"Psst, Scorpius, you there?"
Scorpius raised his head from the dusty book he had been reading. Classes were over, the points were in – under the leadership of Headmistress Granger-Weasley, that meant that nothing short of killing a Dark Lord would disrupt the numbers sufficient to merit extra reading now – so the only Hogwarts students in the library were those who truly loved knowledge for knowledge's sake.
Scorpius was that kind of student. He did not know it, but he had an unseen guardian who watched over him approvingly as he read, though the guardian shook his head at the interruption even as his own companion chuckled reminiscently at the sound.
"You see that, Remus? Young Malfoy already understands that life is not divided into semesters or terms – while his peers, the latest Potter included – cannot shake the knowledge they just accumulated quickly enough. Alas for the day when they learn that in the real world, they will not get 'summers off.' Of course, Potter is trying to cure Malfoy of his good habits, much as the Potter and Weasley of their parents' generation did of Granger."
Remus shook his head. "Scorpius is a scholar, I will grant you that, Severus, but the library is often resorted to for the solitude it offers as much as its knowledge. Come outside, I need to tell you of something. Something, or rather, someone, is troubling our boys."
Severus raised an eyebrow. "It sounds serious, but I need to nip a bit of pranking in the bud. Let us make our rounds quickly and then meet back in the hallway outside Gryffindor – say tenish?"
Nodding, Remus glided away silently. With a last glance at the two boys, one hidden by that bloody cloak – whyever had Harry given it to his son when he knew what kind of trouble it caused – Severus forced himself to leave and conduct his share of his and Remus' evening rounds.
As it turned out, it was solitude that had sent Scorpius to the Library; Scorpius loved to read, loved to learn, but the real reason he fled to the library on most occasions was for the solitude he found there. There were times when he missed having his own space, missed the sanctuary of his own bedroom, his own lavatory, his own space. An only child, raised by a father long separated from the other participant in a marriage of convenience, Scorpius liked being alone. But try convincing a gaggle of Gryffindors of that! Easier to fell a troll with a broken wand and a bat bogey hex.
Scorpius knew when to give in though. So, sighing and looking in the direction of the whisper, he closed his book quietly. He did not envy his best friend Albus much about being the son of Harry Potter, Hero of the Wizarding World; he was proud to be the son of Draco Malfoy, Disgraced Son of a Disgraced Father – his own dad was fun, in a snarky, Merlin, he did not just say that, did he way. And he was brilliant, in an amazing, smarter than any professor at Hogwarts way. And his Dad Draco, he unfailingly understood you when you messed up. He "got" messing up better than anyone Scorpius knew. Albus' Dad Harry, he was modestly heroic and everything, but who wanted to have to live up to perfect?
Though whenever Albus got down about that, Scorpius' Dad was great at cheering him up – he could tell Alb everything dumb his Dad had ever done until Dad Harry's ears were Gryffindor red. Which was really funny. Scorpius loved his Dad.
And not having to live with James? That really would have tipped the scales in Scorpius' favor in his opinion. Lily was all right. A regular Weasley, like most of the Granger-Weasley and the other regular Weasley girls, but James? He was a total ponce.
It was the invisibility cloak that completely tipped the scale in Albus' favor. For one third of the year, he got to use it, and best of all, his third of the year came up at the end of the year, which both Harry and Draco had assured them was when it was most likely to be needed – that was when all the adventures happened, Harry said, and Draco confirmed it. Of course, so far, they had not encountered anything more adventurous than catching couples snogging in the Astronomy Tower, nor caught anything more dangerous than a stomachache from taking too many pasties from the kitchen – but two wizards could always hope. Putting down his book, Scorpius walked toward the voice. The library was closing now anyway. Lights out came shortly thereafter, even during the final week of school.
"What is up? Why are you using the cloak now, when students are around instead of walking through the door normally?" Scorpius asked, pretending to scan the bookshelf as he spoke in a low voice. He might be that crazy Malfoy boy but he did not like to draw unnecessary attention. Albus could get away with eccentric behavior – his name almost demanded it. Of course, his older brother was an equal opportunity tormentor, and it took both of them to stand up to James. If it were not for some extraordinary luck, James and his cronies would have often gotten the better of them, but fortunately, they were often... well... fortunate. Even when he had the invisibility cloak, James had trouble pranking them.
