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Ignite by Slide

Format: Novel
Chapters: 37
Word Count: 194,566

Rating: Mature
Warnings: Strong violence, Scenes of a mild sexual nature, Substance abuse, Sensitive topic/issue/theme, Spoilers

Genres: Drama, Romance, Action/Adventure
Characters: Draco, Albus, Rose, Scorpius, OC
Pairings: Rose/Scorpius, OC/OC, Other Pairing

First Published: 06/23/2012
Last Chapter: 04/21/2015
Last Updated: 04/21/2015


A mysterious illness leaving a handful of uninfected. A school in quarantine, isolated from the outside world. Danger on all sides, striking seemingly at random. And, at the heart of it all, Scorpius Malfoy, the only man to believe this is a part of a wider, dangerous plot.

The first of the Stygian Trilogy. Winner of Best Mystery/Action/Adventure Dobby Award 2015

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Chapter 21: Raked Over the Ashes

Within days, between the hard work of Lockett, Rose, and Methuselah, the draught to alleviate Phlegethon’s symptoms had been made in bulk enough to rejuvenate a good portion of the school. Although those suffering the most severely still hadn’t recover consciousness - including, frustratingly, Headmaster Thaddeus Stubbs - the diagnostic spells suggested they could rest more easily, breathe more easily.

And the majority had more luck. Although Phlegethon was draining enough on the energy of the afflicted to keep them sleepy and bed-bound, soon most of Hogwarts was healthy enough to at least drift in and out of consciousness. They were weak and weary, and over dinner one night Albus mused that he probably couldn't speak with Lily for more than half an hour or so a day before exhaustion claimed her, but they were awake. Doing better. And even though Phlegethon remained a constant danger, although their work was not done, everyone’s spirits were raised by this small victory.

Everyone’s spirits, that was, save Scorpius’.

Without thinking, the first day after the initial tests had gone so successfully and he’d rowed so bitterly with the two people in the school he had to suppose he cared the most about, he’d fallen into his normal routine. Left Albus a cup of tea while he examined the upkeep of the wards. Brought breakfast down to Rose.

Albus had been decidedly cool. He’d thanked him, drunk his tea, and carried on with what he was doing. But it was different to when they’d fought all those weeks ago over his prank in Potions; this wasn’t frustration and anger simmering below the surface. It was a quiet, burning disappointment. Albus wasn’t going to fight with him, put him down publicly, or do anything but discreetly stay out of his way. And be upset.

It took Scorpius a few days before he realised that this time Albus wouldn’t just snap out of it. To change this, he was supposed to apologise, but by then he felt so low he couldn’t bring himself to. Not just walk up, apropos of nothing, and explain himself. Because he had no explanation.

Rose had been both easier and yet harder to face. She’d looked so surprised and guilty when he’d appeared in the dungeon with her breakfast that he couldn’t be angry with her - and then she’d thanked him, voice wavering, and he’d realised that, actually, he could be angry. It wasn’t that hard when he felt discarded like yesterday’s Prophet.

It felt like too much of a statement to stop what he was doing. So he’d decided to start earlier, earlier even than her, and have breakfast and tea waiting for her by the time she made it down to the dungeons. It was a compromise, one where he didn’t feel like he was being petty, but didn’t have to talk to her politely. Because the alternative was talking to her impolitely, and that hadn’t done him much good in recent weeks.

Selena was even less interested in speaking with him than usual. The only people to not change their behaviour were Lockett and Methuselah; Lockett, for her part, seemed more stressed by their success, taking more late nights, and Scorpius hoped silently they weren’t late nights with firewhiskey like the bottle he’d found her drinking when she’d hid from the world in the staff room.

Methuselah Jones, of course, was just Methuselah Jones, and continued to be oblivious.

It helped that Al, Rose, and Selena had friends and family to see to. He didn’t need to feel so bad about not daring to talk to Albus - after all, he had Lily to speak with again, and all of his cousins, even if the time together was fleeting. It wasn't like he was leaving his best friend alone in these harsh times. And the same for Rose - she and Al had one another, of course, but now she had Hugo and the rest.

And Hector. He knew she still spent time talking with Hector. And with her friends, with Hestia and Cheryl. And Matthias Doyle.

So, really, they didn’t need him at all.

No longer joining Albus on the patrols around the school, going back to bed after Hermione Granger’s morning briefing seemed a luxury he could allow himself. It wasn’t as if he had many other perks to enjoy. On the fourth morning after the rift, he’d paused on his way up to redirect a House Elf to gather some of Lockett’s affairs down in the dungeon at her request, then headed back to his room.

