Lucius has, as ever, impeccable timing.
Draco has just finished the study renovations. He's sitting at the mahogany desk, still wondering if he should keep it or not, when there's a rap at the window. There's a tawny owl perched patiently on the sill. He stands up and tugs the sash open, reaching for the letter tied to its leg, wondering if it's a letter from Scorpius –
To: D.L Malfoy.
He recognises that handwriting.
Draco pauses, then unties the letter and sets it down upon his desk.
His father's desk, he reminds himself.
After another long moment, he unfurls the letter and reads it. Once, twice. Again.
Nineteen years have passed since his father's disappearance, and Lucius has evidently decided that nineteen years is long enough. He wishes to come home.
How should Draco measure someone else's life? When he holds up the ruler, where does he start? Should he measure from his father's childhood, all the shortcomings that Abraxus Malfoy had? Draco met his grandfather on several occasions and remembered him as a gruff, silent man. Narcissa seemed wary of him, and told Draco once that Abraxus had controlled Lucius's life very closely. Abraxus didn't seem fond of Draco either. One visit, Draco had overhead Abraxus complaining to Lucius. You spoil him far too much. He'll grow up weak, just like you.
Or should Draco measure from his own childhood, when Lucius was a distant figure, always in his study with the door closed, holding clandestine meetings with mysterious people? Or should he measure from his father's final act before his disappearance? Abandoning his family. Not a single letter, not a single warning. Draco can still see Narcissa weeping over her wedding photographs, wasting away to nothing.
Draco reads the letter over and over again. It's short. Of course, he tells himself, Lucius is still one of the wizarding world's most wanted men. Of course he couldn't write a long and detailed letter, explaining everything.
Still a wanted man…
Nineteen years Lucius Malfoy has been on the run. Time wears down memories and dulls emotions. Many people have forgotten, and Lucius is probably at the very back of the Ministry's mind now. Still…it's not like Lucius could just walk through the door of the manor and pick up his old life. And the letter reflects that; if Draco's reading between the lines correctly, Lucius wants to come home and, with Draco's help, hide away in the manor.
Seventeen-year-old Draco would have jumped at the chance. He would have loved to help his father, make him proud, finally receive some of that hard-won approval. His father, coming home at last…
But this is not Lucius's home anymore.
Draco stares at the letter for a long time.
James comes home two days before Christmas. Andromeda and Harry greet him at Platform 9¾ and Harry doesn't miss the way James automatically looks to the empty space beside Andromeda.
It's a quiet reunion.
"How's the year been so far?" Harry asks.
"Okay, I guess."
It's a truthful answer, at least, and Harry's grateful for that.
They go home. James doesn't join them in decorating the sitting room. Harry doesn't blame him. The Wizarding Wireless is playing the same old carols but the music lends a bittersweet melancholy rather than festive cheer. He hangs the ornaments up, carefully unwrapping each one from its delicate tissue paper. Andromeda sits by the fireplace, patiently unravelling strings of lights. Neither she nor Harry speak much. Like James, Harry is still looking. Still listening for the pop of someone Apparating to the front porch. Still waiting to see them step through the door, eyes bright, calling out.
"Tea?" Harry asks Andromeda, trying to distract himself.
"That would be lovely."
He stands up and goes to the kitchen, and it's there that he finds James. He's standing by the kitchen counter, staring down at an open recipe book. The page is well-worn, marked with years of flour smudges and spilt molasses.
The gingerbread recipe.
"Want help?" Harry asks and James glances up at him, then down to the page again.
"No." He shuts the book. "I'm not making it."
Harry doesn't argue with that. "Maybe we could make something else," he suggests. "You know, come to think of it, you've never really cooked anything besides gingerbread. Never made a single dinner, have you?"
"It's not my fault. You were never here to teach me."
There's resentment there, faint but present, but Harry doesn't let it nettle him. "I suppose I wasn't," he says, and surprise flashes across James's face. "Well, now that I am here…what would you like to make?"
"I don't know." James looks down at the recipe book. "I've never looked at the other pages. Only ever got this book out at Christmas."
"Well, now's the time to turn the page."
James hesitates, then flips the page.
It turns out to be a recipe for florentines; James completes it with his father's help and they take them to the Burrow for Christmas Day. In the evening, Harry extracts James from a conversation with Rose and they farewell everyone before leaving. Harry feels a little guilty about missing this tradition in recent years; it's been a while since he's seen Dudley.
