Christmas Day is quiet for Draco. Just him and Scorpius.
The Christmas break, Draco will admit, did not have the best start. When he picked Scorpius up from the train station, Scorpius was silent. And, Draco knows, when Scorpius is having an extremely bad time, he won't speak. He'll hide somewhere and not speak a word.
But Draco managed to locate the problem, anyway: Scorpius's rat was missing and, after some tactful questioning from Draco, Scorpius finally said Pan had died unexpectedly. Draco wasn't surprised – they'd said at the shop that Pan wasn't meant to be a pet rat and probably had a few genetic problems or general poor health. But Scorpius was clearly devastated and had spent the evening in tears.
They had buried Pan the next day – Scorpius picked a place in the orchard, beneath the lemon tree that Narcissa had planted during the first year of her marriage to Lucius. Draco had spent some time debating whether or not to give Scorpius another pet but in the end had decided against it. Maybe in a few months from now, when an owl might catch Scorpius's attention. Owls are good. Much longer lifespans.
Of course, Christmas has always been hard for Draco. The glittering memories of his childhood – the kitchens bustling as feasts were prepared, and hundreds of Christmas cards arriving from family friends and those wanting favour with the Malfoy family, and endless parties and galas his parents enjoyed at the height of their social status – become little more than stardust; sad debris as Draco stands alone in the empty manor.
But maybe, he thinks on Christmas morning, it's not so bad. Scorpius loves all his presents and seems quite happy to spend the morning playing with his favourite gift: a spectroscopy kit. Draco had purchased the kit at the recommendation of the shopkeeper, who had insisted it was 'perfect' for the inquisitive intellectual. Now, however, he wonders.
"The measured spectra are used to determine the chemical composition…" Draco frowns and turns the page of the booklet that came with the kit. "Scorpius, what is this?"
Scorpius looks up from the glass prism he's turning over in his hands. "Muggles found out a way of finding out what makes up stuff, just by looking really closely at the colours in its spectrum. That's how they know what the stars are made of." He holds up the prism. "Isn't that interesting?"
When Draco was thirteen, he was throwing jellybeans at the girls in the Slytherin common room and trying to figure out anti-acne charms – not dabbling in quantum mechanics. Draco's not sure whether he should be immensely proud of Scorpius, or slightly terrified.
But in the afternoon, Scorpius reminds Draco that he is, after all, still a child. He flies his new broom around the manor gardens, and comes in to warm his hands up by the fire, and has a hot chocolate and laughs at the terrible puns in the Christmas crackers.
"What do you give a sick canary?" he asks Draco.
"I don't know."
"Tweetment." Scorpius laughs and Draco shakes his head in disbelief.
"That's awful, Scorpius."
"What do you call a fake noodle?"
"You have your mother's sense of humour," Draco says dryly, but then he wishes he hadn't said anything, for Scorpius's smile fades and he looks down at the empty crackers gathered in his lap.
"Do you miss her?" Scorpius asks, not looking up.
"Of course I miss her."
A silence eclipses them for a while. Scorpius picks up one of the crackers and begins slowly shredding the tissue paper. "She missed you a lot," he says at last. "She always said she wanted to see you again. But you'd be too mad at her, she said."
Draco doesn't speak for a moment, sadness suddenly gripping his heart. He always thought Astoria would never look back after the divorce, but apparently he was wrong. His heart suddenly aches. He was angry with her, yes, but it had always been a lot more complicated than that. If only Astoria had realised... "Your mother used to be very happy," he says eventually, studying his son.
"Did she?" Scorpius still isn't looking up, focusing on his task of methodically shredding the tissue paper.
"What made her so sad, then? Was it me?"
"No, of course not. Your mother…" Merlin, he is not prepared to have this conversation. Maybe when Scorpius is older, he'd always thought, but his son is older. Scorpius is not five years old anymore, distracted by toys and shiny things. He has just turned thirteen and is studying quantum mechanics, of all things, and apparently today is the day he will look back at their dysfunctional family and ask why.
"Your mother…" Draco tries again, "…felt very sad about a lot of things."
"What sort of things?"
Draco falls silent for a while. "Your mother and I were very happy when we married," he says eventually. "But sometimes, things don't turn out the way you expect. And when we started fighting and realised we weren't very good at being married, it made your mother very sad. There's nothing you could have done about it, Scorpius. The same way you can't heal a scar." He stands up. "Come, I'll show you something."
Scorpius trails him upstairs. Draco goes into the study, straight to the mahogany desk that holds the most important documents. Here, in the very bottom of the drawer, hidden from sight for a very long time, he takes out a photograph album.
"Here," he says, sitting on a nearby divan. "Have a look."
Scorpius sits beside him and frowns, taking the album from Draco's hands and opening the cover cautiously. The first photograph is a picture of Draco and Astoria at their wedding. Astoria was already three months pregnant, though it wasn't yet visible. She's wearing a navy-blue dress, her hair spilling over her shoulders as she smiles and stands with Draco.
"That's Mum?" Scorpius stares at the photograph, mesmerised. "She looks so happy and pretty…"
He turns the page. More wedding photographs, mostly of guests Draco doesn't know, but there's plenty of the ceremony too – Astoria arriving in a griffin-drawn carriage, resplendent in white, and her father walking her up the aisle. A picture of Draco and Astoria exchanging vows, and the reception afterwards with the enormous cake and glittering sugar-flowers decorating every table. And after the wedding photographs are a few photographs of the baby shower, Astoria obviously very pregnant. There's very few casual pictures – Draco never used the camera much and neither did Astoria – and most of the moments were captured by friends and family at the time. Narcissa, really.
