Chapter Ten: The Making of a Hero (I)
On Monday morning, Scorpius entered the Charms classroom only to discover that Hal had arrived before any other student—even before Professor Frobisher. He'd dragged two of the double-desks together. Now, where there had been two seats, there were four. Hal was already setting out his parchment and quills, one seat empty to his left, two to his right.
Scorpius understood at once: Hal had changed his mind about him. He didn't have to be alone anymore. He'd been collected, and this time, Hal Dursley wasn't going to change his mind. Of course, Scorpius already knew who the other seat was saved for. Hal was offering a package deal: accept me, accept Kiera. No exceptions. That was the price of the olive-branch.
As Scorpius hovered near the door, time seemed to slow down. Taking that seat meant that he'd be associating the Malfoys with the Lestrange name once again. His father would be disappointed. His grandmother would be disappointed. His mother—well, Scorpius didn't know about her. She'd never wanted her son to be alone—there just hadn't been much she could do about it. The Malfoys were still outcasts, after all, no matter how hard they'd tried to make amends. One wrong step, and Scorpius could undo all their work.
Avoid all appearance of evil, his father had told him. Whether the girl was related to Scorpius or not, she was branded by her name. It was a taint. It didn't matter who she was, everyone had already decided what she was. If he took those twenty steps to the front of the room, if he took that seat, Scorpius would confirm their suspicions. Was that right? Was that fair—even to Kiera?
Could Scorpius pay that high a price for Hal's friendship?
But Father also said to do no evil, Scorpius reminded himself. Do what is right, not what is easy. Be brave, son, like I never was.
This was his chance to be brave. All he had to do was start walking.
Other students were drifting in. If Scorpius waited much longer, his decision would be made for him. Still, although his conscience told him to accept Hal's offer, his sense of family loyalty said to refuse. To back away. To hide from anyone who might make the Malfoys look bad.
Then, Louis Weasley ran into Scorpius from behind. Hard.
That's when the anger came again—the same self-righteous anger Scorpius had felt when Albus accused him of making a mess of their dorm. Potter was a hypocrite, despite his good name. Weasley was a bully, despite his good name. Kiera was an outcast because of her name. Isolde Skeeter suffered because of her name. He, Scorpius Malfoy, had a bad reputation no matter what he did—just because of his name. As for Hal—well, he had no name at all, not in the wizarding community. Nevertheless, Hal was the one offering friendship, something no one else was willing to do.
Scorpius knew he was cowardly. He didn't think before he acted. He said all the wrong things. He hid in his books. He couldn't do magic. But in that moment, he decided there was one thing he refused to be: a hypocrite. He started walking. Twenty steps was all it took. Twenty steps down the center aisle. Twenty steps, and he'd taken a seat next to Hal. When Kiera slid onto the bench, Scorpius held his head high.
A sense of relief washed over him. This time, he told himself, I've done the right thing.
Before long, Scorpius's act of bravery caught up with him. Just as he'd expected, that olive-branch came with a price. Hal hadn't entirely forgiven him for the foolish things he'd said about certain wizards having bad blood, nor for declaring that Caleb Keselman didn't belong at Hogwarts. He was congenial, yet reserved, dogged, yet distant. Kiera was worse. She didn't even speak to Scorpius. The three of them went from class to class, sat together at every meal, did their homework around the same table, yet they didn't trust each other.
Nevertheless, within a few weeks their new nickname had spread around the entire school: the Terrible Trio. Scorpius didn't know who started it, but he suspected it was someone who'd heard plenty about his father. The mini-Malfoy, it was said, had found his minions. It was no wonder the nickname caught on: it was clear that Hal was acting as a bodyguard to both Scorpius and Kiera—and they needed one.
It hadn't taken long for Scorpius to realize that his qualms about hurting Kiera had not been misplaced. Before he'd joined Hal, there had been whispers and rumors about her. Now, she was treated with outright hostility. Stray spells just seemed to . . . come her way. Scorpius couldn't help but notice the glances she gave him when Hal wasn't around: curious, confused, cold. She knew her situation was his fault, even if she didn't understand why. Another blunder, another apology to add to Scorpius's ever-growing list. What had happened to her wasn't fair, and Scorpius regretted that taking those twenty steps had cost her so much.
She really wasn't that bad after all, in spite of her infernal, early-morning card-shuffling.
