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Chapter 43 : I Love Thee to the Death
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So, this is it. Scorpius sat on a wet bench on a rain-slicked stretch of Diagon Alley and stared at the door across the road. My last afternoon in this world is filled with perfect English weather.
November would die not long after him, which meant the world was turning cold, damp, and miserable, without any of the excitement for Christmas yet. The thought of Christmas made him think of his last Christmas, several years ago for the rest of the world. A feast in the Great Hall, wizarding Britain rallying to thank them, most of all him for how his radio show had given parents comfort. His father’s letter condemning him. The knitted jumper, which he wore even now under his raincoat. It was more threadbare than he remembered, and smelled of Rose. He wondered how much she’d clung to it over the years. Then he wondered how much she’d cling to it again.
Closing his eyes against the wave of guilt and pain meant he almost missed the figure emerging from the door across the street and hurrying off out of the rain. The flash of blue hair was impossible to mistake, though, and Scorpius shot to his feet. ‘Teddy - uh - Mister Lupin -’ What do I even call you?
Teddy Lupin stopped, collar of his coat turned up against the weather. With his height and brown coat and the brightness of his hair, he looked like a walking pencil with a blue rubber. A very surprised one. ‘Uh. Scorpius Malfoy. What can I do for you?’
‘I was waiting - could we talk? I’ll buy you a coffee.’
Nothing between the Lupins and the Malfoys had been so inhospitable in their lifetimes that Teddy would turn down a cuppa, especially if it got him out of the rain, and soon Scorpius was sat in the same teashop where he’d accosted Selena, Miranda and Abena long years ago. He’d been asking Selena to join them on holiday. That felt like weeks ago, still.
‘I know you’re probably busy. Wedding looming, and all.’ Scorpius stirred his tea and wiped rain from his brow. ‘I wouldn’t stop by if this weren’t important.’
‘Yeah, the wedding’s Saturday. This is my last day in the office until after the honeymoon.’ Teddy shifted his weight. ‘It’s a kind of small, family affair, I’m sorry…’
Scorpius squinted - then laughed. ‘Oh, no. Don’t worry. I’m not here to complain because I’m not invited.’ He knew it wasn’t a small, family affair, but didn’t begrudge the gentle fib. ‘Though, “family”. That is why I’m here.’ Teddy looked guarded, so he pressed on. ‘Our grandmothers were sisters. And a lot closer after the war, before my grandmother died, or so I could tell.’
Teddy sipped his coffee. ‘They reconciled in their later years, yes,’ he said cautiously.
‘I guess, if we’d been closer in age, we might have spent more time together. Cousins.’
But Teddy was confused and Scorpius knew polite indulgence would only get him so far, so he drew a slow breath. ‘My father has gone off and become, yet again, a traitor to decency. God knows what my mother’s up to. When I got a lot of my money and belongings back after being proved alive again, I also claimed a lot of the family assets. And there’s a war on, and the world is dangerous, and you…’ He tore his gaze off his cup, met Teddy’s awkward gaze. ‘You’re the only family I’ve got that’s not my rotten parents.’
Teddy winced, and it was a sign he was from the good side of the family that his sympathy seemed genuine. ‘I’m sorry.’
Scorpius waved a hand. ‘I guess that’s not really the point. But I have to have my affairs in order, and…’ He sighed. ‘I have plans for Malfoy Manor’s fate. But that doesn’t set aside the rest of the assets. My last will, I left everything to Al, as my best mate. But Al doesn’t need me looking after him. You’re family. The good family. “Malfoy” might be a name to spit on, but our grandmothers were Blacks. I’ve got Sirius Black’s watch in my pocket, your grandmother’s lived her life doing the right thing. So.’ He rubbed the back of his neck. ‘Some of my money’s got to go specific places - you’ll see when the will’s read out. But the rest of it? The bulk? I thought you should know I’m leaving it to you.’
Teddy rocked back. ‘To me.’
‘You’re… family. I wish we’d known each other, but I guess the world didn’t move along that far, did it? But you’re getting married, maybe you’ll have a family, and apparently not having to worry about money makes life a lot happier.’ Scorpius gave a wry, self-effacing smile. ‘I can’t fix a rift between us - or, rather, build a bridge that never got built. But I can try to do something for the family that actually shares my beliefs.’
