Scorpius Malfoy climbed up the ladder, following the others into the empty Divination classroom. He wasn't much interested in divining the future. As a matter of fact, he would have preferred to avoid the subject, but Roger Eaton and Melton Twycross were older and didn't often ask him to do things with them, so when he was offered the chance he jumped on it. Irene Tugwood excited about a new form of Divination, had rounded the three of them up, hoping they would help her make some real predictions. The other two had been happy to oblige, ready to go along with what ever plan she had and he had followed, grateful to be included.
Irene settled herself on a poufe and gestured for them to join her. Scorpius sat gingerly, not liking the room at all. The odd round walls made him uneasy while the thickly scented steam rising out of a cauldron of herbs boiling in the fireplace made him feel a little sick. Rows of shelves covered with balled up scarves, molting bouquets of dried flowers, decks of old tarot cards and crystal balls – some clear, others cracked and still others clouded-- circled the room. A few paintings hung awkwardly on the small sections of wall space free of the clutter. In one an old woman in a paisley turban simpered while lifting her eyes to what he thought was meant to be the great unknowable universe but was actually the ceiling, while in another a girl from the last century twirled a parasol and smiled looking not the least bit pleasant, but arch and smug.
Irene pulled a large black book from her bag. The Holy Bible was etched in gold across the cover. " Now each of you open this at random and mark a spot in the book with your wand. We will read what's written there and see what it reveals."
"It doesn't have to be a Bible you know," Melton said as Irene handed the book over to Roger to start. "Any book will do."
"I learned with a Bible and that's what we're going to use," snapped Irene. "Hurry up," she said to Roger who was making a big show of closing his eyes and flipping back and forth through the pages of the book in an attempt to find a good spot.
He stopped, jabbed the book with his wand and gave Irene a quick smile before reading, "Judges 16:1. Then went Samson to Gaza, and saw there an harlot, and went in unto her."
Irene started giggling, before Roger even finished his sentence.
"Well, now we know this works -- that's the perfect message for Roger," Melton said.
Irene sent Roger a doubtful look as if she suspected that he had fished for that verse, but couldn't figure out how he had done it. She handed Scorpius the book saying, "you go next and no cheating."
Scorpius flipped the pages a few times and pointed his wand. He read the chosen sentence to himself quickly, wanting to prepare himself before reading it aloud to the others, afraid of finding another message about visiting prostitutes. He found no harlots but the words: "by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children." The walls of the room rushed in around him. He had known that this game would be trouble. Just when things were going good for him, that stupid, stupid book came and slapped him in the face.
There was no way that Scorpius could read that sentence out loud to anyone. He read only the first part, slamming the book shut and handing it off to Melton immediately after saying "by no means clearing the guilty." He sat hoping they'd think the phrase was about Roger going in to Harlots.
Melton read a passage about old dry bones having flesh on them again, but Scorpius didn't pay attention. His mind kept running over the sentence he'd read. "The iniquities of the father" -- iniquities were crimes. This book claimed that the crimes of the father, were visited on the children. Visited -- what did that mean? Were they condemned to repeat the crimes of their family, or instead was they to be punished for them?
Sometimes he thought he already was being punished for his family's crimes. It wasn't exactly easy coming to Hogwarts with the last name Malfoy.
"I'm done with this. Come on, Irene. This is boring. Let's get out of here," Roger said jumping off his pouffe and walking for the ladder as if he knew the others would follow without needing to ask. Irene closed her book and hurried after him with Melton trailing behind. Scorpius stayed back hoping the others would forget about him or not care whether he followed them down.
"I think I'll go back to my room, I've got Transfiguration homework," Scorpius shouted behind them hoping they'd buy it.
The floor trap door was just closing when he was startled by a voice behind him. "I recognize that verse, Numbers 14:18, very popular in my father's day, less so in my own. Now it is openly disliked but then that doesn't make it any less true."
He spun around. Phineas Nigellus was standing in the painting of the woman with the parasol. She had her hand on his arm. Scorpius, embarrassed to have caught Phineas with a friend, wondered how much the portraits could do together.
Phineas appeared often in the portraits in Scorpius's classrooms and in the hallways as he walked by. He had the distinct impression that Phineas roamed from picture to picture, following his great great great great grandson around the school. Scorpius was one of his few living descendants and the only pureblood male in the family.
"Yes," the woman with the parasol answered. "Can anything be said to be more true? The child of the drunkard drinks, while the brutal man begets a brutal child. Who has not observed that? The profligate man beggars his offspring. War begets war and paupers and more war." Phineas patted her arm while she spoke nodding his head in agreement.
