Chapter 37 : Embers
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Once Lockett gave the all-clear, the Ministry task force arrived in a matter of hours. Enforcers and Healers and the Ministry officials, they descended on Hogwarts as if they had prepared for this for months, and they very likely had. The students and staff were examined with vigorous professionalism even as they regained consciousness, and though most of them would need some degree of care to tend to the consequences of being bed-ridden by necromantic energies for months on end they were all expected to make full recoveries. Parents came soon after, and then with them the press, and before long the school was bustling with an activity and range of people it hadn't seen since the end of the war.
The parents wanted their children, friends wanted to see each other, the Healers wanted to make sure everyone was all right, the Enforcers wanted to make sure everyone was secure, the press wanted everyone's story.
Selena only wanted to see one person, and so that was who she sat with, in the dark in one of the dungeon vaults underground.
'I hate you,' she told the body of Methuselah Jones, and burst into tears. Every time she thought she couldn't cry any more, that surely she would die from her heart ripping itself apart, she didn't die, and she could still cry more. 'Why did you have to do that? You weren't even being noble, were you, you just saw what the solution was and so you did it, because that's what you do... I didn't even know you could cast a patronus like that...'
Her voice was tumbling, creaking, in sore danger of shattering, but still she pressed on. 'I thought of you to cast my patronus. I thought of us, last night. I thought of the one thing I hadn't told you yet, because I could imagine telling you, and what that would be like. I only didn't say it yet because I wasn't ready, but I'm not going to get to, now -'
A whimper escaped her throat, drowning her words, but she swallowed it down. 'I think I was falling in love with you. Like I never did with any boy before. Because you weren't like any boy before and I wasn't sure what it meant or sure what it felt like, but I love you -'
It was too much. Too much to say it and to just see his face, pale and impassive and so young without his glasses, remaining still, unchanging. Too much to see him have no reaction to the words, when in her head he'd smiled his awkward, pleased, bewildered smile when she said it.
Tears overwhelmed her again, and this time she collapsed as she wept into his chest, hands clutching fistfuls of his shirt and now utterly, utterly lost. 'Just come back,' she begged between heaving, shattering sobs. Her hands creased his shirt in a way he would absolutely disapprove of, and yet he made no move to stop her or correct this. 'Please don't be dead, please, please... please...'
Soft hands touched her shoulders, and though she hadn't felt Albus when he'd comforted her in the clearing, she could feel this. Feel, perhaps, the only person in the world who could even remotely reach her, do anything to even remotely touch her pain.
Because there are few people in the world who can comfort like a mother can.
'I'm sorry I came so late, dear,' whispered Lillian Rourke, sitting down next to her daughter and pulling her away from Methuselah's corpse gently. Selena all but collapsed in her mother's arms, sobbing into her shoulder instead. 'The world's going mad and I didn't know about this, I thought you were all right...'
Selena didn't care. The outside world could go hang for all it concerned her, but her mother was here, and though even her mother wasn't enough to make her feel like everything could be all right, she was enough to make her feel like perhaps the ground wouldn't swallow her up right away.
'And I'm so, so sorry about this. I'm so sorry.' For long minutes Lillian didn't do anything but sit there and hold her daughter as she wept, and it was only when Selena eventually stilled, for the moment all cried out, that she continued.
'There'll be a memorial for him. I've spoken to his parents, they're satisfied to let me handle everything. I will make sure the whole world knows and respects his sacrifice. Because he managed to stop a terrible evil today, a terrible evil that is threatening to continue.'
Selena just sat in silence, face buried in her mother's shoulder, and let her talk. She didn't care what the words were, what memorial there would be, what was going on in the world, but the sound of her mother's voice helped, and Lillian knew it didn't matter what she said.
'Everyone is accepting this Council of Thorns as a genuine global threat now. They've struck other places, caused harm to other places. Stolen things and attacked people. We think they mean to topple world governments. So we must stand united against them.
'I'm spearheading proposals for not just magical global conferences to fight this, but a magical global council to fight them. International unity, and the Ministry's granting me the power to act on this, power to fight this Council. Stop them. Bring them to justice. I promise you, sweetheart, the people who did this will be brought to account.'
