"No, let's have a different ending. That's a sad ending."
"You can't change the ending," Harry says, sitting on the edge of his son's bed and frowning. "It's a true story. The Room of Requirement burned down."
"Are you sure?"
"Maybe it only burned a little bit and they put the rest out," James suggests.
"James, I was there. There were lots of flames. In fact, the room nearly took me with it."
"Oh," James says with disappointment. "I suppose it's really gone, then. Still, can't hurt if I look for it. Tell me more battle stories," he adds.
"Tomorrow night," Harry says.
"I won't get any sleep," James complains. "I'll be up waiting for my Hogwarts letter."
"Goodnight, James," Harry says with a laugh.
"Goodnight," James repeats, rolling over and switching off his lamp.
Harry turns and leaves. James is ten years old, but he'll be eleven in just a few hours. Five hours and thirty-six minutes approximately. Where did all that time go? Harry used to tell James silly bedtime stories, switching on the night-light as James clutched his plush-toy puffskein. Now, of course, James is far too old for night-lights and fuzzy toys. The bedtime stories have been downgraded into demands for Hogwarts tales, stories with which James can impress the other students.
Harry sighs and makes his way to the living room. He tries to read a book, and gets up a few times to make a cup of tea. He's staring into space, deep in thought, when there's a gentle whisper of wings and a small but definite tap at the window.
Harry stands up slowly and walks over to the window, pulling the sash up. The owl looks at him. He can see the green ink shining on the envelope.
Hogwarts has sent for his son.
He smiles even as his heart breaks.
Ginny should be here, Harry thinks as James chatters excitedly at breakfast the next day, waving his letter about. During milestones such as these, he always thinks of Ginny. Her absence still echoes like a lonely voice. He wonders if she would be worrying as much as Harry, wondering if James will be all right at Hogwarts.
"...and Teddy said they were thinking of adding a fifth house to Hogwarts, for all the students who are part-goblin, but I think he's just telling stories again. Isn't he?" James pauses and waits, taking a bite of his toast, and Harry collects his thoughts again.
"Yes, he is."
"I knew it. Anyway, do you think there's swimming at Hogwarts?" James asks.
James has dabbled with many hobbies throughout his childhood — karate lessons, football, local under-ten Quidditch matches, collecting Chocolate Frog cards, and even — for one awful summer — drum and guitar lessons. Throughout all of James's discarded interests, however, one thing has remained constant: his swimming. James had gone to his first swimming lesson as a chubby toddler, slightly suspicious, but he had soon developed a love of the water.
"There's a lake," Harry says doubtfully. "Very cold, though. I wouldn't recommend swimming in it."
James grins. "I'd swim in it. I wouldn't mind a bit of cold."
"A bit of cold? Oh, just you wait until you have your first Scottish winter," Harry laughs, reaching out to ruffle James's hair. "You won't swim then."
"I will," James says decisively. "And there'd better be a music club, too."
"Maybe." Harry remembers a few clubs from his own time at Hogwarts — the Gobstones Club, of course, and there was also a chess tournament every year. Seamus mentioned an informal football team set up by the Muggleborns too. But of course, Harry hadn't really had much time for extracurricular activities during his time at Hogwarts.
"...and I could start a band! Dad, could you put a shrinking spell on my drumkit? Small enough to fit in my luggage."
"All right," Harry says vaguely, mind still on his own Hogwarts education, and then he blinks. "What? No!"
"All right, fine. No instruments," James says brightly, but Harry knows his son too well and he narrows his eyes. He'll have to keep a very close eye on the contents of James's luggage.
"I can hardly wait for Hogwarts," James adds excitedly. "It's going to be amazing. Do you think I'll be in Hufflepuff? I think I will. Teddy says Hufflepuffs are always the nicest, happiest people. And I love badgers. I wish you'd let me have a pet badger, Dad. I'd take much better care of it than I did of my goldfish."
Yes, Harry thinks as he reaches for the marmalade. James will be fine.
Harry delays a visit to Diagon Alley for as long as possible. James is absolutely thrilled at the prospect of owning his own wand, and he reads the Hogwarts textbook list over and over, chatting excitedly about how he can 'practice' with the potions kit too. No; Harry has no doubt that it would be very sensible to delay the purchasing of James's wand and Hogwarts items until the summer holidays are nearly over and James will have very little chance to attempt any spells or potions until he's safely under the supervision of his professors.
The summer holidays are spent in a whirl of activity, anyway. James's excitement at receiving his wand is made more bearable by the distractions of other things: spending as much time as possible with his Muggle school friends before they all go their own separate ways, and going to birthday parties, and plenty of visits to London to go see the baby rhinoceros at the zoo or wander around the aquarium. Teddy visits nearly every day throughout the summer, entertaining James with stories of Hogwarts.
"You'll feel right at home there, there's a giant squid in the lake. Finally, someone who has arms even more noodley than yours," Teddy says during dinner one night.
"I have not got noodle arms! Dad, tell Teddy I haven't got noodle arms."
"Stop teasing your cousin," Harry says, giving Teddy another helping of peas.
"I wasn't teasing, I was stating a fact."
Harry gives Teddy a stern look; Teddy flashes a quick, if slightly apologetic, grin. "Okay, okay," he says. "You haven't got noodle arms, little cuz. Even if the octopus under the house agrees with me."
James pulls a face, but good-naturedly accepts the jest. The octopus under the house has become a long-running joke in their family now, even if James no longer believes Teddy's fanciful stories.
Soon enough, the conversation turns to Diagon Alley. James demands to know every detail about Teddy's own wand purchase; Teddy settles back in his chair, getting ready to spin another tale.
"You wouldn't believe it," he says. "They tried everything, little cuz. Wands made of thousand-year-old oak trees, cores of liquid gold, wands encrusted with rare dragon scales, and – "
"Teddy," Harry says with exasperation, but James interjects.
