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Exploding Snap

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Scorpius was concerned.

Scorpius has been concerned for nearly a month now, if not more. Something in his best friend was changing, and it wasn’t just his distaste in his new eye wear he was supposed to wear all the time. No, this was different.

While his best friend was usually a bit grumpy, and sometimes fussy, this went beyond normal for even Albus. His grumpiness usually didn’t drift over to Scorpius, even though there had been instances where Albus could appear as the most selfish person in the universe.

No, Scorpius couldn’t put a finger on it. Albus was different, but it wasn’t his normal different. He was more anxious than usual, and he seemed to snap more often. His mood swings were becoming more noticeable, and he was definitely losing weight. Every time Scorpius seemed to question him, however, Albus would pull out a new excuse, or diverge the conversation completely.

Albus wasn’t acting like his usual Albus-self, Scorpius notices, the one day he sees his best friend cramming with a thick book. Albus had mentioned that he was studying for his OWLs, that he wanted to do well on his examination.

At first, the reason was easy enough to believe. All the professors waxed on about how important OWLs were. If you didn’t do well on the test, then getting a career was going to be difficult, especially if you were intending on staying in the mainstream for NEWT careers. It was enough to frighten any unprepared fifteen year old, let alone one with a high profile name to fulfill.

When Scorpius noticed Albus skipping meals and staying up late, he didn’t think anything of it. All students did that from time to time. It would be a lie if one were to believe that students behaved like perfect children, doing their assignments on time, and getting the perfect amount of rest during the night. It would be a lie to assume that students, especially upper years, didn’t cram before tests, or stay up late to write a paper.

Albus was no exception, except when Scorpius noticed that five nights in a row were spent at the desk by his bed, coffee cups and beakers littering the area around him.  When Scorpius started to notice that Albus staggered more to his classes, that he was weaker than he used to be, his concern grew. He watched as his best friend’s dark hair shone less, his eyes were more dim, and his sleepiness grow. Something was up with Albus, and Scorpius was determined to figure out what the secret his best friend was keeping from him.

“Attention students, please let your head of house know if you’ll be staying for the holidays,” the Headmistress calls out to the student body in the Great Hall.

Dishes were clanging together as students were leaving the tables for the evening. The Slytherin table was nothing but chatter as students started talking about holiday plans. Most were going, many talking about frivolous vacations they were intending to go on, while others sulked because they were going less than extravagant places.

“I think I’m staying at school this year,” Albus announces, as he picks at a piece of bread. Scorpius has noticed that it’s the only food on his plate. Albus wasn’t at lunch, claiming he needed to study. “I think it’s right time I stay for a holiday. I hear it’s pretty nice. They give out crackers and there’s a giant feast. Dad said that it was the most magical moment of his Hogwarts years. Yes, I think it’s right time I stay for a holiday at the castle.”

Scorpius finds that off putting. Albus has never wanted to stay at school. Usually, when the sign ups would come up for students to stay at school, Albus would avoid them. He wasn’t a fan of staying at Hogwarts. Heck, Scorpius knows Albus packs his trunk early just so he can leave the castle sooner. (Scorpius makes sure his isn’t packed too far behind. There is enjoyment about going home, after all.) Plus, not once in his whole Hogwarts career that he’s known Albus Potter, has Albus ever confessed a desire to stay at school. Nor has he ever professed to an adoration of noise crackers. Music aside, Albus Potter does not like loud noises, and crackers fall into that category.

“When have you ever liked crackers?” Scorpius asks, narrowing his eyes at his best friend. Scorpius now notices that the piece of bread has a nibble fit for Albus’ ferret. In fact, Scorpius is pretty sure Albus’ ferret would eat a bigger nibble than the bite taken from the piece of bread.

“You don’t know what I liked before Hogwarts,” Albus replies back in a rather snippy tone. He rips at his bread again, causing Scorpius to just stare at his best friend. He knows the Potters go to their grandmother’s every holiday, and he knows that it’s a rather big deal. Skipping his grandmothers to eat at Hogwarts and pull crackers doesn’t seem very Albus-y.

“So you’re not going to the Burrow? Won’t your Gran be upset?” Scorpius hadn’t met her in person yet, but he knew the Weasleys had dinner at their grandmothers every Christmas holiday. He knew about the jumpers that each member of the family received, and he knew about the small feast with all the family present. It seemed like something to not miss. It sounded far more comforting than Hogwarts.

“She’ll get over it,” Albus says, waving his hand. “Besides, I need to study.”

