But his wand, it seems, is determined not to give in. Every spell is a struggle, every charm is a battle. Even the Lumos spell appears taxing; the wandwork feels lagging. After a week of efforts, he's nearly mad with frustration. When he tries to light the fireplace, his wand won't complete the swish movement.
"Incendio!" Draco repeats forcibly, but again, there's a faint feeling of resistance as he tries to move the wand through the air. It's like pushing it through treacle. "Incendio! Incendio!"
Nothing. In a rage, he hurls his wand across the room.
The wards tremor. Draco curses loudly and storms down to the entrance hall, throwing the doors open.
"What?" he snarls.
Harry's eyebrows rise. Nevertheless, he speaks without affront. "Might I come in, then?"
"If you must."
Harry waits, but when Draco says nothing further, he gives a small shrug and begins to make his way to the front parlour room.
"It's freezing in here, Malfoy," he says conversationally. "Haven't you lit any fires?"
"No, I haven't lit any fires, Potter, because you've got my wand!" His last word rises in anger, echoing around the room. Harry blinks at him, looking confused.
"What are you talking about? I gave — "
"It doesn't work! I don't know what you've done to it, but the stupid thing won't even do a simple Incendio! It's like trying to cast spells underwater!"
"I just said so, didn't I? Oh, you're going to write something down in that stupid file, aren't you? 'Dear Ministry, Malfoy was very mean to me today. Let's put him on probation.' Well — "
Harry starts to laugh. Draco pauses mid-sentence.
"It's not funny. Stop laughing, Potter."
"I can't help it. You made it sound like the Ministry is an overbearing parent. And trust me, you have no idea how close to the truth that is." Harry sets the file aside. "Give me your wand."
Draco passes his wand over, feeling slightly mollified and to be honest, quite uncertain how to proceed with the conversation. Harry has laughed at Draco's misfortunes many a time, but Draco thinks it's the first time Harry has ever laughed at one of Draco's caustic remarks.
"This isn't your wand."
"No, that's the one I've been using for the past seventeen years. My mother's wand."
"I want to look at your wand. The one I returned."
"I told you, it's useless. I've been performing spells with this one."
"I don't care about what spells you've been performing," Harry says candidly. "I want to know why your wand isn't working."
Draco pauses a moment, then turns and walks down the hallway, listening to Harry's footsteps behind him. He enters the study, looks around for a long moment, then fetches the wand from the floor. Harry doesn't comment on that, just indicates for Draco to hand it to him.
"Malfoy, I'm offering to help," Harry says with exasperation.
"No. It's something to do with allegiance, I'm certain. If I give it back to you, it will reaffirm you as the true owner."
"Don't be ridiculous. I'd have to disarm you. Wands don't change allegiances every time someone picks them up or I'd own every wand I touched."
"I'm not giving it to you."
"Then I'll have to disarm you," Harry snaps. "In which case, it will change allegiance. I hope you're beginning to see how ridiculous this is."
"Fine!" Draco tosses the wand onto the desk. Harry sighs and picks it up, weighing it in his hand, then points at the fireplace.
A bright fire immediately leaps to life. Draco stares at it for a long moment, his heart giving a traitorous ache. He's right. His wand is no longer his own.
"Now you try," Harry says, passing the wand back to Draco. He tries to levitate a vase; it manages to hover an inch before dropping.
They both try a few other spells, but the results are the same: the wand is perfectly happy to obey Harry's commands, but resists all of Draco's attempts at spells and charms.
"But I gave it back," Harry says with bewilderment. "I gave it to you." He frowns. "Maybe...maybe you need to disarm me."
"Disarm you?" Draco repeats blankly.
Draco picks up his mother's wand. Harry stands by the fireplace, Draco's wand in his hand, waiting patiently.
The wand drops from Harry's hand. He looks at Draco.
"You've got to mean it. Don't just stand there and say it like you're reciting a grocery list."
"I can't help it," Draco snaps.
Draco lets the silence drag on, but Harry's beginning to look impatient. At last, he reluctantly speaks.
"My last two probationary notes were written because they noticed the Expelliarmus spell in my wand history."
"Oh, for — I'm not going to give you a probationary note for disarming me, all right?" Harry picks up the fallen wand. "Try again."
This time, Harry stumbles back a few steps and the wand flies out of his hand, soaring towards Draco. He catches it in his left hand and pauses for a moment before pointing it at the vase again.
Once more, the wand resists him. The vase wobbles slightly, then falls over. Harry looks at it, then to Draco, and frowns.
"But you disarmed me," he says.
"My wand apparently disagrees."
"Maybe you have to really mean it," Harry says, walking over to take the wand from Draco and examine it. "Maybe it has to be taken from me in the same way it was taken from you."
The memories rush through Draco's mind — the desperation as he battled with Harry, trying to hold onto his wand — and he frowns.
"Physically remove it, rather than disarm?"
"No, I was thinking — more like, you know..." Harry gestures helplessly. "You have to mean it."
"Oh, I have to mean it. You should be a Charms professor, has anyone ever told you that?" Draco says curtly, his frustration at the situation getting the better of him. Harry gives him a long, calculating look before raising Draco's wand.
Draco only just avoids the incoming hex, leaping out of the way just in time. Behind him, the vase shatters on impact.
"What are you — "
Draco ducks behind the desk, hearing something shatter above him.
"Are you insane?" he shouts.
Silence. Draco shifts uneasily, then — when he can't stand the waiting — he stands.
Harry is right next to the desk, holding the wand ready, an incantation already poised on his lips, but Draco beats him to it.
Harry's eyes widen and he leaps to one side, narrowly avoiding the spell.
"You idiot!" he shouts angrily. "I was doing harmless jinxes! Obliviate? Really?"
"It was the first thing I thought of!"
"Seriously? 'Obliviate' is the first spell you instinctively perform? Oh, trust me, Malfoy, that's going in the file. Steleus!"
"Protego!" A blue shield bursts to life from Draco's wand, deflecting the spell.
