Disclaimer: I do not own Harry Potter, it belongs to JK Rowling
This is Book IV in my Gray series, if you have not read the others in the series then go back and read Book I Gray: Scorpius Malfoy and the Blood Runes, Book II Gray: Scorpius Malfoy and the Call of the Dark and Book III Gray: Scorpius Malfoy and the Werewolf Army first because otherwise this won't make much sense
Part 1: Ends
Atticus Ashain blinked open his bleary chestnut brown eyes, scowling at the darkness around him. He couldn't recall what he'd been dreaming about or what had woken him but he knew it was something for the both of them. He was lying in his bedroom in his house. His wife Skye was still sleeping soundly, snuggled up beside him with her head on his arm. There was no one else in the room, nothing was out of place either so what had woken him? Nothing seemed odd, except for it being kind of hot but it was summer so heat was expected.
It remained oddly dark though, blurry almost which was strange because usually his vision would have been adapted to the darkness already. He sat up cautiously which displaced his wife, his vision still wasn't improving. Something was making it strange to breathe, the air seemed oddly thick. Something was wrong.
"Atty?" Skye questioned in a yawn and a scowl although her eyes remained closed, "It's not morning yet."
"Something's wrong," Atticus told her seriously before he heard something distant and muffled, almost like something shattering, "Did you hear that?"
"No. Did you have a bad dream?"
"No. I definitely just heard something," Atticus insisted as he reached for his wand.
"No, no, don't grab your stupid wand," Skye groaned, "You're not in magic land anymore! It was probably just the dog, or your imagination. C'mon, Atty, please. I'm tired and I have work tomorrow."
"I-" Atticus began but was silenced by a rather large explosion and the glare of flames visible around the door, Skye was bolt upright and wide awake in an instant while he jumped out of bed himself, "Believe me now?!"
"Okay yes," Skye admitted fearfully as she also scrambled to get out of bed, following him to the door. He gestured to the door with his wand to move it aside, the thing shot off its hinges with more power than he'd intended to reveal the hallway outside was in flames, "The kids!"
"Wait!" Atticus protested and grabbed her before she could race into the flames, silently casting the Flame-Freezing Charm, she scowled at him, "It's to protect us from the flames so we won't burn now."
"Dad! Mum! The house is on fire!" Tony burst out as he came rushing into the room.
He was in an odd bubble of grayish white light that popped when he and the dog were safely out of the flames, looking terrified but unharmed. Accidental magic at its finest, the dog was at his heels but no Cassia. The dog seemed to be barking but no sound was coming out. He refused to panic, that had gotten Orous stabbed, Scorpius and Calderon almost blown up and revived the Shadow Master somehow. Years of being an Auror and training kicked in, he needed to stay level and think. He cast the same spell to protect Tony and the dog as Skye embraced their son.
"Stay here, it's relatively safe. I'll get Cassia," Atticus commanded them and rushed out into the flames.
The fire was just a warm breeze under the spell, uncomfortable admittedly but not painful or dangerous. The smoke was the main issue but there wasn't much of that, magical fire always produced less or if not the caster would be at risk themselves unless they used the Bubble-Head Charm. Atticus was near certain it was a magical fire, not Fiendfyre - thankfully - but definitely caused by a spell as evidenced by its lack of reaction when he tried to put it out as he hurried through the warm breeze to Cassia's room. The odd behavior of the fire and the dog had been silenced magically to make no sound like that, meaning someone magical had done it thus a magical attacker.
"Daddy!" Cassia exclaimed with relief when he burst into her room, rushing to hug him. It wasn't on fire in the room but it had evidently woken her as she'd been standing in front of the door, trapped, "There was fire and it woked me up and I knew you'd come, Daddy. I knew you'd save me, Daddy."
"Cassia!" Skye added as she, Tony and the dog followed him in. Atticus scowled as Cassia went to hug them instead.
"Didn't I tell you to wait in the other room?" Atticus complained as he silently cast the same spell to protect Cassia from the fire, "It's safer for civilians to-"
"Did you actually just call us 'civilians'?! And expect us to wait in a burning room while you and Cassia are out there?!"
"Err... No. Just hold her and everyone stay close by me, the fire won't burn you thanks to my spell - unless I die obviously - but we just still need to get out here. Do whatever I say, the attackers could still be here."
"Attackers?" Tony wondered fearfully.
"Just hold your mother's hand and we'll be okay, just stay calm and follow me," Atticus commanded, his voice sounding surprisingly steady and calm now he knew his family was safe for the moment. He just needed to keep them that way. He could do that, his mind was in full Auror mode, "And please be quiet."
He waited a moment for Skye to pick up Cassia who protested but he thought her safer in her mother's arms than free to wander, he didn't forget how she'd ran after him and the werewolves the previous year. He didn't want her hanging after him if he needed to duel, she'd just be at risk. He trusted Tony slightly more to obey as he was older and more sensible, he clutched his mother's hand fearfully. The dog was still by his side, Atticus considered unsilencing it but quiet was more productive than barking at that moment.
Atticus headed off cautiously through the hot breeze of flame, pricking his ears up for any sign of instability to the roof in case the fire made it cave and he needed to protect them. He kept his eyes darting around for the person - or persons - who'd caused the fire, he didn't want to waste time checking the rooms so simply magically sealed the rooms they passed in the corridor on the upstairs. So good so far, it was only when they got to the stairs that he heard distinct movement coming from both rooms off to the left and right but the path ahead to the door seemed clear. He paused when he got to the bottom of the stairs, changing his wand position every other second to check both sides for either attacker but the path to the door was clear. They probably hadn't heard them over the crackling, the roar of the flames but he'd been trained to focus past that.
"Alright," Atticus whispered to his family, "When I say 'go', you make a dash for the door. I'll cover you and I'll be right behind you, do you understand?"
"Skye, just trust me. More talk, more chance of being heard," Atticus interrupted and she met his eyes before slowly nodding, he gestured to them to come to his level and waited for them to get down that last step, "GO!"
As he spoke, he flicked his wand and slammed shut the door to the two rooms leading off. He gestured again to blow off the front door to give them a clear run to outside, he kept it hovering on its side in corridor though. Predictably, he heard the fire starters rush out and forcefully, twisted the front door and threw it at them magically. They were caught completely by surprise as the door simultaneously knocked them down and landed on top of them, Atticus leaped onto it then over it and bolted for the exit.
He gulped down the refreshingly cool and unpolluted air as he ran outside, glancing around quickly he saw Skye, the kids and dog standing safely beside the car and gazing at their burning home. No sign of any attackers though so he turned to keep facing the house in readiness as the two would probably come out after him. Sure enough, an instant later the pair rushed out. Getting a better look at them, he saw they weren't dressed in uniform robes with the skeletal snake symbol and were rather sloppily dressed in different styles of dark robes. They just ran out aimlessly too, he supposed it was possible that they were still Shadows who were just extremely uncoordinated and not in any kind of identifiable garb but his instincts told him they weren't.
"Die, Shadow!" one of them cried as if to confirm his suspicions, launching a nasty spell at him that Atticus had no trouble deflecting with a Shield Charm that caused it to strike back at the second attacker and threw him through the window back into the burning building.
"I'm not a Shadow!" Atticus protested as he threw his own Disarming spell at the first attacker, the man made a move to defend himself but the silent and large dog had rushed forward to bite the man's wand arm. The man screamed in pain as the powerful jaws crunched into his arm and dropped his wand as he tried to shake the dog off, Atticus fired a stunner at the man that knocked him out cold. The man was slammed to the ground forceful enough to probably hurt if he was awake, the dog bounded back over proudly. Atticus petted its head with his free hand, unsilencing it with his wand one, "Good dog."
"She has a name, Dad," Tony pointed out from behind him.
Atticus kept his eyes on the burning house though, a moment later the second attacker staggered back out awkwardly as he was now bleeding from multiple cuts from being thrown through a window. Atticus heard a caw from Cassia as he raised his wand to stun the second attacker but a swarm of birds descended before he could cast it, pecking furiously at the man who fled screaming back inside the house. The birds flew out to avoid burning but the man didn't re-emerge.
"Did I do good, Daddy?" Cassia asked eagerly.
"Atty," Skye said and he spared her a glance, keeping one eye and his wand still on his home in readiness for the second attacker. She was still in her sleepwear - as they all were - which in her case was a blue nightgown that matched her eyes, her straw-colored hair was as messy as Cassia's but she'd had the sense of mind to grab her purse, which meant car keys. He opened his mouth to tell her to get the kids into the car safely out of the way but closed it as she continued, "I can't do this, Atty, I thought I could but I can't."
"What are you talking about?" Atticus wondered hesitantly, getting the sense it was something important but it was a terrible time to talk. The kids were right there. And they were standing outside their burning house. And there was still an attacker that he was waiting to reappear. Skye didn't seem to care about that though, she looked distraught to the point of tears.
"This magic thing, I thought I could but I can't. Magic people attacked our home and I... I can't."
"It's okay, we can fix it and-"
"It's not the point!" Skye interrupted desperately, "I just can't do this, I don't want to be targeted by magic attacks, I don't want anything to do with magic at all. I just... I just can't. I love you, Atty, but I can't live like this, love isn't enough."
"Wh-What ab-about the kids?" Atticus stammered out in panic, was this actually happening?
"They're just like you, I can't deal with that. Take her," Skye said with tears spilling from her eyes as she let go of Tony's hand and bundled the six-year old into his free arm, Cassia looked as shocked as he felt, "Just take her."
"We-We can work something out, jus-just need time and... and now is bad time to make rash-rash decisions that-"
"I'd had three years, how much time do you think I really need? I've thought about it, I tried and I can't. I'm sorry, Atty, I have to go."
"I love you, Skye," Atticus told her tearfully and pathetically, he felt like his heart was tearing up.
"I know," Skye admitted and for a brief second, he thought she'd changed her mind as she pressed her lips against his gently, "Goodbye."
"Please don't go," Atticus begged as she stepped back, "Skye, please."
He was distracted by another explosion from the house as the second attacker tried to use it as a distraction to rush back out to get his friend. Atticus, very mindful of holding Cassia, positioned himself at an angle that had her away from the action as much as he could as he lashed out with a stunner immediately. The man tried to dodge but his injuries impeded him, the spell caught him forcefully and he was unconscious as he was thrown back against the wall like a ragdoll. He heard the roar of a car engine starting up. Atticus turned back to Skye to see she'd gotten into the car while he'd been distracted by the attacker, she'd already started the ignition.
"Skye!" he called after her desperately, she spared him a pitiful glance but didn't hesitate to start to reverse the car out of the driveway, "Skye! SKYE!"
"Mum, don't go!" Tony pleaded, he was crying freely but Skye backed out and started to drive away regardless, Tony ran after the car with the dog on his heels, "Mum! MUM! MUMMY! Mummy, come back! COME BACK! MUM, COME BACK!"
Skye sped off into the night, leaving Tony sobbing and still calling after in the road, long after she was completely gone from their sight. Cassia just buried her head in his neck, Atticus went over to get his son out of the road, taking Tony's hand gently and moving him back to the sidewalk. Tony clung to him and cried in the light of their still burning home before them, just a blur of reddish golds and orange lights through his watery eyes. Atticus didn't think... no, he knew she wouldn't be coming back this time. He was alone.
"It'll be okay," Atticus lied to try comfort them, "We'll be okay."
Celestine didn't much care for funerals, most of the ones he'd been to had been for Aurors he'd worked with but he'd also gone to Kingsley Shacklebolt's, Minerva McGonagall's, the Dursleys, Charlie and Audrey Weasley's. He thought it was ironic really, the majority of the funerals he'd been to had been people he'd either killed himself or had been killed by his group. The current one also fell into this category, Nicholas Neville Longbottom had been killed by a Soul Eater after all. Celestine didn't actually get any pleasure from it and thought it rather sad really, the death of a child was never something to celebrate. Unless it was his own child, his eyes darted to his pregnant wife - Gabrielle Delacour - amongst the crowd. He didn't care that it helped him seem more normal, he wanted her and the unborn thing to die. He'd never fantasized about killing anyone more than he did her at that moment.
He sighed and looked around the Leaky Cauldron where they were having the after Wake, he'd already offered his condolences to the Longbottom's. Traditionally it was the guy holding it together for the girl but Hannah was the one being strong, Neville was a wreck. All three of the remaining Longbottom children were there and they all seemed to be doing worse than their mother but better than their father. All the Weasleys were there, including George's estranged wife Angelina although she was ignoring him and George was staring after her sadly. Percy and Freddie had both brought their girlfriends, Teddy Lupin and his grandmother were there too. The Potters were there too, Ginny was talking to the Longbottoms and the younger kids were with other kids, James was just standing around and watching him oddly. It was supposed to be quite a small affair but the sheer amount of Weasleys made it seem much larger, neither had Neville nor Hannah had much biological family anyway. The Scamanders were also there and Xenophilius Lovegood, not that he would be alive for much longer with the poison that Celestine had slipped into his drink earlier, in a few dies he'd seemingly die of old age in his sleep.
If the old fool wanted to live then he shouldn't have expressed belief in his grandson's insistence of Varanian's innocence and written about in the Quibbler, with everything at Hogsmeade the truth was seeming less crazy which was bad. Varanian needed to die, that was more likely if everyone was after him and not just them so people couldn't go around believing he was innocent. Xenophilius wouldn't be missed, anyone with as whacky beliefs as him had no place in his Master's world anyway. The biggest downside that Celestine could see was having to attend yet another funeral, it was all very tedious but keeping up appearances was an important part of being undercover.
"Hey," Harry Potter greeted him quietly with a sigh.
"What's up?" Celestine asked.
"Just none of them have heard from Michael despite writing to him, I hope he's okay."
"Well his stepdad's rotting in a cell where he belongs and his last transformation went alright so he should be, kid's probably just still recovering from the full moon."
"That's what I told Al. And I meant more along the lines of mentally okay, he's been through a lot."
"You've done all you can, he has his own family to worry about him," Celestine pointed out, seeing the concern on Harry's face, "He'll be fine when the dust settles, he just needs some time to get used to things."
"Maybe. Although he's at risk now though, from those damn PAW people. Don't they realize that we're using resources we could be using in the Shadow War to deal with their attacks on werewolves instead?" Harry wondered in exasperation, since Hogsmeade had been attacked, the werewolf stigma had only worsened. It was like his Master said, the world was a terrible place and the people in it would rather fight each other over stupid things then worry about the actual 'threat' and issues at hand.
"That's the public for you, their idea of help is usually our idea of hinder. The public and the new Minister," Celestine offered and Harry gave a strained smile, the new Minister had only been Minster for a few days and already none of them liked him. Too focused on trying to please everyone which ended up pleasing no one and left the real issues unresolved, Celestine was secretly glad. If it was someone competent then they'd have to die as had the best candidates, or had suddenly fallen ill or withdrawn, "I don't think PAW would go after him anyway, all the attacks have been on adults and he killed Greyback. We both know that Helmut's behind it all, even if we can't prove it and since Greyback killed his wife, it might get Michael some reprieve."
"We can hope," Harry said solemnly, "Or it would be better if we can prove Helmut's behind it all and put a stop to it, get back to the real issues with the Shadow War. And finding Florian. I really hoped I'd be able to tell Neville that we'd caught his son's killer today, Nick deserves justice. So does Minerva and Dunbrooke for that matter."