"I didn't believe him anyway," he says, sticking his tongue out at Teddy. "Nobody would use a wand with scales stuck all over it."
"Ah, I remember when you used to believe every word I said," Teddy says fondly. "They grow up so fast..." He grins, then reaches into his sleeve and pulls out his wand. "Cedar, unicorn-hair core. Surprisingly swishy. Believe it or not, first one I picked up."
"Really?" James looks to Harry for affirmation; Harry nods.
"I remember that day," he tells James. "Teddy bounded into the shop, quite excited, picked up the nearest wand, and said 'I like this one'. And evidently, the feeling was mutual. He waved it about and fireworks exploded all over the shop."
"Maybe I'll get a cedar wand," James says with excitement.
"Maybe," Teddy says with a shrug. "It's quite a rare wood for wands. Let's wait and see."
"We'll go tomorrow," Harry promises, doing calculations in his head. Five more days until the first of September. Yes; they'll go tomorrow.
James's face lights up as if it's Christmas, and Harry can't help but laugh.
Harry keeps his promise; they go to Diagon Alley the next day, Teddy in tow. Harry saves Ollivander's shop for last. He's certain James won't be able to concentrate on anything else, but of course James proves himself to be equally interested in everything. He races about Madam Malkin's robe shop, trying on different dress robes and giggling hopelessly when Teddy parades about in a top-hat and bowtie. Madam Malkin gives them both disapproving looks.
"Teddy Lupin," she mutters, managing to grab James and force him to stand still. "Every year you come in here with your old robes in tatters...I don't know what you do, it's very high quality fabric..."
"Oh, I know. Considering all the pyro-spells I do, I think your robes are spectacularly durable," Teddy says cheerfully, and Madam Malkin's face softens a little as she rams a pin into James's arm, much to his horror.
"Well, sit still dear."
"Look, there's blood!"
They emerge from the shop ten minutes later, James frowning and closely examining a small mark on his arm, but he soon forgets his injury as they enter the apothecary and buy a potions kit.
"Teddy, remember that recipe you showed me for exploding dung-bombs?" James begins excitedly. "We can – " But then Teddy quickly shakes his head, and James notices Harry's expression. "We can...make something else," James says meekly. "A nice calming potion."
"I'm sure," Harry says dryly, firmly taking the potions kit away from James. "I'll carry that."
Flourish and Blotts is next and James immediately makes a beeline for the comics section. He's always loved his comic books and it takes a long time to drag him away from the latest adventures of Martin Miggs, the Mad Muggle. Harry's left alone to gather the prescribed textbooks and purchase them, somehow ending up with two comics as well.
"Let's go to the Magical Menagerie," Teddy says, and that immediately triggers another flood of hopeful pleading from James. This has been the only subject on which Harry put his foot down: James — who owned countless goldfish and forgot to feed them, who accidentally lost many pet mice, who once had a pet iguana and somehow lost it too — is certainly not going to receive a pet for Hogwarts. Not until, Harry had said firmly, James showed a little more responsibility towards owning a pet.
"Come on, we've talked about this. Maybe next year," Harry says to James, and James looks crestfallen.
"I suppose," he says.
"Shall we go to Ollivander's now?" Harry asks, wanting to cheer him up, and it works. He brightens up again.
They make their way to the little lopsided shop, the black paint peeling from the window frames. As they step inside, the door swinging shut behind them, Harry thinks the shop hasn't changed a bit. Dusty shelves lined with narrow boxes, the smell of ancient magic in the air. However, the man that greets them isn't familiar; there's something about his face that is vaguely reminiscent of Ollivander and yet he's far younger, his face less lined, his hair only just beginning to pepper with grey.
Evidently James is thinking similar thoughts, for he blurts out, "Thought you'd look older." The man looks amused; Harry sputters and Teddy laughs.
"You are perhaps thinking of my father, Garrick Ollivander. I am his son, Geraint." Ollivander gives a little bow.
"Oh, I get mistaken for my father too," James says feelingly. "Great-Aunt Muriel, she's the worst for it. Blind as a bat, and – "
"All right, James," Harry says quickly. "Let's...let's just let Mr Ollivander take some measurements."
"Your odd little noodle arms," Teddy supplies. "He's never seen anyone with limbs like that before. You'll probably need a wand specially made."
"Go away!" James says, his face reddening. "You've got noodle arms!"
"Oh, do I? Do I?" Teddy grabs ahold of James; James fights valiantly but Teddy easily gets him into a headlock and, laughing loudly, ruffles James's hair.
"Stop it! I'm telling! Dad!"
"Teddy, leave your cousin alone. This is an important moment," Harry says sternly, and Ollivander peers at Teddy.
"A Lupin, if I'm not mistaken. My father chose a wand for you. One of his last customers, if I recall."
"Yeah. Perfect match," Teddy adds affectionately.
"It is not a perfect match," James mutters, flattening his hair down again. "I remember when you transfigured Celestina Warbeck's face onto all my Quidditch figures."
Teddy grins and Harry can't hide his own amusement. James gives them both a look and straightens his robes with dignity. The moment however is ruined when a measuring tape suddenly flits about him, making him jump slightly.
"Hmm. Let's see..." Ollivander says, and at last Teddy and James quieten down. Harry waits patiently for Ollivander to make the first suggestion: an oak wand. James gives it a swish but only a few sad sparks fizzle out and Ollivander shakes his head.
"Perhaps a holly wand would be more suitable," he says, handing over a different box. But the holly wand proves equally inadequate, and Ollivander chooses a third, a fourth, a fifth...By the time James has given the sixth wand a swish, he's looking a little unhappy, but Teddy looks pleased. He claps James on the shoulder.
"Look at that! Tricky one, aren't you?"
"Yeah. Suppose I'm not the first choice for these wands," James says miserably, giving another one a half-hearted wave.
