James stares at the map, one hand propping his head up, the other tracing the footsteps of the caretaker, Grimble. That miserable old codger earned James his first detention last week.
Rain dances across the windows, but the Gryffindors gathered around the cheerful fireplace pay the weather little attention. They're still waving banners and flags around from the earlier Gryffindor and Hufflepuff match, loudly singing victory songs.
James looks across to the other side of the common room. There's Rose, having a game of Gobstones with one of her friends. She'll probably end up being Head Girl one day, he thinks a shade resentfully. Then she'll have even more reasons to tattle on him.
"Hey, James! Why are you hiding over there?" Martin calls out. James quickly rolls up the map.
"Not hiding, just trying to study," he lies glibly.
"James Potter? Studying? Have you got a fever or something?" Paul laughs.
"I know!" Martin says. "Let's go for a walk!"
Walk. Their code for mischief. James gives Rose a nervous glance. She's looking up from her Gobstones game, looking at him with her eyebrows raised.
"Yeah, maybe," he says at last.
"Oh, James doesn't know," Nate says suddenly. "We've invented a new game!"
"What new game?" James asks, feeling cross. He's usually the one with all the ideas.
"Martin came up with it. Whoever finds the biggest prat wins!" Nate produces a card with a flourish and James snatches it from him, studying it. It's neatly divided into twelve squares, each square with a little sentence written inside. Slytherin, says one. Hates Muggles, says another.
"What's that, hating Muggles?" Paul asks loudly. The common room quietens and James reddens as Rose turns to stare at him.
"Come on, Paul, we've told you about the war a million times before," Martin says with exasperation.
"Did you know that the Goyle family has killed a whole bunch of Muggles?" Nate chimes in. "That Garrett Goyle kid, his uncle's in Azkaban!"
"What's wrong with being a Pureblood? I don't remember writing that one down!" Martin frowns. "I'm a Pureblood."
"Ooh, look out! Martin's our first contender for the Biggest Prat award!"
They all laugh; Martin scowls.
"Anyway, I've got dibs on Malfoy," Nate says triumphantly. "I bet he'll tick nearly all these boxes. The rest of you will have to find your own prat."
"All right, I'll get Martin."
Laughter breaks out again. Martin crosses his arms and glares at them.
"So, what do you say?" Nate asks. "Start the game today? We've still got a few hours to kill before dinnertime."
"Let's go! I know a place where all those slimy Slytherins hang out."
"That's all right, we've got James and his map!"
They're all looking at him expectantly. James looks up and catches Rose's disapproving expression. Well, she can go sit in the corner and play Gobstones all day, he thinks. That's her. But he's James Potter, with a trunk full of the latest Wizarding Wheezes, and a magical map, and he's known as the king of adventures. Even if this game makes him just a little uncomfortable.
"All right," he says at last, grinning to show his friends that he's still the undisputed mischief-maker. "Let's go."
Martin and Paul jostle down the hallway, nudging each other and whispering.
"Where do you think the others are?"
"I don't know, but we'll definitely win. We've got the map!"
"I've got the map, you mean," James interrupts, still feeling a little annoyed. He glances down at the map and sees a trail of footsteps coming towards them. Scorpius Malfoy. "Look, there's Malfoy. We can tick a few boxes now."
"Steady on, that's not how it's played. You've got to ask him."
"All right, wait a minute — "
But Martin's grabbed the map from James's hands; he eagerly races down the corridor, Paul and James quickly running after him. By the time they've rounded the corner, Martin is standing beside Scorpius. Scorpius is huddled close to the wall, staring down at his feet.
"Look, it's Malfoy," Martin says, giving them a conspiratorial grin and nudging Scorpius in the ribs. "Hey, Malfoy. Want a chocolate frog?"
Scorpius gives Martin a distrustful look and says nothing.
"What's the matter with you? Did someone cast a lip-sealing curse on you?" Paul joins in. "Don't you like making friends?"
Scorpius shakes his head mutely and tries to edge towards a gap between Paul and Martin. The two boys quickly close in.
"Look at him, like a terrified little rat!" Martin laughs. "We only want to ask a quick question. No need to run off and tattle on us."
"I won't tattle," Scorpius says at last, looking at James.
"We're playing a game," James says, feeling as if he's somehow expected to say something. "Just a stupid game, really."
"Find the Nicest Slytherin, that's what the game's called," Martin says; Paul sniggers.
"But I'm not a Slytherin." Scorpius casts a longing look to the end of the corridor and tries to step away. Martin reaches out and pushes him lightly.
"Hold on, we're trying to have a conversation here. Didn't your mum ever teach you manners?"
"Let's just ask the question and go," James interrupts, suddenly certain he's hearing footsteps. "If I get another detention — "
"All right, calm down. So, Malfoy. On average, how many Muggles would you say your father has killed?"
Scorpius flinches. James looks around, agitated.
"Somebody's coming, I can hear them!" he says. "Give my map back, Martin!"
"So what? We're not doing anything wrong! McGonagall can't give us detention for just talking to other students!"
"Give my map back!" James snatches his map from Martin's hands. "I need to see — "
"Let go! I never get to hold it!"
"It's my map!"
"Ugh!" Martin staggers backwards; there's an enormous ripping noise and the map falls to the ground, torn in two. Martin stares down at it. "I'm sorry!" he says quickly. "I was going to give it back, I just wanted more time...you just had to wait…"
Scorpius takes advantage of the distraction and slips between the boys, fleeing along the corridor. James stares after him, then looks down at the map. Paul looks anxiously at James, then at Martin.
"We can fix it, James," he says nervously. "Don't worry. I'm sure there's a spell…"
"Yes. I'll fix it for you, it was my fault," Martin offers, looking regretful.
James picks up the pieces, not looking at either of his friends.
"I'll fix it," he says.
He's always been good at fixing things.
Draco opens his eyes. For a moment, he's disoriented and fear suddenly grips his heart. Has the Dark Lord sent for him? Has he missed a summoning?
Draco's eyes adjust to the darkness. Weak dawn light, grey and wintry, is creeping between the heavy drapes, illuminating the gloomy room. Overhead, the hunter-green canopy is thick with dust.
It's still too early for breakfast and besides, Hooky isn't holding a tea-tray. She's staring at him as if awaiting instruction.