The delay would prove to have some of the most annoying consequences of his life as he got to his door just in time to see Selena stepping out of hers. She frowned at him. ‘Wardrobe change, Scorpius?’

‘Sorry, are you the only one of us who can’t be seen in the same frock twice in one day, Selena?’

She narrowed her eyes. ‘Walther the fourth-year choked on his potion and spat it all over me. You know this. I’m vain enough to not walk around covered in Hufflepuff spew all day. Does that meet with your approval?’ He grunted and pulled the door open, but she wasn’t done. ‘Merlin, are you going back to bed?’

Scorpius faltered. ‘What the hell else am I supposed to do, Selena? Help Jones? I can’t. Help Lockett? She doesn’t need it. Help Rose or Albus? They don’t want me to.’

‘Astonishing they don’t want you around, considering your delightfully tempestuous nature these days,’ she drawled. ‘You could make yourself useful.’

He turned to her angrily, hands on his hips. ‘Really? Because nobody else seems to think I’m useful! Did you have some amazing task I could perform in mind?’

‘I do, actually.’ Selena cocked her head half an inch. ‘Parents have started writing to the students again. Some of those students are now even conscious enough to understand them.’

‘So?’ There had been no letters for him. Not since the first.

So, any of them who are conscious enough to read them still aren’t in a state to go to the owlery and collect them. There are a couple of days’ worth of letters. You could make yourself useful.’

Indignation writhed in him, alive and well despite his low spirits. ‘You mean I could become Hogwarts’ bloody postman.’

‘I mean you could take letters between scared parents and their suffering children. I mean you could read to struggling students so they hear some word of support from their families to lift their spirits. I mean you could even help those afflicted to pen a few words in response and send them out.’ Selena said all of this in a mocking, sing-song voice which didn’t endear the prospect to Scorpius.

‘Why can’t you do that?’

‘Because I’m either working with the House Elves to get their diagnoses done and make sure everyone’s taken their potions, or I’m helping Methuselah go through the Library.’ Selena said the last part with a hint of distaste.

‘House Elves,’ said Scorpius. ‘They can do it.’

‘Oh, be sensible, Scorpius. Harley’s at his wits’ end already playing nursemaids to young witches and wizards; I don’t want to demean him further by asking him to play their scribe and owl.’

‘But you’ll demean me like that?’

She gave a smile which would make Mona Lisa proud, if either of them knew who she was. ‘It’s like you set yourself up for these answers, Scorpius. You want to be useful? This is how you make yourself useful. Or you can sleep for a few hours while everyone else does some work.’ She swept past him, the wave of arrogance enough to knock him silly, and sauntered down the corridor as he sputtered.

‘I braved the Forbidden Forest, you know!’ Scorpius snapped after her. ‘I snuck into an Acromantula’s lair and survived a run-in with a lunatic!’

Selena looked over her shoulder. ‘That is so last week, Scorpius,’ she told him, and left.

Scorpius scowled at the door and considered if he could make an Acromantula 's lair this week's news, perhaps by using it as a suitable place to dump Selena's body. But she had a point. Lockett had just alleviated everyone’s symptoms with her new potion and had perhaps saved lives; she wasn’t taking a break when there was more to do.

That was how he found himself stood up in the owlery, at the tall tower which was rather unforgiving on weary legs, staring at the array of postboxes. Normally the owls would have dropped off the post at breakfast for the students to collect, but as the traditions and habits of Hogwarts had died, everything they’d been bringing which wasn’t for one of the six of them came up here. He’d not realised anyone had been writing at all; a House Elf must have told Selena. And after only a few days of the news going out that students might be able to read and receive word again, there were quite a few letters.

Scorpius sighed at the piles. ‘You know,’ he told the letters irritably, ‘I wish everyone else in Hogwarts had parents who shared my father’s opinions on writing to their children. Send just the one letter, make it short, and be sure to be so obnoxious that there will be absolutely no ongoing correspondence.’

And yet, despite himself, he checked the Slytherin sixth years’ box and checked the perches for any possible sign of a foreign bird, not expecting a great deal. As ever, he found nothing at all. For once this disappointment hit him a whole lot harder than it usually did.

I know he’s probably not even told you what’s going on, Mum; I understand.

Maybe a third of the school had letters, which promised that there would likely be more to come, but that still meant almost a hundred letters to contend with. Scorpius found himself conjuring up bags soon enough, splitting them up by House, and setting them to levitate behind him as he headed down the steps out of the owlery. This wouldn’t take too long; distribution would be swift and then he could get back to doing something he actually wanted to do.