The air shimmered and even now, after months of watching this sight, Scorpius still felt the thrill of excitement chase down his spine as first his best friend's head, then his shoulders, and then his chest and the rest of his body came into view. Using the cloak to sneak into the library unseen – when Albus just as easily could have walked in - was not a prudent use of the cloak but then again, it was a better use than pranking one's fellow students, Scorpius reasoned, so he refrained from scolding – Albus got enough of that from Lily.
"I had to see you and since I had de...test..ion..." An exaggerated eye roll accompanied that last statement, making Scorpius smile fondly. Albus was such a good friend. His head of House, Professor Turpin, hated Scorpius for being a Malfoy, but he wasn't all that much fonder of Albus for having the temerity to be a Potter in Slytherin territory! Why in the World Headmistress Granger-Weasley thought it was a good idea to have the professors switch Houses every year for the sake of cooperation was anyone's guess but simple empirical evidence should have told her that it was not working!
"Won't they notice you're missing?" Scorpius asked.
Albus shrugged. "I am infamous for my sulks. I threw myself into my bed – after bribing my roommates suitably with the leftovers from your Grandmother Narcissa's last gift basket. She certainly knows the way to a Slytherin's heart. Chocolate Frogs with nary a Gryffindor card in them and Bertie Bott's Beans, all prime flavors, not a booger flavor in the bunch. I love Grandma Molly but her gifts are always so practical."
Albus' woebegone expression, magnified by the round glasses he insisted on wearing despite the fact that there were spells to cure vision deficiencies these days, won another smile from Scorpius.
"You are a clown," he told his friend.
"True words," Albus nodded solemnly, then pulled a frog from his robes. "I saved a couple to tide us over until we could make it to the kitchen. Want a bite? Herpo the Foul. Nasty bugger; dark wizard of course, since Narcissa sent it, but I like dark chocolate, don't you?"
Scorpius did, and took a generous bite of the proffered chocolate as he considered the aloof looking Herpo's bored visage. Seeing Scorpius' distinctive features, which owed as much to his Black lineage as to his Malfoy heritage, the Wizard on the card lost his ennui and leaned forward – as much as a two dimensional creature could – and hissed at Scorpius.
"Ah, that's who he is," Scorpius said, flicking the card back toward Albus, feigning a calm he did not feel.
"Who? I couldn't remember any Herpo and I dropped him in my Butterbeer at dinner – which you skipped – so the back is too difficult to read," Albus asked casually, crumpling the hissing Wizarding card into a ball and putting him into his pocket.
"No one special, really, just the first wizard to make a Horcrux, and a Parseltongue," Scorpius muttered, thinking it was just like his grandmother to send a card like that to Albus Severus. He could just imagine what his Housemates would say if James found that card. Clenching his fists inside his robes, he asked casually, "Would you mind destroying that card? For me, Alb?"
Albus looked at him, his gaze sharp behind the boyish glasses. "You shouldn't be afraid of them, Scorp."
"I'm not afraid," Scorpius said quietly. "I just choose my battles. And...sometimes dark chocolate is too bitter for my taste."
"Look at this card then! And the chocolate! Awesome dark...rich and dark and finest flavor."
Scorpius looked down at a scowling black-haired Wizard – Severus Snape. He laughed out loud as Albus used a quiet incendio to put an end to Herpo the Foul's card.
Albus was nothing if not patient – and persistent. He returned to the reason he had hunted his friend down as soon as they had escaped the library and made their way to the Hallway near Gryffindor. Scorpius would have to appear for the bed check before they could make their escape again. But it wasn't until they had escaped detection by both James and Professor McGonagall and were back in the hallway, heading toward the secret passage that led to the kitchen when Albus raised his question for the third time that he finally got his answer. Eventually.
"Why did you skip dinner?"
"Why did you get detention?" Scorpius countered. He knew he would have to answer – not that Albus didn't already know but he hated having to admit that he had avoided his own mates rather than face their disappointment for costing them points in Potions that day. True, it was difficult for the places to change much in the final week of the year, and Scorpius had earned many more points than he cost the House, but not as many as he should have earned, thanks to the unfairness of a certain Potions Professor. It should be funny, given his family's personal history, of which he was well aware, his Dad and Albus' still bickering over it after they'd had a few glasses, but it was too frustrating to be funny to him.
