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Astra Inclinant

Chapter Text

But everything dies, even the stars. After all, it is their destiny to collapse.


They stand silently upon the hill, staring out into the rain illuminated silver against the darkening afternoon. The girl is holding a bouquet of wilting flowers, the delicate yellow petals tearing under the heavy weight of water.

The boy holds nothing, not even her hand.

She speaks. "Aren't you going to ask me?"

"Ask you what?"

"To marry you."

The boy gazes down at the endless train tracks, the silent and solemn crowds waiting. They're a black blur. Black for mourning. Their faces gleam.

"No."

The girl turns to him sharply, petals falling like confetti. Anger radiates from her trembling hands, her mouth small and hurt.

"Nobody else is going to marry you. Who wants to marry a Death Eater?"

The boy says nothing, although his face tightens subtly as if a door has slammed shut somewhere in his mind. He turns from her and strides away.

"Stop! I'm sorry! I didn't mean it!" She gives chase, dropping her flowers, but it's too late even as she calls his name across the valley. "Draco! Come back!"

Around the corner, the scarlet train sounds its horn. The students neither cheer nor hurry. They simply line the platforms like winter-worn ghosts, their faces heavy with strange burdens.

On the hill, the yellow flowers lay crushed into mud.


And the taillights fade to black.

That's what he remembered most. The taillights fading. It was raining that day, everything just a blur of dull colours. The dark slate of rain on asphalt. The brown buildings, the miserable faces. The red of the car lights as they faded into the distance.

He was seventeen years old. They put him on a chair in the middle of an enormous room. The stern faces gazed upon him as his crimes were read out. He could hear his mother weeping.

War profiteering. Accessory to murder, unlawful imprisonment, torture, persecution of any identifiable group, enforced disappearances of persons.

War crimes.

Crimes against humanity.

It was hard to see. He blinked a lot. The silent faces lined the room. Most of them were expressionless. Watching. Waiting.

It all looked so dramatic in the papers: Evidence Seized! Death Eaters Caught! The Victims, The Terror, The Justice! But it was just days of dry paper and muted whispering, of people clearing their throat, and him, sitting in that chair, waiting and waiting and waiting.

Justice wasn't particularly grand or spectacular. He had an excellent lawyer who spoke sorrowfully of his young and malleable mind, of the manipulations and blackmail he suffered through. It worked. He looked pathetically young and frightened, sitting alone in the centre of the room. He received a light sentence compared to the other Death Eaters. Compulsory enrolment in a pro-Muggle program. A list of conditions as long as his arm. No wand for a year. Supervised magic. Monitoring. Not to leave the country.

No; he wasn't given justice in the courtroom. Not in that enormous, dark room with its walls of expressionless faces. It looked a lot like justice — very serious, very intimidating — and you could be forgiven for thinking that the Wizengamot gave Draco Malfoy justice that day.

But, you see, he committed crimes against humanity.

And so humanity had to commit crimes against him.


The first started with the exclusion. Just as Draco had helped in separating the Muggleborns from the Purebloods, so the wizards and witches helped in excluding him from their kind. He heard the mutterings, saw the pointed fingers, the sneers and jeers and disgusted expressions. He grew to hate Diagon Alley, the shopkeepers who refused him service, the customers who scurried away.

And just as Draco had watched Voldemort murder their loved ones, so did the wizards and witches murder his. His father disappeared soon after the Battle of Hogwarts, effectively escaping justice; his mother, unable to cope with the family's fall from grace and her husband's unexplained absence, soon grew frail and small until one day her body just gave up.

And just as Draco had allowed the futures of the Muggleborns to be taken away, so did they take his. No witch would have him, no witch would touch him.

Except Astoria Greengrass. His saving grace. He remembered her from Hogwarts as a pretty and high-spirited girl, and when she began courting him he was ecstatic. A chance. Somebody was giving him a chance. He could marry and even have a family.

Of course, even this happiness was short-lived. Astoria's parents made no secret of their disapproval of the engagement, and in retrospect Draco thinks maybe they were right to hate him. Because Astoria, so happy and carefree in their early days of courtship, soon grew small and exhausted, worn away by her association with a Malfoy. To Draco, the whispered insults and contemptuous expressions were familiar, a daily routine. But to Astoria — the graceful daughter of the respectable Greengrass family — it was a nightmare. At first she was upset, dissolving into tears after being refused service in Diagon Alley or being spat upon as she walked through the Leaky Cauldron. And at first, she was consoled by Draco's assurance that it would get better But soon enough, anger began to overtake her bewildered hurt: anger at the shopkeepers, anger at the wizards and witches who treated her with such disdain, anger at everyone. Her family urged her to leave Draco; she argued bitterly with them and whenever she visited her mother, she came back in a state of despair. After one particularly volatile argument — the insults flying between Draco and Astoria, their raised voices echoing around the rooms of the manor — Astoria brought up Draco's old assurance of 'it gets better'. And, in an icy tone eerily reminiscent of a furious Lucius Malfoy, he elaborated: he never meant it stopped, just that it became easier to deal with.

And then, just as they were on the cusp of a monumental break-up, Astoria discovered she was pregnant. Certain judgements about family arrangements were still rife in the Pureblood community and Astoria's parents, horrified by the prospect of a child born from wedlock, were quick to rush Draco and Astoria into marriage.

They had a son, Scorpius, and they both promised each other they would try to patch things up, try to be better. And just for a moment, when Draco first held his son in his arms, it was all perfect.

But the crimes…

Draco withdrew from the world when Scorpius was five years and eight months old. Humanity finally paid him back. Humanity finally struck him down and considered its justice done.

Despite their promises of a better relationship for Scorpius's sake, it became apparent that neither of them were happy. Astoria genuinely tried. But the stress of it all — the angry wizards and witches, her furious family, the exhaustion of motherhood — it soon wore away the smiling Astoria he'd once fallen in love with. The arguments built up and crashed over and over, a ceaseless tide of bitterness: the way Draco never communicated with Astoria, just sat there stony-faced, or the way Astoria grew anxious over every little thing, or a thousand other little habits and flaws and mistakes.

One week before Draco's twenty-eighth birthday, Astoria declared Scorpius would never be a part of the wizarding world. Never, she said, would he ever know the hatred and resentment and long-held grudges that plagued the Malfoys. She would protect Scorpius from everything. If his Hogwarts letter ever came, she would tear it up.

Two weeks later, Draco served Astoria with divorce papers. A long and bitter legal battle ensued, both of them demanding sole custody of Scorpius.

Yes. That was where the real justice was meted out. In a very different courtroom to the one in which Draco had sat so many years ago as a terrified seventeen year old.

The family courts judge had looked at Draco. Draco knew him. He was a Muggleborn. His sister had been killed during Voldemort's purge.

Astoria was granted full custody of Scorpius. Draco was given Christmas and birthday visitation rights.

But this was his son. He had never known what it felt like to love something so much he'd die for it — until his son was born. And so he tried. Appeal after appeal. And he tried desperately to patch things up with Astoria. Some days, she was adamant that Draco wouldn't see Scorpius, alternating between tears and anger at the prospect of Scorpius ever being a part of the wizarding world. Other days, she seemed uncertain, a little lost, and miserably agreed it would be best to have some time to herself. Draco treasured those days. He would visit Astoria, leave with Scorpius, and spend the whole day with his son. They would go to the park, or to the zoo, and Scorpius would always request to spend just one more day with him. Just one more day.

But no. Scorpius always had to return to his mother's care at the end of the day.

And, six months after the divorce had been granted, Draco spent a fine summer day with his son. They visited a local park — Scorpius endlessly enjoying the playground — and afterwards, they went for a walk past the flowerbeds and rows of elm trees. Scorpius, complaining of tired legs, sat atop Draco's shoulders and became mesmerised by the hundreds of butterflies that flew around them. Can we come here again tomorrow? he asked.

We'll see, Draco said, and Scorpius — evidently placated by the answer — said his goodbyes at the end of the day without too much fuss.

It was the last memory Draco would have of Scorpius as a young child.

The following day, Astoria owled Draco a letter stating that she would soon be moving to a new address. Draco wasn't surprised. He wondered how it took this long for Astoria to tire of living with her constantly critical mother. Two days later he sent an owl, but it came back with the message undelivered and when he tried using the Floo network it wasn't connected. He went to the new address she'd given, but it turned out to be a decrepit ruin on the edge of some forsaken Cornish coastline. He asked her friends, but they had no idea. Astoria's mother — that purse-lipped, disapproving woman — had given him a long look and told him that Astoria had said she was simply moving away.

He searched everywhere. Hired private investigators, both magical and Muggle, but nothing had come of that. The Department of Magical Law Enforcement hadn't cared in the slightest. She's got full custody, hasn't she? they said. Well, it's not abduction. Draco had wanted to hit the officer who said that; hit him with an Unforgivable.

He never gave up searching and, nearly six years after Astoria's disappearance, he received a visit from a nervous Law Enforcement wizard.

They had received reports of a young child performing underage magic in a small flat in Cardiff. Upon investigation, they had found an eleven-year-old boy who told them his name was Scorpius Malfoy.

Draco remembered an old quote he had seen somewhere, words that somebody had scrawled onto a piece of paper.

There's no justice; there's just us.


And just as those who are undeserving must be punished, those who are honest and kind will be given their reward.

Harry had the crowds but they were smiling, grateful; he had the whispers and pointed fingers but they were accompanied by the words hero and savior. He had two best friends who didn't call him a hero, they hit him over the head instead and had long, lazy conversations about stupid things, and he loved them for it.

He had Ginny, with her red hair and bright eyes, and they had one son. James. They lived in an old farmhouse with gables on the roof and an enormous garden with hedges and fields and a swing that Harry had built himself, a swing from the highest branch of an ancient oak tree. In the winter, the fields were heavy with mist and frost and in the summer, they had strawberries and raspberries, and Ginny would go berry-picking with James or Harry would take him down to the river for trout fishing.

And he was happy, so happy.

For a while.


Ginny's death was neither quick nor unexpected. Perhaps it would have been better if it were. But the truth of it — the bitter, bitter truth — was that all the symptoms were there. Ginny ignored them. Harry brushed them off. But the symptoms were there.

It started soon after James's second birthday. Ginny was tired. Well, of course she was. She had just received a promotion at work — Quidditch correspondent for The Daily Prophet — and it required a lot of travelling. Probably still getting used to the workload, she told Harry confidently. She'd feel better soon.

She didn't. Months went by and Ginny always seemed a little tired, a little worn down. Well, perfectly understandable. Still getting used to travelling again, and there were a few bad colds going around — just Ginny's luck, they agreed wryly, that she would somehow catch one cold after another.

Somehow, it became a normal part of their lives. How did that happen? Later, Harry would look back with the agony of hindsight. They always left parties early because Ginny was tired, she always slept in — sometimes past noon — on weekends, and she began reducing her work hours.

James's third birthday. They had a party. Nothing fancy, just a little celebration. Birthday cake and all the usual relatives, the doting aunts and uncles. Hermione and Ron bought young Rose over to play with her cousin, and Andromeda was there, of course, with Teddy. He fussed over James, playing games and telling him fanciful stories about an octopus that supposedly lived under the house. James — very taken by the idea of a majestic octopus living beneath his home — was absolutely enchanted and devotedly followed Teddy around for the rest of the day.

At the end of the day, as they farewelled the last of the guests and tidied up the streamers and torn wrapping paper, Harry commented on how much James clearly adored Teddy. And Ginny said, with a little half-smile, that perhaps James would have a younger sibling soon, someone else to adore.

Of course, nothing was official. But she'd lost her appetite lately, and she'd started feeling a little nauseous too. Her stomach seemed to be growing a little. If she was already showing, she was probably already a few months along.

Harry could not have been happier. James — well, James hadn't really been planned. But they'd made room for him in their lives anyway, anxious and worried though they had been. But they were both settled now, further along in their respective careers, and both of them had expressed a desire to give James a little sister or brother. Ginny took a pregnancy test the next day — a cheap potions kit one, leftover from her pregnancy with James — and they were certain of the result. All the signs were there. The test was merely a formality.

Negative.

They both frowned over it, puzzled and disappointed. Ginny bought another kit on her way home from work two days later and tried it again.

Negative.

She went through three more tests that week before conceding defeat and going to their local Healer's office. The Healer's tests were far more accurate, after all, and would clear up any confusion.

Negative.

But it was wrong, she told the Healer adamantly. She was feeling tired, she could hardly eat anything, she felt nauseous all the time, and her abdomen felt swollen. The Healer did a few routine health checks — a blood pressure spell, a few questions about diet and exercise, an update on Ginny's medical history — but seemed quite cheerful and unconcerned. Could be anything, they said. Might be a flu, possibly a bad cold. They gave her a few Pepper-Up potions and told her to return in a week or so if she didn't feel better.

She didn't feel better. Harry didn't feel better. He was heavy with disappointment. Ginny, so certain she was pregnant, was left confused and unhappy. At last, one month later, she returned to the Healer complaining of abdominal pain. An appointment was made with St Mungo's for a body-scanning spell. Just to make sure, the Healer said offhandedly, and Ginny told Harry she felt bad for making a fuss over nothing.

Because, right up until they returned to the Healer's office one week later for the results, they were both so sure it was still nothing. Right until they saw the Healer's pale face. Right until the other staff in the Healer's office avoided them, wouldn't look them in the eyes as they walked in. Right until the Healer sat them down and explained, very carefully, that Ginny had ovarian carcinoma. Malignant growths. They avoided using the word cancer until the very end of the meeting.

It was…bad. At an advanced stage. Hard to believe it hadn't been previously diagnosed, they kept saying. They couldn't treat it, but they could manage it. The Healer had to explain this five times before Harry finally realised what they were saying. They couldn't save Ginny's life, but they could prolong it.

They tried.

All the usual spells and potions, all the typical magical medicine. They even looked into some of the Muggle treatments, but the Healers said Ginny was beyond surgery anyway, since the cancer had metastasised, and chemotherapy would produce the same results as the spells.

They wasted so much time on worry. Sleepless nights spent wondering when they should tell everyone else, Ginny in tears as she imagined her mother's reaction. Worst yet was James. Just a few weeks ago, they were excitedly thinking they would be giving him another sibling, a best friend. Now, they would have to explain to their three-year-old son that his mother would, in all likelihood, not live to see his next birthday.

And so much time wasted on anger, too. Arguing between themselves about how and when to tell James, or if Ginny should tell her parents without Harry there, or whether she should try the Muggle chemotherapy anyway. So many days wasted with Ginny not wanting to go to her appointments, or Harry finally breaking down because he was sick of it all and it just wasn't fair. And both of them trying so desperately to hide their sadness and anger and fear from each other, spending too many nights staring at the ceiling and locking themselves in the bathroom to cry silently.

All the books, all the stories Harry ever read, they all told him fairytales about slow deaths. Romantic stories of people determinedly spending their final months in a wild celebration of life, surrounded with friends and family, and spending their final days in peaceful acceptance. But Merlin help him, it wasn't like that at all. Just two people, both of them terrified and wasting so much energy trying to hide it, and James didn't really understand what was going on at all and just wanted to play with his toys and get free lollipops from the Healers, and Ginny hid in the bathroom sometimes when her family visited because she couldn't stand her mother's crying and her father's heavy sorrow.

Ginny went to St Mungo's on the seventh of January, nine months after her diagnosis. Harry packed her overnight bag, but he kept slowly adding more clothes, and books, and photographs of him and James, and then he realised he wasn't packing an overnight bag. He was putting the final remnants of their lives in a bag for a one-way trip to the hospital.

He was right. Ginny checked in that day, and that's where she stayed. She could have stayed at home, but that was the final argument she won. She would not have Healers coming in and out of their house, slowly transforming their beautiful family home into a clinical extension of the hospital. James would remember their home as a backdrop to the memories of his smiling, vibrant mother. Not a sterilised room with a thin stranger choking down bitter potions, a Healer casting endless spells over them. Maybe Harry could have argued harder, louder, but he was tired of arguing by then. Tired of everything.

Ginny did not want to die. Sometimes, the fear won and she spent days paralysed with the knowledge she would never walk back into her office and accept a hard-earned promotion, or celebrate another wedding anniversary with Harry, or stand on Platform 9¾ and see her son wave excitedly as he walked onto the Hogwarts Express. She planned to write letters to James, one for each birthday, but she couldn't bring herself to do it until the Healers said that soon, she would be too weak and too disoriented from pain potions to lift a quill, let alone write a letter. So she managed to write three letters for James: one to be given to him when he graduated Hogwarts, one to be given to him on his wedding day, and one for when he had a child of his own.

She was adamant, at least, that she would live to see James's fourth birthday. The seventeenth of February. She was determined to see that day.

You'll live for a hundred more birthdays, Harry should have told her. Something from one of those romantic stories. But they both knew the truth and he was sick of trying to hide everything. So he held her hand and said nothing, but the silence stretched between them like an ocean anyway and he bit his lip until he was certain he wasn't going to cry.

He wished, later on, he could remember every crystal-clear detail of the day she died. He wished there had been an important feeling about it, somehow. A dark cloud, an ominous feeling, something that would have warned him. But there was nothing. He'd taken James to Andromeda's house — James had been very tearful lately and Harry hoped playing with Teddy might afford some much-needed distraction — and after farewelling his son, he went to the florist, buying a bouquet of tulips, and then to the hospital. Ginny was sleeping and he didn't want to wake her up. He sat by the bed for a long time, holding her hand and waiting.

She wasn't doing too well these days. The pain potions made her groggy, disoriented, and she slept all the time. The Healers hadn't given her much more time. A few weeks if she was lucky.

Ginny woke briefly, her eyes opening, her gaze locking onto Harry at once. She frowned and tried to speak, her hand lifting ever-so-slightly, but Harry recognised what she wanted. Water. He nodded and left.

When he returned a few minutes later, Ginny was unresponsive. The Healers walked into the room shortly afterwards. There was no sense of urgency. Everyone knew this was going to happen.

Her death certificate listed the time of death as 12:39pm, the ninth of February.

Chapter Text

"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?"

"Definitely."

"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."

"Dad!"

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.

"Ouch!"

"Well, sit still dear."

"Look, there's blood!"

"Stop fussing."

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."

"Measuring what?"

"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 — "

"Scorpius."

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.

"Once."

"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.

"Yes."

"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.

"My son."

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.

"No."

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?"

"Toast."

"With...?"

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.

"Your belongings."

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."

"What 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?"

Scorpius nods.


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.

"Why?"

"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.

"Oh."

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?

There.

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."

"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.

Chapter Text

There's so much nervous energy it's a wonder the Great Hall doesn't simply shatter its great sky ceiling and sit among the stars. The first years line up, swapping taut smiles and whispering in thrilled anxiety.

"James, James!" somebody calls. "What house do you think you'll be in?"

"Yeah, I hope we're in the same house!"

"James'll be in Gryffindor, won't you James? That's the best house, I heard. Or Ravenclaw, all the smart people go there."

"Don't reckon I'll end up in any," James calls back airily. "I'll make my own house. It'll be called Weasley, after my uncles, and everyone'll get free dungbombs."

"That's brilliant!"

"Do you really get free stuff?"

"Yeah," James says, grinning wildly. "I've only got one pair of robes to last all term, I had to throw my other clothes out so I could fit in all the free joke stuff."

They laugh and jostle for his attention, already caught by his charm. A stout witch quickly puts a stop to their noisy excitement, however.

"First years, line up please! Come on, quickly. Quickly."

They stand to attention, hurriedly arranging themselves into a line, nudging and whispering. Then the doors to the Great Hall open and they follow the professor. James drinks it all in, looking around with great excitement.

"You can tell which house is which," he whispers to the girl behind him. "That table over there, with the green ties? Slytherin. And — "

"Quiet please," the professor says, but the girl looks at him with admiration.

He watches the students go before him. Some sit for ages on the stool with the hat falling over their eyes, others barely stay a second or two. Scorpius perhaps takes the longest; at last, the Sorting Hat declares him to be a Ravenclaw.

Soon enough, it's James's turn. He practically sprints to the stool, picking up the hat and plopping it onto his head.

"Ah," a voice says, very close, and James looks wildly around for a moment before realising it's the Sorting Hat.

"Hello," he says brightly, remembering his father saying once that he could talk to the hat if he wanted.

The hat is silent for a moment and James wonders if it's ignoring him or gone to sleep. The hat chuckles, answering his question.

"I don't sleep," he says. "You've got a bright mind, haven't you? Eagerness, oh yes, and enthusiasm."

"Oh, thanks," James says, wondering if the hat will declare him a Ravenclaw, but it falls silent again for a few moments.

"Stubborn, certainly," it murmurs at last, and James isn't sure if it's talking to itself or him. "Plenty of drive and ambition."

James shifts uneasily, some of his confidence fading. Slytherins are known for their ambition, Teddy has often told James. Will the hat deem him a Slytherin? He's not quite sure how he'd feel about that. Before he can voice his trepidation, however, the hat speaks.

"Hmm...I think you'll find kindred spirit in Gryffindor!" The hat shouts the last word and James gets to his feet, grinning with relief and making his way over to the cheering Gryffindor table.

"Thanks, yeah, thought it'd be this house," he says cheerily as students slap his back and grin at him.

It's going to be a fantastic year, he thinks.


Harry drives home alone.

His wedding band feels especially heavy tonight, as though Ginny's hand is resting over his own.

Routine. It kept them going, him and James. Week in, week out. Years went by and it was always the same. Come home from work, pick James up. Jokes about earwigs for dinner, boiled slugs for dessert. Dinner was always served at half-six exactly, James excitedly talking about his day. When James was younger, they would play a board game, or Harry would do silly charms like turning a teddy-bear blue, and when James was older, Harry helped with homework and signed permission slips for excursions. After James's bedtime, Harry would retreat to his study to complete any incident reports for his Auror work. At ten o'clock, he'd pour himself a neat scotch and then, at half-ten, he would retire to bed.

And then he'd start his day all over again at seven o'clock, when James woke up.

Most of the time, Harry was content. It's a very solid, steady routine that kept him company in the years since his wife's death. He used James's bright energy as fuel to keep himself going. No time for reflection when there's dinner to make or crayons to replace or grass-stains to be scoured.

Sometimes — very occasionally and always late at night — he'd get up from his desk and walk into the dining room or hallway or kitchen and just stand there. Just stand there, staring into the darkness. Sometimes for minutes, sometimes for hours. Then he'd shake his head suddenly, abruptly, and try to remember what he was doing. Sometimes he thought he was looking for Ginny. Just standing there waiting, waiting. As though if he was patient enough and looked long enough, she'd suddenly come around a corner or step through a door and smile.

And how he finds himself doing it again tonight. Standing in the middle of the hallway, waiting. He can hear the past as if it's a ghost. Ginny laughing in the kitchen, making silly jokes with James — he can hear the soft patter of toddler feet — and then he'll just walk around the corner and they'll both look up and smile at him, pancake batter everywhere, the morning sun catching on Ginny's soft red hair, flour smudged on her hands…

He steps into the kitchen. It's empty, quiet, dark. The counters are all wiped clean.

He has never spoken to Ginny. Some people told him, especially after the funeral, that sometimes speaking aloud helped. Just say whatever you want her to know, Ron had said, his eyes red-rimmed. It helps, mate. Just to feel like she's listening.

But Harry never felt like speaking aloud. It seemed strange and besides, James was struggling enough to understand the concept of death. When's Mum coming home? he kept asking until Harry wanted to shout at him. The last thing Harry wanted to do was 'speak' to Ginny only to have James overhear and think that Ginny was somehow still there, still listening.

But he speaks aloud now. Three words, just to see how it sounds in this silent house.

"I miss you."

His voice echoes around the kitchen, catches on the empty pots and pans, fills the spaces where people used to be. I miss you, I miss you, I miss you…

His wedding band leaves an imprint on his palm as he clenches his fist.

Damn you, Ginny.


Harry sits opposite his two best friends; he has an inkling about the reason of their meeting and looks surreptitiously at Hermione as she scolds nine-year-old Hugo about leaving crumbs on Harry's coffee table.

"Good news, eh?" Ron says with a grin.

"I know," Harry replies. "Congratulations, mate."

Ron's grin fades a little; he looks bewildered. "What?"

"Do you know if it's a boy or a girl yet?"

Hermione looks horrified. "What? No! No. We're not expecting any more children."

"I want a brother," Hugo pipes up. "Rose is mean. She makes me wear a ballerina dress, and she tries to put my hair into pigtails."

"Brothers aren't any better," Ron says quickly. "Uncle George used my pet puffskein as a quaffle when I was your age."

Hugo laughs and runs to the direction of the kitchen, presumably to fetch another biscuit. Ron frowns.

"I worry about that kid sometimes."

"Well, in any case, nobody's getting any more brothers. Or sisters," Hermione says firmly.

"Of course," Ron says, giving Hermione a sideways look. "Although..."

"No."

"Right, right." Ron clears his throat. "Anyway, listen. You know, with James gone, I was thinking...you're probably enjoying the peace and quiet."

"When was the last time you had a holiday?" Hermione adds, and Harry begins to feel distinctly nervous.

"I don't know. Work's been really busy lately." There's been little else to occupy his time — no need to clean up after James, or organise swim practice for him, or ring the school and promise to reimburse them for the third broken window pane this month…

"Yeah, I've been telling Hermione how busy you've been. Reckon you've got a break coming up."

Harry's heart sinks. He can't take a holiday. Not now. Not when the house is so empty, the dead autumn leaves collecting in the corners of the garden, the dust gathering in James's room.

"I…I don't think I have enough service leave," he says at last.

"Why on earth not?" Hermione asks, frowning. "You've practically lived in your office for the past…however many years."

"Yeah, don't be daft, you must have a few months of leave at least," Ron adds.

Harry searches for a change of subject. "How's Rose settling into Hogwarts?"

It works, although Hermione gives him a look of faint disapproval. "Good," she says, and the conversation soon drifts along and, to Harry's relief, doesn't return to the topic of work.

"Anyway, I'll see you later," Ron says at last. "We should get going, we're supposed to visit Mum today."

They exchange goodbyes and leave, dragging an unhappy Hugo with them — "I ate all the shortbread!" he shouts to Harry as he leaves — and Harry listens as they walk down the driveway and Disapparate together, Hugo firmly clamped to his mother's side.

Alone again, Harry thinks as he listens to the silence of the house.


Draco sits on the edge of his son's bed, looking around the empty bedroom. So neat and tidy, he thinks, but perhaps the house-elves have already cleaned it. Neat rows of clothes hang in the wardrobe. There's a stack of books on the bedside table — all leather-bound ones that Scorpius must have taken from the study. Collections of ancient maps, histories of the world, a herbology book filled with pressed specimens.

Why hadn't Draco thought of books? He hadn't thought to put a bookcase in Scorpius's room. What do eleven-year-olds read these days? Beedle the Bard is far too childish now. Draco doesn't know what his son likes to read.

He doesn't know anything about him.

A sharp noise reverberates, like someone plucking a taut wire. Someone has passed through the manor wards.

Is it that time already? Draco makes his way down the hallway and slowly descends the stairs into the entrance hall. Let them wait.

He opens the imposing front doors. On the doorstep, a portly witch turns to smile at him.

"Ah, Mr Malfoy! Has it been a week already?"

"Evidently."

She walks in, making her way to the front parlour room. Draco has always disliked how familiar she makes herself.

"Now," she says, once they're both in the front parlour room, Draco standing by the window and the witch perched awkwardly on an antique chaise. "Hand over your wand, please."

He gives it to her. She murmurs a few words and, as golden letters float like leaves above the wand, she scribbles a few notes onto her scroll.

"Good, good. Not many spells, Mr Malfoy. You can use your wand, you know — just none of the restricted spells." She laughs as if she's made a joke. Draco doesn't smile.

She runs through the usual questions. If he's been meeting with any other people associated with Death Eaters or Voldemort supporters. If he's attempted to harm Muggles or Muggleborns in any way. If he knows where his father is. Draco is certain that last question is certainly not a standard part of the interviews between Ministry officials and those placed on the 'Wizards Under Watch' program. Nevertheless, he answers it.

"No."

"Very good. Well, that wraps it up for another week. Another good report." She waves the scroll at him. "Cheer up. In two more years, you'll be removed from the program and considered non-dangerous to the magical community!"

"How wonderful," Draco says, but the witch either doesn't notice his tone of voice or chooses to ignore it.

"Isn't it?" She gathers her hat and cloak. "Well, take care, Mr Malfoy."

He listens as she departs. Footsteps, a door closing. That's all this house seems to be. Footsteps and closed doors.

A scratching noise. He jumps. Nothing, he reminds himself. Just the family of squirrels that seems to have moved into the roof. Or rats in the walls. The manor is starting to become a little frayed around the edges, a little faded. After money was seized from the Malfoy vaults for war 'recompense', Astoria and Draco spent quite a formidable amount on legal fees for their divorce . Then came another financial problem, when Draco spent most of the remaining money trying to find Astoria and Scorpius. Now the servants have all left — save two elderly house-elves, Haggly and Hooky.

The scratching noise again.

He'd leave this house, burn it to ashes, salt the earth, but for his father.

He's still waiting, after all this time, for his father to come home.


"That's amazing!"

"Thanks," James says with a grin. They crowd around the common room table as he smooths the Marauder's Map out, pushing chess pieces and gobstones out of the way.

"What shall we use it for?"

"Anything," James says, a glint in his eye. "My dad used it all the time for sneaking round Hogwarts. We'll have a little trip to the kitchens, I think — midnight snack, anyone?"

"Oh, yes!"

"Count me in!"

"I'll fetch my wand!"

James has already made fast friends at Hogwarts. The other Gryffindor boys have all been quite friendly, of course, and the classes have all been wonderfully exciting (except, perhaps, History of Magic). The only disappointment thus far has been the discovery that first years aren't allowed to join the swim team, but James figures he'll just have to wait until next year. Maybe all his newfound friends will join the team too.

"Right," James says decisively. "We can't all go."

"Pick me!"

"That's not fair, I want to go!"

"Paul can come with me," James says, choosing a fellow first year. Paul, a Muggleborn, is easily awed by everything and no doubt he'll be very impressed with the Marauder's Map. "And Martin," he adds, selecting another first year at random.

Off they go, sneaking through the portrait and down the corridor. "I hope you're not causing any mischief," the Fat Lady calls disapprovingly, but they just laugh and disappear round the corner. They look at each other, nervous at the thrill of an adventure.

"Where to?" whispers Paul. James traces the footprints of Grimble, the cantankerous caretaker, with his index finger.

"Not that way," he says as Martin turns to look down a hallway. "This way. And then we'll go down these stairs. Quiet, now."

They follow the twist and turns of the corridors, talking in hushed voices, Paul jumping at every little noise and Martin demanding to see the map, wanting to see the footsteps wander round.

"There's us!" Martin says a little too loudly, taking the map from James.

"Quiet!" James hisses. They pause. "I thought I heard something," he says after a moment.

"We've got the map," Martin points out. "We'll know."

"I've got an idea." Paul is grinning. "We should sneak into Slughorn's office and steal his silver scales."

"Wait up," James says, "we should think of a plan first — "

"Go on, James, where's your sense of adventure?" Martin chimes in. Typical that he would agree with Paul — they're both from Bedford and they've forged a fast friendship.

"I don't know," James says cautiously, but the prank is appealing to his mischievous side.

"Go on!"

"We'll know if anybody's coming."

At last, he grins in consensus. They laugh softly, nudging each other, certain there's adventures just around the corner. The sandstone rasps under their soft footsteps; they whisper and giggle past sleepy paintings.

"Wait. What was that?"

They pause.

"Did you hear that?"

"No."

"Shhh!"

They pause again, heads cocked, listening intently.

"It's nothing," James says at last. "Come on — "

"There! Somebody's ahead! Can't you see them?" Martin surges forward, and Paul hurriedly tries to grab him.

"Don't be a fool, what if it's a teacher?"

"Give me the map, we'll check!" James says with exasperation.

Somebody has separated from the shadows ahead, trying to slink into a classroom. But Martin grabs them by the scruff of their robes.

"Look," he says, "it's that odd Malfoy boy." He gives him a little shake. "What do you think you're doing?"

Scorpius says nothing, eyes fixed on the ground. James shifts his weight from one foot to the other, feeling slightly uncomfortable. Since the train trip, he hasn't spoken to Scorpius once. They were both Sorted into different houses, after all, and James has been busy making new friends.

"Cat got your tongue?" Martin demands, still gripping Scorpius by the collar.

"Thinks he's too good for us," Paul adds. He pushes his nose up with his thumb. "Ooh, look at me, I'm a Malfoy!"

"Better be careful, his Death Eater dad might get you!" Martin laughs and releases his hold on Scorpius, pushing him away as if he were contagious.

"Come on," James says, speaking up at last, "let's just go. Never mind about him."

"What if he tattles on us?"

"Don't be daft, he'll have to admit he was out of bed too," James points out. "Come on."

"I don't trust him. Maybe we should follow him," Martin says with a grin. "Maybe he's off to open the Chamber of Secrets…"

Scorpius turns and slinks away into the shadows, but Martin and Paul follow him.

"Hey, Malfoy, come back here!"

"Yeah, get back here!"

Scorpius breaks into a run. They follow him, their footsteps echoing around the halls. Portraits open their eyes sleepily, muttering about the noise; an indignant goblin snaps at them. Out of all of the Gryffindors, James is the fastest. He rounds a corner, catching up to Scorpius.

And comes face-to-face with Peeves.

"Students out of bed! Students out of bed near Transfiguration classroom!" Peeves bellows jubilantly.

"No! Shut up!" James says desperately.

But Peeves is in his element now. Somewhere, a door bangs open. Footsteps sound; wandlight dances along the hallways.

James pelts around another corner. Behind him, he can hear his friends bickering as they struggle to keep up. James knew he shouldn't have trusted Martin with the map! And of all the nights to forget his invisibility cloak...

Footsteps. A teacher's voice.

"Peeves! All that unbearable noise at this hour — "

Oh, no. He'd recognise that terse, no-nonsense voice anywhere.

McGonagall.

He turns another corner, breathing heavily, and then pauses. Just ahead of him, Scorpius has stopped at the end of the corridor. He taps his wand against the wall quickly and the stone melts like ice, creating a small portal. James gazes with amazement, his mouth hanging open. Scorpius steps through the portal, slipping into whatever lays behind it; the portal begins to close and suddenly, James is very aware of McGonagall's footsteps drawing near.

"Wait!" — and James, leaping forward, manages to catapult himself through the narrow gap in the wall. A few seconds later, he can hear McGonagall walking along the corridor, her shoes clacking sharply against the stone. A long pause, then —

"How very droll, Peeves," she says, her voice barely audible through the thick stone wall, but James thinks he can still hear the sharp annoyance. "I suppose this is your idea of amusement."

Peeves's cackling is loud and clear, but it soon fades, followed by McGonagall's footsteps. James exhales slowly.

"Wow," he says, "that was close." He presses a hand to the stone, trying to find the faint outline of a portal again, but there's nothing. It's already faded.

"You weren't supposed to come in."

He turns around. Scorpius is standing across a vast room. The high, vaulted ceiling emphasises the cold, dark emptiness of the room; there is not a single piece of furniture, not a single chair nor desk. Large windows line one side of the room, the pointed arches and ornate stonework creating deep shadows. Nevertheless, thin moonlight slants across the floor.

"Not supposed to come in? Thanks a lot," James says. His voice echoes around the room. "What is this place, anyway?"

"I found it."

"This is like the Room of Requirement. It must be," James says excitedly, suddenly recalling his father's stories. "Wow! They all think this place burned down!"

"It's not the Room of Requirement."

"How would you know?" James says. "I bet you five galleons it is. The Room of Requirement is a magical room with a door that appears from stone — "

"I know what it is." Scorpius hesitates, then produces a scroll from the pockets of his robes.

James frowns. "What's that?"

"A drawing."

"Give me a look, then. Are you an artist or something?" James jokes, but Scorpius just gives him a look and walks to the closest window, unfurling the parchment in the light of the moon. James hurries across the room to join him. It's a drawing of Hogwarts, he sees.

"Did you draw that? It's pretty good."

"It doesn't match." Scorpius points to one of the lowest lines of windows on his drawing. "When I walked inside and looked for this row of windows, I couldn't find it. It's because this room is walled off."

"How'd you find it then?"

"The Limen Charm. It creates an entrance, a portal."

"What's that charm? I don't remember studying it."

"I read a lot."

"You can't perform magic in corridors!"

"I read a lot," Scorpius repeats.

"What? That doesn't even..." James trails off, suddenly picturing himself bursting into the Gryffindor common room and announcing that he's found a secret lair. Paul and Martin might not be keen to come along for another adventure, especially if they've been caught tonight, but James has plenty of other friends. The other two boys with whom he shares the dormitory — Iwan, the Welsh boy, and Nathaniel who hates his name and prefers to be called Nate. And there's Allison from Herbology, and the friendly Hufflepuffs from History of Magic…

"Hey, listen," James says. "You should teach me this portal charm, we could use this room as...as anything! A second common room, or we could hold secret midnight feasts in here, or…"

"No. It's my room. I found it." Scorpius rolls up his drawing and steps away.

"Well, that's being a little selfish, isn't it? Come on, I'd let you stay. You could have that part of the room over there, and over here we could hold parties — "

"Go away! And you're not allowed to tell anyone about the room!"

"Oh, that's nice! I was only making suggestions! You don't have to be such a prat about it — "

"You were the one chasing me," Scorpius retorts, looking upset, and James scowls.

"So what? It's not a crime to chase people. And I think it's very selfish for one person to have a whole room to themselves — "

Scorpius cuts him off, raising his wand and murmuring words too quickly for James to register. The next thing he knows, he's being pushed backwards through a newly-appeared portal in the wall. He stumbles slightly, catching his balance before he falls, and watches with bewilderment as the portal melts away again.

Silence.

James bangs on the wall with his fist.

"I know you're in there! Just you wait! I'm going to go tell everyone about your stupid little room! I'll tell McGonagall you've been wandering around after dark, and using magic in the corridors!"

No response.

After a long moment, James strides away, fuming.


The next day, a tousled and sleepy James wanders to the Great Hall for breakfast. He yawns widely as Paul and Martin question him.

"Where were you last night? We had to hide in a classroom for an hour before Peeves went away."

"I got lost," James says easily. "Found my way back, though. You'd better keep up next time."

"You're fast." Martin takes a bite of his toast. "You'd make a good Seeker. I wish they let first years try out for the team," he adds wistfully.

"Well, you never know. My dad joined the team in first year." James takes a bite of toast.

"Yes, but your dad's also Harry Potter."

James doesn't reply. Unusually, he's not paying much attention to the conversation. He twists around in his seat, scanning the Ravenclaw table.

"Malfoy isn't there," Paul says suddenly.

"Hmm?"

"Malfoy isn't there," Paul repeats. "I bet he tattled on us."

"We'd probably know by now." James casts his mind around and seizes the next topic with cheery enthusiasm. "Hey, have you lot been to the library yet? It's brilliant. I'm trying to figure out a way to get into the restricted section."

They laugh and chatter. James smiles along with them.

But in the back of his mind, something is nagging at him.


James races through the dungeon corridors. He's late for Potions — not that Slughorn cares, he adores James and insists on inviting him to numerous 'Slug Club' meetings — but too many more sleep-ins and there will be a notification owled to his father, and James isn't particularly keen to open a Howler at breakfast time.

He breathlessly comes to a halt outside the Potions classroom and takes a moment to quickly smooth down his robes and fix his askew school tie before walking through the doorway. Slughorn, holding a handful of fresh bat entrails and loudly explaining how to dice them, pauses to look across the room.

"Oh, hello, Potter," he says amiably. "Tardy again, are we? I'll have to make a note of that. Take a seat, take a seat. We'll be looking at a basic Calming Draught today. Now, as I was saying, the entrails must be diced with a silver knife…"

Around the room, numerous students turn to mouth 'hello!' at James and gesture for him to sit near them; he's proven to be a popular student in all his classes. James wavers for a moment, but apparently even Slughorn's fondness for him has its limits, for he frowns and points to a seat.

"For Merlin's sake, Potter, sit down so we can continue. This next bit is very important."

James hurries over to the seat, setting his bag down and quickly removing his already-desecrated textbook. One of his friends has drawn an unkind picture of Slughorn as an actual slug, wearing a waistcoat and a disapproving expression; James quickly flips the page over.

"Now, the intestines must be added at the very last second. This is paramount to achieving a usable potion." Slughorn waves the intestines around, narrowly missing a revolted-looking Ravenclaw. "Right! Partner up and we'll get started."

"Partner?" James asks the person beside him without looking, still trying to find the page with the Calming Draught.

"I suppose."

That's a familiar voice by now. He looks up and frowns. Of all the people in the room, why did he have to end up next to Scorpius Malfoy?

"I nearly got caught because of you," James whispers angrily. "I had to sneak all the way back to the Gryffindor tower, and Peeves nearly got me!"

"Serves you right for invading people's rooms," Scorpius retorts.

"You're one to talk! You're lucky I didn't tell anyone!"

There's a short pause. Scorpius stares down at his Potions textbook for a long moment before speaking.

"Didn't you?"

"No." James considers this. "I mean, I could have," he adds threateningly. "But I didn't."

"Why not?"

"What? What sort of question is that?"

"I want to know."

"If you tell me how to do that portal charm, I'll tell you."

Scorpius doesn't reply to that, just looks down at his textbook and starts writing down notes. James waits impatiently, but it becomes apparent that no answer is forthcoming.

"Fine," James says with a heavy sigh that implies great sacrifice. "I suppose I'll go fetch the intestines. I hope you were listening, at least, because I've got no idea what we're supposed to be doing."

Scorpius just gives him an annoyed look.

For a kid with no friends, James thinks, Scorpius sure has a lot of attitude.


Later that night, around the Gryffindor common room fire, James lounges with his friends.

"You're so lucky you're the teacher's pet. Slughorn loves you."

"I am not the teacher's pet!" James retorts, flicking an earwax-flavoured bean at Martin. He retaliates with an expired chocolate frog and the next moment, a hail of sweets rains down upon the students.

"Truce!" Paul calls out, ducking a Canary Cream. In the corner of the common room, two prefects are looking at them with distinct disapproval.

"Wish there was somewhere else we could go," Martin complains. "You can't have a laugh here, someone's always studying."

It's on the tip of James's tongue to say I know a place! but he manages to remain quiet. Martin speaks up again instead.

"You know who is a teacher's pet? That odd Malfoy. Always writing away." He mimics frantic writing and laughs.

"Maybe he's practising," Paul suggests.

"What do you mean? Like he's never written before?" Nate demands, and Paul flushes.

"No! I meant practising note-taking — "

"Paul thinks Malfoy doesn't know how to write!" James laughs, and Martin quickly chimes in.

"Of course not — he's got all his servants, remember?" He jumps to his feet, pointing at an invisible servant. "You, go write my letters for me. And you, go wash my robes," he orders. James can't help but laugh at his theatrics. "And you, go beat up some Muggles. I don't like the way they look at me."

They're all laughing now, and suddenly James feels a hand on his shoulder. He quietens, his smile fading, and looks up.

"Oh, Rose," he says amicably. He's quite fond of his cousin — after all, his favourite place to visit has always been Uncle Ron and Aunt Hermione's place — but he's found that although Rose shares the same year level with him, they don't seem to see each other much.

"Can I speak to you for a moment?" she asks quietly.

"Sure," he says, standing up to follow Rose to a quiet corner of the common room as his friends return to their chatter.

"It's about your friends," Rose begins, and James frowns.

"What about them?" he asks, hoping Rose won't embarrass him by lecturing him on how rowdy they are. She spends most of her time in the library or with a group of quiet girls.

"I've been hearing stories about your little midnight adventures. Word gets around."

"I suppose you're going to tell on me, then?" James says, crossing his arms. Rose frowns at him.

"Not yet. But I'm warning you. Look, everyone knows you're Harry Potter's son, and some of the things your friends have been saying...I wouldn't be too keen to be associated with them."

"Like what? What are they saying?"

"Those remarks from that Martin," Rose snaps. "Making jokes about hurting Muggles... how do you think my mum would feel if she heard you laughing about that?"

"Martin didn't mean it like that!" James retorts, flushing.

"It's still insensitive," Rose snaps. "A lot of people here are orphans from the war. From both sides," she adds. "Tell your friends not to make jokes about that sort of thing."

"Or you'll write home about me?"

Rose doesn't say anything to that, just sighs heavily and gives him a long look. "You can be a real pain sometimes, James," she says, and then she goes up the stairs to her dormitory.

James turns away and retreats to his own dorm, his mood spoiled for the rest of the night.


Monday morning, and suddenly Ron and Hermione's talk of 'holidays' and 'taking breaks' all makes sense to Harry. They probably found out somehow, he thinks gloomily. News travels far too fast through the Ministry grapevine.

Harry sits at the great oak desk of the Head Auror. The Head Auror — a broad-shouldered, craggy-faced man named Williamson — is away. He's always locked in meetings. Instead, his newest secretary — a young man named Cuthbert — looks nervously at Harry.

"Hello," Harry says at last, taking pity on Cuthbert. Most of the Auror secretaries — recent graduates with qualifications in the business field — don't last too long. Maybe it's the demanding nature of the job, or maybe it's the frequent sight of the Aurors dragging themselves into the office after fieldwork, covered in blood and wearing grim expressions.

"Hello, sir," Cuthbert says, looking dwarfed by the intimidating oak desk and towering stacks of paperwork. "Williamson sends his deepest apologies, sir, but — "

"Yes, he's very busy."

"Right." Cuthbert tentatively opens a folder. "Well…you've made remarkable progress in your time here. Not that you need me to tell you that, sir." He looks down at the file. "Orchestrated international operations to catch most of the remaining Death Eaters...personally mentored several of the graduate Aurors...you've been with the office for fifteen years, it says, and yet you haven't taken a single day of service leave. Even after your wife's death...I see here that you took only three weeks off, filed under bereavement leave."

"This is about Ginny?" Her name hangs in the air like a bruised cloud. Cuthbert looks slightly panicked.

"No, of course not, sir," he says hurriedly. "This is about reward. You've worked hard for over a decade now! Your accumulated leave — "

"I don't care, I don't need time off — "

"You…you do." Cuthbert winces slightly, as if expecting retribution. "Williamson said there's a big project coming up and he thinks it's your turn. Sir," he adds quickly.

Harry pauses. Every now and again, the Head Auror chooses someone to direct an operation. The major ones are usually handled by the Head Auror themselves, of course, but the senior Aurors are sometimes given rein. And it's been a while since Harry last took on an operation…it will be a very busy, very demanding role…

"Williamson highly suggests you have a rest, so to speak, before beginning the operation. It will be very intensive."

"Being an Auror has always been intensive," Harry says, a bit more aggressively than he meant. He can't just take a holiday. Not now.

"Er…yes, sir." Cuthbert pauses, looking as if he wished he were somewhere else. Anywhere. "But…Williamson said to tell you…that he's already moved your duties to other Aurors. He's cleared your schedule for the next two months. Auror Spelton volunteered to take on a lot of your duties, actually."

Harry pauses. Spelton. A young recruit, but he's worked his way up through sheer talent and intelligence. Harry knows Spelton's wife is already expecting their first child... the extra duties would give him some much-needed money.

Harry's shoulders slump. "The next two months?"

"I'm afraid so, sir."

"Well, something else, then," he says, changing tack. "Some other position."

"I…there's really nothing, sir, at least not that I can think of…I can schedule a meeting with Williamson, he knows much more than I do —"

Two months alone in that empty house. No James, no work. Harry can feel desperation gripping his heart like a vice.

"There must be something, anything! Even just...just some paperwork, some filing...it doesn't even have to be field work, for Merlin's sake."

Cuthbert hesitates. Harry pounces.

"There's a job."

"Well...there's one vacant role, in our Wizards Under Watch program. But you're rather over-qualified for it, sir. Something for the graduate recruits, really. Williamson's been looking for someone to take the job, but they've all been reluctant to accept it, and I can't say I blame them — "

"Over-qualified doesn't matter, I'll take a pay cut," Harry says gratefully. "What is it, monitoring a Dark magic user? That's fine."

"Yes, sir. The previous case officer has unexpectedly quit after...er, there was a bit of silliness about missing money from the office funds, and...anyway," Cuthbert continues with determined cheerfulness. "One day a week, visiting a program participant. That's all."

Harry's expression falls. He'd been hoping for something a little more demanding of his time, but perhaps he could dedicate some time to preparation, depending on the complexity of the case.

"It's fine," he says. "I'll take it."

"I can't authorise it," Cuthbert replies anxiously. "You'll have to talk about it with Williamson."

"I'm sure he won't have a problem with it. I'll send him a memo. Thanks," Harry adds, giving a nod and turning to stride away before Cuthbert can change his mind.

He doesn't, and evidently Williamson isn't too irritated by the request; a few hours after Harry's sent the memo, Williamson sends a short reply. Request granted, he's scrawled. Will send client file shortly. Effective next Monday.

One more week of work, then, Harry thinks. Well, he'll have to arrange for that Salisbury estate raid on Thursday — they'd received a tip about a cache of Dark objects — then there's the intelligence reports due Wednesday, and planning needs to be finalised for the new surveillance set-up…

The client file arrives shortly afterwards, but it stays forgotten on the corner of Harry's desk.


Friday comes and goes. Harry manages to survive it and come six o'clock, the last of his colleagues have left the office. Ron visits on his way to the Patents Office to drop off some paperwork for a new Weasley wheeze.

"Thought you'd still be here."

Harry looks up from his paperwork. Ron stands by the door, his cloak folded over one arm.

"Yeah, mate. Just finishing up some reports."

"Well, at least that's the last overtime you'll do for the next two months." He grins. "Book yourself a trip somewhere, Harry. Join a Quidditch team. Start knitting. Just do something, promise me."

"I promise."

"Good. Well — I'd better get to the office before it closes."

"Right, I'll see you later."

Harry listens to Ron's footsteps fade. In the distance, a door closes.

Silence. Once again.

He slowly rearranges his paperwork. Everything's in order and he knows it. He's just delaying his inevitable return home. The fireplace will be cold and the ashes will be grey. He'll need to sweep the front steps; the dead leaves are gathering. The gardens will be dying, disappearing beneath the chill of autumn.

Well, at least there's one last thing to do. He reaches for the client file and flips it open. He hasn't had the chance to look at it all week.

Harry stares blankly at the name typed neatly at the top of the file.

At first, he thinks it's a joke. Ron left it on his desk, or a file was delivered to the wrong desk, or something. He slowly turns the page. It's blank except for one sentence in the middle.

Warning: Following details are highly confidential. Please sign below to continue.

He tries to turn the page. It doesn't move. He slowly reaches for a quill and signs his name. The ink dissolves to nothing and a few seconds later, the page turns. The headings of various sections catch his eye: contact details, next of kin, medical details, personal history, family association with Voldemort...it's all here. Every detail of Draco Malfoy's life, laid out neatly for any Ministry employee to read.

It's certainly not a joke.

Harry leans back in his chair and frowns, considering his options. He should have guessed as soon as Cuthbert said everyone else had been reluctant to accept the case. It can't be that bad, he thinks. Visit Draco once a week to tick a few boxes. It would definitely be awkward, though. Harry certainly wouldn't be offered tea and biscuits. And one sneer from Draco and Harry would be forced, by the rules of karma, to punch him.

Perhaps it would be that bad, he thinks. Perhaps tomorrow he'll just tell Williamson he's changed his mind, and go…

...on holiday.

With nothing to do, nothing to distract him, in his house of bittersweet memories. James's visit, at Christmas, is still two and a half months away.

Harry exhales slowly, leans forward and begins to read. Contact details first. Nothing of interest there. Then comes next-of-kin; a large government stamp fills the space where a family member's details should be. Harry's eyebrows rise. It means Draco hasn't nominated anyone, and has therefore agreed (by default) to have the Ministry manage his estate and arrangements should he die.

A list of family follows. Harry casts his eye down the list: Mother, deceased. Father, missing declared deceased. Uncle, deceased. Aunt, deceased. First cousins, all deceased. Grandparents, deceased. Ex-wife, deceased.

It looks as if only one relative survived the apparent Malfoy massacre: one dependant, listed as Scorpius Malfoy.

A door slams open. Harry jumps, then looks up as a cleaner walks in.

"Oh, Mr Potter," he says with surprise. "You're still here? It's nearly half-six."

"Another late night," Harry says lightly, picking up the file. "Good evening, Wilbur."

"Good evening, Mr Potter."

Harry takes his cloak from the hook and makes his way through the silent building, quickly walking out into the dark autumn night.


There's something strangely fascinating about seeing someone's life pinned to paper. Particularly someone like Draco, who had so carefully guarded his personal life at Hogwarts. Although Harry had long-forgotten their schoolyard rivalry, it still gives him satisfaction to know that he has access to certain details that would no doubt horrify Draco. For instance, the medical records note that he has low blood pressure. There's nothing listed under allergies, but a small range of notes on injuries detail two healed rib fractures and a broken wrist. Fascinatingly, there's a small sentence added to the 'broken wrist' injury: No charges laid.

Harry makes an easy guess: Draco called someone a Mudblood and got into a fight. He flips through the pages but there's no further explanation, although there's extensive details about Draco's links to pro-Voldemort organisations and supporters. Harry's Auror training kicks in and he immediately begins analysing the notes.

At ten o'clock, he pours himself a scotch.

But, for the first time for years, he does not retire to bed at half-ten. Instead, he reads the file until he's reached the very end.


Draco stares at the family portrait, holding it a foot above the fireplace. As if sensing the proximity of paper and oil, the flames below seem to reach higher.

His mother stands on one side. The last portrait ever taken of her. She's wearing a set of black dress robes, a string of pearls around her neck. Astoria looks resplendent in a crisp white dress. Draco had worn the traditional tuxedo, although privately he thinks the cut of the suit makes him look too thin.

But he had still been happy then. Distracted by all the problems in his life — his sickly mother, withering away to nothing; his father's uncomfortably obvious absence; his friends abandoning him. But Astoria made up for it. Beautiful Astoria, with her dark eyes and her always-smiling mouth, the way she'd always been so happy, bright as a star. Back then, when they still held onto hope for their future together.

Burn it.

His hand shakes just a little, then drops the portrait into the fire. His mother is the first to burn. Her hollowed cheeks and sunken eyes disappear first, followed by her bony hands clutching a single wilted daffodil. Then Draco burns away, his smirk and confident gaze disappearing into smoke. Then Astoria's mother and sister, standing neatly to one side.

Then Astoria herself. Her happy expression, her bright eyes, all vanishing beneath the flames.

Draco walks through the manor that night, walking from room to room, trying to find a space that doesn't haunt him. Faces rise from the cellar, screaming for mercy. Bodies writhe in agony in the drawing room (no; no, those doors shall never open again). Astoria flits from room to room. We loved each other, once, he can almost hear her whisper sadly. What happened to us?

At last he goes to Scorpius's room. That small child's bedroom, the same room that once belonged to a young Draco. In the darkness, he can almost pretend there's stuffed toys lining the shelves again, and a copy of Beedle the Bard on the beside table, and Scorpius will run through the door and pick it up and say give me a happy story tonight.

Children are the same everywhere.

They all want fairytale endings.


A noise like a taut metal wire being plucked. The noise vibrates through Draco's skull and he winces, slowly sitting up and feeling disoriented. He's in his son's room. Did he fall asleep in here?

"Master." Before him, one of the elderly house-elves has appeared. "Someone has passed through the wards."

"I know." Once a week, like clockwork. He's set the wards to allow the Ministry officials through.

"Shall Haggly let them in?"

"No, I'll get the door."

The house-elf dutifully disappears again. Draco makes his way down the hallway; as he nears the staircase, he hears a knock at the door and is immediately irritated. He'd received an owl notifying him that he had a new case officer, and he hadn't cared at all. But at least his previous officer knew to always visit at a reasonable hour (noon) and never knocked, always waiting patiently for Draco to answer the door. He taps the door with his wand, disabling the locking spells, and pulls it open, an irritated greeting poised on his lips. Instead —

"Who are you?" he asks stupidly.

Harry blinks at him. "Harry Potter."

"I can see that. I meant — what are you doing here?" Draco opens the door wider and looks around, half-expecting to see a Weasley as well.

"I'm your new case officer."

"What are you talking about?"

Harry stares at him. "Your Wizards Under Watch program," he says slowly. "The same program you've been participating in, once a week for the past fifteen years."

"The past — what are you — you are not allowed on this property," Draco says at last, trying to find his way back to solid ground.

"Yes, I am. As your Wizards Under Watch officer — "

"Stop saying that! I'm reactivating the wards."

"Do that and I'll have to make a probationary note on your record."

That sinks in, at least. Draco's alarmed. A probationary note might result in an extra month being adding to his program and he does not want to stay in the program any longer than necessary.

"Fine," he says between gritted teeth. "Come in." The invitation could not sound more hostile but what choice does he have? He's half-expecting Harry to gloat about it but instead he lingers on the doorstep, looking uncomfortable.

"Can't we just conduct the interview out here?"

"If you think I'm going to stand out here for twenty minutes, you're obviously more soft-headed than I previously thought," Draco snaps.

"Oh, so you're really resorting to petty insults? Look, this arrangement isn't ideal for either of us, so let's just get it over with."

"Then stop wasting both our time and come inside," Draco says angrily. He turns and walks through the entrance hall without any further discussion; he can hear Harry following him slowly. Front parlour room, he decides. One of the most unwelcoming rooms in the manor, with its dreadfully uncomfortable chairs and icy draughts.

Harry makes a beeline for the antique chaise, sits uncomfortably at the end of it, immediately opens the file and launches into a barrage of questions.

"It says here that on the twenty-second of May last year, you contacted Gregory Goyle. Doesn't that breach the rules? You are not allowed to contact any known or suspected Voldemort supporters."

"He invited me to his wedding. I regretfully declined."

"Reason for declining?"

"Are you stupid? You just said it. I'm not allowed to contact any known or suspected Voldemort supporters. I applied for special consideration for Goyle's wedding and was rejected."

"Well, that should all be on file. This is very incomplete." Harry looks at Draco as though he thinks Draco's been sneaking into the Ministry offices and stealing pages. "You've had a very poor history with your previous officers. Too many changes. Now, your ex-wife. The Greengrass family. Did you know that one of the cousins, Amina Addlesworth, was a suspected Voldemort supporter?"

"I do not have the habit of routinely running background checks on relatives."

"Did you ever meet this cousin, this Amina?"

"I don't recall meeting her, no."

"Really? Because she attended your wedding."

"Five hundred people attended my wedding, Potter. I did not meet all of them personally."

"Yet you invited them?"

"Astoria's mother made all the arrangements and invitations." Draco stares at Harry. "Have you seriously been investigating every single person who attended my wedding?"

"I'm an Auror. I'm thorough."

"Thorough? Pedantic, I'd say."

"And I see you haven't been meeting the requirements of the program." Harry immediately switches topics, turning a page of the file. "You're supposed to be engaging with the community, Malfoy. It's part of your Muggle rehabilitation."

"I've had these discussions with my previous officers. We agreed that it wasn't necessary."

"Not necessary?" Harry stands up, snapping the file shut. "Not necessary? Hermione created this program, she structured it specifically — "

"Granger designed this program?" Draco, absurdly, feels like laughing. "Granger made this program?"

"I fail to find the amusement in that, Malfoy. I suggest you start taking this more seriously. No doubt you intimidated your previous officers into 'discussing' requirements, but I assure you, things will be very different now. Part of the program is the requirement for you to contribute towards the Muggle community."

Draco waves a hand dismissively. "If you insist."

"You can come up with a list of possible contributions," Harry says, "and I'll choose the most suitable one. Now, give me your wand."

Draco stares at him, gritting his teeth. After a long pause, he throws his wand at him. Harry catches it easily and murmurs a spell, staring intently at the golden letters floating above Draco's wand.

"Seven spells?" he says incredulously. "You're telling me that in an entire week, you've only used seven spells?"

"I suppose."

Harry gives him a look, then frowns. "Three heating spells, two locking spells, an Accio charm and...Brackium Emendo." He pauses. "Brackium...why does that sound familiar? Broken bones. Healing broken bones. Why would you need to use that spell?"

"My house-elf fell when carrying the tea-tray and broke their hip."

"What, it just snapped like a twig, did it?"

"He looks like he's five hundred years old! He breaks a bone just looking sideways at me."

"This house-elf. Where is he?"

Draco exhales slowly. This meeting has taken far too long already. Nevertheless, he calls for Haggly; the house-elf dutifully appears two minutes later.

"Yes, master?"

"This is Haggly. Ask him whatever you want," Draco tells Harry.

Harry asks Haggly a range of questions as if he thinks Draco's just waiting for him to leave so the elf can be used as a personal punching bag. However, the elderly house-elf provides only dull answers: Yes, he broke a bone falling over. Yes, Master Malfoy was kind enough to heal it for him. Yes, he otherwise feels in good health. At last, Potter thanks the elf and dismisses him.

"Finished yet?" Draco snaps. "Or would you like to interrogate the squirrels in the eaves?"

"That will do for now. I'll be back next week."

"Not in the morning."

"If it's more convenient, I will arrange an afternoon appointment."

It's an unexpected courtesy in a meeting otherwise full of snide remarks and accusatory statements, and Draco frowns distrustfully.

"All right," he says at last, moving to the door; Harry hastens to catch up.

"I can show myself out."

I'm sure you can, Draco thinks suspiciously. No doubt Harry would like to amble to the front doors in his own time, taking the opportunity to have a good gawk at everything and intrude even more on Draco's personal life. He follows Harry to the door, says a very formal goodbye and closes the door sharply.

With any luck, Harry will be so keen to avoid another meeting he'll hand the job over to someone else again.


Harry can feel a headache creeping up, but then, what did he expect? He has to actively focus on unclenching his jaw. Draco was just as he remembered: a complete prat, sullen, irritable, and unhelpful.

The real source of Harry's headache, however, is the manor. That dreadful house...when he had last visited, it had been Voldemort's base of operations. Rising from the dark grounds like a gargoyle, it had loomed over the landscape with immense intimidation. Inside, it hadn't been any better. Roaring flames in vast marble fireplaces; grand chandeliers swaying imperceptibly from above. People whispering, faint footsteps.

But now, in some ways, it seems almost more unsettling. The manor, illuminated by daylight, has turned into a shambling beast crouched upon the land. Overgrown gardens, ivy creeping along the window panes, and the ornate stonework of the porch steps crumbling away beneath Harry's feet as he walked over them. Sitting in the front parlour room, all he could hear were creaking noises and the occasional scratching noise, like a rat in the walls.

He's not going back there, he decides. He took this job to get away from unsettling silences and empty houses.

But then he remembers Draco's casual dismissal of the program Hermione had spent so many months developing — oh, those requirements aren't necessary — and his jaw clenches again. No; any other officer is just going to end up intimidated again and agree to Draco's little negotiations. Nobody else will enforce the rules, Harry is sure of it.

If there's one thing Harry can't stand, it's someone escaping justice.

Chapter Text

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!"

"No way!"

"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."

"I'm in!"

"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?

"Master."

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."

"That's restricted."

"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."

"Really?"

"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.

"Semper Aestas."

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?"

"No."

"Sent any owls?"

"No."

"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?"

"Gardening charms."

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.

"Yes."

"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.

The divorce.

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.

Nevertheless…

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.

"Finished?"

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.

"Who's James?"

"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?"

"Eleven."

"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?"

"Sleep aides."

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."

"He didn't."

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.

Chapter Text

James checks his watch again.

Ten minutes to eleven.

He's been pacing this cold corridor for nearly an hour now. He'd been running late — caught up chattering away to his friends in the Gryffindor common room — and he'd come hurrying around the corner, out-of-breath from all the stairs and long corridors, a greeting already poised on the tip of his tongue.

But the corridor had been empty.

Scorpius is accustomed to James's tardy arrivals, and James is certain he wouldn't have left. James had only been a few minutes late, anyway.

He checks his watch again. Five to eleven.

Footsteps.

"Finally." James straightens up. They can get started on practising that levitation charm again, James is sure he's nearly got it under control.

Round the corner comes a tall figure. Someone who is definitely not Scorpius. James quickly grabs his invisibility cloak, drawing it around himself.

"Ha! Trying to fool me with that old thing?" The cloak is ripped away; James hisses.

"Go away, Teddy! I'm waiting for someone!"

"Oh, that's nice. 'Oh, hello, Teddy, my favourite cousin, how good to see you again'."

"It is good to see you," James protests.

"It's been a while, hasn't it? Shame I'll have to give you a detention." Teddy grins and taps his Head Boy badge; it shines in the moonlight and James's eyes widen.

"You wouldn't! I'm your cousin, you traitor!"

"Ah, but being Head Boy is the highest honour, young James," Teddy says, affecting a mocking, lofty voice. "How dare you suggest that I might sully my good reputation by playing favourites — "

"Don't give me that!" James is outraged. "I don't know how you got that badge — you're the cause of half the mischief in Hogwarts!"

"True. Fancy making me Head Boy — someone's gone soft in the head, I reckon. Well, off you go."

"You can't tell me to go to bed!"

"I can. I'm Head Boy!" Teddy lunges for James; James ducks away but Teddy easily grabs him, putting him in headlock and messing up his hair. James protests loudly, eventually squirming away.

"Stop it," he says crossly, trying to smooth his hair back down. "I told you, I'm waiting for someone."

"Ooh, a girlfriend? I didn't know Hogwarts allowed inter-species dating. Give the giant squid my regards."

"Very funny!" James ducks away, sensing another headlock in his near future. "Anyway, you don't need to worry about me. I'm going to bed."

"You're lucky I'm so nice, or I'd give you a detention. You owe me."

"Wow, thanks."

Teddy just laughs and saunters away. James tries to smooth his hair again, then reluctantly gathers his invisibility cloak around himself and walks back to the Gryffindor tower.

He walks a little slower than usual.


Potions is his first lesson that morning, and James promises himself to pay attention. Actually listen to Slughorn, and give the potion a serious attempt.

He hurries straight into the dungeons, running late after losing track of time, and sees Paul and Martin turn to look at him, both inclining their heads in a welcoming gesture. He quickly sits beside them, unpacking his books, and it's only when Slughorn's dismissed them to fetch their ingredients that he remembers Scorpius.

He looks around. Scorpius is sitting by himself in the corner of the room, an empty seat beside him.

"There we go! Five beetle hearts," Martin declares, dumping the hearts into their cauldron, and James turns around.

Well, it's no big deal. Besides, he's acutely aware of the rest of the Gryffindors in the room, and he remembers Martin's words about associating with Scorpius Malfoy. He briskly chops up a bat liver, trying to concentrate on dicing it perfectly evenly. His focus is ruined halfway through by Martin nudging him.

"Look, Malfoy's got a letter."

He looks up. Across the room, Scorpius is reading a creased piece of parchment. As Slughorn nears, Scorpius quickly tucks it away again and resumes stirring his potion.

"So what?"

"Must be interesting. He's gotten it out half a dozen times already, re-reading it."

"So what?" James repeats. "Have you finished with those billywig stings yet? We'll need to add them in three minutes."

"Since when do you care about doing potions properly?" Martin says, but at least he stops watching Scorpius and goes back to his chopping board.

At the end of the lesson, however, things have deteriorated. Martin has made a joke about Scorpius opening the Chamber of Secrets, and Paul — unaware of Hogwarts history — has to have the entire thing explained to him. James, uncharacteristically, doesn't particularly feel like sharing his father's role in the story despite repeated encouragement from his friends.

"The Chamber can't be opened again, anyway, so it doesn't matter," he says at last, as Slughorn tells the class to pack up.

"Good thing too, or Malfoy'd probably be already hunting Muggleborns," Nate adds, turning round to join the conversation. James makes a noise of non-committal and begins quickly packing up.

"Come on, next class is Herbology," he says. "I heard we're going to grow Biting Daisies."

But Nate is already pushing through the crowds, making a beeline for Scorpius, and James feels an unfamiliar pang of anxiety. He looks at Martin.

"Can't he just leave him alone?" he mutters.

"The Malfoys tried to kill your father, loads of times," Martin replies. "Don't know why you're so keen to defend him."

No help there, then. James hurries ahead, catching up to Nate.

"Come on, let's go to Herbology — "

Nate shakes him away and reaches out, grabbing Scorpius by the sleeve. "Hey, Malfoy."

Scorpius tenses and stays still, as if somehow it will render him invisible. No such luck.

"What's in the letter?"

Scorpius stays silent for a long moment. Then he speaks quietly. "What letter?"

"Don't play stupid, I saw it. Was it from your Death Eater dad? Was he sending orders for you to join him?" Nate shoves at Scorpius's shoulder a little, making him stumble. "Have you got a Dark Mark too?"

Scorpius pales. James quickly jumps in.

"Come on, let's — "

"What's a Dark Mark?" Paul interrupts.

"Oh, I'm sure Malfoy can tell you all about it."

"Let me go," Scorpius pleads.

"Not until you hand over that letter!" Nate retorts. "James, tell him."

James looks at his feet. "The letter can't be that important," he mumbles. "Just hand it over, and we can all go."

There's a long silence. Then Scorpius tries to push Nate away and run.

It happens so quickly that James nearly misses it — there's a shout, a brief tussle as Martin and Nate catch up to Scorpius — then somebody shouts it.

"Petrificus Totalus!"

Scorpius falls without another word. Nate, his wand drawn, looks wide-eyed. He catches James's expression.

"I — I didn't mean to do that — you saw it — it was an accident — "

"What on earth is going on out here?" Slughorn demands, coming out of the classroom. "Magic in the corridors is strictly forbidden, and — Merlin's beard, what happened?"

Martin, Paul and Nate exchange glances.

James suddenly feels sick to his stomach.


He can't stop thinking about it for the rest of the day. Scorpius was taken to the infirmary; Madam Pomfrey said he'd gotten a concussion from hitting his head on the floor and had to be strictly observed for the rest of the day. Nate was taken to Professor McGonagall's office, later returning with red-rimmed eyes, saying that he had a week's worth of detentions and had to write Scorpius an apology.

"I am sorry," he tells James and Martin later that night in the common room. "I've never hit anyone with a spell before. I really didn't mean to. I just sort of panicked. I thought he was going to start shooting spells at me, so I thought maybe I should get the first one in."

Scorpius wouldn't have done that, James thinks.

But he keeps the thought to himself.


Scorpius isn't in any classes the next day, and James waits until lunchtime to go to the infirmary. But, as Madam Pomfrey curtly tells him, Scorpius left yesterday evening. He was given the all-clear.

At last, caught in a torrent of concern, he approaches Teddy just before the end of lunch.

"Could I have a word?" he says quietly to Teddy, and Teddy raises his eyebrows.

"Is this about your girlfriend, the squid?"

"No. It's a favour."

"Another one? I'm way too nice to you." But Teddy stands up good-naturedly and excuses himself from his friends, making his way from the Great Hall. Once safely outside, in the quiet corridor, James speaks.

"Look, it's...a pretty big favour. You could get in trouble."

"Oh, dear. Oh, no. I could get into trouble?"

"There's no need for sarcasm," James says crossly. Teddy reaches out and ruffles his hair.

"All right, calm down. What's this big favour?"

"I need to get into the Ravenclaw tower."

"Can't help you there, I'm afraid. Do I look like an insufferable know-it-all with no sense of humour?"

It's always been an ongoing joke with Teddy. Everyone had thought he'd be an instant Gryffindor, but he'd surprised them all by being Sorted into Ravenclaw. Perhaps the Sorting Hat knew, deep down, what it was doing, because despite his mischievous nature, Teddy proved to have a quick wit and a sharp curiosity that only served to build his intellect.

"I'm serious. I need to see — I need to see a friend."

"So catch up with them in class or whenever. The professors get mighty cross when they discover students sneaking into other houses."

"You just said you didn't care about trouble."

"Yeah, but this is still a pretty big favour, cuz. We're not talking 'five points from Ravenclaw, Mr Lupin, and don't do it again'. We're talking detentions, serious lectures, letters sent home. We're talking about Howlers from my grandmother."

James gives a shiver. Teddy's grandmother is a very formidable woman whom James simultaneously adores and yet lives in fear of incurring her wrath.

"Please. I wouldn't ask if it's not important."

Teddy frowns, one hand resting on his bookbag. The doors to the Great Hall suddenly open as students begin to emerge, signalling the end of lunch.

"All right," Teddy says at last, "you caught me in a good mood. You got your invisibility cloak?"

"In my bag."

"All right, when we're out of sight, put it on. Follow me and don't make a single noise, got it?"

James nods and dutifully follows the instructions, waiting until they've reached a deserted corridor before putting on the cloak. Teddy passes a few Ravenclaws on their way to class, greeting each one with a cheerful wave and passing joke or comment. At last, they've reached the Ravenclaw tower. Teddy takes ahold of a bronze knocker in the shape of an eagle and raps it once. A question rings out across the corridor.

"If someone offers you a gift and you refuse, to whom does the gift belong?"

"Their willingness belongs to them; my hostility is my own," Teddy answers easily.

"What's that mean?" James whispers as the door swings open, but Teddy shushes him as they enter the room. It's completely empty, however, except for a lone seventh-year studying by the fire.

"Hello, Eric. Got caught in a book again?" Teddy say amicably and the boy looks up, his eyes beginning to widen.

"Oh, no. Am I late again?" He glances around the empty common room, then sweeps his books up quickly and makes for the door.

"Tell Higglesby I'll be there soon, I forgot my book," Teddy shouts after the fleeing student. After a short pause, Teddy speaks again in a low voice. "Right, well, it doesn't look like your friend is here. Or else they're up in the dormitories. No use staying here if they're a girl, you can't access the girl's dormitory and trust me, I can't get you into it. If I could, I'd be causing a lot more mischief than I already do."

"It's okay, maybe they're away. I can wait," James whispers, and Teddy shrugs.

"If you want. I've got to get to class. Just leave the same way you came in. Don't touch anything, and if somebody sees you, my name is not mentioned at all. Got it?"

"Got it."

Teddy leaves then, departing from the same door by which they entered. James looks around the common room. A fire crackles quietly in the hearth and in the middle of the room, across the midnight-blue carpet, there's a statue of a witch. Rowena Ravenclaw, presumably.

He assumes the boys' dormitory is on the left, same as the Gryffindor tower, and cautiously places a foot on the first step. When nothing happens, he continues until he's standing in the entranceway to the first-year dormitory. It's far tidier than the Gryffindor one — the beds are all neatly made, and encompassing an entire wall is an enormous bookshelf lined with texts. At the far end of the dormitory, on the bed closest to the window, is Scorpius. He's sitting cross-legged on the bed, one hand propping up his chin as he turns the page of a large tome. Pan is curled up in the crook of his elbow, sleeping.

Relieved to see him alive and well, James approaches him, removing the invisibility cloak. Scorpius seems so engrossed in the book that he doesn't notice until James is standing at the foot of the bed.

"Hey, Scorpius."

Scorpius jumps, the book falling closed in his lap, and looks up. He stares at James for a long moment, looking startled.

"Oh," he says at last before casting a glance around the dormitory. "What are you — how did you get in?"

"My cloak. I snuck in."

"You knew the answer to the riddle?"

James hesitates. Teddy did say not to tell anyone, but James can trust Scorpius.

"My cousin, Teddy Lupin, he let me in."

"Oh." A short silence, then Scorpius gives Pan a scratch behind the ears as she opens her eyes. "He's nice. He helps me with my homework sometimes."

"Yeah, he's always helping people." James hesitates. "Are you feeling better? I was worried because you weren't in any classes, but they said you weren't in the hospital wing anymore." The words leave him in a rush. Scorpius watches him silently, his grey eyes unreadable.

"I'm all right," he says at last. "They let me miss my classes today. I'm supposed to be resting."

"Oh — do you want to be left alone? — I only visited to see if you were all right. I'm glad you are."

"Are you?"

James blinks. There's a certain coolness in Scorpius's voice — a tone that James has never heard before. It's strange to hear that distant chill in his voice.

"Well — yes — of course! We're friends, aren't we? I missed you the other night, when you didn't turn up at our room. I was waiting ages and then I got caught by a Head Boy."

"Did you really?" The coolness is quickly evaporating from Scorpius's voice, and James grins.

"Yes. I didn't mind. Sorry I missed you, though. I suppose you were busy or just forgot."

"I had an essay to finish," Scorpius admits.

"Oh. Shame, that. Well, do you want to meet tomorrow night? Not tonight, you should be resting. Though reading that huge book is hardly resting, in my opinion. What is it?"

Scorpius shows him the cover. Creative Transfiguration: Understanding the Principles and Practice.

"Ugh, that sounds way too heavy."

"It's not. It's where I learned the lunar spell from. I'm reading a chapter right now on how to transfigure things into animals."

"Oh! Do you mean to do that with our room? We could turn all the chairs into Hippogriffs!"

Scorpius stares down at the book. "I can't go to the room tomorrow night, anyway. I've got — I'm busy."

"With what?" James demands.

"I've got advanced transfiguration tutoring with McGonagall," Scorpius mumbles, not lifting his gaze from the book.

"Wow! Scorpius, that's brilliant! Advanced transfiguration, hey? Remember when we were on the train, and you didn't even think you were a wizard? Now look at you!"

A faint smile trembles at the corners of Scorpius's mouth. "My father said — " and then he stops. James waits impatiently.

"Well, what? What did your father say?" he prompts. Scorpius looks away.

"Nothing."

"Come on, you can't just start telling me something and then stop. Oh, was it that letter?" James pauses and bites his lip, looking down at his feet a moment before speaking. "Sorry about that, you know. It was stupid of me to say it wasn't important. I wouldn't want people reading my personal letters either. I can't imagine why I said what I did."

Scorpius tugs at a loose thread on the bedcovers. "It's all right."

A long silence eclipses them and James isn't sure whether he should stay or go. He'll be in a lot of trouble for missing class, he knows. At last, however, Scorpius speaks again.

"He said he was very proud, that's all, and that he always knew I'd do well." A flush rises in his face. "You're not — you're not going to tease me about that, are you?"

"Well, if I am, you can tease me about being a Squib," James says. He tries to say it cheerfully, like a joke, but his voice stutters a little half-way through the sentence and he knows Scorpius noticed. James's shoulders slump. "My dad sent me a letter too, you know. Except it's the exact opposite of yours. I'm nearly failing everything and I don't think he's ever been so disappointed."

"Failing everything?" Scorpius looks disbelieving. "Are you really?"

"Yes. It's true. I got a Poor for Charms." He tries to smile. "Oh, well. At least I'm good at making people laugh. That'll come in useful when I become a Squib."

Scorpius doesn't smile. He stares down at the transfiguration book, then looks up at James. "I — I could help, you know." He reddens again. "I mean, you probably don't need it, and I'm not saying I'm better than you — of course I'm not —"

"Don't be stupid, you could teach me a whole bunch of stuff, I reckon!" James is excited. "Like that lunar spell!"

"Well, that's one of your problems. You keep trying all the fancy spells, but it's not much use if you can't turn a match into a needle." Scorpius's face suddenly freezes. "I mean — I didn't mean to say — "

"Yes, McGonagall," James says mockingly.

The faint smile trembles again.

James grins, his heart feeling lighter than it has in weeks.


Draco sits in the breakfast room.

Growing up, the breakfast room had always been his favourite room in the manor. Designed to capture the early morning sunlight, and less formal than the rest of the home, Draco had always considered breakfast his favourite part of the day. If he closes his eyes, he can almost imagine he's nine years old again, walking into the room to see his parents. Lucius would have a cup of tea and two slices of toast with honey; Narcissa preferred a cup of peppermint tea and boysenberry jam. Lucius would open the newspaper, pass the crossword page to Narcissa, and read the rest. Draco would sit beside his mother, trying to help. He can almost hear her quiet, measured voice.

A ten-letter word for a species of Thestral. What do you think, darling?

He opens his eyes.

On this wintry morning, there is no sunlight in the breakfast room. A thin, grey light shrouds the room. The table is empty, bereft of plates and pots of honey and crosswords. The other seats are empty, the upholstery thick with dust.

An owl taps on the window.

Draco flinches, ever so slightly, at the unexpected noise. He rises, then turns to the window and pulls on the sash. It gives way reluctantly, the wooden frame swollen with the rains of autumn and the sleet of winter.

He wonders if it's from Hogwarts. He'd received Scorpius's report card recently and he'd never felt so proud than when he unfurled the parchment and saw the row of Outstanding grades, accompanied by a letter requesting permission for Scorpius to have advanced Transfiguration lessons. He'd always known Scorpius would be an intelligent and dedicated student.

But this isn't a Hogwarts owl. This owl is snow-white; the letter on its foot is enclosed in a white envelope, sealed with lavender wax. Draco slowly removes the letter and the owl hoots once before flying away.

He picks up a butter-knife and runs it along the wax, opening the envelope and pulling out the letter. A large number of rose petals, presumably enchanted to remain ever-fresh, cascade onto the table and Draco frowns, shaking a petal from his sleeve.

Pansy Parkinson and Christopher Clayton request the pleasure of your company as they join hearts and lives in marriage on the 14th of December…

Draco stands for a long moment, reading the invitation over and over.

At last, he places it back into the envelope and leaves it on the table.


"Why are there twenty-five gardening spells?"

Harry waits for a response, but Draco doesn't seem too inclined to answer. He's busy staring out the window at the dull and overcast sky. Rain begins to patter against the glass.

"Malfoy, I asked — "

"I heard you." Draco turns from the window, hands in his pockets.

"Twenty-five gardening spells in one week? What are you doing, practising to become a botanist? And I see there's thirty domestic spells." Harry casts a critical look around the room. If Draco's been undertaking any cleaning, there's little evidence of it. Nevertheless, he refrains from verbalising the observation.

Another silence stretches on. Draco seems particularly distant today. Not necessarily resentful or disagreeable, Harry thinks, observing him. Just...distant. His mind is elsewhere.

"Well, this matter of contributing to the Muggle community," Harry says, trying to draw Draco back to present matters. "A donation should be suitable, I think. A Muggle charity of your choice."

Draco turns back to the window, watching water droplets slowly trickle down the pane.