"What is it?" he says, voice still thick with sleep. The dreamless potion has left him feeling groggy and slow to react.
"Master," Hooky repeats, seeming nervous. "Haggly is being ill."
House-elves are never ill, Draco thinks. Their magic makes it easy for them to recover in a heartbeat from common colds and troublesome maladies.
"Ill?" Draco repeats, but Hooky doesn't reply to that. She stands politely, head bowed, as if awaiting dismissal. Draco stands up, the stone icy against his feet. Have the heating spells disintegrated again?
He walks to the western wing, down the stairs intended for servants to use. Through the empty kitchen that had once been bustling with house-elves and servants serving the generations of Malfoys. Finally, by the little servants' quarters next to the kitchen, he finds Haggly. On the rug before the small hearth, the house-elf lies with his eyes wide open, staring unseeingly at the ceiling. His skin is a strange mottled colour.
He died some time in the night, Draco would guess.
A long, rasping noise. Draco turns. Hooky is dragging a longsword over the stone floor.
"No," he says at once.
"It is tradition," Hooky says. "Haggly will join the past servants of the Malfoy family. It is being his greatest honour."
Draco looks down at the shrivelled body of Haggly, nausea rising as he imagines swinging the longsword down, the cold and clotted blood slowly seeping out as Haggly's head rolls away. Then it would be stuffed and mounted on the wall, alongside the neat rows of the heads of past house-elves who had grown too elderly to carry the tea-tray.
"Some traditions," Draco says at last, "can be broken."
"It is considered an honour."
"I am a Malfoy," Draco says, his voice quiet but nevertheless carrying in the small room. "And I'm giving you an order. Return the sword."
Hooky nods. "Yes, master." She turns without pause, the long rasp of the sword slowly fading with her footsteps.
Draco stands alone in the room for a long time, thinking.
He can't ask Hooky to do it. She's as old as Haggly, if not older; her tiny wizened face and shaking hands make it too pitiful to ask her to dig the grave. But on the other hand — a Malfoy, digging a grave for a house-elf? It seems rather undignified, and he can only imagine the expression on his father's face if he could see his son performing menial labour.
In the end, he solves the issue by consulting one of his mother's charms books and performing a spell to lift earth from the ground. Of course, the book — entitled 300 Charms for Your Rose Garden — certainly didn't intend for the spell to be used to create graves.
And two days later, he dismisses Hooky. Both house-elves had been a gift from Astoria's mother; they had served the Greengrass family well over the years, she claimed, and while Draco had no doubt they had been loyal servants, they seemed to have a listless ambivalence when they arrived at the Malfoy estate. Hooky, particularly, had adored Astoria's mother and there had been many unhappy tears at the departure. And now, after the death of Haggly, he wakes up in the middle of the night and can hear the subdued sobbing echoing throughout the dusty rooms and washing up against closed doors like a tide of endless misery.
So he tells her to return to her former owner.
She gratefully leaves.
The wards go off again the next day, but no house-elf appears to alert Draco. He turns away from the window, a copy of 300 Charms for Your Rose Garden in one hand. From the window, he can see his mother's prized gardens becoming an overgrown mess. Herbology has never been his forte, however, and the book is proving very dull. He sets it aside and begins the long descent to the entranceway, pulling open both of the imposing doors to reveal a bedraggled and displeased-looking Harry Potter.
"Finally," Harry says, pushing past Draco. Draco frowns and looks pointedly at the trail of rainwater Harry's cloak is leaving behind. Harry doesn't seem to notice; he removes the cloak and leaves it haphazardly on a coat hook, where it continues to drip water into a gradually-deepening puddle.
"Do come in," Draco says sarcastically.
"It's freezing in here, Malfoy! What are you, a vampire? Light a fire." Without pausing for response, Harry strides into the front parlour room, then immediately strides back out. "We're not having the meeting in there, there's no hearth." He turns to the other side of the entrance hall and rattles the set of double-doors. "What's in here?"
Draco says nothing for a long moment. Then he speaks coolly. "The drawing room, Potter. I thought you would have remembered that."
Harry pauses for a moment, then turns back to the front parlour. "I suppose I'll do a heating spell, then," he says, his tone implying this is some great favour that will take an enormous amount of time and energy. Contrary to this, he makes a few quick waves of his wand and the room begins to feel pleasantly warm. Harry sits on the chaise, as he did last time, and produces the file for which Draco has developed an innate hatred.
"Right. Now, just to confirm your address details — "
"Malfoy Manor. You'll note that my surname is also 'Malfoy'. This is not a coincidence, Potter, but an indication that this is a centuries-old estate and I will always live here."
"You might want to do some renovations then, starting with some good heating. Though at this point, it'd probably be easier just to raze the whole place and start again," Harry says crushingly.
"This is a heritage-listed property," Draco retorts, his face heating with anger. Harry opens his mouth, looks at Draco and apparently changes his mind about something.
"Contact details confirmed," he says instead. "Now, I'll need access to your Floo Network."
"Duly noted, but as your officer I will require an emergency mode of communication with you."
"Send an owl."
"Emergency, Malfoy. Unless we're talking about a very special owl that can teleport itself across space and time — "
"Fine," Draco snaps. "I will allow this."
Once more, Harry opens his mouth, looks at Draco and appears to change his mind. "Right," he says instead. "Fetch me that house-elf, Haggly. I want to ask some more questions."
"You can't. I'm afraid he's deceased."
Harry looks at him for a very long time, in a calculating way that makes Draco feel acutely uncomfortable. "Cause of death?" he asks at last.
"Old age. I told you, that thing was a million years old."
"That thing? Do you, by any chance, mean the living creature that served you loyally?"
"Yes, Potter," Draco says bad-temperedly. "Now, are we going to sit here and argue over semantics, or finish this meeting?"
"Where's that other house-elf, then?" Harry says, ignoring him. "You mentioned another house-elf."
"Hooky. She is no longer in my service."
"They both died?"
"I freed her from my service," Draco says coldly, "and asked her to return to her former master. Astoria's mother. They're very fond of each other."
Harry says nothing to that, just looks at Draco for a moment before scribbling a few notes into the file. Draco waits silently, turning to gaze out the window; the only noise is the quill scratching across parchment.