"My de-test-ion?" Albus glanced at him sideways. "As far as I understand it, based on writing two thousand lines on the subject, is that I was impertinent and rude on the topic of how Professor Detestable Turpin conducts his Potions class. I argued with him at dinner-showed him in the potions book where he was wrong. He still wouldn't admit it though, sorry Scorp."
"Oh Alb, you got detention for going up against Turpin – how did the Hat ever think you weren't the real Gryffindor? You shouldn't have done it but I appreciate it, I really do." Scorpius was touched, though he wished Albus hadn't wasted his time-he knew that Turpin wouldn't appreciate being shown his mistake-far from it!
"It cost Slytherin 100 points too," Albus said with a satisfied smirk, adding, "you should have seen Turpentine's face when he had no sooner said it than he realized that he was taking from his own House – he turned Slytherin green. It was worth the lines. Okay, your turn."
Albus' green eyes could be very kind, and under the cloak his hand reached for Scorpius' in order to give him a friendly squeeze of support.
"Potions class?" Albus asked, to get him started.
"Potions class," Scorpius conceded, relieved to have the words out.
"The man's a git. You have to let me say something to Aunt Hermione," Albus said. "She..."
"No!" Scorpius hissed the command as loudly as he could – had he but known it, he came close to speaking the Parseltongue word for shut up. Albus did know it, having inherited more than his father's near-sightedness and green eyes, but he only gave his friend an odd look and a comforting shoulder bump under the security of the cloak.
"Won't say a word, not when I know you don...wazzat? Shhh." Albus pressed Scorpius into the alcove near the statute of Gregory the Smarmy.
Two men had just turned the corner and were heading toward them. One, the taller, darker haired man, wore wizarding robes, which swirled behind him dramatically as he approached, but the other was clad in a simple brown tweed suit. The boys had never seen either man before but it took them only a moment to recognize both of them – and that they did so in the same instant could be told by the way they turned to each other and had to bite their knuckles to hold in their screams of excitement.
In three years of using the cloak for four months at the end of the school year, discovering the existence of the two men currently walking toward them had to count as the only true adventure the two boys had experienced – and it had happened without even planning! All they had been doing was heading to the kitchen for a late night snack, and quick as an expelliarmus they came upon what seemed to be two of the greatest non-living heroes of the War, strolling arm and arm along near the very passage – the secret passage – they were going to take on their way to the kitchen from Gryffindor Tower. Severus Snape and Remus Lupin! But...if they were ghosts, and had been here at Hogwarts all these years...why hadn't anyone ever seen them? Scorpius was pretty sure that two such special ghosts would have had a place at the Head Table, not just floating along, like Nearly Headless Nick, or Moaning Myrtle, or...
"Let's listen, and make sure it's them," Albus whispered to him; sometimes Albus really showed his Slytherin side, Scorpius thought proudly, as he nodded his agreement. The boys waited silently as the ghosts walked past and then followed in their wake.
"But then that Professor Turpin, you do know who Turpin is, do you not?" Lupin was asking the infamous Professor Snape. How strange to see the two of them "in person" or as much in person as one could, Scorpius thought, examining the Werewolf's appearance. His brown hair was streaked silver, and his otherwise youthful face was lined in ways that suggested strain – Scorpius saw those same lines on his and Albus' fathers. The brown eyes were sparked with righteous anger as he spoke, but Scorpius sensed that it took a great deal to upset this man's calm. At present, they seemed to have caught the middle of what seemed to be a long diatribe against the detested Potions Professor that reminded Scorpius of the same one he had heard from Albus earlier. Turpin was not a anyone's favorite, it seemed. Scorpius' heart warmed again at the thought of his friend's loyalty.
"Yes, Remus, I am not deficient in memory. He is the latest practitioner of Potions whom Headmistress Granger-Weasley – awful name, by the way – has had the ill judgment to hire. I refuse to call the man a Potions Master and since he is not, let us not call him a Professor either. Practicing is what he is doing. Dare we hope he will not kill any of his charges whilst he is practicing?"
What a voice! Albus and Scorpius stared at each other and grinned. They were so entranced with it they missed part of what Remus was saying but then he caught their attention with these words:
"He docked Gryffindor 100 points! For being right! That was so unfair! Even you must concede that, Severus."
They stared again; Remus Lupin was outraged about the same thing that had upset them! Could life get any better than this? Then the Voice spoke.
