Harry sits in his study, staring down at the parchment before him.
Williamson had fire-called earlier. Any progress? he'd asked, as if Draco were a crossword puzzle. No. No progress. Williamson knew when Harry took this case that it wouldn't be a simple matter of demanding Draco give him answers. Perhaps fifteen years ago, when Harry was a new recruit, enthusiastic and focused on the exciting field work — firing spells and saving lives. But fifteen years have taken their toll, and he's learned a thousand other ways to get information. Reading the lines on people's faces like their skin is a map; watching for the tic of a muscle or the curl of a lip. Using conversation like a delicate scalpel, dissecting memories and recollections.
Draco's request to see his file had been unexpected, but the real observations aren't kept there anyway. No; instead, Harry has a whole stack of separate notes on Draco, ranging from his physical appearance (dark shadows under eyes often — poor sleeping? Psychological issues?) to his relationships (still trying to cling to dead friendships — problems with Pansy Parkinson). These notes, Draco will certainly never see. But many others will, Aurors and secretaries alike, and for some reason Harry's not sure he's comfortable with that. There's nothing in these notes to pinpoint Lucius Malfoy's location and since they're of little use, why have yet another person rifle endlessly through Draco's personal life?
"Dad, where's my Transfiguration essay? It was on the kitchen table, don't tell me you threw it out!" James's accusatory face appears around the study door and Harry, shaken from his thoughts, sighs and pushes the parchment away.
"I've told you before not to leave things lying around. Go check the hall credenza."
"I only left it there for an hour or two," James grumbles, turning to leave. "Oh, and where's my grey scarf?"
"Have you checked the laundry?" Harry glances at the clock on the wall. "James, it's nearly ten! Why do you have to pack now? You've got all tomorrow."
From somewhere in the hallway, James's voice echoes. "Yeah, but I want to get it done tonight. That way I can spend tomorrow re-painting my Quidditch figures. Hugo is not allowed to play with them anymore! My Seeker's missing half his broom."
"Have you found your essay?" Harry waits, but there's no response. James has already wandered away down the hall, his footsteps quickly fading.
Footsteps fading. Doors closing.
One more week of reprieve, and then it will start again. This empty house, these silent rooms.
The clock ticks.
There's no whirlwind of new robes and textbooks and nervous excitement this time; they arrive at King's Cross in an orderly fashion and, as James prepares to run through the platform barrier, he turns to his father and with ten words, he makes Harry's heart drop like a stone.
"I'll be all right, you don't have to see me off," he says.
Harry stares at him. "But...it's quite all right, I don't mind going to the platform."
"It's fine, I can just say goodbye here. I'll see you in summer. Don't forget to write — keep me updated on everyone!" James gives Harry a hug; before Harry can tighten his grip, James already slips away and, with a cheerful wave, disappears through the wall.
Harry walks away slowly.
His son is growing up.
Draco curses again as the wall turns a pale cream colour; he kicks the Charms book across the floor. It's a simple paint charm! How hard can it be? He taps his wand against the wall again.
"Powdered Snow," he repeats sternly.
There's a knock at the door and Draco, in a fit of frustration, strides to the door and flings it open.
"What?" he snaps. Harry blinks at him.
"Everything all right? I could hear you raging from out here."
"Fine," Draco bites out. "This damn wall — " He cuts himself off, remembering exactly who it is he's talking to. He has no desire to lose his cool in front of Harry Potter.
"What's the problem?" Harry steps into the entrance hall and looks around. "It looks good. Much better than that terrible wallpaper."
"What are you talking about? It's supposed to be Powdered Snow."
Harry looks at the wall, then looks at Draco as if he's mad. "It is. It's white."
"Are you blind? That's Turtle Eggshell, not Powdered Snow."
"Are you serious, Malfoy? It's white. You can't have shades of white. There's no Turtle Snow or Powdered Eggshell."
"There is a critical difference, Potter, and if it's not Powdered Snow then it ruins the rest of my design."
"Merlin save me from days like this," Harry mutters. "All right, fine." He taps his wand on the wall. "There you go, it's white."
"It is not," Draco says irritably. "You've made it worse, it's Pale Cloud now."
"Pale Cloud? That's not even a colour. No colour is called Pale Cloud. Nobody says, 'oh, have you got that shirt in pale cloud?'. It's white."
"It's a cold white! I don't want cold, I want warm! It's going to ruin the entire colour scheme." Draco snaps his mouth shut, suddenly aware of how petulant he sounds. Harry is looking amused; he picks up the colour swatches on the hall table.
"You're right," he says, and Draco wonders if Harry's ever said those words to him before. "Look, there's a million different shades here. Oh, I see what you mean — there's sort of bluish-white, isn't there, and then you have the warmer shades…"
Draco waits to see if Harry's mocking him, but he seems quite serious.
"That does look like Pale Cloud, doesn't it?" Harry says, looking at the wall and then back to the paint swatches. "Hmm." He taps his wand on the wall and the colour changes ever so slightly. "Oh no, I think it's Winter Moon now." He taps his wand again. "Oh, that's Dumbledore's Beard, certainly."
"Give it here." Draco snatches the paint swatches away. "You made that last one up."
"I did not! I can't help it if they have daft names."
True to Harry's word, there's a shade called Dumbledore's Beard. Draco shakes his head, then carefully holds the Powdered Snow sample against the wall and, concentrating carefully, taps his wand twice. The wall changes and matches the sample perfectly.
"There you go, that's done then," Harry says and Draco turns to give him a look.
"There's another forty-six rooms and hallways, Potter."
