October vanishes rapidly into chilly November, and James thinks the term is going well thus far. His grades are picking up — his father sends an enormous parcel of sweets and a letter filled with heartfelt congratulations after James's mid-year report arrives.
"This is what you get for getting Acceptables and Exceeds Expectations?" Martin asks incredulously as James unwraps the parcel, the sweets spilling out.
"You should've seen James's grades before," Iwan says with a grin. "I expect his father wept tears of joy when he saw this year's report."
James joins in the laughter good-naturedly — after all, it's thanks to the help of his friends, whether they're volunteering to help him study for a test or slipping him answers in Charms class.
And James's swimming is fast becoming another point of pride: Saltworth discusses, at length, the first of the upcoming inter-school swim meets and tells the team to check the noticeboard later in the month. James doesn't give it too much thought until he's shaken violently awake by Iwan one Thursday morning.
"Come look at the selections!"
"Go away," James groans. "Every single other morning, I have to get up at the crack of dawn to — "
"You've been selected for five events!"
James hurriedly dresses and rushes down to the noticeboard. Thomas is there already, looking smug.
"Five events," he tells James. "That's the maximum number you're allowed to have, otherwise I reckon Saltworth would've selected you for even more."
"Five...? Which ones? Oh, God — she's mental! I'll be dead at the end of the day!"
"Look how happy he is," Iwan tells Thomas, and they snicker together. After a moment, though, Iwan's smile fades and he nudges James. "You all right?"
"Yeah, it's just...five events is a lot," James says, feeling a little anxious. "I can't let the team down."
"You won't," Thomas says firmly. "You'll be annoyingly brilliant, as ever."
James manages a quick but genuine smile.
The only area in which he's not succeeding (in fact, failing spectacularly) is his Patronus lessons. Four weeks in a row, he's gone to the Transfiguration classroom only to spend an hour casting nothing while Scorpius stands there and frowns.
Tonight is no different. James has even brought along a list of memories, but none of them seem to be working.
His wand fizzles like a broken firework. Scorpius — leaning against the wall with an indecipherable expression — finally steps forward.
"What memory are you using?"
James pauses. "My father taking me to the Quidditch World Cup when I was a kid."
"You don't even like Quidditch."
"Well, it's not about that, is it?" James retorts. "It's about family and friends and all that stuff."
Scorpius doesn't say anything. He looks up at the ceiling, evidently studying the shadows across it, then exhales slowly. "Try a different memory."
James is silent for a while. Swimming? Perhaps the day he joined the swim team…he'd always wanted to join a team, and he'd been so determined to succeed…accomplishment, isn't that one of the emotions Scorpius listed as triggering serotonin?
Nothing. But James half-expected that anyway. It's not even a particularly strong memory. He'd looked at a noticeboard and felt happy to see his name there. Hardly inspiration for producing a powerful Patronus.
"Try something else," Scorpius says.
"Christmas. Surely those are good memories."
James looks away, frowning. "They remind me too much of my cousin now," he says.
Scorpius falls silent. After a long moment, he makes another suggestion. "Birthdays, then."
"Just makes me think of my mother missing all of them."
"Nice, but not exactly moments of pure joy."
"When you got your Hogwarts letter."
"I was expecting it. Would have been angry if I hadn't received it."
"First day at Hogwarts."
"Fun, but exactly what I expected."
Silence settles between them. James stares at the floor. He's got plenty of happy memories, of course he does. They're nice and pleasant and remind him of good times. But they're not moments of powerful happiness.
"Wait," James says suddenly. "I've got one."
Scorpius nods and steps back again. James takes a breath, concentrating on the memory. Watching fireworks with Teddy. The way James always felt thrilled every time, as though he never grew out of watching cheap fireworks. Teddy always beside him, always smiling…
…and the way the spells lit up beneath the hospital door, and James thought they looked like fireworks because he didn't realise they were resuscitation spells. One second intervals. One second for every breath Teddy didn't take.
"You're not concentrating on your memory."
James glances up. "I am!"
"You're not. I was watching, and your expression just fell like someone punched you. You were thinking about something else."
"I wasn't! The memory is just connected to something sad, that's all."
"Well, you can't use it then."
"Then I can't use any of my memories!" James hurls his wand across the room; Scorpius's irritated expression is replaced by something James can't quite pinpoint. He crosses the room and picks up James's wand.
"You shouldn't throw your wand."
"Yeah, all right, McGonagall. Spare me the safety lecture," James snaps, but he hates the way he sounds more upset than angry, his emotions belying his words.
Scorpius doesn't respond anyway, just gazes at James's wand for a long moment. "Hawthorn," he says, and James frowns.
"Hawthorn, isn't it?" Scorpius holds up the wand.
"Yeah…how'd you know?"
"My father's wand is hawthorn too." Scorpius pauses, then swishes the wand. Stars burst forth like a tiny meteor shower, raining silver around them. "I quite like hawthorn wands. They're contradictory. They're really good for hexing, but they're also really good for healing. Their owner has to know what they want from the wand or it can backfire badly. If the wizard isn't powerful or decisive enough, they'll never master their wand."
James is doubtful. "I've never had a problem with it."
Scorpius glances up at him. "You're the most decisive person I know. Once you've made up your mind, it's done and there's no changing it."
James's mouth twitches. "That's a nice way of calling me stubborn."
Scorpius smiles, but then looks away quickly as if afraid James will see it and mock him. James frowns and casts around for something to say.
"What's your wand?"
Scorpius pauses, then holds it out. "Guess," he says.
James accepts the wand. A pale wood. No engravings, no silver-gilded handle. When James was younger and they used to practice spells together, he always thought Scorpius's wand was a little boring. Now he thinks it's rather elegant in its simplicity. "The survivor's tree," he says at last.
"Fir. That's what it is, isn't it? Teddy said firs could survive anything. All weather, even the hottest summers and the worst winters." James is immensely pleased with himself for remembering that tidbit of information. He turns the wand over in his hands and, still feeling slightly smug, decides to guess the core. "And…phoenix feather."
"How'd you know?" Scorpius asks, looking surprised.
"I read a lot."
"That's rubbish. You guessed."
James grins and Scorpius suddenly raises James's wand. "Expecto Patronum!"
The wisps of silver gather slowly, coming together to float through the air. James watches closely, hoping to see a clear form, but nothing happens and he realises Scorpius hasn't quite mastered a true Patronus yet.
"Sorry," Scorpius says, and James glances up. "You were expecting a corporeal form, weren't you?" He looks disappointed with himself.
"Don't apologise, you muppet," James says firmly. "It's still a Patronus, isn't it?"
There's another fleeting smile, then Scorpius gives James his wand back. "See you Monday," he says. "We've got that Potions test, don't forget."
"Yeah, of course. See you later." James hands Scorpius's wand to him, then turns and leaves.
Later on, in his dormitory, he casts Prior Incantatem just to see those little wisps of happiness again.
Harry visits Draco on the first of December. It's been a long time since he last visited; Draco has been very busy lately and responds infrequently to Harry's letters. It took quite some time to schedule this visit, and even now Draco seems a little rushed as he ushers Harry in and leads the way to the kitchen.
As Draco is busying himself with the teapot, Harry turns his attention to the Monopoly board. It’s been shoved to the corner of the table, where it’s slowly gathering dust. Next to it, there’s jewellery half-wrapped in cloth and Harry frowns, peering closer. A long silver necklace, a sapphire pendant hanging from it. A diamond-studded bracelet, a set of gold earrings, two jade hairpins. Harry looks closer at the bracelet, spotting an engraving along the inner band. To my perfect Narcissa — yours always, L.M.