"No, it means these wands aren't your first choice. You've got so much potential these inadequate little sticks knew with one swish that they wouldn't be up for the job."
"Oh, sure," James says, but he sounds a little more hopeful. He gives Teddy a surreptitious look. "Do you...do you really think so?"
"Course I do! Out of everyone here, I'm the one who's known you the longest — "
Harry looks at Teddy, eyebrows raised. "Sorry, what?"
James laughs, giving another wand an exuberant swish, and this time he stumbles backwards as golden sparks rush through the air, popping and whistling like fireworks.
"Look!" he cries. "I found my wand!"
"Indeed you have," Ollivander says. "Hawthorn, solid, ten inches, and..." He gently takes the wand from James. "A core of dragon heartstring."
"Hawthorn? It looks nice," James says.
"A very interesting wand." Ollivander places the wand back into its box, nestling it in the fragile tissue paper. "You have a complex journey ahead."
James smiles, looking up and catching his father's gaze. Harry gives him a smile, pleased that James has finally found a match; Teddy gives James an approving nod.
"Come on, then," Harry says. "Let's go home."
Scorpius comes home on the seventeenth of June.
Draco has searched for his son for nearly six years and somehow, he never pictured it happening like this. There's a knock at his door at midday. Pansy, he thinks as he makes his way to the door. But no; the unfamiliar face of a Magical Law Enforcement officer stares at him.
"Draco Malfoy?" they ask unnecessarily, and Draco's first thought is that he's somehow breached the conditions of the pro-Muggle program in which he's still being forced to participate eleven years after his trial. There's a list of rules as long as his arm and he can never remember which spells he isn't supposed to cast, which potions he's forbidden to create.
"Yes," he says tersely.
"I'm very sorry," the man begins nervously, his hat tucked under one arm, and Draco's heart gives a little lurch. "Unfortunately, your ex-wife has been found deceased."
"Astoria?" Draco asks blankly, not understanding for a moment.
"We received an alert that underage magic was being performed at an address in Cardiff," the officer says, taking a step back as if expecting Draco to fly into a rage. "We found...a child...trying to perform healing spells..."
Scorpius. Draco tries to say the name but he can't quite manage it. His mouth feels dry as a desert.
"I'm very sorry for your loss," the officer says. "It's very unfortunate. As for your son — "
The officer clears their throat. "Yes. Scorpius. He appears to be in good health, but he's been taken to St Mungo's for a routine health check. As soon as we've completed some paperwork and you've provided documents, we can leave Scorpius in your care."
It seems so completely surreal. As soon as the officer finishes the brief conversation and leaves, Draco stands in the hall and stares blankly at the wall. The rooms of the manor, so silent all these years...the hallways that gathered dust in the absence of little footsteps...and all these empty places, these silent spaces, might once again hold the presence of his son.
He has to find the paperwork. He goes to his father's study, to the polished mahogany desk, and searches through the papers with trembling hands. Scorpius's birth certificate. The ink shines brightly on it, seemingly fresh as the day it was stamped by a cheerful nurse eleven years ago. He sinks into the worn leather chair and gazes at the certificate for a long moment, trying to remember that day. The day they became parents. But his mind feels emptied, like somebody poured all his memories into a pensieve. Astoria is dead, he thinks. He should feel something about that, surely. This woman that he loved so much for everything she gave him, and hated so much for everything she took away. They fought and loved and sometimes they tried their best and sometimes they did their worst, both of them slowly destroying the other.
But he doesn't feel anything. A mindless hum fills his mind. Astoria is dead. How? What happened? Normal people would have asked, he thinks. What does Scorpius look like? He keeps picturing a young five-year-old with wispy hair. But Scorpius is eleven years old now.
He fire-calls Pansy. He needs someone to keep him sane. She arrives in a flurry of floral robes and disapproval, following Draco up the stairs and telling him to stop looking so miserable.
"There's no use thinking about her," she says sharply as Draco opens the door to his son's old bedroom. He never changed it, never moved a thing. It's still painted baby-blue, with a little frieze of teddy bears around the wall and a copy of Beedle the Bard resting on the bedside table next to the child-sized bed. It's the room of a five-year-old child with a happy smile and a body still several sizes too small to contain all the energy within. Not...
Not the boy who is coming home.
"Re-paint it, buy some more furniture," Pansy says, as if reading his thoughts. Draco rests his hand atop the lamp — a little ceramic bear that changes colours when touched — and feels the dust thick against his skin.
"You wanted me to marry you, once," he says. His voice echoes once in the room, then is absorbed by the dust.
"Things could have been so different."
Pansy studies him for a moment, then walks to the doorway. "That," she says, "was a very long time ago, Draco."
The door closes; he listens to her footsteps fade.
Five hours after first receiving the news of his son, Draco waits impatiently in the reception of St Mungo's. The papers have been signed, the documents have been certified. It all seems very rushed, but the Law Enforcement officers explained that if guardianship wasn't organised as soon as possible, Scorpius would have to be placed into state care overnight. Now, nearly six years of searching is reduced to this. Sitting in a little plastic chair, listening to an elderly man nearby with a persistent cough, and waiting. Waiting, waiting.
At last, just as the clock chimes six o'clock, a Healer walks into the reception area, looks around, and gives Draco a cheerful smile.
"Mr Malfoy?" she says.
"I can see the family resemblance."
If that's a joke, Draco doesn't find it funny. If it's small talk, he's not impressed either. He hasn't got time for that.
The Healer's smile fades; she looks slightly chastened, as if Draco has snapped at her. "Yes. Well, he's rather small for his age, isn't he?"
"I wouldn't know."
Any trace of cheerfulness vanishes completely now. The Healer clears her throat and looks at her notes. Scorpius seems slightly underfed, she tells him — nothing too concerning, but he'd benefit from a few good meals. Otherwise he's in fine health.
