"Fucking what?!"

"Surely you're joking, Cecily."

"She's definitely lost the plot."

 "I'm serious, you twats!"  I glared at Potter for his last comment, though he had made his thoughts on that subject perfectly clear back at the Leaky Cauldron.  And when we had returned to Hogwarts shortly thereafter.  And several more times throughout our journey up several flights of stairs to the old Divination classroom, where we’d met Rose and Louis.

I also secretly thought that maybe I really had lost the plot.

I sighed and adjusted myself on the plush velvet pouf.  “Your parents," I said, gesturing to Rose and Potter, "broke into the Ministry more than once at one of the darkest times in wizarding history.  They weren't any older than us the first go-round, right?  And it's got to be loads easier to get in these days."  Rose and Potter exchanged uneasy glances.  They knew I had a point, especially given their familiarity with the place. 

The beginnings of a plan were formulating in my head.  The more I thought about it, the more I was sure it would work despite its simplicity.  I just had to make sure they were all willing to help.  I couldn't do this alone.  "Please," I said quietly.  "We need more time to figure out what really happened that night and we can't take any chances with Scorpius's life.  With his…sanity."  I felt pinpricks on the back of my eyeballs.  "Please," I said again.  "He might be all I have left."

To my surprise, Potter was the first to speak.  "I'm in."

"Me too," said Louis. 

We all looked to Rose expectantly.  She let out a sharp exhale and glared back at us.  "Well, of course I'll help, he's only the bloody love of my life, isn't he?"

For the first time in what felt like ages, I smiled. For real. 

*             *             *             *             *

The four of us talked late into the night, planning every aspect of our little rescue mission.  (And of course, when we awoke the next morning, still sprawled on the floor of Trelawney’s old quarters, Louis was spooning Potter a tad too enthusiastically.)  Despite our desire to implement the plan as soon as possible, it took a few weeks to make sure everything was set up properly.  We wanted to use as little magic as possible outside school for fear of the Trace.  I did my research on the Room of Requirement to make sure we could use it to Floo in and out.  Rose practised Transfiguring our faces.  Potter dug out his dad's Invisibility Cloak and a knife that could pick any lock—his father had apparently had one when he was younger and insisted on buying them for his sons one Christmas.  Potter and Louis also brought supplies from their Uncle George's shop. 

There was just one more piece to the puzzle: We needed a distraction. 

I chewed my bottom lip as I scoured the WWW merchandise during one of our brainstorming sessions.  “I’m just not sure Dungbombs are going to be enough.”  I glanced back up at my partners-in-crime.  “We just need something a little more…outlandish, you know?”

“I’ve got it!” Louis blurted, jumping to his feet excitedly.  “Monty can help us!”

“Monty?”  I wrinkled my nose.  “Never heard of him, and you know we can’t get anyone else involved, Lou—"

“Oh, Monty isn’t a person, silly!”  He tossed his strawberry blonde curls back and laughed loudly, as though this was the most absurd assumption anyone could have ever made. 

“Of course he isn’t,” I muttered dully. 
 
That’s how we found ourselves bundled against the cold, heading toward the Quidditch pitch just after sunset.  “He lives right over here,” Louis murmured, holding his lit wand high as he led us further under the bleachers, to the lowest point where the front rows met the floor. 

This did not seem promising.

Rose squinted at a dark mass huddled on the ground.  “Louis,” she began hesitantly, “what in Voldemort’s reach is—AAH!”  She leapt backward as something scuttled toward us. 

“Monty!” Louis exclaimed, happy as a child on Christmas morning.  I stood frozen in horror as the light from his wand fell over the heinous creature before us.  It looked like an oversized crab, except grey and too shiny and somehow just...unnatural.  Plus, it was rather difficult to overlook the large stinger wagging back and forth like some kind of grotesque dog's tail. 

“Louis,” Potter said slowly as he eyed the thing.  “Are you trying to tell us you’ve befriended a Blast-Ended Skrewt?

“Isn’t he great?” Louis gushed as a short blast of flame emitting from the Skrewt’s backside propelled it forward a few feet.  We all jumped except for Louis, who only reached down and tried to tickle the thing’s belly despite the alarming noises issuing from what I could only assume was its mouth. 

