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Irradiance

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Title: Irradiance (1/7, complete)

Rating: R

Word Count: 48,400

This Chapter: 3,576

Pairing: Albus Severus/Scorpius

Warnings: character death

Disclaimer: All Harry Potter characters herein are the property of J.K. Rowling and Bloomsbury/Scholastic. No copyright infringement is intended.

Summary: Al starts Hogwarts knowing exactly who he is and what he wants from life. When the things he takes for granted fall away, he holds fast to the one truth that remains - he loves Scorpius and he'll do whatever it takes to keep him safe.

So, so much gratitude to my amazing, talented and hard-working betas Marguerite_26 and Kennahijja, who went beyond the call of duty and helped me make this a better fic.

Written for nextgendarkfest on Livenournal, based on the following prompt:

His ghost is living in the walls
I heard him crying while you slept
I heard him breaking things after you left

I watched you crawl into my bed
With curses spilling from your head
You said, "We're just the walking dead"
So I pulled the trigger and we floated off

Into the air

- Wrapped in Piano Strings, Radical Face

********

With a beatific smile, Scorpius turned toward the sun. Al squinted and tightened his grip on his broom. It had been so long. Such a long time since he'd seen Scorpius's cheeks shine, since there had been light in his eyes. And now Scorpius positively glowed, illuminated in pure golden sunlight that swept away the shadows - a bright and vivid flame. His white hair whipped about in the wind, and he laughed, head thrown back.

Scorpius.

The wind tore away everything but the sound of Al's own heart pounding hard in his chest.

Scorpius, please.

Year 1

Gryffindor. Gryffindor. Al squeezed his eyes shut tight and concentrated as hard as he could.

"Gryffindor, ay?" The Hat's voice echoed through his head. "Hmm. Yes. I do see courage. A different sort than your brother's, but nevertheless. Although there's loyalty and dedication too." The hat paused. "And a gentle spirit." Al tightened his grip on the stool below him. "You'd be happier in Hufflepuff, young Potter."

His skin went cold. Gryffindor. Please. My father said I could choose.

The hat kept silent.

Then, "A fierce willingness to protect those you love." There was another pause, long enough for Al to consider that if he were sick while being sorted, he would never, ever live it down. Finally, the hat continued.

"Very well. Gryffindor!"

It took Al a few seconds to realise that the hat had spoken aloud. Too numb with relief to fully process his victory, he tore the hat off his head before it could change its mind, and ran. His new housemates's cheers and applause formed a piercing roar. He slid into the seat next to James, breathing hard.

"Stop crying, wet nellie," said James, wrapping an arm around Al's neck and fluffing his hair. "You're one of us now."

Al nodded and wiped his eyes with his sleeve, refusing to look up. You'd be happier in Hufflepuff. Stupid hat.

"Hat took its time deciding." James grabbed a handful of Al's hair and shook his head back and forth. Al made a noise of protest and pushed him away. "Almost put you in Slytherin, did it? I told you so."

"It did not almost put me in Slytherin. It said it saw courage."

"'Course it did. You're a Potter."

With a shuddering breath, Al looked up at James, and then blinked. James grinned down at him, and his eyes shone in a way that Al had never seen before, at least not when James was looking at him.

It was over. It had happened. Al was in Gryffindor.

He broke into a huge smile and then laughed, feeling light-headed and dizzy enough that he had to grab the table to keep from falling backwards.

He couldn't wait to tell his dad.

***

The end of Al's first week at Hogwarts left him exhausted and craving a quiet moment to himself. Beagán, Kristoph, Matt and Roddy - Al's dorm mates - were all brilliant blokes, but Roddy's mum had sent him a box full of Fizzing Whizbees and exploding bon-bons. Al had the choice of either joining in, which he wasn't up to, or cloistering himself behind tied-shut bed-curtains, which would make him look like a stuck-up prat. Instead, he claimed homework responsibilities and crept down to the common room.

Some of the fifth years were playing indoor Quidditch. Al dodged a boy leaping after the Snitch and edged around the back of the room. A group of older girls squealed and tried to grab him, calling him a 'mini-Harry Potter', so he twisted away and crawled under a table. The boy and a girl using it to play wizard chess shouted at each other about whether the girl's last move actually counted. There, by the fire, was an empty armchair. He ran for it, jumped and claimed it. Curling up, he hugged his knees to his chest. The warmth of the fire slid softly over his skin. He tried to block out the unceasing noise and commotion going on around him.

In a few hours his dorm mates would be tired out and Al could return to his room and go to bed.

"Oi! Munchkin. Up. That's my spot."