Harry doesn't duck that one fast enough; the spell catches on his sleeve and flowers immediately begin sprouting from the material. He tries to shake the flowers away and Draco seizes the opportunity, raising his wand again.
"Expel — "
The spell hits Draco square in the chest. He flies back, hitting the bookcase hard, and crumples to the ground, books raining down around him. He knows he's supposed to be disarming Harry — it's the whole point — but surely he can extract some revenge first. He can almost feel the bruises forming across his back. Couldn't Harry have cast the jinx with a little less power?
He looks up just in time to see Harry looking uncertainly at him.
"Oh, good," Harry says. "For a moment there, I thought I'd knocked you out. Didn't realise — "
Harry, much in a similar manner to Draco, stumbles backwards and lands heavily against the wall.
"You total prat! You underhanded, sneaky little git — "
"Malfoy, no!" Harry looks down at his hand in dismay, trying to let go of the wand. But it's adhered unshakeably to his hand. "How are you supposed to disarm me now?"
"It will certainly be interesting. Expelliarmus!"
"Evanesce!" But Harry points the wand at himself, and there's a brilliant flash of blue light. When the light fades, Harry is gone.
Draco stares at the spot where he last saw Harry, and for a moment, he has to admire the cunning. Apparation wards make both Apparating and Disapparating impossible while in the manor; in substitute, Harry has used a vanishing spell on himself. But who knows where he'll turn up? As far as Draco knows, it's impossible for the caster of the spell to choose their destination.
He grips his wand in both hands and edges towards the doorway, glancing down the hallway. Nothing.
"Homenum revelio," he whispers, the spell washing down the hallway like a tide. Nothing is revealed; apparently, no human lingers in the shadows.
He makes his way to the entrance hall, whipping around quickly to glance up the sweeping stairway. Nobody there. At least the stairs – carpeted with a stair-runner — soften his footsteps. Upon reaching the landing, he sees movement and whips around.
The spell sears a hole right through an ancestral portrait and Draco immediately realises the movement was nothing more than one of the figures in the portrait. He sees more movement, this time on his left, and immediately shoots off another disarming spell. This time, he hits a family portrait.
The back of his neck suddenly prickles, and it's the only warning he gets.
Draco's spell creates a small protective bubble around him just as Harry's spell hits it and deflects. Harry, unperturbed by the lack of success, simply fires off a tripping jinx.
They duel each other down the hallway, then Draco uses a smokescreen spell to make his escape into a guest room, where he can quickly cast a Finite spell over his right hand (which Harry has turned into a butternut pumpkin). His hand back to normal, he looks around the corner of the doorway just in time to dodge a knee-reversal hex.
"Cantis!" Draco shoots the spell without really aiming, too busy trying to avoid the incoming hex, and he can tell the spell missed its target by a wide margin. Harry wastes no time sending another hex bounding towards Draco.
"Sectumsempra!" Harry sends a bolt of white lightning towards Draco before a look of horror suddenly crosses his face. The spell only just misses Draco. "I didn't mean that!" Harry shouts out, looking panic-stricken. "I meant to say Rictusempra, I just — I don't know why I said the other one — "
The wand flies from Harry's hand with such force that Harry flies backwards, hitting the wall hard and sending several portraits crashing down, their glass panes shattering. Draco catches the wand in his right hand.
"I didn't mean it," Harry says, straightening up. Glass crunches under his feet as he walks towards Draco. "Honestly, I swear I meant Rictusempra, I have no idea…"
Both spells he has used before, Draco muses. Rictusempra — an infinite tickling charm — Harry had used successfully on Draco during that second-year Duelling Club. The only difference between the curses are three little letters and he's inclined to believe Harry's apparent mistake, although less inclined to forgive it.
"There's quite a difference," Draco says, his voice cold, "between those two spells."
"I know, I know!" Harry looks miserable and Draco studies him for a moment before raising his wand.
His wand immediately glows, bathing the hallway with a soft blue light. No resistance, no difficulties. His wand has truly returned to him now.
"Did it work?"
Draco glances up. Harry's looking at him, waiting.
"So it's yours again?"
"Oh. Well, good." Harry looks uncomfortable. "Er...sorry about the hex."
Draco shrugs. "I'm sure if it had hit me, you probably would've developed a guilt complex and a drinking problem and subsequently died an undignified death, sad and alone in a gutter somewhere. So, in any case, I would have eventually won."
Harry stares at him.
"That was a joke, Potter. You may laugh."
"That was supposed to be funny? Your sense of humour is extraordinarily dry, then."
"So I've heard."
Harry just gives him another look, as if Draco's a particularly difficult rune that he can't translate, and Draco turns to walk back to the entrance hall. He walks past the signs of destruction — ruined portraits, tapestries with scorch marks, cracks in the wall and, in one instance, a splintered door. Much to Draco's irritation, he hears Harry using constant Reparo spells.
"I am trying to be nice," Harry says. "It looks like an earthquake came through here."
"And what does it matter? There were already cracks in the ceiling and walls long before you started this duel, Potter."
Harry is silent for a long time before he responds. "Yes, I suppose there were."
When they reach the entrance hall, Harry departs without another word.
Draco stands alone in his manor.
In the distance, he hears the shatter of glass against stone.
In the long white snows of winter, Scorpius and James chase each other around the castle like two playful foxes. Always after dark, the invisibility cloak tucked into James's bag just in case. But nobody seems to see them. They linger on the edge of the Forbidden Forest, whispering ghost stories; they circle the lake, observing the edges of the water that have frozen over.
"We could skate across it," Scorpius says, and they slide awkwardly across the surface in shoes with not enough grip, hanging tightly onto each other and laughing. Whenever one falls the other collapses with him, until they're playing silly games, trying to deliberately make each other fall.
And on nights when it's too frosty even for Scorpius, the boy with eyes the colour of a snow-tinted dusk, they stay in their room. Scorpius has transformed it into a summer's day in there, lush gardens and hazy azure skies, and James has transfigured all the daisies himself from a row of pencils. He's getting better and better. In class, Professor McGonagall gives him a raised eyebrow now whenever she passes his desk — her expression of approval. And in Charms, James is quickly surpassing his peers.
