Albus was in a state of delirium.
Scorpius had gone into the forest. He was going to try to pick one of the flowers.
Albus moved without even thinking about it. Before he knew it, he was up the stairs, hurrying into the common room, not even caring to form a plan, not even knowing how he would get out of the castle.
The hidden door slid open as he blurted the password. He ran through the cold, empty passages towards the staircase that led to the Entrance Hall, his bag banging against his hip as he went.
He stopped only when a pale, translucent shape appeared through the wall. It came to a stop in the middle of the passageway, floating idly, watching him. A ghost. But not just any ghost. It was the gaunt, Slytherin ghost, the Bloody Baron. His robes were covered in silver bloodstains, which fit well with the cold, calculating look on his face.
Albus didn’t dare try to move past him. For one thing, the Bloody Baron scared the life out of him, for another, he didn’t want to accidentally pass straight through the ghost – apparently it was a sensation like walking through an icy waterfall.
“And where,” the Bloody Baron said in a deep, rumbling voice, “do you think you’re going?”
“I…” Albus searched for an answer that might allow him to pass, but none were coming to mind. What excuse could he give for roaming the castle in the middle of the night?
“Well?” the Bloody Baron prompted.
Albus decided the truth was the best way forward. “My friend,” he said in a pleading voice, “he’s gone into the forest. He’s in danger! I have to get to him. I have to stop him.”
The Bloody Baron didn’t respond. He merely stared at Albus for a moment. When he finally spoke, it was in a subdued voice. “The forest, you say?”
The baron regarded him as if making a decision. Then, he straightened his robes, raised his right hand and clicked his fingers. The sound echoed along the passageway. “Peeves!” the baron bellowed.
Albus’s heart sank. If the baron wanted Albus to be caught by a teacher or slowed down on his journey, calling on Peeves was the best way to go about it. Albus backed away, wondering if he dared sprint through the ghost and run on ahead before the poltergeist arrived.
Before he could make a decision, however, Peeves came bouncing down the steps at the end of the passage. He then floated merrily over to the baron. Upon reaching his side, he fell into a deep bow. For the first time, Albus saw that Peeves looked afraid.
“How can I help you, Your Bloodiness?” he said in his high, childlike voice.
Here it comes, Albus thought. He’s going to tell him to chase me back to the common room or something.
“Peeves,” the baron said in commanding tones, “you will escort Albus out of the castle and into the Forbidden Forest”
Albus’s jaw dropped.
Peeves grinned. It seemed he was more than happy to help a student break the rules. “Peevsey will get him out, Baron,” he said. “We’ll walk by ways and walls and windows!” He somersaulted through the air, then beckoned to Albus.
Albus was too stunned to move for a moment.
He turned to thank the baron, but the ghost was already disappearing through the wall, vanishing out of sight.
Albus shook himself out of his hesitation. He hurried forward, following after Peeves, who was now bouncing along the corridor, laughing manically.
“Peeves!” Albus said. “You’re making too much noise! We can’t be caught!”
In response, Peeves cackled even louder, spinning through the air like a crazed Catherine Wheel. He led Albus up the stairs and out of the dungeons, along the dark, lantern-lit corridors until they reached the Entrance Hall and the main doors. They were shut and bolted.
“Peeves, you’re meant to be leading me out of here,” Albus said.
“Potty, Potty!” Peeves screeched in a sing-song voice as he slapped his hand against the wall. “Don’t be a bore! All you need is a Peevsey door!”
And then it was there. Where Peeves’ hand touched the wall of stone, it transfigured into a doorway. He turned the handle and it opened out onto the Hogwarts grounds. Peeves gestured for Albus to go first.
Albus didn’t waste a moment. “Thank you,” he said as he leapt through the door and out into the bitter chill of the night. His robes flapped in the wind as he ran across the grass towards the distant forest. Peeves floated through the air alongside him.
“What’s Potty going in the forest for?” he asked. “Lots of beasties and creepies in the old forest.”
“Scorpius,” Albus said breathlessly as he ran. “Scorpius… in there.”
“Potty and Scorpy sitting in a tree, K-I-S-S—”
“Peeves!” Albus snapped, annoyed.
Peeves cackled. As they neared the edge of the forest, he slowed down. “Got Potty to the forest. Peevsey is done!” He blew a raspberry at Albus. “Don’t get gobbled up!” he called as he zoomed back to the castle.
Albus watched him go, feeling suddenly uneasy now that he was alone. He looked at the forest, at the deep black shadows, at the gnarled trunks and the creaking branches.
How long had Scorpius been gone? How far into the forest had he managed to get?