He started with Ravenclaw House, because it was nearest, and promptly regretted his choice once he reached the top of that stairway and saw the implacable metal eagle knocker looking down at him.

Scorpius scowled. ‘All right. Give me your best shot.’

As expected, it shifted. ‘How can you leave a room with two legs and return with six?

He smirked. ‘Easy. Bring a chair.’ The door swung open, and Scorpius’ smile only broadened as he stepped into the shadow of the stairway. 'Honestly, I think you're losing your touch. What happened to the classics? A man with a chicken and a fox and a loaf of bread trying to cross a river? Complicated poems which are all about the letter "r"? You've just been trying to be difficult and contrary with me and it’s got you nowhere.’ He tutted. The knocker remained as silent as expected. ‘Just something to think about.’

Whistling to himself, he took the stairs two at a time, glad at last to have something to think about other than Albus’ disappointed eyes or Rose’s guilty glances. There were students who’d need these letters, though when he went from room to room most of them were still asleep, and he was careful to put the envelopes on the bedside tables in a spot where they’d be noticed when they woke up. No point in leaving them where they weren’t seen.

Still, one of the third-year girls, pale-faced but conscious and sat up to read a book, did smile when he came in. ‘Oh, I was wondering when we’d get letters.’

‘Well, wonder no more.’ Scorpius smirked as he rifled around the sack, and was glad that the House Elves had taken to leaving notes by every student which at least gave their names. ‘It’s your lucky day.’

‘So I see. Thank you,’ she said, taking the letter, and that was all the attention he got as she opened it up and began to read.

Is that it?

Scorpius peered at her for half a moment, but she was done paying attention to him, so he put down the other letter for that room and headed for the door. There had been no joy. No surprise that letters had come through. No more regard for him having brought in the first word from the girl’s family in weeks than she might give a particularly valued family owl.

Of course, for them, it’s not been weeks. They’ve only just woken up and now their parents have written to them. That’s business as usual. They don’t know how serious it is.

Frustration swam through his mind as he distributed the rest of Ravenclaw House’s letters. It wasn’t that he wanted to stop and lecture every conscious student on just how hard it had been to get to the point where they were even capable of reading these letters, let alone how hard it had been to know it was safe to send the bloody things. That would just worry and stress people already suffering.

But, as he put a letter down next to Saxby’s bed, only for his classmate to give a muggy, semi-conscious mumble and claw to snatch the envelope up without even acknowledging him, a little more gratitude would have gone a long way.

He was scowling to himself as he made his way back down into the Ravenclaw common room - and almost walked into Lockett, standing in front of the tall grandfather clock just by the stairs, her gaze detached and thoughtful. They both started, and Scorpius let the bag of Gryffindor post fall to the floor with a curse.

‘Professor, we really need to stop scaring the hell out of one another like this,’ he said, gathering up his bags.

‘Sorry, Malfoy,’ she said, and sounded halfway sincere. ‘I didn't know anyone was in here, it's so much noisier now some of them are awake.' Lockett lifted her gaze towards the dormitories, a tired smile tugging at the lines of her face. 'I come up here to think sometimes.'

‘I was bringing them their post. Someone has to,’ said Scorpius, not sure if he should be apologising. ‘I didn’t realise anyone comes up here apart from Jones. And he doesn’t even use the library any more.’

‘Which is why I come here,’ Lockett said, and eyed the bags. ‘How many?’

‘About a hundred,’ said Scorpius. ‘Ravenclaw was my first stop. Professor...’ His voice trailed off, and she gave him a quizzical look. ‘I don’t want to worry anyone. Or do anything to set back their energy when they should be concentrating on staying healthy, fighting Phlegethon.’ Briefly, his thoughts flashed to Rose giving that exact same excuse for why she couldn’t break up with Hector, and his chest tightened. ‘But most of the students don’t really seem to get what’s going on.’

‘They don’t need to,’ said Lockett. ‘You’re right about how state of mind can play a role in this as much as physical health, especially when it comes to fighting the effects of dark magic. The elixir’s doing more for them than just letting them wake up. Phlegethon seeps into their bodies, keeping every inch of them weakened and twisted by it. Even the ones who’ve not woken up, like the Headmaster, are better off because of the elixir.’

‘I suppose.’ He ran a hand through his hair and judged it prudent to not say, But it’s making them ungrateful little bastards. It also seemed rude to just leave, so he tilted his head at Lockett. ‘You doing all right, Professor?’

