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It's Called Adventure by Aiedail

Format: Novel
Chapters: 12
Word Count: 51,320

Rating: 15+
Warnings: Mild Language, Strong Violence, Sensitive Topic/Issue/Theme

Genres: Humor, Action/Adventure
Characters: Neville, Scorpius, Hugo
Pairings: Rose/Scorpius, Other Pairing

First Published: 01/06/2011
Last Chapter: 10/20/2011
Last Updated: 10/20/2011

justonemorefic@TDA | banner. Dobby 2011 - Best Novel. Snitches 2011: Best Action/Adventure & Best Bromance

If romping through the Forbidden Forest on week-long escapades to hunt for a mythical plant doesn't seem normal to you, then you haven't met Hugo Weasley. Hinkypunks, nymphs, Acromantulas? Not a problem for this ragtag team of ordinary heroes. Join Hugo, Scorpius Malfoy, and Professor Longbottom on the search of the decade: just what does Hugo Weasley have that's so special?

Chapter 1: Prologue
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Neville Longbottom was having a very interesting day. 

Not only had three different species of plants engulfed four different students in flame in two different periods (these plants hadn't been recorded to spew flames before), and not only had his first period Slytherin-Gryffindor class been graced by the visitation of the renowned naturalist and long-time friend of his, Luna Scamander—not only had she given the class an impromptu lecture on the importance of reinforced boots in the tundra—but today, of all days, Hugo Weasley had approached him with an especially strange request.

It might have been a series of innocent questions, but then again, Neville thought, Hugo had inherited his father's tact (which was needy, to say the least) and that wide-eyed, wink-peppered stare that had been drilled into his own eyes had not seemed untinged with hints and insinuations. As much hinting and insinuation as a slightly dim fifth year boy could pull off, anyways.

He'd waited until after class, placing down the pink fluffy earmuffs with less-than-dexterousness onto the dirty work table at the front of the classroom (and Neville had smiled, remembering the days when he himself had sported that same headdress). He had shifted, antsy, from foot to foot with his hands folded neatly behind his back. Neville had let out a long sigh, expecting another ill-planned bribe to raise the boy's herbology grade to at least a P for the fall term (but Neville wasn't as powerless to licorice wands as some might lead one to believe). He raised his head slowly to Hugo's restless form, regarding him privately from the well-trained corner of one eye. 

He was a solid combination of the looks of his mother and the mannerisms of his father. With slightly wild, cropped, wavy brown hair and bright green eyes, Hugo looked the part of the lanky Weasley-Granger. His nose was nearly as long as Ron's was, and his appendages were as long and skinny as his father's as well. He had that quite innocent and almost nitwitted look that had often plastered the face of Ron in situations that forced it to arise—which, in Neville's humble opinion, seemed to occur more often in the life of Hugo Weasley than any other student he'd ever met. Not that he was one to compare. 

And now he was standing, slumped slightly, his hands twined behind his back. Neville could imagine one foot tapping even as he heard the faint pat pat pat of loafer on dirt. Hugo's eyes were pointed towards the greenhouse roof, his nostrils slightly flared in a way that screamed of his inattentive attitude towards his own appearance, and his mouth gaping open a little bit; just wide enough, Neville thought, for some slobber to slip out.
"Yes, Hugo?" he finally asked, restraining himself even as he thought of sighing again. 

"Well, Professor Neville—I mean, Professor Longbottom—the thing is, I was wondering if you knew anything about a plant named Quidropopot and where it's found?"

There was really only one way that Hugo could have ever heard of this plant that Neville could think of. Before he could stop them his eyes squinted in suspicion, and his hand, seemingly automatically, reached up to scratch the growing stubble on his chin. 

He determined the fact from glancing at the unaveragely tall boy's facial expression that it was most likely he'd never read the eight-hundred page treatise on the treatment of exotic diseases in which Quidropopot was mentioned, and had probably never even heard of its title—so he reserved his breath and refrained from questioning the boy's background knowledge. 

"Yes, I am familiar with Quidropopot. It's most commonly found in Antarctic regions under ice that can be anywhere from metres to kilometres thick." Neville rubbed his chin again, frowning.

"Oh," Hugo said, and looked up at Neville expectantly. After a few moments Neville widened his eyes to signal once again that no, Hugo, he couldn't read minds. Use your words.

"Oh, yeah. Er—is it possibly found anywhere else? Liiiiike…in the Forbidden Forest?"

Neville's frown deepened and he felt once again that oft-felt fatherly concern for the boy. It was astounding that with the brains of Hermione somewhere deep down in his system he could manage to pull faces like the ones that he regularly wore. 

"Hugo—ah, Hugo. I can't really say." Neville grimaced, hating to think that his honest answer would lead the boy on a wild-goose-chase through a forbidden section of the school grounds. He leaned forward, regretting his decision even as he spoke the words: "But…just between you and me, in the treatise I read, it did mention that there have been reports of Quidropopot growing in other places. I have my own theories confirming the reports."

Hugo nodded solemnly, leaning forward as well. "Can you tell me some of its magical properties?"

"Well, it's never really been found, at least recently, in its ripened form, has it?" Neville's face dropped as he regarded Hugo's blank stare. "The no. It's not been found fully formed. People don't really understand this—well, that only makes sense as it's a conjecture of my own, unpublished at that—it's my belief that it takes a Quidropopot years and years to mature. From the earliest findings, which date back to the first century A.D., Egyptian gods used to extract some sort of powerful gem from the center of its pod and wear them in the middle of their headdresses." Neville looked pointedly at Hugo's chin, which was—really, now?—dripping with something wet. Hugo slurped noisily and wiped his chin with his sleeve. Neville tried to stymie his grimace, failed, and continued. "Its flesh is also magically healing and will heal most exotic sicknesses and skin rashes. It's highly prized."

"But can't you also use it as a Quaffle?" Hugo asked, and Neville began to understand more of the boy's interest in the flowers of the plant. He still wondered how Hugo understood this of the plant—and then it hit him—Rose. She might have read the book. 
"Yes, you can use it as a Quaffle." 

Hugo winked one more time at Neville before he thanked him kindly and trailed his feet out of the greenhouse noisily, poking at a plant which, it just so happens, grabbed onto his finger. He wrestled with it for a few moments—pausing at one amusing moment to glance sideways at Neville from under his elbow—before wresting his philange from the creature and holding it in his other hand while rushing gooberishly out of the glass door.


Neville sat at his desk in his office by the fireplace burning old papers, reminiscing on the day's procedures.

He wasn't sure why Hugo had developed such an interest in the unusual and rare plant. But he was sure that something of Hugo's glance, however much finesse the boy lacked, had been trying to tell him more than he could say (or, possibly, knew how to say) in words. He was sure there was something pleading about that blank, vacuous look. Something that said, indistinctly, of course: help me find it.


a/n: edited 26 august 2011

Chapter 2: Plan
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"Hey Marjie," Hugo said, a swagger in his step as he walked gangily over to the Ravenclaw table.

"Hi, Hugatron," Marjorie Barrows replied, smiling slightly, pushing her horn-rimmed glasses up onto the bridge of her nose. "What brings you over?" Hugo stared at the dimple in her left cheek a moment before responding.

"I found out all about Quidropopots," Hugo said, sitting down at the bench opposite Marjie, pushing a small boy out of the way to do so. Marjorie frowned deeply at him.



"Apologise, now."

"Hey, kid, sorry."

"Now get out of his seat."

"Get up. Now."
Hugo got up, shoving his hands in his pockets grumpily. His bottom lip stuck out as he pouted.

"You can sit next to him, you know," Marjie said, pointing with the rubber of her pencil at the empty spot next to the small boy. "His name is Marcus. Shake his hand."

Hugo stuck out his hand unwillingly, and the small boy Marcus shook it genially. 

Hugo frowned in the smirking way that he thought was pretty cool and sat down next to Marcus, leaning his chin into his palms to watch Marjie study. 

"Aren't you going to tell me about the Quidropopots?" Marjorie asked, taking her glasses off with one hand and folding her arms, looking up at him. Her short brown hair was sticking up a little in the back, and the freckles across the bridge of her nose and cheekbones were especially vibrant in contrast to the coolness of the winter hue of her skin.

"Oh, yeah. Well, they're most commonly found under metres of ice. But you might be able to find them in the Forbidden Forest. Aaaaaaand, they can be used as Quaffles." Hugo raised his brows impressively.

Marjie stared at him blankly for a second before shaking her head slightly and putting her glasses back on, looking back down to her book. "What about their magical properties?"

"Oh, yeah. Well, they heal most exotic diseases plus, they have these gems in the middle that are powerful and the ancient Egyptian gods used to put these in the middle of their headdresses."

"Well, well, well…someone's been doing his research," Marjie said and reached across the table to tweak his nose. He frowned, scrunching his face.

"You know, you're only two years older than me, you don't have to act like my nan," he said, rubbing the throbbing proboscis.

"I am two years older than you, you're right. You had best keep that in mind." Marjie threw him a warning look over the top rim of her glasses. It was a stern, maternal look, one that Hugo might not have minded if some other girl were to shoot it his way, but one that bothered him a little coming from Marjie.

Hugo liked to think of himself as a specialist. He'd met Marjie in Muggle Studies despite their age gap. Of course, Marjie had been a Muggle-born, and so knew all about Muggles--but there was only a certain level to which one could rise in the subject, limited as it was to those who were either Muggle-born or half-blood. Very few pure-bloods were ever interested enough in the inconvenient culture of the rest of the world, so they didn't take the class.

"Also, it might be nice if you occasionally remembered that I'm the teaching assistant in that class. And you should be doing your homework more often, by the way. You have potential but you waste it all." Marjie frowned. "I don't know what you do, you know, when you're not doing your homework."

"Do I have to tell you this every day?" Hugo said exasperatedly, throwing up his hands. "I play Quidditch. I'm on the house team, remember?"

"Eh--this information may or may not ring a bell," Marjie said, biting down on the soft pink rubber on her pencil as her eyes scanned the pages of her book.

"Why do you read that so much?" Hugo asked, tapping his fingers on the table idly. Marjie reached up and smacked the back of his hand without tearing her eyes from the page, or her pencil from her mouth. Hugo frowned. "I mean," he continued, as ever refusing to back down, "you probably have it memorised by now anyways."

"Hugo!" Marjorie said, looking scandalised, "one can never--I repeat (though I doubt you care)--never be too prepared." She raised her brows at him to make her point, setting her pencil down. The tip of it was dark, moist.

Hugo made a face at it. Marjie was staring at him. He stared back until he couldn't take her unreadable gaze (she looked half-amused) and gave in. "What?"
"You make the weirdest faces sometimes. Like you're a cartoon character or something." She made a face.
"Ha, ha." Like I know what a cartoon character is, Hugo thought, smirking. 


From the head table Neville Longbottom looked on to the Ravenclaw table attentively. Something clicked in his head as he watched Hugo Weasley and Marjorie Barrows interact.

Of course, all the professors knew it--Hugo and Marjie were, miraculously, friends. But they couldn't possibly (Neville conjectured with a smirk) be more different.

Marjorie Barrows was the picture-perfect student. She took too many classes and excelled in all of them. She was exceptionally witty and commanding in the classroom and made every teacher's job a bit easier by helping out the rest of the students. And she didn't just have a talent for memorising and absorbing information--she was truly intelligent and could apply her knowledge to real-world situations. Yep, Neville thought, loading some potatoes onto his fork, every teacher's model student.

But even more importantly, he reminded himself with a small shake of his head, sawing on some bacon, she was a nice girl. She befriended the lonely and stood up for the weak (Neville's eyes flicked to Marcus Lidel), and was willing to give absolutely anyone a chance. Well, yeah, Neville thought, watching her talk calmly to Hugo one moment and then order him to do something kind the next, you'd have to be that kind of person to take on this piece of work.

So now he thought he understood Hugo's sudden interest in a distant and random magical herb--but what effect did this have on the pleading look he thought he had seen in Hugo's face when he asked the question?

Surely it couldn't have been the mere thirst for knowledge, which was backed by the flimsy motivation of impressing a girl that was a million leagues ahead of him and racking up some more. No, it was something genuine in Hugo's eyes that had arrested him so and caused him to ponder the state of his being. 

Shrugging, he turned back to his roasted tomatoes.


Hugo was hatching a plan. He'd been reading for a few days all about cartoon characters. He had forgotten for a brief moment when Marjie had mentioned them the other morning at breakfast what, in fact, they were. But of course, being the expert as he was in Muggle Studies, Hugo soon overcame this bothersome forgetfulness and his knowledge returned to him. 

He stared down at the suit in his hands, noticing for the first time a small puddle of moisture on one of the shoulders. He poked at it and didn't understand what it was, so dried it up with his wand. He scrunched up his nose, shrugging. 

First, I'll wear the suit. I think I look quite dashing in a suit. Then, I'll tell Marjie exactly what cartoon characters are, even though she already knows. Then, I'll walk her to class. She'll forget that I'm fifteen and she's seventeen, and she'll forget that I'm only a student in her class. She'll think, 'how dashing he looks!' and then she'll ask me to the Yule Ball. But wait, I'm a fifth-year. I can ask people to the ball. Du-uh! So I'll ask her. But the rest of the planI'll still carry it out, like planned.

"What are you doing?" Rose asked from the doorway. "Is that a ...suit?" She folded her arms, laughing a little.

"What are you doing?" Hugo asked, hiding the suit sloppily behind his back, staring at his sister out of one eye, attempting at insinuation of a threat. "It's my room."

"I'm headed up to see Albus, he had an urgent question," Rose replied, leaning against the doorway, her blue eyes narrowing. "Tell me, Hugo."

Hugo stared a moment at his older sister, taking in her large quantity of red hair and her narrowed eyes and decided after some initial hesitation that it would be beneficial to obey her. If she didn't look quite so much like his mum he might have refused for the sake of denying her something she seemed to care about, like any normal brother would, but then again, any normal brother hadn't had Mum for their mum.

Hugo rolled his eyes, sighing hugely, and pulled out the suit from behind his back. "Yes, it's a suit." 
Rose frowned, biting her lip. "Why?"

Hugo narrowed his eyes, and opened his mouth to retort with a line full of sass, but then decided against it last minute at the flash in those bright blue eyes. He couldn't sass her; she had it mastered so entirely that nothing was effective against her anyways. His mouth flapped closed. He slurped a little before explaining his plan to woo Marjie into accompanying him to the ball.

"How is that going to be impressive?" Rose asked after the moment full of wink-peppered Hugo stare had ensued his explanation, which was spotty, to say the least. "If you can, think about this for a moment. It's different to tell someone all about this plant they're wondering about and being able to, only by chance, because your sister's read the eight-hundred-page volume that happens to mention its uses in modern herbology—much different—than telling her about something she already knows about."

"Yeah, I know," Hugo said, shaking his head. Silly Rose. "That's what the suit is for."

Rose's face contorted into a simultaneous frown and smile. It was the look Hugo often saw under a quite different context, when something she'd been reacting too was too ridiculous or monstrous for a simple eye-roll. She looked back up at him after staring at the ground for a moment, and then smiled a bright white smile. Hugo was puzzled. He almost realised, for one split second, why Scorpius was always saying that she was the loveliest girl the the whole world, but the consciousness was strangled brutally by his own brotherly knowledge. He was a bit surprised with himself.

Rose nodded suddenly, shoving her hands into her pockets. "Well," she said, sighing, seeming almost…happy—"Well, good luck, Hugo." She kept nodding, smiling, and turned to walk up the stairs, still grinning goofily. 

Hugo frowned and sat down on his bed, laying the suit out next to him. He looked at it, spotted with more of that dampness, and dried it lazily with his wand. He had been sure a moment ago that his plan would work—but Rose had more of a knack for social situations, plus, she was a girl. She would know what would be impressive, wouldn't she? 

But wouldn't it be more impressive if he could find a Quidropopot? And bring it back? Perhaps he'd even be mentioned in the next revision of that eight-hundred page volume. Yes, he thought, smiling to himself, a glazed look assuming position in his green eyes, that will make Mum and Dad proud. And, of course, Marjie. And, I suppose, it couldn't hurt if Rose was pleased too.

I have to go see Neville—Professor Longbottom—Neville—ugh. 

Hugo got up, leaving his suit and the sloppily-copied notes he'd made on cartoon characters (just in case he forgot) on the bed, and began to run out of the dormitory. He stormed down the spiral staircase, his trainers squeaking supernaturally loudly as he twisted and turned gawkily, trying to maintain his balance, his arms and legs becoming tangled as he felt himself loosing footing and before he could stop himself, or even react, he launched through the air and tumbled a few times before skidding to a halt on the common room floor, colliding with an oof into a pouf close to the fire.

"You okay, Weasley?"

"Hugo, alright?"

Hugo looked up to see most of the inhabitants of the common room watching him intently. He smiled brightly, getting up and running towards the portrait of the Fat Lady, jumping through the portrait hole and tumbling out the other side. The Fat Lady called out after him, but he scrambled to his feet, fearing her reproach. Mum was hounding him from all angles—he couldn't really escape her always-knowing eye. First Rose, then there's Professor Neville, now the Fat Lady calling out after him for leaping out of the common room…

"It saves me a bit of time!" he yelled out defensively into the air behind him as he made his sloppy way down the corridor, his tie flapping in his face. He grabbed at it, peeling it off of his cheek, and looked back to see Addae Jordan shooting him a thumbs-up from the other side of the hall, the other hand in his pocket.

"Shouting at paintings, hm?" 

Hugo heard a voice from his left side, and he looked up, wide-eyed, at Scorpius Malfoy, who seemed to be returning from classes. Hugo nodded, shrugging sheepishly, his hair flopping up and down. Scorpius's eyes flashed up to it and back down to Hugo's chin, which seemed to be perpetually shining from an excess of particularly stubborn drool. Scorpius thought that if he cleaned himself up, Hugo could actually be recognized for something other than his untucked shirts and backwards cloaks and wild dives out of the common room; something like being an incredibly talented Quidditch player, or being a total flop in his classes. Anything, really, would far surpass in status a dribbly chin and wide, irregularly-winking eyes. 

"So," Scorpius said, attempting to break the awkward, wink-filled silence that passed between them as they stood facing each other in the middle of the corridor. "Where are you headed in such a—a hurry?" He had almost said, "in such a mess," but that would only confuse Hugo more than he seemed to be already. He maintained with admirable ferocity a blissful ignorance towards the state of his appearance, no matter what it happened to be. It was a wonder that he managed to get himself dressed in the morning, Scorpius wondered as he watched the cogs slowly wind in Hugo's mind as he decided how best to answer—In fact, it's a wonder he's Rose's sister. Or his mother's son.

Hugo replied slowly, with the all-too-familiar, half-startled, half-confused, and semi-dazed expression of a Grindlylow out of water: "I'm headed out to see Professor Longbottom." He pronounced the last word with such a tangible pride that Scorpius thought that for a second Hugo might not have actually remembered his name and only have come upon it in an extremely rare collision of chance and lucidity. He nodded, trying not to grimace sympathetically. But he ended up grimacing, like he always did. Lucky for him, Hugo could interpret a grimace as anything from a wail to a smile; his own motivations were hardly important.

"You know he has a class right now?" Scorpius asked, with increasing concern for the boy in front of him. He thought a more appropriate question would have been, "You know who he is, right?" but he didn't think he felt like explaining an old family friend to someone who had actually known him all his own life, when it would still take Hugo more time to recognize him than someone who didn't know Longbottom as well. Scorpius's head seemed to fill with things he could do to avoid Hugo…but he came to the conclusion after imagining several testy conversations with Rose that Hugo just needed help.

"Yeah, but we're old friends, he won't care," Hugo said, scoffing amusedly. He made a face. Duh, Scorpius, you know that! Scorpius nodded. Hugo wondered why it had taken him so long to realise that Neville would see Hugo's desperation and understand it as a top priority. "I can always count on good ol' Neville," Hugo said, smiling widely, chuckling a little. He straightened his tie and patted down his robes, trying to look discreetly at Scorpius's attire and mimic it with equal subtlety. He saw Scorpius smile. Wondering why, Hugo bade Scorpius goodbye and took off quickly, taking long strides. He checked his watch, shaking his head as he saw that he'd just wasted three whole minutes. Silly Scorpius.

Scorpius watched Hugo hurry off, his trousers flapping around his skinny ankles wildly. Well, at least I know that he actually does know who Professor Longbottom is. 

Neville Longbottom had just begun reciting a particularly interesting lecture on the use of Cherry wood in wandmaking—really, who wouldn't be interested in all the research done on the subject? fascinating—when he happened to look up and see Hugo Weasley standing in the doorway to the greenhouse, gesturing wildly with his hands, which flapped dangerously close to his face and consistently wide eyes.

Neville tried not to falter in his lecture, but he couldn't ignore Hugo there, his appendages mirroring almost exactly the frenzied movement of Bouncing Bulbs. He stammered over a specifically riveting portion of the Cherry tree's heightened reception to magical currents and made it painfully through an explication of its differing qualities when paired with each of the three mainstream wand cores before deciding to heed the pitiful figure in the doorway. He excused himself politely from his attentive third year Ravenclaw-and-Hufflepuffs and made his way through their tables, encouraging the odd student on their studious note-taking.

His eyes seemed, of their own accord, to roll towards the greenhouse roof as soon as he walked close enough to Hugo to see that the bit of spittle on his chin had frosted on the run over. He quite thought that things were coming to an extreme—in all the years he'd known Hugo, yes, he'd always been quite oblivious to the impact of his strange behaviours, he had an astounding disregard for his own appearance, and he failed to recognise basic societal rules, such as class takes precedent over whatever imagined emergency engaged his attentions—but the spittle. He just wasn't sure that this was pardonable. 

He'd have to think of a rather crafty way to bring it up. 

There he was, standing there gawkily, with the same sort of desperate plea in his eyes that Neville had seen a few days earlier. His mind flashed to Marjie—but surely Hugo could separate true emergency from a distantly burning desire to impress a girl who would hardly ever entertain the notion of thinking of Hugo as something closer than a younger brother. Neville had half a mind to give Hugo a long talking-to, to try to drill it into his brain, which seemed incapable of absorbing information that hadn't been previously anticipated, that Marjie just wasn't going to fall in love over his delivering her interesting facts about plants, however fascinating they were.

But something in Hugo's eyes and stature, a sort of second layer to his winks and his wide stare, even something about the way that he moved his arms, that stopped Neville from delivering this certain lecture to him. It was an arresting communication, whatever its nature. Neville was sure that he could have come within a mere second of spelling it all out for Hugo, but at one glance, everything would have been dammed, incapable of flowing out unrestricted.

Well, he'd just have to harness some of that constricted energy into dispelling Hugo's fears.

"Professor Neville—I mean, Professor Longbottom—I need your help."

Even though Neville had been expecting something of the sort, as he took in Hugo's defenseless, sloppily-dressed form, he took an overwhelming pity on him and in a single moment, all of his preconceptions vanished and he was left with no other thought than to give the boy help. With a sigh, he met Hugo's eyes and asked him what was wrong.

a/n: edited 26 august 2011...go grammar! yay spelling!

Chapter 3: Of Action
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Of Action

Hugo hunched down low, breathing heavily under the hood of his winter cloak. He looked down again at the map in his hands, extinguished his wand, and headed into the night. 

Neville Longbottom waited hesitantly outside of the entrance to the spiral staircase. He rocked back and forth on the balls of his feet, biting his lip. He loathed to think of the look on Filius's face when he confessed, in agitation, Hugo's absence from Gryffindor Tower.

But he cringed with even more fervor at the thought of confessing in further agitation his incredible moment of weakness that led Hugo to wander off into the night—that it was doubtlessly his fault, that he led the boy to positively believing there was some chance he was going to find an ancient and most-likely mythological plant in the deep and dark of the forest. Neville shook his head, shuddering, and taking a deep breath, walked up to the stone gargoyles and muttered, "Wizard Baruffio."

They regarded him stonily. Without warning one of them stood up on its hind legs and nodded, folding its paws on its belly and looking down sadly. "May he rest in peace," it said, and then gestured to the door, which slowly slid open, and Neville, trying to look somber, stepped through it and onto the rotating spiral staircase, which took him up to a great oak door.
He stood nervously, raising his hand to knock. He hesitated, grimacing, and then rapped his fingers decisively on the wood. Flitwick bade him enter, and he pushed open the door with minor difficulty and found himself facing an interesting scene—Rose Weasley and Scorpius Malfoy sitting opposite Flitwick, who was nearly too short for his chair and could hardly be seen over the top of his large oak desk. Rose and Scorpius looked mildly concerned; Neville figured that Rose was reporting after her Head Girl duties, and Scorpius was merely accompanying her, as he usually did on her rounds. With a glance in Neville's direction, Fliwick sighed and, placing the palms of his hands on the desk in front of him, he pushed himself up to their eye level.

"Thank you for the report; I'll talk to Professor Longbottom now, you may retire to your dormitories." He nodded, they nodded back (Neville hardly contained his own nod), and they rose to leave the room. As they passed him, Rose grinned brightly, chirping a "hello, Professor!" into his ear, and Scorpius offered him a respectful, closed-lipped smile. He nodded at both of them, not able to paint a smile onto his face, but they didn't seem to notice his growing horror—he supposed that it mounted inside of him but hadn't reached a level of realisation on his face.

As the door closed behind him, Neville walked quickly to Flitwick's desk, looking down at the headmaster and placing his hands flat on the surface between them, leaning forward earnestly.

"Flitwick, I have to—"

"Sit down, Neville," Flitwick said cheerily, gesturing to the seats that Rose and Scorpius had only just vacated. Neville, taken-aback at Flitwick's upbeat tone, sat down, dazed. He had only assumed that Rose had noted Hugo's absence and had reported it to Flitwick, he didn't actually know for perhaps it shouldn't have come as such a surprise to him that Flitwick didn't seem to be particularly bothered by that piece of information…But to be cheerful? Even if it was a trouble-maker like Hugo Weasley.

Rose must not have told him. 

"Thank you, sir," he managed to spew after a few moments of suspicion. He looked at Flitwick out of one eye, regarding him carefully. He was beaming, his hands folded across his belly contentedly. Neville assured himself that Flitwick didn't, in fact, have knowledge of Hugo's absence. He pressed his eyes closed, took a deep breath, and spoke in a voice perhaps an octave or so higher than his casual tone:

"Sir, I have to let you know that Hugo Weasley's gone missing."

"Oh, yes, I know, Rose—his sister, you know—has just told me that in her sweep of Gryffindor tower he was nowhere to be seen." Flitwick chuckled to himself.

Neville frowned, confused and slightly suspicious. He looked at Flitwick for a long second before the headmaster seemed to realise that his tone didn't seem to coincide with the information he had just reported. "Oh, oh. Not to fear! this happens occasionally and he always makes it back relatively unscathed. We just wait till morning, figuring he's stealing food down at the kitchens." Filius nodded in a way that he must have considered to be reassuring.

"And…that's okay with you? That he's stealing food from the kitchens?" Neville asked slowly, just for the sake of clarification.
"Come on, Neville, you must know that students are constantly stealing from the house elves who live to serve them! If we made a special effort to catch one of them at it, we'd have to make a special effort to catch all of them."
Though I admire your logic, sir, as it appears quite sound, isn't that the point? To catch all criminals? 

Neville waited for a moment, thinking that if he did, Flitwick might come to realise that what he had just presented in the form of a difficulty was actually the ultimate solution to most social problems—but he supposed not, sagging down in his chair, as Flitwick's staunchly bright exterior failed to waiver. He shook his head, remembering why he came.

"But—listen, Flitwick, I don't think he's just down at the kitchens tonight even if that's where he is all the other nights he goes missing. I think he's out in the Forbidden Forest looking for the Quidropopot." Neville grimaced, shrinking back in his seat.

"You mean the legendary plant whose fruit produces a ruby that contains highly magical properties and whose flesh will cure most exotic diseases?" Flitwick asked, displaying a much more extensive knowledge on the plant than Neville had expected. Surprised, Neville nodded, unable to speak.

Flitwick paused, tilting his head, and his smile faded slightly to become a distantly thoughtful expression. Neville became slightly annoyed with the tenacity of Flitwick's jocularity, which wouldn't give up even in the face of the imminent death of a student.  

Flitwick spoke. "Why would Hugo go looking for a plant that he's probably never heard of?" 

Neville frowned. "I'm not sure why he wants it, but I know that he's heard of it. He came to me a few days—about a week—ago and asked me what I knew about it, so I told him, suspecting nothing—" Neville cringed at the fib, and corrected himself. "Well, suspecting very little of his desire to actually find one. I mean, if he had actually read about it himself he would know that it's never been found in what is believed to be its ripened form and that the actual fruit is only accounted for in ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics…" Neville shook his head, trying to come back around to his point. "Anyways, I think this girl he likes was interested in it and he thought that it would be really…cool…to find it and give the ruby to her, even though in the wrong hands that stone could work unimaginable evil—"

"It turned some wizards into gods, didn't it?" Flitwick interjected, and Neville nodded enthusiastically. 

"Exactly. So it's a bad idea to find it. But this morning, Hugo asked me for a map of the Forbidden Forest. I assume that he knew that as the Herbology professor I was apt to have mapped it, labeling the plant life. I can't explain to you why I gave it to him, but it was only after I had lent it to him that I was thinking about it, and I realised that I had labeled an area near the heart of the forest where I thought that in the wintertime it could be icy enough for a fruit to fully develop." Neville finished abruptly, wringing his hands. 

"So you believe that Hugo went off to find this fruit to give its gem to a girl he fancies?" Flitwick asked, and Neville nodded, slightly annoyed that after all that explanation, Flitwick had only retained that much information—motivation is a minor point of interest, practically useless. Why don't you retain the fact that I am the one who told him where the plant could be found? And that I think he's probably out in the middle of the Forest by himself in the middle of the night?