"Nobody needs forty-six rooms. You could save yourself a lot of pointless work, sell this dump and buy a flat somewhere nice."
Draco levels Harry with another long look. "And where do you live?"
Harry opens his mouth, looks uneasy, and closes it again. "Not that it's any of your business, but East Devon somewhere."
"House or flat?"
"House, of course," Harry says, as if Draco's suggested he lives in a cardboard box. "It's a converted barn, we rebuilt it and renovated..." He trails off, but Draco's already seen the spark of pride in his eyes.
"So, quite a large building then. But I assume it's simply you and your son living there. So why live there? You don't need all the room. Just sell it, buy a flat in Bristol somewhere."
Harry looks at him. "Point taken, Malfoy," he says at last.
But the conversation has triggered something in Draco's memory; something he saw in his file as he was reading over the terms and conditions of his contract.
"I expect you've allowed me full access to your East Devon home," Draco says, unable to resist the amused tone. Harry stares at him as if he's gone mad.
"What are you talking about?"
"I was reading through the terms and conditions of the Wizards Under Watch program. Much like you have access to my Floo network, I'm supposed to have access to yours."
"What are you talking about? There's no — "
Draco turns and makes his way down the hallway and into the study; he can hear Harry striding after him. He opens the desk drawer and tosses the file across the desk. Harry snatches it up.
"It's under 'emergency contact procedures'," Draco says helpfully. For a long while, there's nothing but the noise of the fire crackling in the hearth as Harry reads the pages over and over.
"Well — that's — I mean, it's not — " Harry's looking distinctly cornered. "I mean — can't you just send an owl?"
"It's emergency contact, Potter." Draco can't help the smugness in his voice as he repeats the words Harry said to him during their first meeting. "Unless we're talking about a very special owl that can teleport itself across space and time— "
"Fine! Fine!" Harry glares at the file. "I'll give you access to my Floo network. But it's for emergency use only! If you turn up for any reason less than your house burning to the ground — "
"Quite unnecessary. I don't make a habit of visiting decrepit barns."
That strikes a nerve, Draco sees. Harry's jaw tightens and he holds a hand out.
It's been a while since Harry completed a wand check. Draco hands it over, waiting as Harry checks the spell history. Mostly domestic charms, Draco knows.
"There's a quick-quotes spell here, Malfoy. What on earth are you using that for?"
"Didn't I say I was resuming my genealogy work?" Draco turns away. "I have to watch a potion I'm brewing at the moment. You're early," he adds, a shade reproachfully.
"Am I?" Harry seems unsurprised. "Fine, we can hold the meeting in the cellar."
Draco has actually set up his cauldron in the servants' kitchen, finding it infinitely more welcoming with its large fireplace and well-worn furniture. When they arrive in the kitchen, however, Harry doesn't remark on the location.
Draco looks up, startled, then flushes. That stupid Muggle game that he found in Scorpius's room, presumably a gift from James. Draco had been trying to figure out the rules and he'd brought it into the kitchen to muse over while he was waiting for potions to brew.
"A Muggle game."
"I can see that. I want to know why you have a Monopoly set in your kitchen."
"Your son left it behind," Draco says, tapping the cauldron thrice with his wand.
"You've got it all set up wrong, did you know?" Harry says conversationally. "I don't know why you've stacked all the hotels onto Free Parking. And you've put all the money in jail."
"It represents my frozen assets." The wry words are said before Draco can stop them. It was a private joke he'd had with himself, when he'd been staring at the stacks of paper Muggle money and thinking about his own accounts.
To his surprise, however, Harry laughs. With absolutely no trace of bitterness or mockery. He just laughs, like he would at one of Weasley's jokes.
"Do you know how to play?" Harry asks, gesturing to the board, and Draco knows it's more of an invitation than a question. He pauses, but Scorpius seemed to enjoy the game and no doubt he'd be delighted if, by the time he returned for the summer holidays, Draco had learned to play the game too.
"No," Draco says, edging the word with curtness just to make sure Harry knows that it does not mean he's welcome to stay any longer than necessary.
"All right." Harry begins sorting money into piles; Draco checks the potion on the pretence of having something to do. After that, he automatically reaches for the kettle and sets it over the hearth.
"Tea?" The word slips out automatically and Draco is immediately annoyed with himself.
"Thanks," Harry says absently, pushing a pile of money across the board. Draco sighs inwardly and gets out another cup. "Pick your piece," Harry adds. Draco casts a critical eye over the game-pieces, picking up a tiny boot and examining it.
"This is a boot. Why?"
Harry stares at Draco. "What?"
"Why is it a boot?" Draco repeats with infinite patience. "Why do Muggles choose footwear for gamepieces?"
"I...I don't know. It's..." Harry shrugs helplessly.
"And is that — is that an iron? A wheelbarrow? I'll assume this is a game dreamed up by sad little Muggle peasants as they went about their daily drudgery."
"Sad little Muggle peasants?" Harry begins scathingly, but Draco cuts him off.
"I'll be the top hat, it's the only piece with any sort of dignity."
"Fine. I'll take the battleship."
"The battleship? I didn't even see that piece!"
"How unfortunate," Harry says crushingly. "Roll the dice."
"Aren't they self-rolling?"
"This is a Muggle game, given to me by a Muggle relative. So I think it's safe to assume that no, the dice have not been charmed. You'll have to suffer the burden of picking up the dice and then manually releasing them."
Draco deliberately ruins Harry's cup of tea by adding three sugars.