‘What beliefs?’ Teddy’s lips curled. ‘Chasing a Weasley girl?’
Scorpius laughed. ‘That kind of like-minded pig-headedness, yes.’
Teddy shook his head. ‘Why does this need to be a will, Scorpius? We could just do this. Have a pint together some time. You should go see my Gran - seriously, she’d be thrilled to see you. When Narcissa died, she thought that was everyone but me. Your dad didn’t care. But her sister’s grandson? She’d love that.’
Scorpius’ gaze dropped again. ‘Would that I had the time.’
‘Look.’ Teddy sighed. ‘Come to the wedding on Saturday -’
‘I really don’t think Victoire would like that, she does not like me -’
‘She doesn’t know you. Besides, I bet there’ll be lots of people who’ll miss the wedding, like Harry and Ron; there’ll be space and food. We already pushed it back once, though, and I - I just want to get married before something else goes wrong.’
Scorpius stared at his coffee. Maybe, he thought, if Lethe is gone this time tomorrow, Harry can get home from Macedonia. If only long enough for his Godson’s wedding. That can be my wedding present. He cleared his throat. ‘Maybe I’ll try.’
‘To be fair, I think we gave Rose a plus one anyway…’
Scorpius slammed his coffee back. ‘We’ll see. But, uh, thanks, Teddy. I have to go, I’m sorry.’ He stood so quickly his chair squeaked on the floor. ‘Look, if I don’t see you - I wish you all the happiness in the world. You and Victoire.’
They shook hands, Teddy too bemused to do anything else, and then Scorpius fled, back into the rain-soaked streets of Diagon Alley, which didn’t seem so bad after all.
Godric’s Hollow was less damp when he Apparated to the bottom of the Potters’ back garden. It looked like the rain had passed over and was carrying on east, so he crossed the lawn with the crisp smell of dying autumn around him, and let himself into the house through the kitchen door.
You’ve not done this since you snuck out to see Rose, right before we went away -
Ginny was already there, and he remembered wondering if she lived in the kitchen, sometimes. But it was her sanctum and her office, the kitchen table strewn with newspapers and parchment and quills, and as if anticipating this need was her other magic power, she was putting the kettle on when he shut the door behind him. ‘Tea won’t be long, dear.’
‘Is she here yet?’ He pulled his coat off and went to sling it on the back of the chair, then grinned and shied away when she gave him a warning glance.
‘Not yet. Al’s in the front room, though.’
He could have done the meeting privately. It was a selfish need for backup that brought him here, but there were other issues to face, too. He looked at Albus’ mother, watched her as she bustled around the kitchen, and drew a slow, raking breath. ‘I should… I should be thanking you.’
Ginny stopped with her hand on the tin of tea. When she turned, her face was slumped, defeated. ‘Scorpius -’
‘You and Harry took me into your home when you didn’t have to. I wish Harry were here so I could thank him, too, but he’s not, so you’re just going to have to take all of it.’ Scorpius’ lips twisted as badly as his gut. ‘The months I spent here after Phlegethon were some of the best of my life. I really mean that. I was -’
His throat closed up, then Ginny was crossing the distance and pulled him into a warm hug. ‘You have always had a place here,’ she whispered, and he had to fight to not collapse into the embrace. ‘You’ve been so good to Albus. I don’t care what your rat of a father thinks; so far as I’m concerned, you’re family.’ She was a blurry mess before him when he pulled back, and she reached up and straightened his jumper. ‘That’s been the case since Mum knitted you this. Maybe longer.’
‘You’ll take care of Al, won’t you?’ Scorpius croaked, and even though it was a stupid question to ask Albus’ own mother, he couldn’t explain more, because he was too busy giving big gulps to swallow the rising emotion.
‘We’ll keep him out of trouble. And closer to home this time.’ Ginny smiled, her teeth shining through his tears. ‘I just wish you’d helped him get a slightly less troublesome girlfriend -’
His laugh almost drowned him. ‘Eva’s cool. She really is, if you just give her a chance, and she’s mad about him… I mean, I don’t know how she’d cope with a jumper…’
‘Worse than most. That’s the fun of it.’ The smile turned mischievous before it saddened. ‘Of course, she might end up in jail, which puts a damper on the relationship - but that’s not a problem for now, Scorpius, you just - you settle yourself down and I’ll bring the tea, yes?’