Draco scoops up the jewellery quickly, placing the cloth back over it.
“So, did you hear the news about the dragon?” he asks smoothly.
Harry lets the matter go. “Ah, yes. The escaped Short-Snout. Took a rather interesting detour over Leeds.”
“Apparently the Ministry was up all night casting memory charms left, right, and centre.”
They laugh and move onto other topics, but Harry keeps glancing at the jewellery when he thinks Draco isn’t looking. Narcissa’s beautiful jewellery; gifts from her adoring husband, gifts that ought to become family heirlooms.
Soon to be sold.
The price for Scorpius’s future.
Harry wants to say something about it. Tell Draco not to worry, he’ll pay for it instead. Or ask if it’s really worth it at all, is it truly necessary?
"Look," Draco says, drawing Harry's attention to a stack of invites. "Scorpius has already been invited to so many social events. I can't believe it. Look at all these opportunities!" He picks up an invitation, his eyes bright.
Harry nods. "He's popular already."
And later, when Harry picks up his cloak and goes to the Floo, he pauses and tells Draco he’s a good father.
Draco doesn’t know how to respond to that. He blinks, and looks confused, and then he reddens slightly and says, “Well. I try.”
Harry’s grin broadens into a smile. “See you next week, Malfoy.”
“Next week, Potter.”
Harry steps into the fireplace.
At James's next Patronus lesson, Scorpius arrives twenty minutes late and is full of tense comments and stony expressions. At first, James can't figure it out; he thought things had been improving between them, but Scorpius is downright irritable with him.
"Any suggestions for memories?" he asks Scorpius after another failed Patronus.
"No," Scorpius says tersely. "Maybe you should give up and work on something else."
James tries his best to ignore Scorpius's snappish tone. "Well, we could always try duelling. We've got that Defence test coming up."
"I don't think that's a good idea."
"Why not? Don't you trust me?"
James had spoken the words carelessly, lightly, but Scorpius stares at him until the silence grows thin and fragile. James, feeling unexpectedly stung, is about to pick up his bag and leave when he notices the way Scorpius is keeping his left arm quite still, as if he's hurt it.
James narrows his eyes as realisation dawns. "For Merlin's sake, just tell them to leave you alone."
Scorpius glares at the ground between them. "They'll graduate soon."
"Another seven months of this? You're mental. Just throw a few hexes and they'll leave you alone."
Scorpius snaps then. "That's always your solution, isn't it? Hit the problem until it goes away."
"It's worked so far. I don't see anybody hexing me."
Scorpius reaches out and wraps his hand around James's wrist, and James feels unnerved by the intensity and anger in Scorpius's expression. "You don't get it, do you? That's how they win. They want me to throw jinxes, and hexes, and shout and hurt people. So then they can turn around and say, we told you. Just like his Death Eater father." As Scorpius speaks his next words, his grip on James's wrist increases painfully. "But I will never let them win."
James looks at him for a long moment. "Let go of me," he says evenly.
Scorpius finally glances down then, and he seems almost surprised by the fact he's still holding James's wrist. He lets go.
"Hold out your other wrist," James says, and Scorpius looks at him, confused. "The one with the new Dark Mark," James adds. "Don't bother denying it's there."
"No. This is my problem, I'll deal with it — "
"This is our problem, and we're dealing with it."
Scorpius stares at him. After a moment, James impatiently leans forward, grabs ahold of Scorpius's wrist, and begins the transfer charm. After it's finished, James steps back and turns away.
"I should get back to the common room, I promised Rose a game of chess," he says.
Scorpius nods. "See you next week," he says, his voice carefully blank.
They leave, walking in opposite directions.
He'd hid the last Dark Mark with an illusion charm; it hadn't been his best spell work, but nobody spent much time staring hard at his wrists anyway. This time, however, James has an idea.
He bides his time. Two days pass until, by happy coincidence, he sees a group of Scorpius's tormentors slip into the library.
"Back in just a minute," James says to Rose, who's ranting about the outcome of a recent Quidditch match.
" - honestly, if Stevenson wasn't so bloody selfish and learned how to share the quaffle, it — what? Oh. All right."
He ducks into the library and weaves through the aisles, looking around until he spots the group of students. They're gathered around a study desk, whispering about something.
"Hello," he says brightly, making several of them jump.
The prefect, who appears to be the ringleader, frowns at him. "What do you want?"
"Just wanted to say," James says, keeping his voice light and casual, "you probably should be a little more careful about the pranks you play. Giving Harry Potter's son the Dark Mark? That's really low, even for you. To be honest, I'm not actually sure people will find it that amusing."
The prefect pales. "What? We never..." He trails off as James holds up his arm, rolling the sleeve up. "But...we didn't...that wasn't for you, it was..."
James ignores that. "You're not going to be very popular, are you? There's an awful lot of people attending this school who actually like my father. Saved a lot of lives, you know? They're not going to be pleased about your little joke. Very bad taste."
The lanky girl next to the prefect speaks, looking horrified. "But — we didn't — you're not going to tell people we did, are you?"
"Yes," James says. "Bit hard to hide the evidence, isn't it?"
The students exchange panicked looks. "Wait," the prefect says urgently, grabbing James's arm. "Look, I'll cover it up for you, I'm one of the best at Charms — "
James shakes him away. "I didn't come here to ask for your help. I came here to warn you. You'd better be very careful who you give these tattoos to."
The prefect pauses, looking bewildered, then realisation sinks in. "I..." He glances at the other students. "Yes, we will."
"In fact, you'd better be careful who you speak to. Or even look at."
The prefect nods slowly. "Right," he says nervously.
James turns and walks away. Behind him, he can hear urgent whispering, but it doesn't worry him.
As he turns the corner of the aisle, he bumps into Rose. She's grinning widely at him.
"Oh, for Merlin's sake. Did you follow me?"
"No," Rose says cheerfully.
"And you heard everything."
"Oh, no, of course not."
That night, she gives him all of her notes for the upcoming Defence Against the Dark Arts test and finishes his Charms essay for him.
That weekend, James attends his first swim meet at Durmstrang. The other boys — Thomas, Iwan, and Noah — are all keen to show off their knowledge from previous years.
"Last year, Beauxbatons hosted it," Thomas says. "We weren't allowed to go near the girls."
James laughs. "What were you supposed to do, sit in the middle of the Quidditch pitch?"
"It was torture," Noah says gloomily. "There were all these girls in their swimsuits and Saltworth said anyone caught ogling would have to swim a lap in the unheated pool."
James is indignant. "Hang on, they have pools there? We have to swim in a freezing lake during the Scottish winter! Where's our pool?"
They plot to write a petition about it; there's little else to keep them occupied. Durmstrang is hosting the first swim meet and the other students are rather unfriendly. The Hogwarts team are staying in a draughty dormitory and any time they make too much noise, an angry prefect storms in to shout at them in Bulgarian.
"What's he saying, anyway?" Thomas asks after the fifth time it happens.
"What do you think he's saying? 'Shut up', I imagine."