But if Dudley feels any affront, there's no indication of it. His wife is cheerful and welcoming, ushering them inside to the cosy sitting room. Dudley gives James his present: a set of wooden puzzles that James immediately dedicates himself to solving. Dudley's daughter, Daisy, peers anxiously at James like he's a goblin, but she soon warms up to him.
"I'm James," he tells her and soon she's repeating his name happily.
"James! James!" she shouts cheerfully as he helps her stack building blocks.
But soon enough it's time to leave. They farewell Dudley and his wife, then begin the long drive home. James rests his head on the cool glass of the car window, the half-solved wooden puzzles in his lap.
"Why do we only visit them once a year?" he asks Harry as they're passing through Wiltshire.
"Well…" Harry hesitates. "They're Muggles."
"So…when I was little, Dudley didn't like magic. He was very cruel to me."
"He doesn't seem cruel."
"People change." Harry checks his mirrors, then changes lanes.
"Then that makes the past irrelevant then, doesn't it?" James returns his gaze to the passing scenery. "We should visit more often. Daisy's my cousin, she shouldn't be a stranger."
Harry glances at him, then back to the road. "We'll see," he says.
On either side of them, the dark fields go on and on.
The day after Christmas, Harry goes to his usual meeting with Draco. Scorpius is nowhere to be seen. Harry only realises this when they're already sitting at the table, settling down with cups of tea and the usual Monopoly board.
"Did Scorpius stay at Hogwarts for the break?" Harry asks.
Draco glances at him. He's been oddly quiet, Harry thinks. Staring into the distance, ignoring his cup of tea. "No. He's in his room, reading."
"Oh. He usually answers the door when he's home."
"He's been very quiet lately." Draco finally takes a sip of his tea. "I know something's wrong, but he won't tell me."
"Always being invited to parties. We've got a New Year's Eve party coming up, actually."
"Fine. Grades are as good as ever."
"Well," Harry says, at a loss. "Makes it a bit tricky, then. Who knows? I suppose that's the problem with the teenage years — they always get so secretive. And all the door-slamming...although James has gotten a lot better recently, hasn't slammed a door in months. That's a good sign, isn't it? And he writes letters far more often now. Proper letters too, not just the usual — "
" — although I do worry when he gets a bit too quiet — I mean, I'm not saying I miss the tantrums — "
Harry glances up, surprised. Draco's still gazing out the window with an expression that Harry can't quite decipher. "What?"
Draco is silent for a long moment. Then he speaks again. "My father contacted me."
"Your..." Harry trails off, then tries again. "Your father contacted you?"
Harry looks down at the Monopoly board again. It's so tattered now, worn down by a hundred games. It was a present from Dudley, he suddenly recalls. So many Christmases ago. Eleven-year-old James had cheerfully brought the game to the manor to play a game with his newest best friend, and he'd never asked for it to be returned.
"Why?" he asks at last.
There's silence, and he looks up. Draco is staring at him. "Why?" he repeats. "That's the question you ask?"
Draco says nothing. He looks back down at his cup of tea, then out the window, as if he's lost the thread of conversation and he thinks he'll find it hiding somewhere. They sit in silence. Outside, the clouds cast patterns of shadow and light across the land. Somewhere, a starling chirps. Harry thinks of the starlings in the fields beyond his house. The badgers in their sett. The little family of foxes. The way him and Ginny took something decrepit, something abandoned, and made it into a home. For each other. For James.
"He wants to return to England," Draco says, breaking Harry's reverie.
"To see Scorpius." Draco's mouth twists. "He won't see him. I'll make sure of that."
"You won't let him see Scorpius?" Harry is surprised.
"Don't lecture me, Potter," Draco says, bitterness lacing his voice. "There's a consequence for every action. It's time my father learned that."
Harry falls silent. He glances at the mantelpiece. Here, in the kitchen, there are no family photographs. They're all in the hallways, Harry thinks. The study, the sitting room. But regardless of the lack of photographs, the little remnants of Scorpius and Draco's lives remain. The canister of peppermint tea on the counter. The Monopoly set. Genealogy notes. One of Scorpius's scarves draped over a chair.
"Will you?" Harry asks at last.
"Will you see your father?"
Draco's anger seems to evaporate. He looks at Harry as if he can't quite believe him. "It's illegal. There's a trace set up, if my father ever returns to England — "
"You could go to him."