James is happy to see his friends again. Paul and Martin, full of jokes; Nate, always happy to share stories; even Iwan, who is a little more standoffish and doesn't seem to find all the jokes about his Welsh heritage funny.
On their first night back at Hogwarts, they gather around the Gryffindor fireplace and exchange holiday stories.
"My parents got into a dreadful argument and my father had his ears transfigured into parsnips," complains Martin.
Iwan frowns. "At least you didn't have the embarrassment of your entire family being dragged to hospital because your brother tried to see how many peas he could fit in his nose."
"That's rough," James says sympathetically. "Chocolate frog?"
Iwan nods, then changes his mind. "No! Last time I ate one of your frogs, my hair turned into moss."
"You should see the latest Weasley joke," James says with a wink. "Hasn't even been released yet, but Uncle George gave me a bag of them for Christmas."
"Tell us what it is, you have to tell us!"
It's been a while since they've been like this. There was all that tenseness before Christmas, James thinks, but his friends seem to have forgotten it. Now, he sits in the best armchair in the common room, his friends gathering around, laughing at all his jokes and looking at him in admiration, and he feels like a king holding court.
He settles back comfortably into his armchair, feeling unaccountably pleased with himself.
But there's one thing James would never dare tell his friends, and that's the fact that he's homesick. They'd tease him endlessly if they knew. So he smiles and makes jokes instead, plays pranks with Canary Creams and Skiving Snackboxes, and his friends all laugh and don't notice the way he goes to bed early or hides in the library for long periods of time.
"What's the matter?" he asks one evening, when James's transfiguration practice is going terribly. His quill — transfigured from a field mouse — has sprouted beady eyes and a long tail.
"Nothing. Hey, want to look at the map?" He reaches for the Marauder's Map. This distraction has always worked well with his friends, but Scorpius just frowns.
"Something's bothering you."
"I bet Peeves is up to no good. Look, he's in Sinistra's office!" James shows Scorpius the map, but he just frowns more.
"Nothing's wrong. I wonder how long Peeves has been around for? You know, my father..." James blinks, and tries again. "My father, he said Peeves was around when he went here. It's odd to think of...ugh." He blinks rapidly, but it's no use. His vision is blurring. "It's odd to think of our parents here, isn't it? My father..." He swipes a sleeve across his face, feeling ashamed, but Scorpius just silently watches him. "I don't know why I'm crying," James adds shakily, trying to smile. "You think I'd be used to it by now! I didn't feel homesick at all when I left in September..." But they'd all been there at Christmas — Aunt Hermione and his grandparents, all his uncles — Ron, George, Percy, Bill, Charlie — and there had been Andromeda, and Neville had visited, and Luna, and all the wonderful people with whom James had grown up. It brought back a thousand memories of long and lazy days spent at his country home, surrounded by loved ones.
Scorpius just sits and waits for James to compose himself. Then he speaks.
"We could make it home."
James dries the last of his tears on his sleeve. "What?"
"Your home," Scorpius repeats patiently. "We could bring it here."
"What — my house? Bring it to Hogwarts?"
"No." Scorpius allows a small smile, and James has the feeling that someone less kind may have added 'idiot' to the end of that reply. "We could transfigure this room. Make it look like your home."
All tears forgotten, James leaps to his feet. "Could we?" he says with excitement. "I mean, you're brilliant at it, but I — I don't know where to start."
"What's your happiest memory?" Scorpius asks. "We could recreate it."
"Oh, that's a brilliant idea!" James doesn't even have to think about it. "A summer's day," he says at once. "You know those days, when the fields go on forever and the sky is blue as the sea..." He trails off, suddenly feeling self-conscious, but Scorpius is nodding in agreement.
"Blue unclouded weather," he says.
"Yes! Exactly." James begins to feel confident in the conversation again. "I live in an old farmhouse that my parents renovated before I was born. There's a vegetable garden outside, and then there's a little wooden fence, but past that...there's fields gold as a galleon." James stretches his arms out, envisioning the landscape. "There's an oak tree in the corner of the field — five times taller than me, at least, and if you close your eyes a little it looks like there's the face of an old man in the bark…"
Scorpius is leaning over his Transfiguration notes, drawing. He holds up the parchment, a sketch of a field upon it.
"Oh! Yes, but the fence is a little more run-down. Sort of leaning everywhere, with the wire all rusted. And the oak tree is in the right-hand corner of the field."
Scorpius amends the sketch. James nods approvingly.
"You're very good at drawing," he says. "You're good at everything."
"Nearly everything. You could be anything! You could be an artist, or a professor, or even Minister for Magic."
"I wouldn't want to be Minister for Magic."
Scorpius looks down at his drawing, considering things. "I don't like talking to people."
James thinks about that. "Want to know a secret? I don't like talking to people either, sometimes."
Scorpius looks suspicious. "You're always talking to everyone."
"I know, but — well — sometimes I wish they'd all just leave me alone. Why do I have to be the one to make jokes, or organise midnight adventures, or share my map, or tell stories?" James shuts his mouth quickly, his face reddening. He's never told anyone that. "I sound horrible, don't I?" he adds miserably. "Like an awful friend."
"I don't think you're an awful friend."
"Real friends always have interesting stories, and share their things, and tell funny jokes."
Scorpius hesitates. "I think real friends are just people who are always there for you, no matter what."
James brightens. "I like that. Yes, no matter what. And I'm always there for my friends."
"So I suppose you're a good friend, then."
"I suppose I am."
They smile at each other.