“Be careful, Lou,” Rose warned from a safe distance.  “I don’t think he likes that.”

“Of course he does,” Louis responded matter-of-factly.  “He’s just playing.”

“Louis, this is a wild animal.”  I tried to speak calmly, but was, quite frankly, horrified.  “An extremely dangerous, flammable wild animal with an enormous needle for a tail.” 

Louis’s fingers were far too close to the Skrewt’s face as he attempted to feed it something resembling sauerkraut, which it promptly spit out.  He chuckled delightedly.  “Don’t worry, CeCe.  He’s a total sweetheart.”

A derisive laugh escaped me.  Unfortunately, this only served to get the beast’s attention; it suddenly began scampering in my direction, its stinger poised threateningly over its back.  I screamed and took cover behind a whimpering Rose. 

“Bad Monty!” Louis chided the Skrewt.  “Cecily is family.”  The creature seemed to glare at me as Louis coaxed it back toward its nest. 

Potter cleared his throat.  “How exactly would—er—Monty assist us in this endeavour?”

“We let him loose in the Ministry, obviously,” Louis explained with great patience, as if we could not possibly be more exasperating.  “He’ll distract whatever guards there are long enough to get Scorp out.”  Louis looked at the creepy thing fondly.  “Most people have never even seen a Skrewt before.  They won’t know what to do with him at first.”

Rose chewed at her bottom lip, still eying the Skrewt warily as it scooted around us with its short bursts of fire.  “He may not be the cuddliest of varmints, but how do we know we won’t be putting him in harm’s way?”

“Monty’s the runt,” Louis told her.  The runt?  I shuddered to think of the size of this thing’s siblings.  “They’d never try to let him survive on his own in the wild.  Once they figure out what he is, they’ll bring him back here so Hagrid can look after him.”

Potter looked thoughtful for a moment.  “Fine.  But you’ll be the one to handle him.”

Louis scoffed. “Duh.  As if any of you could be trusted with such a delicate creature.”

Sweet Salazar, what were we getting ourselves into?

*             *             *             *             *

“No.  Absolutely fucking not.”

“There’s no way in hell you’re talking any of us out of this, Scorp,” I said.  I had finally been permitted another visit to my incarcerated cousin.  “So just do as we say.  If we get caught, it was all for nothing.”

“Cece, this is so fucking dangerous!” he hissed, running a hand through his bedraggled blonde hair anxiously.  “I can’t—"

“You don’t have a choice.”  I crossed my arms and glared at him.  “We all know exactly what we’re getting ourselves into and we’ve all decided that you’re worth it.”

Scorpius set his jaw even as tears sprang to his eyes.  “Fine.  But can you at least tell me what exactly it is you’re planning?”

I shook my head.  “The less you know, the better.  We weren’t even sure we should warn you in the first place, but sneaking up on you in the dead of night has its risks.”  I smiled weakly and took his hand.  “Please just trust us.”

My cousin studied my face for a moment before squeezing my hand and nodding once.

“Half eleven Tuesday night.  Be ready.”

*             *             *             *             *

We had decided that Flooing directly into the Ministry’s Atrium at that late hour would cause much more of a ruckus than taking the visitors’ entrance.  We would instead go first to the Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes outpost in Diagon Alley and make our way over to the Ministry from there.

It was nearing eleven when we lined up in front of the Room of Requirement’s fireplace that Tuesday night.  I had cast a Silencio over Monty, who was thrashing about in the crate Louis carried.  “Right.”  Potter glanced around and gestured toward me.  “Greengrass, you take the lead—”

I flinched.  “CeCe hates Flooing,” Rose oh-so-helpfully reminded Potter. 

I felt my cheeks redden as Potter quirked an eyebrow at me.  “Will you require assistance then, ickle Greengrass?”

“No!” I retorted, louder than necessary.  “I just don’t want to go first, is all.”

Potter rolled his eyes.  “Fine. I’ll go first.  You get in right behind me, and Louis can bring Monty last.”  After much argument, Rose had agreed to stay behind in the Room; we weren’t sure if it would stay open with none of us physically present at Hogwarts, and I was much smaller and, therefore, easier to tuck into the Invisibility Cloak with the boys and Skrewt.  Lucky me.