Regardless of chilly dormitories and angry prefects, It's nice just to be there with his team mates. They complete their events over the weekend, James achieving good results, and they're full of cheerful celebration when they return to Hogwarts on Sunday night. They miss the evening meal, but Saltworth arranges for supper to be sent to the Great Hall. She sits with them and is too pleased with their results to tell them off when they start loudly singing their school song and flicking crumbs at each other.
James goes to his dormitory in high spirits. "Is it always this good after a meet?" he asks Thomas.
"You haven't seen anything yet. Wait until we make it to the European School Championships, and then even Saltworth joins in the singing."
"Oh, Merlin, no."
Thomas laughs. "See you tomorrow, Potter."
"Tomorrow, Pearson." James waves goodbye and begins ascending the stairs to the Gryffindor tower, Iwan by his side.
He sleeps easily that night, tired but happy.
The week drifts past, snow gathering on the grounds as December settles into place. Come Friday, Scorpius is running late for the Patronus lesson and James is suspicious. He idly scratches at the fading Dark Mark on his wrist, wondering if he needs to give that prefect another little reminder.
But when Scorpius arrives, he seems unbothered. "Hi," he says, setting down his bag.
"Hi," James echoes. "So, what are we practicing tonight?"
Scorpius looks around the room, then waves his wand. "Exinanio."
Desks rush past James, soon followed by chairs, until the room has been cleared, leaving James standing alone in a sea of space.
"Are you still interested," Scorpius asks, "in duelling?"
"With some conditions. Nothing that causes harm," Scorpius says firmly.
James nods. "All right. Well...shall we begin, then?"
They bow to each other, then turn and walk in opposite directions. Just as James reaches the wall and turns around, all the candles suddenly flicker out as if a breeze has run around the room. Across the darkness, Scorpius's face is a pale blur. James readjusts his grip on his wand, holding it aloft, ready at any moment to deflect.
After a long moment, he calls out, impatient. "Come on, then!"
"I've already made my move," Scorpius whispers into his ear.
James jumps, his heart pounding, and whips around. "Expelliarmus!"
His spell ricochets into empty darkness. There's nobody there. He turns back around. Scorpius is still on the other side of the room, walking slowly towards him.
The spell misses Scorpius somehow, even though James knows his aim was perfect. He blinks. Is Scorpius too far away? He starts racing towards him, but the distance between them never seems to lessen. What's happening? By pure chance, he glances up, and his footsteps falter. Far above him, in the darkness, there's a mirror image of him gazing at himself.
And then he's suddenly falling, tumbling through the air — is he the one on the ceiling, looking at his reflection below? — and then shooting stars are lighting up the room, so bright he has to close his eyes, and he calls out, feeling afraid suddenly.
Scorpius speaks as if he's right beside James. "I promised I wouldn't harm you."
James opens his eyes. "Expell—"
The stars disappear at once. Darkness. He lands in it; it splashes around him like ink, and he sinks slowly. For a moment he feels utterly disoriented. The darkness rises and falls, an endless ocean, and when he finally surfaces, he's on the ground and Scorpius is standing in front of him, his wand held aloft.
"Expelliarmus!" James shouts.
The spell shoots right through Scorpius as if he's a ghost. James's jaw drops. He reaches out and brushes a tentative hand through Scorpius's chest. It's an illusion. Residual magic. Now that his eyes have adjusted to light again, he realises the image of Scorpius is thin and shimmering slightly.
He whips around. Scorpius is running across the room. Every step he takes, he leaves behind an imprint of himself. He keeps doubling back and changing directions, and James can't even tell which Scorpius he should be aiming for. Just as he raises his wand, silver droplets begin to pour like rain, except they're upside down, falling from floor to ceiling. Unless...unless James is somehow still tumbling through the air, and he's the one upside down...
He stumbles, the ground feeling uncertain beneath his feet. The images of Scorpius snap back together like magnets. Then Scorpius flicks his wand and the floor disappears. The air turns thick as treacle; James drifts through it, silver raindrops catching lazily on his clothes and skin. He loses his grip on his wand and it floats away from him, and he tries to battle through the heavy air. The silver rain is pouring hard now, picking up momentum, and the ceiling opens up like a sky, clouds of gold storming across it, the rain crashing over James like a waterfall even though he's completely dry. All he can do is wait, caught helplessly in the tide of Scorpius's spells.
His hand closes around something. His wand.
He turns, his feet suddenly on firm ground. "Expelliarmus!"
Scorpius's wand flies from his hand. The air returns to normal. The clouds disappear.
James exhales shakily. "Well, that's..." He stops as, in his hands, Scorpius's wand turns into an elegant koi fish and swims away from him, towards the ceiling. "W-what? I don't..."
Scorpius smiles lightly. "You've been fighting empty-handed, it seems."
Scorpius's smile widens. From one sleeve, he pulls out two wands. His wand, and James's.
"Are you sure?" Scorpius asks.
Scorpius tosses James's wand into the air. James reaches out to catch it, and —
The wand duplicates. James grabs both of them. They duplicate again. And again. And again. Soon he's surrounded by ten, twenty, thirty wands. They fly into the air like a swarm of birds, then explode into fireworks. Sparks rain down, every colour, and then come together and form a koi fish again. It circles James and he reaches out, trying to catch it —
The tiny beat of wings against his palm. He opens his hand and a golden snitch flies out. Another one appears to join it, and another, and all of them are swarming around James until the fluttering of wings slowly morphs into the crashing of waves, and he's swept away in a riptide of gold, and it's all he can see...
He hears the soft murmur of yet another incantation, and he manages to reach out blindly, his fingers closing around a sleeve. He pulls Scorpius close to him and for a moment they tumble across the floor together.
James doesn't need his wand now. Scorpius's wand slips from his hand and James grabs it.
His voice rings across the room. There's a cacophony of thunderous noise as the spells collapse, sending bright colours spiralling into the air like sparks from a fire, and then there's silence. The room is dark and empty again. James doesn't move for a moment, then pulls away from Scorpius and sits up. He's breathless, his heart still racing, blood pounding through his veins. After a moment, he laughs weakly.
"You," he says, "are something else, Scorpius Malfoy."
"That was...that was like seeing real magic for the first time. Like everything else I've ever learned has just been a silly trick."
"Oh." Scorpius leans against the wall and closes his eyes.
"You all right?"
"Just a little tired," Scorpius murmurs.
James isn't surprised. He'd meant what he told Scorpius. That was the best magic he'd ever seen. Transfiguring ceilings into oceans, forcing gravity to obey different rules, creating darkness from thin air, and somehow — in the midst of it all — stealing James's wand and replacing it with an illusion. Even secretly mimicking the action of an Expelliarmus spell when James tried to cast it. Layers and layers of illusion...
"When did you take my real wand, anyway?" James asks.
Scorpius has fallen asleep.
James sneaks back into the dormitory well after curfew. Scorpius had slept for nearly two hours, at which point James had shaken him awake and directed him back to the Ravenclaw tower.
"We duelled," Scorpius had told him sleepily.
"Yes, and you were completely brilliant."
Scorpius had looked absurdly happy as he wandered back to his dormitory.
And now James walks up the long flight of stairs to the Gryffindor tower. "And where have you been?" the Fat Lady demands.
"Excuse me, I asked you a question — "
She glares at him but swings the portrait open nevertheless. "Just like your father," she mutters. "Always showing up at odd hours, telling me that my job is to ask for the password and mind my own business — "
"Sounds like good advice," James says as he steps into the common room; he hears a muffled — but extremely indignant — "Well! I never!" as the portrait swings shut again.