"Well," Harry says at last, "have you made your list of possible contributions to the Muggle community? Money can be useful, but isn't it much more meaningful to give of yourself? Some time, some energy?"
"How right you are." Draco doesn't turn from the window. "I'll go down to the village and personally shake each Muggle's hand in a gesture of goodwill and non-murderous intentions."
"If you don't have any serious suggestions, I'll certainly be able to find something suitable," Harry says, his tone a little dangerous, but Draco isn't particularly intimidated. These days, he's got very little left to lose. "Now, your wand," Harry adds, and Draco turns to toss it to him.
"Eleven spells," Harry notes, writing something in his file. "Eight heating charms, a gardening spell, and...two spells associated with potions. Stirring a cauldron, perhaps? Malfoy, are you brewing potions?"
Damn it. Draco hadn't thought about those spells showing up. He considers his options. Lying won't do much good. Harry will demand to see the potions, no doubt, in that infuriatingly intrusive way of his.
"A potion to assist with sleep," he says at last.
"Where are these potions kept? You are to tell your officer of all magical activity including potion brewery — "
"I'm telling you now, aren't I?"
Harry gives him a look and stands up. Draco reluctantly leads the way through the musty hallways, down the service stairs, and into the cellar. Harry doesn't seem to like it much, for he lights his wand very brightly and looks over his shoulder constantly.
"These are the potions."
Harry raises his wand, casting light over the dusty shelves. A spider crawls slowly over the iron cauldron; a millipede makes its way across an open page of a book. Harry reaches for the book and Draco clenches his jaw as the wandlight clearly shows the title of the page: Dreamless Sleep Potion. He waits for a barrage of questions but Harry merely brushes the millipede away and closes the book before turning his attention to the potions.
"These are highly advanced," Harry says with a frown, reaching out and taking a bottle. "Very advanced. You'd have to be a professional potion-brewer..." He pauses, then speaks in a voice tinged with amazement. "Draught of Living Death...Moonseed Poison...Veritaserum? Malfoy, this a serious breach of the program!" He turns to Draco, looking furious. "You have five seconds to explain before I report you to the Ministry for practising Dark Arts. You shouldn't even be in possession of these potions, let alone brewing them!"
"They're not mine!" Draco snatches the bottle from Harry's hands.
"Where did you get them from, then?" Harry demands. "Some little shady shop in Knockturn Alley? You are not allowed within five feet of any store known to stock Dark objects or provide Dark magic — "
"I didn't buy them! They were — they were given to me." The words are wrenched reluctantly from Draco. He does not want to mention his godfather, not in front of the unbearably self-righteous Harry Potter. The potions had been Severus's final gift to Draco.
There's a long silence. Harry stares at the bottles, then at Draco, then back at the bottles.
"I see," he says at last. He turns away then.
"Are you going to report me?" Draco asks, unable to stop himself from asking the question. He needs to know. Probationary notes are one thing — little slaps on the wrist, adding a month or so to the program — but more serious incidents result in a breach of conduct, the consequences of which can range from anything to community service to incarceration, depending on the severity of the incident.
"I don't know," Harry says at last. "I'll think about it."
They leave the cellar and Harry departs silently, collecting his cloak and leaving without farewell.
Draco waits a long moment, then walks to Scorpius's room. Without the house-elves, the dust is gathering on the covers. There's a faint indentation in the pillow where Scorpius's head had last lain. Draco sits on the edge of the bed until the sun sets and the room is cast into darkness.
That night, the wind rattles the windows and shakes the panes, as if an unhappy spirit is trying to get in.
Or get out.
Harry sits in his study and listens to the wind howl outside, sending piles of leaves rushing along the porch steps. Although winter is nearly on his doorstep, the house is pleasantly warm. In the kitchen, the hearth-fire is dying down to ashy coals, but the heating spells keep the rooms comfortable.
Ten o'clock. Time for his singular neat scotch.
He doesn't move, however.
In front of him is Draco's file.
With little else to occupy his time, Harry had dedicated himself to catching Draco out. Once a Death Eater, always a Death Eater. That's Harry's personal motto in his role as an Auror.
Networking tends to be the most important aspect of practising Dark Arts. People can't get far unless they have colleagues, peers, mentors. Someone to help them along. But Draco's network has proved pitifully thin. Pansy Parkinson, Harry had discovered through careful investigation, visited infrequently. Once a month or less. But she had little to do with Voldemort in the past, and presently she has even less in common with Voldemort supporters. She works as a 'fashion correspondent' for Witch Weekly, Harry has discovered, and is engaged to a Muggleborn wizard working for the Department of Magical Games and Sports.
There's Gregory Goyle, of course, but since Draco had declined the wedding invitation, there has been no observed correspondence between them.
And there Draco's network ends. No friends, no family. Only this Scorpius, apparently Draco's son. Harry hasn't seen any pictures or portraits of Scorpius in the manor, and privately he thinks poorly of Draco as a father. Fancy a small child growing up in that terrifying place, with locked doors and damp cellars, with fraying carpets and the decapitated heads of past house-elves lining dark and musty hallways.
Then there's Astoria Greengrass.
Harry has looked at all her relatives, of course, hunting around for the merest implication of a Voldemort supporter, but the Greengrass family proved to be exceptionally dull. Beyond looking for links to Voldemort, he hasn't bothered wasting time on researching the woman herself. The notes from the previous officer note that she divorced Draco years ago, and now the word 'deceased' is scrawled next to her name.
Deceased. That single word, repeated next to the lists of Draco's family and friends. However, someone has been overlooked. Harry slowly picks up his quill and writes.
Name: Severus Snape (deceased)
Relationship to client: Godfather
Known allegiances: Order of the Phoenix.
Another deceased to add to Draco's long list.
Harry sits back, staring at the file.
He'll have his scotch now.
James finishes his detention at half-eight, his hands numb and aching. It's freezing here, in Professor Sinistra's office, but she doesn't seem to notice. Too busy poring over her star-maps and rearranging a set of astrolabes.
"I've finished putting the books in order," he says. She frowns and draws a neat line on a map. "I've finished," James repeats, louder this time, and she looks up, startled.
"Hmm? Oh, you're still here. Well, I hope you've learned an important lesson about using ink-pellets in class. I played those sorts of pranks when I was a young girl — honestly, by now there should be rather more creative tricks." She frowns. "But that's certainly not a challenge, James Potter. Now, off you go."
