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Chapter 2 : Heartburn
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Albus didn’t even look up from where he was bent over a mountain of paperwork and books, just lifted one giant hand to snatch the Quaffle out of mid-air. ‘Scorp, I’m busy.’
Scorpius hopped from one foot to another in the middle of the Slytherin Common Room. Emerald light filtered down through the lake, shimmering through the water and through the broad window which granted them a magnificent underwater view, and bathed them all in pale greens. This far down the best light came from the fireplace and the sconces along the walls, and so in the shadows the scion of the Malfoy bloodline looked more like a wretched goblin, starved for attention.
‘Al, I’m bored.’
‘But we’ve got that Transfiguration essay due in tomorrow -’
‘The perfect cure for boredom.’ Scorpius bounded over the back of the sofa to perch on the seat, eyes gleaming as they locked onto his best friend. ‘Certainly enough to put the Hogsmeade festival and the finest of Ministerial parties to shame!’
‘Yes, well.’ Albus dipped his quill in the ink pot. ‘It still needs doing.’
‘When are try-outs?’ Scorpius jigged up and down a little.
‘Next Wednesday.’ Albus looked slightly pained. ‘I told you this. There was a leaflet.’
Scorpius thought back vaguely to a pile of paperwork he’d been handed a couple of days before. He’d assumed it was notes from Potions (he’d ended up taking it after all), and had promptly let it languish at the bottom of his bag, untouched.
There was a reason he was only an average sort of student.
‘But it’s Thursday,’ he keened. ‘We’ve not even been back a week -’
‘And yet, you’re already running out of distractions -’
‘Diarmuid’ll flay me if I play music in here during study hours.’
‘He’ll flay you for throwing a Quaffle around, too.’ Albus reached out to snatch the Quaffle from Scorpius’ hands, as he had just set about tossing it from one end of the sofa to the other, throwing himself forward to catch it, like a bored cat with a cheap toy. ‘Honestly, Scorp, don’t you think you should get schoolwork done while you’re ahead? Before it gets too much?’
‘Really, Al, that’s such a ridiculous thing to say; why would I -’
‘Because I’d like to do well in my NEWTs and so I’m trying to take it halfway seriously!’
There was something new in Albus’ voice, a new kind of snap that Scorpius hadn’t heard before - at least, not levelled at him - that was entirely irritated and entirely genuine. It shut Scorpius up immediately, but Albus fell silent too, frowning at his parchment, clearly already regretting losing his tongue.
But he didn’t apologise either, and unease settled in Scorpius’ gut. ‘...everything okay, mate?’
Albus had to know how much it hurt Scorpius to ask such a thing directly, sincerely, and had to know how much of a blow it was for him to give a dismissive shrug. ‘I just think there’s a time and a place for goofing around.’
And this isn’t it.
Scorpius was saved from having to do something demeaning to recover his dignity by the door to the common room sliding open and in came Bellamy and Rourke. Bellamy gave them an obligatory wave and then, as was perhaps judicious, just carried on his way into the dorm room, but Rourke detached herself from him and went over to join them.
Selena Rourke was one of Miranda’s best friends. Perhaps she’d not got the memo on the new Standard Operating Procedures which Bellamy and almost the entirety of the rest of Slytherin House sixth years were now following.
It wasn’t as if anyone wanted to hear his side of things. And it wasn’t as if Scorpius wanted to give it. Albus knew, and that was enough.
‘Hey, Scorpius, Albus.’ Selena flipped her blonde hair over one shoulder, and despite himself Scorpius slid sideways on the couch he’d been claiming to leave room for her. ‘You didn’t want to come hang out in the Ravenclaw common room?’
That, at least, Scorpius had heard about. Saxby might have been bit of a self-assured Ravenclaw prick, but he was a sociable Ravenclaw prick, and didn’t like to play politics.
But still, they’d stayed behind.
‘We’re trying to stay ahead before the NEWT coursework becomes truly horrific,’ said Scorpius smoothly.
Selena looked at the coffee table. ‘Then where’s yours?’
‘I’m consulting for Al,’ said Scorpius, and Albus racked up another owed favour by doing him the kindness of not laughing in his face.