Over the next few weeks, they work on transforming the room. Soon, the ceiling has turned azure and the floor has transformed into knee-high grass the colour of gold. The planets disappear, replaced by an enormous oak tree in the corner; a row of old desks are painstakingly transfigured into a little wooden fence, overgrown with grass. It's only when the room is nearing completion that James turns to Scorpius, remembering suddenly that the room belongs to two people.
"What about you?"
"What about me?" Scorpius is bewildered.
"It isn't fair that the whole room is my memory. There should be something of yours in here too. What's your happiest memory?"
Scorpius looks lost.
"Maybe something with your parents?" James suggests. Something in Scorpius's eyes flattens, like a door closing, and James remembers too late that Scorpius doesn't like to talk about his parents. "Sorry," he adds. "Your mother doesn't live with you, does she?"
He didn't mean to sound so blunt, and he winces at his words. But Scorpius, whose gaze is suddenly fixed at his feet, nods.
"My parents divorced when I was little and my mother took me away. We moved around a lot."
"That sounds fun," James says, thinking of how he'd love to travel. But Scorpius glances up, several emotions flashing across his face.
"It wasn't," he says. "Starting at a different school every year...I was always the new student. The last time we moved, it was to Cardiff and I didn't know anyone. I never stayed long enough to make any friends. I couldn't make friends, anyway. My mother didn't like visitors."
"Why not?" James thinks of his own mother. "Was she sick?"
Scorpius hesitates. "She was really sad all the time. She missed my dad really badly, but she said she could never go back because he'd hate her for taking me away. She was always forgetting to eat and a lot of mornings she wouldn't get out of bed. She cried a lot. It was okay, though, because I was there to help. You know, like going to the supermarket and buying food, and cooking dinners, and washing clothes and all that sort of stuff."
James frowns. He's never worried about those sorts of things – it's Harry's job. "Oh," he says at last, not sure what else to say. "Did that cheer her up?"
Scorpius looks away. "Not really. I tried really hard, but she never got better."
"Oh." James doesn't know what else to say. Scorpius hardly ever talks about himself, and especially not his family. But now he's started speaking, it's like he can't stop.
"I did everything I was supposed to do," Scorpius adds. "Going to school and doing my homework and everything, so she didn't have to worry about me at all — but it didn't work. And one day I came home from school and found her lying on the floor. I didn't know what to do. I just stood there, like I was frozen. After a while — I don't know how long — I went and called the ambulance. But it was too late by then." Scorpius hangs his head. "I watched her die and I didn't do anything. Just stood there. It's awful, isn't it?"
Silence stretches between them. Scorpius is staring down at his feet; he's not crying, but he has the sort of stoic expression that James practised many times after his mother's death.
"It's all right," James says at last. "It's not awful, Scorpius."
Scorpius looks up at him with surprise. "It isn't?"
James nods. Of course it's not awful, he thinks. He thinks of his own mother's death and how grateful he is, now that he's older, that Harry was there with her during her final moments. "You were there, weren't you? That probably helped her a lot. Just knowing you were there."
Scorpius falls silent for a while. "It's all right?" he says at last, his voice uncertain.
"It's all right," James repeats firmly. "It's perfectly all right."
It's a cold winter's night in the large stone castle, but they stand together under a sky the colour of a thousand childhood summers.
James thinks Scorpius changes after that. Not greatly; it's almost imperceptible. Something about the way he walks now, the way he holds his shoulders, the way he tilts his head upwards as he listens to the professors instead of hunching over his parchment.
In their room of summer, they have added a flight of cream-coloured butterflies that flutter around the patches of milkweed hiding amongst the grass. It's a tribute to Scorpius's favourite memory: a day — when he was young, no older than five — when his father took him to a park. It had been a clear summer's day, and Scorpius had sat on his father's shoulders as Draco walked through milkweed, hundreds of butterflies surrounding them.
One night, as they're sitting amongst the butterflies, James gives Scorpius a gift: a little silver rat he'd transfigured from an inkwell. It had taken him many late nights to complete.
"This is very advanced transfiguration," Scorpius says, eyes wide as he looks at it.
"Is it?" James says offhandedly, but he's pleased. High praise indeed from Scorpius. "I wanted it to move about and stuff too, but that's really tricky. Suppose it makes a nice ornament, though."
"It can be a friend for Pan," Scorpius says, smiling. James grins back at him.
It's nice, he thinks, having a best friend.
"You're going to break it."
"Stop fussing, it's fine."
"Don't tilt it like that — watch your wand! You're going to drop it."
"I will drop it in a minute," Harry says threateningly. The enormous pane of glass shakes slightly as it floats slowly through the air, following the movement of Harry's wand.
He's not quite sure what happened — he'd turned up at the manor, as per usual, with a file tucked under one arm and a determination not to do anything other than ask the official questions and leave. But somehow — and he's not quite sure how — he's gotten roped into helping Draco with the sunroom windows.
"I hope they fit," he says conversationally, looking at the window and then at the empty frames. "Look a bit too small, really. You might have to redo the frames."
"I will not, Potter. I paid for good craftsmanship, that's what I'm getting."
"Sure you didn't mess up the measurements?"
"Would you concentrate on the window? Look, you nearly hit it on the frame!"
"All right, calm down. You focus on your window, I'll focus on mine."
Draco falls silent, at least. After a tense fifteen minutes, the windows have successfully been slotted into place.
"Hope you're not replacing any more windows, there's no way I'll go through that again," Harry says. The very close fit of the windows had required some nerve-wrackingly delicate wandwork. He stands back, surveying what had once been the drawing room. The south-facing wall has been replaced by a row of wall-to-ceiling windows; the other walls have been altered to a pale colour — Powdered Snow, Harry supposes, like the rest of the manor — and the dark ebony floorboards have been polished to a beautiful shine, restored to their former pristine condition. The room is still quite bare however, absent of any furniture.