Smiling, he practically floats to bed.
However, the next week, a slight shadow appears on the horizon: James receives an appointment for a careers advice meeting with McGonagall. He isn't pleased.
"Do I have to go?" he asks the boys in the dormitory.
"Everyone has to," Martin says. "The Head of House is supposed to help you pick your career."
"I wondered when we'd get our careers advice." Iwan looks delighted. "I've got a bunch of questions about dragon handling."
"That's a brilliant career!" Martin looks envious. "Wish I'd thought of that, I would've paid more attention in Care of Magical Creatures."
"I haven't a clue what I want to do," James says uncertainly.
"You'll figure it out." Paul claps him on the back.
But as the date of his appointment grows closer, he starts quizzing everyone around him in the hopes of gathering ideas for a career. Martin's thinking about becoming a herbologist; Paul's thinking about broom making. Iwan wants to be a magical creature carer, and Rose says, very tentatively, that she's thinking about going into professional Quidditch.
"What's so bad about that?" James asks; Rose seems rather downcast.
"Mum doesn't approve at all. Says I've got amazing grades and I should do something with my intelligence."
Rose isn't the only one prickly about her career choice. One evening, as James is studying for a test with Scorpius, he unwisely asks him about his career advice meeting.
"Bet you're looking forward to it."
"Well, you know, on account of being a complete genius at Charms and Transfiguration. And nearly every other subject."
Scorpius turns the page of his textbook. "I'm not very interested in it."
James stares at him. "What? Just — spells in general? But — you've got advanced tutoring with McGonagall and everything, you're — "
"A natural prodigy, yes, I hear it from the professors all the time."
"But you could do absolutely anything you want," James tells him. "I've never seen magic like yours. There's wizards twice your age who haven't got half your strength. Or talent. No wonder McGonagall thinks you're the best thing since auto-inking quills."
"I could practice for years and I'd still be nowhere near your level. You could be anything. Any Ministry job, or even a Hogwarts professor."
Scorpius mutters something. James pauses.
"Magic is fun," Scorpius says at last. "That's all it is to me. It's fun. It's not a career."
James doesn't understand. "You...you want to become a Muggle?"
"I want to work in a Muggle field."
Scorpius tenses. "I've...I've always wanted to be an astrophysicist. Ever since I was little."
"A what? Is that something to do with astronomy?"
"Sort of. Things like...how a galaxy forms."
"Oh." James has never even thought about those types of things. "So, how do you become a...a physics wizard, then?"
Scorpius gives him an irritated look. "Weren't you listening? There's no career for it in the Wizarding world! It has to be Muggle, I'd have to go to a Muggle university, which I can't — "
"Because they work differently! They'll need a score and a certificate, one from a Muggle school that I obviously didn't attend! You don't even know what I'm talking about, do you?"
James doesn't understand why Scorpius is getting so worked up about it. "Well...sort of...I don't know, maybe ask your dad about it?"
"He doesn't even know what a television is! What could he possibly know about A Levels?"
"What are those?"
Scorpius looks at him, his jaw clenched, and James changes tack.
"What about Professor Flitwick?"
"What about him?"
"He's your Head of House, he's your career advisor then. He might able to — "
"He doesn't want to hear it. He just goes on and on about how I'm such a talented wizard, I've got such potential, I could pick any Ministry career I wanted...oh, never mind. Just forget it," Scorpius snaps, and he grabs his textbook and stuffs it into his bag.
"Wait, I was just asking..." James trails off as Scorpius snatches up his bag and storms off.
James is angry at first — angry that Scorpius is being so moody about it, angry that he's snapping at James even though it's not James's fault — but he more he thinks about the conversation, the more his anger fades. He thinks about Scorpius ranting about the impossibility of attending a Muggle university, and he remembers, when they were far younger, Scorpius talking sadly about the Muggle world in which he spent his childhood.
He sits and thinks for a long time.
The next day, after classes have finished, he spots Flitwick and McGonagall walking along a corridor, McGonagall nodding.
"Yes, Filius, I quite agree. The seventh years can be quite creative, I'm not surprised they've set up a post-exam Cheering Charms service — oh, hello, Potter," she says briskly. "If you'd like to discuss your careers appointment tomorrow — "
"No, it's not that. It's about Scorpius Malfoy."
Flitwick's eyebrows rise; McGonagall pauses, giving James a faintly suspicious look. "I'm afraid I cannot discuss details of other students — "
"No, I don't want to know anything about him," James says quickly. "The opposite, actually. I want to tell you something about him."
"Perhaps we should go to my office," McGonagall says.
Flitwick nods. "Well, I'll speak with you later, Minerva — "
"No," James interrupts, "I think you ought to hear it too, Professor."
McGonagall exchanges a look with Flitwick.
James sits in the comfortable tartan armchair, waiting. He'd finished telling his story quite some time ago; McGonagall has been considering him over her spectacles ever since. Flitwick seems content to sit in the armchair opposite James, waiting patiently.
"Malfoy is an extremely talented wizard," McGonagall says at last. "I regard him as a Transfiguration prodigy, and I do not use that term lightly."
"Oh, yes," Flitwick adds. "A wizard of remarkable capabilities. I haven't such power for a very long time. It seems a shame for it to go to waste — "
"No, don't," James says before he can stop himself.
McGonagall raises an eyebrow. "Don't what, Potter?"
"Don't start going on about how good he is at magic. That's what the problem is. Everyone keeps putting all these expectations on him and it's not fair. Your job is supposed to be listening to what he wants, not the other way around." James hesitates, but he's already started his speech and he decides to plunge recklessly onwards. "I reckon you're distracted by his surname. You keep thinking of him as a Malfoy, from one of the old Pureblood families, like the Wizarding world is all he's ever known. But that's not true. He was raised in the Muggle world, and ever since he was little, he's dreamed about being a physics...an...an astrophysicist," James finishes, stumbling a little. "And you might think you're helping him with all this talk about magical potential, but you're just helping him kill his dream."
McGonagall looks at him, then offers him the biscuit tin.
"Thanks," James says cautiously, pausing slightly as he pulls out a squeaking sugar mouse.
"I ran out of ginger newts, I'm afraid," McGonagall says, noting his expression.
James nibbles on the ear of the sugar mouse, much to its alarm. McGonagall surveys him for a moment, then turns to Flitwick.
"He would be a suitable candidate," Flitwick says to the silent question James missed.
"I'm afraid that young Malfoy has left it rather late, though," McGonagall says, and James's heart sinks.
"He...he can't do all his physics stuff?"
"Well, preparation for Muggle universities are preferably arranged by the time students are sixteen." McGonagall opens her desk and retrieves a stack of papers. "He will need to undertake very intensive studies if he wishes to gain his certificate of education."
"What's that mean? Can he do it? Can you sort something out?"
"I can make arrangements. The Muggle Liaison Office exists for a reason, Potter. From time to time, we have students who wish to pursue qualifications in the Muggle world." McGonagall picks up her quill. "However, it really is best if they tell us as soon as possible. I will make an appointment with a liaison officer immediately."
Flitwick nods. "If this is truly what Malfoy wants, then as his Head of House, I will do my best to see it through."
James exhales. "Thank you." He stands up and goes to the door.
"Just a moment, Potter," McGonagall says, and James pauses. "It takes quite some courage to tell two professors they are wrong."
"Oh," James says uncertainly.
She gives him a faint smile. "Twenty-five points to Gryffindor."