“Over the holidays?” Scorpius questions. Something about that didn’t seem right. Albus wasn’t the one to do all his homework at the start of the holidays, or study for a test eight months in advance, or write a paper on the same evening he could be doing something fun.

Scorpius can think of many times where Albus was dragged to the library against his will, refusing to spend a day like a Saturday in the library studying and doing homework. He can recall telling Albus to hurry up and do his assignment. Last year, he physically had to copy notes for Albus. Although, Scorpius is sure that was a ploy to distract from his lack of good eye sight.

Albus was a bright student, but studying over a winter holiday didn’t seem like something he’d do.

“Yes,” he snaps, and Scorpius drops the conversation, instead helping his wobbly best friend off the bench and walked him to the dorms. As the brunette staggers up the stairs, Scorpius forces out a chuckle, grabbing his best friend’s arms to lift him up.

Albus seems to stumble a lot more. He’s weaker in some sort of way, a way that Scorpius isn’t sure a thing he’s noticing because he’s paying attention, or because there really is something wrong. Although, Albus never wears his glasses and Scorpius figures that lack of proper eyesight can easily be a factor in his less than sober appearance in walking.

“Maybe you should wear your glasses, Al,” he suggests. “Just so you can see up the stairs.”

“I can see fine. Maybe you should shut up,” he snaps, and Scorpius shoots his best friend a look. He’s going to let it slide, because it doesn’t sound like the Albus he knows. Now, he’s determined to find out what happened to his Albus.

Scorpius awakes to vomiting in the middle of the night. Some poor boy was bent over their trash can and emptying their contents into it. With a quiet cast of lumos, he recognizes the boy who is emptying contents into the trash.

“Albus?” Perhaps Albus was ill, and that was why he was so snappy. It would also explain why he didn’t eat a lot at dinner. “Are you okay?”

“Fine,” the voice shushed.

Scorpius crawls out his bed and goes to the bed next to his. He casts a light over the boy’s bed and notices the disaster that is Albus Severus Potter.

His bed is littered with various stains which one can assume, or hope, is vomit or urine. The bedding is wet from tears, and snot markings line the cover from the boy wiping his nose and eyes. Bits of parchment litter the sheets, ink blots ruining whatever wording the parchment held. There’s some broken quills under the pillow, along with many strands of hair in small piles under the pillowcase. The only object that seemed to have remained any bit of clean, was Albus’ beloved stuffed owl, Hooty. His fur remained as stain free as it had since the toy started coming to Hogwarts.

“Merlin!” Scorpius quickly shushed himself. “No wonder you’re ill! Al, this bed is disgusting. Why haven’t the elves cleaned it?”

Albus seems startled. He blinks at Scorpius a few times, almost to register that he is in fact being found out about with his little secret. He darts his eyes around like someone is after him. It’s a sickening motion, one Scorpius feels should not be present on his best friend.

Albus looks away from Scorpius and darts his eyes down. His usually artistic looking fringe is falling in strings over his eye, and Albus looks up and flicks the strands off his face. He gives Scorpius an uneasy look, with just a dash of confidence thrown in.

“I-“There’s a strange look in his eye, one that Scorpius doesn’t recognize. Albus can be sweet, and he knows Albus is a good person. He also knows that Albus sometimes doesn’t understand when he’s taken things too far. This, Scorpius decides, is probably one of them. “I-I discovered something Scor,” Albus whispers. His eyes look hazy like he’s a wink away from passing out. Scorpius grabs his arm, realizing how skinny his arm now feels. Somehow, under the light of his wand, everything is clear. Something is wrong with Albus. Someone, or something, has hurt Albus. “Scorpius, I discovered—“ Albus stops to swallow something. “Did you know if you mix together these certain potions, you can maximize time? You can make it so you never have to sleep, or eat, or do anything unproductive again!”

“Al, that’s—I’m pretty sure that’s illegal.”

“No it’s not,” he protested. “It was in that potion book in the restricted section. I just made modifications.”

“That’s definitely illegal,” Scorpius acknowledges. “I think we should floo your dad and get you to St. Mungos.”

“I’m fine,” Albus shouts, his voice rough. Scorpius goes to grab his wrist before the boy can push him. He’s both appalled and amazed at how his hand can fit around Albus’ wrist.

 “I’m going to floo your parents and notify the Headmistress. You’re not fine, Albus.” Scorpius looks him hard in the eyes. The boy’s green eyes don’t meet his own blue ones. They’re distant, and that distance scares Scorpius. He blinks hard and shakes away the thoughts. He could get James, but he decides not to. Right now, Albus needs immediate help.