"Yes, professor." He dutifully leaves and closes the door behind him. Sinistra has already returned to her maps.
He walks slowly down the corridor, feeling displeased. It's not fair — it was all that Philip Appleton's idea, the ink-pellets, and James had just sort of gone along with it. But Appleton hadn't been caught, only James.
Thin moonlight filters through the stained-glass windows lining the long corridor. The Astronomy Tower is completely deserted at this time of the evening — everyone else will be in their common rooms, chattering away. His friends will no doubt be eagerly awaiting his return, wanting him to share the next adventure. James puts his hands in his pockets, wishing he'd brought a pair of gloves or a scarf with him, and slouches along lost in thought until he sees Scorpius Malfoy up ahead.
"Hey — Scorpius!" he calls out. Scorpius looks back at him, startled, then turns and breaks into a run. James gives chase — for someone of a small stature, Scorpius can certainly move fast. Eventually, however, James catches up and grabs ahold of his arm.
"Hey, wait up! Look, I just wanted to say I'm sorry about the other day."
Scorpius says nothing, just stares at the ground, and James lets go of his arm.
"I really am," James says. "I feel terrible about the whole thing, honestly. Martin and Paul — those other boys — they were just sort of having a lark, and it all got a bit out of hand. They shouldn't have asked you those stupid questions."
Scorpius still says nothing. James feels a bit lost, having said his piece, and looks at the ground too.
"Well," he says at last, "I just wanted to, you know. Say sorry and all that. I'll see you round, yeah?"
Scorpius speaks at last. "I'm sorry about your map."
James blinks in surprise, confused for a moment. Then realisation dawns. "Oh! That. Well, it wasn't your fault, was it?"
"Have you fixed it?" Scorpius looks up at last, meeting James's eyes.
"Well...no. Not yet. But I'm working on it," James adds quickly. "Almost got it figured out, I reckon."
"Yeah, of course!"
There's a long silence. James's shoulders slump; he withdraws the pieces of map from his pocket.
"I tried Reparo," he says miserably, "but it didn't work. I've wrecked it. That was my grandfather's map, you know. My dad...that was one of the last things he owned that belonged to his father. He doesn't even know I've got the map, I sneaked it out of his study drawer." He can't bear to think of the look on Harry's face when he explains that the map is forever broken, and he quickly brushes a sleeve across his face.
Scorpius hesitates before speaking. "I know how to fix it."
James looks up. "You do?" he asks.
"Yes. Follow me."
James hurries to keep up as Scorpius sets off, leading him through a maze of corridors and down many flights of stairs. At last, they're in a familiar corridor.
"Limens," Scorpius says, his voice startlingly clear and crisp. He taps his wand four times and the portal appears in the stone, allowing him through.
James steps into the room; he turns around to watch the portal quickly melt away again. When he turns back around to face Scorpius, his mouth drops open.
"Wow! This place is amazing! What did you do to it?"
Scorpius shrugs. James looks around, staring at the star-studded ceiling, then slowly reaches out and touches a tiny meteor whizzing past his ear. Around his feet, strands of glowing grass sway like seaweed.
"It's incredible! Did you do all this yourself?"
Scorpius hesitates, then nods.
"Are you serious? This is like — I mean, you must really know your magic! Wow, look!" James points to the ceiling; drifts of colour-changing clouds slowly dissolve, revealing nine moons, each in a different lunar phase. He looks across at Scorpius — he's looking almost as if he might smile.
"You think it's good?" he asks quietly.
James laughs, a loud and genuine laugh that makes the glowing grass vibrate around him. "It's brilliant! This is my new favourite place!"
Scorpius does smile then, a quick and shy smile that's gone almost as soon as it has appeared. "Look," he says, holding out James's map. James walks over, picking his way between clusters of glowing stars and planets with rings rolling around them.
The map is working again, James sees. As if nothing ever happened to it. His eyes widen.
"When did you fix that?"
"It's not me. It's the room. It's magic." But there's something about Scorpius's face — a smile hiding in the corner of his mouth — that makes James laugh.
"Liar! Come on, you have to tell me. How'd you fix it?"
"It's a secret."
James pulls a face at him. "Fine, then. Well, I'd better return to my common room. Thanks for fixing the map," he adds. Scorpius nods and draws his wand out, once more creating a portal with a careful gesture and an accompanying 'Limens'.
James pauses before leaving. "Listen, Scorpius. Would it be all right if I came back here again?" He spots Scorpius's expression and hurries to clarify himself. "I mean, just by myself. I won't tell anyone, I promise. I just thought...I mean, it's a pretty cool room, and maybe you could show me how you managed to make all those moons…"
Scorpius hesitates for a long moment. "All right," he says at last. "But...not your other friends. They're not allowed."
"All right." James nods and grins, leaping away from the quickly-encroaching stone, and finds himself standing in the corridor again.
He gives a little nod to himself and walks away, feeling quite pleased with himself.
But evidently, other people aren't sharing his happiness. When James returns to the Gryffindor tower a few nights later, after yet another detention, he's greeted by loud cheers.
"What's all this, then?" he laughs as Martin stands and mock-bows to him.
"Your tenth detention this year! I think that calls for celebration."
"And that was your best prank yet," Paul eagerly adds.
"Prank?" James asks blankly. He'd accidentally knocked a few Billywigs into a fellow student's cauldron during Potions, resulting in it exploding.
"Sabotaging Stuart Sinclair's potion, of course," Paul says.
"Sounds like I missed a classic James moment," a voice says from behind them. James jumps, then turns to look at Rose.
"It's nothing," he mutters to her. "Just a potion went wrong."
"Went wrong? It exploded!" Martin starts laughing. "Earned both James and Sinclair a whole week of detentions!"
James edges away from his friends as they make jokes and impersonate Slughorn shouting. Rose is glaring at him, her arms crossed, no doubt about to deliver a lecture.
"Is this true?" she snaps. "You're playing stupid pranks on people? I'm warning you, James, I'm going to write home telling Mum that you're being mean — "
"I am not!" James is scandalised. "It was an accident, thanks very much. Besides, I went to Slughorn after class and explained that it was all my fault. He agreed to cancel the rest of the detentions."