"The Ministry have a trace on me too. If I leave the country suddenly, they'll certainly be very interested."
Harry looks down at the Monopoly set, then speaks rapidly. Before he doubts himself. "An Auror could remove the trace."
"Right, so I'll just stroll into the Auror offices and..." Draco trails off. "You're not serious."
"Do you want to see your father or not?"
"You said you missed him, once."
Draco taps his fingers lightly against the table, looking troubled. He looks at Harry, then glances out the window. "This is the whole reason you're here," he says finally. "Year after year they've kept me monitored. Adding time to the program. To supervise me, they say, but we all know the truth. To find my father. The last Death Eater."
Harry doesn't know what to say to that. "Yes," he acknowledges.
"And you've got him. I've just told you I know where he is."
"All you have to do," Draco says slowly, "is ask me where."
Harry's silent for a long time, staring down at the table, listening to the distant starlings.
Draco breaks the silence first.
"Then why are you here?"
That's a question that has been nearly four years in the making. That's the question Harry's been ignoring month after month, through all the winters and summers of their visits.
"Because," Harry says at last, "I want to be."
He waits for Draco to roll his eyes, make an acerbic remark about Harry's sentimental nature, but instead he gazes down at the table, mouth serious and unsmiling, grey eyes hidden beneath his lowered eyelashes. Years and years, Harry thinks. They have known each other for so long now. Strange that they met twenty-seven years ago, and this is the moment Harry calls him a friend.
Draco looks up again, meeting Harry's gaze. "You could still ask me. I'd tell you."
Outside, the clouds chase each other across the sky.
They settle on the date of New Year's Eve, when Scorpius will be at a friend's party and the Ministry will be preoccupied with celebrations. Nevertheless, Draco still seems doubtful: Is it worth it? It's still considered a serious crime for Death Eaters to contact each other. If anything should happen…
But Harry knows Draco deserves some closure, and so he does his best to reassure him. "I promise," he says before he leaves. "You'll see your father again. And nothing will happen. You and Scorpius will be safe."
He goes directly to the Ministry afterwards. It's the ideal time for Draco to visit his father, he thinks. The Ministry never sleeps, but it certainly gets lethargic after Christmas.
"Oh! You're not rostered on tonight, sir," Cuthbert says, appearing and scurrying alongside Harry, clipboard in one hand.
"No, just here to pick up some paperwork."
Cuthbert disappears, rushing off elsewhere. Harry unlocks his desk drawer with a wave of his wand. It doesn't take him long to find Draco's file. He glances around, then quietly sets to work dissolving the powerful tracing charm on Draco's travels.
An hour later, an owl is winging its way to the manor, the coded message attached to its leg.
New Year's Eve. Today, for the first time in nineteen years, Draco will be meeting his father.
He reads Harry's letter for the umpteenth time. Request Accepted. Just two words, but does Draco trust them? Does he trust Harry? One little mistake, one careless oversight, and everything could fall apart.
It's not worth it, Draco thinks. It's not worth the risk. He glances at the grandfather clock, wondering if he has time to change his mind. Distantly, he thinks of how the clock was handed down through the generations, like most of the things in this house. While Draco threw away many things, he preserved many more.
After all, family history is his specialty.
Footsteps. Draco glances up as Scorpius steps into the hallway. He doesn't look particularly pleased, Draco thinks, for someone about to attend a friend's New Year's Eve party. "Ready to go?" Draco asks him. "I'll take you there with a Side-Along Apparation."
Scorpius looks at Draco, then glances down at the floor. "I don't want to go," he mutters.
"I don't want to."
Draco says nothing. He can't make Scorpius go, but he mustn't stay at the manor. His safety is Draco's first concern, and in the very unlikely scenario that Lucius attempts to return to the manor, Scorpius cannot be here. That would be disastrous.
"I'm afraid you can't stay here," Draco says at last. "I'm going away to visit a friend."
Scorpius looks up, anxiety clear in his eyes. "I could stay here by myself," he suggests.
"I'd rather you didn't stay home alone."
"Then I'll come with you! I don't mind – "
"Why on earth don't you want to go?" Draco glances at the grandfather clock again, worry beginning to nibble at him. He's arranged to meet Lucius at ten o'clock sharp.
"I just...they don't want me there..."
"Then why did they invite you?"