"If this is going to be a sunroom, you should get some sofas," Harry says critically. "A coffee table, a few bookcases."
"That will have to wait. Those windows have proven very costly." Draco turns and disappears down the hallway; Harry follows him and eventually emerges in the servants' kitchen. Another potion is bubbling over the fire, but Draco doesn't pay it much attention. He's busying himself moving large reams of parchment from the table.
"Someone's family history?" Harry asks curiously.
"The Winchelsea family. Muggleborn, and the daughter wants to know if there's any wizards or witches amongst her ancestors."
Harry nods, then glances down at the table, criss-crossed with deep grooves from years of knifework. In the very corner of the table, the Monopoly set still sits. Harry picks up the battleship; Draco glances over at him.
"That game," he says contemptuously. "Muggles have the strangest idea of fun."
"Don't lie, you enjoyed it."
"The Angel Islington isn't even a location, it's a building. I suppose you can't trust Muggles to get anything right."
Harry looks at Draco. Just when he seemed to be acting like a decent human being…
"What, exactly, is your problem with Muggles? Any reason why you loathe them so much that you want to wipe them all out?"
"I never wanted that," Draco says sharply. "I don't loathe them. I'm indifferent."
"How generous of you," Harry retorts angrily.
"Look, I'm stating the facts. They are inferior. I know it's not politically correct, but it's true. They haven't got magic! I can instantly Apparate anywhere I want, or unlock doors with a tap of my wand, or kill someone with two words. What can they do? Nothing!"
Harry surveys Draco coolly. Draco pours two cups of tea and pushes one towards Harry.
"Go ahead, put it in your notes," he says. "No doubt it's proof that I'm still a danger to Muggles."
"A danger to Muggles? You're a danger to yourself, with that amount of sheer ignorance."
"Ignorance? It's fact, Potter — "
"It's lack of magic," Harry interrupts, "that makes Muggles equal, if not superior. Are you insane, Malfoy? Do you think that Muggles simply went 'oh dear, no magic. I suppose we'll be living in caves and using rudimentary tools for the next few thousand years'?"
Draco looks startled. "Well — I — "
"They've invented things. They've invented guns — a Muggle could kill you from a mile away by moving a single finger. Telephones, video chat — a Muggle can contact another Muggle living on the other side of the planet in under a second. They've invented medicines that have cured millions of people; they've invented devices that store infinite amounts of knowledge and yet can be the size of a potion vial. But no doubt you know all this, Malfoy, since you're the one stating facts."
Draco stares at Harry for a long moment. Harry looks down, realising he's still holding the battleship. He puts it down.
The silence continues on. Draco turns to the potion, surveys it for a long moment, then stirs it slowly.
"What are they called?"
"What?" Harry asks, startled.
"The devices," Draco says evenly. "The ones you said store infinite knowledge. Unless you were making them up."
"I was not making them up," Harry says, indignant. "They're called computers. The smaller ones are called laptops. The even smaller ones are smartphones. They use those ones to contact Muggles anywhere else in the world, or access any information, or find a map of anywhere they want. You should ask Hermione about it, she's the expert on — "
Of course, he forgot to whom he was speaking. Honestly, had he really just invited Draco to talk to Hermione — advice he often gave his friends? Had he really just forgotten he was speaking to Malfoy, of all people? Harry drums his fingers on the table, irritated with himself.
"What were the small ones called again?" Draco still has his back turned to Harry as he stirs the potion; his voice is flat and contains no hint as to his thoughts.
"That's a ridiculous name."
"Much like 'Draco'."
Harry waits for the angry retort, but there's none. At last, Draco turns around and faces Harry. To Harry's utter bewilderment and surprise, there's a faint smirk on Draco's face.
"You know," he says conversationally to Harry, "there are times when you can be quite droll."
Harry takes a sip of tea to cover his smile.
A few days later, Harry finds himself in Flourish and Blotts. He'd only dropped by to purchase a new inkpot, but he ended up buying a novelty quill for James, and then he was unaccountably drawn to the Muggle Studies section. Sitting in the middle of the shelf is a book entitled A Thousand Years of Innovation: A History of Muggle Inventions.
As he picks up the book to add it to his purchases, he's certain he can almost hear Draco laughing at him.
The first day of spring.
It's just before the weekend. The senior students are all making plans for their Hogsmeade visit. The couples are whispering about hazy, heart-shaped interludes at Madam Puddifoot's. The younger years are dreaming of Honeydukes. Out on the grounds, the snow has melted away to reveal the first shy green of spring. The day dawns with a tentative pale blue colour, as if the world suddenly remembered it wasn't summer yet and hastily scrubbed all depth from the sky before anyone noticed.
It's a day of beginnings.
James wakes early. Today is the big Charms test, but he's not too worried about that. Scorpius has been helping a lot.
He goes to breakfast early. His friends greet him cheerfully. Afterwards, he attends Potions and teams up with Scorpius, creating a perfect Murtlap Essence. For the rest of the day, classes go smoothly. Then — last session — there's the Charms test. James produces charm after flawless charm. With each perfect spell, his confidence grows until he is full of joy. He only wishes he shared the class with Ravenclaw, so he could swap a little smile with Scorpius and they'd both secretly know how James had improved so much.
"Perfect!" cries Flitwick. "Potter has produced a perfect Cheering Charm!" He gives James an approving look. "Top of the class, I daresay. Well done!"