"What, yours as well as Sinclair's?"
"Yeah, he said it was very mature of me to own up and accept the blame." James grins, but Rose looks even sterner, if possible.
"You've changed a lot since you've been here, James Potter. All your stupid friends, egging you on...you think they actually like you? You're Harry Potter's son! That's the only reason they're always laughing at your stupid jokes and telling you how brilliant you are — "
"You take that back!" James can feel a red flush creeping up his neck. "You're just jealous. Hardly anybody even knows your last name is Weasley! You just hide away in the corner, being boring — "
"That's because I don't want people to know who I am!" Rose hisses. "So that people don't treat me differently. Slughorn's not cancelling your detentions because you're mature, it's because your surname happens to be Potter!"
"Oh, right. That's the reason. It's not because someone's called me mature for once, instead of you!" He turns and leaves then, feeling angry. Why does Rose have to ruin everything? Always scowling in the corner like a grumpy old Kneazle.
"Hey, James! Got your map working again?" one of his friends calls out.
"We can sneak to the kitchens and have a midnight feast!" Paul adds, to a chorus of agreement.
James smiles, feeling a little better.
Rose is wrong. He's got plenty of friends.
Draco stands in the overgrown rose gardens. The gardener used to visit twice a week to maintain the grounds, but the rose garden had always been his mother's area of expertise. In the heart of summer, when the nights were warm and the crickets sung relentlessly, a hundred rare roses bloomed into perfection.
Now, the petals wilt and fall; there's a thick blanket of rotting roses across the stone paths. Unruly thorns curl around statues and spread like disease, strangling the more delicate plants. Black beetles crawl in and out of dead rose heads.
Draco raises his wand and tries again, 300 Charms for Your Rose Garden held precariously in his other hand.
Nothing. A petal slowly drifts down, spiralling away to join the others rotting away.
He tries using different infliction; he analyses the wand movement as if he's about to take an exam for it. And yet, if the 'Forever Summer' charm is working, there's no hint of it in the icy gardens with its dead branches scratching at the overcast sky.
The wards vibrate.
Damn it. He'd forgotten about the Wizards Under Watch meeting. He snaps the book closed and makes his way through the gardens, past the unruly hedge maze (which has, at this point, developed a Doxy infestation and has become more a death trap than a quaint maze), and approaches the porch steps. He's annoyed to see the familiar figure of Harry standing there. He still hasn't given up hope that Harry will finally get sick of the entire business and reassign Draco's case to someone else.
"Potter." Draco pushes past and opens the front doors, setting the book down on a hall table and casting a quick Scourgify over his robes. He's spent most of the morning trying to tame the overgrown gardens and he's irritated that Harry's arrived now, when Draco's robes are torn from thorns and branches, accompanied by dirt under his fingernails. No doubt Harry will have some snide remark about Malfoys and menial labour. He looks up, expecting to find Harry staring suspiciously and asking nosy questions. However, he's already disappeared into the front parlour and when Draco walks into the room, he finds him pacing around. It only serves to irritate Draco further; if Harry's about to suddenly announce that he's formally filed a breach of conduct or something similar, Draco wishes he'd just say it.
"Right." As if reading Draco's mind, Harry suddenly sits down on the chaise as per usual and opens the file. "First, contact details."
Every week. Draco misses his previous officers. They didn't particularly care, just checked his wand for any Dark spells, asked a few token questions and left. But Harry is insufferably thorough, always going exactly by the book.
"So, have your contact details changed?"
"No." Draco's given up on sarcastic responses. He just wants the meeting done already.
"Right. Now, have you had contact with any known Voldemort supporters?"
"Sent any owls?"
"Right. Your wand, then."
Draco raises his eyebrows, handing his wand over without remark. Evidently, Harry wants to complete the meeting equally quickly. His usual barrage of questions are conspicuously absent.
"Twenty-two spells. Eleven of them are incomplete...you were practising something?"
Harry begins to scribble a note. Then he stops, stares down at the file, looks at Draco, and then stares back down at the file. Then he speaks.
"What's the point?"
"What?" Draco's unnerved by the non sequitur. "The point of what, Potter?"
"This. Everything. I mean, if you're really going to go and murder Muggles or form a pro-Voldemort group or go around calling people Mudbloods — well, how is this supposed to stop that? What, I sit here and list gardening charms, for Merlin's sake? I mean, what's the point?"
"Is that a rhetorical question?"
"No. No, it is not. Malfoy, tell me. How exactly has this program convinced you that Muggleborns are not inferior?"
Draco can't figure out if it's a trap or not. He chooses his words carefully.
"I've participated in the program."
"That's not what I asked. How, exactly, has this program transformed you into a tolerant citizen?"
Draco can suddenly see exactly where Harry is headed, and he clenches his fists.
"You self-righteous prat." He speaks low and quiet, but the anger vibrates in his voice. "If you're looking for reasons to extend the program again, just do it. Another year, another five, another ten, what does it matter to you? But don't expect me to sit here and make up reasons why. That's your job."
He waits, but Harry doesn't fly into one of his typical rages. He just sits there, staring at Draco.
"I'll see you next week, Malfoy," Harry says at last.
That's certainly not what Draco had been expecting.
"Leaving already?" he asks curtly, covering up his surprise.
"Wait a minute," Draco says sharply. "Did you file a formal breach? For the potions?"
Harry pauses. "No," he says, and with that he grabs his cloak and strides away. Draco listens to the front doors slam shut.
He slowly sinks onto the chaise.
A rose petal, caught on Draco's sleeve, gently drifts onto the dusty floorboards.
Harry paces around his house.
Winter is truly settling in now. The chill winds rattle the windows and the rain is beginning to harden into icy sleet. Harry strengthens the heating spells and lights the kitchen hearth every morning but somehow the coldness seeps in, creeping under doors and around windows.
He hadn't handled the meeting very well, he thinks. Draco had, for the most part, seemed completely bewildered, and Harry can't particularly blame him. He'd tried to seem disinterested, but he kept thinking about the file that arrived that morning. Having exhausted all other avenues of investigation, Harry had turned his attention to the final stack of papers: Draco's legal record.