“Good luck,” Rose gave us a nervous half-wave as we disappeared into the fireplace one by one.

It was odd to see the WWW shop so dark and quiet.  I latched onto Potter’s jumper as he guided us expertly through the maze of shelves and out the back door.

I recalled the last occasion in which I had left Diagon Alley to wander through the streets of Muggle London; the insane thought that being lost in a crowd of people was somewhat comforting.  I was too hyper-aware of my surroundings to feel that way now.  I couldn’t even appreciate the trappings of Muggle culture that surrounded me.  All I could think about was getting to Scorpius, making sure he was safe.

In no time at all, we had folded into the red telephone booth and were sinking slowly below the pavement.  I took deep breaths to dissipate my discomfort at being so close to the others as I fingered the shiny badge now pinned to my chest.  It crossed my mind again how odd it seemed that the Ministry wouldn’t keep tabs on the names that came flying out of the coin slot, but then again, all guests were meant to register their wands at the security desk once they actually entered the building.  What we were doing wasn’t exactly expected.

The telephone booth shuddered to a stop and the door slid open as Potter flung the Invisibility Cloak over the four of us.  I could feel Louis wrestling to keep Monty still as we crept forward together into the dark, enormous space ahead.  As we neared the golden gates across the room, I spied the same dowdy watch-wizard seated at the security desk as he riffled through an old issue of Witch Weekly with an expression of utmost boredom.

Potter silently directed us behind an enormous statute of Dumbledore.  This was where we would separate, each with our own WWW-manufactured invisibility cloak.  The spells for George Weasley’s cloaks were unpredictable and could fade at any time, leaving the user with the appearance of a weak Disillusionment Charm.  We had decided, therefore, that Scorpius would be the one to don the real Invisibility Cloak; even if we got caught, he would hopefully still be able to escape undetected.

Potter and I left Louis and Monty in an alcove near the security desk and tiptoed quietly toward the long corridor of cells.  I positioned myself at the top of the hallway leading to Scorpius’s cell, where I could (hopefully) head off the guard if necessary.

It seemed an eternity before Potter reached Scorpius.  The click of the lock springing open at the touch of his magically enhanced knife was not particularly loud; however, the empty, marbled passageway caused it to amplify and echo a thousand times over.  My heart thudded in my chest as I heard the sentry stir from his desk.  “Who’s there?” came his gruff voice from around the corner.  The jingle of keys was audible as stood from the stool and started in our direction. 

I peeked around the corner as far as I dared and pointed my wand at his feet as I whispered the Trip Jinx, praying to Merlin the Trace wouldn’t pick up an underage wizard in the Ministry of Magic itself with this simple spell.  The guard gasped as he fell over...and at that exact moment, Monty came into view, scuttling toward the man on the ground, squeaking gleefully; he was clearly thrilled to be free from the confines of his crate.  Louis’s job was done; with any luck, he’d be Flooing back to Hogwarts now. 

GO!” I heard Potter hiss as I felt him whiz by me.  I assumed Scorpius was at his side, completely hidden from view.  Their footsteps were muffled by the guard’s yells as he fumbled for his own wand.  He managed to extract it from his cloak and muttered a spell as he scrambled backward, away from Monty. 

I hurtled past him, toward the fireplaces.  We were going to make it.  Suddenly, the Atrium echoed with the unmistakable CRACKs of Apparition; within seconds, the entrance hall was full of grown witches and wizards shouting instructions.  Luckily, the vast majority seemed more concerned with the presence of Monty than anything else.  Unluckily, the shock of it all caused my steps to falter; ironically, I tripped over the hem of my too-long cloak and let out a grunt of pain as my elbow connected with the hard floor. 

“Over there!”  I whipped my head around as a tall, dark wizard sprinted in my direction. 

Fuck.  I scrambled to my feet and stumbled toward the nearest fireplace, only to fall forward again as an enormous hand suddenly clutched my right trainer, dragging me back out into the Atrium.  “Oh no, you don’t!” the wizard’s deep voice boomed behind me.  I tried my hardest not to scream as I scrabbled for some sort of purchase on the smooth grate.  There was nothing.  I was caught. 