'I don't care,' Selena sobbed at last. 'I don't care about justice. I don't care about international resolutions. I just want him back.'
Lillian Rourke sighed, kissed the top of her daughter's head, and held her as her heart broke in two. 'I know, sweetheart,' she murmured. 'I know.'
Scorpius had to work very hard to not hex the reporter who'd jumped out at him in the face. He had just emerged from the fields into the courtyard before the front doors to the castle and hadn't seen him or his pass until he was right in front of him.
'I have nothing to say,' Scorpius growled, 'that I haven't already said. Professor Lockett cured Phlegethon, after extensive research that Rose Weasley helped her with. Albus Potter saw to the school's security and fended off mercenaries and agitated magical creatures. Selena Rourke supervised the care of the students and teachers. The House Elves provided that care, and a small team of them led by Foreman Harley ambushed the mercenaries to acquire the Resurrection Stone. Methuselah Jones devised the method of cleansing the infecting ritual, and gave his life to do so. I have nothing else to say.'
He went to pass the reporter, but the man was already moving, backpedaling with his parchment and quill. 'What about how you acquired the Resurrection Stone off Prometheus Thane?'
Scorpius didn't stop, lips thin. 'I got lucky. No more. No less.'
'But that's -'
'If you want to know what happened that day,' said Scorpius as he spotted movement at the exit of one of the arcades, 'Foreman Harley is right here and was right in the middle of the action.'
Harley, overhearing this as he entered the courtyard, gave Scorpius a look that was half-grateful and half-betrayed, but he nevertheless moved towards the reporter. 'I'll give you the story,' he said, and somehow made it sound like a threat. He'd been giving the story all morning, but looked like he'd make the reporter hear it again whether he liked it or not.
Scorpius gave him a quick, grateful look, then fled into the shadows of the cloisters himself, leaving the reporter at the tender mercies of the prickly House Elf. In the shade he could breathe again. Everyone else had been consumed with dealing with the Ministry, the press - and family. He had done what little he could and had then been left to his own devices, but that obviously came with the need to dodge reporters. He'd been outside to try to be alone with his thoughts before returning to the castle, but already he needed another break. So he leaned against the wall and drew a deep, cleansing breath. He didn't close his eyes, because every time he did that he saw Methuselah Jones silhouetted by the blazing form of his eagle patronus in the split second before he'd died.
It had apparently been quick, despite what Methuselah had predicted. Cleansing the central circle had completed the ritual and doing so had sucked all of the necromantic energy in the immediate area back into the realm of the dead before exploding outward with cleansing, rejuvenating magic across the entire afflicted region. But necromantic magic was as much about souls as it was about bodies, and that close to the epicentre of the rift, Methuselah Jones' soul had been ripped from him and dragged through along with the corruption.
He would not be, Hermione Granger had assured them all when she'd heard what had happened and figured it out, in some horrendous hell, some dark place of the dead.
Just regular dead.
'That was deftly avoided,' said a wry voice from his left, and Scorpius' head whipped around to see a figure in the shadows. Instinct had his heart leap before Professor Lockett, having her own moment of solace, straightened up and padded over to him.
'They're like vultures, aren't they?' she said. Despite it all being over, Scorpius didn't think he'd ever seen her so tired.
'Literally picking at a corpse for a story,' he murmured. 'I bet there's more inside.'
'There are. But Lillian Rourke's here. She should be holding court with most of them. She's good at that,' Lockett sighed. 'I can't hide out here forever.'
'You shouldn't.' She grimaced. 'It's not good to be on your own in times like this.'
'You're alone,' he pointed out.
'And have been for a long time. So take my word for it. It's a rotten deal.' She gave a sad smile. 'You're young. Go be young with your friends. They make everything better.'
Scorpius straightened, brow furrowing as he realised that if Lockett had taken Tim's death hard, as her personal responsibility being the only teacher in Hogwarts, she would also take Methuselah's death personally. 'Are you going to be all right?'
