Draco wishes he had a time-turner.
A careless mistake. One mistake. He should have reported his father as soon as he'd received that first letter. After all, he's always been a rational person. Weighing up the risks, making calculated moves. But he'd allowed himself to be swayed by that hope he'd always had. He had it when he was a naive teenager, crying in empty rooms over the fate of his family, and he had it when he attended his mother's funeral, and he had it for all the long years of his father's absence. The hope that one day his family would be together again.
And now here he sits. In a holding cell in the Ministry, and all he can think about is Scorpius. If Draco is found guilty and is sent to Azkaban…what will happen to Scorpius? His mother is dead. Narcissa is dead. Lucius is imprisoned. Astoria's father is dead and her mother's health is ailing. The last Draco heard, she was in poor health, unable to leave the house most days.
Even so, better that Scorpius lives with her than a stranger.
If I knew where my father was, he'd told Harry once, and I knew it would make people treat Scorpius better, I'd tell the Ministry in a heartbeat.
Bitterness rises in his heart, an endless tide.
Forgive me, Scorpius.
In the visitation room, one of the walls shimmers and gives away its use as a one-way viewing point. Harry paces around the room, ignoring the wall; Draco is far more wary of it and mentally screens the conversation, avoiding anything that might incriminate Harry.
"I spoke to your solicitor," Harry is saying furiously. "Did you know the maximum sentence is three years? Three years, for speaking to your own father. It is completely ridiculous — "
"I am aware of the sentence length, yes." Draco watches him, feeling oddly distant from all of this. He wonders if they know Harry was the one who removed the tracing spell.
Harry finally pauses in his pacing. "Could you be a little more interested in your own fate, Draco?"
Draco studies him. "You know as well as I do," he says eventually. "There's nothing we can do. There's no loopholes. There's no saving graces. The trial will be a formality and nothing else."
"Damn it!" Harry's arm twitches, as if he wants to throw a punch, and Draco glances at the viewing wall. "Damn it," Harry repeats, this time quietly. "Damn you, Malfoy. You weaselled your way out of a war trial but you get caught having a conversation with your father? That's how you end up in Azkaban? God, I could almost laugh about it."
They remain in silence for a long time, Draco sitting on one of the uncomfortable chairs, Harry standing by the door.
"How's Scorpius?" Draco asks, and Harry's shoulders slump.
"This has been all over the papers. The Daily Prophet has sensationalised it, as ever. You've been charged with criminal conspiracy. I can't imagine what Scorpius is going through." He pauses. "Well, actually, I can. Everywhere he turns, people will be talking about it. Whispering. Spreading rumours."
Draco falls silent again. After a long moment, he speaks. "They have asked me to nominate a caregiver — "
"Harry — "
"He doesn't need a caregiver. He's got you. You are not going to Azkaban, I won't let it happen, I don't care how — "
"Harry," Draco repeats tiredly. "Just say you'll do it."
Harry pauses. He looks at Draco for a while, his gaze shifting down to Draco's clasped hands where only the faintest shimmer shows the restraint charms looped around his wrists. When Harry speaks next, his voice is quiet. "It feels like defeat," he says. "I don't want this to be a defeat."
Silence descends between them again.
February draws to a close, giving way to slightly warmer weather. Not much of a difference, but it makes swim practice a little easier when the grounds aren't covered in frost, and James feels confident enough to remove the tiny scarf from his cactus. One chilly afternoon, he lingers after Herbology to give it a few extra compliments. He likes it in the greenhouses these days, surrounded by the smell of damp earth, the shelves of plants making him feel hidden from the world.
"Still here, Potter? Class has finished."
He glances up. Professor Sprout gives him a kindly smile.
"Yes, Professor. Just wanted to check on my cactus."
"Well, if you don't mind staying a little longer, could you plant the Cobweb Vines for me?" She nods at a shelf filled with tiny pots of soil.
James nods and Sprout bustles away. He picks up the vial of seeds. Like grains of sugar, he thinks as he begins the task. He mindlessly moves along the shelf, methodically planting the seeds, listening to the soft fall of rain overhead.
"Professor? The latest essay – " Scorpius rounds the corner, sees James, and immediately stops. "Oh, it's you," he says icily.
"Sprout's not here," James says shortly, hoping Scorpius will leave before he ruins one of James's rare good moods.
But Scorpius gives him a suspicious look, not moving. "Does she know you're messing about with those plants?" he snaps.
James sighs. He doesn't want to talk to anyone, let alone get into an argument with Scorpius Malfoy. He made a promise to Teddy. "Go away, will you?"
"Gladly." Scorpius gives him one last chilly look, then turns just as Sprout comes round the corner.
"Oh, hello, Malfoy," she says amiably. "Not distracting Potter from his work, I hope."
"No," Scorpius says without looking even the slightest bit ashamed of accusing James of vandalism. "I was hoping I could speak to you about my essay, actually."
"Ah, the one about desert plants? Well, you're in luck." Sprout picks up a watering can and nods at James. "Potter here should be able to help. He should practically be an expert in cacti at this point."
"I doubt he'd be able to offer anything useful. I'd much rather – "
"No need to be so dismissive of others, thank you very much," Sprout interrupts. "I know you've had a few quarrels with Potter in the past, but you're in fourth year now and it's high time you – "
"Get over it," James says suddenly. You won't like what I'm about to say...
Sprout gives him a startled look; Scorpius looks like he wants to hex James into oblivion.
"I don't need any advice from you," Scorpius snaps.
"It wasn't advice, and I wasn't talking to you," James retorts, forgetting Teddy's letter.
"Who were you talking to, then?"
"None of your business!"
"Shut up, then," Scorpius fires back, and Sprout's jolly demeanour quickly vanishes. James has never seen her seriously angry – she always bustles cheerfully about the place, patiently helping students – but now her face seems to lose its softness, her eyes sharpening like the spines on James's cactus.
"I think," she says curtly, "that both of you ought to be just a little more respectful to your fellow student. Potter, I suggest you help Malfoy with his assignment to the best of your ability."
"Yes, Professor," James says, sensing danger.
"And Malfoy, I expect you to listen to Potter's advice with consideration. Show a bit of courtesy."
Scorpius stares at the ground. "Yes, Professor," he says at last.
"Good. Now, if there are any problems, I will resolve them," Sprout adds ominously, and with that she nods firmly to herself and disappears down a nearby aisle of plants, watering can in hand. James has the feeling she's probably still in earshot, however.
Scorpius turns away for a moment, digging in his book bag, and then holds out a piece of paper. James stares at it blankly. "Well? Are you going to help or not?" Scorpius says irritably.
"Excuse me? Don't speak to me like that — "
"Oh, because you haven't been a complete prat in this particular conversation, I'm supposed to be nice to you? Is that it?"