"How much?"

"A thousand galleons should suffice." The sum sounds large, but Harry knows that to Draco, the amount is nothing more than a mere nuisance.

"Can't."

Harry exhales slowly. Perhaps he misjudged. Perhaps Draco is simply being disagreeable today. Harry had decided to go with the donation as a compromise, but maybe he should've picked something less easy.

"Can't, or won't?" he asks, annoyed.

"Can't, Potter. I have five hundred galleons left in my accounts."

Harry stares at Draco, dumbfounded, but Draco doesn't turn from the window. He just keeps watching the rain slowly creep down the glass.

"What are you — five hundred galleons? What about your assets? Surely there's some shares, a few estates — " Harry cuts himself off, certain that Draco's lying.

"No." The answer is spoken without a trace of emotion, not even resentment or bitterness.

"But — what happened?"

At last, Draco finally turns to face Harry. He studies him for a long moment, then speaks.

"Whatever usually happens after a war. Assets are frozen, accounts are emptied for recompense. Whatever money I had left was spent on legal fees."

Harry looks away, suddenly recalling the lengthy custody battle with Scorpius and the very expensive appeals. The process for one appeal could take up to two years and a few thousand galleons, and Draco had made no less than seven.

Suddenly, it all makes sense. The manor, falling to decay and disrepair, the gardening and cleaning spells Draco is clearly struggling to learn. He cannot employ a gardener or servants and he sent his last house-elf away.

"I'd like to look around the grounds," Harry says at last. Draco gives him a long, cool look.

"I assure you, Potter, there are no secret stashes of galleons in the rose gardens or the hedge maze."

"Regardless." It's a single word and a priceless trick that Harry picked up from Williamson. Nobody can argue with 'regardless' or 'be that as it may'. True to this, Draco lifts one shoulder in an elegant half-shrug.

"I can't stop you."

They make their way outside. Draco leads the way and Harry lets him — who knows what ensnarements may be lurking.

The grounds are just as miserable as the house, Harry thinks. Stone circles indicate where flowers used to bloom, but there's nothing left but dead twigs and barren soil. The few trees that are evergreen are overgrown now and they create a dark, claustrophobic feel along paths. There's a glass conservatory that seems to hold little more than compost now, and finally the rose gardens. A single rose is blooming, white and bold against the tangle of black thorns and dead shrubbery, and Harry frowns at it. When he touches one of the petals, the rose disintegrates and Draco whips around, reaching out and roughly shoving Harry away.

"You complete idiot! That took weeks to do!"

Harry stumbles back a few steps, but doesn't raise his wand. There's a short silence, and he can see Draco's face already paling. Even threatening a Wizards Under Watch officer with violence — let alone actually laying a hand on them — is grounds for an instant breach of conduct.

"What?" Harry says at last, prompting an explanation. Draco stares at him, as if uncertain whether Harry will hex him or not.

"Forget it," Draco says at last.

"What was it, just a summer spell? Calm down then," Harry says. He raises his wand. "Vivo Vixi Victum."

A second later, a rose blooms. A second, a third. A fourth. Soon, the whole rosebush is abloom with a hundred white roses. Draco stares at the roses with a mix of disbelief and despair.

"What was that spell?" he asks at last.

"What, the one I just used? Makes flowers bloom. Should stay that way for the rest of the season."

"But — I tried for weeks — "

Harry tries to remember the spells he'd noted on Draco's wand. "Well, you were using that Aestas one, weren't you? That's a very outdated and difficult spell. Nobody uses it anymore." He's a little pleased about knowing that, to be honest. All those hours of helping Mrs Weasley in the garden are actually paying off.

Draco stares at him for a long moment, then raises his wand. He pauses and looks to Harry, as if expecting him to suddenly write down a warning for merely drawing his wand.

There's a slight pause.

"Vixo — "

"Vivo."

"Vivo vix — "

"Vivo vixi."

"Vivo vixi vectum!" Perhaps it's annoyance at having to be corrected repeatedly by Harry, or perhaps just Draco's style, but the incantation is forceful and the wandwork a little too sharp. A leaf, dried-up and blackened by the winter frost, twitches once but otherwise nothing else happens. Harry catches sight of the disappointment flashing through Draco's eyes and despite himself, he finds himself walking up to him.

"You've got the wandwork wrong, that's the main problem." Harry holds out his own wand and then goes through the motions. "It's like you're drawing a circle, not a spiral."

He waits for a sharp retort or a defensive remark, but Draco does neither. He tenses a little, but then raises his wand again and, without the incantation, repeats the motion.

"A smaller circle. Too wide, and you're going to have a twenty-foot-high garden."

"Right," Draco says tersely. He takes a step back, repeats the motion once more, and says the incantation. This time, he speaks curtly but without force, and a clear ray of pale blue light radiates outward. A second later and colour washes forth like a tide, bringing a lively green colour to the leaves and sending roses blossoming so fast that Harry can hear the rustling of it.

He turns to look at Draco, and there's an expression he hadn't expected to see.

He's smiling.

It's a small, half-hidden smile, but it's genuine.

He looks up and catches Harry's eye, and the smile disappears in a second.

"Finished?" Draco asks curtly, his face returning to its unreadable expression, a flatness in his grey eyes, and Harry's suddenly reminded of the last visit, when he was caught staring at that photograph of Draco and Scorpius. Seeing moments he's not supposed to.

"Just the hedge maze, and then I'll be done."

Draco leads him to the hedge maze. It's an overgrown mess of shambling evergreens, and it reminds Harry uncomfortably of the Triwizard Tournament. He's not sure why he asked to see the gardens. Just to get out of the dilapidated manor, probably. He turns to glance at Draco and catches him with a calculating expression.

"What?"

"Nothing," Draco says, but it's clear he's considering something. As they make their back to the sweeping porch steps, he clears his throat. "I've received a wedding invitation."

"All right."

"For Pansy Parkinson. She's not on the Wizards Under Watch program," Draco adds.

He's asking permission to go, Harry suddenly realises. He remembers how Draco's request to attend Goyle's wedding was rejected.

"That's fine." Harry recalls the details of Pansy's mediocre life. "Unless the groom is someone I need to know about."

"He's Muggleborn."

The Ministry worker for the Department of Magical Games and Sports. Harry remembers now.

"Well, that's fine."

Draco nods once and Harry pauses on the last step.

"Well, I don't think there's anything else to discuss. Next week, Malfoy."

"Next week," Draco echoes, stepping inside and shutting the door.

Harry begins the long walk to the end of the property, where the anti-Apparation wards end and he can travel home in a whirl of space and time.


When Harry arrives home, however, he discovers two visitors waiting on his doorstep, both with identical disapproving expressions.

"Where have you been?" Hermione asks, her hands on her hips.

"Out." Harry has to squeeze past her to unlock the door.

"Out?" Ron repeats suspiciously. "Just...out?"

"Out...side."

"Oh, you've been outside. Thanks for that useful information, Harry, I can see why you're a top Auror."

"We dropped by to visit. You weren't here," Hermione says, as if she's caught Harry setting manticores onto small children. She follows Harry inside, taking off her knitted hat and patting her hair back into place.

"Just been doing some work," Harry says, leading the way to the living room. "Just the Wizards Under Watch program."

Hermione frowns; Ron doesn't seem concerned. He heads towards the sofa and drapes himself over it, reaching for a copy of Quidditch Weekly. "Heard about that new Chudley Cannons keeper, Harry?"

"Doesn't matter if they've got a new keeper, they'll have to replace the whole team to get anywhere."

"Take your shoes off," Hermione says to Ron. "You've got snow all over them!"

"It's only water! Harry doesn't mind. Got any butterbeer, Harry?"

Harry shakes his head. He needs to do some grocery shopping. The pantry is starting to look woefully empty. The kitchen is big, too big, he thinks. When they built it, they had visions of entertaining all their friends here, raising a family. Three or four kids. The counters stretch on forever and the walk-in pantry is designed for bulk storage. There's a set of stairs that leads to the wine cellar. Ginny loved a good wine and she collected many a fine vintage. Harry has no taste for it — it's all just pressed grape juice, he'd say, and she'd crinkle her nose at him.

Harry hasn't been to the wine cellar since Ginny's death.

"Mind if we stay for dinner?" Hermione asks, taking off her shoes and nudging Ron until he moves further along the sofa, giving her some room.

Harry never minds. They laugh and chat into the evening, the fire crackling merrily in the hearth as Ron shares news of his latest inventions with George and Hermione shares anecdotes about Hogwarts alumni. Harry updates them on Draco's case and they muse over it for a while; Ron is still of the opinion that Harry should reassign the case to 'some other poor sod'.

Long after the clock has struck ten o'clock and the table has been cleared, they're still idling chatting over their drinks. Hermione stifles a yawn and catches Harry's eye.

"I'm a little tired," she admits. "Should probably be off soon. Hugo's supposed to be staying the night at a friend's place, but he might want to come home early. He misses Rose an awful lot."

"Little toerag," Ron says affectionately. "When his big sister's around, all he does is whinge and complain. Soon as she's gone, he's slumped in the corner looking tragic."

They chat for a while longer, Ron polishing off his final drink, and then they merrily farewell Harry, stepping into his fireplace and disappearing in a flash of Floo powder.

Harry stands alone for a long time.

Though he loves his friends dearly, and loves how their visits fill the spaces in his empty house, he hates it afterwards. He feels the silences more keenly after they've gone, feels the emptiness looming like a void.

Somewhere, a clock ticks.

He slowly puts the goblets in the sink. Three of them.

Just like how it used to be with him, James, and Ginny.

Her eyes. Always twinkling at some secret joke. Hands moving across the sink — let me wash those, you can dry them — because that's how they always did it, one of them washing and the other drying, and they'd talk and laugh, and James would always wanting to help — let me put the dishes away, I can do it! —

And as quickly as the memory appears, it vanishes again. The noise and brightness disappears as if Harry's been plunged underwater.

These days, he always feels like he's underwater, drifting aimlessly, caught in endless tides.


It's midnight, but Draco is standing in the rose gardens. Lately he's had difficulties sleeping, walking around the manor late at night and sleeping only by the time of some half-destroyed internal clock. It makes him feel so disconnected and surreal, as if the world only exists when his eyes are open. Every time he blinks, the world collapses and then rebuilds itself in a second.

"Vivo Vixi Vectum." The words whisper through the air like a promise.

The gardens spring to life. Draco inhales, a half-catch of a laugh in his throat. The rows of tulips straighten as if coming up for air. The leaves unfurl like green umbrellas. He turns around, repeating the spell over and over, until the gardens are a wild storm of life, a crazed haze of young leaves and scarlet geraniums, sun-coloured daffodils and purple violets, azaleas the colour of a pink-streaked sunset, orchids the shade of a summer dusk.

He stands alone in the night as all around him, flowers burst to life, luminous in the thin moonlight.


The next day, he wakes up to an owl tapping on his window. Judging by the high sun, he's overslept again. It's not good, he knows.

He pulls the window open. The owl is rather too small for the parcel attached to it and seems to be struggling a great deal. Taking pity on it, Draco quickly unties the parcel and the owl gives a grateful hoot before flying away.

He returns to his bed, sitting on the corner of it, and frowns at the parcel. It's wrapped in brown paper, with his name and address scrawled in green ink. The handwriting is unfamiliar.

Gingerly, he unwraps it.

It's a book, bright and new, with 'latest edition!' emblazoned on the cover.

The Complete Guide to Herbology: Creating Magical Gardens and Landscapes.

Draco picks up the brown paper and turns it over. There's no return address, nor is there an inscription on the book, but he can guess who sent it.

He smiles wryly.


James takes a deep breath, slowly exhales, raises his wand, and speaks.

"Helixa."

It's a long moment before he dares to look. He glances down. The needle is still a needle. It doesn't look like a match at all.

"I am a Squib!" He throws his wand away angrily; Scorpius picks it up.

"It's okay. Just try again. You've got to focus on your wandwork. It's no use just swinging it around, you know."

"I'm not!" James reconsiders. "Well — maybe a little. But I like to make things look dramatic. It makes me feel like it will work more."

"Spells are about precision."

"I know, I know. You've told me a hundred times now. I'm trying, I honestly am." James accepts his wand back. "Thanks, Scorpius."

He tries again. This time, the needle turns to wood and James lets out a shout.

"Look! I nearly did it!" He holds up his hand; Scorpius looks at it with confusion. "High-five. You're supposed to hit it."

Scorpius hesitantly places his hand against James's. James laughs.

"Well, sort of. Haven't you ever given a high-five before? Never mind." He turns back to the half-needle and, feeling jubilant, raises his wand again. "Helixa."

This time, it turns into a complete match. James laughs and turns to Scorpius.

"Try a high-five again? No, you've got to hit my hand, not poke at it like it's a dead cat." James waits; Scorpius takes a breath and then slaps James's hand so hard that James stumbles backwards and doubles over. "Ouch! Not that hard!"

"I'm sorry!" Scorpius is distraught. "I didn't mean to — "

"Calm down, I'm still alive. Wow, you don't play around, do you? I bet you've got a mean left hook."

"Left hook?"

"You know, a punch?" James gives his hand a little shake, wincing slightly at the bright red skin. "Might have to teach you how to high-five without flaying someone's hand. Anyway, what do you reckon? Maybe I can have a go at that moon transfiguration. I could make a tenth moon for our sky." He points towards the vaulted ceiling.

"No. Not until you've mastered turning a needle into a match."

"Oh, you're mean. Worse than McGonagall." James pulls a face. "Hey, want to practice some other spells? Just take a break for a minute."

"You're not allowed to do moons yet," Scorpius says suspiciously, and James shakes his head.

"No, I was thinking defence spells. I got an 'Acceptable' in Defence Against the Dark Arts, after all. What do you reckon?"

Scorpius considers this, then gives a nod. James stands up straighter, feeling excited.

"Brilliant! All right, how about disarming?" He's pleased. They just finished practicing that spell today, and James has done well in class. "It's only fair that I let you know that I've done some serious disarming practice. Right, count of three? You might want to stand back. One, two, three!"

"Expelliarmus!" Scorpius's voice cuts through the air, clear and precise as a knife, and before James can even utter the incantation, he's flat on his back and his wand is in Scorpius's hand. He slowly raises his head; Scorpius is looking at him, wide-eyed, and shrinking back as if fearing retribution.

"That's — you said you wanted to practice — I'm sorry — "

"Don't apologise, you muppet," James laughs, standing up and walking over to him. "That was terrific! You could disarm anyone, I reckon! Even a professor."

Scorpius stares at his feet, a slight flush rising in his face. "Do you think so?"

"I know so. Come on, you have to show me how you did that."

Scorpius looks up at him. "Fine," he says, "but by midnight, you have to be able to turn needles into matches in a second."

"You drive a hard bargain," James says, grinning and nudging Scorpius to show he's joking. He has to do that sometimes, just to make sure Scorpius knows. Sometimes he takes everything too seriously.

But when Scorpius looks at him, there's a little smile hiding in the corner of his mouth.


The next day, in Transfiguration, he listens attentively. His friends keep looking at him — he can feel them waiting, expecting the endless jokes and smart retorts. But James steadfastly ignores them. This is important.

When McGonagall sets them to work turning a mouse from white to black, James does his hardest to remember all of Scorpius's advice. He'd said that James tended to make his wandwork too 'big', with too many gestures and dramatic swishing, and that he tended to blurt out incantations instead of speaking clearly and deliberately. What else?

Concentrate on what you want to change, not what you want to see.

Next to him, Paul is trying to get his attention, waving his mouse around.

"Look, James! Bet you could have fun with these! Put it down Jennifer's collar," he whispers. "Dare you!"

"Not now."

"Come on! You can do a million pranks with it!"

James blocks him out, trying to concentrate on the small mouse curled up in his palm. With his other hand, he draws his wand and makes a small, careful motion before tapping the mouse twice. It opens its eyes just as the wand touches it and immediately turns a beautiful jet-black.

"Very good, Potter. And now, back to white." McGonagall is looking at him, her eyebrows raised slightly. There's the faintest hint of approval around the corners of her mouth.

James smiles widely, elated with success, and turns to Paul.

"Did you see that?" he asks him excitedly. Paul scowls at him.

"So what? Anyone can do it." He haphazardly taps his mouse; it emits a frightened squeak and immediately turns into a little puddle of fur, legs and ears sticking out in very odd directions.

James turns away as McGonagall swoops upon Paul, full of wrathful remonstrations, and concentrates on his mouse.

A few seconds later it turns snow-white again.


James waits, his invisibility cloak over him. When he sees Scorpius round the corner, a tentative wand-light held out, he grins and creeps towards him, then pounces, throwing his invisibility cloak over them both.

Scorpius stumbles slightly, then turns and looks. "Oh!" He reaches out, touching the material. "I don't think this is Demiguise fur, you know."

"Probably not." James shrugs. "Guess what, Scorpius? I did it!"

"Did what?"

"Turned a mouse black, then back to white! McGonagall said it was very good."

Scorpius gives a tentative smile. "Good job, James."

"What are you talking about? It's all thanks to you. Now come on, we're going on an adventure."

"Where to?"

"Anywhere you want to go! We'll hide under my cloak. We can go anywhere."

"Anywhere?"

"Anywhere." James laughs and stretches out his arms, as much as the cloak will allow him. "Pick any place, and I'll take you there."

"The lake," Scorpius says, as if expecting James to shake his head.

But James doesn't.

"Let's go," he says, grinning.

They sneak out of the castle together, whispering to each other occasionally. Scorpius even laughs at some of James's jokes.

James feels the happiest he's been since he arrived at Hogwarts.


Draco stands by the window, his back against the cool glass, and stares at the dress robes laid out on the bed. In his hand, the invitation is neatly folded.

Pansy Parkinson and Christopher Clayton request the pleasure of your company…

He'd introduced them to each other. How's that for irony? Astoria had been away and Draco had been invited to a garden party by one of the old Pureblood families — he can't remember which one now, but it would have been rude to decline — and he hadn't wanted to go alone. Pansy had agreed to go with him. They'd been much closer then and Draco had the feeling an affair was imminent.

And it was there she had met Clayton. Draco had made it clear he found the man to be insufferably boring; afterwards, his constant reference to Clayton as 'that ill-bred prat' had caused a rift between him and Pansy.

He dresses slowly. It seems to take an age to button up his shirt, his fingers numb with cold. The heating spells need to be reinstated again. He looks at himself in the mirror and adjusts his plain black robes. He'll be late to the wedding, he thinks, but it won't matter.

Finally, he tucks the invitation into one pocket and leaves the manor, stopping first by the rose garden to pick a single white rose. The Malfoys throughout the ages have always presented a single, prized rose from their gardens no matter whose wedding they're attending.

He Disapparates just as the rain begins again.


It's raining at the wedding, too. Draco stares down at the invitation in his hand, pausing after Apparating so quickly. The rain speckles across the parchment, causing ink to run like tears.

After a moment, he looks up. Across the tree-lined avenue, he can see the open doors of the church. A small wedding. Pansy's family, her three cousins wearing bridesmaid dresses. Pansy is beautiful in an ivory dress. Her husband is shaking hands with his relatives, receiving congratulations.

Clayton looks up first. He sees Draco standing across the avenue, standing in the rain. He touches Pansy's elbow; she looks up and sees him.

Both their smiles fade. Around them, the cheerful relatives continue their well-wishes.

She hadn't expected him to come, Draco realises. Neither of them had. Now they're both staring at him, their radiant smiles giving way to identical frowns.

The invitation had merely been a polite formality. He looks down at it again.

Pansy Parkinson and Christopher Clayton request the pleasure of your company…

Ink runs over his fingers, joined by a thin trickle of blood where a thorn from the rose has pricked his thumb.

He turns and leaves.


He Apparates just outside the manor gates and begins the long walk up the driveway. By the time he's arrived at the front doors, the parchment is a sodden mess. He slowly pushes the doors open and steps inside.

"What happened to you?"

He jumps, then closes his eyes slowly.

"Potter. Right. I forgot."

"You forgot?" Harry sounds disbelieving. "You've only had these meetings for the past million years."

Draco leans against the door, his eyes still closed. It feels reassuring to have something solid behind him. He can hear the soft drip of water running from his hair, his clothes, his skin. He opens his eyes at last and drops the invitation onto the floor. After a moment, the rose lands beside it, the petals crushed and bruised.

"Just let yourself in, then?" Draco asks, but his voice just sounds tired and defeated.

"I wasn't about to stand on the freezing porch waiting for you," Harry says. "So...the wedding."

He looks up. Harry's giving him a calculating look.

"The wedding," Harry repeats. "That's what it was. Pansy Parkinson, right?"

"Right." Draco takes his weight off the door and stands up straight, walking past Harry and into the hallway beyond the stairs, making his way to his father's study. Harry follows him, lingering by the doorway as Draco settles into the leather chair behind his father's desk.

"Firewhiskey?"

"I don't drink on the job," Harry says. Draco laughs humourlessly.

"Of course you don't." He opens the desk drawer and removes a bottle of Ogden's finest, pouring himself a neat dram.

Harry waves his wand at the fireplace; a fire springs to life. Draco, remembering his wet clothes, thinks of how the damp must be ruining the leather chair. He doesn't particularly care.

There's a long silence. He knocks back the firewhiskey in a single shot and places the empty glass upon the desk. Harry looks at him, then makes his way to an armchair near the fire.

"I suppose you'll be wanting my wand," Draco prompts at last.

"I suppose," Harry echoes. Draco tosses his wand through the air; Harry catches it and looks at it for a long moment.

"What's the matter?" Draco says. "Forgot the incantation, Potter?"

"This isn't your wand."

Draco looks at Harry for a long moment, then pours himself another neat dram. To his surprise, Harry stands and moves over to the desk, sitting in the chair opposite Draco.

"If you're offering, I'll take one."

"Thought you didn't drink on the job."

Harry levels him with a long look. Draco gets out another glass.

"I know it's not my wand." Draco slowly pours a second dram and slides it across the desk to Harry. "But I already asked for it back, Potter, and you'll learn this of me: when I ask, I only do so once."

"Is that true of your seven appeals?"

Draco pauses. Then he downs the firewhiskey in one swift movement.

"You've got access to my legal records. How charming."

"Of course I do, Malfoy. With your past — "

"My past, my past." Draco stands up and hurls the glass at the wall. It shatters immediately on impact.

Silence reigns and he's suddenly aware of himself. He sits down again. He supposes Harry will write him up now. Intimidating behaviour. That's what his previous officers wrote. Every time Draco so much as looked at them funny, they'd look terrified and immediately write him up. Let alone hurling objects around them…

Harry lifts the glass of firewhiskey, as if toasting Draco, and drinks half of it before setting the glass down again.

"I remember you asking," he says, as if nothing had happened. "You said I had something of yours, and you wanted it back."

It takes Draco a moment to catch up to the conversation. He remembers that night well.

"It served me well, you know. Better than many other wands I've had to use." Harry finishes off the rest of the firewhiskey. "Hawthorn, wasn't it? That wand...it was very reliable. Found it much easier to use than I expected. I used it during most of the war."

It angers Draco, to think of Harry using his wand, but he clenches his jaw and remains silent.

"I suppose you're angry about it." Harry smiles sardonically when Draco gives him a suspicious look. "I would be, if someone stole my wand and started using it. Not nice, really."

"If this is your idea of a game, Potter, then I'd rather not play. If you have my wand, give it back."

"I thought you never asked twice."

"It was not a request."

"I don't think you're in a position to be particularly demanding, Malfoy." Nevertheless, Harry reaches into the sleeve of his robe and removes a wand.

Draco's wand.

His breath catches in his throat. It's been seventeen years, old friend…

Harry holds it out and Draco hesitantly reaches for it, as if expecting the wand to dissipate into smoke the second he touches it. But it doesn't. There's a long pause, when Harry and himself are both holding onto it, and then Draco tightens his grip and Harry relinquishes his.

The last time he held this wand, he was a terrified seventeen-year-old, not knowing which way to go, not knowing anything. To his horror, he can feel the tears prickling in his eyes and he stands abruptly.

"Well, if that's all, you should leave. I'm expecting company," Draco lies, his voice curt. Harry looks startled, then a frown settles over his face.

"Well, fine. See you next week," he snaps, abruptly turning and leaving. Draco listens to his footsteps, then the front doors closing, and then he slowly sits back down again.

He knows it wasn't his imagination. It took effort to take his wand from Harry, as if there was an invisible magnet pulling the wand away from him. There's still an allegiance there, Draco's certain of it. His wand has come home, but it's not the same.

He sits in the study for a long time, listening to the crackling of the fire, wondering what the first spell should be. He's almost too afraid to try, as if his wand will somehow reject him.

A simple Lumos, he thinks, or an Alohomora. Nothing too taxing.

And yet, as he raises the wand, he finds himself saying something entirely different.

"Prior incantantem."

The ghostly stag rises from his wand like smoke. It's just a ghost of a spell, Draco reminds himself. Expecto Patronum.

The patronus lowers its head and for a moment Draco thinks it's going to charge him. It walks forward slowly, until it's about a foot away, looking at Draco.

"You're not even a patronus," Draco tells it. "Just a ghost."

The stag pays no attention to that line of reasoning, instead leaning forward to nudge Draco. He jumps away, instinctively avoiding the antlers before remembering it has no corporeal form. Still, there's a slightly unpleasant sensation as the antlers pass through his skin, like a chill from a draught. Draco's certain the patronus should be fading by now, but the stag shows no sign of disappearing.

"Go away," he tells it. The patronus steps back, regarding him with luminescent eyes, and remains standing silently by the desk.

And Merlin, he doesn't know what's wrong with him — maybe he's just sick of this empty manor, his footsteps the only noise, or just sick of the dark shadows that seem to never lift from the corners of every room — but sitting there with that brightly-shining patronus standing beside him like a silent but ever-watchful guard — he feels somehow all right, just for a moment, as if the world has righted itself on its axis.

Chapter Text

Draco fights.

But his wand, it seems, is determined not to give in. Every spell is a struggle, every charm is a battle. Even the Lumos spell appears taxing; the wandwork feels lagging. After a week of efforts, he's nearly mad with frustration. When he tries to light the fireplace, his wand won't complete the swish movement.

"Incendio!" Draco repeats forcibly, but again, there's a faint feeling of resistance as he tries to move the wand through the air. It's like pushing it through treacle. "Incendio! Incendio!"

Nothing. In a rage, he hurls his wand across the room.

The wards tremor. Draco curses loudly and storms down to the entrance hall, throwing the doors open.

"What?" he snarls.

Harry's eyebrows rise. Nevertheless, he speaks without affront. "Might I come in, then?"

"If you must."

Harry waits, but when Draco says nothing further, he gives a small shrug and begins to make his way to the front parlour room.

"It's freezing in here, Malfoy," he says conversationally. "Haven't you lit any fires?"

"No, I haven't lit any fires, Potter, because you've got my wand!" His last word rises in anger, echoing around the room. Harry blinks at him, looking confused.

"What are you talking about? I gave — "

"It doesn't work! I don't know what you've done to it, but the stupid thing won't even do a simple Incendio! It's like trying to cast spells underwater!"

"Really?"

"I just said so, didn't I? Oh, you're going to write something down in that stupid file, aren't you? 'Dear Ministry, Malfoy was very mean to me today. Let's put him on probation.' Well — "

Harry starts to laugh. Draco pauses mid-sentence.

"It's not funny. Stop laughing, Potter."

"I can't help it. You made it sound like the Ministry is an overbearing parent. And trust me, you have no idea how close to the truth that is." Harry sets the file aside. "Give me your wand."

Draco passes his wand over, feeling slightly mollified and to be honest, quite uncertain how to proceed with the conversation. Harry has laughed at Draco's misfortunes many a time, but Draco thinks it's the first time Harry has ever laughed at one of Draco's caustic remarks.

"This isn't your wand."

"No, that's the one I've been using for the past seventeen years. My mother's wand."

"I want to look at your wand. The one I returned."

"I told you, it's useless. I've been performing spells with this one."

"I don't care about what spells you've been performing," Harry says candidly. "I want to know why your wand isn't working."

Draco pauses a moment, then turns and walks down the hallway, listening to Harry's footsteps behind him. He enters the study, looks around for a long moment, then fetches the wand from the floor. Harry doesn't comment on that, just indicates for Draco to hand it to him.

"No."

"Malfoy, I'm offering to help," Harry says with exasperation.

"No. It's something to do with allegiance, I'm certain. If I give it back to you, it will reaffirm you as the true owner."

"Don't be ridiculous. I'd have to disarm you. Wands don't change allegiances every time someone picks them up or I'd own every wand I touched."

"I'm not giving it to you."

"Then I'll have to disarm you," Harry snaps. "In which case, it will change allegiance. I hope you're beginning to see how ridiculous this is."

"Fine!" Draco tosses the wand onto the desk. Harry sighs and picks it up, weighing it in his hand, then points at the fireplace.

"Incendio."

A bright fire immediately leaps to life. Draco stares at it for a long moment, his heart giving a traitorous ache. He's right. His wand is no longer his own.

"Now you try," Harry says, passing the wand back to Draco. He tries to levitate a vase; it manages to hover an inch before dropping.

They both try a few other spells, but the results are the same: the wand is perfectly happy to obey Harry's commands, but resists all of Draco's attempts at spells and charms.

"But I gave it back," Harry says with bewilderment. "I gave it to you." He frowns. "Maybe...maybe you need to disarm me."

"Disarm you?" Draco repeats blankly.

"Yes."

Draco picks up his mother's wand. Harry stands by the fireplace, Draco's wand in his hand, waiting patiently.

"Expelliarmus."

The wand drops from Harry's hand. He looks at Draco.

"You've got to mean it. Don't just stand there and say it like you're reciting a grocery list."

"I can't help it," Draco snaps.

"Why not?"

Draco lets the silence drag on, but Harry's beginning to look impatient. At last, he reluctantly speaks.

"My last two probationary notes were written because they noticed the Expelliarmus spell in my wand history."

"Oh, for — I'm not going to give you a probationary note for disarming me, all right?" Harry picks up the fallen wand. "Try again."

"Expelliarmus!"

This time, Harry stumbles back a few steps and the wand flies out of his hand, soaring towards Draco. He catches it in his left hand and pauses for a moment before pointing it at the vase again.

"Wingardium Leviosa."

Once more, the wand resists him. The vase wobbles slightly, then falls over. Harry looks at it, then to Draco, and frowns.

"But you disarmed me," he says.

"My wand apparently disagrees."

"Maybe you have to really mean it," Harry says, walking over to take the wand from Draco and examine it. "Maybe it has to be taken from me in the same way it was taken from you."

The memories rush through Draco's mind — the desperation as he battled with Harry, trying to hold onto his wand — and he frowns.

"Physically remove it, rather than disarm?"

"No, I was thinking — more like, you know..." Harry gestures helplessly. "You have to mean it."

"Oh, I have to mean it. You should be a Charms professor, has anyone ever told you that?" Draco says curtly, his frustration at the situation getting the better of him. Harry gives him a long, calculating look before raising Draco's wand.

"Anteoculatia!"

Draco only just avoids the incoming hex, leaping out of the way just in time. Behind him, the vase shatters on impact.

"What are you — "

"Locomotor mortis!"

Draco ducks behind the desk, hearing something shatter above him.

"Are you insane?" he shouts.

Silence. Draco shifts uneasily, then — when he can't stand the waiting — he stands.

Harry is right next to the desk, holding the wand ready, an incantation already poised on his lips, but Draco beats him to it.

"Obliviate!"

Harry's eyes widen and he leaps to one side, narrowly avoiding the spell.

"You idiot!" he shouts angrily. "I was doing harmless jinxes! Obliviate? Really?"

"It was the first thing I thought of!"

"Seriously? 'Obliviate' is the first spell you instinctively perform? Oh, trust me, Malfoy, that's going in the file. Steleus!"

"Protego!" A blue shield bursts to life from Draco's wand, deflecting the spell.

"Herbifors!"

Harry doesn't duck that one fast enough; the spell catches on his sleeve and flowers immediately begin sprouting from the material. He tries to shake the flowers away and Draco seizes the opportunity, raising his wand again.

"Expel — "

"Flipendo!"

The spell hits Draco square in the chest. He flies back, hitting the bookcase hard, and crumples to the ground, books raining down around him. He knows he's supposed to be disarming Harry — it's the whole point — but surely he can extract some revenge first. He can almost feel the bruises forming across his back. Couldn't Harry have cast the jinx with a little less power?

He looks up just in time to see Harry looking uncertainly at him.

"Oh, good," Harry says. "For a moment there, I thought I'd knocked you out. Didn't realise — "

"Everte statum!"

Harry, much in a similar manner to Draco, stumbles backwards and lands heavily against the wall.

"You total prat! You underhanded, sneaky little git — "

"Epoximise!"

"Malfoy, no!" Harry looks down at his hand in dismay, trying to let go of the wand. But it's adhered unshakeably to his hand. "How are you supposed to disarm me now?"

"It will certainly be interesting. Expelliarmus!"

"Evanesce!" But Harry points the wand at himself, and there's a brilliant flash of blue light. When the light fades, Harry is gone.

Draco stares at the spot where he last saw Harry, and for a moment, he has to admire the cunning. Apparation wards make both Apparating and Disapparating impossible while in the manor; in substitute, Harry has used a vanishing spell on himself. But who knows where he'll turn up? As far as Draco knows, it's impossible for the caster of the spell to choose their destination.

He grips his wand in both hands and edges towards the doorway, glancing down the hallway. Nothing.

"Homenum revelio," he whispers, the spell washing down the hallway like a tide. Nothing is revealed; apparently, no human lingers in the shadows.

He makes his way to the entrance hall, whipping around quickly to glance up the sweeping stairway. Nobody there. At least the stairs – carpeted with a stair-runner — soften his footsteps. Upon reaching the landing, he sees movement and whips around.

"Expelliarmus!"

The spell sears a hole right through an ancestral portrait and Draco immediately realises the movement was nothing more than one of the figures in the portrait. He sees more movement, this time on his left, and immediately shoots off another disarming spell. This time, he hits a family portrait.

"Damn it!"

The back of his neck suddenly prickles, and it's the only warning he gets.

"Protego totalum!"

"Melofors!"

Draco's spell creates a small protective bubble around him just as Harry's spell hits it and deflects. Harry, unperturbed by the lack of success, simply fires off a tripping jinx.

They duel each other down the hallway, then Draco uses a smokescreen spell to make his escape into a guest room, where he can quickly cast a Finite spell over his right hand (which Harry has turned into a butternut pumpkin). His hand back to normal, he looks around the corner of the doorway just in time to dodge a knee-reversal hex.

"Cantis!" Draco shoots the spell without really aiming, too busy trying to avoid the incoming hex, and he can tell the spell missed its target by a wide margin. Harry wastes no time sending another hex bounding towards Draco.

"Calvario!"

"Avifors!"

"Sectumsempra!" Harry sends a bolt of white lightning towards Draco before a look of horror suddenly crosses his face. The spell only just misses Draco. "I didn't mean that!" Harry shouts out, looking panic-stricken. "I meant to say Rictusempra, I just — I don't know why I said the other one — "

"Expelliarmus!"

The wand flies from Harry's hand with such force that Harry flies backwards, hitting the wall hard and sending several portraits crashing down, their glass panes shattering. Draco catches the wand in his right hand.

"I didn't mean it," Harry says, straightening up. Glass crunches under his feet as he walks towards Draco. "Honestly, I swear I meant Rictusempra, I have no idea…"

Both spells he has used before, Draco muses. Rictusempra — an infinite tickling charm — Harry had used successfully on Draco during that second-year Duelling Club. The only difference between the curses are three little letters and he's inclined to believe Harry's apparent mistake, although less inclined to forgive it.

"There's quite a difference," Draco says, his voice cold, "between those two spells."

"I know, I know!" Harry looks miserable and Draco studies him for a moment before raising his wand.

"Lumos."

His wand immediately glows, bathing the hallway with a soft blue light. No resistance, no difficulties. His wand has truly returned to him now.

"Did it work?"

Draco glances up. Harry's looking at him, waiting.

"Yes."

"So it's yours again?"

"Evidently."

"Oh. Well, good." Harry looks uncomfortable. "Er...sorry about the hex."

Draco shrugs. "I'm sure if it had hit me, you probably would've developed a guilt complex and a drinking problem and subsequently died an undignified death, sad and alone in a gutter somewhere. So, in any case, I would have eventually won."

Harry stares at him.

"That was a joke, Potter. You may laugh."

"That was supposed to be funny? Your sense of humour is extraordinarily dry, then."

"So I've heard."

Harry just gives him another look, as if Draco's a particularly difficult rune that he can't translate, and Draco turns to walk back to the entrance hall. He walks past the signs of destruction — ruined portraits, tapestries with scorch marks, cracks in the wall and, in one instance, a splintered door. Much to Draco's irritation, he hears Harry using constant Reparo spells.

"Stop it."

"Stop what?"

"Fixing things."

"I am trying to be nice," Harry says. "It looks like an earthquake came through here."

"And what does it matter? There were already cracks in the ceiling and walls long before you started this duel, Potter."

Harry is silent for a long time before he responds. "Yes, I suppose there were."

When they reach the entrance hall, Harry departs without another word.

Draco stands alone in his manor.

In the distance, he hears the shatter of glass against stone.


In the long white snows of winter, Scorpius and James chase each other around the castle like two playful foxes. Always after dark, the invisibility cloak tucked into James's bag just in case. But nobody seems to see them. They linger on the edge of the Forbidden Forest, whispering ghost stories; they circle the lake, observing the edges of the water that have frozen over.

"We could skate across it," Scorpius says, and they slide awkwardly across the surface in shoes with not enough grip, hanging tightly onto each other and laughing. Whenever one falls the other collapses with him, until they're playing silly games, trying to deliberately make each other fall.

And on nights when it's too frosty even for Scorpius, the boy with eyes the colour of a snow-tinted dusk, they stay in their room. Scorpius has transformed it into a summer's day in there, lush gardens and hazy azure skies, and James has transfigured all the daisies himself from a row of pencils. He's getting better and better. In class, Professor McGonagall gives him a raised eyebrow now whenever she passes his desk — her expression of approval. And in Charms, James is quickly surpassing his peers.

Tonight, they're practising Defence Against the Dark Arts.

Well, at least that's what James tells himself as he hangs onto the top of a transfigured tree, waiting for Scorpius to pass beneath. He'll drop on him like one of those assassins in his favourite adventure comics.

Scorpius is sidling along the wall below, looking around warily. James shouts a dramatic war-cry and flings himself down; Scorpius's eyes widen and he brings his wand up in a sweeping motion. The next thing James knows, he's softly bouncing off an invisible bubble that surrounds Scorpius.

"Ha! If we were Muggles, you'd be dead."

"Not dead, but definitely injured," Scorpius says with certainty.

"No way, Muggles are way tough. They're like...bowling balls. You should see my Uncle Dudley, he's built like a tank."

"You have a lot of uncles."

"Way too many. And great-aunts, and cousins, and my grandparents. On my mother's side, obviously."

"I wish I had a lot of relatives," Scorpius says wistfully.

"No, you don't. We have to go visit Dudley once a year, on Christmas, and it's awful. I don't know why we go. Dudley goes on and on about Muggle sports, and Dad just sits there and nods, and then they tell each other all those lies adults like to say — you know, 'oh, we must do this again' and all that tosh, and then we leave." James climbs up the tree again like a monkey.

"It would be nice to have cousins, at least." Scorpius pauses as Pan sticks her head out of his pocket, then gives her a gentle pat. "Just to have friends."

"Hey, you've got friends! I bet all the Ravenclaws think you're brilliant. They like smart people."

"I haven't got friends." Scorpius gives Pan a final pat. "I'm no good at it."

"Liar! What about me?"

"You're friends with everyone."

"That's because I'm brilliant." James half-falls off the tree, landing awkwardly in the grass, but Scorpius doesn't return his smile. "I'm not friends with everyone, you know," James adds, standing up. "I mean, it's different types of friends. There's the friends that you sort of say hello to in the corridor, but you're hoping they don't actually stop for a chat because you don't really have much to say to them. Then there's the friends that you sit next to in class but only because you don't know anybody else." James pauses, thinking. "Then there's the friends you actually quite like having a chat with, bit of a lark, that sort of thing. And that's it."

"What about best friends?"

"Oh, I have loads of those."

"I thought you're only supposed to have one, really. Otherwise, everyone will know all your secrets."

James shifts uncomfortably. He's never really had a best friend. He wouldn't dare share his secrets with Paul or Martin, and especially not Nate.

"Well," he says. "I lied, actually. I haven't got loads of best friends. They're a bit tricky to make, aren't they? I mean, they're pretty important, you don't want to mess up and choose the wrong one."

"We could be best friends, couldn't we?"

James had always envisioned his eventual best friend as a fellow Gryffindor, a daring and robust boy who would laugh loudly at all of James's jokes and always have funny prank ideas. The thin Ravenclaw boy before him couldn't be further removed from such a person. Scorpius hardly laughs, and when he does so, it's quietly. A tiny curl of amusement on his lips. And he's not really the sort for pranks, either. He likes to just walk around the lake, or teach James how to block a disarming spell, or just sit in silence.

"You'd make a brilliant best friend," James says suddenly. "What do you think?"

Scorpius smiles shyly.


James sits in the common room, a quill in one hand. He's supposed to be writing his History of Magic essay, but he's staring out the window and daydreaming. The snowflakes are spiralling lazily past the window, flecks of white in the pale winter sky. He can see his own face reflected in the glass, the flames of the hearth-fire flickering behind him. A snowflake drifts across the reflection of his face, seeming to pause for a moment across the iris of his eye.

"Hey, James!"

He jumps as someone slams down something next to him. He blinks and looks at it. It looks like a nondescript book.

"Check it out," Nate says with great satisfaction. "It's the latest Wizarding Wheeze. If you try and read it, it makes you see double of everything! And look, Paul ordered a new bunch of Extendable Ears. Reckon we can plant one in the girls' dormitory?"

"I don't know." James isn't really paying attention. He's busy wondering if he can sneak away tonight and practise some more transfiguration.

"What's wrong with you?" Paul demands, coming over. "You've been really odd these last few weeks, James."

"Yeah," Martin chimes in, joining them. "You've been studying way too much! You used to be fun. Now you're suddenly better than everyone...think you're too good for us, much?"

"It's not that!" James protests. "It's just...my grades, they weren't — "

"You're Harry Potter's son! Since when do you care about grades? The professors would give you good grades, anyway. Slughorn treats you like a celebrity."

"That's not true! I work hard for my grades," James says hotly, thinking of all the hard work he's done and all the time Scorpius has spent helping him.

"Well, even if it's not true, who cares? You could drop out of Hogwarts and it wouldn't matter. Your dad has so much money he could probably buy you five houses and a Quidditch team."

James shifts uncomfortably. His father is rather wealthy — James has never been left wanting for anything — but it makes him feel slightly awkward now. Thankfully, Martin makes a joke about Quidditch teams and the conversation wanders into idle chatter. James listens for a while, then collects his things and begins edging towards the portrait hole, planning his escape. If he's lucky, he might find Scorpius in the library.

"Trouble in paradise?"

He jumps, then scowls. "Go away, Rose. Nobody asked your opinion."

She only narrows her eyes at him, a stack of books held in her arms like a shield.

"Well," she says, "I'm just glad you've finally come to your senses and left those daft friends of yours behind. No midnight adventures lately, I've noticed."

Rose always notices too much, James thinks with annoyance.

"For your information, I've still been having midnight adventures," he retorts. "Just not with them." He tilts his head towards his friends.

"Well, I hope your latest friend is an improvement on those twerps," Rose snaps. "If your grades are anything to go by, I'll assume you've made a sensible Ravenclaw friend."

Definitely notices too much. James shifts uncomfortably.

"It's none of your business," he says at last. "You don't see me telling you off for hanging around with those dopey third-year Hufflepuff girls."

"They are not dopey! Candice is very intelligent, and Charlotte is the kindest girl you'll ever met."

"See? Dopey," James says meanly. "Unlike you, I like spending time with 'those twerps' or, as I like to call them, my friends. And if you tell Aunt Hermione or Uncle Ron anything, I'll write to Dad and tell him that you've gotten so academically competitive that you've started using your intelligence for evil purposes and you're secretly hexing all the first-years."

"You little — James Potter, you're unbelievable!" Rose seethes. "They would never believe that!"

"Or would they? Everyone knows how you're always trying to be top in the class."

"Since when did you get so cunning?" Rose snaps. "You've changed a lot since you've arrived here, you know."

"Good," James says defiantly, giving Rose a look.

She just narrows her eyes at him.


Later on, near midnight, James wraps himself up in the invisibility cloak and sneaks through the common room to avoid his friends, waiting until a couple of fifth-years come barreling through the portrait hole so he can slip out and escape.

He meets Scorpius by the lake.

"It's freezing." His breath puffs into the air like a ghost.

They walk to keep warm. Pan climbs onto James's shoulder and nestles around the back of his neck, keeping him warm; Scorpius practises a heating charm and produces a handful of blue flames.

It's quiet, and it's taken James a long time to get used to these silences. He's always been chatty, keen to fill empty places with cheerful energy. But it's another lesson he learned from Scorpius. There's something soothing, he finds now, about listening to the crisp snow crunch underfoot as the stars shine bright and clear above them. Hogwarts shines like a lantern, the windows dotted by orange glows. If James half-closes his eyes, he can almost imagine Hogwarts is a dying fire, lit with warm embers and coals.

"Are you going home for Christmas break?" James asks, suddenly remembering that their break begins next week.

Scorpius nods. "Are you?"

"Of course!" James hesitates, then speaks with honesty. "I really miss my dad. I think that's one of the hardest things about Hogwarts, don't you?"

Scorpius nods again.

They walk on, surrounded by silence and snow.


Harry waits on the platform, unable to stop smiling as he sees his son for the first time in three months.

"James!" he shouts, seeing him step off the Hogwarts Express and look around the platform. James turns and sees him; his eyes light up and he hurries towards Harry, a messenger bag slung over one shoulder.

"Dad! You wouldn't believe what happened in Transfiguration last week — "

"Wait up, where's your luggage?"

"This is it. What? I don't need to bring everything home, it's only two weeks — "

"Your hair!" Harry notices the wild shock of black hair. "You'll need a haircut."

"I will not," James says at once, drawing up to his full height. Taller already, Harry thinks. "I'm going to grow my hair out like Uncle Bill."

"I don't think so! Where's all your homework?"

"What homework?"

"I went to Hogwarts too, you know. I know how it works. You'll be completing all your homework before you open any presents."

"Oh, did you get me a Sneakoscope? You did, didn't you?" James is hopping about, full of energy and excitement. "I knew it! And a Gobstones set, did you get one of those? Everyone at Hogwarts has one except me, it's not fair. And the latest Wizarding Wheeze collection set, and I want a pet ghoul."

"We've talked about this, you're not getting a ghoul — "

"Dad, look! The train's leaving already!" James points. "Where do you think it's going? Does it go back to Hogsmeade? I want to go to Hogsmeade, it's not fair, Teddy always looks so smug when he's leaving for it! He told me that they give out free Honeydukes sweets to all Hogwarts students, and there's a house of little goblins that will do all your homework for only two knuts and a nice cake!"

Harry laughs. "There's no such thing. I've told you before, don't listen to all of Teddy's little stories."

And just like that, James is back, Harry thinks with a hidden smile, chatting away and complaining and being distracted by every tiny thing. Harry uses a portkey to take them home — side-along Apparition can be dangerous if one of them loses focus — and they tumble into their front garden, nearly falling head-first into a pile of snow. James is jubilant.

"I'm going to build a snow-hippogriff!"

"No you're not, you're going inside to unpack and change out of your school robes."

"But — "

"James! Get back here, you're trekking snow everywhere. I just cleaned these floors — "

"Ugh," James moans, but he dutifully returns and kicks off his shoes.

As James dashes off again to unpack, Harry listens to the footsteps racing down the hallway. By the kitchen counter, he can see James's shoes carelessly tossed aside, and he can hear him racing about every now and again, doors opening and closing.

He doesn't know how one child can fill the house with so much energy, but suddenly his heart fills with so much love and gratitude that it aches.


Draco waits at the train station, feeling inexplicably anxious as he searches the crowds for his son. Plenty of smiling faces and chatty students, but none of them are any he cares for.

Footsteps. He turns. Scorpius is beside him.

"Ready to go home?" Draco asks quietly. Scorpius nods.

He uses a portkey to get home. When Scorpius was a little boy, he loved portkeys, loved the rushing sensation. I'm flying, he would shout.

They land just atop the manor's porch steps. Scorpius stumbles and nearly falls; Draco steadies him and then taps the front door with his wand, unlocking it. He steps inside, ushering Scorpius in front.

Scorpius stops dead in the entrance hall.

"What happened?" he asks wonderingly. Draco clears his throat, uncertain as to how Scorpius will react to having his childhood home ripped apart. The wallpaper is half-stripped; furniture has been moved aside, carelessly stacked in corners.

"I'm renovating the manor, Scorpius."

Scorpius crinkles his nose. It's a habit he's had since he was a toddler, and it's what he does when he wants to smile but isn't sure.

"What sort of renovations?"

"Well, I was thinking it could do with a bit of light and space. What do you think? I was waiting for you to come home and choose the colours for your room."

Scorpius smiles then, a small but genuine smile. "I can pick any colour?"

"Any colour."

"What about Chudley Cannons?"

Draco is aghast. "Orange? You want orange?"

Scorpius nods. Draco feigns careful consideration.

"I suppose. I'll order the paint tonight. Bright orange, the same colour as a clementine."

"No! I don't really want orange."

"Too late. And all the furniture will have to match. I'll buy you an avocado bed and a wardrobe the colour of mud."

"No, that's horrible!" Scorpius is indignant, and Draco can't help it. He laughs. Hogwarts has changed his son. The frightened little boy sent adrift at the end of the summer has come back with a certain confidence, a certain courage that hadn't been there before.

"Want to see the drawing room? I thought I'd start with that room," Draco says, leading Scorpius to the drawing room. The floor has been completely torn up, revealing the underlay, and the walls have been stripped to the frame. Insulation drags along the ground like wisps of cloud.

"It's all gone," Scorpius says.

"Yes. I'm going to make it into a sunroom." Draco takes Scorpius by the shoulders and turns him until he's facing the northern wall. "See that? I'm going to take it all out and put in windows. From the floor to the ceiling, to let all the sun in."

"A wall of glass?" Scorpius looks at the wall in wonder.

Then he looks up, straight into his father's eyes, and smiles.

The day Scorpius was born, Draco knew what it was to love something so much he'd die for it.

And despite everything that has happened since, he never let go of that feeling.


Harry trudges through the front door, cloak trailing behind him. It's two days before Christmas and he's supposed to be preparing the house with decorations and baking festive treats for his friends and family. It's a tradition – Andromeda makes the shortbread, Harry makes toffee, and Teddy and James make the gingerbread biscuits. But it's been especially busy at work and he needs to put in the extra hours.

"Dad!" James appears in the hallway, flour smudged across his nose. "Hurry up, we've already got started on the biscuits."

Harry sighs. "Sorry, James. I can't stay long. I've still got to do a few more things."

James's shoulders slump. "Can't it wait? You'll miss all the baking."

"Get back in here, cuz!" Teddy calls from the kitchen. "I need you to make the icing. Can't do it without you."

James brightens up slightly. "Teddy reckons I'm the best at icing."

"Well, go help him then." Harry smiles at James.

"Okay, okay." But James looks happy enough as he disappears again, and Harry thanks Merlin for Teddy and Andromeda. He can hear the Wizarding Wireless playing cheerful Christmas carols; Andromeda will be sitting at the breakfast table in the kitchen, humming to herself as she carefully folds the little gift boxes that will hold the baked goods. Harry would love nothing more than to sit down and join in the festivity, but he still has to visit Draco. He goes upstairs and changes from his Auror robes – it's best to visit Draco in plain robes, he thinks. Another psychological trick picked up from his Auror training. The lack of an intimidating uniform will make Draco more likely to speak without guarding his words.

"I'll be home soon," Harry calls over his shoulder as he steps onto the porch.

He Apparates just outside the Malfoy property, realising he's forgotten to bring the file. Nevertheless, he makes his way up the driveway, staring at the gardens. They've been transformed into a winter wonderland; sunlight catches and sparkles on roses made of ice, and white flowers blossom like snowflakes. Draco's clearly been studying his gardening charms.

There's a lopsided snowman by the front porch, and Harry regards it with faint bewilderment before knocking on the door. The door opens almost at once and Harry stares in surprise. There's a boy standing there, about the same age as James. He has the same white-blond hair as Draco, the same narrow face, the exact same eyes. For a moment, Harry thinks he's gone back in time and he's looking at an eleven-year-old Draco.

But when the boy speaks, it's without any haughtiness or dislike."Hello," he says shyly, and realisation dawns on Harry.

"Hello," he replies. "You must be Scorpius. Is your father in?"

Scorpius doesn't need to answer that question, for at that moment Draco appears beside his son, his hand resting on Scorpius's shoulder.

"Come in," Draco says brusquely to Harry. He turns to his son and speaks in a far softer voice. "Why don't you go upstairs and read your new books, Scorpius?"

Scorpius, however, seems reluctant to leave. "Are you a friend of my father's?" he asks Harry. Harry pauses for a long moment. 'Colleague' won't do — as far as he knows, Draco doesn't work — but he's loathe to explain to Scorpius that he's essentially Draco's parole officer.

"We went to school together," he says at last, turning to hang his cloak in its usual spot. It's only then that he properly notices his surroundings. "Malfoy, what did you do?"

"He's renovating," Scorpius says quickly, looking between Harry and Draco, and Harry has the uncomfortable feeling that Scorpius is worried somehow. Anxious about Harry's presence, as if he thinks any second Harry will attack Draco with a range of terrible curses.

"I hear you're in the same year as my son," Harry says, trying to make Scorpius feel at ease. Draco steps in front of Scorpius, his eyes narrowing, and Harry frowns. They're both equally protective of each other, it seems.

"Are you James's father?" Scorpius asks.

Harry's taken aback. "You know James?"

"He's my friend." Scorpius looks down at his feet. "I help him with spells."

"So you're the friend I've been hearing so much about!" Harry exclaims. James had mentioned a friend helping him with his homework, referring to a kind and intelligent Ravenclaw boy. Harry should have realised. "I should really thank you for that. James has been so happy with his marks."

Scorpius offers another shy smile before retreating, saying he has to finish some homework, and Harry realises that for whatever reason Scorpius's anxiety has dissipated somewhat. Apparently, he feels Harry presents no threat to Draco.

Regardless, there's slight tension in the air. Years of Auror training have schooled Harry in how to manage people — how to make them feel at ease, how to gain points with them, and he'd normally elect to say something nice about Scorpius. However, Draco has proven to be very adamant about keeping Scorpius out of any conversation, and Harry has the feeling that any remark here would be unwise.

So instead, he gestures to the front parlour room.

"Shall we?"

"I've removed the floor, so no, we shan't." But Draco leads the way to the sitting room, Harry notes books laying around, mostly on interior decoration and domestic spells. Unlike the rest of the 'in-progress' manor, the sitting room is yet to be pulled apart. Despite the dark green wallpaper and creaky floorboards, a cheerful fire is crackling in the hearth and a Christmas tree glitters in the corner, the light of the fire catching on the baubles. Harry sits in the armchair closest to the fire; Draco stands near the mantle, warming his hands near the flames.

"You're doing all this yourself?" Harry asks, recalling the massive undertaking that had been Grimmauld Place. They'd worked for months on that hopelessly dark house, and had produced little results.

"No, I'm hiring workers with my thousands of galleons."

"You could work, you know." Harry is slightly irritated with the bitterness underlying Draco's words.

"I did work, Potter. I worked in genealogy."

"What?"

"Genealogy. Tracing family histories. A lot of wizarding families are very interested in that sort of thing. The Ministry soon put a stop to that, though."

"Why?"

"I don't know. I'm sure you can find a rule somewhere. And if you can't, just make one up."

"Well, I'm giving you permission to start the genealogy business again," Harry says, displeased. The whole point of the program was to engage wizards as active citizens; preventing them from working was just stupid.

Draco doesn't respond to that and silence reigns for a long moment. Harry is still thinking uncomfortably of their last meeting, when he accidentally flung the Sectumsempra curse at Draco.

"How's the wand?"

"What?" Draco frowns. "Fine."

"Oh. Good." Harry pauses for a long moment, but the prospect of another silence looms and he finds himself speaking. "I miss it."

Draco finally draws his gaze away from the fire and looks at Harry, eyebrows raised. "What?"

"I miss it," Harry admits. "That wand. It was very reliable, you know. Used to use it a lot when I was out in the field." It had proved very useful as a second wand.

Another long silence eclipses them and just as Harry's about to ask some pointless question just to remind himself it's supposed to be a business meeting, Draco speaks.

"You can have it, if you want." He pauses, then hastens to clarify. "Right now. Borrow it for a spell or two, then give it back."

"Well..." Harry pauses, then shrugs. "Why not?"

Draco takes the wand from his pocket and holds it out. Harry hesitates, then accepts it. It feels the same as it ever did and he smiles a little, then lifts it.

"Expecto Patronum!"

A flash of white light, and the stag leaps from his wand, landing gracefully in the middle of the room. It lowers its head, as if investigating the premises, then raises its head again and looks at Draco.

Harry glances at Draco, then frowns. He has a strange expression on his face, watching as the stag slowly walks up to him and nudges him with its antlers.

"It's not disappearing," Draco says after a long moment. There's something in his voice that Harry can't read, but he shrugs it off.

"It disappears when it wants to. Why — does yours disappear on command?"

"I have not attempted a Patronus," Draco says.

"You should. They're very useful."

There's a long pause. "It's said," Draco says at last, "that if a Dark wizard attempts a Patronus, they will be consumed by maggots from their own wand."

Harry winces and casts around for a topic change.

"When did the renovations start?"

"Last week. I hope they will be finished over the next two years."

"That long?"

Draco levels Harry with a very chilly look. "I am attempting to transform an entire manor, Potter, not turn a match into a needle."

"All right, calm down," Harry says warily. "I've had some experience in renovations, you know. Bloody difficult." He's thinking of Grimmauld Place again.

"Yes," Draco says feelingly, "they are."

At least they've reached something they can agree on.

"I could help with a few spells," Harry offers. "I've gotten loads of practice with magically removing wallpaper."

"It's fine," Draco says, and Harry nods.

"Well, I should leave," he says, standing up, keen to return home already and tick this visit off his list. "Until next week, Malfoy."

Draco nods, opens his mouth, and then closes it again. Harry lingers, waiting slightly impatiently.

"Listen," Draco says. "Your son, James."

"Yes?" Harry tries to hide his surprise at the remark.

"He's friends with Scorpius?"

"Apparently."

Draco glances at the fire. "Look, Scorpius hasn't...I suspect he hasn't got too many friends, and I thought perhaps…"

"It's fine," Harry interrupts, understanding at once. "I'll bring James with me next week." He pauses. "Er...don't mention it to anyone, though. I mean, if the Ministry found out that I brought my son along to a meeting…well..."

"I understand."

Harry is loathe to ask the next question, but he has to.

"There's not...anything dangerous, is there? I mean, nothing cursed or anything..." He trails off, seeing the flash of anger in Draco's eyes.

"Would I let my son run around in a manor with cursed objects?" he snaps, and Harry feels apologetic.

"Yes, of course. I'll bring James next week, then."

"Fine." But there's a slight pause, and Draco adds grudgingly, "Thank you."

Harry nods and turns to leave. As he's making his way down the hallway, however, Draco calls out.

"Your Patronus is still here, Potter!"

Harry glances over his shoulder. "So? What do you want me to do about it? Just ignore it, it'll go away soon."

Draco gives him a long look of exasperation and snaps the sitting room door shut.


Christmas comes and goes. Christmas Eve is spent at Ron and Hermione's place; Harry and James arrive at the same time as Andromeda and Teddy, and as usual the evening is spent with the adults laughing and passing around the eggnog while the children amuse themselves. James good-naturedly plays a game of Exploding Snap with Hugo while Teddy flicks ink-pellets at them. Rose, draped over an armchair with a good book, seems oblivious to the noise around her.

The following day is the usual riot of over-excited children (although Teddy tries to affect an air of cool disinterest, even he can't hide his wide-eyed awe at receiving the latest Skyfire Century from his grandmother). After a long and leisurely lunch, things have calmed somewhat and the children are slumped in the sitting room, draped over sofas and armchairs. Hugo, already exhausted from the excitement of it all, has fallen asleep clutching his new train set.

Harry collects James for what he's come to regard as his annual duty: visiting Dudley. But he can't brush this visit off; Dudley and his wife have had their first child, and Harry is sure to congratulate them. Dudley offers a glass of aged scotch in celebration, along with his usual Christmas card to Harry, and gives James a present (a Monopoly set, much to James's fascination). In the evening, they exchange farewells and Harry drives a sleepy James home. He watches the snow spiral gently in front of the windscreen, creating mesmerising patterns in the dark night.

It's been a good day, he thinks, but then again he always makes sure James experiences all the wonder of Christmas, all the joy Harry never knew as a child.

That night, long after James has gone to bed, Harry sits by the Christmas tree and watches the tiny lights sparkle in the darkness, and on the mantlepiece the photographs of Ginny smile at him.

The ghost of Christmas past, he thinks abstractedly.

He extinguishes the lights and goes to bed.


Four days later, he prepares for his usual visit to Draco and collects James before leaving. James is only too thrilled to see his friend, although Harry has his own reservations about the visit.

"James? Time to go," he says, climbing into the attic. "Unless you'd rather stay home," he adds with faint hope. James seems enthusiastic about visiting Scorpius, but what if they're not actually very good friends? What if they have a fight? What if James, clumsy as ever, breaks some expensive heirloom? What if there's some bit of cursed furniture, despite Draco's belief that the manor is safe, and James ends up hurt? Harry is beginning to wish he hadn't agreed to the visit at all. "We need to leave in five minutes," he adds. James — lying on his bed in his pyjamas, eating a mince pie and reading a book on dragons (a gift from Hagrid) — looks peeved.

"No fair! You could've come and got me earlier," he says accusingly, leaping to his feet and reaching for clothes heaped on the floor.

"Don't wear those, that shirt's all wrinkled," Harry says, thinking of Draco silently judging. James just sighs and Harry retreats, going back downstairs and making sure he's got Draco's file this time. Maybe he shouldn't have agreed to allow James to come along at all…who knows how awkward it might be?

James rushes down the stairs after a few minutes, wearing slightly rumpled clothes and a set of plain black robes. "All right, let's go."

"Wait, what's that, under your arm?"

"This?" James grins. "That Monopoly game Dudley gave me. I want to try it out! I bet Scorpius has never played it before either. Is it like Gobstones?"

"It's a complicated property management game."

"Brilliant, I can practice investing in long-term gains."

"Been eavesdropping on Uncle Percy's conversations again?" Harry asks dryly. James just grins mischievously and tries to balance his Monopoly set while he wrests with the front door.

Once on the front porch, Harry produces a portkey and, in a moment, they're whipping dizzyingly through the air and come to land at the end of the manor driveway. James tumbles over and lands in a snow-covered flowerbed; Harry quickly pulls him back out, dusting the snow from James's shoulders and casting a drying spell. James, unbothered by the fuss, straightens his robes and looks around.

"Wow! Dad, look at those roses! Are they made of ice? Why haven't we got roses made of ice? Wow, look at that house! It's huge! Does Scorpius really live there?"

And James is off, racing up the driveway excitedly, forcing Harry to sprint along to catch up with him.

He's still not sure if this is a good idea.


Draco is on the upper floor of the manor, hunting for his copy of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. Scorpius has already devotedly read his way through the new books he received for Christmas and has requested 'more stuff about manticores and things'.

The wards tremor and Draco frowns, looking out the window. Across the white expanse of the front gardens, he sees two people pop into appearance. They're both dressed in black and one tumbles over. For a moment, panic seizes Draco's heart. Then, as one of the people turns and extracts the other from the pile of snow, he remembers James. True enough, the second person is too short to be an adult. As he watches, Harry leans down and carefully brushes snow from his son. The next moment, however, the younger Potter has begun racing towards the porch steps.

Draco quickly turns and descends the stairs, wanting to get the door before Scorpius does — he hasn't told Scorpius of the possibility of James visiting — and there's a single knock before Draco opens the door.

Harry stands on the step, looking slightly out-of-breath. Beside him, his son is smiling up at Draco expectantly. Beneath his knitted cap, a wild tuft of black hair is escaping, and his face has the same structure as Harry's — the narrow nose, the hint of a jawline that will no doubt emerge as the softness of childhood melts away. However, his eyes are brown, and for some reason this surprises Draco.

"Come in," Draco says tersely to Harry, unsure how to respond to James. Harry nods once at him.

And then —

"Scorpius!" James's voice rings out jubilantly; Draco turns and sees Scorpius, wide-eyed, on the stairs. "Is this really your house? Wow, it's amazing!"

Scorpius hurries down the steps just as James flies up to greet him; both boys collide for a moment, reeling backwards. Then James starts laughing and, to Draco's surprise, Scorpius gives a small smile.

"What are you doing here?" Scorpius asks James.

"Visiting you, of course! Dad, look how big this place is!" James looks up at a chandelier, awestruck. "I bet it's got a million rooms, and half of them are haunted."

"No, they're not," Scorpius replies. "We're renovating, and Father says he's getting rid of all the ghosts."

Draco flushes; he can feel Harry staring at him, and he resolutely keeps his eyes trained ahead.

"Oh, shame that. You'd be so lucky to have a ghost. Do you know, Dad won't even let me get a ghoul?"

"Oh, ghouls can be very loud," Scorpius says. "I've been reading about magical creatures, you can get all sorts of pets. I wouldn't get a ghoul."

"What would you get, then?"

"Well, I've got Pan of course, but I wouldn't mind a Niffler," Scorpius says at once. "I've got a name picked out and everything."

Draco watches disbelievingly as the two boys casually saunter up the stairs together, still chatting away. He glances across at Harry, who also seems to be stuck in a sense of surreality. Soon, the boys have disappeared from sight.

Draco's not sure what he'd been expecting; something awkward, certainly. That Harry's son — a vague acquaintance to Scorpius, no doubt — would arrive and mumble 'hello' to Scorpius before both were reluctantly sent to the library to have a quiet game of Gobstones or something. Certainly, Draco hadn't expected a ball of energy and enthusiasm to come barrelling through his front doors, immediately launch into excited chatter with Scorpius (evidently a close friend), and then race away with neither of them sparing Draco another glance.

"Tea?" he says at last to Harry; it's the first thing that pops into his head and he feels irritated with himself. Tea is what you offer to welcome people.

"What? Oh — thanks."

"I'll be in the sitting room momentarily."

Harry takes the cue and leaves, setting off down the hallway. Draco, cursing himself for the offer of tea, makes his way to the kitchens. Since dismissing the house-elf, he's had to undertake most of the cooking himself. With a wave of his wand, he sends the tray of tea up to the sitting room and spends a moment standing still, listening hard for any noise. He can't help but worry slightly. Scorpius has never had friends over before, and Draco has no idea what this James Potter is like. But he can hardly make excuses to check up on the children — Harry would be furious to hear Draco imply that he thought James might try to kick Scorpius down the stairs.

He makes his way to the sitting room, where Harry has already taken the armchair by the fire and is sipping at a cup of tea. Draco stands near the opposite end of the mantle.

"I remembered your file this time," Harry says, holding up a folder. Draco looks at it for a long moment. Suddenly, he wonders what Harry has written in there. Surely he's gotten nothing useful from these meetings?

"May I see it?"

Harry blinks. He clearly hadn't expected that response. He looks hesitant, then shrugs.

"The law allows you access to your file any time," he says at last.

"Does it?" Draco can't help but sound surprised. He was expecting Harry to say no, in that infuriating self-righteous way of his.

"Of course. I mean, that's part of the duty of care, isn't it? Rights and responsibilities and all that." Harry opens the file and hands it over, gesturing to the open page. "When you signed this contract years ago, you should have read all this."

Draco has no idea what Harry's talking about. His previous officers have all certainly made sure he knows about his responsibilities, but nobody's mentioned his rights.

He opens the file carefully.

Case number: 252-13-458.

It's the first thing written upon the file. A line of neat numbers. Is that what he's reduced to? Not even his name. Just a line of numbers.

Beneath that is his contact information. Home address, Floo network availability, fire-call restrictions. The next-of-kin is stamped in large letters: WARD OF STATE. All this information Harry no doubt collected from other files readily available. The next page — medical information — is relatively empty. It lists past injuries — about five or six, and mercifully it describes the injuries in one or two brief words, with no mention of context.

He turns the page. Now it gets interesting. Family.

A neat row of names. Mother, deceased. Father, deceased. Cousins, aunts, uncles, deceased, deceased, deceased. There's only Scorpius left; next to his name, Harry has written 'good relationship'. Draco stares at the two words for a long moment, then turns the page.

Friends.

Crabbe, deceased. Parkinson, estranged. Draco looks up at Harry.

"What's this? Estranged?"

"No longer friends."

"I know what it means. I'm asking why you've put it in my file."

"It's true, isn't it? I saw it in your face, when you came back from her wedding."

"I don't know why you thought we're estranged, unless you've gone soft in the head," Draco snaps. "You've always been terrible at reading people, and now you've proven it. Pansy and I — she's my oldest friend — "

"It's been fifteen years since I started my Auror training, Malfoy. I've long since learned how to read people."

Draco stares down at the page for a while before he begins reading again.

Bulstrode, estranged.

No lie there. They haven't contacted each other in years.

Zabini, deceased. Nott, deceased.

Zabini had been murdered, Draco remembers. A routine mugging gone wrong; a misfired spell that killed Zabini immediately.

Nott had committed suicide. That had been kept out of the papers. Draco had received an owl with a funeral notice. When he'd attended the funeral, Nott's mother had stared at him with bloodshot eyes and shown him the note Nott had written. It was only five words. Tell them all I'm sorry.

"Is that correct?"

Draco looks up. Harry gestures to the parchment.

"All the details are correct?" he repeats.

Draco doesn't answer right away. He looks back down at the file, then turns the final page.

Work and professional life.

The page is empty and Draco hands the file to Harry.

"Genealogist. I intend to resume my work."

Harry looks around; Draco wordlessly passes him a quill from the mantle and Harry scribbles something onto the page. Draco resumes staring into the flames of the fire, thinking about his file.

"It's been rather quiet." Harry turns his gaze to the ceiling. Draco shrugs.

"Scorpius is very quiet."

"James isn't."

They swap a distrustful look and then both turn to hurry upstairs. Draco overtakes Harry, glancing left and right into open doorways. All empty. That leaves Scorpius's bedroom. He reaches for the handle, yanking the door open.

Both boys are lying on the floor, heads close together, reading a book. At hearing the door open, they both look up with identical expressions of surprise.

"Oh, hello," James says amiably. "Is it time to leave already?"

"Oh. Do you have to leave now?" Scorpius asks James. "The next bit gets really interesting, it's a charm about planets."

"No — you think I'm ready for the moon transfiguration?" James looks delighted. "Wow, Scorpius! You know what — we could transfigure your whole room! What do you say? That grassy stuff, we can grow that out of the floor — "

"And the wardrobe could be a tree," Scorpius adds.

"And your bed — we could make it into a swamp!"

"Oh, no. I wouldn't want to sleep in a swamp."

"I'd put some bullfrogs in there to keep you company." James nudges Scorpius with his shoulder, smiling, and the boys soon descend into conversation again, ignoring Draco. He turns, suddenly aware of Harry standing behind him, watching his son too. He seems to be lost in thought, but after a minute he visibly focuses, straightening up and calling out.

"Come on, James, time to go home."

"Oh, now?" James looks up at Harry with reluctance. "Can't you just talk for another hour?"

"No. We've got to leave."

"Why?"

"We've invited Andromeda and Teddy for dinner."

"Oh! Can Scorpius come? He's in Ravenclaw, same as Teddy," James says with excitement, and Draco's stomach suddenly churns with fear at the idea of leaving Scorpius in some stranger's house for the next few hours. Thankfully, Harry resolves the situation with a quick shake of his head.

"Maybe another time. Come on."

James gets up, with much unhappiness, and both boys trail Harry and Draco to the entrance hall.

"Until next week," Harry says; it seems to have become their usual farewell.

"Next week," Draco echoes.

"See you at Hogwarts," James says to Scorpius. "Wish I could've stayed longer."

Scorpius nods, watching the two Potters depart. Draco closes the door.

"Have fun with your friend?" he asks his son. Scorpius looks up at him and gives a little secretive smile.

"Yes. I practised investing in long-term gains."

Draco is completely bewildered.

Chapter Text

Harry sits in his study, staring down at the parchment before him.

Williamson had fire-called earlier. Any progress? he'd asked, as if Draco were a crossword puzzle. No. No progress. Williamson knew when Harry took this case that it wouldn't be a simple matter of demanding Draco give him answers. Perhaps fifteen years ago, when Harry was a new recruit, enthusiastic and focused on the exciting field work — firing spells and saving lives. But fifteen years have taken their toll, and he's learned a thousand other ways to get information. Reading the lines on people's faces like their skin is a map; watching for the tic of a muscle or the curl of a lip. Using conversation like a delicate scalpel, dissecting memories and recollections.

Draco's request to see his file had been unexpected, but the real observations aren't kept there anyway. No; instead, Harry has a whole stack of separate notes on Draco, ranging from his physical appearance (dark shadows under eyes often — poor sleeping? Psychological issues?) to his relationships (still trying to cling to dead friendships — problems with Pansy Parkinson). These notes, Draco will certainly never see. But many others will, Aurors and secretaries alike, and for some reason Harry's not sure he's comfortable with that. There's nothing in these notes to pinpoint Lucius Malfoy's location and since they're of little use, why have yet another person rifle endlessly through Draco's personal life?

"Dad, where's my Transfiguration essay? It was on the kitchen table, don't tell me you threw it out!" James's accusatory face appears around the study door and Harry, shaken from his thoughts, sighs and pushes the parchment away.

"I've told you before not to leave things lying around. Go check the hall credenza."

"I only left it there for an hour or two," James grumbles, turning to leave. "Oh, and where's my grey scarf?"

"Have you checked the laundry?" Harry glances at the clock on the wall. "James, it's nearly ten! Why do you have to pack now? You've got all tomorrow."

From somewhere in the hallway, James's voice echoes. "Yeah, but I want to get it done tonight. That way I can spend tomorrow re-painting my Quidditch figures. Hugo is not allowed to play with them anymore! My Seeker's missing half his broom."

"Have you found your essay?" Harry waits, but there's no response. James has already wandered away down the hall, his footsteps quickly fading.

Footsteps fading. Doors closing.

One more week of reprieve, and then it will start again. This empty house, these silent rooms.

The clock ticks.


James leaves.

There's no whirlwind of new robes and textbooks and nervous excitement this time; they arrive at King's Cross in an orderly fashion and, as James prepares to run through the platform barrier, he turns to his father and with ten words, he makes Harry's heart drop like a stone.

"I'll be all right, you don't have to see me off," he says.

Harry stares at him. "But...it's quite all right, I don't mind going to the platform."

"It's fine, I can just say goodbye here. I'll see you in summer. Don't forget to write — keep me updated on everyone!" James gives Harry a hug; before Harry can tighten his grip, James already slips away and, with a cheerful wave, disappears through the wall.

Harry walks away slowly.

His son is growing up.


Draco curses again as the wall turns a pale cream colour; he kicks the Charms book across the floor. It's a simple paint charm! How hard can it be? He taps his wand against the wall again.

"Powdered Snow," he repeats sternly.

There's a knock at the door and Draco, in a fit of frustration, strides to the door and flings it open.

"What?" he snaps. Harry blinks at him.

"Our meeting."

"I know."

"Everything all right? I could hear you raging from out here."

"Fine," Draco bites out. "This damn wall — " He cuts himself off, remembering exactly who it is he's talking to. He has no desire to lose his cool in front of Harry Potter.

"What's the problem?" Harry steps into the entrance hall and looks around. "It looks good. Much better than that terrible wallpaper."

"What are you talking about? It's supposed to be Powdered Snow."

Harry looks at the wall, then looks at Draco as if he's mad. "It is. It's white."

"Are you blind? That's Turtle Eggshell, not Powdered Snow."

"Are you serious, Malfoy? It's white. You can't have shades of white. There's no Turtle Snow or Powdered Eggshell."

"There is a critical difference, Potter, and if it's not Powdered Snow then it ruins the rest of my design."

"Merlin save me from days like this," Harry mutters. "All right, fine." He taps his wand on the wall. "There you go, it's white."

"It is not," Draco says irritably. "You've made it worse, it's Pale Cloud now."

"Pale Cloud? That's not even a colour. No colour is called Pale Cloud. Nobody says, 'oh, have you got that shirt in pale cloud?'. It's white."

"It's a cold white! I don't want cold, I want warm! It's going to ruin the entire colour scheme." Draco snaps his mouth shut, suddenly aware of how petulant he sounds. Harry is looking amused; he picks up the colour swatches on the hall table.

"You're right," he says, and Draco wonders if Harry's ever said those words to him before. "Look, there's a million different shades here. Oh, I see what you mean — there's sort of bluish-white, isn't there, and then you have the warmer shades…"

Draco waits to see if Harry's mocking him, but he seems quite serious.

"That does look like Pale Cloud, doesn't it?" Harry says, looking at the wall and then back to the paint swatches. "Hmm." He taps his wand on the wall and the colour changes ever so slightly. "Oh no, I think it's Winter Moon now." He taps his wand again. "Oh, that's Dumbledore's Beard, certainly."

"Give it here." Draco snatches the paint swatches away. "You made that last one up."

"I did not! I can't help it if they have daft names."

True to Harry's word, there's a shade called Dumbledore's Beard. Draco shakes his head, then carefully holds the Powdered Snow sample against the wall and, concentrating carefully, taps his wand twice. The wall changes and matches the sample perfectly.

"There you go, that's done then," Harry says and Draco turns to give him a look.

"There's another forty-six rooms and hallways, Potter."

"Nobody needs forty-six rooms. You could save yourself a lot of pointless work, sell this dump and buy a flat somewhere nice."

Draco levels Harry with another long look. "And where do you live?"

Harry opens his mouth, looks uneasy, and closes it again. "Not that it's any of your business, but East Devon somewhere."

"House or flat?"

"House, of course," Harry says, as if Draco's suggested he lives in a cardboard box. "It's a converted barn, we rebuilt it and renovated..." He trails off, but Draco's already seen the spark of pride in his eyes.

"So, quite a large building then. But I assume it's simply you and your son living there. So why live there? You don't need all the room. Just sell it, buy a flat in Bristol somewhere."

Harry looks at him. "Point taken, Malfoy," he says at last.

But the conversation has triggered something in Draco's memory; something he saw in his file as he was reading over the terms and conditions of his contract.

"I expect you've allowed me full access to your East Devon home," Draco says, unable to resist the amused tone. Harry stares at him as if he's gone mad.

"What are you talking about?"

"I was reading through the terms and conditions of the Wizards Under Watch program. Much like you have access to my Floo network, I'm supposed to have access to yours."

"What are you talking about? There's no — "

Draco turns and makes his way down the hallway and into the study; he can hear Harry striding after him. He opens the desk drawer and tosses the file across the desk. Harry snatches it up.

"It's under 'emergency contact procedures'," Draco says helpfully. For a long while, there's nothing but the noise of the fire crackling in the hearth as Harry reads the pages over and over.

"Well — that's — I mean, it's not — " Harry's looking distinctly cornered. "I mean — can't you just send an owl?"

"It's emergency contact, Potter." Draco can't help the smugness in his voice as he repeats the words Harry said to him during their first meeting. "Unless we're talking about a very special owl that can teleport itself across space and time— "

"Fine! Fine!" Harry glares at the file. "I'll give you access to my Floo network. But it's for emergency use only! If you turn up for any reason less than your house burning to the ground — "

"Quite unnecessary. I don't make a habit of visiting decrepit barns."

That strikes a nerve, Draco sees. Harry's jaw tightens and he holds a hand out.

"Wand."

It's been a while since Harry completed a wand check. Draco hands it over, waiting as Harry checks the spell history. Mostly domestic charms, Draco knows.

"There's a quick-quotes spell here, Malfoy. What on earth are you using that for?"

"Didn't I say I was resuming my genealogy work?" Draco turns away. "I have to watch a potion I'm brewing at the moment. You're early," he adds, a shade reproachfully.

"Am I?" Harry seems unsurprised. "Fine, we can hold the meeting in the cellar."

Draco has actually set up his cauldron in the servants' kitchen, finding it infinitely more welcoming with its large fireplace and well-worn furniture. When they arrive in the kitchen, however, Harry doesn't remark on the location.

"What's that?"

Draco looks up, startled, then flushes. That stupid Muggle game that he found in Scorpius's room, presumably a gift from James. Draco had been trying to figure out the rules and he'd brought it into the kitchen to muse over while he was waiting for potions to brew.

"A Muggle game."

"I can see that. I want to know why you have a Monopoly set in your kitchen."

"Your son left it behind," Draco says, tapping the cauldron thrice with his wand.

"You've got it all set up wrong, did you know?" Harry says conversationally. "I don't know why you've stacked all the hotels onto Free Parking. And you've put all the money in jail."

"It represents my frozen assets." The wry words are said before Draco can stop them. It was a private joke he'd had with himself, when he'd been staring at the stacks of paper Muggle money and thinking about his own accounts.

To his surprise, however, Harry laughs. With absolutely no trace of bitterness or mockery. He just laughs, like he would at one of Weasley's jokes.

"Do you know how to play?" Harry asks, gesturing to the board, and Draco knows it's more of an invitation than a question. He pauses, but Scorpius seemed to enjoy the game and no doubt he'd be delighted if, by the time he returned for the summer holidays, Draco had learned to play the game too.

"No," Draco says, edging the word with curtness just to make sure Harry knows that it does not mean he's welcome to stay any longer than necessary.

"All right." Harry begins sorting money into piles; Draco checks the potion on the pretence of having something to do. After that, he automatically reaches for the kettle and sets it over the hearth.