"I think we all wanted that," Celestine lied with a sigh of fake regret, he'd never actually met Florian but he didn't think much of him but that didn't matter. People you didn't like could be just as useful as those you did, they could still serve a purpose, "Do you want me to work tonight?"
"It's like you read my mind. Yea, if you could then that would be great, I want to take another crack at those vigilantes who attacked Atticus now they've been healed up and I'd rather do it with someone I trust. If they weren't PAW or Shadows then I want to know who's going after people related to known Shadows, I think they're the same ones who killed Roland Seraph's mother. Or PAW could just be expanding from werewolves."
"I'm sorry, I don't like having to tear you away from your wife so much, especially now she's pregnant. I would ask Ron but I... don't really think he'll be sober enough by the time this is over," Harry admitted guiltily and they glanced over to Ron.
The man in question was downing something that looked like fire whiskey with George as if to prove their point. Celestine wasn't displeased, Ron's habit made it fairly easy to get information out of him as opposed to Harry. Slip some Veritaserum into his drink, he'd think it was just the alcohol that got him talking if he remembered it at all although he needed it much less these days when he was highly trusted. Sometimes Celestine almost felt bad that he was a traitor, almost. He needed more Veritaserum though, it was too suspicious to take it from the Ministry considering how heavily monitored it was. He needed to find out where Harry was hiding the Scepter, his Master needed it and Harry had decided he'd deal with it himself so Celestine was in the dark about its whereabouts but Ron might know. Ron was higher up than he was, both in work and with Harry personally.
"It's alright," Celestine brushed it off with a consoling smile, "I understand. Don't think any of us will have much free time until this over."
"Tell me about it. I feel horrible working and not being able to spend time with my wife and kids but every second I'm not working, I feel horrible that I'm not doing anything."
"I know the feeling," Celestine lied again, in truth he absolutely despised spending time with Gabrielle but it was necessary to keep up appearances and pretending you missed your wife was a part of that too. Maybe she and the baby could die in labor and he could be rid of them. That'd be a nice Christmas present.
"I'll try give you some time off when the baby's born to make up for it, how about that? Assuming we haven't won by then."
"As much as I'd like the war to be over by November, I doubt it. But thanks."
"Least I can do. You want to enjoy them as babies while it lasts, you'll be missing the sleepless nights when you're worrying about them at Hogwarts age."
"And by that, you mean James," Celestine guessed and Harry nodded.
"I just don't know what to do with him."
Meet me upstairs, now, Brutus Ashain's voice appeared in his mind.
"I'm sure you'll think of something. I'm sorry, I got to take a bathroom break. I'll be back," Celestine offered and Harry gestured for him to go as Celestine headed off upstairs.
Either Brutus was bringing him the Veritaserum or something was wrong to call for a meeting in person like that, he hoped it was the former and not the latter. He wished Rabastan Lestrange was the one he'd be meeting though, not Brutus, anyone but Brutus. He hated Brutus. He hated Brutus more than anyone, which was saying a lot. He reached the Longbottom's apartment upstairs, thankfully he had a 'fear' of public bathrooms so it wasn't strange for him to use more odd and isolated ones. Sure enough, Brutus stepped out of the Shadows as he headed towards the bathroom near the Longbottom's master bedroom.
Brutus was of average height but he was heavily muscled which always made him seem taller unless you were up close, he was deformed with six-fingered hands and a face that his own mother couldn't love. His large eyes were a chestnut brown but too far apart and one was higher, he had a large misshapen bulbous nose and a long thin mouth that curved slightly up one side. His hair was combed back roughly, an extremely dark shade of auburn but even that couldn't hide the fact he had oversized ears that jutted out. Contrary to popular belief, his hatred for Brutus didn't stem from his repulsive appearance but because of his Master's romantic love for him and not Celestine. He was better than Brutus in every way, he'd do anything for her, Brutus couldn't possibly love her as much as he did but it didn't matter somehow. It was why he so hated Gabrielle too, she wasn't her.
"What did you want to risk blowing my cover for, ugly?" Celestine demanded, Brutus' eyes narrowed in irritation at the insult as he'd wanted.
"The Veritaserum you wanted, Celestine," Brutus growled in reply and Celestine narrowed his eyes too, he so despised his name, such a ridiculous girlish name that his parents had bestowed on him. And Brutus knew it. He stepped forward and handed Celestine the small vial, Celestine took it, hating the smell of her perfume off Brutus before putting it in a secret pocket on the inside of his robes, "You need to get the location of the Scepter, Sal wants it badly and you're taking long enough already."
"It's not my fault," Celestine snapped, not wanting to seem incompetent for his Master, "Harry's keeping things close to his chest, Zeke's reveal as one of us has made him more suspicious. I know he's moving it from its secret secure spot somewhere in the maze of the Department of Mysteries but not when or where to or with whom."
"Well find out. We need specifics."
"I know, I'm not stupid."
"Really? Could've fooled me."
"I'm smarter than you, how hard is it to kill one guy?"
"Pip Varanian is a good duelist and if the werewolves hadn't started running away then I would have killed him," Brutus told him defensively, "Investigating that seemed like a priority."
"And you didn't think a quick Killing Curse was more effective than dueling him first?"
"You don't know him, he needed to be defeated or he would have defended himself and I would've wound up dueling him anyway. He never goes down without a fight."
"Then maybe if you hadn't wasted time with your brother?" Celestine complained.
"Just find where Potter put that damn scepter."
At this Brutus stepped back and vanished into the shadows. Celestine immediately turned to his left to head back down, only to see Fleur Weasley standing in the doorway. He felt his heart freeze in panic but he kept the expression off his face, he couldn't be sure she'd seen or heard anything. She look of shock on her face was a terrible sign.
"Hey Fleur, I'm done with the toilet if you want it or whatever reason you come up here-"
"I saw you talking to ze Shadow!" Fleur interrupted in a hiss and turned to leave.
"It's not what you think!" Celestine protested and crossed the space between them quickly to grab her arms to stop her leaving, he dropped his voice, "Look, okay, I'm undercover. Harry has me trying to infiltrate them, find out who the Shadow Master is and where they are so we can get him. If you rush down there and tell everyone them you'll blow the whole thing, they could be watching, even Harry and I don't talk about it unless in a secure location."
"I don't know..." Fleur muttered unsurely and fearfully, searching his face for the truth.
"Fleur, please. You know me, I'm not a traitor. Think about this, think about this. You'll blow months of hard Auror work and if they find out, we won't get another shot at trying to infiltrate them."
"I'll ask Harry quietly, he can confirm or deny it and if you're telling ze truth then it shouldn't blow your cover," Fleur told him, apparently leaning towards the side of because the fear dimmed in her eyes.
"Fleur, no, you can't risk it!"
Celestine pleaded but she was always freeing herself from his grip and starting to hurry away, his wand was in his hand in an instant the realized that he wasn't going to convince her. He didn't hesitate to aim it at her back, she'd made him do this. Why couldn't his bloody wife have come up here instead?
"Avada Kedavra," Celestine spoke and the jet of green blazed from his wand, with perfect precision it struck Fleur Weasley in the back. She was dead before she hit the ground, "An attack would be great right around now."
He hoped there were still Specters watching from after teleporting Brutus, his hope paid off. In response to his request, three cloaked figures stepped out of the shadows and launched an attack. He flicked his wand and caused a nearby table to fly in the air, shielding him from the barrage of spells that was flung at him. The attackers they had on standby for emergencies wouldn't know his identity or the reason they were there beyond needing to attack, they would fight to kill which made it realistic. It also made it dangerous.
"SHADOWS!" Celestine bellowed to those down below, "SHADOWS AR- FLEUR, NO!"
He was sure the attackers were confused as she Fleur had already been down before they arrived but it didn't stop the frenzy of attack, Celestine rapidly threw up shields as footsteps started thundering upstairs to his aid. He wasn't worried, he'd been trained by Harry Potter himself since the day he signed up to be an Auror so had become a fair duelist in his own right, he also knew the techniques the attackers would use which gave him a pre-emptive advantage with the shields. He could launch an attack but he wanted someone to have seen the attackers to confirm his lies first, he threw an explosive at the trio to split them up only when the first person reached the top of the stairs.
He couldn't see who it was - not without taking his eyes off his attackers and leaving himself vulnerable - but he had a feeling it was Harry, this was confirmed when the man rushed to his side and he could see his mentor. It was now a fair fight, the attackers were hardly the best of the bunch, he and Harry could take them even if there weren't still people rushing up the stairs. They silently started to double team the trio in a coordinated attack that they had done hundreds of times before, alternating between one being on the defense and one on the attack so the enemy didn't know who was attacking next nor who. All non-verbally as jets of light were exchanged through the air, bouncing off shields and crashing into things, one of the attackers had their arm broken by one of the spells.
"NO!" Neville's voice screamed, "NOT AT MY SON'S FUCKING FUNERAL! AVADA KEDAVRA!"
The jet of green sped by him and Harry, catching the middle attacker of the trio and throwing his corpse to the ground. Generally, Aurors aimed not to kill unless necessary because they wanted to question the person, in this case especially to find out any information they had to offer about the Shadows/Soul Eaters. However they were technically allowed and Neville had been technically reinstated, Brutus' brother too, but it was still surprising to see. The one with the broken arm and the final one fled immediately, vanishing into the shadows as it was decided that it was enough but they left the dead one behind. Celestine and Harry turned to look at Neville, wand still raised unwaveringly as more people started flooding up the staircase behind him.
"YEAH, YOU BETTER RUN!" Neville yelled after the attackers, who were now gone and couldn't possibly hear him, "AND TELL FLORIAN HE'S NEXT!"
Maurice was trying. He really was but he was really struggling terribly with adjusting to living in a muggle house, it had only been two weeks admittedly but still he found it hard. There were so many strange machine things and he had to wear strange clothes, he quite literally felt like he was in another world. Everything was weird, including Orous' stepfather, Cade. He was very weird.
For example, Cade was a Firefighter, what did that even mean? Did he go out and start attacking fire? Because that was just dangerous and stupid. You needed to put out a fire with magic or water, did muggles really not know that? He was tempted to ask Cade the specifics but he didn't want to come across as an idiot or come across as ungrateful, he was, it made him feel worse for finding things so strange. How did anyone ever get used to muggle life? Cade and Orous had both learned - and were still learning to a certain degree - sign language, so communication without his necklace was easier but Cade still made him nervous.
Cade was so... nice. What was up with that? Fathers were supposed to be cold and distant, not nice. Didn't he know that? Why was he being so nice to him? And why be so nice to him? Maurice wasn't his son, Maurice was nothing to him. Maurice had tortured someone he cared about with an Unforgivable Curse, as well as - in his opinion, screw Harry Potter - being directly responsible for the deaths of three people and indirectly responsible for the entire attack, he'd aided the enemy. Maurice didn't deserve to be treated well, he deserved to be punished or tortured or locked up in a cold cramped cell. Did Cade - and Harry Potter - not understand the word 'unforgivable'? He felt horrible for it all. Maybe he was just soft after all.
It made Cade's kindness even stranger. Was he doing it because he wanted something from him? What could he possibly want from him? He wished Cade would just ask him already then just treat him normally again with the contempt he deserved, since Cade was giving him a temporary home he'd more than willing as long as it wasn't completely unreasonable as it was only fair. Or what other reasons could it be for the bizarre behavior? Was it a test of some kind? A puzzle he was supposed to figure out the cause? Muggles couldn't do magic but they weren't completely stupid, there had to be a reason. Maurice just hadn't figured it out yet.
It was his - and Orous' - thirteenth birthday at any rate, it was the strangest birthday he'd ever had. Cade had gotten them both gifts. Gifts. Multiple gifts for their birthday. His father never got him gifts for his birthday, only Corin ever did and only one thing, why could Cade buy more presents? And why for him? It made no sense. And Cade had claimed to have gotten them birthday cake for later, that was both bizarre and bad for his teeth. He'd never had a birthday cake before in his life, he'd assumed it was just an expression that people said or a fairytale not an actual thing people really did. And the weirdness didn't stop there, Cade had taken them to a carnival to celebrate which was apparently something Orous enjoyed.
Maurice decided he didn't like carnivals, the rides scared him. Was he really supposed to trust a non-magical machine? He didn't care there were muggles around, he kept his wand in his hand in case he needed to defend the three of them from muggle craftsmanship. They certainly didn't look safe but Orous encouraged him to go on them, Maurice did just to make sure nothing happened to him and Cade but he didn't like it. People even looked like they were screaming, were muggles just insane? He was glad when they took a break to go to the toilet, Maurice didn't need to go so he just waited back while they queued.
And then he saw it. The skeletal snake symbol of the Soul Eaters, on the back of the cloak of someone hovering the forest around the edge. Maurice had his wand in his hand as he threw himself into a run to stop them, the Shadow presumably heard him as he started to run. Maurice ran after them, secretly glad as he couldn't use magic in front of muggles but there'd be none in the forest. He ran after the figure, they weren't particularly adept at hiding or running very quickly.
They came to a clearing and Maurice threw a stunner at them but the figure disapparated, Maurice cursed silently and looked around in every direction to see if he'd reappear. He didn't. Maurice scowled, wondering what could possibly have been the purpose of that if they hadn't been doing anything or luring him to be attacked. He was about to head back before he noticed his translator necklace hanging from one of the branches of one of the trees. That explained it. He despised the thing from the energy it took but he couldn't fault its usefulness, he pocketed his wand and grabbed it. Too late, he realized his mistake as he felt his body tugged through space. They'd turned his necklace into a Portkey. He cursed himself for not thinking of that as he was hurtled helplessly and magically. He was going soft.
Part 2: Run Away
Scorpius Hyperion Malfoy was having a horrible only reason he hadn't fled Malfoy Manor the first night back after his parents had forbidden him from Hogwarts was because Varanian had convinced him not to, to instead give his family some time to come around. They hadn't for the entire month of July and his patience was gone by August, they'd made up their minds and so had he. The other thing weighing on his mind was the lack of response from one of his closest friends, Michael Sanford, a muggle-born who'd turned into a werewolf at the end of the previous school year. He'd sent plenty of letters but Michael had replied to none of them, Scorpius had no way of knowing what had happened with Michael's abusive stepfather or how he was coping with being a werewolf. The smallest of consolations was that his owl, Free, was coming back with no letter meaning that Michael was definitely getting them - thus not dead or severely injured - but just not replying.
He was particularly concerned about Michael, especially with the recent rising of PAW (People Against Werewolves) attacks on werewolves. His favorite professor, Atticus Ashain, had also been attacked but that was for being related to a known Shadow, his brother, Brutus. A new minister had finally been appointed too, Alaric Layton, who had attempted to satisfy those pro and against werewolves by making it law that all werewolves had to wear an identifiable wrist band. Supposedly it marked werewolves for the general public so they could know who they were and avoid them during the full moon if they wished for those pro, and also made it easy to identify whether werewolf attacks were caused by registered werewolves or not as the bracelets would hold during the transformation. This had backfired quite a bit, those pro werewolves thought it just made them easier targets and those against thought it was pretty useless at protecting them. Scorpius had to agree with it just being... stupid, only the Prophet seemed to think it as a good idea which Scorpius thought said a lot about those who wrote for it.