The next day, in Potions, Scorpius is called out of class.
"A word with Malfoy, please," McGonagall says, and Slughorn nods. Scorpius looks worried as he slowly gathers his things, and though James is still a little stung that he snapped at James during their argument, he feels bad about Scorpius's look of pale anxiety.
"Don't worry, it's nothing bad," he whispers as Scorpius goes past him.
Scorpius frowns at him and turns away, following McGonagall from the classroom.
James goes back to work.
He doesn't see Scorpius for the rest of the day, including their Divination class. For the rest of the week, Scorpius seems to make himself scarce. That Friday evening, James goes to the Transfiguration classroom. The classroom is empty and dark. James walks across the room, his footsteps echoing, and puts his bag down on the near the neat rows of desks. There's some leftover instructions on the blackboard from a seventh-year lesson; the spell looks difficult at first glance, but James looks a little closer and begins understanding it. Don't look at what it is, Scorpius is always telling him. Look at why it is. Then you'll understand it forever.
He waits for a long time.
Scorpius never shows up.
The next day, Saturday, James plays a game of football with the dormitory boys. He scores some magnificent goals.
"Iwan's the same," Martin complains. "All that swimming and strength training, it isn't fair! You two are awful."
"I think James is a great player," Paul says happily.
"Yeah, because he's on your team!"
They laugh and go inside, trailing mud behind them, much to the outrage of Grimble, the caretaker. Ahead, James catches a glimpse of blond hair, but it's Lorcan. He smiles and waves at James as he goes past.
"Haven't seen Scorpius all week," James observes.
"Oh, didn't he tell you?" Nate asks. "He was granted special permission to drop some of his classes and attend specialised tutoring. There's a few Muggleborn students who are doing the same thing, actually."
"Oh." James should have remembered Nate is one of the few people on good speaking terms with Scorpius. They're always helping each other with their Herbology projects. "He told you that?"
"Well, I'm one of those Muggleborn students. I want to go into engineering, so I applied for special tutoring too."
"Congratulations," James says, and he means it.
"Thanks." Nate pauses. "Scorpius has been really busy. Otherwise I'm sure he would've told you."
James offers a quick smile. "Right, yeah."
He appreciates Nate's effort, at least.
Christmas break is fast approaching. James finally has a moment with Scorpius, catching him on his way to the Great Hall for lunch.
"Oh, hello," Scorpius says distractedly, putting his bag over one shoulder.
"I was just wondering if we're still doing Friday lessons." James pauses. "You haven't shown up for the past two Fridays..."
"Oh, yes, right, sorry about that. I've been really busy."
"That's all right. So, this Friday, I was thinking — "
"I'll be busy again."
Scorpius reaches out and touches his shoulder. "Thanks for talking to McGonagall and Flitwick for me. I'm grateful, I really am, but I'm working on this really demanding project at the moment, so..." He drops his hand and brushes past James. "I should really be working on it right now. See you later."
"Bye," James echoes, watching him disappear down the corridor.
James tells himself he doesn't mind, and come Friday evening he stands alone in the Transfiguration classroom again, practising endless spells by himself.
It's the final day of school before Christmas break. James is making his way to the library after dinner; Lorcan and Lysander are accompanying him. Both of them have developed some highly interesting theories about chimaeras, and James, while thinking the whole idea is mad, is also too curious for his own good.
Just before they step into the library, however, Lysander pauses.
"The stars are bright tonight."
James looks around. The nearest window only shows his reflection. "Are they?"
"Perhaps we should stargaze instead," Lorcan agrees.
"It's a little cold for that," James says reluctantly.
"Not if you bring the stars inside."
James, still looking at the window, steps into the library doorway and immediately runs right into Scorpius; they both drop their textbooks.
"Sorry," Scorpius says, kneeling to collect his books. "I'm glad I bumped into you, though. I've been looking for you."
"Have you?" James asks, his voice a little cool. "Anyway, I'm busy."
"Oh, no, we've decided to go stargazing instead," Lorcan says.
"Yes, see you later, James," Lysander adds, and the twins turn and walk away, leaving James with a vague sense of betrayal.
"I just want to show you that spell I've been working on," Scorpius says to James. "It won't take long."
James sighs and leans against the wall, crossing his arms. "Let's see it, then."
"Not here, it requires a lot of space."
James dutifully follows Scorpius up stairways and down corridors. The stone walls radiate cold and he shivers slightly, wishing he'd brought his cloak.
Scorpius stops suddenly. "Ready for the spell?" he asks, not turning around.
James glances around the corridor. "What, here?"
Realisation hits James about a second before Scorpius raises his wand and taps it against the stone wall.
The wall melts away and Scorpius steps through it. James doesn't move for a moment, his gaze transfixed. After a long moment, he follows Scorpius.
The field stretches on and on, a lazy summer night. The grass sways in the faint breeze. In the corner of the room, beyond the shambling fence, is the old oak tree. Every branch perfectly replicated, every leaf carefully created. A cloud of butterflies, small and white-winged, rise and dance around James. He looks up into the night sky at the countless constellations, the moons waxing and waning, the planets glittering.
"I wanted to say thank you," Scorpius says.
"Most people would've sent a card." He tries to speak lightly, but his voice betrays him.
Scorpius smiles at him.
James returns home for Christmas in a startlingly good mood, Harry notices. He helps decorate the tree, and puts the star atop it, and wraps presents for his cousins. Rose visits to help with the Christmas baking and Harry keeps a careful eye on James, half-expecting a little prickliness, but James tells Rose to pick any recipe she wants and they'll make it.
"Eclairs," she says excitedly.
James groans. "Trust you to pick the hardest recipe in there."
"Oh. Shall I pick another?"
"No, I said you could pick anything you want," James says firmly, and begins fetching ingredients.
"It's good to have an impressive recipe up your sleeve," Harry adds, wiping down the counter in preparation of the mess that's sure to come. "Girls like a boy who can cook. Speaking of which — "
James rolls his eyes. "No, Dad. I haven't got a girlfriend yet. Nobody's asked me out yet."
Rose puts her hands on her hips. "Oh, really? Remember Abigail Banhart? Blonde Hufflepuff prefect? She invited you to three study sessions in the library before giving up!"
"Yeah, History of Magic, she said. Most tedious subject ever."
"Courtney Willett, smartest witch in our Potions class? Asked you to Hogsmeade for the weekend?"
"She said something about a tea shop, it sounded boring."
"Audrey Molinaro? Slytherin Seeker? Offered to show you some moves?"
"Quidditch training? In the middle of December? No thanks."
Harry starts laughing. James frowns at him.
"For Merlin's sake. You're as oblivious as me when I was your age," Harry says. "Never mind, James. I made quite a few mistakes too. I remember the first time I kissed a girl — "
"Oh, gross, Dad. I don't want to hear about your dates."
Harry continues anyway, too amused by James's expression. "Ravenclaw named Cho Chang. She cried when I kissed her."
James stares at him. "What did you do to her?"
"It's a wonder you managed to find anyone after that," James says, measuring sugar into a cup. "Mum must've been mental to marry you."
"Well, your mother never cried when I kissed her. In fact, she — "
"No, that's okay. I don't need details."
Harry laughs. "One day you'll be embarrassing your children with stories of your first date, you know. You'll be telling them all about the girls who cried when you kissed them."
