It was a bright spring day, the first of the crocuses pushing out of the cold earth along the lake. The Gryffindors and Slytherins were in Herbology, Professor Longbottom watching over the paired up teens as they packed a mix of dragon dung and willow ash around quivering bulbs.
Malfoy, of course, was sprinkling the ash. Al was sure that he himself had grabbed the bag of ash – how the blonde has taken it off him he still didn’t quite understand. Trying not to breath in, he scooped the dung into the pot. “What do you think it is?” he muttered.
Grey eyes narrowed slightly as he looked at the bulb. “Haven’t the foggiest. Just because I associate wit you, Potter, doesn’t make me an expert of things that live in dung.” The words were delivered with a haughty chill, but he grinned playfully instead of sneering.
Al lifted a trowel full of the stinking muck. “Didn’t I see you smearing your face with this in the Prefect’s bathroom? I think you missed a spot. Here, let me help you.” He advanced, grinning when Malfoy flinched away. He dropped the bag of ash in his retreat, and a grey cloud erupted over both of them.
“Potter, Malfoy, I expect you to clean that up,” came Professor Longbottom’s half-amused, half-weary chiding.
“Yes sir,” they said between coughs.
It was just them when the greenhouse door opened and the Head Girl came in – a Hufflepuff girl called Ingrid Thorpe. She said something to Professor Longbottom and he nodded.
“Actually, Malfoy cleans. Potter, the Headmaster wants to speak to you.”
Al winked at Scorpius who scowled miserably, and picked up his bag before following after the Hufflepuff. He jogged to catch up with her. “Any idea what’s it about?”
“Nope. I was just in there when he got head called. He sent me out to wait in the hall.” They entered the school. “I have to get back to potions. The password for the Headmaster’s office is ‘Nargles.’ See you, Al.”
“Bye.” They parted, Al heading up the stairs. The halls were empty, the lessons still going. He saw no one but heard several lectures through doors. He gave the strange password to the stone griffin and went up the spiral stairs, then knocked on the door. Was it something he and Scorpius had done? No, because then Malfoy would be here, too. Were his grades too low? He didn’t see how that was possible, none of his teachers complained.
“Come,” came the Headmaster’s voice. He sounded rather tired.
Al opened the door and entered. “Good morning, Professor.”
The headmaster was sat behind his desk, his expression heavy with sorrow. “Sit down, Albus.”
Al’s confidence wavered. He crossed the room and sat, but the headmaster didn’t speak at once. His green eyes lifted, surprised to see all the portraits were awake. Most looked sad, except for two. The one with a pointed bead who was scowling. Dumbledor was dabbing at his eyes. Snape – he’d never seen Snape’s portrait occupied – was just staring at him. McGonagall was crying.
“Er,” Al said.
“I’m so sorry you have to hear it like this, Mr Potter. You’re sister is on her way up, too – but I wanted you to hear first. I thought it would be better this way. We can’t wait for your mother to arrive – we were afraid the news would break before she could… Mr Potter. Albus. Your father… he’s died.”
Silence roared in Al’s head. What was this, a joke? It had to be. It couldn’t be true. “My dad…” he whispered.