point is that you shouldn't thank me for that, Scorpius. I was just, finally, doing my job as a teacher.'

'I think you've done more than that.' Scorpius hesitated. 'I also wanted to thank you for my Christmas present.'

'What? Oh.' Something shifted in her face. 'Consider it an expression of my gratitude for listening sometimes, Malfoy.'

'No, seriously, where did you get that?'

Lockett's gaze went distant. 'A friend.'

'On the black market?'

'What? No!' She sighed and straightened. 'If you must know, straight from the horse's mouth.'

He frowned. 'That would mean you got it from that game's Player of the Match...' His voice trailed off as she shifted her feet. 'Caldwyn Brynmor. You got the Beater Caldwyn Brynmor to give you his signed Quaffle from the game of his career?'

'You make it sound so melodramatic.'

'He's only one of the best Beaters of the last fifty years,' said Scorpius, light-headed. 'I mean, sure, he played for those bastards Puddlemere, but - how the hell did you get that off him?'

'I wrote to him,' she said calmly. 'I explained who you were. What you'd done for everyone here. And that you enjoyed Quidditch and I asked if he could help me get you something good. Admittedly, I didn't know he was going to send me that.'

'The Quaffle from one of the biggest games this century - gee, I should hope you didn't ask for it!'

'I was at that match, you know,' she said, somewhat wistfully. 'In Hamburg. It was a hell of a game.'

'Did you meet him?'



Lockett goggled. 'Of course I - I didn't just write to a retired Quidditch player out of the blue, I used to go to school with him, for Christ's sake!'

'And you stayed in touch?' She shifted her weight and realisation dawned. 'Oh, I see.'

'What?' She tensed. 'Don't you "oh," me, Scorpius Malfoy. Don't say it like that.'

'Like what?'

'Like suddenly that explains a lot.' Lockett leaned forwards, serious and yet indignant enough to make her less so. 'Like you think my life went to hell in a handbasket all because of one bad breakup.'

'Did it?'

Her eyes narrowed. 'A lot of things have gone wrong in my life and that relationship was only one of them. A stint in Azkaban could generously be called something else that went awry. Travelling the world seemed glamorous a quarter-century ago until I stopped doing it and realised there was nowhere I called home that I recognised any more. Dementors and smuggling illegal potions reagents and teaching at this school have all contributed. My life and history and hardships are all more than just one romance gone off the rails. I am more than just one romance gone off the rails.'

Scorpius paused. 'I sense,' he said at last, 'from your vehemence that the romance going off the rails didn't help.'

'It did not,' Lockett conceded. 'But we've remained on civil enough terms that I could ask him for something like the Quaffle. And that he gave it. Which isn't all down to me, everyone has some affection for Hogwarts and thus affection for someone who does it a good turn. And he knows parents of kids laid up here.' She sighed. 'A word of advice in love, Scorpius: beware the geniuses. We keep thinking you'll wait around forever while we run off and do our genius things.'

'I'll be fine,' said Scorpius with assumed cheer. 'I'm too charming to be pushed down the priority list.'

Lockett gave another thin smile, though this one was sincere. 'You're a good kid, Scorpius. I'm going to make sure everyone knows what you've done for us.'

'Are you kidding, Professor, you're the one cooking up the cure.' If there had to be one person the world saw as the hero in all of this, Scorpius would give anything, he thought - anything - that it not be him. The thought of taking credit for getting the Stone still made him sick.

'And standing at the back when we implement it.'

Scorpius folded his arms across his chest. 'I think you're being damned brave by knowing your limits, Professor. You know how many people would be bull-headed and charge out there even if it'd make things worse? I'm not going to judge you. I don't know what you've been through. I know Dementors make my skin crawl and I know you've been through things which would make me sit under my bed and just cry for, like, the rest of my life. I think judging you because you've looked at the situation and decided you'd be more of a hindrance than a help is responsible.'

'Is it responsible to send the - all right, I've argued against you being children. To send people so much less experienced than me out there?' She grimaced.

'I can cast a patronus. More or less. You can't. So technically it'd be irresponsible for me to let you out there. Besides, it's like you told me months ago.' He gave a lopsided smirk. 'We all play our part.'

Lockett's shoulders relaxed, and she waved a hand at the door. 'All right, get out.' But her voice was wry, affectionate, even grateful, and Scorpius laughed as he obeyed, padding out into the corridor leading the way out of the dungeons.

Albus and Rose waited at the top of the steps, and he bounded up after them, spirits lifted just at the sight of them together, at the thought that he could join them without tension or apprehension or sniping. One arm he tossed over Rose's shoulder, to her wry amusement, and with the other he punched Albus playfully in the chest.

'One night until it all ends,' he said. 'We're going to miss this when it's gone, you know.'

'I most certainly will not,' sniffed Rose.