‘Oh, well, it wasn’t that good a time, anyway,’ said Selena, sounding like she’d not especially cared about Scorpius’ answer in the first place. ‘Weasley showed up - I mean, seriously, who told her, and so of course Flynn and the Hufflepuffs appeared and they didn’t even bring any Butterbeer, and Weasley threw a fit when she found Saxby’s Firewhiskey and laid into him about his prefectly duty or something equally ridiculous.’
She rolled her eyes and Albus assumed the pained expression that lived on his face almost perpetually when listening to his Slytherin housemates talk ill of his cousin. At first he’d tried to ask them to stop. And every time he did, they looked surprised, apologetic, and indicated they’d never do it again.
Right up until they did it again mere days later. Even the patience of Albus Potter was not infinite, and so he nowadays just gritted his teeth and bore it.
‘And then Weasley left in a huff, along with Hestia Kirke, who was wearing the most awful skirt I have ever seen - seriously, Scorpius, you would have died -’
Scorpius was pretty sure he was going to die anyway.
‘But then, you know what happened?’
‘The Slytherin common room flooded and interrupted this story?’ Scorpius wondered, and as expected, Selena didn’t miss a beat, since she wasn’t actually listening to him.
‘Her precious Flynn, who’d been so steadfast next to her while she ripped a strip off poor Saxby, who went to such efforts to put together a good time for everyone? Stayed behind and drank all of Saxby’s whiskey! Him and the rest of the Hufflepuff team!’
Normally, Scorpius would not have missed out on an opportunity to condemn Hector Flynn, but Selena Rourke managed to retell a story of outrageous injustice in a way which made him want to defend the objects of her criticism.
Only now was he remembering how he’d managed to tolerate her regular company when he’d been seeing Miranda - and it had involved paying a lot of attention to Miranda, and absolutely none to her.
‘That’s just scandalous,’ said Scorpius, glad he didn’t have to put too much effort into sounding convincing.
‘Isn’t it? But with all of the whiskey gone, and you know how Miranda just can’t put up with someone as odious as Flynn -’
Scorpius fought to not laugh.
‘We decided to just come back.’
He looked at the door suspiciously, and finally Albus lifted his head from his homework to look like he halfway cared about what was going on around him. Scorpius frowned. ‘Then where are they if you and Bellamy -’
‘Oh, they stopped off with Rosannah and Adeline on the way back to the Hufflepuff common room, but I’m sure they’ll be -’
Then Scorpius was on his feet, lunging over the back of the sofa, all flailing limbs and mismatched dignity as he straightened himself and his rumpled shirt. ‘I’m going for a walk,’ he said firmly.
Albus cleared his throat. ‘Scorp, you don’t have to -’
‘I really do.’
‘You’re going to have to be in the same place at the same time eventually.’
‘No, we don’t; avoidance is a perfect plan and this issue will go away by itself.’
‘When I graduate? When I die? Take your pick.’
But Scorpius was already gone, Selena left in her usual state of genuine bewilderment at the subtleties - in so far as anything around Scorpius Malfoy was subtle - and Albus left with a small pile of Transfiguration notes, drafts, and textbooks he couldn’t abandon.
The steps up out of the common room were dark at this time of evening, but Scorpius had been here for over five years, could find his way through Slytherin House’s domain in his sleep, and so bounced up the stairs two at a time -
Just as the segment of wall swung open and out to show a gaggle of his classmates coming the other way.
All five of them froze in place, though Scorpius took a little longer because he was halfway between steps and had yet to master spontaneous levitation. His landing sounded loud and clattering in the gloomy silence.
It was broken first by Oakes, who had probably only gone with Miranda and the girls because he was likely now chasing Adeline Turner himself. The shorter boy cleared his throat with all the self-importance he didn’t possess, and flapped his hands. ‘Let’s go - you’re blocking the doorway, Malfoy.’
Scorpius bit back a sneer, but moved to the side of the corridor, and they all went past him into the common room.
All except Miranda.
She stood there at the top of the steps, silhouetted against the gloom by the light of the corridor, all raven-haired and dark-eyed beauty that had always been enough to captivate and distract him. And on her face was the look of superior disapproval which had been pasted there for the past three months.
Resentment boiled in his gut alongside discomfort, and he went to hurry up the steps, hoping to push past her and delay a confrontation another day.
‘You didn’t come to the party, Scorp?’ He was almost next to her when she finally spoke, her voice somehow playful and icy at once.