Al started and tore his eyes away from the fire to focus on Bran Brachus, a sixth year, looming in front of him. If Al didn't move, Bran would only knock him out of the chair, so he scrambled up and moved away.

It was still an hour until curfew.

He climbed through the portrait hole and stood there. There had to be somewhere he could find a little peace and privacy, somewhere to clear his head. He set off walking, not sure where he was headed. At least the corridors were quiet.

After walking past a statue of a tall, thin man, Al descended a staircase. He really hoped he wouldn't get lost. The castle was like a maze and even paying close attention to where you were going didn't mean you'd be able to find your way back by retracing your steps. He passed a bathroom and then went down another staircase.

He saw another statue, this one of a confused looking wizard, and then stopped short. Professor Smith, the DADA teacher, was marching straight towards him, his lips pursed.

"What are you doing here at this time of night, Potter?"

"It's not curfew yet, sir." Professor Smith had seemed to take an instant dislike to Al. Al had no idea why.

"You shouldn't be wandering the school on your own. Are you looking for trouble? Think you take after your father, do you?" He spoke so quickly, Al didn't have a chance to answer. "Get back to Gryffindor Tower now before I take away points."

"But, sir. I was just…"

"Just what?" He moved closer to Al and started clicking his fingers right in Al's face. "What?"

Al took a step back. "G- going to the… library."

"The library? Then where are your books?"

"I need to get a book." Al hunched his shoulders and tried not to scowl. "That's why I'm going."

"Make it quick."

Al moved around him and headed towards the staircase.

"And five points from Gryffindor for… wandering," Professor Smith called after Al.

The library was blessedly quiet. Al quickly grabbed a book off a shelf without looking. Most of the tables were already taken, but towards the back there was one that was almost empty. Its only occupant was a boy with bright blue hair who looked to be another first year. As Al moved towards him, the boy flipped through the book in front of him, barely looking at each page for more than a second. Al sat down and quietly said, "You can't actually be reading that."

The boy looked up, startled, and it took a moment for his eyes to focus on Al. He blinked. "I read fast."

"No one reads that fast."

He shrugged one shoulder. "I do."

Not only was the boy's hair bright blue, but his blue and bronze tie hung crooked and his robes looked rumpled.

"Why is your hair blue? Are you a Metamorphmagus?"

"My hair is blue?"

"Yeah. Bright blue."

"Colour-change Charm. Must be them." He shot a glance towards a table several yards away around which sat a group of Ravenclaws of various years. A girl with dark blonde hair giggled and whispered to the others when she saw the boy looking at them. There was a soft bubbling of laughter and then louder 'Shhh!'s from the older students.

"They're always doing things to me." He lifted his wand to his head and said, "Finite." His hair shimmered then faded to silvery-blond.

"That's… Why? You shouldn't let them."

Another shrug. "It amuses them, I suppose. Father says I'm not to let it bother me. I'm smarter than the lot of them combined, and they're bound to be envious."

Al's eyes widened.

"It's not boasting if it's true," said the boy. His eyes darted to meet Al's and then quickly moved back to the text. Twin spots of red bloomed on his cheeks.

Swallowing his urge to argue in the face of the boy's embarrassment, Al just shrugged. "I wish I could read that fast. It takes me ages just to-"

"And anyway," the boy interrupted, "you're a Potter and you think you own the world."

Al's own cheeks heated. "That something else your father told you?"

"Yes." The boy stared down at the book, lips pressed together. The page crackled between his trembling fingers. Al noticed that his fingernails had been bitten to the quick.

He looked away. "Well… I don't think that."

The boy stayed silent. Enough time must have passed for the crowd in the Gryffindor common room to thin.

Just as Al began to push away from the table, the boy spoke up in a voice loud enough to carry through the library. "I need to be getting on with my schoolwork now." Another burst of giggles floated over from the table of Ravenclaws. The blush had spread entirely across the boy's cheeks.

"All right." Al stood and fidgeted, trying to think of something that would give the boy back his equilibrium. "Um… Okay," he finally said, and then, not knowing what else to do, left to return to Gryffindor Tower.

The common room had become quiet. Only a few people remained, chatting or doing last minute homework. Al wandered up the stairs to his dorm, changed into his pyjamas, and quickly fell asleep.

He ran into the strange blond boy again the following morning as they entered the Great Hall for breakfast. The boy stared at Al and Al stared back.

"Shove off, twerp," said James, shouldering the boy out of the way and dragging Al towards the Gryffindor table. The boy barely reacted to James's shove. He just turned and walked over to the Ravenclaw table. Al noticed that he chose to sit at a distance from the other members of his house and something in his stomach twisted.