Just then, a blaze of emerald flame surrounded me as a strong arm gripped my waist from behind and yanked, hard.  My shoe came loose, but so did the hand grasping it.  For the first time in my life, I was grateful for the dizzying sensation that accompanied any journey via Floo. 

"Oof!"  I flew out of the grate into the Room of Requirement and landed on something that wasn't even remotely comfortable.  I looked down.  Potter.  My shirt had ridden up above his arm, which was still wrapped around my waist. 

"Fucking hell, Greengrass," he groaned beneath me.  "How can someone so tiny be SO BLOODY HEAVY?"

My face was on fire.  "Have I mentioned that you do wonders for my self-esteem?" I snapped before shoving Potter's arm away.  I rolled to my feet as I tugged my top back into place and looked around wildly for my cousin.  He was there, pale and shaking, in the comfort of Rose’s arms, positively swimming in the oversized purple jumpsuit he'd been required to wear behind bars.  I heaved a sigh of relief and beelined toward him.

"My wand,” Scorpius was saying.  “They took it when they locked me up—"

"You can't use magic outside of Hogwarts anyway, Scorp," I reminded him.  "Especially not now."

"We've got to hurry," Louis urged, sounding anxious as he thrust a change of Muggle-style clothing into Scorpius's arms.  I glanced away as Scorp started stripping down. 

"Right.  Let me just..."  Rose took out her wand and pointed it at my cousin’s face.  Scorpius seemed too dazed to ask what she was doing. 

While Rose Transfigured some of Scorp's more obvious features, Potter was barking out instructions.  "Get the Knight Bus to take you out of London, then you should find a Muggle train to carry you to Nice.  There are busses to Cap-d’Ail from there.  This should be enough."  He poured unfamiliar notes and coins into my cousin's hands.  "Here's the address to our beach house."  He waved a slip of parchment and placed it on top of the pile of Muggle money.  "It's empty, Unplottable, and very private.  You'll be safe there until we figure this all out."

"There."  Rose stepped away and admired her handiwork.  My cousin's hair was now shoulder-length and jet black.  His nose was bulbous and his jaw was square.  He was quite ugly, really; definitely not worth a second look.  The only giveaway would be his eyes, if one peered at him too closely. 

"Good job, Rosie," said Louis admiringly.  

I could tell Scorpius was doing all he could not to completely panic.  “What if something happens?  What if I need to contact you?”

“There’s a post office about a mile from the house,” Louis said.

“Just don’t let anyone there get a good look at your face,” Rose advised, still studying him.  “This stuff will fade soon enough.”

“Ooh, shouldn’t we give him, like, a code name or something?” Louis seemed way too excited at the prospect.  “How about…‘The Scorpion?’”

“That’s way too similar to his real name,” Potter argued.

“I like ‘Ptolemy,’” Rose chimed in thoughtfully.  “He’s the one who discovered the constellation Scorpius, you know.”

“No, no—” Louis began.

“Oi!” I recalled them to the task at hand.  “We don’t have much time, you lot!  I’m sure Scorp will figure out something so we’ll know the letters are from him.”

"Right.  We'd better get going," Potter conceded, pulling out the Cloak.  "We ought to take the One-Eyed Witch's passage to Hogsmeade—"

"No way, Al.  I'm taking him."  Rose grabbed the Cloak from Potter's grasp.  "I need...time.  To say goodbye."

Potter looked like he wanted to argue for a moment, but finally shrugged, relenting.  He turned to Scorpius.  "I guess this is it.  For now."

Scorpius gripped Potter’s shoulders.  “I can’t thank you enough.”  They bro-hugged before my cousin turned to Louis.  “Seriously.  I can’t believe you all would do this for me.”

“Then you’re an even bigger idiot than we thought,” I joked weakly as my cousin gathered me into a bone-crushing hug.  I inhaled him, not wanting to admit how terrified I was about what might happen when we separated.  “Shouldn’t come as a surprise.”

Scorpius held me at arm's length and looked me in the eye.  "I don't know what's gotten into you, Cessy," he said quietly, "but please be careful."  He kissed my forehead before backing away, exhaling slowly as if resolving himself to the journey ahead. 