Tonight, they're practising Defence Against the Dark Arts.
Well, at least that's what James tells himself as he hangs onto the top of a transfigured tree, waiting for Scorpius to pass beneath. He'll drop on him like one of those assassins in his favourite adventure comics.
Scorpius is sidling along the wall below, looking around warily. James shouts a dramatic war-cry and flings himself down; Scorpius's eyes widen and he brings his wand up in a sweeping motion. The next thing James knows, he's softly bouncing off an invisible bubble that surrounds Scorpius.
"Ha! If we were Muggles, you'd be dead."
"Not dead, but definitely injured," Scorpius says with certainty.
"No way, Muggles are way tough. They're like...bowling balls. You should see my Uncle Dudley, he's built like a tank."
"You have a lot of uncles."
"Way too many. And great-aunts, and cousins, and my grandparents. On my mother's side, obviously."
"I wish I had a lot of relatives," Scorpius says wistfully.
"No, you don't. We have to go visit Dudley once a year, on Christmas, and it's awful. I don't know why we go. Dudley goes on and on about Muggle sports, and Dad just sits there and nods, and then they tell each other all those lies adults like to say — you know, 'oh, we must do this again' and all that tosh, and then we leave." James climbs up the tree again like a monkey.
"It would be nice to have cousins, at least." Scorpius pauses as Pan sticks her head out of his pocket, then gives her a gentle pat. "Just to have friends."
"Hey, you've got friends! I bet all the Ravenclaws think you're brilliant. They like smart people."
"I haven't got friends." Scorpius gives Pan a final pat. "I'm no good at it."
"Liar! What about me?"
"You're friends with everyone."
"That's because I'm brilliant." James half-falls off the tree, landing awkwardly in the grass, but Scorpius doesn't return his smile. "I'm not friends with everyone, you know," James adds, standing up. "I mean, it's different types of friends. There's the friends that you sort of say hello to in the corridor, but you're hoping they don't actually stop for a chat because you don't really have much to say to them. Then there's the friends that you sit next to in class but only because you don't know anybody else." James pauses, thinking. "Then there's the friends you actually quite like having a chat with, bit of a lark, that sort of thing. And that's it."
"What about best friends?"
"Oh, I have loads of those."
"I thought you're only supposed to have one, really. Otherwise, everyone will know all your secrets."
James shifts uncomfortably. He's never really had a best friend. He wouldn't dare share his secrets with Paul or Martin, and especially not Nate.
"Well," he says. "I lied, actually. I haven't got loads of best friends. They're a bit tricky to make, aren't they? I mean, they're pretty important, you don't want to mess up and choose the wrong one."
"We could be best friends, couldn't we?"
James had always envisioned his eventual best friend as a fellow Gryffindor, a daring and robust boy who would laugh loudly at all of James's jokes and always have funny prank ideas. The thin Ravenclaw boy before him couldn't be further removed from such a person. Scorpius hardly laughs, and when he does so, it's quietly. A tiny curl of amusement on his lips. And he's not really the sort for pranks, either. He likes to just walk around the lake, or teach James how to block a disarming spell, or just sit in silence.
"You'd make a brilliant best friend," James says suddenly. "What do you think?"
Scorpius smiles shyly.
James sits in the common room, a quill in one hand. He's supposed to be writing his History of Magic essay, but he's staring out the window and daydreaming. The snowflakes are spiralling lazily past the window, flecks of white in the pale winter sky. He can see his own face reflected in the glass, the flames of the hearth-fire flickering behind him. A snowflake drifts across the reflection of his face, seeming to pause for a moment across the iris of his eye.
He jumps as someone slams down something next to him. He blinks and looks at it. It looks like a nondescript book.
"Check it out," Nate says with great satisfaction. "It's the latest Wizarding Wheeze. If you try and read it, it makes you see double of everything! And look, Paul ordered a new bunch of Extendable Ears. Reckon we can plant one in the girls' dormitory?"
"I don't know." James isn't really paying attention. He's busy wondering if he can sneak away tonight and practise some more transfiguration.
"What's wrong with you?" Paul demands, coming over. "You've been really odd these last few weeks, James."
"Yeah," Martin chimes in, joining them. "You've been studying way too much! You used to be fun. Now you're suddenly better than everyone...think you're too good for us, much?"
"It's not that!" James protests. "It's just...my grades, they weren't — "
"You're Harry Potter's son! Since when do you care about grades? The professors would give you good grades, anyway. Slughorn treats you like a celebrity."
"That's not true! I work hard for my grades," James says hotly, thinking of all the hard work he's done and all the time Scorpius has spent helping him.
"Well, even if it's not true, who cares? You could drop out of Hogwarts and it wouldn't matter. Your dad has so much money he could probably buy you five houses and a Quidditch team."
James shifts uncomfortably. His father is rather wealthy — James has never been left wanting for anything — but it makes him feel slightly awkward now. Thankfully, Martin makes a joke about Quidditch teams and the conversation wanders into idle chatter. James listens for a while, then collects his things and begins edging towards the portrait hole, planning his escape. If he's lucky, he might find Scorpius in the library.
"Trouble in paradise?"
He jumps, then scowls. "Go away, Rose. Nobody asked your opinion."
She only narrows her eyes at him, a stack of books held in her arms like a shield.
"Well," she says, "I'm just glad you've finally come to your senses and left those daft friends of yours behind. No midnight adventures lately, I've noticed."
Rose always notices too much, James thinks with annoyance.
"For your information, I've still been having midnight adventures," he retorts. "Just not with them." He tilts his head towards his friends.
"Well, I hope your latest friend is an improvement on those twerps," Rose snaps. "If your grades are anything to go by, I'll assume you've made a sensible Ravenclaw friend."
Definitely notices too much. James shifts uncomfortably.