Albus gave one of his first genuine smiles in days, and Scorpius knew how pleased he was that he could have them both in a conversation without feeling like he had to play peacemaker or choose. 'You had some idea of how to kill the evening in style?'

'In style?' Scorpius shook his head. 'I was thinking we grab some butterbeers. Stoke the fire in the staff room. And just do absolutely nothing.' And he beamed as they smiled, and knew there was nowhere he'd rather spend this last night.

* *

'It'll be a long day tomorrow,' said Selena as they walked the corridor to their rooms.


'And a tough one.'


She looked at him, saw him turn his gaze to the floor, shoulders slumped, voice subdued, or so she thought. But then they were at her door and she stopped, reaching to take his hand. 'So I'll see you in the morning.'

He nodded, only just looking up to meet her gaze. 'Of course.'

Selena hesitated before she kissed him. She would never have used the word ‘perfunctory’ to describe one of his kisses before. She didn't use it now, but that was only because she didn't know what the word meant. But it was apt. She pulled back and quirked an eyebrow. 'Did you... want to come in? Talk?'

Methuselah dropped her hand. 'It is late,' he said. 'Tomorrow will, indeed, be long.'

He turned to go, but she grabbed his sleeve, doubt twisting inside her. 'What's wrong?'

He hesitated, not pulling away, but looking at her hand like he wasn't sure what to do about it. 'Tomorrow.'

'We'll be fine. It's a good plan. It's one of yours, after all.' She tried to inject both reassurance and humour, even though something churned in her gut.

'And then. Everything returns to normal.'

Her brow furrowed as she watched his forlorn expression, confused. 'Yes.'

'And then you... and me...'

' and me what?'

'Precisely. What.' He tugged his sleeve free. 'We, what? We meet in between classes? Evade prefects for a late-night rendezvous? Sneak into each others' common room? Meet and talk in the library?'

'I don't understand. Are you saying you don't want to do these things, or that these things are unlikely?'

'I will, what?' His lips thinned. 'Join you at your table at meal-times and... fail to get on with your friends. Fail to engage with your hobbies. Your life.'

Clarity was not, it turned out, so pleasant as that after all. 'You think we won't cope with normalcy? You think I'll want us to be like those other couples who sneak out together and giggle at the back of class and claim corners of common rooms? That I'll be one of those girls who needs to drag her boyfriend around on a leash to spend time with her friends even though he's supposed to sit there and say nothing?'

Methuselah said nothing for a long moment except, 'Um,' and that was when she realised that if he'd paid any attention to her before the outbreak, this was exactly how she'd behaved with her previous boyfriends.

'That is not going to happen,' she said, though this time she didn't dare reach for him in case he pulled away again. 'This is not - you are not - I don't know what to say that I've not already said to convince you this is different! You're different!'

He stayed silent, apprehensive, and so she ploughed on. 'I know I might just be a silly girl who does silly things to get silly attention. And yes. I did start giving you attention simply because I couldn't get it or didn't want it elsewhere. But then I carried on because I liked helping you. You made me feel useful. And I liked you. I like you! Even if you are insanely insecure for the smartest person I've ever met.' She bit her lip. 'But we've said all of this. All else I can say is that you don't need to be afraid.'

She stepped forwards, and he didn't pull back this time, stayed put as she lifted her hand to softly, gingerly, brush her fingertips along his cheek. His breath caught. 'Have a confession to make.'

Apprehension returned, but she kept her gaze level. 'You can tell me anything.'

'Phlegethon is the best thing that ever happened to me.'

She blinked - and then understood, and her expression sank. 'Oh, Methuselah, you're not the first person to find good things in a crisis.'

'Am useful here. Valuable. Contributing. And when over, will go back to being... Methuselah Jones. Most boring boy alive.'

She kept her eyes on his. 'When this is over,' she whispered, 'you'll be known as Methuselah Jones, the man who saved Hogwarts. We wouldn't have this plan tomorrow if it weren't for you.'

'Lots of other people have -'

'Forget other people. I'm talking about you, what you've done. It won't be forgotten. I promise you.' She brushed his cheek with her thumb, and gave a small smile. 'And whatever happens, you'll have me. I promise you that, too.'

Then she leaned up and kissed him, gentle as if he might fall to dust in her hands if she was too fervent, might slip through her fingers if she was too greedy. But he didn't, his arms instead sliding around her, moving for now with that common apprehension which she knew would, soon enough, be replaced with the determined dedication he applied to anything he remotely cared about.

He was, after all, a very good student.

'You'll stay?' she murmured against his mouth once she had chance and breath to ask. He just nodded, and together they took a stumbling step towards her door, unwilling to break the embrace. The next morning, with all its challenges, couldn't have been further from her thoughts because she couldn't imagine the night ending.

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