Not a problem for now. Because I’ll be dead before anyone can worry about Albus’ long-term prospects.
He did as he was told, though, walked into the living room and found Albus sat there with a book he was clearly not reading. They exchanged wan glances, but before either spoke there was a knock at the door. Scorpius winced. ‘That’ll be her.’
Al shot to his feet. ‘I’ll give you some privacy.’
It was the best of both worlds, Scorpius reasoned. He could have the conversation quietly, but then he’d have a cup of tea and a very necessary hug waiting for him when he was done. But in the meantime he had to tackle his composure, go to the front door, and open it to greet the nervous shape of Nathalie Lockett.
‘You’re living here again?’ Nat asked as she slouched into the living room. She looked like she’d been pulling long nights, dressed the same as she had during the endless months at Hogwarts.
‘No, just stopping by here before - before tonight. Kettle’s on.’ He stayed standing as she sat, shoved his hands in his pockets and felt a stupid schoolboy again.
So it was no surprise her eyes narrowed in suspicion. ‘What’s going on?’
‘I didn’t - I need to talk to you before -’
‘No.’ She launched to her feet. ‘Doyle hasn’t -’
‘He has, he’s found a way to destroy the Chalice.’ Scorpius blinked. ‘And… you know what this means?’
Nat paused, then shook her head as if to clear it. ‘I had theories but you’re looking like you’re about to drop a bombshell - I told him he had to find another way -’
‘There is no other way,’ he said, but he felt exhausted rather than angry. This was a conversation he was doomed, he thought, to have over and over. ‘This will stop Lethe, it might even destroy all the Inferi out there, and that wins the war. That stops people from dying.’
‘Except for you!’
‘I’m not here to debate this!’ Scorpius snapped. ‘I almost didn’t tell you because I knew you’d argue, Nat, I just need you to - to listen!’
She rocked back, eyes widening. Then she slumped, and when she spoke her voice was low, awkward. ‘…that might be the first time you’ve not called me “Professor” without prompting.’
He let out a long, raking sigh. ‘There are a lot of people I’m not telling, not warning, because - because it’s just going to be messy, and a lot of them won’t benefit from warning. And some of them I can’t find. Dad’s still God-knows where. Even my Mum has scarpered since South Africa, and while I was away I learnt that maybe she’s been in with the Council, too, that maybe she helped bring me back.’
Nat narrowed her eyes again. ‘Your mother was in with them?’
‘I don’t…’ Scorpius pressed a hand to his temple. ‘I didn’t mean to get into this. A Thornweaver implied she was there when I came back through the Veil. And I don’t remember much of what happened then, but what I do remember sort of matches. I remember tumbling back through the Veil, and I remember someone being there, holding me, and I remember feeling safe and alive because of her…’
She turned to the window at once and didn’t answer for a while. When she did speak, her voice was low, throaty. ‘I spent some time with her in South Africa. And Geiger wanted her out of there specifically. Maybe she was affiliated, maybe he wanted to make sure she got out safely.’
‘I didn’t bring you here to talk about my mother,’ said Scorpius. It was easier to be honest when he was addressing only her back. ‘I brought you here because - because there are only so many people I must say goodbye to, and you have to know you - you’re one of them.’
He heard her breath catch, and she only half-turned to him. ‘There’s got to be another way.’
‘There isn’t,’ he said, padding over. ‘I bet you Rose would have found it by now. So all I can do is accept the reality. Step up. I don’t like it, but I’m trying to make peace with it, and I need you to - I need you to make peace with it. And be okay. I need the people I love to be okay.’
Nat Lockett’s laugh was short and bitter, but she did look up at him, eyes shining. ‘Yet again, I’m failing to be the responsible adult for you.’
‘There are a lot of people I owe for helping me become a better person.’ Scorpius tentatively put a hand to her arm. ‘I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: you are the first adult who acted like I could step up, who let me know it was okay to feel what I felt. Everyone else ignored what I could become, or treated me like I was just a brat, or - or never really gave me the time of day. You validated me without taking my shit. You pushed me to become better without making me feel inadequate. You accepted me as a fuck up, said it was okay to be a fuck up, and helped me move on and grow up all the same.’