"Thanks, Professor," James says, glancing at his friends with a smile.
None of them smile in return.
They ambush him in the common room, just after they've returned from dinner.
"This is an intervention," Martin announces, dragging him into a corner of the common room and forcing him into an armchair. Beside him, Paul nods firmly.
"We're only doing this because we care about you."
"As your closest friends, it's our duty."
"Duty to do what?" James asks, looking up at his friends in bewilderment.
"To get you back to your old self, of course!"
"Yes — whatever happened to all the larking about in class? Now you're the class know-it-all," Martin says. He pitches his voice in imitation of Professor Flitwick. "Oh, well done, James! Why don't you take over and teach the class for me?"
"He never said that!"
"Might as well have," Paul says grimly. "You used to be fun. Now you've turned into a boring little know-it-all! Just like your cousin, Rose Weasley."
"What's wrong with Rose?" James snaps. He insults her all the time, of course, but he's family. It's different.
"Ha! I bet she's the one who's been giving you secret lessons in Charms. You couldn't improve that much on your own."
"It wasn't her! It was..." James stops, but his friends are waiting with crossed arms.
"Who?" Paul demands.
"Nobody," James says stiffly. "I've told you, I've been studying at the library."
"I'll say! Nearly every night!"
"Yes, can't you take a break from it? Stop being such a bore. Let's go for an adventure tonight."
"I can't," James says desperately. Scorpius whispered to him, during Potions, that he had done something special to the room and James is very keen to find out what it is.
"Why not? We're your friends, but you've hardly been spending any time with us!"
"I know, I know! It's just...I'm busy tonight."
"Studying again," Paul says crossly. "Go bury yourself in your books, then."
"Tomorrow night," James promises, swiftly escaping the armchair and grabbing a handful of books before disappearing out the portrait hole, not giving his friends a chance to reply.
He makes his way to the room, creating a portal with four neat taps of his wand. Scorpius makes it look so effortless, but it took James weeks to perfect the spell. He steps inside the room and notices Scorpius is there already, standing in the field of gold.
But it's no longer a summer's day. No; it's a midsummer night. The sky is a navy blue, with stars as clear as glass sparkling above. A harvest moon rides low in the sky.
"Wow, Scorpius! You turned it into night!"
"It's just a simple modifying spell," Scorpius says modestly.
"It's amazing! Hey, you've made it look like the real sky. Look, there's the Milky Way!" James points, following the fine dust of stars with his finger. "This'll be great practice for Astronomy." He lies down in the field, settling in for some stargazing; Scorpius pauses, then joins him.
Scorpius points his wand skyward; a collection of faint stars begins to glow brightly. "That's my father's star," he says. "The Draco constellation. Did you know it's circumpolar?"
"What's that mean?"
"It never sets. Never disappears below the horizon. It's visible every night of the year."
"That must be nice." James hesitates. "Looking into the sky, and seeing all your friends and family there..." He wonders if there's a star with his mother's name and suddenly misses her more than ever. "Do you have a star, Scorpius?"
He nods. "The Scorpio constellation. But it's not here — it's only really visible in the southern hemisphere. It's most visible in July." He seems to notice James's fallen expression, for he hesitates and then continues. "But my middle name..." He trails off again and James looks at him with interest.
"What? What's your middle name?"
"Oh, really? Scorpius Embarrassing Malfoy. I see what you mean."
Scorpius gives him an exasperated look; James grins and nudges him.
"Come on. I've got a bit of an odd middle name too. It's 'Sirius'."
Scorpius looks surprised. "You've got your own star, then."
"Have I really?" James is thrilled. "It's the name of my dad's godfather, I never thought it was a star too."
"Don't you listen in Astronomy? Sirius is the brightest star in the night sky. Everyone knows that."
"The brightest star? Really?"
"Look." Scorpius points his wand again, and a bright star glows fiercely. "You can even see it during daylight — under the right conditions."
"But what about your star? You said your middle name was one, too."
"I didn't say that."
"I guessed." James nudges him again. "Come on, I promise I won't laugh."
"All right. It's 'Hyperion'."
James's eyebrows rise, although he keeps his word and doesn't laugh. He twists his mouth quickly to stop from smiling.
"Is it really?"
Scorpius nods, looking miserable. "I wish I had a normal name. Something like Thomas, or Robert."
"Why on earth would you choose boring names like those when you could be named after a star?" James demands. "Anyway, which constellation is Hyperion?"
"It's not a constellation. It's a moon."
"Wow, you've got a whole moon to yourself?" James is impressed. "Which one?"
"Saturn's moon. You need a telescope to see it." Scorpius points his wand again; it takes several long moments before a tiny speck glows bright enough to be seen. "It's named after Hyperion, the Titan god of watchfulness and observation."
"Watchfulness and observation...that suits you perfectly. Want to know what my name means? 'Supplanter'," James says with a shrug. "I looked it up once. I don't even know what that means."
"Supplanter is someone who takes the place of someone else."
"Like a second in a duel, do you mean?" James frowns. "Well, that's not very comforting."
"It's more comforting than being named Hyperion," Scorpius counters.
"I think that's very comforting. Imagine being able to look at the stars and see all the ones your family are named after...I'd never be afraid of the darkness again if I loved the stars so much."
Scorpius looks away, smiling faintly.
They lay in the grass for a long time, watching the stars shine above.
Harry sits in the living room. Opposite him, Dudley grips a glass of scotch with a white-knuckled firmness, although he hasn't had a single drop.