Scorpius falls silent. After a long moment, he speaks again. "Can't I just...can't I just go with you?"
"I'm going to visit Harry," Draco lies. "If you're happy to spend two hours with James Potter, then certainly."
Another long silence. Scorpius's shoulders slump. He turns and slowly fetches his cloak from the peg.
Scorpius doesn't say a word as they leave the manor and walk down the long driveway. Draco sighs, and his breath forms a silver cloud in the dark winter evening.
"Is something the matter?"
"Scorpius – "
Scorpius's mouth thins and his eyes narrows slightly, his face closing as effectively as a door. Draco hates it when he does this. He becomes as icy and distant as the stars above. The worst part, Draco thinks, is that he knows exactly whom Scorpius inherited that from.
"I'm sorry you can't stay home tonight."
The silence stretches on, punctuated only by the crunch of gravel underfoot. Draco tries another approach.
"Did you have a fight with your friends? Is that why you don't want to go to the party?"
"Could you Disapparate now, please?"
Draco sighs again, then takes Scorpius away with a Side-Along Apparation. They arrive outside the address given; it seems as if the party is already in full swing. Draco takes a few steps forward; Scorpius stops him.
"There's no need for you to come in."
"Well, I'd like to meet the other parents, at least."
"Could you please just leave?"
Draco looks at Scorpius, but Scorpius won't look at him. He stares at the ground instead.
"All right," Draco says slowly. He pauses, then takes off his scarf and hands it to Scorpius. "Honestly, you'll catch your death. It's freezing. At least you remembered your coat, I suppose. Now, I'll be back at midnight to pick you up."
At least Scorpius doesn't complain about Draco fussing too much or tell him to leave again. He accepts the scarf and nods. Just as Draco's about to turn and leave again, Scorpius surprises him with a hug.
"Sorry," he mumbles into Draco's shoulder.
"It's all right. Sorry you couldn't stay home. I'll see you in a couple of hours."
Scorpius nods and steps away again. Draco Disapparates, feeling much lighter. Scorpius has his icy moments, but then Draco forgets that he's also inherited certain traits from Astoria too. Her affection, the way she's quick to regret arguments and offer a truce.
Feeling suddenly much more encouraged about meeting Lucius, Draco takes the portkey from his pocket and activates it.
He lands slightly clumsily in a deep drift of snow, disoriented. He's deep in the Latvian wilderness somewhere, that's all he knows. The snow flurries around him; the fields of pristine white seem to glow beneath the winter moon. In the distance, the silhouettes of pine trees rise like inky brush strokes.
Draco begins walking, leaving a trail of dark footprints behind him. Onwards and onwards, out into the fields, out into the deep snowfalls of the land. The cold creeps up his sleeves, quick and stealthy as a thief in the night.
Soon, a distant dot of light appears, floating on the black horizon like a boat bobbing at sea. Draco makes his way towards it, step by icy step, his feet dragging through the snow. After a long time, as he finally nears the small house, the door opens and light spills into the night. There's someone in the doorway, Draco thinks. But surely it cannot be his father. His tall, imposing father...
But it is. As Draco walks through the little unlatched gate and past the woodpile, he sees him. Lucius.
He looks old, Draco realises, and it hits him like a hex. His father is an old man now. His hair has silvered, the years of constant frowning and concentration becoming evident on the furrow of his brow, the deep lines around his eyes. He's old. What happened to the powerful man Draco once knew as his father?
"My dear son," Lucius says hoarsely, but Draco is not a child anymore, scrambling after his father for any scrap of affection or approval. He looks at Lucius for a long moment, then steps inside.
Lucius closes the door.
At least it's warm, Draco thinks. There's a pot-bellied stove emanating heat and Draco sits in one of the tattered armchairs in front of it. There's the sound of a bottle being uncorked and the clink of a glass. Of course, Draco thinks. Even here, in the steep snows of the Latvian forests, Lucius would somehow have a good bottle of the finest whisky.
"I was hoping to see my grandson with you," Lucius says, handing Draco a glass of whisky.
"Were you?" Draco says coolly, and Lucius's expression — a faint smile — wavers and fades.
"You are displeased," he says.
Draco takes a sip of the whisky, feeling the slow burn of it, and then sets the glass down and watches the ice cubes settle again. "Mother died," he says. "I suppose you probably received the news."
"I wish I had been there."