"It's none of your business," he says at last. "You don't see me telling you off for hanging around with those dopey third-year Hufflepuff girls."
"They are not dopey! Candice is very intelligent, and Charlotte is the kindest girl you'll ever met."
"See? Dopey," James says meanly. "Unlike you, I like spending time with 'those twerps' or, as I like to call them, my friends. And if you tell Aunt Hermione or Uncle Ron anything, I'll write to Dad and tell him that you've gotten so academically competitive that you've started using your intelligence for evil purposes and you're secretly hexing all the first-years."
"You little — James Potter, you're unbelievable!" Rose seethes. "They would never believe that!"
"Or would they? Everyone knows how you're always trying to be top in the class."
"Since when did you get so cunning?" Rose snaps. "You've changed a lot since you've arrived here, you know."
"Good," James says defiantly, giving Rose a look.
She just narrows her eyes at him.
Later on, near midnight, James wraps himself up in the invisibility cloak and sneaks through the common room to avoid his friends, waiting until a couple of fifth-years come barreling through the portrait hole so he can slip out and escape.
He meets Scorpius by the lake.
"It's freezing." His breath puffs into the air like a ghost.
They walk to keep warm. Pan climbs onto James's shoulder and nestles around the back of his neck, keeping him warm; Scorpius practises a heating charm and produces a handful of blue flames.
It's quiet, and it's taken James a long time to get used to these silences. He's always been chatty, keen to fill empty places with cheerful energy. But it's another lesson he learned from Scorpius. There's something soothing, he finds now, about listening to the crisp snow crunch underfoot as the stars shine bright and clear above them. Hogwarts shines like a lantern, the windows dotted by orange glows. If James half-closes his eyes, he can almost imagine Hogwarts is a dying fire, lit with warm embers and coals.
"Are you going home for Christmas break?" James asks, suddenly remembering that their break begins next week.
Scorpius nods. "Are you?"
"Of course!" James hesitates, then speaks with honesty. "I really miss my dad. I think that's one of the hardest things about Hogwarts, don't you?"
Scorpius nods again.
They walk on, surrounded by silence and snow.
Harry waits on the platform, unable to stop smiling as he sees his son for the first time in three months.
"James!" he shouts, seeing him step off the Hogwarts Express and look around the platform. James turns and sees him; his eyes light up and he hurries towards Harry, a messenger bag slung over one shoulder.
"Dad! You wouldn't believe what happened in Transfiguration last week — "
"Wait up, where's your luggage?"
"This is it. What? I don't need to bring everything home, it's only two weeks — "
"Your hair!" Harry notices the wild shock of black hair. "You'll need a haircut."
"I will not," James says at once, drawing up to his full height. Taller already, Harry thinks. "I'm going to grow my hair out like Uncle Bill."
"I don't think so! Where's all your homework?"
"I went to Hogwarts too, you know. I know how it works. You'll be completing all your homework before you open any presents."
"Oh, did you get me a Sneakoscope? You did, didn't you?" James is hopping about, full of energy and excitement. "I knew it! And a Gobstones set, did you get one of those? Everyone at Hogwarts has one except me, it's not fair. And the latest Wizarding Wheeze collection set, and I want a pet ghoul."
"We've talked about this, you're not getting a ghoul — "
"Dad, look! The train's leaving already!" James points. "Where do you think it's going? Does it go back to Hogsmeade? I want to go to Hogsmeade, it's not fair, Teddy always looks so smug when he's leaving for it! He told me that they give out free Honeydukes sweets to all Hogwarts students, and there's a house of little goblins that will do all your homework for only two knuts and a nice cake!"
Harry laughs. "There's no such thing. I've told you before, don't listen to all of Teddy's little stories."
And just like that, James is back, Harry thinks with a hidden smile, chatting away and complaining and being distracted by every tiny thing. Harry uses a portkey to take them home — side-along Apparition can be dangerous if one of them loses focus — and they tumble into their front garden, nearly falling head-first into a pile of snow. James is jubilant.
"I'm going to build a snow-hippogriff!"
"No you're not, you're going inside to unpack and change out of your school robes."
"But — "
"James! Get back here, you're trekking snow everywhere. I just cleaned these floors — "
"Ugh," James moans, but he dutifully returns and kicks off his shoes.
As James dashes off again to unpack, Harry listens to the footsteps racing down the hallway. By the kitchen counter, he can see James's shoes carelessly tossed aside, and he can hear him racing about every now and again, doors opening and closing.
He doesn't know how one child can fill the house with so much energy, but suddenly his heart fills with so much love and gratitude that it aches.
Draco waits at the train station, feeling inexplicably anxious as he searches the crowds for his son. Plenty of smiling faces and chatty students, but none of them are any he cares for.
Footsteps. He turns. Scorpius is beside him.
"Ready to go home?" Draco asks quietly. Scorpius nods.
He uses a portkey to get home. When Scorpius was a little boy, he loved portkeys, loved the rushing sensation. I'm flying, he would shout.
They land just atop the manor's porch steps. Scorpius stumbles and nearly falls; Draco steadies him and then taps the front door with his wand, unlocking it. He steps inside, ushering Scorpius in front.
Scorpius stops dead in the entrance hall.
"What happened?" he asks wonderingly. Draco clears his throat, uncertain as to how Scorpius will react to having his childhood home ripped apart. The wallpaper is half-stripped; furniture has been moved aside, carelessly stacked in corners.
"I'm renovating the manor, Scorpius."
Scorpius crinkles his nose. It's a habit he's had since he was a toddler, and it's what he does when he wants to smile but isn't sure.
"What sort of renovations?"
"Well, I was thinking it could do with a bit of light and space. What do you think? I was waiting for you to come home and choose the colours for your room."
Scorpius smiles then, a small but genuine smile. "I can pick any colour?"
"What about Chudley Cannons?"
Draco is aghast. "Orange? You want orange?"
Scorpius nods. Draco feigns careful consideration.