‘Why wouldn’t I be?’

‘I don’t...’ He had never run into her up here before, and yet she said it was somewhere she came to so she could think. But normally, by now, Rose would be up to her elbows in something in the dungeons, and he and Albus would be pretending to work by flying even once the perimeter was checked, and Methuselah would be doing his research while Selena fawned over him. Normally, there would be nobody here to interrupt.

And suddenly Scorpius was acutely aware that it was impossible for him to be the loneliest person in Hogwarts so long as Professor Lockett was the only person over the age of seventeen still conscious.

Here you are complaining about not being recognised for what you’ve done, when she’s holding all of our lives in her hands and still gets crap from -

‘Professor, do you mind if I ask you something?’

Lockett sighed and waved a hand at the comfortable armchairs near the fireplace. ‘If you must, Malfoy.’

‘I kind of think I should.’ He fidgeted with the cuffs of his shirt as he went to join her. ‘I’ve not mentioned this to anyone else. It didn’t seem fair, or helpful. Like you say, we have to focus on, well, getting through this. Not panicking about things we can’t change.’

‘I’m going to make a wild guess that you’re panicking about something anyway,’ she said dryly.

‘I spoke with Hermione Granger,’ he said, and saw her gaze turn guarded. ‘She told me... quite a bit.’

‘Did she, now.’

‘About your research. About how you and your team were arrested. About how you...’ Scorpius hesitated.

‘Sold them out? That’s how Granger put it, isn’t it.’ Lockett didn’t wait for him to confirm before making a noise of irritation. ‘The streak of self-righteousness is bloody strong with that family, Malfoy, I’ll tell you. Only interested in half the facts so long as that half fits what they want to see.’

Scorpius thought, bitterly, of Rose’s willingness to believe the rumours that had flown around school about him. ‘I hear you on that one.’

‘Let me guess, she made it sound like I sold out my team to the MLE for smuggling, just so I could reap the rewards of the elixir, only for the whole potions community to turn on me?’ Lockett quirked an eyebrow. ‘I wouldn’t call it a lie. It’s not the whole truth. Still, I wonder why you’re asking.’

‘I’m not going to start something,’ said Scorpius. ‘But you’ll forgive me, Professor, if I’m a bit anxious about who the only teacher in Hogwarts really is. The person who’s pretty much responsible for all our lives.’

‘No pressure.’ Lockett rolled her eyes. ‘And I’d say you’ve made it clear, Malfoy, you’re responsible for your own life. And that was meant to be a compliment.’

‘You’re not good at those,’ he observed. 'But I'm also asking because I'm trying this new thing - it's crazy, really, everyone should do it - where I try to look at the person, not their reputation.'

‘A smart thing for a boy called Malfoy to do,’ Lockett agreed. She sighed, scrubbing her face with her hands. ‘The Elixir of Clarity we were working on wasn’t a money-spinner. We had a lot of backing from various companies which wanted to use it for their own research and development, academic corners believing it could help great thinkers achieve even more, but that wasn’t the reason we were working on it. It wasn’t the reason I was working on it.’

Scorpius frowned. ‘What did it do?’

‘Humans don’t use the entirety of their brain on any kind of conscious level, did you know that? This elixir helped people, for a limited time, use more of their brain to think. It sounded pretty damn dangerous to me for someone to use it for academic purposes; you go all Flowers for Algernon.’ Lockett continued despite Scorpius’ nonplussed expression. ‘But it also helped witches and wizards use parts of their brain which had shut down. Which was what we were interested in. Preliminary tests suggested it was going to be incredibly helpful to people who’d suffered from proximity to Dementors.’

He blinked. ‘Dementors?’

‘Continued exposure to their effects is incredibly crippling to witches and wizards, even without the application of the Dementor’s Kiss,’ said Lockett, her gaze going distant as it locked on the empty fireplace. ‘Most go mad from it eventually. Some, to cope, they just... go away, inside. Their minds flick off somewhere else so they don’t have to put up with what they’re dealing with. And they don’t come back again afterwards.’

‘This Elixir of Clarity - it helped bring them back?’

Lockett nodded awkwardly. ‘A bit. And for some people coming back wasn’t a good thing, and plenty needed help as well as a potion, but it was changing lives. And it still wasn’t perfect, and we still hadn’t refined the process enough to make it easily brewed, something which could be easily distributed, and we needed more reagents even as our funding dried up.’

‘So you smuggled in what you needed.’