"All that I will concede, my dear Remus, is that life is not fair, and the sooner our students learn that lesson the better off they will be. Since that cretin is incapable of teaching potions adequately, I am pleased to see that he is at least imparting something of use to our young wizards and witches."
Scorpius felt shocked and disappointed. Severus Snape was his hero – surely he was on his side against the despised Turpin? Albus pressed his hand again and whispered, "Give him more time to explain, and hey, he did say he was a lousy potions professor."
Scorpius rolled his eyes. "He used to say that about everyone, including my dad, who is brilliant at potions, and the Headmistress," he reminded his friend. Albus winced at the reminder. Fortunately Remus had taken up the challenge of arguing with Severus, which Albus was not quite up to.
"Life may not be fair, but that doesn't mean the man has any justification to treat young Scorpius the way you used to treat Harry – you had a reason for what you did, shameful as it was and you know you hated doing it. You had a Dark Lord to mislead. This man is just plain cruel. Turpin is everything you pretended to be, hating Scorpius for who is, a Malfoy. Yet he heads the Slytherin House! What is Hermione thinking, putting a bigot like that in charge of your old House? The man hates half the children in it!"
"Keep to the point and tell me about today in potions," the dark-haired wizard softly commanded. "We shall discuss the import of being one's father's son next."
"Sorry," Remus said sheepishly. "Anyway..." He took a deep breath. Severus placed his hand on his arm and the boys saw that it seemed to have a calming effect on him – did ghosts get that emotional? Who knew? Albus grinned at Scorpius – they now did, his excited expression said. Scorpius could read him like a book.
"As an end of the year exercise, Turpin was shooting out questions, of increasing difficulty, and Scorpius knew the answer each time – Albus did too but Turpin ignored him – and it devolved into a duel between the two of them, with Turpin trying to outdo Draco's boy. You would have been so proud, Severus. The trouble was, even as Turpin kept trying, with ever more ridiculously obscure questions, keeping the Potions book open in front of him, he could not stump Scorpius, until finally, he read the answer wrong. So, thinking he had caught Scorpius in a wrong answer, he announced a deduction of 100 points from Gryffindor for missing the question, which, after such a brilliant display, would have been outrageous even if Scorpius had been wrong, but he hadn't, he had been right. Which Albus, the only other potions genius in the room, quickly spoke out and announced."
Severus barked out a harsh laugh. "I can imagine what happened next."
Scorpius and Albus looked at each other, surprised by the laugh. Remus was a bit shocked too, despite having some fifty years knowledge of the man next to him to fall back on.
"Severus, what could you possibly find funny about that story and how could you guess what that...that...that..."
"Bloody git?" Severus suggested with a glint in his dark eyes. Albus almost betrayed their presence by bursting into shocked laughter but Scorpius cast a quick silencio. He hoped it was in time.
Remus laughed also, relieving his anger, which had been his friend's intent.
"That was what Harry and his friends used to call me," Severus shared. "I am sure you knew, but perhaps you've forgotten – part of that bad memory aiding a clear conscience?" Severus teased gently before continuing. "I have listened to enough of this sad tale. Let me now have my say. And it is in no way a defense of this bloody git, who, as you noted, does not have a Dark Lord to mislead – to our knowledge – though perhaps we should keep a closer watch on him. Such vituperative behavior normally has a cause or a motive and we should discover which it is, and what it is caused by in the case of Professor Turpentine."
Albus giggled at the nickname being said in that rich baritone voice. He stopped when he saw the dark-haired ghost cock his head in a listening way – surely a ghost could not hear despite a silencio spell?
Scorpius elbowed him and frowned. Better to play it safe and assume that they have extra senses, was his thought. Understanding, Albus made a zipper motion across his lips. Then grinned. Scorpius rolled his eyes again. That promise would last for all of ...two seconds? But Alb meant well.
Severus must have decided there was nothing because he was continuing. If anything, he was speaking even more forcefully – not louder, the man did not need to get louder for his voice to carry – and both boys found themselves standing straighter and listening more intently.
"Under the leadership of Headmistress Granger-Weasley, Hogwarts has joined the trend of the Muggle world's schools, and largely abandoned the concept of winners and losers, but I assure you, the real world, both Wizarding and Muggle, has not. There is still Evil out there, Remus, and much that is unfair. There will be bosses, and superiors, who will have the wrong answer and will expect them to go along with it, and they will have to decide what to do – do they choose the wrong answer because it is the easier path or the right one and suffer the consequences. Scorpius gave the right answer today and was punished. He was doubly punished because his teacher punished him, and his peers punished him for the consequences that rebounded upon them for his noble choice, yes?"