It didn't help that Hal, while being an indifferent student in Transfiguration and Charms, was showing himself to be particularly good at defensive spells and jinxes. While he struggled to make a feather float, he mastered Expelliarmus almost as soon as Professor d'Eath taught it. Moreover, he and Kiera practiced in public. During their sessions, Scorpius stayed off to one side. A month had passed, and he still hadn't managed to cast a proper spell. His friends' exhibitions only strengthened the impression that he'd surrounded himself with people who would do his dirty-work for him.
Scorpius had hoped that Dominique Weasley would clear him when she emerged from the Hospital Wing, but he wasn't lucky there, either. The blows to her head had affected her memory, and all she could recall was a boy running towards her with a stick, then opening her eyes to see Scorpius leaning over her, branch in hand. Every time someone asked her what had happened, she gave the same answer:
"It might've been him who attacked me," she'd say, "but it might not've."
Of course, now that Dominique was on her feet again, a few students realized that Scorpius couldn't possibly be guilty. She was fifteen years old and half a foot taller than him. There was no way he could have struck those blows to her head. However, the more prejudiced students—those who were easily influenced by the Potter-Weasley clan—remained convinced of Scorpius's guilt.
Fortunately, none of the teachers had made any comment on Hal's continued rearrangement of their classrooms. It was as if the faculty had decided to condone the so-called Terrible Trio. Another positive was that several of the teachers had—despite Scorpius's limitations—warmed up to him. Of course, Professor Frobisher had always been supportive—though as the weeks passed and her student repeatedly failed to produce more than a few sparks from his wand, she grew more and more concerned.
Professors McGonagall and d'Eath were far less patient than his Head-of-House, and Scorpius knew that—if he didn't succeed soon—they'd take action. Maybe he'd even be branded as a Squib and sent home.
Fortunately, the less magic a class required, the better Scorpius was received. Professor Longbottom, who had not seemed particularly inclined towards him, warmed up to any student who showed enthusiasm towards his subject. The same applied to Professors Sinistra and Grubbly-Plank, the pipe-smoking old crone whom Shacklebolt had promoted to replace Binns. Although Scorpius's potions were indifferent, his technique was meticulous. Thus, Slughorn regarded him with tolerance if not warmth.
Of course, Madam Pince had liked Scorpius from day one, but that was inevitable. Draco Malfoy had secured her support years before. At least that meant that Scorpius, Hal, and Kiera always had access whatever books they wanted, whenever they wanted—within the library's regular hours, of course, and as long as they didn't talk too loud.
Classwork became Scorpius's obsession. Each morning, when he wrote home, he struggled to find a bit of good news to tell his dad—but he knew it was inevitable that Draco Malfoy would eventually notice that his son never, ever commented on his spell-work. Each night, Scorpius worked feverishly on his essays, read his textbooks over and over, and practiced with his wand. Each day, he dreaded the moment he'd be called to Shacklebolt's office and sent home.
What would Shacklebolt say? "This is the first time the Register has ever been wrong." "We were mistaken." "You don't belong here." Or, simply, "You are dismissed."
Terrible words. Will they snap my wand, too? he wondered.
Sometimes he thought he was making progress. Sometimes his feather shivered, or his match seemed to turn a little silver. If he concentrated hard, he'd conjure blue and bronze sparks. Pitiful as they were, Scorpius was proud of them. Back in August, he'd been so certain that none of Ollivander's masterpieces would choose him. In fact, it had taken ages to find one that would respond to his touch. Then, the moment he grasped this one, he'd felt a bond. He knew it would work—that it was his. Thirteen inches. Ash-wood. Unicorn hair core—just like his mum and dad's.
Everything about that wand felt right.
Scorpius had seen the surprise in the shop-owner's face when that particular wand reacted to Scorpius's touch. Of course, there was nothing special about the wand itself—it was the owner that caught Hephaestus Ollivander's attention. For once, the terse young man took the time to interpret his customer's new tool—something he'd neglected to do for any of the patrons who'd been ahead of Scorpius.
"Unicorn hair cores are dependable and faithful," the weary young man had said, leaning on the counter and running a dust cloth over the polished wood. "They're also quite hard to use for Dark Arts. Father was surprised that your father was picked by a wand like this . . . but later . . . " Ollivander cleared his throat before continuing, "Well, later, it made sense."
Even as impatient customers filed into the tiny store, the shopkeeper continued his lecture. Ash indicated intelligence, a gift for words and comprehension. It was a fitting wand for writers—poets—scholars. Best of all, ash wood was associated with justice. Justice! In short, Scorpius's wand was everything he could have hoped—and nothing the wand-maker had expected.