"And yet you weren't."
Silence hangs between them like a half-finished spell. Lucius looks past Draco, out the window. Draco moves the glass slightly, listening to the faint clink of the ice cubes.
"She died alone. Still asking for news of you."
Lucius's lips twist. "I was a wanted man, Draco. They would have arrested me the moment I set foot in the country."
"You still are a wanted man. And yet here you stand, long after everyone else has paid for their crimes and moved on with their lives."
Lucius looks down at his glass, then swiftly downs the whisky in one movement. "My grandson," he says at last. "I haven't seen him. Not a single photograph. That's all I ever wanted. To see him, just once."
"And fifteen years ago, your dying wife wanted to see you. Just once. But you didn't come back."
Lucius falls silent. After a long moment, he speaks. "I am aware that I have not been a particularly good father, Draco. There are many things I regret – "
"No," Draco says. "Don't stand here now and ask for forgiveness."
There's another long silence. When Lucius speaks next, his voice is heavy with sorrow and Draco hates that. He wants him to be angry, cold – he doesn't want to remember his father as a frail, sad old man.
"I know you'll be a better father to Scorpius than I ever was to you," he says.
"You set the standard low."
"I did the best job I could."
The anger fades from Draco. Now he just feels tired and defeated. He looks out the window, watching the snowflakes gently spiral past. They look almost luminescent in the darkness.
"Strange," Lucius says, "how much you look like your mother. When you were younger, you bore a far closer resemblance to me."
Draco doesn't say anything. He looks away from the window and stares down at his glass of whisky instead, watching the ice cubes slowly shift and melt. Lucius sets his empty glass down upon a side-table. A floorboard creaks. The house is settling, Narcissa used to tell Draco when he was young and afraid of every little flutter of the curtains, every creak and rustle.
"You'll never let me see him, will you?" Lucius asks.
The fire burns low in the hearth and Draco watches the flames for a while, the way the very centre of the flame appears an octane blue, the same colour as a bright summer day.
"No," he says quietly. "I won't."
Lucius doesn't speak for a long moment. When Draco glances at him, he's staring at the fire too. Draco's waiting for anger, that icy fury, the demands to see Scorpius, but that Lucius — strong and powerful, never compromising, always assertive — has faded to nothing. Nineteen years, Draco thinks. Nineteen long years have left Lucius a tired old man.
Lucius lifts his head suddenly.
"Did you come alone?"
"The wards," Lucius says, standing up, and panic flashes through Draco.
"What — "
But then he's cut off as a flash of light encompasses the room, blinding and bright, and when it fades they are surrounded by Aurors.
Harry goes home in a good mood. It's one o'clock in the morning and he's only just left the Burrow, laughing and calling out farewells to cheerful family and friends. James smothers a yawn as they step through the fireplace.
"Missed fire-calls," he says sleepily. "I'm going to bed."
"What?" Harry glances at the mantle. As James has observed, it's glowing with many missed fire-calls and Floo connections. All from the Auror department.
"Goodnight," James says, but Harry hardly hears him. He stares at the fireplace for a long moment.
The rest of the Ministry is quiet. It's barely New Year's Day, after all, and nothing short of a complete emergency could drag employees away from their celebrations with family and friends. Harry walks down the empty halls, past the dark offices, through silent rooms.
Until he opens the door to the Auror department.
People are bustling around. Memos fly through the air. The place is lit up as if it's a busy Monday morning. When Harry steps through the door, a few of the Aurors look at him and wave in greeting. By the time he's reached the central Auror offices, he knows something is very, very wrong. Cuthbert is there to greet him.
"Sir," he says, as if he knew Harry would walk through the door that very second. "Williamson would like a word with you."
"Williamson?" Harry says slowly. He retired months ago. What's he doing here? He's still been visiting the office a lot, saying hello to his old colleagues, but why would he be here now? Harry looks around the office, at the smiling Aurors. They look excited, happy to be there despite the early hour.
"Right this way, sir."
Harry is ushered into the Head Auror office. The door shuts behind him; he'd been expecting Cuthbert to follow him, as he always does, and he looks back in surprise at the closed door. It's very quiet in here. A marked difference from the cheerful chatter outside.
He looks ahead. Hopkins and Williamson are there, both looking at him with expressions Harry cannot decipher. They're sitting behind the desk. It's usually cluttered with files and photographs and broken quills and overdue paperwork, but now it's completely empty. Except for one small, thin file sitting between Hopkins and Williamson.