When Scorpius turns the next page, newspaper clippings fall into his lap. Birth announcements and congratulations placed in the Daily Prophet. There's a little name-tag too, the one they attached to Scorpius's crib at the hospital. MALFOY, Scorpius Hyperion. And beneath that, a photograph of an exhausted Astoria sleeping as she holds a tiny infant.
Scorpius picks up the name-tag, holding it as he stares down at the picture.
"That was the happiest day of my life," Draco says, smiling, his usual reticence worn away quickly by the memory of Scorpius's birth. "It's tradition, in our family, to name children after stars. I chose the constellation Scorpius, and your mother chose Hyperion."
Scorpius reads all the birth announcements, then turns the page. They spend quite some time poring over the pictures: Scorpius's milestones and early birthdays, a few other events. There's a single photograph of Narcissa towards the back, along with a funeral service itinerary and a handwritten poem. Scorpius reads the poem twice.
"Your grandmother wrote it," Draco says.
The last photograph is of Scorpius walking through flowering gardens, butterflies rising in clouds around him.
"I remember that," Scorpius whispers, as if speaking to himself. "I remember that day…"
"The last day I saw you." Draco had taken the photograph, already hating how little time he had with his son and deciding to try and record more memories with him. If only he'd known what lay ahead…
Scorpius looks at the picture for a long time, then closes the album. "Can I borrow this?"
"You can keep it if you want. But I'd prefer for you to leave it at the manor – it may get lost at Hogwarts."
They go downstairs and while away the evening playing backgammon and drinking cups of peppermint tea. A nice way to end the day, Draco thinks.
But just before Scorpius goes to bed, he thanks Draco for the photo album. "I liked seeing all those pictures," he says. "I think it's my favourite present."
Draco smiles and takes Scorpius's wand, casting a Lumos for him, and sends him away to bed.
Harry spends the remainder of Christmas Day on surveillance, making an extremely important breakthrough in the operation. He works long into the night, arriving home in the early hours of the next day. At least he'll get to spend a little time with James, he thinks hopefully.
The morning starts nicely enough; Teddy stayed the night again and he's sitting at the island counter, cup of tea in one hand, getting career advice from Harry.
"Well, I know Luna would be happy to give you some advice about becoming a journalist," Harry says, rinsing the plates in the sink. "And I can put you in touch with Dennis Creevey — he's made quite a name for himself in the photography industry."
"Really? Thanks, Harry. I mean, I've got absolutely no contacts at the moment, so I'm really grateful for any help — oh, hello, cuz. You need something?"
Harry turns. James is standing in the doorway, looking exasperated, covered in dust and cobwebs.
"Yeah, where's my old broom?"
Harry pauses. "Why on earth do you need it? It's been sitting dusty for years."
"Yeah, well, Rose and Hugo are coming over later and they want a match."
"What? It's freezing outside." Harry sets another plate onto the dishrack.
"I know, but there's a vacancy on the Gryffindor team and Rose reckons she wants to practice for it." James huffs. "Don't know why she's so interested in playing Quidditch, really."
"Well, maybe you can borrow Teddy's broom. Next model up, anyway, I think."
Teddy shrugs. "Sure, I can go home and – "
"No, I want my Skyblazer," James says stubbornly.
Typical, Harry thinks wryly. James hasn't gone near a broom in months, and the second Harry gives it away…
"Well, you can't. I gave it away," Harry says briskly, picking up the dishcloth and wiping down the counters. James stares at him, mouth hanging open.
"You…you gave it away? To who?"
"Scorpius Malfoy. He really wants a spot on the Ravenclaw team but he hasn't got a broom, and yours has been sitting dusty in the shed for years. Thought I'd give it to him, along with a bit of advice."
"That's my broom! You can't just give my stuff away! Especially not to Scorpius!"
"Come on, James, you don't even like Quidditch! The Malfoys are having some financial problems at the moment and I know Scorpius is very grateful to have a broom."
"He's a nice kid," Teddy adds. "He's sent me a few letters — "
"What?" James says, looking outraged. "Why?"
"Well, I used to be the captain for the Ravenclaw team, and he wanted some advice for getting on the team."
"Oh, nice! Really nice! So he's getting free advice from my cousin, and free lessons from my dad, and a free broom from me!"
Harry sighs. "James, I'm a little disappointed. I know you two don't get along very well, but I thought you would have been happy to give your unwanted stuff to someone genuinely in need — "
"I want my broom back!"
Harry can't figure it out. James has never been particularly interested in flying. "Look, if you really want to take up flying, I'll buy you a new broom, the latest model — "
"No, I want my Skyblazer back!"
"Well, you're not getting it back," Harry says, feeling both angry and disappointed. He raised James to be better than this. "I'm sorry you feel that other people don't deserve nice things, James."
"Come on, cuz," Teddy adds. "What's so bad about Scorpius getting a few lessons on your old broom? He's genuinely excited about Quidditch, I think it's great."
"I don't want you talking to him," James snaps. "He should get advice from his own cousin."
Teddy laughs. "Well, funnily enough, we are actually related! We're second cousins. Pretty cool, isn't it?"
James looks furious. "Don't talk to him! And I am getting my broom back! And I'll destroy it so he can never fly it!"
"James! You are not getting it back and that's final! Go to your room," Harry orders.