The first few pages had been typical. Five informal warnings were filed throughout Draco's childhood — nothing major. Accidentally setting off a Caterwauling Charm; performing accidental magic in front of a Muggle. There was a long gap, however, during Draco's time at Hogwarts. RECORDS PURGED, a declaration said, and Harry had frowned in annoyance. No doubt Lucius's status and money had made any little indiscretions disappear.
No such luck after the war, however, when Lucius infamously vanished one week before his trial, leaving his wife and son to face the consequences alone. No informal warnings here: Draco's trial had been documented in factual detail. Wizengamot — the high court. Crimes against humanity. Harry had skimmed through the legal notes, already knowing the outcome. But then, however, he'd read the restrictions placed on Draco and wondered if Azkaban wouldn't have been worse after all. All magic monitored for the next five years (more years added at some point for apparent breaches of conduct); all correspondence to be seized by his probation officer; his wand confiscated for one year; not, under any circumstances, to leave England until deemed non-dangerous.
But after all that, there had still been another foot of parchment left to read.
Harry had felt slightly guilty before reading it. They were confidential legal records, and unlike Draco's very public Wizengamot trial, a divorce was no doubt highly personal and of little relevance to Harry's role as program officer.
He had read it.
He'd only gotten a few sentences in before he could feel the bitterness rising like a poisonous vapour from the parchment. Scorpius Malfoy, it seems, had been stuck in a long and resentful custody battle that had eventually made its way to the family courts. A Healer noted that Astoria suffered crippling depression and was prone to bouts of anxiety and feelings of hopelessness; Astoria noted that Draco had become withdrawn and moody throughout their marriage.
And then, for the first time since reading through the scroll, Harry had felt something more than slight boredom and indifference.
Anger. Just one single sentence, but it inspired such anger.
Full custody granted to Astoria Greengrass.
In his mind, Harry had seen James's smiling face, imprinted over a thousand memories — celebrating birthdays and Christmases, Harry teaching him how to ride a broom, his first visit to Diagon Alley, James's face lighting up when he saw the wand shop and said one day, Dad, you can teach me all the spells.
If anyone had dared take James from him, dared suggested Harry was an unfit father, he would have fought them to the end of the earth. He would have given up everything for his son. And nobody, not even Draco, deserves to know how it feels to lose a child. And therein was the final end of the legal file: a neat list of appeals. Draco appealed the judge's decision no less than seven times; each time, the appeal was dismissed and on the seventh occasion, Draco was warned not to waste court resources on another appeal or he'd face legal consequences.
And thusly, it was with this knowledge that Harry attended the meeting with Draco. And now, hours afterwards, as he paces around his own home, the doubt seeps into his mind again.
Maybe the program, much like the decision of the family courts judge, isn't really about justice. Maybe it's about revenge.
Harry pauses in his endless pacing, stopping in the middle of the living room. No. Hermione created that program herself, and Harry helped implement it. It had been designed to encourage and celebrate diversity, not…
Hold a person hostage.
Not physically, of course, but it's been fifteen years and Draco is still monitored, still restricted, still answerable to a very long list of rules. The threat of Azkaban must be hanging over his head like a thundercloud. All he needs is a particularly serious breach of conduct and he'll have Azkaban. He'll lose his son.
An owl taps on the window and Harry jumps. He tugs the window sash open and unties the letter from the ruffled owl, surprised to see the Hogwarts seal on the letter. His reservation gives way to faint confusion as he opens it, revealing a progress report. He doesn't recall having these when he was at Hogwarts. Then again, perhaps the Dursleys received it every year and simply threw it out.
Harry reads the report, his expression growing steadily more concerned. James isn't failing every class, but he's not exactly excelling at anything. A very mediocre line of Acceptables, and three failing grades — a Poor grade for Potions and Herbology and, much to Harry's disbelief, a Poor for Charms.
Charms! It's the most basic subject. Nearly all magic can be traced back to a solid foundation in Charms. And James is failing it by a wide margin.
He sets the letter down. His first response is anger — he knows James is far better than this, he's displayed a natural aptitude for magic and has always been a quick learner — and the only excuse he can think of is that James is being lazy and not applying himself. Or perhaps he's caught up in the excitement of his first year, too busy having adventures and larking about in class…
Harry sits down again, trying to think of how he might write a letter to James without being overbearing or full of lectures about the importance of education.
He picks up his quill, disappointment slowly weighting his heart.
Nevertheless, his Auror work still demands his attention. The Head Auror, Williamson, calls Harry into his office the next day.
"Enjoying your break?" he asks.
Not particularly. "Yes, sir."
They speak of an upcoming operation for a while, the major one that nearly every senior Auror has their eye on, but Williamson strongly hints that Harry has already been chosen to lead it. Harry would have been happy to leave the conversation there, but then Williamson mentions Draco's case.
"You know why he's been on the program for years, don't you?" he asks Harry.
Harry bites back several suggestions, the word punishment balancing on the tip of his tongue. "Lucius," he guesses instead.
"Yes. It's been fifteen years, and we're running out of excuses to keep Malfoy supervised. But if anyone can find out Lucius's location, Potter, I know it will be you."
Harry isn't feeling particularly optimistic about that, but he nods anyway, and thusly it's with an apprehensive feeling that he visits the manor the following week. Draco takes a long time to answer the door, Harry thinks. When he finally appears, there's dark circles beneath his eyes and he looks slightly disoriented, as though he just woke — even though it's noon. Problems sleeping, Malfoy?
"Malfoy," Harry says by way of greeting. Draco just gives a tired shrug and opens the door a little wider. Harry steps inside. Well, if he's going to find Lucius Malfoy, he needs to do a lot more than sit in the front parlour and write down gardening spells. "Mind if I look around?" he asks, trying to force a tone of civility into his voice, although he knows that he's allowed to raid the manor whenever he chooses. Still, he'll give Draco the polite illusion of choice. He needs him on side.
Draco clearly knows he doesn't have a choice. "Go ahead," he says flatly, standing back and crossing his arms.
Harry skips over the drawing room; he doesn't need any more nightmares. He heads straight up the stairs and turns left, expecting Draco to follow him around. People don't like allowing others full and unsupervised access to their home, Harry's quickly learned in his time as an Auror. But Draco remains downstairs. When Harry looks over the balustrade he sees Draco leaning against a wall in the entrance hall, staring into space.