"Can't you just leave already? Merlin, I do not want to talk to you right now – "
"Well, you are!" Scorpius says, his voice rising, and James glances over his shoulder, keeping an eye out for an angry Professor Sprout. But when Scorpius speaks again, his voice is quieter, anger clipping each tense syllable. "Don't pretend you're not happy about my father's arrest. I know you are."
James just stares at Scorpius, feeling more surprised than anything else. "Why?" he asks. He means why would it make him happy, but Scorpius misinterprets the question.
"You know why he was arrested. Because he's a Death Eater. Because he'll always be a Death Eater, no matter how many years have passed or how many trials he's been through. Just like I'll always be a Death Eater's son, no matter what I do or who I become! Tell me, what do you think of when you hear my name?"
James, caught off-guard, answers automatically. "Stars."
Scorpius stares at him. "Stars?" he repeats.
James shrugs, feeling bewildered. "Scorpius, the constellation near the centre of the Milky Way. And Hyperion, one of Saturn's moons. That's what I think of...when I hear your name…" He trails off as Scorpius's face suddenly crumples. He turns from James and races away, his footsteps quickly fading. James is left standing alone but soon enough Professor Sprout descends upon him like a furious Devil's Snare, demanding to know what he'd done to make Scorpius flee so quickly, and when he is unable to produce a suitable explanation she makes disapproving noises and assigns him detention.
James doesn't really mind. At least nobody can bother him in detention.
Including enemies with odd questions.
Today, Harry will have to exercise the first of his responsibilities: Scorpius had evidently asked about visiting his father while Draco was in custody, and McGonagall granted him special leave from the day's classes. As his caregiver, Harry has been requested to accompany Scorpius.
Harry hadn't expected to deal with him at all until after the trial, and he feels a little worried about it. Scorpius has always been a courteous child, but no doubt he'll be devastated about his father's arrest and, quite possibly, horrified to learn he's now legally under Harry's care. James and Scorpius aren't particularly fond of each other either, and Harry doesn't even want to think about James's reaction to the possibility of Scorpius staying with them.
Which won't happen, because Draco isn't going to Azkaban, he tells himself. The same lie he's been repeating lately, and each time it sounds a little less determined and a little more desperate.
He Disapparates to Hogsmeade and collects Scorpius from McGonagall. Scorpius, wearing a black cloak and a downcast expression, doesn't say a word to Harry. Harry takes his cue and doesn't attempt conversation. They travel, via a portkey, to the Ministry; when they arrive in the atrium, Scorpius tilts his head back, gazing at the levels above them, and then he looks at the fountain in the centre. The light from the water dances across the polished floors, reflecting from the golden statue of a witch gracefully holding her wand aloft.
"Hecate," Scorpius says — the first word he's said since they left Hogsmeade — and Harry glances at him.
"Hecate. Worshipped as a protective goddess in Greek mythology, but it's believed that she was actually a historically significant witch."
"Oh." Harry doesn't know what else to say. "This way, Scorpius."
They go to the elevators. Scorpius is silent, though he garners more than a few glances from Ministry workers. They go to the Department of Magical Law Enforcement, and Harry wants to cringe when a few Aurors greet him. They look at him curiously — everyone knows something isn't right, that he's been placed on unpaid leave — and their eyes flicker to Scorpius.
They pass through a set of doors, then another. Down a long corridor, and then there's a small waiting room where a harried-looking officer tells them visitation times have changed. Scorpius will need to wait another hour before seeing his father.
It's cruel to leave Scorpius — anxious and consumed with worry — stuck in a waiting room for an hour, Harry thinks. He tries to think of distractions — perhaps a visit to Diagon Alley, or a walk around the Ministry — but with all the stares directed at Scorpius, perhaps Muggle London is a safer bet.
He gets an idea.
They go the aquarium. Scorpius has a lot on his mind, Harry thinks, and he'll probably just wish he was by himself somewhere. But he carefully reads all the information about the sea creatures, and he spends a long time in the underground viewing room for the sea turtles, illuminated only by the blue glow of the aquarium, his hands against the glass as he watches the turtles swim about. Harry searches for something to say besides empty reassurances.
"This was always James's favourite part of the aquarium," he says at last, watching a turtle swim past. Scorpius turns his head and watches it too.
"They said you're my caregiver now," he says, his grey eyes seeming to almost glow luminescent in the blue underwater light.
Scorpius looks upwards, watching another turtle as it dives through the water. "One day," he says, so quietly that Harry thinks he's really speaking to himself, "I'll have my own home. Where nobody can take me away."
The turtles have all disappeared, Harry notices. Gone to the surface.
Now they're both just staring into emptiness, a blue void.
They go back to the Ministry.
Now it's Harry who sits in the reception as Scorpius goes to visit his father. Scorpius is escorted to the visitor's room by a kindly constable, and when he returns half an hour later he's crying quietly while the constable tries to reassure him.
"Come on, there's no need to make a fuss," he's saying. "You're far too old to be crying now, aren't you?"
Harry nods at the constable and leaves, Scorpius walking beside him and making a valiant effort to compose himself before they go into the busy atrium. Harry transfigures a nearby memo into a handkerchief and hands it to Scorpius.
"I've just got to visit a friend to pick up some paperwork," Harry says. It's a half-truth – Hermione promised to research Draco's case — but in reality Harry just wants to give Scorpius some extra time to compose himself. "It'll just take a few minutes."
Scorpius nods wordlessly and Harry uses a side-along Apparation to take them both to Hermione and Ron's house. The door unlocks for him – it always does – but it appears neither of them are home. Harry quickly goes to Hermione's library and finds her notes, a scrawled memo to Harry pinned to the top of them. When he returns to the front hallway, he finds Scorpius standing by the hall stand, a framed photograph in his hands.
He looks up, then sets the picture back down onto the hall stand. It's a photograph of Rose, James, and Teddy, Harry realises. They're laughing and nudging each other, a Christmas tree in the background, a star glowing atop it. Harry casts around for something to say.
"It's a nice picture, isn't it?"
Scorpius just gazes at the photograph for another long moment. "James looks happy," he says at last.
Harry studies the picture too, his heart giving a little pang at James's happy expression. "That picture was taken a few years ago."
They stand in silence. Then Scorpius suddenly gives a little shake of his head, as if trying to clear his thoughts, and turns away.
They return to Hogsmeade, Harry leaving Scorpius with McGonagall. When he's finally home again, he looks over Hermione's notes.
Sorry, Harry, she's written. Nothing useful. There's nothing you can do.
He thinks of the turtles swimming silently through the water, Scorpius watching them, his hands pressed against the glass. One day, I'll have my own home.
It's been a long time since Harry felt defeat, but tonight it calls his heart home.
And one week later, despair joins defeat when Harry is summoned to Shacklebolt's office. Usually, Shacklebolt is quite affable; however, now he sits across the vast and intimidating desk of his office and looks at Harry with something akin to disappointment.