"Fine!" And James storms away, slamming every single door on the way to his room. Harry winces as the final crash of the attic door echoes through the house, followed by the shatter of an ornament falling. He stands in silence for a moment, his heart racing. Merlin, they've argued before — James getting irritable about certain things, or Harry telling him off about leaving toys or books lying about — but nothing like this. It's terrible. His heart sinks, his stomach churns, and anxiety eats away at him like a vulture. Did he do the right thing, sending James to his room? Or was it actually Harry's fault, for giving the Skyblazer away? Harry's always bought James whatever he's excitedly pointed at in shop windows, and the many aunts and uncles have doted on James completely. Is this a burden of Harry's own making?
"I shouldn't have given James's broom away," Harry says at last.
"Don't be daft," Teddy replies, frowning. "He hasn't picked it up in ages."
"Maybe he just really hates Scorpius." They had a little quarrel in first year, Harry remembers, but James hasn't mentioned anything since.
"Why? Scorpius is a nice kid. Quiet and polite." Teddy shrugs.
"Well," Harry says, "I hope it's either an irrational hatred of Scorpius, or a sudden love of flying. Because the only other reason I can think of is that James genuinely doesn't want to give unwanted toys away to other people." He turns away, busying himself wiping down the counters again, but thinking of another boy he knew who didn't like sharing. Has he raised a Dudley?
"Come on, it's probably just the teenage years," Teddy says. "I bet you anything he's just turning into a moody teenager."
"Yeah. Have fun with that. You could always try putting him in a box for a few years until the worst of it is over."
"Well, I'm glad you're there to help him, Teddy. And all his friends at Hogwarts, of course." He smiles, recalling James's letters filled with anecdotes about his friends.
"Yeah, he'll be fine," Teddy says cheerfully. "Bet you anything he's just missing all his friends and feeling a little grumpy without them."
Harry nods, feeling a little more reassured.
One more day until James returns to Hogwarts. The Christmas break has flown past — it seems only a few days ago that he was baking gingerbread biscuits, laughing with Teddy and listening to Andromeda sing along to the carols on the Wizarding Wireless. The Christmas tree is shedding needles all over the floor, the last of the mince pies have been eaten, the festive cards lining the shelves have already been tidied away. James is still a little ticked off about his Skyblazer – it hasn't reappeared and Harry hasn't mentioned it since, so James resentfully supposes that it's Scorpius's property now and there's nothing he can do about it. Nevertheless, he tries to forget about it and focus on other things.
Like the celebration tonight. Teddy finally got a job offer from the Silver Compass and everyone's coming over to congratulate him. Harry is in the kitchen, putting the finishing touches on a roast dinner; Teddy and James are cleaning up the last of the Christmas decorations.
"Come help me with this tree, cuz," Teddy calls to him. "If your little noodle arms can withstand the weight of pine needles."
"Yeah, yeah." But James good-naturedly helps Teddy dismantle the Christmas tree, leaving a scattered trail of pine needles as they drag it outside. Teddy makes James stand back while he casts an Incendio, the tree lighting up like a firework for a brief second before disintegrating into ash. It reminds James of the summer nights spent in the fields, Teddy lighting fireworks and both of them laughing.
"We should stock up on some fireworks for summer," James says as they hurry back inside, their breath pluming silver in the cold January air.
"Maybe, if I'm around," Teddy says, making his way to the living room. "Suppose we should clear up the tinsel next. Harry must've been busy, usually all the Christmas stuff is cleaned away by now."
"What do you mean, if you're around?" James asks, automatically accepting the armfuls of tinsel Teddy is handing him. "You're always around for summer."
"When I was at Hogwarts, of course." Teddy waves his wand, making a wreath from the fireplace float through the air. "But I'll be really busy with this internship. And they'll send me all sorts of places." He pauses, gazing into the distance, smiling. "Not right away, of course — I'll probably just be fetching coffees and that sort of thing — but they told me to be prepared to travel at short notice. Italy, France, Spain…not just Europe, either, but Asia too…I've always wanted to go to the Philippines, they've got an incredibly rich history of water alchemy and ocean magic…"
"The Philippines?" James asks slowly. "That's…that's a long way away. The other side of the world."
"It'll be the farthest I've ever travelled." Teddy places the wreath in the box of decorations. "I can hardly wait."
"You'll…you'll write though, won't you?"
"Course, if there's owls available. Might have to use the Muggle mail in some of the more remote areas. More stamps for your collection," Teddy says with a grin. "Hand me that tinsel, cuz."
James wordlessly hands it over. "What about Sundays?" he asks at last. "You always have dinner with us on Sundays."
"Well, of course Nan will still come over." Teddy reaches over and ruffles James's hair. "Don't worry, I'll still find time to tease you about your noodle arms."
James musters up a quick grin. "Yeah," he says. "Course. And you'll send a postcard to the octopus under the house, right?"
Teddy laughs. "Of course. Come on, we've still got to get rid of all the pinecones and spruce branches Aunt Hermione put everywhere."
James nods and trails after him.
Later on, when they're all sitting around the table excitedly congratulating Teddy, James watches as the champagne is poured and remembers how the children were always given pumpkin juice instead. Teddy used to pull faces at James as they sipped at their goblets of pumpkin juice, and they'd commiserate about it.
One day we'll be old enough, Teddy used to say.