"Well, in that case, you best go find him," Flitwick said suddenly after a momentary lull. Neville nodded, getting up, not sure if that was his dismissal or if he would be dealt his punishment in another moment. Flitwick stared at him blankly for a few moments before bursting out into a particularly bright smile, waving him on his way.

Shaking his head, Neville turned and left the office, sighing deeply.

Scorpius didn't know what it was that made him say goodnight to Rose early and send her on her own back to Gryffindor tower; but despite the quizzical glance she shot back over her shoulder as she walked away, Scorpius remained where he was, shivering slightly in the drafty Entrance Hall. He watched Rose mount the main staircase into the heart of the castle, which shifted as soon as she had set foot on the fourth step. He saw, even from this distance, that she lifted her face towards the heavens and rolled her eyes. 
"If it lands you on the third floor, take the shortcut through the tapestry of Cliodne's birds!" Scorpius shouted at her slowly-dissolving form, and he saw her wave to signal that she'd heard him. He shook his head, half-appreciative of and half-annoyed at the castle's mischievous antics.

After a few moments of wondering where Rose had ended up, Scorpius leaned back against the wall and looked to his right, watching the door that was the entrance to Flitwick's office. He supposed that in part the strained and nervous look on Professor Longbottom's face kept him anxious—naturally, to quell his disquiet, Scorpius would want to wait to make sure it was nothing serious. It's extremely natural, Scorpius reassured himself. After all, he and Professor Longbottom were on good terms, and occasionally held interesting conversations outside of class. It wouldn't seem too strange or out-of-the-ordinary that he was waiting to see what caused such a mildly panicked expression on a casual acquaintance's face. 

But he couldn't help but wonder if it had something to do with Hugo. Scorpius didn't like to admit it, as he didn't like to assign the uncouth characteristic of impotence to any of Rose's kin, but he worried about Hugo. A boy with a seemingly unnatural ability to play and strategise in Quidditch but who lacked any self-knowledge or social adaptability outside of the pitch.

Perhaps his mind was set up for the cavemen days, Scorpius mused, where the outside tackle of a wooly mammoth alone and more than anything would ensure survival. And unfortunate Hugo, born in the wrong epoch, was unarmoured against the derisive world of postpubescent drama and culture, satisfied where the average fifteen-year-old would die of horror to be, living in a world of spit puddles and gawky, wink-peppered stares. Yes, Scorpius worried for Hugo. 

He'd watched him since he was young, always wondering at the huge personality gap between him and his sister. Scorpius had seen what he believed few others acknowledged in Hugo's life: a steady decline into a state of dweebiness. At the age of eleven, entering Hogwarts, Hugo seemed every bit an equal to his peers as the next chap, but finding that his luck in studies was severely restricted to three, and only three, subjects (Muggle Studies, Quidditch, and Care of Magical Creatures, none of which were core classes), he descended into the social trap of the role of "class clown" and, finding himself particularly more useful in cracking jokes and making faces behind the teachers' backs than he was at holding a cauldron steady in the concoction of a Sleeping Draught, Hugo definitively proposed himself to society as the clueless git with the wide green eyes and curly hair who could on occasion say something that would make one chuckle. On occasion being the operative phrase, and the implicit "mostly staring and drooling" being perhaps his largest downfall besides his complete lack of self-awareness. 

At that moment the oak door sprang open and Professor Longbottom shuffled out, looking dazed and mildly concerned. That edge of panic still hung about his form; his eyes, although glazed over, were plastered wide open; his shoulders slumped as if suppressed by the burden of a terribly heavy weight; his feet dragged with all the pathetic grunge of a hobo. Scorpius felt a pang of pity and quickly approached the professor, abandoning caution and immediately adopting a role of responsibility in the delivery of Professor Longbottom to his office. 
"Professor Longbottom?" Scorpius asked, touching him softly on the shoulder. Longbottom turned around quickly, eyes suddenly alert and clear. 
"Oh, hello, Scorpius," he said quickly, regaining clarity. "You see, I've made a terrible mistake, I've got to go after him—"

"Who, Hugo?" Scorpius asked, wondering for a fraction of a second whether or not it was coincidence that he had only just been worrying about Hugo himself. "He's probably just down at the kitchens, nicking pies." Longbottom shook his head. "But I guess that doesn't have anything to do with you, does it? Why do you think you have something to do with Hugo's nightly escapades?"
"Not every one," Longbottom qualified, shaking his head. "Merlin, no. Just tonight. I lent to him a map that I'd drawn up of the Forest—" he paused, dropping his head.
"The Forbidden Forest?" Scorpius asked. He felt an irregular heartbeat.
"Yes. It was--strange, I somehow couldn't refuse him. I thought for just a moment, 'Oh, Neville, this is a bad idea,' but I somehow talked myself into having to give him the map. He promised to return it. You know, that was the first time I've ever heard Hugo promise to do something, like he was planning ahead. I guess I was sort of impressed." He shrugged. Scorpius mirrored the movement. From Hugo, a promise was sort of impressive. Scorpius didn't know he could think that far ahead. "He was so lucid, there was such a clarity to his gaze that I handed it over, fully expecting some sane use for it, like perhaps he wanted to harvest some more cabbage for the flobberworms…"
They met each others' gaze. 
"That's too practical," they said at the same time, and both began to walk towards the entrance hall with a particularly forceful gait.
"It's strange," Scorpius mused, "that just about the time I thought I was going mental, someone else went and said that they'd felt obligated by Hugo as well. He has these looks: you don't notice the drool or the bloody constant winking, and you just want to do what he asks. Or you want to answer his question. Like you know you should…"
"But it's more than that," Longbottom qualified. "It's like you know you're supposed to."

"By whose rules?" they both asked. Scorpius looked out of the corner of his eye. Professor Longbottom was looking back. 
"I get the feeling that something strange is going on here," Longbottom said, and they continued in their march out to the Forest.


"Hugo, where are you?"
"Come back!"
"You can't just go wandering into the night, you little twit!"

"Hugo Weasley, as a professor of this institution I insist that you come here this instant!"

Through all of the leaves crushing under their shoes, Neville thought that he heard a rustle in the nearby brush. He raised his eyebrows: he didn't think that one would work.

He motioned to Scorpius to stop, and they fell still, pointing their wands into the vegetation. It was moving. Neville became nervous as no head emerged, no dastardly mop of curly brown hair, no winking, wide eyes, no flared nostrils, no stupid expression, no spit-laden chin. He gulped loudly, exchanging looks with Scorpius, who now, noting the worry on Neville's face, adopted a slightly green hue. As the movement became more violent, the bush shaking and seeming to rattle, Neville heard snarls and rasps emitting from between the leaves. 
That's not Hugo.
But, well…is it?

He gripped his wand in both hands, recalling a repertoire of attack spells in case some element of the situation required active participation in defending himself. He had never been particularly adept at Defense Against the Dark Arts or Charms, but as a teacher, he needed to be able to protect his students: as Scorpius (who probably knew more ways to defend himself than Neville did) was with him, he needed to step up.

"Hello?" he whispered cautiously. 
A snarling ball of fur erupted from the foliage, launching itself onto Neville's head. It scratched and kicked painfully.

Neville felt his muscles stiffen slowly, so that he gradually lost all range of motion. Meanwhile, the attacking fluff continued to wreak havoc on his face.
"Oh, no, sorry, Professor," Scorpius exclaimed apologetically, "I meant to hit the cat, not you. Er… Petrificus totalus!"
Neville fell backwards onto the ground. He still couldn't move.
"Really?" Scorpius said after a moment in a tone of disbelief. Neville heard him sigh, and begin to walk in circles, presumably either thinking of another, relatively harmless spell or enjoying Neville's discomfort.


It worked. Neville felt the cool air on his smarting face (a hiss in the distance) and would have breathed in or even smiled appreciatively had he control over his movements. 

"Hugo!" he heard Scorpius cry, and accompanying relief Neville suddenly felt a strange and unexpected gurgle in his chest: surprise?

"Rennervate," Hugo said, pointing his wand at Neville's rigid body. Neville felt a great warmth and sprang to his feet, dusting himself off.
"Ah, I'm so glad you came," Neville said, remembering himself after a moment. He stared at Scorpius; he was gaping at Hugo in a spell of unconfined disbelief. Neville understood through some sort of intuition, he supposed, that the surprise he had felt inexplicably just before had arisen on the occasion of it being Hugo who had ejected the cat from his head, and not Scorpius. 
"How did you think of 'expelliarmus'?" Neville asked, curious.

Hugo looked at the forest floor, muttering something. He kicked some underbrush around, over his shoe. He lost his balance clearing it off, and sat on the ground, looking tired.

"What's that?" Neville asked relentlessly, sitting down too. His face was pulsating, full, he was sure, of small cuts and countless diseases from the filthy feline's claws. He, at the same time, felt just the tiniest bit of humility in Hugo's presence: it had, after all, only been a cat.

Scorpius sat down too.

"I do pay attention in class," he said, drawing runes in the dirt with a twig.
"And what, you fail them on purpose?" Scorpius asked softly. Neville could tell that it was a genuine question, coming from a concerned, older-brother figure.
Hugo pursed his lips and tilted his head, tracing the runes.
"Come back to the castle with us," Scorpius said after a while. 
"It's too late for that." Hugo stared seriously at Neville and Scorpius, his large eyes bouncing between their faces. "That train has sailed."
Neville waited. A flicker of realisation. That's all it would take. Just remind me, Neville pleaded internally, that you're an actual, real, verifiable human being who interacts in culture. 

The thought suddenly occurred to him in the stunned silence that he'd never had indication that that was true. He rolled his eyes and reached out to Hugo, who had either an attitude that contradicted his words or was unable to understand what a hand on the shoulder meant in this situation. 
"I'm not going back with you," Hugo said in an extraordinary display of the power of prediction. "I really have to find that plant, professor. You understand?" 
Neville's immediate reaction was shock: of course I don't, silly boy! But when he looked at Hugo's face, which through the slightly stupid expression retained a quality of solid determination, he had a second, different reaction that said, yes, yes. But his conscious mind couldn't pin the reason. Why did he understand? 
He didn't know how to answer. He wondered what Hermione and Ron would say if they knew that he was consciously not acting in a protecting manner: Hermione, unless she could somehow grasp the larger situation that Neville sensed with a sense closer to intuition than he thought he had ever trusted, would probably be aghast, and Ron—Ron would crack some joke about it and, slapping him on the back, offer to buy him a butterbeer at the Three Broomsticks.
Although under normal circumstances he would have thought it rather awkward, Neville tried to look into Hugo's face, his eyes, catch some glimmer of understanding that would shed light onto his situation. He watched and watched. Hugo seemed strangely unperturbed: that, more than anything, more than the drool or the twitches, stuck with Neville's stomach muscle. Although he looked for something more concrete, something that he could draw in the dirt, that was it. That was the significant thing. Hugo seemed, for one lucid moment in his life, to be unwavering in his decision. Had he undertaken something worthy of such certainty?

Neville supposed that in a strange way, he had. He had had his own days of chasing after something, he thought. Of course, finding a legendary plant was very different than looking to join the Great War—but Neville related to wanting to do something important. And he could only suppose that in Hugo's small, seemingly-menial world, finding a plant that may or may not exist would be classified as important.

He suddenly wondered what it would be like to be his own son—to have grown up hearing stories of immense importance, of defeating a reign of terror, only to be birthed upon entering school into a world of trivialities and fabricated drama with no real danger of death, no threat to the whole of humanity in such an immediate and concrete form as a Voldemort. He might, Neville imagined, become tired of the comparative banality of social life at Hogwarts when his parents and his parents' closest friends had all been a part of something so significant in their time. That might explain Hugo's disinterest in interacting with his peers, so few of whom were as closely linked to the exciting past as he was himself, having parents like his.
But what, Neville wondered, could have caused the apathy where subjects were concerned couldn't be anything other than the happenchance inheritance of that bit of his father. 
Sighing, and very slowly, Neville nodded his head.
Scorpius didn't find that very hard to believe. He assumed that Professor Longbottom had come to same conclusion that he had himself. He had really felt that final piece fall into place upon seeing Hugo so sure about something for once. Of course, to Hugo, this was something exciting, something real. Something that transcended, in a crazy way, everything that his peers were doing, however their endeavours were more favoured.

Scorpius knew Hugo; he had always sensed that he had great potential, he just hadn't any real hope that Hugo knew something of it, or anything of it. Hearing him declare that he actually did pay attention in class had shocked him—especially when followed by such a botching of a common phrase. But Scorpius, looking at Hugo's profile as he traced and traced the runes (he didn't know Hugo knew runes!) on the forest floor, had the sudden presence of mind to wonder, for the very first time, if Hugo's ostensible stupidity was an act.
He doubted that it was; at least, that it was entirely. He was, of course, the son of Ron Weasley, who wasn't exactly famous for his sharpness—but then again, he was Hermione's son as well, and she was famous for her intellect. He found after some contemplation that he didn't know what to decide, but some little part of him expected that after this point, Hugo would define himself.
"I thought you would," Hugo said after a while, breaking the long stillness. "I could tell that you aren't like the other adults." Hugo looked at Neville's eyes. "I always could tell."
He's hinting at the ability to predicate characteristics, Neville thought, and hinting that he's had this ability all along. He felt as if he were looking in on the conversation of strangers. 
Scorpius felt himself frown. That didn't fit in with the Hugo he knew.
"So…what now?" Scorpius asked, looking from Hugo to Neville. He wasn't sure who to listen to anymore.

Professor Longbottom looked to Hugo.

"We find the Quidropopot," Hugo declared firmly, getting up and dropping his twig on the ground. He turned, pulled on the hood of his cloak and set off, reading the hand-drawn map.

Scorpius followed him. He felt confused. He felt like this wasn't really his life. I'm part of a big play, he thought. A puppet in maybe a sixteenth-century adaptation of Dr. Faustus


Neville got up, brushed himself off, and feeling slightly dazed, began to follow the two boys. Something pulled his vision downwards, and he looked very intently at the runes that Hugo had traced into the dirt.
I am smart.
A feeling. He couldn't label it, he didn't know what it was, and he wasn't sure he'd felt it for a very long time. But whatever it was, it was the reason…for everything he was about to do.

a/n: edited 27 august 2011. DOOM TO THE LARGE PARAGRAPHS, YO.

Chapter 4: And a Little Bit of Conversation
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And a Little Bit of Conversation

Neville watched from a little ways off, pretending that he was collecting samples of alihotsy (he wouldn't be needing any if Hugo winked at him just one more time). He was sitting cross-legged on the soft, semi-frozen soil, prodding the plant aimlessly with his wand as he peered through its leaves at the silouettes of two teenage boys.

Scorpius's hair glinted like silver in the faint moonlight, contrasted by Hugo's mop which absorbed everything that came its way. Neville pondered as he often had before that Hugo was rather like a Muggle hoover; not only because of his inherited propensity to eat more than a small whale, but because although Hugo seemed to have no on-purpose control over the world around him, wherever he went he left a trail. It wasn't always the most pleasant thing to come across, especially when it consisted of little beads of wetness (Neville scrunched his nose, cringing. It's just Mrs. Norris, it's just Mrs. Norris—when will she kick the bucket, old devil?).

But Neville could always tell when Hugo had been the center of the day's activities. It wasn't unusual to stumble into the teacher's lounge, grimy and tired, and having seated himself on a pouf close to the fire, overhear a conversation that sounded more like a horror story in whose plot the main character's name was Hugo Weasley and he liked to blow up things in class. In fact, Neville wouldn't be completely surprised after tonight's turn of events to find out that Hugo played dumb only to get away with exploding things—non-flammable things—in class.

In fact, I think you're one of the ones who got gulped up by flames from that Bubotuber, Neville thought. You probably set it on fire just to get some of that orange "face paint" ointment on your cheek…or to torture me by making me paint it on like a Native American.

He watched from his clandestine perch as Hugo and Scorpius consulted the map; Neville let out a small laugh when he saw Scorpius grab it and spin it around, as Hugo had been holding it upside down. It wouldn't hurt Hugo to gain a sense of direction; after all, Neville had been rather the bumbling ninny at one point as well, but he cleaned himself up after the Great War and practiced surviving on his own. If Neville thought right, Hugo would come to realise, being away from the castle for a long enough time, that he had to become a real person; if not a member of society, then at least an individual capable of paving his way in the world in a manner that was not wreaking havoc and leaving a trail of destruction behind him.

Neville became distracted by a faint yellow glow coming through the trees on his left. He thought it odd that he hadn't noticed it before. He squinted at it, trying to recognize its eerie way of moving, racking his brain for a shred of information. He found he came up short, and decided that a position of perched on his feet would best suit the situation. He got up and squatted low, staring at the light, enchanted. He felt a warm sweep over him and his tensed muscles relaxed—he even contemplated, for a moment, sticking a hand out from under his coat to reach towards the light, which seemed to be moving closer…hopping.

"Professor Longbottom?" he heard Scorpius query, and he stood, crunching on the frozen underbrush till he reached where the two boys stood. They were also watching, mesmerised, their heads bobbing in rhythm with the emanation's dance.

It's coming closer, Scorpius thought, and he squinted at it, lifting a hand to shield his eyes from the bright moonlight above. With the glare of the natural light gone, Scorpius saw that the light seemed to be attached to a staff.

"Hey, Hugo," he said, whacking Hugo on the forearm. "You're good at Care of Magical Creatures…what's the one-legged thing that leads people into bogs?"

"Hm?" Hugo said, as he began to move towards the light.

"You know," Scorpius said, following him, keeping his eyes on the light, "the thing that tries to lure travelers into bogs, to eat their souls or something."

"Oh, the hinkypunk," Hugo answered nonchalantly. "Hey, the hinkypunk. I know who you are!" he said, seeming to be excited, and before Scorpius could wonder at the tone of recognition in Hugo's voice, he saw the boy start at a light sprint towards the source of the light.

"Hugo!" Scorpius said, starting after a moment and chasing after him. Wow, he's been training harder than I have, Scorpius thought as he struggled to keep up with Hugo, whose mane of curls seemed to be trailing him as he ran, straight-backed, into the trees. "Hey, the whole lesson is not to follow them!"

"It's okay!" Hugo cried over his shoulder. "It's okay!"

"It is?"

Scorpius turned around to see that Professor Longbottom had also taken flight, his wand out and ready. Scorpius shrugged and then looked back in front of him, trying to pick up pace.

They had gone much further into the forest than Scorpius had imagined that it would take to reach the hinkypunk, but then again, he considered, the hinkypunk did lead people into bogs. It could know how to run, too, even though I think they only have one leg.

"Hugo?" he shouted after a few moments of no sound but the crackle of leaves and twigs beneath them.

He only heard labored breath ahead of him, and he pushed himself to pick up speed. He glanced to his right and was slightly surprised to see that Longbottom had kept up the pace, being surprisingly fit for someone whose job it was to bend over plants all day. Still, Scorpius knew that Longbottom was a field researcher, and as he considered that plants did grow on all kinds of mountainsides, it really wasn't too much of a surprise after all. He wondered for a wild, sleep-deprived moment if Professor Longbottom had ever competed with a mountain goat to get to a rare species of wild herb first.


He saw that they were rapidly approaching the light and worried that they were closer to the bog than he had anticipated. He was close to Hugo, but his vision outside of the bobbing light ahead was severely limited, so he wasn't sure just how close.

It was a moment before the impact that Scorpius was wondering if he'd run into Hugo accidentally. And then, it just happened. With a loud crack, Scorpius toppled into Hugo's back and they fell to the ground. Scorpius heaved himself up almost immediately, apologising profusely, trying to wipe the dirt out of his eyes. He saw Hugo hadn't removed himself from the ground, and that he was still struggling. Scorpius rolled his eyes for a moment, mistaking the struggle for Hugo's inability to pick himself up, and he reached down to pull the boy off of the ground when he noticed that Hugo was struggling with the light itself.

He wasn't sure what to do, so he glanced at Professor Longbottom, who was standing opposite him over Hugo. Longbottom shrugged. Scorpius waited, watching intently, hoping that this was one of those times when Hugo was about to shock him with his understanding of the appropriate reaction in a certain situation. He wasn't sure that it would be a practical time to have this hope, as Hugo probably hadn't had too many opportunities to struggle with a magical light, but he had it anyway.

He saw Hugo reach into the pocket of his coat for his wand and pull it out with a sure and steady hand, a contrast to the rest of his body. Hugo pointed his wand underneath his body at the light and suddenly the struggle stopped. Scorpius wondered if he'd killed it, but there was still light streaming out from where Hugo's form didn't meet the ground.

"Got it!" Hugo cried suddenly and stood up, holding what appeared to be a glowing balloon.


"What is that?"

"I trapped the hinkypunk in a bubble-head charm and tied a string to the end of it. We can use it as a lamp now that there's a field between our vision and its light."

Scorpius was impressed, he would admit it.

"Where'd you learn to do that?"

"From the centaurs," Hugo replied in an offhanded tone. Scorpius supposed that it was legitimate as Hugo hardly ever realised when he was being absurd in a certain situation, displaying his lack of knowledge of social stimuli.

"Do the centaurs still live in the forest? Last I'd heard they'd taken up with the gypsies and left," Professor Longbottom asked, his brows furrowed.

"Oh, they're here sometimes. The gypsies too."

"You've met them?"

"Yes, I come out here on some nights and attend their festivals." Hugo looked up at the hinkypunk. "I learned this one on Walpurgis Night," he said, grinning widely and pointing up at the balloon, in which Scorpius saw the hinkypunk sitting docilely behind its light, seeming to have acknowledged defeat.

Well, I sure am learning a lot of things about this boy tonight, aren't I? Neville thought to himself, sharing a look with Scorpius, who was also clearly astonished to glean this piece of information.

"Why the centaurs and the gypsies?" Neville asked, though he rather thought that he already knew the answer.

"They accept me," Hugo said, still watching the hinkypunk, which was now entertaining itself by kicking up its one leg at random intervals. "I fit in better with them."

It made perfect sense, Neville thought, that a social outcast would find solace in the company of nomads, stargazers, necromancers who had been outcasted by society for centuries. It made sense that Hugo would find that in a heterogenous setting, where there was such a mishmash of culture and customs and beliefs and practices, that there was no norm to follow. In a way, every one of them was an outcast, but that pulled them together as a community and allowed them to attain a sense of simultaneous belonging and individualism. Neville stared at the two boys conversing; he heard, faintly, Hugo's excited description of the night of the festival, the dancing and the chanting, the astrology and the fresh wine.

"My sister and I always used to go out into the fields on the outskirts of Ottery St. Catchpole when we were little and we'd play like we were Maenads, tying plants in our hair and running around chanting. Rose grew out of it, but when she stopped sneaking out with me in the moonlight to howl to Bacchus, I felt something missing. When I came across the gypsies, and the wandering witches, and the centaurs, I felt a piece of me again that I hadn't felt since those nights in the rushes. Of course, I think that's because Bacchus is my patron god," Hugo added, frowning slightly. Neville saw Scorpius's blue eyes flicker over to his, deciphered a hint of exasperation in that glance, and returned it. He decided that Hugo needed a crash course on regular culture.

"So…" Scorpius began, a large furrow forming between his brows. "So, most nights when you're out you're not just nicking stuff from the elves in the kitchen?"

"Well, not most nights, no…but, I am sometimes," Hugo said, lowering his voice to a whisper as he admitted to his crime.

"It's okay, Professor Longbottom already knows," Scorpius said, sighing and placing his hands on his hips, looking at the map again. He looked up at the stars.

"Too bad Rose isn't here, she's a whiz at astronomy," he lamented as he tried to calculate their relative bearings. "You know it's weird that no one's ever pinned the exact location of the Castle by looking up at the sky," Scorpius mused. "I mean, I know it's Unplottable—"

"What's that?" Hugo interrupted. Neville was surprised. Hugo didn't usually ask questions; he's always just assumed it was because he was too uninterested in following the markers of conversation.

"Well, you can put a spell over a place that makes it so you can't plot it on maps," Scorpius said patiently. Neville silently cheered such patience. He himself had worked years to acquire it, and he admired Scorpius's ability to reach out the way he did.

"Oh," Hugo said, nodding, and making a face that denoted his interest in the answer. "So you're saying that even though it's Unplottable and no one can find it from the outside, someone on the inside should have been able to find out where it is exactly from…?" He trailed off, unable to complete the thought.

"Because when we look at our position in relativity to the stars and constellations, which move across our vision at a fixed and predictable rate, we should be able to place ourselves at a certain point on the globe—that, obviously, would tell us where we are." Scorpius waited for a response from Hugo, who seemed to be grasping desperately at what Scorpius was explaining. He wondered if anyone had ever noticed this seeming inability to follow the logical flow of conversation before. It might explain Hugo's lack of social adaptability.

"I suppose that makes sense. So say, we're looking up and Capricorn is on our left and Aquarius is to our right. We could tell where we are from that?"

"Erm…yes, basically."

"Wow," Hugo said, his wide eyes scanning the skies above with new interest. "Wow. Maybe I'll start paying more attention in astronomy. And all this time I thought it was just because they were looking to settle us on another planet…and needed our help to find it."

Scorpius looked over at Professor Longbottom again. He was reassured, as the last time they had made eye contact, that he wasn't going gaga and that Hugo actually was an absurd character.

"Right, so, it looks like we're heading to the north-east right now. We need to be going north-west of where we're facing right now until we reach that creek—it looks too wide to cross easily, and there's a problematic rocky bank on the other side, so we'll just have to follow along it (which will backtrack us a little I suppose) until we reach the tree-bridge." He looked over at Longbottom. "Does that sound right, Professor?"

"In theory, yes, although I've never actually crossed the river, only gotten up to the point that you've located on the map where we can cross on the trees."

Scorpius scrunched his nose, wondering for the umpteenth time why he was even taking Hugo's desire seriously—there were so many things about it that were wrong, that would pose a threat to his grades, to his communication with Rose, to his wellbeing…but he felt that he couldn't let Hugo down here, not when the boy seemed to lack so much confidence in himself.

Scorpius supposed that in its way, this adventure was parallel in Hugo's mind to the quest of his parent's time. They were both equally impossible, finding a mythological plant and defeating, almost single-handedly, the most powerful darkwizard of the age. And Scorpius wasn't sure that the tasks weren't equally dangerous. He'd never been so far into the forest himself; only far enough, with Rose, to gather the specific potions ingredients that she wanted to use in her illegal experiments in the first-floor girls' loo.

He didn't know what sort of threats lingered in the dark foliage, or amongst the sturdy, dark trunks. All he knew was that he had started this, and he would see it finished as well. Whether or not, he mused, that ends up in the capture of the Quidropopot, is unsure.

"Let's make camp here," he suggested, stifling a yawn. "We can set up protective hexes and charms to keep the creatures out."

Hugo nodded, getting out his wand. Scorpius watched him walk around the perimeter of the clearing, waving his wand and chanting "Salvio Hexia," "Repello Muggletum," and Scorpius was rather surprised to hear Hugo cast the Stealth Sensoring Charm, which he himself hadn't learned until sixth year completely by chance—Rose had been using it to try to find Albus in a game of hide-and-seek when she thought he might have been using his dad's invisibility cloak.

Scorpius cast the Supersensory Charm on each of them as he pondered what to do about blankets. He was soon relieved of the trouble as Hugo reached into his pocket and pulled out a canvas tent and nearly ten blankets. Scorpius, unsure if by this time he should react in a surprised manner, asked, trying to sound casual, "Undetectable Extension Charm?"

Hugo nodded, looking proud of himself. "Mum taught me that one when I wanted to bring an extra trunk to school this year."

Scorpius nodded, resisting the urge to ask what Hugo had needed the extra trunk for. He was afraid to know.

"So…anyone know how to set up a tent?" Hugo asked, shrugging, looking a little sheepish. Scorpius grinned, shaking his head. They both looked at Professor Longbottom.

"In fact, I do know how to use this contraption," he said, puffing up proudly. "On my adventures into the field I often have to use them for overnight protection."

He took out his wand, and getting up pointed it at the tent. The canvas jumped up and began to unfold wildly, the support sticks jumping in every which direction. Scorpius dove out of the way of one that made a beeline for his forehead, rolling onto the forest floor with a thump. He heard Hugo exclaim loudly and guessed that he had also dove out of the way of a rogue pole, as he watched him land on the nearby ground. In a moment or two it was over and Scorpius raised himself up on his arms slowly, ready for another attack. He looked around, and deeming it safe, he nodded at Hugo whose big eyes were fastened on his face. They got up quickly, jogging around the small tent to see Professor Longbottom brushing himself off—he, too, was sprinkled with underbrush and dry leaves.

Scorpius found himself grinning as he extended a hand to help the professor up. Longbottom bit his lip, putting his hands on his hips while he regarded the lopsided canvas beast. He turned to the boys and said, in a whisper, "Well, it has been a while since the last time."

Hugo awoke in the morning feeling stiff. He looked down at his bare feet, which were sticking out of the end of his blanket; they were purplish, something that he figured probably couldn't be a good thing. He got up, stamping his feet on his blanket and waving his arms around above his head, trying to warm himself up.

He pulled on his socks and trainers, casting a waterproof spell on them, and shrugged on his coat. He pulled up the collar around his neck, and stuck his head out of the tent.

It was a blinding white—a pristine blanket, smooth and powdery, coating every inch of ground, peppering each tree, each bush.

"First snow," he whispered, in awe of the perfect picture before him.

Scorpius awoke to a cold draft blowing through the tent and the sound of shrieks coming from the clearing outside. He sat up quickly, and saw Professor Longbottom sitting near the open door, looking out. Scorpius scrambled to his side, pulling the collar of his coat up to his chin. He was nearly blinded by the blanket of white snow, but that did nothing to stymie the wonder that he always felt upon regarding the first snowfall of the winter. He looked around, catching sight of Hugo, who seemed to be the source of the shrieks that had aroused him—he was dancing wildly, flapping his arms above his head and picking his feet up high, tracking curlicues in the fresh powder.