"Tea?" The word slips out automatically and Draco is immediately annoyed with himself.

"Thanks," Harry says absently, pushing a pile of money across the board. Draco sighs inwardly and gets out another cup. "Pick your piece," Harry adds. Draco casts a critical eye over the game-pieces, picking up a tiny boot and examining it.

"This is a boot. Why?"

Harry stares at Draco. "What?"

"Why is it a boot?" Draco repeats with infinite patience. "Why do Muggles choose footwear for gamepieces?"

"I...I don't know. It's..." Harry shrugs helplessly.

"And is that — is that an iron? A wheelbarrow? I'll assume this is a game dreamed up by sad little Muggle peasants as they went about their daily drudgery."

"Sad little Muggle peasants?" Harry begins scathingly, but Draco cuts him off.

"I'll be the top hat, it's the only piece with any sort of dignity."

"Fine. I'll take the battleship."

"The battleship? I didn't even see that piece!"

"How unfortunate," Harry says crushingly. "Roll the dice."

"Aren't they self-rolling?"

"This is a Muggle game, given to me by a Muggle relative. So I think it's safe to assume that no, the dice have not been charmed. You'll have to suffer the burden of picking up the dice and then manually releasing them."

Draco deliberately ruins Harry's cup of tea by adding three sugars.


James is happy to see his friends again. Paul and Martin, full of jokes; Nate, always happy to share stories; even Iwan, who is a little more standoffish and doesn't seem to find all the jokes about his Welsh heritage funny.

On their first night back at Hogwarts, they gather around the Gryffindor fireplace and exchange holiday stories.

"My parents got into a dreadful argument and my father had his ears transfigured into parsnips," complains Martin.

Iwan frowns. "At least you didn't have the embarrassment of your entire family being dragged to hospital because your brother tried to see how many peas he could fit in his nose."

"That's rough," James says sympathetically. "Chocolate frog?"

Iwan nods, then changes his mind. "No! Last time I ate one of your frogs, my hair turned into moss."

"You should see the latest Weasley joke," James says with a wink. "Hasn't even been released yet, but Uncle George gave me a bag of them for Christmas."

"No way!"

"Tell us what it is, you have to tell us!"

"Go on!"

It's been a while since they've been like this. There was all that tenseness before Christmas, James thinks, but his friends seem to have forgotten it. Now, he sits in the best armchair in the common room, his friends gathering around, laughing at all his jokes and looking at him in admiration, and he feels like a king holding court.

He settles back comfortably into his armchair, feeling unaccountably pleased with himself.


But there's one thing James would never dare tell his friends, and that's the fact that he's homesick. They'd tease him endlessly if they knew. So he smiles and makes jokes instead, plays pranks with Canary Creams and Skiving Snackboxes, and his friends all laugh and don't notice the way he goes to bed early or hides in the library for long periods of time.

Scorpius notices.

"What's the matter?" he asks one evening, when James's transfiguration practice is going terribly. His quill — transfigured from a field mouse — has sprouted beady eyes and a long tail.

"Nothing. Hey, want to look at the map?" He reaches for the Marauder's Map. This distraction has always worked well with his friends, but Scorpius just frowns.

"Something's bothering you."

"I bet Peeves is up to no good. Look, he's in Sinistra's office!" James shows Scorpius the map, but he just frowns more.

"What's wrong?"

"Nothing's wrong. I wonder how long Peeves has been around for? You know, my father..." James blinks, and tries again. "My father, he said Peeves was around when he went here. It's odd to think of...ugh." He blinks rapidly, but it's no use. His vision is blurring. "It's odd to think of our parents here, isn't it? My father..." He swipes a sleeve across his face, feeling ashamed, but Scorpius just silently watches him. "I don't know why I'm crying," James adds shakily, trying to smile. "You think I'd be used to it by now! I didn't feel homesick at all when I left in September..." But they'd all been there at Christmas — Aunt Hermione and his grandparents, all his uncles — Ron, George, Percy, Bill, Charlie — and there had been Andromeda, and Neville had visited, and Luna, and all the wonderful people with whom James had grown up. It brought back a thousand memories of long and lazy days spent at his country home, surrounded by loved ones.

Scorpius just sits and waits for James to compose himself. Then he speaks.

"We could make it home."

James dries the last of his tears on his sleeve. "What?"

"Your home," Scorpius repeats patiently. "We could bring it here."

"What — my house? Bring it to Hogwarts?"

"No." Scorpius allows a small smile, and James has the feeling that someone less kind may have added 'idiot' to the end of that reply. "We could transfigure this room. Make it look like your home."

All tears forgotten, James leaps to his feet. "Could we?" he says with excitement. "I mean, you're brilliant at it, but I — I don't know where to start."

"What's your happiest memory?" Scorpius asks. "We could recreate it."

"Oh, that's a brilliant idea!" James doesn't even have to think about it. "A summer's day," he says at once. "You know those days, when the fields go on forever and the sky is blue as the sea..." He trails off, suddenly feeling self-conscious, but Scorpius is nodding in agreement.

"Blue unclouded weather," he says.

"Yes! Exactly." James begins to feel confident in the conversation again. "I live in an old farmhouse that my parents renovated before I was born. There's a vegetable garden outside, and then there's a little wooden fence, but past that...there's fields gold as a galleon." James stretches his arms out, envisioning the landscape. "There's an oak tree in the corner of the field — five times taller than me, at least, and if you close your eyes a little it looks like there's the face of an old man in the bark…"

Scorpius is leaning over his Transfiguration notes, drawing. He holds up the parchment, a sketch of a field upon it.

"Like this?"

"Oh! Yes, but the fence is a little more run-down. Sort of leaning everywhere, with the wire all rusted. And the oak tree is in the right-hand corner of the field."

Scorpius amends the sketch. James nods approvingly.

"You're very good at drawing," he says. "You're good at everything."

"Not everything."

"Nearly everything. You could be anything! You could be an artist, or a professor, or even Minister for Magic."

"I wouldn't want to be Minister for Magic."

"Why not?"

Scorpius looks down at his drawing, considering things. "I don't like talking to people."

James thinks about that. "Want to know a secret? I don't like talking to people either, sometimes."

Scorpius looks suspicious. "You're always talking to everyone."

"I know, but — well — sometimes I wish they'd all just leave me alone. Why do I have to be the one to make jokes, or organise midnight adventures, or share my map, or tell stories?" James shuts his mouth quickly, his face reddening. He's never told anyone that. "I sound horrible, don't I?" he adds miserably. "Like an awful friend."

"I don't think you're an awful friend."

"Real friends always have interesting stories, and share their things, and tell funny jokes."

Scorpius hesitates. "I think real friends are just people who are always there for you, no matter what."

James brightens. "I like that. Yes, no matter what. And I'm always there for my friends."

"So I suppose you're a good friend, then."

"I suppose I am."

They smile at each other.


Over the next few weeks, they work on transforming the room. Soon, the ceiling has turned azure and the floor has transformed into knee-high grass the colour of gold. The planets disappear, replaced by an enormous oak tree in the corner; a row of old desks are painstakingly transfigured into a little wooden fence, overgrown with grass. It's only when the room is nearing completion that James turns to Scorpius, remembering suddenly that the room belongs to two people.

"What about you?"

"What about me?" Scorpius is bewildered.

"It isn't fair that the whole room is my memory. There should be something of yours in here too. What's your happiest memory?"

Scorpius looks lost.

"Maybe something with your parents?" James suggests. Something in Scorpius's eyes flattens, like a door closing, and James remembers too late that Scorpius doesn't like to talk about his parents. "Sorry," he adds. "Your mother doesn't live with you, does she?"

He didn't mean to sound so blunt, and he winces at his words. But Scorpius, whose gaze is suddenly fixed at his feet, nods.

"My parents divorced when I was little and my mother took me away. We moved around a lot."

"That sounds fun," James says, thinking of how he'd love to travel. But Scorpius glances up, several emotions flashing across his face.

"It wasn't," he says. "Starting at a different school every year...I was always the new student. The last time we moved, it was to Cardiff and I didn't know anyone. I never stayed long enough to make any friends. I couldn't make friends, anyway. My mother didn't like visitors."

"Why not?" James thinks of his own mother. "Was she sick?"

Scorpius hesitates. "She was really sad all the time. She missed my dad really badly, but she said she could never go back because he'd hate her for taking me away. She was always forgetting to eat and a lot of mornings she wouldn't get out of bed. She cried a lot. It was okay, though, because I was there to help. You know, like going to the supermarket and buying food, and cooking dinners, and washing clothes and all that sort of stuff."

James frowns. He's never worried about those sorts of things – it's Harry's job. "Oh," he says at last, not sure what else to say. "Did that cheer her up?"

Scorpius looks away. "Not really. I tried really hard, but she never got better."

"Oh." James doesn't know what else to say. Scorpius hardly ever talks about himself, and especially not his family. But now he's started speaking, it's like he can't stop.

"I did everything I was supposed to do," Scorpius adds. "Going to school and doing my homework and everything, so she didn't have to worry about me at all — but it didn't work. And one day I came home from school and found her lying on the floor. I didn't know what to do. I just stood there, like I was frozen. After a while — I don't know how long — I went and called the ambulance. But it was too late by then." Scorpius hangs his head. "I watched her die and I didn't do anything. Just stood there. It's awful, isn't it?"

Silence stretches between them. Scorpius is staring down at his feet; he's not crying, but he has the sort of stoic expression that James practised many times after his mother's death.

"It's all right," James says at last. "It's not awful, Scorpius."

Scorpius looks up at him with surprise. "It isn't?"

James nods. Of course it's not awful, he thinks. He thinks of his own mother's death and how grateful he is, now that he's older, that Harry was there with her during her final moments. "You were there, weren't you? That probably helped her a lot. Just knowing you were there."

Scorpius falls silent for a while. "It's all right?" he says at last, his voice uncertain.

"It's all right," James repeats firmly. "It's perfectly all right."

It's a cold winter's night in the large stone castle, but they stand together under a sky the colour of a thousand childhood summers.


James thinks Scorpius changes after that. Not greatly; it's almost imperceptible. Something about the way he walks now, the way he holds his shoulders, the way he tilts his head upwards as he listens to the professors instead of hunching over his parchment.

In their room of summer, they have added a flight of cream-coloured butterflies that flutter around the patches of milkweed hiding amongst the grass. It's a tribute to Scorpius's favourite memory: a day — when he was young, no older than five — when his father took him to a park. It had been a clear summer's day, and Scorpius had sat on his father's shoulders as Draco walked through milkweed, hundreds of butterflies surrounding them.

One night, as they're sitting amongst the butterflies, James gives Scorpius a gift: a little silver rat he'd transfigured from an inkwell. It had taken him many late nights to complete.

"This is very advanced transfiguration," Scorpius says, eyes wide as he looks at it.

"Is it?" James says offhandedly, but he's pleased. High praise indeed from Scorpius. "I wanted it to move about and stuff too, but that's really tricky. Suppose it makes a nice ornament, though."

"It can be a friend for Pan," Scorpius says, smiling. James grins back at him.

It's nice, he thinks, having a best friend.


"You're going to break it."

"Stop fussing, it's fine."

"Don't tilt it like that — watch your wand! You're going to drop it."

"I will drop it in a minute," Harry says threateningly. The enormous pane of glass shakes slightly as it floats slowly through the air, following the movement of Harry's wand.

He's not quite sure what happened — he'd turned up at the manor, as per usual, with a file tucked under one arm and a determination not to do anything other than ask the official questions and leave. But somehow — and he's not quite sure how — he's gotten roped into helping Draco with the sunroom windows.

"I hope they fit," he says conversationally, looking at the window and then at the empty frames. "Look a bit too small, really. You might have to redo the frames."

"I will not, Potter. I paid for good craftsmanship, that's what I'm getting."

"Sure you didn't mess up the measurements?"

"Would you concentrate on the window? Look, you nearly hit it on the frame!"

"All right, calm down. You focus on your window, I'll focus on mine."

Draco falls silent, at least. After a tense fifteen minutes, the windows have successfully been slotted into place.

"Hope you're not replacing any more windows, there's no way I'll go through that again," Harry says. The very close fit of the windows had required some nerve-wrackingly delicate wandwork. He stands back, surveying what had once been the drawing room. The south-facing wall has been replaced by a row of wall-to-ceiling windows; the other walls have been altered to a pale colour — Powdered Snow, Harry supposes, like the rest of the manor — and the dark ebony floorboards have been polished to a beautiful shine, restored to their former pristine condition. The room is still quite bare however, absent of any furniture.

"If this is going to be a sunroom, you should get some sofas," Harry says critically. "A coffee table, a few bookcases."

"That will have to wait. Those windows have proven very costly." Draco turns and disappears down the hallway; Harry follows him and eventually emerges in the servants' kitchen. Another potion is bubbling over the fire, but Draco doesn't pay it much attention. He's busying himself moving large reams of parchment from the table.

"Someone's family history?" Harry asks curiously.

"The Winchelsea family. Muggleborn, and the daughter wants to know if there's any wizards or witches amongst her ancestors."

Harry nods, then glances down at the table, criss-crossed with deep grooves from years of knifework. In the very corner of the table, the Monopoly set still sits. Harry picks up the battleship; Draco glances over at him.

"That game," he says contemptuously. "Muggles have the strangest idea of fun."

"Don't lie, you enjoyed it."

"The Angel Islington isn't even a location, it's a building. I suppose you can't trust Muggles to get anything right."

Harry looks at Draco. Just when he seemed to be acting like a decent human being…

"What, exactly, is your problem with Muggles? Any reason why you loathe them so much that you want to wipe them all out?"

"I never wanted that," Draco says sharply. "I don't loathe them. I'm indifferent."

"How generous of you," Harry retorts angrily.

"Look, I'm stating the facts. They are inferior. I know it's not politically correct, but it's true. They haven't got magic! I can instantly Apparate anywhere I want, or unlock doors with a tap of my wand, or kill someone with two words. What can they do? Nothing!"

Harry surveys Draco coolly. Draco pours two cups of tea and pushes one towards Harry.

"Go ahead, put it in your notes," he says. "No doubt it's proof that I'm still a danger to Muggles."

"A danger to Muggles? You're a danger to yourself, with that amount of sheer ignorance."

"Ignorance? It's fact, Potter — "

"It's lack of magic," Harry interrupts, "that makes Muggles equal, if not superior. Are you insane, Malfoy? Do you think that Muggles simply went 'oh dear, no magic. I suppose we'll be living in caves and using rudimentary tools for the next few thousand years'?"

Draco looks startled. "Well — I — "

"They've invented things. They've invented guns — a Muggle could kill you from a mile away by moving a single finger. Telephones, video chat — a Muggle can contact another Muggle living on the other side of the planet in under a second. They've invented medicines that have cured millions of people; they've invented devices that store infinite amounts of knowledge and yet can be the size of a potion vial. But no doubt you know all this, Malfoy, since you're the one stating facts."

Draco stares at Harry for a long moment. Harry looks down, realising he's still holding the battleship. He puts it down.

The silence continues on. Draco turns to the potion, surveys it for a long moment, then stirs it slowly.

"What are they called?"

"What?" Harry asks, startled.

"The devices," Draco says evenly. "The ones you said store infinite knowledge. Unless you were making them up."

"I was not making them up," Harry says, indignant. "They're called computers. The smaller ones are called laptops. The even smaller ones are smartphones. They use those ones to contact Muggles anywhere else in the world, or access any information, or find a map of anywhere they want. You should ask Hermione about it, she's the expert on — "

Of course, he forgot to whom he was speaking. Honestly, had he really just invited Draco to talk to Hermione — advice he often gave his friends? Had he really just forgotten he was speaking to Malfoy, of all people? Harry drums his fingers on the table, irritated with himself.

"What were the small ones called again?" Draco still has his back turned to Harry as he stirs the potion; his voice is flat and contains no hint as to his thoughts.

"Smartphones."

"That's a ridiculous name."

"Much like 'Draco'."

Harry waits for the angry retort, but there's none. At last, Draco turns around and faces Harry. To Harry's utter bewilderment and surprise, there's a faint smirk on Draco's face.

"You know," he says conversationally to Harry, "there are times when you can be quite droll."

Harry takes a sip of tea to cover his smile.


A few days later, Harry finds himself in Flourish and Blotts. He'd only dropped by to purchase a new inkpot, but he ended up buying a novelty quill for James, and then he was unaccountably drawn to the Muggle Studies section. Sitting in the middle of the shelf is a book entitled A Thousand Years of Innovation: A History of Muggle Inventions.

As he picks up the book to add it to his purchases, he's certain he can almost hear Draco laughing at him.


The first day of spring.

It's just before the weekend. The senior students are all making plans for their Hogsmeade visit. The couples are whispering about hazy, heart-shaped interludes at Madam Puddifoot's. The younger years are dreaming of Honeydukes. Out on the grounds, the snow has melted away to reveal the first shy green of spring. The day dawns with a tentative pale blue colour, as if the world suddenly remembered it wasn't summer yet and hastily scrubbed all depth from the sky before anyone noticed.

It's a day of beginnings.

James wakes early. Today is the big Charms test, but he's not too worried about that. Scorpius has been helping a lot.

He goes to breakfast early. His friends greet him cheerfully. Afterwards, he attends Potions and teams up with Scorpius, creating a perfect Murtlap Essence. For the rest of the day, classes go smoothly. Then — last session — there's the Charms test. James produces charm after flawless charm. With each perfect spell, his confidence grows until he is full of joy. He only wishes he shared the class with Ravenclaw, so he could swap a little smile with Scorpius and they'd both secretly know how James had improved so much.

"Perfect!" cries Flitwick. "Potter has produced a perfect Cheering Charm!" He gives James an approving look. "Top of the class, I daresay. Well done!"

"Thanks, Professor," James says, glancing at his friends with a smile.

None of them smile in return.


They ambush him in the common room, just after they've returned from dinner.

"This is an intervention," Martin announces, dragging him into a corner of the common room and forcing him into an armchair. Beside him, Paul nods firmly.

"We're only doing this because we care about you."

"As your closest friends, it's our duty."

"Duty to do what?" James asks, looking up at his friends in bewilderment.

"To get you back to your old self, of course!"

"Yes — whatever happened to all the larking about in class? Now you're the class know-it-all," Martin says. He pitches his voice in imitation of Professor Flitwick. "Oh, well done, James! Why don't you take over and teach the class for me?"

"He never said that!"

"Might as well have," Paul says grimly. "You used to be fun. Now you've turned into a boring little know-it-all! Just like your cousin, Rose Weasley."

"What's wrong with Rose?" James snaps. He insults her all the time, of course, but he's family. It's different.

"Ha! I bet she's the one who's been giving you secret lessons in Charms. You couldn't improve that much on your own."

"It wasn't her! It was..." James stops, but his friends are waiting with crossed arms.

"Who?" Paul demands.

"Nobody," James says stiffly. "I've told you, I've been studying at the library."

"I'll say! Nearly every night!"

"Yes, can't you take a break from it? Stop being such a bore. Let's go for an adventure tonight."

"I can't," James says desperately. Scorpius whispered to him, during Potions, that he had done something special to the room and James is very keen to find out what it is.

"Why not? We're your friends, but you've hardly been spending any time with us!"

"I know, I know! It's just...I'm busy tonight."

"Studying again," Paul says crossly. "Go bury yourself in your books, then."

"Tomorrow night," James promises, swiftly escaping the armchair and grabbing a handful of books before disappearing out the portrait hole, not giving his friends a chance to reply.

He makes his way to the room, creating a portal with four neat taps of his wand. Scorpius makes it look so effortless, but it took James weeks to perfect the spell. He steps inside the room and notices Scorpius is there already, standing in the field of gold.

But it's no longer a summer's day. No; it's a midsummer night. The sky is a navy blue, with stars as clear as glass sparkling above. A harvest moon rides low in the sky.

"Wow, Scorpius! You turned it into night!"

"It's just a simple modifying spell," Scorpius says modestly.

"It's amazing! Hey, you've made it look like the real sky. Look, there's the Milky Way!" James points, following the fine dust of stars with his finger. "This'll be great practice for Astronomy." He lies down in the field, settling in for some stargazing; Scorpius pauses, then joins him.

Scorpius points his wand skyward; a collection of faint stars begins to glow brightly. "That's my father's star," he says. "The Draco constellation. Did you know it's circumpolar?"

"What's that mean?"

"It never sets. Never disappears below the horizon. It's visible every night of the year."

"That must be nice." James hesitates. "Looking into the sky, and seeing all your friends and family there..." He wonders if there's a star with his mother's name and suddenly misses her more than ever. "Do you have a star, Scorpius?"

He nods. "The Scorpio constellation. But it's not here — it's only really visible in the southern hemisphere. It's most visible in July." He seems to notice James's fallen expression, for he hesitates and then continues. "But my middle name..." He trails off again and James looks at him with interest.

"What? What's your middle name?"

"It's embarrassing."

"Oh, really? Scorpius Embarrassing Malfoy. I see what you mean."

Scorpius gives him an exasperated look; James grins and nudges him.

"Come on. I've got a bit of an odd middle name too. It's 'Sirius'."

Scorpius looks surprised. "You've got your own star, then."

"Have I really?" James is thrilled. "It's the name of my dad's godfather, I never thought it was a star too."

"Don't you listen in Astronomy? Sirius is the brightest star in the night sky. Everyone knows that."

"The brightest star? Really?"

"Look." Scorpius points his wand again, and a bright star glows fiercely. "You can even see it during daylight — under the right conditions."

"But what about your star? You said your middle name was one, too."

"I didn't say that."

"I guessed." James nudges him again. "Come on, I promise I won't laugh."

"All right. It's 'Hyperion'."

James's eyebrows rise, although he keeps his word and doesn't laugh. He twists his mouth quickly to stop from smiling.

"Is it really?"

Scorpius nods, looking miserable. "I wish I had a normal name. Something like Thomas, or Robert."

"Why on earth would you choose boring names like those when you could be named after a star?" James demands. "Anyway, which constellation is Hyperion?"

"It's not a constellation. It's a moon."

"Wow, you've got a whole moon to yourself?" James is impressed. "Which one?"

"Saturn's moon. You need a telescope to see it." Scorpius points his wand again; it takes several long moments before a tiny speck glows bright enough to be seen. "It's named after Hyperion, the Titan god of watchfulness and observation."

"Watchfulness and observation...that suits you perfectly. Want to know what my name means? 'Supplanter'," James says with a shrug. "I looked it up once. I don't even know what that means."

"Supplanter is someone who takes the place of someone else."

"Like a second in a duel, do you mean?" James frowns. "Well, that's not very comforting."

"It's more comforting than being named Hyperion," Scorpius counters.

"I think that's very comforting. Imagine being able to look at the stars and see all the ones your family are named after...I'd never be afraid of the darkness again if I loved the stars so much."

Scorpius looks away, smiling faintly.

They lay in the grass for a long time, watching the stars shine above.


Harry sits in the living room. Opposite him, Dudley grips a glass of scotch with a white-knuckled firmness, although he hasn't had a single drop.

Dudley has not been in this house until now. For Christmas, Harry has always visited Dudley's family in their neat little three-bedroom house in West Byfleet. Now, Dudley seems overwhelmed by it all. He spent the first twenty minutes staring at the moving pictures on the wall. Harry, after exhausting all other attempts at conversation, offered him a stiff drink despite the fact it was only just after lunchtime. Dudley accepted and it was only then that Harry suddenly remembered Draco's appointment. However, his attempts to leave were repeatedly foiled.

"Wait," Dudley kept saying, until he finally blurted out, "Dad's dead."

Now they've been sitting in silence for a good five minutes. A million thoughts are flying through Harry's head.

"Dead?" he asks at last, just to make sure he understands. Dudley nods.

"Dead," he says hoarsely. "Died yesterday. His heart just gave out. The doctors said he had coronary artery disease."

"Oh." Harry doesn't know what to say. At least Petunia is a blood relation, but Vernon? Nothing more than a bad memory. "I'm sorry for your loss," he says at last. Dudley stares down at the glass of scotch, downs it in one gulp, and looks up. He blinks.

"There's a man in your fireplace."

"What?"

"Is he supposed to be there?"

Harry looks over his shoulder quickly, then jumps to his feet.

"Malfoy! What are you doing here? I thought I said — "

"An emergency. A missed appointment qualifies as an emergency. I checked." Draco steps out of the fireplace, then spots Dudley and frowns. Harry looks between the two, trying to think of what to say. At last, he goes for introductions.

"Malfoy, this is my cousin, Dudley Dursley. Dudley, this is Draco Malfoy. He's...er...someone I know from school." Harry coughs. "Er, Malfoy, the kitchen's on the left, so if you just want to help yourself to anything..." The message is clear, and he hopes Draco won't decide to be obstinate and stay. Thankfully, Draco nods after a long moment and departs, walking into the hallway. Harry's not too pleased about Draco wandering around his house, but what can he do?

Dudley waits until Draco's gone, then sets his empty glass onto the coffee table.

"Listen," he says, "I know you and Dad...well, I'll admit he had a few flaws, same as you had yours. Same as I had mine." Dudley clears his throat. "But I just wanted you to know. The funeral's on Saturday, two o'clock at St John the Baptist church. There's no hard feelings if you don't go. I'm just letting you know."

"Right."

Dudley pauses. "I've got to leave. Thanks for the tea."

"It was scotch."

"Was it?" Dudley looks at the glass. "Oh. Well. I'll see you later."

"Right."

They awkwardly farewell each other; Harry politely accompanies Dudley to the front door and watches as he climbs into his car and drives off.

"So, that was your cousin?"

Harry jumps, then inwardly curses himself. "Malfoy! Go back to the manor, I'll meet you there."

"I'm here, aren't I? May as well have the meeting now."

Harry turns, closing the front door. Draco is leaning against the wall, a cup of tea in one hand and a biscuit in the other.

"Just help yourself, then," Harry says sarcastically, going to the kitchen, Draco following him.

"That's what you said, wasn't it, Potter?"

"For the sake of courtesy." Harry picks up the kettle and growls. "If you're going to make yourself tea, at least refill the kettle afterwards."

"So, are you going to the funeral?"

Harry whips around. Draco's sitting at the island counter, one eyebrow raised as he sips his tea.

"You were eavesdropping?"

"Couldn't help it. Stopped to look at that rather interesting paper hippogriff in the hallway, and I overheard things."

"Of course you did." Harry puts a teaspoon of sugar into his teacup. "And I don't know."

"Well, I certainly won't judge." Draco takes another sip of tea. "I've plenty of uncles whose funerals I wouldn't care to attend. Rodolphus Lestrange, for starters."

"Vernon wasn't like that," Harry says sharply. "But I lived with him for sixteen years, and every minute of that time he made it abundantly clear how much he resented my presence."

"And yet you'll go to his funeral and pay your respects."

"I never said that!"

"But you will." Draco takes a bite of the biscuit. "You thrive on guilt complexes."

It's very concerning to think that while Harry's been busy making notes on Draco, Draco has been making notes on him.

"Picked that up from our games of Monopoly, then?" Harry asks suspiciously, but Draco just gives him a look.

"We went to school together for six years. Know thine enemy, as they say."

Harry sighs and pushes his cup of tea away. "Did you attend any of your relatives' funerals? After the war, I mean."

"None," Draco says. He studies his teacup for a moment, as if reading the leaves. "Do you know, Scorpius is the first Malfoy in five hundred years to not be a Slytherin?"

"Ravenclaw, isn't he?" Harry has to admit it's certainly interesting. "Were you disappointed?"

Draco studies the teacup a moment longer, then pushes it away. "If my son is happy, how could I possibly be disappointed?"

And for a brief moment, Harry feels a flash of compassion, a real connection to Draco, and he nearly smiles in agreement.

But he quickly suppresses the urge, and instead ushers Draco brusquely back to the fireplace.


Later that night, Harry sits in the study, his usual glass of scotch by his elbow.

In front of him is a small silver seed. Draco had given Harry a handful of them before he left, and asked him to leave them in the Ministry atrium where others usually left business advertisements. Harry had stared blankly at the silver seeds until Draco had rolled his eyes and asked — rather acerbically for someone who was requesting a favour — if Harry hadn't ever seen a business card before.

Now, Harry studies the seed before carefully tapping it with his wand. A little paper tree begins to grow immediately, sprouting upwards, and the words Family Name appear along one of the branches, a blank line waiting after it. Harry thinks for a moment, then opens his mouth, about to speak his surname aloud — and then pauses. The Potter line is common knowledge and Draco would no doubt find it an easy task.

"Evans," he says instead.

The name glows for a moment before disappearing. Then, a set of numbers appear: 10 hours; 20 hours; 50 hours. Time spent on the project, Harry realises. Obviously, there has to be a set limit or Draco could keep adding ancestors onto the family tree forever.

"Fifty hours." It will be interesting to see how far back his family can be traced.

The hours disappear. Two words appear: Confirm Request.

"Confirmed."

The words fade. Harry waits for something else to happen, but nothing does. The paper tree remains blank. He puts it on the corner of his desk.

An hour later, just as he's finishing paperwork, he notices two words scrolled across a branch of the tree.

Request Accepted.


James spends the next month trying to spend more time with his friends, but it's difficult. They want to spend their midnights stealing food from the kitchens and provoking portraits; James wants to walk around the lake or lay in his field of gold and daydream. They want to spend class time whispering jokes and passing notes; he wants to practice spells and listen to the professor.

And he misses Scorpius. He tries visiting the room less, but he can't. Whether they practice spells, read books together, try new charms, tell stories or just sit together and look at the stars, James always looks forward to their nights in the room and, despite his best attempts at self-restraint, he finds himself making constant excuses to his friends and slipping away to the room.

One night, halfway through spring, James arrives back at the common room to find his friends furious. He'd intended to practice spells, but the night had been particularly clear and Scorpius had suggested a leisurely wander around the lake instead. Conscious now of his appearance — knitted cap pulled over his unruly hair, his cheeks reddened by the slight chill coming off the lake, James opens his mouth to say something distracting — possibly an offer to show off the latest arrival of wheezes, or share his copy of Quidditch Weekly. However, he glimpses his Marauder's Map in Paul's hands.

"That's my map! Did you go through my stuff?"

"You said we could use it."

"Yes, but sharing is different from taking!" James is indignant.

"Oh, so now we're thieves?" Paul looks hurt.

"I never said — "

"We saw you, on the map. Walking around the lake with him."

"Is that what you've been doing?" Martin asks, looking upset. "All that time you supposedly spent in the library, and you've been with Malfoy the whole time?"

"We're your friends. Gryffindors! Loyal, remember? And brave. And you've been lying to us!" Paul shakes his head.

"I know, all right, and I'm sorry," James pleads, but his friends are already turning away. "I'll make it up to you! I know, I've been an awful friend. We can go on a midnight trip tonight — "

"Forget it, we're always trying to spend time with you," Paul says, "If you don't want to be around us, just say so."

James can sense his friends leaving him. He'll be alone, and it will be horrible. Sitting awkwardly at the Gryffindor table during mealtimes, nobody talking to him; left in the corner of the common room with everyone ignoring him. Left out of everything, friendless and alone.

"Wait!" he says quickly. "Please! I — I know of a room. A special room. Like the Room of Requirement, but it's different."

His friends pause.

"Are you having us on?" Paul asks distrustfully, and James shakes his head.

"I swear, it's true. A magical room."

"Show us," Martin says.

James quickly grabs the map. "Let's go."

They follow him out the portrait hole. He walks quickly down the corridors, head down, looking neither left nor right. His heart is pounding; his face is flushed.

He promised. It's their room, their secret place, and now he's gone and told everyone. Well, not everyone, James reasons. Just his friends. And maybe he can take them somewhere else... But what other special room is there? James chews his lip, so caught up in his anxious thoughts that he nearly misses the room.

"It's — it's right here," James says, staring at the wall with trepidation. Maybe he can somehow salvage the situation. Scorpius need never know. He should be back at the Ravenclaw common room already. "It's secret, you can't tell anyone else."

"All right, we won't tell. Hurry up before a prefect finds us."

James slowly turns to the wall, swallows, and taps his wand four times, whispering the incantation. A portal appears; he can hear the others whispering with excitement as he steps through.

The room is not empty.

Scorpius is standing in the middle of the field, a butterfly in one hand. He came back to practise transfiguration, James realises as the butterfly slowly changes colour.

Scorpius turns to smile at him, and for a moment James automatically smiles in return.

And then his friends tumble through the portal.

"Are we outside? What's with all the grass?" Martin asks blankly.

"I've got seasonal allergies, I hope you know," Paul adds.

"What on earth is he doing here?" Martin says, pointing at Scorpius.

"Hey, Malfoy! Get out, this is our room now," Paul says loudly. "It's way too big to be wasted on you."

"This isn't your room," Scorpius says, his voice quiet but clear.

"Oh, so you think it's yours, do you? Three against one, so clear off."

"It's not mine either. It doesn't belong to anyone."

"Well, I claim it in the name of Gryffindor house," Paul cuts in. "We could throw parties in here. You couldn't. You don't have any friends!"

"I do! James is my friend," Scorpius retorts. James stares at the ground, unable to look Scorpius in the eye. He can feel his friends looking at him, waiting for a response.

"No I'm not," he mumbles. "I'm only friends with Gryffindors."

Scorpius doesn't say anything. James doesn't dare glance up. He hears Scorpius pick up his bag and make his way to the portal. There, he pauses. Then he speaks.

"Finite Incantatem."

There's a whirl of colours and a loud whooshing noise, as if the room is being sucked into a vortex. James staggers backwards, closing his eyes. When it all ends, he opens his eyes again and looks around the room, blinking.

The ceiling — a beautiful clear night sky — has turned back to dark stone. The grass has disappeared, revealing the dusty floor. The oak tree is nothing more than a battered desk in the corner. The cream-coloured butterflies now litter the floor as broken quills.

And Scorpius is gone.

Chapter Text

Harry arrives on Draco's doorstep at one o'clock on a Saturday afternoon. Draco feels rather underprepared; it's certainly not their usual schedule.

"Potter," he says, bewildered. Harry is dressed in a suit, holding a bouquet of white chrysanthemums and looking completely lost. "Going to a wedding?" Draco quips.

"Funeral."

Draco remembers, too late, that Harry's uncle died recently. "Right." He feels that he should say something else. "So...what exactly are you doing here?"

"You're right," Harry says morosely, picking at one of the wilting petals of the chrysanthemums.

"I'm...right?" Draco, sensing an oncoming personal crisis, frowns and looks around before opening the door farther. "Well, I suppose you'd better come in."

Harry walks inside, still picking at the flowers and looking miserable. He wordlessly follows Draco to the study and stands by the fireplace. After a moment, he looks around as if suddenly realising where he is, and sets the bouquet upon the mantlepiece.

"You're right," he repeats, turning to look at Draco. "What you said about the guilt complex."

"What are you talking...oh, that."

"Don't just say 'oh, that', as if it's nothing," Harry says irritably. "I've been having a crisis for the past hour, and it's your fault."

Draco guessed right about the oncoming personal crisis, then. "What's wrong with a guilt complex? Loads of people have them, especially when a relative dies. Go and look suitably solemn, offer condolences, eat any free food, and leave."

"You're heartless," Harry says, but without any venom. He slumps into an armchair. "I can't attend. I don't want to."

"So don't. Your cousin said there wouldn't any hard feelings."

"I lived under Vernon's roof for sixteen years. He might not have liked me, but he still let me live there. Spent money on extra food for me, haircuts, my optometrist visits."

"How outstanding," Draco says dryly. "He must've been like a second father to you." He opens the desk drawer and pours a firewhiskey.

"No thanks," Harry says distractedly, glancing at the glass.

"Drink. You need it."

"I can't. I can't attend a funeral smelling like whiskey!"

"So you are going?"

"I don't know!" Harry stands up and starts pacing. "I mean, if I do go, it will be the whole guilt complex. He didn't do a thing for me; why should I do anything for him? Why do I always have to feel so guilty about everything?" He reaches for the glass of firewhiskey and downs it in one quick motion.

"I'm not offering another, I hope you know," Draco says disapprovingly. "That was a vintage bottle, Potter. Oak aged."

"This is your fault. If you hadn't said anything about a guilt complex, I wouldn't be overthinking everything!"

"Your chrysanthemums are wilting," Draco says. Harry stops pacing and gives Draco a very long look.

"You," he says, "are entirely missing the point."

"You are. If you're annoyed at feeling guilty, then stop feeling guilty. If you don't want to attend the funeral, don't go." Draco pauses. "I don't know why you're here, anyway. Shouldn't you be crying on Granger's shoulder or talking to Weasley?"

"They don't know." Harry tugs at the collar of his suit. "I don't want them to worry about it."

Draco feels rather pleased about the fact that Harry Potter has elected to leave his dedicated friends out of the loop, instead coming to him for advice. He turns away, but not quickly enough; Harry spots his smile.

"What are you smiling about?"

"I'm not smiling."

"You are. You've got one of your self-satisfied looks on your face."

"I just think it's rather amusing," Draco says, tidying a set of quills if only to keep his hands busy. "You asking me for advice."

Harry gives him another long look. "You're not so bad, you know," he says, and Draco stares in surprise. "It's true," Harry adds. "You've changed a lot since school."

"Drunk on one glass of firewhiskey? Always thought you'd be a lightweight."

"It's been seventeen years since the war, Malfoy," Harry says, ignoring the gibe. "Don't you think you've changed?"

"I suppose." Draco traces a pattern etched into the desk, trying to resist the next question, but curiosity gets the better of him. "Exactly how have I changed?"

Harry shrugs. "I don't know. You're more interesting, I suppose."

"More interesting?" Draco's amused.

"Well, during school you were very boring, weren't you?"

"Boring? Are you insane? After all that happened — "

"Oh, I don't mean boring like that," Harry says quickly. "I meant...well, you were just like a miniature version of your father, weren't you? Just a copy of his personality, really."

"I am nothing like my father," Draco says coldly before he can stop himself. "I will never abandon my family. My son — " He cuts himself off. He hadn't meant to say so much, and certainly not reveal his innermost thoughts to Harry Potter, of all people. But Harry isn't looking calculating or indifferent; he's instead staring at the fire, a pensive look on his face.

"Do you miss him? Your father, I mean," he asks.

Draco turns away. "Of course not."

"Oh." Harry picks up the white chrysanthemums. "Well. Just thought I'd ask. Anyway, suppose I should leave."

Draco accompanies him to the front door. He pauses a moment, looking at Harry.

"Are you going to the funeral?"

"I still don't know."

"Oh." Draco pauses again; as if sensing his hesitation, Harry waits patiently on the front step. "I do, you know," Draco says at last. "Miss my father, I mean." Then he shuts the door hurriedly — before Harry can respond — and leans against it, exhaling slowly. He doesn't know why he told the truth, but it feels strangely therapeutic to tell someone. He hates his father; he loves him. He wishes he'd magically appear and fix everything; he wishes he'd never return.

It's been so long, anyway, that he's beginning to forget who his father is. Draco looks at the portraits and sees a man who feels like a stranger.

Just a picture of someone Draco once knew.


Draco whiles away the rest of the afternoon by writing a letter to his son. Scorpius sent a letter recently; he'd made some new friends, he'd said, and discovered a hidden talent for playing Gobstones. The other Ravenclaws were very nice once he'd gotten a bit better at talking to them.

Still, Draco wonders what happened to James Potter. Since Christmas, Scorpius had started sending many letters, all of which excitedly mentioned the Potter child at some point. However, there's no mention of the boy in this letter.

Well, Draco's just happy that Scorpius is making more friends. He'll have to send new robes soon, he thinks. Scorpius has grown a lot. Then again, he'll be returning home in a month for the summer holidays. Draco smiles at the thought.

A tap at the window. He stands up and unlatches the window, pushing it open. A bedraggled owl patiently waits.

The letter is only a short scrap of parchment, consisting of a single sentence written in Harry's untidy scrawl.

I didn't attend.

Draco studies the sentence and, after a long moment, smiles faintly. He sets the letter aside and turns to the kitchen table, where a fresh ream of parchment awaits. He picks up the quill, draws the ink, and writes carefully across the top of the parchment.

The Evans Family.


James is miserable.

Scorpius isn't talking to him, his friends have already grown bored of the room and forgotten about it, and summer is swiftly approaching. School will finish in just two weeks, and James has to fix things before then. Late Friday evening, after dinner, he manages to catch ahold of Teddy in the crowded hallways.

"Hey cuz," Teddy says amiably, waving at his friends to go on without him. "What do you want?"

"The Ravenclaw tower."

"Not happening. Nice chat, I'll see you around."

"I'm not joking!" James desperately grabs at Teddy's sleeve to stop him leaving. "Come on, please? I need to see a friend."

"No chance."

"Why not? You snuck me in last time," James says accusingly.

"That was during class, wasn't it? This time of night everyone will be in the common room."

"I'll wear my invisibility cloak."

"You're the clumsiest person I know. You'll end up bumping into someone or treading on your own head or something. What's the big deal, anyway? You'll see your friend in class."

"I'm trying to apologise," James says reluctantly.

"So, go apologise then."

"It's not that easy."

"Oh no, it's not that easy," Teddy repeats mockingly. "Course it is. Here, I'll show you." He grabs ahold of a sixth-year Hufflepuff passing by. "Hey, Matthew. You know the other day, when I said all Hufflepuffs were thick as planks? Sorry about that, I can be a real idiot sometimes. Shout you and the Hufflepuffs a round at the Three Broomsticks next weekend?"

"Cheers, thanks," the Hufflepuff says, looking gratified. "See you in Charms class, Teddy."

"See you round." Teddy waves, watching the Hufflepuff walk away. "See, that's how you do it. Anyway, got to run. I've got Homework Club tonight."

"Homework Club?" James says, pleased to finally have something to tease Teddy about. "Don't your friends think you're a teacher's pet?"

Teddy gives him an odd look. "No. They're my friends, see, and therefore they think I'm awesome no matter what I do. Which, by the way, is true. I tried being non-awesome once, it sucked. Everyone thought I was you."

"Oh, very funny!" James, sensing an incoming hair-ruffling, ducks away quickly. "I'm telling Dad you're being mean, and he'll tell Andromeda!"

"I'll tell her you're the one who ruined her forty-year-old wedding veil by pretending to be a ghost!" Teddy calls as he walks away.

The problem with cousins, James thinks gloomily, is that they know too much about you.

He jams his hands into the pockets of his robes and walks slowly to the Gryffindor tower.


When he arrives in the common-room, he finds his friends sitting in the corner. They're complaining about Slytherins again.

"Henrietta Mortley, she's in second year. Her whole family's Dark!"

"I heard she has an uncle who's in Azkaban for torturing Muggles."

"We should — " Paul begins, and James interrupts.

"No, you shouldn't."

They turn to stare at him. "You don't even know what I'm going to say!" Paul protests.

"Yes, I do. Why don't you leave them alone?"

"Because they killed my cousins," Martin begins angrily, but James cuts him off.

"They didn't! Other people did! They can't help who their parents are!"

"But — "

But James has finally snapped, the words spilling from him, and he raises his voice. "You're just as bad as them! Going around picking fights and making fun of people — how is that supposed to fix anything? I'm sick of it. I'm sick of all of you. Count me out." His voice rings with anger and he's suddenly aware of the silence in the common room. Paul is looking at him with a shocked expression; Martin is the first to speak. James is expecting anger, but instead Martin speaks so quietly that James has to step closer to hear him properly.

"But...some of them are horrible to us, too. The fifth-year Slytherins that always tease me about my dead cousins...call me a blood traitor...you don't know what it's like, James."

James looks at Martin for a long moment, at his miserable expression, and then he looks at Paul, who just seems bewildered now.

His shoulders slump and he suddenly feels defeated somehow.

"I'm going to bed," he says, his voice flat and tired.

Nobody stops him as he turns away and drags his feet up the dormitory stairs.


He doesn't know how to fix this.

It's pointless, James thinks. None of his friends are speaking to him anymore. Martin's gone very quiet, Nate stays out of James's way, Paul seems very confused by it all, and worst of all, Scorpius hasn't spoken to him since that day in their room. He hasn't even looked at him. James ended up sitting next to him in Potions yesterday, and the silence echoed between them like a vast ocean. At the end of the lesson, as they were packing up, James gathered all his courage and asked Scorpius if they were still friends.

Scorpius had replied — without a single look at James — "You're only friends with Gryffindors."

Then he'd left without another word.

Now James sits in the common room, hunched over a book he's really not reading. Opposite him, Rose is smiling as she reads a letter from home.

"Cheer up," Rose says, glancing up from the letter. "Only one week left. Has Uncle Harry got any plans for the summer holidays?"

"Maybe a trip to Brighton," James murmurs, not really focusing on the conversation.

"Mum's taking us to France. You know the family tradition."

"Mm," James says indistinctly.

"You look tired. Maybe you should have an early night."

"Can't. Got Astronomy soon."

"Oh, have we? I nearly forgot."

They make their way to the Astronomy tower. The Gryffindors share the class with the Hufflepuffs; one or two are on friendly terms with James and at least nod in greeting. James chooses a telescope on the far side of the room, listening as Professor Sinistra gives instructions. They will be looking at Saturn tonight, she explains.

"We're in luck tonight," she says. "Very clear conditions. Now, how many of you can see Saturn? The rings should be visible, although you won't be able to see them in much detail until you've completed the additional magnifying charm."

"Amplificare," James murmurs, tapping his wand on the telescope.

"Now, has everyone found Titan, the largest of Saturn's moons?" Professor Sinistra asks. "Good. You will be required to locate all nine of the moons."

The class works quietly. James carefully inks the names of the moons into his star-chart and Sinistra looks over his shoulder.

"Oh, you found Hyperion! Very good. It's quite a unique moon — it's the only moon in the solar system that has chaotic rotation."

"Chaotic rotation, Professor?"

"Its orientation in space is unpredictable." Sinistra turns to the next student. "Appleton! Have you found Mimas yet?"

James finishes early. As he waits for the other students, he adjusts the telescope to look at other parts of the sky. Sirius is easy to find; it's the brightest star in the sky.

That must be nice...looking into the sky, and seeing all your friends and family there…

The sea-blue star seems to wink in the night sky, as if it's a lantern flame flickering in a breeze. James blinks, feeling his eyelashes brush against the cold metal surrounding the eyepiece.

I'd never be afraid of the darkness again if I loved the stars so much.


Harry visits Draco on Wednesday, at the usual time. He's kept waiting quite a while before a somewhat flustered Draco appears, flinging open the door and distractedly telling Harry to come in.

"I was in the middle of figuring out something," Draco says, immediately turning and hurrying away. Harry follows him down two hallways and a flight of stairs, arriving in the kitchen. There's a mass of parchment and old books piled atop the work bench. Draco takes a seat on the far left of the table and starts unravelling a scroll. "Where was I?" he mutters. "That's right, the marriages in the Leeds line." He glances up. "You should really just Floo, you know. Far less disruptive."

"I suppose," Harry says slowly, then spots the name 'Evans' hidden among the piles of parchment. He pulls the parchment free, and is immediately entranced. "Look! It's my family tree!"

Draco gives him a long-suffering look. "Yes. You placed a request and I accepted it. I then started making what we in the industry call a 'family tree'."

"Yes, but it's different to actually see it," Harry says, too excited to pay much attention to Draco's condescension. "You've even got Dudley's daughter on here! She was only born a few months ago. How on earth did you find all this out?" Too late, he remembers Draco is in the middle of working, but Draco doesn't look annoyed at the interruption. On the contrary, he looks a little gratified with the attention. He pushes the parchment aside.

"Well, it's a bit difficult for Muggles. Most of the work is done through old church records. Births, deaths, marriages, baptisms. But for wizards and witches, I can just use the National Wizarding Archives. It's where I found your mother's birth certificate, for example."

"My mother's birth certificate?" Harry echoes. "I've never even heard of the Wizarding Archives..."

Draco looks at him for a long moment, evidently considering something. "Would you like to see it?" he asks at last.

Harry hesitates. Going sightseeing is hardly part of the Ministry-approved visits. But seeing his mother's birth certificate...he'd never even thought about that. "I would, actually."

He stands and follows Draco to the fireplace; Draco tosses a handful of Floo powder into the flames.

"Library of Magic, St James Square," Draco says clearly. He disappears in a flash of green flames and Harry quickly follows, repeating the same address, and finds himself standing in an elaborate marble fireplace in an enormous circular room. The great curved walls are completely lined with books; long oak tables stretch into the centre of the room where a statue of a witch, a book in one hand and wand in the other, stands proudly. Draco catches Harry looking at it.

"Valdis the Scribe," he says. "She was the founder of this library."

There's a faint whoosh, indicating someone is about to Floo into the fireplace, and Harry quickly steps out of the way. Antique lamps line the tables; here and there, a wizard or witch sits by one of the lamps, nose buried deep in an ancient tome.

"This is the Library of Magic?" Harry asks. Draco smiles.

"It's the foyer of the library." He walks to a shelf, reading the titles, then stops at a book. "Pick that book up."

Harry gives him a doubtful look, then reads the title on the book's spine. Registry of Births. It seems rather inconspicuous, and he obediently tugs the book from its place.

Draco grabs ahold of his arm just before they're whipped away. It's a portkey, Harry realises. Within seconds, they've arrived in what looks like a vast wine cellar. Instead of wine, however, the walls — marked with square nooks from floor to ceiling — contain glass bottles, a scroll within each one. In the centre of the room is a raised pedestal, a single sheaf of parchment upon it. Draco approaches it, picks up the long silver quill laying next to it, and writes something. When Harry looks over his shoulder, he sees his mother's name. Evans, Lily.

The word fades. A second later, hundreds of bottles begin to glow.

"Don't tell me you have to search every scroll?" Harry says, looking around.

"Wait a moment, the spell will process your mother's first name too."

It does. Within seconds, the glows begin to fade, leaving five bottles still aglow.

"There's more than one Lily Evans?" Harry's in disbelief, but Draco doesn't seem perturbed.

"There's thousands of records, all dating back to the eleventh century, and 'Evans' is a common surname. It's not that surprising." Draco goes over to one of the glowing bottles. "This is the correct one, if I recall. Quaero quero," he says, and with a swish of his wand, words begin floating above the bottle, like the ghost of the scroll.

EVANS, Lily. 30 January 1960.

Draco moves his wand across the name, as if underlining it, and the name ripples and dissolves into a new floating image. The full birth certificate appears and Harry's heart misses a beat. All this information, and he had no idea it was even here...his grandparents' names, their occupations, date of marriage...

"I didn't even know their names," he says quietly, speaking to himself. "I never even knew...Harry Evans and Hazel Evans. My grandparents. I suppose I was named after my grandfather, then..."

"It's my job to find this information, Potter," Draco says. "It's very common for people to be unaware of their family's history. For example, Astoria never knew..." He trails off. "Shall we take the portkey back, then?"

Harry's rather curious about the end of that sentence, but he acquiesces. They take the portkey back to the main foyer. Harry looks up at the domed ceiling overhead, marvelling at the size of the building. "So, this is the Library of Magic, then."

Draco nods. "Every book in the foyer leads to a particular collection," he says, gesturing to the portkey.

"It must be massive, though. How do they hide it from the Muggles?"

"I don't know. It was built in the eleventh century. Very ancient magic, probably breaking every rule of space and time. Then again," Draco adds, "it's not that hard to believe when you think about those smartphones. All the knowledge in the world, kept in your pocket...what are you smiling about?"

"You read the book," Harry says, feeling absurdly happy.

"Of course I did," Draco snaps.

"So," Harry says, changing the subject, "is this where you do all your research?"

Draco nods. "Sometimes I can borrow items — I've got a copy of the Domesday Book at the moment, but I'll have to return it soon."

"Can't you just buy a copy?"

Draco raises his eyebrows. "A full and complete copy of the Wizarding Domesday costs nearly a thousand galleons."

Harry's aghast. "What! For that price, I hope the book's made of solid gold and turns into a pet phoenix once you've finished with it."

Draco grins a little. "You can get annotated copies for cheaper," he amends, "but the nineteenth-century Wattleworth Press edition is regarded as the best and most definitive version."

Of course, Draco would only want the best. Harry shakes his head and steps into the fireplace.

"Malfoy Manor," he says clearly, stepping into the flames.

Once more he's whisked away, landing in the sunroom hearth. A second later, he remembers — too late — that Draco is following, and the next thing he knows he's tangled up with displeased Draco.

"First time using the Floo or something?" Draco demands, climbing over him and brushing the soot from his robes. "Honestly, Potter."

"I forgot!"

"You forgot I was right there? How could you just forget?"

"You're quite right, I don't know what I was thinking. Your presence is impossible to forget, with the amount of whinging that you do."

"You're worse. Your voice sounds like a Blast-Ended Skrewt being pushed into a wine bottle."

"Yours sounds like someone just trod on a peacock. One of those ugly little albino peacocks your father was so fond of."

"Ugly little peacocks? I'll have you know they cost a hundred galleons each."

"Should've saved your money and bought some garden gnomes."

"Why not? I hear they have little Harry Potter gnomes now, complete with tiny spectacles and a gormless expression."

They make their way to the kitchen, still bickering, but Draco prepares a pot of tea and Harry interprets it as a truce.

"I've got to finish up a couple of other projects," Draco says as he sits opposite Harry, handing him a cup of tea, "so your family tree will have to wait. Don't expect it to be completed quickly."

"That's fine." Across the table, Harry spots the copy of the Domesday Book. "Don't you get sick of looking at records?"

"I quite like it." Draco hesitates, glancing downwards slightly, and Harry's started to recognise it as a sign that Draco is about to reveal something personal. "They're like riddles. Puzzles, and I have to find all the pieces."

"It's why I became an Auror. Every case is a puzzle."

"I'm a puzzle?" Draco says it in jest, one eyebrow raised, but Harry says nothing for a long moment. He traces a long burn mark across the unpolished wood of the table, then looks up.

"Earlier, you said Astoria never knew something about her family history. What was it?"

Draco looks at him, then glances down at the table, his hands resting against the warmth of the teacup. "It's nothing," he says, and Harry can hear the finality in his voice. Perhaps Draco remembered to whom he was speaking; perhaps he regrets sharing such personal thoughts and memories. Harry glances up, catching sight of the freshly-painted ceiling, and suddenly recalls Scorpius's words regarding his father's renovations.

"Getting rid of all the ghosts," he echoes.

Draco tilts his head slightly, an almost-nod of agreement.


James stands atop the hill, gazing down at the students milling around the train station below. An early summer rain has come, sending silvery rain falling upon the tall, green grass. There's a patch of daffodils growing near James's feet and he looks disconsolately at the butter-coloured petals.

Time to leave.

He slowly descends the hill, walking the meandering stone path until he's reached the centre of Hogsmeade and then the station platform. All around him, students are sharing heartfelt goodbyes.

James boards the train slowly, dragging his luggage behind him. Most students are still on the platform, chatting excitedly before they board. He sits in an empty compartment, gets out his latest comic and tries to read it. Soon, footsteps constantly patter past, along with the clatter of luggage and snatches of conversation.

"Honestly, who does she think she is? I don't..."

"...pick us up at nine o'clock sharp, so don't..."

"...just a few Canary Creams and he gave me a detention…"

Each time, James glances up; he tries to keep reading but ends up re-reading the same sentence seven times. Just as he's about to toss the comic aside, footsteps stop at the compartment door and someone pulls it open.

"Hello."

James looks up. Nate is looking at him, Martin and Paul behind him.

"Hello," he says, but even he can hear the disappointment in his voice.

"Mind if we sit?" Nate asks, and James shrugs.

"Go ahead."

"Thanks." He sits on the opposite seat, along with Martin; Paul sits next to James.

"Listen," Paul says, looking nervously at the others, "we just wanted...we wanted to say we're sorry. I suppose we haven't exactly been very kind, even though I still think it was horrible of you to yell at us like that — "

James straightens up, feeling defensive, but Martin speaks then.

"I've been thinking a lot about it," he says quietly. "And...well...you're right. About what you said. I suppose it's all you ever hear about the war, isn't it — what your parents tell you, I mean. And it's easy to sort of, you know, get a little angry at people. Even people who didn't really have anything to do with it."

"What we're trying to say," Nate says earnestly, "is that we're honestly sorry about the whole business, and we'd like to be friends again."

James can't afford to be turning down offers of friendship, but he's still mad about what he lost and he thinks for a long moment before he shakes his head.

"I don't think so," he says. Paul and Martin look crestfallen; Nate nods.

"Well," he says, "maybe next year, then."

"Maybe," James allows.

They all nod at him and wish him a good summer before leaving. Not soon after, Rose and Teddy appear.

"Look at you, slumped there like a dead bumblebee," Teddy says theatrically, throwing the door open and immediately launching himself at James. James, caught by surprise, puts up a spirited fight but quickly resigns himself to being held in a headlock for a few moments, his hair being ferociously ruffled.

"Go away," he groans. "Haven't you got friends to bother?"

"I'd much rather annoy my noodle-limbed cousin."

"I'm taking the window seat," Rose tells Teddy, and they immediately start bickering.

"Merlin, save me from days like this," James mutters.

Secretly, though, he's grateful for their company.


Harry's pleased to see his son again, but there seems to be something different about him. Something's changed, Harry thinks. After they arrive home from the train station, James disappears upstairs to unpack and doesn't reappear again until dinnertime.

"Didn't know you were that interested in astronomy," Harry teases as James pores over an Astronomy book, absently eating forkfuls of peas as he turns the pages. "Thought you said stars were just balls of gas in the sky."

James makes an indistinct noise and turns another page. Harry frowns. Normally, that'd be the cue for James to excitedly chatter about the subject. Is it just the oncoming teenager years, taking away James's habit of constant chatter?

He studies his son. James, he realises, looks miserable.

"What's wrong?" he asks.

"Nothing." James turns another page; Harry, worried at the sudden distance between them, reads the heading of the page upside-down.

"Studying Saturn, hey?" he asks, trying to draw James into conversation. "On a clear night, you can see it without a telescope. It's one of the brightest planets."

"But you can't see the moons," James says.

"No, you can't."

James stares down at the diagram in the book, then slowly pushes his plate away.

"You haven't eaten much," Harry says.

"Yeah." James carries his plate to the sink, then picks up his book and goes upstairs.

Harry sighs.


He spends the rest of the night in the study, going through his notes for an upcoming surveillance project. Just as he's about to finally go to bed, an owl taps at the window. Harry glances up, then grins and collects the parcel from the owl before going to the fireplace and flinging a handful of Floo powder into the flames.

"Malfoy Manor," he says clearly, stepping into the green flames, and a few seconds later he lands in the sunroom fireplace, toppling over and falling across the grate. "Ouch," he mutters, standing up and dusting soot from his robes. He hears hurried footsteps; a second later, Draco's appeared in the doorway, his wand aloft.

"Potter! What are you doing?" he hisses. "It's nearly midnight!"

"Oh, is it really?" Harry asks with surprise. "Sorry, I completely lost track of time. Did I wake you up?"

"No, I was in the kitchen, and — but that's not the point! And Scorpius is a very light sleeper, if you've woken him up — so help me — "

"Father?" As if hearing Draco's words, a rumpled Scorpius has appeared by his father's side. He spots Harry and shrinks back. "What's he doing here?"

"I'm just dropping off something for your father," Harry says.

"Go back to bed," Draco tells Scorpius, but he shakes his head firmly. Draco turns and gives Harry an angry look.

"It's all right," Harry says, trying to catch Scorpius's eye and smile reassuringly. "You can come along too. Shall we go to the kitchen?"

Draco leads the way. Once they're in the kitchen, Scorpius sits at the end of the table and observes both Harry and his father, an air of anxiety still about him.

"Please don't tell me you've arrived at midnight to give me paperwork, of all things," Draco says curtly, pouring himself a cup of tea.

"Sort of." Harry still feels terrible about waking Scorpius up; he hadn't really thought of that when he Floo'd. "I really should've left it until tomorrow, but it only just arrived and — well, I'm a bit impatient like that." He pushes a parcel across the table.

"What's that?" Draco asks suspiciously.

"Something for you."

"A present?" Scorpius suddenly asks. Harry turns to look at him.

"Well — yes. A present."

"Open it," Scorpius urges his father, and Draco gives him a look of slight amusement. He reaches for the parcel, slowly untying the string, and stares down at the item inside. The letters gleam across the leather cover of the book. The Complete Wizarding Domesday Book, Volumes I and II. Draco flips the cover open; there's a small stamp of a wattle branch on the first page, with Wattleworth Press in neat lettering beneath it.

"I want to read it," Scorpius says, and Draco looks amused.

"You want to read everything." But he hands the book over; Scorpius turns to the first page and immediately begins intently reading it. Draco glances at Harry, frowning.

"You didn't have to buy it."

"I know." Harry tries to say it as a joke, but Draco doesn't smile.

"Why did you, then?"

Now it's Harry's turns to look away. He glances down at the table and traces a pattern in a whorl of wood. "Well...I..." Why did he? It just seemed a bit of a joke at the time; he really hadn't put much thought into it. "Thought it'd be handy," he says. Draco waits, one eyebrow slightly raised, as if awaiting the punchline. A silence stretches on. "That's...that's it," Harry says awkwardly.

"You bought a thousand galleon book," Draco says slowly, "because you thought it might be handy?"

"Yes," Harry says resolutely.

"You're mental, you do know that?" Draco says conversationally.

Harry rolls his eyes. "You're welcome."

Scorpius looks up from the book, glancing from Harry to Draco, and then he closes the book.

"I'm tired," he says to Draco. "I'm going to bed."

"All right," Draco says. "Would you like the Lumos spell for your wand?"

To light the way back to bed, Harry realises. He used to do the same for James when he was little, except he used a different spell, and now he speaks before he can really think about it.

"Would you like something a little brighter?" Harry asks Scorpius, and Scorpius suddenly looks at him with complete attention.

"A new spell?" he says eagerly.

"Scorpius loves to learn new charms," Draco says.

"Really? Well, watch this," Harry tells Scorpius, drawing his wand. "Expecto Patronum!"

Within seconds, the stag is standing proudly by the table, illuminating the room with its white-blue glow. Scorpius gazes at it with an awestruck expression.

"What is it?" Scorpius asks.

"A Patronus. They're made from happy memories. You'll learn about them later," Harry says. Scorpius approaches the stag and hesitantly moves his hand towards it. The stag tilts its head, as if trying to nudge Scorpius. "Just walk," Harry says, "and it will go with you."

Scorpius takes a few steps forward and the stag immediately follows him, keeping pace. Scorpius looks at his father, his eyes bright.

"I'll learn this one day," he says. Then he turns and leaves, the soft blue glow of the stag disappearing with him.

Harry suddenly remembers the furious look Draco gave him earlier, when Scorpius first appeared, and prepares himself for a vitriolic lecture. However, Draco just gives him a look of mild annoyance.

"I don't appreciate you arriving in the middle of the night," Draco says. "Especially waking Scorpius — "

"I know," Harry says quickly. "I honestly didn't think about it."

"Typical of you." Draco looks away. "However, I'll consider overlooking your error. Mostly because you've impressed Scorpius."

Harry suddenly remembers Scorpius's friendship with James. Visiting a friend, he thinks, would definitely cheer James up. "Listen," he says, "James seems to be feeling a little down, and I thought maybe I could bring him with me next visit."

Draco shrugs. "I don't see why not."

"I'll see you next week, then."

"Next week."

Harry turns and makes his way back to the sunroom, the green flames of the Floo reflecting brightly along the large windows, glittering and flickering like ghosts.


Draco thinks Scorpius would also benefit from a visit from a friend; though he doesn't seem unhappy, he's certainly spending a lot of time in the gardens, reading alone, and he seems a little quieter than normal. On the Wednesday of Harry and James's scheduled visit, Scorpius arrives back from one such reading session in the gardens, grass stains on his robes, and Draco looks at him in dismay just as the wards vibrate.

"Visitors?" Scorpius asks, looking surprised.

"One for you, one for me." Draco studies Scorpius, then sighs. "Go upstairs and change your robes."

Scorpius nods and disappears to his room. Draco goes to the door and when he opens it, he's greeted with a pleasant smile from Harry and a look of terror from James.

"Afternoon," Harry says by way of greeting. "I've got some paperwork to discuss with you. James, run along and play with Scorpius."

James hides behind his father. Draco can't figure it out. The boy — previously appearing to be a confident and rather energetic child — now shuffles quickly behind Harry like a shy five-year-old. Harry, evidently equally puzzled by the behaviour, gives James a slight push into the hall.

"Go on," he say.

"I — can't I stay here with you?" James asks plaintively.

"No. I brought you here to spend time with your friend," Harry says. "I want to have a cup of tea and a bit of peace and quiet."

James gives Draco a look. "Hello," he says, politely but with a faint trace of apprehension.

"Hello," Draco says, still a little bewildered. "Scorpius is in his room." James stands there, unmoving. "You can go upstairs," Draco adds.

"Now, preferably." Harry says, a little less tactful than Draco.

James, at last, shakes his head violently. "I can't!" he blurts out.

"Why not? Off you go," Harry says, but James just looks even more unhappy.

"I can't. We had an awful row! Scorpius won't even talk to me."

"Then go say sorry and shake hands," Harry says, unperturbed. Draco speaks up, slightly defensive about James's last sentence.

"Scorpius isn't the sort to make a fuss over nothing," he says a little sharply. "I'm sure if you apologise, he'll be happy to be friends again."

Harry looks at Draco, and for a moment, Draco thinks Harry will make a sharp retort. However, Harry gives James a small nudge.

"Go on, then," he says, and James walks very slowly to the stairs and begins ascending them, reluctance in his every step.

"Children," Harry says wearily as soon as James is out of earshot. "They're twelve, what could they possibly argue about?"

"I don't know, we found a lot of things to argue about," Draco points out, shutting the door behind Harry. They both automatically start making their way to the kitchen.

"That's different. You're talking about schoolyard rivalry. I'm talking about a falling-out between friends. First time I had a major argument with any of my friends, it wasn't until fourth year."

"Was it?" Draco asks with interest. He always thought Harry and his friends were sickeningly sweet to each other. "Granger, wasn't it?" Some quarrel over homework, he'd wager.

Harry shakes his head. "Ron," he says regretfully. Draco's eyebrows rise with surprise.

"And what exactly did you argue about?"

"Mind your own business," Harry says, and switches topics. "Anyway, I wasn't kidding about the paperwork. You've got to update all your contact details."

"Nothing's changed."

"Oh, that covers everything then." Harry rolls his eyes. "You need to sign it, at least. Technically, the — " He stops dead in his tracks; Draco pauses and turns around.

"What?"

"What — what have you done to the kitchen?"

"Oh, this?" Draco says casually; he'd actually forgotten about the state of the kitchen. It had been a place designed for mass cooking, with long workbenches notched by years of knifework and a stone floor scraped and scratched from past house elves dragging things about. Draco had decided that it most certainly required an update.

In any case, kitchen renovations turned out to be trickier than he'd first imagined. He'd attempted a number of spells listed in the renovation spellbook and ended up having far too much fun with Incendio. The kitchen is currently a half-destroyed mess, counters reduced to piles of splinters and half the stone floor in fragments.

"I liked it in here," Harry says with horror.

"In winter, perhaps, when it had a fire lit and you couldn't see the full horror of it," Draco says critically. "I have plans."

"You always have plans. Speaking of which, if you've stolen The Strand from me…"

They fall into half-hearted bickering as if it's an old routine. Draco makes a pot of tea and sends it upstairs with a wave of his wand; they catch up to the tea-tray once they've made their way to the study. Their Monopoly game has been set up by the fireplace, on a small side-table, but Harry's immediately distracted by the reams of parchment on the desk.

"You've found out more about the Evans?" he asks keenly.

"Oh, didn't I tell you? You've got a few other Muggleborns in your family," Draco says. And, minutes later, they're both poring over the long parchment, Draco explaining things while Harry nods and asks questions.

It's almost a frighteningly normal routine.


James walks slowly up the stairs, feeling inexplicably nervous. He'd been thrilled when Harry had announced a 'surprise visit' and had happily taken the portkey. Once the manor had come into sight, however, Harry practically had to drag James up the driveway. James had tried to come up with a million excuses to go home, but Harry hadn't accepted any of them.

He steps onto the landing and turns down the hallway.

Scorpius is walking along it.

He's at the far end of the hallway, and he's busy buttoning up a set of robes and not paying any attention to where he's going. James waits for what feels like an eternity; Scorpius, still looking down at his robes and fumbling with the buttons, doesn't look up until he's a few feet away.

He stares at James, one hand still raised to the top button, other hand by his side. The silence goes on, until it's nearly too much to bear, and James is about to say something himself. Then Scorpius speaks.

"What are you doing here?"

He asked that same question six months ago, at Christmastime. When the manor's gardens were dusted with snow and roses of ice, and James's face was red with cold. Visiting you, of course, James had replied, and Scorpius had smiled at him.

"My — my father's here," James says, looking away and wincing at how awkward he sounds.

"I don't want you here."

"I'm sorry." James stares fixedly at his feet, still unable to look up.

"Leave me alone." The chilliness hasn't left Scorpius's voice.

"I said I'm sorry! Look...can't we just...start again? Things can be different this time...I feel horrible about everything, and...and..." It's always been difficult for James to admit weakness; others are always chasing him, begging for a scrap of friendship, not the other way around. "I miss you," he mutters. "Can't we just be friends again?"

"You're only friends with Gryffindors."

James looks up then, feeling hurt and angry. "Stop saying that," he says. "Do you have to be so stubborn? I'm trying to apologise! It's just a stupid argument — friends have arguments all the time! I already feel bad about it, and you're just making it worse! You're my friend, and — "

"I am not your friend!" Scorpius retorts, and at last, real emotion flits across his face — genuine anger.

"Are too! We made a promise!"

"You broke it!"

"I couldn't help it! I told you, my friends made me — "

"They didn't make you do anything! You're a coward, and a liar, and you're not my friend!" Scorpius is shouting now.

"Don't you dare call me a coward and a liar!"

"You are! You should be ashamed of all the lies you tell people!"

James is flushed with outrage; lost in his anger, he says the next words unthinkingly. "You're the one who should be ashamed — I'd rather be a coward or a liar than the son of a Death Eater!"

Scorpius doesn't retort. The silence seems a thousand times worse than their raised voices. They stand there for a moment, and then Scorpius speaks.

"Don't," he says, but his voice cracks halfway through the word and he pauses before speaking again. "Don't come near me. Ever again. If you try, I'll hex you."

"Scorpius, I — "

"I mean it." Scorpius draws his wand and points it at James. "Stay away from me." He looks at James, his face pale, and then he turns and disappears around the corner; a few moments later, James hears a door closing.

For some inexplicable reason, he wishes Scorpius had slammed it.


"You're such a liar."

Draco waves a hand dismissively. "You're too paranoid, that's your problem."

"It's not paranoia, Malfoy, when you've miraculously acquired two property sets." Harry's eyes are narrowed with suspicion.

"Oh, come on. You've got one set, and I haven't accused you of sneaking money from the bank to buy them."

"I've got the worst set! Whitechapel and Old Kent! They're worth nothing. And I swear I had an extra five-hundred pounds. Went missing about the same time I went to make more tea, actually."

The problem with Harry, Draco muses, isn't that he's paranoid. Quite the contrary, really. He's far too trusting.

He rolls the dice, begins to move his piece, then notices Harry's battleship sitting on Mayfair. "Potter! That's rent! You owe me a thousand pounds!"

"Too late, you already rolled the dice." Harry's grinning. Draco growls.

"You're annoyingly Slytherin sometimes, do you know that?"

"Must be spending too much time around you."

Draco opens his mouth to respond, but never does; right then, the study door opens and James appears. Draco frowns; the boy looks pale and unhappy. Harry glances up, his smile fading as he sees his son.

"James? Something wrong?"

"Can we go home? Please?"

"Don't you want to spend some time with Scorpius?" Harry asks; James shakes his head mutely and Harry exchanges a glance with Draco. "Well," Harry says, in tones of slightly weary patience, "I'm in the middle of a game right now."

James's gaze falls to the Monopoly board. "That game takes ages, Dad," he pleads. "Can we just leave?"

"Have you said goodbye to Scorpius?" Harry asks. "Go say goodbye, I'll finish my turn."

James shakes his head again.

"No?" Harry's taken aback. "James, are you really going to pick an argument over this?"

"I don't want an argument!"

And to Draco's horror, James immediately bursts into tears. Harry, looking alarmed, stands up and turns to Draco.

"I'd better take him home and sort this out," he says. "See you Wednesday?"

"All right."

Harry puts a hand on James's shoulder and guides him out the door.

"What's all this about, then?" he asks his son softly, but their footsteps are quickly fading and Draco doesn't hear James's reply.

Soon as Harry and James have left, Draco frowns and stands up, making his way upstairs. He knocks twice on Scorpius's door.

"Scorpius?" he calls quietly, and he hears a faint tap followed by a whispered Alohomora. The door opens. "You're not supposed to perform magic out of school," Draco reprimands gently.

"I know." Scorpius looks down at his feet. He looks upset, Draco thinks with concern.

"Did James do something?" he asks, but Scorpius shakes his head.

"We had an argument." Scorpius folds his hands in his lap, his signal for I'm not going to talk about it. "He's not my friend anymore."

"You don't want him to visit again?"

"No."

"And Harry?" Draco asks. Clearly James and Scorpius have had a row of sorts — Draco's not overly alarmed, he'd had plenty of dramatic arguments with Pansy and Theo in his childhood years — but if Scorpius doesn't want Harry to visit either...Draco will have to explain that Harry must visit, it's part of Draco's probation.

Fortunately, however, Scorpius nods.

"Harry can visit."

Draco sits beside Scorpius and changes the subject. "Would you like to play a game of backgammon?" he asks; it's one of Scorpius's favourites. Draco has a stack of newly-arrived letters from various historians, awaiting reply, the gaps in the family trees ready to fill, but he wants to spend some time with his son.

Scorpius nods and fetches the game.


Harry wonders what on earth happened between James and Scorpius. He'd asked James when they left the manor, but James had been too upset to say anything and as soon as Harry arrived home, he was immediately called into a conference at work.

"I'm sorry," Harry had told James. "But I have to go to this debriefing. We'll talk later."

But the conference had taken far longer than expected, and Harry had arrived home some time after midnight, when James had already gone to bed.

The next time he visits Draco, he wonders if he should ask about it. But surely it's just a quarrel over nothing, he decides, and there's no point bringing it up again. Instead, he tries to remember the real purpose of his visits and keep it strictly businesslike. He conducts a wandcheck, much to Draco's apparent annoyance, and writes down the spells performed, then asks the standard questions.

"Any contact with family or friends?" he asks Draco as they sit in the study, the file open across the desk between them.

Draco doesn't look too impressed with Harry's efforts to return their meetings to a more professional manner. "What family or friends?" he asks. "That's not sarcasm, Potter. That's a genuine question."

"Do you really need specifics? Fine. Theo..." Harry trails off, staring at the name in the file. Deceased. Blaise Zabini. Deceased. Millicent Bulstrode. Deceased. "Er...Pansy Parkinson."

Draco levels him with an incredulous look. Harry rapidly retreats.

"All right, yes, no contact then," he says, scribbling madly just to seem busy. "Changed any contact details recently?"

"No."

"Right." Harry closes the file, then stares at the desk beneath his hands. There's tiny scratching across it, he realises, from years of people writing on thin parchment. He can actually read a few words.

My dear son…

He wonders who wrote those words. Lucius, or Draco? Countless letters sent to Hogwarts, bringing news both bad and good throughout the years…

Footsteps. He turns around. Scorpius stands in the doorway.

"Hello, Scorpius," Harry says. "I was just leaving." He stands up, then studies Scorpius for a moment. "You know," he says, "you've probably heard it a thousand times, but you look so much like your father."

Scorpius looks at his father, then back to Harry. "Do I?"

Harry nods. "Do you think James and I are alike?" It's an impulsive question, one he hadn't meant to ask. Scorpius frowns and tilts his head, as if trying to remember something.

"My father has the Dark Mark on his wrist," Scorpius says at last. Harry, thrown by the unrelated remark, blinks and looks at Draco. Draco looks caught between surprise and horror at Scorpius's comment.

"I know," Harry says.

"Oh."

"I don't think Harry wants to talk about the Dark Mark," Draco intervenes quickly.

"No, it's all right," Harry says. "It's just a scar, isn't it? I've got a few of those I don't particularly like either."

There's a short silence, then Draco holds out his hand. Harry looks at it blankly for a moment before reaching out and accepting it.

"See you next Wednesday," Draco says, shaking hands only once before letting go.

"Next Wednesday," Harry echoes.

Scorpius looks at his father, then at Harry, and follows them silently to the front door. As Harry turns the handle, Scorpius speaks.

"I don't think you and James are alike."

"Oh," Harry says with disappointment. He'd like to think James looks a little like him — that tousled mop of black hair, at least.

Regardless, he smiles at Scorpius and leaves.

Chapter Text

For Draco, the summer seems to fly past. He takes Scorpius to the National Wizarding Archives and Scorpius absolutely adores it. He likes a trip to the planetarium, too, and the zoo. He discovers the book Harry sent Draco, the one about Muggle technology, and reads it over and over before demanding trips to London to visit the Science Museum. Scorpius is enthralled, tugging Draco from exhibition to exhibition, marvelling over interactive displays and asking Draco endless questions. They visit the Natural History Museum and, more specifically, its butterfly house. Scorpius seems entranced by the hundreds of butterflies flitting around him.

Draco can't begrudge Scorpius any of it. He's just happy to finally see Scorpius as he always imagined him to be — a bright and intelligent boy, full of natural curiosity for the world around him.

Of course, Scorpius spends plenty of time hiding in the manor gardens with a good book. But those moments are good, too; some of Draco's favourite memories become lazy summer afternoons with Scorpius curled up in the arms of an ancient apple tree, reading books while beneath the soothing shade of the branches, Draco idly flips through his Domesday Book

The smell of summer — of cloudless blue weather, of crushed lavender and bright wildflowers — seems to become forever trapped between the pages of Harry's gift.


The thirty-first of August arrives far too quickly.

It's a leisurely evening at the manor. Summer has lingered this year and the evening is mild and balmy. A faint breeze picks up leaves and petals, sending them skimming across the gardens and through the open doors. Draco completed a number of genealogy projects over the summer and had been paid handsomely for his efforts; as a result, the renovations have hastened. The manor has opened up. Walls have been removed; windows installed; skylights placed in strategic areas. Together with the freshly-painted walls, the manor has taken on a distinctly light and airy feel. Of course, it's a long way from finished and many rooms are still filled with dust and cursed antiques, but it's a start.

"Packed yet?" Draco asks Scorpius after dinner.

Scorpius feeds Pan a crumb from his plate. "Not yet."

So they go to his room, and Draco waits patiently by the trunk as Scorpius chooses what to take and what to leave.

"Only ten books," Draco says preemptively, noticing the calculating expression Scorpius is giving the bookshelf.

"Textbooks included?

Draco relents. "No."

Scorpius lights up as if it's Christmas and immediately sets about choosing his favourite books. After the books, everything else seems like an after-thought; Draco ends up packing all the clothes, if only to make sure Scorpius has any at all, while Scorpius pores over other items. He selects a collection of objects, a few Muggle puzzles that Draco bought him from the museums as souvenirs, and lastly, the telescope Draco had given him for his birthday.

"You can't take that."

"I'll shrink it."

"And then what'll you do when it's full size again? Everyone in your dormitory will trip over it."

"No they won't," Scorpius says stubbornly. "I've got the bed nearest the window, I'll just put it there. Besides, I'm a member of the Astronomy Club. I've got to have a telescope."

"You can use the ones in the Astronomy Tower."

"All right," Scorpius says, but his expression is mournful and Draco finds himself conceding defeat.

"You can pack it, then, but I don't want to hear any complaints about it being broken or lost." I'm spoiling him, he thinks, but he can't help it. Besides, in his opinion Scorpius deserves to be spoiled.

Soon enough, everything is packed. The trunk is levitated downstairs, ready by the front door; alarms are set, robes are cleaned and pressed and laid at the foot of Scorpius's bed.

They while away the rest of the evening in the library. Draco works on the Evans family tree while Scorpius reads a book on botany, interrupting Draco's work every now and again with an interesting fact or two.

It's a quiet evening, filled with comfortable silences and lazy page-turning, and Draco couldn't think of a better way to spend it.


For Harry and James, the evening is spent in a wild rush of haphazard packing and frantic searching.

"Where's my Charms project?" James demands as he upends the drawers of the hallway credenza.

"In your mess of a room, no doubt," Harry says with exasperation, rescuing a stack of photographs from James's wrathful searching. "I told you a hundred times to clean it up over summer — "

"Well, there's no use lecturing me about it now," James snaps, and Harry frowns.

"Don't talk to me like that, James. And be careful! That vase was a gift from Andromeda."

"So?" James retorts, setting the vase aside rather carelessly. "It's ugly, anyway."

"You are behaving very childishly," Harry says warningly.

"It's not in here!" James dumps the drawer on the ground, then disappears into the living room.

"James! You've left this hallway a complete mess — "

"I'll clean it up later!" James shouts angrily from the living room. "I was working on that stupid Charms project all summer, I bet you've thrown it out!"

Harry groans and walks to the living room. "I have not thrown out any of your school projects, James. You need to start being more organised — "

"Ugh, stop lecturing me!" James grabs a handful of books from the shelves and angrily throws them across the floor. Harry has had enough. He crosses the room.

"You're far too old for tantrums, James Sirius Potter," he says, taking ahold of James's arm to prevent any more books being thrown. "Go to your room, and I don't want to hear another peep out of you until you've calmed down."

James shakes him away, a murderous expression on his face, but nevertheless he stomps from the room.

"Fine! I'll go to my room, and I'll never come back out! Then you'll be happy!" James shouts as he leaves.

Harry listens to James storm upstairs. A few seconds later, there's the unmistakeable bang of the attic door slamming shut. Harry flinches, then slowly exhales. His shoulders slump.

James has been moody all summer. Oh, sometimes everything seems fine — James can spend whole days or weeks in a good mood, enjoying visits to Diagon Alley and trips to London, and he especially seemed to enjoy their brief trip across the Channel, to France.