‘And what do you know,’ said Nat in a low voice. ‘You did the same for me.’ She hugged him, and this embrace he didn’t fight as he’d fought Ginny’s. He buried his face in her shoulder, let her stroke his hair, cradle him in a way he couldn’t really remember even his mother doing. ‘I wanted everything to be different,’ she croaked. ‘I wanted everything to be better, and I couldn’t make it better. I wanted so much better for you, and I’m sorry, I’m sorry -’
‘This isn’t your fault,’ he interrupted. ‘You helped me, you’ve helped so many people, you’ve saved lives -’
‘I -’ But it sounded like her throat closed up, and she pulled back, cheeks wet with tears. ‘Scorpius, you don’t know -’
He kept a hold of her arm, met her gaze firmly. ‘Go home, Nat. Go see your husband. Don’t, don’t run away again, pull away again, please. You’ve got a life. Live it. Please.’
That brought another hug, this one fiercer and closer, but it didn’t last, couldn’t last. By the time Scorpius’ head stopped spinning she’d pulled back, muttered sobbing goodbyes, and all but fled from the house, barely remembering to shut the door behind her.
Scorpius would have collapsed there and then if it hadn’t been for strong hands on his shoulders, and he looked up to see Albus, ashen-faced, grim-gazed. ‘You’re alright, mate,’ he muttered, support not wavering. ‘You’re okay.’
‘This is meant to be about making sure all of you are okay,’ Scorpius croaked, but pulled away from Albus because if he surrendered again to the choking inside of him, he knew he’d drown and drown until he died. ‘I should have made a bucket list. It wouldn’t have included, “make everyone miserable.” It would have been way cooler. I just can’t think of how right now.’
‘Start with a cup of tea,’ said Al. ‘And then I’ll show you why I asked you to come round.’
Even in the face of his impending death, a cup of tea was pretty calming, and by the time he’d finished, he didn’t feel like he was going to collapse or burst into tears. These seemed legitimate reactions to his situation, but they weren’t, Scorpius felt, making the most of his time.
Albus cleared their mugs once they were done, but he returned from the kitchen in his beaten leather jacket, a bag slung over his shoulder, and offered Scorpius back his coat. ‘Come on. We’re Floo-ing off.’
Scorpius stood, numb. ‘Where?’
‘You’ll see. I got it all arranged.’
The fireplace exploded into green flames when they stepped into it, and he couldn’t make out what Albus said as he tossed the powder, but then they were twisted and dragged through the network, across who-knew how far in the beat of a heart, the blink of an eye.
Then they stumbled back into being in a place that was familiar in such a bittersweet way that Scorpius had to laugh. ‘Here?’
The Hogwarts staff room was empty at this time of day, because afternoon classes hadn’t finished. But he remembered it well, for this had become their command centre during the Phlegethon crisis, the one place where they could sit comfortably and yet didn’t feel wrong, violated, because they had nothing to compare it against. And he remembered the last time he’d been here, the night before the final ritual, sat up until the small hours of the morning with Albus and with Rose and a crate of Butterbeer. It was the first time they’d sat together, the three of them, genuinely united and genuinely happy.
The next day, Methuselah Jones had died and everything changed.
‘I thought,’ said Albus, putting an arm over his shoulder as he led him to the door, ‘that we’d come home. Professor Stubbs had no objection once I explained.’
Numb, Scorpius could only let himself be steered. ‘Where’re we going?’
‘If you want,’ said Al, ‘we could hit the Great Hall, or the Common Room. Though they’ll be pretty crowded. So if you didn’t want to be around anyone, I had another idea.’
The thought of the Slytherin Common Room, where the two of them had spent so many long years, did bring a pang to Scorpius’ gut. And then he thought about being surrounded by a hundred kids he didn’t know, and the pang faded. ‘Let’s go with no crowds,’ he decided. ‘Lead on.’
Even in the midst of classes, the corridors felt busier than during Phlegethon. Albus led him down the routes they knew so well, their footsteps echoing off the walls as if retelling tales their glory days. Scorpius caught glimpses through doorways of classes in full swing, of - even in these winter months in the midst of war - the school alive, bustling, real.