Even the friends Scorpius had who did reply were also not having a great time, Fleur Weasley had apparently been killed at Nick Longbottom's funeral so while Abby was still reeling from the loss of her brother, Albus and Rose - and his girlfriend, Molly - were reeling from the loss of their aunt. He was glad to hear from them - it was the highlight of his holiday - but not glad they'd lost someone. The Scamander twins' grandfather, Xenophilius Lovegood, had also passed away so the three were solidly busy with funerals. It was saddening, also a reminder that Scorpius would soon be attending the funeral of his second baby sister. Well, they didn't know the gender - which was why his parents were obsessively having the baby's room done up in green - but Scorpius was sure it was a girl, Lyra II who'd join her big baby sister. Scorpius tried not to think about it, he didn't want to lose another sibling and didn't know why his parents tortured themselves with hope, it'd only hurt more when the baby died too.
Scorpius hadn't even had the distraction of visiting Varanian so much for training. Varanian had given him a Portkey that he'd specially designed to bring him to Varanian's hideout - protected by the Fidelius Charm - and back to whatever location he'd came from at simple commands, they could also communicate short messages with it. He had been Scorpius' first priority when he'd returned, needing to fill Varanian in on what had happened at the end of last year and hear whatever new information Varanian had to offer. Scorpius had actually thought Varanian looked almost proud when he spoke of the confrontation with the Shadow Pyrrhus Florian at the end of the last school year, Roman had just gone quiet and left when Scorpius spoke of Maurice using the Cruciatus Curse on Florian. Roman Rivers had been forced to aid the Shadows but the Ministry wrongly believed he was one of his own free will and was a criminal at large, much like they thought Varanian was also a Shadow but he was innocent and had just been possessed.
Varanian was now fighting the Shadows, using his metamorphmagi ability to avoid capture and to gather information. Scorpius hadn't seen them as much as he liked, Roman had given a speech after the attack in Hogsmeade that was spurring more belief in their innocence. People were actually writing to Varanian, wanting to help him fight the Shadows which was completely freaking Varanian out with what to do about it and worrying whether it put him at risk. Limiting Scorpius' visits was part of his paranoid reaction, much to Scorpius' annoyance as it left with him nothing to do but worry and seethe at being a prisoner in his own home.
But his patience had been dwindling and when his Hogwarts letter had arrived, the last of it had gone. He'd swiped the letter before his parents could destroy it, putting a blank piece of paper into the envelope instead so they'd think it gone and taking the list for himself. He had no intention of not going to Hogwarts that year though so two days before his birthday, he packed up his trunk and all the accumulated allowance money he had. He snuck back downstairs after his family and the house-elves were long asleep, scribbling down a note so they'd know he left voluntarily and because he wanted them to know. With any luck, if they realized how much it meant to him than they would relent and allow him to go and if not then clearly they just wanted him to be miserable so good riddance.
I'm leaving. I want to go to Hogwarts, there's people there I care about and friendship actually matters to me. I may not be of age yet but I'm also not a silly little kid, I'm capable of understanding things and I think I'm old enough to make my own decision about this and that you should accept that. I'm growing up and you have no right to keep me here against my will like a prisoner so I'm leaving.
He thought it was short but he didn't want to waste time writing out a long message, he had a feeling it would only devolve into an angry rant if he let it go long anyway. He didn't waste another second heading back up to his things and Portkeying himself, his trunk, owl and broomstick with him to Varanian's hideout. It was dark but the full moon cast a surprising amount of light, he wondered how Michael was doing.
Scorpius was sorely missing the use of magic as he awkwardly hovered off the ground slightly with his broom and dragged the trunk while trying not to knock over Free's cage, eventually he let the bird out for fear of hurting him and found it much easier without the bird's weird. It was still uncomfortable and he was glad when he reached the door. The building looked a complete mess from the outside, a derelict dilapidated ruin with all the windows boarded up and it bowed in the middle as if a giant had tried to sit on it. The gray stone walls looked battered with cracks meandering through it, you could see the roof was clearly missing in some places, revealing the rotting wood from the frame. However, inside it was much nicer as Roman had done it up since he'd joined Varanian in hiding.
Inside, the place was lit up by candlelight and the walls were a warm orange. The floorboards shone and the door handles gleamed, the doors and wood trimmings all were immaculate and dust-free. Nothing like the first time Scorpius had been there, it no longer smelled of mold either but rather like cleaning materials with a hint of lemon. Scorpius wondered whether Roman had only just cleaned or if it always smelled like that.
"Oh, it's you," Roman greeted him disdainfully as he poked his head out one of the doors, he stepped out into the corridor with a bowl and spoon as he was apparently in the middle of eating soup but was still thin and dressed immaculately. Unlike either of his sons, his hair was jet black and shorter - neater too - while his eyes were a shade of muddy brown that were ringed with fatigue but still sharp and narrowed on him, "What are you even doing here? Didn't Varanian limit your visits? And what's with all that stuff? You better not be trekking mud in here!"
"I just need to talk to Varanian about staying here for a bit," Scorpius explained as he hauled his things inside and closed the door behind as Roman came over.
"Well Varanian isn't here and I never know when he'll be back. Go home."
"I can't go home, I'm running away."
"Well you can't stay here, what if Aurors burst in here? I'd be arrested for kidnapping! And then have my soul torn apart by Soul Eaters."
"If Aurors burst in here they'd arrest you anyway, you're a fugitive," Scorpius pointed out and Roman only scowled.
"So? I don't need you adding to my crimes. I don't want runaways staying in my house."
"Does it actually matter what crime they'd arrest you for? And it's not your house, its Varanian's hideout."
"Yeah well... shut up," Roman grumbled before the door behind Scorpius opened and Varanian stalked in.
"Roman, what have I told you have dumping stuff in the entrance?" Varanian complained before noticing Scorpius, his eyes were currently a piercing gray and his hair his most common scrawny tawny color. He was tall and the scars on the edge of his cheeks and chin were visible, as were the burns on his hands from being burned alive by Death Eaters ago. He looked dead on his feet with exhaustion and his cloak was spattered with mud, "And what are you doing here? Did I not tell you about limiting contact as a precaution?"
"You're too paranoid, Varanian, you need to write those people back and get followers to help us. Then you could delegate and not be exhausted and cover more ground. Well the men at least, I'm not sure we should trust the women."
"Maybe I like being exhausted and that... just sounds sexist," Varanian pointed out incredulously before turning back to him, "Now, Scorpius, answer my question. Did something happen?"
"I ran away because my parents wouldn't budge and I wondered whether I could stay here for a bit," Scorpius explained, thinking Varanian would readily agree but he looked horrified, "Just until September when I can go back to Hogwarts."
"Absolutely not!" Varanian burst out and Scorpius felt both hurt and surprised, "You go home right now! This is not a game, we are actual fugitives on the run for the law. It's not a good place for a thirteen year old to be."
"I'm fourteen in two days!"
"That makes so much difference!"
"It's only for a month! It's not like I haven't been here in danger before," Scorpius protested against Varanian's reaction, "I can help and stuff, please! I want to go Hogwarts, my parents are being completely unfair and treating me like a prisoner!"
"I know what that's like."
"Shut up, Roman!" Varanian snapped, "I know it feels like your parents are being unfair but have you ever considered that they're just trying to protect you? It's something that you need to work out with them, you can't just run away."
"That's just ridiculous, they just think I'm stupid and weak!" Scorpius insisted feeling his anger rise, "And I can and have run away! I'm pretty sure it's law that they can't stop you if you want to go to Hogwarts so I'm in the clear."
"Yes its law but there's more to it than that, it's about money. You'll need new books and stuff and you have to pay for it, Hogwarts will only pay if extreme circumstances such as if someone was an orphan or their family literally have no money. However, if you run away and your family don't want you to go then Hogwarts will - almost always - side with the family and not provide you with any funds. If you can't buy your things or get to Hogwarts then you can't go."
"Well I have money, I brought everything I had."
"Fine. How do you expect to get to Kings Cross? To Diagon Alley to get the things even? How to you expect to carry it all without magic to make it lighter? Where do you think you would stay?"
"I thought that... you would help me," Scorpius admitted, managing to feel incredibly betrayed and incredibly stupid at the same time, "I thought we were friends."
"We're not friends, we're allies and that's all," Varanian affirmed as Scorpius hung his head, "I'm not helping you run away from your family, you need to work it out with them. We are strictly professional, well if our professions were going after the Soul Eaters instead of just... nothing. And this has nothing to do with the Shadow Master or us hunting him-"
"Or her," Roman spoke up and both threw him an irritated look at the interruption, "What? We always say 'he' and has anyone stopped to think that it could be a woman? None of us have actually met him or her so we don't know. And women are the ones who like torturing and destroying people."
"You have problems," Varanian complained, "Serious problems. And statistically it's more likely to be a man. And from what we know, someone related to but not a Death Eater who's probably somewhere in their late thirties likes Marius, give or take a few years."
"I'm just saying it might be a woman."
"Well I doubt it and it has absolutely no relevance to our current conversation so be shut up," Varanian said before turning back to Scorpius again, "So just get your stuff and go home, Scorpius."
"I'll go but I'm not going home," Scorpius stated stiffly but determinedly, he could get by perfectly find without Varanian. Screw Varanian. He cast a Featherlight Charm on his trunk while he had the chance, the Fidelius Charm shielding him from the Trace, before picking it up to go now it was manageable.
"Where will you go then?"
"The Leaky Cauldron."
"Closed due to Nick's death, they pub section is open and so people can get through to the Diagon Alley but not for guests to stay."
"One of my friends then."
"Albus," Scorpius guessed since he was actually the only one that he had an address for.
"His father is Head Auror. You can't stay with him, he'll be legally obligated to inform your parents and return you if they wish it."
"Do you even know where he lives?"
"My girlfriend," Scorpius said through gritted teeth, feeling immensely annoyed with Varanian shooting down all his possibilities.
"Yes, her stickler-for-the-rules Ministry working father is really going to let a runaway stay with him."
"Fine then I'll just stay in a hotel!"
"I supposed you have muggle money then because Gringotts isn't open to convert it this late."
"Then I'll sleep in a damn ditch! Would that make you happy?!" Scorpius yelled at him in frustration, "Because I'm not going home, Varanian, I'm serious about this! What is your problem?!"
"I haven't slept since Thursday," Varanian admitted tiredly.
"It's Wednesday," Roman pointed out.
"What are you, my calendar? Look, Scorpius, I ran away when I was just a bit older than you and it's harder than you think. Just go home, you'll be safer and you'll just have to deal with your parents."
"Why do you even care, you asshole? I can take care of myself," Scorpius snapped and started to head out.
"You're right, he is an asshole," Roman offered as Scorpius left, "Wouldn't rewrite his notes on the boards in neater handwriting. Try not to die out there!"
"Roman, shut up!" Varanian complained, "And for the last time, I'm not doing that."
"And you're always telling me to shut up."
"Because you never shut up!" Varanian yelled as Scorpius stalked back out into the cold night, trying to think whether he should try Albus' house and see if they had an address for Michael or whether he could send Free off with a letter and somehow follow him. Maybe on his broomstick since his trunk was now lighter or- "Wait!"
"What?!" Scorpius demanded irritably as he turned back round to see Varanian in the doorway.
"You're not going home, are you?"
"I told you, no!"
"Fine. One night then, Scorpius," Varanian offered reluctantly, "You can stay here just for tonight and then you think about going home, okay?"
"Okay," Scorpius agreed although he was still annoyed with Varanian and had no intention of going home but he was grateful for somewhere for the night at least. One night down, a month to go.
Michael hadn't been wrong when he'd said that arresting Bob would destroy his family. The stress had made Crystal's heart valve finally give out, hospitalizing her until they'd be able to do the operation and with Bob in jail, it left them alone. Bob's mother had agreed to take the little ones but not him, Michael had been stuck left with his biological father, Jack Thorne. He missed his family - minus Bob - but he'd known he'd lose them as soon as he agreed, he'd gotten to say goodbye to the little ones at least. It was better that way, he was a monster, a werewolf, and they were better off away from him. Especially after having already been attacked by a werewolf. He oddly didn't feel upset or angry or even glad, he was just relieved that Bob was out of their lives. Crystal would get the care she needed and the little ones were being cared for properly, the Ministry were keeping an eye on her anyway.
Jack insisted on them visiting Crystal - his mother - but she was barely conscious, usually Michael just sat silently while Jack read to her even if he doubted she was awake enough to really understand. He'd only had one conversation with her and that was the first time they'd visited, the day of the full moon. Jack had gone to the toilet, leaving them alone although he'd just stared out the window as he thought she was sleeping.
"You did the right thing," her voice came out weakly and he'd glanced to her in surprise, "I'm sorry I never had the courage to do it myself."
"It's okay, I'm the one who should be sorry," Michael had admitted as he squeezed her hand gently, "I broke up our family."
"What family? We were already broken," Crystal told him tearfully, "I should have protected you better but I was too sc-scared of him and too ashamed to-to think of getting help because I'm too w-weak to go alone, so stupid. I'm sorry I failed you, Michael, I'm sorry. I failed you all. It's better this way, R-Ruth will take g-good care of the little ones and J-Jack is good. Flawed but good. Annie will be out in a few months anyway."
"Just focus on getting better, okay?" Michael said gently as rivulets of tears rolled down her cheeks, she squeezed his hand tightly.
"Wh-What does it matter now? Just take care of yourself, I'm proud of you. I love you, son."
"I love you too, Mom," Michael whispered but her grip had already gone lax, slipped back into unconsciousness. He wiped her tears and kissed her gently on the forehead in farewell.
Someone from the Ministry had come later after they got back, giving him the final potion and volunteering to stay through the night for his transformation to make sure it went smoothly. It did, or as smoothly as the transition from man to monster could go anyway. The pain wasn't diminished, not even slightly but he did retain his own mind which made him both worse and better. Glad he wasn't hurting someone but it just enforced even more that he was a monster, the man advised he sleep but all he wanted to do was cry. Or run. He felt so powerful as a werewolf, so full of energy that screamed to be used not wasted curled up on the floor of his room. It gave him an idea though for the next full moon. The exhaustion following the full moon didn't change either.
Jack was being weird. He had been telling the truth about having a nice apartment, he had a room for Michael and the place was actually clean. He'd also been telling the truth about being sober, there wasn't any alcohol in the house - unless it was well hidden - but he didn't see Jack drinking nor did Jack leave to go drinking at night. He was being attentive, always trying to talk to him or do things with him. Michael knew he should be grateful, how often had he wished for Jack to be around and to care growing up? But if anything, it just made him angry. It was too little, too late. Michael didn't want him around anyway, he was still a werewolf and Jack was a defenseless muggle. It was time to say goodbye. He'd been ignoring his 'friends' letters too, he just really couldn't be bothered. He didn't want them to write to him anyway, they were better off away from him. Scorpius had a scar on his jaw that Michael had caused. Nick had been his friend and Nick was dead because of his stupid decision to leave him alone in Hogwarts to deal with Florian. It was his fault. His friends were like his family, better off away from him. Maybe if he ignored them, they'd hate him and stay safely away from him.