‘And we got caught.’ She leant back, eyes going skywards. ‘I didn’t sell my team out for my own sake, Malfoy. Each of us knew what we were getting into. At the stage of development we were in, I was the most integral researcher for the project's success. So we agreed that, no matter what happened, I couldn't go to prison, I couldn't have my credentials revoked, I had to finish the process. They knew what that meant.’

Scorpius frowned. ‘It meant bargaining with the MLE and testifying against your team so you were let off.’

‘So I could finish the work.’ Lockett’s expression closed up. ‘And I did. And the Elixir of Clarity is available in places like Saint Mungo’s to victims of Dementors, and they’re even conducting studies now in its use for helping victims of extended use Cruciatus.’

‘I didn’t know there were so many around,’ he admitted. ‘Not that it doesn’t mean they don’t need help too.’

‘The scars of war. They don’t go away,’ Lockett mused.

He looked at her. ‘What was it, Professor? A family member?’

She looked at him, startled. ‘A family member who what?’

‘Who needed the Elixir or Clarity because of the Dementors.’ He gave an apologetic smile. ‘Sorry. You can tell me to mind my own business. But there’s no way that wasn’t personal.’

She shook her head, and he thought she was going to shut him down. ‘It wasn’t a family member. My family are Muggles, all of them, they’ve steered clear of the magical world.’ Lockett drew a sharp breath. ‘I didn’t need the Elixir of Clarity. But I spent ten months in Azkaban during the war.’

Scorpius hesitated. ‘Why?’

‘Like I said.’ She smiled humorlessly. ‘My family are all Muggles.’

‘So it was people you know who needed the Elixir, or...’

‘No. Nobody I knew. Not before I started my research.’ Lockett shook her head. ‘I was one of the lucky ones. I got out of prison and I got back into the job I’d studied for, and my career took off so quickly it took me away from family, away from friends, and everything was working out so well and so busy that I didn’t think I’d ever need to look back.’ She gave a one-shouldered shrug. ‘So it turns out that meant I was hiding from everything I’d been through, and when I ran into a Dementor while hunting Tibetan antelopes for more exotic bezoars almost ten years later, I had something of a breakdown.’

Scorpius shifted his weight, surprised at the honesty coming from the professor, but he suspected he was one of the first people in a long time with whom she had even begun to discuss her circumstances. ‘And that makes you one of the lucky ones?’

‘I was out of work for three years trying to deal with what I’d been through in Azkaban. It was after that I stopped working on the dark magic cures which had driven my career for so long and fell into working on enhancement elixirs. I didn't care for it as much, and because I lacked that passion I wasn't as good at it, but it was... safer. I didn’t run into anything I couldn’t cope with.’ Lockett snorted. ‘I was in that state of going through the motions for another ten years before I found the team for the Elixir of Clarity. But I am still a respected academic, a recognised expert in my field, with a good career. I still had the renown for Professor Stubbs to approach me after the Clarity debacle for a job here at Hogwarts. Yes. I was one of the lucky ones.’

‘Bloody hell.’ Scorpius sagged in his chair. ‘Does Ms Granger know any of this?’

‘She has enough of the specifics that I’m sure a woman of her intellect could put it all together if she cared to. But she championed these laws which made our smuggling illegal in the first place; she demanded more accountability and oversight for the reagent gathering in a way which drove most of the farming off British shores. Hermione Granger has done a lot of good for this country, and especially a lot of good for Muggle-borns, but that was not her finest moment. And I think you know, from knowing her daughter so well, just how stubborn these women can be.’

Scorpius scowled. ‘Yeah. I got that memo.’ He rolled his shoulders. ‘I’m sorry for... prying, Professor.’

‘I could have told you to mind your own business. I didn’t.’ She inclined her head. ‘If I’d known she’d told you all of that, I’d have cleared some of this up earlier. The last thing I want is for you kids to doubt me.’

‘I think a few of them are a bit more used to the huggy ways of Professor Teague and the others,’ he admitted.

‘I mean doubt my competence. Because I know I might only be an average teacher, but this? Curing Phlegethon?’ Lockett ran a hand through her hair. ‘This is something I’m actually meant to be halfway bloody decent at.’

‘You are.’ Scorpius paused awkwardly. ‘I mean, you know you’re an expert in your field. You don’t need my validation.’

‘No. But your faith... doesn’t hurt.’ She looked over at him, and he could have sworn her entire bearing seemed lighter, less burdened. ‘Thanks. For bringing this to me.’