"No, I won't. I won't be stupid enough to kiss crying Ravenclaws." James pours the sugar into the bowl. "Anyway, why aren't we interrogating Rose about her boyfriend?"
"Oh, Rose!" Harry's delighted. "You didn't tell me that. Is he nice?"
"God, you sound just like my mother," Rose mutters. "What do you expect me to say? 'He's awful, I can't stand him'?"
"He's captain of the Hufflepuff Quidditch team," James says, grinning. "And a prefect, and he's just lovely."
"Shut up, James," Rose retorts, shoving at James. They jostle for a moment, throwing half-hearted insults at each other, both dissolving into laughter after Rose dumps a handful of flour into James's hair.
For a moment, Harry thinks, it feels just like it used to.
Scorpius comes home with an enormous stack of textbooks and a newfound determination to read them all. It had been a battle just to get him home; he'd wanted to spend Christmas at Hogwarts, studying of all things, but he'd reluctantly acquiesced after Draco had promised him plenty of study time.
Well, there are a few social appointments coming up, but surely Scorpius will happily leave his books behind for just a few hours.
"I don't recall having this much homework when I was your age," Draco comments as Scorpius begins unpacking. He picks up a book and frowns at the title. Advanced Mathematics, Core One and Two. The other books have equally unfamiliar titles about geography, earth sciences, chemistry, and physics. "What, exactly," Draco says, "are they teaching in Muggle Studies these days?"
Scorpius glances up, then smiles as if he's about to reveal a spectacular surprise. "Well...I'm not taking Muggle Studies anymore. Or Divination. Or History of Magic, or Herbology."
Draco stares at him. "You've dropped out?"
"What? Oh, no! No, exactly the opposite. I've talked to my professors — James did, actually, he was completely brilliant, he arranged it all — and I've been approved for something called the Alternative Qualification Pathway, it's this program for — "
"Yes, I know what it is," Draco interrupts. Back in his schooldays, his fellow Slytherin students used to make fun of those who enrolled in that program. Squibs In Training, they'd called them.
Scorpius's smile wavers. "You...you don't approve," he says.
Draco doesn't know what to do. He paces around Scorpius's room for a moment. He wants his son to be happy, but why would Scorpius — with so much magical talent — throw it all away to settle on an ordinary Muggle career? And will the other Purebloods shun Scorpius's choice? Will it even matter? Pansy did say it was all very progressive these days.
"It's — no, it's fine," Draco says at last. "Just...it's a bit of a shock, that's all. Don't they need my permission first? They can't just — they can't just withdraw you from classes, from core subjects — "
"I've kept the core subjects," Scorpius says quickly. "I'm still doing Transfiguration, and Charms, and Potions. And since I'm over sixteen, Professor McGonagall said parent permission wasn't necessary."
"You've only just turned sixteen. And it's young, it's very young, to be deciding on a career. You really need to keep your options open, especially since you've got such extraordinary magical capabilities. It just seems like such a shame..." He catches sight of Scorpius's expression becoming closed and guarded, and hurries to remedy it. "I just don't want you to make a decision you'll regret."
"I won't regret it." Scorpius stares down at the floor. "I thought you'd be proud," he mumbles.
"I am, of course I am, this stuff looks very challenging and I'm sure you'll apply yourself, as always." Draco pauses. "Just...perhaps resume Herbology, at least? Divination can still be removed, it's a waste of time. But if you want a Ministry career, it won't hurt to make sure you've got all the right classes covered."
Scorpius nods and turns away, busying himself with another stack of textbooks.
Draco takes his cue and leaves.
Dinner that night seems even quieter than normal. Scorpius, unusually, isn't reading a book; he's staring at his plate, poking at the peas. Draco is busy mentally analysing their earlier conversation and realises something.
"You said that Potter boy arranged this."
Scorpius looks up from his plate. "James? No, he just...made things a lot easier for me."
"Why would he do that?"
Scorpius pauses. When he speaks next, his voice is carefully neutral. "He's much nicer now."
"Oh, really? Went from being a complete bully to suddenly being your best friend, did he?" Draco frowns and sets his cutlery down. "You'll want to be very careful around someone like that, Scorpius."
Scorpius says something, too quiet for Draco to hear.
Scorpius raises his voice. "I trust him."
"You've certainly made a lot of interesting decisions lately." Draco meant to say it lightly, but the words hang in the air like rainclouds, ominous and heavy.
Scorpius doesn't say anything for the rest of the dinner.
Christmas arrives; Draco has spent an inordinate amount of money of gifts. Scorpius is pleased but somewhat bewildered with his main gift: a Starfire Phoenix, the next upgrade from Scorpius's old broom, a Starfire Century.
“These are very expensive,” he says, looking up from the broom and chewing at his lip.
“Well, I’ve been very busy with my work.”
“You could’ve spent it on other things,” Scorpius protests. “I don’t need a new broom, my Century is only a couple of years old.”
“You don’t want it, then?” Draco asks lightly. It works; Scorpius finally smiles, his face lighting up.
“Of course I want it.”
“Are you sure? I can take it back to the shop and buy you socks instead.”
Scorpius laughs, lifting the broom reverently from its packaging. “Thanks, Dad. It’s amazing, I didn’t expect anything like this.”
But Scorpius will need a top-of-the-line broom if he’s going to be playing Quidditch on any of the privately-owned pitches of Pureblood families. And his other gifts follow this line of thinking: brand new robes with elaborate stitching, and quality clothing that speaks of class and wealth just a little better than Scorpius’s favoured jeans and t-shirts. And then, as Draco takes Scorpius to the conservatory, another necessity for courtship: a snowy white owl. Scorpius must be able to send and receive invitations.
Scorpius eyes the owl. The owl eyes him back.
“Does it bite?” Scorpius asks.
“Owls don’t bite. They peck.”
“Does it peck, then?”
“Of course not. Go on, hold out your arm.”
Scorpius edges forward and very hesitantly holds out his arm. The owl flutters down from its perch and lands on his forearm. Scorpius winces.
“Ah, talons, yes. Best to wear something with thicker sleeves.”
Scorpius tries to give his arm a little shake. The owl hangs on with admirable determination.
“Is it a pet?” Scorpius asks.
“Well, it’s not for dinner.” Draco is amused.
Scorpius gives his arm another shake. “But…will I have to feed it?”
“It’s an excellent owl, very well trained — it will return to you after hunting its own food.”
“Oh.” Scorpius shakes his arm, this time with quite a bit of force, and the owl finally hoots angrily at him and returns to its perch. “Does it have a name?”
“Yes, it’s named Arcas,” Draco says firmly, before Scorpius can suggest any Muggle-esque pet names.
“Arcas,” Scorpius repeats. “Well. At least I have a reliable owl for my post, then.”
But Draco saves the final gift for after dinner: a calendar. Scorpius accepts it, looking bewildered.
"Oh...thanks?" he says.
"Open it up."
Scorpius flips through the pages. It's filled with all the social obligations Draco has so carefully inked in, all the accepted invites and lunches and high teas and garden parties.
"You're going to be very busy," Draco says, smiling. He knows Scorpius doesn't have too many friends, and surely Scorpius will be delighted at all the arrangements Draco has made.
"I'm visiting...relatives?" Scorpius asks, staring down at a very intense June page. Summer is the season of choice for socialising.
"Pureblood families. When I was your age, I spent so many afternoons visiting family friends, enjoying parties and little celebrations...they're some of my fondest memories. And now, they'll be yours, too."