But his moods change quicker than the London weather and rainclouds rapidly gather on the horizon. Sometimes James seems downright melancholy and spends his nights in the fields, stargazing. Sometimes — like tonight — he seems petulant and childish, losing his temper over the slightest things and refusing to listen to reason.

Is it normal? Is this just what it's like, having a teenager? Harry winces at the thought of dealing with this for the next five years.

He sighs and slowly places the books back onto the shelves.


James kicks a toy snitch across his room; it rattles along the floorboards before becoming caught in the corner of the rug. He huffs and gives it another kick for good measure.

It's no use. The anger is already fading, to be replaced with guilt. He slumps onto his bed and sighs, thinking regretfully of the way he'd snapped at his father.

He hadn't meant to. He'd just gotten fed up looking for that stupid project, and he still has to pack everything, but it's nine o'clock at night and they leave early tomorrow. And Harry had kept reminding James to pack, but he just kept procrastinating, and if he asks his father for help now then Harry will want to know why James left it so late, and…

James picks up the snitch and looks at it. Quidditch trials will be held this year, and this time he'll be allowed to try out.

Everyone knows your dad was the youngest Seeker…

Best one on the team…

Won every Quidditch Cup, I heard…

Truth be told, James isn't even that interested in Quidditch.

He should've practised more over summer, he thinks worriedly, instead of spending all his time at the local swimming pool. Maybe he could have asked Harry for Quidditch coaching. He could've given James some good advice about how to catch the snitch.

Or how to make friends. Harry has not even one, but two best friends. And countless more — there's Neville Longbottom, the hero who killed Nagini. Or Luna, the girl abducted by Death Eaters and imprisoned for months because of her family's outspoken support for Harry. Or Seamus Finnegan, who helped train Dumbledore's Army in his seventh year, or Dean Thomas who returned to Hogwarts to join the battle even though he had no wand.

Friends like that.

"I don't want to go back to Hogwarts," James whispers, testing the words aloud. Maybe he can stay here, in this endless summer, and he can forget all about the first year…

There's a knock at the door. James blinks quickly and sits up straight.

"Yeah?"

Harry pushes the hatch open and slowly ascends the ladder into the attic. "Supper's downstairs."

Guilt nibbles at James's heart again. He looks down at the snitch in his hand. "Right." He pauses. "Thanks."

Harry sighs and takes off his spectacles, rubbing at his eyes. James suddenly thinks of how tired his father looks.

"James," Harry says, crossing the room to sit beside him. "If something's wrong, you know you can always tell me."

"Yes. I just...it's nothing. Just...annoyed about my Charms project."

"That's all? There's nothing else?" He speaks so earnestly that James nearly squirms.

"No," he lies.

"Is it something to do with your row with Scorpius Malfoy? You've been in a mood ever since then," Harry says, and James looks up, startled.

"Why would I be bothered about a silly little fight with him?"

"All right," Harry says warily. "Didn't mean to imply otherwise. Just...I don't like seeing you upset. I know something's the matter."

"It's fine. I'm perfectly all right." James hates to see his father looking sad, and he tries his best to fix things. "Just been a little stressed about homework this summer, that's all. D'you want to help me pack all my stuff?"

That does the trick. Harry smiles. "Safe to assume you haven't packed a single thing?"

"Not even a sock," James says shamelessly, and Harry laughs.

"Come on then. I'll help you after supper."

Feeling just a little better, James trails Harry downstairs.


The second time Draco has to farewell his son at King's Cross Station, he thinks it will be easier.

But it's not.

They stand near the wall portal to Platform 9¾. Scorpius is looking rather stoic, his luggage neatly stacked beside him and Pan in his pocket. She pokes her head out, looking around sleepily.

"You shouldn't keep it in your robes," Draco says. "It'll chew holes in your pocket."

"No, she won't." Scorpius gently pats the rat; her eyes drift close. "She'll go to sleep soon, anyway. Rats are nocturnal."

Draco gives him a look. "I'm already putting in an order at Madam Malkin's." He glances at the wall, noticing a family disappearing through it. "Shall you go through?" he asks, recalling how Scorpius left by himself at Christmas.

Scorpius nods, but then he pauses and reaches into his pocket — the one not currently containing a sleepy rat — and takes out a camera. Draco recognises it as an old camera, belonging to Narcissa; Scorpius had found it during the summer renovations and wanted to play with it.

"Could we take a picture?" he says hesitantly. "Of us, I mean."

"Oh." Draco looks around, wondering if he should ask someone to take the photograph. He doesn't particularly fancy asking a stranger for a favour.

But, as ever, Harry Potter comes to his rescue.

"Hey, Malfoy," Harry calls out, wandering over. "Haven't seen the Weasleys anywhere, have you? James saw his cousins twenty minutes ago, just outside the station, and they all wandered off chatting to each other. Haven't found them since."

"Maybe they're driving to Hogwarts," Draco says archly, and Harry stares at him blankly for a long moment before his eyebrows rise with surprise.

"Did you...you actually remember that?" Harry asks. "Merlin, you have a memory like a pensieve. Oh, you have no idea."

"I have some idea. Professor Sprout said the Whomping Willow needed therapy for weeks."

"It needed therapy? You should've seen me and Ron! I got very close to being The Boy Who Lived to be Killed by a Tree."

"That," Draco says, unable to stop himself from smiling (and failing that, trying to turn it into a smirk), "would have been a very interesting footnote in the history books."

"It's like you enjoy re-living all my worst moments," Harry says conversationally. "You don't see me bringing up first year in the forest, do you? That first detention we had together? You were terrified of everything, and if I recall correctly, you shrieked like a banshee and fled as soon as you heard a noise."

"Then I'm afraid you don't recall correctly."

Harry just grins.

"Speaking of memories," Draco says, suddenly remembering Scorpius standing patiently beside him, "could you take a picture of us?"

"Oh, you and Scorpius? Sure." Harry takes the offered camera. "Stand up straight, Scorpius, you must've had a growth spurt over summer, you look almost like a third year. Oh, is that your pet rat? Make sure it's in the picture too, then."

Scorpius straightens up — secretly proud of Harry's observation that he might pass for a third year, Draco thinks — and at Harry's mention of Pan, he removes her from his pocket and perches her on his shoulder. Unexpectedly, he laughs as the rat sniffs at his ear.

"The whiskers tickle," Scorpius explains to his father.

A flash of a bulb. Harry lowers the camera.

"Has your rat got a name?" he asks Scorpius, handing the camera back to Draco.

"Pan."

"What, like pots and pans?"

"No," Scorpius says, smiling faintly. "Pan, after the second moon of Saturn. Everyone in my family is named after stars and moons."

"I know someone named after a star," Harry says, but then he pauses and his smile fades. Scorpius waits and somehow, Draco senses, Harry feels obliged to say more. "Sirius."

"The dog star," Draco says, and Harry turns to frown at him. "It's a nickname for it," Draco adds.

"You know the constellation Draco," Scorpius says. "And my own name is a constellation too."

"Well," Harry says, "I suppose you're right. I know three people now, named after stars." He smiles at Scorpius, then glances past him. "Oh, I think just spotted a Weasley. I'll see you later," he tells Draco, before turning to Scorpius. "Have a good year, Scorpius. Hope you enjoy it." And with that, he's gone.

Scorpius bids his father farewell, promising to write often, before turning and stepping through the wall. Draco watches him disappear, then turns and leaves.

After he's Disapparated back to the manor, he makes himself a cup of tea. Scorpius will already be on his way to Hogwarts now, sitting in a compartment, catching up with his friends and looking forward to the new school year.

And come eventide, when the stars appear in the fading sky, Scorpius will be sitting in the Great Hall beneath a ceiling of night. All the stars, all their ancestors shining in the sky.

Draco has known darkness too well to fear it; the night steps into his heart like an old friend.


James is greeted like a celebrity. The first years stare at him with awestruck expressions; they point and nudge each other.

"His son!"

"Next best thing to meeting Harry Potter himself!"

Paul and Martin are there, chatting with great excitement about the Quidditch World Cup they both attended during the summer. Nate and Iwan are sharing stories about their travels. They're all trying very hard to be nice to him, James thinks, especially after all the nastiness of last year. Rose said they'd grow out of it, didn't she? First years, with their stupid mindsets inherited from their parents…

He glances across to the Ravenclaw table. Scorpius is there. He's talking to a sixth-year girl whom James recognises as the head of the Astronomy Club. After he finishes speaking, a Ravenclaw across from him says something and Scorpius nods. They all smile.

James stands up. "I'm going to bed," he says. Paul exchanges a confused look with Martin.

"It's barely past eight."

"I'm a little tired."

He leaves them without further explanation, only pausing to get the password from one of the prefects ('tiddlywinks') and makes his way to the common room without incident.

The common room looks exactly the same as last year. The same armchairs, the same portraits and tapestries. There's the fat tartan armchair by the fire, the same one in which James used to hold council all last year, the other first years clustered around him with awestruck expressions. And those four armchairs in the corner, where he used to scheme with the rest of the boys. Stupid schemes, he thinks with a sudden flash of contempt. Scaring the house-elves by appearing suddenly in the kitchens, or chasing suits of armour down the hall.

He goes upstairs. The second year dormitory looks exactly the same as the first years' room, except the windows have a slightly different view. Last year, James claimed the bed where he could best chat to everyone in the room. Always the centre.

He's gotten the same bed this year, apparently, but he soon fixes that. Martin has the bed by the window; James swaps their trunks. Farthest away from everyone. He begins to unpack and, after a long moment, puts a locking spell on both his trunk and his bedside table to prevent people from rifling through his things. His own fault, really, for sharing his possessions so much and telling his friends to help themselves anytime.

A sudden commotion of noise and excited chattering comes from the common room below. The feast must have properly finished. James draws the curtains around the bed and lights his wand with a whispered 'Lumos', settling down with the latest serial of The Adventures of Martin Miggs, the Mad Muggle. He's a little too old for the comic now, but he used to read it every Sunday morning with his father.

James turns the page of the comic. Martin Miggs, recklessly driving his automobile, careens down a narrow mountainside. Will our mad Muggle survive? Find out next week.

If he narrows his eyes a little, it all becomes blurry. He can imagine the scene as something else. The mountain can become a house, the smell of pancake batter in the air, a woman and man talking in low voices, laughing every now and again…

"Nox."


James attends the Quidditch try-outs. His friends look at him with astonishment when he arrives on the pitch.

"You haven't got a broom," Nate says, as if pointing out that he's missing a limb.

"You forget it or something?" Paul adds.

James shakes his head. "Not trying out. I'll just watch."

They all gape at him. "Why on earth not?" Martin demands.

I'm not a Seeker. I'm not Harry Potter. I'm not anyone.

He looks away. "I want the position of Seeker," he lies. "They're not looking for new Seekers, though."

"Go on," Paul says. "I bet they'd make an exception for you."

"It's all right." He tries to smile. "Wouldn't want to get their current Seeker fired."

They all laugh then, and make jokes about how modest James is.

"Bet you could," Martin keeps saying, the others agreeing with him. "You could have any spot on the team. Just ask and they'd give it to you!"

James doesn't reply.

They go and sit in the stands. Paul is apparently trying out for the Chaser position and they cheer him on. James watches the distant figures loop and glide on their brooms. Suddenly, he wishes he was with them, soaring into the endless blue, flying on forever until he's among the stars. Skimming along the icy surface of Pluto, darting through the interstellar clouds of dust and hydrogen, looping around Saturn's moons.

His hand tightens slightly around the railing in front of him.


Paul wins the position of Chaser. They all celebrate it that night, but James retires to bed early. The swim trials will be held tomorrow. James has spent a good portion of his life in the water, with three swim practices a week, and last year had been a very long year without his swimming. He'd done his dryland conditioning, of course, but it hadn't been the same and he'd spent nearly the entire summer holidays in the pool, regaining his lost skills and strength, training like mad. He has to make the swim team.

His friends all think he's mental.

"Swimming? In the lake?"

"What if the squid eats you?"

"Won't you freeze to death?"

They nevertheless tell James they'll be there to cheer him on, until they find out the trials will be held at six-thirty in the morning.

"It has to be before breakfast," James says, but he can't really blame them for choosing a sleep-in over a crisp morning spent by the chilly lake.

Only Iwan expresses an interest in it. "I wouldn't mind swimming," he says. "It sounds fun."

"Do you train?" James asks.

"Not formally," Iwan admits.

"Best of luck," James says doubtfully before going to bed. He doesn't really know Iwan too well, anyway – he spends most of his time with his best friend, another second year Gryffindor named Claire – and he doesn't seem to have much of a sense of humour, never laughing when the boys tease him about his Welsh heritage. It's never serious, just a bit of a joke, but Iwan seems to get irritated anyway, James thinks.

He gets up early the next morning, expecting to be alone, but Iwan is already dressed. James puts his jammers on under a robe and they make their way downstairs together. Despite James's apathy towards Iwan, it's nice to have someone there with him.

"Where are we supposed to go?"

"To the pier, the notice says."

"I'm freezing."

"I know. God, I hope there's some sort of magical heating spell on the lake."

James laughs. "Yeah, right. We'll be ice cubes by the end."

They go to the pier, meeting the rest of the hopefuls: there's a medley of boys from various houses. James dismisses a few of them at once. They haven't got a swimmer's build, he thinks critically.

"Where's all the girls?" a nearby boy demands. James sizes him up. Tall, lean, with broad shoulders — definitely competition. He narrows his eyes.

"Girls had their trials yesterday. They're on a separate team," he says. "James, by the way."

"Huh? Separate? Well, that's no fun," the boy says, giving James a look up and down. Sizing him up too, James realises. "I'm Thomas," he says. "Second year. You must be first year, judging by your height."

He's trying to throw him off, James knows. "First years aren't allowed and you know it. I'm second year."

Thomas laughs. "You've got a lot of attitude."

"I take swimming seriously," James retorts. He'll be furious if he loses his place to some obnoxious boy who's only there to gawk at the girls. Maybe this Thomas will be so disappointed he'll turn around and go back to bed. Back to the Slytherin common room, if James is any judge of character. "Let me guess," he says, "Slytherin?"

"Let me guess," Thomas says, "Gryffindor?"

A short, sharp whistle pierces the air, and a woman marches up to the pier. She's short and small of stature, her greying hair pulled back into a bun with a pin jammed ferociously through it, and her eyes are narrowed. She holds her clipboard like a weapon.

"Right! Welcome to the second year trials. I am your coach, Saltworth." Her voice carries clear across the lake, sending a flock of birds rising from the forest. "Drink your warmth potions – can't have you lot dying of hypothermia this early in the season," she says, handing out vials. "You! You're a first year. Get out."

The tiny first year flees. James finds himself straightening up, as if standing to attention. Saltworth shoves a vial into James's hand, moving through the group and resuming her speech. "Time-wasters are not welcome. There are twenty-three of you here and there are eight places available. I expect you to have basic form and technique — I'm not running a learn-to-swim class here, I am training athletes. You! First year! Get out!"

"I'm…I'm not a first year…"

"Don't lie to me!"

The student sensibly retreats. Saltworth casts her gaze along the group. "Line up! Your warmth potions should be working. You'll be going in one by one. One lap freestyle, tumble turns, no stopping." She points to a gold line shimmering across the lake. "That line marks the fifty-metre mark. It's a barrier, if you try and go past it you will stop very abruptly. Please note the depth markers." She gestures to the small numbers glowing and floating in the air above certain points of the lake. "Any questions?"

Silence.

Saltworth nods. "Get to it, then."

A line is quickly formed; James ends up near the end of it, shivering in his robe. Iwan is in front of him and he looks increasingly anxious.

"First up…Appleton, Philip! On my whistle…"

"I don't think I should have come here," Iwan whispers to James. "I thought we'd all be going in at once, and just sort of swim a few lengths…"

"You'll be fine," James says as the whistle pierces the air.

"Yes, but why does it have to be one by one? Why does everyone have to watch?" Iwan asks nervously. "They'll all be staring…"

"Can't do any worse than this Appleton," James says with a shrug. "Look at his kicking rhythm — absolute rubbish."

"Is it?" Iwan looks even more anxious now. "God, look — that angry lady is timing it!"

"Don't know why she's got a timer, she could time Appleton using a standard clock," James says contemptuously. Behind him, somebody laughs and he turns to look at them. It's that Slytherin boy again, he sees.

"Can hardly wait to see your time," Thomas says, grinning. "Let me guess, twenty for the fifty free?"

"Shove off," James mutters, turning back around. Though he knows Thomas is just trying to unnerve him, he thinks uneasily of his recent times. Are they fast enough? Freestyle's his strength, of course, but it's everyone's strength. An easy stroke. Eight places on the team, twenty-three people trying out…

The line moves forward. Saltworth's expression gives nothing away as she scribbles on her clipboard, her timer in one hand. Soon enough, it's Iwan's turn.

"Good luck," James says dutifully.

"You're an experienced swimmer, aren't you? You'll tell me if you think I did all right?"

"Yeah, now go." James gives him a little shove; Saltworth is looking impatient. The sun is slowly coming up over the horizon and James, after waiting through the tryouts of everyone before him, is in no mood to give a pep talk.

Iwan takes a few nervous steps forward to the end of the pier, then discards his robe and stands there, toes curling over the edge, waiting and looking as if he might be sick at any moment.

"Hope your friend does well," Thomas comments.

"He's not my friend."

"Wow, you're just so friendly and outgoing."

"Get lost."

Thomas just laughs. James scowls and crosses his arms, watching Iwan, but his mind is elsewhere and he hardly notices a thing about Iwan's tryout, too busy mentally running over his training.

"Right! Potter," Saltworth shouts, making a mark on her clipboard as Iwan pulls himself up onto the pier.

"Good luck," he says shakily to James as he goes past him.

"Yeah, thanks."

"Good luck," Thomas echoes.

James doesn't deign to reply, just kicks his robes aside and takes his place on the edge of the pier, waiting. His heart is racing, he realises, and his hands are shaking slightly. No, he can't be nervous, he can't mess this up…

The whistle pierces the air.

James dives into the lake.


Another long day at the Ministry, Harry thinks. A big shipment of illegal potion ingredients was discovered last night — a major breakthrough in their operation. The team spends the day hunched over pensieves and listening to recordings, carefully compiling information, making sense from the coded conversations and negotiations, trying to trace the shipment. By the end of the day, Harry's exhausted. But the plan is in place, targets have been identified, and evidence is beginning to mount.

"Night, sir," Cuthbert says cheerfully, last to leave as always.

"Goodnight." Harry collects the folders on his desk, lost in thought, and he stands up at once when he hears a footstep, hand already on his wand.

"Always alert," Williamson chuckles, stepping out of his office and closing the door behind him.

"Yes, sir," Harry says, thinking how always alert sounds very close to constant vigilance. "Just filing a few things."

"Always the last to leave, aren't you?" Williamson locks his office door with a wave of his wand, then turns and studies Harry. "Actually, Potter, I'm glad you're here. There's something I want to discuss with you."

"About the shipment?" Harry says, automatically reaching for his quill.

"Well, in a roundabout way, I suppose." Williamson walks over to Harry's desk and takes a seat opposite Harry. "You've been doing a stellar job leading this operation."

"Thank you."

"And I don't give out compliments easily, you know that. You have to earn respect, I've always said." Williamson nods, the light of Harry's desk-lamp creating deep shadows across his grizzled face. A lifetime of Auror work has carved his skin like a landscape, creating deep valleys of missing flesh and raised mountains of hardened scar tissue. "And I believe you've earned a lot of respect from the team," Williamson continues, resting his hands on the desk, his wedding band glinting in the light. His wife died forty years ago, Harry recalls. Rumour said that she was killed by a mugging gone wrong, and Williamson had dedicated his life forever afterwards to chasing criminals and Dark magic users.

"I like to think we all respect each other," Harry says politely, but inwardly he wants to smile. This is it. The first step towards becoming Head Auror.

"Well, of course," Williamson says, but Harry can tell he's pleased. He clasps his hands for a moment, evidently deep in thought, and Harry waits. Williamson is missing an index finger and his knuckles are criss-crossed with scars, and Harry glances down at his own hands for a moment. There's a small scar here and there, but nothing particularly noticeable.

He wonders how many fingers he'll be missing when he reaches Williamson's age.

"I'm sixty-two, you know," Williamson says suddenly, as if reading Harry's thoughts. "Thirty-seven years I've been doing this job. And I've seen a lot of Aurors come through this office. Some have lasted nearly as long as me, like old Howes or O'Brien. Some have burned out in a matter of months, or even weeks. Some have been smart as a whip, or have reflexes like a cat, or they've got incredible spell accuracy. But what you need most of all is someone trustworthy. Someone who always has you as their top priority." Williamson taps a finger against the desk, the one missing a tip. "And I reckon that's you, Potter. The next Head Auror."

Harry exhales and sits back. "That's…that's quite a role."

"Wouldn't ask if I didn't think you'd be capable of it." Williamson looks down at his hands, at the ruined fingertips and cratered knuckles. "But…this is why I'm asking, not telling. It eats up your time. It's demanding, I won't lie."

"No, it's fine. Perfect timing, actually," Harry says with relief. "James started Hogwarts last year, so he's not around as much – "

"Christmas? Easter? Don't accept unless you can fully commit," Williamson says gravely.

Harry pauses. Well…Andromeda always loves doting on James, and Teddy's great at keeping him company. Besides, it won't be every holiday and important occasion. Perhaps just a few busy days here or there. And this is what he has always dreamed about. Head Auror. "You have my full commitment," he says. "It will be an absolute honour to accept the role."

Williamson nods, his eyes crinkling up in a possible smile. With a face that lined, it's hard to tell. "You'll make a fine job of it, Potter. You're dedicated to this job. Aurors, you see them come and go – they learn quickly that this isn't a nine-to-five job. But you're different. Like me. You give a hundred percent."

"Thank you, sir."

"We'll brief you tomorrow. I'll mentor you through this latest operation and then...well. We'll see how it goes. Consider it the final test." Williamson waves a hand. "I'd better let you go. Been here since six in the morning, haven't you?"

Harry smiles and stands up, picking up his cloak. "I'll see you tomorrow, sir."

"Tomorrow." Williamson turns and strides away, disappearing into the dark corridor. Harry watches him leave, then turns and smiles, almost laughing. This is it. Fifteen years he's been working towards this. He never wanted to make assumptions, of course, but part of him always hoped…Head Auror. This promotion has been fifteen long years in the making, but Harry's so close to achieving that dream now.

He settles his cloak about his shoulders and turns off his desk lamp, unable to stop himself from smiling.

Made it at last.


Harry pours his usual scotch before bed and sits in the study, considering his latest step towards Head Auror.

He turns a paperweight over in his hands. It had been a gift from Ginny. Not even a gift, really. Just something he saw in a shop somewhere, and she noticed it caught his eye and bought it.

Ginny was good at that. Buying things just for the sake of having beautiful things. Filling their home with a thousand interesting or pretty mementos. Harry always had to have a reason to own something; Ginny didn't care.

He sets down the paperweight — a large snowflake made of silver — and looks down at his desk. A clock chimes midnight somewhere within the house.

On the right side of the desk is Draco's file.

Harry takes another sip of his scotch and sets the glass down, listening to the faint clink of the ice cubes.

At the start of the file — the page marked 16th September, one exact year ago — there's a flurry of notes. Harry reads them and wonders what prejudices coloured his perspective. The notes are abrupt and unkind, Harry thinks as he reads them over, referring to Draco as being 'uncooperative' and the possibility of a formal warning.

Draco hadn't appeared deliberately unhelpful, Harry thinks, frowning at the notes. Nor had he done anything particularly deserving of a formal warning.

Nevertheless, as biased as the notes are, at least they're there. As the pages continue, the notes trickle away to nothing. The last note simply says 'Malfoy b'day 5 June, Scorpius 15 Nov'. Like it's important somehow. As though birthdays will crack the case. He's going mental, Harry thinks. There's no way he'll track down Lucius Malfoy, acting like this. He should hand the case over to someone else. All his time should be devoted to this latest operation, anyway.

He takes a sip of his scotch and looks at the silver snowflake again.


When Harry arrives at the office the next morning, he goes straight into the debriefing. Williamson and another senior Auror, Howes, discuss the evidence so far with Harry. The large shipment of illegal potion ingredients is just one of many shipments they've been tracking, and they believe a large Ukrainian crime family is to blame.

"We've had to make a choice," Williamson says. "Go for the underlings – catch the delivery people, the hired security – or let's see how much this thread unravels."

Harry exhales. "You want to go right to the top?"

Williamson nods. "We've let the first shipment go through, but nobody's claiming it. Someone's snitched. Most likely a corrupted dock worker."

They spend the rest of the morning in the office, poring over options. Cuthbert interrupts at one point.

"Excuse me, sir," he says, addressing Harry, "your cases at the moment – "

"Clear them," Harry says distractedly, looking at a map.

"Yes, sir," Cuthbert says, disappearing again

"Thanks," Harry says, underlining something with his quill.

And it's only two hours later, long after Cuthbert has scurried away, that Harry suddenly realises what just happened.

He swears and jumps to his feet.


Draco is glad when the wards are set off at their usual time on Wednesday. He had removed a chandelier and inadvertently triggered some sort of ancient curse, sending the entire room into a darkness that even the Peruvian Instant Darkness Powder would envy.

He leaves the room as it is, striding along the hallways and down two flights of stairs before he opens the front door.

And pauses.

There's a man on his front doorstep, tall and middle-aged with hair greying around his temples. He wears the neat, hunter-green uniform of a magical law-enforcement officer.

"Good afternoon, Mr Malfoy," the man says, flashing a silver badge. "Officer Nettleton. May I come in?"

Draco hesitates, if only for a moment. Then he recovers. Don't give them a chance to punish you. "Certainly," he says, stepping aside. "What may I assist you with?"

The man — Nettleton — walks inside and gives him a look of mild confusion. "Your Wizards Under Watch program, of course. One o'clock each Wednesday, I believe?"

"I was..." Draco pauses. "Auror Potter usually handles my case."

"Auror Potter is busy with more important matters," Nettleton says, casting a look around the reception hall. Draco hates the calculating way he looks at everything and would love for nothing more than to push him back out the door. "Your case has been redistributed."

I wasn't told of this. Draco bites the words back and instead gestures to the front parlour room. "Shall we, then?" Though he might be forced to allow Ministry officers into his home, he's certainly not obligated to make them feel welcome. No tea or biscuits will be offered, and the chilly front parlour room is the least inviting of the manor. Especially since Draco's only just finished renovating it, and the only furniture is a set of wooden chairs, all sharp angles and spiky discomfort.

Nettleton perches on one of the chairs. His eyes never stop roaming the room, Draco thinks with irritation, as if he'll find secrets in the walls or floor. But the room, with its freshly-painted walls and newly-polished floorboards, is nothing but a blank slate. Not even a chip or crack in sight.

Apparently finding no Dark curses scrawled across the walls, Nettleton abandons his visual interrogation of the room and opens the folder in his lap. It looks very thin and lacking, Draco thinks critically, and Nettleton seems to think the same.

"Auror Potter has made very few observations. I assume he has a collection of personal notes, however." Nettleton turns a page. "The manor is listed as your only address?"

"Correct."

"I understand there is a holiday villa in Majorca."

"It has been sold."

"And a London property?" Nettleton turns a page. "In Kensington and Chelsea?"

"My father used it for business trips, but it's now privately rented."

"To whom?"

Draco feels both irritated and nervous. These questions are trivial and will lead nowhere, but at the same time, Nettleton could choose to interpret Draco's responses as being discourteous or downright misleading, and file an official warning.

"I'm not certain," Draco says carefully. "You'll have to ask the agency that manages the property. Nuttall and Nye, I believe."

Nettleton frowns but says nothing. The agency is a popular choice for wizards and there's certainly nothing to tie it to the Dark Lord or any of his supporters. Draco knows this because past officers have already well investigated all the Malfoy properties.

"You have a son, I see," Nettleton says instead. Draco tenses. "Should be good motivation for you to tell us anything you can about your father."

Draco can feel the rage, like a magnifying glass on his pulse, make it jump fiercely beneath his skin. His son. His Scorpius, that this man dares talk about so brashly.

"Can't imagine things would be easy for the boy at school. Plenty of people still hate the name Malfoy. But if you helped us capture your father...well, some people might start looking a bit more kindly at you," Nettleton went on, oblivious to Draco's white-knuckled grip on the armrests. "If you actually cared about your son, you'd — "

Very, very fortunately, Draco thinks, Nettleton doesn't finish that sentence. He's interrupted by someone speaking.

Harry.

He's standing in the doorway, looking breathless, robes askew and hair disheveled. He must have Floo'd in, Draco thinks.

"What're you doing here?" Harry asks Nettleton, in the exact tone of voice Draco would have used.

Nettleton bristles. "Your secretary gave me the file, Mr Potter."

"Well, that was a mistake," Harry retorts, taking a step into the room. "I'm handling the Malfoy case."

"Not any longer. I've got the case."

"No, you haven't. I'll take it."

It's like watching a game of Quidditch, Draco thinks; they're the Seekers, and he's the snitch. If he wasn't so furious about Nettleton's remarks about Scorpius, he might have found the entire situation vaguely amusing.

"I am in the middle of a meeting," Nettleton says. "I'll just finish interrogating Malfoy, and — "

"Interrogating him?"

"I meant questioning," Nettleton amends quickly, but Harry's eyes are bright with anger.

"You're not interrogating anyone. Give me that file."

"I was questioning, and I was getting results. I notice Malfoy has a son — "

"Oh, well done, only took twelve years for you to notice then," Harry says cuttingly, and Nettleton flushes.

"Well, I'm rather surprised that..." Nettleton trails off, as if suddenly recalling Draco's presence.

Draco stands up. "Go on," he says, his voice soft and dangerous. Finish that sentence.

"Let's discuss this elsewhere, shall we?" Harry says, giving Draco a look before he turns and leaves. Nettleton hesitates, then follows, closing the door behind him.

A few seconds later, raised voices can be heard. Every now and again Draco catches ahold of some words. Harry seems to be doing most of the shouting.

"...not informed...think...in any way...certainly not...I assure you…"

There's a slight pause and the muffled sound of Nettleton speaking; this only seems to incite Harry's wrath further.

"Don't you dare...excuses...if you ask me...I'll certainly be filing a note...and personal integrity!"

There's another short silence, and then the sound of footsteps and the front door slamming. Another pause, and then the parlour door opens and Harry walks in. His face is flushed, but otherwise there's no signs of the furious words Draco heard.

"Hello," Harry says, smoothing his robes. His voice is forcibly calm, but there's a brightness in his eyes that Draco can't place. "Sorry I'm late. Shall we begin?"

"I..." Draco doesn't know what to say.

"I certainly don't intend to sit in here," Harry says, glancing about the room. "It's the most unwelcoming room in the house, and now that I think about it, it's one of your little strategies, isn't it? You did the same to me when I first arrived."

"You're not Nettleton," Draco says, perhaps a little emphatically, and Harry looks at him.

"Of course I'm not," he says. "Now, either we have a nice cup of tea and a game of Monopoly, or — judging by the dust on your robes — you tell me what part of the renovations requires my assistance. And if it's another damned Doxy nest, forget it. That's your problem."

There's a short silence. Draco looks down at his hands, noticing a small scar on the knuckle of his thumb.

"I removed a chandelier and triggered an ancient curse," he says at last.

Harry rolls his eyes. "Only in this manor," he says, "would you remove a light fitting and unleash Dark magic. It's a wonder you don't spontaneously combust just from making a cup of tea."

"Oh, it's happened before. That's how my grandfather's house-elves died."

Harry stares at him. "Really?"

If it wasn't for the rage still simmering from Nettleton's remarks, Draco thinks, he might have almost smiled.


He does ask Harry about it, however, as they're halfway through a game of Monopoly. Harry, busy doing some serious mental calculations about the number of houses he can buy for his pitiful Euston Road set, barely pays attention at first.

"Scorpius," Draco says, testing the waters.

"Hmm. Could I have three...wait, no...four houses?"

Draco wordlessly hands Harry the plastic houses.

"Do you think," he says, continuing his apparently one-sided conversation, "Scorpius has many friends?"

"Yeah, loads. Actually, I think I'll buy five — what?" Harry looks up at Draco, frowning. "Of course Scorpius has friends. He's a good kid."

"Right. The only thing wrong with him is his surname."

"Don't start thinking like that," Harry says warningly. "Trust me, I spent ages agonising over the same problems with James. Whether people would judge him, whether he'd be affected by special treatment — but it's a battle you just can't win."

"Nettleton said I could do things to make Scorpius's life easier."

"Nettleton is an idiot."

Draco doesn't smile. "If I knew where my father was," he says, "and I knew it would make people treat Scorpius better, I'd tell the Ministry in a heartbeat." He pauses. "But...if I wasn't sure whether it would make a difference to Scorpius, I don't think I'd tell anyone at all."

Harry considers that for a long moment. Draco's waiting for a self-righteous lecture about Lucius's wrongdoings, but when Harry next speaks he surprises Draco.

"Was Lucius a good father?"

Now it's Draco's turn for lengthy consideration. "I don't know," he says at last. "He spoiled me, and always said he had high hopes for me. He praised me often, regardless of how misguided my actions were." Draco smiles wryly. "Does that make him a good father, or a bad father?"

Harry studies his properties and carefully organises the plastic green houses. "All parents leave their imprints," he says. "Hermione once said that children are like pristine glass, and parents will always leave fingerprints and smudges no matter how carefully they handle them. Some shatter their children completely, some leave cracks and chips, but in the end we all leave our mark regardless of intentions."

Draco looks at Harry and wonders what mark he'll leave on James.


James stands alone in the corridor, gazing at the featureless stone.

"Limens," he whispers, tapping his wand against the wall. The portal opens. He steps through.

The room is cold, so cold. Perhaps the castle's heating spells don't reach this room. Perhaps Scorpius enchanted it to be warm, and the spell faded when he left. An endless summer for him and James, in fields of gold and skies of deep blue.

But the summer has ended.

There are no fields, no skies. Just a cold stone floor, a vaulted ceiling that sends echoes of James's footsteps reverberating around the empty room.

He shouldn't have come here. There is nothing here.

Nobody, nowhere.

"Papilio," James whispers, touching his wand to a broken quill lying on the floor. It twitches and slowly curls in on itself until it's formed into a cream-coloured butterfly.

The butterfly flutters its wings and lifts into the air, dancing around James. He watches it fly higher, higher, until soon its pale wings glimmer into nothing as it disappears among the shadows of the vaulted ceiling.

Paul called him Harry today. A careless mistake, and everyone had laughed about it.

James had been angry then, but now — as he stands alone in this big empty room — the sadness and anxiety roll through him like rainclouds.

Even my friends wish I was someone else.


James makes the swim team, at least. He tells his friends.

"Great," Martin says, moving a Gobstone piece across the board. Opposite him, Paul nods.

"Yeah, that's brilliant news. Ugh, I'm losing again, aren't I?"

"Don't feel too bad," Martin grins. "I've had loads of practice."

A quiet voice behind James pipes up. "I made the team too, James. I saw your name right at the top. Congratulations."

He turns. Iwan's sitting there, next to his best friend Claire, looking happy.

"You made the top eight?" James asks blankly. "But…you haven't even got any formal training, you said!"

"Guess the coach saw a lot of potential," Claire says, smiling at Iwan. "The fastest doesn't necessarily mean the best."

"Right. Well…congratulations," James says, suddenly realising he might have appeared somewhat aggressive. "See you at practice next week?"

"I'm looking forward to it."

Martin laughs. "Listen to these two, getting excited about going into the lake. I'd pay a hundred galleons to avoid it."

"So? You don't see me making fun of you for all that boring Quidditch," James says defensively, and Martin blinks.

"Just a joke, James. Sorry."

James pauses. "No, it's fine. Sorry, bit stressed with homework."

"Oh, that essay on Cushioning Charms? I can help," Paul says, and Martin returns James's smile.

Still got friends, James reminds himself.

Everything's fine.


The first swim practice is brutal. Saltworth puts them through their paces; the trials were merely the preliminaries, James soon realises. And he might have had the quickest time during trials, but Saltworth has a lot of critique to give him regardless. She has a very carrying voice; her merciless comments echo across the lake for everyone to hear.

"Focus on your arm pulls, Stevenson! Calthorpe, stop reaching so far! Count your kicks, count your strokes! Arms, Stevenson!"

At the end of the practice, she pulls each and every one of them aside. When she call James up, he gloomily expects the worst.

"You're Potter, aren't you?" Saltworth flips through the notes on her clipboard. "You've had training, if I'm any judge. Mastered the basic forms, at least, but plenty of room for improvement. Now, I want you to work on strengthening your catch…"

Saltworth is all right, James thinks warily, despite her piercing whistle and the way she furiously strides up and down the pier as she shouts at them. She seems to genuinely want to help him, and wraps up her commentary with a bit of praise.

"Good job today," she says. "Maybe you can give Calthorpe a few pointers about freestyle breathing techniques."

"Thanks, coach." James nods and turns away. The warmth potion is already starting to fade. They've been supplied with thin robes designed to wick away water — just enough to hold the cold at bay while they hurry back to their dormitories for a shower — but James doesn't feel particularly appreciative right now, standing and shivering on the edge of the pier. He picks up his towel and makes his way to the castle.

"Hey, wait up!"

James turns, then scowls. Thomas Pearson, that stupid Slytherin again. "What?" he asks.

"Just wanted to say congratulations on making the team." Thomas holds out his hand.

"Yeah, thanks. You too," James says suspiciously, shaking his hand.

"It's good to have some competition, right?"

"I guess." James quickens his pace. "Anyway, I've got to get back to the dormitories, so I'll see you next practice."

"Right. See you later, then."

Can't ever trust them, James thinks. Those Slytherins. Thomas will probably stab him in the back given the first chance.

He'll have to keep an eye out.


The early days of autumn soon burn away under the weight of red and gold leaves, leaving the chill promise of winter in the morning air. The pumpkins are soon carved, and the banners of black and orange decorate the Great Hall as preparations are made for the Halloween feast. Nearly Headless Nick practises the reenactment of his beheading endlessly and Peeves takes to hiding in suits of armour and scaring the living daylights out of nervous first years.

James isn't particularly amused by it.

But then again, little seems to amuse him these days. His friends are always wanting to go on midnight adventures, or go watch the Quidditch teams practice, or pester James for stories about his father. It's hard to find time just to do some homework or enjoy his latest comic in peace, and his grades have started slipping.

Tonight, James has managed to find a study nook in the farthest reaches of the library, in the shadowy depths where the candles burn low and the kickstools roam around, scuttling beneath shelves whenever a student appears with a lantern in hand. Every now and again, a book mutters something.

James finally finishes the chapter on common potion ingredients. It's fifteen minutes before dinner and he hasn't eaten since breakfast. Lunchtime was spent dutifully watching his friends practice Quidditch moves. James steadfastly refused their insistences that he 'show off some moves'. No doubt they'd expect fancy feints and daring feats of balance, and James hasn't the skill for either. He can only imagine how they'd pull faces at him, telling him to stop fooling about and show off his 'real' Quidditch skills.

He sighs and presses a hand to his rumbling stomach. He needs to write a quick letter to his father, at least. It's been a while since his last reply.

He picks up his quill again. If he were braver, he might write the truth. Sometimes, he might write, I feel like I'm letting you down. I'm disappointing everyone.

But instead, he writes quickly of light-hearted matters. His classes are going well, he's looking forward to the Halloween feast. He's been having plenty of adventures with his friends.

James sits alone in the silent library, rubbing tiredly at his eyes as the words blur together.

Chapter Text

Harry visits Draco on Wednesday, as ever, although he really doesn't feel like it. The major operation has ensured Harry has suffered a considerable amount of sleep deprivation this past week, and if he ever has to spend another night in a muddy field it will be too soon.

Draco wrinkles his nose slightly when he answers Harry's knock at the front door of the manor.

"You look like you've been living in a ditch somewhere."

"Sounds about right. Hurry up and let me in."

Draco gives him a look but nevertheless steps back and allows Harry to wearily make his way to the study. He sits in the armchair closest to the fireplace; although it's only November, winter is beginning to creep into the air.

"Tea," Harry says and Draco gives him another look.

"Charming. Just treat me like a house-elf, then." Nevertheless, he disappears to the kitchen and Harry takes the chance to warm his hands by the crackling fire. He glances over at the desk – it's covered with genealogy work, he sees. Draco is evidently researching the Finnigan family and Harry wonders if they're relatives of Seamus.

"There's your tea." Draco sets a cup of tea rather carelessly upon the side-table near Harry.

"Thanks." Harry does a cursory analysis of Draco's current mood. Putting up a brusque front for the sake of it, he guesses, but he's actually in a good mood. Pleased about something. "Are you researching Seamus Finnigan's family?"

"Who?" Draco takes a seat behind the desk.

"Seamus Finnigan. Come on, he was in our grade at Hogwarts. Gryffindor. Irish. Wasn't allowed near fireworks."

"Oh, him. The pyromaniac."

"Suppose some people might consider him that, yeah."

Draco waves a hand dismissively. "The family tree was commissioned by an elderly Finnigan from Ballymena. It's sprinkled with a dozen Seamuses."

"Could be him, I suppose." Harry shrugs. "Anyway. Wand, thanks."

"Fine. Run your little tests, I've got other things to do." Draco tosses his wand across the desk; Harry catches it neatly and casts the charm, watching the ghosts of spells rise through the air.

"God, you've got enough book magic to put Madam Pince to shame," he complains. "All your genealogy work, I suppose. That's going to take me ages to sort through."

Draco – already picking up his quill – pauses to give Harry a little grin. "Yes. How inconvenient for you. Make sure you check every spell though, you never know if I've slipped a bit of Dark Arts in there."

Definitely too pleased with himself, Harry thinks critically. Nevertheless, they work in surprisingly peaceful silence for a while – Harry carefully cataloguing the spells while Draco's quill scratches across bits of parchment.

"Made much progress with the Evans tree?" Harry asks after a while.

"Hm." Draco finishes writing something, then glances up. "What? Oh. I've been rather busy with other projects."

"More important customers, you mean." Harry rolls his eyes.

"Yes, that too."

"Well, I was hoping it would be finished in time for Christmas. I thought James would like to see his history." If nothing else, he'll appeal to Draco's empathy as a parent.

"No hope of that," Draco says, but he doesn't sound particularly vindictive about it. "The summer holidays would be a better estimate."

"Right." Harry pauses, watching Draco write, and it reminds him of the letters he's received from James recently. The letters are always cheerful, giving the same news: classes are going well, many adventures with friends, enjoying swimming. But somehow, Harry has the feeling that he's missing something when he reads them. "You get letters from Scorpius, don't you?"

Draco lays his quill down, carefully places the lid back on the inkpot, and leans back, giving Harry a look. "Why," he says, "can't you go seek advice from all your nauseatingly perfect friends?"

"You're the only one I know with a son the same age as mine," Harry retorts. "And I'm not seeking advice. I'm just asking a question."

"Right, if that makes you feel better about it." Draco glances down at his desk, apparently thinking for a moment. "Yes," he says eventually. "Scorpius writes to me."

"About…?"

Draco pauses for another moment, then shrugs as if to say why not. "Very excitable letters about his subjects, generally. New things he's learned – little facts about Astronomy, or a news clipping from a science journal, that sort of thing." Draco tilts his head. "The new interest of the week, whatever that is. Learning wizard's chess, or the rules to a flying game. Last week I received a pressed plant specimen from his Herbology project, and the week before that he sent me a diagram of the best moves for a Gobstones game and wanted advice."

Harry thinks about that for a while. "Don't you ever wonder what he's not telling you?"

"Oh, I imagine he's not telling me a lot of things." Draco takes a sip of his tea. "That's what they do, though, isn't it? Especially as they become teenagers."

"But – doesn't that make you worry?" Harry blurts out, unable to help himself.

"What, that Scorpius isn't particularly inclined to tell me all about his silly crush on a girl or a bit of missed homework? Not really." Draco raises his eyebrows. "Unless your son is sending you letters laced with hard drugs or writing about the talking giraffe that lives in his head, I wouldn't worry. That's your problem, you know. You're slowly turning into Mad-Eye."

"I am not."

"You are. Constant vigilance. Soon you'll be putting Tracing Spells on James's clothes and testing his letters for traces of goblin powder or fly-high potion."

"I will not!" Harry says indignantly. "And you're enjoying this, don't think I haven't noticed. You're amused by my concern for my child."

"I'm amused by the fact you appear to be in full Auror mode all the time."

Harry can't really think of a good comeback to that. And besides – much as he'd never admit it to Draco's smug face – perhaps he has a good point. Maybe Harry's searching for problems that aren't there, automatically looking for something suspicious, something hidden. Analysing, examining, somehow looking for clues still.

"Be that as it may," Harry says, taking a sip of his tea.

Draco's not fooled. "I've got a point."

"The only thing you've got is a run-down manor and a son who actually enjoys Gobstones, worst luck," Harry snaps.

The worst part is, he thinks, Draco doesn't even look offended.

He just grins and picks up his quill again.


The first Quidditch match of the year, and the substitute Seeker plays for Gryffindor. The current Seeker has received yet another injury and no longer wants to play; everyone seems to be waiting for James to volunteer.

He doesn't.

He's always loved the water and, truth be told – despite all his complaints about the early starts and the mornings spent shivering on the pier as Saltworth outlines all their mistakes – he wouldn't give it up for anything. There's a swim meet in the first week of December – the European Junior Relay Championships – and while Saltworth has selected the team for the third year age bracket, she's yet to announce the second year team.

James has to be picked for it. It makes sense, he thinks. He's got the fastest times on the team.

During a particularly chilly November morning, Saltworth finally makes the announcement as they stand on the pier, ready to start practice.

"Firstly," she says, "swim practice will – Pearson, pay attention! – swim practice will meet for the last time on the seventeenth of December, and will not resume until mid-January. Secondly, I have chosen the four swimmers who will represent Hogwarts in the under-thirteen division at the Junior Relay meet. Pearson, Calthorpe, Tiller, and Rossi. Congratulations. Now! Line up…"

James doesn't move for a moment, momentarily crushed with disappointment and bewilderment. Someone pats him on the shoulder.

"Rough luck," Iwan says sympathetically. James shakes him away, feeling irritated.

"It doesn't make sense. I've got the fastest time out of everyone in our year level. Why do you get a place and I don't?"

Iwan drops his hand, looking hurt. "I've worked really hard to improve – "

"So have I, and I'm still the better swimmer."

"I don't know, your backstroke is pretty weak," Thomas interrupts, and James whips around to give him a scorching look.

"What would you know? You're not the coach."

"Just offering some advice. You should really work on it."

"Great. Next time I need advice from the person who can't even do butterfly, I'll ask."

Thomas reddens. "Butterfly is everyone's weakness," he retorts, but right then Saltworth blows her whistle and they quickly take their places along the pier.

Well, it doesn't matter, James thinks with annoyance. Saltworth has clearly made a mistake.

But no; after swim practice, when the debriefing is over and everyone has left for the warm dormitories, James lingers to speak to Saltworth.

"Yes, Potter?" she says crisply as she waves her wand, taking down the magical barriers dividing the swimming area into lanes.

"I just want to know," James says bravely, "why I didn't get picked for the meet. I've got the best times out of all the second years."

Saltworth purses her lips as she clasps her cloak and begins striding towards the castle, James jogging slightly to keep up.

"The key word is relays, Potter. It's the Junior Relays. I didn't pick the best person, I picked the best team."

"But I'm – "

"You'd better remember you're part of a team now – we haven't got time for individuals around here."

She strides on ahead, leaving James trailing unhappily in her wake.


James's day only gets worse from there. In Herbology – one of two classes shared with Ravenclaws – Professor Sprout announces a six-month-long task.

"I have here," she says, gesturing to a shelf behind her, "a selection of plants. Leftovers from various classes. Now, I would like you to pair up and choose a plant. You and your partner will care for the plant for the remainder of the year." She beams around at them. "A very exciting opportunity for you to independently research your plant! Who knows what you might find – I think there's even a few Thousand-Blossom Roses in there. Now, partner up."

There's a mad rush as everyone jostles each other, frantic to grab a partner and choose the best plant. James turns to Martin and Paul, but they've already paired up, and Rose is with one of her Gryffindor friends. Nate's with Scorpius, of all people, and Iwan's chatting away to Claire.

There is nothing more humiliating, he thinks, then standing there alone as Sprout gives him a sympathetic look. "Does anyone need a partner?" she says loudly, but nobody responds and she nods. "Very well. On your own, I'm afraid, Potter. Go see what's left."

He trails over to the shelf. There's only one plant left: a small and very sad-looking cactus.

"Ugh," he mutters. "Isn't there anything else?"

The cactus wilts a little. James didn't think a cactus could wilt, but it deflates like an old balloon and Sprout calls out with alarm.

"Careful, Potter! That's an Oversensitive Cactus. Best not to criticise it."

James looks at it with disbelief; the other students laugh. But Sprout is waiting, and so with much reluctance James picks up the cactus and carries it back to the greenhouse table.

After class – his cactus left on a shelf beside the plants of the other students, his name scribbled on the small ceramic pot that holds it – he catches up with his friends.

"Worst luck," Martin laughs.

"Nobody wanted that cactus!" Paul adds.

"I don't want it either," James says. He turns and gives Nate an unfriendly look. "Thanks a lot, by the way. Partnering up with Scorpius Malfoy? Now I'll have to do the project alone."

"Sorry," Nate says. "But…well…" He looks embarrassed. "I sort of…sort of…well…I felt bad about last year. You know…all that stupid stuff we did, calling people like him death-descendants and all that. So…well…I told Malfoy I was very sorry about it and we shook hands and he told me that if I was his Herbology partner, it would be really nice." Nate pauses. "Since I'm awfully clever at Herbology and he wants a really high grade."

James's mouth falls open. "Are you serious? You sold me out because you felt bad about Malfoy and he wanted a good grade?"

Nate looks scandalised. "I didn't sell you out! I thought it'd be a nice way to say sorry for my stupid insults last year. I don't see why you're getting so angry about it. You're the one who said we needed to grow up."

James readjusts his book-bag and says nothing.

Inwardly, though, he's fuming.


Draco studies the letter before him. Scorpius has written yet another long missive: his Transfiguration tutelage is going well and he's finding the work challenging, which is nice. He misses his Astronomy Club friends; most of them were older students who graduated last year.

When Scorpius first gave Draco the news of being Sorted into Ravenclaw, Draco…was not pleased. Were you disappointed? Harry had asked once, and Draco had said that as long as Scorpius was happy, he couldn't be disappointed.

But that wasn't quite true. It's how Draco might feel now, of course, but back then – when he read the letter – he had been disappointed. Surprised, confused, perhaps even a little disbelieving. Slytherins possessed exceptional traits: high ambition, determination to succeed, resourcefulness and independence…far superior, Draco had always thought, to the traits of the other houses. Oh, Hufflepuffs were friendly and Gryffindors were brave, and Ravenclaws were intelligent. But surely these nice but common traits faded in comparison to the fierce ambition and assertiveness of Slytherins…

Yes, it's taken Draco a while, but now – reading Scorpius's letter, which is littered with diagrams of spells, absent-minded technical drawings, and contains a casual analysis of magical reactions with wand-cores – Draco can't help but marvel at the curiosity and creativity that his son possesses. Of course, he thinks wryly, he's hardly unbiased.

Nevertheless, there's one part of Scorpius's letter that makes Draco's heart sink a little. The Ravenclaw Seeker says they're going to quit so they can focus on their studies, he writes. Do you think I should try for the position? I haven't played much but I think it would be awfully exciting. Could you help me train for it over Christmas?

Draco sets the letter down. Of course he was a Seeker…many, many years ago. And he was a good Seeker, but now – with the teenage ego slightly deflated – he'll admit that he was hardly spectacular. He's not sure how much he could actually teach Scorpius.

But the real issue is money.

Draco's ancestors would be turning in their graves, and the enemies of the wealthy Malfoy family would be laughing gleefully if they could see him now, balancing accounts in his father's study and doing calculations. The genealogy work brings in a small wage – steady income so far, and an average amount. Hardly a pittance, but certainly not sacks of galleons. Enough to slowly save up for the renovations – with Draco carrying out much of the work himself via hours of learning spells and charms – and, of course, the small amount of savings Draco diligently sets aside for Scorpius. Money to buy new books and robes at the start of each term, and to buy Scorpius's birthday and Christmas presents. Although Draco is far from wealthy, he never wants Scorpius to go without, and he never wants Scorpius to encounter the relentless teasing that poor students such as the Weasleys received. The irony, of course, is not lost on Draco and he thinks, rather dryly, that this is probably karma.

He has already purchased Scorpius's Christmas gifts – he set them aside at the shops months earlier and has been paying them off in weekly deposits. New books, and a pocket planetarium, a self-drawing map – all things he's certain Scorpius will adore. But not once did he consider purchasing a broom. He's got his old Firebolt, of course, but it would be extremely out-dated by now.

Draco sighs and retreats to his father's study to balance the accounts again.


But of course – as ever – Harry Potter comes to the rescue. Draco's rather irritated about it at first.

They're in their usual Wednesday meeting – Harry complaining about having to go through all the domestic spells Draco's been using, Draco trying to work out how he somehow ended up making Harry a cup of tea again – when the subject of gifts is brought up.

"I swear you do this on purpose," Harry says, sifting through the golden words floating through the air. "There must be a hundred different spells! I miss the old days, when you performed six or seven at most per week. Typical…I'll be here all afternoon. I was hoping to find time to do some Christmas shopping."

"Are you mental?" Draco says, putting a cup of tea beside Harry and, once more, mentally berating himself for this daft routine. Stop offering the stupid prat cups of tea. "There's only a few days left until Christmas," he adds, perhaps slightly snidely.

"I know, I know. But I've been so busy with work lately…barely found time to sleep, let alone do shopping. And I've got no clue what James wants…"

"Quidditch stuff," Draco says, thinking of his own son.

"Well, James has never been very keen on it," Harry counters. "Doesn't mind a few casual games with his cousins, but he doesn't seem too inclined to rush off and join a team."

"Scorpius does," Draco says, unable to resist a bit of parental bragging. "Wrote yesterday, said he wants to try out for the Ravenclaw team."

"Oh? I didn't know he played."

Some of Draco's pride evaporates. "Well…he doesn't. Not to my knowledge. I'll need to buy him a broom…"

Harry looks amused. "Brand new Skyblazers for the whole Ravenclaw team, then?"

Draco ignores the gibe. "Hardly. If you'll recall, Potter, my finances are somewhat limited. Scorpius will have to use the school brooms until I've completed a few more genealogy projects."

"Oh." Harry blinks, then looks down at his notes. "You've used a Severing Charm."

"The goblin massacre tapestries were quite determined to stay on the wall. I disagreed."

"Right." Harry pauses. Draco waits until the silence begins to nibble away at his patience.

"What?"

"Never mind."

"No, you were going to say something."

"It's fine."

"I swear on Merlin's grave, Potter – "

"Fine," Harry says, sounding almost sullen. "You're just going to go on an ego-fuelled rant about how you don't need charity, though. I was just going to say that I have a Skyblazer in the shed, hardly ever used – bought it for James two years ago and it's been collecting dust since. Scorpius is welcome to have it – it's not the latest model, but it's better than the ancient school brooms."

Draco scowls, automatically opening his mouth to say that he certainly does not need Potter's pity – he's not some sort of charity case, thank you very much, and if Potter wants to do a good deed he can go dump all his unwanted possessions on the undoubtedly-grateful Weasleys –

But there's only one thing Draco hates more than accepting help, and that's being predictable. And besides…well…Scorpius will perform a lot better on a Skyblazer than any of the tattered school brooms. Hogwarts is probably still using Cleansweeps, Draco thinks with horror. Who knows how decayed the magic is on those death-traps. And people would laugh about it too, the same cruel way Draco laughed at the wobbly, decades-old brooms the Weasleys used.

Draco leans back and crosses his arms. "Fine," he says.

Harry just stares at him for a bit. "What?" he says at last.

"Fine. Bring it on your next visit, Scorpius will be home for Christmas."

Harry looks as if he's not quite sure if Draco's joking or not, but after a while he nods and picks up his quill.

"All right," he says.

They sit there in – as much as Draco is loathe to admit it – silence that is almost companionable.

That's it, he tells himself. He's definitely not offering Harry any more cups of tea.


Winter is truly underway at Hogwarts. The distant mountains become steeped in snow, the valleys shining white with deep drifts. Swim practice has stopped and won't resume until after the Christmas break. The older students return breathless from their trips to Hogsmeade, rosy-cheeked and clutching parcels wrapped in Christmas paper. James watches them enviously, remembering Teddy's stories about the Shrieking Shack and — even better — butterbeers at The Three Broomsticks.

In the Great Hall, lush fir trees rise up like mountains, decorated with enormous baubles and topped with stars. Mistletoe appears around the castle in quite crafty places, and though the younger years — James included — avoid it like dragon-pox, the older students begin finding very flimsy reasons for hovering about beneath the leafy arrangements. Holly lines the hallways, enchanted snow falls gently from the ceiling of the Great Hall, and wreaths hang on classroom doors. James, recalling the last Christmas at Hogwarts, remembers Teddy's apparent tradition of hiding candy canes throughout the castle. The Ravenclaw students maintain Teddy's tradition, lead by Victoire; within days, the students are all laughing and nudging each other as they hide the candy canes in different places.

"Teddy hid one in McGonagall's hat last year," Paul says, wide-eyed with awe. "How're you going to beat that, James?"

"I don't know."

"You'd better figure it out soon, we're leaving for the holidays tomorrow."

James has been madly trying to catch up on homework so he can enjoy his break, and he's barely found time to scatter a few candy canes throughout the halls, let alone hatching ingenious plans to sneak them into the offices or possessions of unsuspecting professors. He could never live up to Teddy's brilliant ideas and pranks. Or anything Teddy accomplished at Hogwarts, James thinks. Quidditch captain, admired mentor of the younger students, Head Boy…no, James could never reach the reputation of the always popular, effortlessly cool Teddy Lupin.

The students are all particularly energetic that evening, packing last-minute gifts into their trunks and excitedly chatting about their holiday plans. Nate is going to France to visit family; Martin is thrilled about a ski trip his parents have been planning for two years. Iwan says he misses home and Paul teases him endlessly about it.

"Fancy being homesick in second year!"

"Everyone gets homesick," Iwan says. "What, you never miss home?"

"I wouldn't if I lived in Wales."

Iwan's mouth thins and Paul grins, nudging him.

"Oh come on, learn to take a joke."

"I will — if you learn how to tell one."

Martin laughs loudly and James can't help but smile. For a moment, his mood lifts a little. There's tinsel draped around the canopies, and the little stove is keeping the dorm cosy and warm. While Martin and Paul idly chat, Iwan stands by the stove, heating a saucepan of milk. The others always laughed and mocked him for it, saying it was quite a peculiar idea, but James always privately thought it was a rather innovative use of the dormitory woodstove.

"Hope you're making enough for everyone," Martin says, snapping James from his reverie. Iwan glances up from the stove.

"Make your own," he says. "I'm making just enough for me and Claire." He adds a handful of spices, the sweet smell of nutmeg, cinnamon, and cloves filling the dormitory, and leaves shortly afterwards, taking two full mugs with him and leaving an empty saucepan behind.

"Shouldn't have made fun of him so much," Martin says regretfully. "That smells really good."

"Oh, wait until you try my aunt's hot chocolate recipe," Paul begins, and as James listens to the two of them chatter he realises they've planned to visit each other over the break.

James sits there and listens as they speak excitedly of their plans. James would love to be invited along, but the thought doesn't seem to occur to either of them and James can't invite them to his house – yet another side-effect of having a famous father. Harry, pestered by ardent fans, harassed by the media, and threatened by Voldemort supporters long after the war had finished, goes to enormous lengths to keep his address secret. Only close family members know the physical location – everyone else relies on the Floo network to get them through, with an auto-directing system in place. When James was younger, he didn't mind so much – his Muggle friends were all a short bicycle-ride away – but now he feels a pang of wistfulness.

He listens to his friends laugh and chatter as they leave the dormitory, making their way downstairs, and he sits in silence for a long moment.

He should really pack a few things or at least organise the homework assigned over the break. Instead, he unlocks his trunk and takes out the photograph of his parents. Ginny and Harry. It's their wedding photograph and both of them look as if all their dreams have come true. Ginny is resplendent in an ivory dress, her eyes bright and almost mischievous, as if she knows a secret the photographer doesn't.

James used to have the photograph resting on his bedside table. Everyone who saw it would excitedly grab at the picture, looking intently for the famous scar on Harry's forehead. James was always amused by that — the way Harry had combed his hair meant the scar was hidden.

He doesn't know why he locked the photograph away, or why he stopped being amused by people constantly studying it.

Perhaps because now he's realising that maybe Harry deliberately hid his scar.

James turns the photograph over, reading the words on the back written in the cursive handwriting of his nan. Ginevra Molly Potter (nee Weasley) and Harry James Potter.

James has read these words many times before, but it's always odd seeing his father's full name written out.

Supplanter.

James sets the photograph down. Well, maybe his middle name is more suited anyway. Sirius. Named after a star.

Not a star, he reminds himself. Harry's godfather. Who — as Harry explained once — had been an extraordinary brave man, fiercely loyal and willing to sacrifice his life for his friends.

Maybe 'Sirius' doesn't really suit James either.

He stands up and reaches for his bookbag.


He makes his way through the corridors, lost in thought. He reverts to remembering the circumpolar constellations, something he's started doing lately when he's trying to distract himself from his thoughts. There's Cassopeia, and Lyra, and Ursa Minor…

Voices. James glances up. The hallways are mostly empty this time of year — everyone's preparing for the journey home tomorrow, and besides, it's too cold to be lingering in the draughty hallways. Ahead, he can see a group of students laughing about something. Probably found the last of the candy canes, he thinks as he hurries past.

"…stop, please!"

James pauses and looks over his shoulder. There's about four students — all sixth and seventh year Gryffindors, he realises — laughing and nudging each other. One of the students – who looks as if he could pass for a distant relative of a troll – has Scorpius pinned to the wall.

"Stop!" Scorpius pleads again. "Please don't hurt her!"

James realises one of the Gryffindors has her wand out, her eyes trained on something. A little rat, floating mid-air. Pan.

"Would you stop whining? Honestly, it's just a bit of fun," the girl with the wand says.

"Come on, Malfoy. It's no worse than what your dad did to Muggles," another Gryffindor adds. "Isn't this what you Death Eaters do for fun?"

"Oops," the girl says, pretending to drop her wand, and Pan falls for a second. Scorpius cries out, struggling helplessly in the grip of the student holding him.

"Don't! Please, don't! Just give her back to me, I promise I won't tell McGonagall, I won't tell anyone — "

"Oh, tell them all anyway," one of the other students snaps. "I don't care if...what are you looking at?"

They all turn to look at James. He pauses for a moment.

"Leave him alone," he says at last, wishing his voice sounded a lot less hesitant and small.

The Gryffindors laugh. "Look at this little pipsqueak! What are you, first year?"

"Second," he says defiantly.

"Isn't that Harry Potter's kid?" The girl with the wand frowns at him. "Look, clear off. This doesn't concern you."

James fumbles for his wand and the smiles fade slightly from the Gryffindors' faces.

"Look, you little — " one of the other students begins, but James is already raising his wand.

"Vespertilio muci!"

For James, it's an easy hex — the first he ever learned, courtesy of his Uncle George, who told him it was one of Ginny's favourites. And it works beautifully now, one of the Gryffindors shrieking and clamping a hand over their nose as tiny bats fly from their nostrils. The other two students scatter, fleeing along with their hexed friend, and — the levitation spell broken — Pan falls to the floor and immediately begins scurrying along the corridor. Scorpius cries out, still struggling in the grip of the Gryffindor boy, and James raises his wand again.

"Should've minded your own business," the boy says crossly, dropping his grip on Scorpius in order to send a jinx bounding towards James. The spell narrowly misses James, rebounding off the wall and hitting Pan, sending the rat tumbling along for several feet.

"You idiot!" James shouts at the Gryffindor as Scorpius cries out, racing towards his rat.

"It's just a rat!" the Gryffindor retorts, wand still drawn, but he's looking a little worried now.

"Get lost, or I'll make bats fly out of your nose too!"

"You'll be sorry!" But the boy is backing away quickly now, until he finally turns and races away. James, watching him disappear from sight just in case he still tries another hex, suddenly remembers Scorpius. He turns around.

Scorpius is kneeling on the floor, cradling Pan in one hand. James, feeling a little uncomfortable, steps forward. "Is…is she okay?" he asks hesitantly.

Scorpius looks up, his face streaked with tears, and James realises Pan is dead. Her eyes are open, and a thin line of dark blood trickles from her ear. James stares for a long moment.

"Go away," Scorpius says, his voice choked.

"Should...should I get a professor?"

"Just leave!"

"But — "

"I told you to never come near me again!" And with that — Pan still cradled in one hand — Scorpius draws his wand and makes a slashing motion.

At first, James doesn't realise what's happened. He stares at Scorpius, bewildered, but then he feels a sudden sting and raises a hand to his face, tracing the lash of pain. A stinging hex, he realises. Scorpius hexed him. The welt starts on the edge of his jaw and curves past his mouth, over his nose, and ends just beneath his eye.

Before he can react, Scorpius turns and flees, disappearing from sight.


The students laugh and jostle along the platform, excited to be going home for the holidays. James, one of the last to board the Hogwarts Express, stands in the narrow aisle and gazes out the window. The students remaining at the castle over the break wave cheerfully, farewelling their friends.

"Hey, James! In here."

He looks around. Martin is waving at him from a compartment.

"Hi." James makes his way to the compartment, sliding the door shut behind him. He saw Rose board the train with her friends, and he remembers how Teddy said he'd wanted to spend the journey home with his cousins. James suddenly misses Teddy so much it nearly hurts. Last year, everything had seemed so exciting and adventurous, especially with Teddy there to smile and make jokes.

"All right, James?" Paul asks. "You look a bit pale."

"Yeah, fine."

"Probably thinking about that fight," Martin says, grinning. They'd all fussed over James when he'd returned to the Gryffindor tower, a bright welt raised across his face, but he'd refused to talk about it and gone straight to bed.

"I bet it was a troll," Paul says. "Wasn't it, James?"

"Why would it be a troll? If it had been a troll, my skull would be crushed in."

"Ah, come on. You're James Potter, you're not going to be killed by some daft troll."

James switches topics, getting out a deck of cards, and they play a few games. The sun has set low in the sky and the first evening stars have appeared when Martin gets sick of waiting for the witch with the trolley.

"I'm starved, she should've already been through," he complains.

"I'll go have a look," James offers, standing up. He wants to take a short break from all their chatting and arguments over missing cards, anyway.

He slides the door shut behind himself and walks along the aisle, pausing for a moment as the carriage rocks slightly around a corner. It's dark and quiet, the shadowed light of dusk offering little illumination. The windows frame a view of mountains tipped with snow, gleaming pale blue under the early moon, and James wonders what county the train is currently travelling through.

Light escapes from underneath the compartment doors, every now and again a voice rising in laughter. The aisle is dark and empty apart from James.

He stands there for a long time, listening to the chatter and laughter of other people.


Harry checks his watch.

James arrived home for the Christmas break yesterday, but Harry hasn't seen him yet. Caught up in fieldwork, he had to send Andromeda and Teddy to pick James up from the station. By the time Harry finally dragged himself home — well after midnight — James was asleep. And Harry had left quickly the next morning to attend an urgent surveillance meeting.

He checks his watch again, then clears his throat.

"I've got an appointment at one o'clock."

Williamson glances up. "It'll have to wait, unless it's urgent."

Harry suppresses a sigh and nods.

By the time the surveillance has finally been completed, it's three o'clock. He leaves for Malfoy Manor, fully expecting a wrathful Draco to greet him. He always hates to be kept waiting.

But, of course, he forgot about Scorpius, who seems to improve his father's mood greatly just by presence alone. Draco answers the door, but Scorpius is nearby – as ever – and trails after both Draco and Harry as they make their way to the study.

"You forgot Scorpius's present, didn't you?" Draco says conversationally, unstopping a bottle of brandy as he sits behind the desk.

Harry blinks at Draco, feeling taken aback. He hadn't forgotten it, but he'd assumed it would all be very clandestine – he'd sneak the parcel to Draco, who in turn would give it to Scorpius under the guise of purchasing it especially for him. After all, it would still be a point of pride.

"Yes?" Harry ventures, feeling slightly lost. He retrieves the parcel from his pocket and taps it twice with his wand, allowing the reduction charm to fade.

"Oh," Scorpius says, sounding very surprised. "You really do have a present for me?"

"Didn't I say so?" Draco asks, pouring himself a glass of brandy.

"Yes, but I thought…" Scorpius trails off as Harry smiles at him and holds out James's old Skyblazer.

"Not the latest model, I'm afraid," Harry says, but he thinks it may as well be an autographed broom from the Puddlemere United captain himself, judging by Scorpius's expression.

"That's…for me?" Scorpius asks, eyes wide.

"Of course. You said you need a broom," Draco says briskly.

"But…I'm allowed to take it to Hogwarts?"

"You can take it anywhere," Harry laughs. "It's yours now. Go on."

Scorpius hesitates, glancing at his father, then reaches out and accepts the Skyblazer almost reverently. "Thank you," he says at last, staring down at the broom in his hands.

"You're welcome."

"Off you go, then, while we finish up some paperwork," Draco says, and Scorpius nods before leaving, his footsteps quickly fading. And Harry thinks he must be getting soft-hearted, but it is Christmas, and Scorpius is so clearly filled with gratitude and joy for his gift…

"Forget the paperwork," Harry says. "Let's go watch your son fly."

They go to the gardens. Scorpius is a little hesitant at first – nervous and uncertain, the broom wobbling about as he tries to direct it about the expanse of manicured lawns – but after Harry shares the story of his first Quidditch match and the subsequent swallowing of the snitch, Draco becomes quite amused and the atmosphere lightens up considerably.

"And it's quite all right to be nervous about it," Harry adds. "My best friend, Ron Weasley, he practically had an anxiety attack before every match but he was one of the best Keepers Gryffindor had."

Scorpius seems a little more confident after that, and both Harry and Draco offer advice. Soon, Draco is calling out encouragement as Scorpius weaves his way around the garden, flying low beneath blooming ice-roses or soaring over the bare branches of the trees, a swift silhouette against the grey winter sky.

And when Scorpius lands for the final time, face rosy with cold, eyes bright, laughing with happiness at his achievement, he races towards Draco and they hug each other. For a moment, Harry's smiling, sharing their happiness, remembering a time when James would turn to Harry whenever he succeeded at something – whether tying his laces, or learning to ride a bicycle, or when he received his Hogwarts letter – and he'd throw his arms around Harry with the same joy.

But it's been a long time since James did that.

Harry's smile fades, just a little, as the slightest wisp of envy curls around his heart.


After so many times, James thinks, he should be used to this. How many times has Harry had to rush away due to unexpected fire-calls, or worked overtime in emergency shifts, or cancelled plans because of last-minute schedule changes? And yet, every time, a little pang of disappointment still rises in James's heart. He mentally tells himself off for it, even as his eyes still automatically flick to the clock above the fireplace.

Seven o'clock.

He sighs and, across the living room, Teddy looks up from his notes. "He'll be back soon," he says.

"Wasn't even thinking about that," James lies. "You know how it is. Bet Dad's gotten called into work for an overnight."

"Maybe." Teddy picks up his quill again, frowning.

"What are you doing, anyway? We should be doing something fun." Whenever Teddy's left alone with James, shenanigans always ensue. "Bet we've still got some fireworks left over from last summer."

Teddy gives him an apologetic look. "Sorry, but this job application is due tomorrow and I've really got to get it done."

"We could just play a quick game of Exploding Snap, then."

"Maybe later."

James falls silent. Teddy's been looking for jobs all year, ever since graduating Hogwarts last June. Mostly internships at travel magazines, which at first James thought was very cool and exciting until he realised Teddy would be away for months at a time. James hopes Teddy gets his dream job, of course, but deep down – though he feels guilty for it – he hopes Teddy chooses something else a little closer to home.

Six years.

Six years between them.

When James was younger, it didn't seem like a big difference. When James was four and Teddy was ten, for example, Teddy would carry James on his shoulders absolutely everywhere and tell him stories about the octopus under the house, and when James was seven and Teddy was twelve, they'd set off firecrackers during the long, hazy summer nights, and laugh at the same jokes and sit at the same window and watch the storms roll in while Andromeda made them both cups of milky coffee.

But now…Teddy is choosing his career, and making job applications, and looking at rental listings at the local real estate office and talking about maybe getting a place with Victoire, and James…well, James is still trying to decide whether or not he's too old for pyjamas printed with cartoon owls. And suddenly, six years seems like an impossible gap, a vast sea of time between them.

"What job are you applying for?" James asks, trying to distract himself from the lump of dread in his throat.

"Hmm? Oh, it's an internship at Silver Compass."

"Oh." James leans back a little on the sofa and closes his eyes slightly. When everything is blurred like this, the little lights on the Christmas tree look like stars and moons. Tiny planets spinning around each other. "When you're finished, can we play a game?"

"Sure," Teddy says.

But he continues writing well into the night, and at midnight James stands up.

"I'm going to bed. Goodnight, Teddy."

"Goodnight, cuz," Teddy says distractedly. "Sorry, this application is taking forever."

"It's okay."

And it is, James tells himself. It's fine. People grow up. Things change.

He goes to bed.


He was right, anyway; his father got called into an overnight shift. Harry drags himself through the door at seven o'clock in the morning, looking thoroughly exhausted. James – making himself a cup of tea – goes into the hallway to greet him.

"Sorry I didn't make it back yesterday," Harry says, giving James a brief hug. "I'm going to have a nap."

"Don't forget we're going to do the baking today. Aunt Andromeda said she'll be here around two."

"I'll fire-call her and cancel it."

James's heart deflates a little. "You can't do that! We're supposed to do it today. Teddy already promised to go and fetch all the ingredients with me."

"You can still go shopping with Teddy. We'll have to do it tomorrow."

"Dad, you promised – "

Harry groans. "James, I'm tired, I've had a long shift – don't start this now, all right?"

James says nothing. It's useless anyway, he thinks. Harry's always irritable after an overnight shift, particularly if it's an unscheduled one and he's absolutely exhausted.

"Fine," James mutters.

"Oh, for the love of Merlin – don't sulk. I'm in no mood for a tantrum, James."

"I wasn't throwing a tantrum! All I said was 'fine'!" James retorts, stung.

"All right. Well, I'm going to bed. I'm sorry about the baking but we'll just have to do it tomorrow."

"Okay."

Harry gives him a brief pat on the shoulder and departs, leaving James alone in the hallway.


Harry finally keeps his promise: they do their Christmas baking. It's hard to stay miserable when the Wizarding Wireless is playing cheery carols, Andromeda humming along as she sits at the breakfast table, putting together the little gift-boxes. And Harry's going from room to room, carrying armfuls of tinsel and wreaths of holly, sending twinkling lights everywhere with a swish of his wand. James and Teddy, of course, are in the kitchen, sleeves rolled up, already somehow getting flour everywhere.

"All right. James, we'll need half a cup of golden syrup," Teddy says, getting out the cookbook. It's a very battered cookbook, gifted from Mrs Weasley to Ginny, and full of ancient magic. The pages tended to get quite excited and try to add ingredients if left unattended.

"Maybe I'll make something else this year," James says.

"What?" Teddy looks scandalised. "We've made this every year, since you were a little toddler and couldn't even do anything except eat all the icing."

"Yeah, well. I'm too old to be helping now," James says with a shrug. "I can make my own stuff."

"It's not about being too old," Teddy retorts. "You can look like a wizened old walnut and have a beard twice as long as Dumbledore's and it wouldn't matter. We'll still be stooped over the mixing bowls, cackling away and throwing flour at each other."

"Come on, James," Andromeda says, carefully wrapping cellophane around her homemade shortbread. "It's tradition. It'd break my heart not to see you two wreaking havoc in the kitchen, wasting good ingredients and forgetting to add bicarbonate soda."

"That was one year!" Teddy says.

Andromeda shakes her head sorrowfully. "Flat as cardboard, they were, and same texture too."

James can't help it. He smiles reluctantly and Teddy pounces.

"Aha! And you heard my nan, she'd be heartbroken. You wouldn't want that. Would you, James?"

James gives in and fetches the golden syrup. For a while, they work in reasonable peace and quiet, occasionally swapping a casual remark or joke. Andromeda murmurs a lyric every now and again as she curls ribbons, the radio playing beside her. James leaves briefly to put the star atop the tree; it's another tradition and the first time James did this, he sat upon his father's shoulders and reached up with clumsy hands, a golden star clutched in his fingers. Now, if he stands on his tiptoes, he can just reach the top of the tree.

"It'll be great catching up with everyone tomorrow," Teddy says once James has returned to the kitchen. "All the younger cousins will be so excited about Father Christmas…don't you wish you still believed?"

James gives him a look. "I'm twelve. Nearly thirteen."

Teddy studies him for a moment. "I know. It's just…I really miss that sometimes, you know? When you were a little kid and loved hearing all my stories. Spiders turning into cakes, and little goblins that lived in the laundry and ate socks, and the octopus under the house…"

"You wish I was a little kid still?" James asks.

"What? That's not what I meant, cuz. Look, you'll understand one day. It's just this realisation you get — "

"That you wish I'd stay the same? "

"James! Would you stop interrupting? Merlin's beard, you can be so frustrating sometimes — "

"Fine! You can finish the gingerbread by yourself, then!" James turns and storms out the kitchen and down the hallway, stomping all the way up the stairs and not stopping until he's climbed into the attic. He goes straight to his bed and sits down, scowling at the wall opposite. It has a picture on it of a little badger family having a picnic. And another picture next to it, of two wolves playing football. Stupid, whimsical pictures that belong in a children's book, he thinks moodily. They ought to have been taken down years ago.

A knock on his door.

"Go away."

"Come on, cuz. Stop sulking."

"I said leave me alone!"

There's a long silence and he thinks Teddy has gone away. But then he hears a soft sigh and footsteps fading away. A pang of regret rises in his stomach and he leans forward, resting his elbows on his knees and feeling utterly defeated somehow.

He tries reading his comics for a while, but he ends up reading the same dialogue over and over and eventually he gives up, crossing the room and going to his window. The sun is setting slowly over the distant fields. The oak tree looks like a hunched giant, the knotted branches bare against the dark winter sky. As the dying sunlight slowly fades, the stars become clear and crisp, each one shining white. Sirius, James thinks. The brightest star in the sky. He absently traces the path of the healed welt across his face.

He goes downstairs, stopping on the second floor where the guest bedroom is. Well, that's what Harry calls it whenever somebody comes to stay, but James always thinks of it as Teddy's room.

He pauses for a long moment outside the door, then knocks hesitantly.

"Come in," Teddy calls out.

"It's me." James opens the door and steps in, feeling a little awkward and sheepish. It's been a long time since he argued with Teddy.

The curtains are still open, framing a thin moon, but the lamp on the bedside table shines brightly across the room, revealing rolls of wrapping paper across the floor. Teddy's sitting amongst it all, surrounded by unravelled ribbons and bits of tape.

"Oh, hello, cuz," he says amiably. "Good timing, I just finished wrapping your present." He nods at a square parcel on the bed, wrapped in blue paper with little dancing snowmen all over it.

"Surprised you didn't throw it out the window," James admits, and Teddy laughs.

"Well, I did choose the most childish wrapping paper I could find."

James crosses the room with difficulty, avoiding the piles of gifts and rolls of paper, and sits on the edge of the bed.

"Do you wish I was still a little kid?"

Teddy sighs and picks up another roll of paper. "James, that wasn't what I meant at all. It's just…I was there when you were born. When you were zero years old. And I used to visit you all the time and sing stupid songs to you when you were a baby, and when you were older I told you silly stories and helped you tie your laces and…and now I look at you and I can't believe you're nearly thirteen." Teddy begins cutting a swathe of paper away. "That's what I meant."

James thinks about that for a while. He picks up the nearest item — a plush toy owl that he guesses is a gift for little Lucy, who adores owls — and pokes its fuzzy belly, thinking about all his young cousins yet to go to Hogwarts, yet to grow up.

"I'm…" He pauses. He's never been very good at articulating his feelings, always wanting to appear brave and strong like his father. "I'm just trying to catch up, really."

Teddy looks up with surprise. "To who? Throw me that owl."

James throws the owl at him; Teddy catches it deftly. "Well…to you. And…well, I know you're six years ahead so I'll never catch up, but…Rose, too, and all my friends at Hogwarts…they all seem to know exactly what they're doing, and where they're going, and…and…"

Teddy frowns, momentarily abandoning wrapping the owl. "Okay, cuz. Let me tell you a secret. Nobody knows what they're doing."

"You do! You're always really confident and happy and — "

"Total rubbish. You know all these job applications? I've been applying for jobs for nearly six months now, and every time I get a rejection letter I wonder what on earth I'm doing with my life. "

"You're lying," James says uncertainly, but Teddy shakes his head solemnly.

"I promise."

James is silent for a long moment. "Well…if I were one of those magazine people, I'd give you a job in a heartbeat."

"Of course you would." Teddy smiles and throws the wrapped owl at him, the gift bouncing off James's head.

"Hey! I'm telling!"

Teddy laughs. "You'll never be too old for that. I swear on Merlin's pointy hat, I'll still be hearing that when I'm a hundred and two." He scrunches up his nose; his hair darkens to black and his features subtly change until he very closely resembles James. "I'm telling!" he mimics. "Teddy, I'm telling on you!"

"Stop it! Dad says you're not allowed to Metamorph family members! Don't imitate me!"

"You're imitating me!"

James launches across the room and — even though he's far too old for baking gingerbread, or putting stars on trees, or hitting Teddy over the head with a plush owl — he does it anyway.

And somehow, he feels better.