It seemed he had just gotten over being bedridden from the full moon when the Ministry approached him again, this time to explain about new laws regarding werewolves. He was given a black wristband to wear whenever in public and had to make sure it was visible, no hiding it up his sleeve for example. Michael hated it. Just another reminded that he wasn't human, just like when he looked in the mirror and saw his now-golden prosthetic eye. And seemingly just after that, his daily shipments of Wolfsbane started arriving from the Ministry for the next full moon. Lupin's Law meant the Ministry were obliged to provide free Wolfsbane potion for registered werewolves - unless they stupidly didn't want it - and had someone from the Ministry stay - only for the first Wolfsbane transformation - if they wanted. This time though, he had a plan to utilize his condition to his advantage as he scoured maps to ensure his route would all go to plan, he still had some of the sleeping potion they'd been using on the staff too.
"You... You all set?" Jack asked nervously the afternoon of the full moon, faking a smile and sitting beside him on the couch.
"Yes," Michael admitted truthfully and Jack put his arm around him in an attempt to be comforting.
"Do you want me to stay with you during... during... the night? I can do that if it'll help you feel better, Mikey," Jack offered gently and Michael couldn't be bothered to correct his name.
"No. It's safer if I stay in the room by myself," Michael told him truthfully although he really had no intention of being there at all.
"C'mon, Mikey, I'll be fine. Think about what's best for you and not worry about everything else," Jack complained with a roll of his eyes, "Don't be so responsible all the time."
"Don't be so responsible all the time?" Michael repeated as he felt his anger bubble up inside him, years of resentment rallying beneath his skin with teenage hormones and werewolf near-surfacing. For the first time, he didn't shove it back down there. It wasn't like he'd ever get another chance to say it, Jack wouldn't stick around long enough to make it to Christmas.
"Yeah, you're always so responsible and-"
"Did you ever think why I was like that?" Michael demanded as he jumped up, Jack looked taken aback and a part of Michael begged him to just do the polite thing and sit down and say nothing but it was silenced in the flood of anger, "I had to. You ran away and then got yourself thrown in jail, you have no idea what it was like. Agnes died, Crystal was too sick to do anything and Annie was working a zillion hours a week to pay for all three of us. I had to grow up fast, I had to be responsible. Someone has to be responsible, Jack, someone has to be strong for the family and there was no one else. I had to grow up and learn to take care of myself or I'd have to go into foster care, I had to be responsible because you and Crystal weren't."
"Okay, I get it."
"No you don't! You've never been responsible, you've never been there! If you were more responsible then I wouldn't have had to be, if you were a better father then I could've had a better life! A better childhood! I'm not a child - and yes, I know I look I'm fucking ten - but I'm not anymore, Jack, I'm a teenager, I'm a wizard, I'm a werewolf, I killed a man! I'm not an innocent little kid anymore, you missed my childhood and that's not okay! You don't think I wanted to be normal? You really think I wanted to be the one kid who knew Santa wasn't real and drew pictures of someone I saw murdered? You really think I wanted to be the one kid covered in bruises every day with my real dad in jail? It's not okay!"
"I didn't know about Bob," Jack protested, still looking shocked but for once, Michael didn't care. He'd been holding this in for a long time, "If I had of known, I would've protect you."
"You should have known! You should have protected me!" Michael shouted, "I was just a little kid and you're my father, you should have known. You should have cared enough to stick around, I tried to tell you once and you didn't want to know because you always, always put everything before me you always put everything before your family. You're selfish. And don't pretend it's not true because we both know it is. You were never there for me, you were never there for Crystal and you were never there for Annie! You were never there."
"I know I've made a lot of mistakes but I'm trying to make up for it, I'm trying to do better now," Jack said quietly and tearfully.
"It's too late, Jack!" Michael yelled truthfully as he felt his anger run its course, "It's too late! You missed my childhood, you missed my life and now it's too late. It's too late for me. It's too late for you. It's too late to make it right. There are moments in life when you have to make a choice that'll make a difference and the rest is just living with the consequences, there's only consequences left for us."
On that, Michael turned and left to retreat back to his room. He threw himself down on his bed, managing to feel good for saying everything and bad that Jack was upset over it. In fact, he was probably just going to get drunk and run away again, he might not even need the sleeping potion. But Michael had been upset too, parents were supposed to protect their children and when they didn't even try, the children were left with the consequences. He waited a bit before starting to pack up his things, really testing out the lengths his wallet could go. It was a gift from Jack, his wizard friends had put an undetectable extension charm on it and given him a fair bit - well, a lot - of money, both muggle and magical. He even managed to fit his whole trunk in there and it didn't feel the slightest bit heavier, a very nifty little thing.
All he had left was the last of the sleeping draught potion, a shoulder bag and his wallet. The room looked exactly as it had when he'd first arrived, neat and empty except for the bed and dresser. He sent his owl to deliver a letter to Hogwarts asking if he'd still be able to attend since he was a werewolf, he'd already been told the answer was yes but it just got his owl there and allowed him to pack the cage too. Then he slipped out and went to the kitchen, pouring them both some Dr Pepper and slipping the potion into one before going back out to Jack, who surprisingly hadn't ran away yet.
"Hey, I thought you might be thirsty," Michael greeted him as he handed the one laced with sleeping potion to Jack, his father hastily wiped his sapphire blue eyes and looked surprised as he took the glass.
"Thanks," Jack muttered as he ran a hand through his short but unruly dark brown hair, looking down into the drink, "Are you still mad at me?"
"I didn't say anything I didn't mean but I'm not mad at you, there's no point. I know who you are," Michael offered as he sipped his own untainted drink, it was nice but Jack still hadn't touched his.
"I am sorry," Jack admitted, "I know I screwed up, bad. It's okay to be mad, I'm mad at myself too sometimes a lot. I think the future and the present is what matters though, not the past. I'm trying to do right by you now, we can get through this if we stick together. You're the best thing in my life, I love you, Michael. I'm really trying to do better. Annie gets out in November and we'll all be united, you'll be able to see her at Christmas break. That's something to look forward to, right? And we can have a real Christmas - no stolen presents - but just as a family, hopefully Crystal will back on her feet by then too."
"Sounds good," Michael nodded although he had no doubts it wouldn't come to pass, Jack would probably be back in jail by then or somewhere although he was going to see Annie if possible. He was sure she was a witch, he just needed to look into it a bit more.
"And here, I signed this for you," Jack offered with a smile returning as he handed him what looked like a permission slip for Hogsmeade, "I know you couldn't go before because of Bob, figured you might want to this time."
"Thanks," Michael muttered and pocketed it, in truth he had no desire to return there but he didn't want to make a big deal out of it.
Jack clapped him on the shoulder and half-hugged him before leaning back, he smiled and drank. Michael reached forward to take the glass as Jack passed out immediately, placing it down on the table. He finished his own and left without another word, he'd considered leaving a note but Jack never left him one. He'd understand. He took the bus to the edge of town and just stating walking, out into a random field that he'd assigned as his staring point as the sun started to go down. When he found some trees for cover and thought he was isolated enough, he stripped naked and carefully placed the clothes, sneakers, locket, dog tags and wand into the shoulder bag with the wallet. He was feeling extremely exposed, nervous and cold.
He widened the strap as much as he could and made sure it was secure before hanging it carefully on a low hanging branch, then he simply had to wait. Trying to hide his shame and ignore the vast array of scars he now bore, the large Tiwaz rune, his entire left arm scarred from burning, the werewolf bite marks on his shoulder and scars all over from being mauled by Greyback before he was turned. He also had the awful wrist band, it was just black and had a circle, it almost seemed like plastic but he wasn't sure if it was. Michael closed his eyes and wished he wasn't him, feeling the effects of the moon before he saw it.
He couldn't help but scream at the pain of the transformation, his body felt like it was trying to pull itself apart and being violently from several different angles at the same time. His screaming became inhuman howls and by the time the pain stopped, he was covered in fur and had sprouted a tail. His senses were sharper and he felt the energy from his wolf form begging to be used, this time he would oblige it. He padded over to the bag, his goal distracting him from his disgust with his werewolf body. Looping one paw through it and followed by his head to get it onto himself as a werewolf, successfully he got it on.
And then he ran. He embraced the strength he'd have for one night only and ran, sprinting through the night on the path he'd memorized to avoid the roads and people He ran and ran, sometimes not running as fast as he could to give himself a bit of a rest but mostly he forced himself to run, his monstrous body didn't deserve a rest and if he didn't reach his goal then he'd be in no condition to do anything else. He ran. All night. Only stopping when the sun tore his strength from his body, the equally painful transformation back felt like his body was being ripped up and compressed, also tearing itself apart.
He felt so weak, he could have just slept right then and there in the dirt but he didn't. Instead he took his clothes out the bag and got dressed, walking on trembling legs with limbs burning the unnecessary exertion he'd put them through. His body begged him to sleep but he pushed past it to reach a familiar set of gates, he stood waiting, not really sure if anyone would come but they did. He smiled at the two who came to the gates with as much effort as he could muster, smiling was hard when you were exhausted.
"Hey Calderon, Hey Hagrid. Can I come in please?" Michael greeted them before his last reserves of strength failed him and he collapsed into blissful oblivion.
Part 3: Soul Searching
Scorpius was led into one of the reception rooms that Roman, it too was now clean and immaculate although only had a comfortable-looking green couch inside it. Roman transfigured it into a bed for him, grumbling the whole time about Scorpius being there and frequently insisting he not touch anything or that makes a mess. Scorpius wasn't sure what exactly he was supposed to not touch, the room literally had nothing but the couch and some candles for light. Varanian retired down to the secret basement which held his bed, clothes and wall of information.
Scorpius was left alone after that where he got changed and climbed into the bed, he'd thought he'd have a hard time getting to sleep but he slipped away before he knew it. Maybe he'd felt more like prisoner in his home than he'd realized. He slept maybe later than usual but felt refreshed nonetheless, even if he now had to find somewhere else to stay for a month.
"Are you even awake? That doesn't make any sense," Roman's voice complained as Scorpius was making the bed, he jumped in surprise as he hadn't heard the man come in.
Looking around, he saw that Roman wasn't actually in there and his voice was instead coming from outside. Scorpius left the room and saw that Roman was in the room across from him, sitting at a desk with a cup of tea and papers sprawled across the desk. Roman was bent over them and scribbling frantically and didn't acknowledge his presence, Varanian wasn't in sight.
"Who are you talking to?" Scorpius asked in confusion and Roman jumped so much he almost fell off the stool, instead glaring at him.
"No one. Are you still here?" Roman snapped irritably.
"You were just talking to yourself?" Scorpius wondered dubiously as he came over and Roman blushed.
"It's not crazy if you don't hear voices talk back. Which I don't," Roman protested defensively and Scorpius felt suddenly embarrassed for asking. Roman seemed to feel this too as he cleared his throat and spoke in a very obvious effort to change the subject, "Care to guess what the phonetic value of that Greek Letter is?"
"What it translates to now," Roman informed him with a roll of his eyes as he pointed to a letter that looked like a 'p'.
"Wrong! It's actually the letter 'rho' which translates to 'r'," Roman explained with a triumphant grin that reminded him oddly of Orous, "The one right of it would be 'p', it's called 'pi'. The one left of rho would be 'e', which is 'epsilon' which does actually look a bit similar but the one to the left of that looks like an 'x' but it was also used as a 'h' as well as an 'x', it's called 'chi'. The 'o' to the right of pi is actually an 'o' though, 'omicron' it's called. I bet you didn't know any of that, did you?"
"No, I didn't but then I'm taking Ancient Runes not Ancient Greek and- wait, wouldn't that make that word 'Herpo' then?" Scorpius realized, "As in Herpo the Foul, the Ancient Greek Dark Wizard?"
"Yes, that's the one. Varanian still thinks the Soul Eaters are after Herpo's Scepter, the one they tried to steal last year. He wants me to look into why they would want it and what it could actually be capable of. So I am. Because I want to help. Problem is there are lots of different conflicting legends and stories about it, figuring out which one is true and which one ties into the Shadow Master's potential plans is tricky."
Scorpius sat down and soon realized this was a mistake as Roman launched enthusiastically into an explanation of the Ancient Greek languages and letters, even worse was that Scorpius actually found it more interesting than he should. Although he did start lose to interest when Roman veered off into a tangent about Ancient Greek life, specifically their architecture and design of artifacts. It dawned on him after a while that he hadn't seen Varanian and the clock on the desk said it was after midday already.
"Where's Varanian?" Scorpius wondered as Roman had started talking about art in Ancient Greece.
"Still down in his basement," Roman shrugged, "Sometimes he does that, goes for almost a week without sleeping and getting exceptionally cranky before just crashing. That man hates sleep. He'll have to wake up soon though, he needs to do a food run. You should ask him to stay after that, he's nicer after he's slept to make up for such a jerk. Well make up for being more of a jerk than usual."
"So what about the Scepter? Aside from being cursed and used to be a Horcrux, why could the Shadows want it?"
"I told you I don't know, there's a lot of conflicting legends about it and their usefulness is dubious. For example, it was supposedly extremely powerful but if the Shadow Master's capable of magic to the same degree as Marius Calderon then would they really need it? And they'd probably need the piece Ashylos took and fashioned into a wand anyway. There are also stories about it raising armies of undead Inferi from the bones of his enemies, could be useful I suppose but I think it's more questionable than others, if Herpo could do that I'm sure it would've been mentioned more. Others say it can be used to get into a secret room to gain access to his accumulated wealth of knowledge in the study of Dark Magic and the Dark spells he created, that could also be useful but no one's ever found a location. There are also stories about it raising Basilisks, extreme Legillimency to the point of brainwashing, blocking out the sun and causing natural disasters. Or it could be something else, wanting to research the supposed curse or something to do Horcruxes or just sentimental value."
"Sentimental value?" Scorpius wondered in confusion and Roman nodded.
"One of the things I had to steal for them was the broken locket of Salazar Slytherin that had once been a Horcrux, Brutus said it was for 'sentimental value' when I asked why or maybe it was just a test run to get things out of the Ministry. Clearly the Shadow Master has some kind of admiration for Voldemort, naming his or her followers 'Soul Eaters' and the similar use of a snake symbol. Voldemort was descended from Slytherin and there's an entire school of belief that Slytherin was descended from Herpo. Somehow I don't think that's it but my point is that there's so many things it could be, we just don't know."
"Brutus was almost certainly lying to hide the real reason he wants the locket. Maybe he's collecting former Horcruxes for some reason?"
"It's pure speculation at this point. And trying fact from fiction is worse, stories from millennia ago aren't the most reliable source of information. The Shadow Master's had years to comb through it all and figure it out, how are we supposed to compete with that? We'll be dead in years."
"Don't be so pessimistic," Scorpius complained as Roman rested his head on his hand in a way that reminded him of Maurice now, "Maybe they don't even want the Scepter anymore anyway."
"They do," Varanian spoke and Roman nearly fell of his chair as he jumped in shock, Scorpius turned to see the metamorpmagus leaning in the doorway, "There was an attempt on it before Potter moved."
"Heard of knocking?!" Roman snapped.
"The door's already open."
"Wait, that gives me an idea," Roman said as his expression of annoyance evaporated in an instant as he pointed to Scorpius, "What you saw in your visions of ancient times from the Scepter could be the key to what it can do that they want."
"I don't remember it," Scorpius pointed out.
"Doesn't matter, it's in your subconscious somewhere. Probably. I could try something on you to make you remember, a spell my father taught me. Not Hogwarts because they're useless. If you're willing."
"I'm willing but I don't think it'll work."
"Now who's being pessimistic?" Roman smirked.