He frowns and heads down the hallway, half-wishing Draco actually had accompanied him. The manor is full of dead ends and confusing rooms; doors that look like they should open into rooms are actually closets and vice versa, and once Harry ends up nearly falling down a set of hidden stairs behind a linen closet. He investigates the stairs but discovers they're simply a set of service steps leading to the servant's quarters and the kitchen.
The rooms are depressingly empty with only some pieces of furniture remaining — a dark and imposing wardrobe, a dresser with a pixie infestation that Harry briefly has to subdue. The manor is beginning to remind him of Grimmauld Place. There's a number of bedrooms with heavy ebony furniture, the disused beds heavy with dust. Harry finds a bedroom with clean covers and it takes him a full five minutes to realise he's in Draco's room. There's nothing else giving away its occupant; no books, no pictures, no possessions at all. Harry only realises it's Draco's room when he opens the wardrobe and finds a neat row of clothes. He hurriedly closes the wardrobe again, feeling somewhat awkward. Going through Draco's possessions just feels weird.
Nevertheless, it's his chance to look for any clues. A letter, perhaps, or some other form of correspondence. But it's as if Draco's erasing his life. The bedside table is completely empty besides two books: one about gardening charms, the other about cleaning spells. The gardening book has an inscription in the front: To my darling Narcissa — may your roses grow as beautiful as you. Although there's no signature, Harry knows it's from Lucius Malfoy and he shifts uncomfortably at the idea that he's reading such a personal message.
In the next drawer of the bedside table, there's a broken quill, a hair comb, and a tax record regarding the Malfoy estate — and that's it. The rest of the room is eerily empty. He leaves and continues his exploration. The final room is a smaller bedroom that — finally — has some semblance to a normal room. The walls are painted a refreshing cream colour, the curtains are tied back, and there's a clatter of cheerful objects on the bedside table — books on natural history, a collection of rocks and pressed flowers, a couple of Chocolate Frog cards, an unopened packet of sweets. The dresser is filled with child-sized clothes and it doesn't take much guesswork to assume the room belongs to Scorpius Malfoy. In the bedside table drawer, there's a photograph of Draco holding a toddler-aged Scorpius. Harry picks up the photograph, watching its subjects move around. Draco smiles and picks up his son, holding him upside-down, and Scorpius laughs helplessly as his father pretends to drop him. When Draco puts him back on solid ground, Scorpius raises his arms to his father and Harry can almost hear him saying up, up! It reminds him so strongly of James that he quickly puts the photograph down and shuts the drawer with a loud snap.
Harry jumps and whips around. Draco is leaning against the doorframe, an unreadable look in his grey eyes.
"How long were you standing there?" Harry demands, trying to cover his embarrassment.
"A few minutes." He regards Harry for a long moment, then turns away and begins walking down the hallway. Harry waits a moment before following him.
"You've got a pixie infestation in one of the guest rooms," Harry says after a long moment, desperate to kill the uncomfortable silence. "You should really take care of that." Along with the rising damp, the moth-eaten carpets, the cracked ceilings…
Draco doesn't respond. Harry takes his cue and remains silent until they've reached the front parlour room again. Draco takes his usual spot, standing by the window and waiting. Harry sits uncomfortably on the chaise, feeling lost. Asking the routine questions seems pointless, and he's acutely aware of his main goal: Lucius's location. He tries to think of subtle ways to frame the question. So...any idea where your father ran away to? I'm asking for a friend. They want to send flowers. He suddenly becomes aware of Draco staring at him, waiting, and quickly blurts out the first thought that comes into his head.
"Your son, he'd be about James's age, wouldn't he?"
He almost winces as he hears himself say it. Draco changes his gaze to the window, not moving.
"I don't recall," he says at last, "my contract requiring me to answer any questions about my son."
Harry bites back a retort, reminding himself Scorpius is probably a sensitive subject and he really should have avoided it. To his surprise, however, Draco turns away from the window after another long silence and speaks reluctantly.
"Oh. My son."
"Oh." Draco looks surprised and Harry thinks it's worth it just to see him finally drop that annoyingly apathetic expression. "I forget that you're married."
"Yes. To Ginny."
"The Weaslette? Is — " Draco suddenly falls silent, and Harry can almost see the realisation. Ginny's death had been all over the papers for weeks. No doubt Draco has only just remembered.
Silence reigns again. To Harry's surprise, it's once again Draco who speaks first.
"Your son. How old is he?"
"Well, yes, then."
"Yes to what?"
"Yes, he's the same age as my son."
"Oh." Harry, desperately looking around the room as if it will present a magical escape from the incredibly awkward conversation, suddenly spots Draco's wand and quickly stands up. "Your wand, I should be checking it."
"What? Oh." Draco hands it over. Harry murmurs the incantation and studies the ghosts of the spells past. A whole range of spells, he sees, many incomplete or repeated consecutively, indicating practice. Mostly domestic cleaning spells or gardening ones, although there's a few charms associated with potions. Harry frowns.
"Are you brewing potions again?"
Harry considers that for a long moment. Draco's not allowed to brew potions. Then again, Harry's lost a lot of faith in the program.
"Well," he allows, "as long as it's nothing restricted."
Draco nods. With that, Harry decides, he can probably reasonably escape the meeting now.
"Well, I'll visit next week, usual time." He stands up. Draco, clearly equally relieved to end the stilted conversation, quickly moves towards the doors and shows Harry out.
Harry makes his way down the driveway, only too grateful to reach the end of the Malfoy property and quickly Disapparate. He thinks he'd actually prefer their earlier meetings, full of snide remarks and sullenness, to that awkward silence and very forced civility.
But if he wants Lucius's location, he's going to have to work hard at this.
After all, everything has a price.
James stumbles and falls, sprawling face-first into the gently glowing grass. He rolls onto his back and laughs.
"No fair! You can't use tripping jinxes!"
Across the room, Scorpius weaves between spinning planets and tiny meteors. Overhead, a moon blossoms into a lunar flower, petals slowly falling from it and floating gently to the ground.
"I win," Scorpius says breathlessly, arriving at the finishing line: a tree lined with a variety of berries.
"Only just." James stands up, brushing himself off, and seizes a strawberry from the tree. It disappears in his hands as he tries to take a bite and Scorpius smiles.
"I told you, none of it is real."