‘That’s all right, Professor. Like I say. I’m trying to check truth in reputations before I jump at them.’

‘Hoping it might rub off on someone else?’ said Lockett lightly, and then, of all things, she smirked. ‘Like I said, I used to be good with people. I might not take the time to say the right things now but I spot them.’

‘I’m not sure it’s time,’ said Scorpius awkwardly. ‘I take plenty of time and people still call me a jerk.’

‘Yes, but after taking time to consider your options, do you often say anything but what first popped into your head anyway?’ she wondered, standing up. ‘Try it.’

‘It’s not my problem right now.’

‘No, your problem right now is that people think they have a right to judge you. And whether or not they do, nobody likes being judged.’ Lockett turned to him. ‘You seem to think I should do more hand-holding, so here’s my hand-holding for the day: You can let others judge you or not, I really don’t care. The only judgement you have to live by is your own. Just make sure that judgement’s fair.’

Scorpius quirked an eyebrow. ‘Did you get that out of a book somewhere, Professor?’

‘Christmas cracker,’ she said with surprisingly good humour. ‘You’d better get back to those letters, Scorpius.’

It was, he’d realised, the first conversation in days where the other person hadn’t been dripping with disapproval, like Selena, or disinterest, like Methuselah, or disappointment, like Albus. Or guilt, and that lingering judgement stirred up to justify her decisions, like Rose.

Maybe he could stand to put up with some semi-conscious students for a while.

Slytherin House was his next step. The common room was a comfortable haven, familiar and enclosing, and this time he could see how people he cared something about were doing. So he started with his own dormitory, and Oakes was happier to see him than Scorpius could remember, and even happier with the letter. The girls’ dormitory was much the same - Abena even thanked him instead of acting like her delivering him post was him in his rightful place.

And Miranda was still asleep, stuck in the deepest depths of Phlegethon still. Colour was returning to her cheeks, but her dark hair still hung limp around her face and she was still motionless save her breathing.

He didn’t linger longer than he had to.

But the day’s work was, he had to admit, worth it when he walked into the Second Year Boys’ dormitory to see Tim Warwick sat up, awake, and grinning at him. And for the first time in days, the knot in Scorpius’ stomach loosened. ‘Tim, my boy! How’re you feeling?’

‘Hey, Scorp.’ Tim’s smile was tired, but genuine. ‘Like I slept for a year and could sleep some more.’

‘Yeah, you’re not all better yet. Don’t you strain yourself; you concentrate on patching up.’ Scorpius glanced around the dorm to confirm that Tim was the only one of the boys here awake, and padded over to his friend’s bedside. ‘I’ve got something for you. Letter.’

The boy’s face lit up more. ‘Woah, Mum and Dad are rubbish with owls usually...’

‘Yeah, this one’s got Departmental stamp; it’ll have gone through the Ministry. Looks like they helped them out,’ said Scorpius, feeling a sudden surge of gratitude towards Hermione Granger. It was almost certainly her who’d made sure that Muggle parents had the means of getting in touch with their children in this crisis.

Tim took the letter as Scorpius handed it over - then his expression suddenly clouded. ‘Um...’

Scorpius frowned. This was meant to be good news. ‘What’s up?’

‘I - I can’t...’ His voice trailed off, then Tim scowled. ‘Everything’s a bit blurry still.’

Before he knew what he was doing, Scorpius had taken the letter back and was cracking it open. ‘Then don’t you worry, my lad,’ he drawled, trying to bring the smile back. ‘You just kick back and I’ll read it for you.’

Tim relaxed, sagging on the pillows - tired again but, now, relieved. ‘Thanks, Scorp. And... Scorp?’ Their eyes met as Scorpius looked to him, confused. ‘My parents really don’t get much about the wizarding world. I had so much trouble convincing Dad to let me fly over the holidays. I don’t know how much of these official leaflets you say they’re handing out they’re going to get. I want to write back to them.’

Scorpius saw the next question even before it was asked, and gave Tim a warm smile. ‘I’ll read it to you. And then I’ll get some ink and a quill - and I’ll write down whatever you want to tell them back and get it sent.’

The younger boy let out a deep breath, his smile still fatigued. ‘Thanks, Scorp,’ he said quietly. ‘You’re a good guy.’

I’m really not, thought Scorpius, as everyone he’d hurt over the past week flickered through his mind. But as he cracked the letter open and began to read it out to the twelve year-old boy who was ill and suffering and far away from parents who barely understood what was going on, he managed to feel a little bit more like he could believe him.