Shacklebolt waits for a long moment, then picks up the file, glances at it, and puts it down again without opening it. He sighs, a long and steady exhale. "I don't need to read it," he says. "I have read it cover to cover, Harry, and yet it still makes no sense. But none of the evidence seems fabricated. The witnesses seem reliable. Everything seems to make sense except for your actions."
"On the evening of December the twenty-eighth, you accessed Draco Malfoy's file and spent quite some time removing a tracing charm. When questioned about your presence in the office, you claimed you were there to collect paperwork."
Harry is silent.
"I have been telling the witnesses over and over that they must be wrong. That you certainly would not do such a thing." Shacklebolt leans back in his chair and clasps his hands in front of him. "And if you did, I'm sure there would be an exceptional reason for it."
The silence stretches on. "Draco wanted to see his father," Harry says at last. "I agreed to help him."
Shacklebolt surveys him. "You are an Auror, Harry," he says. "Your colleagues trust you with their very lives. They look up to you. You are a member of the elite Auror team, after all, and you took an oath to uphold their values."
"I know, I know I did, but it's not that simple — "
"It is that simple, I'm afraid. You have broken the law."
"Broken the law?" Harry echoes in disbelief.
"As your superior, I'm afraid I cannot comment on the charges." Shacklebolt glances down at Harry's file again. "But as your friend, I very strongly suggest you contact your solicitor and begin making arrangements."
Harry doesn't know what to do. Will they take him into custody? His colleagues, his fellow Aurors, will they be the ones to arrest him? What about James?
"I've just been made caregiver to Scorpius Malfoy," he says suddenly.
"Very unfortunate timing. We'll ask Malfoy to nominate somebody else. In the meantime, you'll still be a guardian to young Scorpius."
Relief floods through Harry. "They're not arresting me now, then."
"Nothing is official yet. Time is still on your side."
But nobody else is, Harry realises. Even Shacklebolt, the Minister for Magic, cannot help him now.
"Right," he says slowly, standing up. "Well...thanks for telling me."
Harry walks over to the doors, then pauses. "Who was it?" he asks. "Who told you?"
"If I really have to tell you, Harry, I'm afraid your Auror skills are deteriorating."
Harry's silent for a moment. "Once an Auror, always an Auror," he says. "That was always his motto. It was Williamson, wasn't it? He didn't trust anyone to replace him. He had Cuthbert keep a close eye on me."
Shacklebolt doesn't say anything.
"Yes, I thought so." Harry touches the door handles and the doors begin to swing silently open again. "Makes me rather glad I lost the Head Auror role in the end. Before I ended up like that."
With that, he leaves.
So Harry waits. He waits to receive the charges. Hear the knock at the door. Harry's solicitor — an elderly man who seems to have an expression of permanent exasperation — begins giving him plenty of advice, most of it being 'stop talking to Draco Malfoy'.
He doesn't. He visits Draco one week before his trial is scheduled to start. Draco's very quiet and doesn't say much. When he does speak, it's of Harry's fate rather than his own.
"I heard they're going to arrest you too."
Harry paces around the room again, unable to keep still. He doesn't want to think about it. He doesn't want to think about being arrested, or going away, or James's expression when he finds out.
He looks up. Draco's studying him.
"Nothing," Draco says, shifting his gaze elsewhere. After another moment, however, he speaks. "Sometimes," he says, "I wish I could read minds."
Harry stills. Draco is gazing at the wall, his expression one of frustration as if he meant those words to be nothing more than an irritated response to Harry's silence. But Harry knows better. He stands in place for a moment, his heart pounding. He's still got his wand. Normally they remove them from visitors, but as ever, plenty of people are happy to bend the rules for Harry Potter.
He consciously doesn't look at the viewing wall. How closely is he being monitored? Could they read his lips, see the incantation?
He looks at Draco, then clears his throat, feeling the light weight of his wand in his sleeve. "You know I can't share details of my case with you, Malfoy," he says evenly.
"I'm beginning to wonder," Draco says, "what exactly the point of these visits are."
"I'm trying to help — "
"Damn it, Potter!" And Draco snaps suddenly, driving his fist into the wall. An uncharacteristic outburst of violence that makes Harry jump before realising the moment of distraction. All eyes right now are on Draco.
Harry flicks his sleeve slightly, bringing his wand into his hand, and whispers. "Legilimens."
It's dizzying and disorienting and Harry hates that spell, he hates being in someone else's mind. Draco throws his thoughts at Harry: an envelope, hidden in his sleeve. Give it to Lucius, Draco's mind demands in a cacophony of desperate noise. Lucius, Lucius, give it to Lucius.
And then Harry's back to his own mind again, frozen on the spot. A guard is rushing into the room already and Harry's chance is slipping away. He snaps into action, lunging forwards and grabbing Draco.
"Calm down, you're just making this worse for yourself — "
He feels the uncomfortable crinkle of parchment against his skin as he tries to restrain Draco. Both of them fumble for a moment and the envelope slips, and Harry's certain the guard must have seen it as it passes between them.
But seconds later the envelope is safely in Harry's sleeve, next to his wand again, and the guard is dragging a still-struggling Draco from the room.
Harry's left alone, his blood pounding in his veins.
He goes home. He takes the envelope from his sleeve. It's nondescript, crinkled, no name written upon it.
He wonders what it says, and for a moment he's tempted to read it.
But Draco had said nothing except, give it to Lucius.
So Harry neatly arranges for a visit to Azkaban. When he speaks to the warden, the warden smiles and nods and tells Harry he'd love to give the notorious Death Eater a piece of his mind, too.
Harry smiles thinly.
Lucius looks smaller, somehow. Harry had been expecting that — weight loss, a slight gaunt look, the same pale look of hunted people everywhere. But it still startles him to see Lucius like that.
They sit across from each other, a concrete table between them. Unlike the Ministry holding cells, there is no cosy visitation room: Lucius is being held in Azkaban due to his high security status. The shimmer of a protective shield charm is between them, and a guard restlessly paces the room.
This is going to be difficult.
And Lucius won't make it easier, Harry thinks. He's got a detached expression that doesn't move an inch as Harry sits opposite him.
"I suppose you're wondering why I'm here," Harry says at last, leaning forward. He lets his hand brush the protective charm ever-so-slightly, testing its strength.
"Auror Potter," Lucius says, in that soft voice that always seems to be a whisper of contempt. "Due diligence, I assume."
The charm is malleable, Harry thinks. Designed to slow down movement so that guards can see exactly what's going on, rather than acting as an impenetrable barrier. He flicks his gaze back to Lucius. "Due diligence? No. I'm not here to see that you truly can't escape. I have faith in our Law Enforcement department." Harry shifts position, brushing the charm again. It's weaker at the top, he thinks. He chances a glance upwards.
When he drops his gaze, Lucius is studying him very intently.