"Who was that?" asked Al as he stumbled along.

"Scorpius Malfoy," said James. "That's Draco Malfoy's son. It figures he'd be a prat."

"He seems okay to me."

"What do you know?"

Beagán spied Al and waved him over. Al slid in next to him. There was black pudding for breakfast and Al helped himself.

It was some time before he thought of Scorpius Malfoy again.

***

They'd been at Aunt Hermione and Uncle Ron's house during the Easter holidays when the Patronus - a fat, silvery goose - arrived to summon Al's dad to the office. His dad sighed and his mum sighed louder. James, Hugo, and Lily were playing Chase the Snitch on their brooms. Rose was practicing magical embroidery. Dad kissed Mum goodbye and was almost out the door when he paused, cloak half on, and turned to Al.

"You want to come with me, Al?"

Al jumped up and went to take his father's hand.

The shelves in Al's dad's office were full of interesting things. There was a jar full of delicate-looking golden Probity Probes, which fanned out like a strange, metallic plant. There was a grey-bound book that would change colour if you lied while it was in your hand. The colour it changed to depended on how dirty a lie you told. The last time they'd been in the office, James had picked it up and proclaimed, "Al is a great, giant nancy-boy," before their dad had snatched it away from him. Al frowned at it now.

There was a box filled with dusty plaques and framed parchments that his father never got around to sticking to his walls. There was the shelf holding a collection of little toy men, each with a lightning-bolt scar and tiny glasses. Every year Uncle George gave Dad the latest 'Harry Potter action figure' for Christmas, spelled to follow him around, squeaking things like, 'Die, Voldemort, Die' and 'I'm Harry Potter' until they were put on display. They gave Al the creeps, but James liked to make them fight each other.

Being in his dad's office gave Al a funny tingle in his stomach. At home Dad came downstairs in his dressing gown in the morning with his hair sticking up on one side of his head and plastered to his cheek on the other. He cut his toenails in the lounge and got yelled at by Mum. He charmed Chocoballs to float in the corridor and then zoom out of reach when anyone tried to eat them. He yelled when he was tired, he shouted at news broadcasts on the wireless, he challenged James to belching contests that made Lily shriek and run out of the room.

When Al's dad strode, tall and imposing, through the Atrium of the Ministry of Magic, however, he nodded to people rather than smiling. A skinny, young wizard carrying a sheaf of files stopped short and stared, his mouth open. A witch in tight, black robes stepped directly in front of Al's dad, cutting him off. A sheet of parchment and a long, green quill floated next to her. She tried to speak, but was chased off by one quick, cold glare.

The crowd parted and Al's dad moved forward like he didn't even notice. Al hurried along at his side.

Then, in the lift, Al's dad glanced down at him. Al stared back up at his father, feeling strangely shy. His dad winked, light breaking through the clouds, and Al beamed.

Once they were in the Department for Magical Law Enforcement, Dad's shoulders relaxed and he slowed his pace. By the time they reached Auror Headquaters, he wore an easy smile. As it was Saturday, there were only a couple people at their desks. Dad waved at them and made his way towards his office at the back of the room.

"There you are, Mr Potter." Betty, Dad's secretary, bustled up to them. "I'm so sorry for disturbing your weekend, but Burne absolutely insisted that he speak to you right away."

"S'all right, Betty." His dad swatted away a memo.

"Shall I look after Albus?"

Dad turned to Al and cocked his head to the side. "You want to watch, Al? Or you can wait out here. I'm sure Betty can rummage up some cocoa and biscuits."

"I want to watch!" Al didn't even hesitate. His father grinned.

Betty fluttered about as they walked into Dad's office. "But Mr Potter. He'll be wanting to discuss… I'm not sure it's suitable for-"

"Al's old enough." He took off his cloak and hung it on a hook on the back of the office door. "Older then I was when I saw worse. I'm not going to do him any favours by hiding the truth about the world from him."

Al made a beeline for the huge desk chair, while Dad crossed the room to sit in the low floo-seat and then threw a handful of ashes into the fireplace. Green flames roared to life, and a man with a heavy face and a grim expression appeared.

"How's the weather in Hamburg?" asked Al's dad.

"Grey," replied Burne.

Al leaned forward to hear what they were saying, but Betty suddenly appeared at his side.

"Can I get you some cocoa, precious? A plate of biscuits?"

"Er, sure. Thanks."

She shot a worried glance towards Dad, but then left. Al spun the chair round once, then turned his attention towards the conversation.

His dad leant forward, elbows resting on his knees, his brow creased.

"…four more deaths, all in a similar pattern," Burne was saying. "We're watching them, but they're smart. We can't get anyone inside."