It was a mixed blessing when Albus led them out the front doors and into the grounds, and Scorpius’ chest tightened when realised where they were heading. He hadn’t come to the Quidditch pitch since they’d captured Downing, and he could still recognise the spot where Rose had fallen, blood on the snow. He hadn’t sat in the pews since Tim had died, and Rose had found him up there, frozen in every possible way.
But this had been his bolt-hole for a reason.
Whatever rain afflicted the south had missed Scotland, and they sat in the empty Quidditch stands under the last rays of the last sunset Scorpius knew he would ever see. Albus had stowed Butterbeer in his backpack, which they drank under the few clouds in the sky, streaked burnt orange and shining gold, and they remained silent as they watched the colours and light fade and die.
‘You’re right,’ Scorpius croaked. They’d been silent up there for maybe half an hour before he found words that wouldn’t choke him. ‘This is home. Really home. With you.’
Albus nodded, shoulders slumped. ‘I thought you’d like to see it. I thought this was where we should be.’
‘Yeah.’ Scorpius closed his eyes, and kicked the rising, crippling wave inside him back down. ‘I’ve learnt some things. Realised some stuff.’ He took a swig of Butterbeer. ‘We’re made by the people around us. You helped make me, Al. You made me someone who could be happy, could be confident, could be comfortable. With you, I’ve never felt scared. I’ve never felt inadequate. Any of the things my Dad made me feel about myself, you got rid of. I wouldn’t be half so decent a person as I try to be, if it weren’t for you.’
‘You know I’d say the same about you,’ said Albus gruffly.
‘Maybe you would.’ Scorpius nodded, then turned to meet his gaze. ‘The other stuff I realised is that we might be made by the people around us. But when those people are gone, that doesn’t unmake us.’
‘You don’t -’ Albus’ expression crumpled. ‘Mate, I didn’t bring you up here so you could give me a pep-talk, I don’t need -’
‘I need you to know this.’ Scorpius grabbed a fistful of his jacket. ‘I can talk all I like about how I’m dying for the world, for people I’ve never met, and that’s bloody true and it’s bloody right and it’s happening. But I can’t have the people I love break again. I just can’t. You have to know that you can do okay without me. You have to be okay without me.’
Al’s gaze dropped. ‘I don’t know about okay.’
‘I don’t -’
‘I know what you mean. I’ve spent the past weeks, months, doing a lot of thinking about who I was without you. And I didn’t much like that person. I don’t think you’d much like him, either. He was surly and he was selfish and he was violent. And I’d give anything to work on going back to being me, a me I like, with you by my side.’ He sighed. ‘But the least I can do is, even without you, still be your best mate. Not some surly arsehole.’
Scorpius let go of his jacket to punch him on the shoulder. ‘You could be surly sometimes.’
‘I wasn’t surly, but someone had to take things seriously sometimes -’
‘It’s overrated, taking things seriously. You would have much better enjoyed that time I broke the girls’ showers in Ravenclaw’s Quidditch changing room if you’d unclenched and watched the show.’
Albus laughed, corners of his eyes crinkling. ‘They were so angry.’
‘I don’t think they were the angriest! Did you see what Kirke did?’
‘She wrote those pamphlets!’ He laughed harder, doubling over. ‘Informing the school how you were a menace to society!’
‘I swear the Ravenclaws found it funnier than she did.’ Scorpius grinned, remorseless. ‘You were pretty pissed at me.’
‘I wasn’t.’ Al wiped his eyes. ‘I just got it in the neck from Rose, because she got it in the neck from Hestia.’
‘And the great cycle continued.’ He drained his Butterbeer and reached for another. ‘You’ll look after her, too?’
Albus looked down at his hands, but took the Butterbeer when Scorpius passed it over. ‘As best I can. I’m more worried about her than me.’ He looked up, expression crumpled all over again. ‘A part of me is going to be gone forever with you. Nothing can change that. I know I’ll never quite laugh the same, I know I’ll never quite love Quidditch the same. I know every major moment in my life is going to be less, because I won’t be able to share it with you.’ A tear spilt from his cheek, but he didn’t bother fighting it, and when he swallowed hard it seemed more like he wanted to be able to talk, rather than wanted to avoid feeling. ‘But she was meant to have those major moments with you, wasn’t she.’