After he'd pulled on his trainers Scorpius scrambled out into the light layer of snow, lying on his back and listening to the soft rustling he created in the powder. He heard Hugo pat over and lay down next to him. The sun was rising and the sky was a diorama of light yellows, pinks, and oranges, which faded into the dark periwinkle in the heart of the sky. Scorpius wondered that he had never woken early enough to catch such a sight on a regular day. He thought that as soon as he got back he'd wake Rose up early one morning and they'd go watch the sun rise in Hagrid's pumpkin patch.

"Isn't it like a Picasso?" Hugo asked. Scorpius raised his eyebrows.

"I didn't know you'd seen any modern art," he said, turning his cheek into the snow to look at Hugo, who was staring, mesmerized, at the sky.

"Mum takes us on 'culture trips,' though I don't regularly enjoy them. She wants us to understand her culture. After all, for the first twelve years of her life she lived completely in the Muggle world. We went to the Fitzwilliam once, on our annual trip to Cambridge. Mum always dreamed of going to Cambridge," he added as an afterthought. "I can't imagine what my life would have been like if she had."

"You probably wouldn't have one," Scorpius said. "After all, your dad didn't have any intentions of integrating into Muggle society. It's unlikely they would have met."

After a moment Scorpius and Hugo exchanged a glance.

"Merlin, Rose has been rubbing off on me," Scorpius said, raising a hand to his brow and massaging his temples.

"You've got her down to the 'it's unlikely' scenario," Hugo laughed, grinning widely. "She's always looking out for me, Rose, telling me things like that…she knows I'm not too keen on figuring out those kinds of things."

"But you've got the same blood, Hugo," Scorpius said. "You could if you tried. You show miraculous creativity in the way that you use spells…saving Longbottom's face with expelliarmus."

"I heard that!" Professor Longbottom chirped from the other side of the tent. Scorpius rolled over onto his elbows, grinning, his blond hair flopping into his eyes.

"Is that sausage?" Hugo asked, rolling over as well, sniffing the air like a hound. "I smell fennel. If I had a tail, I'm sure it'd be pointing towards the grill."

Scorpius thought about explaining the way that a dog actually pointed, but decided that it would probably not come up again; after all, there were more important things to use to clutter up Hugo's brain.

"Yes," he said after a moment, getting to his feet. "Yes, I'm sure it would be."

Neville prided himself on his over-preparation for most of the possible scenarios that could play out in the area around Hogwarts. The night before, as he had figured that he would be out searching for Hugo, who wasn't the most adept at responding to calls, he had cast an undetectable extension charm on his own pocket and packed a miniature electric grill that Luna had given to him, unable to figure out how to operate the Muggle piece of machinery.

Of course, Neville couldn't use it either, but it made a nice platform for his firewood and seemed to retain heat well. He'd also packed some coals, wood, and plenty of food in case the worst happened and he became stranded, hopelessly lost without his map. He wished he'd packed more than one blanket so that he had more padding to share with the boys, but, as he watched them devour their sausage happily, enjoying some twittering conversation, he thought that they'd done alright on what Hugo had brought. Of course, if they came to an area with harder ground, he could always just discreetly cast a Softening Charm so that the boys wouldn't lose their sense of ruggedness.

Neville wondered for the hundredth time why he wasn't packing up the bags and demanding with all of the professor's authority that he could muster that they head back to the castle at once. He'd thought and thought about it last night as he lay on the blankets, listening to the sleeping breathing of the students next to him, and could only come back to the feeling that had arisen in the pit of his stomach upon translating the runes that Hugo had traced in the dirt the night before. He'd never heard anything like it from Hugo, a boy whom he had suspected to be hopelessly unaware of both his appearance and lack of smarts.

Of course, he'd discussed Hugo's failing grades with his parents on more than a few occasions, volunteering each time the need arose to be the one to act as the mediator between the home and the institution. He figured that hearing the news of their son's academic failure from an old, concerned family friend would be preferable to a demanding of an explanation from a more disinterested professor who had hardly taken the time to get to know Hugo's better points.

Hermione and Ron had remained staunch in the opinion that eventually, when Hugo discovered what it was that he was really good to do, he'd quit fooling around and straighten up. Neville had always been surprised at Hermione's condonation of Hugo's grades, no matter what her philosophy on his personal development. They'd chatted about it over tea while Ron was out on the job with Harry, and Hermione had admitted to some exasperation, but a knowledge that Ron probably would have failed out of school if she hadn't written half of his papers for him.

"And look at him now," Hermione had said with a slight, proud smile. "He's making a difference in the world, all with less than half of the education that I would have guessed it would take to do his job. I'm not saying that I approve of Hugo's laziness—that's something I try to nip at home as well. I just imagine that for someone whose main concerns aren't scholarly, due to an inherited personality, it must be hard in an academic environment to find one's niche. I believe that Hugo is attentive enough to realise, maybe if only with a little help from friends, when he comes upon something that feels as natural to him as learning and logic feels to me, or as tending plants feels to you, or as tomfoolery feels to Ron and Harry…"

Neville had nodded, admiring of Hermione's hopeful attitude. With mainly the concrete evidence of grades in front of him, Neville wasn't sure that he could feel the same, but he acknowledged the wisdom of Hermione and her mother's intuition…something that Neville would never have even when the time came to have children of his own.

No, he couldn't pin the feeling on more than what he felt pulling him towards Hugo without much explanation. He wondered if it was a sort of sympathy that had arisen from his talk with Hermione.

"…And then I said to him, 'no, whaddaya think, I'm a portkey or something? Wait in line!'"

He shook his head as the boys guffawed, sitting around the tiny stove on logs they'd dragged over from the trees. Neville ate the rest of his sausage and toast and got up, attempting at an appreciative smile as he past the boys, who toasted him with their hands full of food. He shoved all of the tent's contents into the pocket of his coat, then proceeded to fold up the tent. He noticed that Scorpius and Hugo kept a careful eye on him as he did so. He shrugged as the tent folded itself up neatly, the supporting beams falling nicely into place. He picked it up and crammed it into his pocket as well.

"Even though I know you've got a charm on your coat, that still looks insanely impossible," Scorpius called from where he sat around the burner.

Neville smiled. "What charm?"

Scorpius felt a jolt of shock before he realised the professor was joking. He grinned, acknowledging the humor with an appreciative nod.

"You know, the old boy's not too bad," he said to Hugo, finishing the last of his toast.

"Who, Neville? No, he's great, the chap. Brings us fruitloaf on the holidays." Hugo wiggled his eyebrows. "And then camps out in our spare bedroom till it's time to go back to school."

Scorpius smiled, thinking of what his life would have been like if he'd been raised in a household where his professors would have liked to come and stay. He was sure he wouldn't have come as far as he had; he wouldn't have been so eager to please his teachers, to get on their good sides, to convince them that he was different. He wouldn't have been so attracted to Albus Potter's crowd—he sensed in Albus the instillation of everything he wished to become. Albus had the background that Scorpius had envied, growing up in the cold, white, marble Malfoy manner with a distant father and a warm, but ungrounded mother.

He learned to recognise from a young age what it was he never wanted to become, and had set out not only to avoid inheriting the damage of his ancestry but to become everything that was not what he had. Although he regretted that he would never have warm or nostalgic childhood memories, he understood that some things and some parts of his past had made him into who he had become, and would force him to make the conscious effort to put good back into the world.

He knew that reconciling the difference between his edgy past and the future that he hoped to attain had had more impact on his development than he would have liked: as a young child he'd chased after the most cutting-edge in fashion, music, even activities. It wasn't just Quidditch he would play: he'd put his parents on edge by joining the neighborhood rugby team, by attending fashion shows, visiting museums and taking math classes…piercing his ear. At the time he only invested in such endeavours to feel different, to develop an identity outside of what was Malfoy. But the diversity had lent him experience that he couldn't have gained another way. He was sure that although he couldn't ever be proud of his namesake, he could be proud of what he had done to be different. And he could be proud of what he was becoming today.

And what was he doing today, anyways? Helping a kid run away from school? Aiding a professor in losing his job? Or was he helping a kid out who needed desperately to find himself, just as Scorpius had once needed to find himself, away from everything he'd known before to make himself new? Was he helping Professor Longbottom to gain world fame? He thought about it for a moment and decided that he liked the latter explanation better.

"How is that, your parents being so generally well-liked?" Scorpius asked, trying with much difficulty to stymie the clear envy in his tone. Hugo, good old clueless Hugo, however, didn't seem to notice any hunger in the question.

"Oh, it's not as bad as you'd think," Hugo said. "I mean, I know that maybe if I was normal—you know, fit in better," he added as an aside, and Scorpius, although surprised at this admission of self-knowledge coming from the chap who couldn't keep his chin clear of spit to save his mum's life, nodded. Hugo continued, looking over at Neville as he seemed to encourage his faculties of thought, "if I was normal, I think that it might bother me that my parents occasionally show up at school to be chummy with the professors…it might bother me to have professors home for the holidays, bringing us teacakes and whatall… but, you know, when I think about it—I do think sometimes, you know—I realise that these are my friends." Hugo finished with a small smile, his eyes wide as he looked on to gauge Scorpius's reaction. Scorpius felt surprised, but almost more importantly, he felt a pang of pity that shook him to his core.


Didn't he know how important friends were to happiness? To discovering yourself? It hadn't been easy, getting to be best mates with the son of his father's arch nemesis. He'd sat next to Al on the train over his first day, sure, but they hadn't been too chatty or chummy. He'd spent the next few weeks relying on his apparent good looks to get him study buddies, to have people, namely girls, to eat meals with, to talk to.

He had been so overwhelmed as to almost be moved to tears the first time that Albus invited him to come out to the Quidditch pitch for an illegal practice after the first month of school—and even more moved when Albus announced that he'd let his dad know of their undeniable friendship and that Harry Potter, the man that had hated his father when they had been the same age, Harry Potter had welcomed the kid with open arms. He remembered his first Christmas at the Potters' place, the overwhelming warmth that he perceived in Mrs. Potter, her sassy, but still powerful, acceptance of a Malfoy into the world of light. The way Albus had taken him on not as a project, but as a best mate. And how that had impressed Scorpius so much that he'd spent the greater part of his early teenage years trying to pay back the world of good for all that it'd allowed him to become.

In the present, Scorpius was silent for a moment, unable to bring himself to speak.

He looked up, determined that he wouldn't ignore Hugo's need for companionship.

"I'm your friend, Hugo," he managed to croak, feeling a bit sheepish for sounding so close to tears.

Hugo smiled brightly, then managed to look awestruck.

Hugo didn't understand what he was hearing. Scorpius Malfoy, the coolest boy at school, was his friend? He supposed, after the initial shock, that he shouldn't actually be surprised, since Scorpius hadn't dragged Hugo back to school as he had supposed would happen. He felt a warmth and a feeling that he couldn't label as anything other than desperation seep through him. He felt thoroughly doused in a feeling of belonging.

He didn't understand why he was moved to cry—that wasn't manly, crying wasn't, and what Hugo wanted more than anything else, besides maybe for Margie to take him to the ball, was to become a man. He had a confusing rush of thoughts all concerned with the way that he hadn't ever fit in with his peers, the ways that he was different, and he looked up at Scorpius with renewed respect and appreciation. He felt a thought pass through his mind that looked an awful lot like Rose is lucky to have found him. And then, he thought, at second glance, that it looked more like I'm lucky to have found him.

He took a moment to regain control of his speech. And when he opened his mouth, without having planned it, the words came out and seemed to fit right into the cool air, like a piece of a puzzle fit into the rest when he hadn't been sucking on it and it hadn't gone all floppy:

"Thank you, Scorpius."

Scorpius smiled, and stood up.

"And, as a friend, Hugo, I have to tell you that you've got a bit of drool on your chin."


Chapter 5: That Goes Horribly Awry
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That Goes Horribly Awry

"You going to finish that?" Hugo asked Scorpius, eyeing the untouched crumpet on the older boy's gold plate hungrily.

"Yeah," Scorpius said, making a face. "You're not the only one who's been out in the cold for three days."

Hugo pouted to no avail: Scorpius was true to his word, finishing up the crumpet with a flourish of his hand.

Hugo hunched over, trying to look defeated. He didn't know if it had worked or not, but Scorpius reached over and gave him a tremendous nooggie. He struggled to escape, letting out a yowl, then appealing, when this failed, to Neville's sympathies. But the old man just smiled evilly, draining the rest of his coffee and watching on even as Scorpius proceeded to put Hugo in a headlock and wrestle him to the ground.

Neville watched the two boys wrestle amusedly. He found himself feeling glad at the prospect of their quickly-developing friendship. He shouldn't have been surprised in the least, but he was. He knew that Scorpius had been sorted into the Gryffindor house, causing a slight uproar in the Malfoy manor upon receipt of a long letter from the scared little first-year Scorpius had once been--he knew that the boy was generally well-liked among the school's population.

He was friendly and respectful to all of his teachers, which was admittedly more than his father, Draco, could boast. But what, in looking back, Neville realised, was the most surprising of all, but which rendered the current moment to be less so, was that Scorpius had worked hard to earn his reputation. The Wizarding community of Britain was small--the census read only just over a thousand, just under three for the whole of the Kingdom. With such a small demographic, word travelled and worse, it stuck. Pure-blood families were so scarce that they were traced as almost a hobby: bets were struck up often.

I'll give you two Galleons that the Bones family will mix in the next generation.

Five knuts says that the Malfoy brat takes up a Muggle.

Neville hated to think about it. It was bestial, really, even counting blood-type as counting for something. But it was true, it was, that pure-blood families were beginning to mingle with mixed-blood ones. Slytherin had begun accepting half-bloods and Muggle-borns after the end of the Great War, a historical change…denoting to Neville and those of like minds the beginning of a great new era, where harmony was possible.

And the Sorting of a Malfoy into the Gryffindor house was possible.

But he saw the Gryffindor qualities in Scorpius. It took tremendous courage to break away from what was familiar, despite any anger felt towards one's heritage. Anger, Neville thought, at one's namesake is so often internal. It's one thing to be disappointed in your parents, but another thing to actually be someone who makes a change. And Neville knew that Scorpius never did any of what he did to clear the Malfoy name--that would have taken a miracle, he thought--but rather to become a good person himself. He felt a jolt of sorrow for the boy, thinking of his home life.

It couldn't be easy, being "raised" by people so out of touch with all that he respected and desired. He thought of Scorpius with renewed respect, and found himself feeling a little bit of amazement that someone so young could be so determined--not to mention, successful.

He looked on as the boys now, covered in snow, chasing each other around the small campsite, laughing and whooping loudly. After three days of continual hiking, they'd neared the bridge made of bent-over trees that would allow them to cross the river. Neville began to worry about what people back at the castle would think--Flitwick had never taken him seriously, the old sod, and Neville wasn't particularly convinced that he would have remembered anything that he'd told him--he wasn't sure that Flitwick would have been able to alert anyone to the three missing-persons' whereabouts.

He thought, it's quite a damn thing, not having an owl that he could summon with a sharp whistle to take a note back up to the castle. Not that he had any ink--just a thin pen--or parchment for that matter. He sighed loudly, trying not to think about what would happen when they got back. After all, in his school days, he'd skipped the most of his seventh year, hadn't he? Struck up camp in the bully old Room of Requirement--took up possession of the D.A.--made frequent illegal trips into Hogsmeade--and yet, he'd been pardoned after all that and still had been allowed to graduate. He wouldn't allow himself to think of how his circumstances then and now couldn't really be more different.

It will work out, it will, he said to himself, trying to think with a tone of the strongest conviction. It will work out, it will work out, it will work out...

"Professor?" Scorpius asked, trekking back over to the log where Longbottom was seated, making the strangest face. He kept nodding to himself, a slight tilt of the forehead, which was lost in a maze of double-arched burrows.

Upon hearing the inquiry, the Professor's face cleared and he looked up, suddenly surprised.

"Yes, Scorpius?"

Scorpius tilted his head as he absorbed the slightly dazed look on Longbottom's face. He figured it was probably the wear of the three days they'd all had without a bathe or a shave--without thinking, he reached up and scratched his slightly-clefted chin, which was stubbly and a little greasy.

"Are you feeling ill?" he asked the professor, being, in his tired state from wrestling with Hugo, unable to think of a more couth way to ask him if he was alright.

"Oh, no, was just thinking of what we're going to do when we get across the river." He stood up, gathering the tent up in his arms and shoving it into his pocket. "We should get going."

"Hey, the river!" Scorpius exclaimed, a feeling of jubilation overcoming him. "We can bathe there."

"It'll be frozen, I expect," Longbottom chirped, looking under his shoulder at Scorpius with a slight concern in his eye.

"Oh," Scorpius said, his shoulders slumping. "Oh, that's right…."

"What if we all cast huge heating spells on the ice till it melted and turned into water again?" Hugo asked, reinforcing the idea behind the word 'huge' by stretching his arms out as far as they would reach.

"You have an impressive wingspan," Scorpius said after a moment, feeling lightheaded and a little blind. The sun had poked out from behind some clouds and the snow around them lit up like fire.

"Let's go, boys," Longbottom said, squinting severely, beginning to walk out of the clearing and into the darkness of the trees. Scorpius and Hugo followed, dragging their feet, punching each other occasionally.

"And, Hugo, even though I shouldn't have to say this, there's really no way to make your spell any bigger, and even if we could heat the water to warm enough to bathe in, we can't warm up the whole river, can we?" Longbottom looked back, raising his eyebrows. If he had had more hair, Scorpius thought, they probably would have been lost in it.

"Maybe not," Hugo said, looking dejected. Scorpius wondered how his face could so easily morph from glee to sadness; it took a matter of seconds and what he was feeling was clearly plastered on his expression. There wasn't much one could do to misinterpret the emotions.

"We'll try, though," Scorpius said, trying to cheer the kid up. He looked over at Professor Longbottom pointedly. After a moment of what looked like hesitation, he nodded reluctantly. Scorpius found himself grinning in gratitude and wondered at the effect that his lack of sleep was having on his conduct.

"There it is!" Hugo shouted suddenly, and Scorpius heard it before he saw it: a tiny, tiny trickling of water. That wasn't right, he thought. The river was supposed to be frozen over--

"Do you hear it?" Professor Longbottom asked, frowning, turning to Scorpius.

"Yes," he answered.

They broke into a run at the same moment, leaving Hugo behind as they swept by him and pounded into yet another clearing--and Scorpius realised, as Hugo crunched over to his side hastily, breathing hard, that they were on the banks of the largest river he'd ever seen. Not that, in his time, he'd seen many rivers--but this was far to the other shore. The trees on the other side were only about as tall as his smallest, outside finger, he noticed, holding a hand up to the scape in front of him.

"Woah," Hugo breathed beside him. Longbottom was silent--Scorpius looked over past Hugo to the professor's face, which looked slightly stunned.

"This isn't real," Longbottom said under his breath. Scorpius saw him shake his head vehemently. "No, no, this is all wrong."

It was a strange sight before them, Scorpius thought. Especially when it was snowing in the rest of the forest.

What lay before them was a landscape Scorpius would have imagined fit in better with a tropical island. The sand lining the river was a bright, tan-yellow, and the water boasted a steady, shocking cerulean, brighter than the sky above, which was laden with fluffy white clouds. It was completely sunny between the trees, and what was more, nothing was frozen. No snow in sight.

Scorpius looked over to Professor Longbottom, staring at his face for a long moment until the professor looked back. His expression was puzzled, disbelieving. The two stared at each other for a moment longer until Hugo broke the silence.

He threw his head back and let out a mighty roar of delight, shedding his coat and robes as he flew down the shore to the water, plunging in clumsily, sending up sprays of bright blue water all around him as his feet flew around his skinny frame.

Scorpius glanced again at Professor Longbottom; then the two shrugged simultaneously and, gripped with a glorious delight and urge to whoop into the air, Scorpius followed Hugo's suit and ran to the water, splashing into its soothing warmth after tracking over-large footprints in the sand.

They were clean--they were happy--they were splashing each other with the warm river water, enjoying the shallows along the bank, their underclothes dripping wet--and their laughs made their way into the clear sky above, where the sun received them, smiling down--

when he noticed it.

It was a large black thing, beastly, monstrous. It stilled his heart, and he stopped mid-motion, unable to look away.

"What?" Scorpius asked him, the lopsided grin still plastered to his face, water dripping from his dangling earring. Hugo pointed, unable to speak, at the large creature that was making its way towards the three from down the bank.

Hugo heard Scorpius's sharp inhalation as they took in the sight before them.

It took a moment, but Professor Longbottom managed to speak. "Boys," he said, his tone tense, "boys, go back to your coats."

Without taking their eyes off of the creepily-moving form before them, the boys hastened to obey, pulling their warm, dry clothes on over their wet bodies. The three stood motionless in a line, unsure of what to do.

Then Hugo heard it. A pugnacious click, click, click. It sounded rather like the noise that Marjie's pencil made when she tapped it on the golden plates at breakfast, but louder, sharper, more menacing. Hugo felt scared. He saw, near the middle of what he took to be the body, four sets of pure black eyes, glittering in the sunlight. He wished he could take a step closer to Scorpius who, like Professor Neville, had his wand grasped firmly in his hand. Hugo didn't know where his wand had gone, but he was too caught up in fear to regain control of his range of motion anyways.

The beast moved at a slow, steady pace towards them, moving in an eerily-smooth way over the soft sand, gliding at a fixed height above the ground, supported by eight skinny, hairy legs. It had pincers--Hugo saw them, two large, beak-like protrusions situated horizontally, so that he could see where they connected in the middle to make the click noise that issued forth. Those pincers were serrated, huge dips and peaks that caused his hackles to raise.

Scorpius realised it first.


And then Hugo.

"Bloody hell--"

"Oh, Merlin," Neville whispered, his voice cracking. Hugo looked at the other two--eyes wide, they were helplessly stunned.

Hugo knew they wouldn't be able to outrun the Acromantula--and suddenly his arm sprang into motion, grasping into the inner lining of his coat where it grabbed out his wand, and pointed it directly at the beast.

"No!" Scorpius yelped, grabbing Hugo's wand hand and shoving it down. "No, you know you can't shoot spells at them!"

In a flood Hugo remembered. His fear had paralysed his brain but of course Scorpius was right--Acromantula hide was immune to magic. The spells would bounce back off in his own direction and the instant sign of aggression would doubtless be noticed by the highly intelligent creature--and not taken lightly.

"Oh, oh yeah," he said out loud. Scorpius stared at him for another second, his dark blue eyes boring into Hugo's, his blond hair flopping onto his eyebrows, still dripping wet. The look was hard for Hugo to understand--he had never been adept at reading people's expressions. He took the moment to try to link the situation they were in, the mistake he had almost made, and the hard clarity of Scorpius's eyes all together to come up with an answer. He wasn't sure, but he decided that Scorpius was trying to make sure that Hugo wouldn't try to Stun the spider.

"I won't Stun it," he declared. "I'm putting my wand in my pocket." He did so. Scorpius looked mildly surprised--that was something that Hugo could recognise, it was easy, it was all in the eyebrows and how the mouth went slack and the eyes widened (he supposed that it was the look that most often greeted him in the mirror when he bothered to consult it)--and then nodded, turning back to the creature, which had come to a laborious stop about ten paces from them.

They stood facing each other--the giant Acromantula filled the same amount of space as did the three humans, it was so large. Hugo swallowed convulsively; he especially disliked spiders.

He wasn't expecting what happened next: the thing opened its pincers and spoke.

"Welcome, guests," it said, gesturing with a single, multi-jointed appendage to the whole of the river bank. Its voice was deep and sonorous--it rattled Hugo to the bone. He shivered, even though it was warm here.

None of them said anything. Hugo thought he saw Professor Neville nod his head once.

"Welcome, welcome. You have traveled very far." The thing's great black eyes turned to each of them in turn, resting for a long time on Scorpius. Hugo turned to the older boy and saw that his adam's apple bobbed deeply as he gulped. The blue eyes flickered over to his once, and then back to the Acromantula.

"You have traveled farther, in fact, than any other Human from the school has gone. My brothers and sisters have sensed your coming, and they required one of us to apprehend the visitors…to see if we may provide any assistance, and to guarantee our own safety. We understand that the venom from our mouths is worth many pieces of gold to you Humans."

"We're not here for your venom," Neville said loudly. He struggled to make a peep at all, but it was necessary for their immediate safety that the great spider understood their motives, and something in him shifted to regard safety as the highest priority.

"Ah, ah, I see….I see that you are truthful." The spider shifted on its hairy legs and the three tensed, ready to move. "I do not plan you any harm," it added, taking a step back. Neville felt his hackles raise, but it wouldn't be judicious to display any disbelief. He looked over at Hugo's face, which thankfully was blank and wide-eyed, the occasional wink floating through space between them.

"But I will ask you to explain your motives for such travel. It must have taken you days to reach the river," the spider said, the clicks from its pincers punctuating each word. "You will follow my understanding when I say that this is highly unusual, and my family considers itself to be the guardians of the forest, not only our kind."

"The centaurs are the guardians of the forest," Hugo piped up. Neville grimaced, but the spider did not look offended.

"Indeed, each species can only live with the others in harmony if we each do our share. Their territory is not our territory, nor ours theirs."

"Oh," was all Hugo responded. Neville let out his breath in relief.

"Should we tell it?" Scorpius hissed in Neville's direction, the whisper floating above his head.

"I think we ought to," Neville said quietly, keeping a steady grip on his wand.

He hadn't lead the student revolution of the Great War for nothing, he thought, and he cleared his throat to redirect the spider's attention from Scorpius, whom it had been watching intently, to himself.

"We've come into the forest on a search for a highly-magical fruit that would yield great aid to the magical world of healing," Neville said. "You've perhaps heard of it, and can tell us if we're on the wrong path."

"The Quidropopot," Scorpius announced, seeming to have taken the spider's interest as a sort of personal attack. He looked defensive, his generally soft facial features screwed into a scowl, a determined sort of hardness. Neville saw Draco in this face.

"The Quidropopot," the arachnid declared after a moment of contemplation, "is not a commonly-sought plant. Most humans do not believe in its existence. We spiders have used this fruit for many years to heal our wounds--no other plant is strong enough to heal the tears in a hide that deflects most magic."

"Do you have one?" Hugo piped excitedly.

"My Queen is the only one of us worthy enough to possess such a dangerous plant; she alone is wise enough to refuse its tempting lure."

Neville understood what the beast meant--the ruby was highly powerful and would turn any ruler into a tyrant drunk on its power.

"If you'll excuse me asking," Neville began, curiosity taking the best of him, "How did you hear of the plant?" He was interested to know, as the last known account of it had been inscribed thousands of years ago.

"You think of course on human terms," the beast began, seeming to read Neville's mind. "My ancestors discovered the plant long ago as they began their trek through the Africas. You'll know that we come from further east, but as time progressed, more and more of my kind developed a thirst for exploration. Our venom is able to melt through ice rapidly, so we were able to bore through the thick layers and procure the soft fruits of the plant. However, the first of us were not so lucky, taking up the stone from the middle of the pods without understanding its power. The best of the clan were said to have turned into horrible monsters who plundered villages with newborn power. They became immortally powerful and wreaked havoc until they died. My brothers and sisters do retain some of the power that they imbibed," it said, gesturing to its coat of hair and thick hide.

Neville was taken aback. He had known the ruby to be powerful enough to transform wizards into the Egyptian gods, but to pass down enough power through the years to create a hide immune to magic? That acted as a shield against spells? It was beyond his ability to comprehend, and simply stunned him. He stood blinking at the spider, which had moved gradually towards them during its speech. Its breath was horribly foul, Neville thought, resisting the urge to fan the air before his nose.

The three humans stood regarding the giant creature. It retained an eye particular to Scorpius, who stood his ground, feet planted apart, staring back into the eyes of the creature.

He thought he knew what this was about. His father was well known throughout the magical population, it wasn't really a surprise that the creatures surrounding them would know of him as well. The Death Eaters hadn't been famous for their kindness to magical creatures, either.

"You are a Malfoy, human," the creature said directly to him. Scorpius tried not to cringe.

"I am," he said. He wasn't going to try to deny it, as he often had in his youth. He wasn't going to make excuses, or apologies, no matter how much the idea appealed to him. He stared back at the creature defensively.

"Your father was not kind to creatures of the magical world," the thing spoke in its low growl.

"Yeah, well, I'm not like my father," Scorpius said, beginning to feel a prickle of fear. But he felt that backing down was the wrong action.

The creature was silent for a moment besides the intermittent clicking of its giant pincers.

"That is clear," it said after a pause in which it had stared at him intently. Scorpius let out his breath, and heard the other two on his either side sigh deeply. "You are braver than him, and he would never have put a scrap of metal in his ear."

Scorpius couldn't help but smirk--sure as hell he wouldn't have. But then, he thought, that's not the point--I'm not evil like him, get it? He was about to open his mouth to speak when he was cut off.

"So, if you don't mind," Professor Longbottom spoke up, "we'll just be on our way."

"No, no, I couldn't allow you to wander aimlessly into the forest unneccesarily," the creature said with a particularly loud click. "I will take you to our Queen, and she will tell you directly where to find the fruit."

Scorpius was unsure of the great creature's intentions. He had believed the spider when it had said that it had believed them, but he couldn't help but think that following the spider to its lair was the worst mistake that they could make in this situation. But it also seemed that, looking at the creature whose leg-span looked to be nearly three metres across, they didn't have much of a choice.

It was a tense moment. The three humans exchanged looks that confirmed Scorpius's own feelings--fear, trepidation, and a feeling that overwhelmed the others: obligation.

"We'll follow you, then," Scorpius said, taking charge of the situation. The great creature bowed its head and creaked by them quickly, showing an amazing agility for a creature so large.