The adults are all chatting with each other. James tries to catch Rose's eye, but she's looking at Teddy with admiration, listening to him chat about Borneo, and James drops his gaze to his plate again. Will Teddy be here still when James comes home for the brief Easter break? Or will he be gone already? And what about the summer holidays? Surely Teddy won't be gone all summer…it will be James's first summer without his cousin. What about their fireworks? They always set off fireworks at least once during summer. Usually when the night is clear and balmy, Harry away at work and blissfully unaware of Teddy and James chasing wild fireworks around the garden, laughing and shouting as bright flares and sparks light up the night.
They finish dinner. Harry pours Teddy a new glass of champagne.
"A toast to the start of Teddy's exciting career!" Ron announces, lifting his glass.
"To Teddy's career!"
"May it be long and illustrious!"
They laugh and raise their glasses, smiling, and James catches Teddy's eye and smiles too. I'm happy for you, cousin, I really am, he thinks. Of course he is.
He looks down, blinking rapidly, and quickly downs the pumpkin juice, trying to get rid of the lump in his throat.
He returns to Hogwarts the next day, on the eighth of January. Paul and Martin's families went on a skiing trip together and both the boys show endless photos of people falling over into snow. Iwan has plenty of leftover sweets from his Christmas break, which he generously shares around. The first years all ask James what he received for Christmas, eyes wide with expectation.
"I heard you got the Philosopher's Stone," one of them says.
"I heard he got his own Quidditch team!"
"I heard — "
"I got some books," James says, cutting them off.
"Ooh, like ancient books of magic?"
"Was it Merlin's own spellbook?"
"No, just books," James says with exasperation.
"I heard Harry Potter's got a whole library of first-edition books, including the diary of Voldemort!"
A few days later he gets a break from all the stupid questions, at least, when the first match of the year takes place. He's not particularly interested but he goes along anyway, wrapped up in a scarlet and gold scarf that's more for warmth than any sort of house spirit. He dutifully cheers as the Gryffindor team recaptures the quaffle.
Martin jumps to his feet, nearly knocking James over. "Another goal! Did you see that, James? What a shot!"
"What?" But James stands up anyway and makes a few half-hearted cheers. All this sitting down, then standing up…he checks his watch. This game has been going for two hours now, and he's got to look after that stupid Oversensitive Cactus today. Who knows what's happened to it over Christmas break? Sprout locks the greenhouses after four o'clock, and it's already past midday…
Somebody slaps his shoulder and he jumps. "Come on, Gryffindor!" Rose shouts, seemingly unaware that she's just scared the living daylights out of James. "Come on!"
"Listen, Rose," James begins, "have you finished your Herbology project? You know, the one with — "
"Yes! Another fifty points! Yes!" Rose hollers, jumping up and down and jostling James about. She turns to the student beside her and they excitedly cheer together. Martin turns around to join in the celebration.
"Did you see that?" he asks them. "Look at the score! Soon it won't matter if we get the snitch or not!"
"I know! Oh, we're completely annihilating the Slytherins!"
James gives up; he turns and walks away, waiting for someone to call after him, but thankfully they're all distracted by the game. He threads between the excited students, finally managing to push his way free and walk away from the Quidditch pitch.
The cheers soon become distant noise. He looks over his shoulder, seeing the black dots of the players flit about in the grey winter sky. There will be snow again tonight, he thinks gloomily. His cactus will require extra care.
To his surprise, Professor Sprout is at the greenhouses rather than the Quidditch match. She's sorrowfully shaking her head at a row of blackened plants, and when she sees James she sighs.
"My Murtlaps succumbed to the frost over Christmas," she says. "I hope you're taking good care of your Oversensitive Cactus, Potter. Your grades can't afford another mistake."
"Yes, Professor." He ducks into the greenhouse, walking along the aisles until he comes to his cactus. It's still wearing the little Christmas hat James put on it for a joke, but it looks even pricklier than usual.
"Hello," James says, giving it an extremely careful pat. "Did you miss me? I'm sorry I was away." He removes the Christmas hat and gets a sharp spine to his thumb in retaliation. "Ouch! What did you do that for, you little — very nice-looking plant. Nicer than all the others. That's why I chose you," he adds, giving the cactus another pat despite his better judgement. "You've got the sharpest spines and I bet you'll grow taller than all the others."
The cactus seems to straighten up a little, then, and James — pleased with his work — sets about mixing a fertiliser for it. Why on earth did he have to get stuck with this horrid little prickly plant…all the measurements have to be so exact. Half an ounce of unicorn dung, a quarter teaspoon of liquid starlight…
Footsteps. James glances up. Great. Of course it's Scorpius.
He finishes mixing the concoction and gives Scorpius a filthy look for good measure, remembering how Harry gave his Skyblazer away. Scorpius steadfastly ignores James, as if he's not even there, and to James's horror he grabs the cactus and sets it aside.
"What are you doing, you idiot?" James says with alarm. "Don't touch that!"
"It's in the way. I need room to re-plant my Ever-Growing Basil."
"So? Come back another time," James snaps, hurrying over to rescue his cactus. "Shouldn't you be at the Quidditch match anyway, taking notes?"
Scorpius pauses and gives him a suspicious look. "What's that mean?"
"Heard you're trying out for the Ravenclaw team. Best of luck," James adds. "You'll need it, especially if you can't even afford your own broom."
"Shut up," Scorpius retorts, and for a moment James is stung. He thought this was just the way it was — Scorpius and him not talking anymore, their past friendship gone — and that it didn't really matter anymore. But to his surprise, it still hurts to hear Scorpius speak so angrily, his voice filled with coldness.
"Go away," James snaps, trying to desperately recover from the moment of hurt. "I was here first."