Of course, ash wood was also supposed to remove mental blockages, but no matter how strongly Scorpius identified with the wand, he hadn't managed to overcome whatever was preventing him from casting a spell. Nevertheless, Scorpius polished and oiled it every night. Every morning, he removed it from its velvet-lined box, hoping that this would be the day his magic would emerge like a rainbow arching across a desolate sky . . .
But it didn't. A bit of ash wood and unicorn tail couldn't compensate for his own weaknesses. As the weeks went on and Scorpius began to despair, he started to forget the apologies he owed and the amends he'd promised he'd make. After all, he would never be able to achieve any of his father's goals if he got kicked out of Hogwarts.
"You are terrified. I wonder—are you terrified of me . . . of the Dark Arts . . . or of everything?" Professor d'Eath rasped, leaning over Scorpius, his head tilted to one side.
All three were of those suppositions were true.
The Gryffindors tittered. Usually, the DADA professor kept his eyes fixed on a spot over his students' heads, as if he didn't deign to look them in the eye. Now, he was staring Scorpius down. The experience was anything but pleasant.
From the first day of class, d'Eath had made Scorpius's skin crawl. Like many of the students and parents, Scorpius wondered what Shacklebolt was thinking when he hired a Dumstrang graduate and former rock star to teach at Hogwarts. The man walked around the castle as if he were above them all. Gold rings glittered on his fingers, making it perfectly clear that he had no need to accept such a lowly position. He did, in fact, resemble a vampire, with his pale skin and his black hair slicked up in a pompadour. Only his eyes seemed alive, and now they were focused on Scorpius.
"You'll never cast a spell if the thought of it makes you sick. You disappoint me, Mr. Malfoy."
Although the professor's voice was low, it was amplified by the dungeon's arched ceiling and stone walls. Hal tensed beside his friend. He didn't react well to bullies, no matter what their age. Gesturing under the desk, Scorpius tried to calm him down. If Hal made a scene, they would both pay for it—by losing House points, facing the wrath of the prefects, and getting dragged to Frobisher's office.
"I'm sorry, sir," Scorpius ventured.
He prayed that d'Eath would be satisfied and return to the lesson. Not that the lesson would ease Scorpius's fears. Every word d'Eath spoke—even during his lectures—increased his anxiety. After all, the man explicitly intended to teach them not just defensive magic, but the mechanics of the Dark Arts as well.
On the first day of class, d'Eath had flicked his wand at the chalkboard, making a list appear:
The letters glowed red and jagged.
"Why do Dark Lords rise?" he asked, only to be greeted by silence. d'Eath answered himself, his eyes fixed on the flickering candles:
"Fear is to blame. It's fear that makes the Dark Arts so very . . . enticing. It's superstition that makes wizards bury certain spells and theories under trap-doors and behind locked doors. An ignorant population means a weak people. A weak people cannot resist a dark wizard. And a dark wizard—well, a dark wizard becomes that way because he gains knowledge the rest of you hide from."
Scorpius noticed that d'Eath did not include himself among those who hid from the Dark Arts.
Still looking past the classroom, the professor continued. Unlike Durmstrang, he'd explained, Hogwarts had crippled generations of wizards and witches by refusing to acknowledge the simple fact that the so-called Dark Arts were no different than any other magic. Evil, he claimed, lies inside each individual. Suppressing knowledge does nothing but clear the way for Dark Lords to rise—because only the most ruthless seek to break cultural taboos.
"So," he'd smiled, "We are going to break those taboos, one by one. There will be no more mysteries. No . . . more . . . fear."
From that day forward, Professor d'Eath had picked apart everything the Hogwarts students had been taught. Today's lesson—the one that had frightened Scorpius so badly—was on the subject of light and dark magic. d'Eath refuted the claim that the two could even be distinguished from one another. Every spell that British witches and wizards deemed light could be used for evil purposes. Every spell they considered dark could be used constructively.
"Even," d'Eath insisted, "the Unforgivables."
That's when Scorpius had gasped, attracting the rail-thin man's attention. That's when the professor caught his student's eye and diagnosed exactly why he was broken. Fear. Paralyzing fear of possessing power. And d'Eath wasn't done with Scorpius yet.