She shrugged. 'Some day.'
He shoved his hands in his pockets. 'You did all this, you know, Professor. Maybe at the end we did more, Albus and Methuselah at least, but we would never have got that far without you. We'd have been headless chickens by the third day.'
'First, I have a little more faith in you than that. Second, the responsible adult shouldn't get commended for achieving base level responsibility.'
'Then we wouldn't have figured out the cure, Professor. You did that.' Scorpius looked at the ground. 'And you helped me.'
'Hey.' He raised his head as she spoke more casually than he'd ever heard. 'I know how it works. Being the smiling joker to keep the shadows at bay. It does wonders. But it means people often don't see what's going on underneath, and then if you're not careful, it goes untouched until it overwhelms you.'
He watched her for a moment, saw the laugh-lines along her face, and quirked an eyebrow. 'Is that what happened to you?'
'That,' Lockett conceded, 'and I ran out of jokes.' She stepped forwards, awkward and uncertain, before she opened her arms. 'You helped me a lot, too, Scorpius. And you didn't give up on me. It's been a while since someone held out like that.'
She was going to hug him, he realised, and it only seemed the polite thing to hug her back however awkward it would be, so he stepped forwards. But then her arms wrapped around his shoulders, and Scorpius realised just how damn long it had been since someone grown-up, actually responsible, someone he actually looked up to had hugged him.
And he returned the embrace with all sincerity.
When Lockett pulled back, she was smiling. Not her wry smile, not her cold, tight one, but a small, lopsided smirk that crinkled the corners of her eyes. 'You're a good kid.'
'And you're an awesome Professor,' he said, returning the smirk. 'You let us stay up as late as we wanted and go wherever we wanted.'
Lockett laughed and it made her whole face look younger, but then there was a shadow from the doorway of the arcade, and they both looked over to see a figure standing there, awkward at the intrusion.
He was tall and broad, in his mid-forties and wearing a ridiculously expensive, well-tailored suit. Dark hair was cropped short and tinged with silver, as was the close-cut beard across his strong, straight jaw, and with the beard Scorpius had to squint a moment before he recognised his face. But he'd seen it regularly in Quidditch magazines growing up.
Former professional Quidditch player Caldwyn Brynmor looked right at Lockett. 'Nat,' he said in an awkward voice.
Lockett stared. 'Cal.' Her voice was numb.
Scorpius shifted his feet. 'Hi.' He wanted to go, but Lockett hadn't let go of his arm and her grip had suddenly gone iron tight. He tugged gently, to no avail.
Brynmor's gaze flickered to him with uncertain recognition, then back to Lockett. 'I came as soon as they lifted the general quarantine,' he told her.
'Oh,' she said. 'Well.'
Scorpius tugged again. 'Can I -'
She released him, but patted him on the arm. 'Cal, this is Scorpius Malfoy, my new toyboy.'
Professor Lockett was so awkward she was making terrible, terrible jokes. Scorpius stepped away. 'I'm going to go,' he said, then he glanced between them. Some strange urge to help stirred in him but all he could do was look at Brynmor, point at Lockett, and say, 'She's totally still in love with you.' Then he pointed at Brynmor and looked at Lockett. 'And if he gave you his Player of the Match Quaffle from that cup final game then he's definitely still in love with you.'
The two gaped at him, then each other, then Scorpius fled, confident in the knowledge that he'd either just fixed them up for life or dropped a bombshell to ruin absolutely everything behind him. He made for the steps up into the school and on his way almost literally ran into Hermione Granger. He had to grab the railing to stop himself from falling and she stepped back, blinking with surprise.
'Oh, Scorpius. Have you seen Professor Lockett?'
'I have,' he said carefully, 'but you can't go talk to her now because if you interrupt her current conversation I'm pretty sure she'll actually murder me.'
Hermione frowned but didn't press the point. So she looked at him instead, gaze flickering over him with an evaluating air he was quite used to from her daughter. He'd never noticed that look about her before, and it took Scorpius a moment to realise that was because this was the first time in a long while they would be talking face-to-face. All of their proper conversations had happened while she was an otter. 'Are you all right?' she asked.