"It feels real." James runs a hand through the broad leaves of the tree.
It's the fifth time he's visited this room now, and it's still his favourite place. Scorpius seems to know a million charms and how to use them, and he generously shares them with James. In fact, the first time James saw a genuine smile from Scorpius, it was when he was showing James how to create one of the moons floating across the ceiling above. James accidentally created a giant currant bun and nearly flattened himself with it, which amused Scorpius no end.
"Looking forward to Potions class tomorrow?" James asks, idly catching one of the tiny meteors.
"Potions is the only class I'm bad at," Scorpius confides, pausing to give Pan a scratch as she pokes her head out of his pocket. James had been very jealous to discover Scorpius had a pet rat. Maybe, James thinks, he can convince Harry to buy him a pet for his birthday. An iguana would be cool.
"So what if you're bad at Potions?" James says, returning his thoughts to the conversation. "You're well advanced in everything else. Which reminds me, I need your notes from Defence."
"I didn't take notes."
"Liar! I saw you scribbling like mad all class."
Scorpius looks hesitant. James tilts his head, grinning.
"Don't tell me, you were drawing pictures of Quidditch players? That's what I do in Defence. Do you have a favourite team?"
"Not really," Scorpius says uncertainly.
"That's all right. I don't have one either."
Somewhere in the distance, a bell tolls midnight and James glances out the windows, seeing the moon high and clear in the sky.
"We should probably go," he says.
"All right." Scorpius creates the portal and they both slip out of the room; Scorpius turns left, James turns right.
"See you tomorrow," James calls softly. Scorpius is already slipping away into the shadows.
James's trip back to the common room is uneventful. However, as soon as he steps through the portrait hole — invisibility cloak safely removed and hidden from the prying eyes of his friends — he's set upon by Martin and Paul.
"Where were you?"
"You've been going off on a lot of adventures by yourself, it's not fair!"
James shrugs. "Just went to say hello to a friend."
"What, from another house?"
"What's wrong with that?" James yawns and heads towards the dormitory stairs. Martin scowls.
"Nothing, as long as they're not a stupid Slytherin."
"Well, they're not, so calm down. I'm off to bed. We've got Transfiguration first thing tomorrow."
"Next time, we're all coming with you! It's been ages since I've had the map!" Paul calls after him.
"Yeah, okay." He disappears into the dormitory, grateful they're not following him at least. He likes having so many friends, but sometimes it gets a bit much. Someone's always wanting attention. Even the upper years trail him around excitedly. That's Harry Potter's son…
He goes to the washroom and brushes his teeth, looking at his reflection in the mirror. The unruly shock of black hair is certainly his father's, as is his straight nose and narrow jawline. His eyes, however, are the same precise shade of brown as his mother's. See, you don't even look like Dad, James tells himself. Rose is wrong, anyway. His friends don't care whose son he is.
He changes into his pyjamas and goes to bed, falling asleep almost at once.
James yawns his way through Transfiguration, narrowly avoiding a detention from a wrathful McGonagall, but by the time he's made his way to Potions he's beginning to focus a little more. Paul and Martin are at the front of the classroom, both giving him grins and clearly awaiting his presence. He begins to walk towards them when someone speaks up.
"I saved you a seat." Scorpius speaks so softly that James isn't sure he heard him at first. He pauses and looks around, spotting Scorpius two rows behind him.
"Oh, I didn't even see you there." James swings into the empty seat and opens his textbook. "Get back to the Ravenclaw tower all right, then? I don't know how you do it. I've nearly been caught loads of times, and I've got my cloak."
"There's plenty of tapestries you can hide behind, and if you're nice to the portraits, they won't tell on you."
"Oh, really? I've already made a few enemies, then. There's a goblin on the seventh floor that hates me, he always shouts for a professor if he sees me out of bed." James quietens as Slughorn calls the class to attention and begins explaining the potion.
They work on the potion throughout the lesson, and by the end they have successfully produced a Calming Draught. Slughorn gives them both an approving nod and an Excellent.
"Highest mark yet!" James grins at Scorpius. "We make an all right team, don't we?"
The class wraps up and they file out of the room. As James turns into the hallway, Nate grabs him and roughly spins him around. Martin and Paul stand beside him, both looking at James with their arms crossed. Scorpius waits just behind James, as if uncertain whether to leave or not.
"What are you doing sitting with him?" Nate demands, inclining his head towards Scorpius.
"What, you mean Scorpius?" James shifts uncomfortably, wishing Scorpius had left already.
"His dad's a Death Eater, remember? He tortured your dad's friends."
They all turn. Scorpius spoke quietly, eyes trained on the ground, but Nate glares as if he spat at him.
"Did you say something?" he asks abruptly. Scorpius remains silent for a long moment, then speaks again, still not lifting his gaze.
"He didn't. It was Bellatrix Lestrange — "
"You've got some nerve," Martin interrupts, "defending your Death Eater father!"
"Yeah, I think you owe James an apology," Nate adds.
"All right, calm down," James says quickly. "We should really get going or we'll miss lunch."
"I'm not going anywhere until he apologises!"
"Well, I'm starved," James says doggedly, "and I'm going to lunch. You can stand around arguing if you want." He begins walking away and after a beat, Martin and Paul join him. James hears a series of dull thumps; when he turns around, Nate is hurrying to catch up. Behind him, Scorpius is kneeling and picking up his scattered textbooks. James turns quickly around again before Scorpius can catch his eye.
"You didn't have to do that, Nate," James mutters. "I don't know why you've got to be like that sometimes."
"I thought you, of all people, would understand," Nate retorts. "My father was Muggleborn. The Ministry imprisoned him during the war, did you know that? Seized all his money and his house. Lucius Malfoy himself authorised it. When my father was released, he had nothing." He brushes a sleeve quickly across his face. "It's not fair. Families like Malfoy's, they're the ones who should be paying."
James shifts uncomfortably, unsure how to respond. Nate saves him the awkwardness; he hurries ahead and disappears into the crowd ahead.
"If I were you," Martin says, clapping a hand on James's shoulder, "I'd stop hanging around Malfoy."
"Right." James picks at a frayed thread on his sleeve. "Thanks for the advice."
"No problem. See you in the Great Hall for lunch." Martin hurries ahead.
James stands alone in the corridor for a long moment.