"The cycle repeats itself generation after generation. Such is the way of the world," the old woman in the turban added smiling as if she was pleased at the wisdom of her discovery.
Scorpius thought of his grandfather Malfoy, defeated and bitter, hating their new world, hating having to be grateful that he wasn't sent to Azkaban. His father never spoke of the past, not at home, not with his father and not with his son. Malfoy knew there were rumors that his dad called people at night, people he had wronged in the old days, apologizing for things he had done. He knew it was true, because he'd heard his mother talking about it secretly with his aunt Daphne.
That night Scorpius dreamed of dark marks on his father's arm and on his own forehead, of screams, whispering voices and hissing in alleys. He woke in the morning feeling the familiar relief that the dream was over until he remembered the words in the book and then he felt terrible all over again. As he climbed the stairs to the Great Hall for breakfast he spied Phineas in one of the pictures, and again felt sure that he was being followed. After breakfast he saw his ancestor standing in a painting of Tilly Toke, which seemed a very unlikely place for Phineas Nigellus to be.
Toke had cleared out of the picture; Phineas was not lurking there because he wanted to visit with the heroine who saved a crowd of Muggle vacationers from a Welsh Green. He doubted Phineas wanted to exchange pointers on the mass use of memory charms or the correct way to disable a dragon. Scopius decided that if Nigellus was going to follow him he would find out why. He waited until the crowd of students had pushed their way by and then confronted the portrait of his ancestor.
"Following you? What presumption," Phineas answered. "I wanted to confirm my suspicion that a descendant of mine, almost the last scion of my house, was wallowing in a pit of self-pity over a children's game."
"That wasn't real?" Scorpius asked, surprised and a little comforted by his ancestor's obvious contempt for the ceremony that had so unsettled him.
"It was as real as any piece of Divination, a bit of obscure and meaningless nonsense useful for misleading the ignorant and the credulous."
Scorpius wanted to think the words in the book were meaningless nonsense but to him they sounded far from obscure. He was all too aware of the sins of his fathers. Since he boarded the train for Hogwarts for the first time, he'd heard from his fellow students very clear accounts of the many Malfoy crimes. Even as a small boy he had noticed how his family was treated by strangers, the looks and the odd reactions. Those words were too true to have been an example of random coincidence.
"Ah but you found the passage uncongenial. Perhaps you are unappreciative of the Black and Malfoy legacies? You are wallowing in a sense of ill-use as I expected. Or are you afraid that the forces of retribution – the universe, the devil, God, justice herself will require their pound of flesh from you instead of your family?"
Scorpious was tired of the burden of his family's past, and afraid that he'd be the one punished for his family's misdeeds but even more than that, he was afraid that somehow he would fall into the same trap that captured his father and his grandfather. But however true were his ancestor's words, he didn't want to hear them said out loud in a Hogwarts hallway. Too horrified to speak or to even look around to make sure their conversation wasn't being overheard, with humiliating tears stinging his eyes, Scorpius stared back, blinking trying to gain control.
"You are upset. Huh. The acutely sensitive feelings of the young, how tedious."
That last bit of dismissive contempt was too much, replacing humiliation with anger. He snapped back at the supercilious old antique, "If you dislike students so much, why did you teach here? Surely you could have found a job you liked more or was this the only job you could get?" Scorpius wondered why he was wasting his time standing in a hallway talking with bits of paint and magic. He refused to argue with a portrait even a portrait of one of his ancestors. He was leaving.
"Don't you walk away from me boy. You can't leave my presence until I've dismissed you. Confound this two dimensional existence," Phineas Nigellus shouted from the confines of his painted prison as Scorpius Malfoy made his way towards the Great Hall and out the door into the grounds where he would be free of any contact with a Hogwarts painting. His great great great great grandfather made one last parting shot to his retreating back. "You should go to Longbottom. Ask him for the real reason he teaches at this school,"
Scorpius flinched at the name Longbottom. He didn't want to talk to the Professor; not when there was so much history between their two families. He didn't want to talk to any adult and especially not a teacher, but the old man wanted him to talk to Longbottom, as if he had some secret, as if there was some mystery behind this professor teaching at Hogwarts aside from a love of plants and a quiet life. Scorpius headed for the greenhouses thinking, Very well old man, I will talk to Professor Longbottom.
He found him in Greenhouse Four pruning an ancient and scarred dwarf maple. Scorpius was familiar with the plant's story. Given to Hogwarts more than one hundred years before by the Wizarding Community of Japan, it had been crushed and broken during the Battle of Hogwarts. For the last twenty years Professor Longbottom had been attempting to return the plant to some state that resembled beauty. After they'd learned about the mutilation of the first, the Japanese had sent another tree, but the Professor wouldn't abandoned the original plant.