Name: Malfoy, Draco.
"Have a seat."
"I'd prefer to stand."
Silence descends between all of them for a long time, but Harry knows this game. It's one of the first things Aurors are taught. When interrogating suspects, give them silence. Let them grow uneasy. They'll begin to speak just to have reprieve from the unsettling quiet.
At long last, Williamson speaks. "Is there any particular reason," he says slowly, in that gravelly voice that has no doubt struck fear into a hundred criminals, "why you removed the tracing spell from Draco Malfoy?"
Harry clears his throat. "That's an interesting assumption."
"I'm afraid it is not an assumption." Hopkins clasps his hands in front of him, looking at Harry, unblinking. "It's an observation. We have surveillance evidence."
The word evidence seizes ahold of Harry's nerves, and he can't help the sharpness in his voice. "Have you arrested Draco Malfoy?"
"That's confidential information."
"What I think we should do – " Harry begins, but Williamson cuts him off.
"What I think you should do," Williamson says, still speaking in that slow and measured tone, "is go home."
"Have you arrested him?"
"I would very strongly advise you not to discuss your current circumstances with anyone else."
"Where's his son?"
"We have redistributed your shifts to other Aurors. You have been placed on unpaid leave."
"Where's Scorpius? Where have you taken him?"
"You have several other very serious problems right now, Potter," Williamson says. "I suggest you focus your attention on – "
Harry slams his fist on the desk. "I am not leaving until I know where Scorpius is!"
Hopkins and Williamson stare at him. It's perhaps the first time Williamson has ever looked startled, but Harry doesn't particularly care about that right now.
Hopkins is the first to speak. "I assume...I'm not sure what the protocol is for care of children. You'll have to ask the Law Enforcement officers about that..."
"You seem to care an unusual deal about young Scorpius," Williamson adds, studying Harry shrewdly.
"Yes, it's odd, isn't it?" Harry fires back. "A father is arrested and I want to know if his child is safe. Forgive me for having a single shred of concern."
Without bothering to wait for their reaction, he turns and storms from the office.
But unlike the celebratory nature of the Auror offices — all of Harry's colleagues smiling and offering Harry cheerful congratulations, clearly unaware of the circumstances – the Law Enforcement department has a distinctly sullen atmosphere. They're not pleased with him.
"Had a good New Year? Good. We didn't. We were here, dealing with your case."
Harry gives the sergeant a look. "Could I speak to Malfoy, please?"
"No. He's still being processed and you'll just make more work for us. Go home."
"I need to speak with him."
"It's not happening."
"What are his charges?"
"For Merlin's sake, I'll stick you in a cell too in a minute."
"Where's his son? Scorpius Malfoy?"
At least the sergeant seems to take pity on him then. "There's no need to look at me like that. It's not like we stuck him in a cell too. We were able to make arrangements with the Hogwarts headmistress. We sent him back there. It's not strictly protocol, but I've got kids of my own and Ministry custody should definitely be the last choice."
Harry exhales slowly. "Thank you," he says. "Thank you."
He has no other choice then but to concede defeat and go home. He supposes he should be grateful that Scorpius is back at Hogwarts, safe and sound.
As for Draco...
The anger fades, and Harry just feels exhausted.
He needs to talk to someone about it, at least, and his friends are there as always. The next day, he sits at the kitchen table, Ron and Hermione opposite him. They'd been smiling at first, congratulating Harry on the capture of Lucius Malfoy — it's splashed all over the front page of The Daily Prophet — but their happiness soon turns to confusion as Harry explains the circumstances.
"You what?" Hermione stares at him.
"I removed the trace."
Hermione looks around, as if fearful of a hidden Auror pouncing upon Harry's confession. Ron just looks thunderstruck.
"Why?" he demands.
Harry is silent for a long moment, stirring his third cup of tea. "Because," he says at last, "I know what it's like to wish, more than anything, to see my parents one last time."
Hermione sighs. "Harry...I know this isn't what you want to hear, but sometimes you're too nice for your own good. I mean, it's a shame that things have ended this way, of course, but — "
"It's a shame? You do understand that Draco is facing an Azkaban sentence? He has a fifteen-year-old son, Hermione. Scorpius has no other family. None."
"Still," Ron says doggedly. "Malfoy knew the risk."