Was he, right now, at the Angel’s Trumpet plant? Was he about to pick one of those poisonous black flowers?
Wherever he was, Albus knew it was only a matter of time before he found the plant and ended up going the same way as Professor Sprout.
The problem was Albus had no idea where the Angel’s Trumpet was. Yes, he’d been there once, but he’d been following a trail, using that spell…
He tried to remember it, tried to think of the words Scorpius had spoken to light a pathway to the plant, but Albus’s mind couldn’t grasp them.
I can’t just stand here, he thought desperately. I have to move. Maybe, I’ll remember the way when I’m in there…
Albus darted forward, rushing into the shadows of the trees. “Lumos,” he said, his wand tip igniting with a halo of blueish light. He held it out ahead of him as he ran.
On and on he went, branches scratching at his arms, underbrush catching on his robes. His legs began to ache, his lungs to burn. But he didn’t care. Scorpius was in here somewhere, about to be poisoned to death.
Horrible images flashed through his mind. Scorpius unconscious, his skin white, his eyes sightless. He saw a white coffin, a blond-haired family grieving in black.
Faster, he told himself. Run faster.
His heart was battering his ribs as he sprinted through the darkness, heading deeper and deeper into the forest. The silence around him thickened, as if all noise from the outside world had been blocked out.
Albus was breathing heavily now, a stitch tearing at his chest. His steps began to falter. Suddenly, his foot caught. He stumbled and fell, smacking hard into the ground, his wand flying out of his hand, his glasses sliding off his face.
He struggled to push himself upright, trying to catch his breath. He reached wildly for his glasses, his fingers soon wrapping around one of the arms. He put them back on. Not that they were much help.
Where was his wand?
There was no light. The darkness was so thick he couldn’t even see his own hands. He searched about him, fingers clawing at the earth, scrabbling for his wand.
Come on! He thought. I have to find it! I have to get moving!
But something like despair was beginning to grip him. Even if he found his wand, even if he carried on running forever, he might never find Scorpius. He could search this forest for days and not come across his friend.
He let out a groan of frustration. What had he been thinking? Why had he thought he could come out here by himself? He should’ve told someone, brought a teacher.
It was as this thought occurred to him that a distant light appeared through the trees, a pale, blueish light.
Albus froze. The light was coming closer, coming towards him.
He staggered to his feet. He stumbled backwards, feet catching on roots.
All the while, the light brightened.
What was it?
Albus began to see a silhouette. It was a man. Albus’s heart stuttered. Who would be in the depths of the Forbidden Forest in the middle of the night?
His mind flickered to Daily Prophet headlines. He thought of the recent escape from Azkaban. The blood drained from his face. There was a known Death Eater on the loose, a Death Eater who hated his family. He stared at the oncoming man. He thought he could see the outline of long, wild hair, the kind of hair Rabastan Lestrange had been sporting in his Azkaban prison photograph.
And Albus didn’t even have his wand. He backed into a tree, smacking his head. He knew he should keep moving, that he should be turning tail and fleeing, but he couldn’t get his legs to move. He pressed himself against the tree as if he could somehow sink through it to safety.
The silhouetted figure was less than a dozen paces away now. Albus could make out robes, a thick head of hair. The figure bent down as if to pick something up, then continued towards Albus, whose heart was threatening to leap out of his chest.
I should be moving, he told himself. I should be running.
But he didn’t leave his position. His muscles seemed to have locked into place.
And then the figure raised his wand higher. “Lumos maxima,” came a familiar, gruff voice. The light shot from the tip of the wand up into the branches, giving off a pulsating glow that lit up the entire area.
Albus’s fear turned to relief, and then to dread at the sight of the wild-maned, brutish face of Professor Thorn. “Potter!” he said, his tone a mix of surprise and anger and what might have been mild triumph. “So you’re the thief!”
“Thief?” Albus replied, his voice raspy.
“When I returned that book, I hoped it would be taken.” He prodded his wand at me as if he was itching to cast a curse. “What exactly do you think you’re doing wandering into the Forbidden Forest in the middle of the night carrying a stolen library book?”
Albus faltered, his mind trying to catch up with Thorn’s words. He’d almost forgotten about the journal-like book he’d taken from the library shelf, the same book Thorn had returned only a few minutes prior. It seemed like a lifetime ago now. “I-I haven’t taken anything—”
“Don’t lie,” Thorn interrupted. “I put a tracking charm on that book. I hoped the thief would take it, like they took the others. I knew the charm would lead me straight to them.” He narrowed his eyes at Albus. “And so it did. Although, I didn’t expect it to be taken quite so soon.” His expression became menacing. “I told you and your friends to stay away from the forest. What on earth possessed you to come here?” He stepped closer, waving his wand. “Accio.”