Scorpius’ gaze dropped. ‘So were we. But I saw what she’d been like while I was gone. I saw how she changed when she started to fight back; she was Rose again, fiery and - and she’s still fiery, I know she’s right now in that bloody warehouse trying to find some final cheat or final answer, and that - and that’s what I love about her.’ His lips thinned. ‘If you have to stay my best mate, I’d like her to stay the woman I love.’
Albus grasped his shoulder. ‘I’ll do my best. I swear, Scorp, I won’t let you down this time. Whatever it takes, I will - I’ll try to live for you. And help them for you.’
‘You’re the best mate a guy could have.’ Scorpius reached up to clasp his hand. ‘Sounds stupid and trite. I mean - ugh. You know what I mean.’
Albus’ lips twisted, wry but genuine. ‘You’re my best friend, you’re my brother, and I love you.’
‘Yeah,’ Scorpius grunted, not without a smile. ‘That.’ It wasn’t emotional inaccessibility that had him failing to say the words, but he honestly didn’t think he’d be able to finish the night if he opened up that much. So they grinned together and he pressed on. ‘Still, I was going to have competition for your affection, wasn’t I?’
Al looked briefly guilty before he recognised the tease. ‘You know it’s not like that.’
‘No, she means more to you, our little terrorist. How’re things with you?’
‘We haven’t spoken properly since getting back to Britain. Things have been - you know. About you.’
‘You should go see her. When we’re done here. You shouldn’t be alone.’
Albus scratched his cheek. ‘I guess I should. I don’t really know where we stand.’
‘Maybe you should figure that out,’ said Scorpius gently. ‘And maybe you should forget what you’re afraid of and do what makes you happy.’
‘Happy. She’s due a prison sentence -’
‘And I know, if this works, the war could be over this week. She could be locked up by tomorrow night. So you go and you make the most of the time you have.’
Albus sighed and leaned back. ‘I spent so long trying to figure out what I felt about her, really felt about her, and then wrangling with the personal morality of that… I mean, reality kind of took a back seat. It probably shouldn’t. Deciding she’s the one for me is a bit of a dumb move if she’s going to then be locked up in Azkaban for the rest of her life.’
‘I don’t know. I tried to spend the last few weeks bowing to the reality of my situation.’ Scorpius made a face and had a swig of Butterbeer. Night had fallen completely by now, but the cold chill of winter was irrelevant up here, out in the dark on the Quidditch pitch with his best friend. ‘It didn’t help anyone.’
Al hesitated - then blurted, ‘And can you really see her and me making a life together?’ The words came in a tumble, sounding like they were made of half-baked emotions and thoughts, and Scorpius’ heart creaked. Albus wasn’t really ready to ask this, really ready to think about this, but he’d never again get a chance to talk about it with his best friend. So they had to talk about it tonight.
‘I don’t exactly see a white picket fence and two point five children in your future,’ Scorpius conceded. ‘I don’t think you two get a normal life. But so what? If you want it, be together. Be happy. Screw what people said your life should be. Maybe you plan some sort of future and things work out, or maybe you take it a day at a time.’
‘Yeah.’ Albus frowned at his bottle of Butterbeer - and then his face creased into another smile that shone with tears. ‘I thought normally I gave you the love-life advice.’
‘Only because you never had a love-life.’ Scorpius elbowed him. ‘Dodging women left, right, and centre -’
‘Half the ones I dodged, you swept away -’
‘Well, that was how it worked; they were just using you to get to me…’
They went through a lot more Butterbeer, though from there they reminisced more than anything else. Albus talked a little about his exploits abroad over the past few years, and Scorpius talked around the worst of what had happened alongside Thane, around the worst of his home-life with his parents. It wasn’t that he thought Al would think less of him for it. He just didn’t want to sour their last time together such. They had to, both of them, carry this evening with them for the rest of their lives.
Just Albus had longer to carry it.
Scorpius could have happily stayed up at the Quidditch pitch all night, and it was past midnight before Albus stood and stretched, and started stowing their empty bottles in his bag. ‘We should head off. I bet Stubbs didn’t have this in mind when he said we could stop by.’
‘Yeah, and I better have a good night’s sleep. I can’t be tired on the morrow,’ Scorpius drawled, though he regretted it at Albus’ pained expression. Their Portkey for Paris was due ten in the morning. By noon he’d be dead.