Draco's smile fades. "You don't like it."
"I...no, no, of course, it's...thank you," Scorpius says, glancing up at him. "I'm just...not great at socialising, that's all."
Draco rushes to reassure him. "Oh, I made sure not to begin with large events or anything like that. I was quite careful to structure the schedule so it's just a few little lunches at first." He pauses. "This is a very big opportunity, Scorpius. These Pureblood families are very influential, they can open up so many doors for our family. I just want to make sure you have the brightest future possible."
Scorpius looks at him, then down at the calendar again. "Thank you," he repeats.
Draco smiles, relieved.
The day after Christmas, James is lounging about on the sofa, enjoying a comic book (a gift from Rose) when Harry appears and begins making his way toward the Floo.
"Just visiting Draco, I'll be back soon."
"Oh! Wait a minute, I want to say hello to Scorpius." James scrambles off the sofa.
Harry raises his eyebrows, but he doesn't say anything further about it. They step through the Floo together and moments later, stumble over the hearth in the drawing room at Malfoy Manor. The room is empty, but Harry simply sets off down the hallway.
"Isn't it polite to wait by the hearth?" James asks.
"Oh, it's fine. Draco doesn't mind." Harry turns the corner and, just outside the library, bumps into Draco.
Draco does mind, James thinks, going by his expression as he looks at them. He frowns at Harry, then gives James a very frosty look; James has no idea why. He can’t recall doing anything particularly offensive lately.
“Scorpius, Harry and his son are here,” Draco announces as he sweeps into the library, as if Harry has brought along a rather murderous goblin. Scorpius, sitting in an armchair and reading a thick book, looks up and spots James.
“Oh,” he says, looking caught between standing up and staying where he is.
“Harry and I will be in the study,” Draco adds crisply. “James will be…where will you be, James?”
“Er,” James says, and Draco nods firmly.
“Yes, good idea. The kitchen. You can make yourself a cup of tea and stay out of the way.”
Harry clears his throat. “Draco, a brief word?”
Draco frowns. “I suppose,” he says. “James, if you wouldn’t mind leaving…?”
“Sure,” James says brightly, only too pleased to escape Draco’s suspicious gaze.
“Wait just a minute,” Harry interjects. “Why can’t we just duck out into the hallway for a moment?”
“What, and leave your son here?”
“Excuse me? If you’re so paranoid that he’ll grab Scorpius and throw him out the nearest window — ”
"Paranoia, is it? When your son has a reputation for being rather volatile — "
Scorpius coughs. James clears his throat. Both their fathers ignore them.
“This is Scorpius’s home, in case you hadn’t noticed,” Draco retorts. “He has a right to feel safe — ”
"Exactly what are you implying about my son?"
“Now, listen here, Potter — ”
“I’m just going for a walk,” James announces.
“ — was not my intention, but if you insist — ”
James leaves. He stands in the hallway and studies a painting of a narcissus flower, pretending he can’t hear the faint argument. The door opens and closes again. He glances up; Scorpius gives him a tense smile.
“Still going, are they?” James asks.
They study the painting together. James, for want of something to do, puts his hands in his pockets.
“I’ve got an owl,” Scorpius says suddenly.
“Do you want to see it?”
They go to the conservatory. The owl is asleep.
“It’s a snowy owl,” James observes.
“Is that important in Wizarding culture or something?”
“No. My dad had a snowy owl, that’s all.”
They both consider the owl a bit longer.
“Do you want it?” Scorpius asks.
“Isn’t it your pet?”
“It’s got talons,” Scorpius says gloomily. “I have to wear my Quidditch wrist guards all the time. And it pecks. And it eats field mice. And rats.”
James pauses. “I thought you liked rats. You had that pet one, didn’t you?”
“Doesn’t your father remember that?”
“I think he forgot.”
They survey the owl. It deposits a large dropping on the floor.
“You can keep it,” James says.
They look at each other, and then start laughing.
Scorpius seems to relax more after that. He takes James to the living room, showing him a pile of presents. James picks up the new broom, impressed.
"Looks nice. Flies well, then?"
"I assume so. It's got integrated stabilising spells and auto-speed charms."
James puts the broom back down and surveys the large heap of brand new robes, all carefully tailored, all elaborately stitched. "Did you get all this stuff for Christmas too? And a broom, and an owl? Must've cost a mint!"
"Dad says I've got to look presentable for some Pureblood stuff," Scorpius says uncertainly. "Listen, James, you're Pureblood, aren't you?"
"What?" James laughs. "No, of course I'm not."
"But...your dad is a wizard, and your mum's a witch...?"
"That's not how it works. To be Pureblood, you can't have any Muggles in your direct ancestry. My dad's a Halfblood, so therefore I'm Half too. I mean, strictly speaking, nobody's truly Pureblood — somewhere in the family tree, there's always a few people who ran off with a Muggleborn or married a Halfblood — but the families would just disown them and say they didn't count as part of the family."
Scorpius stares at him, eyes wide. "Is...is that what they do? Disown people who don't marry other Purebloods?"
"Well, yeah. Got to keep the 'pure' in Pureblood, right?"
Scorpius fiddles with his sleeves. "Doesn't that...doesn't that seem a bit...harsh?"
"That's why there's a bit of disagreement about it in the wizarding world."
Scorpius finally leaves his sleeves alone and glances up at James. "You seem to know a lot about it."
James shrugs. "It's considered common knowledge."
"Not to me." Scorpius gives him a tense, fleeting smile. "I feel like I know nothing. I'm going to end up embarrassing myself in front of all these Purebloods."
"Just tell your dad you're not interested in attending that sort of stuff, then."
"I don't have a choice." Scorpius's shoulders slump. "This means everything to my dad, he says the other Purebloods are the one chance we've got for a better future. I can't make mistakes. I can't mess this up."
James studies him for a moment: the unravelling thread on his collar, the way he's fiddling with his sleeves again, the scuff marks on his shoes. He remembers Scorpius on their first day of school, thin and small and afraid. Well, James decides, he's been to so many events and boring galas that it seems selfish to keep all that knowledge to himself. He reaches for the calendar and flips it open. "Right. What've you got first? Oh, a fancy brunch. My condolences."
And he spends the next half hour going through the events in the calendar, explaining things, making jokes to help Scorpius lighten up, and it's only slightly ruined at the end when Scorpius says, sounding sincerely grateful, "Thank you, James, you're — " and Harry charges into the room, grabs ahold of James, and says, "We are leaving."
"Oh. Are we? Well — see you at Hogwarts, Scorpius..." James trails off, his farewell lost as Harry drags him from the room.
"The nerve of him! Do you know what he knows about you? Nothing! Absolutely nothing except what I tell him!"
James makes an educated guess at the conversation topic as Harry crams him into the hearth. "So you've been telling Draco that I'm a murderous fiend, then?"
"I absolutely have not!" Harry pauses to bark out their address, then continues the conversation as soon as they arrive in their own grate, even as James stumbles and coughs on a cloud of ash. "I confided in him, I told him I was having some issues with you — "
"It's nothing, just back in third and fourth year when you were having some minor issues accepting my — "
"Endless exasperation at my constant failures?"
" - gentle guidance," Harry finishes.
James rolls his eyes.
"And I trusted him, I thought as a father of a son of the same age, he would understand, and now he's exaggerated the whole thing, and he's imagining that you're some awful bully and you're out to get Scorpius and — and sabotage his life, or something equally ridiculous, and — what do you mean, constant failures?"