"I just wanted to see," Harry says, "how far you have fallen."
"Gloating? How unlike the noble Harry Potter," Lucius says, his voice still barely rising above a whisper.
"You murdered people. You're not particularly in a position to be claiming the higher moral ground." Harry glances at the guard, then clears his throat. "I'm not here for you, anyway. I'm here for Scorpius."
Lucius pulls back, surprise flashing across his face, and then he narrows his eyes suspiciously. He opens his mouth, but Harry beats him to it.
"Children have no place in this sort of thing," he says, gesturing to the surrounding walls. "For the sake of that, if nothing else, I've come here. To ask you to disown Draco. Cut all ties. Let Scorpius be free of your shadow."
"Disown my son?" Cold fury washes across Lucius's face. "How dare you even suggest – "
"They'd have a much better life without you. Imagine the future that once awaited Draco, the one without your intervention — "
"You speak of my family as if you know them." Lucius stands up and the guard glances at them. "You ignorant boy, you always were so witless — "
"I'm glad Scorpius has never met you," Harry retorts, and Lucius's face whitens.
"And what would you know of parents and grandparents?" he says venomously.
That's it. Right there.
The perfect excuse.
Harry crashes through the shield charm. It slows him down, of course, much too slow, and Lucius easily moves out of reach. The guard rushes over, shouting at Harry to return to his side of the barrier. But Harry ignores him, lunging forward again, the charm pulling at his limbs like treacle. Too slow, he's going to be too slow —
He meets Lucius's stare, and mouths the words. Letter. Sleeve.
Lucius doesn't move, just keeps staring at him, and for a moment Harry thinks it's over.
Then Lucius steps forward and seizes Harry by the throat.
There's other guards now, and a lot of noise, and people trying to separate them, and then Lucius is finally wrested away and pinned to the floor, grim-faced guards applying restraint charms. Harry is left gasping for air and wondering if Lucius actually intended to kill him. It certainly feels like it.
"Auror Potter," one of the supervisors says reproachfully, helping him to his feet. "You should have known better than to allow yourself to be provoked like that. Malfoy is dangerous, you know that — "
Harry tries to speak. His voice is gone, momentarily lost to Lucius's iron grip. He touches his throat and a guard hurries forward.
"I've just notified the Healer, he'll be here in a minute."
Harry waves him off. "I'm fine," he croaks.
He only dares check his robes once he's safely left Azkaban. The envelope is gone, though he doesn't recall seeing Lucius remove it.
He touches a hand to the bruises blooming across his skin and goes home.
That night, he receives an owl from Shacklebolt.
All charges have been dropped.
Harry reads about it in The Daily Prophet the next day: Lucius confessed that he threatened to harm Scorpius unless Draco met with him. Rita Skeeter has written the article in her usual lurid style: FAMILY BETRAYAL, the headline screams. It's accompanied by a photograph of Lucius, looking rather smug and intimidating – a leftover picture from his days of power at the Ministry, Harry would wager – and the article paints Draco as a tragic victim of his overbearing father. It contrasts rather interestingly with the previous articles following Draco's arrest. Those articles had all referred to Draco as 'the snivelling little Death Eater'.
Though Harry's own involvement has been kept far more secretive, his colleagues have evidently been told a similar story: Harry found out about the threats to young Scorpius and, concerned about notifying other Aurors and risking Lucius's reaction, had felt forced to help Draco.
"You should have told us the truth, Harry," Shacklebolt tells him later on.
"That I helped Draco?"
"That you were under duress. It's extremely understandable that you would feel forced to help Draco contact his father. After all, Lucius may have very well carried out his threats if you involved law enforcement."
Even Williamson apologises. He calls Harry into the Auror offices the next morning and tells him he's welcome to resume work.
"It was extremely remiss of us to jump to conclusions," Hopkins tells him.
Williamson nods. "When I first reported it to Shacklebolt, he was convinced that you'd never voluntarily help a criminal. And he was right. It's the job, Potter. What else can I say? After a while you start to see the worst in everyone. Even your own colleagues."
That evening, as Harry reads the headlines of The Daily Prophet, he pours himself a scotch and studies the newspaper picture of Lucius.
They have something in common, he thinks. They're both fathers. Did Lucius have the same dreams for Draco that Harry has for James? Happiness, success, a family of his own one day? Did Lucius ever lose sleep worrying about Draco? Did he congratulate Draco when he won Quidditch matches, tell him to concentrate more when he had poor grades? Did he stand on Platform 9¾ and wait anxiously for his son to come home?
He stares down at the grainy black-and-white photograph of Lucius, and for the first time thinks he looks more sad than stern.
Everything has a price.
Draco gazes for a long moment at his reflection. Fine robes — plain, but high quality. It's hidden in the invisible seams, the soft material, the silver clasp. Same as Draco's upbringing is hidden in the thread of his walk, the tone of his voice. Anyone can be wealthy, Lucius always said, but status and class cannot be bought.
Some might think he's trying to impress his father, Draco thinks as he removes a loose thread from his collar. Perhaps he is.
Old habits die hard.
He studies his expression a moment longer. Grey eyes. Like his father, like his son. A recessive gene. Strange that it's survived the generations.
Then he turns and leaves.
Azkaban is far different from the prison Draco remembers from his adolescent years. It's still on an island, of course, but it's been sanitised by the post-war Ministry. Trying so hard to reflect the new ideals of justice through rehabilitation, Draco thinks. Well-lit and clean, and as he sits in the reception area he feels like he's in a hospital.
A high-security hospital. They still search him, and they still take him through many locked doors before he's left in a small, windowless room.
Lucius looks even older here, Draco thinks as he sits opposite him. The bright, artificial prison light does him no favours.
"You look well," Lucius tells him.
They sit in silence for a while. Neither of them are much suited to long conversations, Draco thinks. He studies the scratches on the table between them. By the door, the guard shifts and stifles a yawn.
"Trades," Lucius says, and Draco glances up. "Isn't it strange, to spend a lifetime on that. Making trades. Deals."
"Blackmail and bribery," Draco supplies. Just like these scrubbed walls, these guards replacing Dementors. Both the Ministry and Lucius trying so desperately to sanitise their past. Wash away the regret.
Lucius ignores him. "Sitting in a room," he continues, brushing his hand across the table as if it's a sleek mahogany desk. "Making deals." He pauses, then rests his hands in his lap again.
Draco tosses the photograph across the table. "There," he says curtly. "You've seen him now."
The photograph drifts inch by inch through the shield charm, then comes to rest in front of Lucius. Scorpius smiles at the camera. The picture had been taken at the beginning of second year, if Draco recalls correctly. Standing on the platform. Pan perches on Scorpius's shoulder, her whiskers tickling him.
Harry had taken the picture.