He flinched. ‘Don’t call me “Scorp”.’
She gave a low laugh. ‘What, is only Albus allowed to call you that?’
‘Only people I like are allowed to call me that. What do you want, Miranda?’ It was easier to be cold, easier to be crude. But there was a line, and he wouldn’t let himself wander past it.
‘It was a good party,’ she said, looking him up and down. She had mastered the sort of glance which not only made a man feel like a piece of meat, but a good piece of meat. It was an evaluating, lingering gaze; the kind of gaze that made one feel assessed, categorised, and rated within a flat second, and if she liked what she saw, it could make a man feel good about himself and how he looked.
Scorpius always knew he looked good, from his dragonhide Oxford shoes, to his well-fitting shirt which made the average Hogwarts uniform look like a burlap sack, to his narrow emerald-and-silver tie and artfully mussed hair. As a rule, he didn’t require approval. That he cared if Miranda Travers approved was something else, and was part of what drove him crazy.
But only part.
‘You should have come,’ she continued. ‘How long are you going to keep playing this game?’
‘I don’t know.’ Scorpius squared his shoulders. ‘For how long are you going to play yours?’
She laughed, a soft, tinkling sound he could swear sounded menacing. ‘I don’t know what you mean.’
‘Does it help you sleep better at night, Miranda?’ he challenged, anger flaring at the laugh. ‘Does it appease your guilt to paint me as the villain?’
Her amusement died. ‘Your standing doesn’t seem especially affected -’
She went to leave with a dismissive wave of the hand, and that dismissiveness was enough to spark Scorpius into reaching out, grabbing her above the elbow. ‘It’s not my standing I’m talking about -’
But her expression shifted from smug superiority to shock as he grabbed her, and that shock was enough to jerk him out of his broiling frustration, resentment, and anger -
And then came the guilt, the searing guilt and self-doubt that always gnawed at him when he lost his temper, and Scorpius let go. Miranda pulled back, clearly rattled, and for a few seconds he worked his jaw wordlessly. ‘I...’
Words failed him, as they so rarely did - and, as always when they did, they failed him when they mattered most. So he just turned on his heel and stormed out of the doorway from the common room into the corridor, footsteps ringing out loudly on the stone floors.
He had stormed far enough to be several corridors away by then, and had it been anyone else, Scorpius would have kept going. He didn’t know how Albus had known, how Albus had managed to follow and find him - but he wasn’t surprised.
He turned to face his friend, who was trotting along the corridor to catch him up. ‘Don’t you have Transfig work to do?’ he said, bitter.
He regretted it immediately, of course, as he regretted every curt, unfair word ever thrown at Albus, but every time Albus shrugged it off. His first response was an easy, disarming smile, and as he caught up he threw his arm around Scorpius’ shoulder. ‘It can wait. I was bored.’
And like that, nothing seemed so bad anymore. ‘Come on,’ Albus continued. ‘Let’s head out for the pitch, throw some hoops. Nobody’s going to be out there at this time.’
Scorpius gave a wry smile. ‘Won’t rule-breaking set back your NEWT aspirations?’
‘Only if we get caught.’
They’d done this a hundred times before, dodged the prefect patrols they’d memorised, and horribly abused the authority of Albus’ Quidditch captaincy to unlock the door to the Slytherin team equipment lockers down by the changing rooms. Their own brooms were up in their dorm, but finding two spares kept in reserve for emergency or new players who hadn’t yet bought their own wasn’t difficult, nor was finding a Quaffle, and within fifteen minutes they were up in the air, too high in the dark for anyone to see them, putting each other through their paces.
They’d done that a hundred times before, too; since first year, when they’d come to Hogwarts the both of them determined to be the first first-year players on a Quidditch team since Albus’ father. Of course, they hadn’t been, but the training - which had often uncannily resembled mucking around - had paid off for them to both replace departing Chasers the next year.
The rest was history, a history long enough that there were no new tricks between them, no move one could pull which the other wouldn’t instantly and implicitly read. It made them a terror on the pitch, working in perfect unison, reading each other’s intentions and schemes at the briefest glance, but made it hell when they went head-to-head.
‘You shouldn’t let her get to you like that.’
They’d been up there ten minutes before Albus finally spoke, finally broke the silence on any topic other than Quidditch, and that he’d taken that long was a surprise to Scorpius.