"Do you think we'll be alright?" Hugo asked Scorpius, sounding nervous. Scorpius felt like spilling his guts--no, Hugo, I don't know if we'll be alright, heading into the lair of possibly hundreds of giant spiders, no, I don't know if we'll survive this one, I don't know what's going on or what to do or how to get out of this. But instead, he smiled brightly at the boy, looking over at his eyes, which were at his own level.

"I trust we will," he said quietly, looking down immediately at the sand below their feet. His trainers flashed in and out of view, and he couldn't help but think of Rose and the Weasleys at this time--she'd never forgive him if he didn't come back, she just wouldn't. It wasn't like Rose to react well to surprise and he worried that she paced Gryffindor tower even as he walked willingly to his doom, worrying about what he might be up to, and why he hadn't contacted her.

He hoped that Flitwick had given her some idea of what they were up to--he was the only other one there who knew that Professor Longbottom had been going into the Forest to find Hugo--he was the only one who could mitigate the panic that she must have been feeling. Scorpius hated himself for doing this to her. He cursed under his breath as he realised that the last three days had probably been torture for Rose Weasley.

"What's wrong?" Hugo asked, understanding enough of regular conversation to know that when someone cursed to themselves, it meant something was amiss. Scorpius tried to smile at Hugo, but he just couldn't do it as he took in the younger boy's face and thought of how the shape of his eyes was very much like that of his sister's.

"I was just thinking about Rose," he admitted, scratching his neck and shifting his wet, blond hair to rest on top of his head. "She's probably worried sick."

Hugo shrugged. He wanted to make Scorpius feel better, but he wasn't good or practiced at these kinds of things. He just smiled, knowing that that was a good sign and said, even though it was a little bit of a lie, "she's probably okay."

Hugo rather thought that Scorpius's look was disbelieving, but then he said, in a voice that Hugo thought denoted the older boy's desire to convince himself, "Yeah, she's probably alright--she's got Albus to ground her fears, hasn't she?"

"Yeah," Hugo said, thinking of his older cousin with a smile on his face. Albus was the captain of his Quidditch team and old childhood friend. He knew that Rosie and Al were even closer than he and Al were, which was saying something, Hugo thought. Other than maybe his mum and dad, Albus was the closest thing he'd ever had to a best mate. Albus was fun to be around, always joking and acting dumber than he really was to annoy Rose or her best friend Molly Pratt. Hugo liked Molly too, he thought, except for when she was singing. She couldn't hold a tune well, and Hugo always discovered that even hours after she finished chanting along to Celestina Warbeck's latest, his head still hurt.

Amazingly similar to the way that it hurt now. Hugo had often heard his mum complain of stress-induced headaches--she'd had to explain to him that that meant headaches caused by stress--and he thought that that was what he was having now.

As they moved further into the trees, Hugo suddenly had a flashback of himself as a young boy sitting by the Burrow's fire with his father and his uncle Harry, who were telling him the most extraordinary story of the way that they had met Hagrid's pet spider in the forest in their second year. They had only been out there to ask questions, Uncle Harry had said, laughing brightly, so that they could free Hagrid from Azkaban, but the spiders had looked at the two and thought my, what a tasty pie these children would make.

Hugo had wondered then, as he nursed a teacake, how a few spiders could have eaten the two boys up, as they were obviously much bigger and could just stamp them into the ground if the desire so appealed to them. But looking back now, Hugo remembered a bit of the story that had never stuck with him as a child; that they weren't just any spiders, but huge, hairy, eight-eyed creatures with pincers the size of dinner plates. That explained their current situation, didn't it, and what with all the talking business.

"Merlin," Hugo said aloud. "I should have seen this coming."

"You should have what?" Scorpius said, looking dumbstruck. His blue eyes were wide with concern, his nostrils flaring, and his mouth sort of half-open with shock.

"Well it's just that Dad and Uncle Harry told me once that they met a bunch of Acromantulas in the Forest, in their second year," he admitted under his breath, looking forward at the giant monster before them. "I should have at least figured that since we'd gone so far into the Forest, we'd meet them eventually."

Scorpius stared ahead of them for a moment, his eyes still wide and his eyelashes flapping up and down for a moment in a succession of dazed blinks before he answered.

"No, you couldn't have known," he said, a tone of reassurance in his voice. "Just because it happened once to your family doesn't mean that it happens every time someone ventures far enough into the woods."

Hugo nodded, appeased. But his small comfort wouldn't just erase them from the current situation. The bridge up ahead was drawing nearer and nearer, a display that he thought would have been rather stunning if they weren't coming upon it in the wake of a giant spider who more than likely wanted to eat their guts.

It was a sight of several trees all sprouted from the riverbank bent over and twisted together so that they formed a wide, tangled bridge across the span of the river. The bridge itself was wide enough for the Acromantula to fit on it comfortably.

Hugo had a sudden question, then. If the only bridge in miles was here, and the spider was taking them across it now, then how had it come up on them from the opposite direction?

He voiced the concern to Scorpius, whose eyebrows raised considerably at the question. He raised a hand to scratch his stubbly cheek--the fine, golden hairs about half a centimetre long. Hugo was suddenly struck with the same insane jealously that overcame him as he watched some of his dormmates shave in the morning--all he wanted was to be manly, how much longer was he going to have to wait?

a/n: edited as of 28 august 2011

Chapter 6: By Close Encounters
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By Close Encounters

Neville hadn't been the head of the student rebellion at Hogwarts during the Great War of his generation due to chance. He was quiet, thoughtful, forgetful, and hopelessly clumsy, but in times of need, he somehow found the power to overreach himself and become a leader.

Unfortunately for himself, Scorpius, and Hugo, he couldn't be too much of a leader in this situation. Scorpius had surprised him earlier, facing down with the giant spider the way that he had, answering its questions, staring it in the eye, and addressing its obvious fascination with him. But then again, he had been placed in the Gryffindor house, and the Sorting Hat wasn't the type to make mistakes.

But Neville was rapidly concocting a plan. If he didn't think that it would shorten their journey significantly by traveling with the beast to his queen to find out exactly where the plant was, he would have them all join hands and Apparate back to safety, out of the Acromantula's patch of land. It would backset them significantly, but they'd either talk Hugo out of the plan to find the fruit or they'd find another way to get through to the other side of the river.

But, as it happened, he did think that it would shorten their journey significantly to go and see what the queen had to say, so he wouldn't take them all away yet. First they would follow the creature into the midst of his kingdom. They would be perfectly polite and gracious, listening to everything that they were offered. Neville had a hard time believing that after the queen had had her say, they would just let three juicy humans go out of politeness--Neville thought that if three licorice wands just happened to appear in his midst, he'd be more than willing to snatch them up and take them for himself--he shook his head. Now was not the time or place to be thinking about licorice wands, no matter how loudly his stomach complained. If the spiders didn't let them go, he'd Apparate them out into safety.

The only hitch in the whole plan was that Neville hadn't ever crossed the river, and Apparation took a great deal of concentration to end up in the right spot without Splinching; even to move at all. It would be a critical moment, caught up in panic, and he would be lucky if the boys responded to his screech in time to save them. But Neville shook his head. It would work.

He had a sudden idea. In times of need, coordinates would often allow travelers to Apparate to unknown areas. Wizards and Witches had developed a basic grid system, not quite different from Latitude and Longitude that Muggles more commonly consulted, that would allow the touring man--at the time it was highly popular to take world tours--to Apparate into places where he'd never been by concentrating on the numbers that appeared at this place on the map.

Of course, it was very impractical because the coordinates only appeared at wide intervals, and often they would have to walk several miles to meet their destination, but it was quicker than any physical means of transport regardless. Coordinates, Neville thought, were their last hope.

He needed to get the map off of Hugo. He looked to his right. Rummy that Scorpius separated Neville from him--he didn't want to alert the beast that walked ahead of them to his mistrust.

"Scorpius," Neville hissed out of the side of his mouth in the lowest tone he could manage. He knew instantly that they boy had heard him (maybe that earring is receptive to low frequencies, he thought)--Scorpius tensed, and one dark blue eye shifted to look at Neville through a lot of blond lashes.

"I need the map," Neville mouthed, gesturing very slightly to Hugo's coat pocket, where the map, curled and damp, poked out.

"The map?" Scorpius whispered softly, trying not to move his lips. Silly, really, Neville thought, as the creature's eyes were in the front of its head. But still, he understood that not all things were subject to logic and practicality in times like these.

Neville nodded slightly. He tried to indicate with his eyebrows to Hugo's pocket. Scorpius seemed to understand.

Scorpius now found himself with a daunting task ahead of him. Hugo was not a master of subtlety, and he understood that consulting the map could be a sign of mistrust if the monster ahead of them were to somehow find out that Neville was looking at it. He thought of simply grabbing it quickly from the boy's pocket, but that might surprise him and in his innocent startle the boy might cry out, or jump, or do any matter of things which might attract the attention of the spider. He bit his lip. If he tried to get Hugo's attention, he was almost sure that the boy would make some kind of loud response, not understanding the delicacy of the situation.

He was really in a quandary. Old Longbottom seemed to realise this, as he grimaced sympathetically in Scorpius's direction and turned back to regard the back of the creature ahead of them. Scorpius wanted very badly to let out a sigh. He thought that it would purge some of the anxiety from his system and give him a clearer head.

Surely this wasn't the only type of place he could have found himself in need of keeping a person quiet but getting something out of them at the same time. He racked his brains for ideas of what to do, but it was hard because he just kept seeing Rose's anxious face, and hearing her soft, worried voice--

But that was it! Rose. Last Christmas she'd tried to get him into Muggle fiction, and she'd shown him a series of Muggle detective stories which he'd read through. They'd been some of the only Muggle books that Scorpius had ever been exposed to, and he remembered them well.

If he was a robber trying to pinch something off of a waking person in a quiet house full of other sleeping people, he'd be in sort of the same situation. He thought hard of what the characters in the book might have done when it hit him.

He looked at Hugo's gangly, unsuspecting form for a moment before he did it.

And then he moved quickly and quietly to his right, stepping behind Hugo and covering his mouth with his right hand while removing the map with his left. Hugo was so astonished that he didn't seem to be able to make a sound; only his eyes were wide and unblinking. Scorpius let go of him quickly and resumed his place in line, mouthing apologies Hugo's way. The boy still seemed dazed, but looked increasingly reassured as he, assumedly, seemed to make sense of Scorpius's pointing to his pocket, and then himself, and then Professor Longbottom. He nodded slightly, then looked back ahead, although Scorpius was sure that he saw the great green eyes flicker over in his direction a couple of times.

Scorpius handed over the map to Professor Longbottom very quietly, moving it from hand to hand without noise and prodding the old boy's leg with it to get his attention. He took it silently, with a small tip of his forehead in Scorpius's direction, and Scorpius watched as he carefully unfolded it and stared at it intently.

Man, he is silent and deadly, Hugo thought, looking at Scorpius from the corner of his eye. I had no idea he was coming and then wham! he was there. And then he was gone. It was like--wow.

Like a scorpion, Hugo thought, and he struggled not to giggle out loud. He didn't want that spider to look at him again.

He had absolutely no clue what they were going to do. He felt a twang of distant guilt that kept pelting his mind with thoughts like "you led them out here. If we die it's all your fault" and "you shouldn't have come yourself."

But Hugo knew better than that--he knew better than he knew anything that being out in the open, making concrete progress, leaving tracks in the sand by a swollen river--that felt good. He felt at home in the wilderness, mostly on his own. He felt free from the scorn of his peers; he acted like he didn't know because it wasn't important to him to let others know that he knew...but he knew what they thought of him. It was okay. He was good at Quidditch and they knew that too. They liked him, mostly, just didn't want to be best mates and that was fine, fine with Hugo. Mum and Dad had been popping by enough at school this year to keep him grounded.

Where there were no musty, damp, stone walls of Hogwarts, Hugo generally felt safe. He imagined that it was different for his sister, who spoke of Hogwarts as if she were in love with it--although at sight of the computer they had at home she'd immediately forsake it with complaints of the static nature of the wizarding world contained within its walls.

He shook his head. It wasn't the time to be thinking about Rose. He knew that she would be mad when they got back. And that it was mostly his fault. And that she might yell at him a bit. But it would be okay, he thought. It would all be okay because he would have found the Quidropopot.

If they survived the encounter with the queen of the nest, he thought. For some reason he saw them emerging on the other side of the encounter, but he couldn't actually imagine the meeting itself. But it was the other side that mattered, and he didn't worry himself too much about what lie in between the present and the distant future. He never had much control over what usually came there, so he couldn't see how this situation was different in that regard. He'd survived up until now, skating by on less-than-adequate survival skills--hadn't he? Didn't that speak well of his current plight?

The spider in front of them slowed its pace as they reached the base of the great bridge. It was even wider than Hugo had imagined from far away--enough for all four of them to walk side-by-side down its length. But they allowed the spider to scale the small flight of steps worn into the wood before they did--upon further inspection, Hugo could only guess that they'd been worn, because there were no sharp edges and he couldn't think of any tool that would have been sharp enough or strong enough to hew its way through such solid-looking wood. And when it had reached the top and stood to wait politely for them, they each exchanged glances and headed up themselves, the foliage of the impossibly long trees surrounding them briefly before they broke out into the open and stared across the bridge.

It was a long and silent walk. The bridge creaked slightly, whingeing, as they stepped on certain points--it was a strange thing, it was, walking across trees that had braided themselves together--but the humans and the Acromantula remained silent.

It wasn't an easy or comfortable silence. Hugo imagined that both Scorpius and Professor Neville were thinking like mad of a way to get them out of this. For all that he wished it to, his mind just wouldn't wander, and so he kept concentrating on the present. It wasn't a lovely picture, but he couldn't look away.

They were nearing the other side of the bridge now, and the trees that began a ways up the river bank were looming high up into the sky. Hugo saw that the heavy clouds resumed their position of winter over this side of the forest, and had the sudden urge to heat himself dry with a spell. He took out his wand and saw that instantly Scorpius and Professor Longbottom were looking intently at him, their faces distinctly alarmed--but he shook his head and muttered a heating spell under his breath, focusing the mass of hot air on his hair, which began to lighten and dry. Scorpius and Neville caught on and did the same.

"Good thinking," Scorpius mouthed, pointing his wand at the back of his own head, and then winked.

Hugo felt proud of himself, and grinned contently. Until he thought about where they were and what they were doing. He didn't think that this situation exactly warranted a contented grin.

"You'll follow me," the Acromantula said as they neared the end of the bridge of trees, entering into the foliage. The three whipped their wands back into their coats as the thing turned to look at them. "Your human vision may not be sufficient in the lower lighting of the forest."

Hugo grimaced up at the trees, feeling at once the cold swoop back down upon them. He drew up the collar of his coat to his chin as Professor Neville answered, "Of course."

The darkness slid over them easily, like it was swallowing the vestiges of a grand feast. Hugo was rather hungry, and his stomach let out a loud growl. He saw Scorpius glance over nervously--at least, he guessed that was the momentary flash of light. It could have been reflection off of his eyes. Yes, he was sure that it was. Two little pinpricks. He supposed that he had imagined the part about the nervousness, except for that it was how he was feeling himself.

They passed through what looked to Hugo to be an extended arbor, the trees around them arching and intertwining overhead. He stretched his neck back as far as it would go, amazed at the thick foliage surrounding them on every side, the dark leaves swaying lightly in the cold, frigid air. He puffed out air resembling smoke from a chimney, and resisted the urge to hum.

The spider's legs moved quickly and decidedly. Scorpius surmised that they were getting close, were on familiar ground. He wasn't sure the best way to get out of this; he knew Professor Longbottom had been developing some kind of plan with use of the map, but he knew that Longbottom was also highly invested in his research as a Herbologist and thought that even if some danger were rising quickly, and they were on the brink of making a breakthrough in the discovery of the plant, he might be more likely to fail in the execution of his plan. If Longbottom became distracted--he shuddered at the thought.

His mind was rapidly flying through possible scenarios as they passed into deeper darkness. He heard rustles in increasing volume to the left, then to the right, and gazed into the darkness blindly, cursing his weak human eyes. Of course, perhaps if he had eight eyes even their weakness could be overcome.

But what was he thinking? This wasn't a time for wishing for eight eyes, this was a—

"What was that?" Longbottom hissed in Scorpius's ear. He was very close, the darkness having swallowed all approximation of proximity.

"I don't know," Scorpius hissed back.

He had heard it, and it was true that he didn't know. It sounded like the clacking that the keys on Rose's laptop computer when she was plucking away at a story. The same frenetic patterns, with the pauses and occasionally the violent stab at the space bar. He thought for a moment as it became louder, raucous, loud enough and frantic enough to hurt his ears. They would be ringing for days, he was sure, but decided as many large forms began to move out of the trees, he might focus on the problems that were sure to ensue at the current moment.

Scorpius was feeling a wave of panic that seemed to arrest his motion and ability to think clearly. It was one thing,one giant spider--who, by the way, never mentioned that he lived with extended family--but meeting the family, unprepared, and on top of that there being hundreds of them--was another entirely.

He looked at Longbottom nervously as the Acormantulas formed a wide circle around the three humans and their guide. Scorpius heard their clicks recede, replaced instead by eerie whispers in a language he didn't recognize. It sounded smooth, and the syllables slipped over themselves easily.

"Arabic?" he heard Longbottom whisper, seeming to forget himself in the strangeness of the revelation. Scorpius felt his eyebrows raise--although the spider had mentioned something about Egypt.

Scorpius's mind washed blank. All he could do was stare at Professor Longbottom and hope that he knew what to do. He had almost forgotten that the creature had promised to take them to their queen, so that they could find where the Quidropopot was hidden. Survival instinct was like that, though, wasn't it: scratched out all superfluous details.

The spider who had lead them here kept moving, and as they walked down the wide, dirty path, riddled with rocks and twigs, the circle of relatives followed, moving in and out of itself in an eerie manner. Scorpius shivered.

"The queen's layer," the spider croaked; immediately their surrounding queue slid away, scattered, with more whispering, clacking and the creepy creaking of their many limbs.

Scorpius brushed the long vines aside as they slithered over his shoulders--they were passing through some kind of curtain.

Into some kind of domed web. It was giant, but nothing that was giant enough to prepare Scorpius for the creature basking at its center.

She--assuming he was regarding the queen--was almost twice the size of the spider who had lead them here. If he was seeing correctly. And he thought he was. And when she opened her huge pincers to address them, he felt like fainting.

"Visitors, Aasim?" she spoke, in a high-pitched voice, so different than what he had been expecting. It was the only feature that distinguished her from the male they had encountered before.

"Yes, Malika, my sister," the creature, called Aasim, who had led them here, addressed the queen. Scorpius felt a tinge of regret at not having treated him with more respect--the brother to the queen? "They have come in search of the great fruit deeply mingled with our own ancestry," he said. "But they may tell you more." Aasim bowed, stepping backwards agilely so that the three humans were at the forefront of the queen's vision. Scorpius saw her eyes shift from her brother, to him, then Hugo, and then Professor Longbottom.

"Welcome, travelers," she spoke, picking up one long appendage to gesture around here. "Our forest is your forest, of course, as is the nature of a commingling of species. However, you must forgive our precaution. It is not often that humans travel far enough into the forest to come into our lands, and we, in thought of our species, and the others which live here freely, take the greatest care in assuring our own survival."

Scorpius wasn't sure that he should be the one to speak, so remained quiet and looked out of the corner of his eye down the line. Hugo looked shocked, unsurprisingly, his eyes wide and blinking at irregular intervals. Professor Longbottom glanced at the two boys beside him and Scorpius heard him clear his throat slightly before addressing the magnificent queen before them.

"I apologise for not having made our intentions clear sooner," Longbottom spoke, his voice surprisingly even given their situation. Scorpius was impressed. "We do not mean you, nor any other creature of your dominion, harm. It is our intent to find the Quidropopot plant, not for the ruby which you know of so well, but for the healing flesh of the plant, which would be very useful in the healing arts." He rocked back and forth on his heels for a moment before continuing. "Aasim has kindly offered us passage across the river and into your kingdom because you have crucial knowledge which would greatly economize our time."

"It is true," the queen spoke after a moment in which Scorpius had been filled with a deep dread and foreboding, "that we know of the Quidropopot and its location in the forest. However, it is highly unusual that a human would know of its existence, and furthermore, that there is even the slightest possibility of its being located in the forest."

She seemed to think a moment longer, her pincers clicking together a few times in the silence. She spoke again, with a hint of apprehension in her voice. "I do not mean to insinuate that I believe that most humans seek power for corrupt reasons, but the Quidropopot is a highly dangerous fruit when in the grasp of the wrong creature. It has been known the drive some crazy, to cause humans to forsake their humanity, has created tyrants. It has even impregnated the hide of my own clan with properties that allow us immunity to most magical spells and curses. I wish to extend you the signal of friendship in disclosing the fruit's location, but I must be sure that you will not abuse what so easily may be turned into power beyond what you will have expected."

Neville waited for a moment, knowing what the spider wanted to hear, but thinking that Hugo should be the one to tell her. He wasn't confident that Hugo was going to figure out that he should be the one to speak up now, so he decided to give the boy a little push. "Finding the plant means to most to Hugo," he said, looking pointedly at the boy who gave a start and stared wildly at him. "I would speak, but I believe that he can best represent himself."

"Well, I--" Hugo seemed stumped. Neville hoped letting him speak for himself was the best idea, here, and wouldn't land them in more trouble. He allowed himself the look up and around them at the huge domed web that they had entered through the vine curtain. He wasn't certain that it would resist attack from the rest of the clan, which was sizeable, probably made up of two- or three-hundred of the beasts. He chanted the coordinates to himself so that they'd be easy to recall if he needed to Apparate them quickly.

Hugo seemed to be willing to speak up after a few more moments of thought. "I want to be honest with you, your highness," he spoke, and Neville was relieved that he'd brought his manners to the table. "I can't really be sure why I want to find the Quidropopot other than I think that it would be really awesome to play Quidditch with it." He fell silent for a moment and if Neville hadn't been in the presence of the queen, he would have smacked his forehead with his palm. But Hugo apparently had more to say. "At first, I thought that I wanted to bring it back so that this girl would ask me to the ball. But it doesn't seem that way anymore. There's something more to it, only I can't say what." He fell silent, clearing his throat, looking at the ground.

After what seemed like ages, the queen clicked her great pincers. Hugo's eyes were drawn back up to those of the queen, who was regarding him specifically. "Hugo Weasley," she began, and Neville thought it alarming that she apprehended his surname without having been told. "Your father is somewhat of a legend around the hollow," she said, and Neville hoped he wasn't just imagining the hint of amusement out of desperation. "The story is told that he and the Potter boy came here in the hopes of saving their dear friend, who was always our friend as well. He had a pure heart, that much was certain. It is true that in those times we were not as intent on keeping the relations with Wizards as we are today, though the meeting with your father and Potter may have been the last encounter we have had with humans. There is one thing that we Acromantulas have that is unable to be explained by the inherited skins of our ancestors, and that is discernment.

"If any other group of Wizards stood before me in question of the whereabouts of the Quidropopot, I would have unabashedly offered them an escort out of the forest back to the school from which they came. But I see that you are pure of heart, as your father, and have no ill intention of misusing the fruit for your own material gain."

There was a moment of silence, in which Aasim reminded Neville of his presence by clicking his pincers loudly. Neville nearly jumped, but caught himself just in time. He did not feel that things were as they seemed: he was on tenterhooks, just waiting for something to go wrong.

"You will find the Quidropopot by heading Northeast. You will come, after two days of walking, to a lake which is frozen over. The waters that froze over the trees of the Quidropopot plant are magical, and are unable to be penetrated by regular magic. We use our venom to melt through the ice, which is solid, all the way through. You will find the fruit of the plant growing on the trees. The lake is several miles across, and there are many fruits, but the trees only relent one fruit at a time. It may take several hours to harvest a good load." The queen, having finished her speech, settled back contentedly, and clicked her pincers loudly.

"Thank you very much, your highness," Hugo said, bowing slightly. Neville cringed. Hugo would always be awkward, he supposed, but at least he was polite.

Neville hastened to nod, and saw that Scorpius did as well.

The three were startled as the queen suddenly let out a loud issue of arabic syllables, and Aasim leapt to action behind them. Neville disliked the way that their feet scrabbled over the rocks and twigs that padded the ground. He felt uneasy.

"Boys," he hissed, motioning for them to circle together. They formed a small triangle, backs together, as Aasim blocked their exit through the curtain of vines and the queen rose to her full height, her legs fully extended. She let out a sharp series of clicks that pierced the air, and just as Neville's foreboding was materialising into an overwhelming panic, the domed web was suddenly surrounded by the hundreds of spiders, who were whispering and clicking threateningly. He noticed that the hooked ends of their long legs were pulling at the individual threads of the web--he felt something soft plop down onto his shoulder and looking at it nervously, saw that it was the silvery, mousse-like material of the web itself. It was breaking, giving way to the family of monsters bearing in on them.

"What about--what about your relations with Wizards?" Neville squawked, addressing the queen, his eyes wide.

"We have learned many things from humans," the queen said, still clicking her pincers excitedly. "But the easiest lesson to remember is that words, spoken as lies, are particularly powerful. Especially from our lips."

The clicks were as loud as they had been when the three had arrived. "Scorpius, Hugo, grab hands," Neville said in a low voice, and they did as they were told, immediately. He chanted the coordinates to himself a few times to make sure he didn't get them wrong, and had just a moment to fear that the anti-magical hides of the spiders closing in on them would prevent them from escaping before the domed web ruptured with a loud pop!

The soft, silvery substance rained down onto them, sticking in their hair and all over their coats and filling their nostrils, and Neville had one horrifying glimpse of the hundreds of huge, hairy bodies moving towards them before he grasped the boys' hands tightly, shouted the coordinates into the air, and pulled them into the suffocating oblivion.

Hugo landed on his stomach. The wind blown out of him, the silvery matter of the spider's web obscuring his vision--he coughed loudly, expelling spittle mixed with the faintest trace of blood. He was lying by Scorpius's side in the snow, which was blinding and white, but felt cool and nice against his over-heated cheek. He looked up, wiping the web out of his eyes, and saw Professor Longbottom waving his wand around the clearing, casting protective charms.

"Hugo?" Scorpius croaked suddenly, flopping over from his side to face the boy. His eyes were wide and Hugo felt confused as Scorpius scrambled up and gave him a large hug, breathing hard.

"Are you okay?" Scorpius asked him, standing up and offering Hugo a hand. "You looked so--"

"Scared?" Hugo asked, smiling a little, grabbing the older boy's hand and stepping up beside him. He brushed off his coat as Scorpius nodded. "I was, but I'm okay now. You have web in your face," he added, pointing with a straight finger to Scorpius's cheek, which was scraped badly and covered, as Hugo had said, in spider web.

Scorpius reached up and brushed it away, cringing as his fingers traced over a deep cut that followed his cheekbone.

"That's deep," Hugo said, peering at it and cringing as well. It wasn't bleeding as much as he would have expected from a bite infected with Acromantula venom. "We should see if Professor Neville has anything that could heal that quickly. Acromantula venom is very potent and will bleed you out if it reaches your heart."

Scorpius stared, wide-eyed, at Hugo for a moment. "Comforting," he said, nodding. "But I didn't get bit, I got scraped by one of the weird hooks on the end of their feet. Should probably still see if he has anything, though," he said, looking at Professor Neville, who was working on setting up the tent.

"Hello, boys," he said, looking a little shaken, as he heard them approach. He straightened up, placing his hands on his hips and looking at their faces. "Scorpius, were you bitten?" he asked, and Hugo noticed that he looked very worried.

"No, I got scraped by one of those claws they have on the end of their legs," Scorpius explained in a soothing tone. At least, it soothed Hugo. He felt suddenly very sleepy.

"Oh, good," Professor Neville said, sighing. He seemed to realise the way that that sounded because his eyes flew wide and he said hurriedly, "No, no, not good that you were scraped--just that, you know, there's no venom in your system." He reached a hand into his rucksack and pulled out a small bottle with a cork stopper. "I've got some essence of dittany, it should help heal the cut from the inside," he said, offering it to Scorpius, who took it, looking apprehensive. "I could help you, if you want," Professor Longbottom offered, sounding like he thought that Scorpius wouldn't know how to use the potion.

"I might need your help," Scorpius admitted after a moment, handing the vial back to Professor Longbottom. Hugo watched to see that they weren't going to need him, and then trekked into the tent to start laying down blankets.

He heard Scorpius and Professor Neville talking in low voices outside--the sun was setting on the day, and Hugo crawled into his blankets, yawning noisily, and drifting almost immediately into sleep.

Scorpius patted his cheek, still in disbelief that it was almost entirely healed. "Thanks, Professor," he said, shoving his hands in his pocket.

"It's no trouble," Longbottom said, grinning as he put the dittany back into his rucksack.

They both sighed. Scorpius couldn't help but replay the scene of the attack over and over in his mind. It was juxtaposed by worry of Rose, and how close he had come to ruining her life. She wouldn't forgive him, ever, if something had happened to him, or Hugo, or even Professor Longbottom--he knew she was close to him, their parents being mates and all.

"Scorpius," Longbottom asked after a period of silence, "how did you get scratched? None of the spiders were close enough to me to hurt me." He was frowning, looking up at the dark sky. It had begun to snow.

"Well, they probably weren't," Scorpius admitted, feeling a bit sheepish. He had acted in stupidity, he knew, but he couldn't help it. In the heat of the moment, the logic had been infallible. "I went closer to them," he admitted. Longbottom turned to him, looking shocked, and confused. "I wasn't thinking about accidentally being left behind--it was stupid, yes, but if what the queen told us was true, and the ice guarding the Quidropopots is magical, and if we get there, we can't melt it with heating spells--we were going to need something to melt the ice, weren't we?"