"Any questions?" she asks.
The Healer nods and leaves again. She returns again ten minutes later, Scorpius trailing behind her.
The Healer was right. He looks too small for his age, pale and tired, with dark smudges under his eyes. He looks once to Draco, then glances at the ground — and there his gaze remains. The Healer reaches Draco first and speaks brightly, telling Scorpius he's been a perfect patient. Scorpius keeps his eyes trained on the ground, not responding at all. Draco has never felt so wretched. It's not supposed to be like this. All these reunions that he used to dream about, all these moments he created...why did he never imagine this? All those memories of Scorpius, bright and smiling and somehow forever five years old, running into Draco's arms.
And isn't it strange, Draco thinks dully, how right now — in this moment — all he can feel is a crippling sense of loss. These past years, he's been thinking he'd get Scorpius back. And it's only now that he's realising he will never get Scorpius back. That boy is gone forever.
The Healer finally says a quick farewell, perhaps sensing the tension, and leaves. Draco waits, but it becomes apparent Scorpius has nothing to say.
"Have you got everything?" Draco asks at last. There's no suitcase or luggage with his son.
"Yes," Scorpius replies.
They leave St Mungo's, Scorpius trailing after Draco like an uncertain shadow. Once outside, Draco turns to Scorpius.
"We'll do a side-along Apparation," he says, and Scorpius frowns. He glances up at Draco, then away again. Draco waits. And waits, and waits. Scorpius is clearly uncomfortable about something but he remains silent. Draco doesn't know what to do. All the books on fatherhood did not prepare him for this. After a moment, he speaks again, guessing at Scorpius's discomfort. "You don't like side-along Apparations?"
Scorpius frowns, a crease of anxiety appearing on his brow. "What if I get sick?"
"That's all right. You'll feel better soon." Draco tries to smile reassuringly, even though Scorpius has barely looked at him, and holds out his hand. "Ready to go home?" The word slips from his lips before he thinks about it. Of course Scorpius isn't going home. Home is Astoria's house in Cardiff or wherever it was. Draco, preoccupied with mentally telling himself off for the verbal error, nearly misses it when Scorpius takes his hand.
"I'm ready," Scorpius says, a flash of determination crossing his face, and for a moment Draco's heart lifts with hope.
Things might be all right, he thinks.
Scorpius spends the first week in the manor gardens, reading books or sitting quietly, and Draco watches him with the unease of someone who can feel their life slipping through their fingers like sand. This is his son, but at the same time it isn't. Half-stranger, half-Scorpius, always slipping between memories and different pasts.
They attend Astoria's funeral. She died of an undiagnosed heart defect, her parents say. Her father looks so much older than Draco remembers him. Her mother tries to hold Scorpius, but he shies away from her and won't talk to any of the other attendees.
In accordance with Pureblood funerals, the casket is open. Astoria looks small and thin, almost childlike, and the sorrow washes over Draco like a wave. Dead, at thirty-two years old. He wants to hate her for everything she did, for robbing him of six long years with his son, but all he can feel is a dull melancholy. For everything that might have been...
He'll never know. What happened during those six years? Scorpius hasn't spoken a word about it. From what Draco can gather from the Law Enforcement notes, Astoria did her best to integrate Scorpius and herself into the Muggle world. They moved from place to place, mostly small flats and bedsits, as Astoria worked low-paying jobs such as cleaning offices or answering phones. She never once contacted her wealthy family for any money, or so her parents claim.
Draco wonders if she ever found happiness again.
Scorpius goes to the casket too, and when he sees his mother he begins to cry. Astoria's mother rushes to him and he backs away from her.
"It's all right," Draco says, automatically reaching out to Scorpius as he often did when offering reassurance to a five-year-old Scorpius crying over a grazed knee or dropped ice-cream. But Scorpius backs away from him too.
Draco sits through the rest of the funeral, dry-eyed, not saying another word.
They speak very little to each other. Draco's never been one for heartfelt conversations or affection — a habit he picked up from his father — and Scorpius seems to feel the same, preferring to keep a guarded distance. He's mourning his mother, Draco knows, and — though he hides it well — he often looks as if he's been crying.
At least he's getting plenty of fresh air and sunlight, Draco thinks, and he eats every meal without complaint. Draco consults a hundred different parenting books in the first few weeks, trying to figure out whether it's normal or not. It doesn't seem normal. All the books talk about fussy eaters and children refusing to eat their vegetables, and yet Scorpius never says a word and finishes every meal. And the books warn of tantrums, too, of lots of shouting and the precarious pre-teenage years when children decide it's the ideal time to start questioning every rule and pushing every boundary.
Draco wonders if it would be more reassuring if Scorpius actually threw these supposed tantrums, rather than reading books and sleeping.
Fresh air might improve Scorpius’s wellbeing, he thinks, and they settle into a routine: one walk in the morning, after breakfast, and one in the evening. Scorpius accepts the prescribed exercise without question and, for the first few weeks, drifts after Draco like an unhappy raincloud. However, one month after his mother's funeral, during their morning walk through the manor gardens, Scorpius's attention is caught by a pale blue butterfly flitting past. He watches the butterfly with a mesmerised expression.
"A Pearl-Studded Blue, if I'm not mistaken," Draco says, and Scorpius glances at him, looking startled. "Your grandmother was a devoted conservationist." A little-known fact about Narcissa, Draco thinks. She had a keen interest in local flora and fauna.
"My grandmother?" Scorpius reaches out and touches a flower near the butterfly, watching it carefully.
"My mother. Narcissa. She died before you were born." Of course, Scorpius already knew this, but six years is a long time, especially to a young child. Memories fade.
But Scorpius surprises him. "I remember." He pauses, then gives Draco a surreptitious look. "Did she have grey eyes too?"
"No. Her eyes were blue."
The butterfly flits briefly past a flower and lands on Scorpius's hand. Scorpius's eyes widen and he glances up at Draco again. "Look," he says.