"Do you think you're the next Dark Lord, Mr. Malfoy?" He raised an eyebrow and chuckled, looking Scorpius up and down. "Unlikely. You are hardly the stuff that a Voldemort—or a Grindelwald—or even a Dumbledore—is made of.
"Get over it, Malfoy. Or you will be the first to die."
With those words, the professor turned away.
The damage was done, however: bile filled Scorpius's mouth. He fled the classroom, desperately seeking the nearest toilet. Hal was close behind. As the door to the classroom closed, they could hear the professor's gravelly voice:
"Twenty points from Ravenclaw."
Hal stood outside the loo until Scorpius stopped retching. Once the smaller boy had rinsed mouth and his face in the sink, Hal grabbed him by the elbow and started to lead him away.
"We're getting out of here before class ends," he said.
"But our stuff—"
"Kiera will take it back to the Common Room."
"It's too much—she'll drop it!" Images of ruined books and notes ran though Scorpius's mind as Hal dragged Scorpius up one of the dungeon's spiral staircases
"Then she'll pick it up again. She'll levitate the lot of it if she has to." Hal paused and smiled. "Though, you're right. She drops everything. Hope you haven't got anything breakable in your bag."
"—Is made of iron."
"The ink bottles, my notes—" Scorpius turned back.
"Forget them," Hal said. "She'll make a mess. We'll clean it up. Do you want to go back in that room now?"
Scorpius didn't. He didn't want to go back to the DADA classroom ever again. Taking a deep breath, he started up the staircase again. When he reached the top, he hesitated. He didn't know which way to turn.
"Where are we going, Hal?"
"I dunno. Where would you go if you wanted to cut class? Where do you go when you want to be alone? You disappear often enough."
Scorpius usually went for a walk after DADA, though now he stayed as far away from Hogwarts's perimeter as possible. Today, however, it had been pouring. The trails were likely to be reduced to mud-slicks. Where else could they go? Where would they be alone, hidden away from the other students and teachers?
"We can go to the Owlrey," Scorpius said, trudging towards the likeliest staircase. "After class, everyone else will be in the Common Room . . . or at Quiddich practice, or in the library. No one will be posting letters until tonight."
"And no one is likely to hang around there."
Hal laughed curtly. "I was thinking—too smelly," he said. "All these wizards and the place still stinks. You'd think that they'd go up there and Scourgify the place every once and a while . . ."
"You'd think." Although he felt faint, Scorpius forced himself to smile. When the staircase began to move, he clung to the railing until it had stopped—and didn't let go until his head ceased spinning. Then, the boys began picking their way upwards again.
When they stepped outside, Scorpius felt the cool drizzle on his face. He saw the mountains shrouded in mist and the fog drifting over the Forbidden Forest. The landscape was beautiful today, despite its gloom. Entering the Owlery, Hal exclaimed with delight. Fortune was in their favor: the floor had been strewn with clean straw. Both boys slid down the wall in a corner that protected them from the wind and damp air.
Scorpius shivered as Hal busied himself with the little grey owl that had flown over as soon as they'd sat down. For a long time, the burly boy simply murmured soothing words to his bird, who sensed Scorpius's tension. They were all on edge. Finally, Hal broke their silence.
"Is it true?"
"Do you think you're going to be the next Dark Lord?" Hal glanced at Scorpius.
"No!" Scorpius blanched and put his hand over his mouth.
"Aw, no, Scorp, don't do that! Lean out a window or something!"
Scorpius did, and after a few moments the rain and breeze helped. His hair was plastered to his forehead.
"Are you afraid of magic?" came the voice from behind him.
Another of Hal's questions. Scorpius could tell he was in for an all-out Hal-Dursley-style interrogation and braced himself for it. It was high time they started talking—really talking—again.
"Yes, Hal. Professor d'Eath is right. I'm terrified. I don't want to cast a spell. I—" He hesitated, letting the drizzle hit his face for a few more moments. Then, he pushed the wet hair out of his eyes and turned back to Hal. "I don't want to hurt anyone. Ever."
"Good Caspian," Hal said. He was holding a piece of straw out to the little owl, and after a moment it took the bait and worried it in his beak. "Care to give him a snack, Scorpius? You're making him nervous."
Scorpius nodded and fed the bird. His action attracted the attention of the two owls he liked to use to carry letters home. Noticing their hopeful glances, Hal handed his friend two more treats.
"Can't always help it, though, can we? Hurting folks?" he said, still not meeting his friend's eye.