"I'm allowed to be here too, and I'm allowed to move your plant."
The cactus droops a little and James quickly grabs it. "It doesn't like people talking about it! You're ruining it!"
"It's already really stunted. You clearly have no idea — "
"Shut up! Or I'll make you shut up!"
"You'd hex me?" Scorpius asks, sounding disbelieving.
"Why not? You haven't got a problem hexing me," James says, recalling the way the Stinging Hex had hit him like a slap, and surprise flashes across Scorpius's face, followed by something else James can't decipher.
"I didn't mean to," Scorpius mutters at last, looking away.
"Just go away!"
Scorpius looks at James, opens his mouth, then seems to change his mind.
"Okay," he says, and he turns and leaves.
James listens to his footsteps fade, then sets the cactus back down and looks at it miserably. It's definitely looking very tragic now, shedding spines at an alarming rate.
"Don't listen to anyone except me," James tells it. "And I don't think you're stunted. I think you look very…very healthy. And all the other cacti will be jealous of you when you reach your potential. You have loads of potential." That's what people say, James thinks, when they think you're useless but they have to lie and make you feel better. You have lots of potential. Because you can't prove they're lying when they say that.
It works. The cactus perks up again.
James wishes people believed lies as easily as plants.
In the last week of January, James receives two letters at once. One is his usual letter from Teddy, full of cheerful jokes and anecdotes: his internship, he says, should really have been labelled 'coffee house-elf'. But his supervisor has been pleased with his enthusiasm and dedication and has hinted that, if Teddy applies himself, he could be given his first assignment as early as April. But I hope it's after Easter, he writes. It would be nice to see you (and all the others!) again.
James reads the letter a few times, then grabs the next letter and opens it. It's from Teddy again — he recognises the handwriting at once.
Congratulations! I'm so happy to hear about your grades. You've always been an unbelievably smart kid, and you've got reflexes like a lightning-spider, so I'm not surprised you're top of the class for Defence.
Teddy must've absently addressed the envelope to James by accident, James realises. It's happened before — Teddy's written letters to multiple cousins at once and sent them to the wrong people — and James knows he shouldn't read letters meant for others. But he can't help but read the rest of the letter somewhat guiltily. It's nothing particularly interesting, anyway — mostly Teddy congratulating Rose for her high grades, going on about her intelligence, and how he wouldn't be surprised if she became an Auror. And has she considered trying out for the Quidditch team yet? When he visited Ron and Hermione over the Christmas break, he'd noticed how quick she was in their casual Quidditch games and she would make a brilliant Seeker…
Well, it serves him right, James thinks miserably, for reading other people's letters. Now he knows exactly how talented Rose is in every single arena… He folds the letter up again and catches Rose's attention from across the table.
"Rose? Sorry, Teddy accidentally addressed your letter to me."
"Oh. Thanks." She reaches out and accepts the letter, opening it and reading it quickly, a happy smile soon spreading across her face. James waits until he can catch her attention again.
"You didn't tell me you were top of the class for Defence."
"Oh, well." She blushes. "It's nothing, really."
"And all your grades are really high."
"Oh, well, you know. I've always loved to read, and — wait, did you read my letter?"
"Thought it was for me."
"It has 'Dear Rose' right at the top," Rose says, looking unimpressed.
"Must've missed that bit. Anyway, congratulations on…well, everything."
"Thanks." She tucks the letter away. "Well, suppose we should get to class. We've got Potions first."
They go to the dungeons together. Slughorn is in quite a cheerful mood, humming Christmas carols even though January is nearly over. He sets them to work brewing a Sleeping Draught.
"Rose, is it supposed to be this colour?" James whispers desperately when his potion turns an unsightly orange.
"Working alone, please, Potter," Slughorn says as he goes past.
"Excellent job, Weasley. Wonderful work, Davies. Ah, your work has improved remarkably, Calthorpe."
James throws a handful of Wiggenwald bark into his potion; a moment later it begins smoking furiously, filling the room with black smoke.
Slughorn turns to look at him, then sighs and slowly shakes his head.
"I'm not one for handing out detentions like Chocolate Frogs," Slughorn says, pacing in front of his desk, his stomach wobbling dangerously. "But really, Potter. It's quite disappointing. Your mother had quite a knack for potions, you know. Lily Evans was one of my most talented witches — "
"Ginny," James mutters, and Slughorn turns.
"Ginny. My mother's name is Ginny."
"What? Oh! Of course!" Slughorn shakes his head. "My apologies, dear boy. Memories tend to suffer with time. Ginny…ah, yes, Ginny Weasley. Quite a powerful witch, I thought. Hand-picked her for the Slug Club — as my students call it." Slughorn chuckles. "She went into Quidditch, if I recall correctly. Such a shame. She could have been quite an influential and powerful witch."
"What's wrong with being a Quidditch correspondent?" James asks a little sharply.
"Oh, nothing, my dear boy! But a waste of talent, I think we'll both agree. Now, regarding your Potions work — "
"My mother wasn't a waste of talent."
Slughorn begins to look distinctly uncomfortable. "Well…perhaps we should focus on your detention, Potter. Quill out, and please copy down the last seven potions we have studied. Perhaps it will help you remember the correct ingredients next time."
James says nothing, but he gets out his quill, opens the textbook, and begins copying lines.
Things seem to only worsen for him. A few weeks later, he discovers his cactus has died. The class lines up outside the greenhouse, waiting for Sprout to arrive, and as soon as she leads them in, James sees the tragic shrivelled remains of his cactus.