"Yes," Remus confirmed, fascinated by Severus' analysis.
"Ah, life changes and yet it stays the same," Severus noted, satisfied. "And young Albus, he too learned a life lesson today. To shout out the truth when no one wants to hear the truth – possibly even his friend, as it did not do Scorpius any good – and yet, it was the truth, so being a Potter and reckless, he did not weigh the pros and cons. The fact that it was the truth, and Scorpius was his friend, that was enough. I am amazed sometimes that the boy was not put in Hufflepuff, and before you balk, I do not say that as an insult, that House is the most consistently underrated."
Albus had been about to balk so the comment was especially timely, Scorpius thought, and he began to be suspicious – could Severus know they were there?
"But what about their self esteem?" Remus asked. "To have to sit in that man's classroom day after day, being put down, abused..."
"Harry survived it," Severus pointed out callously. "Remus, the world does not care about their self-esteem. It expects people to accomplish something before they feel good about themselves. What will this generation have to feel good about? Look at that boy James. He is a throwback to his grandfather, and before you defend the wondrous first James, let me remind you, it was the War and Lily that were the making of that James. Suffering made him what he was. Well, that and working to help you, mastering the Animagus transformation. Before that he was a gifted prat. Now his eldest grandson is simply a prat."
Scorpius and Albus turned to each other and grinned. Severus Snape had passed judgment on James and deemed him a prat! They couldn't wait to tell him!
"If I had not been challenging Harry with my 'unfairness' he would have had only the coddling of Minerva and Albus, and may not have had the fortitude and grit he needed in those early years when the Dark Lord was already attacking him. True, his suspicions were misguidedly against me, but at least he was suspicious! Vigilant, as our charmingly paranoid Alastair was wont to say. In this candyland world Granger-Weasley has created where everyone gets a Cup at the end of the year and House points flow like the pudding did in Albus' day, let Turpin remain as the inept villain. They need villains to prepare them for what awaits them in the real world."
"So, you don't think we should get even with Turpin," Remus said, his voice dripping with disappointment.
"Oh, I did not say that. There are some quite delightfully juvenile potions that produce a myriad of effects, from turning the skin Gryffindor Yellow, to causing the most noxious flatulence...but I believe we should not brew them until after our guests have returned to their dormitories and have airtight alibis."
Remus started. "We have guests? Where, who, when?"
Severus smirked. "Since Gregory the Smarmy is the when,right over by the suit of armor is the where, which you will see if they will be so kind as to remove that blasted invisibility cloak, and my mention of the cloak should give you the who, but so should their removing it."
Albus and Scorpius looked at each other wide-eyed for a moment, while Remus stared toward them. A sharp command of, "Now, boys, if you please," recalled them to their senses and a quick tug brought them into view of the two ghosts – though obviously one of them knew they were there already, somehow.
"How did you know?" Albus blurted. Naturally he was the one to demand an answer upon meeting their heroes face to face. Scorpius was too in awe to speak.
"You are not as quiet as you think you are, young Master Potter," Severus told him, "and though the silencio spell was a wise idea, it came about ten seconds too late to save the two of you from detection. May I assume that formal introductions are unnecessary?"
"Excuse us, sir. We should not have eavesdropped but we could not resist. May I present myself and my friend, please." Scorpius thought he had better take charge at this point; Albus was quite capable of agreeing that introductions were not necessary and launching into a discussion of the revenge to be taken on Turpin. Subtlety was lost on Albus, Merlin bless him.
"I am Scorpius Hyperion Malfoy, son of Draco and Astoria, House of Gryffindor, and my friend is Albus Severus Potter, son of Harry and Ginerva, House of Slytherin, we are honored to meet both of you and apologize for intruding upon your walk and conversation."
Scorpius bowed low and nudged Albus into bowing.
Remus was smiling warmly while Severus was standing with his arms folded over his chest, his face expressionless. Remus could have told the boys that was a friendly look for Severus but decided to let Severus have his fun with them. They had been eavesdropping after all, even if Severus had known.