They were quiet as they tromped back to the staff room, and once more they missed the press of people, which suited Scorpius even better as an end of the evening. He didn’t speak again until they stood before the fireplace, and he knew they’d part ways here, so it was now that he stepped back and tried - and failed - to look Albus in the eye.
‘You’ll be coming with?’ he asked gruffly. ‘Tomorrow, I mean?’
Albus expression dropped. ‘If you want me there.’
Scorpius kicked the edge of the carpet. ‘If it’s not too rough for you -’
‘Then I’ll be there,’ said Albus throatily. ‘Until the end.’
They hugged, then, embraced like brothers, but it was Albus who pulled back first, Albus who stepped through the Floo first, and Scorpius could see he was struggling to hold it together. He didn’t begrudge him escaping before he collapsed, didn’t begrudge him wanting some privacy as he went to pieces.
But Scorpius didn’t linger, because the staff room was full of ghosts to him, and he knew ghosts were the one thing he’d have plenty of time for.
When he stepped out of the Floo, he wasn’t in his hotel room. Rows and rows of empty desks welcomed him in the darkened warehouse, the only light coming from a table near the Floo. One of Matt’s people sat there, scribbling away, and reached for their wand as he appeared - then recognised him, grunted a greeting, and went back to transcribing.
Even the organisation trying to destroy the Chalice and save the day kept normal office hours. Or, Scorpius noted as he saw a light at the top of the stairs leading to the cellar, most of it.
He found Rose downstairs, sat at the outskirts of the ritual markings that housed the Chalice and all of the tests the team had conducted. Papers were strewn about the hard floor, but she was still flopped on her front on the pavings, oblivious to discomfort, moving from open book to open book, stack of notes to stack, and oblivious to him. The only light came from one of the sconces on the wall, casting flickering illumination down in her hair, hair which always took on a life of its own next to firelight, like it was joining the flames.
Scorpius almost left right away. Left, so he could remember her like this, in her own world of focus and fire, forever with that thoughtful wrinkle of her nose, that springy lock of hair dangling wild. It would, in some ways, be easier. But this was his last night, and so he could indulge himself. Just a little. He cleared his throat. ‘I thought I’d find you here.’
Rose jumped about a foot in the air, immediately slamming shut several of the books and dragging notes to her like they were plans to unleash hell on Earth. ‘You - you - how long were you there?’
He lifted his hands. ‘Just a minute! I promise. Sorry, I didn’t mean to startle you.’
‘You didn’t -’ She stood, clutching her notes. ‘You did. It’s okay, I was just focusing, I didn’t realise you were there.’
‘I could tell.’ He padded over, looking across the notes still on the floor, at the Chalice in the middle. ‘I thought the ritual was ready to go down tomorrow?’
‘There are some minor safety concerns, it’s why I need de Sablé in it, he’ll help make sure it goes down without any side-effects -’
Scorpius frowned at her. ‘There’s a risk of side-effects?’
Her chin tilted up. ‘Only for those participating in or near the ritual. Necromantic backlash is a possibility. And don’t look at me like that; you’re choosing to sacrifice yourself to complete this ritual. The rest of us can choose to take a risk for it.’
‘I don’t… have an argument against that.’ He jerked his thumb towards the door. ‘I can go, if you’ve got work.’
‘No! No, it’s just double-checking my calculations.’ She looked down at the papers in her arms. ‘I don’t mind the company. I learnt how to work through you being a distraction.’
His grin twisted the corners of his lips. ‘I’m a pretty good distraction.’
She sat back down, and he went to the wall, sliding to the floor and still watching her. She gave him a sidelong look as she lowered her notes. ‘Is this really how you want to spend the last night?’
‘I can’t sleep. I can’t really eat. Which is fun when I’ve had a couple of Butterbeers.’ He rubbed his temples. ‘You know, someone would say we should probably both do something different with these hours.’
Rose flopped back onto her front and tucked her quill behind her ear. ‘Did you want to do something different? We could go for a walk -’
He shook his head. ‘Making sure the ritual is safe for everyone else is important. And besides.’ His smile softened. ‘I like watching you work. It’s soothing.’
‘There is nothing about my mind right now that’s soothing.’ She hesitated. ‘I don’t want you to think I was avoiding you. I knew you’d be able to find me. I wasn’t sure what else there is to say.’