"What happened?" he demands, rushing over to it and interrupting Sprout midway through a lecture on the properties of Murtlaps.
"It died, Potter," Sprout says crisply.
"But — I don't understand — I did everything right!"
"Well, you must have made a mistake. Please return to your place, Potter. You can see to your cactus later on."
"I can't see to it, because it's dead!"
"Back to class, Potter," Sprout says sternly, and James gives her a look of simmering resentment before returning to his place. His classmates all look on, agog, but Sprout clears her throat and continues with the lesson as if nothing has happened. Martin nudges James.
"What?" James mutters.
"Saw Malfoy in here earlier, moving your plant about. Wasn't being too careful with it. Reckon he did something?"
James clenches his fists, seething. "That little…I already caught him moving it about and insulting it! I told him to leave it alone!"
"Potter, please pay attention!" Sprout says sharply, and James forces himself to try and concentrate on the class.
Internally, however, he thinks of Scorpius with burning anger.
He has his chance to confront Scorpius about it during lunch when he sees him — accompanied by a small group of Ravenclaw students — headed towards the Quidditch pitch, broom in hand. Martin and Paul, both with James, nudge him.
"Look, there's Malfoy. Do you think he's going to Quidditch try-outs?"
"Yeah, obviously," James mutters before quickening his pace.
"Where are you going? Wait a moment, let's just forget it," Paul begins, looking alarmed, but James has already caught up to the group of Ravenclaws. He steps in front of Scorpius.
"Where do you think you're going?" he asks loudly. Scorpius gives him a look and one of the Ravenclaw friends laughs and answers him.
"Can't you tell? Quidditch try-outs," she says, and James's face flushes with anger.
"I wasn't talking to you," he snaps, and Scorpius narrows his eyes.
"Don't talk to her like that."
"Why? It's not like she's your friend. You've hardly got any friends," James adds, and Scorpius's cool demeanour slips a little, his face tingeing pink.
"And you've got none at all," Scorpius retorts, and James gapes at him for a moment, the hurt twisting in his heart like a knife.
"He's got loads of friends," Martin says, stepping forward. "Everyone wants to be friends with James Potter! You're just jealous."
"Yes," Scorpius says, looking at James. "Everyone wants to be friends with Potter. But nobody wants to be friends with James."
Martin blinks and the other students look bewildered, but James understands the calculated insult perfectly. For a moment, he's so overwhelmed with outrage and fury that he can barely speak. He trusted Scorpius once! All those little conversations, confessing his deepest fear of living in his father's shadow...and Scorpius has used it for nothing more than a traded insult in front of other students. He's standing there, one hand resting on James's Skyblazer, going to try-outs because of Harry's encouragement, using advice from Teddy…
"Shut up," James snarls. "You are jealous. Stealing my friends, my family — it's pathetic! Though I guess since your father is a Death Eater, it's no wonder you're desperately trying to shove your way into any other family — "
Scorpius's hex hits James right in the chest; he stumbles back a few feet as flowers immediately begin sprouting all over his robes. The Ravenclaws all start laughing.
"Good one, Scorpius!" someone calls out, and James seethes.
"Entartrer!" he shouts, the curse hitting Scorpius in the neck, and Scorpius cries out, scratching frantically at his skin as scales begin to grow rapidly across it.
"Ha! You showed him," Martin says triumphantly.
"Come on, Scorpius — show him that new jinx!" one of the Ravenclaws says, and James raises his wand in preparation for the oncoming duel, but Scorpius shakes his head.
"I'll miss try-outs," he says, "and that's exactly what he wants." He casts a charm on his skin, where the scales are still ferociously growing, and picks up his broom, striding past James. "Stay out of my way," he says as he passes James.
"Stay out of mine," James hisses. "If my dad gives you any more advice, I'll tell him you've been harassing me."
Scorpius gives him a look of loathing, then turns and walks away.
"What did he just say to you?" Paul asks anxiously.
"I don't even remember. Nothing he says is ever worth listening to," James snaps, turning and walking away, the crowd dispersing behind him.
"I'd say. What was that rubbish he was talking about — friends with Potter but not James — does he think you're two separate people?" Martin laughs.
He hoists his bookbag over his shoulder, though, and mutters, "Yeah. He's crazy."
James's birthday arrives. The seventeenth of February. He receives an inordinate number of gifts; at breakfast, the owls crowd round him, bumping his elbows and stealing bits of toast. Bewildered at receiving so many parcels, he wonders if his father has somehow decided to particularly spoil him this year.
But no. He picks up the first card and opens it; to his horror, it immediately begins loudly singing Happy Birthday. Students pause to glance over at James, conversations quickly dying away, and he slams the card shut, his face heating up.
"Was that from you?" James hisses at Rose. As much as she loves her books, she inherited her father's inclination for jokes and could, at times, deliver quite the prank to the unsuspecting victim.
"No," she says, looking amused. "You've gone all red, did you know?"
"Yes, I'm perfectly aware." He gathers as many of the parcels as he can and carries them, with help from Martin and Paul, to the dormitory. He hadn't gotten so many presents last year; back then, he hadn't told anyone it had been his birthday — Martin and Paul had been surprised to find out on the day — but he supposes word has spread now. He wishes it was still largely unknown.