Christmas Day is spent in the usual way – everybody gathers at the Burrow to exchange gifts and family news. The adults stand around, drinking eggnog and catching up with each other; the younger cousins race around the house with their new toys while the older children lounge about in front of the fireplace. Harry notices, with faint amusement, that Teddy and Victoire have retreated to a cosy corner to murmur to each other.

"Look at those lovebirds," he tells Ron, grinning.

"Ah, to be young and in love again," Ron says theatrically. "Somebody should go over there and lecture them about safe practices."

Hermione nearly chokes on her butterbeer. "Ron!"

"What? Don't worry, I'm not going to do it. Think my mother's going over there anyway."

They watch with amusement as Mrs Weasley forcibly extracts Victoire and sends Teddy off towards the kitchen.

"Really, you should be helping washing up, Teddy Lupin! And Victoire, there is no reason for you to be lingering about."

"I can help Teddy in the kitchen," Victoire begins hopefully, but Mrs Weasley cuts her off quickly.

"You can go upstairs and help your mother. She's in the attic, looking for a family heirloom I promised her and Bill. Off you go, dear."

Harry has to hide a smile in his cup of tea as an unhappy Victoire is ushered past. Next to him, Hermione stifles a laugh.

"Poor James," Harry says, thinking with amusement of his son's future at the hands of interfering Mrs Weasley. "Ron, I know your mum means well, but…I feel sorry for any girlfriend James has."

Ron grins. "Oh, I look forward to that. James is the apple of Mum's eye – no girlfriend will ever live up to her expectations."

They laugh, but then heat radiates from Harry's pocket and he nearly drops his cup of tea. He can't believe it. The Auror's emergency token is burning fiercely, calling him.

Not once, he thinks in disbelief. Not once during the past fifteen years. A Christmas miracle, his coworkers would always joke. Fortune smiled upon them, Harry supposes. Oh, he's missed James's birthday a couple of times, and there's been a few Easters when James has been sent alone to the traditional egg hunt at Ron and Hermione's house. But he always made up for it and James – usually only too happy to spend time with Andromeda and Teddy – has never seemed too bothered.

But Christmas Day…

"Sorry, just have to make a call," Harry says to his friends. Ron blinks; Hermione's eyebrows rise incredulously.

"What, today?"

"Must be urgent." Harry turns and makes his way upstairs; there's a fireplace in Fred and George's old room that will allow him some privacy. He kneels on the dusty floorboards and lights a fire with a wave of his wand. "Auror's Office."

A pause, and then the flames turn jet-black as the connecting fireplace recognises Harry's magical signature and sends the call through. Moments later, he can see Cuthbert's face drifting across the flames like a cloud.

"Sir?"

"I received a calling. What's going on?"

"Williamson needs you here at once, sir. I can't give you any more information without verifying this connection."

"Very well." Harry's heart sinks. Part of him had hoped that it was a mistake, that someone had triggered the token by accident. "I'll be along directly."

"Received and understood."

Harry terminates the call and stands up. In the distance, he can still hear relatives talking, their voices rising in laughter occasionally. Somebody runs up the stairs – the light footsteps of a small child – and nearby, he can hear one of James's young cousins singing a Christmas carol, their voice out-of-key but full of cheerful enthusiasm.

He sighs and gets to his feet.


Everyone's surprised and faintly disappointed when Harry says his farewells.

"I'm afraid it's rather urgent," he says and they nod understandingly, exchanging hugs with him before drifting back to their conversations. Harry quickly makes his way to the living room to collect his cloak.

James trails after him. "But…you've never had to leave on Christmas Day…"

"I know, I'm sorry. I'll be back later, all right?"

"When? We haven't opened presents yet, you've got to stay for that…"

"I can't. It's urgent."

"Well…what kind of urgent? Is there trouble?" James looks down at his feet. "It's not…it's not fieldwork, is it?"

"I'll be fine, I promise." Harry ruffles James's hair.

"But…what about Dudley? We always visit him."

"Come on, you always hate those visits."

James looks up, hurt. "But they're a tradition. And Dudley always gives me nice gifts, and I want to see my cousin. She'll be a year old now. I got to hold her last year."

"You don't even know your cousin. You've only seen her once." Harry clasps his cloak. "Where's Teddy?" Teddy always, unfailingly, cheers James up.

And it's no exception today. Teddy appears at James's side, as if Summoned, and loops an arm around James's shoulders. "Hey, cuz," he says amiably. "What's the problem? You've got that angry hedgehog look again."

James shakes off Teddy's arm. "Dad's leaving. Says he's got work."

Teddy look at Harry. "What, today?" he says and Harry feels faintly annoyed. Everyone knows this is the life of an Auror, and while James might not yet appreciate the dedication Harry has to have to the job, Harry had thought Teddy would at least understand.

"It's urgent. I have to leave at once. Believe me, I wish I could stay."

"Then why don't you?" James asks.

"You know I can't! Come on, James, you know about my work. People need me," Harry says, trying to avoid saying the words lives might be at stake. He doesn't want James to worry.

James looks at him for a long moment. "Yeah," he says. "People need you. I know."

"Thanks for understanding," Harry says, relieved, and ruffles James's hair. "I'll be back before you know it."

James says nothing as he leaves.

Chapter Text

Christmas Day is quiet for Draco. Just him and Scorpius.

The Christmas break, Draco will admit, did not have the best start. When he picked Scorpius up from the train station, Scorpius was silent. And, Draco knows, when Scorpius is having an extremely bad time, he won't speak. He'll hide somewhere and not speak a word.

But Draco managed to locate the problem, anyway: Scorpius's rat was missing and, after some tactful questioning from Draco, Scorpius finally said Pan had died unexpectedly. Draco wasn't surprised – they'd said at the shop that Pan wasn't meant to be a pet rat and probably had a few genetic problems or general poor health. But Scorpius was clearly devastated and had spent the evening in tears.

They had buried Pan the next day – Scorpius picked a place in the orchard, beneath the lemon tree that Narcissa had planted during the first year of her marriage to Lucius. Draco had spent some time debating whether or not to give Scorpius another pet but in the end had decided against it. Maybe in a few months from now, when an owl might catch Scorpius's attention. Owls are good. Much longer lifespans.

Of course, Christmas has always been hard for Draco. The glittering memories of his childhood – the kitchens bustling as feasts were prepared, and hundreds of Christmas cards arriving from family friends and those wanting favour with the Malfoy family, and endless parties and galas his parents enjoyed at the height of their social status – become little more than stardust; sad debris as Draco stands alone in the empty manor.

But maybe, he thinks on Christmas morning, it's not so bad. Scorpius loves all his presents and seems quite happy to spend the morning playing with his favourite gift: a spectroscopy kit. Draco had purchased the kit at the recommendation of the shopkeeper, who had insisted it was 'perfect' for the inquisitive intellectual. Now, however, he wonders.

"The measured spectra are used to determine the chemical composition…" Draco frowns and turns the page of the booklet that came with the kit. "Scorpius, what is this?"

Scorpius looks up from the glass prism he's turning over in his hands. "Muggles found out a way of finding out what makes up stuff, just by looking really closely at the colours in its spectrum. That's how they know what the stars are made of." He holds up the prism. "Isn't that interesting?"

When Draco was thirteen, he was throwing jellybeans at the girls in the Slytherin common room and trying to figure out anti-acne charms – not dabbling in quantum mechanics. Draco's not sure whether he should be immensely proud of Scorpius, or slightly terrified.

But in the afternoon, Scorpius reminds Draco that he is, after all, still a child. He flies his new broom around the manor gardens, and comes in to warm his hands up by the fire, and has a hot chocolate and laughs at the terrible puns in the Christmas crackers.

"What do you give a sick canary?" he asks Draco.

"I don't know."

"Tweetment." Scorpius laughs and Draco shakes his head in disbelief.

"That's awful, Scorpius."

"What do you call a fake noodle?"

"What?"

"An impasta."

"You have your mother's sense of humour," Draco says dryly, but then he wishes he hadn't said anything, for Scorpius's smile fades and he looks down at the empty crackers gathered in his lap.

"Do you miss her?" Scorpius asks, not looking up.

"Of course I miss her."

A silence eclipses them for a while. Scorpius picks up one of the crackers and begins slowly shredding the tissue paper. "She missed you a lot," he says at last. "She always said she wanted to see you again. But you'd be too mad at her, she said."

Draco doesn't speak for a moment, sadness suddenly gripping his heart. He always thought Astoria would never look back after the divorce, but apparently he was wrong. His heart suddenly aches. He was angry with her, yes, but it had always been a lot more complicated than that. If only Astoria had realised... "Your mother used to be very happy," he says eventually, studying his son.

"Did she?" Scorpius still isn't looking up, focusing on his task of methodically shredding the tissue paper.

"Yes."

"What made her so sad, then? Was it me?"

"No, of course not. Your mother…" Merlin, he is not prepared to have this conversation. Maybe when Scorpius is older, he'd always thought, but his son is older. Scorpius is not five years old anymore, distracted by toys and shiny things. He has just turned thirteen and is studying quantum mechanics, of all things, and apparently today is the day he will look back at their dysfunctional family and ask why.

"Your mother…" Draco tries again, "…felt very sad about a lot of things."

"What sort of things?"

Draco falls silent for a while. "Your mother and I were very happy when we married," he says eventually. "But sometimes, things don't turn out the way you expect. And when we started fighting and realised we weren't very good at being married, it made your mother very sad. There's nothing you could have done about it, Scorpius. The same way you can't heal a scar." He stands up. "Come, I'll show you something."

Scorpius trails him upstairs. Draco goes into the study, straight to the mahogany desk that holds the most important documents. Here, in the very bottom of the drawer, hidden from sight for a very long time, he takes out a photograph album.

"Here," he says, sitting on a nearby divan. "Have a look."

Scorpius sits beside him and frowns, taking the album from Draco's hands and opening the cover cautiously. The first photograph is a picture of Draco and Astoria at their wedding. Astoria was already three months pregnant, though it wasn't yet visible. She's wearing a navy-blue dress, her hair spilling over her shoulders as she smiles and stands with Draco.

"That's Mum?" Scorpius stares at the photograph, mesmerised. "She looks so happy and pretty…"

He turns the page. More wedding photographs, mostly of guests Draco doesn't know, but there's plenty of the ceremony too – Astoria arriving in a griffin-drawn carriage, resplendent in white, and her father walking her up the aisle. A picture of Draco and Astoria exchanging vows, and the reception afterwards with the enormous cake and glittering sugar-flowers decorating every table. And after the wedding photographs are a few photographs of the baby shower, Astoria obviously very pregnant. There's very few casual pictures – Draco never used the camera much and neither did Astoria – and most of the moments were captured by friends and family at the time. Narcissa, really.

When Scorpius turns the next page, newspaper clippings fall into his lap. Birth announcements and congratulations placed in the Daily Prophet. There's a little name-tag too, the one they attached to Scorpius's crib at the hospital. MALFOY, Scorpius Hyperion. And beneath that, a photograph of an exhausted Astoria sleeping as she holds a tiny infant.

"That's me?"

"Of course."

Scorpius picks up the name-tag, holding it as he stares down at the picture.

"That was the happiest day of my life," Draco says, smiling, his usual reticence worn away quickly by the memory of Scorpius's birth. "It's tradition, in our family, to name children after stars. I chose the constellation Scorpius, and your mother chose Hyperion."

Scorpius reads all the birth announcements, then turns the page. They spend quite some time poring over the pictures: Scorpius's milestones and early birthdays, a few other events. There's a single photograph of Narcissa towards the back, along with a funeral service itinerary and a handwritten poem. Scorpius reads the poem twice.

"Your grandmother wrote it," Draco says.

The last photograph is of Scorpius walking through flowering gardens, butterflies rising in clouds around him.

"I remember that," Scorpius whispers, as if speaking to himself. "I remember that day…"

"The last day I saw you." Draco had taken the photograph, already hating how little time he had with his son and deciding to try and record more memories with him. If only he'd known what lay ahead…

Scorpius looks at the picture for a long time, then closes the album. "Can I borrow this?"

"You can keep it if you want. But I'd prefer for you to leave it at the manor – it may get lost at Hogwarts."

"All right."

They go downstairs and while away the evening playing backgammon and drinking cups of peppermint tea. A nice way to end the day, Draco thinks.

But just before Scorpius goes to bed, he thanks Draco for the photo album. "I liked seeing all those pictures," he says. "I think it's my favourite present."

Draco smiles and takes Scorpius's wand, casting a Lumos for him, and sends him away to bed.


Harry spends the remainder of Christmas Day on surveillance, making an extremely important breakthrough in the operation. He works long into the night, arriving home in the early hours of the next day. At least he'll get to spend a little time with James, he thinks hopefully.

The morning starts nicely enough; Teddy stayed the night again and he's sitting at the island counter, cup of tea in one hand, getting career advice from Harry.

"Well, I know Luna would be happy to give you some advice about becoming a journalist," Harry says, rinsing the plates in the sink. "And I can put you in touch with Dennis Creevey — he's made quite a name for himself in the photography industry."

"Really? Thanks, Harry. I mean, I've got absolutely no contacts at the moment, so I'm really grateful for any help — oh, hello, cuz. You need something?"

Harry turns. James is standing in the doorway, looking exasperated, covered in dust and cobwebs.

"Yeah, where's my old broom?"

Harry pauses. "Why on earth do you need it? It's been sitting dusty for years."

"Yeah, well, Rose and Hugo are coming over later and they want a match."

"What? It's freezing outside." Harry sets another plate onto the dishrack.

"I know, but there's a vacancy on the Gryffindor team and Rose reckons she wants to practice for it." James huffs. "Don't know why she's so interested in playing Quidditch, really."

"Well, maybe you can borrow Teddy's broom. Next model up, anyway, I think."

Teddy shrugs. "Sure, I can go home and – "

"No, I want my Skyblazer," James says stubbornly.

Typical, Harry thinks wryly. James hasn't gone near a broom in months, and the second Harry gives it away…

"Well, you can't. I gave it away," Harry says briskly, picking up the dishcloth and wiping down the counters. James stares at him, mouth hanging open.

"You…you gave it away? To who?"

"Scorpius Malfoy. He really wants a spot on the Ravenclaw team but he hasn't got a broom, and yours has been sitting dusty in the shed for years. Thought I'd give it to him, along with a bit of advice."

"That's my broom! You can't just give my stuff away! Especially not to Scorpius!"

"Come on, James, you don't even like Quidditch! The Malfoys are having some financial problems at the moment and I know Scorpius is very grateful to have a broom."

"He's a nice kid," Teddy adds. "He's sent me a few letters — "

"What?" James says, looking outraged. "Why?"

"Well, I used to be the captain for the Ravenclaw team, and he wanted some advice for getting on the team."

"Oh, nice! Really nice! So he's getting free advice from my cousin, and free lessons from my dad, and a free broom from me!"

Harry sighs. "James, I'm a little disappointed. I know you two don't get along very well, but I thought you would have been happy to give your unwanted stuff to someone genuinely in need — "

"I want my broom back!"

Harry can't figure it out. James has never been particularly interested in flying. "Look, if you really want to take up flying, I'll buy you a new broom, the latest model — "

"No, I want my Skyblazer back!"

"Well, you're not getting it back," Harry says, feeling both angry and disappointed. He raised James to be better than this. "I'm sorry you feel that other people don't deserve nice things, James."

"Come on, cuz," Teddy adds. "What's so bad about Scorpius getting a few lessons on your old broom? He's genuinely excited about Quidditch, I think it's great."

"I don't want you talking to him," James snaps. "He should get advice from his own cousin."

Teddy laughs. "Well, funnily enough, we are actually related! We're second cousins. Pretty cool, isn't it?"

James looks furious. "Don't talk to him! And I am getting my broom back! And I'll destroy it so he can never fly it!"

"James! You are not getting it back and that's final! Go to your room," Harry orders.

"Fine!" And James storms away, slamming every single door on the way to his room. Harry winces as the final crash of the attic door echoes through the house, followed by the shatter of an ornament falling. He stands in silence for a moment, his heart racing. Merlin, they've argued before — James getting irritable about certain things, or Harry telling him off about leaving toys or books lying about — but nothing like this. It's terrible. His heart sinks, his stomach churns, and anxiety eats away at him like a vulture. Did he do the right thing, sending James to his room? Or was it actually Harry's fault, for giving the Skyblazer away? Harry's always bought James whatever he's excitedly pointed at in shop windows, and the many aunts and uncles have doted on James completely. Is this a burden of Harry's own making?

"I shouldn't have given James's broom away," Harry says at last.

"Don't be daft," Teddy replies, frowning. "He hasn't picked it up in ages."

"Maybe he just really hates Scorpius." They had a little quarrel in first year, Harry remembers, but James hasn't mentioned anything since.

"Why? Scorpius is a nice kid. Quiet and polite." Teddy shrugs.

"Well," Harry says, "I hope it's either an irrational hatred of Scorpius, or a sudden love of flying. Because the only other reason I can think of is that James genuinely doesn't want to give unwanted toys away to other people." He turns away, busying himself wiping down the counters again, but thinking of another boy he knew who didn't like sharing. Has he raised a Dudley?

"Come on, it's probably just the teenage years," Teddy says. "I bet you anything he's just turning into a moody teenager."

"Brilliant."

"Yeah. Have fun with that. You could always try putting him in a box for a few years until the worst of it is over."

"Well, I'm glad you're there to help him, Teddy. And all his friends at Hogwarts, of course." He smiles, recalling James's letters filled with anecdotes about his friends.

"Yeah, he'll be fine," Teddy says cheerfully. "Bet you anything he's just missing all his friends and feeling a little grumpy without them."

Harry nods, feeling a little more reassured.


One more day until James returns to Hogwarts. The Christmas break has flown past — it seems only a few days ago that he was baking gingerbread biscuits, laughing with Teddy and listening to Andromeda sing along to the carols on the Wizarding Wireless. The Christmas tree is shedding needles all over the floor, the last of the mince pies have been eaten, the festive cards lining the shelves have already been tidied away. James is still a little ticked off about his Skyblazer – it hasn't reappeared and Harry hasn't mentioned it since, so James resentfully supposes that it's Scorpius's property now and there's nothing he can do about it. Nevertheless, he tries to forget about it and focus on other things.

Like the celebration tonight. Teddy finally got a job offer from the Silver Compass and everyone's coming over to congratulate him. Harry is in the kitchen, putting the finishing touches on a roast dinner; Teddy and James are cleaning up the last of the Christmas decorations.

"Come help me with this tree, cuz," Teddy calls to him. "If your little noodle arms can withstand the weight of pine needles."

"Yeah, yeah." But James good-naturedly helps Teddy dismantle the Christmas tree, leaving a scattered trail of pine needles as they drag it outside. Teddy makes James stand back while he casts an Incendio, the tree lighting up like a firework for a brief second before disintegrating into ash. It reminds James of the summer nights spent in the fields, Teddy lighting fireworks and both of them laughing.

"We should stock up on some fireworks for summer," James says as they hurry back inside, their breath pluming silver in the cold January air.

"Maybe, if I'm around," Teddy says, making his way to the living room. "Suppose we should clear up the tinsel next. Harry must've been busy, usually all the Christmas stuff is cleaned away by now."

"What do you mean, if you're around?" James asks, automatically accepting the armfuls of tinsel Teddy is handing him. "You're always around for summer."

"When I was at Hogwarts, of course." Teddy waves his wand, making a wreath from the fireplace float through the air. "But I'll be really busy with this internship. And they'll send me all sorts of places." He pauses, gazing into the distance, smiling. "Not right away, of course — I'll probably just be fetching coffees and that sort of thing — but they told me to be prepared to travel at short notice. Italy, France, Spain…not just Europe, either, but Asia too…I've always wanted to go to the Philippines, they've got an incredibly rich history of water alchemy and ocean magic…"

"The Philippines?" James asks slowly. "That's…that's a long way away. The other side of the world."

"It'll be the farthest I've ever travelled." Teddy places the wreath in the box of decorations. "I can hardly wait."

"You'll…you'll write though, won't you?"

"Course, if there's owls available. Might have to use the Muggle mail in some of the more remote areas. More stamps for your collection," Teddy says with a grin. "Hand me that tinsel, cuz."

James wordlessly hands it over. "What about Sundays?" he asks at last. "You always have dinner with us on Sundays."

"Well, of course Nan will still come over." Teddy reaches over and ruffles James's hair. "Don't worry, I'll still find time to tease you about your noodle arms."

James musters up a quick grin. "Yeah," he says. "Course. And you'll send a postcard to the octopus under the house, right?"

Teddy laughs. "Of course. Come on, we've still got to get rid of all the pinecones and spruce branches Aunt Hermione put everywhere."

James nods and trails after him.


Later on, when they're all sitting around the table excitedly congratulating Teddy, James watches as the champagne is poured and remembers how the children were always given pumpkin juice instead. Teddy used to pull faces at James as they sipped at their goblets of pumpkin juice, and they'd commiserate about it.

One day we'll be old enough, Teddy used to say.

The adults are all chatting with each other. James tries to catch Rose's eye, but she's looking at Teddy with admiration, listening to him chat about Borneo, and James drops his gaze to his plate again. Will Teddy be here still when James comes home for the brief Easter break? Or will he be gone already? And what about the summer holidays? Surely Teddy won't be gone all summer…it will be James's first summer without his cousin. What about their fireworks? They always set off fireworks at least once during summer. Usually when the night is clear and balmy, Harry away at work and blissfully unaware of Teddy and James chasing wild fireworks around the garden, laughing and shouting as bright flares and sparks light up the night.

They finish dinner. Harry pours Teddy a new glass of champagne.

"A toast to the start of Teddy's exciting career!" Ron announces, lifting his glass.

"To Teddy's career!"

"May it be long and illustrious!"

They laugh and raise their glasses, smiling, and James catches Teddy's eye and smiles too. I'm happy for you, cousin, I really am, he thinks. Of course he is.

He looks down, blinking rapidly, and quickly downs the pumpkin juice, trying to get rid of the lump in his throat.


He returns to Hogwarts the next day, on the eighth of January. Paul and Martin's families went on a skiing trip together and both the boys show endless photos of people falling over into snow. Iwan has plenty of leftover sweets from his Christmas break, which he generously shares around. The first years all ask James what he received for Christmas, eyes wide with expectation.

"I heard you got the Philosopher's Stone," one of them says.

"I heard he got his own Quidditch team!"

"I heard — "

"I got some books," James says, cutting them off.

"Ooh, like ancient books of magic?"

"Was it Merlin's own spellbook?"

"No, just books," James says with exasperation.

"I heard Harry Potter's got a whole library of first-edition books, including the diary of Voldemort!"

A few days later he gets a break from all the stupid questions, at least, when the first match of the year takes place. He's not particularly interested but he goes along anyway, wrapped up in a scarlet and gold scarf that's more for warmth than any sort of house spirit. He dutifully cheers as the Gryffindor team recaptures the quaffle.

Martin jumps to his feet, nearly knocking James over. "Another goal! Did you see that, James? What a shot!"

"What?" But James stands up anyway and makes a few half-hearted cheers. All this sitting down, then standing up…he checks his watch. This game has been going for two hours now, and he's got to look after that stupid Oversensitive Cactus today. Who knows what's happened to it over Christmas break? Sprout locks the greenhouses after four o'clock, and it's already past midday…

Somebody slaps his shoulder and he jumps. "Come on, Gryffindor!" Rose shouts, seemingly unaware that she's just scared the living daylights out of James. "Come on!"

"Listen, Rose," James begins, "have you finished your Herbology project? You know, the one with — "

"Yes! Another fifty points! Yes!" Rose hollers, jumping up and down and jostling James about. She turns to the student beside her and they excitedly cheer together. Martin turns around to join in the celebration.

"Did you see that?" he asks them. "Look at the score! Soon it won't matter if we get the snitch or not!"

"I know! Oh, we're completely annihilating the Slytherins!"

James gives up; he turns and walks away, waiting for someone to call after him, but thankfully they're all distracted by the game. He threads between the excited students, finally managing to push his way free and walk away from the Quidditch pitch.

The cheers soon become distant noise. He looks over his shoulder, seeing the black dots of the players flit about in the grey winter sky. There will be snow again tonight, he thinks gloomily. His cactus will require extra care.

To his surprise, Professor Sprout is at the greenhouses rather than the Quidditch match. She's sorrowfully shaking her head at a row of blackened plants, and when she sees James she sighs.

"My Murtlaps succumbed to the frost over Christmas," she says. "I hope you're taking good care of your Oversensitive Cactus, Potter. Your grades can't afford another mistake."

"Yes, Professor." He ducks into the greenhouse, walking along the aisles until he comes to his cactus. It's still wearing the little Christmas hat James put on it for a joke, but it looks even pricklier than usual.

"Hello," James says, giving it an extremely careful pat. "Did you miss me? I'm sorry I was away." He removes the Christmas hat and gets a sharp spine to his thumb in retaliation. "Ouch! What did you do that for, you little — very nice-looking plant. Nicer than all the others. That's why I chose you," he adds, giving the cactus another pat despite his better judgement. "You've got the sharpest spines and I bet you'll grow taller than all the others."

The cactus seems to straighten up a little, then, and James — pleased with his work — sets about mixing a fertiliser for it. Why on earth did he have to get stuck with this horrid little prickly plant…all the measurements have to be so exact. Half an ounce of unicorn dung, a quarter teaspoon of liquid starlight…

Footsteps. James glances up. Great. Of course it's Scorpius.

He finishes mixing the concoction and gives Scorpius a filthy look for good measure, remembering how Harry gave his Skyblazer away. Scorpius steadfastly ignores James, as if he's not even there, and to James's horror he grabs the cactus and sets it aside.

"What are you doing, you idiot?" James says with alarm. "Don't touch that!"

"It's in the way. I need room to re-plant my Ever-Growing Basil."

"So? Come back another time," James snaps, hurrying over to rescue his cactus. "Shouldn't you be at the Quidditch match anyway, taking notes?"

Scorpius pauses and gives him a suspicious look. "What's that mean?"

"Heard you're trying out for the Ravenclaw team. Best of luck," James adds. "You'll need it, especially if you can't even afford your own broom."

"Shut up," Scorpius retorts, and for a moment James is stung. He thought this was just the way it was — Scorpius and him not talking anymore, their past friendship gone — and that it didn't really matter anymore. But to his surprise, it still hurts to hear Scorpius speak so angrily, his voice filled with coldness.

"Go away," James snaps, trying to desperately recover from the moment of hurt. "I was here first."

"I'm allowed to be here too, and I'm allowed to move your plant."

The cactus droops a little and James quickly grabs it. "It doesn't like people talking about it! You're ruining it!"

"It's already really stunted. You clearly have no idea — "

"Shut up! Or I'll make you shut up!"

"You'd hex me?" Scorpius asks, sounding disbelieving.

"Why not? You haven't got a problem hexing me," James says, recalling the way the Stinging Hex had hit him like a slap, and surprise flashes across Scorpius's face, followed by something else James can't decipher.

"I didn't mean to," Scorpius mutters at last, looking away.

"Just go away!"

Scorpius looks at James, opens his mouth, then seems to change his mind.

"Okay," he says, and he turns and leaves.

James listens to his footsteps fade, then sets the cactus back down and looks at it miserably. It's definitely looking very tragic now, shedding spines at an alarming rate.

"Don't listen to anyone except me," James tells it. "And I don't think you're stunted. I think you look very…very healthy. And all the other cacti will be jealous of you when you reach your potential. You have loads of potential." That's what people say, James thinks, when they think you're useless but they have to lie and make you feel better. You have lots of potential. Because you can't prove they're lying when they say that.

It works. The cactus perks up again.

James wishes people believed lies as easily as plants.


In the last week of January, James receives two letters at once. One is his usual letter from Teddy, full of cheerful jokes and anecdotes: his internship, he says, should really have been labelled 'coffee house-elf'. But his supervisor has been pleased with his enthusiasm and dedication and has hinted that, if Teddy applies himself, he could be given his first assignment as early as April. But I hope it's after Easter, he writes. It would be nice to see you (and all the others!) again.

James reads the letter a few times, then grabs the next letter and opens it. It's from Teddy again — he recognises the handwriting at once.

Dear Rose,

Congratulations! I'm so happy to hear about your grades. You've always been an unbelievably smart kid, and you've got reflexes like a lightning-spider, so I'm not surprised you're top of the class for Defence.

Teddy must've absently addressed the envelope to James by accident, James realises. It's happened before — Teddy's written letters to multiple cousins at once and sent them to the wrong people — and James knows he shouldn't read letters meant for others. But he can't help but read the rest of the letter somewhat guiltily. It's nothing particularly interesting, anyway — mostly Teddy congratulating Rose for her high grades, going on about her intelligence, and how he wouldn't be surprised if she became an Auror. And has she considered trying out for the Quidditch team yet? When he visited Ron and Hermione over the Christmas break, he'd noticed how quick she was in their casual Quidditch games and she would make a brilliant Seeker…

Well, it serves him right, James thinks miserably, for reading other people's letters. Now he knows exactly how talented Rose is in every single arena… He folds the letter up again and catches Rose's attention from across the table.

"Rose? Sorry, Teddy accidentally addressed your letter to me."

"Oh. Thanks." She reaches out and accepts the letter, opening it and reading it quickly, a happy smile soon spreading across her face. James waits until he can catch her attention again.

"You didn't tell me you were top of the class for Defence."

"Oh, well." She blushes. "It's nothing, really."

"And all your grades are really high."

"Oh, well, you know. I've always loved to read, and — wait, did you read my letter?"

"Thought it was for me."

"It has 'Dear Rose' right at the top," Rose says, looking unimpressed.

"Must've missed that bit. Anyway, congratulations on…well, everything."

"Thanks." She tucks the letter away. "Well, suppose we should get to class. We've got Potions first."

"Yeah."

They go to the dungeons together. Slughorn is in quite a cheerful mood, humming Christmas carols even though January is nearly over. He sets them to work brewing a Sleeping Draught.

"Rose, is it supposed to be this colour?" James whispers desperately when his potion turns an unsightly orange.

"Working alone, please, Potter," Slughorn says as he goes past.

"Yes, Professor."

"Excellent job, Weasley. Wonderful work, Davies. Ah, your work has improved remarkably, Calthorpe."

James throws a handful of Wiggenwald bark into his potion; a moment later it begins smoking furiously, filling the room with black smoke.

Slughorn turns to look at him, then sighs and slowly shakes his head.


"I'm not one for handing out detentions like Chocolate Frogs," Slughorn says, pacing in front of his desk, his stomach wobbling dangerously. "But really, Potter. It's quite disappointing. Your mother had quite a knack for potions, you know. Lily Evans was one of my most talented witches — "

"Ginny," James mutters, and Slughorn turns.

"What?"

"Ginny. My mother's name is Ginny."

"What? Oh! Of course!" Slughorn shakes his head. "My apologies, dear boy. Memories tend to suffer with time. Ginny…ah, yes, Ginny Weasley. Quite a powerful witch, I thought. Hand-picked her for the Slug Club — as my students call it." Slughorn chuckles. "She went into Quidditch, if I recall correctly. Such a shame. She could have been quite an influential and powerful witch."

"What's wrong with being a Quidditch correspondent?" James asks a little sharply.

"Oh, nothing, my dear boy! But a waste of talent, I think we'll both agree. Now, regarding your Potions work — "

"My mother wasn't a waste of talent."

Slughorn begins to look distinctly uncomfortable. "Well…perhaps we should focus on your detention, Potter. Quill out, and please copy down the last seven potions we have studied. Perhaps it will help you remember the correct ingredients next time."

James says nothing, but he gets out his quill, opens the textbook, and begins copying lines.


Things seem to only worsen for him. A few weeks later, he discovers his cactus has died. The class lines up outside the greenhouse, waiting for Sprout to arrive, and as soon as she leads them in, James sees the tragic shrivelled remains of his cactus.

"What happened?" he demands, rushing over to it and interrupting Sprout midway through a lecture on the properties of Murtlaps.

"It died, Potter," Sprout says crisply.

"But — I don't understand — I did everything right!"

"Well, you must have made a mistake. Please return to your place, Potter. You can see to your cactus later on."

"I can't see to it, because it's dead!"

"Back to class, Potter," Sprout says sternly, and James gives her a look of simmering resentment before returning to his place. His classmates all look on, agog, but Sprout clears her throat and continues with the lesson as if nothing has happened. Martin nudges James.

"What?" James mutters.

"Saw Malfoy in here earlier, moving your plant about. Wasn't being too careful with it. Reckon he did something?"

James clenches his fists, seething. "That little…I already caught him moving it about and insulting it! I told him to leave it alone!"

"Potter, please pay attention!" Sprout says sharply, and James forces himself to try and concentrate on the class.

Internally, however, he thinks of Scorpius with burning anger.


He has his chance to confront Scorpius about it during lunch when he sees him — accompanied by a small group of Ravenclaw students — headed towards the Quidditch pitch, broom in hand. Martin and Paul, both with James, nudge him.

"Look, there's Malfoy. Do you think he's going to Quidditch try-outs?"

"Yeah, obviously," James mutters before quickening his pace.

"Where are you going? Wait a moment, let's just forget it," Paul begins, looking alarmed, but James has already caught up to the group of Ravenclaws. He steps in front of Scorpius.

"Where do you think you're going?" he asks loudly. Scorpius gives him a look and one of the Ravenclaw friends laughs and answers him.

"Can't you tell? Quidditch try-outs," she says, and James's face flushes with anger.

"I wasn't talking to you," he snaps, and Scorpius narrows his eyes.

"Don't talk to her like that."

"Why? It's not like she's your friend. You've hardly got any friends," James adds, and Scorpius's cool demeanour slips a little, his face tingeing pink.

"And you've got none at all," Scorpius retorts, and James gapes at him for a moment, the hurt twisting in his heart like a knife.

"He's got loads of friends," Martin says, stepping forward. "Everyone wants to be friends with James Potter! You're just jealous."

"Yes," Scorpius says, looking at James. "Everyone wants to be friends with Potter. But nobody wants to be friends with James."

Martin blinks and the other students look bewildered, but James understands the calculated insult perfectly. For a moment, he's so overwhelmed with outrage and fury that he can barely speak. He trusted Scorpius once! All those little conversations, confessing his deepest fear of living in his father's shadow...and Scorpius has used it for nothing more than a traded insult in front of other students. He's standing there, one hand resting on James's Skyblazer, going to try-outs because of Harry's encouragement, using advice from Teddy…

"Shut up," James snarls. "You are jealous. Stealing my friends, my family — it's pathetic! Though I guess since your father is a Death Eater, it's no wonder you're desperately trying to shove your way into any other family — "

Scorpius's hex hits James right in the chest; he stumbles back a few feet as flowers immediately begin sprouting all over his robes. The Ravenclaws all start laughing.

"Good one, Scorpius!" someone calls out, and James seethes.

"Entartrer!" he shouts, the curse hitting Scorpius in the neck, and Scorpius cries out, scratching frantically at his skin as scales begin to grow rapidly across it.

"Ha! You showed him," Martin says triumphantly.

"Come on, Scorpius — show him that new jinx!" one of the Ravenclaws says, and James raises his wand in preparation for the oncoming duel, but Scorpius shakes his head.

"I'll miss try-outs," he says, "and that's exactly what he wants." He casts a charm on his skin, where the scales are still ferociously growing, and picks up his broom, striding past James. "Stay out of my way," he says as he passes James.

"Stay out of mine," James hisses. "If my dad gives you any more advice, I'll tell him you've been harassing me."

Scorpius gives him a look of loathing, then turns and walks away.

"What did he just say to you?" Paul asks anxiously.

"I don't even remember. Nothing he says is ever worth listening to," James snaps, turning and walking away, the crowd dispersing behind him.

"I'd say. What was that rubbish he was talking about — friends with Potter but not James — does he think you're two separate people?" Martin laughs.

James doesn't.

He hoists his bookbag over his shoulder, though, and mutters, "Yeah. He's crazy."


James's birthday arrives. The seventeenth of February. He receives an inordinate number of gifts; at breakfast, the owls crowd round him, bumping his elbows and stealing bits of toast. Bewildered at receiving so many parcels, he wonders if his father has somehow decided to particularly spoil him this year.

But no. He picks up the first card and opens it; to his horror, it immediately begins loudly singing Happy Birthday. Students pause to glance over at James, conversations quickly dying away, and he slams the card shut, his face heating up.

"Was that from you?" James hisses at Rose. As much as she loves her books, she inherited her father's inclination for jokes and could, at times, deliver quite the prank to the unsuspecting victim.

"No," she says, looking amused. "You've gone all red, did you know?"

"Yes, I'm perfectly aware." He gathers as many of the parcels as he can and carries them, with help from Martin and Paul, to the dormitory. He hadn't gotten so many presents last year; back then, he hadn't told anyone it had been his birthday — Martin and Paul had been surprised to find out on the day — but he supposes word has spread now. He wishes it was still largely unknown.

Maybe it's part of getting older, James thinks uneasily. He always used to get so excited about his birthday. Every birthday before Hogwarts — right up until his eleventh birthday two years ago — he'd woken up early, hardly able to wait for the day to start. Harry would always sneak into his room at some point before he woke and leave little presents hidden around the room — just small things, like a sugar mouse on the bedside table or a small toy at the end of the bed. And for breakfast there would be birthday pancakes, and if it was a school day, there would be a cupcake in James's lunchbox. Of course, the real celebration happened in the evening, after school, with all his aunts and uncles and cousins singing in the kitchen as Harry brought out the cake.

"I mean, honestly, that pile's nearly as tall as me!"

James looks up. Martin is standing next to James's bed, staring in awe at the enormous pile of gifts and cards.

"You must have loads of friends, James," Iwan adds.

"Yeah." James eyes the pile, then slowly picks up card and opens it.

Dear James,

Happy birthday! Please tell your father that I'm his biggest fan…

James reads on, feeling uncomfortable. The card is full of gushing admiration for Harry, with plenty of references to 'the saviour of the wizarding world'. He closes it, then opens the next card. Glitter immediately rains out, spilling down the front of his robes.

"Ugh." As he tries to brush it off, Martin grabs the card.

"To James Harry Potter," he begins.

"Must be important, used your full name," Paul jokes.

"My middle name isn't Harry." James shakes his hand wildly, trying to detach the clinging glitter.

"What?" Paul asks blankly. "Isn't it?"

"No. Why would it be that?"

"Because that's your dad's name," Martin says as if James is being deliberately slow.

"Well, my middle name is Sirius," James retorts, picking up a present and unwrapping it. A snitch falls out.

They all laugh. "Sirius? What sort of name is that?"

"If that was my middle name, I wouldn't tell people either!"

Anger flashes through James suddenly. "That's my godfather's name. He died saving my father's life," he snaps. "I'm proud to have that name."

Martin's smile fades. Iwan looks away.

"Just a joke," Paul mutters. "We're always making fun of Iwan's name, and he never minds."

James stares down at the snitch in his hands. He doesn't want to argue. Not today, not on his birthday.

"Here you go," he says, mustering a quick smile. "You like Quidditch, don't you?" He tosses the snitch to Paul, who catches it deftly.

"Oh! Can I keep it? Wow, thanks, James!"

James spends the next half hour unwrapping the presents one by one and handing them out. There's a signed Puddlemere poster that Martin happily accepts, and another six snitches. He gives them all to Iwan, who has plenty of little brothers and sisters who will be excited to receive them. There's even a full set of Quidditch robes from a Hufflepuff student, accompanied with letter suggesting that if James would like to send a thank-you note, please have it autographed by Harry and sent to the enclosed address. As James realises, it isn't an uncommon request. Many of the cards he receives have a hastily scrawled 'Happy Birthday!' followed by requests for signed photographs of his father.

Really, he thinks, the gifts are meant for Harry too. Quidditch memorabilia, and items such as broomstick wax and enchanted snitches. Books for advanced Defence Against the Dark Arts strategies. A few Auror memoirs and biographies. James doesn't need to read those. He knows perfectly well what an Auror's life is like: far too many overnight shifts and urgent fire-calls at all hours.

Of course, there's plenty of generic gifts too — boxes of chocolates and baked goods. James shares them round and, while his friends are happily biting into Peppermint Toads and Acid Pops, he finally finds the presents from his family.

Harry has sent him a few things — books and almanacs, all a tribute to James's love of trivia — and a box of sugar mice, James's favourite treat. There's the usual sensible gifts too — a new set of robes, a pair of swimmers and a stroke counter — and the big gift, a science kit complete with a microscope. Ever the fearless explorer and curious scientist, Harry's written in a note attached to it.

James re-reads the note a few times, not sure why there's a lump in his throat, and then picks up Teddy's gift and slowly unwraps it. It's a wizarding atlas; when he opens it, the mountains rise from the pages and James momentarily forgets where he is. When he flips to the back of the book, there's a neat geographical map of all the countries, England currently glowing a faint blue. To my favourite adventurer, James, Teddy has written on the page. I know what you're thinking — 'oh, a bunch of maps, thanks Teddy, ever so grateful'. But whatever country I'm in, it will glow on this map. So no matter how far I travel — no matter how fast I Floo, or Disapparate, or fly from one country to the next — you'll always be able to see where I am. So in a way, you're always travelling along with me. So take care of this book and don't let your friends eat the pages, okay? Love, Teddy (and the octopus under the house).

"You all right? You look like you're about to cry."

James glances up at Martin and smiles. "Don't be daft. I never cry. Just reading a letter from my cousin."

"Oh. Do you want the last Cauldron Cake?"

"No, you can have it." James tidies up the mess of ribbon and wrapping paper.

"Wish I had birthdays like this," Paul comments. "Couldn't believe that pile of presents."

"And he just gave them all away," Iwan adds. "Isn't that odd, giving away gifts on your birthday?"

"Well, I'm not complaining."

James smiles tensely and tosses the last of the wrapping paper into the bin.


Draco gives Harry an unimpressed look. "You're doing it again," he says.

"Doing what?"

"Asking me for advice." Draco picks up his cup of tea and takes another sip. They're sitting in the study, as usual, with Harry moodily compiling spells and asking half-hearted questions about contact details. However, the routine was ruined once more when Harry asked gloomily if Draco thought Scorpius was spoiled.

Harry scowls and crosses his arms. "I am not asking you for advice. I'm asking if you think Scorpius is spoiled."

"Which will somehow lead to a conversation about parenting." Draco gives Harry a suspicious look. "Anyway, it depends on your definition of spoiled."

"What's that supposed to mean? On any level? You're terrible at advice."

"Yes, you think you'd take the hint and stop asking for it by now." But Draco, feeling slightly magnanimous as he recalls Scorpius's joy at receiving the Skyblazer a few months ago, takes mercy. "I give Scorpius plenty of toys and gifts, if you think that's what spoiled is. But he's always grateful, and he always remembers his manners, and – from a completely unbiased point of view, of course – he's a perfectly charming child."

Harry rolls his eyes. "Of course he is."

"Why? Has James started to throw tantrums and scream for sweets?" Draco grins but Harry looks unamused.

"No, but he threw a right royal fit over me giving his Skyblazer to Scorpius. You would've thought I'd kicked him out to live in the shed and given Scorpius his bedroom, the way he was carrying on."

Draco looks at Harry incredulously. "You didn't ask before you gave his broom away?"

"Why would I?" Harry asks, looking defensive. "He hardly ever used it!"

"Yes, but our sons hate each other. Are you blind?"

"What? Don't be ridiculous. They were friends in first year, they had a row – like all children do at some point – and James has moved onto other friendships." Harry shrugs.

Draco stares at him. Does Harry actually have conversations with his son? The way Scorpius refused to speak about the fight in first year, the way he angrily mentions James in his letters...Draco has come to realise that there's a clear enmity between the boys rather than an outgrown friendship.

"Hasn't James mentioned it?" he asks at last.

"Of course not. Hasn't said a word about Scorpius since first year – at least, not until Christmas, when he threw a tantrum about his Skyblazer. I imagine he doesn't give Scorpius another thought, really. Which is why it was so odd for him to get so angry about it…"

Harry's an Auror. He's supposed to be good at this sort of stuff. Reading between the lines, understanding silent conversations. Or has a trace of the old Harry Potter – the completely oblivious idiot, Draco thinks somewhat unkindly – still remained, resistant to the years of Auror training?

"…anyway, like I said, James has just moved onto other friendships. He's got a million friends at Hogwarts, I'm sure he's simply forgotten about Scorpius." Harry picks up his file. "You're blinded by your own prejudice, that's what I think. Just because we despise each other, there's no reason for our sons to have an equally hateful rivalry. It's not genetic, you know."

"We don't despise each other," Draco says irritably. "Don't be ridiculous. You're in my home, drinking my tea, spilling ink on my genealogy projects."

"So? Of course we despise each other," Harry retorts, looking slightly alarmed.

"Now who's clinging to old prejudices? We tolerate each other at the very least."

"Well, fine. But we're definitely not friends."

"Now you are going mental. I didn't realise 'tolerate each other's presence' was next to 'best friends' in your dictionary of delusions."

"I didn't say best friends! I'd rather eat a wineglass than be friends with you."

"I'm so glad we had this lovely little chat. I can see why you wanted to become an Auror – to help, to inspire, to care about other people. Have you got a feedback form I can fill out about your customer service?"

Harry buries his head in his hands. "You," he says, voice faintly muffled, "are just…incorrigible."

"I'm serious. Is there a feedback form? I imagine they keep a little stack next to the Suggestions Box in the Auror offices."

And, to Draco's horror, he realises Harry's shoulders are shaking. He's laughing. After a long moment, Harry looks up, still smiling.

"Sometimes," he says, "you're all right."

"Do not say that."

"Why? I'm tolerating your presence, just like you said."

Draco's eyes narrow and he thinks he ought to say something acerbic just to enrage Harry and make him leave.

But somehow, he ends up accidentally making a cup of tea and playing Monopoly.

Which is slightly confusing but not nearly as concerning as Draco thinks it ought to be.


Later that evening – after Harry has left, triumphant after winning the Monopoly game – Draco sits in the study and writes a letter to Scorpius.

Writing letters to Scorpius has not come naturally to Draco. When Draco was a student, his letters were always addressed to his mother and spoke of his achievements – never show your weaknesses – and her replies always simply sent news of home and offered congratulations for whatever accomplishment he'd mentioned. Your father hopes you are well, she would always add at the end. The sole acknowledgement of his father's affections.

But Scorpius…his handwriting is neat enough, but sometimes it tends to get a bit excitable and wander off the page, and the letters are covered with little sketches and drawings – a frog leaping along the bottom of the page, or an absent-minded diagram of Muggle machine parts, and sometimes Draco will turn the letter over and find a few notes on potion properties or transfiguration work. Scorpius's thoughts are pinned to paper, unfiltered, uncensored. He's worried about one of his newfound friends, who's upset after making some serious errors in their Charms essay, or he's struggling with Herbology and getting fed up with his Ever-Growing Basil, or he's anxious about his first-ever Quidditch match and wondering if he'll disappoint the team.

When Draco first started receiving these sorts of letters, he had no idea how to respond and it took quite a lot of time and consideration before constructing his replies. And he found himself wishing Scorpius didn't simply pour his heart onto the paper, giving Draco pages of honest thoughts and dreams and memories. Is this what he did to Astoria? Surely teenagers were supposed to be a lot more secretive. Draco had been taught a script since a young age and it was alarming to find that Scorpius didn't know the correct lines, the carefully-structured letters to send.

But now, for the first time, he feels grateful. He thinks of Harry's strange obliviousness to James and thinks uneasily that it seems there's nothing but silence between those two. If there is a conversation, it's one-sided.

So he picks up his quill and writes a reply to his son, each sentence heavy with gratitude for Scorpius's unguarded letters.

Chapter Text

 

February melts into March, and March into April. James tries to focus on his studies. At least he's got time to himself now. All the other Gryffindor boys are busy with their friends and even Rose – quiet little Rose, who everyone ignored in first year – is busy chatting away with friends in the common room every night. She makes the Quidditch team and leaves everyone awestruck by her performance. Apparently she's going to make one of the best Seekers they've seen for years. James wouldn't know; the try-outs had been held on a Saturday afternoon, when he was in detention for damaging Scorpius's Ever-Growing Basil. It had been a stupid thing to do, but James hadn't been able to help it. It had been revenge for his unhappy cactus.

But fortune smiles upon Scorpius, as always, and the Ever-Growing Basil has been quickly restored to its former state of luxurious leaves and healthy appearance. James, on the other hand, is still stuck with a dead cactus, a week of detentions, and he missed Rose's try-outs.

It can't get any worse, he thinks.

But of course, it does.

His vendetta with Scorpius reaches a new height a few weeks later. One afternoon, as students spill into the corridor after class, James grows more and more impatient as a group of Ravenclaws dawdle along in front of him, blocking his path. He recognises Scorpius among them, and his impatience soon gives way to a flash of anger.

"Get out of my way, Malfoy," James snaps, shoving past Scorpius; the next moment, he stumbles and falls over, sprawling across the floor, his bookbag spilling ink and quills and parchment everywhere. The other students laugh while Martin and Paul rush to help James up.

"He got you with a Tripping Jinx," Martin mutters. "Honestly, there's no need for that."

James looks up just in time to see Scorpius tucking his wand away. The little git! He seethes and draws his wand, but Paul shakes his head.

"It's not worth it, mate – "

"Comminuo!"

Scorpius – already turning away from James – is caught unawares and the jinx hits his bookbag, immediately sending parchment and quills exploding from it. Scorpius whips around to face James, wand already in his hand.

"Hedera!"

James can't dodge the spell in time; it hits him squarely in the chest and vines begin to curl around him. A group of Hufflepuffs nearby start giggling, and his face burns with embarrassment.

"You'll pay for that one!" James snarls. "Consenesco!"

Scorpius sidesteps it easily, James is infuriated to see. "Oppugno!"

James lets out a cry of dismay as quills rise up to attack him, darting at his skin with sharp nibs. The other students are all laughing now and, furious, James slashes his wand through the air. A sizzle of white light bursts across the hallway and a moment later Scorpius cries out, an angry scarlet welt appearing across his arm, another appearing on his hand. Good, James thinks, casting a quick Incendio to reduce the bothersome quills to ashes. No doubt Scorpius will scurry away now –

"Flipendo!"

The spell slams into James, sending him stumbling back several feet; his head slams into the stone wall and he doesn't move for a moment, dazed. Nobody's laughing anymore. Scorpius takes a step forward, expression still furious.

"Opthmalio!"

The spell is blinding white, and James has no idea what it is, except it's so bright that his eyes hurt, and then even when the light has faded his vision is still marked with an imprint of the spell, and his eyes are itchy...he rubs his hands furiously across his eyes, but the itchiness gets worse and worse and he stumbles blindly.

"I'm getting a teacher," somebody says.

Someone touches his shoulder and speaks. Martin, he'd guess. "You okay, mate?"

No. It's among the worst pain he's ever endured. It feels like someone has thrown vinegar into his eyes. "It hurts," he mumbles. Someone touches the back of his head and he makes an angry noise of pain.

"Sorry," Martin says quickly. "You must've hit your head pretty hard. It's bleeding a bit."

There's a sudden kerfuffle and then, to James's faint relief, the very disapproving tones of McGonagall.

"Honeycutt! Take Mr Potter to the hospital wing at once. Malfoy – with me."

Martin drags James to the hospital wing, where Madam Pomfrey diagnoses him with a nasty case of the Conjunctivitis Hex. He's given eye drops and spends the rest of the afternoon waiting for the pain to subside. McGonagall makes an appearance after a while, Scorpius in tow, and James immediately hates that Scorpius is there. No doubt he's pleased to see James looking so pathetic.

"Duelling is strictly forbidden at Hogwarts," McGonagall says severely. "You'll both apologise to each other."

"No," James retorts, giving her a defiant look, although fear flickers in his heart when McGonagall's lips thin.

"This is very serious," she snaps. "You may apologise now or receive a week of detentions."

"I'll take the detentions," James says, and McGonagall's lips somehow thin even further.

"I'm disappointed," she says. "I had hoped for more maturity, Potter." She turns to Scorpius. "And your choice?"

James can feel Scorpius looking at him, but he resolutely glares at the floor.

"Sorry, James," Scorpius says at last.

"Good." McGonagall turns as if to leave and James is immediately outraged.

"That's it? Two words and he's free to go? He doesn't even mean it! He's only sorry he's in trouble!"

"Rest assured that Malfoy is certainly dealing with more consequences," McGonagall says. She sweeps away, Scorpius trailing after her.

Well, at least James has been excused from the rest of the day's classes. A nap looks very enticing now, he thinks as he begins to lie down.

"What are you doing?" Pomfrey says sharply.

"Having a nap?"

"Certainly not. You may have a minor concussion – you are not to go to sleep under any circumstances. Sitting up, please, and keeping yourself awake. Haven't you got any homework?"

"Yeah, but you said I should try and stay awake."

Pomfrey doesn't seem to think that's very amusing. "In that case, you can consider Professor McGonagall's advice and think about the foolishness that led you here."

Scowling, James picks up his Herbology textbook and turns the page so violently it nearly tears.


But if there's anything worse than Scorpius getting away with it, James thinks, it's the fact that his own friends won't take his side either.

"Wow, that's awful," Iwan says sympathetically that night in the dormitory, after listening to James's story. "I can't believe he used that curse."

James scowls. "Typical of him."

"I don't know," Nate says. They turn to look at him; he's looking up from the book he's reading, looking faintly doubtful. "Scorpius seems pretty level-headed."

"Are you serious? You're defending him?" James demands.

"Look, obviously it was a completely awful thing for Scorpius to do, but I'm not sure I'd say it was typical of him. We're partners in Herbology, if you remember, and he's been very nice. If you ask me, you two have some sort of stupid fight going on. Maybe you should just stay out of his way, James."

"Maybe you should shut up and mind your own business," James retorts furiously, in absolutely no mood to be lectured on the virtues of Scorpius Malfoy. By a fellow Gryffindor, no less.

Nate blinks at him. "Okay," he says slowly. "Guess you're in a bad mood…" He picks up his book and leaves.

"Can you believe that prat?" James demands.

The other boys exchange looks and say nothing.

James finds his copy of Martin Miggs, well-worn, the pages tattered like the edges of a young child's security blanket.


Nevertheless, it's Scorpius who searches for James a few days later.

James is sitting beneath a tree near the edge of the lake when Scorpius approaches him. He's by himself, sketchbook in his lap, pencil-tin open nearby with its contents spilling out across the grass. James used to enjoy drawing quite a lot, but the hobby has waned in recent years. Nevertheless, he's in the mood for a bit of sketching and he's just started shading the lines of the castle when a shadow falls across the paper.

James glances up.

Scorpius.

James doesn't react, too surprised to do anything for a moment, even scowl – he just sits there, looking up at Scorpius with a bewildered expression.

Then Scorpius tosses a piece of parchment down; it lands on the grass beside James.

"McGonagall said I had to give you a written apology," he says.

"Oh," James says stupidly.

Scorpius turns without another word and walks away. James watches him until he disappears completely from sight, and then he glances at the folded parchment beside him. He should just throw it away, he thinks. Incinerate it. Who knows what hurtful words Scorpius has scrawled across the parchment?

But curiosity wins and after a long moment, James sets his sketchbook aside, slowly unfolds the parchment and begins reading.

James,

I'm sorry about what happened. When I saw you in so much pain, I felt like the worst person ever. I was just so angry at the time, I didn't think before hexing you.

Nobody else gets me this riled, you know, and I think it's because we used to be friends and I hate that.  I suppose the best thing is to just forget we were ever friends. I'm reading a book on memory charms at the moment so hopefully I can make that a reality.

The funny thing is, when I think about it, you probably feel the same. Well, maybe, if you ask nicely, I'll erase your memories too.

Scorpius.

James doesn't read it again.

Once is enough.

He slowly folds the letter up, puts it back in the envelope, and sets it aside. After another pause, he picks his sketchbook up slowly and tries to continue the drawing. Walls, he thinks, staring down at the sketched castle. He was shading the walls.

He picks up his pencil and resumes his work.

Just a few more weeks and summer will begin.


Harry knows the summer holidays have been creeping up like Devil's Snare, but on the day of James's return a surveillance meeting takes a very interesting turn and it's an entire hour later when Harry suddenly jumps to his feet, swearing loudly.

By the time he arrives at King's Cross, the platform has long since emptied. A brief but very panicked search leads him to Andromeda's house; Teddy apparently took the day off to greet James at the station as a nice surprise. When Harry arrives at Andromeda's home, overcome with relief, James is certainly chilly towards him.

"Forgot something, did you?" he asks coolly.

"I'm so sorry, I was busy at work, this surveillance took a really unexpected turn and I just completely... Are you all right?"

"Whatever," James mutters.

And things only seem to go downhill from there. Harry spends the rest of the summer holidays buried in work; as the mercury climbs higher and the skies blaze midsummer blue, tempers seem to fray and patience disappears. James spends most of the time sprawled across the cool floorboards, reading his comics and ignoring Harry.

Harry had so many plans — trips to the seaside, perhaps, or even a visit to France, and plenty of journeys to London. But somehow the summer races through his hands like fine sand and before he knows it, the holidays are nearly over. Well, he thinks as the end of August bears down upon them like the Hogwarts Express, at least he's got a few days left to spend time with James. He can help James pack for Hogwarts and apologise for being so absent lately.

But on the final day of the summer holidays, Harry's hope for a happy farewell is destroyed.

He spends most of the day working, but at least he has the evening free. He walks through the front door, puts his cloak on the peg, and hears voices from the kitchen. Teddy and James are making dinner, apparently, and Harry has to smile.

"Rose has a terrible crush on some third-year Hufflepuff called Andrew," Teddy is saying. "At least, that's what Hugo reckons. Little toerag reckons she's mentioned him a few times, but I think he's just reading her diary again."

"I hope you're not discussing your cousin's love life," Harry says, stepping into the kitchen.

Teddy looks up from his task of stirring something in the saucepan. "Of course not," he grins. "Poor Rose, she's got enough embarrassment in her life. Like having a nosy little brother."

Harry laughs and they fall into casual conversation – if James has packed for Hogwarts yet, if he's looking forward to seeing all his friends again, what Teddy's plans are for the next week.

"I'm assisting a few of my colleagues, actually, on the first real project I'll be involved with," Teddy says excitedly. "We're doing a big feature piece on the origins of Quidditch."

"When it's published, send a copy to Rose," Harry says. "She's getting rather keen on Quidditch."

James begins peeling potatoes. "I'm not sure if Aunt Hermione would like that. Rose tried doing a Wronski Feint last week, nearly broke her nose."

Harry smiles, reminded of his recent visits to the Malfoy home. Scorpius has been very diligent with his Quidditch practice. "Well, it takes a bit of work. I actually taught Scorpius that same move a few weeks ago – there were a few near misses."

Surprise – then anger – flashes across James's face. "Why are you still teaching him Quidditch? I asked you not to!"

"Oh, for – are we really going to have this conversation again? It's nice to do things for people – "

"Not Scorpius Malfoy!"

"For Merlin's sake, would you drop it already?" Harry can't help the exasperation needling through his voice. "I know you had a bit of a row with Scorpius – a whole year ago – but there's no reason why everyone else should share your irrational dislike – "

"I'm just going to get some fresh air," Teddy says quickly, slipping away. Neither James nor Harry bother replying to him.

"First you gave my Skyblazer away, then you promised you'd stop giving him advice – he's on the Ravenclaw team, remember! What about Rose? She'll have to play against him, I hope you know," James says mutinously to Harry.

"It's just a game! And I didn't promise I'd stop giving him advice, James. Why are you getting so angry about this?"

"Because I asked you not to, and you just ignored me! I'm not as important as helping out someone else's kid – "

"Don't be ridiculous," Harry snaps. "I didn't realise that giving Scorpius a few bits of advice every month or so apparently counts as me not giving you enough attention!"

"You know what I mean! And I want my Skyblazer back, and I don't want you talking to Scorpius ever again!"

Harry exhales sharply. "I don't know what's happened to you," he says at last. "What happened to that nice child I used to know? I honestly can't deal with you sometimes."

"Then don't," James snarls, and he sweeps the nearest item – a mug – from the counter, sending it smashing over the tiles, tea splashing everywhere. Harry jumps, startled.

"Really? Now you're destroying things? I thought I raised you better than that." Harry shakes his head. "I am so disappointed in you."

"Yeah," James retorts, "I know."

"Go to your room," Harry says tiredly.

James turns and storms away.

Harry stands in the silence for a long moment, then sighs and waves his wand, mending the mug again, and fetches a cloth to clean the spilled tea. There's footsteps again – Teddy returning.

"Everything all right?" Teddy asks cautiously.

"Fine." Harry sighs again, standing up to survey the clean floor. "He's just…" He shakes his head. "The moody teenage years have started, I suppose. Why does he have to get so angry about everything?"

Teddy shrugs. "Problems at school, maybe?"

"No, he always seems happy in his letters. Plenty of friends, star of the swim team – his grades were a little low last year, but you know how it is. Midnight adventures and games." Harry wrings the cloth out, the drops of tea splashing into the sink. "I don't know...I just wonder if – damn it." The Auror coin is burning in his pocket again. "Come on, I just finished my shift!"

"It's okay. I can stay overnight if needed."

"Would you? Thanks, Teddy. You're a lifesaver. Try talking to James if you can. Make sure he's packed for Hogwarts." Harry goes into the hallway, grabbing his cloak. "I'll try to return as soon as possible."

It never stops, he thinks as he heads out the front door.

Never, ever stops.


James has lashed out before – throwing books across the room with frustration, or kicking a toy across the floor – but this is different. He rages around his bedroom. He rips posters from the wall, and shatters ornaments, and hurls his frightened Quidditch figures across the room, and kicks his beloved books, sending pages drifting around the room like feathers, and grabs framed pictures from the wall, throwing them to the floor and listening to the satisfying shatter of glass.

And when he's done – when the anger has exhausted itself – he slumps to the floor and cries like a child.

"You broke me," a small voice says, and James looks up, scrubbing a hand furiously across his eyes. A shard of mirror lies beside him.

"So?"

"How will you see yourself now?" the shard of mirror says disconsolately.

"I don't want to see myself." James reaches out and pushes the shard across the floor, beneath his bed, where it's out of sight. There's a cut across his palm now, the blood forming a long, thin line.

Footsteps. James glances up, eyes wide, and snatches up his wand, aiming it at the attic door. "Colloportus."

"Ah, come on, cuz. I wasn't just going to barge in."

At least it's not Harry. James feels a little relieved, although he doesn't remove the locking charm. "Go away."

"Are you okay? I heard something breaking."

"Fine. Wand misfired, that's all."

"What? Come on, you know you shouldn't practice charms. One of these days you'll get an Underage Magic notification."

"What do you want?" James snaps, hoping Teddy will leave. He can't stand the idea of Teddy – always smiling, never upset or frightened or hurt – seeing James cry. He'd die of embarrassment.

"Come downstairs, we'll finish making dinner."

"I'm not hungry."

There's a long silence and James wonders if Teddy's left.

"Okay," Teddy says at last. "But come and say goodbye before I leave, okay? I always miss you the most after the summer holidays."

James's heart suddenly gives a sharp ache, as if the shard of mirror has somehow found its way in, and he leaps up, scrambling over to the door. "Alohomora. Teddy, come back!"

"Haven't left yet," Teddy says, looking slightly startled, but he climbs into the attic and frowns. "What happened?"

James looks at his feet. "I got mad."

"No kidding." Teddy picks something up off the floor. "Oh…"

It's one of the drawings Ginny commissioned from Dean Thomas, James realises. The first thing she ever bought for him, Harry always said. The first thing she bought for the nursery – before the pots of paint, before the crib, before the soft blankets. The set of pictures: two foxes wearing waistcoats, a badger setting out a picnic for its family, a hedgehog with a little top-hat. Now, the glass is shattered and the frame chipped, the badger family huddling fearfully in the corner of the picture.

Teddy sets the picture on the bookshelf, the broken glass slowly cascading downwards as he sets it upright again. "James…is everything okay?"

"Yeah. Fine." James doesn't lift his gaze. There's an origami crane near his foot – Rose made it for him years ago. It's crushed now.

"Okay…well…are you coming downstairs, then?"

James hesitates. "Fine," he says after a moment. But when they go downstairs, Teddy doesn't go to the kitchen. He goes outside, instead, into the gardens. "Where are we going?" James asks with slight apprehension.

"Come on, cuz, don't tell me you forgot our tradition."

"What tradition? I…oh! I…I thought you'd be too busy this summer…"

"Well, it is the last day of the holidays," Teddy admits. "I kept forgetting to bring them." He begins taking the fireworks from the pockets of his robes. "Okay, let's see…"

"What's that one?"

"Oh, you're going to love that. It's a new type of spinner."

"Look at all the comets!"

"I know they're your favourite. Come on, let's set them up."

They walk though the gardens, past the low fence, and out into the field. James walks through the long summer-tall grass, feeling the dry husks of the wild wheat feathering his skin, snagging on his clothes. Ahead of him, he can see Teddy, a dark shadow moving quickly through the grass until they've reached the end of the field. Beyond it is a small clearing, just before the start of the woods, and it is here they'll set up the fireworks.

"Ready?"

"Okay, give me that box."

They work quietly, speaking in low voices even though there's nobody else around, and at last they retreat to the edges of the clearing. Teddy raises his wand.

"Incendio!"

The bright spark rushes through the air. Moments later, the first firework erupts into the sky, sending colours popping and soaring across the dark night. James watches, spellbound – he'll never get tired of these summer nights. All those times they snuck out of the house, pockets and bags stuffed full of bottle rockets, fountains, smoke balls and spinners. His favourite childhood memories smell like gunpowder and are filled with exploding stars.

He would give anything to be five years old again, standing beside his cousin, laughing into the sky. And afterwards he'd climb into his bed and listen to his father tell stories. The soft glow of his lamp, the stuffed toys littered about the room. The little family of badgers snoozing in their picture.

The longest distance between two places, James thinks, is time.


After they've returned to the house and have finished dinner, Teddy retreats to the living room to complete some research for work. James goes upstairs.

His room is a mess. But nobody else is going to fix it. He's far too old now for others to be picking up after him. James goes about the room, collecting clothes, folding them, putting them away. He gathers up his books, carefully using Sticking Charms to put the pages back in order, and rearranges his Quidditch figures, placing them back onto shelves. He hesitantly tries casting Reparo a few times and is relieved when it works.

"Sorry," he says to the family of badgers, picking up their picture. "Reparo."

The glass goes back together, but there's still a chip in the frame, and there's a long scratch across the beautiful watercolour sky. James puts the picture back on the wall, watching the badgers blink sadly at him.

It's long after midnight by the time James has put his room back in order and then packed for Hogwarts. Teddy appears to give him a cup of weak coffee at two o'clock in the morning.

"Still awake? Come on, go to bed or I won't hear the end of it from Harry."

"Only just finished packing." James stifles a yawn.

"Ready for third year?"

"Course."

Teddy smiles. "This'll be your year, I know it."

"Yeah."

Teddy studies him for a long moment. "Are you sure everything's okay, cuz?" he asks at last.

James pauses, but then he gives Teddy a quick smile. "Yeah, I promise. I'm fine."

Teddy frowns, but he nods and says his farewells then, as he has to leave early in the morning for work. "I'll see you at Christmas," he says, giving James a hug, and James fiercely resists the urge to cling to him.

"See you then," he says.

"Take care of yourself, cuz. Write me loads of letters, okay?"

"Okay."

Teddy leaves and James goes to bed. He stares at the ceiling for a long time, watching patterns of light and dark play across the rafters as outside, the moon filters through clouds.

A quiet voice speaks.

"I'm still broken."

James rolls over, facing the wall. "Shut up."

The shard of mirror falls silent again.


For Draco, the summer holidays seem to drag by. Normally they pass in a rush of activities — visiting museums and constant trips to the library — but Scorpius seems to have become smaller and quieter somehow. He cheers up briefly when he receives an invitation to a birthday party. It's for a fellow Ravenclaw, and Draco swings between great anxiety – will Scorpius be all right? – to happiness that Scorpius has finally, finally made proper friends.

Scorpius departs for the party, wearing his best robes and a very anxious expression, carefully holding the gift he'd bought for the host, but when Draco picks him up at the end of the party, Scorpius is smiling and holding a slice of cake wrapped in a napkin and chatting to another partygoer. And he's not the only one socialising; Draco finds himself conversing with other parents while he's waiting for Scorpius to say his farewells. He even finds a new customer: a Muggle mother keen to see if there's any other wizards or witches hidden away in her lineage.

But just as Scorpius is collecting his cloak and preparing to go home, a boy says something to Scorpius and points to another group of children. Scorpius turns to look at them; they start giggling.

Scorpius looks away again and walks very slowly to Draco.

"Let's go home," he mumbles.

"What happened?"

"Nothing."

"Did those children do something?"

"Let's just go," Scorpius pleads.

"Who are their parents? I'll have a word with them! They've got absolutely no right to upset anyone like that — "

And then Scorpius retreats completely. Draco knows it by the way he sets his expression, presses his mouth into a thin line. He won't speak for the rest of the day now, Draco knows.

He Disapparates, taking Scorpius with him.

"What happened?" he asks, still holding Scorpius's arm.

Scorpius wrenches away from him and says nothing, disappearing down the hallway. Moments later, there's the quiet sound of a door closing.

Draco exhales slowly.


Scorpius's mood lingers for a few days, sending a shadow over the bright summer days. But a week later, he seems to have forgotten the incident and Draco's wondering if he overreacted. One evening, after dinner, the slightly-chilly distance between them has given way to comfortable closeness again. Scorpius is curled up in the armchair in the study, reading a book while Draco works on a genealogy project. There's a soothing silence between them, broken only by the crackling of the fire. Despite the warmth of summer, parts of the manor are still chilly. Mostly the parts yet to be renovated, where the windows are small and narrow and the ghosts of Draco's past still linger, faint footsteps and voices echoing with sadness.

There's a little noise, like something scurrying along, and Draco looks up. That little silver rat that Scorpius acquired at some point in his first year. It had only been an ornament back then, he thinks, but now it's running about and Scorpius looks pleased with himself.

"Practicing transfiguration?" Draco asks wryly and Scorpius has the grace to look a little embarrassed.

"Sorry." He places his wand down and holds the book up, showing Draco the title. Modification: The Fine Art of Motion in Transfiguration.

The rat suddenly stops running, becoming still and silent again, and Scorpius frowns and picks it up. "I suppose I still need to work on it," he says.

"Well, as long as you're learning something from it." Draco picks up his quill and resumes his genealogy project.

Silence reigns for a while until Scorpius speaks again.

"Father?"

"Hm?" Draco looks up from his work. Scorpius is gazing down at the little silver rat in his hand.

"It's nothing," he says at last.

Draco waits, but Scorpius remains silent, staring at the silver rat with a look that Draco finds hard to decipher. Melancholy, he thinks. Perhaps sadness, perhaps wistfulness.

"Missing something?" Draco asks, and Scorpius looks up, a startled expression on his face. "It's all right," Draco adds. "I think the death of a first pet is always difficult. One day, maybe you'd like another rat? Or perhaps an owl..."

Scorpius looks back down at the silver rat. "I don't want a replacement." He strokes the rat's delicate whiskers. "At least I have this reminder."

Draco opens his mouth to reassure that a new pet wouldn't be a replacement, but Scorpius's mood seems oddly pensive and he doesn't want to ruin it with reminders of Pan's untimely death.

So he turns back to his genealogy project and they while away the rest of the evening together, Scorpius working on his transfiguration work, Draco's quill scratching across the parchment.

For once, the shadows of this place, this study – always his father's study – retreat to the edges of the room, and Draco is content.

His son is home again.


James returns to Hogwarts. Third year, but it seems very little has changed. The old routines are easy to resume. The classes are still boring, the professors still give James the same lectures about paying more attention, and swim practice is still his one saving grace. The first swim practice can't come fast enough; James is itching to get back into the water. He performs well during the first three swim practices, but they're in their third week of school before James really hits his stride again. He cuts a smooth and powerful line straight across the lake, leaving the others trailing in his wake, and even Saltworth is impressed.

"Glad to see you've got the results to justify your ego, at least," she tells him, and once James has recovered from that remark he offers a dutiful 'thanks, coach' before taking Iwan aside at the end of the practice.

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"Huh?" Iwan tilts his head, trying to get water out of his ear.

"You know. Saltworth said that at least I can justify my ego, or something like that. What's she talking about?"

"Er…nothing?" Iwan offers uncertainly.

"Don't sugarcoat it, Iwan," Thomas says, coming over to them, and James scowls at him.

"There's…there's nothing to sugarcoat," Iwan says, looking as if he wished he were somewhere else. "James is a good swimmer."

"Selfish, you mean," Thomas says, and James's mouth falls open.

"What are you talking about?" he demands. "Selfish?"

"That's what I said." Thomas raises his chin, giving James a defiant look. "We're a team. But you never share any knowledge with anyone else – Saltworth is always saying 'you should give Calthorpe some tips on breathing' or 'Stephenson could do with a bit of help with his backstroke' – but you never offer anyone advice on anything."

"That's not my job, you moron! I'm a swimmer, not a coach!"

"Let's just forget it," Iwan says pleadingly, but neither Thomas nor James look at him.

"We're all swimmers, and we're all supposed to help each other out! There's been a million times where I've told you that I know I need extra work on my tumble turns, or how terrible I am at breaststroke – "

"So? From the first day of joining the team, you've treated me like a rival."

"Friendly rivalry, you complete idiot!" Thomas snaps. "That's what you do in a team – you push each other to try harder, but you help when people need it!"

"Don't call me an idiot!"

"You are! You're a snob, too. Too good for the rest of us, won't give us the time of day. You've had private swim coaching since you were old enough to crawl, but you'll be damned if you give a few bits of advice to your team mates."

"Shut up!"

"Or what?"

James punches him.

Hard.

Thomas staggers backwards. James takes a step backward too, realising what he's just done. He hadn't been able to help it. Besides, the rest of the team – still towelling off after practice – is right there. What's James supposed to do, just let Thomas get away with calling him names in front of everyone?

He waits for Thomas to retaliate, or spit insults at him, but instead he looks at James in disbelief, holding a hand to his nose, blood tricking through his fingers.

And then he starts to cry.

"What did you do that for?" another team mate shouts at James. They're all coming over now, fussing over Thomas, asking if he's all right.

"I didn't mean to," James mutters. "It was an accident."

"How do you accidentally punch someone, you prat?"

Saltworth is storming over now, seeing what all the commotion is about, and James almost winces in anticipation.

"What happened?" she demands.

"Potter punched Pearson!"

"He started it!" James says quickly.

Saltworth looks at Thomas – blood and tears smeared across his face – and then stares at James.


James returns to the dormitory later that night, in a furious mood. McGonagall had given him the usual disapproving look and lecture — and then informed him that he'd actually been shortlisted to attend the European Schools Swimming Championship. Now, Saltworth has removed him from all competitions.

It had been enough to make his blood boil, and he'd made no attempt to disguise his anger. McGonagall had gotten very sharp with him then, and told him that any more misbehaviour would result in his removal from the swim team for the rest of the term.

He rants to the other boys about it. "It's so unfair! Thomas picks a fight with me, then I finally snap and somehow I'm the one who gets in trouble for it. D'you know what Thomas got? Nothing. Not even a single detention."

"Well, I think he was just trying to ask if you could help out a little on the team," Iwan offers. James gives him an irritated look.

"Yeah, and he was so nice about it." He turns back to Paul, Martin, and Nate. "And he actually cried when I punched him. Cried. You wouldn't catch me crying like a little baby over one punch."

"I dunno," Nate says. "You're always doing a bunch of that strength training stuff for swimming. I probably wouldn't just brush it off if you punched me either."

"Plus you're supposed to be his friend," Iwan adds, and James turns to gape at him.

"What?"

"His friend. We're all on the same team, we've spent a year training together. We're all supposed to be friends."

"With Thomas? He's Slytherin, I hope you remember. Probably take all my advice, then stab me in the back the moment I've turned around. Anyway, I've got nothing in common with anyone on the team."

Iwan says nothing to that, although he gets a certain look on his face before he gets up and starts making a pot of hot chocolate, his back turned to them. Martin and Paul exchange a look, then start talking about Paul's Quidditch practice.

James moodily puts on his cloak, preparing to leave for his first detention of the year.


The first month of school passes quickly. To James's dismay, Sprout is very pleased with their results for the second year project – the adopted plants – and wants them to continue their care for their chosen plant.

"Potter, come here," she tells him as the others rush to search the shelves of potted plants for their projects. "Look."

It's the Oversensitive Cactus. James had spent a very long time trying to recover it last term, but had given up and it had certainly affected his final grade. However, now it seems to have come back to life, looking quite sickly but nevertheless battling valiantly onwards.

"I nursed it back to health," Sprout says proudly.

"Oh. Uh…thanks, but it's okay. I can pick another plant this time…"

The cactus droops slightly. Sprout frowns at him.

"…because…I feel that…the cactus deserves a lot more care than I can give it," James finishes weakly.

"Nonsense! You spent quite a lot of time trying to rescue the poor dear," Sprout says briskly.

"No, that's okay, I – "

"Nearly brought it back to life, you did – I just did a bit of care during the summer holidays, that's all. Go on, give it a pat," Sprout says encouragingly.

"…right." James puts on his gardening gloves, gives the cactus a reserved look, then reaches out and very gingerly pats it. Sprout nods approvingly.

"Wonderful. Well, you two will get along like a house on fire." She gives him another cheerful look before leaving.

Yeah, James thinks disparagingly. Lots of panic and shouting for help.

"People are idiots," he tells it. "You have the right idea, being a cactus."

It seems rather pleased with that remark, straightening up slightly.

James gives it another very careful pat.


It's useless anyway, he thinks. The cactus will probably have another near-death experience sometime in the very foreseeable future. As the weeks pass, its health certainly seems to take a turn.

On the day of Halloween, he spends the lunch hour in one of the Herbology greenhouses, tending to it. It's looking very sickly. Someone put a little pumpkin next to it and for whatever reason, this seems to have greatly offended the cactus.

"So what? It's just a pumpkin. Get over it," James says, picking the pumpkin up and tossing it aside. The cactus immediately turns an awful black colour and begins to shrivel up, and James panics. "No – I mean – I was talking about myself. Calling myself an idiot. Not you. You're not an idiot. You wouldn't do something as stupid as getting kicked out of every major swimming competition, would you?"

Footsteps. James glances up – he wouldn't be caught dead in here, speaking aloud to an annoyed cactus and giving it awkward compliments.

But fortunately, it's only Rose.

"Oh, hello," she says cheerfully. "Didn't expect to find you here." She picks up a plant that James recognises as Scorpius's basil plant.

"What're you doing with that?" he asks.

"Hmm? Oh, I promised Scorpius I'd check on it. Oh, look! I think it's trying to grow even taller," Rose says with excitement. "You're trying, aren't you?" she coos at it. "Yes, you are. You look so lovely…"

"Don't encourage it," James says sharply. "And since when did you start doing favours for Scorpius Malfoy?"

Rose straightens up slightly and gives him a guarded look. "We share Herbology with the Ravenclaws, if you remember, and Scorpius has let me borrow a few books on growing flowers. My project plant is a Lovesick Daisy and they can be very temperamental."

"So? It's Malfoy."

Rose crosses her arms. "He's very nice, you know – "

"You have got to be kidding me! You fancy Scorpius Malfoy?"

"What? Are you mental? I said he seemed nice! How is that, in any way – "

"Oh, that's right," James says recklessly, "you've got a crush on Andrew."

Rose turns crimson. "I – I do not! Who told you that? They're lying!"

"Don't think so, it was a pretty reliable source."

There's a slight pause, then Rose's embarrassment gives way to anger. Her eyes narrow. "Hugo," she says. "I'll kill him."

"Stop talking to Scorpius Malfoy! You're my cousin, you're supposed to be on my side!"

"I'll talk to whomever I please!" Rose snatches up her bag and begins to stride away.

"Or I'll tell everyone that you're spending every night crying over pictures of Andrew!"

Rose pauses then and turns back to him, looking horrified. "You wouldn't!"

"I would," James says grimly.

"But – you – what is your problem? If Teddy or Uncle Harry could see you now, they'd be so disappointed. You can be so mean sometimes!"

"Good thing they're not here, then," James retorts, and Rose gives him a furious look before turning on her heel and storming away.

He stands in silence, biting the inside of his cheek so hard that he tastes blood. Before him, his cactus is slowly wilting again.

"What?" James tells it sharply, but his voice trembles and he furiously swipes a sleeve across his eyes. Weak, weak, so weak, he tells himself. Oh, he thinks it's pathetic that Thomas cries from a punch, but here James stands, tears forming at the thought of Teddy thinking how sad and pathetic James's life really is. And his father…always speaking about James's imaginary friends, about how popular he must be…believing all those stupid letters James sends about his supposed successes. Don't you dare cry, James tells himself.

He swallows the lump in his throat and blinks rapidly, staring at the cactus.

It's still wilting.


October passes by quickly for Harry; it's the first week of November when he begins the final stage of the surveillance and he wonders where on earth all the time has gone. And on the fifteenth of November – Scorpius's birthday, Harry remembers idly – he's spending another late night at the office, hunched over his desk, intently finishing some paperwork. Usually he'd be the last to leave, but today there's quite a few lamplights scattering the desks around the room. Everyone's doing overtime these days.

"Potter."

He glances up. Williamson stands before him, his grizzled face half-hidden in shadows. "Might I have a word?"

"Of course, sir." Harry stands up and follows Williamson to his office. As he steps into the room, Williamson closing the door behind him, Harry realises this isn't a usual quick conversation about Operation Helios (as they've called it). Hopkins, one of the senior Aurors, is sitting on a chair pulled up beside the desk, and Cuthbert is hovering nearby, quill and parchment in hand.

"Am I in some sort of trouble?" Harry says, frowning. Did he miss a debriefing? Is there a problem with the evidence?

Williamson laughs, his half-cough bark of a laugh, and gestures for Harry to sit. "Quite the opposite, Potter," he says.

Harry sits down, still feeling slightly unnerved. Williamson makes his way to the other side of the desk and sits down heavily, the chair groaning under his weight. He rests his hands on the desk, the gnarled fingers hooking around each other.