Albus felt something tug at his side. It was his bag. It had flung open and out flew the Angel’s Trumpet book. It zoomed into Thorn’s waiting hand. “Did you even read it?” he asked nastily. “Did you even bother to open it? Perhaps if you had—”
“I did read it,” Albus said, his anger rising for the first time. “That’s why I’m here.”
“Potter, are you being deliberately idiotic?”
Albus ground his teeth. “No,” he said with an impatient huff. He wondered how long he’d been standing here, how long it had been since he’d fallen and lost his wand. Scorpius was out there right now. “We don’t have time. We have to go to the plant.”
“No, Potter,” Thorn replied scornfully, “the only place we’ll be going is up to the Headmistress’s office. If you’d read the book, you’d know that going anywhere near that plant is as good as a death sentence.”
“I’ve read the book!”
Thorn let out a snort of derision. “I have a feeling Professor McGonagall will be very interested to know that you’ve been stealing school property and taking late-night excursions into the forest.”
“You don’t understand!”
Thorn narrowed the distance between them, making a grab for Albus’s arm, but Albus stepped out of the way, clambering over a large tree root.
“We’re returning to the castle,” Thorn said, his tone resolute.
“Scorpius is out there!” Albus yelled, his rage getting the better of him. He didn’t have time for this. They had to get moving now! “We have to go to the plant. Scorpius is going to take one of the flowers.”
Thorn paused. “What are you talking about?”
“Scorpius knows the flowers can heal people,” Albus told him. “He’s come into the forest to take one.”
Thorn’s eyes appraised Albus. Then, a look of cool understanding passed over his features. “Oh, I see,” he said. “This is your excuse. Did you just come up with it on the spot or…?”
“I’m not lying! Scorpius is out there! He’s in danger!”
“You are a liar, Potter!” Thorn said. “You’ve broken school rules and now you want to worm your way out of it.”
Albus stared at the man, dumbfounded. What could he say? How could he get Thorn to believe him?
“We’re returning to the castle,” Thorn said. He reached again to grab hold of Albus. Albus hurriedly stepped back as Thorn’s fingers scrabbled at his robes.
“Wait!” Albus shouted. “I’m telling the truth, I swear! Just take me to the plant. If Scorpius isn’t there, then I’ll go up to the castle.”
“I’m not here to bargain with you, Potter.”
“And what if I’m telling the truth?” Albus asked fiercely. “What if Scorpius dies?”
Thorn’s eye twitched. “Why would Scorpius be out here alone, going after the Angel’s Trumpet? I thought you and him were joined at the hip.”
“He doesn’t know it’s poisonous,” Albus replied. “I told him not to come, but he needs it for…” Albus didn’t finish that sentence. Scorpius needed the flower for his mother, but Albus wasn’t about to share Scorpius’s secret.
There was a moment of indecision. Thorn was glaring at Albus. Begrudgingly, he pressed something into Albus’s hand. It was Albus’s wand.
“You dropped it,” Thorn growled under his breath. His voice turned mocking. “A good lot of use it will do you lying on the ground. Although, judging by your performance in class, the lack of a wand doubtless has little effect on your abilities.”
“Lumos,” Albus muttered, suppressing a retort. They didn’t have time to argue.
Thorn spun on his heel and led the way through the forest. “Ramble,” he said flicking his wand. The spell took effect immediately. Albus’s eyes widened. Wherever they stepped, trees and branches and roots and bushes moved aside as if repelled by their presence. As such, while not running, they moved at a fast pace.
Several times, Thorn would come to a stop. He placed his wand on his palm and said, “Point me.” His wand would begin to spin. When it came to a stop, Thorn would alter their direction and carry on walking again.
Albus urged Thorn to go faster. He was longing to run, eager to get to Scorpius as fast as possible. When he said as much to Thorn, the man merely grunted in response. Albus thought, however, that Thorn may have picked up his pace. Several times, he glanced over at Albus, frowning.
They came upon the clearing so suddenly that Albus had to skid to a stop. The centre of the clearing was lit with moonlight. And there, standing beside the Angel’s Trumpet plant, his blond hair glinting like silver, his skin ashen, was Scorpius. He was holding a flower in his hand – a large, black flower.
“Albus!” he said in surprise. “I got lost at first, but…” He held up the flower. He took one step towards Albus and Thorn, but his legs wobbled precariously.
“Scorpius!” Albus yelled. His heart leapt into his mouth. He was too late! Before he knew it, he was running.