"I suppose. I'll order the paint tonight. Bright orange, the same colour as a clementine."
"No! I don't really want orange."
"Too late. And all the furniture will have to match. I'll buy you an avocado bed and a wardrobe the colour of mud."
"No, that's horrible!" Scorpius is indignant, and Draco can't help it. He laughs. Hogwarts has changed his son. The frightened little boy sent adrift at the end of the summer has come back with a certain confidence, a certain courage that hadn't been there before.
"Want to see the drawing room? I thought I'd start with that room," Draco says, leading Scorpius to the drawing room. The floor has been completely torn up, revealing the underlay, and the walls have been stripped to the frame. Insulation drags along the ground like wisps of cloud.
"It's all gone," Scorpius says.
"Yes. I'm going to make it into a sunroom." Draco takes Scorpius by the shoulders and turns him until he's facing the northern wall. "See that? I'm going to take it all out and put in windows. From the floor to the ceiling, to let all the sun in."
"A wall of glass?" Scorpius looks at the wall in wonder.
Then he looks up, straight into his father's eyes, and smiles.
The day Scorpius was born, Draco knew what it was to love something so much he'd die for it.
And despite everything that has happened since, he never let go of that feeling.
Harry trudges through the front door, cloak trailing behind him. It's two days before Christmas and he's supposed to be preparing the house with decorations and baking festive treats for his friends and family. It's a tradition – Andromeda makes the shortbread, Harry makes toffee, and Teddy and James make the gingerbread biscuits. But it's been especially busy at work and he needs to put in the extra hours.
"Dad!" James appears in the hallway, flour smudged across his nose. "Hurry up, we've already got started on the biscuits."
Harry sighs. "Sorry, James. I can't stay long. I've still got to do a few more things."
James's shoulders slump. "Can't it wait? You'll miss all the baking."
"Get back in here, cuz!" Teddy calls from the kitchen. "I need you to make the icing. Can't do it without you."
James brightens up slightly. "Teddy reckons I'm the best at icing."
"Well, go help him then." Harry smiles at James.
"Okay, okay." But James looks happy enough as he disappears again, and Harry thanks Merlin for Teddy and Andromeda. He can hear the Wizarding Wireless playing cheerful Christmas carols; Andromeda will be sitting at the breakfast table in the kitchen, humming to herself as she carefully folds the little gift boxes that will hold the baked goods. Harry would love nothing more than to sit down and join in the festivity, but he still has to visit Draco. He goes upstairs and changes from his Auror robes – it's best to visit Draco in plain robes, he thinks. Another psychological trick picked up from his Auror training. The lack of an intimidating uniform will make Draco more likely to speak without guarding his words.
"I'll be home soon," Harry calls over his shoulder as he steps onto the porch.
He Apparates just outside the Malfoy property, realising he's forgotten to bring the file. Nevertheless, he makes his way up the driveway, staring at the gardens. They've been transformed into a winter wonderland; sunlight catches and sparkles on roses made of ice, and white flowers blossom like snowflakes. Draco's clearly been studying his gardening charms.
There's a lopsided snowman by the front porch, and Harry regards it with faint bewilderment before knocking on the door. The door opens almost at once and Harry stares in surprise. There's a boy standing there, about the same age as James. He has the same white-blond hair as Draco, the same narrow face, the exact same eyes. For a moment, Harry thinks he's gone back in time and he's looking at an eleven-year-old Draco.
But when the boy speaks, it's without any haughtiness or dislike."Hello," he says shyly, and realisation dawns on Harry.
"Hello," he replies. "You must be Scorpius. Is your father in?"
Scorpius doesn't need to answer that question, for at that moment Draco appears beside his son, his hand resting on Scorpius's shoulder.
"Come in," Draco says brusquely to Harry. He turns to his son and speaks in a far softer voice. "Why don't you go upstairs and read your new books, Scorpius?"
Scorpius, however, seems reluctant to leave. "Are you a friend of my father's?" he asks Harry. Harry pauses for a long moment. 'Colleague' won't do — as far as he knows, Draco doesn't work — but he's loathe to explain to Scorpius that he's essentially Draco's parole officer.
"We went to school together," he says at last, turning to hang his cloak in its usual spot. It's only then that he properly notices his surroundings. "Malfoy, what did you do?"
"He's renovating," Scorpius says quickly, looking between Harry and Draco, and Harry has the uncomfortable feeling that Scorpius is worried somehow. Anxious about Harry's presence, as if he thinks any second Harry will attack Draco with a range of terrible curses.
"I hear you're in the same year as my son," Harry says, trying to make Scorpius feel at ease. Draco steps in front of Scorpius, his eyes narrowing, and Harry frowns. They're both equally protective of each other, it seems.
"Are you James's father?" Scorpius asks.
Harry's taken aback. "You know James?"
"He's my friend." Scorpius looks down at his feet. "I help him with spells."
"So you're the friend I've been hearing so much about!" Harry exclaims. James had mentioned a friend helping him with his homework, referring to a kind and intelligent Ravenclaw boy. Harry should have realised. "I should really thank you for that. James has been so happy with his marks."
Scorpius offers another shy smile before retreating, saying he has to finish some homework, and Harry realises that for whatever reason Scorpius's anxiety has dissipated somewhat. Apparently, he feels Harry presents no threat to Draco.
Regardless, there's slight tension in the air. Years of Auror training have schooled Harry in how to manage people — how to make them feel at ease, how to gain points with them, and he'd normally elect to say something nice about Scorpius. However, Draco has proven to be very adamant about keeping Scorpius out of any conversation, and Harry has the feeling that any remark here would be unwise.
So instead, he gestures to the front parlour room.
"I've removed the floor, so no, we shan't." But Draco leads the way to the sitting room, Harry notes books laying around, mostly on interior decoration and domestic spells. Unlike the rest of the 'in-progress' manor, the sitting room is yet to be pulled apart. Despite the dark green wallpaper and creaky floorboards, a cheerful fire is crackling in the hearth and a Christmas tree glitters in the corner, the light of the fire catching on the baubles. Harry sits in the armchair closest to the fire; Draco stands near the mantle, warming his hands near the flames.