Draco waits for the anger, the outrage at the treachery. The deal outlined in the letter had been apparently simple. If you take the blame for Harry too, you can see Scorpius. And no doubt Lucius had imagined a visit from his grandson. A photograph is a very poor substitute.
But Lucius says nothing. He picks up the photograph, and looks at it. For a moment, his expression softens. "He looks just like you," he says.
They spend the rest of the visit in silence. At the end of it, Lucius holds out the photograph.
"Keep it," Draco says.
He turns and leaves, and wishes he was angrier at his father.
Anger is easier than any other emotion.
He misses Scorpius more than ever that evening. His son has changed so much now. He remembers the toddler who used to sit cheerfully upon his shoulders and demand stories and toys and trips to interesting places, and he remembers the quiet, sad boy who returned after six long years away. He remembers his son, smiling and full of tales about his first year at Hogwarts. He couldn't stop chatting about all the spells, and the castle, and his brand new best friend.
Draco could almost smile at the irony of it. Somehow, Scorpius had easily achieved something which Draco had, at the same age, spectacularly failed at. Being best friends with a Potter.
But of course, things had soured between them. Maybe it was simply fate — Scorpius and James destined to mirror their fathers' paths — or maybe it was James's nature. The Potter boy has certainly changed in recent years.
But Scorpius has changed too. He's already so much more guarded than Draco ever remembered. His letters — those long, rambling pages of thoughts and ideas and worries that used to leave Draco bewildered and wondering how to reply — have long since faded into short, infrequent messages. He's so silent now. Does he speak to anyone at Hogwarts? Or does he just sit there, reading his books, effectively blocking out the rest of the world — Draco included?
Draco goes to Scorpius's room after dinner. He hasn't gone there since Scorpius left after the Christmas break, but it could probably do with a few dusting charms and cleaning spell or two. He reaches out and turns the door handle, then pauses.
He frowns, then tries again.
Scorpius locked his door before he left.
There's the tell-tale click of the lock on the door unlatching, and Draco tries the handle again.
"What are you doing?"
He jumps, then exhales slowly. "Potter. We've discussed this before. You can't just Floo in whenever you feel like it."
"What are you doing here, anyway?"
Harry ignores that and nods at the door. "Sneaking about? Scorpius won't like that. James caught me tidying his bookshelf once, threw a complete tantrum. I'm not allowed in his room at all anymore." He pauses, looking thoughtful. "He's going to have a very difficult time trying to figure out why his dirty clothes aren't mysteriously washed and ironed now."
"I'm not sneaking about," Draco retorts. "I just want to cast a quick dusting charm."
Harry shrugs. "Just leave it. Trust me, around this age they start to get very particular about their privacy."
"I will break this lock."
"I don't really think — "
"You're an Auror. You're good at this sort of thing."
Harry rolls his eyes. "An expert in breaking and entering, am I?"
"You got into the Chamber of Secrets, Potter." Draco points at the door. "This shouldn't be a problem."
"I tried that."
"Oh. Well...maybe just kick the door in, then?"
"Are you mental?"
"What do you want me to do, whisper 'open up' in Parseltongue?"
"That was the password to the Chamber of Secrets? 'Open up'? You have got to be kidding me. Wonderful, now I find out that Salazar Slytherin apparently had the same creativity as a dead rat."
To Draco's disbelief, Harry starts laughing.
"What? What's so funny?"
"Nothing." Harry grins at him. "Just realised how much I missed this."
"Do you think Scorpius really put a Parseltongue password on the door?"
"Missed what, Potter?"
"Where's the Monopoly set?"
Draco gives the bedroom door one more irritated look, then turns away. "I suppose you'll want tea."
But Draco ultimately gets the upper hand two hours later, as they're sitting in the kitchen, the fireplace glowing with coals and the bank notes scattered around them like autumn leaves. Harry's gathering them up, trying to find the money to pay rent for a ridiculously overpriced hotel on Park Lane.
"You'll have to mortgage something," Draco says helpfully.
"No, I won't."
They fall into silence again as Harry concentrates on the task at hand. Draco watches him look under his teacup, rescue a fifty pound note from a stack of Draco's genealogy notes, and finally find the last money needed beneath his chair.
"See, Malfoy? It always works out in the end."
"For you, perhaps." Draco neatens his stack of genealogy notes again, and he spots the name Evans. Still working on that family tree. Somehow he only ever seems to find time for it on lazy rainy afternoons. Not the best schedule.
He can see James's name. The first name he wrote. The starting point. A lot of people make that mistake when tracing their family, Draco thinks. They start at the roots when they should begin at the newest leaf.
He glances up at Harry.
"Oh no," Harry says slowly. "You're smirking again. What happened?"
"It's me, isn't it?"
"You missed me."
"What? Don't be ridiculous!"
"I'm right. You missed me."
"Honestly, you get some daft ideas sometimes — "
Draco's smirk has graduated to barely-contained amusement. "Admit it. You missed me."
"Fine, I missed you, you smug git. Now get that look off your face and roll the dice already."
But Draco's laughing now and after a moment, Harry shakes his head.
"You're mental, Malfoy," he says.
But he's smiling too.
And later on, as night falls and Harry collects his cloak, he offers a quiet but sincere, "Thank you."
Draco could say a million things to that. He could feign ignorance and ask, What for? or shrug it away as if it's nothing, or say, You owe me, because that's how Slytherins do things. It's all about favours and allies and power.
But instead, he just says, "It's all right."
And it is.
Scorpius comes home one month later for the Easter holidays. Draco doesn't know what to say to him. Is he angry at Draco? Surely he has so many questions. They haven't spoken since Scorpius visited him in the Ministry holding cells, and although Draco has sent a few letters since, Scorpius hasn't replied.
But Scorpius doesn't ask any questions. He says nothing. He goes to his room to unpack, as always. Whether he's coming home for the summer holidays with all his luggage, or carrying a small bag for an Easter or Christmas visit, he always likes to go directly to his room and unpack. Everything in its place.
Draco makes him a cup of peppermint tea and sets it on the bedside table, watching as Scorpius unpacks a series of odd little silver instruments. He begins piecing them together, constructing some sort of device, and Draco frowns.
"A wizarding version of a spectrometer." Scorpius taps his wand against two glass spheres and they shimmer slightly.
"And what does that do, exactly?"
"Chemical compounds generate specific colours." Scorpius picks up one of the glass spheres and peers through it. "This device helps me identify physical properties." He pauses. "Professor Sinistra let me borrow it."
It's a long way from the small telescopes and simple glass prisms Scorpius used to own, Draco thinks. His son is growing up fast.
He looks around Scorpius's bedroom. The Quidditch pitch rug, the ceramic bear lamp. Remnants of a boy who is quickly disappearing, becoming a distant figure on the horizon of Draco's memory. He studies the bookcase for a moment, the shelves branching out, little enchanted leaves sprouting along them. He'd learned that spell just so he could create a tree bookcase for Scorpius's return to the manor. Nearly four years ago now, he realises. When Scorpius was eleven.