“Ready?”  Rose asked quietly.  He nodded.

The instant the door closed behind them, Potter whirled on me.  "We have to go back."

I gaped at him, still trying to grapple with the emotional turmoil threatening to explode from every part of me at any moment.  "Back...?"

"To the Ministry!"  He hissed impatiently, running his fingers roughly through his shock of ink-black hair.  "They have your shoe.  They'll use it to trace you.  I’m not sure even the protections around Hogwarts can keep them from succeeding."

A cold sense of dread filled my stomach like a basilisk ready to strike as I realised he was right.  "Fuck."  What if they were already tracking me down?  "Fuck!" I said again, with emphasis.  I was really starting to panic now.  "What do I do?"

Potter's jaw worked as he thought quickly.  "Right.  Lou, you stay here again and keep the Room open."  Louis nodded, half-asleep by this time anyway.  "Greengrass..."  He hesitated, not wanting to voice his plan but seemingly acknowledging there was no other option.  "We can't Floo to the shop again.  It'll take too much time to get back to the Ministry on foot.  We'll have to go directly to my dad's office."  He ignored my gasp and barreled on.  "Hopefully all hell will have broken loose when they discover Scorp is gone.  The guard would have taken the shoe to the Auror Office, so if everyone is out looking for Scorp we might have a chance to search it."  Potter met my gaze directly.  "Can you do this?"

Did I have a choice?  I swallowed, hard.  Before I could even allow myself to consider the implications of breaking into the Ministry of Magic twice in one night—not to mention the exponentially low possibility of not getting caught either time—I nodded.  "Let's go."

*             *             *             *             *

Mr. Potter's office was dark and quiet when we arrived.  It appeared that Potter's hunch about the frantic search for Scorpius had been correct.  I prayed to Merlin that my cousin was safely on his way to France.

The main hallway was brightly lit, but soundless.  Potter gestured toward a door marked ‘EVIDENCE,’ and I tiptoed after him.  It really was quite fortunate that Louis had such tiny feet—the shoes I had borrowed from him were only slightly too large for mine.

Suddenly, the DING of a nearby lift sounded.  Before I knew it, Potter had hurled himself through an adjacent door and tugged me after him.

We fell into the storage closet in a tangle of limbs and, for the second time that night, I landed on top of Potter.  Quickly, I began scrambling to push myself off of him and get to my feet, but not quickly enough; when Potter clamped his hand over my mouth and gestured for me to be quiet, our faces were inches apart, my legs were straddling his, my hands were on his chest, and his free hand was conveniently resting on my arse.

I kid you not—the shit had the audacity to give my bum a squeeze, knowing I couldn't possibly retaliate to my satisfaction and remain quiet.  How could he still annoy the hell out of me in this desperate of a situation?

He raised a complacent eyebrow at my furious gaze as the voices grew louder.  I bit the hand covering my mouth and he grimaced, but only moved his palm to cover my cheek instead, out of reach of my teeth.  There were sounds of shuffling immediately outside the door, and I was certain our pounding hearts were clearly audible miles away. 

I tried to listen closely to the noises only a few feet away, but Potter was taking in deep gulps of air, breath stirring my hair and sending chills down my neck.  Slowly, I became aware of his body underneath mine; his closeness, his warmth, the hardness of his abdomen.  I felt my neck begin to heat as I thought about the last time we'd been so close, at the Muggle club.  Why did he have to be so goddamned handsome?

When my eyes met Potter's again, he was studying my face.  His own was impassive, unconcerned.  His rough thumb suddenly grazed my cheek, and I couldn't tell whether it was an involuntary flinch or something more deliberate. 

Before I could fully process the potential intimacy of this gesture, the door flung open and the cupboard was flooded with light.  I grimaced, almost afraid to look at the figure standing behind me.

There, outlined in the doorframe with my missing trainer in hand and a thunderous expression on his instantly recognisable face, was Harry Potter himself. 