Draco smiles. He's never been one to smile much, but he can't help it. The moment transports him to another place, another time, when he carried a happy child on his shoulders as butterflies rose in swarms around them.
The butterfly flits away again, but Scorpius doesn't seem too disappointed. He watches it disappear into the distance, his expression reflective. And as they make their way back to the manor, passing beneath the rows of elm trees, he looks at Draco as if he's trying to figure out something. Or remember something.
Draco waits for him to speak but, as ever, Scorpius seems to prefer to remain silent.
On the seventh week of Scorpius's return (of course it's the seventh week, Draco thinks; seven is a lucky number), Scorpius asks tentatively if Draco drinks coffee. They're sitting at the breakfast table after their walk — Scorpius nibbling at a piece of dry toast, as ever, and Draco leisurely sipping at a cup of tea — when Scorpius poses the question.
"What?" Draco, taken by surprise, doesn't really have an eloquent response.
"Nothing," Scorpius says, his gaze immediately dropping.
Draco frowns and lets the silence settle between them. He looks down at his cup of tea, watching the steam idly curl through the air, and suddenly remembers Astoria's habit of drinking coffee.
"Tea," Draco says. Scorpius glances up again. "Peppermint tea. Would you like a cup?"
Scorpius considers that for a while. "Is it nice?" he asks uncertainly.
Draco frowns and studies his son. "What did you normally have for breakfast?"
Scorpius is looking anxious now, as if worried he'll supply the wrong answer. "Nothing. Just... toast."
"Just dry toast?" Draco isn't pleased. Astoria never bothered much with her diet — she got far too thin as their marriage deteriorated and gave food little thought, too caught up in her anxieties. Still, he thought she would have put a bit more thought into Scorpius's needs. "What about lunch and dinner?"
Scorpius's anxiety seems to worsen. "I...I don't know," he says. "Mum always forgot to buy groceries." After a moment he adds, almost defensively, "She tried to remember. She wrote lists and stuck them on the fridge."
Draco says nothing, although he can feel his expression tightening with disapproval. But Scorpius clearly loved his mother and Draco is certainly not about to criticise her, especially so soon after her death. He nods at the house-elf; it disappears and returns shortly afterwards with another cup of tea for Scorpius.
Scorpius picks up the cup, looking a little uncertain, and takes a sip. After a moment, he gives Draco a hesitant look. "It's nice," he says.
And somehow, of all the things in the world, it's food that makes everything just a little better. Draco has never particularly bothered with food. The house-elves serve it; if it's black and tastes like charcoal then it's been cooked too long, if it jumps off Draco's plate and runs about the room then it hasn't been cooked enough. That's about it in terms of Draco's knowledge of food.
But Scorpius — who has thus far seemed to have quite a listless attitude towards everything — begins to show an affinity for mealtimes. Perhaps he's coping better with the loss of his mother now, or perhaps he feels a little less reserved around Draco. Either way, Draco's grateful for Scorpius's newfound interest. At breakfast times, Scorpius begins trying every single available spread: honey, ten different types of jam, marmalade, marmite — every shiny jar that catches his attention. The house-elves — two elderly ones gifted from Astoria's mother as a wedding present so many years ago — are only too delighted at the voracious appetite and quiet appreciation of their new master and soon, all sorts of things start making appearances at the breakfast table. Stacks of steaming-hot pancakes, piled high and dolloped with cream and fresh strawberries; crumpets with lashings of rich butter; mugs of hot chocolate piled with plump marshmallows; porridge sprinkled with cinnamon and nutmeg. Scorpius tries it all and the house-elves positively dote on him.
But at the end of each breakfast, he always has one cup of peppermint tea.
Draco receives a small parcel towards the end of August. Attached is an apologetic note from a Law Enforcement officer, stating that due to 'miscommunication' (Draco reads that as 'we forgot'), the parcel had been delayed in its delivery. It contains, evidently, Scorpius's possessions gathered from the Cardiff flat. He hands the parcel to Scorpius at the breakfast table as Scorpius is halfway through an almond croissant.
"What's this?" Scorpius asks apprehensively, putting the croissant down and accepting the parcel.
Scorpius frowns and opens it, slowly tearing the paper away. There's a few clothes within, and a comb, a toothbrush, a few library books. Scorpius chews his lip anxiously. "I borrowed these from the Cardiff library," he says, looking up at Draco. "How will I return them?"
"I can do that."
There's little else within the parcel. A few toys, some stationary and school notebooks. There's a piece of homework — Draco catches a glimpse of neat rows of sums — and Scorpius's anxiety intensifies. "I didn't hand that in."
"I'm sure it's fine."
Scorpius doesn't seem too reassured. He slowly neatens the contents of the parcel, stacking them into a tidy pile, and gazes unhappily down at his plate. Draco has the unsettling feeling that he's supposed to be having one of those heartfelt talks that other parents apparently undertake without effort.
"Do you miss your mother?" Draco asks at last, inwardly wincing at how awkward the words sound. "We can go to Cardiff."
"Why? She's not there."
Draco, taken aback by Scorpius's reply, decides to take the less courageous choice and change subjects. "I see they forgot your wand," he says, looking at the neat pile of belongings. "Careless of them."
Scorpius's head jerks up. He stares at Draco. "What wand?"
"The wand your mother purchased for you," Draco explains patiently. "When you received your letter."
"Your Hogwarts letter." Dread slowly coils in Draco's heart. "You should have received it on your eleventh birthday. The fifteenth of November..."
Several expressions flicker over Scorpius's face. Then — "I don't have a wand."
"Well," Draco says briskly. "We'll go to Diagon Alley tomorrow and buy one. Along with the rest of your Hogwarts things. You'll need new robes, of course, and a potions kit. A cauldron, and a telescope. We'll go to Flourish and Blotts, too, and I'll ask what the set books are."