Maybe it's part of getting older, James thinks uneasily. He always used to get so excited about his birthday. Every birthday before Hogwarts — right up until his eleventh birthday two years ago — he'd woken up early, hardly able to wait for the day to start. Harry would always sneak into his room at some point before he woke and leave little presents hidden around the room — just small things, like a sugar mouse on the bedside table or a small toy at the end of the bed. And for breakfast there would be birthday pancakes, and if it was a school day, there would be a cupcake in James's lunchbox. Of course, the real celebration happened in the evening, after school, with all his aunts and uncles and cousins singing in the kitchen as Harry brought out the cake.
"I mean, honestly, that pile's nearly as tall as me!"
James looks up. Martin is standing next to James's bed, staring in awe at the enormous pile of gifts and cards.
"You must have loads of friends, James," Iwan adds.
"Yeah." James eyes the pile, then slowly picks up card and opens it.
Happy birthday! Please tell your father that I'm his biggest fan…
James reads on, feeling uncomfortable. The card is full of gushing admiration for Harry, with plenty of references to 'the saviour of the wizarding world'. He closes it, then opens the next card. Glitter immediately rains out, spilling down the front of his robes.
"Ugh." As he tries to brush it off, Martin grabs the card.
"To James Harry Potter," he begins.
"Must be important, used your full name," Paul jokes.
"My middle name isn't Harry." James shakes his hand wildly, trying to detach the clinging glitter.
"What?" Paul asks blankly. "Isn't it?"
"No. Why would it be that?"
"Because that's your dad's name," Martin says as if James is being deliberately slow.
"Well, my middle name is Sirius," James retorts, picking up a present and unwrapping it. A snitch falls out.
They all laugh. "Sirius? What sort of name is that?"
"If that was my middle name, I wouldn't tell people either!"
Anger flashes through James suddenly. "That's my godfather's name. He died saving my father's life," he snaps. "I'm proud to have that name."
Martin's smile fades. Iwan looks away.
"Just a joke," Paul mutters. "We're always making fun of Iwan's name, and he never minds."
James stares down at the snitch in his hands. He doesn't want to argue. Not today, not on his birthday.
"Here you go," he says, mustering a quick smile. "You like Quidditch, don't you?" He tosses the snitch to Paul, who catches it deftly.
"Oh! Can I keep it? Wow, thanks, James!"
James spends the next half hour unwrapping the presents one by one and handing them out. There's a signed Puddlemere poster that Martin happily accepts, and another six snitches. He gives them all to Iwan, who has plenty of little brothers and sisters who will be excited to receive them. There's even a full set of Quidditch robes from a Hufflepuff student, accompanied with letter suggesting that if James would like to send a thank-you note, please have it autographed by Harry and sent to the enclosed address. As James realises, it isn't an uncommon request. Many of the cards he receives have a hastily scrawled 'Happy Birthday!' followed by requests for signed photographs of his father.
Really, he thinks, the gifts are meant for Harry too. Quidditch memorabilia, and items such as broomstick wax and enchanted snitches. Books for advanced Defence Against the Dark Arts strategies. A few Auror memoirs and biographies. James doesn't need to read those. He knows perfectly well what an Auror's life is like: far too many overnight shifts and urgent fire-calls at all hours.
Of course, there's plenty of generic gifts too — boxes of chocolates and baked goods. James shares them round and, while his friends are happily biting into Peppermint Toads and Acid Pops, he finally finds the presents from his family.
Harry has sent him a few things — books and almanacs, all a tribute to James's love of trivia — and a box of sugar mice, James's favourite treat. There's the usual sensible gifts too — a new set of robes, a pair of swimmers and a stroke counter — and the big gift, a science kit complete with a microscope. Ever the fearless explorer and curious scientist, Harry's written in a note attached to it.
James re-reads the note a few times, not sure why there's a lump in his throat, and then picks up Teddy's gift and slowly unwraps it. It's a wizarding atlas; when he opens it, the mountains rise from the pages and James momentarily forgets where he is. When he flips to the back of the book, there's a neat geographical map of all the countries, England currently glowing a faint blue. To my favourite adventurer, James, Teddy has written on the page. I know what you're thinking — 'oh, a bunch of maps, thanks Teddy, ever so grateful'. But whatever country I'm in, it will glow on this map. So no matter how far I travel — no matter how fast I Floo, or Disapparate, or fly from one country to the next — you'll always be able to see where I am. So in a way, you're always travelling along with me. So take care of this book and don't let your friends eat the pages, okay? Love, Teddy (and the octopus under the house).
"You all right? You look like you're about to cry."
James glances up at Martin and smiles. "Don't be daft. I never cry. Just reading a letter from my cousin."
"Oh. Do you want the last Cauldron Cake?"
"No, you can have it." James tidies up the mess of ribbon and wrapping paper.
"Wish I had birthdays like this," Paul comments. "Couldn't believe that pile of presents."
"And he just gave them all away," Iwan adds. "Isn't that odd, giving away gifts on your birthday?"
"Well, I'm not complaining."
James smiles tensely and tosses the last of the wrapping paper into the bin.
Draco gives Harry an unimpressed look. "You're doing it again," he says.
"Asking me for advice." Draco picks up his cup of tea and takes another sip. They're sitting in the study, as usual, with Harry moodily compiling spells and asking half-hearted questions about contact details. However, the routine was ruined once more when Harry asked gloomily if Draco thought Scorpius was spoiled.
Harry scowls and crosses his arms. "I am not asking you for advice. I'm asking if you think Scorpius is spoiled."
"Which will somehow lead to a conversation about parenting." Draco gives Harry a suspicious look. "Anyway, it depends on your definition of spoiled."