Scorpius’s legs gave out from under him. He collapsed to the ground, the flower falling from his hand onto the grass.
“Do not touch that flower!” Thorn bellowed from behind Albus, his footsteps loud as he thudded along in Albus’s wake.
Albus bent over Scorpius’s body, gasping at his white skin, his flickering eyes.
“We’re too close to the plant!” Thorn barked. He barged Albus out of the way, then swept Scorpius up in his arms as easily as if the boy were under a featherlight charm. He took him several paces from the Angel’s Trumpet before setting Scorpius down once more.
Albus followed at his heels.
Thorn crouched over Scorpius’s body. Albus on his other side. “Is he…?” Albus’s voice gave out, but he forced himself to speak. “Is he going to be okay?”
Thorn didn’t seem to hear him. He passed his wand over Scorpius’s body, muttering spells, spells that Albus vaguely recognised. “Fianto Sanentur, medeora totalus, fianto sanentur, medeora maxima, fianto sanentur, medeora horribilis…”
On and on, Thorn repeated the spells. Filaments of silver light began to flow from the end of his wand, wrapping themselves around Scorpius’s body like a cocoon.
Scorpius drew in a shuddering breath, then his eyes flickered open. “Albus?” he said.
The boy’s bright blue eyes darted to Albus’s face, then rolled into the back of his head.
“Scorpius?” Albus said.
The blond-haired boy didn’t answer.
Thorn had stopped chanting, but the silvery filaments didn’t vanish, they stayed wrapped around Scorpius. “I need to get him to St Mungo’s,” Thorn said. With a flick of his wand, Scorpius floated into the air. Thorn marched out of the clearing, Albus hurrying at his side.
“Ramble!” Thorn bellowed. The trees parted for them as they charged purposefully forwards, Scorpius floating above them.
“Will he be okay?” Albus asked, glancing upwards every few seconds, remembering the way Scorpius’s eyes had rolled into the back of his head, the way his legs had collapsed from beneath him as if the strength had been sapped out of him.
“He’ll live,” Thorn replied. “He’s lucky that I found him so soon after touching the flower. The spells I have cast should keep him from deteriorating until I can get him to St Mungos.”
Albus let out a breath of relief.
“Do not think this means he’ll be unharmed by the incident,” Thorn warned. “This is what comes of fools who mess with dark powers – but then, what else is to be expected of a pair of Slytherins?”
Albus couldn’t help the harshness in his voice when he replied. “He didn’t take the flower to get dark powers! He took it to help someone!”
Thorn scoffed. “For a boy who spends half his life buried in books, I would’ve expected him to do his research before putting his life at risk.”
“Is that what you said to Professor Sprout when she tried growing the plant?” Albus retorted angrily. At once, he regretted what he’d said.
Thorn had stopped walking. He turned on Albus with a fierce look. “Remember your place, Potter,” he said. “You are a naïve, ignorant student.”
Albus bit back a retort. He was shaking – with anger, with fear, with adrenaline.
Thorn’s lip curled. He carried on walking.
They sped through the forest, which was now thinning, the light from their wands joined by moonlight streaming through the gaps in the canopy. They didn’t say another word to each other as they marched the last stretches of the forest.
They emerged not far from Hagrid’s cabin. Thorn waved his wand and a silvery patronus burst from the end of it and bounded through the sky towards the castle. It took the shape of a wolf. Albus was reminded, for a moment, of the silver wolf that had attacked him.
“You’ll go to Hagrid’s,” Thorn commanded. “He’ll escort you to the castle. I’ll apparate to St Mungos with Scorpius.” He gestured impatiently. “Go, Potter. The longer we waste here, the less likely your friend will recover.”
“Can’t I come with you?” Albus asked.
“No,” Thorn replied. His tone brooked no argument.
Albus reluctantly nodded. He sent a long look towards Scorpius’s floating body, wrapped in those silvery threads of light, then he took a step back. turned in the direction of Hagrid’s cabin and walked away. Each step felt wrong. He was abandoning his friend to the care of Professor Thorn, a man who clearly disliked Slytherins and particular hated Albus and Scorpius.
When he came to Hagrid’s door, one glance over his shoulder showed him Thorn marching towards the main gates, Scorpius floating in his wake.
Albus watched as Thorn passed through the gates, reached up for Scorpius’s hand and then vanished with a crack. The sound reverberated around the grounds like a gunshot.
Albus’s heart constricted. Scorpius was gone.
Please come back, Albus thought. Then, he remembered Professor Sprout – that he hadn’t seen her since she’d been poisoned by the Angel’s Trumpet plant. Please come back, he thought again, wondering, if maybe, Scorpius never would.