"And you think it's to do with the new legislation?"

"Definitely. They're all British, each and every one of them. It was an archaic law, but Broken Spectre aren't happy about seeing it abolished."

There was a silence. Dad took off his glasses and rubbed at the bridge of his nose.

"It's the sudden activity in the Schatten Quarter that's particularly worrying," said Burne. "They're organising. We just don't know what they're organising."

Betty arrived, carrying a tray laden with a plate full of biscuits and an enormous mug of cocoa topped with whipped cream. "Here you go, dear." She placed the tray on Dad's desk.

"Thanks." Al wondered if she really thought he could eat that many biscuits. He lifted the mug and got to work on the tower of whipped cream, disappointed to have lost the thread of his dad's conversation.

Betty hovered. After a moment, she spoke.

"Are you proud of your father, Albus?"

He shrugged, feeling his cheeks heat. "Sure."

"Well you should be. He's a hero."

Al stared up at her. One New Year's Day there'd been a broadcast on the wireless in which various people were interviewed about the 'Legend of Harry Potter'. Al's dad had listened, muttering under his breath about lies and exaggerations and she wasn't even bloody there and how the hell are the kids going to have normal lives when they keep spreading this nonsense. His face had grown redder and redder until Al's mum had suddenly laughed really loud and said, "I doubt any of them would call you a 'hero' if they'd seen you Christmas night, drunk off your arse on firewhisky and singing the Hogwarts school song with Ron."

There was a silence. Al's dad's face remained thunderous. Then the corner of his mouth had twitched and turned upwards. In another moment they were all laughing, and his face had gone back to its normal colour.

"Yeah!" said James. "Or covered in mud after you fell off your broom in the garden yesterday."

"Or… Or… Or when you did that huge burp after dinner!" piped up Lily.

"Or when you were wearing the fuzzy jumper Grandma Molly gave you and it made your hair stick up like a dandelion clock." Al ducked, but the pillow Dad had thrown hit him anyway.

Al blinked.

The woman's eyes were round and shiny behind her spectacles.

"I'm really proud of him," said Al.

"Well, you make sure you're the best boy you can be." She reached out and pinched Al's cheek before he could flinch away. "He deserves children who will make him proud."

There was a loud sigh, and Al looked up to see his dad standing on the far side of his desk. "Betty." He raised his eyebrows. "Al couldn't fail to make me proud."

"Oh, I know." She flapped her hand.

He moved to pat her on the back. "Thank you for coming in. Now go home to Walter and enjoy the rest of your weekend."

"Thank you, Mr Potter." She beamed at him and then scuffled off.

Dad closed his office door. He walked over to Al, took the mug of cocoa and set it on the desk. Then he gave the chair a hard spin, making Al yell and laugh as he spun round.

After he'd stopped being dizzy, Al asked, "What happened to the people in Hamburg?"

His father looked at him. "They were killed. The murderers used dark magic to set off Scorching Blasts, and they killed everyone in area. Fortunately, it was late at night, so there weren't many people around."

The happy buzz in Al's stomach fizzled away. "Why… Why did they do that?"

Dad put his hand on Al's head and combed his fingers through his hair. "They're angry about things going on in the government."

"But people died. They killed people."

With a nod, Dad squeezed Al's shoulder and then reached for his cloak. "And that's what I'm here for, Al. To stop people like them from hurting others. That's what I do."

Al remained still as his father fastened his cloak, something nipping at the edges of his mind and making him uncomfortable. "I don't understand," he finally said. "How can they hurt people like that without feeling really horrible about it?"

Dad looked at Al. Then he knelt down. "I'll tell you what I believe. Sometimes things happen to people that make them feel like the whole world is against them. They're angry, so they pick out someone or something to blame. And anger, if left too long, turns to hate.

"That's where dark magic comes from - hate and anger left so long that it destroys people's ability to feel for each other. We don't hurt others, because we care for them. But sometimes the part of a person that lets them care gets damaged. Maybe they've been hurt so badly that they can't see other people as anything other than a threat. Maybe they've been taught that other people don't matter as much as they do. Maybe they've been taught to hate and fear anyone different."

Dad's face was still and intent. Al thought about people setting off Scorching Blasts and about his dad trying to find them and stop them.

A line formed between Dad's eyebrows. "Hey," he said. "Hey, Al. It happened in Germany, far away from here."

Al nodded.

His dad continued, "And we're going to find them and stop them. All right?"

Al nodded again and took hold of his father's hand. He kept a hold of it even as they walked though the Aurors's Office and didn't let go until they exited the lift and moved back into the Atrium.