"Nicely done, Scorpius. It is a pleasure to meet both of you," Remus said, grinning. "I would shake hands but, " he shrugged his shoulders and his grin widened. "It requires too much effort to become that corporeal and Severus has plans for later so I need to conserve the energy."
"Speaking of which, you both belong in bed," Severus interrupted.
"Already?" All three of them asked, disappointed.
"Can't we talk a bit?" Albus asked as Remus said, "Surely we can answer a few questions for the boys, Severus."
Severus was looking at Scorpius, who had bitten his lower lip. It was a habit Draco once had, Severus remembered. He had put a bitter potion on it each morning until Draco quit the nervous habit. He would have to remember the recipe, he mused.
"Scorpius, do you think that Albus will be able to keep the knowledge of our existence a secret or will you have to cast a memory charm on your friend?" Severus asked.
"What!" Albus asked indignantly as Scorpius thought about the question.
"Do not get so hot and bothered," Severus told him, "I am going to ask you the same question."
"I am not sure if I could do that to Albus, but I would do everything in my power to help him keep the secret, and I would willingly cast the spell on anyone else he told inadvertently," Scorpius told the ghost.
Severus' short laugh was heard as he turned to Remus. "I can see it now. The elder Potter boy will be a blithering idiot in a year or so as Albus will be continually 'forgetting' not to tell him, and Scorpius will be forced to charm his memory away – what a delightful scheme."
Scorpius flushed. He had perhaps thought of James but not of repeatedly charming his memory. Not exactly.
"Why can't we tell about you? You are heroes! Everyone will want to know! Talk to you! Ask you questions! Why...Teddy! Think about him! He's going to want to LIVE here!"
"Bingo," Severus said softly as Remus winced.
They had been walking toward Gryffindor Towers and had reached the stairs leading up to it. Remus led the boys over to them now and they sat. Severus stood watch nearby as Remus spoke to them, his voice sad but firm.
"I am a ghost, boys, and tied to Hogwarts. Severus and I have tried but we cannot leave here. We have some ideas about why that is, which we may share with you some day, but for now, all you need to know is that we have a duty here. It is best done in secret. If people, the students, or even our old friends, were to know we were here, well, it would be nice in some ways, we cannot deny that, but in other ways, it would bring pain, a lot of pain. Teddy – it was a joy for me to see him here. But if he had known I was here, as you suggested, he would have felt compelled to spend all of his time with me, and what kind of life would that have been for him? Your Dad, Albus, was able to fly with him, teach him Quidditch, your Uncle Bill was able to go through the transformations with him each moon, I could lie next to him, give silent support, but Bill and Harry, they were able to provide flesh and blood support that I couldn't, support that he might have forbidden himself had he known I was here."
"But he would have had you," Scorpius said softly. "And you would have had him. How could you have given up that time with him, knowing he would have preferred you over anyone else?"
"I love him and I did what was best for him," Remus said simply.
"But if you were to tell him now that Remus has been here all along, he might not understand it. Sometimes Gryffindors have trouble with selfless love," Severus pointed out from his post in the hall.
"Lily didn't," was Remus' quick rejoinder.
"My sister?" Albus wondered.
"No, your grandmother," Scorpius whispered.
In the end, the boys kept their discovery secret, and no memory charms were needed – though they argued long and hard over it, an argument that almost ended their friendship. In the end, both their friendship, and Severus and Remus' secret, survived, and the two boys found themselves valuing and guarding both with a new maturity. They also found themselves thinking over what Severus had said during the walk, about standing up for truth, and about winning and losing and the real world. This was their first big choice and there was no clear winner or loser – just the feeling that they had done the right thing and no one would ever know but two men who had died long before they were ever born. Remus told them doing the right thing was often like that – a quiet satisfaction rather than a fanfare. Severus said to be happy if it didn't get you a kick in the face.
Except Severus hadn't said face.
Knowing they had two such...friends...watching their backs made the end of this year better than any of their prior years, not least because of the fun of watching Professor Turpin's impotent fury at being unable to blame any of the tricks played on him on Albus or Scorpius.