"I was sixty-two when we last had a conversation like this. Now I'm sixty-four." Williamson exhales slowly. "The years add up quick if you don't pay attention. How long have you been here, Hopkins?"

"Too long," Hopkins says, and they all smile, perhaps with a trace of wryness. It's the standard Auror response to that question.

"Sounds about right." Williamson looks across the desk and Harry follows his gaze. There's a postcard from Spain resting atop some files. "Spend a lot of time dreaming about my boat, you know. Spent years restoring that old girl. Proper sailing boat, it is. Those long nights – you know how it is, lying in a muddy field wondering when the next spell's coming – I kept thinking, 'one day I'll be sailing over the Channel and this'll be nothing but a faded memory'. Well, I reckon that 'one day' has finally come."

"You're…you're retiring?" Harry asks. He's surprised. Of course a few people wondered about Williamson's inevitable retirement, but they had it estimated for two or three years from now. Harry thought Williamson would probably mentor him for a lot longer.

"I've paid my dues." Williamson looks down at his hands, at the scar-crossed skin, the ruined fingertips and cratered knuckles. "I just want to live in my little cottage near Cornwall and sail my boat. I've earned my rest."

"You have, definitely," Harry says, still taken aback. "But…well, we all thought you weren't going to retire this soon."

"Shacklebolt wanted me to see the end to Operation Helios but let's be realistic, Potter. We're probably still a long way away from that, especially if we're aiming to hook the bosses instead of the underlings." Williamson leans forward, his eyes shining beetle-black in the shadowed cragginess of his face. "It's time, I reckon, for me to sail my boat. And for you to lead the team."

"Right...right now?"

"You'll want some time to think about it, I'd wager. Got that little boy of yours to think about. Little James."

Harry smiles. "Not so little anymore. He'll be turning fourteen soon."

"My word!" Williamson's eyebrows – or at least, what's left of them – rise. "Seems only yesterday we were all chipping in a few sickles to buy you a congratulations card on the day he was born."

"Time flies," Hopkins adds gravely.

"Don't it just." Williamson nods at Cuthbert. "Making notes on this?"

"On James?" Cuthbert seems lost; Williamson laughs, another deep growly laugh, and Harry gives Cuthbert a dry look.

"The official offer of promotion to Head Auror," Hopkins says reprovingly.

"Oh! Yes, sir."

"Good," Williamson says. "Very good. We'll have it all written up official, like. All right, Potter. Don't rush your decision. Now go on, go home. You've been here since early this morning."

"Yes, sir. Thank you, sir," Harry adds, shaking his hand and nodding to the others. "I'll see you tomorrow."

He turns and leaves, goes to his desk, and picks up his cloak. As he leaves the office and walks to the fireplace, his colleagues call out their goodbyes.

"Off already, Potter?"

"See you tomorrow, then."

Harry manages to throw a pinch of Floo powder into the flames, reappear in the connective fireplace – a disused hearth in a boarded-up house in Chichester – and calmly Apparate home before he finally allows himself to laugh, overwhelmed with happiness.

He finally made it.

Head Auror.

Everything is perfect now.

Chapter Text

The water is the only place where James feels okay these days. He lives for the mornings where all he can see is the lake, stretching on limitless beneath a grey dawn sky, and all he can hear is the sound of his breathing, counting each exhale, each inhale, and all he can feel is the water around him.

Or maybe it's just easier to convince himself that he likes it this way, just him alone.

Because he's certainly not making any friends in his classes, even his new electives. Care of Magical Creatures bores him, and he thinks Divination is a complete waste of time. And he has to share the class with Scorpius. Worst luck, one afternoon Trelawney pairs everyone up for tea-leaf readings and they get stuck with each other.

They scowl at each other across the low table. James isn't in the best mood anyway – how on earth, on a chilly November day, does Trelawney manage to make the classroom so stuffy and warm? He swats away a curl of incense smoke, downs his cup of tea in a quick gulp, and looks down at the leaves.

"You've got a skull," he lies. "Nothing good for your future, then."

"We're supposed to swap cups. You're reading your own future," Scorpius snaps.

James is embarrassed at his mistake, and it certainly doesn't help his temper.

"Fine. What's my future say?" He shoves his cup across the table, but Scorpius doesn't look at it. He gives James a look of seething resentment and leans forward, speaking quietly, each word an icy needle.

"Did you tell Rose Weasley to stop speaking to me?"

"She's my cousin. Stop trying to steal my family, get your own."

"And you told your father not to give me any Quidditch advice?"

A wave of fury washes over James. "Did he tell you that?"

"I figured it out. You're pathetic, did you know that?"

"Shut up," James hisses. "I told you to stay away from me! And my family, and that includes all my cousins."

"At least Teddy's still replying to my letters," Scorpius retorts. "And don't forget he's my blood cousin. Not actually related to you at all, is he?"

"Shut up, or I'll make you shut up!"

"Right. You can barely perform second year charms, so that's not much of a threat."

That hits a sore spot. James has already served an alarming number of detentions and his grades aren't exactly spectacular. Flitwick mentioned remedial Charms lessons last week, which sent James into a wild panic. He can't stand the humiliation of anyone finding out how stupid he really is; he'd begged Flitwick to give him another chance to improve.

James glances once at Trelawney, making sure she's out of earshot, then whispers the spell, his wand half-hidden in his sleeve.

"Ardere."

Scorpius jumps as the spell hits his bookbag. It immediately begins to smoke alarmingly and Scorpius leaps to his feet, wand already in hand as a small flame begins to lick along the bag, paper disintegrating beneath it.

"Aguamenti!" Water spills from his wand, putting out the small flames, and Trelawney rushes over.

"What happened?" she demands.

"Nothing," Scorpius mutters.

"My dear boy, possessions don't simply burst into flames! Unless…sometimes the mysterious fates deliver messages in ways unfathomable to our minds…"

"Yes, perhaps it was a message," James says brightly and Trelawney looks gratified. Scorpius, on the other hand, looks furious.

"You'll pay for that," he whispers to James as Trelawney launches into a monologue about the mysteries of the unknown.

"Whatever," James, pouring as much dismissal into his tone as possible.

It works. Scorpius's eyes narrow dangerously.

They both finish the lesson in sullen silence.


Things definitely take a turn for the worse after that. In the hallways, they always glare at each other, jostle each other, send books falling and bags spilling. In the classrooms, they sabotage each other's work: Scorpius insults the Oversensitive Cactus and makes it wilt ferociously, while James uses a jinx to knock over Scorpius's inkwell in Divination, ruining all of his notes. In Potions, the last class shared with the Ravenclaws, Scorpius conjures a breeze when James isn't looking, sending the pages of his textbook rustling over to the wrong page, and James ends up making a catastrophic mistake. His potion explodes and Slughorn immediately vanishes it, waddling over to James alarmingly fast.

"Good heavens, Potter! What did you do?"

"Nothing," James says between gritted teeth, giving Scorpius a venomous look. He might be worthless at schoolwork, useless at making friends, and generally seen as a disappointment, but he's still got his pride and he won't be known as a tattle-tale. "Suppose I lost my concentration."

"A very careless mistake! Detention, my dear boy." Slughorn shakes his head, looking tragic, as if James's apparent stupidity actually causes him physical pain.

James gets his revenge, though, like he promised himself he would. After all, he was Scorpius's best friend – once. Scorpius has always strived to be accepted by others, to seek validation and approval. When other people celebrate his successes, he's happier than a soaring dragon; when he fails, his whole world crashes down. James just has to figure out how to make Scorpius fail.

And come Saturday, the perfect chance presents itself.


James watches the Quidditch match unfold, feeling rather bored. He's only here to dutifully support Rose, though he wonders what the point is, really. It's not like she can see him in the crowd of red and gold, or pick out his voice among the other loud cheers. Beside him, Martin and Nate jump up and down, hollering the names of the players and shouting encouragement. Rose circles overhead, evidently still searching for the snitch.

This match has gone on forever, and he's still got to serve detention with Slughorn today. Probably cleaning cauldrons, James thinks with a wince. He'd rather sit in McGonagall's office and sort through ancient student records. Or help Sprout water the plants, or organise star-charts under Sinistra's supervision, or even groom the Hippogriffs as Grubbly-Plank lectures him about paying attention in class…

Come to think of it, James realises miserably, he's practically an expert on detentions.

"Go Rose! Go!" Martin roars, startling James and nearly making him fall over. Nate begins hopping about as if someone's cast a dancing hex on him.

"She's spotted the snitch! We're going to win!"

James looks about, then spies Rose and Scorpius. They're neck-to-neck, racing for the elusive snitch.

A thought creeps into his mind.

He glances quickly at the students around him, but they're all staring up at the sky, enthralled in the chase. Heart beating wildly, James draws his wand before he has a chance to really think about it.

"Inversus," James whispers. He can just see the faint bubble of light leave his wand and drift into the sky. Against the clouded wintry grey, it's hardly visible. People would only see it, James thinks, if they were actively looking for it. It trails Scorpius like a hungry Dementor, then finally catches up to him.

He can see the exact moment it hits Scorpius. Rose is looping around the goalposts, chasing the snitch, and Scorpius – just a little in front of her – suddenly stops and reels. The commentator – a seventh year Slytherin – pauses.

"It appears the Ravenclaw Seeker is having some sort of problem…"

Scorpius shakes his head, as if trying to clear his mind, and turns sharply, immediately taking off in the opposite direction to Rose. She's still chasing the snitch, clearly focused entirely upon her task, but the Gryffindors start to laugh and the Ravenclaws' cheers die away.

"Where's he going?" Martin asks, looking bewildered.

"Maybe he saw the snitch change direction?"

"No way, Rose is still going after it!"

Scorpius turns, looks at Rose – little more than a blur of scarlet robes as she darts about the pitch – and then turns and flies again in the complete opposite direction.

"Turn around! Wrong way!" the Ravenclaw students are shouting now. "Malfoy! Turn around!"

Scorpius pauses again, looks about – one of his team's Chasers moves towards him, a concerned expression on their face – but then Scorpius darts away again, flying higher, higher –

"He's gone mental! What's he doing? Look, Rose is about to catch the snitch!" Martin says, laughing.

Rose does. She reaches out, her fingers closing around the glimmer of gold. The commentator duly notes it: "And it looks like Weasley has caught the snitch! That's a clear win for the Gryffindors!"

The Quidditch players descend, landing on the pitch to cheer loudly (in the Gryffindors' case) or debrief (the Ravenclaws looking disappointed). However, Scorpius is still flying well above the pitch; his fellow team mates frown, exchanging conversation and pointing upwards with puzzled expressions. Madam Hooch blows her whistle sharply, signalling for Scorpius to return to the pitch.

He does.

He turns, looking about, then dives sharply downwards.

"What's he…what's he doing…?" Martin asks, squinting upwards and frowning.

"I…I don't know," James says, fear suddenly knotting in his stomach. The jinx was only designed for short periods of time, surely it should have worn off by now…

Scorpius shows no sign of slowing down. His team mates begin to look distinctly panicked.

"Is he trying a Wronski Feint or something?" Nate asks.

"The game's over. What – oh no, he's going to hit the ground!" Martin looks on with a horrified expression. He's right. Scorpius isn't slowing down. He's going to smash into the ground at full speed.

But at the last minute, Scorpius tumbles from his broom. He hits the ground hard and everyone winces, but after a long moment – team mates rushing over – Scorpius slowly gets to his feet, looking bruised and shaken but otherwise all right. He looks over his shoulder at his broom; it had continued on in its journey and, upon impact with the pitch, splintered badly.

Madam Hooch rushes over. McGonagall joins the little group shortly afterwards. Everyone should be celebrating, but the spectator stands are silent. Everyone's watching the scene unfold.

McGonagall gets out her wand and casts a spell. A golden glow surrounds Scorpius, then fades. He gives another little shake of his head, then turns, tilting his face upwards. Looking towards the Gryffindor stands, James realises, panic beginning to set in. No. They've never tattled on each other – James didn't go running to the professors about Scorpius hexing him, after all – but then, in a horrible, horrible moment, Scorpius raises his arm and points straight at James.

The students on either side of James turn and stare at him.

"What did you do?" Martin asks, his voice far too loud in the silence.

"I…nothing. I didn't do anything." James wishes he could just disappear.

"What did you do?"

Down on the pitch, McGonagall stares at James. She doesn't shout, or speak at all. She doesn't have to. By this stage, the words Potter. My office are practically ingrained into James's mind.

He turns and begins making his way slowly down the steps, the stares of the other students heavy upon him.


James is used to McGonagall's lectures, but this one is particularly awful. She spends quite some time discussing the finer points of his personality, none of which are particularly favourable, then goes on to explain exactly how James has muddied the reputation of the Gryffindor house, and finally finishes with a suggestion that James can explain to his fellow Gryffindors why the match has now been ruled a forfeit and why fifty points have been docked from the house.

And then she removes James from the swim team.

"I have no other choice," she tells him. "You were warned about this as a consequence of any further misbehaviour, Potter."

He gets further punishment from his fellow students. It's one thing to feel a little isolated. It's another thing, however, to have the entire Gryffindor house furious with him.

Nobody is speaking to James. They seem to have reached an unspoken agreement to ignore him as a collective punishment. Nobody sits next to him in class anymore, nobody greets him in the common room, nobody passes him the pumpkin juice in the Great Hall. Only Iwan seems to have any sort of cheerfulness still remaining towards James.

"Want a hot chocolate?" Iwan asks James one night, heating a saucepan of milk as the other boys prepare for bed.

"Don't talk to him," Martin says sharply. "Nobody's allowed to talk to him or even look at him. It's what he gets for making us forfeit the match. And now we're losing the House Cup."

Iwan laughs. "Seems a bit stupid to me. Ignoring people like that. I thought we all outgrew that stuff in primary school."

"It's not funny!" Paul snaps. He's taken the Quidditch forfeit especially hard. "He's a complete idiot who doesn't care if his house wins or loses – he thinks landing a hex on someone is more important. Selfish, selfish, selfish," he rages.

"I said I was sorry!" James interjects, but Paul just continues in his furious tirade.

"I worked so hard during that match – spent weeks training – the whole team gave it our best and do you know what the worst part is? We could've genuinely won that match. But I suppose we'll never know."

"Yeah. And maybe you think it's childish of us to ignore certain people," Martin tells Iwan, "but I think it's more childish – and quite pathetic, really – for people to cling to first year grudges."

"If you've got something to say, say it to my face!" James snarls.

"All right, I will!" Martin turns to him. "Grow up, James! Everyone else has gotten over the stupid death-descendant thing except you."

"And might I add that you're a complete disappointment to the Gryffindor house," Paul adds angrily.

"Oh, come on, leave him alone," Iwan begins.

"I don't need your help," James snaps at him. "Stay out of it."

Iwan looks at him for a long moment. "No wonder you have no friends," he says at last.

"I don't want any friends," James retorts, standing up and grabbing his bookbag. "Especially any of you."

"Congratulations, then," Iwan says flatly. "You've succeeded."

James storms from the dormitory, making his way through the common room. Rose is by the fireplace, playing card games with her friends and laughing, but when she sees James she narrows her eyes. She's been absolutely fuming ever since she learned that James cost her the Quidditch win.

"What do you want?" she says sharply.

"Nothing."

"Good," Rose snaps. "I've got nothing to say to you."

"Good," he retorts.

Rose gives him a look, then sighs and sits down, turning back to her game. "Honestly, he's such a prat…" she says to her friends.

James opens the portrait and sets off down the corridor. Don't cry, he tells himself. Only children cry. Weeping over stupid things like little fights and lost wands. Harry's never cried, not once. Not when he came home with a broken leg from a raid gone wrong, or when he had to stay at St Mungo's overnight with a six-inch gash across his chest from a wild baby dragon, or when Andromeda had a heart attack five years ago and they had to wait for hours before the Healers could say whether she'd be all right or not. Harry has probably never cried in his whole life.

Don't cry, he tells himself sternly.

Don't cry.

Don't.

But his vision blurs regardless, and a painful lump forms in his throat, and he ducks into the nearest room – a disused classroom – and, hating himself immensely for all his pathetic weaknesses – he sits among the dusty desks and neatly-stacked chairs and sobs like he's five years old again, afraid of monsters beneath the bed.

But he's older now, and nobody's going to hold his hand and smile at him and say everything will be all right.

It's just him alone now.


At least James gets a break at Christmas. He goes home, and Teddy arrives a few days later, bundled up in layers of cloaks and scarves and mittens; he's spent the past few weeks on assignment in Greece and apparently he's adjusted too well to the warm Mediterranean sun. James, busy carrying armfuls of presents to the tree, catches a glimpse of Teddy stepping through the front door.

"Cuz!" Teddy shouts joyously. "Get in here and give me a proper greeting! Hugs and tearful welcomes and presents and all that!"

James, stupidly, almost wants to cry at the sight of his cousin. A face that's happy to see him. The closest he has to a friend right now.

"I missed you," James says before he can help himself, and Teddy laughs.

"Course you did." He races over to James, discarding mittens and scarves as he goes, and sweeps him into a hug. "Ha! Got you!"

"Not fair, you surprised me!" James struggles wildly, but Teddy just laughs as he manages to wrest James into a headlock and deliver a well-fought hair tousle. After a moment, he lets go and James straightens up, smoothing down his hair and giving Teddy a look.

"Great Merlin's beard, you've grown," Teddy says in amazement.

"Not that much," James says doubtfully.

"But...you used to be all lanky! All elbows and grazed knees! What happened to your noodle arms? You've filled out! Harry, what happened to your son?"

Harry, walking past with armfuls of tinsel, laughs. "All that swimming has finally paid off, I suppose."

"And his voice is breaking! Listen to it!"

"Shut up," James says self-consciously.

"Well, at least your hair still looks like an enraged mop. Some things will never change."

No, some things won't, James thinks, and he's very grateful that despite the changes throughout their lives – James still at Hogwarts, Teddy getting a job and traveling to the other side of the world – that Teddy still comes barreling through the front door and tousles James's hair as if they'll always be young children.

James fall into the routine as easily as falling asleep in his childhood bed. Andromeda is at the kitchen table, humming along to the Wizarding Wireless; Harry is arranging the gifts beneath the Christmas tree. It's like every Christmas and it brings back a thousand December memories, of the familiar voices of relatives and family friends, the smell of cinnamon and nutmeg, the sound of logs popping and cracking in the fireplace. Teddy is spilling flour everywhere, like he does every year, and there's a smudge of molasses on James's elbow and his shoulders straighten a little, as if a weight has been momentarily lifted.

For a while, he forgets his failing grades, and his lack of friends, and his grudge with Scorpius, and the way Harry doesn't reply much to his letters these days, and how Teddy's growing up and moving away, and his ceaseless anxiety over his swimming, and how much he misses the water and friends and summer and fireworks and his childhood.

Yes, he forgets these things.

For a while.


Christmas Day comes and goes. They go to the Burrow, the cousins drifting about like snowflakes. James can barely remember half of them – sometimes it feels like there's a new cousin every year. He finds a cosy armchair by the fire, hoping to read his new comic, but it takes his relatives all of three seconds to ambush him. Little Roxanne runs into him, wrapping her arms around his leg; Lucy tries to climb into his lap, smearing her sticky fingers on his robes. He ends up losing his temper, snapping at both of them and dumping Lucy unceremoniously on the floor. Roxanne's lip trembles; Lucy begins crying.

"What are you crying about?" someone asks, and James looks up. Finally, the calvary has arrived: Teddy. He languidly picks up Lucy, lifting her up and back onto her feet.

"James is being mean!" she sobs.

"I wouldn't be happy either if I had your grubby little fingers in my hair," Teddy says, smiling. "Go wash your hands and we'll have a game of Exploding Snap."

Lucy stops crying, although she still sniffles a little. "Okay," she agrees.

"I wanna play too!" Roxanne pipes up, and Teddy ruffles her hair.

"All right. Everyone can play. But first, I want a word with my cuz."

They race away. Teddy sits down in the armchair opposite James.

"They all adore you," he laughs.

"Yeah, great."

"Well…I'll admit some of them are best in small doses."

A sudden thought occurs to James and he looks at Teddy with fear. "I wasn't…I was never like that, was I? I mean, I've never annoyed you or made you wish I'd just go away…"

Teddy gives him a slight smile. "Did I ever make you feel unwanted?"

"No," James says slowly, "but that doesn't answer the question."

Teddy's smile widens then, and he laughs. "You never miss a thing, do you, cuz?" He leans back a little in the armchair, his usual sign for settling down for a story, but when he speaks next it's not of octopuses under the house or goblin-kings. "Victoire graduated last year," he notes. "You and Rose are the oldest cousins at Hogwarts now."

James hadn't thought of that before. "Are we?" he says uncomfortably.

"Well, Rose is six months younger than you. So I suppose you're the eldest."

"Right," James says uncertainly.

"The baton of responsibility has passed to you," Teddy says solemnly. "I am going to impart a very important lesson, young James."

"Is this about my grades?"

Teddy blinks. "What? No. Anyway – "

"Has Dad said something to you?"

"No. Stop interrupting, that's the first part of the lesson. No, in all seriousness, I'm going to tell you something that my nan told me when you were born. Are you listening?"

"I'm listening."

"Good. So, the day you were born…I was so happy. You've always had loads of cousins, hanging around like Christmas decorations, but back then…well, it sucks being an only child. I wanted a little brother or sister more than anything else, and the day I met you…well, my wish got granted. I had a little brother."

James looks down at his lap, not wanting Teddy to see how affected he is by those words. "Cousin, you mean," he says, trying to sound light-hearted.

"I've got plenty of cousins. Roxanne and Lucy and all the rest," Teddy says, "but you've always been my little brother."

God, if James actually starts crying now, he'll have to Avada Kedavra himself from sheer embarrassment. He clears his throat instead and pretends to be distracted by a loose thread on a cushion.

"Anyway," Teddy continues, "I finally get to hold you – you were so tiny – and I'm thrilled, of course, but Nan keeps telling me it's a big responsibility, being an older brother. And she says – and I've always remembered this – 'any decision you make, Teddy, you make twice. Once, when you do it. And twice, when James sees you doing it and copies you'. And whenever I've had to make a choice, I've always remembered that. How I treat other people will set the standard for how you treat them, and how I treat you will be how you let others treat you, too."

James glances up. Teddy's looking at him earnestly, as if waiting for a nod of understanding from him.

"That's not true," James mutters at last. "You always treat people really nicely, like they're your best friend. And I…I don't."

Teddy smiles. "What, you mean telling Lucy to get lost? Come on, cuz, don't be so hard on yourself. We all have bad days. Nobody's perfect."

James hesitates, opens his mouth, then closes it again. "What's that?" he asks instead, pointing to an object in Teddy's hand. It looks like a billiard ball, except it's completely black.

"Hm? Oh, this? Confiscated it from Hugo, the little mischief-maker. It's a prototype prank your Uncle Ron's been working on."

"What's it do?" James asks curiously.

"Well, it's supposed to leave a cool temporary tattoo," Teddy says, holding the ball out to James. "You throw it at someone, it becomes whatever you want it to become. Rose thought it would be cute to give herself a butterfly design on her ankle – Hermione's not happy about it."

"Why?" James asks, turning the ball over in his hands. It makes a little squishy noise.

Teddy grins. "There's one little problem with it. It takes a month or so to fade."

"Ha. Serves Rose right for trying out a prototype," James says, handing the ball back.

"Well, Hermione seemed pretty angry at Ron about it, so I figured out a solution." Teddy grins and pulls the leg of his jeans up a little, revealing a little butterfly on his ankle. "Couldn't get rid of it, but I could transfer it. Here, I'll teach you the spell – it'll come in handy if Hugo tries anything on you. Something tells me the little toerag has a supply somewhere."

James smiles and tries to focus on this moment, here and now, learning spells with his favourite cousin.

But the shadow of his failures wraps its hands around his heart as he recalls Teddy's words.

Every decision you make, you make twice.


Draco thinks Scorpius has been especially withdrawn during this Christmas break, but he has a surprise he's certain Scorpius will love. And come Christmas Day, when Scorpius unwraps his presents, Draco is proven right. The usual gifts – new sets of robes, quite a few books, boxes of sweets – are appreciated as always, but Scorpius seems awestruck by the last gift.

A brand new Starfire Century.

Draco had scrimped and saved like mad to afford it; he had ended up selling some of Narcissa's jewellery to get the last of the money. It had been a bit painful, selling his mother's jewellery, but perhaps it's better this way. After all, it was just gathering dust in his parents' bedroom, and he likes to imagine that out there somewhere, it's now glittering beneath the light of a chandelier again, the new possession of a proud girl.

Besides, it's all worth it, in this moment, to see Scorpius's face light up. He lifts the broom reverently from its case, the tissue paper rustling around it.

"A Century?" Scorpius says, gazing with awe at the words on the broom handle, the letters inlaid in gold.

"Of course," Draco says, smiling. "Since you mentioned your last broom was destroyed during training. I hope you'll be a bit more careful with this one."

Scorpius is delighted and, despite the chilly December weather, spends the rest of the day flying about in the gardens, doing loops and practicing dives. He comes in during the evening time, when dusk is settling upon the sky, and curls up in an armchair by the fire with one of his new books. Draco sits nearby, writing out a thank-you note to a family – very pleased with their received family tree – for the bottle of wine they sent for Christmas. The fire crackles merrily in the grate, the Christmas tree twinkling in the corner of the room, and Draco thinks it's an excellent way to end the day.

But he forgets how Scorpius is no longer a small child, awed by gifts and convinced they simply magically appear beneath the tree, for – as he's waxing the broom carefully and admiring the shine of it – he looks across the room at Draco and and frowns slightly.

"These are really expensive, aren't they?"

"Well worth the price," Draco reassures him. "The quality is worth every galleon."

"How much was it?"

Draco blinks. "It was affordable," he says slowly, and Scorpius looks back down at the broom lying across his lap.

"A year ago, we couldn't afford a new broom at all," he says, "let alone a Starfire Century."

"Well, I found a few galleons here and there," Draco says, standing up and seeking an escape from the conversation. Scorpius shouldn't be worrying about money – that's Draco's job. "It's fine. Come on, we'll go have some peppermint tea."

Scorpius drops the subject at least, setting the Starfire aside and following Draco to the kitchen. He sits at the table, idly playing with Monopoly pieces.

"What piece do you play?" he asks Draco.

"The top hat, of course."

Scorpius smiles a little. "That's my favourite piece too."

"Must run in the Malfoy blood." Draco sits opposite him, pleased that Scorpius isn't worrying over the cost of his gifts anymore. "Shall we play a game?"

They while away the last few hours of the evening in the cosy warmth of the kitchen, playing Monopoly, and Draco is happy to let Scorpius win.


Over the rest of the Christmas break, Scorpius seems content to read his books and wander about the manor gardens, watching the ice-roses bloom into glittering petals, and – during New Years Eve – he's invited to a party. The invitation comes from a Ravenclaw friend, the same year as Scorpius, but even so Draco is very suspicious. New Years Eve parties, in his opinion, are certainly not the domain of thirteen and fourteen year olds. Additionally, the invitation clearly states parents are welcome too and Scorpius is actually happy about that.

"You can come too!" he tells Draco. "So we'll both have friends."

That particular comment circles Draco's mind like a bothersome fly for a while, and after careful thought he accepts the invitation and thusly finds himself venturing out the door at six o'clock on the evening of December thirty-first, Scorpius by his side, and wondering exactly what hell he's about to put himself through.

But the party is surprisingly bearable. A large group of parents welcome Draco into their midst and they stand around drinking wine and complaining about their respective children, while Scorpius disappears to find his friends. Draco's suspicions about age-appropriate activities soon disappear; evidently, a thirteen-year-old's idea of a New Years Eve party is to toast marshmallows in the fireplace and giggle over stupid games like Exploding Snap. Scorpius does ask Draco for a drink of champagne, though.

"Jennifer's father is letting her have a glass," he says forlornly.

"Well, I'm not Jennifer's father, am I?"

"No," Scorpius agrees, but he looks so dejected that Draco compromises and lets him have a sip from Draco's own glass. Scorpius crinkles his nose. "Oh," he says. "I thought it would be like fizzy cordial." Looking disappointed, he returns to his group of friends.

Draco turns back to the conversations around him. Another parent comes over and spends quite some time looking at Draco as if trying to remember him from somewhere.

Death Eater…murderer…the war… He waits for the curl of a lip, the contemptuous shake of a head.

"Say, do you know Gwen?" the parent says at last.

Draco's taken aback. "What?"

"Gwendolyn Gagebrook? She said she'd commissioned a family tree from some bloke called…uh…"

"Malfoy?" Draco tries doubtfully. He remembers Gwen. She was the mother whose children attended that birthday party.

"Yes! That's the one!"

"Pleased to meet you," he offers suspiciously, but the parent enthusiastically starts chatting about the business of genealogy, and Draco ends up actually having a nice conversation. Being sociable, he realises, and he's not quite sure whether he should be pleased about that or not. In any case, though, the evening is ruined at about eleven o'clock when Scorpius reappears again, this time to quietly tug at Draco's sleeve as if he's a young child again.

"Can we go home?" he mumbles.

Draco, still chatting to other parents, pauses. "In a minute," he says.

"I want to go home," Scorpius repeats quietly and Draco sighs, excusing himself from the conversation briefly.

"What's the matter? Do you feel unwell?" he asks Scorpius, turning to look at him and realising that Scorpius looks quite pale and almost on the verge of tears.

Scorpius nods.

"Did you drink any more champagne?" Draco asks, frowning.

"No," Scorpius says, looking even more upset. "Can we please just leave?"

Draco nods and says his farewells to the other partygoers, thanks the host for the invitation, and then leaves, taking Scorpius home with a Side-Along Apparation. As they walk to the front doors of the manor, their feet crunching over gravel, he gets more and more suspicious until, once they've stepped into the front hall, he decides something is definitely wrong.

"What happened?" Draco demands.

"Nothing."

"Scorpius," Draco begins warningly, and Scorpius hesitates before mumbling something. "What?" Draco asks.

"Nothing. I just don't feel very well."

"Did somebody upset you?"

"No."

"Scorpius – "

"I just don't feel well," Scorpius repeats.

Draco pauses, still caught in the grip of indecision. He's acting like his mother, he thinks ruefully. Narcissa would be fussing exactly like this. And Draco, back when he was Scorpius's age, always hated it when she did that.

"All right," he says at last. "But if anyone's upset you, you'll tell me, won't you?"

"Yes."

"Good."

Scorpius goes to bed then, and Draco retires to his father's study. Lucius would disapprove of Draco's parenting, he thinks. He'd no doubt call it 'a lot of unnecessary fuss', as he often did when Narcissa fretted about Draco quarrelling with a friend or being challenged to a duel. Draco is perfectly capable of managing it himself, Lucius would say, and Draco would always be secretly proud of his father's words. His father believed in him.

Yes, he decides.

Scorpius will be perfectly fine.


Harry accompanies James to Kings Cross Station on the seventh of January, marking his son's return to Hogwarts. The platform is alight with energy and noise, as ever – tearful goodbyes, joyful greetings, loud chatter and laughter. Harry looks over the crowd for a long moment.

"Where's your friends?" he asks James, wondering if he'll ever eventually meet them.

"Suppose they boarded already." James shifts his bag over his shoulder.

Harry nods. "I know, it's not fair that they can't visit you over holidays," he says. "Maybe, for the summer holidays, you can arrange to visit them?"

"They live pretty far away."

"Well, I'm sure I could arrange a portkey." Harry smiles, but James doesn't return the gesture. "Maybe – damn it." He sighs and James looks at him.

"Called into work?"

"You know how it is." Harry takes the coin from his pocket, tapping his wand against it to stop the burning heat.

"Yeah," James says. "I know how it is." There's a bitterness in his voice – faint but definitely there – and Harry looks up sharply.

"For heaven's sake…look, I've got to go to work. Come on, don't act like this. I won't see you again until summer."

James crosses his arms and scowls. "What about Easter?"

"I…" Harry sighs again. "We've got a major project scheduled." It's the predicted time for finalising charges, if this major illegal potions deal finally gets delivered. "But we'll see."

"Great, so now you don't even want me home anymore."

"God, you can be so frustrating! That's not what I meant, James!" Harry looks upward in a gesture of entreatment. "Can you please just give me a break today?"

James looks at Harry, jaw clenched. Then he turns and leaves, striding across the platform, his bag slung over his shoulder.

Brilliant. Perfect. Harry's just been called into work, he's running late now, and James has decided to fulfil his duty as an argumentative teenager and leave without farewell.

Harry exhales sharply, shoulders tensed with stress, then turns and makes his way from the platform.


The school term marches on. James attends his classes, but he finds it hard to concentrate and he discovers the complete and abject misery of walking into a classroom and knowing nobody wants to sit next to him. Everyone has their favourite partner to pick in Potions, or to practice duels with in Charms, and it's not James. In Herbology, Paul gets into a bitter argument with James about the forfeited match and James destroys Paul's project.

He's sent to McGonagall's office. She adds another detention to his list. Detention for missing homework, detention for skipping class. He hates going to class so much that he starts using Skiving Snackboxes to make himself ill – especially to skip the classes shared with Scorpius. Scorpius is probably one of the worst triggers for James's temper. Quite a few times, they end up shoving past each other in the corridor – sometimes escalating to a few underhanded hexes and tripping jinxes, the other students unashamedly laughing and urging them to duel each other. They always stop whenever a professor arrives though – Scorpius seems keen to maintain his reputation as a perfectly behaved student and James wants to avoid another summons to McGonagall's office. He needs to win his swimming privileges back.

James spends nearly every morning by the lake, watching forlornly as his team mates laugh and jostle each on the pier. That first dive into the water, their fingertips breaking the surface, and James can almost feel the cool water rolling over his own hands…

"Stop torturing yourself," Thomas says one morning as he walks past James. "It's pitiful, seeing you sit there with an expression like Moaning Myrtle's. Go do some laps of the Quidditch pitch."

James does. He can't swim, but he can still train. It's not the same as swimming, but the exercise is a good outlet for his anger and he'll be ready when McGonagall allows him to swim again.

But February passes without a word from McGonagall. James's birthday comes and goes; his father sends him an unusually large amount of gifts and, in the birthday card, he sounds regretful. I hope you're enjoying the term so far, he's written. I'm looking forward to seeing you in summer.

James reads the words over and over. Summer. Just three months away. Everything will be fine.

He's fine.


And on the first of March, it becomes clear exactly how wrong that belief is.

He's having one of those days, where everything seems to go wrong. After classes have finished for the day, he finds himself in the owlery, writing a letter to Teddy. Sometimes, when he's having an absolutely terrible day, he looks at the postcard Teddy sent him so many months ago from the Rock of Gibraltar. They've dated the rock to 200 million years old, Teddy has written on the postcard. I find that oddly reassuring. There's a saying, 'solid as the Rock of Gibraltar', which means something is very safe.

James finds it reassuring too.

He picks up his quill, glancing at Teddy's latest letter. He's returned to the Mediterranean but he'll finish his assignment soon; he's written excitedly of all the sights he's seen, the friends he's made and experiences he's had. Teddy's always been like that, James thinks. He makes friends so easily.

He lifts the quill. Dear Teddy, he could write. This year has been absolutely terrible. I miss you so much. I'm angry all the time and I don't know why. It feels like everyone's pouring oil onto me and I'm about to light the match.

James stares down at the parchment.

Dear Teddy, he writes.

"Ugh, what's he doing here?"

James glances up. There's a small group of Ravenclaw students arriving to send their letters.

"Sod off," he says loudly, in case they're thinking of starting something. Better to appear aggressive and make them disappear quickly.

"He's writing letters," one of them observes. "To his imaginary friends, I suppose."

"I said go away!" he repeats, one hand automatically covering the parchment even though he hasn't written anything yet.

"Maybe he's making a wishlist for his next birthday already," one of the Ravenclaws says – one of the Chasers for the Ravenclaw team, James realises. Probably a friend of Scorpius. "Asking for a few extra brain cells, I expect."

The Ravenclaws laugh as they walk past James. "I've heard he's a squib."

"A squid, you mean. All he's good at is swimming."

"He hasn't been in the lake for months, he's probably forgotten how."

James clenches his teeth and stares down at the parchment. He won't rise to it, he won't give them the satisfaction of a response. He stares down at the parchment, concentrating on the watermarks across the paper, waiting until the Ravenclaws go to the other side of the owlery, and then carefully picks up his quill.

Dear Teddy,

Thanks for your letter, it's great to hear all your news. Could you tell me more about that spell you and your friends invented? Sounds interesting. And yes, my swimming is going well. I don't mind the early mornings though, it's worth it. All my friends joke about me being a squid, I spend that much time in the water…

He lets the lies spill from his quill, the ink dark as a starless sky.


Afterwards, he's mindlessly wandering the corridors when he pauses.

This is a familiar place.

James turns and studies the wall for a long moment, then reaches out and touches a wand to it.

He cast this spell so many times as an excited eleven-year-old, back when he loved every second with his best friend. All those nights spent laughing and tumbling across fields of gold, racing around glowing grass, climbing trees heavy with magic, the planets spinning between them…

"Limens," he whispers.

It's been three years but the spell is carved into his memory. Like tying his shoes, like diving into the lake. His wand, his hands, they know the spell by heart. The wall opens and he steps inside. For a moment, caught in those hazy memories, he's waiting for a sky full of stars, a field of summer dreams, butterflies rising around him.

But the room is empty. The ceiling is nothing but shadowed arches and darkness. There's a broken desk in the corner; it was once a great oak tree, James thinks, growing from the imagination of two boys. Tattered quills snap beneath his feet as he walks slowly across the room. The air is musty, the dust thick on the floor. It's been a long time since anyone was in this place. Scorpius clearly never visited it again.

A footstep. James turns.

"What are you doing here?" Scorpius demands. "I saw you create the portal. Magic isn't allowed in the corridors, you know. I'll tell McGonagall."

James's jaw clenches. "Of course you will," he says, and Scorpius draws his wand. James fumbles for his own wand; they back away from each other, watchful.

"Stay away from me," Scorpius says, eyes narrowed.

"You're the one who followed me here," James retorts. "And this isn't your room anymore. It belongs to me and my friends."

"Who would want to be friends with you?"

"You did, once." The words are out before James can stop them; an automatic response. Several expressions shift over Scorpius's face, all of them indecipherable.

"Yes," Scorpius says. "Once. Until I realised the sort of person you really are. We will never be friends."

"Oh, trust me, I don't want you as a friend either," James retorts. "I wish I'd never met you."

Scorpius draws back, as if he's been struck, and for a moment he looks like the timid, fearful boy who huddled into the corner of the train carriage on their first journey to Hogwarts. After a second, however, Scorpius's expression hardens.

"The Ravenclaws all say you're a prat, you know," he says, and anger flashes through James.

"So what? Ravenclaws aren't good for anything except adding up numbers. Boring little bookworms, the lot of them. Nobody wants them as friends!"

"Well, plenty of people wanted to be friends with your cousin," Scorpius retorts, his pale face becoming flushed with anger. "Teddy Lupin – he was never boring. Even though he graduated two years ago, everyone still talks about how clever and funny and kind he was. He's nothing like you."

"Shut up!" James snarls, clenching his fists. "You don't know anything about me, or my cousin! Besides, Teddy would never be your friend – your father killed his parents!"

"My father never killed anyone!"

"That's not what they say. They say he tortured Muggles!"

"That's a lie!"

"How does it feel, knowing your dad's a murderer? Could be in your genes, you know – after all, you watched your mother die – "

Scorpius launches himself at James with a cry; James barely has time to react as he crashes to the floor, his wand rolling away. Scorpius hits him, striking him hard across the face. James struggles wildly but though he is physically stronger, Scorpius's rage seems to lend him an unnatural strength. He hits James again and again, his fist smashing into James's mouth, and James feels his lip split.

"Nobody wants to be your friend!" Scorpius shouts, grabbing James by the collar and yanking him sharply upwards. "Not even you! They don't like you – nobody does! They only pretend to like you because your father is Harry Potter – he's the one they want, not you! You're nobody, you're nothing! The professors all know you're worthless, and if your dad knew what you were really like, he'd be ashamed to call you his son!"

Scorpius's last words echo across the room. For a moment, they remain where they are – James sprawled across the floor, blood trickling from his mouth, Scorpius's hands still clenching fistfuls of James's robes. They're both crying, James realises dully. He turns his face away and Scorpius suddenly lets go of him and stands up. He leaves without another word; James listens to the wall portal opening and closing again, Scorpius's footsteps soon fading.

After a long moment, he sits up slowly and swipes his tears away, wincing as his sleeve brushes over his split lip. He can feel a bruise forming along his cheekbone.

James sits alone for a long time, dust and tears and blood on his sleeves.


He waits to be called into McGonagall's office, but nothing is said about it. Somehow, though, the professors certainly seem to know something has happened. While it was, before the incident, common knowledge that Scorpius and James disliked each other, it seems amplified now. Slughorn makes sure they're never paired together. During Herbology, Sprout suddenly rearranges the plants so James and Scorpius's projects are as far apart as possible. And even daffy Trelawney seems to pick up on something, for she hovers anxiously as if terrified one of them will suddenly leap up and charge across the room, hurling hexes at the other.

But they don't. In fact, they don't even look at each other now. Scorpius doesn't acknowledge James's presence in any way. There's a definite iciness between them now, a cold, flat hatred that replaces the angry glares and heated words of earlier encounters.

Which is fine by James.

Sometimes destroying everything seems like the best option.


Harry waits impatiently on the doorstep of the manor, checking his watch. He can't afford to waste another minute…Operation Helios is taking up nearly all his time these days.

At last, the door opens.

"What?" Draco asks.

Harry gives him a look. "What do you think? It's Wednesday."

"Is it? Oh." Draco disappears into the hallway. "Close the door, you're letting the cold in."

Harry steps inside and closes the door. Although it's nearly April, spring has been slow to bloom and the weather has been full of moody skies and nippy breezes. At least Draco's becoming quite adept at the heating charms, Harry thinks as he hangs up his cloak.

He follows Draco to the kitchen, unable to stop himself smiling when he sees church records and family trees scattered across the notched table.

"Yet to finish my ancestry, I see," he says, sitting down.

Draco gives him an exasperated look. "It's not a matter of scribbling a few lines across a piece of paper, you know." He turns away, busying himself with the kettle, and Harry catches sight of an unfolded letter next to a book of sixteenth-century court cases. He tilts his head slightly, reading the careful handwriting. It's a letter from Scorpius, the cursive handwriting making it difficult to read at a discreet glance, but Harry manages to glimpse a few sentences. My new broom…worried about the next game…wish they'd talk to me…things aren't going so well this year…

"Everything all right with Scorpius?" Harry asks, attention still caught by the letter. Thankfully, Draco – still busy making tea – doesn't seem to notice what Harry's reading.

"What? Yes, of course." Draco pauses. "It's normal, isn't it, for teenagers to be anxious about everything?"

"James doesn't seem to worry much," Harry says.

"What, he doesn't worry about anything?" Draco seems disbelieving.

Harry's slightly indignant. "Honestly, I swear it's true. Actually, it's the opposite. Any time I ask him about swimming or his grades, he just shrugs." Harry frowns. "Nice that only I worry about it, I suppose."

"Well, Scorpius worries about everything," Draco mutters.

"Like what?" Harry's curious despite himself. Draco rarely speaks openly of his son, always so guarded about him.

Draco's mouth thins. "Quidditch games, he says. And he's always fussing about his grades, even though they're near-perfect. But there's plenty of other things that make him far too anxious. He comes home with his fingernails chewed to the quick and his hems completely unravelled from him picking at the threads." He sets down his cup of tea, frown deepening. "Is that normal?"

"Probably," Harry says with a shrug. He spent a good deal of his adolescence caught in paralysing anxiety, but that had more to do with all his loved ones dying and an inevitable war. "At least he's not angry all the time. Any time James comes back home, he picks a fight about everything. I ask him to spend some time with family instead of incessant swim training?" Harry waves a hand. "Instant fight. Ask him to please stop leaving damp towels on the floor? Another fight. Tell him I've got an overnight shift? Yes, a fight."

Draco considers that. "Suppose that's what it's like, then," he says gloomily.

"What?"

"Having a teenager."

They sit in silence for a moment, a certain sense of comradeship between them.


Still, Harry wonders later, perhaps Draco has a point. Maybe it's not normal. He writes a letter to James, choosing his words carefully. He includes cheerful news, as usual – the pear tree in the garden has blossomed beautifully, the foxes in the woods have several new additions to their family, and an owl has made a new home for itself in the oak tree. After those updates, Harry pauses before writing the next line.

How's school going? Is everything all right? Just making sure that –

A familiar circle of heat in his pocket. Harry sighs, sets his quill aside, and reaches for his coin.

As he reaches for his cloak, wand already in hand, the letter remains half-completed on his desk, forgotten by the end of his shift.


Two long years they have been working on this case. Two long, long years. The pensieves brim over with memories collected from undercover agents. Locked filing cabinets hold reams of paper trails – receipts and intercepted owl messages, phone-call records filched from telephone companies with the help of the Muggle Liaisons office. Evidence lines the walls, photographs connected to locations, names, dates.

And today, it finally all pays off.

The annoying part, Harry has to admit, is that he's behind the scenes. He's coordinating everything; he's the puppeteer, controlling the strings of the Law Enforcement officers, the Aurors, the field agents. He sits in the centre of his new Head Auror office, silver strands surrounding him like a cobweb, each strand a line of communication, each one whispering to him.

…target has arrived…

…Apollo Team reporting in, location secure…

…unidentified persons in vicinity, please advise…

…target not yet appeared, communication needed from surveillance…

…awaiting your instructions now…

Harry takes a breath and reaches out to touch a strand.

"Message received. Instructions are as follows…"

The next two hours seem to fly by, an adrenaline-fuelled rush. Harry moves like lightning, grabbing at strands, speaking rapidly, making split-second decisions, thoughts storming through his mind. He is coordinating twenty-seven simultaneous arrests across the country – and one of the communication strands connects to teams in Italy, Ukraine, and Singapore, where law officials are managing international arrests. Of course, Harry's got two senior Aurors – Hopkins and McSully – to help him, and Cuthbert scampers back and forth, collecting documents and information for Harry – but all of them know it's Harry's moment. This is when he'll prove whether or not he's Head Auror material.

At noon, the final arrest is made; one of the crime bosses, a major source of funds for the illegal operations, had received a tip-off and tried to flee England within an hour of the first arrest. They catch him just as he's meeting with a man who deals in 'urgent' portkeys.

"We did it," Hopkins says, voice heavy with exhaustion. "Thank Merlin, it's over."

They all start laughing then, caught halfway between exhaustion and euphoria at their victory.

Chapter Text

It's the second week of May before it feels like summer truly lies ahead. It's a mild afternoon. Five weeks are left until the summer holidays and there's a certain drowsiness in the Charms classroom today. Little dust motes float through the amber-coloured sunlight, hardly moving in the warm air, and James watches them idly, his quill resting in his hand, his other hand propped beneath his chin.

"…and now, if you look at page seventy-four, you'll notice the angle of the spell…"

James glances past the dancing dust motes, then looks down at his notes and – with effort – dips his quill into the inkwell and begins writing a new line. The soft scratch of quills against parchment fills the room, punctuated by an occasional rustle or soft cough.

"…so of course, the movement of the wand is extremely important…"

Flitwick's voice murmurs on. James pauses again in his writing and looks out the window at the unclouded sky. In the distance, the rich green valleys and mountains rise and fall like an ocean. If James closes his eyes, he might imagine summer's here already…

Footsteps. James opens his eyes, blinking. The other students raise their sleepy heads. On James's left, Martin stifles a yawn.

McGonagall steps through the doorway.

"Apologies, Filius, but I must speak with Potter."

"Of course," he says, blinking owlishly. "Off you go, Potter. Now, as you can see from this example, the wand movement is a spiral motion…"

James stands up slowly, ignoring the faint whispers of students around him. As he slings his bookbag over his shoulder, Martin turns to frown at him.

"What've you done this time?"

Nothing, James thinks as he leaves the classroom. He hasn't gone near Scorpius for weeks now, hasn't so much as looked at him since the incident in that room with broken quills and dusty floors.

McGonagall takes him to her classroom office. James automatically sits in the tartan armchair and waits for the usual brisk 'ginger newt?' but McGonagall immediately goes to her desk and unlocks a drawer, retrieving something before sitting down.

"Potter," she says, and there's something in her tone that suddenly makes James feel anxious. He seizes ahold of a cushion, just to keep his hands occupied.

"I – I haven't done anything wrong, I swear," he says, mentally running over the past few weeks.

"No, you haven't," McGonagall says quietly. "I'm afraid I received a firecall moments ago from your father. There has been a very serious accident."

James stares at her, not understanding. "An accident?"

She nods. "Your cousin — Teddy Lupin — has been badly injured. Your father has requested your presence at once."

"I…I don't…" He realises he's slowly unravelling a loose thread from the cushion, undoing the stitches, and he stops.

McGonagall places a small silver button upon the desk. It has something engraved in it. A crossed wand and a bone, James thinks distantly. The St Mungo's insignia.

"You may use this portkey to travel directly to St Mungo's Hospital," McGonagall says, tapping her wand against the little button and activating it. "You're excused from the remainder of your classes today."

James stares at McGonagall for a long moment, then looks down at the portkey.

"Potter," McGonagall says quietly, and James looks up.

He reaches out and takes the portkey.


James stumbles slightly when he arrives. It's bright, he thinks, blinking to let his eyes adjust. Compared to the gentle afternoon sunlight of McGonagall's office, with its comfortable chairs and lined bookshelves, the hospital seems to be too bright, too empty, too clean. A long corridor stretches past James, the lights reflecting off the shiny floor.

Then someone's hugging him. His father, he realises, and he barely has time to respond before Harry's stepping away again.

"James," Harry says.

He looks past his father. There's a neat little row of chairs halfway down the corridor. Andromeda sits there, her hands clasped, staring at the wall opposite.

"Where's Teddy?" James asks, his voice sounding far too small, echoing around the corridor. Harry tries to lead him to the chairs but James doesn't move. "Where is he?"

"He's…he's still in transit. We have to wait."

"In transit?" James repeats, at last taking steps forward and following his father to the row of chairs. He looks at Andromeda, but she's still staring at the wall opposite, her mouth a thin line. "But…I don't understand…we're here and he's not…"

"It happened in Wales," Andromeda says, speaking at last. "His friends contacted me at once to let me know. While they were still waiting for the Mediwizards to arrive. But surely the Mediwizards should have already transported him here…"

"It might take them a while to find the exact location," Harry says quietly. "He's in the middle of the wilderness."

"What happened?"

Andromeda doesn't answer James. Harry just looks blankly at him for a moment, as if he's staring at a stranger, and fear begins to creep around James's heart.

"Dad?" he says edgily. "What happened?"

"They were crying," Andromeda says distantly, still staring at the wall. "Somebody was shouting in the background…I couldn't make out much, but they said I should go to St Mungo's at once."

"He'll be okay, though," James says. "Won't he, Dad? Won't he?"

Harry is silent.

"Won't he?" James repeats, and Harry makes a little movement as if trying to shake away his thoughts.

"I…I don't think I should have sent for you," he says, almost as if speaking to himself. "Perhaps it would have been best if…" He blinks and looks up. "Let's just sit and wait."

But James can't stay still. He sits down, he stands up again, he paces around the corridor. Every time a door opens or footsteps sound, he jumps to attention. But it's just a Healer with a clipboard, or an assistant carrying vials.

"They should be here already," Andromeda murmurs. "They should be here…"

James says nothing, just chews on a nail and stares at a poster for first-aid courses on the wall opposite. You Can Save Lives Now! it declares, and he reads it over and over just so he doesn't have to think about anything else.

When he's reading it for the fifth time, there's a loud bang of a door swinging open, followed by raised voices, and James whips around. At the very end of the corridor, there's a team of people rushing in, all surrounding a floating stretcher. For a moment, James catches a glimpse of Teddy's pale face, and then the group disappears into a room, the door swinging shut behind them. James automatically steps forward; he's immediately stopped by an invisible barrier.

"You can't go down there," Harry says. He's standing beside James, gazing down the corridor. "Staff only."

James follows his father's gaze. Beneath the door, he can see the light of spells. The bright flashes increase, each one occurring at one-second intervals. Like little fireworks, James thinks, the little firecrackers and star-rockets he used to set alight in the garden. Roman candles and cherry bombs, flying spinners and bottle rockets…James can almost see them now, bright colours exploding across the quiet summer nights.

James blinks.

"They…they stopped," he says blankly. The bright flashes have faded to nothing. The seconds tick past, but not a single spell is cast. "Dad? Why'd they stop?"

Neither Harry nor Andromeda answer him.


James can't quite remember what happens next. People arrive at some point – Ron and Hermione, Bill and Fleur – but James doesn't know when they arrived or whether they spoke to him. There's a Healer – a quiet man who keeps saying I'm very sorry and James can't work out why he's apologising.

They're walking down endless corridors and he's not sure why. Deeper into the hospital they go, where the hallways become empty and quiet, and finally at the end of a corridor there's a door with a Healer standing beside it. Everybody's going into the room and when James pauses, the Healer asks if James wants to say goodbye to Teddy.

James just stares at the Healer. He still doesn't understand. Say goodbye? He's already said goodbye to Teddy. Thousands of times. Every time Teddy left the house, every time James returned to Hogwarts, every time they parted ways after a Christmas dinner or a birthday party. But why would James say goodbye to Teddy in a little room in a hospital?

Maybe James just thought all of this, or maybe he said it aloud or maybe he shouted it, but the Healer starts looking upset and somebody's taking James by the arm and leading him away. They go farther down the corridor, where there's a row of narrow seats.

"It's okay. We'll just sit here for a while. It's okay," they're saying, and James realises it's Harry. His father.

So they do. They silently sit beside each other. James stares at the opposite wall. There's a framed picture on it. There's a field with mountains in the background, and every five minutes a starling flits across the sky. James methodically counts the seconds and minutes in his head, timing the starling each time.

Footsteps and the sound of someone sobbing. It's Victoire, James realises. Bill and Fleur are either side of her but they're both silent. When did they arrive? He doesn't remember. Did someone send for them? Victoire is the one crying endlessly. He listens to their footsteps fade. The starling flies across the sky again. He's still wearing his bookbag, James suddenly remembers. He was in class, dreaming about the dust motes. Maybe he fell asleep. Isn't that odd, to dream of this?

The starling flies across the sky.

The door opens again. This time it's Ron and Hermione, Rose walking between them. She's crying, but not like Victoire. Quieter. When she sees James she rushes to him and grabs his hands.

"Promise me," she says. "Promise me you'll say goodbye."

James just stares at her, at her bloodshot eyes and crumpled mouth, and he tries to pull his hands away but she won't let go until Ron comes over and pries her away. They disappear from sight too, their footsteps fading round the corner.

The starling flies across the sky.

It flits through the painting six more times before Andromeda appears.

She's not sobbing like Victoire, and she doesn't cling to James like Rose. She just walks slowly along the corridor, step by step, and then she pauses.

"James," she murmurs, her voice soft and thin as tissue paper. "Always his favourite…"

And then she continues on, disappearing round the corner like all the others, but this time Harry stands up and goes to her.

James watches his father leave. He turns his head to look at the painting again, waiting for the starling, but after a long moment he stands up instead and begins walking towards the narrow door at the end of the hallway. The Healer isn't there anymore, he thinks distantly.

He steps into the room.

It's painted blue, a pale blue, like a child's bedroom. There's a vase of sunflowers on a little side-table. And, on a low table draped in dark blue material, there's Teddy.

James studies him. There's a white sheet pulled up to his shoulders. What happened to his clothes? Did they throw them away? That isn't right, he thinks. They shouldn't throw away Teddy's clothes.

His eyes are closed, his skin pale and waxen. James reaches out and slowly catches a lock of Teddy's hair between his fingers. Teddy always thought it was terribly funny that James — always suffering through undignified hair-ruffling — could never seek revenge. No matter how he tried, he never managed to tousle Teddy's hair.

James drops his hand.

Footsteps, and then Harry's beside him, gazing down at Teddy. And then, after a long moment, Harry leans down and gently cups Teddy's face, and then his shoulders start to shake and James realises he's crying. His father, his strong and infallible father, sobbing like a child.

James bolts from the room and gets halfway down the corridor before he throws up.


Teddy died on the eleventh of May. Three weeks after his twentieth birthday.

He was kayaking with friends on the River Tryweryn, deep in the Welsh wilderness. His kayak capsized while he was rounding a particularly difficult riverbend and he struck his head on a rock while underwater, rendering him unconscious. By the time his friends realised something was wrong, managing to locate him and drag him ashore, he had no pulse and wasn't breathing. By the time the emergency Mediwizards arrived, the friends had already been performing manual CPR for some time. It took only three minutes of failed resuscitation spells at the hospital before they officially declared Teddy deceased at 1:07pm.

These are the facts presented to Harry, arranged in neat little Healer's notes. Andromeda gives him the information. There will be a coroner's report later on, she says, but they say it will take months to complete. There are queues, long waits for paperwork. It will be a long time.

They sit at the kitchen table. Andromeda at one end, Harry at the other. Everyone else went to the Burrow after the hospital. Like they needed to be close, together again.

Harry declined to join them. He went home instead, with Andromeda. James went upstairs, to the guest room – Teddy's room – and closed the door.

A clock chimes. It's one o'clock in the morning. Andromeda is gazing down at the notes. Harry stares unseeingly at a cup of tea in the middle of the table. He'd poured it hours ago, seconds after arriving home from work. Moments later, he'd taken an urgent firecall from Andromeda, stating that one of Teddy's friends had just contacted her and said Teddy was very badly injured. It's really bad, it's really bad they'd kept saying over and over.

Harry had made the split-second decision to make a quick fire-call to Hogwarts before leaving for the hospital. In his mind, he saw it all: a worried James arriving, a short wait, and then they would be ushered into a hospital room. Hey cuz, Teddy would say, reassuring James as always, and they'd all smile.

Harry hadn't thought of any other possible ending.

When he saw Teddy lying there, in the room painted the same colour as a childhood lullaby, all he could think about was Teddy's hair colour. Brown. Teddy was always changing his hair colour. Why have something ordinary, he argued, when you could have pink or blue or green? Years ago, whenever Harry visited Andromeda, young Teddy would come tumbling down the stairs to show off his newest hair colour. Harry would crouch down, cup his face, pretend to study him, and then declare Teddy's hair was the most amazing colour he'd ever seen. And Teddy's face would light up with pride and happiness.

Somehow, in that little hospital room, Harry had been waiting for it. Just for a moment, when he leaned down and touched Teddy's face for the final time, he saw a six-year-old Teddy open his eyes and smile at him.

But Teddy's skin had been cold and clammy to touch, his eyes closed, and his hair remained a dark brown, the colour of the earth after rain.

They sit at the table, Harry and Andromeda, and neither of them speak.


It's evident, Draco thinks as he walks across the lawns to the small chapel, that Teddy had been loved. Although Draco arrived early, crowds are already gathering around the doors. He accepts a service program from one of the staff, glancing down at the cover. A photograph of Teddy, and beneath it the words: Edward 'Teddy' Lupin, 17th April 1998 — 11th May 2018.

Only just twenty years old.

He takes his seat, Scorpius beside him. Scorpius had found out about the death on Saturday, from Rose Weasley, and had immediately sent Draco a frantic letter begging for permission to attend the funeral. McGonagall had granted him leave – but looking around the crowded room, Draco thinks McGonagall would have signed many more permission slips. Hogwarts students stream through the doors, dressed in black robes and many of them wearing Ravenclaw badges. At the front of the room, in the rows reserved for close family, the bright hair of the Weasleys is easily visible. All of them knew and loved Teddy, and yet it is Draco who is one of the closest blood relatives.

He looks down at the service program in his hands. He hardly concerned himself with Teddy's existence — Narcissa never spoke of her traitorous sister Andromeda — until Scorpius went to Hogwarts and mentioned, with great excitement, that he'd met a very kind boy named Teddy Lupin who always helped the first years with their homework and once told Scorpius he was going to be one of the most intelligent wizards Ravenclaw had ever seen.

And Draco could sit here now and dream of everything that might have been — an older cousin, growing up beside Scorpius, the two of them best friends — but Draco had fourteen years to make Teddy a part of Scorpius's life, and he let every year slip past without a second thought.

And now that opportunity has disappeared forever.

The service starts twenty minutes after its scheduled time, and Draco only realises why when a hush ripples through the room and the doorway — crammed with people wishing to pay their respects — admits the final two attendees.

Harry and James.

In that moment, Draco sees the striking physical similarity between them. Oh, they've always shared the same dark hair, the same jawline, but there's something in that moment when they walk to the front of the chapel, heads bowed, shoulders hunched as if the world weighs upon them, eyes trained on the ground, faces pale.

The funeral director clears his throat when James and Harry take their seats, and the service begins. A girl with silver hair and a wretched expression delivers the first eulogy. Victoire Weasley, according to the program.

Draco listens to her speak. It's painfully, agonisingly obvious that she loved Teddy. No doubt her own dreams, her own visions of a certain future, died along with him. She trails off halfway through the eulogy and seems unable to continue. As Victoire stands there mutely, her younger sister picks up the notes and reads the rest of it to the silent crowd.

Draco glances at Scorpius. He's staring ahead, the unopened program in his hands. A blue carnation rests on his lap. They were handing them out to those attending. Single carnations. Blue and white.

They sit silently through the rest of the service. At the end, everyone gathers round the family to express sympathy and Scorpius wants to do the same. Draco isn't too sure about that, knowing how James hates Scorpius. The last thing he wants to do is upset James or cause a scene.

But when Scorpius goes to James and offers his condolences, James just nods and says 'thank you' in a politely bland tone, the same tone he's been using with every other person at the funeral. James doesn't care, Draco realises, and that's when his heart suddenly aches for Harry's son. Nothing is important anymore. All the problems in James's life — his fights with his father, his enmity with Scorpius — none of it matters.

The only thing that matters is that his world now exists without Teddy Lupin.


The trip home is silent. Scorpius has received permission from McGonagall to spend the night at the manor before returning to Hogwarts tomorrow. It seems just yesterday that Scorpius was here for the Easter break, walking through the gardens and noticing all the new spring blooms, sketching tulips and reading his books by the orchard-houses.

Now Scorpius stands in the front parlour, unknotting his tie. He'd wanted to make a particularly elaborate tie-knot for the funeral. The Eldredge Knot, it was called, and apparently Teddy was fond of it. Scorpius admired the knot at some point in his first year and Teddy had spent an afternoon teaching it to him. But then, according to the tearful funeral attendees and those who delivered speeches, it was a typical representation of Teddy's generosity of time and energy.

Scorpius lays the tie flat on a side-table and studies it for a moment.

"How did he die?" he asks, his voice quiet. Draco frowns.

"I…I don't know, Scorpius." He'd spoken briefly to Harry and sent flowers from his mother's orchid garden, but he doesn't actually know too many details about Teddy's death. Draco knows too well – thanks to the curious reporters after his mother's death – the pain and anger of unwanted questions.

"Nobody knows." Scorpius lifts his head, looking up from the tie and gazing out the window. "I just want to know if…if it would have been painful…"

Draco follows Scorpius's gaze. The windows offer a view of the beautiful spring day, the gardens bright with flowers, the starlings flitting around the rows of blossoming magnolia trees.

"If he did feel pain," Draco says, "I'm sure it was fleeting. No more than a quick moment before he was given peace."

For a moment they both stand in silence, watching the sunlight cast playful shadows through the leaves and flowers.


If the opposite of a Crucio spell existed – if there was a spell where Harry could take away all of James's pain and misery and despair and endure it himself instead – he would perform it in a heartbeat. But no such spell exists, and this pain can't be fixed with a medicine kit, and Harry won't tell James lies like you'll be fine or time heals all wounds because he knows firsthand it doesn't. It doesn't heal all wounds. Harry still feels the loss of his parents, and Ginny, and Sirius. When someone dies, he knows, they take a little piece of the world with them and although people learn to cope with the absence, they never stop feeling it.

Everyone visits a lot. Mrs Weasley brings over endless casseroles and stews that neither James nor Harry eat. Ron and Hermione visit with Rose, who anxiously asks each time if she can see James, and Harry always has to say no, James doesn't really want visitors, until finally he asks Ron and Hermione to please stop bringing Rose over. They're hurt by his request, but Harry feels too tired to care.

Work fire-calls him. Harry finally accepts an incoming call five days after Teddy's funeral.

"What?"

"You're needed." It's Hopkins.

"I can't come in right now. I applied for bereavement leave."

"Sorry, Potter. But you know how it is. We've got a new lead on – "

"No."

Hopkins pauses. "No?" he repeats at last.

"I have lost my godson." For the first time since Teddy's death, Harry feels something other than a desperate sadness: anger. "He was like a son to me. For twenty years. Do you understand?"

"I do, and the whole department is extremely sorry for your loss. It's an absolutely tragedy. But you're Head Auror, and – "

"What about my son?" Harry says furiously. "What am I supposed to do, Hopkins? What do you suggest I say to James?"

Hopkins is beginning to look very uncomfortable. "I'm sure…I'm sure there's relatives who can mind him…"

"No. No. That is not an option." Harry has missed birthdays, and summer holidays, and Easters, and Christmas too. If there is one time he will be there for James, it will be now.

Hopkins is silent for a long moment. "Very well," he says at last. "My condolences again."

"Thank you," Harry says, and he terminates the fire-call.

He paces around the living room for a while, until he's calmed down, then he goes and finds James. He's curled up on Teddy's bed, asleep.

He hasn't cried once, Harry thinks. Not once. Not in the hospital. Not afterwards. Not at the funeral.

He sits on the edge of the bed and touches a hand to James's head, remembering how he used to stroke James's hair to help him sleep when he was a toddler. It was always Ginny's job, but after she died Harry took over.

James was so young when Ginny died. He didn't understand, even though he'd been told weeks, months before. Ginny was very sick, they told him, and she might go to sleep and never wake up. That's what happens to people when their bodies can't work anymore. But James still kept asking when Ginny was coming back, and he cried all the time and just couldn't understand that his mother was dead. Thank Merlin for Andromeda and Teddy; Andromeda, who babysat James just to give Harry some time alone to mourn, and Teddy, who lifted James onto his shoulders and told him stories and made him laugh, even if it was just for a moment.

Harry sits by James's side for a long time, listening to the silence.


James returns to Hogwarts on the twenty-seventh of May.

They drive to Hogsmeade. Harry could make the journey in a matter of seconds. Disapparating to the village, or arranging for a Floo connection via the Hog's Head or Three Broomsticks, or requesting a portkey from McGonagall.

But he doesn't. He gets up early in the morning and tells James they're driving. James nods.

They leave shortly before midday. The car tyres crunch over the gravel of the driveway. This familiar trip, this same journey Harry has made hundreds of times before. Past the lopsided letterbox, the small gate. Onto the winding country road. Past the lush green fields where James used to play with his Muggle friends, chasing each other over fences and under trees. And further out, the wide swathes of woodland where Teddy used to take James for Quidditch practice, safely hidden from the eyes of Muggles. Over the little wooden bridge where Teddy would take James fishing. The little landmarks, the little souvenirs of lives and memories and childhoods, all flashing past in the blink of an eye.

The little winding lane soon joins an arterial road. Through the local village, past the bakery where Ginny used to buy artisan breads. She'd always come home with a cinnamon bun for James.

Harry misses the smell of cinnamon.

Past the village, and soon the roads become less familiar. They travel through Bristol, the low skyline of the city rising like a grey tide. Onwards, through the sprawling urbanisation of the West Midlands; the green plains of Lancashire, the rolling hills of Cumbria that gradually rise into the craggy mountains and plunging valleys of Scotland. By the time they arrive in Hogsmeade, the evening sunlight is bathing the mountain peaks in golden light, the valleys steeped in darkening shadow.

James has no luggage, only the schoolbag he took with him when he came to the hospital. Just two weeks ago, Harry realises, but it feels like it's been years, as if someone tilted a time-turner when Harry wasn't looking.

McGonagall is waiting by the train station, a solitary figure on the platform, a black cloak draped over her shoulders, both hands resting atop her cane. Overhead, the first evening star appears, crisp and white as a snowflake, set bright against the dark skies of the Scottish wilderness.

Harry and James sit silently in the car for a moment. Then Harry speaks.

"You don't have to go back yet, James."

"I know."

"I can drive us back home again. I don't mind."

"It's okay."

Silence eclipses them again. Then Harry opens his door and steps onto the cobbled street. McGonagall offers her condolences, rests a hand briefly on Harry's shoulder. He's very close to taking James back to the car, insisting they both go home, but McGonagall's presence and kind words are enough to stop him from doing so. Harry always felt better when he was at Hogwarts, and surely it will be the same for James. McGonagall will take care of him, and James's friends will help too.

Harry hugs James, unable to stop himself from clinging to him for a long moment. "I'll see you in a month," he says. Just one month until the summer holidays. That's all. "If you want to come home again...just send a letter and I'll arrange it."

James nods and Harry reluctantly steps away again.

He watches his son walk away into the shadowed streets, illuminated by the soft glow of the street lamps.


McGonagall calls James into her office a week after his arrival. James sits in one of the tartan armchairs. The one with the cushion. He can see a thread unravelling from the corner, from when James unpicked a stitch as McGonagall told him she had received an urgent firecall.

"Potter," she says, "if you would like to continue with your swimming lessons, you are welcome to do so."

"Okay."

McGonagall still sits there, looking at him, and James thinks she's waiting for him to say something.

"Thank you, Professor," he adds after a moment, but McGonagall's frown just deepens.

"Potter…we have a counselling service available for students. A counsellor visits Hogwarts twice a week – you'll have to ask Madam Pomfrey about which days – but an appointment can be arranged."

"Okay."

McGonagall looks at him a moment longer. "Well," she says, "please speak to Madam Pomfrey if you'd like to make an appointment."

"Okay." James isn't really listening. He can't stop looking at the thread unravelling from the cushion.

"Thank you, Potter. You're dismissed."

He stands and leaves.


He goes swimming on Saturday. After all this time…

He wants to feel something. He really does. For eight long months he has longed for the water. He has craved it, and missed it, and tried so hard to win back his swimming privileges.

But in the crisp pre-dawn air, he stands on the end of the pier and stares into the black lake and feels nothing.

A whistle pierces the air. He dives into the water and for a moment he's completely submerged and he can't see or hear or feel anything.

And then he surfaces and swims. Lap after lap. Back and forth.

Saltworth says something to him at the end of it.

"Thank you," James says, but he can't remember whether he's responding to sorry for your loss or good job.

It doesn't matter.


The weeks seem to trickle past like rain. James doesn't really remember much it; their final day of school has arrived before he's realised it.

The students chatter excitedly among themselves, making plans for the long and lazy summer holidays. Martin and Paul tidy up the dormitory and hold a competition to see who can find the most Bertie Botts beans and Chocolate Frog cards; Nate tells anyone who'll listen about his upcoming trip to the Maldives, and Iwan makes one last pot of hot chocolate atop the woodstove. The dormitory is a flood of activity, of last minute packing and searching for lost possessions and ardent promises to keep in touch.

"Can I have a word with you?" Iwan asks James quietly.

"Okay."

"I just want to say I'm really, really sorry – "

"Thank you."

"No, not – I mean, I'm really sorry about forgetting your letters." Iwan holds out a few envelopes. "While you were gone…when your cousin…" He looks uncomfortable. "You got a few deliveries, and I was supposed to give them to you when you got back. But I forgot."

"Oh. Thanks." James accepts the envelopes.

"No problem."

James puts the letters into his trunk, listening as the rest of the boys laugh and chatter.

Across the dormitory, through the window, a beautiful summer day unfolds.


The trip to Hogsmeade is brief. James stands apart from the crowds, watching them mill around on the platform, chasing wayward pets and swapping addresses. He's one of the last to board the train; he chooses an empty compartment.

Rose finds him. She sits opposite him and they both look out the window as the train gains momentum and leaves the village of Hogsmeade. The bright morning becomes a faintly-overcast afternoon and James watches the clouds drift slowly across the sky.

"James," Rose says.

He turns away from the sight of a small village passing by. Rose is looking at him with a miserable expression.

"You haven't…you haven't been avoiding me, have you?"

"No."

"Oh."

They fall silent again. After a long moment, Rose speaks again.

"Do you…do you sometimes…" She pauses. "It's nothing," she says at last.

"Okay." James doesn't want to deal with it, doesn't want to talk to her.

He stares out the window at the passing scenery as Rose begins to cry.


The summer holidays unravel before Harry and James. Harry takes him swimming each day; James doesn't seem to care but Harry knows well the insidious nature of grief. It can creep around hearts and minds like Devil's Snare, suffocating and sapping energy away. James swims lap after monotonous lap while Harry does his paperwork.

Work.

Harry knows it's not going well. He gets firecalls nearly every day. His performance has been patchy since May and now that the summer holidays have arrived, he's barely in the office. His superiors call him into a special meeting a week after the summer holidays have started, and Harry knows exactly what to expect.

He's right. He walks into the Head Auror office and finds himself facing Shacklebolt, five senior Aurors, and a very anxious-looking Cuthbert.

"Hello," Harry says, sitting down and looking at them all.

"Harry," Shacklebolt says gravely. "My condolences for the death of your godson. The last of the Lupin line, I fear, and what a tragedy that is."

"However," Hopkins begins, and Harry shakes his head.

"I'll spare you the speech. A death of a family member is a complete tragedy, of course, but let's face it, it happened two months ago and the Auror Office only allows two weeks' bereavement leave. Nobody wants to be unkind, you all have my best interests at heart, and you think it would be best if I stepped down for a while."

They all exchange glances.

Shacklebolt clears his throat. "Succinct as ever, Harry," he says.

"It's not fair on the team, Potter," Hopkins adds. "You're the Head Auror. We can't afford anything less than a hundred percent commitment. Isn't that what Williamson told you?"

Harry frowns. "I don't recall you being present at that time," he says.

"I wasn't. But Williamson gave me the same speech two years ago. I was a candidate for Head Auror too. I told him no. My wife's health hasn't been too good for these past few years and I knew I couldn't give the commitment the position of Head Auror demands."

Harry falls silent.

"This isn't what anyone wants," Shacklebolt says quietly. "You're a fine Auror, one of the best we've seen. But this job…it takes up your whole life. Work comes first. Rain, hail, or shine – "

" – divorce, death, or disaster," finishes Hopkins. "That old Auror joke."

Harry stares down at his hands. There's a few scars criss-crossing his knuckles, callouses on his fingertips. He remembers thinking, two years ago, that he might end up with hands like Williamson's. Those ruined lumps of sinew and flesh. A sign of good hard work, Harry had thought at the time. A life well lived.

"Have some time to think about it," Shacklebolt says. "There's no shame in changing your priorities, Harry."

Hopkins nods. Cuthbert, diligently scribbling away, glances up and looks at Harry.

"Okay," Harry says, getting to his feet, feeling heavy with the weight of something indecipherable. "I'll think about it."

"We'll speak again soon."

Harry goes home.


He visits Draco on Wednesday, as ever. Scorpius answers the door and Harry is suddenly seized by how much older he looks. When was the last time he saw Scorpius? Christmas, surely? Was he at Teddy's funeral? Harry can't really remember. All he can think of is the first time he took James here, and a little scrap of a boy answered the door, face softened with childhood, hair wispy, shy and uncertain and following Draco about like a frightened ghost.

Now Scorpius is taller – still small for his age, not quite as tall as James – but the gentleness of childhood is beginning to melt away. His jawline is straight and narrow, his shoulders are broader, and he offers Harry a guarded look rather than a shy glance. With each visit, he looks more and more like his father.

"Hello," he says.

Harry blinks. "Hello." He wonders if James looks so drastically different than two or three years ago too. He hasn't really noticed. For him, he supposes, it would seem gradual.

"You're early," Draco complains, arriving by Scorpius's side.

"I'm punctual."

Draco glances at the grandfather clock in the hall. "Well," he says, which Harry supposes is the closest he'll get to an apology. "Tea, then?"

They go to the kitchen. Scorpius disappears, a book tucked under one arm. Harry watches him leave and frowns.

"He's gotten older."

"Yes, it's very concerning. I've made an appointment with the Healer next week."

Harry looks at him. "Thanks, Malfoy."

"You're welcome."

Though, deep down, Harry does owe Draco something. In the weeks following Teddy's death – while everyone else gave him endless advice or brought around casseroles or sent flowers until the living room looked like a garden – Draco didn't say a single word about it. He was at the funeral, Harry remembers, and offered condolences. But apart from that, he's remained silent on the subject of Teddy's death.

And for some reason, Harry's oddly grateful for it.

"Has James changed much?" he asks Draco. "Since first year, I mean."

Draco looks at him as if he's asked if Hogwarts is still standing. "Yes," he says slowly. "He's grown up."

"I know, but…I mean, he's gotten taller…" Harry trails off. "He's fourteen. God, he's fourteen. When did that happen?"

"On the seventeenth of February, I imagine."

Harry has that feeling again, of time slipping through his hands like fine sand. He finishes the meeting quickly, wanting to return home soon, and at the end – as he stands up – he offers Draco advice.

"You should spend a lot of time with your son," he says. "Before you know it, he'll be moving out to start his own life."

Draco gives him a look. "I spent six years searching for my son, Potter," he says. "Believe me, I am grateful for every second I have with him."

Harry nods and farewells him, but those words haunt him long after he's returned home.

When it came to caring for James, he relied so much on other people. Teddy, always there. Always. When James was a baby, Teddy would hold him and carry him everywhere. He's my little cousin, he'd proudly tell people. I'm going to take care of him. That's why I was born first. And when James was a young child, Teddy would keep him company during Harry's long shifts.

But now Teddy is gone.

James is still at the pool, Harry thinks distantly as he arrives home. Hermione and Ron took him there, but they should be back soon. He should start cooking dinner, clean the dishes piled up in the sink…

But instead he goes to the living room and, very slowly, reaches to the top shelf of the bookcase. Here is where they keep the stack of photograph albums. All the family memories, lovingly preserved. Harry carries the albums over to the coffee table, then sits down and stares at them, listening absently to the soft but relentless tick of his watch. He opens the cover of the first one.

James. He's sleeping in Ginny's arms. She looks so tired, but she's happy. This was the day James was born. The next picture shows Harry, the pride and joy so evident in his face as he holds James. Then…

Little Teddy. Six years old, carefully holding his cousin, helped by Andromeda. Careful, now, he can almost hear her saying. Teddy touches James's hand and baby James automatically curls his fingers around Teddy's thumb.

Sometimes, Harry wished the photographs were Muggle instead of magical. Solitary, still pictures of time. Missing moments, not capturing certain movements, expressions, smiles…

He turns the page, wanting to continue despite the tears beginning to blur his vision. James sleeping in his crib…Ginny wrapping him up in a blanket…the photographs soon trace the years, the birthdays and Christmases, the little moments between. A summer night, James and Teddy gazing into the sky with awe as fireworks whistle and explode. Andromeda had taken that photograph, Harry remembers. She'd given it to him a few months later, knowing that Harry disapproved. He was always suspicious of the cheap fireworks and, in consideration of James's curiosity in all things dangerous, banned them from the house.

But despite the many years of summer fireworks, James never came to any harm.

"Harry? Are you home?"

He blinks and stands up quickly, swiping a sleeve across his eyes. He hadn't heard Ron and Hermione arriving; now he can hear them clattering about in the front hallway.

"Be there in a minute!" he calls out, trying to regain composure as he tidies the albums away. He has to be strong for James; it won't do him any good to dissolve into tears now.

He goes to greet them dry-eyed, though Hermione looks a little suspicious.

"Can't believe how much James swims," Ron tells Harry. "Hugo and Rose wouldn't get off the waterslide, but not James – he just went straight to the lanes and did lap after lap!"

"He really is an exceptional swimmer," Hermione says.

"Dinner will be ready soon," Harry tells James. James nods and trails down the hallway. By Ron's side, Hugo is busy trying to stop a damp towel escaping his bag, but Rose looks after James, then hesitates and takes a step forward.

"Uncle Harry, would you mind if…if I stayed for dinner?" she asks.

"Ah, come on, Rose. Bit late notice," Ron says. "Besides, we're supposed to be going to your grandmother's for dinner."

"No, it's fine," Harry says.

"I wanna stay too," Hugo pipes up, but Hermione has a reflective look on her face.

"No, your grandmother won't be happy if no grandchildren turn up at all," she says.

"But that's not fair – "

"Come on, Nan's making your favourite pudding. Treacle tart," Ron says, and Hugo looks mollified.

"Okay," he mutters.

"I'll be back around eight o'clock to pick you up," Hermione says, giving Rose a hug. "See you later."

They all farewell each other. Rose thanks Harry again for letting her stay for dinner, then turns to go upstairs. Harry frowns.

"Rose…I'm not sure if James wants company right now."

Rose pauses and gives Harry a look. "I miss my cousins more than anything else in the world," she says quietly. "Both of them. And I can't talk to Teddy anymore, but I can talk to James."

Harry lets her go.


James sits on the edge of his bed, staring at the wall. It has a picture on it. There's a family of badgers, smiling as they unpack a picnic basket.

There's a little chip in the frame.

The attic door swings open and James jumps.

"What?"

"It's me, Rose."

"Oh."

She walks over to the bed, then pauses before sitting beside him. "What are we looking at?" she asks after a long moment.

"That." James points to the picture of the badger family.

"Oh." Rose looks at the picture for a long moment and silence eclipses them. After a long time, she speaks again. "James…"

"Yeah."

"Do you…do you ever wish…" Her voice trembles a little but James doesn't look away from the picture. "Do you…wish…it had been me instead? I…I wouldn't blame you if you did…I know you're much closer to Teddy than you are to me, and it would have been a lot easier if…sometimes I just think it should've been me, it – "

James feels like someone's poured a bucket of ice-cold water over him. He turns to Rose, horror coursing through him. "What? Why would you say that? What's wrong with you? God, Rose – no! No, I'd never wish that!"