Scorpius face lights up very briefly at the mention of books, and Draco glances at the library books on the table. Of course, Scorpius has spent quite a lot of time reading, and Draco should have realised.
Food and books. Well, it's a start. But he's slowly beginning to know his son now, and the unfamiliar parts of Scorpius are gradually melting away.
At the end of the meal, Scorpius has his usual mug of peppermint tea.
They go to Diagon Alley the next day. Scorpius watches everything with eyes as wide as saucers. They go to the apothecary first, buying the potions ingredients, and then to Madam Malkin's to purchase Scorpius's robes. The years have softened the harsh views of the war, and the orphans and veterans have long since grown up and had their own children, a new generation. Gone is the vitriolic hatred, although Draco still gets scowls and sneers from passers-by. Draco is glad, if only to spare Scorpius the same treatment he received so many years ago.
In Flourish and Blotts, Scorpius is completely enchanted by the books and quickly disappears between the rows of shelves. Any book that catches his eye, Draco adds to the stack: books on oceanography, botany, the history of goblins, an ancient tome on wandlore, a few stories about adventures both magical and Muggle, an encyclopaedia on dragons — it seems Scorpius's appetite for knowledge and stories has no limits. Quite some time later — laden with their purchases — they leave the bookstore and, at Draco's suggestion, make their way to Ollivander's.
If he's honest with himself, Draco is quite uncomfortable with the idea of meeting Ollivander again. He still remembers how Ollivander's luminescent eyes gleamed in the darkness of the cellar of Malfoy Manor. So it's with much relief that he opens the shop door and finds himself facing Ollivander's son. Still quite awkward, he thinks — no doubt Ollivander's son knows exactly who he is and what he's done — but both of them are cordial to the other and neither make any reference to the past. Ollivander studies Scorpius intently for a moment, makes some measurements, and nods.
"Walnut," Ollivander says decisively. "A walnut wand nearly always finds its match with one of high intelligence."
Scorpius looks slightly embarrassed by the remark, but he accepts the wand offered by Ollivander and gives it a small, shy swish. There's a graceful twinkle of pale blue lights, barely visible, but Draco is pleased.
"First try," he says approvingly, but Ollivander has a reflective look on his face.
"Not quite," he says slowly. "Not quite. Perhaps something a little more...challenging. Something allowing for creativity."
Ollivander offers a yew wand next, but that doesn't agree with Scorpius at all; it emits a loud pop that sends Scorpius stumbling backwards. Ollivander gives a disappointed shake of his head and retrieves the wand.
"A miscalculation on my behalf. I apologise," he says, but Scorpius still looks shaken. The next wand, Draco thinks. Third time's the charm, as they say. Draco tried two wands before finding his own, if he recalls correctly. They'll find a match soon enough.
But half an hour later, Draco is beginning to feel just a little worried. He tries not to show it, standing with his arms crossed and a manufactured expression of casual impatience upon his face. Ollivander is now solidly ignoring the wands within easy reach, delving further and further into the dusty shadows of the shop. Wand-boxes and tissue paper litter the floor. A short chestnut wand, a springy red oak, an ash one with a rare phoenix feather — Scorpius has tried a wide variety of wands now and yet none have chosen him. He stands in the middle of the shop, looking utterly dejected. Particularly for someone who keeps getting compliments, Draco thinks critically. Walnut for high intelligence, ash for courage, elm for elegance and dignity — yet for all Ollivander's listing of Scorpius's apparent graces, Scorpius looks more and more miserable with each wand. When he starts trying the more rare wands — wood from a pear tree, core of an extinct dragon's heartstring, lengths ranging from oddly short to dramatically long — Draco frowns and steps closer to Ollivander.
"Is it normal to take this long to find a wand?" he mutters as Scorpius swishes a very nice ebony wand through the air, the black handle inlaid with gold. The wand emits an odd hissing noise, like a very angry Kneazle, and Scorpius hurriedly sets it aside.
"All in good time, Mr Malfoy," Ollivander says and Draco resists the urge to childishly scowl. He hates people who speak in proverbs.
Scorpius tries another wand, this time a highly unusual pine wand with a unicorn hair core. The wand doesn't respond at all, whether via beautiful sparks or angry hisses, and Scorpius looks so utterly defeated that Draco immediately goes to him and places a hand on his shoulder.
"Sometimes the perfect match takes a while to find," he says. Scorpius looks at the floor and says nothing. Ollivander — standing a few steps away, studying Scorpius with a look of deep contemplation, suddenly nods decisively.
"Might I have a word with your son?" he asks Draco, and Draco frowns but steps away, watching with slight mistrust as Ollivander leans down and asks Scorpius something. Scorpius listens intently, then looks at Draco, looks away, and whispers something in return. "Ah," Ollivander says, straightening up again. "I should have known, but I'm afraid I'm yet to master my father's skill of matching wands with their masters." He turns and disappears into yet another shadowy aisle and this time doesn't return for some time. When he does reappear, he's holding a very dusty box.
"What's that?" Draco says, suspicious at the thought of Scorpius receiving some sort of mysterious wand heavy with ancient magic...that's most certainly asking for Potter-esque adventures and Draco won't be having with that sort of thing.
"Your son's wand," Ollivander says, removing the lid of the box and revealing, to Draco's relief, a very ordinary-looking wand. It's of medium length, slender, the wood a pale gold, the same colour as sunlight on an autumn morning. Elegant, Draco supposes, in its own minimalistic way. No elaborate carvings or inlaid gold, no ivory handle or engraved patterns. "My father made this wand some time ago. An uncommon wand — wood of a fir tree, phoenix feather core. This wand requires a very special owner. A mind sharp and bright as a sword, a keen intellect and curiosity. A wizard with great strength of both heart and mind, for the fir tree is one of the most resilient trees and will grow through both fierce summers and deep snowfall."