"You're doing all this yourself?" Harry asks, recalling the massive undertaking that had been Grimmauld Place. They'd worked for months on that hopelessly dark house, and had produced little results.
"No, I'm hiring workers with my thousands of galleons."
"You could work, you know." Harry is slightly irritated with the bitterness underlying Draco's words.
"I did work, Potter. I worked in genealogy."
"Genealogy. Tracing family histories. A lot of wizarding families are very interested in that sort of thing. The Ministry soon put a stop to that, though."
"I don't know. I'm sure you can find a rule somewhere. And if you can't, just make one up."
"Well, I'm giving you permission to start the genealogy business again," Harry says, displeased. The whole point of the program was to engage wizards as active citizens; preventing them from working was just stupid.
Draco doesn't respond to that and silence reigns for a long moment. Harry is still thinking uncomfortably of their last meeting, when he accidentally flung the Sectumsempra curse at Draco.
"How's the wand?"
"What?" Draco frowns. "Fine."
"Oh. Good." Harry pauses for a long moment, but the prospect of another silence looms and he finds himself speaking. "I miss it."
Draco finally draws his gaze away from the fire and looks at Harry, eyebrows raised. "What?"
"I miss it," Harry admits. "That wand. It was very reliable, you know. Used to use it a lot when I was out in the field." It had proved very useful as a second wand.
Another long silence eclipses them and just as Harry's about to ask some pointless question just to remind himself it's supposed to be a business meeting, Draco speaks.
"You can have it, if you want." He pauses, then hastens to clarify. "Right now. Borrow it for a spell or two, then give it back."
"Well..." Harry pauses, then shrugs. "Why not?"
Draco takes the wand from his pocket and holds it out. Harry hesitates, then accepts it. It feels the same as it ever did and he smiles a little, then lifts it.
A flash of white light, and the stag leaps from his wand, landing gracefully in the middle of the room. It lowers its head, as if investigating the premises, then raises its head again and looks at Draco.
Harry glances at Draco, then frowns. He has a strange expression on his face, watching as the stag slowly walks up to him and nudges him with its antlers.
"It's not disappearing," Draco says after a long moment. There's something in his voice that Harry can't read, but he shrugs it off.
"It disappears when it wants to. Why — does yours disappear on command?"
"I have not attempted a Patronus," Draco says.
"You should. They're very useful."
There's a long pause. "It's said," Draco says at last, "that if a Dark wizard attempts a Patronus, they will be consumed by maggots from their own wand."
Harry winces and casts around for a topic change.
"When did the renovations start?"
"Last week. I hope they will be finished over the next two years."
Draco levels Harry with a very chilly look. "I am attempting to transform an entire manor, Potter, not turn a match into a needle."
"All right, calm down," Harry says warily. "I've had some experience in renovations, you know. Bloody difficult." He's thinking of Grimmauld Place again.
"Yes," Draco says feelingly, "they are."
At least they've reached something they can agree on.
"I could help with a few spells," Harry offers. "I've gotten loads of practice with magically removing wallpaper."
"It's fine," Draco says, and Harry nods.
"Well, I should leave," he says, standing up, keen to return home already and tick this visit off his list. "Until next week, Malfoy."
Draco nods, opens his mouth, and then closes it again. Harry lingers, waiting slightly impatiently.
"Listen," Draco says. "Your son, James."
"Yes?" Harry tries to hide his surprise at the remark.
"He's friends with Scorpius?"
Draco glances at the fire. "Look, Scorpius hasn't...I suspect he hasn't got too many friends, and I thought perhaps…"
"It's fine," Harry interrupts, understanding at once. "I'll bring James with me next week." He pauses. "Er...don't mention it to anyone, though. I mean, if the Ministry found out that I brought my son along to a meeting…well..."
Harry is loathe to ask the next question, but he has to.
"There's not...anything dangerous, is there? I mean, nothing cursed or anything..." He trails off, seeing the flash of anger in Draco's eyes.
"Would I let my son run around in a manor with cursed objects?" he snaps, and Harry feels apologetic.
"Yes, of course. I'll bring James next week, then."
"Fine." But there's a slight pause, and Draco adds grudgingly, "Thank you."
Harry nods and turns to leave. As he's making his way down the hallway, however, Draco calls out.
"Your Patronus is still here, Potter!"
Harry glances over his shoulder. "So? What do you want me to do about it? Just ignore it, it'll go away soon."
Draco gives him a long look of exasperation and snaps the sitting room door shut.
Christmas comes and goes. Christmas Eve is spent at Ron and Hermione's place; Harry and James arrive at the same time as Andromeda and Teddy, and as usual the evening is spent with the adults laughing and passing around the eggnog while the children amuse themselves. James good-naturedly plays a game of Exploding Snap with Hugo while Teddy flicks ink-pellets at them. Rose, draped over an armchair with a good book, seems oblivious to the noise around her.
The following day is the usual riot of over-excited children (although Teddy tries to affect an air of cool disinterest, even he can't hide his wide-eyed awe at receiving the latest Skyfire Century from his grandmother). After a long and leisurely lunch, things have calmed somewhat and the children are slumped in the sitting room, draped over sofas and armchairs. Hugo, already exhausted from the excitement of it all, has fallen asleep clutching his new train set.
Harry collects James for what he's come to regard as his annual duty: visiting Dudley. But he can't brush this visit off; Dudley and his wife have had their first child, and Harry is sure to congratulate them. Dudley offers a glass of aged scotch in celebration, along with his usual Christmas card to Harry, and gives James a present (a Monopoly set, much to James's fascination). In the evening, they exchange farewells and Harry drives a sleepy James home. He watches the snow spiral gently in front of the windscreen, creating mesmerising patterns in the dark night.
It's been a good day, he thinks, but then again he always makes sure James experiences all the wonder of Christmas, all the joy Harry never knew as a child.