Wrapping the boy around his body is scary. Albus is light enough that he can be carried. Never before had Albus been this light. Scorpius adjusts the head onto his shoulder and grips his legs, ignoring all protests from his best friend as he flails his legs and tries to push back.

“Let me go,” Albus screams, as he flails and wiggles, trying to force Scorpius away from all his grips. Scorpius remains tight on his hold. “I hate you,” he shouts, kicking like a toddler having a tantrum would.

“I don’t care,” Scorpius bites back. He blinks back the sting of Albus’ words. He needs to remind himself that isn’t Albus speaking. It’s his mind, it’s the potion. Scorpius keeps telling himself that as Albus screams obscenities at him.

“You’re just doing this because it’ll ruin your stupid prefect record.”

Scorpius grits his teeth hard, making sure to not say anything he could regret. Albus is sick, he reminds himself, as he enters the door to the headmistress’ office.

“Headmistresses,” Scorpius calls out. His voice is squeaky and he coughs, hoping to gain more of it back. “Headmistress,” he calls again. “We have an urgency!”

Gerroff,” Albus shouts, still squirming, harder. He eventually squirms enough that he falls out the boy’s grip, a loud thunk hitting the floor. Scorpius looks at Albus horrified, as the headmistress answers the door.

“Heavens, Mister Malfoy, what is the problem?” She looks at him, then at the boy on the ground. “Is he?” Scorpius shrugs his shoulders and blinks back tears. “I’ll floo Mister Potter’s parents. Mister Malfoy, please alert his siblings.”  She hands him a small slip of paper for the Gryffindor password, as the blond hurries around the campus searching for his best friend’s siblings.

He dashes through the portrait of the Fat Lady, ignoring her cries of you’re not a Gryffindor!  and meeting James over at the common room table. If he wasn’t in a hurry, Scorpius would notice all the red couches and the way the common room seems way more busy than their own. Slytherin’s common room seemed cozy in the way you’d like to curl up in a quiet library, while Gryffindors seemed like the type of library where students hung out and never got work done.

“Scorpius?” James asks the blond boy. He reads his face and it falls. “It’s about Al, isn’t it?” His voice comes out quiet. Scorpius has never heard James Potter and quiet ever be used in the same sentence, let alone an action he’s ever done.

Scorpius nods. “Get Lily, Headmistress says to meet her in the office. Your parents took him to St. Mungos.”

James grabs at Scorpius’ arm. “What happened?”

Scorpius winces at the arm grab. “Your brother took a potion. I don’t know what it did, but he’s really out of it. He’s really messed up,” he told James. “His bed was filled with all sorts of gunk and urine and vomit. He’s really sick,” Scorpius tells him. “I don’t think he realizes it.”

“And you didn’t try to stop him?” James snaps to Scorpius.

Scorpius’ heart sinks and he feels his gut fill with rage at James Potter. How dare he assume that Scorpius would let this continue on if he knew what Albus was doing. How dare he assume that Scorpius would be one of the many who would ignore Albus. Also, how dare James assume that he didn’t care about Albus, as if James was the only one who paid attention to the younger Potter. (He doesn’t, Scorpius wished to bite back. He doesn’t see Albus the way Scorpius does. He doesn’t know Albus the way Scorpius does. He doesn’t love—no, they’re just friends.)

“I didn’t know. He was doing things like staying up a lot and studying more, but I didn’t know this was the case.” Scorpius looks near tears. He wants to say every curse to James if he believes he wouldn’t intervene. He wants to hex that stupid quaff of Potter hair off his head if he thinks Scorpius would allow his best friend to harm himself in anyway.

“Sorry Scorpius,” James apologizes rather quickly. “Fuck, it’s just, this is Al. Al can be fucking stupid sometimes, but I didn’t think—you don’t think he tried to off himself, did you?” The voice goes weak.

“Not intentionally, I don’t think,” Scorpius says softer. His eyes are wet. He wipes at them. “Your mum and dad are coming tomorrow to get his things.”

“Fuck,” James sighs, and just turns from Scorpius. He turns his head as Scorpius walks out the door. “Thanks Scorpius. Thank…thank you for telling me.”

“You’re his brother; you have a right to know.” Scorpius exits the common room and runs off to his dorm. He needs to be alone. He needs to cry, to think. He needs many things, but mostly he just needs his Albus to be okay.

The dormitory feels cold. Albus’ bed is empty and the sheets are still uncleansed. Scorpius can’t help himself and goes to rescue the little owl from the bed. He knows the elves wouldn’t touch it, and he knows the Potters wouldn’t deem it rubbish. But Scorpius can’t let the little guy stay there. He can’t let Albus’ prized possession be in a bed of filth.