At the Leaving Feast, Hermione entered the room next to a bright yellow skinned Potions Professor, who was emitting the most unpleasant odor every twenty seconds. She was casting an "Air Be Fresh" spell her mother-in-law had taught her decades ago, just as frequently, but still the smell persisted. For a moment, Hermione felt the tug of sadness as she thought of the Weasley twins – this was pranking on their level, she thought with fond reminiscence. Alas Fred, gone too soon, just twenty years old, is your spirit still here? She glanced around, half expecting to see his grinning face. Good thing she had learned years ago to cast a "Tears Be Gone" before heading to these Leaving Feasts or she'd be a blubbering mess long before the first course; too many empty seats where parents should be, too many orphans, too many empty seats at the Head Table. Even with the spell, Hermione felt the tell-tale sting at her eyes that no spell could completely defeat.
She forced herself to listen to her angry Potions Professor – he was a cure for sentimentality. She was having as much trouble filling the Potions position as Albus had ever had filling the Defense of the Dark Arts. She wondered if Severus had cursed it? She wished sometimes that his ghost would return to teach – wouldn't that terrorize the students into learning!
"I know it has to be one of those boys! No one else could be doing it! No one else is..." Turpin stopped himself. Severus, carefully transparent and invisible to eyes he did not want to see him, leaned against the Head Table and thought to himself, 'Aha, she has you now, you git. She wasn't the first muggle-born Head Girl for nothing. Or rather, would have been had it not been for that little matter of choosing to hunt Horcruxes instead of attending her Seventh Year. Smartest Witch of her generation, bar none.'
"Good enough at potions?" Hermione asked sweetly. "Surely you cannot be saying that two students to whom you gave such low grades are the only ones skilled enough and knowledgeable enough about potions to be able to prank you in the manner to which you have become accustomed over the past few days?"
Turpin sputtered for a few moments – to Severus' secret and Hermione's more obvious delight – and then muttered. "Perhaps they are better at potions than I gave them credit for being."
"I believe they are far better at Potions than you gave them credit for being, which is why I readministered the Potions final to both young men – and that is where they were when your latest potions incident had to have taken place – in my office taking the test. Therefore they could not have been the ones who laced your morning tea with the potion in question. Nor could they have brewed it as they were under surveillance from last night until they left my office this noon. The potions that achieve the..." Hermione made a moue of distaste..."desired results in your case have a very short shelf life and must be brewed within three hours of consumption. Therefore, Malfoy and Potter must be considered cleared – unless you consider my word suspect?"
Minerva McGonagall herself could not have achieved a chillier tone. Severus applauded. Turpin wilted into his seat. Then rose immediately, realizing that he had committed the faux pas of sitting before the Headmistress.
"Thank you, I will consider this unfortunate incident closed – with the exception that I am pleased to inform you that both young men achieved O+ in the examinations. They achieved perfect scores, actually. You should be proud to have such fine students, Professor, well done."
Hermione managed to convey her belief that Albus and Scorpius' performances owed nothing to Turpin; Severus could not have done better himself. He glided off to meet Remus, who was hovering near his son, as expected. Once he saw Severus coming, however, he indicated that they both should take their usual perches higher up, midway between the flags for their respective Houses.
"Another year over," Remus said. He always missed the students the most. Severus enjoyed the peace and quiet. As much as he enjoyed the antics of their latest charges more than he admitted, he was a loner at heart. This life suited him and the companionship of Remus was an unsought but much appreciated, and now cherished, blessing.
"The summer will pass quickly, it always does," Severus told him, seeking to cheer him. "Before we know it, the brats will be back. And especially will this summer go by quickly."
"The new Assistant for Magical Animals or whatever they call it these days is showing up in a few days. A helper for Hagrid. At least they say he is sturdy, which is ideal for the position."
Something in his tone alerted Remus, who turned sharply toward his friend. "What is it, Severus, please, do not tease."
"They say the new man is part lycanthrope, part metamorph, now I cannot promise, but how many..."
Severus could not finish his sentence; a hug from a lycanthrope is enough to silence even a ghost. But if one could have seen Severus' face, one would have caught sight of one of his very rare smiles.
Scorpius just happened to be lucky that day. But he kept what he saw to himself, as promised. Well, aside from telling Albus, of course. But first, Albus had news.
"Hey Scorpius, look at what Dad just gave me! It's the Marauder's Map! He says we can have it for the summer. Aunt Hermione is going to let us stay here while your Dad teaches a seminar in Advanced Potions in July – did you know about that? It's going to be awesome! You know who and no James!"
Scorpius grinned. It really was going to be an awesome summer.