That night, long after James has gone to bed, Harry sits by the Christmas tree and watches the tiny lights sparkle in the darkness, and on the mantlepiece the photographs of Ginny smile at him.
The ghost of Christmas past, he thinks abstractedly.
He extinguishes the lights and goes to bed.
Four days later, he prepares for his usual visit to Draco and collects James before leaving. James is only too thrilled to see his friend, although Harry has his own reservations about the visit.
"James? Time to go," he says, climbing into the attic. "Unless you'd rather stay home," he adds with faint hope. James seems enthusiastic about visiting Scorpius, but what if they're not actually very good friends? What if they have a fight? What if James, clumsy as ever, breaks some expensive heirloom? What if there's some bit of cursed furniture, despite Draco's belief that the manor is safe, and James ends up hurt? Harry is beginning to wish he hadn't agreed to the visit at all. "We need to leave in five minutes," he adds. James — lying on his bed in his pyjamas, eating a mince pie and reading a book on dragons (a gift from Hagrid) — looks peeved.
"No fair! You could've come and got me earlier," he says accusingly, leaping to his feet and reaching for clothes heaped on the floor.
"Don't wear those, that shirt's all wrinkled," Harry says, thinking of Draco silently judging. James just sighs and Harry retreats, going back downstairs and making sure he's got Draco's file this time. Maybe he shouldn't have agreed to allow James to come along at all…who knows how awkward it might be?
James rushes down the stairs after a few minutes, wearing slightly rumpled clothes and a set of plain black robes. "All right, let's go."
"Wait, what's that, under your arm?"
"This?" James grins. "That Monopoly game Dudley gave me. I want to try it out! I bet Scorpius has never played it before either. Is it like Gobstones?"
"It's a complicated property management game."
"Brilliant, I can practice investing in long-term gains."
"Been eavesdropping on Uncle Percy's conversations again?" Harry asks dryly. James just grins mischievously and tries to balance his Monopoly set while he wrests with the front door.
Once on the front porch, Harry produces a portkey and, in a moment, they're whipping dizzyingly through the air and come to land at the end of the manor driveway. James tumbles over and lands in a snow-covered flowerbed; Harry quickly pulls him back out, dusting the snow from James's shoulders and casting a drying spell. James, unbothered by the fuss, straightens his robes and looks around.
"Wow! Dad, look at those roses! Are they made of ice? Why haven't we got roses made of ice? Wow, look at that house! It's huge! Does Scorpius really live there?"
And James is off, racing up the driveway excitedly, forcing Harry to sprint along to catch up with him.
He's still not sure if this is a good idea.
Draco is on the upper floor of the manor, hunting for his copy of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. Scorpius has already devotedly read his way through the new books he received for Christmas and has requested 'more stuff about manticores and things'.
The wards tremor and Draco frowns, looking out the window. Across the white expanse of the front gardens, he sees two people pop into appearance. They're both dressed in black and one tumbles over. For a moment, panic seizes Draco's heart. Then, as one of the people turns and extracts the other from the pile of snow, he remembers James. True enough, the second person is too short to be an adult. As he watches, Harry leans down and carefully brushes snow from his son. The next moment, however, the younger Potter has begun racing towards the porch steps.
Draco quickly turns and descends the stairs, wanting to get the door before Scorpius does — he hasn't told Scorpius of the possibility of James visiting — and there's a single knock before Draco opens the door.
Harry stands on the step, looking slightly out-of-breath. Beside him, his son is smiling up at Draco expectantly. Beneath his knitted cap, a wild tuft of black hair is escaping, and his face has the same structure as Harry's — the narrow nose, the hint of a jawline that will no doubt emerge as the softness of childhood melts away. However, his eyes are brown, and for some reason this surprises Draco.
"Come in," Draco says tersely to Harry, unsure how to respond to James. Harry nods once at him.
And then —
"Scorpius!" James's voice rings out jubilantly; Draco turns and sees Scorpius, wide-eyed, on the stairs. "Is this really your house? Wow, it's amazing!"
Scorpius hurries down the steps just as James flies up to greet him; both boys collide for a moment, reeling backwards. Then James starts laughing and, to Draco's surprise, Scorpius gives a small smile.
"What are you doing here?" Scorpius asks James.
"Visiting you, of course! Dad, look how big this place is!" James looks up at a chandelier, awestruck. "I bet it's got a million rooms, and half of them are haunted."
"No, they're not," Scorpius replies. "We're renovating, and Father says he's getting rid of all the ghosts."
Draco flushes; he can feel Harry staring at him, and he resolutely keeps his eyes trained ahead.
"Oh, shame that. You'd be so lucky to have a ghost. Do you know, Dad won't even let me get a ghoul?"
"Oh, ghouls can be very loud," Scorpius says. "I've been reading about magical creatures, you can get all sorts of pets. I wouldn't get a ghoul."
"What would you get, then?"
"Well, I've got Pan of course, but I wouldn't mind a Niffler," Scorpius says at once. "I've got a name picked out and everything."
Draco watches disbelievingly as the two boys casually saunter up the stairs together, still chatting away. He glances across at Harry, who also seems to be stuck in a sense of surreality. Soon, the boys have disappeared from sight.
Draco's not sure what he'd been expecting; something awkward, certainly. That Harry's son — a vague acquaintance to Scorpius, no doubt — would arrive and mumble 'hello' to Scorpius before both were reluctantly sent to the library to have a quiet game of Gobstones or something. Certainly, Draco hadn't expected a ball of energy and enthusiasm to come barrelling through his front doors, immediately launch into excited chatter with Scorpius (evidently a close friend), and then race away with neither of them sparing Draco another glance.
"Tea?" he says at last to Harry; it's the first thing that pops into his head and he feels irritated with himself. Tea is what you offer to welcome people.
"What? Oh — thanks."
"I'll be in the sitting room momentarily."