Harry falls silent. They won't understand. Harry knows Draco's choice was made under the weight of a thousand childhood memories, of family portraits and photographs and loyalty and duty. It was not an easy choice. Despite the risk, despite legal obligations and contracts and everything else, a little part of Draco – the part that stayed forever young, the part that still dreamed of a family being unbroken, together always – would have stopped him from reporting his own father.
And though Harry loves his best friends, this is something he cannot articulate to them.
"Everybody makes mistakes," Harry says at last.
"Malfoy's made a lot of mistakes," Ron points out.
Harry makes a split-second decision. "I'm going to do everything I can to fight the charges. This isn't fair. I don't expect either of you to help me – especially you, Ron, after everything the Malfoys did to your family – but I know what it's like to grow up without parents, and there's no way I'll just sit back and let Scorpius go through the same thing."
Ron and Hermione look at each other.
"Merlin, I hate it when he gets like this," Ron says conversationally. "Does his usual speech about how he'll do it all on his own, throws in a few insults about how he expects us to abandon him – "
"And acts like he can do it all without us," Hermione says. "Really. We destroy Horcruxes and help him defeat Voldemort, but we can't do a bit of legal research and help with a trial. Rather belittling, isn't it?"
"Yeah, I can't imagine why we're still friends with him."
Harry has the grace to feel abashed as they both turn to look at him. "Yeah…sorry," he mutters.
Ron grins, but after a moment his expression becomes more serious. "And I reckon we will be researching legal stuff for you."
"I'll be fine," Harry says with a shrug.
"Are they going to charge you with something too?"
"Like what? I've been placed on unpaid leave, not arrested."
Hermione exchanges a look with Ron. "Obstruction of justice," she says. "They could arrest you for that."
"Obstruction of justice?" Harry asks disbelievingly. "That's ridiculous — "
"You helped somebody commit a crime, Harry. This could be really serious. Have you contacted your solicitor?"
"I haven't got a solicitor." Harry tries to laugh. "I'm not exactly in the habit of needing legal advice."
"Well," Hermione says after a moment, "now might be the time to start."
Harry says nothing.
Later that day, however, after Ron and Hermione have gone home to search Hermione's extensive book collection, Harry discovers a fourth witness to the conversation.
"Hmm?" He's in his study, looking through Draco's file.
"What were you talking to Aunt Hermione and Uncle Ron about?"
Harry glances up. James stands in the doorway, frowning.
"Nothing. Just some work-related stuff."
"Okay." But James lingers in the doorway and Harry sets down his quill. "It's just…you're not in trouble for anything, are you?"
Harry pauses. "It's nothing. My supervisor is a bit cross with me, that's all."
James gives him a look. "Aunt Hermione said you could be charged with obstruction of justice."
"Eavesdropping again, I see." But after a moment, Harry leans back in his chair and sighs. "It's fine. They're not going to arrest me, and they're not going to send me away. I promise."
"You shouldn't have helped him."
"Draco Malfoy," James says angrily. "Why'd you help him? He's a Death Eater. Why would you help a criminal? The paper said he'd been arrested for treason. You're honestly breaking the law just for someone like him?"
"Yes," Harry retorts. "Because I know him, not what the paper has written about him. And it's got nothing to do with treason. He wanted to speak to his father, James. If you hadn't seen me in nineteen years, wouldn't you want to see me?"
"That's stupid! It's not against the law to speak to your parents!"
"It is for Draco Malfoy," Harry says curtly.
"Why?" James's anger seems to be overtaken by confusion and frustration now. "That doesn't make sense."
Harry rubs at his temples, feeling a tension headache forming. "Because that's what happens after a war. People get punished." He waits for another retort from James, a scowl perhaps, but he just stands there for a long moment.
"Well, if he knew he was breaking the law, it was still a stupid thing to do," James mutters at last.
Harry looks down at his desk, debating whether or not to say something. "Listen, James," he says at last. "I know…I know you and Scorpius Malfoy aren't exactly friends. But this year…things will be especially hard for him. His father has been arrested, and if Draco is sent to Azkaban then who knows where Scorpius will go. Just promise me…"
"…I'll be a bit nicer. Even if he's being a bit of a prat. Just be the bigger person, you know?" James finishes, and the way he says it makes Harry blink in surprise. He sounds like he's read those words hundreds of times before, like he's chanting them from memory.