"We're being realistic and Scorpius' connection - sealed or not - will probably make this difficult," Varanian offered and Roman scowled at him.
"You people suck."
"We should still try it," Scorpius volunteered, not sure whether because he wanted Varanian to be wrong for not letting him stay or whether he felt bad for Roman having his ideas shot down when he was trying. Even if Scorpius still didn't think it would work.
"Excellent," Roman said gratefully as he stood and gestured for Scorpius to follow back into the room Scorpius had slept in, Roman untransfigured the bed back into a couch while Varanian simply switched doorways to lean in and folded his arms, "Lie down and close your eyes, don't open them and just listen to me."
"Okay," Scorpius agreed, seeing Roman draw his wand as he closed his eyes. He heard Roman mutter an incantation and an odd tingling sensation started roaming around in the inside of his skull, "My head feels tingly."
"It means it's working. Now I want you to think carefully now, think back to that day when we were standing in front of the Veil with the Scepter. Varanian told you to grab it, do you remember that?"
"Yes. Now Scorpius, grab the Scepter and throw it into the Veil quickly while we have the chance."
"Yes," Scorpius admitted as the memory came unusually vividly to his mind.
"Focus on that. You went to grab and then what?"
"Pain," Scorpius said through gritted teeth at the memory, his body recalling the pain.
"But what did you see, focus on what you saw."
And then there were images reeling through his mind so fast he could barely comprehend them.
"I don't know, they're too fast," Scorpius pointed out and he heard Roman mutter something else, the tingling in his mind intensified. It wasn't painful, just... odd.
"Focus. What do you see?"
He concentrated and an image seemed to form, almost in slow motion. It seemed like some kind of settlement, a village. It was a cluster of little white homes with paved limestone streets and little red tiled roofs, all a style that looked old by both wizard and muggle standards. And the people, the people in the streets were mostly dressed in sandals and tunics, colored and patterned.
"I-I think it's an Ancient Greek village."
"Yes! Yes, stay with that. What else?" Roman pressed excitedly.
The image remained of the people in the village for a moment, the bright sunshine slowly started to die as a shadow crept over the town. Turning the skies black and casting the village into darkness, people were starting to panic and look around in shock. There was a hiss of something monstrous that had the villagers start screaming and the image started to change again, he saw Professor Ashain only clean shaven like he had been in St Mungo's, it really did make him look years younger.
"I see Professor Ashain."
"No!" Roman snapped irritably, "You're confusing it with another memory, you have to focus. Focus. Focus on the village."
Scorpius tried to focus on the village but he saw the same thing again, the sky turning dark and the people panicking as something hissed. Then Professor Ashain again, like he'd been in the hospital clean-shaven and with his hair not combed back.
"The sky goes dark and the people react to something then it changes to Professor Ashain."
"You're just not focusing enough, stop thinking about your professor and think of the village. Go with the image of people panicking, stay with the memory. Stop thinking about the professor."
Scorpius tried but the same thing happened again.
"I still see Professor Ashain," Scorpius protested and the tingling sensation stopped as Roman sighed in frustration, Scorpius opened his eyes.
"Well clearly that was useful," Varanian commented sarcastically, "I'm going on a food run. Scorpius, you better be gone and back home with your family by the time I get back."
"Damn," Scorpius and Roman muttered almost in unison as Varanian stalked out.
"I'm sorry," Roman apologized as he glared at his wand, "I bet it would've worked with my real wand. And if you stopped thinking about him."
"I wasn't trying to think about him," Scorpius insisted.
"Well subconsciously you must've been," Roman spat accusingly.
"Maybe I'm subconsciously worried about him being attacked at his home? How am I supposed to control my subconscious?"
"He walked away without a scratch! My son is missing and I can focus on the spell."
"Orous is missing?!" Scorpius burst out in shock and worry.
"Weird," Roman mused, "That's exactly what I said. And no, Maurice is the one missing. Probably ran away to go back to those psychos."
"You realize he tried to stop Florian right?" Scorpius complained with a frown, "And I didn't read about it in the paper."
"With Dark Magic. And you wouldn't hear about it, the new Minister just doesn't rate his disappearance as newsworthy because he's the son of a suspected Shadow. That's why Varanian has been trying to find out what happened to him instead of sleeping and being less of a jerk."
"How long has he been missing?"
"Since his birthday, so a few weeks now."
"A few weeks?! And you're not worried?!" Scorpius wondered incredulously and Roman looked puzzled.
"I told you, I'm sure he ran away voluntarily. This is Maurice we're talking about, he's perfectly capable of defending himself so I think it's highly unlikely he went against his will," Roman explained and sighed sadly, "They corrupted him and he's clearly too far gone to save now if he runs to them."
"He's your son!"
"He's Alzay's son too and clearly takes after her."
"You don't even know if he ran away or was taken against his will."
"Someone who can use Unforgivable Curses doesn't get taken against their will," Roman scoffed, "Now if you'll excuse me, I have work to do."
Roman strode back into the other room, presumably to carry on with the Scepter research thing while Scorpius just slumped into the couch. Thoughts of having to leave banished from his mind by the revelation of his friend's disappearance, even if Roman didn't believe it. Scorpius didn't think Maurice had left willingly and he didn't think using an Unforgivable Curse made him invincible, talented or not, Maurice was still a deaf thirteen year old and he thought if the Shadows really wanted to then they could take him. Although why begged the question, he wasn't sure what they would want with his friend. Unless it was for revenge... and if it was revenge, killing him and getting rid of the body was also a factor. He felt his heart freeze fearfully, what if they had done that?
"Didn't I tell you to go?!" Varanian's voice snapped and Scorpius was jolted from his thoughts as the man came over to him.
"Why didn't you tell me that Maurice was missing?" Scorpius demanded worriedly and Varanian's expression softened, "He's my friend."
"I didn't want you to worry. And that's why it's better that you're home, if they took him then they might be after the rest of you five too."
"Don't you think they would've gone after the rest of us already?! His birthday was three weeks though! Don't you know that?!"
"I know what day their birthday is, it's the day before mine. And yes, I do think now that they're probably only after him but I'd still rather you be safe than sorry. They could easily just be waiting for you to be exposed out in the open like Maurice was before going after you," Varanian insisted.
"Don't you think I'd be safer here? In a building protected by your Fidelius Charm and some other enchantments instead of my family's unprotected mansion? Or rather somewhere else because I'm not staying there," Scorpius asked, now determined to stay with Varanian so he could help find Maurice. Varanian sighed tiredly and rubbed his fatigued eyes, "You don't think they killed him, do you?"
"No. Sealed or not, you're still connected and you'd have felt it if he died. Plus I don't think the Shadow Master would waste the connection like that, especially since Maurice is the only one unsealed. I think they took him to try get him back onto their side or at the very least because the Shadow Master wanted to make sure that Marius can't seal him like he did for the rest of you," Varanian explained and Scorpius nodded in relief, "And alright, you can stay for a few days. But that's it."
Jack woke with a yawn, feeling surprisingly refreshed as he'd had difficulty sleeping of late with his anxiety and guilt over Michael and Crystal keeping him up. It took him a second to think it strange that he was awake at all, hadn't he been in the middle of talking to Michael? He was still sitting on the couch but there was no sign of Michael. He frowned in confusion and looked around but there was no sign of his son. He got up and looked around, he wasn't there, nor in the kitchen part of the open plan kitchen and sitting room, nor in the bathroom, nor Michael's own room... The room was empty, all of Michael's things were gone. He even pulled out some of the drawers to confirm the truth, Michael had gone. Michael had left him.
Jack felt tears prick his eyes as he turned to leave, Michael was gone. The words Michael had said in anger echoed again inside his mind and the tears had started spilling from his eyes before he'd left the room, what hurt the most was that it was true. Michael had every right to feel that way, Michael had every right to be mad... Michael had every right to hate him. He hadn't been there and he hated himself for that, even more knowing what Michael had been going through. He had been selfish. But he wasn't anymore, he was really trying to do better. Like mother, like son though, they believed in forgiveness for anyone but him. Did he really not deserve a second chance? He couldn't change what he'd done, even though he wanted to, but he could affect the present.
And in the present, he wanted a drink. He wanted to crawl into a bottle of beer and escape his mental anguish but he wasn't going to, even with Michael gone. He wasn't going to let himself do that like he always did when something went wrong, he was going to stick to trying to be a better man and stay sober. He was going to cry though, he buried his head in his hands and let his tears fall before a feeling of cold went through him.
Oh, Jack, an increasingly familiar voice appeared in his mind, you know he was right
"He l-left," Jack explained to One in a sob.
Because he was right, it's too late for you
"No it's n-not. I-If I just stick t-to t-trying then he'll c-come around and g-give me a chance in his own time."
No he won't, you know he won't. That's what you thought about with Crystal and it didn't work
You failed him, Jack. He's never going to forgive you for that, no matter what you do or how hard you try. Some things can't be fixed
"I s-said go!"
It's too late. Your relationship with your son is destroyed beyond repair and deep down, I know you know that. With your sister and former lover too. What matters now is that you do what's best for him, merge your soul with mine so we can protect him. You have nothing left to lose
"I don't want to," Jack whispered as he squeezed shut his eyes.
There you go, being selfish again. There's no hope for you, Michael even said it. Which is better, having no relationship with Michael and protecting him or having no relationship with Michael and watching him die?
"All the choices suck," Jack cried.
So be it then. I can't keep risking talking to you. Congratulations, Jack, you just doomed you both, One told him before Jack felt the cold feeling fall through him.
"WAIT!" Jack screamed and jumped up, the shadow slipped back into him, "Alright, alright. I'll do it. I'll do it, I'll merge my soul with you. What do I need to do?"
Lying down would probably be a good idea and then I'll do the rest, all you need to do is not fight it
"Okay," Jack agreed tearfully before retrieving some pen and paper, "But first I need to say goodbye, I don't know what's going to happen so I want to say goodbye."
Make it quick
Jack wrote three letters as if they were his last, one for Michael, one for Annie and one for Crystal before putting them each in an envelope and hiding them into a drawer. Finally, he went into his bedroom and lay down. He pulled out the picture he had of Michael as a newborn, tearing up again as he saw what a perfect innocent baby he'd been in comparison to the present world-wearied werewolf teenager. He'd failed Michael in a big way. He carefully replaced the picture but held the wallet that held it to his chest over his heart.
He was terrified but he felt like it was the only choice. Michael was right, there was no hope for them. Michael wasn't going to give him a chance, maybe Jack didn't deserve a chance. He couldn't be a good father, he couldn't be a good man, maybe he'd make a better... thing. As long as Michael was safe and happy, that was what mattered. Not what he wanted but what his son needed. And Annie and Crystal. He hoped that he was doing the right thing for once because he wasn't sure it'd be his last.
He closed his eyes as pain swept through him, he felt as if claws were tearing him up inside but deeper than his skin, deeper than anything. And so cold, his insides felt like they were freezing so much that it was burning. The pain was beyond anything he'd ever felt before and he screamed like his lungs were being ripped up, he screamed so much his throat was searing but he didn't care, he wanted it to stop.
No, no, no! Jack, you can't fight it! You have to embrace it or it won't work! Don't fight me!
That was confusing. Jack screamed and tried not to resist the pain instead at One's command. The freeze-burning stopped and he felt like he was drowning suddenly, his body filling up with cold water so much that he couldn't breathe. And then oblivion. Whether it worked or not, whether he died or lived, whether it was his last conscious thought or not, Jack didn't know. All he knew was the nothingness embracing him and he welcomed it with thoughts of his family. He wasn't sure which he hoped for.
Orous Knox had been wracked with guilt and concern since Maurice had gone missing, they'd seen him go and ran after him in the forest but they'd lost him. They'd scoured for hours, called both muggle and magical law enforcement but there was no sign of him. He'd found his twin only to lose him again, Orous felt horrible. He'd been the one who'd pushed for Maurice to stay with him and he hadn't even been able to stop him getting abducted or killed, Orous wasn't sure what was worse.
It was now August 12th, exactly a month since Maurice had gone missing. He was sitting on the couch stroking the dogs, the TV was on but he'd been paying so little attention that he didn't even know whether it was a TV show or a film or what. His dad was making them lunch when the doorbell rang, his dad was the only one getting him through it and making sure he was still eating.
"I'll get it," Orous called as he got up, it was easier than his dad having to stop cooking and it was probably just someone selling something stupid anyway.
He sighed and went to open the door but gasped as he realized how vastly wrong he'd been. It was Maurice. He looked a fright, he was wearing the same clothes he'd left in only they were filthy and torn revealing injures he'd sustained, they were also spattered in blood in places. One hand was clutching something that had string dangling from his fist as if from a necklace, the other held his wand but there was blood dripping down from it that had seeped all the way from down the sleeve since he had a gaping wound on that shoulder. His light brown was matted with dirt and blood, sticking all up and out angles now. His oceanic eyes usually looked fatigued but the gray circles were livid and he looked as if he hadn't slept since then, one eye was black from a nasty bruise and he had three large cuts across his cheek, jaw and lips. He was breathing heavily.
"Maurice," Orous gasped in relief, despite his horror at Maurice's appearance as he threw his arms around his brother before abruptly pulling away as he wondered if it would pain his injuries. Instead biting his lip and leading Maurice inside, the boy was trembling, "DAD! DAD! DAD, come here!"
"Maurice!" his dad exclaimed as he hurried out, rushing over to the boy and asking without thinking or signing, "We need to get you to a hospital. Are you alright? Where have you been?"
"Hell," Maurice breathed before stumbling forward and collapsing into his dad's arms.
Part 4: Not Quite Home
As it turned out, a few days became more like a week. Varanian had him practicing his spell work or helping Roman pour slog through every scrap of information they could find on Herpo the Foul and his Scepter, Varanian was mostly gone as he tried to find Maurice. He didn't let Scorpius go with him which Scorpius supposed was fair, he had the Trace on him and while he was safe to use magic within the safety of the Fidelius Charm at the hideout, he wasn't anywhere else and bringing the Ministry down on Varanian wasn't helping anyone. Scorpius still wished he was doing more although he was half-afraid that if he left than Varanian would never let him back in.
Despite his unyielding belief that Maurice had left of his own accord, Roman wasn't actually too bad. Scorpius thought he wasn't used to not working alone though, he frequently talked to himself without thinking about Scorpius being there and got very embarrassed if he did realize. They did have some common ground too, Roman had been a Seeker like Scorpius and tended to talk Quidditch and tactics at meals, both also like Wizard's Chess. Meals tending to be either muggle takeout food or something simple that Roman made from the limited supplies that Varanian brought, it was not usual to get more than one meal a day or if there were two then it was more of a snack. Roman seemed to warm up to him though and had stopped complaining about his presence before the first week was up, even encouraging Varanian to let him stay.
"Good news," Varanian announced as he returned the evening of the twelfth with a food run of takeaway Chinese food, "Maurice is alright."
"I told you he ran away," Roman stated dryly as Varanian started dishing out the boxes.
"He didn't run away, the Shadows took him by tricking him into taking his translator necklace that they turned into a Portkey. He came back battered and injured but claims not to have any recollection of what happened, I think he's lying about that though and just doesn't want to talk about it."
"How do you know this?" Scorpius wondered as Roman lost interest in sorting out the food.