He's fifteen now.
Almost the same age as Draco when he received the Dark Mark.
"Suppose I should probably get you a proper bookcase," Draco says, and Scorpius looks up from his spectrometer.
"Well…you've outgrown that tree one, I would imagine."
Scorpius frowns. "I want to keep it. It reminds me of…" He trails off, then turns back to his spectrometer and picks up another silver piece. "This is what they call the dispersive element," he says instead, holding it up. "It splits light."
Draco watches silently for a few minutes as Scorpius puts the spectrometer together. "Well," he says eventually, "I'm glad you're home."
Scorpius glances at him, then looks down at a glass prism and turns it slightly. Draco follows his gaze. Glass prisms and telescopes. Always reflecting.
"I'm sorry," Draco says at last, breaking the silence. "It was a terrible mistake — "
Draco honestly can't quite believe Scorpius sometimes. "Contacting my father."
"Because he's a Death Eater?" Scorpius sets the glass prism down.
Draco waits for the questions. This has been a long time coming, he thinks. Not once, when Scorpius was a small child, did Draco and Astoria ever mention the war in front of him. Never. It was an unspoken rule between them. And not once since Scorpius's return has he asked a single question. All the questions that Draco knows burn in the sharp eyes and careless curiosity of others: What did Voldemort really look like? What orders did he give you? What does the Dark Mark feel like? Did you ever kill anyone? Did you torture people? Did you see dead bodies? What was it like?
And while Draco might feel nothing but contempt for those people, trampling over his memories for the sake of morbid curiosity, he would understand if Scorpius wanted to know. Scorpius has a right to know about his own family, about his father and grandfather.
And so he waits, bracing himself for the questions like other people might brace themselves for a Crucio spell.
But Scorpius merely adjusts the spectrometer, tilting his head slightly, and says, "The stars will be clear tonight."
Draco looks out the window, at the last dying light of the day.
He thinks he can see Sirius rising already, bright as ever.
Later on, as they're eating dinner, Draco studies Scorpius. He's reading a book at the table, a habit that both Draco's parents would be loathe to see. But Draco hasn't quite got the heart to make Scorpius give up his precious books, even for half an hour.
"How's the school term been so far?" he asks eventually, when Scorpius reaches the end of the page.
He glances up. "Good."
"McGonagall still giving you advanced Transfiguration tutorials?"
Scorpius nods, but the bright spark normally accompanying any mention of Transfiguration is absent. Draco frowns and decides to change the subject. "How's all your friends?" he asks instead.
"Everything's going well?"
Draco studies him for a long moment. "I do worry about you," he says at last.
"Are you sure everything's — "
"Yes." Scorpius looks back down at his book and turns the page.
Strange; Draco fought so hard to keep his son.
And yet it feels like he's still losing him.
James goes home for the Easter holidays. Easter Sunday is spent at Ron and Hermione's, like always, and they have the traditional egg hunt. The younger cousins are thrilled, racing excitedly about the garden, and a fight breaks out between Roxanne and Lucy as they both snatch up the last chocolate bunny. James watches it all, feeling somewhat melancholy at the first Easter without Teddy, and decides to sneak upstairs and find a good book to read.
Rose, however, has beaten him to it. He steps through her bedroom door just in time to see her smiling to herself as she rearranges a bouquet of chocolate roses.
"James!" She jumps, then glances about. "What are you doing here? Honestly!"
His distant melancholia quickly fades in the face of Rose's flustered expression. "You're blushing," he says disbelievingly.
"Have you — have you got a boyfriend?"
"Shut up! I have not!" Rose's face is bright red now. "Go away, James! This is my room! You shouldn't just barge in on people — "
"You have," he says. Rose closes her mouth and glares at the floor.
"Fine, I have," she says. "Happy? And if you tell Mum, I'll hex you into a million little bits."
"Who?" James asks, curious despite himself, and Rose gives him a look of faint surprise. She uncrosses her arms.
"You're not…you're not going to tease me about it?"
"Depends who it is."
She rolls her eyes. "Thanks. Anyway, it's…well…it's Andrew."
"That Andrew McCray you mentioned earlier?"
Rose is beginning to blush again, but she turns away and tidies up a few things with slightly more force than necessary. "Yes."
James tries to remember him. "Sixth year, right?"
"Sort of tall?"
"Average height, I suppose."
"Yeah, okay. I've forgotten everything you've ever said about him."
Rose starts laughing.
James goes home in a slightly better mood, Harry notices. It's rare to see him smiling these days, and Harry decides to suggest a game of chess before bed.
"Sure," James says, and they sit before the fireplace in the living room, the board between them. It's quite soothing, sitting there listening to the crackle of the flames, idly speaking every now and again, waiting for the other to move a piece. James seems deep in thought, quite pensive about something, Harry notices.
James glances up at Harry and frowns, then considers the board for some time and, at last, moves an overlooked pawn. Harry tilts his head.
"Good move," he says. "Didn't notice that one."
"Yeah." James sits back and waits for Harry to make his next move. "Did you take leave from work? You've been at home a lot more lately."
Harry looks at him. "Yes, I have," he says with realisation. He hadn't even noticed. Once, he hated staying home too long, listening to the empty spaces.
"It's been nice," James says.
"It has, hasn't it?" Harry leans across the board and ruffles James's hair, waiting for the usual reaction of irritation.
But James just smiles lightly and ducks away. "Better watch your king," he says.
James moves his knight. "Checkmate."
Harry looks down at the board, but James is right. Nowhere left to go.
"You win," he says, smiling.
Harry receives the official letter reinstating him to his Auror position. He reads it several times, considers his options, and makes an appointment with Shacklebolt.
Shacklebolt isn't pleased.
"I had to make a lot of arrangements."
"I'm sorry for the inconvenience."
"The inconvenience?" Shacklebolt raises one stern eyebrow, reminding Harry uncannily of McGonagall. "I have spent quite some time trying to restore you to your previous Auror position. I was under the — evidently incorrect — impression that you wanted your job back."
Harry gazes down at Shacklebolt's desk, at the piles of paper stacked upon it, the scrolls of parchment, the inkwells, the half-written letters and owl droppings, the notices and memos.
"You've been Minister for nearly as long as I've been an Auror," Harry notes.
"When do you think you'll retire, sir?"
"When my country no longer needs me."
"And what if they'll always need you?"
Shacklebolt gives him a wry look and rearranges a few piles of paper. "Shall I consider this your resignation, Potter?"
Harry considers it. "I think so," he says.
"Are you certain? Only recently, you were expressing horror at the mere thought of taking a brief break from your work."
"Only recently? That was four years ago, sir."