Scorpius decided that by now the damaged maple was becoming quite attractive, looking rugged and twisted, as if it had spend it's life on a windswept mountain top.
"Well, Scorpius, what brings you here?" Longbottom asked as he worked, snipping twigs and branches with a point of his wand while wrapping others with soft bonds that appeared at a word and pulled with invisible weights in the direction he wanted.
Scorpius had expected to be awkwardly tongue tied, unsure of how to broach his question, but instead he found himself blurting out, "The old portrait of my..., of headmaster Nigellus told me that I should come and talk to you -- to ask you a question."
"That surprises me. I wouldn't have thought old Nigellus believed students had the right to ask teachers questions. I'm intrigued." Longbottom replied.
"He told me to ask you about the real reason you teach at Hogwarts."
The professor stopped working and turned to him. Scorpius was afraid he was going to make a joke, that he was going to say there were galleons hidden under greenhouse four or something like that, but instead he just stared until Scorpius began to wonder if the Professor was a Legilimens, which seemed highly unlikely from all his father had said about the man, so Scorpius simply stared back.
After a moment Longbottom said, "I wanted to build a wall between the past and the future, so the past stayed in the past." He frowned. "I'm not saying this right Scorpius."
Scorpius realized that Longbottom never called him by his last name as the other teachers did. He never called any of the students by their last names. Maybe he wanted to forget who they all were.
"People think the past is like a road," Longbottom said. "You move along it and with time the old stuff just gets left behind, but it doesn't work like that. It rides along with you. It's a part of you. You have to make it into something useful to you, because you can't leave it behind. That's what I'm trying to do at the school. Make the past into something useful for the future." He rubbed his face and then his eyes as if he were tired. "I'm sorry Scorpius, I'm not making much sense am I? First I talk about building walls to keep the past out and then about carrying the past along with you. A bit contradictory don't you think? I'm breaking the cardinal rule of teaching -- always be clear."
Scorpius wanted to ask Longbottom how to build a wall, how to keep the past away. He wanted to tell him about the Divination, about what the book said about the crimes of the past cursing the future, cursing his future, but he couldn't. It was just too hard. Instead oddly he found himself telling Professor Longbottom how he'd asked the Sorting Hat to place him in Slytherin. How the Hat had wanted to put him in Ravenclaw but had chosen Slytherin because he had asked it to.
"I know," the Professor replied, smiling. "You see, I do something that I was shocked to discover no one else does. I ask the Sorting Hat why he chooses to place certain students in their houses." He stopped, giving Scorpius a searching look. "He just gives general outlines, nothing private, no memories or personal conversations."
Scorpius supposed the professor thought he'd be angry, but he was worried about too many other things to care.
"Anyway," Longbottom continued. "The Hat said that you wondered very specifically how he worked and had even questioned him about it."
Scorpius had wanted to figure out how to make an object like the hat. He had thought about building one for his own.
"I was glad to see that you had inherited your father's brains. I'd always envied his intelligence." Longbottom smiled at him and shrugged, in a half embarrassed way. "The Hat had wanted to put you in Ravenclaw, but you wanted to be in the house of your fathers; you wanted to share that with your parents. So he sorted you into Slytherin. Not by the way, because you asked; the Hat doesn't just send students to any house they ask for. It is the way they ask, their reasons for wanting to be in a house that convinces him. You had a hunger to restore the former glories of the house and your family. He counted that as ambition and placed you accordingly."
He turned back to the tree and as if he suddenly realized what he needed to do, he slashed with his wand and cut off an entire branch. Suddenly the hunched twisted plant looked more graceful, more balanced.
"Scorpius, I've seen how hard things are for you here. I can tell you, your grandfather would never have made the choices he did if he'd known what it would do to your father, what it would eventually mean to you. Even before you were born he'd have protected you and the idea of you. I saw him. I know."
Scorpius summoned one of the prunings from the tree. He picked the leaves off each twig, carefully dropping them on to the ground. He stared at the growing pile of fallen leaves as the Professor talked. He couldn't look at him.
"Most of what your father did, especially in the beginning, what was between your father and me, was stupid kid stuff. Later, he was trying to protect your grandfather."
Scorpius looked from his pile of tree pieces. Longbottom's eyes were mild and kind. He summoned the scattered tree clippings and then sent them in a gentle swirl into a nearby barrow.
"Just remember that all that's broken in your life becomes part of you. You just have to reshape them into something you can use," Professor Longbottom said stepping away from the little tree.
Scorpius stood with the professor admiring the little tree; it had become really quite beautiful.