"Heard about a muggle with an albino taking an injured boy to St Mungo's, thought it was probably Maurice so I went there and was lucky enough to catch the Aurors interviewing him."
"Maybe he was just lying to protect them and disguise the fact he went willingly," Roman said quietly.
"I don't think he went willingly but he could still be lying to protect them, it doesn't mean he's on their side but still feels some loyalty to them. Or he just doesn't trust the Aurors because he either suspects or knows some are Shadows. Or he just doesn't want to talk about it, he hides it well but it looked more like trying to block out painful memory. Or it's possible that they really did erase his memory," Varanian explained before starting to eat, he ate less often than them but more in one sitting to make up for it.
"So we don't know why they let him go, or if he just escaped on his own. Or what they wanted with him in the first place," Scorpius summarized aloud although he was glad that Maurice was relatively alright and alive at least.
"He didn't escape. They're better than that," Roman sighed and Varanian nodded his head in agreement.
"I think they let him go because they got whatever they wanted from him. Still not sure what that was but that's my theory," Varanian told them as Scorpius started to eat.
"Can I see him?"
"No one's stopping you."
"No, I couldn't risk being out in the open like that. Don't you have Polyjuice Potion that I could use?"
"Roman, I'm a metamorphmagus, I can change my appearance at will. Why in the world would I have Polyjuice Potion?" Varanian stated, somewhat incredulously at the stupidity of Roman's question, "It doesn't even work on metamorphmagi."
"Okay fair enough. Well can you make some?"
"I could but it takes a month to brew, by then he'd be back in Hogwarts. And you," Varanian nodded his head to Scorpius while Roman cursed under his breath, "Now Maurice is back safe, you have to go back home tomorrow."
"I'm not going back there, I told you," Scorpius insisted.
"Scorpius, your family are worried about you. There's a bit in the Prophet everyday with your picture and them asking if they've seen you because you ran away, they're concerned and they just want you to go home."
"And I want to go to Hogwarts, if they really cared about me then they'd respect me instead of trying to keep me trapped like a prisoner."
"Work it out with them. Go home."
Scorpius had no intention of going home though, his parents would never change their minds and if he went back then they'd never let him leave again. He had known about his parents trying to hunt him down, he hadn't had much contact with his friends since running away and Varanian had forbade him from replying in case it somehow put them at risk but he'd received one letter from most. Rose demanded he go home because running away was stupid and dangerous, Albus was apologetic that Scorpius couldn't stay with him since his father was obliged to send him home and encouraged him to hang in there until September, Abby seemed to not care either way and was just concerned about his wellbeing while Molly was the most useful of all.
Molly had told him that the Ministry had a harder time tracking down those in muggle residences so if he really wanted to avoid capture then she should stay there, she'd advised him to stay with Orous or Latimer if they'd let him and had even given him the latter's address. She's also encouraged him to at least try to talk to his family but had said if he wouldn't then she'd rather he be with a friend than on his own. If Maurice hadn't just been missing for a month, he would've gone to Orous but he had a feeling he was better off away, the last thing Orous' stepdad would want was another person there while dealing with the aftermath of Maurice's disappearance. Plus Aurors may still be around to talk to him about it and Aurors were Ministry members, thus people to avoid since they'd just take him home. That left Latimer, Scorpius knew him from the Gryffindor Quidditch team and had an amicable relationship with him although they weren't exceptionally close. Latimer was older than him, in the same year as Molly too but Scorpius thought it was worth a shot. If not, he'd just have to convert his money and check into a muggle hotel. It wasn't his first choice but it wasn't permanent at least.
Scorpius set off the next morning, bidding goodbye to despondent Roman although not Varanian as he was crashing from another week of barely sleeping. He awkwardly dragged his trunk, broom and carried the cage with Free in his spare hand as he tried to find his way to a road. He knew where Varanian's hideout was in relation to its close surroundings but where it was in regards to a road was a different matter entirely, it was certainly off the beaten track but eventually he found his way onto a grungy dirt road. He threw up his cloak to hide his face as much as he could before taking a deep breath and holding out his wand arm, willing it to appear.
He didn't have to wonder whether it did or didn't work though because a second later the bus jolted out of the air, he'd heard about it but never actually seen the Knight Bus before. It was a towering triple decker and purple. Very purple, that had not been exaggerated. A hulking man in an equally purple uniform stepped out, he had large feet and very broad shoulders with long gorilla-like arms protruding from them. His hair however was short and bristly, his eyes small and dull which went well with the bored expression on his face.
"Welcome to the Knight Bus, emergency transport for the stranded witch or wizard. Just stick out your wand hand, step on board and we can take you anywhere you want to go," the man said monotonously and smiled with false enthusiasm that revealed rows of rotted yellow teeth, "My name is Greg Goyle and I will be your conductor this morning."
"Can you take me to Nottingham?" Scorpius asked as the man eyed him oddly, Scorpius thought he'd heard the name Goyle before somewhere.
"If that's in England and not underwater than yeah. It can't do underwater."
"Why would I want to go underwater?" Scorpius wondered at the stupidity of the thought. Even if he didn't have a dislike for water and being under it, he could still see no reason to want to go to an underwater address. Goyle scratched his head.
"I dunno. That'll be eleven Sickles anyway or for-"
"Eleven's fine, Goyle," Scorpius interrupted, just eager to get on with it as he retrieved coins from his pocket and counted out the eleven Sickles before handing it to Goyle.
Goyle carried his things easily onto the bus which Scorpius saw was crammed full of mismatched chairs at random angles that all seemed bolted to the ground, the walls were oddly wood-paneled for the inside of a bus. Goyle took his things right up to the front where there was a free chair, although he bypassed plenty of empty seats since there didn't seem to be very many people on the bus. Scorpius saw he was near enough to see the driver who sat at an armchair, a man with protruding ears who looked to be in forties but was still unluckily cursed with acne. Goyle sat down in the armchair beside him.
"Okay, good to go," Goyle said to the driver who nodded, there was a loud bang and Scorpius was thrown violently back into his seat as the bus started moving. Scorpius was terrified for a moment that something was wrong but Goyle grinned, "It's normal, you can relax."
"Normal?" the driver complained as he looked back to them, "I liked it better before the Ministry went an' put in all these safety measures, woz nuffink wrong with 'ow it was before if you ask me."
"I know, Stan. Watch the road."
"An' I know it better than anyone, I've been workin' on this bus since I left old 'Ogwarts, I 'ave."
"I know, Stan. Watch the road," Goyle repeated as the driver - presumably Stan - went to look back to him again but returned to the road, Goyle returned to staring at Scorpius, "So, what did you say your name was?"
"I didn't," Scorpius admitted, reminded forcefully of the fact he was supposedly in the papers and made up something on the spot, "I'm Atticus Sanford."
"Atticus Sanford, eh?"
"Yes," Scorpius stuck to his lie and Goyle nodded slowly.
Scorpius decided he definitely preferred travelling by motorcycle, the bangs and jolts of the Knight Bus were extremely uncomfortable and had him on edge. Goyle continuing to stare at him didn't help, nor did Stan's continuous stream of cockney speech and how frequently he took his eyes off the road. They seemed to be stopping for all the other people first or to get new passengers, which Scorpius supposed was fair but he really just wanted the journey to be over already. He didn't like being darted all around the country like a ball in a pinball machine, finally though, he was asked for a more specific address in Nottingham and he was more than glad to oblige.
The bus slammed to a half in a shabby looking muggle street, Scorpius didn't care whether it was right or wrong or how bad it was, he was just glad that it was over. Goyle carried his trunk and owl back down the bus and out onto the pavement for him, he decided it was Goyle's most appealing feature that he could carry heavy things like that. He turned to him instead of getting on the bus though.
"You know, Atticus, you look an awful lot like someone I went to school with," Goyle stated and Scorpius felt his skin prickle with cold despite the warm weather, "And his name wasn't Sanford."
"You must have me mistaken for someone else," Scorpius said determinedly.
"You needn't worry about me, I wouldn't rat you out. I'm not doing any favors for Draco Malfoy anymore," Goyle told him with a flash of anger momentarily lighting up his dull eyes before he stepped back onto the bus, "Good luck, Atticus."
Scorpius jumped backwards as there was another ferocious bang and the bus sped away from sight, Scorpius let out a relieved breath. He was more than glad to see it go and to see Goyle gone too for that matter, he didn't like that someone knew who he was and where he was although he didn't think Goyle would tell on him. His flash of anger had seemed sincere, plus if he was going to tell on him then there was no point in the momentarily flash of rage or to even comment on knowing who he was at all. He looked around the street, it was dark and dirty. All the buildings looked cracked and crumbling with bits chipping off them, all the windows seemed smashed to some degree or boarded up. There was a man walking by him, humming to himself as he cradled an actual sack.
Unsurely, Scorpius dragged his trunk to the apartment building he'd been dropped outside of. It was no exception to the dilapidated feel of the street, the handle on the door was missing but it wasn't locked so Scorpius went inside, starting to wonder if he was even in the right place. Inside the place stank of urine, the elevator had an 'out of use' sign on it and the bannister that led upstairs was all rotted. Suddenly he hoped that he was in the wrong place, both for his sake and Latimer's. He cautiously dragged his trunk up the stairs, pausing fearfully near the first floor when he saw a huge black rat scuttling by. It approached a smaller rat that was nibbling on some litter on the first floor and abruptly dived on it, the smaller rat squealed as the bigger rat bit into its neck before it went still. Scorpius gagged as the bigger rat started eating the other and hurried upstairs before he could throw up for sure, having to climb up three flights of stairs to get to the top floor which was Latimer's floor. He saw no more rats thankfully but twice caught sight of orangey-brown bugs that he thought were cockroaches. He had to drag his trunk further down the final corridor to get to the peeling letters of '21'. He knocked and hoped it was the wrong place.
"Lat!" a voice yelled from the other side, "Door!"
"Get it yourself!" Latimer's voice called and Scorpius groaned inwardly.
"Get the door, you shithead or you're grounded!"
There were awkward thudding sounds that followed, presumably from Latimer's crutches. He'd cut off his own foot with magic to stop himself becoming a werewolf after he was bitten, presumably he was getting a prosthetic but until it healed enough to do so he had crutches. A minute later the door swung open and he was met with Latimer on crutches, who looked shocked to see him. Latimer was sixteen or almost sixteen - Scorpius knew his birthday was in the summer but he wasn't sure what day specifically - and of average height, his hair was almost shoulder length and black but exceptionally greasy and his eyes were a reddish-brown. The most noticeable feature though was his skin, every visible piece of flesh was horrifically pockmarked and now he had vertical scars across his face from the Hogsmeade attack. They werewolf's claw had managed to miraculously miss his eyes but the rest of his face hadn't been so lucky.
"What... What are you doing here?" Latimer wondered in surprise.
"Lat! Who is it?!" the voice that Scorpius had heard called, Latimer rolled his eyes.
"If you'd answered the door then you'd know!" Latimer snapped back at the speaker before looking back to Scorpius, looking deeply ashamed, "So what are you doing here?"
"I ran away from home, I just need somewhere to stay until Hogwarts," Scorpius explained and Latimer looked at him as if he was insane.
"And you want to stay... here? I'd be happy to help you out but... well... this place is a dump. No, that's insulting to dumps everywhere."
"Yeah, I can't stay with anyone else because they'll have to tell the Ministry who'll take me home," Scorpius admitted, fearful of Latimer's refusal. He'd rather stay in a dump with someone he knew than be all alone in the muggle world.
"Are you sure? This place is awful, there's all kinds of pests and-"
"I'm sure," Scorpius insisted, not wanting Latimer to change his mind because he'd regret it later. He had a feeling he'd regret any choice, any choice but his decision to leave in the first place. Besides, if Latimer could... survive here then he could.
"Don't say I didn't warn you, assuming its okay with my Dad," Latimer sighed before glancing back again, "Dad! Can my friend stay with us for a while?!"
"Silly Lat, you don't have friends," the voice laughed.
"Alright, alright, geez! Hang on, I gotta talk to him... Where are my pants?!"
"You're wearing them!"
"Fuck, Lat, if I'd known that then I could've answered the door! Why didn't you tell me that sooner?!"
"How was I supposed to know when I was in my room!?" Latimer demanded tiredly as a man appeared beside him.
The man - presumably Latimer's father - was about half a head taller than his son, he had the same reddish-brown eyes and was thin like Latimer but the similarities ended there. He looked in his late thirties and had unblemished skin aside from the gray rings beneath his eyes, he was reasonably attractive with wavy non-greasy hair the color of dust. He was shirtless and barefooted but he was wearing ripped jeans, he had a black tattoo of a sun design on his shoulder and wore a necklace with a tooth. He eyed Scorpius up and down.
"And you are?" Latimer's dad prompted and gestured for him to go on with his hands.
"What?" Scorpius wondered, distracted by realizing he didn't actually know Latimer's first name.
"I'm Austin Latimer. And you are?"
"Scorpius Hyperion Malfoy," Scorpius said as his mind jerked back to the present.
"Wrong answer. Thanks for playing, no fancy stuck up pure-bloods allowed-"
"Dad!" Latimer interrupted in a hiss.
"My house, my rules."
"It's an apartment," Scorpius pointed out.
"That you rent," Latimer added and Austin frowned as Latimer sighed, "Give them back."
"Give what back, Lat?" Austin wondered lazily.
"The rings. Give him them back."
"My rings...?" Scorpius repeated and glanced at his hand, jumping in shock as he saw both Varanian's golden Portkey ring and the silver Thestral ring he'd been given as a gift from Calderon were gone. Austin laughed nervously and Scorpius realized the man was now holding them in his hand, Scorpius snatched them back irritably and replaced them, "You stole my rings?"
"Nah, I just gave them back to you. They fell," Austin lied smoothly.
"How did you even do that?"
"Magic. I'm a great and powerful wizard," Austin told him grandly, Latimer threw him a sideways look.
"Hey great-and-powerful-wizard, your fly's undone," Latimer commented dryly and Austin looked down in panic to see that was not the case, he glared at his son, "So can he stay?"
"I'm sorry, Lat, but there's absolutely no possible way that I can conceivably think that he could stay-"
"I have money?" Scorpius volunteered desperately and Austin immediately pulled him into the apartment, a smile on his face as he clapped Scorpius on the back.
"Welcome! Feel free to stay as long as you want, any friend of my son is a friend of mine and friends are like family which is the most important thing of course, family should always be treated like a king - Lat, bring in his crap! - and anything you need is at your disposal."
"Dad, I can't bring in his stuff. I'm still on crutches," Latimer pointed out, to which Austin rolled his eyes.
"And that's exactly the kind of attitude that is destroying this family."
"It's just the two of us."
"And your laziness is destroying the two of us! You suck, Lat, you are a terrible, terrible person and you should be ashamed of yourself."
On that note, Austin went back out to retrieve Scorpius' things while Latimer just hung his head. Scorpius took the opportunity to look around, at least the apartment didn't smell of urine. It was small though, the kitchen was a shoebox and the sitting area it was wedged into wasn't much bigger, the TV just had static. Clothes and litter were strewn across the floor and across the furniture, the counters were a graveyard of empty pizza boxes and tipped over take out containers, flies buzzed around them.