He ran a hand through his hair. 'A friend of mine died today,' he said, 'and yet the crisis is over. It's a weird feeling.'
She gave a sympathetic smile. 'I know. It's not wrong to feel good, though. That doesn't make you a bad person.'
He wondered how she knew, then remembered she'd been through a war. 'Is this over, though? I mean, Thane's still out there.'
'And this Council of Thorns. Lillian Rourke's making sure that the whole world knows Britain's going to be leading the charge on taking action against them.' Her lips thinned in a remarkable impression of her daughter's poorly disguised irritation.
'Isn't that a good thing?' Scorpius wondered. 'We want to get them. We have to get them.'
'We do,' said Hermione. 'Perhaps I'm being old-fashioned to feel reluctant about the powers we're talking about giving world governments to fight this threat. We don't really understand it yet. A cabal of dark wizards who could strike at Hogwarts like that? Who've been gathering power and attacking governments across the world?' She shook her head.
'There are rumours,' she said, 'that some corners of the world are being hit with something that sounds a lot like Phlegethon. We're talking remote parts of Mongolia, the Congo, Ecuador. Hidden-away magical communities which don't talk much with the world at large. Lillian Rourke's seeing about globalising the response to it and I intend to make sure that when it comes to this illness, if the Council of Thorns use it again my task force will answer it.' She looked down towards the shadowy arcade at the edge of the courtyard. 'That's what I wanted to talk to Professor Lockett about; coming on board to eradicate this plague permanently.'
'She really is very good,' said Scorpius. 'I'm glad you see that.'
'I have my reservations about her,' said Hermione, 'but she pulled through on Phlegethon, at least. They're talking about giving her an Order of Merlin for this.'
'Ask her why she made the Elixir of Clarity,' he blurted out, because today the only way he could feel remotely capable of resolving conflict was to yell people's secrets.
Hermione peered at her. 'What -'
'Just - just ask. And don't accuse. Listen. And then decide for yourself.'
He looked pleading, and she nodded at last, her expression softening. 'You have a remarkable talent for empathy, Scorpius.'
'You mean, for a Malfoy.'
Hermione hesitated. 'I suppose I do.'
'That's okay,' said Scorpius. 'I think my father's a prick, too.' He looked down to the courtyard and suddenly didn't want to talk to her about this. His gaze landed on the arcade. 'Okay, I reckon if they've not stormed off by now, you can probably interrupt them or you'll be waiting a long time.'
'You're a very cryptic boy, Scorpius,' said Hermione wryly.
'That's me,' he drawled. 'Mysterious.'
She smiled, a small, dry smile. 'And yet, I imagine Iíll figure you out if Iím going to see as much of you from here on as I expect,' Hermione mused, before she gave him a nod and headed down the stairs in the direction of Lockett and Brynmor.
Scorpius exhaled, straightening his shirt, and headed inside into the hallway. He could see the Great Hall through the big doors beyond, the centre of buzzing activity as wizarding Britain tried to control and understand what had happened in Hogwarts over the past few months, a mass of activity and fuss.
And, stood by the door, was Rose. He gave a tired smile. 'Waiting for me?'
'I didn't fancy having a conversation with you and my mum in the same place just yet,' she said sheepishly, moving over to him. 'Plenty of time for that later.'
'Time,' mused Scorpius. 'I like the sound of that.'
She slipped her arms around his shoulders as she reached him, linking them behind his neck, and pressed her lips against his gently. 'Are you all right?'
'Yes and no. It's weird. I keep thinking about him. Then I think about how I don't have to worry about a whole school any more. Then I think, "shit, Thane and the Council are still out there".'
'But not our problem.'
'No,' he agreed, and kissed her again. 'Not our problem.'
She didn't pull away, kept close to rest her forehead against his. 'So what do we do now?'
'I have no idea. Relax? There's no way the school will be opening again until September. They'll just restart the year.'
'Yeah.' She wrinkled her nose. 'We'll be nineteen before we get out.'