Draco, despite himself, is quite impressed with Ollivander's speech, though — skeptical as ever — he's not sure whether Ollivander speaks true or whether he's aiming to make an exceptional sale. Either way, Scorpius looks anything but awed. He stares at the wand, then looks down at his feet.
"I don't think it's for me, then," he says very quietly.
"I beg to differ." Ollivander holds out the box, waiting. The wand, nestled within, looks very unassuming for all Ollivander's talk of special owners and uncommon traits. Scorpius hesitates, then reaches out and picks it up.
"Oh," he says. Just a soft, small oh, but Ollivander smiles.
"Yes," he says. "I thought it might have been waiting for you. Give it a swish."
Scorpius gives Draco an uncertain look. Draco nods and Scorpius lifts the wand, giving it a small wave. For a moment, nothing happens and Draco's hope finally disappears — he's not sure how much longer he can stand in this little dusty shop and watch his son miserably try wand after wand.
But then a golden bubble emerges from the tip of the wand, taking on the form of a beautiful koi fish with translucent fins and glittering scales. It drifts through the air, little golden bubbles trailing in its wake, and soon it's joined by a second, a third, a fourth, until silver and gold fish skim along dusty shelves and high ceilings.
"A beautiful and elegant charm," Ollivander says quietly. "Well suited, young Scorpius."
Scorpius, gazing at the fish, doesn't seem to hear him at first. But later on — when all the fish have disappeared and they're finalising the purchase — Scorpius speaks.
"It wasn't me. It was the wand."
"The wand and the wizard work together," Ollivander says, placing the wand-box into a little velvet bag.
"It wasn't me," Scorpius repeats, his voice so soft that Draco nearly misses it.
"It was both you and the wand," Draco says firmly. "Now come on, we've still got to buy your pet." He hopes the prospect of a pet will cheer Scorpius up.
It does. Even Scorpius — this boy without tantrums or fussy eating or any sort of usual childhood behaviour — can't resist the thrill of a new pet. Though he trails after Draco like an uncertain shadow, as ever, he becomes considerably less withdrawn as they walk into the Magical Menagerie and are greeted by the croaks of toads and frogs, the flap of a raven's wings, the soft slithering of snakes. Overhead, the owls hoot sleepily and Draco automatically searches for an eagle-owl among them. Lucius had been adamant that Draco would have an eagle-owl. Powerful, dignified, sleek. And the least suitable pet for an excitable eleven-year-old, Draco thinks. The temperamental creature had been little more than a feathered ball of rage and seething resentment, and Draco has far too many scars on his fingers from an owl that refused to suffer the indignity of sending letters.
Fortunately, Scorpius doesn't seem drawn to the beady-eyed eagle-owls; he gives them a cursory look, stares at their sharp beaks, and sensibly retreats when one of them hisses at him. A snowy owl edges close to Scorpius and he gives it a cautious pat before a raven flies down to land on his shoulder. Draco half-expects Scorpius to jump, startled, but Scorpius just gives the raven a scratch under its beak and walks onwards, the raven still perched on his shoulder.
There's an assortment of exotic toads — fire-bellies, natterjacks, and frost-crests — and golden-eyed frogs that hop from place to place. There's fire-crabs with beautiful bejewelled shells, and Kneazles rumbling their cages with loud, happy purring. Scorpius pauses by each one to give it due attention but seems content to move on. Until he spots a rat. A shop employee is holding it upside down, dangling it by its tail and ignoring its squeaking. Scorpius frowns, watching the man walk past, and then pauses before timidly reaching out and pulling the man's sleeve.
"Excuse me," he says. "You shouldn't hold them like that."
The employee looks around. "What? Oh, don't worry about this one." He gives the rat a little wiggle. "It's about to be Henry's dinner. Our acromantula."
Draco gives the employee a frosty look. Scorpius doesn't need to know that.
"You still shouldn't carry them like that," Scorpius says.
"It's fine. If you want a pet rat, we've got some very nice black ones. Specially imported."
Scorpius wavers, looking as if he wants to say something, but ultimately he closes his mouth and turns away, and Draco makes a split-second decision.
"I'll buy that one."
"Look, it's not a pet rat," the employee says with exasperation. "We've got very nice rats for sale. Specially bred so they've got the best traits for pets, nice soft fur and everything. This rat — these are just bred to be dinner. No quality checks."
"I'm buying it," Draco repeats.
"Look, go pick out something else for your kid. He's not getting this rat."
Draco levels the employee with a look. It's a very particular look, passed down through the generations of Malfoys, refined throughout the years. It's nothing as crass as a sneer or a scowl; just a subtle narrowing of the lips, a slight twist to the mouth, a certain look in the eyes.
"Is that so?" Draco says.
They walk into the bright sunlight of Diagon Alley, Scorpius holding a bedraggled little rat in his hands.
"Thought of a name for it?" Draco asks, rearranging their purchases and nearly dropping a bundle of robes.
"Pan," Scorpius says shyly. "After one of Saturn's moons."
"That's a good name." Draco grabs an escaping robe sleeve and stuffs it back into the bag. "Ready to go home?"
But summer is soon a season past. It's nearly autumn now. Autumn is a peculiar season, a moody season with strangeness in the air and hollow voices in the wind. The badgers will burrow into their setts, the ivy will deepen into a rich red, and in the gardens the pumpkins will fatten for harvest. On the last day of August, Scorpius arrives in Draco's study with a request for assistance in packing. Together, they fold robes and stack textbooks into the trunk. It's Draco's old trunk; he can still see his initials faintly stamped into the leather.
"We should get you a new trunk," he tells Scorpius.
"This one used to be mine." He taps his initials. Scorpius looks closer, studying the letters as if they hold some immeasurable secret. D.L.M.
"Draco," he says. "Draco Malfoy. What's the 'L' stand for?"