"And there we go," Austin announced brightly as he closed the door behind him, dumping Scorpius' things unceremoniously onto the floor, "You'll have to bunk with Lat, there's some spare blankets around here somewhere and-"
"Give them back," Latimer sighed as he looked up, Scorpius glanced at his hand and saw his rings were again gone. Austin laughed nervously again as he handed them back, Scorpius replaced them. Again, "And his wand."
"You took my wand?!" Scorpius exclaimed and patted himself down to see his wand was indeed gone, Austin held it up and Scorpius snatched it immediately back.
"It was a test," Austin brushed it off, "And well done, you passed. And why don't you get settled in and I'm going to go back to sleep."
"It's eleven o'clock in the morning."
"Exactly," Austin told him as he threw himself down onto the couch, missed and half fell with only his feet and part of his legs on the couch, "Ow."
"C'mon," Latimer sighed and gestured for him to follow as he limped down the room on his crutches, Scorpius dragged his things after and glanced back to see Austin - instead of moving onto the couch or even a more comfortable position - had just closed his eyes, "I'm sorry, I did try to warn you."
"Is he going to keep trying to steal my stuff?" Scorpius wondered worriedly as he glanced at the rings on his fingers to assure himself they were still there.
"Nah, he usually gives up after a day or so but he probably will still stare at your wand longingly so I'd avoid having it around him if possible. So that's the bathroom, beside it is my Dad's room and my room is opposite them. That's pretty much it."
"Is he really a wizard or... what?"
Scorpius peered in to see the bathroom did look cleaner at least before following Latimer into his room, his room was cleaner although sketchbooks, old muggle toys and books covered the surfaces, drowning the TV and CD player. Posters of Quidditch, muggle movies and Gryffindor memorabilia covered the blue walls, there were also some photos of the same beautiful woman with the uncommonly beautiful child. A younger Austin featured in several of them, some of them just had him and the woman, all of them were moving magical photos. There was none of Latimer himself though.
"He was a muggle-born wizard but he was expelled in his Fifth Year," Latimer explained as he sat down on the bed while Scorpius studied the nearest photo of the woman, Austin and a baby, "Snapped his wand and everything which is why he tried to take your wand, they don't let those expelled buy new ones. He tries to take mine too, you get good at catching on to his tricks eventually."
"Is that your mother?" Scorpius asked and gestured to the photos, Latimer shifted uncomfortably.
"Yeah. She's dead now, been dead for a decade already."
"I'm sorry," Scorpius apologized truthfully and pointed to the little boy, "Is that your brother?"
"That's me," Latimer told him and Scorpius blinked in shock, "You didn't think I always looked like this, did you?"
"No, of course not," Scorpius lied, in truth he hadn't really thought about it. Latimer grunted dubiously and Scorpius bit back the urge to ask more.
"I'll see if I can find those blankets, better now than tonight in case there's another power outage," Latimer volunteered and limped off on his crutches.
Part 5: Old Faces, New Information
Scorpius quickly settled into life with the Latimers, Austin did stop trying to steal his wand and rings in a few days as Latimer had said although it still wasn't what Scorpius was used to. The place was a dump, he didn't see any rats inside the apartment itself but saw cockroaches frequently in the kitchen and - oddly enough - the bathroom, Latimer encouraged him strongly to avoid the kitchen. There was no hot water as Scorpius discovered when he attempted to have a shower the following day, Latimer also had to wash their bedding daily to try prevent bed bugs and fleas which was somewhat disconcerting.
Although Scorpius' discomfort was frequently quelled by feeling bad that Latimer had to live like that all the time, it wasn't surprising he tended to stay at Hogwarts for holidays considering his home situation. Scorpius realized that it would be the first time that he himself would be staying for the holidays. Latimer didn't seem to have a good relationship with Austin, the man was friendly enough to Scorpius but frequently put Latimer down or just outright insulted him which Latimer did in turn back to him. This was apparently normal for them though and he had yet to hear Austin refer to his son by his first name. Austin was definitely a strange one.
The first day Austin awoke later in the evening and announced he was ordering pizza for dinner, he watched out the window to wait and upon arrival of the delivery van, eagerly ran out the front door. However, a few minutes later there was no pizza and Austin was still out there. Scorpius went to investigate and saw Austin leaning in the doorway and looking down the corridor, an out of breath overweight man in a 'Pizza 4 U' uniform came up the stairs with a box of pizza. Austin jerked his hand and the man tumbled back down the stairs and out of sight, he reappeared a few minutes later but Austin jerked his hand again and the man fell back again.
"Are you doing that?" Scorpius wondered.
"Yep," Austin confirmed simply as he jerked his hand again to send the man spiraling out of sight again.
"Firstly, why? Why would you even do that to that guy?"
"I'm delaying him so we can get free pizza, duh. Over an hour delivery and its free, do you have money to fork out on food?"
"Well I don't," Austin snapped as he did the same thing again before looking thoughtful, "Okay I do but I need to save up that money for something else, magical prosthetic feet don't buy themselves and since magic tricks don't tend to work on magic folk, I gotta pay. Next time, Lat, just be a freakin' werewolf because that wouldn't cost me anything. In fact, Lupin's Law pays for that Wolfsbane stuff for free. Wonder how much that'd be worth on the black market, some desperate werewolf saps would be willing to do anything to keep their minds."
"Why would they need to buy it on the black market if the Ministry gives it to them for free?" Latimer asked from the inside the apartment.
"Shut up, Lat. Point is that it'd be easier on me, you're an outcast anyway so it's not like it'd even make that much difference to your life," Austin insisted before his digital watch beeped, he turned it off and did nothing as the delivery man reached the top of the stairs. Waddling over to them, Scorpius noticed his uniform was torn and he was developing a bruise on his face from the falls, "Well it took you long enough! Over an hour, the damn thing will be cold now, this is just shameful!"
"B-But I... the stairs," the delivery man stammered out as Austin seemed angered.
"Maybe it wouldn't take you so bleedin' long to get up the stairs if you weren't such a fat sack of crap, what kind of excuse is that?! Children live here! I got mouths to feed and you go pulling this kind of BS, you sir, should be ashamed of yourself!"
"N-No, n-not that... There... There was something... I kept falling... I-I don't know why."
"What are you on about?! Dammit man, I should have you fired for this! Call your boss and complain, over an hour late and your excuse is that you fell down the stairs?!"
"No, no, please!" the man begged and handed Austin the box, Scorpius couldn't help but feel bad for the stranger, "Here, free of charge of course! And I'll bring you another one, within the hour and also free. Would... Would that make up for it?!"
"Hmm... I suppose that would be acceptable," Austin admitted slowly and the delivery man looked relieved, "But I am still very displeased."
"I understand, Sir. It won't happen again, Sir," the man told him before hurrying away, "I'll be back soon with that pizza, on time guarantee!"
"And that, Scorpius," Austin said to him when the man was out of sight, "Is how you get free pizza from stupidly gullible muggles."
"It seemed kind of mean," Scorpius pointed out as they went back inside the apartment, Austin shrugged as he opened the box.
"Not all of us can be rich like the Malfoys, gotta get by somehow."
"How did you do that anyway? Make him fall down the stairs repeatedly."
"Magic," Austin reaffirmed with his grin returning slightly, "They can take away your wand but not your power. I may not be on the same level as that Calderon guy but I've had twenty years to work on trying to use wandless magic, I'm pretty good but then I'm a genius me."
It was far from the last time that Austin would use magic to get free food, in fact most nights he did that or something similar if he didn't come back with food already. Pizza, take out and fast food seemed to be the only thing they ate and cereal for breakfast but no lunch although snacks were plentiful. The Latimers didn't seem to eat much though, they had less per portion than Varanian and Roman but still seemed full. Austin was frequently absent for random periods of time during the day or night for his 'work' - whatever that was - and when he was around, he just tended to sleep unless he was getting them good. Every Saturday, Austin would also come home - very drunk - with a different woman - also drunk - who'd spend the night and leave in the morning, usually in disgust at the state of the apartment which Austin didn't seem to mind.
Scorpius spent the majority of his time in the apartment with Latimer though, usually in Latimer's room and do a mixture of muggle and magical things. Latimer introduced him to videogames which Scorpius found fun enough to pass the time or watching TV with semi-interest, other times they'd listen to the Wizarding Wireless Network to keep with news of the Wizarding World where Scorpius even heard an announcement asking people to be on the lookout for him since he was a runaway and his parents wanted him home. They'd also play card games, both the muggle and wizard kind and chess, both the muggle and wizard kind to mix it up. After Scorpius mentioned liking motorcycles, Latimer bought him some magazines about them and Scorpius poured over them eagerly for hours - usually before they went to bed - while Latimer would draw away in his sketch pad.
Latimer even took him to the muggle arcade once 'as a birthday present' when Scorpius had mentioned not getting anything for his fourteenth birthday due to running away, specifically taking him to a game where you sat on a pretend motorcycle and moved it how you would if you riding. Scorpius thought it was fantastic although it only solidified his determination to ride and own a real motorcycle in his later life or present life but unfortunately, Austin didn't own a motorcycle. Due to his family being after him, he was left alone when Latimer had to get his magical prosthetic foot in St Mungo's - an odd metal looking thing instead of being wooden but still light, Latimer had a pronounced limp now though - and gave up his list of Hogwarts things for Latimer to get when he went to Diagon Alley. Latimer did get everything right at least, with the exception of his new school robes since he had grown a bit but without being there to have them fitted, it was understandable. Scorpius did give him the money though, for both his things and Latimer's - after some convincing - since it seemed the least he could do.
He visited Varanian during both of those times, once Varanian wasn't there and the other he grumbled about wishing Scorpius would go home but had him doing dueling exercises with a petrified Roman regardless. Nothing new about the Shadows/Soul Eaters or the Scepter, there were still attacks but small scale again and not in England, Greece mostly. He continued writing to his friends again although with less frequency for fear of being caught somehow, he told them he was staying with a friend and only admitted to Molly that he was with Latimer, she was glad he wasn't alone at least. She - and Latimer - had also gotten their OWL results back, Molly was pleased to have gotten seven Os but viewed her three E's as 'failures' due to her father's disapproval. Scorpius tried to assure her he was being completely unfair and that her father was being unreasonable, secretly half-hoping she'd run away and stay with him at Latimer's too. He missed her.
Latimer hadn't done too badly on his OWLs either, getting four Os, three Es, an A and a P - although that was for History of Magic so Scorpius didn't think it really mattered - but he was very weird about it. He'd also been given a prefect badge as the male prefect in his year was one of those killed in Hogsmeade, he was equally weird about that though and Scorpius couldn't convince him others.
"I don't deserve to be a prefect, I'm not good enough and they've made a mistake. First chance I get, I'm telling Longbottom as much so he can have it back," Latimer insisted as he put away the badge, "And my grades are wrong too. I'm a stupid failure, those Os are obviously typos so don't tell anyone. I'll talk to Longbottom about it too. Assuming he's staying on as Herbology Professor and Head of Gryffindor anyway, if he's not then I'll take it up with whoever replaced him. I hope it's not Grant. Evil bastard."
He still heard nothing from Michael though, Michael alone he didn't write any less to in desperation to hear something from his friend. His inability to go into the magical world because of his parents prevented him from getting Michael a broomstick for his birthday like he'd wanted, since Michael's birthday was the last day of August and he'd wanted to get Michael a broom for a while. He was stuck for ideas until he recalled Michael giving him a friendship bracelet on his twelfth birthday, he never took it off and had been idly twirling it around his wrist when he'd thought of it. He decided he'd make one for Michael too, at best maybe it'd show Michael that it didn't matter he was a werewolf, he was still his friend and he'd stick by him no matter what. Even if his parents hated werewolves all of a sudden. Or at worst, Michael would have something to hide the stupid werewolf bracelet with.
Scorpius didn't think he was especially talented at creating friendship bracelets but he did manage to string together something - eventually - that he thought was good enough. He was actually quite proud, his first few attempts had had a habit of falling apart so he was very glad that his final one stayed intact and looked much better for it as well. He decided he'd give it to Michael in person rather than by owl, Michael was still ignoring his owls anyway and it was better in person. Besides, he'd see Michael the day after his birthday so it didn't seem as bad. Scorpius had settled into routine by the time September came, despite the downsides, it had been better than he'd thought but he was still eager to be back to Hogwarts. Scorpius and Latimer both packed the night before, Latimer offering to hold onto some of his money so Austin wouldn't take it. Scorpius had almost forgotten he'd agreed to pay Austin for letting him stay and thought he'd be safe by splitting it. Austin definitely hadn't forgotten and insisted on everything that Scorpius had left as payment, he was most unrelenting and Scorpius gave him everything he hadn't given to Latimer much to Austin's delight.
Austin waved his hands over the trunks before carrying them both, one in each hand - Scorpius thought it was probably the Featherlight Charm or a wandless equivalent anyway - while Scorpius and Latimer just carried their brooms and pets behind him. Latimer didn't have an owl but rather a cat, a Maine Coon named 'Daft' - short for Daftodil - which he thought was more useful than an owl since he had almost no friends to write to but plenty of rats to keep at bay.
It was cold outside, summer was gone and the biting wind seemed determined to keep it away from September. Austin had a small car, there was only enough room for one trunk so Latimer had his on the back seat with himself and Scorpius' caged owl while Scorpius was given the front seat. It was a two and a half hour journey by car to London, Austin stuck on the radio and they mostly listened to that. Scorpius was somewhat surprised to recognize some of Calderon's music as muggle songs but didn't mind, it reminded him that he'd be seeing Calderon soon as well which he was glad for. He was very excited by the time they got there.
"Alright then boys," Austin announced after they were through the barrier to Platform Nine and Three Quarters and handed four Galleons to each of them, "There you go, an allowance for sweets from the trolley and Hogsmeade visits up until Christmas. So long, Scorpius, have a good term. See you, Lat, try not lose any more limbs."
"Bye, Dad," Latimer offered as Austin clapped him on the back and headed back through the barrier, Latimer started to head over to the train to get the luggage on.
"He just left?" Scorpius wondered in confusion, "He doesn't stay until the train leaves?"
"Nope, only time he ever did that was when he dropped me off the first time when I was eleven. Why? Do your folks stay until the last minute?"
"Yeah, they hang around to hug me goodbye before I get on the train just before it leaves," Scorpius explained, feeling bad for Latimer again. Latimer said nothing in reply and just gave a derisive snort as they got their things safely on the train, "Still some time left, you going to look for your friends too?"
"I don't have friends like you do, Scor, I'm sort of friends with some of Quidditch team like you but we don't greet it each other at the platform and exchange stories of the summer. Except Molly and speak of the-"
"Scor!" Molly exclaimed and Scorpius' head spun in the direction of his girlfriend's voice excitedly, his heart skipped and his face smiled.
She was beautiful, perfect. Her fiery red hair cascaded in curls around her flawless face while her eyes were an incredible sky blue that light up as she smiled, she was wearing the charm bracelet he'd gotten her too. She pulled him into an embrace the second their arms were within range, the scent of cherries that always seemed to surround her engulfed his delighted senses. He couldn't help but notice he now surpassed her in height as his eyes now skimmed the top of her head, he also couldn't help but notice she seemed - dare he think it - more curvaceous? They pulled apart and instead his lips captured hers, she kissed him back passionately but Latimer was quick to snap them out of it.
"Get a compartment, you two!"
"Nice to see you too, Lat," Molly commented as they pulled apart, she was blushing and Scorpius could feel he was doing it too. He still craved being close to her and instead intertwined his fingers with hers, her hand was cold from the wind outside so she'd probably just got there, "So was your summer?"