Longbottom nodded, not quite seeing, Scorpius thought, where this narration was headed.

"So," he said, sighing deeply and reaching into his knapsack, where his wand was, "I saw a spider smaller than the others and went over to it--it was bigger than I had thought so I had to hit its eyes with the Conjunctivitis curse--and I used my wand to rip off one of its pincers," he said, pulling the prize out of his knapsack and offering it to Longbottom.

The professor's eyes threatened to burst from his head. He didn't say anything, just turned the pincer, which was about half a meter long and five centimetres wide. It was curved, like a scythe, and dark, like an onyx stone.

"You ripped--this--off of one of the Acromantulas?" Longbottom choked after a moment of looking shocked.

"Yes," Scorpius said, cringing, hanging his head at his stupidity.

"That was very stupid to do," Longbottom said, but his tone was amused. Scorpius looked up, frowning. He'd expected points from Gryffindor or something, not laughter. Because Longbottom was laughing, wasn't he? Maybe he was having a nervous breakdown. That wasn't uncommon after episodes of stress. What would Rose do? What do you do for someone having a nervous breakdown? Rose had had one herself, and he had been helpless, and now he felt the same--

"It was stupid, but I'm glad you did it. Otherwise, think of that, we'd have no way to get to the fruits!" Longbottom was still chuckling, but not in the mad way he had been a few moments before. Scorpius let out a sigh, relaxing.

"You mean we're still going to find them? Can we trust the directions? After all, the queen admitted she lied to us." Scorpius asked. He had been sure that Longbottom would insist that they head back to the school in the morning.

"Merlin, yes we are still going to find them," Longbottom said, a determined glaze coming over his eye. "And the queen's directions vaguely mirror my own estimations. But that's besides the point. We didn't come all the way out here, nearly die by Acromantula attack, and risk everything we had just for farts and giggles."

Scorpius was slightly taken aback at the professor's tone. For one usually so mild-mannered and cheerful, it was strange to see this bit of Longbottom's personality.

"That's true," Scorpius said, nodding.

"What's true?" came a deep voice from the trees. Scorpius noticed a sleek, tall, muscular man standing at the edge of the clearing.

He exchanged a look with Professor Longbottom. They were momentarily stumped. They'd set all the necessary spells--

The man stepped out of the protection of the trees and into the clearing.

"Bloody hell," Scorpius whispered.


Chapter 7: But Straightens Out Eventually
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But Straightens Out Eventually

Hugo heard lots of stomping going on outside the tent. And that made him grumpy. He'd just been almost eaten by Acromantulas, for Merlin's sake, what, were Scorpius and Professor Neville having a dance party in celebration?

Actually, he thought, that might be kind of fun. He scrambled out of his blankets and rubbed his eyes, sitting up. He thought he'd go join them.

"Bloody hell," he heard Scorpius whisper as he was sticking his head out of the tent. And he saw why.

"What is true?" the centaur asked, standing at the outer edge of the clearing and commanding an answer. Hugo thought that having half a horse for a body was rather an unfair way of garnering obedience and answers.

"Kristophos?" Hugo asked, recognizing the creature after a moment of pondering his presence in their circle of enchantment.

The creature looked around to the tent quickly, his face softening and lines of confusion forming between his brows upon sighting the boy.

"Hugo Weasley," he said, stepping further into the clearing. His flaming red hair rippled down his back, and his beard, equally soft (Hugo giggled: a soft beard!), covered most of his muscular chest and shoulders. He wore no clothing, even in the cold weather, though his pale skin was flushed and his chestnut body rippled mildly.

"How are you, Kris?" Hugo asked, crawling out of the tent and walking across the clearing to shake the giant creature's hand. Up close you could tell, Hugo thought. You could see they weren't human. Their foreheads were too protuberant, their eyes too far apart, their noses too strong, their faces too chiseled. Their breaths came in snorts, and they tossed their necks as if they were more horse than man.

"I fare well, young one." Kristophos let go of Hugo's hand gently, and looked back up to Scorpius and Professor Longbottom, who were both looking stunned, still seated on the logs they had dragged over from the trees. Hugo looked over his shoulder to them as well: Scorpius was giving him a strange look, and poor Professor Neville--he looked ready to faint.

Oh, yes, it was in times like these, Scorpius thought, looking in disbelief at Hugo's inability to see this as a strange situation, that Scorpius wondered how in the world Hugo had managed to make the friends he had with such strange creatures without fatally offending any of them.

Sure, he was a friendly kid, if only perhaps a little too neanderthal-esque to fit into today's society. But that still didn't explain how he managed feats such as these. The centaurs and the Wizards had never, ever gotten along well. At least, that's what his family had taught him. It struck Scorpius that he didn't actually know if the Wizards and centaurs got along, or had ever. His parents were clueless about magical creatures. How had he gone so long believing some of the things they said just to fill a silence with a soothing word, a calm touch, an aura of authority?

But this wasn't the time for getting upset at his parents, no, it was a time for gauging the depth of the trouble they were in. From Hugo's face, unadorned with worry or really, any concern, Scorpius would have judged that it was shallow trouble, for now. Just wait till there were more of them.

"Honestly?" Scorpius whispered to himself. He had only just thought it when three more figures, too tall and broad to be completely human, stepped into the clearing. "Don't tell me centaurs are immune to magic, too."

"They aren't," Longbottom chirped from his side. He didn't seem particularly concerned--more like, interested. Scorpius didn't know if he was just jumpy; nearly escaping death can do that to a person, he guessed, shrugging his shoulders.

"Then how are they coming in? You set up the enchantments, I watched you." Scorpius folded his arms.

"They protect against wizards, muggles, and dark creatures," Longbottom whispered. "Centaurs don't fall into those categories."

Scorpius let out a weak "hmph." He wasn't sure if he trusted Hugo's judgement enough to deem the situation completely safe, just because centaurs weren't dark creatures.

He heard Hugo greet the three others, all of whose faces reflected relief upon finding that they knew one of the three human intruders. Scorpius felt a little better, seeing all of them react that way. But it didn't change the fact that Hugo was likely to be honest with them about their destination; and knowing now that the creatures of the forest were willing to do almost anything to protect the state of the world, he didn't think that the centaurs were particularly smart creatures to cross on the way to do something that would send the state of the world into upheaval.

Scorpius watched Hugo and the centaurs interact, his arms crossed over his chest, feeling tense. He realised after a moment that he was frowning and squinting severely, trying to read their lips. It was pointless; their beards and murmurs didn't produce very legible mouths to read.

He shook his head. Too much time away from normal people—he looked sideways at Professor Longbottom, thinking that well, he's sort of normal—had given him a strange way of looking at things. It was funny how, when you were after something, almost all of you was concerned with anything that was about it. He was worried of the centaurs, not because he thought that they disliked wizards, but because he was worried that they'd be unhappy about Hugo's desire to reach the Quidropopots. Which had also become Scorpius's desire. Which was strange, especially when Scorpius took into account that the wasn't even sure why Hugo wanted to find the plant.

This struck him, as he watched Hugo still, comfortable as he could be with the centaurs, as particularly bothersome. And important. How could he have allowed himself to be so easily swayed by a boy just because he had felt something unnamable and seemingly important? Maybe the spiders were right. Maybe they shouldn't be looking for the fruit. Why did the Acromantulas attack, after all, even when the queen told them herself she knew Hugo was pure of heart? Why did Hugo want it anyways? Why did Scorpius want it?

Was he more like his father than he had been willing to admit? Was he drawn to the power that the fruits could supply to him?

He suddenly had to know. He turned to Professor Longbottom.

"We need to talk to Hugo," he hissed in the professor's direction.

Neville turned, unsurprised, to Scorpius. He had known this was coming; he'd been thinking the same thing. He'd been rather stupid not to have demanded some kind of real explanation of Hugo before. The explanation given to the spider had been unsatisfactory and had nearly cost all three of them their lives.

"I know," he finally said back to the boy, who was glaring in the direction of Hugo's little pow-wow.

"What do you think they're talking about?" Scorpius asked, flickering a blue eye in Neville's direction.

"I'm not sure," Neville replied, thinking it over for a moment. "I would have expected more of a reaction if he'd told them that he was looking for the…you-know-what," he said, and Scorpius nodded. "Perhaps they're just having a conversation."

"Not to be rude, Professor, but don't you think that they'd be wondering what we're doing here?"

Neville nodded. "Yes, I do think they'd think it odd. Maybe Hugo's improvising." He met the boy's eyes. He could tell from the slight look that Scorpius was giving him that they both knew that wouldn't bode well.

They were silent for a moment. Neville thought of various ways that he could approach the subject with Hugo. Well, it's just that we really should take this plant very seriously, Hugo. How do we know that we won't be gripped by desire when we reach it and throw the whole natural system out of order? That wouldn't be fair to the creatures of the forest who have guarded it with their lives for centuries…No, that isn't right. Hugo, we just really need to know why you want this. Or—

"We're going to die," Scorpius groaned. "We are going to die."

Neville looked up and followed his gaze while Scorpius began muttering to himself.

"Stupid hat put me in Gryffindor…oh, hell, we're going to die…I don't want to die, I haven't even learned how to Apparate yet…"

Neville understood the panic. The centaurs walking towards them looked menacing—their sinewy bodies bare even in the cold, their taller-than-average heads unmoving as they plodded through the snow, Hugo at their lead. Heavy eyebrows set closely together at the center of their foreheads as they seemed particularly focused on these unfamiliar visitors.

"Hullo, Professor, Scorpius," Hugo said brightly, gesturing to each of them in turn. "These are my—er—this is Kristophos, and this is Xury. Oh, and this is Delphi, and his sister Pythia."

Neville noticed for the first time that the only covered centaur was indeed female. Striking features, though not exactly what Neville would call beautiful—her lines were too harsh, her gaze too intimidating, her mouth too proud. A fairly accurate representation of the whole of the centaur population.

"Pleasure to meet you," Neville said after a moment; it was not completely new, to be the subject of many eyes (as a Professor one rather got used to that sort of thing), but something about it being the centaur's eyes was rather unsettling.

After a moment, Scorpius spoke up too. "Mine as well."

"They were wondering why we were out here, so I thought it was best if you explained, Professor," Hugo said, and Neville sensed again that palpable panic coming from him that too often accompanied that wide-eyed stare. Neville attempted to calm his features, though he couldn't stop his eyebrows from shooting up on his forehead. After a moment he smiled, hoping that that smoothed some of the lines, and rapidly concocted a story.

"Well, it's rather simple, you see. Hugo and Scorpius were serving a detention with me and I decided to bring them out on the look for a certain plant that has been evading me, since I had the extra help, you know. We've gotten slightly lost, though." Neville shrugged his shoulders apologetically.

One of the centaurs--Neville wasn't sure exactly which one--Delphi, he thought--stepped forward and looked Neville right into the eyes. Neville looked to Hugo for a moment, not understanding the customs of the centaurs. He wasn't quite sure how to accept the stare--a threat, or a gesture of respect? Hugo, however, looked singularly unconcerned, even comfortable. Neville stifled a loud gulp, deciding to look right back.

It was a bad move. Delphi turned on the spot and grabbed Hugo by the throat. The boy's eyes bugged as Delphi marched him to a tree and pinned him to the trunk.

Neville felt a ball of adrenaline roll through his stomach, clenching it unpleasantly. Panic infiltrated his temples, collapsing them into his forehead--he reached up to make sure that his head was still intact and then turned his attention back to Hugo and Delphi, who was staring at Hugo intently.

"Hugo Weasley, what are you doing in the forest? My brothers and sisters have trailed you since your entrance; and the Acromantulas don't attack just anyone. So, I ask again--what are you doing here?"

Lying might have spared them the first time--Neville meant, of course, lying might have spared them the fear of death by Acromantula, which didn't seem a death one would wish to die unless threatened by…oh, he didn't know, perhaps some chronic disease. But it appeared that lying wasn't going to get them out of it this time. Neville felt his heart beating, seeming to nestle directly underneath his skin. It also seemed, problematically, to be sending heat directly to visible places of his face, like his cheeks and forehead. He ducked his head, hoping that none of the centaurs noticed and pinned him to a tree.

Scorpius stood stock still, shocked beyond mobility. The air slipped quickly, dry, into his nostrils, through his lungs, sending icy chills to his tingling fingertips. He didn't know what to do. He didn't know himself why Hugo wanted the plant. He didn't know himself why he wanted to help the kid find it. He didn't know why Professor Longbottom didn't just write them up a years' worth of detention slips and Apparate them back to the outskirts of the forest, and take them back immediately to the safety of the castle.

He waited on tenterhooks, equally eager and nervous to hear what Hugo was about to say.

Hugo opened his mouth, forming a great 'O' before moving into an impossible sort of 'U' shape, and then morphed through the different interpretations of the letter 'M' with astounding speed and absurdity.

This activity, during which nothing actually happened but simultaneously many things appeared to be happening behind Hugo's wide eyes, paused the centaur, who tilted his head to one side, regarding the boy before him with what Scorpius would have labeled as mingled amusement and confusion. As Hugo managed a small "glarbleguck" the creature straightened again and gathered a breath, leaning in close towards Hugo's face, meaning to stare him down. Hugo's eyes followed the centaur's face up to where it hovered menacingly, and before Scorpius had any kind of grip on the situation, Hugo sunk back against the tree and burst into tears.

"I--I don't know," Hugo wailed between racking sobs. His body shook violently and Delphi dropped Hugo's neck quickly, stepping back in a smooth motion, and allowing the boy to slide down the tree and plunk into the snow at its base. Scorpius watched in continued amazement as Hugo rested his arms on his knees and buried his face in the nook of one elbow, in a state of entire abandon.

Not that Hugo had ever been one to conceal what it was he was feeling, or thinking--only he was usually so high of spirits that seeing him out of sorts made one feel rather vulnerable oneself. It was so easy to feel what Hugo felt through his bodily implications of the emotions that stormed his body that Scorpius felt a bit like sobbing himself. Granted, they had been out in the snow with minimal nourishment and social contact for days now, at least three--and Scorpius hadn't properly washed his hair in a while, or shaved, both of which were largely bothersome to him--and on top of that, none of them had slept more than a few hours at a time each night to maintain a constant roulette of surveillance. Then, he supposed, there was the whole we almost died by Acromantula attack thing.

It could have been these things pushing the tears violently towards the front of Scorpius's eyes, seeming to prefer the method of shoving them right through the back of the eyeball (that's where he felt it, a steady sting)--but Scorpius would have sworn his life (which seemed to be in others' hands increasingly as of late) that tears threatened to stain his cheeks because of the absolute terror and confusion and agony and other previously-bottled emotions that were pulsing through the young Weasley's body merely yards from him.

No matter what Scorpius was feeling, the centaurs seemed to be at a loss of knowledge as to handle this situation as well. Scorpius was sure that they would understand the gravity of the potential discovery of a plant that created gods out of men and the longterm damage a well-meaning boy could wreak on the entire world with the power they produced--but he was also sure that they could see as well as he could, and possibly better than he could, the reality of what was sitting before them.

And Scorpius didn't know about the centaurs--although he rather thought, from Kristophos's face, that this particular centaur was in agreement with his thoughts--but he was beginning to wonder himself if a boy like Hugo would even be able to figure out how to use the fruits in a dangerous way.

But of course there was the blind, fumbling, blundering thing. He would be like a giant tot, with a nuclear rattle ticking and whirring high above his head and tearing down buildings, shooting radioactive beams into space.

Scorpius couldn't help but smile at the thought of Hugo in a diaper storming the earth--but what really made him smile was thinking about the radioactive beams, since he'd learned about them from Hugo, who had been practicing for a test in Muggle Studies.

Which brought Scorpius to thinking about Marjorie. Marjie Barrows was a good student, a nice person, and quite obviously the object of Hugo's affections. He knew that the two had talked about the Quidropopot shortly before Hugo had decided to hightail it into the forest--and putting things together, Scorpius put together--finally, for himself--the stupidest motivation that he ever could have imagined for Hugo's journey into death's maw.

For a girl.

The modern day Helen of Troy, if you looked at all of the attempts on their lives recently. (The count came, Scorpius realised, to one.)

Hugo had said that that wasn't it--but....The flimsy motivation of winning the affections of a girl so high above him in the social strata and--but wait. A wave of self-loathing interrupted Scorpius's thoughts, infiltrating them like poison. He felt like spitting violently. He sounded so much like his father.

Scorpius looked up, looked at everyone in the clearing. Anything for a distraction. After much bouncing around, his eyes settled on the lump at the bottom of a tree.

Hugo seemed to be calming down. His body had stopped shaking and he had lifted his head, wiping his nose with his sleeve in his usual unabashed manner. He sniffled noisily and gave a small hiccough before proceeding to flap his mouth open and closed for a few moments.

"I--I just felt like I needed to--to--" Hugo stopped, frowning slightly. He paused for a long moment, appearing to have difficulty in stringing his words together in a coherent manner. Scorpius wasn't sure whether to be impressed by the ostensible effort that Hugo was about to put into an explanation or worried at the amount of time that it was taking him to articulate himself. He settled on a somewhere in between until Hugo actually managed to procure an explanation.

"You know," Hugo said quietly, dropping one hand to the snow and patting it idly as he spoke, "they talk about me. I know that I'm not--I'm not smart, or anything. And not everything they say is bad. Sometimes they're talking about Quidditch--" his eyes lit up at the thought. "Sometimes, though, they say things that make me--want…They say things like I'm different."

The clearing was silent. The air was heavy and dry. A snowflake fell and landed on Scorpius's eyelashes--he didn't notice.

A boy worse with words than the average six-year-old, and he had six in his midst entranced.

"And I know that I'm not like them. But that's not what they mean, is it, because something so obvious is hardly worth mentioning."

Scorpius heard Professor Longbottom give a slight chuckle. Xury shifted on his legs, appearing to settle into a comfortable position. Pythia loosened hold on her crossbow, and tucked a strand of hair behind her ear.

"I have never been sure what it means," Hugo mused, looking up into the air at the small puff of white he produced. "But--well--I mean to say, everyone knows my parents."

It hit Neville like a load of bricks stuck in a second-hand robe and swung down upon him from the pinnacle of the astronomy tower. He felt utterly defeated by the understanding that crashed into him, and lowered himself to the ground, ending ungracefully in a cross-legged position. He saw, from the corner of his eye, Scorpius's head tilt back, a shrug of his shoulders, and heard the older boy sigh deeply. He knew that they both understood why they were here, perhaps more clearly than Hugo himself did (and judging by Hugo's own explanation Neville was almost certain that he understood better than the boy).

Neville wondered at the weight he perceived. He had had the thought himself a hundred times that Hugo was so different than one would have expected the son of two war heroes to be like. And it seemed that although his parents and his family could accept Hugo Weasley for who he had turned out to be, the rest of the world was still expecting him to become something. And Hugo felt that. And it made him feel like he had to prove something.

Neville needed to help Hugo because Neville had once been Hugo.

Scorpius needed to help Hugo because Scorpius was living Hugo's life.

The three of them united by a common thought--one of them after a plant, and the other two seeking to show the one that he's got more than a plant would ever give him.

"Do they ever sleep?"

"Don't be silly," Hugo replied, grinning up at Scorpius, who was looking at him from the corner of one dark-blue eye.

Scorpius kept looking at Hugo. It took him a moment to understand that that had probably been a real question. So that look was just Scorpius waiting for a proper answer.

Hugo attempted to make a mental note of that face. Note: this is what someone looks like when you haven't properly answered them.

He cleared his throat. "Of course they sleep. All animals and people and all that need sleep. Unless, of course, you're a creature who doesn't need sleep." He thought of the Lethifold--surely they didn't slumber. That would be ironic wouldn't it, the one who feasts on the slumbering, slumbering itself. Hah, hah. The thought caused him to chuckle aloud.

Scorpius smiled too, nodding. But his face quickly cleared as outside of the tent another one of them stamped a hoof. "But really. None of them are sleeping, are they?"

"Oh, I'd think that three of them are and one's taking watch," Hugo replied casually. He turned and stared pointedly at Professor Neville, who was snoring slightly and whose mouth was hanging open, issuing forth a streamlet of drool. "Cause it's not like he's on watch or anything."

Scorpius looked up at the shadows dancing on the canvas walls in front of them like some oddly distorted moving picture show. The four centaurs stood outside of the tent, their long bodies disrupting the flickering flow of firelight from the flames in its travel to the tent.

"It's so odd," Scorpius whispered as Neville gave a particularly loud snore. "That they stand."

"Horses do, their knees lock in place so they don't crumple up or anything. Cows do that too."

"That's why you can push them over, then, cause their knees are locked," Scorpius muttered with a gleam in his eye, looking back at Hugo over his shoulder. They were sitting side-by-side in the middle of the tent, unable to sleep just yet.

Hugo laughed. Scorpius was funny. He saw why Rose liked him.

"I guess so," he answered. He hadn't really thought about pushing over sleeping cows much before in his life, although that would be a bright thing to say by way of introduction, Hugo rather thought. Hello, my name is Hugo Weasley, and I like to push over cows while they sleep because their legs lock and they're sleeping.

"Why did they offer to come with us?" Scorpius asked. Hugo thought that maybe Scorpius hadn't been paying attention earlier when the centaurs told them why, so he voiced this concern aloud.

"You're right," Scorpius admitted. "I don't think I was. I was--thinking about something else," he said, looking down at his hands and twirling a small twig in his fingers. "I was just--you know--hoping that since you know them so well, you might know why they'd want to come with us on a trip to a place we're not even sure of, all for a fruit that could threaten the stability of the entire world."

Hugo took a moment to take this in. Threaten the stability of the entire world? He hadn't thought of that. If he admitted it to himself, he hadn't actually given much thought to the Quidropopot other than the idea of finding it. He hadn't taken time to consider what his actions would make happen. He tried to think of what Scorpius meant. How could it threaten the whole world?

Well, if someone evil got a hold of the rubies. Rose said those were powerful. So did Professor Neville, I think. But wait, the flesh is very good. It would be good for healers.

But does that undo the badness that could happen because of the rubies? The healing of exotic diseases versus the collapse of the modern earth…

Hugo was beginning to see more and more what he believed would be the outcome of this trip.

"I don't know," he said at last. "Maybe they just want to make sure that we don't take the fruit back with us." He shrugged.

Scorpius stretched widely and then turned to look at Hugo seriously. "And that's okay with you? If we come all this way for the Quidropopot, and then when we find it, the centaurs don't let us take it back--is that okay?"

Hugo thought about this for a moment. He hadn't told Scorpius of course that he wasn't actually after the Quidropopot after all--and of course he couldn't have because he only himself came to that conclusion very recently--but it still couldn't help but strike Hugo as a bit of a funny question.

"I think it's okay." Hugo sighed, suddenly feeling very sleepy. He leaned back and shrugged off his coat, scrambling into his sleeping bag. He watched Scorpius nod slowly, still looking up at the silhouettes of the centaurs outside.

"You want to know why?" he asked the older boy sleepily, struggling to keep his eyes open.

"Why, Hugo?"

"Because when we're done, I can still tell Mum and Dad that I found it."

a/n: edited 10 september 2011.
muchos thanks to annie and gina for fangirling this next-gen trio on their way! also gubby for being queen of grammar, ily. sadly i am a mere pauper in the grammatical kingdom.

Chapter 8: Promptly Meandering
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Promptly Meandering

It had been a night and day since the centaurs had taken up the role of the little troupe's security. Seeming to understand something that Scorpius didn't quite, they had offered their services to Hugo, asking to accompany him to the frozen lake where the Quidropopot cultivated.

Of course, Hugo was friends with them, so he probably didn't find their presence grating as Scorpius did--but he was keenly aware that Professor Longbottom and Scorpius still wanted to get him to explain some things. Scorpius rather thought that Hugo knew he wasn't above cornering him and threatening him mercilessly.

But that was four, five, six--however many it had been--days' worth of sleep deprivation and travel weariness thinking for him. Scorpius really was very tired, he thought, as he laid on his back in his sleeping bag listening to Professor Longbottom and Hugo trying to get the small burner to work. And he was beginning to wonder about too many things to go without being cranky for a bit.

"Hugo Weasley," he heard a deep male voice (that certainly wasn't Professor Longbottom's) boom. "We must go to gather food and drink. We will return at high noon, and at that time I recommend that we make haste towards the lake."

"Okay, Xury," Hugo said. It sounded like he was talking with his mouth full. Scorpius leapt up and ran out of the tent, forgetting that he was barefoot. He hit the snow with a yelp and darted back inside, pulling socks and trainers on impatiently.

When he finally scrambled out of the tent, hair flopping into his face messily, it looked like the centaurs had departed and Professor Longbottom was just unpacking some bread to toast on the fire. It was blue fire, something Scorpius had become accustomed to seeing.

It was a shame that there weren’t practical life-without-magic classes at Hogwarts, because if he, Hugo, and Professor Longbottom had been stranded without their wands--well, they’d be dead, because the Acromantulas would have eaten them, but pretending like that didn’t happen--they’d likely die by freezing to death. None of them had thought to bring matches and they couldn’t manage a comic-book wielding of a magnifying glass and crumpled paper, either.

Scorpius took a moment to clear his head when he realised that he was attempting to imagine what it would feel like to freeze solid, breathing in the crisp air deeply.

“Morning,” Hugo hummed, and again, it sounded like his mouth was full of something, his lips forming the letters around some huge impediment.

“Morning,” Scorpius replied, stepping closer to the fire and pulling his hands out of his pockets to warm them over the tiny blue flames. Professor Longbottom skewered some bread with a twig he’d been regularly using for this purpose and held it out over the fire.

He was getting good at lacing the pieces onto the twig, Scorpius noted with a hint of satisfaction. He was currently toasting five at once.

“Hugo,” Scorpius said, unable to distract himself any longer, “what’s in your mouth?”

“Snow,” Hugo said, looking up at him with his wide stare. His green eyes questioned the older boy innocently. “I’m eating it.”

“Snow is water,” Scorpius happened to mention.

“No, snow is snow.”

“But snow is frozen water.”

“Frozen water is snow.”

“So you’re eating water.”

“I’m eating snow.”

“You’re eating frozen water.”

“I’m drinking solid water.”

“You just--”

“Ha, haaaaaaa!” Hugo said, pointing a finger up at Scorpius’s face, looking gleeful. He then scampered off to a fresh patch of snow a small distance away and began forming it into small sculptures. Scorpius had noticed that there didn’t seem to be any drool spotting Hugo’s chin--in fact, Scorpius hadn’t noticed the regular glisten for a while now.

“Do you think that saliva freezes like water?” Scorpius mumbled under his breath to Professor Longbottom, who looked back with an indulgent eye and smiled.

“I don’t know, but I know why you’re asking,” Neville said, feeling an odd sort of glow in his chest at the thought of never having to look down at a workbench spotted with mysterious liquid and wonder whether or not it had come from Hugo Weasley again.

“I feel proud,” Scorpius mused, with a strange look on his face. Neville guessed that he was feeling confusion, like Neville himself was feeling, at deriving so much happiness out of the fact that Hugo had stopped drooling. Neville thought that it marked, in a small, beginning way, Hugo’s transition into semi-adulthood--of course, it was true that not everyone was built to fit into societal preconceptions and expectations, and certainly Hugo was one of those people, so Neville didn’t know if he ever really would become what someone would call an adult--but perhaps the path to maturity--wait, no. That wasn’t the right word either.

(But in a way, Neville thought, Hugo was already more mature than his peers. After all, one does spend a great deal of one’s post-pubescent life looking at oneself through other people’s eyes. It’s easier to understand who one is that way, because a funny thing about people is that they lose no time in making up their minds about who other people are...but have the hardest time understanding themselves. Poor Hugo was really in a rut then, wasn’t he, since he didn’t even turn to others to tell him who he was--he was left to his own, slightly-daft devices to understand himself at an age at which most children were still looking to others to make those decisions for them.)

At any rate, Hugo was changing. He didn’t seem to be losing any of his more charming qualities--so Neville temporarily labeled the transition as growing up. Perhaps it was a sort of fact that most kids went through what Hugo was experiencing a year or two earlier--they couldn’t retain such innocence and unawareness of self as Hugo could into his young adult life--but it was something that, from what Neville understood of what Hugo had said last night to the centaurs, Hugo wanted.

Neville had watched Hugo carefully as he interacted with the centaurs--he seemed to forget that while the centaurs seemed to have slightly-psychic abilities and could understand Hugo’s motives based off of his ambiguous, slightly shoddy explanation, Neville and Scorpius, who were only human, and not psychic, needed a more tangible explanation so that they could understand his motives.

There was a small part of Neville that fully embraced the knowledge that since he didn’t know Hugo’s real intentions, the boy could actually be seeking it for nefarious application. It looked a little suspicious from one point of view that Hugo had never been able to tell anyone exactly why he wanted the plant. The closest they had gotten to a real explanation was when he was forced to say something to the Acromantulas, and that explanation could easily be boiled down to “I don’t know.”

It had happened to Neville several times that it suddenly seemed like it was the most important thing to understand Hugo’s motivations, but he had been able to shrug it off those other times, telling himself all kinds of things...things like, it doesn’t matter, he’s just a kid, he probably doesn’t even realise how powerful they are...

But Neville had been finding out too much too quickly that he had been underestimating Hugo--there wasn’t anything that he could tell himself at the moment that would satiate his desire to just have some tangible, able-to-be-understood, cold, hard facts. Only it was the funny thing about facts, wasn’t it, that people told themselves the facts were cold and hard and unchangeable and objective when really, really facts were soft and warm, and were a safety blanket--retreat to facts, which can’t forsake you--and were so easily changeable.