Rose begins crying then. "I thought you did," she sobs. "I thought you were mad at me because I'm alive and he's not – "

"No, I'd never – I'm not mad at you, I'm not, I just…I'm just…I just want to wake up, that's all, I'm just…" And for the first time, he realises that's what he's doing. Waiting to wake up. Waiting for this nightmare to stop. Waiting for a dusty Charms classroom two months ago with dust motes in the air and a lazy spring afternoon blossoming over Hogwarts. Waiting, waiting, waiting to hear those two words again.

Hey cuz.

He begins to cry.

Chapter Text

The summer holidays come and go. On the thirty-first of August, Harry helps James pack for Hogwarts.

"You haven't unpacked yet," Harry says as he opens James's trunk. "You've still got clothes in here from last term, James…"

"I know." There's a reason James didn't unpack.

A letter from Teddy.

He knows it. He hasn't looked, but he knows it. Iwan had handed him two letters and a postcard. The postcard would be from Uncle Charlie, who had been travelling through Belgium at the time and had promised to send James a stamp for his collection. One of the letters would be from Harry, replying to a short message James sent asking for a new set of robes. And the other letter…

It would be from Teddy.

James knows it. He'd sent a letter to Teddy on the seventeenth of April, wishing him a happy birthday and enclosing his gift: a geography book Teddy had mentioned wanting. Of course, he'd also included a short paragraph about his swimming (complete lies, of course – he hadn't been in the lake for months), a few comments about a spell Teddy had recently invented, and complained about Scorpius. Any advice for dealing with prats? he'd asked.

If only James could go back in time and write a proper letter, he thinks with another wave of sorrow. Something meaningful. He should've told Teddy how grateful he was for all his letters, and how much he missed him, how much he loved him.

But in any case, he'd been expecting a reply from Teddy. It generally took Teddy a few weeks to reply – the letter went to the Silver Compass postbox in London and they redirected mail accordingly. And James knew the moment Iwan handed the envelopes over. That letter has been sitting in his trunk for two months now. Waiting to be read. But when James does finally read it, it will be the last letter he's ever received from Teddy. He'll never read another letter from him again.

He's crying again, James notices dully. That's all he ever seems to do these days. Cry and cry and cry. He hates himself for being so weak but he can't help it. The slightest things set him off – Hugo offering him a Chocolate Frog, a bit of Muggle mail arriving with a stamp in the corner of the envelope – and it's mortifying. Harry heated up some milk in a saucepan one morning and James had to hide in his room for an hour, crying so hard his whole body ached, because it reminded him of Andromeda making cups of coffee on stormy nights. He cries when he goes to Teddy's room because Teddy will never sleep in that bed again, and he cries when it's a beautiful morning because Teddy will never feel the sunlight again.

He can barely muster the energy to get out of bed, or eat or read his comics or visit anyone. Even the smallest tasks – combing his hair, eating breakfast – seem insurmountable. He sleeps all the time and when he is awake, all he can think about is Teddy in that little blue room at the hospital, the way his skin looked waxen and how his hair felt when James touched it.

He begins stacking textbooks into the trunk, the mail from last term safely hidden beneath them.


Harry sees James to Kings Cross on the first of September.

"Will you be all right?" he asks James as they stand on the platform.

"Fine," James says, glancing away, and Harry frowns.

"Listen," he says quietly, "I know I haven't been there for you lately, James. These past few years…I've been busy with work when I should've been spending time with you." Harry pauses. It's been a long time since they've had a real conversation, a genuine conversation, and it's a little difficult for him to speak so frankly. But he ought to do it for James's sake. "I'm sorry about that," Harry continues, "and I'm trying to change it. But please…believe me when I say that when I ask how you are, I want to know the truth. Even if you're not doing so well. Even if you're downright miserable, actually, and you cry all the time and you're too tired to get out of bed. Just tell me the truth, okay? And I'll do everything I can to make it better. I'm your father. That's my job."

James stares at him. He looks as if he's about to cry, Harry realises with alarm, but after a long moment he just nods.

"Okay," he says.

"So…will you be all right?"

James looks at him, then glances to the train. Silence settles between them for a moment. Then – "I don't know," James says at last.

Now Harry feels like he's the one about to cry. "Okay," he says. "That's okay. Just…write to me, please? If you need to come home – for whatever reason – I'll make arrangements with McGonagall and I'll bring you home. All right?"

"All right."

"Promise me?"

"I promise."

Harry steps forward and they hug briefly. Then James turns and makes his way to the train, boarding it.

For some reason, Harry's transported to another time and place, when eleven-year-old James looked over his shoulder, eyes bright and hair tousled, and smiled at Harry.

I'm going on an adventure! he'd said as he left.

Harry turns and slowly walks away.


James sits at the Gryffindor table, watching the excited first-years. Some of them stare around with awestruck expressions, evidently entranced with everything from the floating candles to the sky-ceiling. Others are laughing, nudging students around them, trying to cover their nerves with bravado and silly jokes. Some stand silently, looking around the Great Hall as if searching for a familiar face.

They line up to be Sorted. Some of them look dejected at the Sorting Hat's decision, others look downright crushed. Some skip happily to their fellow house students, others look uncertain or confused.

Rose and Hugo sit either side of James, almost like guards, and he's stupidly grateful for it. He feels oddly vulnerable, as if he's expecting an attack at any moment. Last school year – those final months of the term – it felt like he was sleep-walking the whole time, not noticing anything, body numb, mind disconnected. Now it feels like the opposite. Like he's made of glass and any moment, a careless word or little shove will make him shatter.

He leaves the welcoming feast early, slipping out the doors of the Great Hall and going to the Gryffindor tower. The dormitory is the same as ever. The beds draped in scarlet and gold, the little woodstove for warmth in winter, the trunks neatly placed at the foot of each bed.

James goes to the window. All he can see is his own reflection, the candles casting flickering light across his face. But if he keeps looking, after a long moment he can see beyond his own reflection. The stars shine faintly across his skin, the moon a bright crescent just above his left eye, and he watches his breath ghost over the cool glass.

Teddy will never see the stars again.

He'll never see James again.

The sorrow greets James like an old friend now. It doesn't choke and suffocate him like it did over the summer, but it settles into his bones, heavy, making him feel exhausted and hopeless.

He goes to his trunk and opens it, then stands there for a long moment before slowly picking up the atlas Teddy gave him for his thirteenth birthday. He sits on the edge of his bed and opens it, going to the back of the book and reading the inscription over and over. To my favourite adventurer, James…

He stares for a long time at Teddy's handwriting. The way the t's are crossed with reckless abandon, the way the J curls like a smile.

Then he turns the pages slowly. The last time he looked at this atlas, there was a little glowing dot by the Rock of Gibraltar.

There's no dot now. Not by a two-hundred-million-year-old rock, not on the sunlit shores of the Mediterranean. Not in the bustling metropolis of London. Not by the rivers and roads of Wales. Nowhere.

He could wait until the moon fell into the sea and the sky turned to dust, James thinks, and he'd still be waiting for that glow to return.


The weeks pass quickly, and it's the twenty-eighth of September before James thinks perhaps he'll be all right. That night, he reads Teddy's letter.

He doesn't know why. He thought he'd never read it, ever. After all, then he'd always have one last unread letter from Teddy. One last message from his cousin.

But he keeps thinking of that starling. Flying over and over through the same painting. Five minute intervals. Someone crying in the distance. A Healer telling them to say goodbye. Footsteps. Andromeda's soft voice.

James. Always his favourite.

Long past midnight, he sits on his bed and stares down at the envelope in his hand, illuminated by the soft glow of his wand. To: James Potter.

He commits every detail to memory. This is the last letter from Teddy he will ever open. On the other side of the envelope, in small letters, is the return address. From: T. Lupin, c/o Silver Compass, London. For a moment, James just stares at the dark ink, unable to move.

Then he slowly opens the envelope and takes the letter out. His hands are trembling so much he drops it twice, but at last he manages to unfold it. Something falls out – a photograph – but James's attention is caught by the first two words of the letter.

Hey cuz,

James stops there. His chest aches, the breath caught in his lungs, and he puts the letter down. He can't bear to read anymore.

Hey, cuz.

He sits there for a long time.

He's not sure how long it is before he manages to pick up the letter and resume reading it. This time, as soon as he gets past the first two words he can't stop. He has to read the whole letter.

Hey cuz,

Saw a mermaid today swimming in the River Cynfal. Made me think of you — I reckon you'll start growing fins soon. You've already got those weird spindly limbs, so you're well on the way. Did you know Muggles have all these daft stories about pretty mermaids sitting around giggling and waving at children? Ha — the ones in the River Cynfal would eat Muggle kids for breakfast, no joke. They've had to migrate after a tourist campsite opened near the river and they're all completely enraged about it.

Anyway, aside from very angry mermaids, this trip has been pretty good. Very busy though, you wouldn't believe how exhausted I am. Looking forward to coming home and seeing you, my favourite cousin – even though you've been acting like a moody hippogriff lately. And I don't know what's happened between you and Scorpius Malfoy but…well, you wanted my advice but you're not going to like it. And my advice is: get over it.

It sounds harsh on paper but just picture me saying those words with a smile and a hair-ruffle, okay? I don't know what's going on between you two but I reckon you've both lost a potential friend in each other. Maybe you should back off a little, be a bit nicer. Even if he's being a bit of a prat. Just be the bigger person, you know? Promise me you'll at least try.

Anyway, terribly long letter for me — time for me to sign off. The sun is setting over Gwynedd and it looks amazing. Maybe I'll take a picture and send it with this letter. Oh, and before I forget —please turn over for the instructions written out for the spell you asked about. Let me know how it goes.

See you in June (look for me at Platform 9¾ – I'll be there!),

Teddy.

James stares down at the photograph. A beautiful sunset, clouds shot through with red and gold, over some rugged mountains. He stares at the picture for a long time before slowly turning it over. 5 May 2018 – Gwynedd, Wales. For James.

Six days before he died.

For a moment, it seems so surreal. James still doesn't understand – and maybe he never will – how he's reading these words right now and the person who wrote them is dead. It just doesn't make sense. He's sharing a moment with Teddy and the only difference is five months.

Time is the longest distance between two places, James remembers thinking once.


The final renovations of the manor are taking place. Rooms have been repainted, floors have been replaced, the tapestries of bland landscapes have been replaced by family portraits and photographs. Some of the antique furniture has been kept or carefully restored – the chesterfield suite in the sitting room, a hand-lacquered cabinet which was a favourite of his mother's. Other items – the drawing room table, a leather armchair made from goblin-skin – have disappeared. Over the summer holidays, Draco completed work on his parents' bedroom, repainting it and replacing the moth-chewed curtains, tidying away his parents' possessions. His father's belongings are in a neat box in storage now. It had been difficult, doing that. It had felt wrong, going through Lucius's possessions. A pocket-watch, a cloak clasp , a watch-repair kit, a well-thumbed copy of the Pureblood Directory. Impersonal items, items that might be found in anyone's possession, but Draco had carefully placed them into storage. It had contrasted strongly with his mother's bedside table, which was overflowing with pictures of her family, pressed flowers from her garden, a paper rose a young Draco had once made for her, and engraved jewellery given to her by Lucius.

The last room, he'd told himself. Of course, there's still plenty of little details to complete – new curtains for some of the rooms, and a bit of skirting board that needed fixing in the front parlour, and a window in one of the guest bedrooms needed replacing. But for the most part, the work was done.

Except…

He stands in his father's study.

Always, always his father's study.

Draco stands before the mahogany desk and studies it for a moment. He can almost picture his father sitting in the chair, quill in one hand, writing his letters. The study was always the place for discipline. Other children were punished in suitable ways – Pansy's mother would take away her toys, Theo's father wouldn't allow him out to play with friends – but Lucius never did anything so crass. He'd simply take Draco to the study and there they would remain in silence – Draco standing before the desk, his father sitting behind it – and then Lucius would always say This is not how I imagined my son to be. Those words – delivered in a tone heavy with disapproval – always crushed Draco more than any lecture Narcissa might give him about good manners. Then Lucius would resume writing his letters and Draco would stand there for however long it took Lucius to dismiss him.

This is not how I imagined my son to be.

Would his father ever express that sentiment now?

Draco looks up slowly and gazes out the window. The manor gardens unroll, a perfect swathe of green gilded with flowerbeds, with elegant willows and neat hedgerows. In the distance, the orchard is a hive of activity for the feasting birds. A far cry from the overgrown tangle three years ago, when Draco's son first came home and Draco decided to make some changes. The gardens are beautiful again, and the manor has nearly been restored to its former stateliness. Draco is busy these days, busy with his genealogy work, through which he's somehow made friends. His customers keep in regular contact and there's a few other parents with whom Draco's ended up being acquaintances.

And all these changes…they were all made for Scorpius. Not for Draco. It was only when Scorpius reappeared that Draco genuinely tried to change things.

For the first time, Draco wonders if Lucius ever truly loved his family. Oh, Lucius cared – he was overcome with anxiety and fear during the war when Voldemort demanded use of the manor. Lucius was always worrying about Draco and Narcissa.

But…if he'd truly loved them, he would have sacrificed himself for them.

Draco hadn't understood it. Not back then, when he was seventeen years old. Honestly, he'd empathised with his father. It was too risky to make plans for an escape. Perfectly understandable.

But when Scorpius was born, Draco knew how it felt to be a parent. To love something so much he'd die for it. And he would. If he could guarantee Scorpius's safety but knew that, as a price, he would die – he'd agree in a heartbeat. Whether Scorpius is a baby, or a child, or seventeen years old, Draco would die to protect him. He would be afraid, and he would feel despair, and hopelessness, but he would do it anyway.

Would Lucius have done the same for his son?

Draco stares at the empty chair behind the desk.

"This is not how I imagined my father to be," he says quietly.


Draco begins the final renovations on the fifteenth of November. Scorpius's birthday. It seems appropriate.

Harry notices. During their next meeting, he gazes about the room, then looks at Draco.

"You're renovating the study."

"Yes."

Harry gives him a faint smile. "Getting rid of all the ghosts," he says, and Draco, startled, wonders how on earth Harry Potter managed to step inside his head.

"I'm wondering if I should keep the desk or not," he says at last.

Harry studies the desk for a moment, then reaches out and traces his fingertips over a few scratches. "I imagine it has quite a lot of history."

Draco considers that. "I'll think about it," he says.

Harry collects his cloak. He seems to be in quite a pensive mood, Draco notices.

"How's James?" he asks impulsively as Harry opens the door, ready to depart.

Harry looks at him, then — to Draco's surprise — smiles. It's a very small smile, but it's there. "Not very well, I'm afraid."

"You're smiling." Draco feels like he's missed something completely. "You just said your son is not well."

"Yes," Harry says. "I know. He told me himself. We've been writing a lot of letters lately."

"Oh."

"I'll see you next Wednesday, Malfoy."

"Next Wednesday," Draco echoes.

He goes to the study and sits at the mahogany desk. He can see letters engraved into the desk, left carelessly by a sharp quill nib and too-thin paper. My dear son...

Lucius's handwriting. No doubt one of the very rare moments Lucius decided to write to Draco himself rather than send his regards through Narcissa's usual lengthy updates.

Maybe, Draco thinks, he'll keep the desk after all.


It's a bright November day when James feels all right.

There's nothing special about the day. It's a cold, crisp winter's day, the sky a pale unclouded blue though the thin sunlight offers little warmth. The distant mountains are steeped in snow, pristine and white as eggshell, and the students are getting ready for the first Quidditch match of the season. James sits in the library, his schoolbooks stacked on the desk in an attempt to feign study. He doesn't like the common room these days – too noisy, everyone chatting and laughing and throwing things about – and since the other boys realised James wasn't just going to return to his usual self, they've become slightly awkward around him. He avoids the dormitory out of politeness, just so they won't feel the need to quieten down and stop laughing as soon as he walks into the room.

Though his Charms textbook lays open before him, James isn't reading it. He's looking at the photograph in his hand. A sunset in Gwynedd.

He turns the photograph over.

For James.

He studies the smudged words for a long time, then sets it down and picks up his quill, trying to concentrate on his homework. What are the limitations of a Banishment Charm?

James stares down at the question. A group of students wanders past, rugged up in Quidditch scarves and hats, chattering away; James can hear Madam Pince's sharp, quick footsteps as she searches for the source of the noise.

The limitations of a Banishment Charm include proximity… The words trail away, ink blotting beneath the nib of his paused quill. He gazes at the photograph again, lost in thought for a long while. Then he opens his bookbag, hesitates, and pulls out a little postcard, turning it over to read the words on the back. Words he's read hundred of times now.

I was standing atop this rock today, James. Can you believe it? The earliest humans walked upon it, and it's had homes and castles built upon it, and two world wars have raged around it. They've dated the rock to 200 million years old — I find that oddly reassuring. There's a saying, 'solid as the Rock of Gibraltar', which means something is very safe.

He will go there one day, James thinks suddenly. He'll go there, and stand where Teddy stood. Where countless thousands have stood before them. Where wars have been waged, and bombs dropped, and castles besieged. Where countless photographs have been taken, and memories forged, and lifetime experiences made. And somewhere, in this great timeline of history, in this vast ocean of wars and battles and celebrations, a boy sent another boy a postcard. I was standing atop this rock today, James.

James has to bite his lip hard to stop from crying – not a single person has caught him crying yet, and he'll be damned if they see him now – but it's a different sort of crying to all the endless tears he's shed recently. That crying was always accompanied by a sense of hopelessness, and misery, and such emptiness that he knew with certainty that his life was completely worthless now.

But this time, it feels different. There's a strange lightness in his heart and instead of thinking how Teddy will never experience the world again, James is thinking how one day he'll visit the Rock of Gibraltar and share a moment with Teddy. It's just separated by time, that's all. Months or years or decades, but they'll still share a moment.

James is crying now, but for the first time in seven months, he feels like maybe everything will be okay after all.


Of course, the feeling is fleeting, and he still has plenty of moments of crushing grief and despair. But now he has other moments too, where determination flashes through him and he thinks maybe he can be better.

After all, it was the last request Teddy made. Promise me you'll at least try.

James reads that letter so many times. He keeps the atlas in his book-bag all the time, like a charm, and he props the postcard on his bedside table. Like he needs to be constantly reminded now that Teddy was here. He existed, and he left a legacy of experiences and memories and stories and connections.

It's the twenty-fourth of November when Teddy's legacy causes a shift in James's world. Like a small earthquake, just enough to tilt his perspective, just enough to change things a little.

It's an overcast Saturday, the snow-clouds storming in low and grey. Icy sleet has been pelting the pitch frequently, and a harsh wind had sent scarves unravelling and spectators' teeth chattering. The brutal weather, teamed with the fact it's only the second Quidditch match of the season – Ravenclaw versus Hufflepuff – has thinned the crowds a little. James shivers in the stands, drawing his cloak tight as beside him, Rose cheers on the Hufflepuff Chaser, one of her friends. On her other side, Hugo joins in.

"Go Suzanne!" he shouts as the Chaser zips past.

A few bedraggled cheers rise from the Ravenclaw stands. But their team isn't doing well; most of the players are being thrown off-course by the fierce wind and rain. The game seems like it might have to be a forfeit when Scorpius – caught in a gust of wind – slams into another player and ends up with a bloody nose. But he flies onward, blood slowly drying black on his face, evidently distracted by the collision, looking exhausted, and thusly missing it when the Hufflepuff Seeker suddenly darts forward.

"And Thompson has spotted the snitch!" the commentator says, and Scorpius glances about with a panicked expression. He's close to the Gryffindor stands – nobody's cheering for Ravenclaw, though there's a group of second-years chanting the name of the Hufflepuff Seeker, evidently a friend of theirs.

"Ha, Malfoy's useless," Hugo says.

Every decision you make, you make twice.

James turns to Rose. "Cheer him," he says, and she looks at him blankly.

"Who?"

"Malfoy. Isn't he your friend?"

"I…what?"

James, exasperated, turns from her and cups his hands around his mouth. "Go Ravenclaw!" he shouts, his voice carrying clear, and Scorpius turns to glance at him for a moment, his expression startled. Beside James, Rose seems to shake herself from her confusion.

"Go Scorpius!" she shouts. "You can do it!"

Around them, a cheer starts to rise, the enthusiasm running through the stands like a bolt of energy. They stand, cheering for Ravenclaw, and Scorpius turns and darts away. Within seconds, he's caught up to the Hufflepuff Seeker and even here, all the way across the pitch and through the lashing winds, James can hear the faint cheer of the Ravenclaw spectators.

It's a fierce competition but Scorpius fights on with apparently renewed strength and, just as it looks like a sure win for the Hufflepuffs, Scorpius manages to grab the snitch from right underneath the Hufflepuff's hand.

"Ravenclaw has won the match!" the commentator declares. "The Ravenclaw Seeker has saved the team and just pushed the tally up enough for a win…"

Afterwards, as they're traipsing back to the Gryffindor tower, Hugo looks at James.

"Thought you didn't like Malfoy," he says uncertainly.

"I don't. But he played well. Ravenclaw deserved their win."

"Oh." Hugo pauses, then runs on ahead to catch up with his friends.

Rose is looking at James and grinning. He scowls at her.

"Shut up," he mutters.

Her grin just widens.


Harry misses his job.

He won't lie. For just a few months – a few wonderful months – he had the title of Head Auror. For him, it hadn't been just some empty accolade, another word to add to his resume. It had been an opportunity to create real change in the department. He'd had so many ideas over the years – and sure, Williamson had patiently listened to them and implemented a few new policies and practices. But so many more ideas had been shelved or given the usual ambiguous responses: that depends on next year's budget, or we'll have to talk to the rest of the team, or just we'll see. And Harry had thought that if he could become Head Auror, he could change it all. Make a real difference. He's always loved being in the middle of it all – racing around, organising projects, leading teams, and of course maintaining his favourite part of Auror work: fieldwork, where he can easily shoot off a hundred different spells and practice new defences. Always in the heart of the action.

But now he's older. His childhood is no longer just a few summer holidays ago. The scars and old injuries are beginning to take their toll. His reflexes aren't quite as quick as they used to be, and as Harry notches up the years in his career, he begins to deal with more and more paperwork, more planning and policies and strategies, while the young recruits are sent out to pour their energy and enthusiasm into spells and alleyway chases.

And James.

Harry's biggest regret.

When he was young (and naive, he thinks unkindly), he knew exactly what sort of life he wanted to give James. His child would never know what it was like to have a childhood like Harry's. No; James was never left wanting, always spoiled with toys and books and whatever his heart desired. The moment James expressed an interest in swimming, Harry arrange for coaching at the local pool. The moment he mentioned he wanted to play an instrument, Harry bought him a brand new drum kit, which was played incessantly for one summer and then never touched again. Whenever James expressed boredom, Harry would call one of his many relatives. Andromeda or Teddy, Rose or Hugo…James wouldn't ever know what loneliness felt like, Harry was adamant. He'd always have so many friends and family. And when Harry was still twenty-years-old, James nothing but a star across the universe, he thought he'd spend every weekend with his family, playing Quidditch or football, and he'd read his child bedtime stories every night.

But then Ginny had died, and Harry had become a single parent. And an Auror's work is never complete. There were still games of football, of course, and bedtime stories, but they were occasional rather than routine, and as the years went past Harry found himself spending less and less time with his son.

No; this is not the parenthood he'd envisioned.

He officially resigns from the Head Auror position. Yes, he could implement changes in the department. In return for a hundred percent commitment, he could improve so many lives. But Harry's tired of being selfless.

For once, someone else can make the sacrifice.


Winter seems to be taking the calendar very seriously this year, for the first of December sees snow lightly dusting the grounds of Hogwarts. The students scurry in the cold corridors between classrooms, their scarves wound around their necks, mittened hands clumsily clutching textbooks. In the frosty Herbology greenhouses, Professor Sprout hastily casts heating spells while the students practice growth charms on a row of daisies. James casts the spell over and over, slightly disparaged when the other students seem to achieve it so easily, but soon enough the daisy before him is flowering brightly.

"Potter, over here, please," Sprout says and James glances over his shoulder.

"Did I do something wrong?"

"Goodness, no. I thought you might like to help me for a moment with the Christmas decorations," Sprout says cheerfully. "Now, if you could put a Freezing Charm on these Star-Roses, they'll make a lovely string of lights."

"A Freezing Charm?" James asks.

"You should have learned it in second year."

Yes, but it's been ages since James cast that charm. It's not really an everyday spell. Sprout looks at him patiently.

"Sure," James says at last, turning and making his way to the row of swaying Star-Roses. Just his luck; a group of Ravenclaws are working right beside the flowers, and they all pause to watch him perform the spell. He's not sure whether they especially hate him because of whatever Scorpius has been telling them, or if they're just prats.

"You're hopeless," one of the Ravenclaws whispers. Stuart Sinclair, if James recalls his name correctly. "Can't even perform a second year spell…"

James glances away, trying to concentrate on the task at hand. He draws his wand, trying to remember the incantation. "Immobulus," he says, pointing his wand, but the Star-Roses keep moving slowly about and Sinclair laughs again.

"Shut up," James mutters, lifting his wand to try again.

"I'm surprised you've figured out which end of the wand to point. Really, you're – "

"If I were you, Sinclair," Scorpius says evenly, not looking up from his work, "I would follow Potter's suggestion and shut up."

"Didn't realise you'd joined the Potter pity party," Sinclair retorts to Scorpius. "My grandmother died last year, you know, and I don't recall getting a free pass to be a prat."

"And yet you're one anyway." Scorpius taps his wand neatly against a plant, sending little shoots sprouting up.

Sinclair looks outraged. "I'm a prat? I suppose you've forgotten all those times Potter hexed you, and insulted you, and – "

"I never said he wasn't a prat. I just said you're one too. Congratulations. You're both prats."

At that moment, Sprout arrives to begin examining their work. Sinclair shuts his mouth and glares down at his plant. The other Ravenclaws all whisper and giggle among themselves and James turns his back on them, casting the charm again.

"Immobulus!"

This time, every Star-Rose remains perfectly frozen.


James starts to think that maybe things will be all right after all. He can't go back in time and retrieve his life, the person he used to be before he was called into McGonagall's office on a mild May afternoon. That life has been buried along with Teddy's bones.

But some days he feels a little more hopeful, and a week into December he hesitantly goes to the lake in the early hours of the morning and watches the team swim. Afterwards, he waits for them to walk past him. Most people tend to avoid him these days, either too afraid of his temper – a reputation garnered by last year's scuffles and fights with other students – or still too awkward about Teddy's death. Besides, James thinks with a pang of regret, he wouldn't blame his team mates for ignoring him. When he thinks of all the times he snapped at Iwan, or ignored his attempts to make conversation…and he only too easily recalls Thomas crying after James punched him.

James touches a hand to his bookbag, feeling the reassuring weight of it. The postcard from Teddy is in there. The Rock of Gibraltar. Steady, safe, strong. He can do this.

He waits for Saltworth to stop doling out advice. Thomas is the first to leave, looking annoyed after listening to a five-minute critique of his breathing, and James hesitates as Thomas walks past.

"Hi," he blurts out, and Thomas pauses.

"Hello," he says cautiously.

They both stand there awkwardly. Then James says, "I've been thinking about swimming again."

To his complete surprise, Thomas smiles tentatively. "That's great," he says. "The team's missed you this year. What changed your mind?"

Nothing. Mind your own business. But James swallows the words and looks away. "Hard to get out of bed some mornings," he mumbles. "Can't get the motivation, you know?"

"Yeah." Thomas glances over his shoulder as Iwan arrives beside them.

"Hi," Iwan says to Thomas, looking wary. "Everything all right?"

"Yeah, fine. James wants to swim again."

"Oh."

"Just having some problems finding the energy to drag himself out of bed at five in the morning. Think we've all had that problem sometimes," Thomas adds wryly.

Iwan looks at James. A short silence descends over them. "Well," Iwan says at last. "As a fellow Gryffindor, I consider it my honour-bound duty to help James. It'll be hard work, throwing icy water on him and kicking him out of bed at five o'clock nearly every morning, but someone's got to do it." There's a pause, then he grins at James. Thomas starts laughing, and James suddenly feels stupidly, immensely grateful to both of them.

"Yeah," he says. "Thanks, Iwan. You're always so thoughtful."

"Of course I am," Iwan says, slapping him on the back.

They turn and make their way back to the castle together, and James remembers something.

"Hey, Thomas?"

"Yeah?"

He hesitates. "Next practice, I can show you some breathing strategies if you want. My coach gave me some good tips a few summers ago."

Thomas pauses, then gives James a smile so quick he nearly misses it. "Thanks," he says. "Really appreciate it."

They pass through the doors to the castle together, and James has that hopeful feeling again.


But the next morning, as soon as James opens his eyes, he can tell it's going to be a bad day. He hates this. There's nothing to trigger it, nothing to explain it, but some days he wakes up and he just wants to lie in bed all day, hiding from the world. Three more weeks until Christmas, he thinks dully, and Teddy won't be there.

"Wake up." Somebody flings open the curtains around James's bed and shakes him; he groans.

"Go away."

"No," Iwan says mercilessly. "Swim practice. Get up."

"I'm not going."

"Why not?"

"Because. Just go away."

There's a soft clink and James opens his eyes. Iwan has grabbed the glass of water on James's bedside table and is beginning to tip it threateningly over James's head. "I made a promise. Honour-bound duty, remember?" Iwan says.

"That was a joke."

"It was a promise." The water begins sloshing dangerously close to the edge of the glass.

"Just forget it, okay?"

Iwan tips the water over James's head.

James lets out an involuntary shout as the icy water cascades over him; he bolts upright, filled with momentary rage. "That's cold, Iwan!"

"Well, now that you're up," Iwan says as James stands up wrathfully, "you may as well come to swim practice."

"You idiot! My pillow's all wet!"

Iwan steps away, safely out of reach as James fumes and reaches for his wand, planning to cast a drying spell.

"Oh no you don't," Iwan says, snatching up James's wand. "If you want this back, come to swim practice."

"I told you, I'm not going. Give that back before I punch you," James seethes.

"That's the spirit! See you in the water!" And with a cheerful wave, Iwan grabs his jammers and hastily flees the dormitory.

James is left alone, water dripping from him; he begins shivering and looks at his drenched pillow. He should swap it for Iwan's, he thinks angrily, and hex the stupid little git as soon as he sees him again. But he's too angry now to go back to bed.

Still fuming, he grabs his jammers and goggles.


But it's hard to stay mad when he arrives at the pier and the team actually cheers. They gather around him, smiling.

"Wondered when you'd be back," Noah says, slapping him on the back.

"Yeah, well," James mutters, glaring at Iwan.

The practice itself goes miserably. James ploughs through the water and he actually wants to cry when Thomas easily outstrips him with nearly every lap. Iwan catches up to James easily when they're doing a few sprints, and at the end of the practice, James drags himself back onto the pier and sits there for a moment before slamming his fist into the wood, feeling pain radiate through his knuckles.

"Damn it," he says, and it sounds like a strangled cry and he hates himself so much. "Damn it, damn it, damn it." He punches the pier again just for good measure.

"You did great, James," Iwan says and James clenches his jaw, unable to look at any of them.

"Don't patronise me," he says between gritted teeth. "I sucked. My starts were terrible, I've got no endurance, I was exhausted by the final laps – it was pathetic. I'm pathetic." He hangs his head, filled with disappointment and shame. How could he have let this happen? The only thing he's got left is swimming, and he just let it go.

"Come on, team, pack up and get back to the castle," Saltworth orders loudly. "It's far too cold and the warmth potions will be wearing off. Potter, stay here. I want a word with you."

The others slowly drift away, making their way back to the castle. James stands up and crosses his arms, trying to gather the strength he'll need to face the barrage of criticism from Saltworth.

She takes her time. She takes down the lane-dividing spells, and picks up a pair of goggles someone left behind, and tidies up the notes on her clipboard. Then she goes over to James and they stand on the empty pier for a long moment.

"Calthorpe wasn't patronising you, Potter," she says quietly. "You made an admirable effort today."

He bites his cheek, feeling the lump form in his throat. In some ways, it would've been easier if Saltworth had just yelled at him. "This was the worst practice I've ever done," he says at last.

"Yes, it was, and even when you realised that about five minutes into the first set…you kept going. And that's what you need to do, Potter. It will be very difficult, and there will be plenty of days where you think you haven't improved a bit, but you need to keep going."

James looks away. The words are wrenched reluctantly from him. "I don't want to come back to practice." It was humiliating enough today – can he really stand it again and again for the next six months? Realising every time how much strength and power he's lost?

"Well," Saltworth says, "you need to make up your mind right now, Potter, and stick to your decision no matter what. If you decide not to return to the team, I'll accept that choice. But if you decide to continue your training…you will not waste my time with anything less than your best. Do you understand?"

He glances at Saltworth, then looks away again. "I understand," he says at last.

"Then are you going to continue you training?"

James stares down at the wooden pier, a dark pattern splashed across it from the lake-water. "Yes," he says. "I'll continue training."

"Very well. My office at lunchtime, Potter, and we'll sort out an intensive training schedule for you."

"Thanks, coach."

She nods and James turns to walk away, each footstep heavy.


He's still not sure whether he's made the right choice. At lunchtime, Saltworth wastes no time drawing up a timetable for him. It ends up taking nearly the entire lunch hour as they discuss his exercise regime and the best way to regain strength and muscle tone. By the time they're finished, James is beginning to feel very doubtful about his ability to dedicate himself to swimming again. Can he really do this?

That night, he sits on his bed, wand lit with a Lumos, slowly turning the pages of the atlas Teddy gave him. He traces a fingertip across the Iberian Peninsula, pausing by the Rock of Gibraltar.

"Tempus," he whispers, and little numbers flick through the air. He sets an alarm time for five o'clock in the morning.

He can do this.

Chapter Text

Lucius has, as ever, impeccable timing.

Draco has just finished the study renovations. He's sitting at the mahogany desk, still wondering if he should keep it or not, when there's a rap at the window. There's a tawny owl perched patiently on the sill. He stands up and tugs the sash open, reaching for the letter tied to its leg, wondering if it's a letter from Scorpius –

To: D.L Malfoy.

He recognises that handwriting.

Draco pauses, then unties the letter and sets it down upon his desk.

His father's desk, he reminds himself.

After another long moment, he unfurls the letter and reads it. Once, twice. Again.

Nineteen years have passed since his father's disappearance, and Lucius has evidently decided that nineteen years is long enough. He wishes to come home.

How should Draco measure someone else's life? When he holds up the ruler, where does he start? Should he measure from his father's childhood, all the shortcomings that Abraxus Malfoy had? Draco met his grandfather on several occasions and remembered him as a gruff, silent man. Narcissa seemed wary of him, and told Draco once that Abraxus had controlled Lucius's life very closely. Abraxus didn't seem fond of Draco either. One visit, Draco had overhead Abraxus complaining to Lucius. You spoil him far too much. He'll grow up weak, just like you.

Or should Draco measure from his own childhood, when Lucius was a distant figure, always in his study with the door closed, holding clandestine meetings with mysterious people? Or should he measure from his father's final act before his disappearance? Abandoning his family. Not a single letter, not a single warning. Draco can still see Narcissa weeping over her wedding photographs, wasting away to nothing.

Draco reads the letter over and over again. It's short. Of course, he tells himself, Lucius is still one of the wizarding world's most wanted men. Of course he couldn't write a long and detailed letter, explaining everything.

Still a wanted man…

Nineteen years Lucius Malfoy has been on the run. Time wears down memories and dulls emotions. Many people have forgotten, and Lucius is probably at the very back of the Ministry's mind now. Still…it's not like Lucius could just walk through the door of the manor and pick up his old life. And the letter reflects that; if Draco's reading between the lines correctly, Lucius wants to come home and, with Draco's help, hide away in the manor.

Seventeen-year-old Draco would have jumped at the chance. He would have loved to help his father, make him proud, finally receive some of that hard-won approval. His father, coming home at last…

But this is not Lucius's home anymore.

It's Scorpius's.

Draco stares at the letter for a long time.


James comes home two days before Christmas. Andromeda and Harry greet him at Platform 9¾ and Harry doesn't miss the way James automatically looks to the empty space beside Andromeda.

It's a quiet reunion.

"How's the year been so far?" Harry asks.

"Okay, I guess."

It's a truthful answer, at least, and Harry's grateful for that.

They go home. James doesn't join them in decorating the sitting room. Harry doesn't blame him. The Wizarding Wireless is playing the same old carols but the music lends a bittersweet melancholy rather than festive cheer. He hangs the ornaments up, carefully unwrapping each one from its delicate tissue paper. Andromeda sits by the fireplace, patiently unravelling strings of lights. Neither she nor Harry speak much. Like James, Harry is still looking. Still listening for the pop of someone Apparating to the front porch. Still waiting to see them step through the door, eyes bright, calling out.

"Tea?" Harry asks Andromeda, trying to distract himself.

"That would be lovely."

He stands up and goes to the kitchen, and it's there that he finds James. He's standing by the kitchen counter, staring down at an open recipe book. The page is well-worn, marked with years of flour smudges and spilt molasses.

The gingerbread recipe.

"Want help?" Harry asks and James glances up at him, then down to the page again.

"No." He shuts the book. "I'm not making it."

Harry doesn't argue with that. "Maybe we could make something else," he suggests. "You know, come to think of it, you've never really cooked anything besides gingerbread. Never made a single dinner, have you?"

"It's not my fault. You were never here to teach me."

There's resentment there, faint but present, but Harry doesn't let it nettle him. "I suppose I wasn't," he says, and surprise flashes across James's face. "Well, now that I am here…what would you like to make?"

"I don't know." James looks down at the recipe book. "I've never looked at the other pages. Only ever got this book out at Christmas."

"Well, now's the time to turn the page."

James hesitates, then flips the page.


It turns out to be a recipe for florentines; James completes it with his father's help and they take them to the Burrow for Christmas Day. In the evening, Harry extracts James from a conversation with Rose and they farewell everyone before leaving. Harry feels a little guilty about missing this tradition in recent years; it's been a while since he's seen Dudley.

But if Dudley feels any affront, there's no indication of it. His wife is cheerful and welcoming, ushering them inside to the cosy sitting room. Dudley gives James his present: a set of wooden puzzles that James immediately dedicates himself to solving. Dudley's daughter, Daisy, peers anxiously at James like he's a goblin, but she soon warms up to him.

"I'm James," he tells her and soon she's repeating his name happily.

"James! James!" she shouts cheerfully as he helps her stack building blocks.

But soon enough it's time to leave. They farewell Dudley and his wife, then begin the long drive home. James rests his head on the cool glass of the car window, the half-solved wooden puzzles in his lap.

"Why do we only visit them once a year?" he asks Harry as they're passing through Wiltshire.

"Well…" Harry hesitates. "They're Muggles."

"So?"

"So…when I was little, Dudley didn't like magic. He was very cruel to me."

"He doesn't seem cruel."

"People change." Harry checks his mirrors, then changes lanes.

"Then that makes the past irrelevant then, doesn't it?" James returns his gaze to the passing scenery. "We should visit more often. Daisy's my cousin, she shouldn't be a stranger."

Harry glances at him, then back to the road. "We'll see," he says.

On either side of them, the dark fields go on and on.


The day after Christmas, Harry goes to his usual meeting with Draco. Scorpius is nowhere to be seen. Harry only realises this when they're already sitting at the table, settling down with cups of tea and the usual Monopoly board.

"Did Scorpius stay at Hogwarts for the break?" Harry asks.

Draco glances at him. He's been oddly quiet, Harry thinks. Staring into the distance, ignoring his cup of tea. "No. He's in his room, reading."

"Oh. He usually answers the door when he's home."

"He's been very quiet lately." Draco finally takes a sip of his tea. "I know something's wrong, but he won't tell me."

"Quidditch?"

"Going well."

"Friends?"

"Always being invited to parties. We've got a New Year's Eve party coming up, actually."

"Study?"

"Fine. Grades are as good as ever."

"Well," Harry says, at a loss. "Makes it a bit tricky, then. Who knows? I suppose that's the problem with the teenage years — they always get so secretive. And all the door-slamming...although James has gotten a lot better recently, hasn't slammed a door in months. That's a good sign, isn't it? And he writes letters far more often now. Proper letters too, not just the usual — "

"Harry."

" — although I do worry when he gets a bit too quiet — I mean, I'm not saying I miss the tantrums — "

"Harry."

Harry glances up, surprised. Draco's still gazing out the window with an expression that Harry can't quite decipher. "What?"

Draco is silent for a long moment. Then he speaks again. "My father contacted me."

"Your..." Harry trails off, then tries again. "Your father contacted you?"

"Yes."

Harry looks down at the Monopoly board again. It's so tattered now, worn down by a hundred games. It was a present from Dudley, he suddenly recalls. So many Christmases ago. Eleven-year-old James had cheerfully brought the game to the manor to play a game with his newest best friend, and he'd never asked for it to be returned.

"Why?" he asks at last.

There's silence, and he looks up. Draco is staring at him. "Why?" he repeats. "That's the question you ask?"

"Why not?"

Draco says nothing. He looks back down at his cup of tea, then out the window, as if he's lost the thread of conversation and he thinks he'll find it hiding somewhere. They sit in silence. Outside, the clouds cast patterns of shadow and light across the land. Somewhere, a starling chirps. Harry thinks of the starlings in the fields beyond his house. The badgers in their sett. The little family of foxes. The way him and Ginny took something decrepit, something abandoned, and made it into a home. For each other. For James.

"He wants to return to England," Draco says, breaking Harry's reverie.

"Does he?"

"To see Scorpius." Draco's mouth twists. "He won't see him. I'll make sure of that."

"You won't let him see Scorpius?" Harry is surprised.

"Don't lecture me, Potter," Draco says, bitterness lacing his voice. "There's a consequence for every action. It's time my father learned that."

Harry falls silent. He glances at the mantelpiece. Here, in the kitchen, there are no family photographs. They're all in the hallways, Harry thinks. The study, the sitting room. But regardless of the lack of photographs, the little remnants of Scorpius and Draco's lives remain. The canister of peppermint tea on the counter. The Monopoly set. Genealogy notes. One of Scorpius's scarves draped over a chair.

"Will you?" Harry asks at last.

"What?"

"Will you see your father?"

Draco's anger seems to evaporate. He looks at Harry as if he can't quite believe him. "It's illegal. There's a trace set up, if my father ever returns to England — "

"You could go to him."

"The Ministry have a trace on me too. If I leave the country suddenly, they'll certainly be very interested."

Harry looks down at the Monopoly set, then speaks rapidly. Before he doubts himself. "An Auror could remove the trace."

"Right, so I'll just stroll into the Auror offices and..." Draco trails off. "You're not serious."

"Do you want to see your father or not?"

"I..."

"You said you missed him, once."

Draco taps his fingers lightly against the table, looking troubled. He looks at Harry, then glances out the window. "This is the whole reason you're here," he says finally. "Year after year they've kept me monitored. Adding time to the program. To supervise me, they say, but we all know the truth. To find my father. The last Death Eater."

Harry doesn't know what to say to that. "Yes," he acknowledges.

"And you've got him. I've just told you I know where he is."

"Yes."

"All you have to do," Draco says slowly, "is ask me where."

Harry's silent for a long time, staring down at the table, listening to the distant starlings.

Draco breaks the silence first.

"Then why are you here?"

That's a question that has been nearly four years in the making. That's the question Harry's been ignoring month after month, through all the winters and summers of their visits.

"Because," Harry says at last, "I want to be."

He waits for Draco to roll his eyes, make an acerbic remark about Harry's sentimental nature, but instead he gazes down at the table, mouth serious and unsmiling, grey eyes hidden beneath his lowered eyelashes. Years and years, Harry thinks. They have known each other for so long now. Strange that they met twenty-seven years ago, and this is the moment Harry calls him a friend.

Draco looks up again, meeting Harry's gaze. "You could still ask me. I'd tell you."

"I know."

Outside, the clouds chase each other across the sky.


They settle on the date of New Year's Eve, when Scorpius will be at a friend's party and the Ministry will be preoccupied with celebrations. Nevertheless, Draco still seems doubtful: Is it worth it? It's still considered a serious crime for Death Eaters to contact each other. If anything should happen…

But Harry knows Draco deserves some closure, and so he does his best to reassure him. "I promise," he says before he leaves. "You'll see your father again. And nothing will happen. You and Scorpius will be safe."

He goes directly to the Ministry afterwards. It's the ideal time for Draco to visit his father, he thinks. The Ministry never sleeps, but it certainly gets lethargic after Christmas.

"Oh! You're not rostered on tonight, sir," Cuthbert says, appearing and scurrying alongside Harry, clipboard in one hand.

"No, just here to pick up some paperwork."

Cuthbert disappears, rushing off elsewhere. Harry unlocks his desk drawer with a wave of his wand. It doesn't take him long to find Draco's file. He glances around, then quietly sets to work dissolving the powerful tracing charm on Draco's travels.

An hour later, an owl is winging its way to the manor, the coded message attached to its leg.

Request Accepted.


New Year's Eve. Today, for the first time in nineteen years, Draco will be meeting his father.

He reads Harry's letter for the umpteenth time. Request Accepted. Just two words, but does Draco trust them? Does he trust Harry? One little mistake, one careless oversight, and everything could fall apart.

It's not worth it, Draco thinks. It's not worth the risk. He glances at the grandfather clock, wondering if he has time to change his mind. Distantly, he thinks of how the clock was handed down through the generations, like most of the things in this house. While Draco threw away many things, he preserved many more.

After all, family history is his specialty.

Footsteps. Draco glances up as Scorpius steps into the hallway. He doesn't look particularly pleased, Draco thinks, for someone about to attend a friend's New Year's Eve party. "Ready to go?" Draco asks him. "I'll take you there with a Side-Along Apparation."

Scorpius looks at Draco, then glances down at the floor. "I don't want to go," he mutters.

"Why not?"

"I don't want to."

Draco says nothing. He can't make Scorpius go, but he mustn't stay at the manor. His safety is Draco's first concern, and in the very unlikely scenario that Lucius attempts to return to the manor, Scorpius cannot be here. That would be disastrous.

"I'm afraid you can't stay here," Draco says at last. "I'm going away to visit a friend."

Scorpius looks up, anxiety clear in his eyes. "I could stay here by myself," he suggests.

"I'd rather you didn't stay home alone."

"Then I'll come with you! I don't mind – "

"Why on earth don't you want to go?" Draco glances at the grandfather clock again, worry beginning to nibble at him. He's arranged to meet Lucius at ten o'clock sharp.

"I just...they don't want me there..."

"Then why did they invite you?"

Scorpius falls silent. After a long moment, he speaks again. "Can't I just...can't I just go with you?"

"I'm going to visit Harry," Draco lies. "If you're happy to spend two hours with James Potter, then certainly."

Another long silence. Scorpius's shoulders slump. He turns and slowly fetches his cloak from the peg.

Scorpius doesn't say a word as they leave the manor and walk down the long driveway. Draco sighs, and his breath forms a silver cloud in the dark winter evening.

"Is something the matter?"

"No."

"Scorpius – "

Scorpius's mouth thins and his eyes narrows slightly, his face closing as effectively as a door. Draco hates it when he does this. He becomes as icy and distant as the stars above. The worst part, Draco thinks, is that he knows exactly whom Scorpius inherited that from.

"I'm sorry you can't stay home tonight."

The silence stretches on, punctuated only by the crunch of gravel underfoot. Draco tries another approach.

"Did you have a fight with your friends? Is that why you don't want to go to the party?"

"Could you Disapparate now, please?"

Draco sighs again, then takes Scorpius away with a Side-Along Apparation. They arrive outside the address given; it seems as if the party is already in full swing. Draco takes a few steps forward; Scorpius stops him.

"There's no need for you to come in."

"Well, I'd like to meet the other parents, at least."

"Could you please just leave?"

Draco looks at Scorpius, but Scorpius won't look at him. He stares at the ground instead.

"All right," Draco says slowly. He pauses, then takes off his scarf and hands it to Scorpius. "Honestly, you'll catch your death. It's freezing. At least you remembered your coat, I suppose. Now, I'll be back at midnight to pick you up."

At least Scorpius doesn't complain about Draco fussing too much or tell him to leave again. He accepts the scarf and nods. Just as Draco's about to turn and leave again, Scorpius surprises him with a hug.

"Sorry," he mumbles into Draco's shoulder.

"It's all right. Sorry you couldn't stay home. I'll see you in a couple of hours."

Scorpius nods and steps away again. Draco Disapparates, feeling much lighter. Scorpius has his icy moments, but then Draco forgets that he's also inherited certain traits from Astoria too. Her affection, the way she's quick to regret arguments and offer a truce.

Feeling suddenly much more encouraged about meeting Lucius, Draco takes the portkey from his pocket and activates it.


He lands slightly clumsily in a deep drift of snow, disoriented. He's deep in the Latvian wilderness somewhere, that's all he knows. The snow flurries around him; the fields of pristine white seem to glow beneath the winter moon. In the distance, the silhouettes of pine trees rise like inky brush strokes.

Draco begins walking, leaving a trail of dark footprints behind him. Onwards and onwards, out into the fields, out into the deep snowfalls of the land. The cold creeps up his sleeves, quick and stealthy as a thief in the night.

Soon, a distant dot of light appears, floating on the black horizon like a boat bobbing at sea. Draco makes his way towards it, step by icy step, his feet dragging through the snow. After a long time, as he finally nears the small house, the door opens and light spills into the night. There's someone in the doorway, Draco thinks. But surely it cannot be his father. His tall, imposing father...

But it is. As Draco walks through the little unlatched gate and past the woodpile, he sees him. Lucius.

He looks old, Draco realises, and it hits him like a hex. His father is an old man now. His hair has silvered, the years of constant frowning and concentration becoming evident on the furrow of his brow, the deep lines around his eyes. He's old. What happened to the powerful man Draco once knew as his father?

"My dear son," Lucius says hoarsely, but Draco is not a child anymore, scrambling after his father for any scrap of affection or approval. He looks at Lucius for a long moment, then steps inside.

Lucius closes the door.

At least it's warm, Draco thinks. There's a pot-bellied stove emanating heat and Draco sits in one of the tattered armchairs in front of it. There's the sound of a bottle being uncorked and the clink of a glass. Of course, Draco thinks. Even here, in the steep snows of the Latvian forests, Lucius would somehow have a good bottle of the finest whisky.

"I was hoping to see my grandson with you," Lucius says, handing Draco a glass of whisky.

"Were you?" Draco says coolly, and Lucius's expression — a faint smile — wavers and fades.

"You are displeased," he says.

Draco takes a sip of the whisky, feeling the slow burn of it, and then sets the glass down and watches the ice cubes settle again. "Mother died," he says. "I suppose you probably received the news."

"I wish I had been there."

"And yet you weren't."

Silence hangs between them like a half-finished spell. Lucius looks past Draco, out the window. Draco moves the glass slightly, listening to the faint clink of the ice cubes.

"She died alone. Still asking for news of you."

Lucius's lips twist. "I was a wanted man, Draco. They would have arrested me the moment I set foot in the country."

"You still are a wanted man. And yet here you stand, long after everyone else has paid for their crimes and moved on with their lives."

Lucius looks down at his glass, then swiftly downs the whisky in one movement. "My grandson," he says at last. "I haven't seen him. Not a single photograph. That's all I ever wanted. To see him, just once."

"And fifteen years ago, your dying wife wanted to see you. Just once. But you didn't come back."

Lucius falls silent. After a long moment, he speaks. "I am aware that I have not been a particularly good father, Draco. There are many things I regret – "

"No," Draco says. "Don't stand here now and ask for forgiveness."

There's another long silence. When Lucius speaks next, his voice is heavy with sorrow and Draco hates that. He wants him to be angry, cold – he doesn't want to remember his father as a frail, sad old man.

"I know you'll be a better father to Scorpius than I ever was to you," he says.

"You set the standard low."

"I did the best job I could."

The anger fades from Draco. Now he just feels tired and defeated. He looks out the window, watching the snowflakes gently spiral past. They look almost luminescent in the darkness.

"Strange," Lucius says, "how much you look like your mother. When you were younger, you bore a far closer resemblance to me."

Draco doesn't say anything. He looks away from the window and stares down at his glass of whisky instead, watching the ice cubes slowly shift and melt. Lucius sets his empty glass down upon a side-table. A floorboard creaks. The house is settling, Narcissa used to tell Draco when he was young and afraid of every little flutter of the curtains, every creak and rustle.

"You'll never let me see him, will you?" Lucius asks.

The fire burns low in the hearth and Draco watches the flames for a while, the way the very centre of the flame appears an octane blue, the same colour as a bright summer day.

"No," he says quietly. "I won't."

Lucius doesn't speak for a long moment. When Draco glances at him, he's staring at the fire too. Draco's waiting for anger, that icy fury, the demands to see Scorpius, but that Lucius — strong and powerful, never compromising, always assertive — has faded to nothing. Nineteen years, Draco thinks. Nineteen long years have left Lucius a tired old man.

Lucius lifts his head suddenly.

"Did you come alone?"

"What? Yes."

"The wards," Lucius says, standing up, and panic flashes through Draco.

"What — "

But then he's cut off as a flash of light encompasses the room, blinding and bright, and when it fades they are surrounded by Aurors.


Harry goes home in a good mood. It's one o'clock in the morning and he's only just left the Burrow, laughing and calling out farewells to cheerful family and friends. James smothers a yawn as they step through the fireplace.

"Missed fire-calls," he says sleepily. "I'm going to bed."

"What?" Harry glances at the mantle. As James has observed, it's glowing with many missed fire-calls and Floo connections. All from the Auror department.

"Goodnight," James says, but Harry hardly hears him. He stares at the fireplace for a long moment.

Draco.


The rest of the Ministry is quiet. It's barely New Year's Day, after all, and nothing short of a complete emergency could drag employees away from their celebrations with family and friends. Harry walks down the empty halls, past the dark offices, through silent rooms.

Until he opens the door to the Auror department.

People are bustling around. Memos fly through the air. The place is lit up as if it's a busy Monday morning. When Harry steps through the door, a few of the Aurors look at him and wave in greeting. By the time he's reached the central Auror offices, he knows something is very, very wrong. Cuthbert is there to greet him.

"Sir," he says, as if he knew Harry would walk through the door that very second. "Williamson would like a word with you."

"Williamson?" Harry says slowly. He retired months ago. What's he doing here? He's still been visiting the office a lot, saying hello to his old colleagues, but why would he be here now? Harry looks around the office, at the smiling Aurors. They look excited, happy to be there despite the early hour.

"Right this way, sir."

Harry is ushered into the Head Auror office. The door shuts behind him; he'd been expecting Cuthbert to follow him, as he always does, and he looks back in surprise at the closed door. It's very quiet in here. A marked difference from the cheerful chatter outside.

"Auror Potter."

He looks ahead. Hopkins and Williamson are there, both looking at him with expressions Harry cannot decipher. They're sitting behind the desk. It's usually cluttered with files and photographs and broken quills and overdue paperwork, but now it's completely empty. Except for one small, thin file sitting between Hopkins and Williamson.

Name: Malfoy, Draco.

"Have a seat."

"I'd prefer to stand."

Silence descends between all of them for a long time, but Harry knows this game. It's one of the first things Aurors are taught. When interrogating suspects, give them silence. Let them grow uneasy. They'll begin to speak just to have reprieve from the unsettling quiet.

At long last, Williamson speaks. "Is there any particular reason," he says slowly, in that gravelly voice that has no doubt struck fear into a hundred criminals, "why you removed the tracing spell from Draco Malfoy?"

Harry clears his throat. "That's an interesting assumption."

"I'm afraid it is not an assumption." Hopkins clasps his hands in front of him, looking at Harry, unblinking. "It's an observation. We have surveillance evidence."

The word evidence seizes ahold of Harry's nerves, and he can't help the sharpness in his voice. "Have you arrested Draco Malfoy?"

"That's confidential information."

"What I think we should do – " Harry begins, but Williamson cuts him off.

"What I think you should do," Williamson says, still speaking in that slow and measured tone, "is go home."

"Have you arrested him?"

"I would very strongly advise you not to discuss your current circumstances with anyone else."

"Where's his son?"

"We have redistributed your shifts to other Aurors. You have been placed on unpaid leave."

"Where's Scorpius? Where have you taken him?"

"You have several other very serious problems right now, Potter," Williamson says. "I suggest you focus your attention on – "

Harry slams his fist on the desk. "I am not leaving until I know where Scorpius is!"

Hopkins and Williamson stare at him. It's perhaps the first time Williamson has ever looked startled, but Harry doesn't particularly care about that right now.

Hopkins is the first to speak. "I assume...I'm not sure what the protocol is for care of children. You'll have to ask the Law Enforcement officers about that..."

"You seem to care an unusual deal about young Scorpius," Williamson adds, studying Harry shrewdly.

"Yes, it's odd, isn't it?" Harry fires back. "A father is arrested and I want to know if his child is safe. Forgive me for having a single shred of concern."

Without bothering to wait for their reaction, he turns and storms from the office.


But unlike the celebratory nature of the Auror offices — all of Harry's colleagues smiling and offering Harry cheerful congratulations, clearly unaware of the circumstances – the Law Enforcement department has a distinctly sullen atmosphere. They're not pleased with him.

"Had a good New Year? Good. We didn't. We were here, dealing with your case."

Harry gives the sergeant a look. "Could I speak to Malfoy, please?"

"Which one?"

"Draco."

"No. He's still being processed and you'll just make more work for us. Go home."

"I need to speak with him."

"It's not happening."

"What are his charges?"

"For Merlin's sake, I'll stick you in a cell too in a minute."

"Where's his son? Scorpius Malfoy?"

At least the sergeant seems to take pity on him then. "There's no need to look at me like that. It's not like we stuck him in a cell too. We were able to make arrangements with the Hogwarts headmistress. We sent him back there. It's not strictly protocol, but I've got kids of my own and Ministry custody should definitely be the last choice."

Harry exhales slowly. "Thank you," he says. "Thank you."

He has no other choice then but to concede defeat and go home. He supposes he should be grateful that Scorpius is back at Hogwarts, safe and sound.

As for Draco...

The anger fades, and Harry just feels exhausted.


He needs to talk to someone about it, at least, and his friends are there as always. The next day, he sits at the kitchen table, Ron and Hermione opposite him. They'd been smiling at first, congratulating Harry on the capture of Lucius Malfoy — it's splashed all over the front page of The Daily Prophet — but their happiness soon turns to confusion as Harry explains the circumstances.

"You what?" Hermione stares at him.

"I removed the trace."

Hermione looks around, as if fearful of a hidden Auror pouncing upon Harry's confession. Ron just looks thunderstruck.

"Why?" he demands.

Harry is silent for a long moment, stirring his third cup of tea. "Because," he says at last, "I know what it's like to wish, more than anything, to see my parents one last time."

Hermione sighs. "Harry...I know this isn't what you want to hear, but sometimes you're too nice for your own good. I mean, it's a shame that things have ended this way, of course, but — "

"It's a shame? You do understand that Draco is facing an Azkaban sentence? He has a fifteen-year-old son, Hermione. Scorpius has no other family. None."

"Still," Ron says doggedly. "Malfoy knew the risk."

Harry falls silent. They won't understand. Harry knows Draco's choice was made under the weight of a thousand childhood memories, of family portraits and photographs and loyalty and duty. It was not an easy choice. Despite the risk, despite legal obligations and contracts and everything else, a little part of Draco – the part that stayed forever young, the part that still dreamed of a family being unbroken, together always – would have stopped him from reporting his own father.

And though Harry loves his best friends, this is something he cannot articulate to them.

"Everybody makes mistakes," Harry says at last.

"Malfoy's made a lot of mistakes," Ron points out.

Harry makes a split-second decision. "I'm going to do everything I can to fight the charges. This isn't fair. I don't expect either of you to help me – especially you, Ron, after everything the Malfoys did to your family – but I know what it's like to grow up without parents, and there's no way I'll just sit back and let Scorpius go through the same thing."

Ron and Hermione look at each other.

"Merlin, I hate it when he gets like this," Ron says conversationally. "Does his usual speech about how he'll do it all on his own, throws in a few insults about how he expects us to abandon him – "

"And acts like he can do it all without us," Hermione says. "Really. We destroy Horcruxes and help him defeat Voldemort, but we can't do a bit of legal research and help with a trial. Rather belittling, isn't it?"

"Yeah, I can't imagine why we're still friends with him."

Harry has the grace to feel abashed as they both turn to look at him. "Yeah…sorry," he mutters.

Ron grins, but after a moment his expression becomes more serious. "And I reckon we will be researching legal stuff for you."

"I'll be fine," Harry says with a shrug.

"Are they going to charge you with something too?"

"Like what? I've been placed on unpaid leave, not arrested."

Hermione exchanges a look with Ron. "Obstruction of justice," she says. "They could arrest you for that."

"Obstruction of justice?" Harry asks disbelievingly. "That's ridiculous — "

"You helped somebody commit a crime, Harry. This could be really serious. Have you contacted your solicitor?"

"I haven't got a solicitor." Harry tries to laugh. "I'm not exactly in the habit of needing legal advice."

"Well," Hermione says after a moment, "now might be the time to start."

Harry says nothing.


Later that day, however, after Ron and Hermione have gone home to search Hermione's extensive book collection, Harry discovers a fourth witness to the conversation.

"Dad?"

"Hmm?" He's in his study, looking through Draco's file.

"What were you talking to Aunt Hermione and Uncle Ron about?"

Harry glances up. James stands in the doorway, frowning.

"Nothing. Just some work-related stuff."

"Okay." But James lingers in the doorway and Harry sets down his quill. "It's just…you're not in trouble for anything, are you?"

Harry pauses. "It's nothing. My supervisor is a bit cross with me, that's all."

James gives him a look. "Aunt Hermione said you could be charged with obstruction of justice."

"Eavesdropping again, I see." But after a moment, Harry leans back in his chair and sighs. "It's fine. They're not going to arrest me, and they're not going to send me away. I promise."

"You shouldn't have helped him."

"What?"

"Draco Malfoy," James says angrily. "Why'd you help him? He's a Death Eater. Why would you help a criminal? The paper said he'd been arrested for treason. You're honestly breaking the law just for someone like him?"

"Yes," Harry retorts. "Because I know him, not what the paper has written about him. And it's got nothing to do with treason. He wanted to speak to his father, James. If you hadn't seen me in nineteen years, wouldn't you want to see me?"

"That's stupid! It's not against the law to speak to your parents!"

"It is for Draco Malfoy," Harry says curtly.

"Why?" James's anger seems to be overtaken by confusion and frustration now. "That doesn't make sense."

Harry rubs at his temples, feeling a tension headache forming. "Because that's what happens after a war. People get punished." He waits for another retort from James, a scowl perhaps, but he just stands there for a long moment.

"Well, if he knew he was breaking the law, it was still a stupid thing to do," James mutters at last.

Harry looks down at his desk, debating whether or not to say something. "Listen, James," he says at last. "I know…I know you and Scorpius Malfoy aren't exactly friends. But this year…things will be especially hard for him. His father has been arrested, and if Draco is sent to Azkaban then who knows where Scorpius will go. Just promise me…"

"…I'll be a bit nicer. Even if he's being a bit of a prat. Just be the bigger person, you know?" James finishes, and the way he says it makes Harry blink in surprise. He sounds like he's read those words hundreds of times before, like he's chanting them from memory.

"Well…yes, actually."

James turns and leaves then, and later on Harry finds him asleep in the guest bedroom. His wand is still lit up with a Lumos spell; evidently he was looking through old family albums. There's a photograph of Teddy, aged about nine or ten, smiling at the camera and waving.

Harry picks up James's wand.

"Nox," he whispers.


When James returns to Hogwarts, he's in slightly better mood. Harry has promised him that everything will be fine and he won't be charged with anything; since Harry's name hasn't been mentioned in the papers at all, James is reassured. When he boards the Hogwarts Express though, all the students are whispering about something and he feels a bit paranoid until Rose enlightens him.

"Scorpius's father and grandfather have been arrested," she tells him as they sit in a compartment together, Hugo deciding to join them too.

"So? That happened a week or so ago, didn't it?"

"You know how it is," Hugo pipes up with a grin. "Everyone loves a good bit of gossip. For example, I heard a really interesting rumour about Rose and Andrew McCray – "

Rose lunges at him. "Shut up, Hugo!"

"Ha! It's true, then?" Hugo laughs even as Rose pins him down and ferociously rubs her knuckles across his head. "Ouch!"

"Serves you right! And it's not true," she says, returning to her own seat. "Andrew McCray probably doesn't even know I'm alive. I mean, he's vice-president of the Gobstones Club and a Chaser for the Hufflepuff team and he's got these amazing blue eyes…"

James exchanges a look with Hugo; they raise their eyebrows at each other.

"…and he's got this laugh that just sounds so perfect, and he's always so kind and wonderful and…"

"Why don't you tell us how you really feel, Rose?" James says, and Hugo sniggers. Rose straightens up abruptly.

"What? Shut up, James. Just wait until you find a girl you fancy. I bet you'll be one of those hopeless types, following her about with flowers and a dumb expression," she adds meanly.

But later on in the journey, when Hugo is reading Chocolate Frog cards and James is gazing out the window, Rose gives him a little smile.

"What?" he asks.

"Nothing. It's just…it's nice, to hear you make a joke again. It's been a while," she says.

"Oh." James hesitates, but he still remembers that day in the attic. Both of them crying. Do you wish it had been me instead? "I'm glad you're here," he says.

They both sit there smiling at each other – small smiles, and Rose looks a bit close to tears again and James is feeling a little like that too – but they're both there and James feels that little flicker of hope again. After Teddy's funeral, Harry had told James you'll never stop feeling his absence, but you'll learn to cope with it. At the time, James had barely registered the words, let alone understood them.

But now, he thinks, he's finally beginning to learn.


Two weeks later, during their first swim practice of the new term, James swims lap after lap as if it's the easiest thing in the world. His arms move through the water, fingertips perfectly aligned, and at the end of each lap he executes every flip turn with ease. The water feels like an old friend again, helping him forward, pushing him onwards instead of dragging at his limbs. When he hauls himself onto the pier at the end of the session, the boys all smile at him and offer a few high-fives.

"What?" James asks with confusion.

"You idiot," Thomas says, smiling. "That was your best practice yet. I had to give it everything I've got just to stay ahead of you."

"Still ahead of me though, weren't you?"

"And always will be, with that attitude," Thomas says, and James has the stupid urge to smile.

"Just wait until next practice, Pearson," he says.

He goes to the dormitory to have his shower and get ready for breakfast, and on the way he catches sight of the Rock of Gibraltar postcard on his bedside table.

Steady and strong.

He feels all right.


And perhaps he's still thinking of the postcard later on when he's sitting with the rest of the students in the Potions classroom, waiting for Slughorn to finish dealing with a mess left by Peeves and begin the class. Next to him, Paul is frantically trying to finish an essay about potion ingredients.

"It's due in five minutes," James says conversationally.

"I know, I know. Quick, what's the purpose of a bezoar?"

"I don't know. Where's Rose?"

Paul glances up, scanning the room, then pauses as his gaze fixes upon Scorpius. He's sitting just across the aisle, shoulders hunched as if to physically shield himself from others.

"Look, there's Malfoy," Paul says, a little too loudly for James's liking.

"So?"

"Well, did you hear about his dad?"

James pauses. "You should really finish that essay. Slughorn's nearly done."

"Oh!" Paul returns his attention to his essay and begins scribbling away again. 

James looks up and just for a moment, his gaze meets Scorpius's.

Then they both glance away again.

Chapter Text

Draco wishes he had a time-turner.

A careless mistake. One mistake. He should have reported his father as soon as he'd received that first letter. After all, he's always been a rational person. Weighing up the risks, making calculated moves. But he'd allowed himself to be swayed by that hope he'd always had. He had it when he was a naive teenager, crying in empty rooms over the fate of his family, and he had it when he attended his mother's funeral, and he had it for all the long years of his father's absence. The hope that one day his family would be together again.

And now here he sits. In a holding cell in the Ministry, and all he can think about is Scorpius. If Draco is found guilty and is sent to Azkaban…what will happen to Scorpius? His mother is dead. Narcissa is dead. Lucius is imprisoned. Astoria's father is dead and her mother's health is ailing. The last Draco heard, she was in poor health, unable to leave the house most days.

Even so, better that Scorpius lives with her than a stranger.

If I knew where my father was, he'd told Harry once, and I knew it would make people treat Scorpius better, I'd tell the Ministry in a heartbeat.

Bitterness rises in his heart, an endless tide.

Forgive me, Scorpius.


In the visitation room, one of the walls shimmers and gives away its use as a one-way viewing point. Harry paces around the room, ignoring the wall; Draco is far more wary of it and mentally screens the conversation, avoiding anything that might incriminate Harry.

"I spoke to your solicitor," Harry is saying furiously. "Did you know the maximum sentence is three years? Three years, for speaking to your own father. It is completely ridiculous — "

"I am aware of the sentence length, yes." Draco watches him, feeling oddly distant from all of this. He wonders if they know Harry was the one who removed the tracing spell.

Harry finally pauses in his pacing. "Could you be a little more interested in your own fate, Draco?"

Draco studies him. "You know as well as I do," he says eventually. "There's nothing we can do. There's no loopholes. There's no saving graces. The trial will be a formality and nothing else."

"Damn it!" Harry's arm twitches, as if he wants to throw a punch, and Draco glances at the viewing wall. "Damn it," Harry repeats, this time quietly. "Damn you, Malfoy. You weaselled your way out of a war trial but you get caught having a conversation with your father? That's how you end up in Azkaban? God, I could almost laugh about it."

They remain in silence for a long time, Draco sitting on one of the uncomfortable chairs, Harry standing by the door.

"How's Scorpius?" Draco asks, and Harry's shoulders slump.

"This has been all over the papers. The Daily Prophet has sensationalised it, as ever. You've been charged with criminal conspiracy. I can't imagine what Scorpius is going through." He pauses. "Well, actually, I can. Everywhere he turns, people will be talking about it. Whispering. Spreading rumours."

Draco falls silent again. After a long moment, he speaks. "They have asked me to nominate a caregiver — "

"No. No."

"Harry — "

"He doesn't need a caregiver. He's got you. You are not going to Azkaban, I won't let it happen, I don't care how — "

"Harry," Draco repeats tiredly. "Just say you'll do it."

Harry pauses. He looks at Draco for a while, his gaze shifting down to Draco's clasped hands where only the faintest shimmer shows the restraint charms looped around his wrists. When Harry speaks next, his voice is quiet. "It feels like defeat," he says. "I don't want this to be a defeat."

"I know."

Silence descends between them again.


February draws to a close, giving way to slightly warmer weather. Not much of a difference, but it makes swim practice a little easier when the grounds aren't covered in frost, and James feels confident enough to remove the tiny scarf from his cactus. One chilly afternoon, he lingers after Herbology to give it a few extra compliments. He likes it in the greenhouses these days, surrounded by the smell of damp earth, the shelves of plants making him feel hidden from the world.

"Still here, Potter? Class has finished."

He glances up. Professor Sprout gives him a kindly smile.

"Yes, Professor. Just wanted to check on my cactus."

"Well, if you don't mind staying a little longer, could you plant the Cobweb Vines for me?" She nods at a shelf filled with tiny pots of soil.

James nods and Sprout bustles away. He picks up the vial of seeds. Like grains of sugar, he thinks as he begins the task. He mindlessly moves along the shelf, methodically planting the seeds, listening to the soft fall of rain overhead.

"Professor? The latest essay – " Scorpius rounds the corner, sees James, and immediately stops. "Oh, it's you," he says icily.

"Sprout's not here," James says shortly, hoping Scorpius will leave before he ruins one of James's rare good moods.

But Scorpius gives him a suspicious look, not moving. "Does she know you're messing about with those plants?" he snaps.

James sighs. He doesn't want to talk to anyone, let alone get into an argument with Scorpius Malfoy. He made a promise to Teddy. "Go away, will you?"

"Gladly." Scorpius gives him one last chilly look, then turns just as Sprout comes round the corner.

"Oh, hello, Malfoy," she says amiably. "Not distracting Potter from his work, I hope."

"No," Scorpius says without looking even the slightest bit ashamed of accusing James of vandalism. "I was hoping I could speak to you about my essay, actually."

"Ah, the one about desert plants? Well, you're in luck." Sprout picks up a watering can and nods at James. "Potter here should be able to help. He should practically be an expert in cacti at this point."

"I doubt he'd be able to offer anything useful. I'd much rather – "

"No need to be so dismissive of others, thank you very much," Sprout interrupts. "I know you've had a few quarrels with Potter in the past, but you're in fourth year now and it's high time you – "

"Get over it," James says suddenly. You won't like what I'm about to say...

Sprout gives him a startled look; Scorpius looks like he wants to hex James into oblivion.

"I don't need any advice from you," Scorpius snaps.

"It wasn't advice, and I wasn't talking to you," James retorts, forgetting Teddy's letter.

"Who were you talking to, then?"

"None of your business!"

"Shut up, then," Scorpius fires back, and Sprout's jolly demeanour quickly vanishes. James has never seen her seriously angry – she always bustles cheerfully about the place, patiently helping students – but now her face seems to lose its softness, her eyes sharpening like the spines on James's cactus.

"I think," she says curtly, "that both of you ought to be just a little more respectful to your fellow student. Potter, I suggest you help Malfoy with his assignment to the best of your ability."

"Yes, Professor," James says, sensing danger.

"And Malfoy, I expect you to listen to Potter's advice with consideration. Show a bit of courtesy."

Scorpius stares at the ground. "Yes, Professor," he says at last.

"Good. Now, if there are any problems, I will resolve them," Sprout adds ominously, and with that she nods firmly to herself and disappears down a nearby aisle of plants, watering can in hand. James has the feeling she's probably still in earshot, however.

Scorpius turns away for a moment, digging in his book bag, and then holds out a piece of paper. James stares at it blankly. "Well? Are you going to help or not?" Scorpius says irritably.

"Excuse me? Don't speak to me like that — "

"Oh, because you haven't been a complete prat in this particular conversation, I'm supposed to be nice to you? Is that it?"

"Can't you just leave already? Merlin, I do not want to talk to you right now – "

"Well, you are!" Scorpius says, his voice rising, and James glances over his shoulder, keeping an eye out for an angry Professor Sprout. But when Scorpius speaks again, his voice is quieter, anger clipping each tense syllable. "Don't pretend you're not happy about my father's arrest. I know you are."

James just stares at Scorpius, feeling more surprised than anything else. "Why?" he asks. He means why would it make him happy, but Scorpius misinterprets the question.

"You know why he was arrested. Because he's a Death Eater. Because he'll always be a Death Eater, no matter how many years have passed or how many trials he's been through. Just like I'll always be a Death Eater's son, no matter what I do or who I become! Tell me, what do you think of when you hear my name?"

James, caught off-guard, answers automatically. "Stars."

Scorpius stares at him. "Stars?" he repeats.

James shrugs, feeling bewildered. "Scorpius, the constellation near the centre of the Milky Way. And Hyperion, one of Saturn's moons. That's what I think of...when I hear your name…" He trails off as Scorpius's face suddenly crumples. He turns from James and races away, his footsteps quickly fading. James is left standing alone but soon enough Professor Sprout descends upon him like a furious Devil's Snare, demanding to know what he'd done to make Scorpius flee so quickly, and when he is unable to produce a suitable explanation she makes disapproving noises and assigns him detention.

James doesn't really mind. At least nobody can bother him in detention.

Including enemies with odd questions.


Today, Harry will have to exercise the first of his responsibilities: Scorpius had evidently asked about visiting his father while Draco was in custody, and McGonagall granted him special leave from the day's classes. As his caregiver, Harry has been requested to accompany Scorpius.

Harry hadn't expected to deal with him at all until after the trial, and he feels a little worried about it. Scorpius has always been a courteous child, but no doubt he'll be devastated about his father's arrest and, quite possibly, horrified to learn he's now legally under Harry's care. James and Scorpius aren't particularly fond of each other either, and Harry doesn't even want to think about James's reaction to the possibility of Scorpius staying with them.

Which won't happen, because Draco isn't going to Azkaban, he tells himself. The same lie he's been repeating lately, and each time it sounds a little less determined and a little more desperate.

He Disapparates to Hogsmeade and collects Scorpius from McGonagall. Scorpius, wearing a black cloak and a downcast expression, doesn't say a word to Harry. Harry takes his cue and doesn't attempt conversation. They travel, via a portkey, to the Ministry; when they arrive in the atrium, Scorpius tilts his head back, gazing at the levels above them, and then he looks at the fountain in the centre. The light from the water dances across the polished floors, reflecting from the golden statue of a witch gracefully holding her wand aloft.

"Hecate," Scorpius says — the first word he's said since they left Hogsmeade — and Harry glances at him.

"What?"

"Hecate. Worshipped as a protective goddess in Greek mythology, but it's believed that she was actually a historically significant witch."

"Oh." Harry doesn't know what else to say. "This way, Scorpius."

They go to the elevators. Scorpius is silent, though he garners more than a few glances from Ministry workers. They go to the Department of Magical Law Enforcement, and Harry wants to cringe when a few Aurors greet him. They look at him curiously — everyone knows something isn't right, that he's been placed on unpaid leave — and their eyes flicker to Scorpius.

They pass through a set of doors, then another. Down a long corridor, and then there's a small waiting room where a harried-looking officer tells them visitation times have changed. Scorpius will need to wait another hour before seeing his father.

It's cruel to leave Scorpius — anxious and consumed with worry — stuck in a waiting room for an hour, Harry thinks. He tries to think of distractions — perhaps a visit to Diagon Alley, or a walk around the Ministry — but with all the stares directed at Scorpius, perhaps Muggle London is a safer bet.

He gets an idea.


They go the aquarium. Scorpius has a lot on his mind, Harry thinks, and he'll probably just wish he was by himself somewhere. But he carefully reads all the information about the sea creatures, and he spends a long time in the underground viewing room for the sea turtles, illuminated only by the blue glow of the aquarium, his hands against the glass as he watches the turtles swim about. Harry searches for something to say besides empty reassurances.

"This was always James's favourite part of the aquarium," he says at last, watching a turtle swim past. Scorpius turns his head and watches it too.

"They said you're my caregiver now," he says, his grey eyes seeming to almost glow luminescent in the blue underwater light.

"Yes."

Scorpius looks upwards, watching another turtle as it dives through the water. "One day," he says, so quietly that Harry thinks he's really speaking to himself, "I'll have my own home. Where nobody can take me away."

The turtles have all disappeared, Harry notices. Gone to the surface.

Now they're both just staring into emptiness, a blue void.


They go back to the Ministry.

Now it's Harry who sits in the reception as Scorpius goes to visit his father. Scorpius is escorted to the visitor's room by a kindly constable, and when he returns half an hour later he's crying quietly while the constable tries to reassure him.

"Come on, there's no need to make a fuss," he's saying. "You're far too old to be crying now, aren't you?"

Harry nods at the constable and leaves, Scorpius walking beside him and making a valiant effort to compose himself before they go into the busy atrium. Harry transfigures a nearby memo into a handkerchief and hands it to Scorpius.

"I've just got to visit a friend to pick up some paperwork," Harry says. It's a half-truth – Hermione promised to research Draco's case — but in reality Harry just wants to give Scorpius some extra time to compose himself. "It'll just take a few minutes."

Scorpius nods wordlessly and Harry uses a side-along Apparation to take them both to Hermione and Ron's house. The door unlocks for him – it always does – but it appears neither of them are home. Harry quickly goes to Hermione's library and finds her notes, a scrawled memo to Harry pinned to the top of them. When he returns to the front hallway, he finds Scorpius standing by the hall stand, a framed photograph in his hands.

"Scorpius?"

He looks up, then sets the picture back down onto the hall stand. It's a photograph of Rose, James, and Teddy, Harry realises. They're laughing and nudging each other, a Christmas tree in the background, a star glowing atop it. Harry casts around for something to say.

"It's a nice picture, isn't it?"

Scorpius just gazes at the photograph for another long moment. "James looks happy," he says at last.

Harry studies the picture too, his heart giving a little pang at James's happy expression. "That picture was taken a few years ago."

They stand in silence. Then Scorpius suddenly gives a little shake of his head, as if trying to clear his thoughts, and turns away.

They return to Hogsmeade, Harry leaving Scorpius with McGonagall. When he's finally home again, he looks over Hermione's notes.

Sorry, Harry, she's written. Nothing useful. There's nothing you can do.

He thinks of the turtles swimming silently through the water, Scorpius watching them, his hands pressed against the glass. One day, I'll have my own home.

It's been a long time since Harry felt defeat, but tonight it calls his heart home.


And one week later, despair joins defeat when Harry is summoned to Shacklebolt's office. Usually, Shacklebolt is quite affable; however, now he sits across the vast and intimidating desk of his office and looks at Harry with something akin to disappointment.

Shacklebolt waits for a long moment, then picks up the file, glances at it, and puts it down again without opening it. He sighs, a long and steady exhale. "I don't need to read it," he says. "I have read it cover to cover, Harry, and yet it still makes no sense. But none of the evidence seems fabricated. The witnesses seem reliable. Everything seems to make sense except for your actions."

"My actions?"

"On the evening of December the twenty-eighth, you accessed Draco Malfoy's file and spent quite some time removing a tracing charm. When questioned about your presence in the office, you claimed you were there to collect paperwork."

Harry is silent.

"I have been telling the witnesses over and over that they must be wrong. That you certainly would not do such a thing." Shacklebolt leans back in his chair and clasps his hands in front of him. "And if you did, I'm sure there would be an exceptional reason for it."

The silence stretches on. "Draco wanted to see his father," Harry says at last. "I agreed to help him."

Shacklebolt surveys him. "You are an Auror, Harry," he says. "Your colleagues trust you with their very lives. They look up to you. You are a member of the elite Auror team, after all, and you took an oath to uphold their values."

"I know, I know I did, but it's not that simple — "

"It is that simple, I'm afraid. You have broken the law."

"Broken the law?" Harry echoes in disbelief.

"As your superior, I'm afraid I cannot comment on the charges." Shacklebolt glances down at Harry's file again. "But as your friend, I very strongly suggest you contact your solicitor and begin making arrangements."