"What's that supposed to mean? On any level? You're terrible at advice."
"Yes, you think you'd take the hint and stop asking for it by now." But Draco, feeling slightly magnanimous as he recalls Scorpius's joy at receiving the Skyblazer a few months ago, takes mercy. "I give Scorpius plenty of toys and gifts, if you think that's what spoiled is. But he's always grateful, and he always remembers his manners, and – from a completely unbiased point of view, of course – he's a perfectly charming child."
Harry rolls his eyes. "Of course he is."
"Why? Has James started to throw tantrums and scream for sweets?" Draco grins but Harry looks unamused.
"No, but he threw a right royal fit over me giving his Skyblazer to Scorpius. You would've thought I'd kicked him out to live in the shed and given Scorpius his bedroom, the way he was carrying on."
Draco looks at Harry incredulously. "You didn't ask before you gave his broom away?"
"Why would I?" Harry asks, looking defensive. "He hardly ever used it!"
"Yes, but our sons hate each other. Are you blind?"
"What? Don't be ridiculous. They were friends in first year, they had a row – like all children do at some point – and James has moved onto other friendships." Harry shrugs.
Draco stares at him. Does Harry actually have conversations with his son? The way Scorpius refused to speak about the fight in first year, the way he angrily mentions James in his letters...Draco has come to realise that there's a clear enmity between the boys rather than an outgrown friendship.
"Hasn't James mentioned it?" he asks at last.
"Of course not. Hasn't said a word about Scorpius since first year – at least, not until Christmas, when he threw a tantrum about his Skyblazer. I imagine he doesn't give Scorpius another thought, really. Which is why it was so odd for him to get so angry about it…"
Harry's an Auror. He's supposed to be good at this sort of stuff. Reading between the lines, understanding silent conversations. Or has a trace of the old Harry Potter – the completely oblivious idiot, Draco thinks somewhat unkindly – still remained, resistant to the years of Auror training?
"…anyway, like I said, James has just moved onto other friendships. He's got a million friends at Hogwarts, I'm sure he's simply forgotten about Scorpius." Harry picks up his file. "You're blinded by your own prejudice, that's what I think. Just because we despise each other, there's no reason for our sons to have an equally hateful rivalry. It's not genetic, you know."
"We don't despise each other," Draco says irritably. "Don't be ridiculous. You're in my home, drinking my tea, spilling ink on my genealogy projects."
"So? Of course we despise each other," Harry retorts, looking slightly alarmed.
"Now who's clinging to old prejudices? We tolerate each other at the very least."
"Well, fine. But we're definitely not friends."
"Now you are going mental. I didn't realise 'tolerate each other's presence' was next to 'best friends' in your dictionary of delusions."
"I didn't say best friends! I'd rather eat a wineglass than be friends with you."
"I'm so glad we had this lovely little chat. I can see why you wanted to become an Auror – to help, to inspire, to care about other people. Have you got a feedback form I can fill out about your customer service?"
Harry buries his head in his hands. "You," he says, voice faintly muffled, "are just…incorrigible."
"I'm serious. Is there a feedback form? I imagine they keep a little stack next to the Suggestions Box in the Auror offices."
And, to Draco's horror, he realises Harry's shoulders are shaking. He's laughing. After a long moment, Harry looks up, still smiling.
"Sometimes," he says, "you're all right."
"Do not say that."
"Why? I'm tolerating your presence, just like you said."
Draco's eyes narrow and he thinks he ought to say something acerbic just to enrage Harry and make him leave.
But somehow, he ends up accidentally making a cup of tea and playing Monopoly.
Which is slightly confusing but not nearly as concerning as Draco thinks it ought to be.
Later that evening – after Harry has left, triumphant after winning the Monopoly game – Draco sits in the study and writes a letter to Scorpius.
Writing letters to Scorpius has not come naturally to Draco. When Draco was a student, his letters were always addressed to his mother and spoke of his achievements – never show your weaknesses – and her replies always simply sent news of home and offered congratulations for whatever accomplishment he'd mentioned. Your father hopes you are well, she would always add at the end. The sole acknowledgement of his father's affections.
But Scorpius…his handwriting is neat enough, but sometimes it tends to get a bit excitable and wander off the page, and the letters are covered with little sketches and drawings – a frog leaping along the bottom of the page, or an absent-minded diagram of Muggle machine parts, and sometimes Draco will turn the letter over and find a few notes on potion properties or transfiguration work. Scorpius's thoughts are pinned to paper, unfiltered, uncensored. He's worried about one of his newfound friends, who's upset after making some serious errors in their Charms essay, or he's struggling with Herbology and getting fed up with his Ever-Growing Basil, or he's anxious about his first-ever Quidditch match and wondering if he'll disappoint the team.
When Draco first started receiving these sorts of letters, he had no idea how to respond and it took quite a lot of time and consideration before constructing his replies. And he found himself wishing Scorpius didn't simply pour his heart onto the paper, giving Draco pages of honest thoughts and dreams and memories. Is this what he did to Astoria? Surely teenagers were supposed to be a lot more secretive. Draco had been taught a script since a young age and it was alarming to find that Scorpius didn't know the correct lines, the carefully-structured letters to send.
But now, for the first time, he feels grateful. He thinks of Harry's strange obliviousness to James and thinks uneasily that it seems there's nothing but silence between those two. If there is a conversation, it's one-sided.
So he picks up his quill and writes a reply to his son, each sentence heavy with gratitude for Scorpius's unguarded letters.