Plato would argue with him, of course, but Neville wasn’t speaking of facts facts, the things that actually were the perfect idea and form, but facts as the human mind conceptualised the term. And facts to the human mind, while are unchangeable and pure, actually change all the time. Neville thought of all the changes in medicine--things people had been sure were deadly, incurable diseases that people had, in fact, years later, cured. The fact that a werewolf would never be able to manage its symptoms on the full moon--changed with the invention of Wolfsbane potion. The fact that Herbology is a boring and useless subject--changed, as soon as Professor Longbottom took charge of the instruction.

So Plato could just can it, and listen to Neville Longbottom for once. Because Herbology is damned interesting.

“I know what you mean,” Neville said after a long pause. “It’s a step towards...wherever Hugo really is headed. And nice for us.” He turned to see Scorpius nodding with a slight smile on his face.

They paused, neither of them wanting to say it.

“We should talk to him,” Scorpius finally sighed. Neville nodded in agreement.

“Yes,” he said. “We should. We really do need to know why he wants the plant.”

“Yeah,” Scorpius said, putting his hands on his hips. “It’s hard to know, that he’d want it for anything--anything evil.”

“It is,” Neville said, “but the Acromantulas did almost eat us for dinner.”

Scorpius chuckled. He found that when Professor Longbottom put it that way, this phrase was much more humourous than when anyone--he didn’t know, maybe his age said it. But it was more than just a phrase, it was true. They would have served as a particularly lanky main course.

Hugo stood up and Scorpius felt nervous as he came nearer, knowing that he was going to have to ask him to explain himself. It wasn’t as though he couldn’t demand things of people--knowing Rose for long enough was enough to teach anyone how to get what they wanted through intimidation tactics. She often pracitsed it on small children out of bed at night. He always wondered how someone who could be so sweet could also be so scheming at times.

He had been wondering increasingly lately how someone so seemingly dim could actually be pretty sharp.

“Hi, Scorpius!” Hugo said with an air about him as though he was greeting a long lost friend. Scorpius was about to say hello in return, but Hugo had thrown his skinny arms around Scorpius’s shoulders and muffled any sound in his coat. Scorpius was taken aback at the hug, but awkwardly patted Hugo’s back.

“You know,” Scorpius said, a tinge of his old worry coloring his voice. “We did already see each other this morning.”

“I know,” Hugo said, and there was that familiar look of his. It was a look that Scorpius could only take to mean, Silly Scorpius, of course I know that, don’t be silly.

“Hugo,” Professor Longbottom said. Scorpius gulped nervously. He didn’t know why he was feeling so strange. It wasn’t like they were asking him this for the first time. They’d asked in their roundabout ways several times, actually. Yes, that was true. And if that was true then Hugo wasn’t going to completely degenerate into a puddle of tears when they asked him to explain. They just wanted him to resay what he had already said, in different words. That was all! That wasn’t too much to ask. That wasn’t any reason to get nervous.

“Hi, Professor Neville!” Hugo said, launching himself at the Professor. Longbottom looked over the boy’s shoulder at Scorpius, looking like he would appeal for help if he thought it would do any good. There was also slight amusement there, between his brows, in the slackness of the upper lip--but there was a tension to the temples, and Scorpius understood, now, what their approach would be.

Seriousness, but only faintly shrouding amusement.

Why were they amused at something that had caused them to risk their lives?

Oh, Merlin. They were crazy people.

“Hugo,” Longbottom tried again, trying to put a crease into his lower brow. Scorpius thought he was doing well. He planted his feet wide apart and folded his arms, trying to frown. Longbottom cleared his throat slightly--it said, too much, Scorpius. So he unfolded his brow slightly and put his feet closer together. While Hugo was looking back and forth between the two of them, Longbottom nodded slightly. Scorpius felt better. Okay, I look the part. That’s got to get me halfway there, right?

“Yes?” Hugo asked, his voice timorous.

“Hugo, Scorpius and I--” Scorpius waited on tenterhooks as Longbottom seemed to struggle with something about the construction of this introduction, and started again. “Look, Hugo, we don’t want to put any unnecessary pressure on you, but we really just want you to explain why you’re out in the forest looking for the Quidropopot.”

Hugo was silent for a moment; Scorpius’s hands balled into fists inside his pockets as he waited for him to show some sign of what was going to happen. Either way, Scorpius knew, this would change things. As soon as they found out why Hugo was here, they’d know why they were there, too--Neville, and himself.

“I mean, you told the spiders--”


Hugo didn’t look like he meant to be rude, interrupting, so Scorpius’s surprise remained untinged by annoyance.

“When you told the Acromantulas that you weren’t really interested in the Quidropopot at all, it was...confusing.”

“Oh,” Hugo said. “But it isn’t about the plant.”

Scorpius’s eyebrows shot up before he could conceal his surprise; his eyes flickered over to Professor Longbottom and saw that the Professor also donned a look that said he was mildly impressed. Scorpius understood why. To say that it wasn’t about the plant suggested, as Scorpius had hoped, that Hugo did understand why he was here.

Something that he hadn’t been able to admit before, which implied itself that Hugo had actually been doing some introspection. It was impressive from a boy who little over half of a week ago had been drooling prodigiously and launching himself head-first out of the portrait hole.

“It’s more about...that I can do something, anything. Marjie didn’t even think I knew what cartoons were. Well, no, actually, she just assumed I did, only I forgot for a minute and then I got a suit that I never got to wear, by the way.”

“Hugo. Can you just tell us--”

“Sorry,” he said, looking sheepish and pushing a little mound of snow over one of his shoes. “It’s just--” And you could see, Scorpius thought, Hugo’s emotions pushing forward to the surface. He was usually, besides when he was bursting into tears, someone so enigmatic--and Scorpius didn’t even mean that in the best way--that seeing the edge of something directly beneath the skin was captivating. It made you listen. It made you wonder.

Scorpius thought it must have been the thing that had brought him and Longbottom all this way--whatever was beneath the drool, the stares, the seeming helplessness.

“It’s just people think they know who I should be because everyone knows my parents.” It was apparent to Scorpius that this had been what Hugo had been trying to say all along. The boy’s shoulders drooped with relief and his whole body seemed to radiate the loss of a cumbersome burden. “They see Rose and know that she’s smart and funny and she even looks like a Weasley. She has the freckles and everything.”

Scorpius tried to hide his smile. In the midst of a turning point, Hugo maintained his endearing, air-headed charm--the freckles, oh yes, that’s what marks a Weasley.

“And then they see me. And they think they know who I am because they know everyone else in my family. I see them all the time disappointed that I’m not good at classes or knitting like Mum, that I’m not really funny like Dad or Rose, and what’s weird is that everyone knows I’m a Weasley even though I don’t look like one. I’m so close to--not being what they think I am. Only I don’t know who I am and they do. So I thought, if I can just find out that one thing that I think about myself is true, then I’ll know more than everyone.”

A moment of silence pervaded the clearing, seeming to echo, sucking the air out from between them. A moment of stillness, in which no snow fell, no branch shifted, and no one seemed to breathe. And then--

“What did you want to prove by finding the plant, Hugo?”

It was Longbottom. He had a strange look on his face--Scorpius could only imagine in abstract form what it might have been from, since he didn’t quite understand yet what he was feeling himself.

“I thought--well, I thought that I can do something when I mean to.”

Scorpius tilted his head, trying to understand the statement as sure as he could be as Hugo had intended it to sound.

“You know,” he said, his voice splitting into the air like boulders shifting against each other. “That’s not something that everyone can say.”

“My parents can,” Hugo said, first looking proud, then confused. “And I want that to be my Weasley trait.”

“You have something else your parents have, Hugo,” Longbottom said, taking his hands out of his pockets and counting off on his fingers. “First, you’re kind-hearted, like your mum. Second, you really are funny, like Ron. Third, you’re full of potential, like both of your parents.” He paused, and looked at Hugo. Scorpius saw that he was grinning widely. A little glow trickled out from his chest and laced his veins. “I could go on,” Longbottom said, shoving his hands back in his pockets, “but I think you get the point.”

“You’ve forgotten one, Professor,” Scorpius muttered after a moment of blinding thought, and he felt as though lenses had been put down over his eyes. Everything was different in light of what had just occurred to him. “Maybe the most important. Maybe the one most people in this world would give most of what they have for. Something special.”

He stopped, jarred by the look on Hugo’s face--little remained of the dim, airy, daft boy. Cluelessness it seemed had been replaced by a sharp eye and ear for whatever was about to come out of Scorpius’s mouth, so he chose his words carefully, constructing a simple statement that he couldn’t deliver wrongly.

“It’s called ‘adventure.’”

“We should move quickly,” Xury huffed, walking quietly back into camp. Hugo looked up from where he sat, straddling a large wad of canvas as Professor Neville tried to wrangle the tent back into its bag.

“Why?” Hugo stood and the tent popped back open. He saw Professor Neville shrug his shoulders before whipping out his wand and shrinking it as it stood, shoving it into his pocket.

“We have seen that we have been followed,” Xury said with a flick of his long tail, looking otherwise unbothered. Hugo wondered if he ever got cold without anything on like a coat.

“What does that mean, exactly?” Hugo saw that Professor Neville’s forehead was creased by a frown and the rest of his face had gone oddly slack. It was sort of like Mum when she told him she was trying not to lose her temper.

“We have been followed,” Xury repeated. Hugo knew that Professor Neville wasn’t going to like that answer. It was the same one he already had, which wasn’t enough.

But Professor Longbottom shook his head, gathered up the rest of their things, and shrugged in Hugo’s direction. “Okay, let’s move.”

Scorpius popped up from behind a mound of snow and scrambled to his feet.

“What were you doing?” Hugo asked interestedly. Scorpius’s face was very wet and a little pink.

“I was trying to rinse out my hair. With the snow. I melted it but it was still too cold.” Scorpius shook his head. “What do you think they mean, we’re being followed?”

Hugo liked the conspiratorial tone that Scorpius used when he asked the question. “I don’t know,” Hugo whispered back, feeling like giggling.

“He didn’t look worried,” Scorpius muttered, pulling out his wand, it seemed, just in case.

“But you can hardly ever tell what a centaur is feeling from what he looks like,” Hugo said, surprised that Scorpius didn’t know this. Then again, he hadn’t really spent too much time with them. Hugo had to remember things like that more often, he decided.

“So Xury could actually be very worried.” Scorpius said it, rather than asked, but Hugo nodded anyways. “Great.”

“Usually I think they’d tell us if it was like, an Acromantula following us, or something else that wanted to eat us,” Hugo nodded. He saw Scorpius watching him, but when he turned to see if he was going to say anything, he didn’t, only looked at him with a strange expression on his face. It looked like his eyes were trying very hard to stay looking at him, and that sort of reminded Hugo of when Rose was trying not to roll her eyes. He thought about what he had said and thought that maybe he could have said something more assuring.

“I mean, I’m sure it’s nothing dangerous, they just want to get to the lake before sundown.” Scorpius smiled at Hugo after a moment, so Hugo decided he didn’t need to try again. Which was good, because he wasn’t sure that he could have thought of another way to say it.

They crunched through snow for what Hugo thought must have been hours. The woods were silent besides the sound of their breathing, their footsteps, their occasional murmurs.

The fact that they were being followed weighed heavily on Neville’s mind as they left tracks in the snow. For a moment, he considered taking out his wand and steaming away their footprints, but Delphi, who was walking beside him, crossbow bouncing comfortably between his hands, had told him not to bother. After initial surprise at the fact that Neville hadn’t voiced anything aloud and Delphi had still understood his thoughts, he asked the centaur, having to crane his neck a little, why. They were making enough noise as it was, Delphi said, and the things which followed them would not need footprints as evidence of their presence.

A desperate brand of anger rose in Neville’s throat and he struggled to keep it inside. Centaurs, he knew, while most often on the side of good, were also extremely enigmatic creatures. He knew that it was a little unfair to hold them to the logical standards of human beings, because their methods of operation and conceptualization were obviously extremely different, but in moments of survival...this could be life or seemed that he felt some necessity that the centaurs did not share.

So he remained quiet, trusting that their weapons would be enough against whatever attacks might come.

But, he thought, about an hour later, as the sun was setting, and they were coming close to another clearing, a bigger one, a more important one--there had been no attacks, and although his muscles were sore and he was tired and dirty and cold, he was alive. Hugo and Scorpius were alive. And they were almost at the end of a journey that would satisfy Hugo’s need to understand himself better.

It was funny, and he chuckled a bit, drawing a strange look from Pythia, that everything about that young Weasley had to be so different than others. Neville remembered when he was young, so wasn’t a stranger, completely, to teenage emotions, but he knew from living with them in close quarters that nintety-nine percent of them didn’t need to do something as elaborate as run away and find a rare, dangerous plant. And probably most of those who needed to do something wouldn’t have had the opportunity to get as much help with it as Hugo had. He was lucky, too, Neville couldn’t help thinking.

Scorpius was scratching a bit of frost from one of the buttons on his coat when a strong arm in front of him suddenly barred his way, and he ran into it before he could stop himself. He looked up to see that it was Pythia, the female centaur, and she was holding them back from the rest of the group. Scorpius folded his arms under the pretense of casualness, but his right hand clasped around his wand, ready to pull it out of his inside coat pocket if necessity demanded.

“You are the youngest Malfoy,” she said, addressing him, baring her sharp jawline. Scorpius thought about it for a moment--that was true. He nodded, and began walking as Pythia did, staying beside her.

“I thought it best to warn you,” she began, her voice terse yet soft, “that although I do know Hugo and believe him to be pure of heart, the plant that he seeks is dangerous beyond his gentle understanding.”

Scorpius nodded. He’d known all along, of course, the Quidropopot was dangerous, but even if he had forgotten at one point or another, there was nothing like a run in with a family of Acromantulas to put the fear of its influence back into one. Still, he was curious to hear what Pythia was about to say.

“And if, upon sight of it, Hugo Weasley is unable to contain the baser elements of his human nature and becomes entangled in greed--the slightest bit at all we will sense--we have a moral duty to protect the state of the world and its affairs. We will not allow the peril of the world for the sake of one young boy’s life.”

With that she left him, speeding her footsteps even as Scorpius found that with the impact of her words he was forced to slow. The area on his chest where her arm had made harsh contact pulsated uncomfortably, and he felt the air from his lungs, very late, exit his chest. He breathed deeply through his nose, trying to steady himself. He knew as well as anyone that Hugo wasn’t after the plant for power.

But it could have all been a story, Scorpius thought wildly, his head reeling. Hugo is smarter than we all realise, he could have--

But the others ahead had stopped. Scorpius ran a few paces to see what was wrong, his heart beating loudly in his ears.

A collective sigh was the first thing that he heard, but was soon blotted out, because nothing could distract from what lay before them. Between the trees, sparse by the sandy shores, Scorpius could see the glassy, aquamarine surface of a frozen lake, a purple mountainside framing its farthest shore.

“Are we here?” he heard Hugo ask. One of the centaurs emitted a rumbling laugh.

Professor Longbottom said, “We are here.”

a/n: edited 10 september 2011. on a roll this early morn!
shout out to those select few who made their way into my cheerleading committee!
also shout out to my uni profs, whose lecturing materials seem to make their way into my writings :)

Chapter 9: Below the Brine
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Below the Brine

It was with a bright-eyed face that Hugo ran pell-mell towards the lake, his arms forming large windmills behind him. Scorpius smiled, but his extreme relief was split neatly by the knowledge of the danger within the plants beneath the surface of the lake. The centaur’s opposition to the misuse of it wasn’t something that weighed lightly upon him, either. He inched closer to Professor Longbottom as the group moved slowly, behind Hugo, to the sand of the shores of the ice lake.

His need to share the words that Pythia had departed with Longbottom grew in Scorpius, but something made him stop. Keep the words to himself. Looking at the joy apparent in the professor’s expression was enough to tell him that any news of the sort would ruin a moment that they’d all risked their lives for. So Scorpius swallowed his worry with a large smile, and followed Hugo and the centaurs onto the ice.

It wasn’t hard to forget what Pythia had said as he watched Hugo running wildly across the glinting lake, pointing out spot after spot under its surface--where the Quidropopots must have been visible. It was more difficult to imagine that a boy who could become so tangibly, utterly excited at the mere sight of the fruits could be after them for reasons--reasons that Scorpius thought didn’t bear thinking about.

But there was, of course, the small, tiny part of him that told him he should be wondering. It was funny, how that part of you, no matter how small, was always stronger than the pervasive happiness or ignorance and would be heard despite its small bearing. It demanded an audience unlike the bliss, but Scorpius shook his head. Why was it that he was always trying to convince himself? Was it because after all this time, he still didn’t know Hugo well enough to be certain that he was all that he appeared to be? Was so much change in such a short amount of time really just too much to be real?

His head shook again, of its own accord. He pocketed the worry, forcing himself to grin and launch himself onto the icy surface, a yelp of mirth bursting through his throat. His shoes’ inadequate traction caused him to skid, at a loss for control, into Hugo, who promptly upended and landed with a thump on the ice.

Looking down, his face pressed against the mirror of the cold, Scorpius saw that a bright orange ball, perhaps the size of a Quaffle, was floating in the lake, maybe ten feet below the surface. He turned his cheek slightly to the right to see that Hugo’s nose was pressed against the lake, his arms spread on either side of him, hugging the surface. Scorpius knew he had eyes only for the fruit below them.

“Need this?” he asked, reaching into his inner pocket and pulling out the Acromantula fang. It was an onyx black, glinting, almost a foot long. Hugo grinned and took it from Scorpius gingerly, holding it out in front of him. He pressed it into the ice slowly above where the Quidropopot glimmered mildly.

After a few moments, Hugo’s eyes flickered over to Scorpius. Nothing had happened.

“How do you work it?” the younger boy voiced with moderate concern.

“Maybe squeeze it?” Scorpius suggested, shrugging. He felt silly. “I didn’t think that far ahead.”

“...But without the fang there would have been absolutely no chance. I think with it there’s a little more.” Hugo smiled, and Scorpius knew that was his way of attempting to placate any feelings of silliness.

“Probably,” he conceded, nodding, offering Hugo a bright smile and a small push. “Go on.”

He watched Hugo squeeze the fang carefully, making sure to keep his hands and fingers away from the serrated edge. The fang let up a little clear liquid, which hit the smooth ice with a sizzle and immediately carved a small divot in the surface. The boys looked at each other excitedly.

Neville stood a small distance away, watching as the Acromantula’s venom worked its way down into the ice and carved a small tunnel around the Quidropopot. He wasn’t sure that he could believe that it actually existed. He knew they’d traveled all this way to--see it--but he still hadn’t really believed it was real, not really. Not even when the Acromantulas had tried to eat them to keep it safe.

“Longbottom,” Xury said, stepping forward. Neville noticed his crossbow was out and in his hands.


“We have been followed by wood nymphs,” Xury said quietly, stepping even closer and slinging his crossbow over his back.

“Wood nymphs,” Neville repeated, feeling numb.

“Friends of the Acromantula.” Xury raised his eyebrows. “I do not fear we are in immediate danger.” He cleared his throat. “But whatever the plans--they must manifest quickly.”

Neville nodded. He had already talked himself out of attempting to use the fruit’s flesh in aid of the Healing community. There wasn’t a good way out of it--someone, somewhere, could find the fruit and use it for its most obvious power. However much healing it should bring would only be laid to pieces if the fruit fell into the hands of someone who misunderstood its power or wished to harness its strength to their own ends.

He had decided what he thought should be done. The brief, glimmering, hopeful thought of sharing the idea with Scorpius and Hugo to see what they thought of it pushed its way to the forefront of his mind, but he shook it away with a warm determination. He was sure that in this matter he understood so much better than either of the younger boys--Merlin bless them--would be able to imagine. He had lived through war. His friends had been slaughtered. He had stared evil and corruption and flaw in the eye. Neither of the boys had ever done this.

It wasn’t their decision to make. It was Neville’s.

He paused for a moment, drawing out a small scrap of paper upon which there were several coordinates inked. He drew out a tattered map from the inside pocket of his coat, consulted it for a moment--drawing a couple of intersecting lines--and extrapolated the area of the lake, marking a few coordinates down on the parchment before putting everything back in his pockets and folding his arms.

He joined the centaurs as they stood facing the edge of the woods, the sun beating off of their smooth hides, waiting patiently for whatever might come.

“I will talk to Hugo now,” Pythia said suddenly, her voice soft. Neville felt the edge lying just beneath the surface of her words, appealing to some kind of understanding that Neville himself could not supply. Delphi and Kristophos nodded as she quietly clicked across the surface of the ice towards where Hugo and Scorpius stood, contemplating the best method to use to extract the Quidropopot from the ice.

Hugo looked up at the sound of hoofbeats to see Pythia walking towards him. He felt Scorpius stiffen beside him and looked towards him for a moment. There was a flicker of something around Scorpius’s jawbone, but he didn’t think much of it when Scorpius smiled lightly across to him. He turned back to Pythia, hoping maybe she would have a suggestion for them.

“Hello, Hugo Weasley,” she said when she stopped almost two feet away from them. Her body pointed like theirs--towards the problematically deep pit, at the bottom of which the bright orange flesh of the Quidropopot flickered.

“Hullo, Pythia!” Hugo warbled happily. “We’re just trying to think of a way to get down to the Quidropopot. Do you have any ideas?”

He turned, grinning, to Scorpius, expecting to see that the older boy was pleased that he had thought to ask Pythia the question. But he was extremely surprised to find that Scorpius’s face was a picture of alarm, a muscle straining in his cheek and his nostrils flared, dark blue eyes wide on his face. Hugo shrunk back slightly. His heart was pounding, but when he looked around to see what the trouble was, Scorpius was only staring at Pythia. Hugo frowned, scratching his head. He was about to open his mouth to ask what was wrong, but then stopped himself. Pythia was standing right there...if Scorpius had a problem with her, it might not be very nice for either of them to bring the subject up.

So he turned back to Pythia, putting a large smile on his face. He was a bit surprised to see that her eyes were squinted severely at him. He froze, allowing her to scrutinize him from the distance.

What's going on?

He’d no sooner been able to think the question when suddenly, Pythia’s face cleared and she redirected her body towards the pit in the ice before them. Hugo cleared his throat and tugged at his collar. That had been close.

He didn’t exactly know why, but he had the feeling about him that he’d narrowly avoided something. Maybe because Pythia’s expression had rather reminded him of the look that Rose routinely wore the moment before she was about to attempt to beat him within an inch of his life.

“It seems the solution lies in magic,” Pythia said after a moment. She turned, her hooves making round ‘clop’ noises on the ice. She reached out a hand and for a split second Hugo recoiled--but as soon as she cupped the shoulder of his coat in her angular palm, Hugo knew there had been no reason to worry. She imparted a rare smile to him before nodding slightly and clipping off to join her brother and their friends, completing the shape of a semi circle pointed towards the bordering woods.

Hugo shook his head, trying to clear his thoughts. He turned back to Scorpius, who looked almost ready to topple onto the ice. Hugo fought for a moment with his cluelessness. If he was looking so worried earlier, and nothing happened, why does he look like he’d love to faint? C’mon, Hugo, why would you fall over onto the ice after looking horrified? Maybe the thing is invisible and it’s making me want to faint...or--no! I know. He’s relieved.

Pleased with himself, Hugo grinned and strode to Scorpius, giving him a small clap clap! across his left cheek. The dangling earring--it looked like a scrap of metal--in Scorpius’s ear rocked back and forth as Scorpius slowly looked Hugo in the eye. There was both what looked like resentment and amusement about his features; Hugo shrugged, about to apologise, but his thoughts were interrupted by something spewing from his mouth.

“I’VE GOT IT!” he shouted. It took a moment of his brain reeling from attempting to connect all of his thoughts to recapture just what it was, exactly, that he had got, but then he remembered. “I know how to get to the Quidropopot!”

“How?” Scorpius asked. There was a tinge of something in his voice. Hugo spotted it almost instantly as doubt. He wasn’t exactly a stranger to doubt.

“You can ‘locomotor’ me down.” He knew as soon as he said it that Scorpius would be surprised; but instead, it was Hugo who was surprised. By Scorpius’s lack of surprise. It was like Scorpius had expected a good answer from him. But that didn’t make sense, because only just before Hugo had heard--

“Yes, that will work. Let me get my wand,” Scorpius said, interrupting Hugo’s torrent of thoughts. Hugo watched as Scorpius rummaged through his inner pocket, a bubble of excitement rising rapidly in his chest. Scorpius pulled the thin flute of wood out from his coat and held it out in front of him, and Hugo for a brief moment was not quite sure that he liked the look in Scorpius’s eyes, or the way he was brandishing his wand.

Hugo felt his eyes squint up because of his suspicion. It was a very experimental look about Scorpius’s person, mild fascination at all the possibilities glinting around on his face. Hugo realized that that is probably how he would have been looking if he were about to locomotor anyone, so he stopped squinting and flung his arms out beside him.

“I am ready to be hypnotised, Healer,” he said, and Scorpius did not even look at him funny this time but lifted his wand and pretended to adjust glasses on the bridge of his nose.

“Yes, psychotic patient, let us begin.” Scorpius nodded, brandishing his wand with a quick flick and Hugo felt himself lift off the ground only to go speeding back towards it at an alarming rate. A yelp had escaped him before he realized it and when he froze in midair with his face inches from the clear ice, he turned to see that all of the centaurs, still arched in a semi-circle facing the forest, were looking back over their shoulders and watching him. Hugo grinned innocently, and began crawling on his hands (which really stung on the cold ice; he wished he’d thought of mittens before all of this) towards the hole.

“I thought you were going to, you know, say the spell out loud or something,” Hugo said with a pathetic stab at mock casualness. He heard Scorpius cackle behind him. It sounded a little evil.

“Okay, I think I’m near--” the sudden face-first descent stopped the words from escaping Hugo’s mouth. By the time Scorpius had managed to stop him again (he was willing to forgive him because probably, Hugo thought, Scorpius had never used this spell on a human being. I wonder if I made Scorpius do an illegal thing), Hugo’s face was only a few feet above the bright orange flesh of the fruit.

It was strange, he thought, dangling vertically with his arms pinned to his sides to avoid the icy sharp divots in the hole’s sides, spinning around a little, that he was finally staring right into the briny face of the fruit he’d been imagining for several days now.

Hugo didn’t think he’d ever imagined anything for as long as that without forgetting for at least an hour or two what it was he was actually thinking about--besides when he had convinced his Dad to finally, finally buy him a vintage model of the Cleansweep 7, and there was a gap of ages between when Dad said he could have it and he actually got around to finding one cheap enough. He also didn’t know why it appeared to him to have the appearance of briny. And he also was not sure what the word briny meant.

He thought suddenly, well, this is it, then. This is the end. But it wasn’t so horrible as his head made it sound. Rose had been roping him into too many eighty-year-old horror movie jamborees.

“Okay,” he shouted over his shoulder, and then winced because there was a tremendous echo in this hole and he hadn’t prepared his eardrums for the shock. It is okay, little drums of the ear variety, he thought consolingly. You are all right.

“Okay, Scorpius, I’m stuck in the air, you’re going to have to lower me a --”

Before he could say little bit Scorpius had jumped to his task--he obviously hadn’t been taking his designated nap time very seriously or he would have been better at thinking right now--and plummeted Hugo’s face right into the skin of the fruit, which was strangely scratchy.

Hugo mumbled a garbled “thank you” into the bright orange that occupied most of the vision in his left eye and placed his hands gingerly in the ice surrounding the bit of branch the Quidropopot was attached to. He knew now what briny meant, he suddenly remembered. Rose had once had her nose stuck into a book of poetry at one of the gatherings at the Burrow for Christmas.

“The world below the brine,
Forests at the bottom of the sea, branches and leaves...”

It had been by someone whose name for whatever reason reminded him of the Wimbourine Wasps--he couldn’t remember. He’d asked what ‘brine’ had meant and Rose had answered in a rather automatic voice “salt water.” She had then specified that in the poem it meant the sea.

The Quidropopots had looked briny to him because their skin was covered in a thick down of peach fuzz, which gave the effect of having pulled it out of the sea and set it to dry, only the water evaporated and left a thick salty crust. It was in strange patches like Hugo imagined, really, now that he took the time to think about it, how water would dry and leave salt in patches. It almost looked like a tiny globe, but with orange water, pink continents--and far too many of them, of course. Hugo knew that there were only one hundred of them.

As his hands turned numb and tingly Hugo tested his weight to the air and found that he could rely completely on Scorpius’s locomotor to hold his body up while he used both hands to try to figure out how to remove the Quidropopot from the gnarled, greying branch of the tree. It was a rather large branch and only a part of it had been exposed to the air as the Acromantula fang had melted the crater in the vividly clear ice, but Hugo could see the rest of it anyways. It was like water near tropical islands--they had studied tropical islands in Hugo’s fourth-year Geography unit of Muggle Studies, and the photos of the drivers underwater looked exactly as clear as the tree looked to Hugo now through the ice.

He thought to himself suddenly as he placed both hands around the fruit to give it a hearty tug--this fruit would make a very swell Quaffle. It was about the same size and exactly, as far as Hugo’s numb hands could judge, the same weight. It came loose with a small, suctiony sounding pop! and Hugo huddled it to his chest proudly, a warm feeling rising between his lungs. He hugged it very tightly, but not tight enough to pop it. He thought Professor Neville would be disappointed if all he got to see of the mythical fruit was what was splattered all over Hugo’s coat, not that he would be particularly surprised to find it there.

“You can pull me up now, okay!” Hugo shouted as well as he could with his chin nestled in a small divot near the fruit’s stem, which was strange and yellow and on the underside of the fruit. It had been standing like a giant lolly pop on the tree, only with a very short and summarily ineffectual stick of a stem. No one would like a patchily-fuzzy lolly anyways.

It took Scorpius a moment to respond to Hugo’s call, and to Hugo’s surprise, because he had been bracing himself, particularly around the shoulders for the ascent based on past evidence collected, he moved very slowly and somewhat smoothly back up the crater and towards the light. Hugo only qualified the trip up with the word “somewhat” smoothly because there had been one point near the top where Scorpius seemed not to have lifted his wand high enough and Hugo’s forehead had smacked right into the edge of the crater. He was left to dangle there for a moment, too, his eyes just barely skimming (upside down, of course) the surface of the lake.