“Come on Hooty,” Scorpius whispers to the toy, rescuing it from the disgusting bed. He tucks the little white owl under his arm and curls it close to his chest. It’s the only familiar thing he has of Albus, and he craves every bit of his best friend.

Scorpius spends the next week in agony. He knows Albus is in the hospital, as his family came to retrieve his trunk one of the days he was in class. He knows Albus did something horrible with potions. He knows now, that Albus was stressed about something. He doesn’t know the full story, but he waits the longest week of his life to see his best friend again.

When he’s graced with the approval to visit Albus Potter, the winter holidays have already started. He has to state his full name, and be checked off a list. He’s the first of non family allowed to visit. Albus has been in the hospital for a week, missing all finals and examinations that were supposed to occur before the break. It’s a few days before Christmas when Scorpius makes that long walk down an unfamiliar hallway.

A warm voice is humming, singing softly, as the blond waits quietly for his turn. His own father is outside of the hospital, nervous to come inside. Scorpius doesn’t blame him, after all these years, he too, would like to not visit a hospital for once.

“I’m going to get something to eat, Sweetie. Do you need anything?” There’s a soft voice and Scorpius recognizes the woman leaving the room as Albus’ mother, Ginny. She smiles at Scorpius, the boy clad with a small box of chocolate frogs. “Hi Scorpius,” Ginny greets.

“Is he okay?”

“He’ll be alright. He’s detoxing,” she explains. “He really did a deal on himself.”

Scorpius nods his head quietly. “Will he be okay? What happened?”

“Al got anxious about his examinations. Someone, “she says, and looks around the room. Her eyes are glossy, filled with the worry that only a mother can have. “Told him that if he didn’t pass his OWLs he wouldn’t have a future. We get what they were trying to say, but the wording was off. You can go in; he’ll be excited to see you.”

Scorpius nods, and he quietly walks in the room. He hates hospitals; hospitals always remind him of his mother. He doesn’t like seeing Al with a tube in him, and a gown that seemed to fit more for a young child than a fifth year.  Scorpius moves closer, going to sit softly on the bed. He takes in all the new changes of his best friend, from the glasses he’s been forced to keep on, to the shortest hairstyle he’s ever seen his best friend wear. He decides not to comment.

“Hi.” It’s a safe bet. “I brought you a gift. Your mum said I can come in.”

The boy is still quiet, the type of quiet that feels more like the Albus he knows. “Hi,” he whispers back. His eyes brighten up at the sights of a package. “Is that mine?”

Scorpius nods. “Chocolate frogs, your favourite.”

Albus scoots up, the little white owl under his arm, a refugee from the disastrous bed in the dorm room. He looks tired, but his youthfulness seems to be coming back. Scorpius hopes so, he doesn’t think it’s very Albus-y to be overly concerned like his Uncle Percy has been referenced as. Scorpius sits on the foot of the bed, tucking his legs into a crisscross motion. “If you get your dad, you’ll have to trade me,” Scorpius says, and he smiles. “And if you get Newt Scamander, you’ll have to give him to me.”

Albus gives off a small smile, struggling to open his box. Scorpius doesn’t help him, as the boy eventually opens the box himself. He carefully rips the card out, reading it then frowns. “Bleh. It’s just another Lockhart card. I’ve got four of them.” He rips off the toe of the frog and puts the chocolate in his mouth.

Scorpius opens his own box. “I’ve got fifteen of these,” he laughs, dropping the scowling card of Severus Snape onto the bed. He notices the boy let off a shiver, and Scorpius raises a brow. “You cold, Albie?”

The boy nods, and Scorpius goes over to drape the tattered and torn looking baby blanket onto the boy. He smiles warmly at it, then wraps Albus’ shoulders underneath the blanket. As he scoots closer to the boy, he presses a kiss to his cheek. He thinks maybe he’s falling in love with Albus—his Albie. He could sit here forever like this just the two of them.

Too bad he has to go home now, as visitors hours were coming to a close. Ginny stands outside the room and hugs Scorpius in a one armed hug. “Sometimes,” she tells him quietly. “All a person wants is someone to play exploding snap with.”

Scorpius raises a brow at his best friend’s mother. “What?”

“When I was in a similar position of Albie, everyone was making a fuss over my recovery. Harry was the only one who came and offered to play exploding snap. Everyone in the family has been making a fuss over him, which overwhelms him. Thank you for being his exploding snap.” Ginny kisses his cheek.

Scorpius looks back at Albus as the boy starts to drift back to sleep, blanket and owl in his grip.

Yep, he’s defiantly falling in love with him.