Dudley has not been in this house until now. For Christmas, Harry has always visited Dudley's family in their neat little three-bedroom house in West Byfleet. Now, Dudley seems overwhelmed by it all. He spent the first twenty minutes staring at the moving pictures on the wall. Harry, after exhausting all other attempts at conversation, offered him a stiff drink despite the fact it was only just after lunchtime. Dudley accepted and it was only then that Harry suddenly remembered Draco's appointment. However, his attempts to leave were repeatedly foiled.
"Wait," Dudley kept saying, until he finally blurted out, "Dad's dead."
Now they've been sitting in silence for a good five minutes. A million thoughts are flying through Harry's head.
"Dead?" he asks at last, just to make sure he understands. Dudley nods.
"Dead," he says hoarsely. "Died yesterday. His heart just gave out. The doctors said he had coronary artery disease."
"Oh." Harry doesn't know what to say. At least Petunia is a blood relation, but Vernon? Nothing more than a bad memory. "I'm sorry for your loss," he says at last. Dudley stares down at the glass of scotch, downs it in one gulp, and looks up. He blinks.
"There's a man in your fireplace."
"Is he supposed to be there?"
Harry looks over his shoulder quickly, then jumps to his feet.
"Malfoy! What are you doing here? I thought I said — "
"An emergency. A missed appointment qualifies as an emergency. I checked." Draco steps out of the fireplace, then spots Dudley and frowns. Harry looks between the two, trying to think of what to say. At last, he goes for introductions.
"Malfoy, this is my cousin, Dudley Dursley. Dudley, this is Draco Malfoy. He's...er...someone I know from school." Harry coughs. "Er, Malfoy, the kitchen's on the left, so if you just want to help yourself to anything..." The message is clear, and he hopes Draco won't decide to be obstinate and stay. Thankfully, Draco nods after a long moment and departs, walking into the hallway. Harry's not too pleased about Draco wandering around his house, but what can he do?
Dudley waits until Draco's gone, then sets his empty glass onto the coffee table.
"Listen," he says, "I know you and Dad...well, I'll admit he had a few flaws, same as you had yours. Same as I had mine." Dudley clears his throat. "But I just wanted you to know. The funeral's on Saturday, two o'clock at St John the Baptist church. There's no hard feelings if you don't go. I'm just letting you know."
Dudley pauses. "I've got to leave. Thanks for the tea."
"It was scotch."
"Was it?" Dudley looks at the glass. "Oh. Well. I'll see you later."
They awkwardly farewell each other; Harry politely accompanies Dudley to the front door and watches as he climbs into his car and drives off.
"So, that was your cousin?"
Harry jumps, then inwardly curses himself. "Malfoy! Go back to the manor, I'll meet you there."
"I'm here, aren't I? May as well have the meeting now."
Harry turns, closing the front door. Draco is leaning against the wall, a cup of tea in one hand and a biscuit in the other.
"Just help yourself, then," Harry says sarcastically, going to the kitchen, Draco following him.
"That's what you said, wasn't it, Potter?"
"For the sake of courtesy." Harry picks up the kettle and growls. "If you're going to make yourself tea, at least refill the kettle afterwards."
"So, are you going to the funeral?"
Harry whips around. Draco's sitting at the island counter, one eyebrow raised as he sips his tea.
"You were eavesdropping?"
"Couldn't help it. Stopped to look at that rather interesting paper hippogriff in the hallway, and I overheard things."
"Of course you did." Harry puts a teaspoon of sugar into his teacup. "And I don't know."
"Well, I certainly won't judge." Draco takes another sip of tea. "I've plenty of uncles whose funerals I wouldn't care to attend. Rodolphus Lestrange, for starters."
"Vernon wasn't like that," Harry says sharply. "But I lived with him for sixteen years, and every minute of that time he made it abundantly clear how much he resented my presence."
"And yet you'll go to his funeral and pay your respects."
"I never said that!"
"But you will." Draco takes a bite of the biscuit. "You thrive on guilt complexes."
It's very concerning to think that while Harry's been busy making notes on Draco, Draco has been making notes on him.
"Picked that up from our games of Monopoly, then?" Harry asks suspiciously, but Draco just gives him a look.
"We went to school together for six years. Know thine enemy, as they say."
Harry sighs and pushes his cup of tea away. "Did you attend any of your relatives' funerals? After the war, I mean."
"None," Draco says. He studies his teacup for a moment, as if reading the leaves. "Do you know, Scorpius is the first Malfoy in five hundred years to not be a Slytherin?"
"Ravenclaw, isn't he?" Harry has to admit it's certainly interesting. "Were you disappointed?"
Draco studies the teacup a moment longer, then pushes it away. "If my son is happy, how could I possibly be disappointed?"
And for a brief moment, Harry feels a flash of compassion, a real connection to Draco, and he nearly smiles in agreement.
But he quickly suppresses the urge, and instead ushers Draco brusquely back to the fireplace.
Later that night, Harry sits in the study, his usual glass of scotch by his elbow.
In front of him is a small silver seed. Draco had given Harry a handful of them before he left, and asked him to leave them in the Ministry atrium where others usually left business advertisements. Harry had stared blankly at the silver seeds until Draco had rolled his eyes and asked — rather acerbically for someone who was requesting a favour — if Harry hadn't ever seen a business card before.
Now, Harry studies the seed before carefully tapping it with his wand. A little paper tree begins to grow immediately, sprouting upwards, and the words Family Name appear along one of the branches, a blank line waiting after it. Harry thinks for a moment, then opens his mouth, about to speak his surname aloud — and then pauses. The Potter line is common knowledge and Draco would no doubt find it an easy task.