"Sucked less than usual."
"All right," Scorpius said at the same time that Latimer gave his answer, "How was yours?"
"My Dad's girlfriend, Penelope, moved in so that's been fun," Molly said without sincerity, her mother had been killed near the end of Scorpius' First Year and her father had started dating some old flame the previous year.
"How fun?" Latimer asked.
"If I try be nice to her then Lucy gets mad at me because she hates Penelope, if I don't try to be nice to her then my Dad gets mad at me for not being nice to his girlfriend."
"Did you tell him about us yet?" Scorpius wondered.
"I tried but I don't think he was really listening. I don't think he cares about anything but my grades and how hard I study," Molly explained with a solemn sigh, "Last year was all about getting OWLs, next year will be all about getting NEWTs and this year is all about proving my worth to become Head Girl. And speaking of that, did you really make prefect as Peter's replacement?"
"Yeah," Latimer grunted as he pulled out the shiny badge as proof, eying it warily, "Only until I talk to Longbottom and get it sorted out because they clearly made some kind of mistake."
"Did any of your cousins make prefect?" Scorpius asked, feeling suddenly worried about James Potter. He was in the year above Scorpius and they had an antagonistic relationship to say the least due to James' bullying, the idea of him having the power of a prefect was a nightmare.
"James didn't make prefect, don't worry," Molly told him, seemingly realizing this, "But Roxy did, I think Uncle George might die of pride."
"Good for her," Scorpius offered truthfully. Roxy was in the same year as James and while he didn't know her well, he did know her a bit from Quidditch and she was nice enough.
"Hey, there's my runaway friend!" Albus called in greeting as he came over to them with an angry looking Rose and neutral Vern, he clapped Scorpius on the back in a friendly greeting, "And my favorite Quidditch Captain cousin and... erm... you. How was it running away? Was it cool having no parents to tell you what to do?"
"Of course it wasn't!" Rose exclaimed as Scorpius opened his mouth to reply, "There's a freakin' war going on and you go run away, you could've been hurt, you could've been killed! Where did you even go?! Maurice went missing, you didn't think that you could've been next?!"
"I stayed with Latimer, it was fine," Scorpius brushed it off and Rose looked even more horrified.
"The hideously ugly one?! Why would you stay with him!?"
"You realize I'm right here, right?" Latimer wondered and Rose gestured dismissively to him, "I have ears and everything."
"No offense, I mean you must have realized by now how terrible you look. You do use mirrors, right?"
"Rose," Molly said warningly at her cousin's rudeness.
"I think what Rose means is that wouldn't it have been easier to just run away today instead of a month ago?" Vern Dursley interjected, he was the Potter's cousin and also a wizard in the year below them although a Hufflepuff rather than a Gryffindor. He'd been living with them since his parents had been killed two years prior, he had stringy brown hair and emerald eyes, "I doubt your parents would've been able to stop you if they couldn't before."
"They could've tried," Albus protested.
"I don't know like putting bars on his windows."
"Who in their right mind would put bars on their child's windows?" Vern wondered incredulously and for some reason, Albus, Rose and Molly all looked at him with a strange expression, "What?"
"Nothing. So have you guys seen Abby or Michael around?" Albus asked and there was a chorus of no's in reply.
"Looking for me?" a girl's voice questioned and they spun to see Abby had approached them, she was Professor Longbottom's younger daughter and in their year.
She had her long blond hair tied back into a thick braid that trailed down her back as always, she was holding the hand of her boyfriend, Corin. Corin was Professor Hagrid's son with the Headmistress of Beauxbatons and some kind of part giant, he was the height of an adult man despite being a year below them but they were catching him up now. Corin had wild dark brown hair that he seemed to have tamed somehow and large black glittering eyes, he was lean and slim despite his height and dressed in elegant satin robes. Albus' expression darkened visibly, he really didn't like Corin due to his belief that Corin had slipped him Laxative Potion last year.
"Hey guys," Corin greeted them and everyone but Abby blinked in shock, his voice had apparently broken over the summer because now it was now drastically deep, "What's up?"
"Nothing much, you?" Albus said awkwardly, trying to make his voice sound deeper but ended up sounding more like a cracked croak.
"Did you have a good summer?" Scorpius asked his friend when he'd recovered.
"Not too bad, my mother paid some of the staff extra to continue teaching me over the summer. She wants to make sure my defensive magic skills are up to scratch before she'd let me go back," Corin explained, "Maurice will be pleased."
"Speak of the devil, where is he?" Rose asked as she flipped her hair over his shoulder in irritation, "Maybe he's seen Michael. Dad said he was found but all hurt and stuff but it was a few weeks ago so he should still be here I think, he will agree with me that you were stupid to run away with all this Shadow stuff happening."
"Found and hurt and what?" Corin wondered in confusion.
"Didn't you hear he was - Mother of Merlin," Rose interrupted her own sentence with a gasp, her jaw dropped.
They followed her gaze to see Maurice had just come through the barrier. He didn't look the worse for wear from his ordeal, his expression was neutral and his eyes oceanic as usual. His face was flawless but he wasn't wearing his fingerless gloves, revealing the scars covering his hands from repeated use of a Blood Quill. His hair was maybe slightly shorter but still a light brown with a slight wave to it, he'd grown a bit taller as well and seemed to have regained his translator necklace. He was wearing muggle jeans, a brown jacket with a blue shirt beneath which was most unusual for him since he'd always before worn wizard robes. Then again, he'd been staying with Orous' - and technically Maurice's as well - muggle stepfather so it was understandable for the change.
"And there's the devil," Albus complained while Rose continued to stare.
"Is it just me or did Maurice suddenly get hot?" Rose asked of them.
"Definitely you," Vern commented as Maurice was followed through by his non-identical twin brother Orous Knox. Orous was an albino, making his eyes crimson and his shoulder-length hair whiter than snow. His skin too was so pale that it was almost colorless, he too was dressed in muggle clothes and had grown a bit as well. They were followed by Cade Knox, a tall muggle with a shaved bald head that Scorpius recognized vaguely.
"Hey!" Orous greeted them happily, smiling weakly as the trio approached, "How was your summers?"
"Get on the train, Scorpius," Maurice said immediately before anyone could reply as his hand went to his translator necklace, he opened his mouth to ask why but Maurice elaborated, "The Hogwarts Express is considered an extension of Hogwarts which is why students on it are not breaking the laws on underage magic if they are on it. Until such a time that you step forth on Hogwarts grounds, your parents can legally have the Ministry return you home. After you are on Hogwarts grounds however, it's your right to attend for the year and they have no legal right to stop you. If you want to go to Hogwarts then get on the train before a Ministry adult sees you and takes you home."
"But I want to wait for Michael," Scorpius protested.
"Just go and get us a compartment, we'll wait for Michael and join you. Unless you want to take the risk of your parents but Michael clearly isn't here yet so there's no point."
"Alright," Scorpius agreed reluctantly.
"See you soon," Molly offered and gave him a quick peck on the cheek as he forced himself to tear his hand away and trudge onto the train.
He found an empty compartment easily since most people weren't boarding yet, getting one with a view of the platform so he could look for Michael. He took the opportunity to change into his robes already since he disliked changing in front of others, he always had the drapes shut when he did so in Hogwarts and had used the bathroom at Latimer's. He still didn't see Michael though. He saw Cade hug both Orous and Maurice goodbye, Maurice seemed stunned for a moment but relaxed after and hugged him back. Mrs Potter and her parents seemed to have been the ones dropping off the Potter kids, Rose, Hugo and Molly since they were the ones they said goodbye to, their parents had Ministry jobs and frequently hadn't the time to be there. Lucy Weasley wasn't there, Molly's younger sister would've been the year below him but she was a squib.
"I don't want to be touched," Lorcan's voice drifted through the open window and Scorpius spotted him with his identical twin Lysander and parents, he had his wand in hand - he always did - and was shying away from his father who was trying to hug him.
"Merlin's sake, Lorc!" Mr Scamander snapped, looking frustrated, "It's been over a year already! You have to get over this stupid thing, enough time has passed!"
"Rolf," his wife said warningly and the man's expression softened slight, Lorcan turned his head away though and Scorpius saw him wipe away welling tears, "Don't pressure him, he'll come around when he's ready."
"If he's ever ready," Mr Scamander muttered as his wife put her arms around Lorcan without touching him in a kind of air hug while Mr Scamander hugged Lysander, who smiled happily without issue as they said their goodbyes.
Scorpius was distracted from the Scamanders from seeing someone he never thought he'd see there, a man with pointed features and receding hairline along with a dark haired woman with a pregnant belly starting to show. His parents. Walking amongst the crowd searchingly, Scorpius leaned back in his seat for fear of being seen. Although if Maurice was correct then it wouldn't matter but still, he'd rather be safe than trapped forever. His friends joined him just before eleven, Molly and Latimer would be with the other prefects so they weren't there and neither was Michael. Albus, Rose, Abby, Corin, Maurice, Orous and Vern all but no Michael.
"Where's Michael?" Scorpius demanded, sure he sounded more accusing then he'd meant to.
"He's not there, we couldn't find him," Albus offered as they sat down, just about managing to fit all eight of them, "Maybe he's just late?"
"Maybe he's not coming at all," Rose wondered sadly as Scorpius looked pack out the window in panic.
A scattering of parents and younger siblings was all that remained, no sign of Michael. He caught sight of his parents again though and this time, his father saw him. Their identical eyes met for a moment before the train started to move, his father's face was desperate and pleading but also seemed to realize it was too late. Scorpius simply hardened his expression, he was sticking by his choice and held up his hand in farewell before the train chugged out of sight, leaving his parents behind. And possibly Michael.
"Maybe he's just been living in Hogsmeade, they don't catch the train but just walk over to the platform when it's time," Abby was saying.
"His family are muggles, why would they move to a wizarding town?" Orous pointed out while Maurice simply rested his head on his hand and gazed out the window.
"Maybe he has to come at a different time because of the full moon," Vern guessed, "Like he's too weak or something."
"The full moon's not until tomorrow so he should be alright health wise," Corin said before the compartment door opened, a girl who looked about thirteen had opened it with a cluster of other people behind them, "What do you want, Nott?"
"Just looking for a compartment," the girl - Olivia, if Scorpius recalled the name of Nott's younger sister correctly shrugged, "Couldn't see it was full with the blinds closed, my bad. Sorry."
"It's alright," Vern offered with a smile and had jumped to his feet in an instant, he was right beside the door, "So, How... How was your summer, Olivia?"
"Pretty good, thanks. Yours?" Olivia countered and returned the smile, nervously brushing her dark hair behind her ear.
"Not... Not too bad," Vern said nervously and Scorpius noticed Vern seemed to be sweating unusually, he hoped Olivia didn't pick on him the way that her elder brother had picked on Michael in their First Year or the way that her eldest brother had picked on Molly.
"Good. I'll... I'll see you at school then," Olivia told him hesitantly as she stepped away from the door, closing it behind her.
"See... See you," Vern waved before sitting back down, "Think I'd be allowed to invite someone to Teddy's wedding this winter?"
"No," Albus shut him down immediately.
It was an uncommonly dull and quiet journey for Scorpius, he couldn't stop worrying about Michael. Was he really not attending Hogwarts? Was it because he was a werewolf? Or was it because he genuinely hated magic now? Or was it because he was wrong, Jack and Michael had both done nothing and the abusive Bob had killed Michael? Or at least hurt him really badly so was in hospital? Or had something else hurt him really badly? Had he been attacked by the PAW werewolf haters? From the diminished conversation from the rest of them, Scorpius had a feeling that their thoughts walked the same lines. Maurice stared out the window the whole journey without speaking or looking back to them, Scorpius saw a glimpse of the scar around his wrist where his sleeve had fallen back. It was livid on his scarred flesh, black, blotchy and badly bruised - not bruised but it was how it looked - which was worrying. Scorpius hoped he was alright too. He was anxious and unhappy by the time they got there.
The Thestrals pulling the carriages cheered him up marginally as he was fond of the creatures, he felt drawn to them. His wand core came from Thestral tail hair too and his Patronus was a Thestral. The carriage journey was also quite quiet, as was the walk into the Great Hall. Scorpius was barely paying attention, his return to the castle was dampened by his concern for Michael and the horrifying thought of going through the year without him. He only looked up when Rose spoke.
"Mother of Merlin," Rose gasped as her jaw dropped, he followed her gaze and realized she was looking at Michael. Scorpius felt his heart sigh with relief to see his friend walking to the Gryffindor table, Michael finally seemed to have grown taller. Slightly, "Is it just me or did Michael suddenly get hot?"
"Just you," Corin commented.
"Definitely you," Vern agreed although they all looked relieved to see Michael like Scorpius, except Maurice whose expression remained neutral.
"What is wrong with you!?" Albus demanded of his cousin as they headed over to Michael seated at the end of the table, separating from Vern and Orous who were Hufflepuff.
"What?" Rose snapped back, "At least I'm not 'in love' with adult women old enough to be my mother. I'm just saying."
"What is wrong with that?! I can't help but falling in love with beautiful women, I'm only human."
"Hi Michael," Abby greeted their friend as they reached the end of the table, Michael looked up but didn't manage to muster a smile or seem pleased at all, "Hi strange child."
They tended to sit there since Maurice had to be on the end for his translator necklace to work to understand announcements from the Headmaster, as his friends they sat around him. Scorpius noticed that Michael was wearing a black wristband, the werewolf identification bracelets which was different but also that Michael wasn't alone. He was sitting with a boy opposite who was too young to be a student and wearing regular clothes, about eight if Scorpius remembered correctly. He had blue eyes and extremely dark auburn hair like his father, it was combed back neatly although his features resembled his mother more. He was Antonius Ashain, Professor Ashain's son, he was also petting a ferociously large dog who was drooling on his jeans and who Scorpius recognized as the dog that Calderon had had in his Second Year.
"Hey Michael, hey Tony," Scorpius greeted his favorite professor's son too, shocked none of them had managed to not notice Michael on the platform, train or carriages.
"I prefer Antonius now," Antonius mumbled quietly.
"Um okay, Antonius and not that it's not great to see you and all but... why are you here exactly?" Albus asked of the boy as they sat down.
"My mum left."
"So?" Rose wondered tactlessly, apparently not noticing how it made the little boy shifted uncomfortably and look upset.
"She didn't want us."
"So we live with Dad only now and Dad lives in Hogwarts."
"I'm sorry," Scorpius offered gently and patted Antonius' back, feeling he should do something to offset how oblivious Rose had been to the fact she was upsetting him.
"It's okay. I wouldn't want me either," Antonius muttered so quietly that Scorpius didn't think the others heard. Antonius just hung his head and Scorpius glanced at the staff table to see the younger Cassia Ashain was sitting with her father, chatting happily away to him. He had to a double take because instead of a tangled mass of straw-colored hair, Cassia was near bold with only a few tufts remaining.
"What happened to your sister's hair?"
"She tried to cut it off," Michael answered for him, sounding almost bored, "The new Transfiguration professor stupidly commented she looked like her mother so she tried to shave her head to not look like her mother. And before you say you're in love with her, Albus, wait until you've actually met her."
"How do you know all this?" Corin wondered in confusion and Michael merely shrugged.
"I stayed here for half the summer."