"Your grandfather, of course," Draco says with surprise. "Lucius."
"Can I visit him?"
"He's...he's overseas at the moment." More a calculated guess than an outright lie, Draco thinks. His father has most likely fled the country.
Draco folds another set of robes and places it aside. "I'll Floo to Diagon Alley and buy you a new trunk."
"It's okay. I like this one." Scorpius glances at the initials in the corner.
"Well, if you change your mind, come and get me."
But evidently, Scorpius doesn't change his mind. When they travel to Platform 9¾, it's with Draco's old trunk. The platform is full of noise and bustle and too many people. Scorpius seems very small suddenly. The other students look so much bigger and Draco is terrified for him.
"Well," he says, trying to muster up a calm tone of voice, "I'll see you at Christmas."
Scorpius nods. The train whistle blows and there's a slight pause before Scorpius leans forward and gives Draco the briefest of hugs. Then he takes his luggage and boards the train, a very brave expression on his face.
Draco, once again, watches his son disappear from sight.
James races along the platform, bright-eyed, fuelled by the thrill of his first real adventure. He's already said farewell to his father, enduring a slightly-clingy hug before wriggling away.
People gravitate towards him. They always have. He chatters to total strangers, he helps load luggage, he introduces himself so casually and speaks with such sincere frankness. He makes a new friend with every step he takes.
"James! Come sit with me!"
"Hey — aren't you the boy who helped with my luggage?"
"I wish I'd saved you a seat!"
"You're James Potter, aren't you? You can sit here!"
He laughs and smiles at them, nodding and shaking hands. But something compels him onwards. He's already instant friends with all these strangers. Who else is left to meet?
In the last compartment.
This is a boy who is unfamiliar to James.
He pops his head round the door. "Hello! Mind if I sit here?"
The other boy looks up. Blond hair, a pointed face. Grey eyes. He shakes his head.
"Brilliant, thanks," James says with his easy grace. He swings onto a seat and grins. "I'm James, by the way. Nice to meet you. Are you first year?"
The boy looks at him and says nothing.
"Cat got your tongue?" James asks cheekily. "Never mind. My dad says I talk too much sometimes." He laughs and looks out the window, waving furiously as the train gathers momentum and the platform disappears from sight. "Hey, here we go! There's my father, see him? Oh — he's gone already. Wow, we're already going fast. I guess that's why they call it the Hogwarts Express." James is bright-eyed with enthusiasm. "Have you got your school robes? Do you know what house you'll be in? I hope I'm in Hufflepuff, we have badgers at home and I think they're awesome."
The door slides open, interrupting James's monologue. A tall, thin girl looks in at them.
"Hello," she says, looking keenly at James. "Didn't I see you on the platform?"
"You're Jennifer," James replies, smiling. "You dropped your textbooks and I helped you pick them up."
"Oh, that's right!" She blushes. "I was just going to ask if you'd seen a red hat, I seem to have lost it — oh." She stops and stares at the other boy.
"What?" James asks.
"If I were you," she says, "I wouldn't be seen with him." She points. "That's Scorpius Malfoy. He's bad blood."
"Yes. They give us Purebloods a bad name. His father was a Death Eater." She shudders. "If you want to come sit with me — "
"Thanks, maybe later," James says cheerfully, unperturbed. The girl frowns and walks away, shutting the door again.
"She doesn't seem to like you," James laughs. "Anyway, I figured it out as soon as she said your name. Scorpius Malfoy. My dad said something, you know what it was?"
Scorpius shakes his head.
"He used to say there's a bit of good and bad in everyone." James looks at Scorpius expectantly. "So what say we'll be friends, and I'll figure out if there's more good than bad. Or vice versa." He grins. "Though if I were you, I wouldn't try anything. My uncles own the Weasley Wizarding Wheezes. It's true. See that trunk up there?"
Scorpius gives the trunk an obligatory glance.
"Think that's full of clothes? Think again. It's full of pranks and toys." James leans back with a satisfied grin. "It's going to be a good year."
The journey continues on. James chatters every now and again, showing off a toy or prank object that he pulls from his trunk. They're nearly at Hogsmeade when James jumps to his feet.
"Our robes, I nearly forgot!" He tugs his trunk open, rifling through the mess before finally producing a robe and wriggling into it. "See the blank crest?" He taps his chest. "When we're Sorted, it'll change into our house crest. How cool is that?"
Scorpius nods. James waits.
"Well? Aren't you going to put your robe on?"
Scorpius sits there for a moment, then at last he speaks. His voice is soft and raspy. "I don't think I'm a wizard."
James is surprised for a moment, then recovers. "Not a wizard? Didn't you get your letter?"
Scorpius stares at his feet. "I did, but my mum tore it up and said it was lies."
"Lies? Lies?" James is aghast. "The headmistress of Hogwarts — Professor Minerva McGonagall, who was at the Battle of Hogwarts and commanded a whole army of gargoyles and taught our parents everything they know — she sent you a letter specially to tell you that you can come to the greatest school in the world...and you think it's a lie?"
Scorpius stares at James. "I — I — "
"That's rubbish! Of course you're a wizard! Hogwarts is the best school and they don't pick anyone unless they're magic!" James points a finger theatrically at Scorpius. "Getting a letter from Hogwarts is the best thing that can ever happen to you, because as soon as you see it you realise you were magic all along. Now put your robes on."
Scorpius stares. He looks as though he's about to cry and James lowers his finger slightly. Then Scorpius's mouth twitches.
"I — I think I'm — I could be — a wizard," he says. James nods impatiently.
"Of course you are," he says as Scorpius opens his trunk and pulls out the black robes. He looks at them for a moment, then puts them on.
"There you go," James says, then grins and looks down at himself. "Look at us! We're proper wizards now."
And with those words, a great whistle pierces the air as the Hogwarts Express pulls into Hogsmeade.