*             *             *             *             *

Mr. Potter’s office was no longer dark or quiet.  The crackling flames illuminated the family portraits that lined the walls.  Despite the circumstances, one in particular caught my eye: Mr. Potter, with much less grey peppered in his hair and fewer lines on his handsome face, laughing as he balanced one young son on each of his shoulders.  The boys were laughing too as they held up rosettes supporting the English Quidditch team, an enormous stadium laid out behind them.  The photo could only have been taken at the World Cup about ten years prior.  I stared and stared at Potter, fascinated to see his face lit up and beaming widely, something I’d never experienced in real life.

Mr. Potter had been pacing back and forth for several minutes, pushing his hands through his untidy hair in a gesture shockingly similar his son's. 

“Where is he, Albus?” Mr. Potter finally asked, more calmly than I would have thought possible.

“Gone,” Potter replied simply, crossing his arms over his chest.

"I can see that.”  Mr. Potter stopped pacing and thrust his hands in his pockets as he glared at his youngest son.  “How did you even get here?"

"The Room of Requirement gave us a fireplace."  I didn't understand how Potter could be so calm when his father was starting to visibly shake with anger. 

"And how did you expect to get back into school?"

Potter hesitated.  I knew he didn't want to out Louis.  "Someone is keeping the Room open for us to Floo back."

“A relative, I presume?”  Potter said nothing.  His father laughed mirthlessly.  "Great.  Just bloody wonderful.  Had it all planned out, did you?"

"Pretty much, yeah."  Potter was still defiant. 

“Damn it all, Albus, how could you—”

"Please, Mr. Potter,” I cut in quickly.  “It was my idea."

There was a beat of silence.  “Don’t, Greengrass.”  Potter said quietly.

“Don’t what, Potter?” I demanded.   “Tell him the truth?”

He scowled. “I don’t need you to defend me.” 

“As difficult as it may be for you to believe, not everything is about you, Potter,” I retorted.

"This is my job, Albus,” Mr. Potter said, suddenly eerily calm again.

"I'm well aware of your job, Dad."  Potter spat the last word out venomously.  “Your precious reputation is the only reason you haven’t locked me up.”

“Right,” I snorted.  “It couldn’t possibly be because he wants to protect you or because he knows Scorpius is innocent.”  Some kind of recklessness had seized me and refused to let go.  Was I really yelling at Harry Potter’s son right in front of him?  “Knock it off with the daddy issues, Potter.”

He flared up at once.  “I swear to Godric, Greengrass—”

“Albus—” his father warned.

“Mr. Potter, I couldn’t leave him here,” I said over them both.  “Can’t you see that?”  Mr. Potter stopped glaring at his son and glanced at me, astonished.  “You have to understand,” I whispered as various emotions seemed to battle for control over his expression.

He studied me, a flash of pain crossing his face before he softened.  “I do,” he replied.  There was a moment of hesitation before he stepped resolutely toward the fireplace, scooped a fistful of Floo powder from a flower pot on the mantle, and hurled it into the flames.  “Get back to school,” Mr. Potter said shortly.  “Before anyone discovers you’re here.”

“Dad—”

“I said GO, Albus.”  Mr. Potter turned his back on us in an unmistakable gesture of dismissal.  We did.

Rose and Louis were fast asleep in the cushy velvet armchairs provided by the Room when we returned.  Potter and I roused the pair of them and gave them a condensed version of what had happened back at the Ministry, sans any mention of Potter's desperate need for some sort of family therapy. 

Godric, you got really lucky!” Louis exclaimed.

“Good ol’ Uncle Harry,” Rose agreed, stifling a yawn.

Potter merely scowled and turned to put out the fire as the rest of us made our way toward the door.  I wanted nothing more than the warmth of my bed, but... 

“Potter.”  He glanced up at me quizzically.  "Thanks," I said quietly. 

"For what?"

I shifted uncomfortably.  "Going back to the Ministry."

He shrugged.  "Didn't have much choice.  If I hadn't gone, you'd have gotten yourself locked up and we'd be right back at square one, wouldn't we?"

We glared at each other for a moment.  He smirked. 

"You are the literal worst," I told him.  I spun on my heel and stomped toward the door. 

"Is that as opposed to the metaphorical worst?" he called after me. 

Ugh.  Just—UGH!  "You are ALL OF THE WORSTS!" I yelled over my shoulder. 

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