"It was just a joke."
"Well, it's not a very funny one," Harry says firmly, storming into the kitchen and angrily fetching mugs from the cupboard. "You had a lot of problems, James, and looking back, I realise I was not very responsive, and that is entirely my fault. You did the best you could and you did not have constant failures, you had major setbacks and I am very proud of how hard you've worked to overcome them. Although, speaking of major setbacks, if you could please refrain from drinking milk straight from the carton, I would be even more proud."
James goes quiet for a bit. Harry pokes the kettle with his wand, evidently frustrated with the water taking too long to boil, and haphazardly measures sugar into the mugs.
"Typical," Harry mutters. "Nearly out of sugar too. Well, when it rains, it pours." He glances up. "James? Everything all right?"
James nods. Harry's expression softens.
"I probably don't say that often enough," he says, "but I am proud of you. Come here," he adds. "I know you don't like hugs, but you'll just have to tolerate it today."
James doesn't mind at all.
Draco can't believe how spectacularly the conversation with Harry appears to be crashing and burning. What had started as a well-intentioned discussion about perhaps exercising caution in regard to James and Scorpius's newfound friendship is rapidly careening into a shouting match about their respective sons.
“ — was not my intention, but if you insist that this is a personal attack on James," Draco begins, but Harry cuts him off.
"Where is this coming from? I'll admit the boys have had their differences, but you are being downright hostile — "
"Had their differences? Remember that time James threw a complete tantrum because you donated his completely unwanted broom to Scorpius?"
"Look, that was one incident — "
"You think because your son comes in here, acting nice — "
"It isn't acting, Malfoy!"
"What makes you so sure?" Draco fires back. "What makes you so sure that James has suddenly decided all is forgiven — "
"What makes you so certain that it's just a big act to...to what? Kill Scorpius with kindness?" Harry demands.
"Funny you should mention that," Draco says coldly, turning to pace across the floor. Harry remains where he is, standing by the door, his arms folded across his chest. "Scorpius — my extremely gifted son, privately tutored by McGonagall herself, called a Charms genius by Flitwick, perfect grades in every subject — has suddenly decided to drop all subjects except the core ones, and undertake intensive Muggle studies."
Harry gives him a stony look. "Sounds like a conversation you need to have with Scorpius. I don't see how — "
"I did have that conversation with Scorpius, actually. And you know what, Potter? Turns out someone arranged all of it for him. Someone went to McGonagall and discussed it with her. How generous of James to do that. How kind of someone who until very recently hated my son."
Harry uncrosses his arms, looking furious. "And Scorpius was forced to go along with this Muggle Studies stuff, was he? James held a wand to his head, did he, and made him sign up?"
"Scorpius doesn't know what he wants. It wouldn't take much for someone to convince him to throw away all his magical talent just to become a Squib in training." The old insult is out before Draco can stop it.
Harry stares at him, slowly shaking his head. "Squib in training? Merlin, I am really glad our children are not here to hear this."
Draco glances around. He'd been dimly aware of James leaving, but it had barely registered that Scorpius had disappeared too.
"James is a good kid," Harry says firmly. "Clearly you need to talk to Scorpius about a few things, but there is no way James is secretly ruining his life. Whispering in his ear, manipulating him? Sounds like you need to let go of your old Slytherin school days, Malfoy."
"You really want to talk about old school days, Potter? Because my mother was a few years above Severus at Hogwarts, and I remember overhearing a few stories about how your father treated other people. I bet his father wouldn't listen to a bad word about him, either. Funny how your son is turning out exactly like his namesake."
Harry looks at him for a long moment, his jaw clenching. Then he turns, striding out of the room without another word.
Draco stands alone in the library for a while, still seething, waiting to calm down enough so he can speak to Scorpius.
Scorpius is in the living room, alone, when Draco finds him. He's sitting in an armchair, the calendar in his lap. Draco's only too pleased to see the Potters have left already.
"I'm sorry about that," Draco says. "I just wanted to have a quick word with Harry and make sure that James is being nice."
"He is." Scorpius doesn't look up from the calendar.
"And he means it."
"People can be deceptive."
Scorpius finally looks up. "James is my friend now, I really — "
"The Christmas tree really needs to be taken down," Draco says smoothly. "Could you pack the decorations away, please? And sweep up the pine needles."
Draco frowns. "Now, please."
Scorpius stands up and silently departs.
Draco sighs, then gets to work folding Scorpius's pile of new robes.
They've got two luncheons, a brunch, and a high tea to attend before Scorpius returns to Hogwarts, and he must look perfect.
The farewell at the end of Christmas break is subdued. Draco is pleased — the social appointments with the Pureblood families all went well — but Scorpius is quiet, responding only when Draco asks him a direct question. As he ushers Scorpius along the platform, he spots James Potter boarding the train and laughing at something one of his friends has said.
"There's James," Draco says carefully. Scorpius looks up. "It seems he's got a few other friends, doesn't he? Plenty of other people to spend time with."
Scorpius drops his gaze. Draco sighs and steps in front of him, placing his hands on Scorpius's shoulders.
"I'm trying to protect you, Scorpius. Please, promise me you'll stay away from that James. Don't bother with him. Find other friends. Better ones."
The train whistle pierces the air. Scorpius glances at the train, then looks at Draco.
"I...I promise," he says.
"Thank you." Draco drops his hands and smiles at Scorpius, relieved. "I really want you to have a good year."
The train whistles again. Scorpius nods and hurries past Draco.
Draco waves, but Scorpius boards the train without looking back.
James thoroughly enjoyed his break, spent catching up with all his relatives — even Dudley and his family — and Harry had spent a lot of time with James, teaching him new recipes or playing games of chess by the fire. They'd visited Luna and she'd shown them a new spell she invented to expel Wrackspurts from the garden, and visited Neville, who had given James plenty of advice for dealing with the Over-Sensitive Cactus, and they'd even had a visit from an old friend: Dean Thomas, who had reminisced about the pictures he'd drawn for baby James so many years ago, and — to James's delight — had told him so many stories about Ginny's daring Quidditch moves during her time as Seeker at Hogwarts. Harry had listened too, and smiled a lot, and afterwards had disappeared for a while before returning, covered in dust, to give James an old (but beautifully maintained) broom.
"This belonged to your mother."
"You want me to have it?" James had said reverently, accepting the broom. "I'll keep it safe, I promise."
"I've been keeping it safe for twelve years, James. I think it's time it was flown."
"No way, it hasn't got a single scratch and I just know I'll crash it."
"I'll be disappointed if you don't crash it at least twice. I expect it to have plenty of scratches and marks by the end of the year, and a story to go with every one of them."
Yes; James is actually reluctant to return to Hogwarts. He stands on the platform and gives his father a hug, promising to see him at Easter.
"See you then, James. And don't forget to write. And keep me updated on the swim meets, you've been working really hard on your swimming lately. And — "
"Train's about to go, Dad." James laughs and waves; Harry cuts himself off and smiles.
"All right. See you at Easter."
James boards the train, pausing as he passes Thomas, who swaps a joke with him, and waves hello to Iwan and the other Gryffindor boys as he passes them by. He likes a bit of quiet on the train journey, and he picks an empty compartment. As he sits down, however, the door slides open, and he glances up.
Scorpius steps inside, smiling at him. "Hi," he says.
James smiles back.