'But we get over six months until we have to go back.'
'What did you want to do with those six months?'
He met her gaze and smiled a crooked smile. 'A few things spring to mind.'
'Ahem.' They jumped at the cough, Rose turning bright red as they turned to see Albus standing in the door to the Great Hall. He was smirking. 'I'm going to have to get used to this.'
'It's her own fault,' said Scorpius. 'She's weak. She can't resist my charms.'
Albus walked over, his shoulders hanging low with fatigue. 'Have either of you seen Selena?'
Scorpius shook his head but Rose winced. 'She's with her mother. She was the only one who could get her out of the dungeon.'
Albus nodded, expression falling. 'I can't believe he's gone.'
Scorpius swallowed. 'I tried to stop him,' he murmured, and Rose took his hand again. 'He tied me up. Said it had to be him, that he was the only one who could reconfigure the inner circle.'
'I hate to say it,' said Albus, scowling, 'but he was right.'
'We could have pulled back, though -'
'The ritual was coming unstable,' said Rose gently. 'The backlash against the cascade effect - he said what could have happened.'
'And he seemed to know what to do about it,í he sighed.
'I refuse to believe Methuselah Jones didn't consider, and have a plan in place for, a million possibilities,' she said.
'Yeah,' said Scorpius, voice going thick. 'I never thought I'd say this, but I'm going to miss him.'
They all nodded, Rose shifting her grip to clutch his arm. 'Poor Selena,' she said at last. 'She's just broken.'
'This is all so weird,' Scorpius sighed. 'I don't -'
The voice was like ice running down his spine, and he saw Rose look startled as he stiffened without even thinking about it. It was as if the sunlight coming in from the front doors had been blocked out by the figure standing there, and slowly Scorpius pulled his arm from Rose's grip and turned. 'Father.'
Draco Malfoy stood, tall and imperious in his emerald robes, blue eyes locked on his son as if he hadn't even seen Rose and Albus. 'I arrived as soon as I could.'
Rose squeezed Scorpius' hand before she let it go. 'Do you want us to stay?' she asked him quietly.
'You may leave us,' said Draco, not looking at her.
'You don't get to dismiss them,' snapped Scorpius, and looked to Rose and Albus. 'It's okay,' he said. 'I'll be along in a minute.'
Rose touched his arm and Albus patted him on the shoulder, then the two of them turned for the Great Hall, leaving him alone in the hallway with his father. Scorpius clenched his jaw as he turned back to him. 'Parents were allowed on-site three hours ago,' he said through gritted teeth.
'I had affairs to see to.'
'What, seeing how the crisis lifting affected your stock -'
'Yes, seeing how the crisis lifting affects your entire inheritance -'
'I don't care about the stupid money!' Scorpius snapped.
Draco's eyes fell on something behind him, and Scorpius glanced over his shoulder to see Harry Potter stood in the door to the Great Hall. Harry looked between them, though his eyes lingered on Scorpius last. He nodded in a way that made Scorpius feel vaguely reassured, then turned to leave the Malfoys alone.
But not in peace.
Draco's voice was ice when he spoke. 'You should care,' he said. 'And you do care if you're not being too silly to ignore it. Where do you think your prospects come from? Your whole way of life? From me, and my work for our family.'
'Our family,' he repeated, hollow. 'You work for our family. Like your work when you drove Mum away?'
Draco's narrow face pinched. 'Your mother left because she couldn't stand to be around either of us -'
'No, she left because she couldn't stand being around you!' Scorpius' fists clenched as his anger echoed off the hallowed halls of Hogwarts. 'You, with your sneering superiority, your time for nothing but things that make you feel bigger and better than everyone else! Focusing on your work because there you matter, and putting her and me down because we remind you, reminded you, every day, of how fucking terrible a father and husband you are!'
There was silence as Draco stood there, expression impassive as his own son thundered and raged against him, and the only reaction was the slightest flicker on his face. 'I understand you have been through a turbulent time -'
'Turbulent? Turbulent? I just watched a friend kill himself today to save everyone. I saw a thirteen year-old kid die two months ago and I could do nothing about it. I saw Rose bleeding half to death -'
'Ah, yes,' said Draco. 'You and the Weasley girl.'