Harry takes the cue and leaves, setting off down the hallway. Draco, cursing himself for the offer of tea, makes his way to the kitchens. Since dismissing the house-elf, he's had to undertake most of the cooking himself. With a wave of his wand, he sends the tray of tea up to the sitting room and spends a moment standing still, listening hard for any noise. He can't help but worry slightly. Scorpius has never had friends over before, and Draco has no idea what this James Potter is like. But he can hardly make excuses to check up on the children — Harry would be furious to hear Draco imply that he thought James might try to kick Scorpius down the stairs.
He makes his way to the sitting room, where Harry has already taken the armchair by the fire and is sipping at a cup of tea. Draco stands near the opposite end of the mantle.
"I remembered your file this time," Harry says, holding up a folder. Draco looks at it for a long moment. Suddenly, he wonders what Harry has written in there. Surely he's gotten nothing useful from these meetings?
"May I see it?"
Harry blinks. He clearly hadn't expected that response. He looks hesitant, then shrugs.
"The law allows you access to your file any time," he says at last.
"Does it?" Draco can't help but sound surprised. He was expecting Harry to say no, in that infuriating self-righteous way of his.
"Of course. I mean, that's part of the duty of care, isn't it? Rights and responsibilities and all that." Harry opens the file and hands it over, gesturing to the open page. "When you signed this contract years ago, you should have read all this."
Draco has no idea what Harry's talking about. His previous officers have all certainly made sure he knows about his responsibilities, but nobody's mentioned his rights.
He opens the file carefully.
Case number: 252-13-458.
It's the first thing written upon the file. A line of neat numbers. Is that what he's reduced to? Not even his name. Just a line of numbers.
Beneath that is his contact information. Home address, Floo network availability, fire-call restrictions. The next-of-kin is stamped in large letters: WARD OF STATE. All this information Harry no doubt collected from other files readily available. The next page — medical information — is relatively empty. It lists past injuries — about five or six, and mercifully it describes the injuries in one or two brief words, with no mention of context.
He turns the page. Now it gets interesting. Family.
A neat row of names. Mother, deceased. Father, deceased. Cousins, aunts, uncles, deceased, deceased, deceased. There's only Scorpius left; next to his name, Harry has written 'good relationship'. Draco stares at the two words for a long moment, then turns the page.
Crabbe, deceased. Parkinson, estranged. Draco looks up at Harry.
"What's this? Estranged?"
"No longer friends."
"I know what it means. I'm asking why you've put it in my file."
"It's true, isn't it? I saw it in your face, when you came back from her wedding."
"I don't know why you thought we're estranged, unless you've gone soft in the head," Draco snaps. "You've always been terrible at reading people, and now you've proven it. Pansy and I — she's my oldest friend — "
"It's been fifteen years since I started my Auror training, Malfoy. I've long since learned how to read people."
Draco stares down at the page for a while before he begins reading again.
No lie there. They haven't contacted each other in years.
Zabini, deceased. Nott, deceased.
Zabini had been murdered, Draco remembers. A routine mugging gone wrong; a misfired spell that killed Zabini immediately.
Nott had committed suicide. That had been kept out of the papers. Draco had received an owl with a funeral notice. When he'd attended the funeral, Nott's mother had stared at him with bloodshot eyes and shown him the note Nott had written. It was only five words. Tell them all I'm sorry.
"Is that correct?"
Draco looks up. Harry gestures to the parchment.
"All the details are correct?" he repeats.
Draco doesn't answer right away. He looks back down at the file, then turns the final page.
Work and professional life.
The page is empty and Draco hands the file to Harry.
"Genealogist. I intend to resume my work."
Harry looks around; Draco wordlessly passes him a quill from the mantle and Harry scribbles something onto the page. Draco resumes staring into the flames of the fire, thinking about his file.
"It's been rather quiet." Harry turns his gaze to the ceiling. Draco shrugs.
"Scorpius is very quiet."
They swap a distrustful look and then both turn to hurry upstairs. Draco overtakes Harry, glancing left and right into open doorways. All empty. That leaves Scorpius's bedroom. He reaches for the handle, yanking the door open.
Both boys are lying on the floor, heads close together, reading a book. At hearing the door open, they both look up with identical expressions of surprise.
"Oh, hello," James says amiably. "Is it time to leave already?"
"Oh. Do you have to leave now?" Scorpius asks James. "The next bit gets really interesting, it's a charm about planets."
"No — you think I'm ready for the moon transfiguration?" James looks delighted. "Wow, Scorpius! You know what — we could transfigure your whole room! What do you say? That grassy stuff, we can grow that out of the floor — "
"And the wardrobe could be a tree," Scorpius adds.
"And your bed — we could make it into a swamp!"
"Oh, no. I wouldn't want to sleep in a swamp."
"I'd put some bullfrogs in there to keep you company." James nudges Scorpius with his shoulder, smiling, and the boys soon descend into conversation again, ignoring Draco. He turns, suddenly aware of Harry standing behind him, watching his son too. He seems to be lost in thought, but after a minute he visibly focuses, straightening up and calling out.
"Come on, James, time to go home."
"Oh, now?" James looks up at Harry with reluctance. "Can't you just talk for another hour?"
"No. We've got to leave."
"We've invited Andromeda and Teddy for dinner."
"Oh! Can Scorpius come? He's in Ravenclaw, same as Teddy," James says with excitement, and Draco's stomach suddenly churns with fear at the idea of leaving Scorpius in some stranger's house for the next few hours. Thankfully, Harry resolves the situation with a quick shake of his head.
"Maybe another time. Come on."
James gets up, with much unhappiness, and both boys trail Harry and Draco to the entrance hall.
"Until next week," Harry says; it seems to have become their usual farewell.
"Next week," Draco echoes.
"See you at Hogwarts," James says to Scorpius. "Wish I could've stayed longer."
Scorpius nods, watching the two Potters depart. Draco closes the door.
"Have fun with your friend?" he asks his son. Scorpius looks up at him and gives a little secretive smile.
"Yes. I practised investing in long-term gains."
Draco is completely bewildered.