“Sorry!” Scorpius said suddenly, and Hugo was just as quickly lying on his stomach on the ice, landing with a windy oof! Hugo saw that Scorpius looked rather distracted and scrambled to his feet to see what could possibly be more interesting at the edge of the forest than what Hugo had clutched in his hands right here.

They were possibly the most beautiful creatures Hugo had ever seen.

Well, besides his vintage Cleansweep 7 and probably the watercolor painting Rose had made him of the giant squid devouring Slughorn were just as beautiful, but they had not been alive and could not blink their long eyelashes quite as quickly as the wood nymphs could.

Scorpius stood stock still, frozen numb with cold and shock. The crossbows all made sense now, as well as the centaurs’ warlike stance around the humans. The relatively helpless humans.

He watched in anxiety as Xury stepped forward and greeted the foremost nymph, and the two seemed to exchange diplomatic jargon. He was surprised to see Pythia turn and clip towards where he and Hugo stood dumbly. Scorpius melted into action and placed himself firmly in front of Hugo with a hardness in his eyes that he hoped Pythia would take to mean business. But her face was a surprisingly and wrenchingly soft expression of a simultaneous fear and affection, and she quickly sidestepped Scorpius and accosted Hugo’s side, pressing a small and ornate silver box into his hand.

“Take this,” she whispered with an agency in her voice that caused Hugo to respond immediately. He took the box and clasped it firmly in his hand, which he kept up at his chest. Scorpius saw that it reflected light brilliantly and a small spot of reflection glimmered lightly on the lake’s surface. He looked up, trying not to appear extraordinarily guilty, at the congregation of nymphs at the edge of the Forest. He saw one of them following the reflection with her large, slanting eyes. He stepped casually into the light’s path, dispelling the reflection.

The nymph’s eyes flickered to study Scorpius’s face. He blushed and looked down at his feet. He hoped she would take the blush for the effects of her apparent beauty and not for the guilt burning away beneath his skin. They were stealing something and it was theirs but they could not find that out. He eyed the long staffs that the nymphs carried surreptitiously, trying to figure out why they looked so familiar to him when he had never seen anything like them in his life.

Pythia glanced over her shoulder for a quick moment and then whispered something into Hugo’s ear quickly, walking very fluidly back to join her brother and their kin as if nothing out of the ordinary had occurred. Scorpius tried again not to look suspicious and inched closer to Hugo.

He couldn’t help himself--he stuck out a hand and touched the surface of the elusive, mythical plant’s fruit. It was large, like a pumpkin, or a Quaffle, and smooth in all the areas that weren’t covered in bright white down, like concentrated patches of peach fuzz. It was a bright orange on the smooth skin and appeared pink in the patches of fuzz, except for when the bright sunlight hit the surface of the hairs. Then they looked more like Scorpius’s platinum head than something that belonged on a plant.

Hugo smiled proudly.

“What’s the box for?” Scorpius whispered as quietly as he could, his lips almost touching Hugo’s earlobe as he attempted to hide his mouth from the prying eyes of the nymphs.

“For the Quidropopot,” Hugo muttered. Scorpius’s mind reeled. He tried not to frown too obviously, but that was awfully confusing. The box was as small as a snuff box, probably smaller, although just as ornate and he noticed for the first time that it had tiny feet. He didn’t understand, and whispered so to Hugo, who nodded slightly.

They cut the communication as the dialogue between Xury and the head nymph paused for a moment, and then the nymph moved on to Longbottom, who seemed to be thinking on his feet and pulling a story out of his arse. Scorpius sent a little prayer to the muses or whoever the hell was looking out for them. He knew Longbottom was a brilliant professor and everything, but he wasn’t sure how active things were for him on the creative front.

Hugo seized the moment of reinstated conversation to spew in a slight hiss to Scorpius all that Pythia had told him about the box.

“It shrinks things,” he whispered, clasping it more firmly in his hands, “and takes away their magic. She said the Misuse of Muggle Artifacts Office sometimes uses them to hide evidence from the police and get biting things to stop biting.”

Scorpius nodded like that made sense to him and took it at face value. So it shrunk things and took away their magic. That seemed simple enough. He wondered if it was permanent, because they were going to have to put the fruit into it before Longbottom had the chance to see. That might be rather sad for the old boy, not seeing the mythical fruit in all its hairy glory.

“You’d better put it in, then--” Scorpius began to say, but he noticed then that the head nymph was staring right at the Quidropopot in Hugo’s hands.

The centaurs stiffened at the sudden silence--Scorpius saw Delphi’s hand twitch in the direction of his crossbow--as he and Hugo stood, helplessly, their plan dashed to naught. He didn’t know what Longbottom and Xury had told the nymph, but apparently none of their story had included the small fact that they had actually retrieved a specimen from the lake for evil deeds.

The nymph’s honey-coloured eyes flashed dangerously and her nostrils flared. She pulled herself up to full height, which would not have been as intimidating if she were human and her full height only came to about six feet--but magical creatures are, for whatever reason, sometimes very large, and change shape for apparently no reason at all. The nymph’s human-like appearance disappeared and what was left before the group was a silhouette of fluttering leaves and tree blossoms. It was the shape of a woman, but obviously not a woman because women were not made of air and leaves. The nymphs all shifted their shapes, their subterfuge rotted, and they were all at least eight feet tall, perhaps nine.

There was a silence. It was brief, but shattering. Pythia called quickly and sharply, her voice low, “The box, Hugo!” and Hugo leapt into action, peeling the silver box from his sweaty palm and wrenching open the minuscule clasp. Out of the corner of his eye Scorpius saw a flurry of activity take place before him, including the centaurs pulling forth their crossbows, and Professor Longbottom hurrying towards them. He looked alarmed.

There was a moment of pause as Hugo looked helplessly at Scorpius when faced with the prospect of shoving something so large into such a small space, but Scorpius’s limbs quickly and suddenly unlocked and he found himself reaching across the brief space and he shoved down, hard, on the fruit, which wavered for a moment in the air like a program on an old Muggle television and then popped! into the small box, rolling around slightly as Hugo moved to snap the lid closed and pocket it quickly.

Something made Scorpius look up and around at the nymphs, who had not re-assumed human form but whose faces were still discernible. From the look on the head nymph’s face, she had seen the act of treachery, the shrinking and pocketing of the Quidropopot, and was terribly offended by the act. Scorpius heard Pythia attempting to explain, in desperate shouts, the effects of the box to stymie the coming attack--Scorpius felt it before he understood it--

It all moved in slow motion. Scorpius saw the head nymph reach down and pull out something that glinted in the sunlight, too bright for winter, and cock her elbow before he saw it, glinting evilly, spinning towards him in the air. It was alright, he thought, she thought it was him who was stealing it, him who had to be stopped. It was alright, then, he thought, and watched helplessly and with a strange fascination as the dagger headed right for his chest, broke the woolen chestplate of his coat, and dug itself deep into his flesh.

the two lines from the poem "217: The World Below the Brine" are by Walt Whitman and are from Leaves of Grass, his very famous publication. The title of this chapter is also obviously derived from this poem and the lines i listed. (if you can tell me why Hugo thought the name of the poet reminded him of the Wimbourine Wasps i will love you forever.)

a/n: edited 16 october 2011

Chapter 10: And Back Again
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Disclaimer: If you get queasy easily, I recommend simply skimming paragraphs 11-19, as they deal with some things that might upset you.

And Back Again

The body that fell against Hugo’s body was not Scorpius’s. It was something cold and limp, sprinkled with glimmers of life. Hugo reached automatically to grab it into his arms, a question speeding through his mind that could not form itself into words, and held the slumped body against his chest protectively, staring with a hardness between his brows at the battle between the nymphs and the centaurs. The centaurs were doing their best to hold the nymphs back--Professor Neville was conferring quickly with Pythia, white as a sheet.

Two seconds passed, and Professor Neville was back at Hugo’s side, muttering something quickly and taking Scorpius’s body into his own arms.

It was when Hugo saw the older boy’s neck hanging limply over the edge of Neville’s arm that a bubble of rage rose through his chest and an angry snarl ripped from his throat, obscuring thought. He plunged his hand into his coat and drew his wand, spells bursting from the end at an alarming speed. He heard Neville shout something to him, but did not understand the words. Hugo lunged towards the swarm of nymphs, who appeared to be little more than wind caught in leaves and flowers in their rage, their staffs seeming to glow with their rage. His wand blasted holes through their forms, but they quickly repaired the damages, even as more spells shot through their immortal bodies.

Hugo felt suddenly a strong arm around his waist, restraining him, and there was a long last flurry of activity ringing in Hugo’s ears--angry shouts, the twang of the crossbows, Pythia’s pleas, and Neville’s useless instructions--before he felt himself sucked into a nothing, everything about him compressed and nonexistent.

With a definitive crack! Neville appeared in the snow bordering the Forbidden Forest, facing towards the great stone castle as the steam of his breath mingled with his sight and he sagged under the dead weight of Scorpius Malfoy. Hugo burst free from Neville’s grasp as though he did not realize that Neville had apparated them to safety, brandishing his wand desperately. When the boy seemed to notice that there was no one to attack here, Neville had already made headway towards the castle.

Neville saw Hugo run to his side, tears plastering his face--there was a jerk in Neville’s heart as he saw the innocent pain there--and he wrapped his arms around Scorpius’s legs, sharing the weight. Surprising for the boy’s lack of coordination, but they moved more quickly this way, and although Neville was tempted to call for help--to give way to the shout of anguish tearing at his throat, he kept his lips pressed firmly together, knowing that no one could see them--no one besides the nurse.

Their reappearance at Hogwarts had to remain a secret. When Scorpius was healed--Neville’s throat felt dry--they would stage an entrance, one less desperate, one that could pass as a casual reentry to the school grounds after chasing down a silly student. Yes, that is what would have to be done.

Somehow--because that is a woman’s way, he thought, especially the way of a woman who has dedicated her life to healing--Madame Pomfrey met them at the castle steps, her lips pressed together, lined with worry, and her face pale. Neville felt Hugo go a bit slack with relief as he saw the ancient healer at the threshold of the castle; while Madame Pomfrey offered her services there was always hope, Neville knew, and he thought Hugo probably knew that, too.

“We can’t be seen,” Neville gasped desperately, feeling horrible for being so selfish when--when.

“Most of the students and all of the staff are taking the day in Hogsmeade,” Madame Pomfrey replied quickly. “The younger ones are likely huddled around their common room fires. No one will see.”

She clucked quietly and turned silently to guide them in through the great Oak doors and towards the infirmary. Neville slipped slightly on the marble floors; his shoes had tracked snow inside. Scorpius’s faint and wavering breath floated against the skin of his cheek, with longer pauses between them. Neville’s mind went slightly fuzzy. He couldn’t help but think suddenly that this boy’s family was a large part of the reason that he had had to, during the darkest period of his life, bury some of his own friends and family. His great Aunt the one who had put his parents in their state, deprived them of a life filled with sanity, deprived him of a happy childhood. His arms shook with rage for a moment, and then they were crossing into the infirmary and the reality of their current situation crashed down upon Neville.

His knees shook. He tried to push away memories but it wasn’t easy to forget, not when you had a past like Neville had--like Madame Pomfrey had, like almost every adult wizard in Britain had. He shook his head rapidly as he and Hugo placed Scorpius down on a bed, Madame Pomfrey leaning down over him immediately and inspecting his bloodstained coat.

“You apparated.” It was not a question. Neville nodded silently, wanting to sigh but finding himself unable.

“There was no time to bring him back another way. We were deep in the Forest--I knew there would be more blood loss this way, but it was quickest, and--”

“It’s alright, Neville, don’t worry yourself. I believe that the wound is deep and the dagger may have punctured a lung--extremely painful, and in addition to extreme blood loss, is why he’s fainted. I’ll ask you both to step back. I must retrieve a blood-replenishing potion.”

Neville and Hugo leapt backwards as Madame Pomfrey moved quickly into her office and came back with a flask and a vial clasped firmly in one hand, while her wand was drawn in another. Neville began pacing, trying to block his hearing as he heard Madame Pomfrey extract the dagger and Scorpius’s breath shortened drastically.

“It was smart of you,” Madame Pomfrey said as she waved her wand rapidly and a white light shot out of it into Scorpius’s chest, “not to extract the dagger. His lungs would have filled more quickly. It acted like a sort of stopper, which is curious as it itself is the thing that caused the wound,” she muttered and went silent as she began to peel the soaked clothes off of Scorpius’s chest. He looked very pale and very scrawny without a coat or a jumper on. Neville looked away, retreating to the wall where Hugo was seated dumbly in a plastic chair. They watched in silence.

Madame Pomfrey, despite her age, was still able to move very nimbly, and her fingers worked with the spells she weaved, seeming to knit the severed flesh back together from the inside out. When she had finished wiping and vanished the mess, she wiped her hands on her apron and popped the cork off of the vial of blood-replenishing potion. She poured a rather large amount of it into the flask and, having propped Scorpius up on a few pillows, poured it into his mouth. It was strange, Neville thought, how people could still swallow even when they were unconscious.

Madame Pomfrey seemed to be finished and satisfied with her work. She then turned and walked over to where Neville and Hugo sat, with a strange and curious look in her eyes. “I thought I would tell you, Professor Longbottom,” she began with a pointed look at Hugo, which suggested to Neville that she wouldn’t have been so formal just then if they hadn’t been in the presence of a student, “that you were very lucky. Even though Apparition forced more blood loss, you barely--barely made it here in time. Scorpius seems to have you and Mr Weasley to thank for his life.” Her eyes said that she wished to know why that was, but was not in a position to ask. She had probably learned better, Neville thought as relief swept through him and made him weak.

Hugo toppled out of the chair next to him in a dead faint and landed on his face on the ground. Madame Pomfrey rolled her eyes before clucking gently and levitating Hugo into a hospital bed.

It was several hours later that Neville was awoken by a loud noise that sounded like the doors of the infirmary blasting open, and Madame Pomfrey’s ensuing protests--but as soon as Neville saw that it was the centaur party, Pythia at the lead, looking a bit wildly around the room, he stood up and explained quickly that the centaurs had helped them out in the forest and were checking back in. With a suspicious and reproachful glare Madame Pomfrey gave a small curtsy to the centaurs and shuffled off into her office. He felt slightly guilty as he did so, but Neville pulled out his wand and cast a Muffliato in Madame Pomfrey’s direction.

They needed to talk, and she could not be allowed to hear their conversation.

Pythia was standing at Hugo’s bedside, and Hugo was grinning up at her, glancing over at Scorpius--who was sleeping peacefully--every few moments. Neville guessed that he was explaining what had happened to him.

Delphi and Xury stepped towards Neville, the others crowding around Hugo’s bed. Before Neville could ask what he wanted to, Xury launched into an explanation.

“There were no casualties,” he began, and Neville thought, how very uncharacteristically to-the-point. “The nymphs were outraged that the boys had taken a fruit from the tree of the Quidropopot, and battled us for longer than was necessary. We were able to deflect their blows--” and that was when Neville remembered that their staffs had seemed vaguely familiar to him, like he recognized them.

“What are those staffs they have?” he interrupted accidentally, then apologized. The centaur did not appear to be offended, and answered after a brief pause. “They are called thyrsus.”

And Neville remembered. In a N.E.W.T. preparation class during Rose Weasley and Scorpius Malfoy’s sixth year, he had asked each student to prepare a lecture about how any famous or magical artifact had gained its powers from plants--the thyrsus, the tool of the ancient Greek Maenads, followers of Bacchus, was the subject of Rose’s lecture, as they were covered in ivy and other vines.

That shed some light on the situation. Although Rose had never thought to mention that you could pull the top off--covered with a pinecone--and whip out a spear. He thought he ought to mention that to her sometime--just as soon as he had figured out how to bring it up casually.

“And when the nymphs finally--paused--” He said it and Neville knew that it had been by force. He chose not to inquire further. “--Long enough to hear the story, they were not sympathetic to a human boy’s journey to spiritual revelation, but we told them of the box and its method of stripping objects of their magical powers.” Xury cleared his throat lightly. “They are still displeased that human kind has discovered the existence of the lake and the plant, however, and have promised us that they will guard it with much more vigilance.” Xury stamped a foot on the hard tiles of the infirmary’s flooring and clopped over to the side of the room, where he was out of the way, and went on looking out of the window with a dreamy look on his face. Neville stared after him in slight awe for a moment, and then shook his head, knowing even as he did so that he would not be able to clear it so easily.

To his surprise, Delphi remained standing in his proximity. Neville turned to face him, hoping that this would not show disrespect. He was never sure about other creatures--with plants, it was easier. There were only three plants Neville knew of that demanded respect, and the others had no care of it at all. But you were never sure, not about creatures, and especially not about centaurs.

“I thought to warn you of the box my sister gave to the Weasley boy,” he said in a low, gravelly voice. Neville stiffened and felt a helplessness wash over him. Not something else! No! “It does, as we’ve told you, strip magical artifacts of their powers permanently. Anything will fit into it, as well. You’ll want to make sure that nobody falls into it, nor their wands. It--” he paused, his eyes shifting towards the open door of Madame Pomfrey’s office.

“It’s alright, I’ve muffliatoed her,” Neville said with a shrug. This wasn’t a time for grace, after all. Delphi’s light eyes flashed for a moment with confusion, his forehead clearing, and then he continued, his voice in a low whisper despite Neville’s shameless confession.

“It is not one of the most orthodox methods that the Misuse of Muggle Artifacts Office has for solving their problems. It seems to be newly released from the Department of Mysteries, and even centaurs understand how precise their testing methods are.” When his speech was compete, Delphi dipped his head lightly and began to walk away, but Neville reached out quickly and said “Wait!” A thought had occurred to him, rather glaring.

“How did you get back so quickly?” he asked when Delphi turned back to him, one eyebrow quirked.

Delphi imparted a rare smile--a lip hinged and lifted briefly, a flash of amusement ran through his light eyes, and a dimple wavered in his cheek for a moment--and then it was all business. Grave, with a glance at Scorpius’s bed.

“It took you longer to reach the lake because you were wandering. We live in the forest--we understand its layout. We can read the stars. We have several advantages over humans when it comes to navigation. And four legs aid greatly with speed. It took four hours, nothing more, to return to the castle’s perimeters after the nymphs had retreated.”

It was a strangely satisfactory report. If centaurs were oftener directly to the point, Neville would have asked--but can you really run all that way in four hours? Do you ever get tired? How far is it, exactly, from here to the lake?--but they were too often ambivalent that this direct response created enough gratitude and awe in Neville to drown out the questions. Delphi retreated to Xury’s side, although Neville still wished to ask him how he’d obtained the box in the first place. He shook his head again, turning to Hugo. Maybe it was better not to know.

Hugo looked up to see Professor Neville watching him interestedly, and he gave the professor a small wave to show him that he was okay. He didn’t understand why he’d fainted earlier, but Madame Pomfrey had taken care of him all right. He was also very happy that Scorpius had not been dead, because he had never been sure. It was really a shame that Professor Neville had told Hugo that no one could know that Scorpius almost died, because it would probably be a fun story to tell at the Burrow at Christmas, when they were all huddled around the fire or playing Snapdragons. Still, he was glad that Scorpius was alive and was willing to keep his mouth shut if it meant that they didn’t have to get into deep trouble this way.

Hugo turned at the sound of some grumbling from Scorpius’s bed on his right side. He knew Scorpius muttered in his sleep from those few nights in the same tent, but this sounded like waking up grumbling. Hugo felt something rather warm seep through his chest and arms and make them numb for a second before the feeling lifted, and Scorpius sat up suddenly, propped on his elbows, and looked around through strings of blond hair interrupting his brows.

“Well,” he said, blinking longly and staring up at the faces looking down at him anxiously, “that was an adventure, wasn’t it?”

Scorpius reached out a hand and laid it disbelievingly on the bright golden hide of the small animal beside him. Out of all the possible stories that Headmaster Flitwick could have told the congregation of students and worried staff to explain the trio’s sudden and inexplicable disappearance, it would have to involve baby unicorns, wouldn’t it? It couldn’t have been anything remotely sane or believable--that simply wasn’t Flitwick’s style.

He couldn’t believe it had only been yesterday, laying on that hospital bed, that he had been inches from death, naïve to even the existence of unicorns in the Forbidden Forest. That no one had ever realized they had returned--that they had been able to sneak out into the edge of the forest, to the same spot they had appeared yesterday, without anyone noticing. Scorpius had been rather miffed that they hadn’t allowed him to at least shave or have a proper wash--But it has to look realistic! Hugo had said, a desperation sparked with the joy at pulling one over on the entire Hogwarts population. Given that stare, Scorpius couldn’t protest.

He and Hugo and Professor Longbottom were huddled behind some low shrubbery at the edge of the Forbidden Forest, in the same spot, it seemed, that Longbottom had apparated them back. Scorpius could see vague spots of something dark mingling with the dirty snow, but tried not to think about where they had come from, a chill creeping up his spine. He wasn’t sure if he still understood how close he had come to completely--to--you know.

“When are they coming?” Hugo whispered again, sounding faintly annoyed this time. Scorpius didn’t blame him even though he’d asked a few times already--it was difficult to ignore the snow, which was turning his calves numb as he sat on them on the ground, leaning against the bush.

“In about--” Longbottom paused to check his wristwatch, pushing back the sleeve of his robe. “Three minutes.”

Hugo looked grumpy and patted a baby unicorn’s mane impatiently. It made small snuffing noises into Hugo’s leg, searching for food.

It hadn’t been easy, but it certainly hadn’t taken five days--which was, Madame Pomfrey and Headmaster Flitwick had notified them, how long it had taken to get to the lake and back--although there had been a little bit of cheating on the return trip with Apparition and all. They’d trooped through the Forest looking for unicorns--baby ones.

Apparently, when Longbottom, Hugo, and Scorpius had all disappeared suddenly, Flitwick had fed the students a grand feast to bring them all to the Great Hall at once and then announced that Luna Scamander--one of Longbottom’s greatest mates, apparently--had enlisted their help to find a lost pack of baby unicorns in the Forbidden Forest; who had been separated from their mother unicorns since the snow is white and mother unicorns are also pure white.

Scorpius had clapped his hand to his forehead in embarrassment for the little crazy man when he had delivered the story, looking a bit sheepish, but Flitwick had reassured him that that particular detail had been effective on the younger girls, who were practically all swooning at the news.

“They can’t honestly all be that stupid,” Scorpius had drawled, his head reeling with discomfort. Hugo had elbowed him lightly in the neck, as he was slumped very far down in his chair. “Sorry,” he added, rubbing his chest which, despite being completely healed, was still sore.

“There were some complications with Miss Weasley and Miss Barrows,” Flitwick had admitted, wringing his hands, showing the first sign of agitation Scorpius had ever seen about the old man. “Miss Weasley refused the idea that any member of the party would have left without letting her know, and Miss Barrows refused to believe that Mr Weasley would not have bragged to her about the opportunity.” Flitwick had laughed then, apparently pleased with his own imagination. “But I told them that it had been sudden, and Professor Longbottom had just been walking the two back to the common room, as they had gotten lost in the dark castle--” at which Scorpius made a noise of protest and Hugo nodded his head concedingly. “--When Mrs Scamander had approached them and explained her situation, and they left immediately, without time to notify anyone, or send a message with an owl.”

Flitwick had folded his hands then, overtly pleased. Scorpius had scowled slightly, still too sore about the lungs to say anything like “that’s absolutely ridiculous! I would never get lost in the castle, it’s not even dark at night!” or “you little foolish man! How are we going to find baby unicorns now?” That last one, admittedly, might have gotten him in a bit of trouble, but he’d already gotten away with one insult.

Luna Scamander herself had appeared at the school grounds about an hour after Flitwick’s private meeting with the trio, offering to help them locate some baby unicorns in the Forbidden Forest, as she knew where they lived. It had taken them a few hours, well into the next morning--since they had arrived back at the castle in the early evening--to tramp through the forest after Luna to the unicorn’s pastures, which were warm and dry and well-lit by moonlight (Scorpius had thought to himself how strange it was that the Forest could be so thick with snow in its larger area and then patches could appear as tropical locales, or dry marshes as this.)

He didn’t know how she had managed it, but somehow Luna had convinced the mother unicorns that the babies would be returned safely after a few hours, and had lured the little ones--pure gold, they were pure gold (and although Scorpius had heard about them, they were much more brilliant in person than what you imagined)--away with sugar cubes to the edge of the forest, where they were all four crouched now with five little unicorns kneeling in the snow beside them, perfectly content. Scorpius thought to himself that if any of the students could have seen how easily they left their mothers at the sight of the lumps of sugar none of them would believe Flitwick’s story and all would be lost--but none of them had seen, and they were about to be deceived in one of the craziest ways that Scorpius could have ever believed.

He turned his head at the sound of the general buzz of a large group of people crunching through snow and chattering lightly, heading down from the castle and towards the edge of the forest. He saw Hugo give a large wave--and Scorpius pushed the kid's head down impatiently--to Hagrid, who was peering at them excitedly through one of the windows of his small wooden hut. Scorpius knew that as Care of Magical Creatures professor he was probably very excited to see the baby unicorns, but he wouldn’t blow their cover--not now, not after everything. It wouldn’t have seemed so real if someone caught them waiting to pop out of the bushes like a show troupe.

“They’re coming!” Hugo whispered excitedly into Scorpius’s ear, and Scorpius nodded, refusing the urge to reach up and wipe the side of his face--although the slight smattering was much, much better than the drool that used to pool on his chin, it was still unpleasant and very silly. Scorpius felt like laughing.

“Everyone get into position!” Luna Scamander reminded them in her sing-song soprano. Scorpius wondered what his mother would have thought of Luna--they would probably not get along.

Scorpius propped himself up on the balls of his feet and Hugo did the same beside him. They had to look like they were coming out of the Forest triumphantly, but very tired, after days and days of searching. It would be hard to look grimy since Madame Pomfrey had demanded that he wipe his face free of blood (and some dirt had come with it), as well as Hugo and Longbottom, and they had all had to change their coats because of the stains that would say too much about what had actually happened.

But rolling around in the dirty snow had done a little bit of damage--he was sure that no one would be too suspicious, besides maybe Rose--his heart lifted considerably at the thought of seeing her again, but sunk at the thought of how angry she would be after the elation of seeing them safe. She wouldn’t exactly care that Flitwick had said there was no time for communication--she would still be angry. At him and Hugo.

He gulped as he saw Luna give a nod to Longbottom--they both looked like they were enjoying themselves, playing their parts--and they all stood up, goading the unicorns to stand with the sugar lumps, and began walking scraggily out of the Forest and out into the cleaner snow at the edge of the grounds. Scorpius hoped no one was watching Hugo too closely--he was clearly enjoying walking like a sleep-deprived person, but in truth he looked more like a mummy, with his arms held out in front of him and his knees refusing to bend.

A wave of young girls headed down the small slope directly before them, a high-pitched murmur transmitting from the group that sounded very fan-girly to Scorpius. Like at Quidditch matches. He saw a head of bushy bright red hair at the top of the hill and raised his hand to wave to Rose, who looked from this distance like she was trying very hard not to frown. She waved back energetically and grabbed the hand of Marjorie Barrows, and both of them headed down towards Scorpius, Hugo, Longbottom, Luna and the baby unicorns.

The younger students had already reached the unicorns, apparently prepared, as they were offering them small carrots, apples, and sugar lumps out of their cape pockets--the babies looked distinctly unworried, although Scorpius supposed they could write that off on the safety they felt with Luna Scamander, a professional naturalist.

Scorpius saw Flitwick and the rest of the staff--including, he realized with a jolt, the old librarian, who rarely poked her beak-like face outside of the QR section--peaking the hill and following the two-hundred or so students of Hogwarts towards where he, Hugo, Longbottom, and Luna stood. He remembered again the way that Flitwick had told them he knew they were coming--

“You see, I told them that once back in range of the Hogwarts grounds, Mrs Scamander was able to send me a Patronus--” this had confused Scorpius, because he did not know that Patronuses were messengers, like owls. “And she asked for food for the babies. What a better way to greet the heroes--” And Scorpius had not been able to refrain from rolling his eyes this time, “--and their unicorns than with a school-wide congregation? It would also save me the trouble of making another speech. I am always very rudely interrupted during my speeches,” he added, making a pouting face. Scorpius had tried not to lose his eyebrows in his hair, but failed.

He saw the crowd cheering, ranging all houses and ages, some with carrots or apples or lumps of sugar in their hands, and felt a pride swell in his chest at having accompanied Hugo on his journey--although none of the students understood what was happening, not really--and turned to see Hugo smiling brightly, no sign of drool or winks anywhere about him. He saw all the Professors looking relieved, some clapping modestly, some openly cheering with their arms waving in the air. Hagrid, who had bounded out of his cabin to join the festivities, was doing a sort of jig which shook the earth below their feet.

“Heya, Weasley!”

“‘Atta boy, Malfoy.”

“Yeah Professor, that’s cool!”

The wave of shouts and compliments threatened to overwhelm Scorpius, and that made him think of Hugo, who would be less accustomed to the attention than him, even though when they won Quidditch matches he did get to ride on people’s shoulders more often than others. Maybe due to the fact that he weighed about as much as the average second-year. But Hugo looked as though he were enjoying the attention, and Scorpius thought, well, maybe this is like winning a Quidditch match to him. He certainly did come out with something that he didn’t have before.

Scorpius looked up at the sight of a strange look--almost green--on Hugo’s face, only to see Rose prodding Marjorie Barrows deeply in the side with her elbow, smiling in a self-satisfied way. He watched in complete surprise as Marjorie extracted a scroll from her inner pocket with a look of slight reserve on her face (that was probably because Rosie was forcing her into whatever she was doing, Scorpius thought) and unrolled it, holding it over her head.