James turns and leaves then, and later on Harry finds him asleep in the guest bedroom. His wand is still lit up with a Lumos spell; evidently he was looking through old family albums. There's a photograph of Teddy, aged about nine or ten, smiling at the camera and waving.
Harry picks up James's wand.
"Nox," he whispers.
When James returns to Hogwarts, he's in slightly better mood. Harry has promised him that everything will be fine and he won't be charged with anything; since Harry's name hasn't been mentioned in the papers at all, James is reassured. When he boards the Hogwarts Express though, all the students are whispering about something and he feels a bit paranoid until Rose enlightens him.
"Scorpius's father and grandfather have been arrested," she tells him as they sit in a compartment together, Hugo deciding to join them too.
"So? That happened a week or so ago, didn't it?"
"You know how it is," Hugo pipes up with a grin. "Everyone loves a good bit of gossip. For example, I heard a really interesting rumour about Rose and Andrew McCray – "
Rose lunges at him. "Shut up, Hugo!"
"Ha! It's true, then?" Hugo laughs even as Rose pins him down and ferociously rubs her knuckles across his head. "Ouch!"
"Serves you right! And it's not true," she says, returning to her own seat. "Andrew McCray probably doesn't even know I'm alive. I mean, he's vice-president of the Gobstones Club and a Chaser for the Hufflepuff team and he's got these amazing blue eyes…"
James exchanges a look with Hugo; they raise their eyebrows at each other.
"…and he's got this laugh that just sounds so perfect, and he's always so kind and wonderful and…"
"Why don't you tell us how you really feel, Rose?" James says, and Hugo sniggers. Rose straightens up abruptly.
"What? Shut up, James. Just wait until you find a girl you fancy. I bet you'll be one of those hopeless types, following her about with flowers and a dumb expression," she adds meanly.
But later on in the journey, when Hugo is reading Chocolate Frog cards and James is gazing out the window, Rose gives him a little smile.
"What?" he asks.
"Nothing. It's just…it's nice, to hear you make a joke again. It's been a while," she says.
"Oh." James hesitates, but he still remembers that day in the attic. Both of them crying. Do you wish it had been me instead? "I'm glad you're here," he says.
They both sit there smiling at each other – small smiles, and Rose looks a bit close to tears again and James is feeling a little like that too – but they're both there and James feels that little flicker of hope again. After Teddy's funeral, Harry had told James you'll never stop feeling his absence, but you'll learn to cope with it. At the time, James had barely registered the words, let alone understood them.
But now, he thinks, he's finally beginning to learn.
Two weeks later, during their first swim practice of the new term, James swims lap after lap as if it's the easiest thing in the world. His arms move through the water, fingertips perfectly aligned, and at the end of each lap he executes every flip turn with ease. The water feels like an old friend again, helping him forward, pushing him onwards instead of dragging at his limbs. When he hauls himself onto the pier at the end of the session, the boys all smile at him and offer a few high-fives.
"What?" James asks with confusion.
"You idiot," Thomas says, smiling. "That was your best practice yet. I had to give it everything I've got just to stay ahead of you."
"Still ahead of me though, weren't you?"
"And always will be, with that attitude," Thomas says, and James has the stupid urge to smile.
"Just wait until next practice, Pearson," he says.
He goes to the dormitory to have his shower and get ready for breakfast, and on the way he catches sight of the Rock of Gibraltar postcard on his bedside table.
Steady and strong.
He feels all right.
And perhaps he's still thinking of the postcard later on when he's sitting with the rest of the students in the Potions classroom, waiting for Slughorn to finish dealing with a mess left by Peeves and begin the class. Next to him, Paul is frantically trying to finish an essay about potion ingredients.
"It's due in five minutes," James says conversationally.
"I know, I know. Quick, what's the purpose of a bezoar?"
"I don't know. Where's Rose?"
Paul glances up, scanning the room, then pauses as his gaze fixes upon Scorpius. He's sitting just across the aisle, shoulders hunched as if to physically shield himself from others.
"Look, there's Malfoy," Paul says, a little too loudly for James's liking.
"Well, did you hear about his dad?"
James pauses. "You should really finish that essay. Slughorn's nearly done."
"Oh!" Paul returns his attention to his essay and begins scribbling away again.
James looks up and just for a moment, his gaze meets Scorpius's.
Then they both glance away again.