Shacklebolt frowns. "So it was," he says eventually. "Well. How time flies." He tilts his head, considering Harry. "Still…nearly twenty years as an Auror, Harry. What changed your mind now?"
There's a pause, both of them looking at each other, and then Shacklebolt smiles ever-so-slightly. "I must confess," he says, "I cannot argue with that. But…if you are certain…"
Shacklebolt considers him a moment longer. "I'll redistribute your duties accordingly."
Harry pauses, but he's compelled to ask the next question. "And Draco Malfoy's case?"
"Closed," Shacklebolt says, giving him a speculative look. "We only kept him in the program as a means to catch Lucius. And now that we have caught him…" He clasps his hands, resting them on his desk. "I see no point in maintaining tabs on Draco. A waste of our resources, I'm sure you'll agree."
Harry could swear he sees a faint glimmer of knowing amusement in Shacklebolt's eyes. "Yes," he says. "I do agree."
"Very well. Thank you, Potter."
"Thank you, sir."
Harry stands and leaves.
He walks into the bright spring day, the sunlight weak in the morning air, lost among the shadows of the London skyline. He tilts his head back and looks at the sky, feeling oddly serene, and then goes home.
James returns to Hogwarts after the Easter holidays. He has an enormous stack of homework that he finds rather intimidating, but his friends are happy to help: Rose promises to look after the cactus when James is too busy, Iwan and Thomas help him with the trickier aspects of Charms, and Martin and Paul spend one particularly memorable evening demonstrating Transfiguration principles by turning everything in the dormitory into sweets. A furious prefect, storming in to see what all the laughter and noise is about, is promptly attacked by a liquorice allsort.
The subsequent detention is the only shadow on James's horizon. The days seem to hurry along, equally keen to get to the end of the term. Everyone's dreaming of the summer holidays. The only days that seem to slow down are the stuffy afternoons spent in Divination. On one such afternoon, James finds himself nearly falling asleep as two nearby Ravenclaws argue over the crystal ball.
"There was something there! I saw it! Some sort of cloud — "
"The whole thing is a cloud, you numpty. Look at it!"
"But this cloud looked different. Ominous, somehow."
"Hi," someone murmurs quite close to James's ear, and he jumps slightly. It's a Ravenclaw girl that he vaguely recalls from previous classes.
"Hello," he says, slightly suspicious.
"Sally's been asking about you," the Ravenclaw says, grinning.
"Who's she?" James goes back to staring at the crystal ball. It looks exactly the same as it has for the past twenty minutes, and he stifles a yawn. Five more minutes until class ends...
The Ravenclaw looks taken aback. "Sally Briggs? Everyone knows her. Anyway, we've got a little party planned tonight to celebrate the Quidditch semi-final. Sally will be there. Maybe you should come along too."
"Yeah, maybe," James says evasively, still trying to recall the mysterious Sally.
"Come on, it will be fun! Plus Malfoy's going to be there and we've got the best prank planned for him."
"And why would I care about that?" James says, looking at the crystal ball again.
"Because you hate him?" the Ravenclaw says slowly, as if James is being deliberately obtuse. "It will be hilarious, you have to see it. I mean, we haven't invited him. Not yet. But he'll be there anyway. He's desperate for friends, it's a bit sad really."
James glances up. Across the room, Scorpius is watching him and the Ravenclaw girl. It's impossible to tell what he's thinking.
Curiosity gets the better of him. "All right," he says at last. "I'll go to the party."
"Oh! Brilliant, I'll tell Sally. See you tonight, then. Charms classroom, seven o'clock. Don't be late."
When James glances up again, Scorpius has already picked up his books and left.
The rest of the boys are all envious.
"A date with Sally Briggs? You get all the luck," Martin says mournfully.
"Bet he didn't even try," Paul mutters. "He never tries."
"What do you care anyway, Paul?" Iwan asks. "You've got a girlfriend."
"Yeah, and she's very nice, but she's not Sally Briggs."
The boys all laugh then, and soon delve into a conversation about girls. James, busy cleaning up a leaky self-inking quill, hardly listens. It's not even a proper date, he thinks with faint irritation. He feels a little ambushed by it — he should have just said no and saved himself an awkward evening.
"I'll see you all later, then," he announces, cutting through their idle conversation about which girls are the most attractive.
"Come on, you can't be serious. You're wearing that?"
James glances down at his rumpled school uniform. "You're mental if you think I'm dressing up for a stupid Quidditch party," he says firmly, and with that, he leaves.
He's not in the best mood, therefore, when he arrives at the Charms classroom. It's festive though, decorated with streamers. There's a pitcher of pumpkin juice in one corner, the Wizarding Wireless playing music in the other. The students all welcome him – a few older Ravenclaws, including a prefect, and some Gryffindor students, and one or two Hufflepuffs. There's one Slytherin boy there who, James discovers, reads comic books too and they strike up an enthusiastic conversation. But they're soon interrupted by a brunette girl who introduces herself as Sally; she tucks her arm around his elbow and steers him away from the Slytherin. He walks with her, gloomily watching his newfound friend leave.
"So," Sally says. "The dark and mysterious James Potter."
"Oh, come on. Nobody knows anything about you." She pauses. "Except for your swimming, of course. I mean, just one look at you and I can tell that you swim a lot. You've got a very toned physique…"
James has no idea how to respond to that. "Thanks," he says after a moment, but Sally seems to be waiting for something else. "I like to swim," he offers eventually.
She frowns. "Do you think I've got a nice physique?"
Her mouth falls open. "On what, exactly?"
"Well, if you're aiming for upper body strength, you probably need to focus on strength exercises. But if you just want to get toned, then you should focus on flexibility training."
She just stares at him. Eventually, she speaks, her voice low and furious. "I was asking for a compliment, you idiot. Not…some sort of exercise regime! But I suppose if you think I need it – "
"What? I never said that! You mentioned swimming, I thought you wanted advice…" James trails off as she turns and storms away, immediately going over to her friends and speaking to them in angry mutters. They turn, like they're all faces on one furious creature, and glare at James.
"You really are an idiot, aren't you?"
James turns and narrows his eyes at Scorpius. "Shut up. I suppose you've got a million girlfriends, then?"
"I can speak to girls without insulting them, if that's what you're asking."
James gives the group of glowering girls one last glance, then turns his back on them and takes a sip of his pumpkin juice. "You're the idiot," he says.
"Because I don't make a fool of myself talking to girls? Well – "
"No, you prat," James says angrily. "Because you showed up. You have got to be kidding me. These people aren't your friends. They were talking earlier about some stupid prank they're going to do to you. They're laughing at you. You do realise this, don't you? And yeah, you can say what you want about me, but at least when I hate you I'm honest about it."
Scorpius looks at him, his expression icy. "Leave. Right now, or I will hex you."
"Why? Bit difficult to accept advice from your enemy?" James says recklessly.
"Leave," Scorpius repeats.