It said, in large print, “Hugo, will you go to the Yule Ball with me?”

a/n: edited 16 october 2011

Chapter 11: Because Sometimes Life Is a Circle
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Because Sometimes Life Is a Circle

“Ah, children,” Flitwick proclaimed, clasping his hands beneath his chin and beaming out at the populace of all seven years of students. Faculty members and teachers dotted the crowd, their lack of uniform placing them apart from the younger faces. Neville felt antsy, his hand flickering every so often as he contemplated the most likely reaction of the crowd if he suddenly burst and ran to the edge of the Forest, apparated back to the lake, and completed what they had started.

Someone, someday, would figure out what had happened. He remembered with a searing embarrassment the time in his third year he had left out the list of passwords he had written to avoid being locked out of the common room and what that had lead to--both his detention (which hadn’t been his first) and his embarrassment in front of the entire Gryffindor house.

This time, he had written down the coordinates of the lake containing one of the most dangerous plants in probably all of existence--he had angered several different species of creatures, which, all completely different did have a common thread among them. Protect the Quidropopot and impede (or severely maim--and a shiver ran up his spine remembering that weightless feeling of thinking, for a half-hour in time, that Scorpius may have died) all that comes in search of it.

The forest was a conglomerate of several different magical creatures, plants, and other sorts--and yet it had somehow worked in harmony to make finding this singular plant one of the most dangerous and most difficult tasks a human could undertake. That is, second most dangerous to facing down with Voldemort, but that was over and done.

Obviously the plant was harmful in the wrong hands. Natural born enemies united in search of it and protection of it. And Hugo Weasley was carrying a very tiny specimen in a strange silver box given to him by a herd of centaurs who more than usually kept to themselves and the stars in the heart of the quiet and the dark of the forest.

Neville’s hand moved into his coat to place a hand over the piece of scrap parchment upon which he’d marked the coordinates. Of course his plan had only been to have theoretical knowledge of the plant’s potential whereabouts--he had planned to, as soon as Hugo and Scorpius had retrieved the fruit and they had decided that it was better to leave it there, at the tropical, frozen lake, and to come away with their lives, sanity, and the pride at having found something made impossible to find. Only the nymphs had come.

Neville rather doubted the nymph’s intentions. They materialized well enough at the most convenient, most obvious moment, after the centaurs had alerted Neville and the boys of their danger. Wouldn’t it have made more sense, if the nymphs had really been after them, for an ambush before Hugo had gotten his hands on the Quidropopot? With the ruby inside, magical, awaiting application?

It seemed rather to Neville that they had waited. Waited for Hugo to retrieve the fruit, the ruby, all of its potential. And then, to keep up appearances, they’d just--what, nearly killed someone who was about to carry out the deed they really wanted? No, Neville thought, shaking his head. Creatures are different. They don’t succumb to greed. There isn’t that seed in them, the wanting more and more, the hubris that said you could overbound yourself and your kind and become something greater than you could imagine--than you could handle. If Neville knew anything from his school days, it was that power in the wrong hands was devastating. Evil.

So he had made the decision to use the coordinates in the favor of the progression of the human race. To plant protection charms, the Unplottable amongst others, upon the lake. No one, not even wizards, would be able to find the place. Trusting the Acromantulas, nymphs, hinkypunks and centaurs to guard the fruit was not difficult. Neville was sure himself that if they hadn’t had the aid of the centuars they would never have made it out alive. Or made it to the lake. Still, there was the chance--the one percent, the one part of million-to-one that he wasn’t willing to risk.

Only, he had sort of been interrupted. Near death, all that. Nymphs. Unicorns.


There were tears in the little old wizard’s eyes as he recounted in detail the bravery of the students during the Second Wizarding War, particularly the Battle of Hogwarts. Neville glanced around to see that most of the students were staring into space, their eyes glazed over, or chattering with their friends under their breath. He saw to his right that Scorpius had a look of severe concentration pulling at his brows, and wondered suddenly whether or not Flitwick had mentioned that Slytherin house had been evacuated from the premises during the Battle of Hogwarts. That might have been a sore subject nowadays, but when the little professor went into raptures it was a little silly to expect any sort of reasoning out of him.

“And generations past are not the only ones deserving veneration. Though admittedly, Professor Longbottom is not quite so young as he would have you--”

“Oi!” Neville shouted good-naturedly. A few giggled. He looked past Scorpius who had lifted a cheek in an almost-smile to Hugo, who was staring at Flitwick with rapt attention, his eyes alert and his back straight. It was as if he were completely oblivious to the fact that he was about to be highly praised by one of the most respected men in Wizarding Britain.

“Well, all right, then, Neville, have it your way.” Flitwick winked very indiscreetly, and Rose Weasley tittered from the other side of Hugo, sending Neville a sly look. He pretended not to notice, looking back at Flitwick determinedly.

“So--ahem--there are two students in particular who have risen to the challenge of providing a great service to the poor little unicorns who lost their way. We are all in need, now and again, of a little guidance.” Neville turned quickly as he saw Hugo turn and grin widely at him. His heart flopped with a surge of pride and he smiled discreetly. Scorpius reached over Marjorie’s head and patted Hugo on the shoulder.

“These two students have showed great bravery and selflessness, and so to Scorpius Malfoy--” a murmur ran through the crowd, a contagious ripple, the Malfoy name acting as a pebble dropped into a body of still water, awakening a wide-spread reaction. “--and to Hugo Weasley, I award, in total, one hundred points to Gryffindor house.”

The reaction was instantaneous and took Neville by surprise. He knew that both boys were well-known for prowess on the Quidditch pitch, and were not unused to riding atop the shoulders of raging fans, but, he thought, how absurd to receive the same treatment for recovering a batch of golden baby unicorns from the heart of the Forbidden Forest. It all cleared up, though, when he realized that they hadn’t been lifted up intentionally, instead the pressure of the entire female population of Hogwarts sending them up into a pinnacle of celebration of sensitivity on top of the shoudlers of a fawning population, obviously in need of some more unicorn-saving men in their daily lives. It was unusual, so highly unusual to see a Slytherin female willingly carrying a Gryffindor Chaser and Keeper upon their shoulders that Neville was actually slightly alarmed. Rose and Marjorie stood at the fringe of the mess, looking torn between amusement and annoyance.

“And,” Flitwick boomed over the high-pitched cheering, and it all seemed to stop, the students probably wondering from the looks on their faces, what could possibly be better. “For Professor Longbottom’s bravery and selflessness, I present to you all--” He paused, an exaggeratedly gleeful countenance beaming out at them all, “Licorice wands!” He raised his wand to the sky and they shot out from behind him like fireworks, arching over and down into the crowd.

Neville reached up deftly and caught a wand about to impale him between the eyes. He looked up to see that, Scorpius and Hugo forgotten, the students had broken off into two large bodies, one rushing hurriedly to carry Flitwick upon their shoulders (which seemed to be their main display of affection and appreciation), and the other directed plainly and quickly in his own direction.

In the moment of calm before the storm hit completely, Neville took a quiet second to pinch the bridge of his nose, shake his head toward the ground, and think: Only at Hogwarts.

Hours after the feast had ended, the Slytherin fangirls had retreated to their lives of snobbish quietude, and most of Hogwarts was sound asleep, bellies full of licorice and roast chicken, three silhouettes played across the modest wooden backdrop of the east wall of Neville Longbottom’s office. Snow fell quietly across the grounds, filling in the light divots of past havoc and settling a blanket of peace across the slopes, the black expanse of the lake, and the grey stone of the castle. Hugo Weasley reclined contentedly in a fat armchair by the fire, a half-empty butterbeer clutched in his right fist, his face pointed in the general direction of the other two occupants of the small room.

Neville Longbottom, who looked the same as most days, with perhaps a little more hair sticking up at odd ends, was sitting in a wing-back wicker staring slantedly into space. Scorpius Malfoy, looking strangely serene, was basking in the dull warmth of the fire, sprawled over a pouf on the floor. They had been in the room for three hours; it was well after midnight, inching into the light hours of morning.

“What about the Quidropopot?”

It was Scorpius. Neville started out of his stupor and for a moment, he felt the chill of the black, midnight air of the Forbidden Forest brush across his forehead. He pulled his collar closer to his neck, and turned to Hugo, who had taken out the small silver box and was holding it out in a palm, as if he were testing its weight. Neville was, of course, as a Herbology professor, very interested in the plant himself, but he had put off asking because he was interested in what Hugo would decide to say about it. However, now that it was out in the open...

“I wonder,” Hugo said, reaching up a hand and scrabbling at the non-existent stubble on his chin, “if it can ever come out?”

He looked towards Neville with a kind of helpless face, which was something endearing and somewhat relieving to see. Neville knew that in a space of five days it was true that Hugo had seemed to have come to terms with himself, his differences, the fact that he was enough of his parents in his most organic personality, but he was still always going to retain the child in him, the slightly off-beat student, the one who would still attempt bribery as a last-ditch effort to raise his potions or charms mark.

“I would guess it might,” Neville responded cautiously, “but you have to be careful with that box. Don’t let your wand fall into it, or--or you, don’t let yourself fall into it.” Hugo looked as though he were entertaining the idea of being very small as an entertaining and potentially exciting one, but he shook his head quickly and looked to Scorpius for a second opinion.

Scorpius shrugged. “I would try to take it out, just to see,” he said honestly, his eyes flickering back over to Neville for a moment. “It is a very useful plant--and it’s not even magical anymore, right! The box, stripping it of it’s powers and all that. There’d be no harm in looking at this one Quidropopot. It’s not dangerous anymore. And looking at the one doesn’t mean you’d be tempted to go find the others, the real ones, the ones that would work. I mean--”

He seemed to be going through the same struggles that Neville had had with himself. It was useful, very useful. It would be a goldmine for the healing community, Neville, Scorpius, and Hugo could enjoy more fame than winning points and licorice wands could ever induce, and on top of everything else, it was a great discovery in and of itself. But the danger was too great--the ruby, human nature’s inherent fallibility, susceptibility to the hunger for power.

This was not an era of gods and goddesses. It was an era of the everyday man doing exceptional things. Exceptional things like traversing the length of the Forbidden Forest and hunting that a mythical plant actually exists, gallivanting with hinkypunks, rediscovering Acromantulas, making friends with centaurs, surviving wood nymph attacks, bringing the plant back...being alive, after all that had stood in survival’s way.

It was not an era of chaos. It was an era of peace.

An era in which the Quidropopot did not have room to resurface.

Scorpius struggled to continue. “It could be a lot of help to Healers and such, you know? It seems like a shame to waste it--but...But I understand it’s dangerous. And it might even seem silly, you know, after all that went to stop us from finding it, taking it back to civilization--” Neville watched Scorpius’s palm wander unconsciously to float over his chest, and his head felt fuzzy for a moment. “It may seem strange I guess that I can even consider telling anybody about what we found. It’s just a hard choice to make.”

The leap Scorpius had made was not one he seemed to recognize, but was almost the entire reason Neville was sure that Hugo should leave the fruit inside the box. Although it wasn’t magical itself, thinking about it could lead to thinking about the magical fruits...wanting them. Human nature and self-control were often at odds; it could all be different, holding it in your hand. Something in you could could start to think about possibilities. They would be innocent thoughts, but could be the gateway to something sinister. Why open the box at all, when there was the chance, however small, that it would change everything? Was curiosity enough to counterbalance the possibility of things going horribly wrong?

“It is a difficult choice, but it’s the right thing to do.” Neville was surprised slightly by the sound of confidence in his voice. He supposed he had been caught too long in reminiscing lately; the way he’d left the passwords out, the way that he had failed to stop Hermione, Harry, and Ron from going out in the middle of the night--the way he’d fallen horribly and shattered his arm his first go-round on a broom.

But things were different now. He was different--everyone in this room was different.

“So it might be better to keep it in the box,” Hugo surmised, his right hand hovering over the catch, his face slightly disappointed. “Just so we don’t get tempted...” His fingers flickered, and his wide eyes traveled to Neville’s face, looking for a reaction. For a split second, something in Neville reared to come to his aid, to make the decision for him, but it was quelled instantly at the sight of Hugo’s chin, which was completely--dry. It was an absurd sign of his quick growth, but it was a sign nonetheless. And this whole ordeal, all of it, had sort of been about following signs.

“You’re smart, Hugo,” Scorpius said quietly from the floor, startling Hugo and Neville both. He sat up. “You decide what’s best to do.”

Hugo seemed for an absurd and cartoon-like moment to swell visibly with pride. And then, just as suddenly, he deflated, clasped his fingers around the small box, and pocketed it quickly, trying his best not to look disappointed. A part of Neville himself was disappointed--after all those years of having it stored in the back of his mind as something unreal, imagined, and then in five days having his hope renewed of its existence and their own ability to find it--

He was struck with how extraordinary this all was. His mind reeled at sudden bolts of light that seemed to be flickering across his vision, connecting all of the gaps, pulling everything together into a single picture that made sense and it all rested well with him. He felt very much like leaning back and folding his hands over his belly and staring into the fire.

But at the same time, he knew what they had to do.

“Boys,” he said, and they were already standing, grabbing their coats, seeming to feel the need for one last bit of action as it was tangible in the air between them. “I meant to--to cast some charms. To protect that lake. To protect--you know. All of it. The earth, balance of power, etcetera etcetera,” he continued, flapping his hands in an off-handed manner.

“There are slim chances of anyone surviving the trip there,” Scorpius mentioned, although he was not arguing.

Neville reached into his pocket to feel the worn piece of parchment, safe in his pocket. But it might not always be safe. Something could happen. He could drop it somewhere--someone could reconstruct the ashes, if he burnt it--this was too big to be left to chances, however slim. “We started something, and we were interrupted. What do you say, Hugo?” He turned to the boy, who even after everything that had happened still seemed surprised at being consulted in this way. Like an adult, Neville mused. “Do you say we finish it?”

Hugo’s eyes sparkled in the firelight, his face lighting up with something like bravery, and he squared his shoulders before he announced into the small office, “I say we finish it.”

The three wordlessly shrugged on their coats, walked out the door, and marched to the edge of the Forest, staring up for a brief moment into the dark periwinkle sky, an unworded appreciation passing between them. Neville gave a small sigh, reached into his pocket, and pulled out the parchment with the marked coordinates, offering the students on either side of him an elbow to hold.

Hugo gasped, clutching his throat. He would always hate Apparition, although he supposed that when he learned how to do it himself he would be able to spend a little time bracing himself for the awful feeling of slipping through space. Although squeezing was probably more of an appropriate word. He felt like he was a piece of laundry and his mother was wringing him out. Poor laundry. He’d have to ask his mother to buy a clothes line.

He stopped still at the sight before him. Was it ever night here? The lake glinted serenely beneath the tropical cyan sky, the mountains edging the horizon a light purple, capped with the bright white of distant snow. He pulled his wand out of his coat and looked to his left, where Professor Neville was, waiting for instruction. In all truth, while he paid attention in Ancient Runes more than he let on, he had never had a knack for remembering Charms, even if he could perform well enough when he focused.

He saw Scorpius pull out his wand, his dark blue eyes never resting, looking around, scanning the landscape. Hugo felt a flutter in his stomach, a nervous clenching. It hadn’t occurred to him before that this might be a very horrible place for Scorpius to be again. How brave! What a Gryffindor!

“An idea had occurred to me,” Professor Neville said after waving his wand in a fancy way and a bright blue dome appeared over the entire expanse of the lake for a moment. Hugo was amazed, unable to speak, unable to look away from the lake. Did that really--was the whole lake--it was so blue! So bright! It--

“Have you ever heard of the Fidelius Charm?” Professor Neville asked with a strangely triumphant look in his eyes. Hugo racked his brain and came up only with the fact that it had failed, once, a very important time, and because of that his uncle was king of the Aurors and in nearly every history book of Wizarding kind.

He nodded, unable to see where this was going. Perhaps if he understood what the charm was he would be having the same kind of epiphany that Scorpius’s face told Hugo he was having himself.

“It’s a bit of complicated magic to wield,” Professor Neville said, seeming to sense that Hugo didn’t quite understand. “But really very simple in theory. It embeds a secret into a person’s soul. As long as the secret keeper, the person in whose soul the secret lies, keeps it safe, nothing in the world could happen to the thing the secret protects.” Hugo tried not to go right into his tried-and-true lecture mode. He struggled to understand.

Professor Neville seemed to take up his proffesor’s role and asked lightly, “Does that make sense? A secret-keeper keeps a location safe. Only the people the secret-keeper tells have access to the secret. In this case, the secret would be...”

“The lake.” It hit Hugo suddenly that that was what Professor Neville had been driving at. He wanted to cast the Fidelius charm on the lake! “But I can’t cast the charm, Professor, I don’t know how to--”

“You’d be the secret-keeper, Hugo,” Professor said, and Hugo felt his eyes go wide in his head. He wanted--he wanted him to be the secret-keeper? That seemed to be a very important role. “I would cast the charm, and you would keep the secret.” Professor Neville tilted his head to the side, his forehead creasing in the middle. Hugo’s head tilted the same way in response, automatically, and he tried to figure out what Professor Neville was wondering.

“Being the keeper of a secret like this seems very important,” Hugo said after a while when no one had spoken. Scorpius stepped up then, toeing the edge of the lake--but his foot stopped before it could hit the ice, an invisible barrier impeding his way.

“You’re ready for it, Hugo. This all--” he gestured around him, and Hugo took it to mean the entire past five days. “This all started with you, and this...this would be the perfect way to end it, don’t you think? Parallel.”

Hugo squinted, considering. When he finally spoke, he said: “You sound a lot like Rose.”

Scorpius smiled, his cheeks lifting before he could stop himself. It was true. Maybe spending so much time around her brother had had the strange effect of causing him to mirror her thought patterns. But he really did think, in every way, that Hugo as secret-keeper was the best way to conclude their adventure.

Hugo nodded slightly. “I’ll be secret-keeper.”

Scorpius stood back as Longbottom stepped up and began to wave his wand in a circular pattern, seeming to encompass the lake. Small white beams shot out of his wand and zoomed off to all borders of the lake. Thousands of them. Scorpius could hardly see for the sparks of light obscuring his vision, taking over his senses. For the moment, the light was all that existed. When it subsided, he was left with a very satisfied feeling in the pit of his chest.

Hugo looked serene, gazing out over the expanse of the lake. Longbottom was muttering under his breath, moving his wand slowly and it eventually moved to rest over Hugo’s chest.

“Hugo Arthur Weasley,” Longbottom said audibly, and magic was thick in the air, the small white bursts of light surrounding Hugo in a sort of veil, “I name you secret-keeper of this place.”

It was simpler than Scorpius imagined in word, but for that, the little white lights seemed to make up what complexity the utterance lacked by performing a strange dance around Hugo, swarming into a tribe, moving as a ball of light, first around his head, then in diagonal circles around his entire body, and then hovering for a moment before his chest before sinking right into him. Hugo’s eyes widened as the light entered his body, and for a moment the irises of his eyes became a light, light colour, like honey over ice, and then it was gone.

It was still.

The trees by the edge of the shore rustled softly in a breeze, and the entire expanse of the lake glowed for a single moment before fading back into its regular appearance of glass beneath the bright blue sky. Hugo’s eyes, green, purveyed the landscape before him, and Scorpius felt in a concentrated area of his chest a searing warmth. He looked down at his chest, and saw a dull light through his coat. He lifted its dark wool, amazed, to see that through his jumper his scar was glowing bright white, the same colour as the lake had lit, the same as the white lights that had only moments before danced around Hugo.

He looked up, noticing that a long rectangular patch of Longbottom’s coat was glowing, too.

Neville saw Scorpius’s chest alight strangely when he turned to see what the boy was staring at. Neville frowned, a little confused, when he followed Scorpius’s gaze to his own coat, which was also pulsing a white light through its thick material. He knew what it was, and reached into his pocket, once more, for the sheet of parchment upon which he had marked the lake’s coordinates. It was a brilliant white, but faded as Neville’s eyes scanned it for markings. Though the outline of the trail they had taken was still marked by a faint black line, it stopped abruptly where the edge of the forest stopped, where the shore to the Quidropopot lake began.

The coordinates were nowhere to be seen.

Unplottable, the secret lake was safe. Kept secret, nobody would ever find it.

He turned to Hugo, who was smiling happily, sifting sand through his fingers like a small child. He looked remarkably like his mother in that moment, his brown curls sloping into his eyes, the same confidence brimming about his person that Hermione had often shouldered herself. He had his father’s frame, his strange way of standing with his left shoulder dipped, moving from foot to foot unconsciously, blinking too many times.

And yet--he was Hugo. Just Hugo.

Hugo Weasley, responsible for the peace treaty between Wizardkind and centaurs, the official discovery of Acromantulas in the Forbidden Forest, and one of the three discoverers of the Quidropopot, a magical plant thought here-to-fore to be nothing more than a myth, a flight of fancy.

Neville reached over to brush a bit of dirt from Hugo’s shoulder. Sounded like a good resume to him.

Scorpius stood at his other side, hands in pockets, looking over the lake with what Neville guessed to be mixed feelings. When he saw Neville looking, he smiled lightly, shrugging modestly. Neville knew he was pleased.

They all were.

a/n: edited 17 october 2011

Chapter 12: Epilogue
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Scorpius Malfoy was walking past the Gryffindor common room’s Fat Lady, about to clear his throat and offer up the password, when it swung open quickly and Hugo Weasley tumbled out, head-over-heels, having leapt through head first. Scorpius smiled.

“Still leaping out of portrait holes, I see,” Scorpius said, and Hugo looked up from the ground, through his curls, with a large grin on his face.

“It’s so much quicker,” Hugo said, for the first time in recent history actually having a reason for it. Scorpius reached out a hand and helped Hugo up off the floor. He saw Hugo eyeing his tie, and took a moment himself to look over Hugo’s appearance. There was some improvement in the fact that his robes were not on front-to-back, but Hugo never had had the knack for tying his ties. There was a knot in it, about half-way down the length, so that it looked more like a horribly failed bowtie, sagging down a bit.

“Someday, Hugo, I’m going to teach you to tie a tie,” Scorpius said, slinging an arm around Hugo’s shoulders and leading him in the direction of the Entrance Hall. Two weeks back into their daily, Hogwarts-located routines was enough to tell Scorpius that despite the week-long foray into the depths of the Forbidden Forest, Hugo’s sense of direction was still so impaired that he could end up in an empty classroom on the fifth floor and think he was showing up for Double Potions.

“Maybe before tonight?” Hugo asked hopefully, before he remembered that he wasn’t wearing a tie. Scorpius seemed to find it unnecessary to answer anyways, and kept walking him down staircase after staircase until they came to the Entrance Hall. Hugo could have sworn that one should have taken a couple more turns to get here, but since they were here after all, he guessed he didn’t really need to bring it up.

To make conversation, or try, at least, Hugo asked, “What time are we supposed to meet Professor Neville--Longbottom, I mean--again?”

Scorpius shot him a look. Scorpius had been shooting Hugo lots of looks since their last escapade in the Forest, with the lake and everything. They often looked suspicious, or like he was about to ask something, but this one looked more like what Rose looked like. It was the expression she had for him when she thought he had asked a particularly silly question. But it passed from Scorpius’s gaze, and he looked down at his watch compliantly and said, “in about five minutes.”

“Well we’re right on time!” Hugo said, doing a little leap in the air as he simultaneously estimated the amount of time it would actually take to get to Professor Neville’s office. It was out by the greenhouses on the grounds, and it took a few minutes to get there. But he was right, he concluded, as Scorpius flicked his wand at the Oak doors and they opened to reveal snow-covered grounds.

Hugo loped as gracefully as he could manage through the knee-deep snow as Scorpius lagged slightly behind, using his wand to blast a path with hot air. I am a hound, enjoying the winter sunshine! Hugo thought, bouncing a bit and tripping, falling into the snow. I am a small child on the way to have a birthday party! He got up and ran, arms akimbo, lifting his knees higher so he wouldn’t trip again.

A few yards behind him, Scorpius was shaking his head in a well-meaning way. It was endearing, really, that Hugo had accomplished so much in so little time and was still himself. It might have gone to anyone else’s head.

Hugo waited at the door to Longbottom’s small office, which was more like a small cottage than an office, out behind the greenhouses. Smoke trailed up into the light grey sky from the brick chimney, and Scorpius eagerly awaited the fire inside.

Longbottom answered the door, looking up from having been checking his watch. “Right on time,” he said, sounding pleased and, Scorpius thought, a little surprised. “I’ve just put the kettle on, it’ll be a couple minutes.”

“That’s all right, Professor,” Hugo said earnestly, and Neville smiled, stepping out of the way to let them in.

Hugo and Scorpius took their seats at the small circular table in the sitting room, while Neville bustled at the stove and took the kettle off when it began to whistle, pouring their tea into the chipped mugs at their places.

Hugo allowed his to cool a bit before lifting it to his mouth. If there was anything he knew, it was that tea could burn your tongue right out of the pot. His hand strayed to his pocket, where a little silver box sat docilely. His fingers closed around it, and as Scorpius and Professor Longbottom chatted about classes and exams, Hugo allowed his mind to wander.

Three weeks ago, he would never have pictured himself with the Quidropopot in his possession but locked away forever.

Rose had been doing her Herbology thesis, and she had been reading that bloody thick treatise on exotic diseases and their cures, and she had told him about the mythical Quidropopot, and how its flesh could cure almost any disease and it had a ruby at its center that theorists believed created the Ancient Egyptian gods and goddesses...he had thought, just for a moment, wouldn’t it be great to go and find one of those?

But, he thought now, turning the silver box over in his hand, he didn’t need the Quidropopot after all. He had learned enough on the way to getting it--about himself, about who he was.

“Looking forward to tonight, Hugo?” Scorpius asked suddenly, breaking Hugo out of his reverie. He meant, of course, the Yule Ball. Hugo grinned, nodding enthusiastically.

“Marjie made me colour-coordinate with her,” Hugo said, shaking his head a bit. “We’re wearing blue and bronze.” He grimaced. What would Quidditch-captain Albus think of that?

“It’s not surprising to hear that,” Professor Neville mused, smiling gently. “She’s a Ravenclaw, through and through.” He cleared his throat and looked up suddenly, as though something had occurred to him.

“Speaking of Marjie, was she impressed?” Scorpius asked.

“By what?” Hugo was confused. He had told Scorpius he’d abandoned the suit idea.

“The Quidropopot, that you got it! You did tell her, didn’t you? Because--” he paused, looking at Professor Neville in a way that could have been a bit guilty. “Because we thought that that might have been the reason you were after the Quidropopot, you know. We weren’t sure you’d show it to her, but at least...let her know you found it. Have it in the box. Something like that.”

“Oh, no,” Hugo said, shaking his head. He pushed some curls out of his eyes. “I didn’t tell her. I didn’t tell her because, well, even though at first that’s what I maybe wanted it for, after I thought about it, and after we were really out in the forest, and you guys were with me...I realized I was going after the fruit because it was a myth. It was impossible to find. My parents did lots of impossible things, and they’re important people. I thought, maybe, if I could do something impossible, I could prove to myself that I was...important, too.” Hugo stopped bashfully, cupping his mug in his hands. “It wasn’t about finding the fruit and showing it to anybody. I learned what I needed to. I did what I wanted to.” He nodded, as if to signal the end of his speech.

“But...the fruit you have isn’t magical anymore. Not itself dangerous. You still don’t have any desire to take it out of the box?” Scorpius was asking; his face was a strange expression that looked caught between curiosity and extreme relief.

“No,” Hugo said after considering. “I’m content to have it. In the box, it’s just as meaningful. A reminder of the adventure.” He sipped his tea. He was glad he had waited; it didn’t burn his tongue.

“Okay,” Scorpius sighed at length, leaning back in his seat. He believed him. “Ah. We should get going,” he said apologetically, but there was a hint of excitement in his tone. Hugo looked at the clock on the wall. It had already been an hour since they’d arrived--he didn’t realize time could move so quickly! He stood up and held out his hand to Professor Neville, who took it, looking amused.

“Thank you for the tea, Professor! See you tonight!” Hugo pumped his hand eagerly and took off running out the door. Scorpius shook his head and clapped Longbottom on the back.

“Thanks,” he said, walking and pausing at the open door. Neville could see Hugo pirouetting in the snow outside, past Scorpius’s silhouette. “Thank you for everything.”

A small lump seemed to have lodged in Neville’s throat. Looking at Scorpius’s beaming face--Scorpius, who was usually so reserved, whose best-expressed emotion was usually concentration on the Quidditch pitch--he couldn’t find enough voice to say anything, so he nodded emphatically, and Scorpius turned, trekking out into his wand-blown path after Hugo, who was now coating himself over in snow and shouted to Neville, when he saw him watching, “I’m a snowman! Don’t I look just like a snowman?”

It had begun to snow.

Neville nodded. He smiled, beaming, and was sure that his grin was as bright as the white landscape before him. He lifted a hand to wave one last time, and watched contentedly as the sun began to sink in the yellow sky, and the boys turned to pinpricks against the grey stone of Hogwarts castle.


a/n: edited 17 october 2011
I'd like to add that this story is dedicated to the following: Gina, Annie, Hattie, Janechel, Melissa, Ash, Gubby, Julia, Mary, Celeste, Sarah and Jack for being constant support and fangirls. Ahem, and one of them is a fanboy.
Also to my dad, for reading each chapter after I finished writing them, and supporting my writing even when it meant other things--real life things--got a little neglected.
Thank you to each and every one of my readers, particularly Jade amongst others, for giving me such remarkable feedback and being overall so encouraging. I've said it a thousand times but I had absolutely no idea what I was getting into when I started this; but I am so glad that things happened the way they did.
LOVE, lily ♥