Scorpius' shoulders hunched. 'Don't you bring her into this.'
'Perhaps I shouldn't say "the" Weasley girl, there are so many of them -'
'I said stop!' Scorpius roared. 'I went through all of this and the only thing you could do was tell me how disappointed you were that I made a spectacle of myself, how disappointed you were that I didn't run!'
Draco drew a short, tight breath. 'I was disappointed,' he said, 'that you decided to stay for people who don't even care about you instead of leave and come somewhere safe.'
'They care about me. They're my friends.'
'All of them? The whole school? They are nothing to you -'
'That doesn't matter, I wasn't going to leave them, I wasn't going to leave my friends, and you are every bit the selfish coward I thought you were to even suggest that!'
This did seem to strike his father, and Draco straightened, brow furrowing. 'Come home,' he said bluntly. 'Come home, and we will talk about this.'
Scorpius took a step back. 'No,' he said.
'You will have to -'
'I don't have to do anything you tell me.' Scorpius' voice was flat. 'I'm seventeen, I can do what I want. And what I want is to be nowhere near you. I'm not coming home. Not tonight. Not ever.' He took another step back. 'And you can stay the hell away from me.'
He turned and stormed into the Great Hall, ignoring his father shouting his name as he left, and then his voice was lost in the hubbub of the crowd. The crowd who didn't care about him, didn't care about what was going on outside, and he preferred it that way.
There were faces there he recognised. Students who'd woken up. Ministry officials he'd seen in the papers. Parents he'd run into at King's Cross. Only a handful meant anything to him. Tim's parents, sat off to one side. He would have to talk with them at some point, face them at some point, but not yet. Methuselah Jones' parents, stood up near the front and in deep conversation with Lillian Rourke. They, too, could be avoided for now.
He couldn't see Selena. He supposed she'd be seen when she wanted to be.
The Potter-Weasley crowd had claimed a whole section of one of the tables in the Gryffindor side, and it was like a sea of red speckled with black. Scorpius made to go around it, but then he noticed Harry Potter catch his eye, frowning with concern, and beckoned him over.
It was hard to reject a summons from Harry Potter.
They were all there. The extended Weasley cousins were up to moving around with just a few potions and a little time, tired but ravenous, getting food down them and reuniting with one another before they would go home and rest. Scorpius caught waves from Lily, grins from Hugo, before he got to where Albus and Rose stood with their fathers.
When Rose took his hand, that was when he realised he'd been shaking. He saw Ron Weasley's eye flicker down, then to them both, but after one argument with a father he couldn't have cared less about what another one thought. On some level he would only consider later, he was relieved to see a flicker of a smile on Ron's face.
Albus clapped him on the back, and left his hand there to clasp his shoulder. 'You're all right, mate.' It was a reassurance, not a question.
'Um. Yeah.' Scorpius squinted, and drew a shaking breath. 'I don't suppose -'
'You can stay,' said Harry before he could even finish the sentence. 'For as long as you need. As I told you, Scorpius. You will always be welcome at my home.'
He closed his eyes and saw Methuselah Jones silhouetted in silver. 'Thanks,' he said, and opened them. 'It's no big deal. It's just, Malfoy Manor. Old house. Stuffy. You know?'
'I never liked the place,' opined Ron Weasley, straight-faced. 'And besides, I realised you've never had one of my mum's Sunday roasts and I reckon that's the worst thing I ever heard.'
He felt Albus pat his shoulder again, saw Rose beam with gratitude at her father, caught Harry Potter's firm, reassuring nod.
It wasn't over. Thane was still out there. The Council of Thorns and whatever their intentions were still loomed. Reports abounded that Phlegethon was striking across the world, and the whole of wizard-kind was going to have to unite to combat it.
But somewhere inside him, as he stood next to people he loved and cherished, who cared for and respected him, Scorpius Malfoy thought he might just be all right after all.