James opens his mouth, planning another insult, but pauses. Scorpius's tone of voice is very dangerous and no doubt they're seconds away from hurling hexes at each other. And James has actually had a decent year thus far, and he really doesn't want to ruin it. Not like this, not so close to the end of term.
So he closes his mouth again and walks away instead, slipping out the door before anyone notices his departure.
He wanders the hallways for a bit, feeling slightly lost. He doesn't want to return to the dormitories, not yet — the boys will all tease him about ditching his date and ask endless questions — but he's certainly not going back to the party, where all those angry girls await him...honestly, how could he ruin everything so spectacularly? Sally had been making an effort, and all he had to do was nod and smile and compliment her...James winces as he recalls their conversation.
He passes by a statue of a goblin king that looks familiar. He frowns, looking at it, then suddenly remembers. Just around the corner...a few steps along...
The room is bathed in moonlight, casting a faint blue glow over the stone arches and ornate window edgings. The dust is thick, save for a long mark across the floor. It looks like someone was half-dragged across the floor, James thinks, and then he realises with a jolt that it was him. It was him, lying on the floor as Scorpius punched him. Yes, now that he looks closer, there's still the faint marks of footprints on the floor. And there's something else, lying near the far wall...
James crosses the room. Scorpius's cloak. The silver clasp is broken. James probably did that as he was trying to shove Scorpius off him. He doesn't even remember Scorpius leaving the cloak behind. Scorpius would have noticed; his family isn't wealthy, after all, and a new cloak would have been expensive. Yet he never came back. Never retrieved it.
James slowly picks the cloak up, listening to the soft rustle of the material move. S.H Malfoy is written just on the inside of the collar. Scorpius Hyperion.
Scorpius, the constellation. And Hyperion, the moon of Saturn...
There's a sudden noise of grating stone as the wall opens. James turns, startled, and drops the cloak.
Scorpius tumbles through the portal. For a moment, James fumbles for his wand, wondering how on earth Scorpius knew he was here. But then Scorpius leans against the wall and whispers something.
"S-scourgify," he says, his voice small and thin, and then he says it again. "Scourgify. Scourgify!"
But nothing happens. No dust disappears, no furniture neatens itself. The broken quills remain scattered across the floor. What's he trying to clean?
Then Scorpius buries his face in his hands. The sleeves of his robes fall back and James sees it.
That was the funny prank. That was the joke.
Giving Scorpius the Dark Mark.
James stands silently, watching the blood trickle down Scorpius's forearm. He should have known better than to use Scourgify on skin. The blood looks black in the moonlight, and it joins the stark lines of the Dark Mark.
He steps forward. Scorpius immediately swishes his wand, bringing up a shield charm. He stares at James, his face pale, then he exhales and the shield shatters, making James jump.
"Go ahead," Scorpius says.
"Say it. Go ahead and say it."
"I told you so."
James looks at Scorpius, then glances upward at the ceiling just to buy some time to think. That ceiling used to be full of stars, he thinks. Twelve moons, each one waxing or waning.
Scorpius was always so skilled at Transfiguration.
"I can fix it."
"No, you can't," Scorpius says flatly.
"Can I try?"
Another long silence. Then Scorpius's shoulders slump, as if James has somehow defeated him with those three words, and he holds out his wrist.
"Lumos." In the light of the wand, James studies Scorpius's wrist. Blood beads along it, the skin raw from the scouring charm. But the Dark Mark still remains visible, black as the night, the grotesque features of the skull and the serpent clear against Scorpius's pale skin.
The prototype prank. James is sure of it. Hugo would have handed them out to his friends, and no doubt one of those Ravenclaws or older Gryffindors got ahold of one...
He extinguishes the light from his wand, then thinks for a moment, remembering the spell Teddy taught him.
"Stay still," he says.
Scorpius doesn't reply. James takes a breath, makes sure his wand is perfectly aligned with the curved edge of the skull, and concentrates. He tries to block out all other distractions and focus on just the spell, moving his wand carefully along Scorpius's forearm as he imagines the tattoo slowly washing away. It's working, he realises with a flash of pride. This is Teddy's spell and it's working. It takes a long time – each dot of ink has to be carefully removed – but at last he completes the spell. Scorpius waits, not moving at all. James lowers his wand.
Scorpius pauses before glancing down at his wrist, as if afraid of what he'll see.
"It's…gone," he says, wonder in his voice.
"What spell was that? How does it work?"
James hesitates. "Doesn't matter," he says at last.
Scorpius finally looks up from his wrist. For a moment they stand in silence, illuminated only by the thin moonlight, as if waiting for the other to say something, and then after a moment James turns and walks away.
Once he's back in the safety of the dormitory, he slowly peels back his sleeve.
The Dark Mark shines like wet ink.
One week left of term. The final tests have already been completed and although the professors try to maintain focus, there's a distinct lack of enthusiasm for any sort of study. As the final days melt away, fading into lazy afternoons, even McGonagall relents and allows them to spend their final lesson completing tasks like cleaning desks and sorting old essays.
The last class of the day is Divination. It's a beautiful June afternoon and James is loathe to spend it in the stuffy classroom. He lingers in the cool hallways, taking his time, and he arrives to class five minutes late. There's only one seat left: the one next to Scorpius.
James takes it, setting his bookbag down. At least the small windows are all opened and even Trelawney, it seems, has her limits; uncharacteristically, the candles are unlit and there's far less incense than usual.
"It is said that children born midsummer are naturally inclined to possess the gift of Sight...from the moment of birth, the stars will determine your fate..."
James takes out his parchment on the pretence of taking notes. Next to him, Scorpius is scribbling away like usual. James wonders if he's even noticed someone's sitting next to him.
"...while those born under the sign of earth will have a reserved nature..."
Trelawney murmurs on and on. James gazes across the room, soon distracted by his own thoughts, quill held idly in one hand as he daydreams of the lake. Crisp and cool and perfect for a last swim...
Something touches his wrist. He glances down, startled from his thoughts. Scorpius is pulling James's sleeve back ever-so-slightly, revealing first the dark tip of the serpent's tail, then slowly showing the rest of the Dark Mark. James doesn't move as Scorpius stares at the Dark Mark, then lifts his gaze to look at James.
He's figured it out. Scorpius has always been clever like that.
After a moment, Scorpius drops his hand and James pulls his sleeve back down.
They sit in silence for a long moment, Scorpius resuming his note-taking and James feigning attention to Trelawney's ramblings. It's only half an hour later, just before class finishes, that Scorpius speaks.
"Doesn't it bother you?" he says without looking at James, his gaze still fixed upon his notes.
James pauses. "Less than it would bother you," he says at last.
Trelawney dismisses the class then, and both of them get up and leave without another word, soon lost in the crowd.
Yes, James thinks as he catches a glimpse of blue sky through the windows, summer is definitely here.