He flipped up his broom as Albus hurled the Quaffle at the hoops to kick it away, forcing Albus into a dive to retrieve it, a petty act of vengeance for having even broached the subject at all.
But still, he answered. ‘I’m trying to avoid her,’ he said as Albus returned. ‘I think that’s best for all involved.’
‘It’s not right,’ Albus said hotly. ‘She’s the one who -’
‘But she broke the story before I did, and so it’s her version of events that everyone knows, that everyone trusts.’
‘Version? Her version is a pack of lies! Not just lies of omission, lies! And they reflect terribly on you!’
‘And the truth reflects pretty terribly on her, but you know what’ll happen if I try to let the world know?’ Scorpius scowled. ‘My word against hers. More rows, not just between us; they’ll suck others in. It’ll be this black hole of picking sides and who believes what, and you know it won’t just stay with the ten of us. It’ll spread to Hufflepuff and Gryffindor for sure, and then Ravenclaw will get stuck in just so they’re not left out, and then my life becomes the hottest topic of Hogwarts gossip.’
Albus made a face. ‘I thought you didn’t mind that.’
‘That depends on what the story is. This issue? Neither story reflects so well on me. So I might as well accept the one which I have. The one in which Scorpius Malfoy is the villain and Miranda Travers is the victim; the one which surprises nobody. Do you think anyone’s opinion of me was changed when they learnt I was so horrid and mistreated and neglected her and screwed around with other girls?’ Scorpius shook his head. ‘Of course it wasn’t. That’s why nobody notices that the girls in question change every time the story’s told, depending on who’s listening, depending on if the audience would check the facts. The story might be a lie, but it’s an easy lie. A lie which upsets nobody’s expectations.’
‘You make it sound like that’s all that matters.’
‘Expectations?’ Scorpius scoffed as he caught the Quaffle. ‘Maybe not all that matter, but they matter a lot. They matter enough. People don’t like having their expectations screwed with; it makes them realise they don’t know as much as they thought they did about their lives. It leaves them unsettled, and when people are unsettled, they turn nasty. No.’ He shook his head. ‘Everyone expects Scorpius Malfoy to be the uncaring, callous heartbreaker, just interested in good times and girls, and who am I to correct them? Especially if there’s a hint of “dashingly handsome rogue” in there, too.’
Albus didn’t smile. ‘Would it be that terrible if people questioned what they thought they knew about you?’
‘Sometimes, Al, I think you’re the only person who questions the opinion of the masses - myself included. But if there’s something I want less than Hogwarts’ approval, it’s Hogwarts’ pity.’ Scorpius flipped the Quaffle back. ‘Besides, if the truth came out, you know you’d have to do fifty rounds with Weasley.’
Albus looked pained at that, and Scorpius felt his one and only pang of guilt on the topic, because he knew it troubled Albus’ honest nature to keep the truth a secret. But it would have troubled him more to break that unspoken pact of secrecy.
It was difficult, Scorpius reflected, being friends with a good man. You kept on tearing them between their various different honour codes, where multiple options were the right thing to do and yet the wrong thing to do at the same time. He knew he’d only won this round because what he wanted was almost always the tie-breaker for Albus, all other factors being even.
At the least, it made Scorpius think harder about whatever he asked of Albus. He didn’t, himself, care much about lying or cheating to get by in life. He did care about making Albus do the same.
Albus took a deep breath. ‘Some day, Scorpius, people are going to realise that you’re a good guy after all.’
‘I want to be there on that day.’ Scorpius flung his broom to the right, and punched the Quaffle away from Albus’ latest, heavily distracted strike. ‘It’ll be really cool to see it rain fire.’
Scorpius hadn’t thought too hard about it when he’d heard nothing about the pack of dungbombs he’d given Tim Warwick. But it turned out his diminutive protégé was prepared to play the long-term game; the next morning, almost a week since the package had been handed over, Hector Flynn came into the Great Hall late for breakfast, clearly freshly showered, but still with a faint, disgusting scent about him - and a sticky bag, which had evidently not been cleaned off properly.
Through the Prefect Underground - Doyle had told Saxby, who’d told Albus - Scorpius had picked up the finer details over breakfast, and had not been at all coy about letting his laugh echo across the Great Hall when Flynn had got up to leave for his first class. He’d timed it well; Flynn had heard him, had visibly bristled, but if he stopped to cause an altercation he’d be no doubt late.