"Evans," he says instead.
The name glows for a moment before disappearing. Then, a set of numbers appear: 10 hours; 20 hours; 50 hours. Time spent on the project, Harry realises. Obviously, there has to be a set limit or Draco could keep adding ancestors onto the family tree forever.
"Fifty hours." It will be interesting to see how far back his family can be traced.
The hours disappear. Two words appear: Confirm Request.
The words fade. Harry waits for something else to happen, but nothing does. The paper tree remains blank. He puts it on the corner of his desk.
An hour later, just as he's finishing paperwork, he notices two words scrolled across a branch of the tree.
James spends the next month trying to spend more time with his friends, but it's difficult. They want to spend their midnights stealing food from the kitchens and provoking portraits; James wants to walk around the lake or lay in his field of gold and daydream. They want to spend class time whispering jokes and passing notes; he wants to practice spells and listen to the professor.
And he misses Scorpius. He tries visiting the room less, but he can't. Whether they practice spells, read books together, try new charms, tell stories or just sit together and look at the stars, James always looks forward to their nights in the room and, despite his best attempts at self-restraint, he finds himself making constant excuses to his friends and slipping away to the room.
One night, halfway through spring, James arrives back at the common room to find his friends furious. He'd intended to practice spells, but the night had been particularly clear and Scorpius had suggested a leisurely wander around the lake instead. Conscious now of his appearance — knitted cap pulled over his unruly hair, his cheeks reddened by the slight chill coming off the lake, James opens his mouth to say something distracting — possibly an offer to show off the latest arrival of wheezes, or share his copy of Quidditch Weekly. However, he glimpses his Marauder's Map in Paul's hands.
"That's my map! Did you go through my stuff?"
"You said we could use it."
"Yes, but sharing is different from taking!" James is indignant.
"Oh, so now we're thieves?" Paul looks hurt.
"I never said — "
"We saw you, on the map. Walking around the lake with him."
"Is that what you've been doing?" Martin asks, looking upset. "All that time you supposedly spent in the library, and you've been with Malfoy the whole time?"
"We're your friends. Gryffindors! Loyal, remember? And brave. And you've been lying to us!" Paul shakes his head.
"I know, all right, and I'm sorry," James pleads, but his friends are already turning away. "I'll make it up to you! I know, I've been an awful friend. We can go on a midnight trip tonight — "
"Forget it, we're always trying to spend time with you," Paul says, "If you don't want to be around us, just say so."
James can sense his friends leaving him. He'll be alone, and it will be horrible. Sitting awkwardly at the Gryffindor table during mealtimes, nobody talking to him; left in the corner of the common room with everyone ignoring him. Left out of everything, friendless and alone.
"Wait!" he says quickly. "Please! I — I know of a room. A special room. Like the Room of Requirement, but it's different."
His friends pause.
"Are you having us on?" Paul asks distrustfully, and James shakes his head.
"I swear, it's true. A magical room."
"Show us," Martin says.
James quickly grabs the map. "Let's go."
They follow him out the portrait hole. He walks quickly down the corridors, head down, looking neither left nor right. His heart is pounding; his face is flushed.
He promised. It's their room, their secret place, and now he's gone and told everyone. Well, not everyone, James reasons. Just his friends. And maybe he can take them somewhere else... But what other special room is there? James chews his lip, so caught up in his anxious thoughts that he nearly misses the room.
"It's — it's right here," James says, staring at the wall with trepidation. Maybe he can somehow salvage the situation. Scorpius need never know. He should be back at the Ravenclaw common room already. "It's secret, you can't tell anyone else."
"All right, we won't tell. Hurry up before a prefect finds us."
James slowly turns to the wall, swallows, and taps his wand four times, whispering the incantation. A portal appears; he can hear the others whispering with excitement as he steps through.
The room is not empty.
Scorpius is standing in the middle of the field, a butterfly in one hand. He came back to practise transfiguration, James realises as the butterfly slowly changes colour.
Scorpius turns to smile at him, and for a moment James automatically smiles in return.
And then his friends tumble through the portal.
"Are we outside? What's with all the grass?" Martin asks blankly.
"I've got seasonal allergies, I hope you know," Paul adds.
"What on earth is he doing here?" Martin says, pointing at Scorpius.
"Hey, Malfoy! Get out, this is our room now," Paul says loudly. "It's way too big to be wasted on you."
"This isn't your room," Scorpius says, his voice quiet but clear.
"Oh, so you think it's yours, do you? Three against one, so clear off."
"It's not mine either. It doesn't belong to anyone."
"Well, I claim it in the name of Gryffindor house," Paul cuts in. "We could throw parties in here. You couldn't. You don't have any friends!"
"I do! James is my friend," Scorpius retorts. James stares at the ground, unable to look Scorpius in the eye. He can feel his friends looking at him, waiting for a response.
"No I'm not," he mumbles. "I'm only friends with Gryffindors."
Scorpius doesn't say anything. James doesn't dare glance up. He hears Scorpius pick up his bag and make his way to the portal. There, he pauses. Then he speaks.
There's a whirl of colours and a loud whooshing noise, as if the room is being sucked into a vortex. James staggers backwards, closing his eyes. When it all ends, he opens his eyes again and looks around the room, blinking.
The ceiling — a beautiful clear night sky — has turned back to dark stone. The grass has disappeared, revealing the dusty floor. The oak tree is nothing more than a battered desk in the corner. The cream-coloured butterflies now litter the floor as broken quills.
And Scorpius is gone.