‘Everything,’ Scorpius sighed. ‘And nothing.’
Her lips curled wistfully. ‘You’ve been with Al, then? He said he was getting you two back to Hogwarts…’
‘Yeah. That was nice. And horrible. Like pretty much everything. But that does remind me, I spoke to Teddy, and I kind of have - there’s something I need you to do for me -’
Rose sat up. ‘Name it.’
‘I’m leaving Teddy most of my money. Giving it to Albus last time wasn’t the most thoughtful act of my life, but it was right at the time. This time, I want to… I might not know him, but he’s family, and the family I do know can sod off, so…’ Scorpius shifted his weight. ‘Malfoy Manor, and some money to support it, is going somewhere else, and this might cause some legal upsets, so I’d like you to make sure it goes through. Or nag your mum to make sure it goes through -’
‘Scorp. Whatever it is, I’ll sort it.’
He met her gaze, guilty and grateful. ‘I’m leaving the Manor to Harley. To be used as he sees fit for the betterment of the House Elves. I don’t know if he needs a manor or if he just needs money; I thought about leaving it to one of the unions, but I know Harley, I trust him to do what’s right. And if I can do something right with the family fortune, undo a little of the damage we’ve done to people over the generations, I want to. This seems like a good one.’
Rose wilted. ‘You have nothing to prove to anyone, you should know that.’
‘You know it’s not about that.’
She looked down. ‘I’ll make sure it goes ahead.’ Slowly, she drew a raking breath. ‘And it’s very sweet for you to leave money to Teddy.’
Scorpius shrugged, also looking away. ‘He invited me to the wedding. I turned him down, but didn’t have the heart to explain why. I guess he’ll realise soon enough.’
‘I’ll explain it.’
‘He said it’s unlikely your dad or Harry will make it back from Macedonia. But then, he doesn’t know Lethe’s going to be gone. So hopefully they’ll be there.’
‘Scorpius, you don’t need to think like this -’
He met her gaze again. ‘I do need to think like this. If I think about thousands of people being saved - I don’t know those people. If I think about Harry, who’s been so decent to me, making it home in time for his godson’s wedding; if I think about you getting your dad back safe and sound - that’s some good for the people I care about. Not just hurt.’
Rose sighed. ‘I’d forgotten all about Teddy’s wedding.’
‘You’d better go. Wear an amazing dress. Break some hearts.’
Her eyes snapped shut. ‘Scorpius -’
‘I’m not saying it’s going to be easy,’ he croaked, throat tightening despite his best efforts. ‘But I want, I really want you to be happy.’
‘I can’t promise that.’ Rose drew a slow, raking breath. ‘But I will… I’ll try better this time. If this ends the war, I think I’ll do what I didn’t let myself do last time - travel. And I don’t mean hide, I mean do something. There’s going to be a lot of rebuilding work. I want to help with that, put the world back together. Meet new people. I can’t put my old life back together, and I don’t want to. So maybe I can make a new one. And make other people’s lives better along the way.’
He nodded. ‘I’ve heard worse plans.’ But then it was as if he’d run out of words, and their absence hung in the air, null space sucking in any other feeling or thought. It took effort to claw through that, to flail around until he could find something, anything - ‘I’ve realised what’s going to piss me off the most.’ She looked apprehensive, so he gave another lopsided smile. ‘I really think the Falcons are in for a shot at the Cup this season, and I’m not going to find out.’
She burst out laughing, harder than the comment deserved, but it killed the empty space and filled it with a warmth which, while desperate, was far better. It felt like the old days, his irreverent commentary amid her hard work, talking about everything and nothing and pushing away the world ahead in favour of the world here and now.
‘If I’m in Britain, I’ll make sure I go to the final,’ Rose promised.
He beamed. ‘You better. And stop supporting the Cannons, they’re terrible -’
‘I’m a Weasley, you can’t ask that of me -’
‘What, tonight of all nights, I can’t make that kind of request -’
‘Don’t push your luck, Scorpius Malfoy…’
Dawn found them still down there, her notes scribbled on over and over, despite his distractions, despite the lack of sleep. He rose to greet his last sunrise with an aching back, her with more papers and theories to perfect the ritual but not, as he suspected had been the real goal, a last-minute solution.
It was as it had to be. What they had chosen and, yet, a million miles away from any choice.