Scorpius concentrated on the brown owls who'd flown over to him. The cranky one took the treat and retreated to a perch in a corner of the tower, but the friendlier one settled down on Scorpius's shoulder.
"Is it because of the War that you're afraid?"
"Yes. No. I—" Scorpius wasn't sure how to answer. He had finally made friends—sort of—and he was sure that, if he admitted the truth, Hal would judge him for it. Then again, if he didn't tell Hal now, he was bound to find out sooner or later. He bit his lip, weighed his options. Finally, he answered.
"Yes, Hal. Yes, it's because of the War. It's because of my father and the War. My whole family and the wars—both of them. They were—all—on the wrong side. They were Death Eaters."
Hal was engrossed, watching the rain falling outside the Owlery's crumbling door.
"Hal, my father was a Death Eater."
Hal still didn't respond. Scorpius had just made a humiliating confession, and his friend hadn't even reacted.
Scorpius's voice grew tight. "My father was a Death Eater," he repeated. "My grandfather was a Death Eater. My grandmother—well, she wasn't a Death Eater, but to all the world she might as well've been. My aunt was one of the worst of them all. And the Dark Lord used our home as his campaign headquarters!"
Again, there was a long silence. All Scorpius could hear was the cooing of the owls and the sound of the rain on the copper roof.
"You're not even listening!" Scorpius jumped up, and the brown owl tumbled off his shoulder. The bird flapped its wings and flew awkwardly to one of the rafters. Once it settled there, it looked at Scorpius reproachfully.
"I'm listening." Hal said. "Do you want me to quote you? Your father was a Death Eater . . . your grandfather was a Death Eater—"
"That's enough." Scorpius sighed. "So—you were listening. But—you didn't do anything."
"I was thinking. Your dad helped me and Pop. Why would a Death Eater do that?"
"He's not a Death Eater—not anymore." Scorpius clenched his fist. Everyone always assumed things about his father. They never observed what he actually did.
"Are you a Death Eater, Scorpius?" Hal looked up.
"Well, why aren't you? Why isn't your father?"
"Because it's wrong. Because he's—sorry."
Hal leaned his head against the stone wall, shutting his eyes. "It seems, Scorp, that both our parents were on the wrong side. Yours tried to beat Harry Potter here—and mine did beat Harry Potter back home. Every chance he got. For seventeen years. Pop's his cousin, you see. His evil cousin, you might even say." He sighed. "My dad's sorry, too. For the record."
Scorpius's head reeled. Nothing about the congenial Dudley Dursley had suggested a bully—certainly not one who'd spend almost two decades tormenting his own cousin. Of course, nothing about Scorpius's father had ever seemed to suggest a bully, either—at least not to his son. All he saw was his father—a tired, tortured, and remorseful man who put every ounce of energy he had into his family and his attempts to make amends.
For a long time, the two boys said nothing. Hal threw treats, one after another, at the owls, who hooted with joy, catching them mid-air. Scorpius went from window to window, looking anywhere but at his friend. He didn't run away this time, though. It was as if a weight had lifted—he'd told Hal what his family was, and Hal didn't hate him for it. They were—in a sense—struggling with the same things. Scorpius wondered how, when Hal knew his father had been so terrible, he never seemed concerned that he would be a prat and a bully himself.
When Hal finally ran out of treats, he brushed the crumbs off his hands and rose.
"We should be going now," he said. "Or we'll miss dinner."
"Can't have that, can we?"
As they headed towards the door to the tower, the burly boy put his hand on Scorpius's shoulder. He studied his friend, not unlike Professor d'Eath had just a few hours before. Finally, he let go.
"He's right, you know. Professor d'Eath. He was paying you a compliment. You're not the stuff that Dark Lords are made of. You've got a conscience."
Grimacing, Hal wiped his hand on the wet stone wall.
"You've also got owl shit on your robe. Let's get out of here."
As Scorpius walked along the battlements, he noticed that the rain had stopped, the fog over the Forbidden Forest had dissipated, and a single beam of light had broken through the clouds.
DISCLAIMER: The Harry Potter universe and all canon characters belong to J.K. Rowling, not me.
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS: Many thanks to my beta, ladyoftheknightley. The properties of ash wood wands come from a site called DragonOak, where you can buy just about any kind of wand you wish.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Reviews—and especially constructive criticism—are warmly welcomed.
52 WEEKS COMPULSORY PROMPTS: Rain, cold.