Of course, he was regretting it by the time he was trooping with Albus down towards the dungeons for Potions, and a small tornado of red and anger swirled through the crowd to catch up with him. Not that Rose Weasley would want to walk next to Scorpius Malfoy; no, she went to flank Albus, and hissed across her cousin at him.
‘That was such a petty thing for you to do!’
Scorpius affected a look of artful disinterest. ‘You’re going to have to narrow it down for me, Weasley.’
‘Come, now, Weasley - I know that would be a dark, dark deed indeed, but I am not responsible for the existence of Hector Flynn. You’ll have to take that up with his mother.’
‘Guys...’ Albus tried, honest brow furrowed with vexation.
‘You know perfectly well what I’m talking about, Malfoy!’
‘You mean his state of outrageous deshabillé at breakfast?’ Scorpius shrugged. ‘I was nowhere near him at the time. Albus can vouch for me.’
Rose gave Albus a searing look, and he shrugged, not especially apologetic. Scorpius knew that Rose was suspicious of their loyalty, but she’d never accuse Albus of outright lying to cover up his misdeeds. She waved a dismissive hand. ‘I had a look at the bag and the remains; there was definitely a Timed Explosion Charm placed on that box of dungbombs.’
‘Do we have to do this here?’ Albus whimpered.
‘A Timed Explosion Charm? Wow, that’s complicated.’ Scorpius couldn’t help but be impressed.
She wrinkled her nose. ‘We did it three years ago in Charms.’
It’s complicated for a barely-Second Year. Ignoring her, Scorpius looked up at Albus. ‘Did you notice that Warwick’s Quidditch gloves are second-hand, a bit frayed? Remind me to buy him some new ones for his birthday if he makes it onto the team.’
‘Malfoy, I am not talking about Quidditch,’ Rose hissed, all of her brilliance counting for nothing as her anger made her miss the obvious clue he dropped right in her lap. Just as he’d expected.
‘I know, I was talking to Albus...’
‘Do I have to be here for this?’ Albus wondered.
‘Malfoy!’ Rose’s voice hit new and dangerous decibels. A couple of first-years staggered as they passed them - Scorpius wondered if their tender age made them more susceptible to sounds outside of his hearing range. ‘I don’t know what this stupid, childish vendetta that you have going with Hector is, but don’t think that I’ll leave you be just because you’re Al’s friend.’
‘No, I thought you might leave me be because - and I swear to all the Gods of man and wizard that I did not put those dungbombs in his satchel, by the way - Flynn’s a big boy, and I’m sure he can fight his own battles without going running to you for help.’ Scorpius cocked his head. ‘Or did you have to listen to him whine all the way through breakfast?’
Rose hesitated - and so did Scorpius at that, because “doubt” was not a word he had ever been inclined to associate with her. ‘You’re right,’ she said, and he wondered if that date of fire from the skies was closer than he’d thought. ‘You’re not worth my time.’
Albus let out a sigh of relief, but Rose jerked a finger at Scorpius. ‘You’re scum, Malfoy, and even if you’re going to keep on harassing Hector, you are not worth my time, and you are not worth his time. He told me all about what happened between you and Miranda Travers, he told me all about what you did to her, and if you’re capable of that, then of course I shouldn’t expect better of you when it comes to childish pranks.’
Then she flew past them, the tornado now a smouldering storm, and Scorpius actually stopped dead in his tracks as she tore off down towards the dungeons. His heart thudded in his chest, blood pumping no longer from the sheer glee of winding up Rose Weasley, but with raw, unadulterated anger.
Albus paused, squeezing his shoulder. ‘Easy, Scorp,’ he said quietly. ‘She doesn’t know what she’s talking about.’
Scorpius ground his teeth together. ‘How dare he,’ he hissed. ‘How bloody dare she -’
‘She doesn’t know any better,’ Albus pressed again. ‘And, I hate to say it, but this is what comes of not letting people know the truth - they’ll believe a pack of lies.’
It was the wrong thing to say. Scorpius shrugged off Albus’ hand roughly, and yanked up his satchel over his shoulder. ‘C’mon,’ he muttered roughly. ‘We’ll be late to class.’