Harry doesn't know what to do. Will they take him into custody? His colleagues, his fellow Aurors, will they be the ones to arrest him? What about James?

"I've just been made caregiver to Scorpius Malfoy," he says suddenly.

"Very unfortunate timing. We'll ask Malfoy to nominate somebody else. In the meantime, you'll still be a guardian to young Scorpius."

Relief floods through Harry. "They're not arresting me now, then."

"Nothing is official yet. Time is still on your side."

But nobody else is, Harry realises. Even Shacklebolt, the Minister for Magic, cannot help him now.

"Right," he says slowly, standing up. "Well...thanks for telling me."

"Of course."

Harry walks over to the doors, then pauses. "Who was it?" he asks. "Who told you?"

"If I really have to tell you, Harry, I'm afraid your Auror skills are deteriorating."

Harry's silent for a moment. "Once an Auror, always an Auror," he says. "That was always his motto. It was Williamson, wasn't it? He didn't trust anyone to replace him. He had Cuthbert keep a close eye on me."

Shacklebolt doesn't say anything.

"Yes, I thought so." Harry touches the door handles and the doors begin to swing silently open again. "Makes me rather glad I lost the Head Auror role in the end. Before I ended up like that."

With that, he leaves.


So Harry waits. He waits to receive the charges. Hear the knock at the door. Harry's solicitor — an elderly man who seems to have an expression of permanent exasperation — begins giving him plenty of advice, most of it being 'stop talking to Draco Malfoy'.

He doesn't. He visits Draco one week before his trial is scheduled to start. Draco's very quiet and doesn't say much. When he does speak, it's of Harry's fate rather than his own.

"I heard they're going to arrest you too."

Harry paces around the room again, unable to keep still. He doesn't want to think about it. He doesn't want to think about being arrested, or going away, or James's expression when he finds out.

He looks up. Draco's studying him.

"What?"

"Nothing," Draco says, shifting his gaze elsewhere. After another moment, however, he speaks. "Sometimes," he says, "I wish I could read minds."

Harry stills. Draco is gazing at the wall, his expression one of frustration as if he meant those words to be nothing more than an irritated response to Harry's silence. But Harry knows better. He stands in place for a moment, his heart pounding. He's still got his wand. Normally they remove them from visitors, but as ever, plenty of people are happy to bend the rules for Harry Potter. 

He consciously doesn't look at the viewing wall. How closely is he being monitored? Could they read his lips, see the incantation?

He looks at Draco, then clears his throat, feeling the light weight of his wand in his sleeve. "You know I can't share details of my case with you, Malfoy," he says evenly. 

"I'm beginning to wonder," Draco says, "what exactly the point of these visits are."

"I'm trying to help — "

"Damn it, Potter!" And Draco snaps suddenly, driving his fist into the wall. An uncharacteristic outburst of violence that makes Harry jump before realising the moment of distraction. All eyes right now are on Draco. 

Harry flicks his sleeve slightly, bringing his wand into his hand, and whispers. "Legilimens."

It's dizzying and disorienting and Harry hates that spell, he hates being in someone else's mind. Draco throws his thoughts at Harry: an envelope, hidden in his sleeve. Give it to Lucius, Draco's mind demands in a cacophony of desperate noise. Lucius, Lucius, give it to Lucius. 

And then Harry's back to his own mind again, frozen on the spot. A guard is rushing into the room already and Harry's chance is slipping away. He snaps into action, lunging forwards and grabbing Draco.

"Calm down, you're just making this worse for yourself — "

He feels the uncomfortable crinkle of parchment against his skin as he tries to restrain Draco. Both of them fumble for a moment and the envelope slips, and Harry's certain the guard must have seen it as it passes between them.

But seconds later the envelope is safely in Harry's sleeve, next to his wand again, and the guard is dragging a still-struggling Draco from the room.

Harry's left alone, his blood pounding in his veins.


He goes home. He takes the envelope from his sleeve. It's nondescript, crinkled, no name written upon it.

He wonders what it says, and for a moment he's tempted to read it.

But Draco had said nothing except, give it to Lucius.

So Harry neatly arranges for a visit to Azkaban. When he speaks to the warden, the warden smiles and nods and tells Harry he'd love to give the notorious Death Eater a piece of his mind, too.

Harry smiles thinly.


Lucius looks smaller, somehow. Harry had been expecting that — weight loss, a slight gaunt look, the same pale look of hunted people everywhere. But it still startles him to see Lucius like that.

They sit across from each other, a concrete table between them. Unlike the Ministry holding cells, there is no cosy visitation room: Lucius is being held in Azkaban due to his high security status. The shimmer of a protective shield charm is between them, and a guard restlessly paces the room. 

This is going to be difficult. 

And Lucius won't make it easier, Harry thinks. He's got a detached expression that doesn't move an inch as Harry sits opposite him. 

"I suppose you're wondering why I'm here," Harry says at last, leaning forward. He lets his hand brush the protective charm ever-so-slightly, testing its strength.

"Auror Potter," Lucius says, in that soft voice that always seems to be a whisper of contempt. "Due diligence, I assume."

The charm is malleable, Harry thinks. Designed to slow down movement so that guards can see exactly what's going on, rather than acting as an impenetrable barrier. He flicks his gaze back to Lucius. "Due diligence? No. I'm not here to see that you truly can't escape. I have faith in our Law Enforcement department." Harry shifts position, brushing the charm again. It's weaker at the top, he thinks. He chances a glance upwards.

When he drops his gaze, Lucius is studying him very intently.

"I just wanted to see," Harry says, "how far you have fallen."

"Gloating? How unlike the noble Harry Potter," Lucius says, his voice still barely rising above a whisper.

"You murdered people. You're not particularly in a position to be claiming the higher moral ground." Harry glances at the guard, then clears his throat. "I'm not here for you, anyway. I'm here for Scorpius."

Lucius pulls back, surprise flashing across his face, and then he narrows his eyes suspiciously. He opens his mouth, but Harry beats him to it.

"Children have no place in this sort of thing," he says, gesturing to the surrounding walls. "For the sake of that, if nothing else, I've come here. To ask you to disown Draco. Cut all ties. Let Scorpius be free of your shadow."

"Disown my son?" Cold fury washes across Lucius's face. "How dare you even suggest – "

"They'd have a much better life without you. Imagine the future that once awaited Draco, the one without your intervention — "

"You speak of my family as if you know them." Lucius stands up and the guard glances at them. "You ignorant boy, you always were so witless — "

"I'm glad Scorpius has never met you," Harry retorts, and Lucius's face whitens. 

"And what would you know of parents and grandparents?" he says venomously.

That's it. Right there.

The perfect excuse.

Harry crashes through the shield charm. It slows him down, of course, much too slow, and Lucius easily moves out of reach. The guard rushes over, shouting at Harry to return to his side of the barrier. But Harry ignores him, lunging forward again, the charm pulling at his limbs like treacle. Too slow, he's going to be too slow — 

He meets Lucius's stare, and mouths the words. Letter. Sleeve. 

Lucius doesn't move, just keeps staring at him, and for a moment Harry thinks it's over.

Then Lucius steps forward and seizes Harry by the throat. 

There's other guards now, and a lot of noise, and people trying to separate them, and then Lucius is finally wrested away and pinned to the floor, grim-faced guards applying restraint charms. Harry is left gasping for air and wondering if Lucius actually intended to kill him. It certainly feels like it.

"Auror Potter," one of the supervisors says reproachfully, helping him to his feet. "You should have known better than to allow yourself to be provoked like that. Malfoy is dangerous, you know that — "

Harry tries to speak. His voice is gone, momentarily lost to Lucius's iron grip. He touches his throat and a guard hurries forward.

"I've just notified the Healer, he'll be here in a minute."

Harry waves him off. "I'm fine," he croaks. 

He only dares check his robes once he's safely left Azkaban. The envelope is gone, though he doesn't recall seeing Lucius remove it.

He touches a hand to the bruises blooming across his skin and goes home.

That night, he receives an owl from Shacklebolt.

All charges have been dropped.


Harry reads about it in The Daily Prophet the next day: Lucius confessed that he threatened to harm Scorpius unless Draco met with him. Rita Skeeter has written the article in her usual lurid style: FAMILY BETRAYAL, the headline screams. It's accompanied by a photograph of Lucius, looking rather smug and intimidating – a leftover picture from his days of power at the Ministry, Harry would wager – and the article paints Draco as a tragic victim of his overbearing father. It contrasts rather interestingly with the previous articles following Draco's arrest. Those articles had all referred to Draco as 'the snivelling little Death Eater'.

Though Harry's own involvement has been kept far more secretive, his colleagues have evidently been told a similar story: Harry found out about the threats to young Scorpius and, concerned about notifying other Aurors and risking Lucius's reaction, had felt forced to help Draco.

"You should have told us the truth, Harry," Shacklebolt tells him later on.

"That I helped Draco?"

"That you were under duress. It's extremely understandable that you would feel forced to help Draco contact his father. After all, Lucius may have very well carried out his threats if you involved law enforcement."

Even Williamson apologises. He calls Harry into the Auror offices the next morning and tells him he's welcome to resume work.

"It was extremely remiss of us to jump to conclusions," Hopkins tells him.

Williamson nods. "When I first reported it to Shacklebolt, he was convinced that you'd never voluntarily help a criminal. And he was right. It's the job, Potter. What else can I say? After a while you start to see the worst in everyone. Even your own colleagues."

That evening, as Harry reads the headlines of The Daily Prophet, he pours himself a scotch and studies the newspaper picture of Lucius.

They have something in common, he thinks. They're both fathers. Did Lucius have the same dreams for Draco that Harry has for James? Happiness, success, a family of his own one day? Did Lucius ever lose sleep worrying about Draco? Did he congratulate Draco when he won Quidditch matches, tell him to concentrate more when he had poor grades? Did he stand on Platform 9¾ and wait anxiously for his son to come home?

He stares down at the grainy black-and-white photograph of Lucius, and for the first time thinks he looks more sad than stern.


Everything has a price.

Draco gazes for a long moment at his reflection. Fine robes — plain, but high quality. It's hidden in the invisible seams, the soft material, the silver clasp. Same as Draco's upbringing is hidden in the thread of his walk, the tone of his voice. Anyone can be wealthy, Lucius always said, but status and class cannot be bought.

Some might think he's trying to impress his father, Draco thinks as he removes a loose thread from his collar. Perhaps he is.

Old habits die hard.

He studies his expression a moment longer. Grey eyes. Like his father, like his son. A recessive gene. Strange that it's survived the generations.

Then he turns and leaves.


Azkaban is far different from the prison Draco remembers from his adolescent years. It's still on an island, of course, but it's been sanitised by the post-war Ministry. Trying so hard to reflect the new ideals of justice through rehabilitation, Draco thinks. Well-lit and clean, and as he sits in the reception area he feels like he's in a hospital.

A high-security hospital. They still search him, and they still take him through many locked doors before he's left in a small, windowless room.

Lucius looks even older here, Draco thinks as he sits opposite him. The bright, artificial prison light does him no favours.

"You look well," Lucius tells him.

"I am."

They sit in silence for a while. Neither of them are much suited to long conversations, Draco thinks. He studies the scratches on the table between them. By the door, the guard shifts and stifles a yawn.

"Trades," Lucius says, and Draco glances up. "Isn't it strange, to spend a lifetime on that. Making trades. Deals."

"Blackmail and bribery," Draco supplies. Just like these scrubbed walls, these guards replacing Dementors. Both the Ministry and Lucius trying so desperately to sanitise their past. Wash away the regret.

Lucius ignores him. "Sitting in a room," he continues, brushing his hand across the table as if it's a sleek mahogany desk. "Making deals." He pauses, then rests his hands in his lap again.

Draco tosses the photograph across the table. "There," he says curtly. "You've seen him now."

The photograph drifts inch by inch through the shield charm, then comes to rest in front of Lucius. Scorpius smiles at the camera. The picture had been taken at the beginning of second year, if Draco recalls correctly. Standing on the platform. Pan perches on Scorpius's shoulder, her whiskers tickling him.

Harry had taken the picture.

Draco waits for the anger, the outrage at the treachery. The deal outlined in the letter had been apparently simple. If you take the blame for Harry too, you can see Scorpius. And no doubt Lucius had imagined a visit from his grandson. A photograph is a very poor substitute.

But Lucius says nothing. He picks up the photograph, and looks at it. For a moment, his expression softens. "He looks just like you," he says.

They spend the rest of the visit in silence. At the end of it, Lucius holds out the photograph.

"Keep it," Draco says.

He turns and leaves, and wishes he was angrier at his father.

Anger is easier than any other emotion.


He misses Scorpius more than ever that evening. His son has changed so much now. He remembers the toddler who used to sit cheerfully upon his shoulders and demand stories and toys and trips to interesting places, and he remembers the quiet, sad boy who returned after six long years away. He remembers his son, smiling and full of tales about his first year at Hogwarts. He couldn't stop chatting about all the spells, and the castle, and his brand new best friend.

James Potter.

Draco could almost smile at the irony of it. Somehow, Scorpius had easily achieved something which Draco had, at the same age, spectacularly failed at. Being best friends with a Potter.

But of course, things had soured between them. Maybe it was simply fate — Scorpius and James destined to mirror their fathers' paths — or maybe it was James's nature. The Potter boy has certainly changed in recent years.

But Scorpius has changed too. He's already so much more guarded than Draco ever remembered. His letters — those long, rambling pages of thoughts and ideas and worries that used to leave Draco bewildered and wondering how to reply — have long since faded into short, infrequent messages. He's so silent now. Does he speak to anyone at Hogwarts? Or does he just sit there, reading his books, effectively blocking out the rest of the world — Draco included?

Draco goes to Scorpius's room after dinner. He hasn't gone there since Scorpius left after the Christmas break, but it could probably do with a few dusting charms and cleaning spell or two. He reaches out and turns the door handle, then pauses.

He frowns, then tries again.

It's locked.

Scorpius locked his door before he left.

"Alohomora!"

There's the tell-tale click of the lock on the door unlatching, and Draco tries the handle again.

Still locked.

"What are you doing?"

He jumps, then exhales slowly. "Potter. We've discussed this before. You can't just Floo in whenever you feel like it."

"I know."

"What are you doing here, anyway?"

Harry ignores that and nods at the door. "Sneaking about? Scorpius won't like that. James caught me tidying his bookshelf once, threw a complete tantrum. I'm not allowed in his room at all anymore." He pauses, looking thoughtful. "He's going to have a very difficult time trying to figure out why his dirty clothes aren't mysteriously washed and ironed now."

"I'm not sneaking about," Draco retorts. "I just want to cast a quick dusting charm."

Harry shrugs. "Just leave it. Trust me, around this age they start to get very particular about their privacy."

"I will break this lock."

"I don't really think — "

"You're an Auror. You're good at this sort of thing."

Harry rolls his eyes. "An expert in breaking and entering, am I?"

"You got into the Chamber of Secrets, Potter." Draco points at the door. "This shouldn't be a problem."

"Alohomora!"

"I tried that."

"Oh. Well...maybe just kick the door in, then?"

"Are you mental?"

"What do you want me to do, whisper 'open up' in Parseltongue?"

"That was the password to the Chamber of Secrets? 'Open up'? You have got to be kidding me. Wonderful, now I find out that Salazar Slytherin apparently had the same creativity as a dead rat."

To Draco's disbelief, Harry starts laughing.

"What? What's so funny?"

"Nothing." Harry grins at him. "Just realised how much I missed this."

"Missed what?"

"Do you think Scorpius really put a Parseltongue password on the door?"

"Missed what, Potter?"

"Where's the Monopoly set?"

Draco gives the bedroom door one more irritated look, then turns away. "I suppose you'll want tea."

"Of course."

But Draco ultimately gets the upper hand two hours later, as they're sitting in the kitchen, the fireplace glowing with coals and the bank notes scattered around them like autumn leaves. Harry's gathering them up, trying to find the money to pay rent for a ridiculously overpriced hotel on Park Lane.

"You'll have to mortgage something," Draco says helpfully.

"No, I won't."

"So stubborn."

They fall into silence again as Harry concentrates on the task at hand. Draco watches him look under his teacup, rescue a fifty pound note from a stack of Draco's genealogy notes, and finally find the last money needed beneath his chair.

"See, Malfoy? It always works out in the end."

"For you, perhaps." Draco neatens his stack of genealogy notes again, and he spots the name Evans. Still working on that family tree. Somehow he only ever seems to find time for it on lazy rainy afternoons. Not the best schedule.

He can see James's name. The first name he wrote. The starting point. A lot of people make that mistake when tracing their family, Draco thinks. They start at the roots when they should begin at the newest leaf.

He glances up at Harry.

"Oh no," Harry says slowly. "You're smirking again. What happened?"

"It's me, isn't it?"

"What?"

"You missed me."

"What? Don't be ridiculous!"

"I'm right. You missed me."

"Honestly, you get some daft ideas sometimes — "

Draco's smirk has graduated to barely-contained amusement. "Admit it. You missed me."

"Fine, I missed you, you smug git. Now get that look off your face and roll the dice already."

But Draco's laughing now and after a moment, Harry shakes his head.

"You're mental, Malfoy," he says.

But he's smiling too.

And later on, as night falls and Harry collects his cloak, he offers a quiet but sincere, "Thank you." 

Draco could say a million things to that. He could feign ignorance and ask, What for? or shrug it away as if it's nothing, or say, You owe me, because that's how Slytherins do things. It's all about favours and allies and power.

But instead, he just says, "It's all right."

And it is.


Scorpius comes home one month later for the Easter holidays. Draco doesn't know what to say to him. Is he angry at Draco? Surely he has so many questions. They haven't spoken since Scorpius visited him in the Ministry holding cells, and although Draco has sent a few letters since, Scorpius hasn't replied.

But Scorpius doesn't ask any questions. He says nothing. He goes to his room to unpack, as always. Whether he's coming home for the summer holidays with all his luggage, or carrying a small bag for an Easter or Christmas visit, he always likes to go directly to his room and unpack. Everything in its place.

Draco makes him a cup of peppermint tea and sets it on the bedside table, watching as Scorpius unpacks a series of odd little silver instruments. He begins piecing them together, constructing some sort of device, and Draco frowns.

"What's that?"

"A wizarding version of a spectrometer." Scorpius taps his wand against two glass spheres and they shimmer slightly.

"And what does that do, exactly?"

"Chemical compounds generate specific colours." Scorpius picks up one of the glass spheres and peers through it. "This device helps me identify physical properties." He pauses. "Professor Sinistra let me borrow it."

It's a long way from the small telescopes and simple glass prisms Scorpius used to own, Draco thinks. His son is growing up fast.

He looks around Scorpius's bedroom. The Quidditch pitch rug, the ceramic bear lamp. Remnants of a boy who is quickly disappearing, becoming a distant figure on the horizon of Draco's memory. He studies the bookcase for a moment, the shelves branching out, little enchanted leaves sprouting along them. He'd learned that spell just so he could create a tree bookcase for Scorpius's return to the manor. Nearly four years ago now, he realises. When Scorpius was eleven.

He's fifteen now.

Almost the same age as Draco when he received the Dark Mark.

"Suppose I should probably get you a proper bookcase," Draco says, and Scorpius looks up from his spectrometer.

"Why?"

"Well…you've outgrown that tree one, I would imagine."

Scorpius frowns. "I want to keep it. It reminds me of…" He trails off, then turns back to his spectrometer and picks up another silver piece. "This is what they call the dispersive element," he says instead, holding it up. "It splits light."

Draco watches silently for a few minutes as Scorpius puts the spectrometer together. "Well," he says eventually, "I'm glad you're home."

Scorpius glances at him, then looks down at a glass prism and turns it slightly. Draco follows his gaze. Glass prisms and telescopes. Always reflecting.

"I'm sorry," Draco says at last, breaking the silence. "It was a terrible mistake — "

"What was?"

Draco honestly can't quite believe Scorpius sometimes. "Contacting my father."

"Because he's a Death Eater?" Scorpius sets the glass prism down.

"Yes."

Draco waits for the questions. This has been a long time coming, he thinks. Not once, when Scorpius was a small child, did Draco and Astoria ever mention the war in front of him. Never. It was an unspoken rule between them. And not once since Scorpius's return has he asked a single question. All the questions that Draco knows burn in the sharp eyes and careless curiosity of others: What did Voldemort really look like? What orders did he give you? What does the Dark Mark feel like? Did you ever kill anyone? Did you torture people? Did you see dead bodies? What was it like?

And while Draco might feel nothing but contempt for those people, trampling over his memories for the sake of morbid curiosity, he would understand if Scorpius wanted to know. Scorpius has a right to know about his own family, about his father and grandfather.

And so he waits, bracing himself for the questions like other people might brace themselves for a Crucio spell.

But Scorpius merely adjusts the spectrometer, tilting his head slightly, and says, "The stars will be clear tonight."

"Will they?"

"Yes."

Draco looks out the window, at the last dying light of the day.

He thinks he can see Sirius rising already, bright as ever.


Later on, as they're eating dinner, Draco studies Scorpius. He's reading a book at the table, a habit that both Draco's parents would be loathe to see. But Draco hasn't quite got the heart to make Scorpius give up his precious books, even for half an hour.

"How's the school term been so far?" he asks eventually, when Scorpius reaches the end of the page.

He glances up. "Good."

"McGonagall still giving you advanced Transfiguration tutorials?"

Scorpius nods, but the bright spark normally accompanying any mention of Transfiguration is absent. Draco frowns and decides to change the subject. "How's all your friends?" he asks instead.

"Fine."

"Everything's going well?"

"Yes."

Draco studies him for a long moment. "I do worry about you," he says at last.

"I know."

"Are you sure everything's — "

"Yes." Scorpius looks back down at his book and turns the page.

Strange; Draco fought so hard to keep his son.

And yet it feels like he's still losing him.


James goes home for the Easter holidays. Easter Sunday is spent at Ron and Hermione's, like always, and they have the traditional egg hunt. The younger cousins are thrilled, racing excitedly about the garden, and a fight breaks out between Roxanne and Lucy as they both snatch up the last chocolate bunny. James watches it all, feeling somewhat melancholy at the first Easter without Teddy, and decides to sneak upstairs and find a good book to read.

Rose, however, has beaten him to it. He steps through her bedroom door just in time to see her smiling to herself as she rearranges a bouquet of chocolate roses.

"What's that?"

"James!" She jumps, then glances about. "What are you doing here? Honestly!"

His distant melancholia quickly fades in the face of Rose's flustered expression. "You're blushing," he says disbelievingly.

"I'm not!"

"Have you — have you got a boyfriend?"

"Shut up! I have not!" Rose's face is bright red now. "Go away, James! This is my room! You shouldn't just barge in on people — "

"You have," he says. Rose closes her mouth and glares at the floor.

"Fine, I have," she says. "Happy? And if you tell Mum, I'll hex you into a million little bits."

"Who?" James asks, curious despite himself, and Rose gives him a look of faint surprise. She uncrosses her arms.

"You're not…you're not going to tease me about it?"

"Depends who it is."

She rolls her eyes. "Thanks. Anyway, it's…well…it's Andrew."

"That Andrew McCray you mentioned earlier?"

Rose is beginning to blush again, but she turns away and tidies up a few things with slightly more force than necessary. "Yes."

James tries to remember him. "Sixth year, right?"

"Fifth."

"Slytherin?"

"Hufflepuff."

"Sort of tall?"

"Average height, I suppose."

"Yeah, okay. I've forgotten everything you've ever said about him."

Rose starts laughing.


James goes home in a slightly better mood, Harry notices. It's rare to see him smiling these days, and Harry decides to suggest a game of chess before bed.

"Sure," James says, and they sit before the fireplace in the living room, the board between them. It's quite soothing, sitting there listening to the crackle of the flames, idly speaking every now and again, waiting for the other to move a piece. James seems deep in thought, quite pensive about something, Harry notices.

"Check."

James glances up at Harry and frowns, then considers the board for some time and, at last, moves an overlooked pawn. Harry tilts his head.

"Good move," he says. "Didn't notice that one."

"Yeah." James sits back and waits for Harry to make his next move. "Did you take leave from work? You've been at home a lot more lately."

Harry looks at him. "Yes, I have," he says with realisation. He hadn't even noticed. Once, he hated staying home too long, listening to the empty spaces. 

"It's been nice," James says.

"It has, hasn't it?" Harry leans across the board and ruffles James's hair, waiting for the usual reaction of irritation.

But James just smiles lightly and ducks away. "Better watch your king," he says.

"Oh?"

James moves his knight. "Checkmate."

Harry looks down at the board, but James is right. Nowhere left to go.

"You win," he says, smiling.


Harry receives the official letter reinstating him to his Auror position. He reads it several times, considers his options, and makes an appointment with Shacklebolt.

Shacklebolt isn't pleased.

"I had to make a lot of arrangements."

"I'm sorry for the inconvenience."

"The inconvenience?" Shacklebolt raises one stern eyebrow, reminding Harry uncannily of McGonagall. "I have spent quite some time trying to restore you to your previous Auror position. I was under the — evidently incorrect — impression that you wanted your job back."

Harry gazes down at Shacklebolt's desk, at the piles of paper stacked upon it, the scrolls of parchment, the inkwells, the half-written letters and owl droppings, the notices and memos.

"You've been Minister for nearly as long as I've been an Auror," Harry notes.

"That's correct."

"When do you think you'll retire, sir?"

"When my country no longer needs me."

"And what if they'll always need you?"

Shacklebolt gives him a wry look and rearranges a few piles of paper. "Shall I consider this your resignation, Potter?"

Harry considers it. "I think so," he says.

"Are you certain? Only recently, you were expressing horror at the mere thought of taking a brief break from your work."

"Only recently? That was four years ago, sir."

Shacklebolt frowns. "So it was," he says eventually. "Well. How time flies." He tilts his head, considering Harry. "Still…nearly twenty years as an Auror, Harry. What changed your mind now?"

"Twenty years."

There's a pause, both of them looking at each other, and then Shacklebolt smiles ever-so-slightly. "I must confess," he says, "I cannot argue with that. But…if you are certain…"

"I am."

Shacklebolt considers him a moment longer. "I'll redistribute your duties accordingly."

Harry pauses, but he's compelled to ask the next question. "And Draco Malfoy's case?"

"Closed," Shacklebolt says, giving him a speculative look. "We only kept him in the program as a means to catch Lucius. And now that we have caught him…" He clasps his hands, resting them on his desk. "I see no point in maintaining tabs on Draco. A waste of our resources, I'm sure you'll agree."

Harry could swear he sees a faint glimmer of knowing amusement in Shacklebolt's eyes. "Yes," he says. "I do agree."

"Very well. Thank you, Potter."

"Thank you, sir."

Harry stands and leaves.

He walks into the bright spring day, the sunlight weak in the morning air, lost among the shadows of the London skyline. He tilts his head back and looks at the sky, feeling oddly serene, and then goes home.


 James returns to Hogwarts after the Easter holidays. He has an enormous stack of homework that he finds rather intimidating, but his friends are happy to help: Rose promises to look after the cactus when James is too busy, Iwan and Thomas help him with the trickier aspects of Charms, and Martin and Paul spend one particularly memorable evening demonstrating Transfiguration principles by turning everything in the dormitory into sweets. A furious prefect, storming in to see what all the laughter and noise is about, is promptly attacked by a liquorice allsort.

The subsequent detention is the only shadow on James's horizon. The days seem to hurry along, equally keen to get to the end of the term. Everyone's dreaming of the summer holidays. The only days that seem to slow down are the stuffy afternoons spent in Divination. On one such afternoon, James finds himself nearly falling asleep as two nearby Ravenclaws argue over the crystal ball.

"There was something there! I saw it! Some sort of cloud — "

"The whole thing is a cloud, you numpty. Look at it!"

"But this cloud looked different. Ominous, somehow."

"Hi," someone murmurs quite close to James's ear, and he jumps slightly. It's a Ravenclaw girl that he vaguely recalls from previous classes.

"Hello," he says, slightly suspicious.

"Sally's been asking about you," the Ravenclaw says, grinning.

"Who's she?" James goes back to staring at the crystal ball. It looks exactly the same as it has for the past twenty minutes, and he stifles a yawn. Five more minutes until class ends...

The Ravenclaw looks taken aback. "Sally Briggs? Everyone knows her. Anyway, we've got a little party planned tonight to celebrate the Quidditch semi-final. Sally will be there. Maybe you should come along too."

"Yeah, maybe," James says evasively, still trying to recall the mysterious Sally.

"Come on, it will be fun! Plus Malfoy's going to be there and we've got the best prank planned for him."

"And why would I care about that?" James says, looking at the crystal ball again.

"Because you hate him?" the Ravenclaw says slowly, as if James is being deliberately obtuse. "It will be hilarious, you have to see it. I mean, we haven't invited him. Not yet. But he'll be there anyway. He's desperate for friends, it's a bit sad really."

James glances up. Across the room, Scorpius is watching him and the Ravenclaw girl. It's impossible to tell what he's thinking.

Curiosity gets the better of him. "All right," he says at last. "I'll go to the party."

"Oh! Brilliant, I'll tell Sally. See you tonight, then. Charms classroom, seven o'clock. Don't be late."

When James glances up again, Scorpius has already picked up his books and left.


The rest of the boys are all envious.

"A date with Sally Briggs? You get all the luck," Martin says mournfully.

"Bet he didn't even try," Paul mutters. "He never tries."

"What do you care anyway, Paul?" Iwan asks. "You've got a girlfriend."

"Yeah, and she's very nice, but she's not Sally Briggs."

The boys all laugh then, and soon delve into a conversation about girls. James, busy cleaning up a leaky self-inking quill, hardly listens. It's not even a proper date, he thinks with faint irritation. He feels a little ambushed by it — he should have just said no and saved himself an awkward evening.

"I'll see you all later, then," he announces, cutting through their idle conversation about which girls are the most attractive.

"Come on, you can't be serious. You're wearing that?"

James glances down at his rumpled school uniform. "You're mental if you think I'm dressing up for a stupid Quidditch party," he says firmly, and with that, he leaves.

He's not in the best mood, therefore, when he arrives at the Charms classroom. It's festive though, decorated with streamers. There's a pitcher of pumpkin juice in one corner, the Wizarding Wireless playing music in the other. The students all welcome him – a few older Ravenclaws, including a prefect, and some Gryffindor students, and one or two Hufflepuffs. There's one Slytherin boy there who, James discovers, reads comic books too and they strike up an enthusiastic conversation. But they're soon interrupted by a brunette girl who introduces herself as Sally; she tucks her arm around his elbow and steers him away from the Slytherin. He walks with her, gloomily watching his newfound friend leave.

"So," Sally says. "The dark and mysterious James Potter."

"Not really."

"Oh, come on. Nobody knows anything about you." She pauses. "Except for your swimming, of course. I mean, just one look at you and I can tell that you swim a lot. You've got a very toned physique…"

James has no idea how to respond to that. "Thanks," he says after a moment, but Sally seems to be waiting for something else. "I like to swim," he offers eventually.

She frowns. "Do you think I've got a nice physique?"

"Depends."

Her mouth falls open. "On what, exactly?"

"Well, if you're aiming for upper body strength, you probably need to focus on strength exercises. But if you just want to get toned, then you should focus on flexibility training."

She just stares at him. Eventually, she speaks, her voice low and furious. "I was asking for a compliment, you idiot. Not…some sort of exercise regime! But I suppose if you think I need it – "

"What? I never said that! You mentioned swimming, I thought you wanted advice…" James trails off as she turns and storms away, immediately going over to her friends and speaking to them in angry mutters. They turn, like they're all faces on one furious creature, and glare at James.

"You really are an idiot, aren't you?"

James turns and narrows his eyes at Scorpius. "Shut up. I suppose you've got a million girlfriends, then?"

"I can speak to girls without insulting them, if that's what you're asking."

James gives the group of glowering girls one last glance, then turns his back on them and takes a sip of his pumpkin juice. "You're the idiot," he says.

"Because I don't make a fool of myself talking to girls? Well – "

"No, you prat," James says angrily. "Because you showed up. You have got to be kidding me. These people aren't your friends. They were talking earlier about some stupid prank they're going to do to you. They're laughing at you. You do realise this, don't you? And yeah, you can say what you want about me, but at least when I hate you I'm honest about it."

Scorpius looks at him, his expression icy. "Leave. Right now, or I will hex you."

"Why? Bit difficult to accept advice from your enemy?" James says recklessly.

"Leave," Scorpius repeats.

James opens his mouth, planning another insult, but pauses. Scorpius's tone of voice is very dangerous and no doubt they're seconds away from hurling hexes at each other. And James has actually had a decent year thus far, and he really doesn't want to ruin it. Not like this, not so close to the end of term.

So he closes his mouth again and walks away instead, slipping out the door before anyone notices his departure.


He wanders the hallways for a bit, feeling slightly lost. He doesn't want to return to the dormitories, not yet — the boys will all tease him about ditching his date and ask endless questions — but he's certainly not going back to the party, where all those angry girls await him...honestly, how could he ruin everything so spectacularly? Sally had been making an effort, and all he had to do was nod and smile and compliment her...James winces as he recalls their conversation.

He passes by a statue of a goblin king that looks familiar. He frowns, looking at it, then suddenly remembers. Just around the corner...a few steps along...

"Limens."

The room is bathed in moonlight, casting a faint blue glow over the stone arches and ornate window edgings. The dust is thick, save for a long mark across the floor. It looks like someone was half-dragged across the floor, James thinks, and then he realises with a jolt that it was him. It was him, lying on the floor as Scorpius punched him. Yes, now that he looks closer, there's still the faint marks of footprints on the floor. And there's something else, lying near the far wall...

James crosses the room. Scorpius's cloak. The silver clasp is broken. James probably did that as he was trying to shove Scorpius off him. He doesn't even remember Scorpius leaving the cloak behind. Scorpius would have noticed; his family isn't wealthy, after all, and a new cloak would have been expensive. Yet he never came back. Never retrieved it.

James slowly picks the cloak up, listening to the soft rustle of the material move. S.H Malfoy is written just on the inside of the collar. Scorpius Hyperion.

Scorpius, the constellation. And Hyperion, the moon of Saturn...

There's a sudden noise of grating stone as the wall opens. James turns, startled, and drops the cloak.

Scorpius tumbles through the portal. For a moment, James fumbles for his wand, wondering how on earth Scorpius knew he was here. But then Scorpius leans against the wall and whispers something.

"S-scourgify," he says, his voice small and thin, and then he says it again. "Scourgify. Scourgify!"

But nothing happens. No dust disappears, no furniture neatens itself. The broken quills remain scattered across the floor. What's he trying to clean?

Then Scorpius buries his face in his hands. The sleeves of his robes fall back and James sees it.

That was the funny prank. That was the joke.

Giving Scorpius the Dark Mark.

James stands silently, watching the blood trickle down Scorpius's forearm. He should have known better than to use Scourgify on skin. The blood looks black in the moonlight, and it joins the stark lines of the Dark Mark.

He steps forward. Scorpius immediately swishes his wand, bringing up a shield charm. He stares at James, his face pale, then he exhales and the shield shatters, making James jump.

"Go ahead," Scorpius says.

"What?"

"Say it. Go ahead and say it."

"Say what?"

"I told you so."

James looks at Scorpius, then glances upward at the ceiling just to buy some time to think. That ceiling used to be full of stars, he thinks. Twelve moons, each one waxing or waning.

Scorpius was always so skilled at Transfiguration.

"I can fix it."

"No, you can't," Scorpius says flatly.

"Can I try?"

Another long silence. Then Scorpius's shoulders slump, as if James has somehow defeated him with those three words, and he holds out his wrist.

"Lumos." In the light of the wand, James studies Scorpius's wrist. Blood beads along it, the skin raw from the scouring charm. But the Dark Mark still remains visible, black as the night, the grotesque features of the skull and the serpent clear against Scorpius's pale skin.

The prototype prank. James is sure of it. Hugo would have handed them out to his friends, and no doubt one of those Ravenclaws or older Gryffindors got ahold of one...

He extinguishes the light from his wand, then thinks for a moment, remembering the spell Teddy taught him.

"Stay still," he says.

Scorpius doesn't reply. James takes a breath, makes sure his wand is perfectly aligned with the curved edge of the skull, and concentrates. He tries to block out all other distractions and focus on just the spell, moving his wand carefully along Scorpius's forearm as he imagines the tattoo slowly washing away. It's working, he realises with a flash of pride. This is Teddy's spell and it's working. It takes a long time – each dot of ink has to be carefully removed – but at last he completes the spell. Scorpius waits, not moving at all. James lowers his wand.

"Done."

Scorpius pauses before glancing down at his wrist, as if afraid of what he'll see.

"It's…gone," he says, wonder in his voice.

"Yeah."

"What spell was that? How does it work?"

James hesitates. "Doesn't matter," he says at last.

Scorpius finally looks up from his wrist. For a moment they stand in silence, illuminated only by the thin moonlight, as if waiting for the other to say something, and then after a moment James turns and walks away.

Once he's back in the safety of the dormitory, he slowly peels back his sleeve.

The Dark Mark shines like wet ink.


One week left of term. The final tests have already been completed and although the professors try to maintain focus, there's a distinct lack of enthusiasm for any sort of study. As the final days melt away, fading into lazy afternoons, even McGonagall relents and allows them to spend their final lesson completing tasks like cleaning desks and sorting old essays.

The last class of the day is Divination. It's a beautiful June afternoon and James is loathe to spend it in the stuffy classroom. He lingers in the cool hallways, taking his time, and he arrives to class five minutes late. There's only one seat left: the one next to Scorpius.

James takes it, setting his bookbag down. At least the small windows are all opened and even Trelawney, it seems, has her limits; uncharacteristically, the candles are unlit and there's far less incense than usual.

"It is said that children born midsummer are naturally inclined to possess the gift of Sight...from the moment of birth, the stars will determine your fate..."

James takes out his parchment on the pretence of taking notes. Next to him, Scorpius is scribbling away like usual. James wonders if he's even noticed someone's sitting next to him.

"...while those born under the sign of earth will have a reserved nature..."

Trelawney murmurs on and on. James gazes across the room, soon distracted by his own thoughts, quill held idly in one hand as he daydreams of the lake. Crisp and cool and perfect for a last swim...

Something touches his wrist. He glances down, startled from his thoughts. Scorpius is pulling James's sleeve back ever-so-slightly, revealing first the dark tip of the serpent's tail, then slowly showing the rest of the Dark Mark. James doesn't move as Scorpius stares at the Dark Mark, then lifts his gaze to look at James.

He's figured it out. Scorpius has always been clever like that.

After a moment, Scorpius drops his hand and James pulls his sleeve back down.

They sit in silence for a long moment, Scorpius resuming his note-taking and James feigning attention to Trelawney's ramblings. It's only half an hour later, just before class finishes, that Scorpius speaks.

"Doesn't it bother you?" he says without looking at James, his gaze still fixed upon his notes.

James pauses. "Less than it would bother you," he says at last.

Trelawney dismisses the class then, and both of them get up and leave without another word, soon lost in the crowd.

Yes, James thinks as he catches a glimpse of blue sky through the windows, summer is definitely here.

Chapter Text

That summer, Scorpius is quiet.

He's always been quiet, but there's a certain distance now that Draco finds unfamiliar. He seems to be strangely pensive. Looking inwards, reflecting on something else. Gone is the smiling boy who wrote honest letters; now he's silent and guarded, focusing on something Draco can't pinpoint. He tries to find out, asking questions — how are all Scorpius's friends? Has his schoolwork been good? Is he sad about Ravenclaw losing the Quidditch final? — but Scorpius gives Draco very little information, if any. Draco is left to guess at Scorpius's problems, and in the end he decides to tentatively investigate the one person who he knows hates Scorpius.

"I can have a word with his father, you know," he says one night over dinner.

"Who?"

"James Potter."

Scorpius says nothing, pushing the peas about his plate. Silence eclipses them and just as Draco's wondering if he needs to send Harry a strongly-worded letter about the wayward James, Scorpius speaks.

"He doesn't smile much."

"Harry?" Draco asks, mind still on the oldest Potter. Scorpius frowns slightly but doesn't look up from his plate.

"James. He doesn't smile much," he repeats.

"So? He needs to control his temper, in my opinion," Draco says disapprovingly. Too many times has he seen Scorpius miserable after an encounter with James Potter. "There's no need for you to worry about whether James is happy or not. I'm sure you'd much rather think about your friends. What's the name of that nice Ravenclaw boy, the one on your Quidditch team?"

Scorpius doesn't seem to hear him. He's gazing unseeingly at the table, his fingers tracing absently over the skin of his wrist. Draco frowns.

"Scorpius."

Scorpius glances up.

"Your Ravenclaw friend? The Chaser?"

Scorpius drops his gaze again. "Stuart Sinclair," he says vaguely. "And he's not my friend."

"Did you quarrel with him?" Draco asks, wondering if that's the reason Scorpius has been so quiet this summer.

"No."

Draco waits, but Scorpius just picks up his fork and resumes eating again.

Silence reigns again.

Scorpius is a million miles away, Draco thinks. He may as well be eating alone, an empty chair opposite him.


 

For Harry, it's the first summer in a long time in which he can properly spend time with his son. They visit relatives and friends, of course, and spend plenty of time at The Burrow, where James helps Mrs Weasley de-gnome the garden and spends time with Mr Weasley, coming back with his pockets full of wires and fuses.

"Wish I still had the old Anglia," Mr Weasley tells Harry wistfully during one such visit. "Muggle cars really are fascinating. I could make so many modifications…"

But Mrs Weasley very firmly squashes that idea. "James certainly doesn't want to risk his life flying about in one of your mad inventions," she sniffs.

James would love nothing more than to have a trip in a flying car, Harry thinks, but he's sensible enough to nod along with Mrs Weasley.

They spend plenty of time visiting Ron and Hermione too, and James dutifully helps Rose with Quidditch training. Hugo plays with James's Quidditch figures and accidentally snaps one of the Chaser's brooms in half.

"I'm sorry!" he tells James, looking upset. James's expression shifts into anger, his brow creasing and his mouth opening, and just as Harry steps forward to quickly intervene, he suddenly shakes his head.

"Never mind," he says, though he still looks a little annoyed. "You didn't mean to do it, did you?"

"No, of course not!"

"Well, just be more careful, then." And James swishes his wand. "Reparo."

"James," Harry says, a half-hearted reproach. "Leave the magic to me."

"Yeah, sorry."

But later on, Harry takes him to Diagon Alley and buys him a brand new set of Quidditch figures. James is bemused.

"What's this for?" he asks as they make their way through the crowded street. All the prospective first years are wandering about, eyes wide, staring at everything.

"No reason."

"Really? Don't suppose I could get the latest issue of Lightchaser too, then?"

Harry laughs. "Don't push your luck," he says. "Anyway, you've been really good with your cousins this year. I know it can be a pain sometimes — Hugo being so clumsy and breaking your things, and Rose always wanting you to help with Quidditch."

"Yeah, well." James shrugs. "I'm the oldest, aren't I? It's my job to look after them."

Harry ends up buying him the latest issue of his favourite comic after all.


 

The next time Harry decides to visit Draco, he ends up bringing along an unexpected visitor. As he's getting ready to leave for the manor, James wanders past.

"Where are you going, then?" James asks casually, grabbing an apple from the kitchen counter.

"Visiting Draco," Harry says, grabbing his wand and walking towards the Floo. "He's promised an update on the family tree. Now, I'll be back in a couple of hours — there's some leftover casserole for dinner — "

"Wait a moment. I'll come with you." James takes a bite of the apple. "I bet Draco's got a million stories about you."

Harry surveys James suspiciously, wondering if he should tell him to stay behind. Exactly what is he planning? But James has been in a good mood lately — in fact, it's been one of the best summers yet — and Harry doesn't want to ruin it with an argument.

"Be nice," he says at last, a note of caution in his voice.

James grins at him. "I'm nice to everyone."

Harry says nothing, just raises his eyebrows, and steps into the fireplace.

Seconds later, they arrive at the manor, James tumbling unceremoniously over the grate. Harry tries to help him up and James brushes him off.

"I'm fine."

"Potter!" Draco walks through the drawing room door. "What did I say about using the Floo, you..." He trails off, staring at James.

"You remember my son, James, don't you?" Harry asks.

Draco is still staring at James. "Of course," he says slowly. "And he's here because...?"

"Wow, this place has changed." James walks over to the windows and nods. "Nice views. That rose garden, is that new?"

"It's always been there." Draco glares at Harry. "Potter, a brief word."

Harry clears his throat. "James, why don't you..." Stop inspecting everything, be quiet, and do not go anywhere near Scorpius Malfoy —

"Look at the library," Draco supplies.

"Right! Yes. Straight ahead, third left," Harry adds.

"Yeah, all right," James says, evidently oblivious to the meaningful looks between Draco and Harry.

"But don't touch anything," Draco says. "I have some very rare books. And there's no need to go anywhere else in the manor. Especially the gardens. Please stay away from them."

Now it's Harry's turn to glare at Draco. "Are you serious?" he mutters. "He's not allowed outside? What, do you think he'll eat all the roses and trample the daisies?"

"Scorpius is reading in the gardens," Draco whispers back heatedly. "In case you've forgotten, your short-tempered son — "

James clears his throat. They both turn and look at him.

"I'm just going to go now," he says. "So...have fun." He turns and walks out of the room. Draco peers around the doorframe, watching him, and Harry shakes his head incredulously.

"He's going to the library like you said, he's not going to run away and attack Scorpius."

Draco turns and gives him a scorching look, then shuts the door. "They hate each other! Are you mental? Bringing your son here? And why exactly did you drag him all the way — "

"I didn't drag him anywhere! He wanted to visit! He was the one who suggested it!"

"Oh, and you didn't find that suspicious at all?"

"He said he wanted to hear stories about my school days with you, I don't think he quite understands the fact that we tried to murder each other on multiple occasions."

Draco frowns. "Hear stories? From me?"

"Yes."

Realisation dawns on Draco's face; Harry waits impatiently for him to share his revelation.

"You've told him nothing about your past," Draco says at last.

"Oh, come on. There's a million books about my life. I'm sure Rita Skeeter's latest book will answer any questions James has about my embarrassing days at Hogwarts."

"He doesn't want to hear it from a journalist, you complete prat. He wants to hear it from you."

Harry is taken aback. "Since when are you an expert in what my son wants?" he says, a little defensive.

"I'm not, but I'm an expert in family history." Draco nods at the genealogy book on the nearby coffee table. "So many people wanting to know their own histories. They don't look at family trees so they can memorise names and birthdates, Potter. They look at it so they can create their own story."

"James can look at the family tree, then," Harry says. "He can still know about my life without...without me needing to re-live particular memories."

Silence greets him. When he looks up, Draco is shaking his head slowly. "You don't even talk about her, do you?"

"Who?"

"Ginny Weasley. You won't even talk about her. His own mother."

"And you talk about Astoria with Scorpius, do you?" Harry fires back. "The divorce, the abduction — because that's what it was, let's not sugarcoat it — she abducted him. And her death, do you talk about that?"

Draco stares at him. Harry waits for anger or a demand to leave, but there's neither. "Yes," Draco says. "Scorpius isn't just my son, he's Astoria's son too. No matter how painful it might be, I will always remember that."

Harry falls silent.

They spend the rest of the visit discussing the half-completed family tree, then Harry collects James and leaves. He doesn't say another word to Draco about his son.

But the conversation weighs heavily on his mind.


 

Two days later, James is lounging around in his bedroom, halfway through a comic, when Harry knocks on the attic hatch.

"Yeah?"

"Come downstairs, Aunt Andromeda's here."

James isn't really in the mood for socialising, but he dutifully goes downstairs anyway. Harry and Andromeda are sitting at the kitchen table, a stack of cardboard boxes between them. James eyes the tattered boxes.

"What's that?"

"I was helping Andromeda do a bit of cleaning," Harry says, "and found these. We thought you might like to take a look."

James joins them at the table and curiously lifts the lid of the first box. It's stuffed with photographs, he realises, and he picks up the first one. It's a picture of two little girls, wearing matching dresses and hats. "Who are they?" he asks.

"Why, James. You don't even recognise me?" Andromeda asks.

"Wow! Really?" He looks closer at the picture.

"Of course. That's me with my younger sister, Cissy."

James studies the photograph for another moment, then picks up the next one. He ends up spending the entire afternoon surrounded by old photographs, listening to all Andromeda's stories and memories. Her parents, who spoiled her and adored her and gave her everything she wanted — until she married a Muggleborn. Then they disowned her, burning her portrait from the family tree and refusing to ever speak to her again.

"That's horrible!" James is indignant.

"It was. I thought that I could change my parents' minds about Muggleborns the same way Ted had changed my mind, but some prejudices are so deeply ingrained…" Andromeda shakes her head. "I paid a high price for marrying Ted, but it was worth it. Oh, James, we were so happy together…look, there's us on our wedding day! Isn't he dashing?"

James picks up the sepia photograph, gazing at the subjects. Andromeda is beautiful, he thinks, her black hair swept up into bun, her eyes dark and smiling. Ted, a fair-haired man, looks devilishly handsome in a tuxedo. It's not difficult to imagine a dramatic love story swept straight from one of Rose's romance novels. Love conquers all, the blurb would read…

Except this isn't a fairytale romance, he remembers. This is a Pureblood woman and a Muggleborn man, and the man was torn apart by a werewolf and the Pureblood woman ended up alone, her daughter murdered and her grandson dead.

He studies the wedding picture for a long moment, then sets it down and picks up another photograph. In this one, a baby is waving a rattle. "Who's this?" he asks.

Harry grins. "Don't you recognise Sirius?"

"Oh! I'm named after him!"

"And what a wonderful namesake," Andromeda adds. "Oh, James, he would have adored you. Little Sirius…he was seven years younger than me. Such a spoiled child — the whole family loved him — and I thought he'd grow up just like Cissy, meek and mild. But he certainly didn't, I'll tell you that! Quite the teenage rebellion, if I recall correctly. He was so stubborn. He could never just accept things the way they were. And his tantrums! When he got angry…well, we all ran for cover then. Reminds me of you sometimes, dear."

James laughs good-naturedly. "I'm not that bad," he says.

Harry exchanges a glance with Andromeda. "Oh, no, of course not," Harry says. "I'm thinking of writing a book, actually, about how to cope with children who are just too calm and level-headed."

James rolls his eyes, but he's still smiling. He turns the page and Andromeda taps a picture of a small, dark-haired boy clutching a teddy bear. "Ah, there he is again."

James's smile fades. "He died before the war, didn't he?"

"Yes. Murdered by my older sister, Bellatrix."

"If it were me, I wouldn't call her my sister," he mutters, looking at the photograph of Sirius.

Andromeda is silent for a while. "Though I wish," she says at last, "that I could tell you that time wears away bitterness and resentment...I wish her death had not been so quick. I wish she had lived long enough to suffer all the misery she inflicted upon everyone in her life."

James has always thought Andromeda a formidable woman, and now he remembers why. But then the iron-hard look in Andromeda's eyes fades, and the cold fury disappears from her voice.

"But," she says, looking at him, her expression softening, "my sister is long dead and I am here, with all my memories of those I loved, and I'm sharing all these stories with you. That's a good ending, isn't it?"

James looks back down at the wedding photograph again. Andromeda, young, happy, linking arms with her smiling husband.

It's not the sweeping romance story that would have been written by the authors of Rose's books, but maybe, eventually, love does conquer all.


 

Later on, after Andromeda has left, Harry calls James to his study.

"Andromeda gave me something else today," he says, gesturing for James to sit down in the nearby armchair. "Something important." He hesitates. "I planned to put it somewhere safe and forget about it. I tend to do that with things that remind me of...people I've lost. I put the memories somewhere safe and try not to think about it."

James says nothing, though he wants to ask a thousand questions. Harry never talks about this stuff, and he doesn't want to say something wrong and ruin it.

"The thing is, James, that sometimes when people die unexpectedly...something called an inquest is held. It's never to assign blame, or accuse anyone. It's just to sort out exactly what happened. And I've...I've read so many inquests. So many of my friends who died in the war."

"Did you read Mum's inquest?" James asks suddenly. He'd never even thought about it...

"She didn't have an inquest. Her death was..." Harry breaks off and stares hard at his desk before continuing. "Her death was expected."

James feels upset and he doesn't know why. "Oh. Of course. That was stupid of me, wasn't it? It was a stupid question."

Harry looks at him, his expression softening. "No, it wasn't. You don't know any of this stuff, and that isn't your fault. It wasn't stupid. You're not stupid." He turns over the folder in front of him. Inquest of LUPIN, Edward ("Teddy") is scrawled across the front of it. James stares at it. "I wasn't sure," Harry says, "if I should give this to you. Inquests...they can be hard to read. So impersonal. All these little details, little medical facts, written by a stranger. But then I realised...it's not my choice to make. It's yours. If you don't want to read it, that's fine. But you're fifteen now, and I think you can make your own decisions."

He picks up the folder and holds it out.

After a moment, James reaches out and takes it.


 

James stands on the platform.

For some reason, he feels like it's his first day at Hogwarts all over again. Like he belongs more with the wide-eyed first years than the disinterested fifth years. He stands there, watching it all, one hand resting on his trunk, his robes slung over one shoulder. He won't wear them until he's arrived at school. That's the difference between first years and everyone else, he thinks. Eager to put on their robes, preferably with their matching school tie and brand new pointy hat. A uniform to make them feel like they belong. Socks pulled up to their knees, a white-knuckled grip on their luggage, their parents trying to kiss them goodbye.

"Well, I suppose we should say goodbye," Harry says.

James leans forward and impulsively hugs him. He isn't really that fond of displays of affection, but Harry seems especially pensive today.

"I'll see you in December," James promises.

"Write to me, won't you? I know you'll be busy, but — "

"Don't be daft, course I'll write." James smiles at him, and Harry's spirits seem to lift. "See you at Christmas, Dad."

He waves goodbye as he boards the Hogwarts Express. It's the usual cacophony of noise and clutter. He doesn't see anyone from the Gryffindor dormitory, although the platform is still very crowded. No doubt they're all out there somewhere, still farewelling their families.

No sign of Scorpius either.

James frowns, wondering why it matters.

"Lost a star, James?"

He glances up, blinking. A boy with wispy blond hair and pale blue eyes is standing in the doorway of a compartment. He looks oddly familiar, but James can't quite place him.

"A star?" he repeats stupidly, but the boy just smiles and steps back into the compartment.

James pauses, then follows him. There's another boy inside the compartment, identical to the first one, and finally James remembers.

"Lorcan and Lysander," he says. Luna's sons, the twins. They're a year below James, both in Hufflepuff, and he never really bothered speaking much with them.

"I'm Lysander," the first boy says. "It's hard to tell us apart, isn't it?"

"Yeah," James admits.

Lorcan, perched on the edge of his seat and evidently deeply absorbed in a book, glances up. "Oh, hello, James," he says. "Tell me, what do you think about tree dreams?"

"Tree dreams?" Speaking with the twins always makes James feel a little disoriented, as if he's been momentarily dropped into another reality. "I guess…I don't know. Trees dream?"

"They sleep, of course, but whether or not they dream…" Lorcan turns a page.

James sits beside the twins. The noise in the aisles seems to have reached its peak. The platform is beginning to empty of students, the parents waving at the train.

"Maybe that's why the Whomping Willow is so angry," James muses. "Maybe it has a lot of nightmares."

Both twins, now absorbed in the book, look up at him.

"Of course," Lysander says. "It makes sense now. You're awfully intelligent, James."

He wonders if Lysander is mocking him. But he's just sitting there, smiling serenely at him, while Lorcan nods and writes a note on the page.

"We were very sorry to hear about your cousin," Lysander says suddenly, and James blinks.

"Oh. Thank you."

"My mother always says that things find a way of coming back to us, in the end."

James finds that oddly comforting.


 

The first week of term dawdles past. James carries the inquest in his bag, the presence of it like a heavy rock.

It's the second week of September, on an unexpectedly warm autumn day, when he decides to read it. He takes the folder with him to the last class that day — Herbology. His cactus actually seems pleased to see him, and James spoils it with a few careful pats and some lines of poetry he stole from one of Rose's books. He mutters the lines quickly — if anyone overheard him reciting poetry to a cactus, he'd be forced to immediately and somewhat aggressively defend his masculinity. But the cactus seems appreciative anyway.

"You look healthy," James tells it, and for once he's not lying. It's turned quite a lovely green colour. He glances over his shoulder, looking along the aisle of plants, and his heart drops. There's a group of Ravenclaws around his stack of textbooks, whispering and rustling through the pages, and then one of them picks up the folder.

No. James races towards them; a few of them look up with startled expressions.

"Stop it! Put that back!"

"Why? Important, is it?" the Ravenclaw holding the folder says.

"Ooh, maybe it's something private!" one of them adds, and the next moment they're all trying to grab ahold of it — even Scorpius is there, James notices with fury, swishing his wand as if to Accio the folder. By the time James has reached the group, the battered-looking pages are in the hands of a confused-looking Ravenclaw.

"Give it back!" James snarls, bringing his fist back, and the Ravenclaw ducks away.

"Calm down! What are you making such a fuss about, anyway?" The Ravenclaw tosses the pages at James. "They haven't even got anything written on them."

"Oh," the other Ravenclaws mutter in disappointment, and they all slowly melt away, returning to their tasks. James isn't so quick to forgive, though, and he grabs ahold of a passing Sinclair.

"What did you do?"

"Let go of me," Sinclair snaps. "I just came over to see what all the fuss was about. Some of the Ravenclaws thought it'd be interesting to go through your books. You carry way too much stuff, you know."

James lets go of him, his heart still pounding as Sinclair gives him an offended look and straightens his collar before walking away again. Probably still deserves a punch to the nose anyway, James thinks.

Left alone again, he stares down at the two blank pages. Completely empty. Not a single word.

Someone walks up behind him. "You should be more careful," Scorpius says quietly as he pauses beside James. He leans forward, swishes his wand again, and words begin to reveal themselves, the dark ink spreading across the parchment: Section 67 of the Coroner's Act (1988)…

James quickly slips the pages back into the folder, before he has a chance to read any more.

By the time he's looked up again, Scorpius has left.


 

James doesn't join the crowds as they jostle away after class. Instead, he goes out to the castle grounds, nearly empty apart from the occasional first or second year, and walks to the end of the pier. Here, where he's dived into the water so many times. The first time as a nervous second-year, toes curling round the splintered edge of the pier, standing in the grey predawn light, anxious that he wouldn't make the team. And every time thereafter, whether he was about to triumphantly break a personal record or collapse onto the pier afterwards, overcome with anger and despair at his worst performance. Don't waste my time with anything but your best, he remembers Saltworth saying.

James sets down his bookbag and sits down slowly, rolling up his trousers a little and taking off his socks and shoes, letting his feet dangle in the water. It's very chilly, even at this time of year, and he's grateful for the warmth potions during swim practice.

Then he gets the folder out of his bookbag and opens it. He won't stop reading, he tells himself resolutely. If he stops, it will take him forever to open the folder again and read the rest.

So he takes a breath, somehow reassured by the cold water washing over his feet, and begins to read. The little details are kept short and succinct, the language impersonal as any report James has ever read. It reveals nothing unexpected: Teddy was kayaking with two friends when he capsized and struck his head on a rock. By the time his friends — slightly ahead of him — realised something was wrong and managed to eventually find him and drag him to the river's surface, he wasn't breathing. It took very little time for the MediWizards to declare him dead.

But here and there, little details pepper the neat handwriting like cracks in a wall:

It was observed that a lot of water and froth was coming out of Teddy's mouth and nose...

He was unable to be revived despite the efforts of his friends...

At autopsy, the deceased had a head injury, a scalp laceration, acute subdural and subarachnoid haemorrhages. It is likely that this head injury would have rendered him unconscious, thus allowing drowning to supervene...

James looks down at the last page, at the scribble of the coroner's signature, a droplet of ink splashed next to the date. Then he closes the folder and looks up, gazing across the lake. It shines beneath the bright afternoon sun, rippling like hammered silver.

He's always loved the water.


 

The wards vibrate at the usual time on Wednesday, despite the fact Draco no longer has a file nor a case officer.

He smiles to himself as he opens the door, then stops.

Pansy gives him a bright smile, as if the years without contact have all melted to nothing. "Draco," she says. "It's been far too long."

He looks past her. "Where's Clayton?"

Pansy's smile fades. "Christopher's busy with work."

"Why are you here?"

"For Merlin's sake, Draco. Invite me in, at least."

Draco crosses his arms and leans against the wall, allowing Pansy to walk past. She looks around the front hall and he waits for a disparaging comment about the goblin tapestries disappearing or the dark walnut panelling being replaced.

"You've done a beautiful job," Pansy says instead, taking off her cloak and hanging it from the hat-stand.

"I'm sure you didn't come all this way to give me empty compliments."

"Draco, let's not do that. Tell your house-elf to fetch some drinks, we'll talk about the old days."

"I haven't got a house-elf."

Pansy looks at him. "That's why I'm here," she says, going to the front parlour and sitting down on the uncomfortable chaise. Draco follows her but chooses to stand by the window.

"Because I dismissed my house-elf?"

"Because this is how the Pureblood world is now, Draco. It's so progressive. When I married Christopher, I turned my back on it. Just like you did when Astoria died. All those stuffy traditions and old ways…but things have changed. Everyone's getting rid of their house-elves, and moving — "

Draco cuts her off. "Why are you telling me this?"

Pansy pauses and looks down at her wedding ring. She twists it around her finger as she speaks. "As a favour to an old friend. I want you to come back too, Draco. It's not the same without all my friends there."

"Have you forgotten you're speaking to a fellow Slytherin? I know when I'm being manipulated." Draco gives her a long look. "We haven't spoken for years. Don't feed me those lines about missing old friends. At least give me the dignity of telling the truth."

Pansy falls silent. After a moment, she twists her ring so it's facing upwards again. "You're right," she says at last. "There's a reason. Last year, something happened."

"You divorced Clayton."

She glances up at him, surprise flickering across her face. "What? No. No, we actually…we started a family."

"You had a baby?"

Pansy nods. Draco tries to summon a feeling besides hurt. Despite the distance between them, he would have expected to at least receive a perfunctory announcement.

"Congratulations," he says at last, and Pansy's tense expression dissolves into a smile.

"Thank you. I had a little girl. She's beautiful, Christopher just can't stop doting on her. She's my world now. Children are like that, aren't they? For the first time in my life, I realised I would give up everything for someone else."

Draco's heart gives a little pang. He misses Scorpius; it's still two long months before his son will come home for Christmas.

Pansy seems to read his mind. "It made me realise," she says quietly, "that you must feel the same way about your son. And I had to let you know."

"Let me know what?"

"Draco…with your father finally imprisoned, your name has been cleared. People know you weren't hiding him or helping him evade capture. People feel like they can associate with you now, without the implication that they support…" She clears her throat. "Anyway. The important thing is, in the Pureblood circles, people are talking about your son now. They're saying he would make a good match for their children."

Draco says nothing, but the words send a rush through his heart. A match…a Pureblood match for Scorpius…he would have everything. Everything Draco ever dreamed of and never achieved. Scorpius would have status, wealth, respect. He could use his Pureblood connections to get any career he wanted. He would have a beautiful home, a happy family.

"I would do anything to see my daughter happy," Pansy says. "And I know you must feel the same way about your son. I couldn't just leave it. I had to let you know. This is your chance, Draco. I know it's been long, so long, but the Pureblood world will welcome you back with open arms. Rejoin it. Introduce Scorpius. He's turning sixteen this year, it's perfect timing. There are many respectable families who have daughters his age, and from what I hear, they would love to meet him."

Draco clears his throat. "I'll think about it."

Pansy nods, then stands up. "You should," she says. "Send me an owl when you make up your mind, and I'll help arrange things."

"Thank you."

She leans forward and gives him a perfunctory kiss on the cheek. Draco accompanies her to the front entrance. Just as she's leaving, he repeats, "Congratulations on your daughter."

She turns and smiles at him. "Thank you. I'm so happy."

He watches her walk down the long driveway.


 

Harry Floos to the manor, planning a leisurely Monopoly game with Draco, but upon arriving he notices a familiar scent.

"Pansy was here, then," he comments as Draco ushers him to the kitchen. "What'd she want?"

"What? How did you – never mind."

"Same sickly-sweet perfume she wore back at Hogwarts. Smells like someone threw up a lavender bush. So, what was she doing here?"

"Nothing."

"You're such a liar. Who's banker?"

Draco shoves the Monopoly board at him. "You can be banker for once. And now that my name has been cleared, apparently all Pureblood eyes are on Scorpius."

Harry straightens up, his eyes narrowing. "Someone's after Scorpius?"

"What? No, you idiot. They think he'd make an excellent match for their respective daughters."

"You're joking. Purebloods still do arranged marriages?"

"Don't be daft, it's nothing so backwards as that. It merely means that a few Pureblood families with girls around Scorpius's age will contact me, and arrange a few visits. If Scorpius happens to get along particularly well with one of the girls, it's a match. A courtship usually follows. But," he adds, giving Harry a look, "it's always up to the children. We parents might arrange visits, but the moment Scorpius — or one of the girls — decides it won't be a good match, then both families will just move along."

"Still doesn't seem right," Harry says, picking up the dice.

"Why not? Scorpius can decline all the matches if he wants. It's just a way of making sure that all options have been explored."

"You mean it's a way of trying to make sure Scorpius finds a nice Pureblood wife before he accidentally falls in love with a Muggleborn."

Draco frowns at him. "I knew you wouldn't understand it. It's just a tradition. Besides, if Scorpius does marry one of the Pureblood girls, then what does it matter? He's happy. She's happy. The families are happy."

"It still seems manipulative to me. And what will you do if Scorpius decides to marry a Muggleborn? Or even a Muggle," Harry adds, and Draco's frown deepens.

"Can't you just be happy for me, Potter? When I was Scorpius's age, I received so many invitations that I could hardly attend them all. I didn't want to settle, though, so I didn't accept any courtship arrangements." Draco picks up his quill. "I certainly regretted that five years later, after the war. I was very lucky to have Astoria."

"How generous of the Greengrass family," Harry mutters, and Draco glances up at him, his expression sharpening.

"Generous of Astoria. She was beautiful, intelligent, charming — she could have had anyone. But she chose me. And her family hated that. They said she could do a lot better than a Malfoy." He looks back down at the parchment again. "They were right, of course, but Astoria stayed with me anyway."

Harry has wondered, occasionally, what Draco saw in Astoria, especially after he had read their legal records. The bitter divorce, the horrible custody battle, the nasty little details emerging. Logically, he knew they had loved each other once — or at least accepted the idea of a life together.

But now, he wonders what Astoria saw in Draco. Her fall from grace, her disintegrating relationship with her family, her mental health collapsing beneath the weight of it all, her eventual retreat to a life as a Muggle…there must have been something, at the very start, that made it worth it. Something about Draco, something Astoria had seen in him.

"And that's what I feared happening to Scorpius," Draco says, pulling Harry back to the present conversation. "No parent wants to see their child experience constant rejection. This is my chance to give him a real future."

Harry looks down at the board. A part of him wants to argue with Draco about it, and express doubts about returning to the Pureblood circles.

But if their roles were reversed, he thinks, he'd probably do the same for James. A better future.

So he looks up at Draco and musters a smile, raising his cup of tea. "To Scorpius's future," he says, ignoring the shadow of doubt.

Draco smiles.


 

The first test of the year is scheduled: A Potions practical test. James sits beside Iwan in Potions, whispering advice before Slughorn begins the class. Scorpius, uncharacteristically late to class, has to take the last place left: the seat on James's other side. So far, however, he's been studiously ignoring everyone around him and reading his notes.

Iwan nudges James. "Don't forget about that Defence test next week too. What are your notes on shield charms?"

"I don't know," James mutters, flipping through his book. "I've nothing here except a drawing of a dragon."

"Yeah, I've got a half-finished sketch of cheese chasing a mouse."

They laugh; the moment is slightly interrupted when a Ravenclaw girl in front of them turns around.

"What's so funny?" she asks James, smiling.

"Nothing," he says, startled.

"Oh. Sorry, I didn't mean to interrupt. You've just got a really nice laugh..."

"Thanks, I guess," James says, and he turns back to Iwan. "Come on, you must have some notes..."

The Ravenclaw girl looks a little disappointed, but she turns back around again. Iwan gives James a meaningful look.

"What?" James asks.

Iwan leans closer. "She fancies you, you dolt."

"Don't be an idiot."

"You should ask her on a date."

James is doubtful. "I don't even know her."

"Well, you can get to know her. On a date." Iwan tilts his head meaningfully towards the girl.

James turns back to his own notes. The Ravenclaw girl keeps turning around to smile at him, which is quite disconcerting, and then whispering to her friend — the loathsome Sinclair. That doesn't bode well, James thinks suspiciously, and he's right.

"Sorry," says the girl, turning around again. "I don't mean to interrupt, I was just wondering...you mentioned the Defence test, and I'm...well, I don't mean to brag, but I am considered the best in the class. Maybe we could study together...?"

"James would love that," Iwan says with relish, ignoring James's glare. "You could even show him your Patronus."

The Ravenclaw goes bright red, but James straightens up with new interest.

"Really? You know how to do a Patronus? I'd love to learn that!"

Sinclair, who has thus far sat there with an unimpressed expression, scoffs at James. "Firstly, your friend was just making a completely inappropriate joke. Secondly, nobody can cast a Patronus — not even the seventh years — so you definitely wouldn't be able to learn it."

"What's that supposed to mean?" James demands.

"Oh, come on. We all know Abigail isn't exactly asking you out for your intellect."

The girl — Abigail, James supposes — goes even more red. "Shut up, Stuart!" she hisses at Sinclair.

"Why? We all know he needs remedial Charms and can't even cast the basic spells. Let alone a Patronus," Sinclair adds.

Iwan looks up, his eyes narrowing. "What's your problem, Sinclair? And if it's so simple, go ahead and cast your Patronus, then."

"Are you deaf, Calthorpe? I just said nobody can cast it," Sinclair snaps.

"I can."

They all turn and stare at Scorpius.

"What?" Iwan asks with confusion.

"I can cast a Patronus." He turns a page, not looking up from his work.

"Who taught you?" Abigail asks suspiciously.

"Nobody. I taught myself."

Sinclair gives him a look of contempt. "You are such a liar, Scorpius Malfoy. Nobody just learns this stuff from reading a book."

James looks at Scorpius curiously, and Abigail moves closer to eagerly whisper in his ear. "The other day, Professor Flitwick was explaining how a rebounding spell works, and Malfoy said it was all wrong. He said a bunch of nonsense about something called trickonometry — "

"Trigonometry," Scorpius corrects.

" — and told Flitwick he was wrong."

"Was he?" James asks.

Abigail looks at him blankly. "What?"

"Was Professor Flitwick wrong?"

Sinclair gives James an irritated look. "Why would he be wrong? Honestly, you're as mental as Malfoy."

"I'm not mental," Scorpius says sharply. "It's maths, that's all it is. If you bothered to understand the — "

"Oh, do shut up. We're all sick of hearing about your precious Muggle science. It's not the least bit interesting — "

"I dunno, it sounds a bit interesting to me," James says truthfully. They all turn to look at him, Scorpius included, their expressions mirroring surprise. "What?" James asks defensively. "It does sound a bit interesting."

"Oh, really?" Sinclair retorts. "Then Malfoy can tell you all about it, and then I'm sure you'll both be able to cast perfect Patronuses within a week."

"I can already cast a Patronus," Scorpius says angrily. "And I will tell James all about the science of it!"

"Oh, brilliant. Good luck teaching Potter to cast a Patronus when he still has problems with a disarming spell!"

"James is absolutely capable of casting a Patronus," Scorpius snaps. "It's a spell that requires a lot of strength, so he's certainly got a solid chance. Unlike you."

Someone clears their throat. They all turn and look to the front of the room, where Slughorn is waiting. The entire class is staring at them.

"If you're quite ready," Slughorn says with disapproval.

Sinclair slinks down in his seat and Scorpius's cheeks turn a faint pink. James opens his textbook and begins preparing for the test.

But his thoughts remain elsewhere.


 

Rose grimaces.

"You don't think it's a good idea," James says slowly.

They're sitting in the common room, playing a game of chess, and James had decided to tell Rose about the interesting conversation in Potions. Had Scorpius actually offered to teach him a Patronus? Was the offer genuine? Should James accept it? He thought Rose — more keenly aware of the nuances of such situations — might provide some soothing reassurance.

Clearly not.

"I mean, you've just…you've had a really good year so far," Rose says, nudging her reluctant bishop forward. "I just don't want you to ruin it."

"Yeah, but it's sort of…well, we don't hate each other quite as much as we used to." He pauses. "I think."

"Oh," Rose says. "Well. In that case, you should definitely sit in a small room with your arch-enemy and attempt to learn a very frustrating spell from him. I can't imagine what could possibly go wrong."

"Thanks for your support," James says as his rook takes out Rose's bishop.

She gives him an apologetic smile. "Just trying to be realistic. Just be happy that he's leaving you alone. The best thing you can do is stay out of his way, right?"

James offers her a quick smile. "It's your turn."

She narrows her eyes.


 

He waits until the next class they have together: Potions again. Scorpius is already sitting in the front row when James arrives, and he takes the seat behind him. As Slughorn begins the class, James leans forward and taps Scorpius's shoulder.

"I'm not busy on Fridays."

Scorpius gives him an irritated look. "What?"

"Fridays. For Patronus lessons."

Slughorn raps his wand against Scorpius's desk, making him jump and turn back around.

"Concentrating, Malfoy."

"Yes, sir."

"And you, Potter, focus on your own work."

"Yes, sir," James echoes.

Scorpius doesn't turn around again for the rest of the lesson. After Slughorn dismisses the class, Scorpius stands up and leaves without a word. As James makes his way to his next class, Rose catches up to him and gives him a sympathetic look.

"It was nice that you tried," she says, putting a hand on his shoulder.

"It's fine," James says, shrugging her off. "You can say 'I told you so' if you want."

"Come on, I'm not completely awful." She offers him a smile.

James returns it, despite the faint disappointment rising in his heart.


 

That night, after dinner, he makes his way back to the common room alone. Normally he's accompanied by a few friends — Iwan or Nate, sometimes Martin and Paul — but he leaves the Great Hall early, his appetite a little diminished. As he's walking up the stairs, someone calls out to him.

"James!"

He turns. Scorpius is standing at the base of the stairs, looking at him.

"Yeah?"

Scorpius looks at him for a moment longer and just as James is about to become impatient, he speaks.

"Fridays are fine," Scorpius says. "Seven o'clock. Outside the Transfiguration classroom. Don't be late."

A group of Gryffindors approaches, laughing loudly about something, and Scorpius turns and hurries away without another word. James stares after him until the Gryffindors catch up to him.

"James! You going to the Quidditch match on Saturday?"

He blinks and looks at the student. One of Rose's friends, he realises. "Yeah, of course. My cousin's the Seeker, of course I'll be there."

"That's the spirit!" And they sweep him along in their light chatter and laughter.

For once, he doesn't really mind their noisy presence.


 

Pansy makes arrangements, as she promised she would. Draco has to know the current shops and businesses frequented by Purebloods, and the parties to which he simply must acquire an invitation, and the current darlings of the Pureblood world, and the favoured families. All the places to be seen, and the people to be seen with. Harry would laugh about it, Draco thinks, but it's serious business. A single misstep could see Scorpius slide down the social scale. Don't get a domestic house-elf, Pansy tells him. They're considered to be poor taste these days. Don't mention the war, a lot of Pureblood families are building their wealth on Muggleborn connections and are very careful about maintaining political neutrality. Don't go to these shops, they're seen as cheap now. Don't speak to these people, they've fallen out of favour.

He has a very pricey year ahead, Draco thinks. He must give every illusion of wealth, from visiting expensive restaurants to purchasing the finest robes possible for Scorpius. The manor must look perfect at all times, ready for future guests.

Then there's the issue of Scorpius's birthday party. It will be held in summer, six months after Scorpius's actual birthday. But the date isn't important — it's just an excuse to properly introduce Scorpius to the Pureblood world, and summer is the ideal time for an impressive display. Luxurious decorations, extravagant food, and of course all the little 'extras', as Pansy calls them — enchanted lighting, champagne fountains, fireworks, and a cake large enough to feed at least fifty guests.

He's busy balancing the budget for all of this when Harry makes his appearance, looking damp and displeased.

"Malfoy," he says. "Thought I'd be nice for once and use the front door. I was banging away on it for ages! It's pouring down out there!"

"Yes, quite," Draco says vaguely, scribbling numbers into columns.

"I swear, I will now use your Floo at all hours of the day — "

"What?" Draco stares in disbelief at the total he just wrote. "No, no…that's not right…"

Harry peers down at the bit of paper. "What's that?"

"My financial downfall, apparently."

"What? But…you've seemed so busy with genealogy projects lately…"

"I can't do this. I have to get another job. A second one." The scrawled number seems to look larger the longer Draco stares at it.

Harry reads it aloud. "Two thousand galleons…? Two thousand galleons? What are you doing, buying gold bricks for the driveway?"

"Investing in Scorpius's future." Draco folds the paper in half. "I'll have to find a way to do it. I can't afford to make shortcuts. As far as the Pureblood world knows, I'm wealthy and Scorpius has a sizeable inheritance."

Harry is silent for a long moment, tapping his fingers lightly as if debating something with himself. "Are you sure you really want to do this?" he asks. "It just seems so…stressful."

"I told you, this will give Scorpius everything he's ever wanted."

Harry smiles, but it seems a little tense. "Of course," he says. "I'm just making sure that…that everything will be all right."

"It will be. I'll make sure everything is perfect," Draco says with determination. "Now, sorry to forego our usual Monopoly game, but I really need to finish these family trees. I need every commission I can get now."

"Of course," Harry says, and he picks up his cloak. "I'll see you later, then."

Draco nods and reaches for his genealogy books.

Two thousand galleons.

Well, he thinks as he picks up his quill. He'd better get started.


James meets Scorpius outside the empty Transfiguration classroom. It will be good for practice, Scorpius says. Nice and spacious, and McGonagall doesn't mind if students use her classroom for homework.

James isn't sure what he expected, but Scorpius doesn't waste time on any social niceties or casual conversation. He immediately goes to the blackboard, a piece of chalk ready in his hand. James is amused and almost sits at a desk, planning to manufacture a look of exaggerated attention, but decides against it. Instead he sits on the edge of one of the desks, his bookbag on the floor, and waits as Scorpius begins to write on the blackboard.

"So, any explanation you've gotten so far about producing a Patronus is complete rubbish."

"Is it?" James asks doubtfully. "I've heard it's all about happy memories. That sounds right."

"It's wrong," Scorpius says. "It's all about chemistry."

"Chemistry?"

"All emotions are triggered by physiological reactions. The four main chemicals responsible for happiness are serotonin, dopamine, oxytocin, and endorphins." The chalk rasps across the blackboard as Scorpius writes out each word.

"So I need more of those, then?"

"Sort of. The problem is that the professors focus too much on endorphins, which are responsible for improving your mood. But you need all of the chemicals to be present, with ideal levels of each one." Scorpius spends the next few minutes explaining the types of moods produced by certain chemicals. "That's why some people take ages to learn a Patronus, and some never do," he says, finishing his explanation. "They're just not picking the right memory."

James is a bit worried that Scorpius will expect him to choose a memory then and there, but he doesn't. He shows James the wand movement instead, and they practice it a few times.

"Now all you have to do is find the right memory. You can make a list of them if you'd like, and next week you can practice and work out which one is the most successful."

"A list?" James echoes. That seems a bit impersonal, somehow. "That's…efficient. Is that how you learned the Patronus?"

"I didn't need a list."

"But you think I will?"

Scorpius tenses. "It was just a suggestion."

James pauses, then shrugs and picks up his bag. "Thanks. It might help. See you next week, then?"

"See you next week."

James turns and leaves. It's late now, the candles burning in their brackets, and no doubt old Grimble will be on the prowl for wayward students. James settles his invisibility cloak over his shoulders and slips away; behind him, he hears the soft footsteps of Scorpius fading into the opposite direction.

When he gets back to the dormitory, the boys are throwing paper aeroplanes around and laughing.

"Where have you been?" Martin asks.

"Learning a spell from Scorpius Malfoy."

"Thought you two hated each other."

James shrugs. A paper aeroplane hits Martin right on his nose; he jumps up and races across the room.

"Iwan, you absolute prat! Get back here!"

Iwan just laughs and runs around the dormitory as Martin chases him; Paul and Nate grin at James.

James suddenly has the strange but very comfortable feeling of being exactly where he wants to be.

Chapter Text

October vanishes rapidly into chilly November, and James thinks the term is going well thus far. His grades are picking up — his father sends an enormous parcel of sweets and a letter filled with heartfelt congratulations after James's mid-year report arrives.

"This is what you get for getting Acceptables and Exceeds Expectations?" Martin asks incredulously as James unwraps the parcel, the sweets spilling out.

"You should've seen James's grades before," Iwan says with a grin. "I expect his father wept tears of joy when he saw this year's report."

James joins in the laughter good-naturedly — after all, it's thanks to the help of his friends, whether they're volunteering to help him study for a test or slipping him answers in Charms class. 

And James's swimming is fast becoming another point of pride: Saltworth discusses, at length, the first of the upcoming inter-school swim meets and tells the team to check the noticeboard later in the month.  James doesn't give it too much thought until he's shaken violently awake by Iwan one Thursday morning. 

"What?"

"Come look at the selections!"

"Go away," James groans. "Every single other morning, I have to get up at the crack of dawn to — "

"You've been selected for five events!"

James hurriedly dresses and rushes down to the noticeboard. Thomas is there already, looking smug.

"Five events," he tells James. "That's the maximum number you're allowed to have, otherwise I reckon Saltworth would've selected you for even more."

"Five...? Which ones? Oh, God — she's mental! I'll be dead at the end of the day!"

"Look how happy he is," Iwan tells Thomas, and they snicker together. After a moment, though, Iwan's smile fades and he nudges James. "You all right?"

"Yeah, it's just...five events is a lot," James says, feeling a little anxious. "I can't let the team down."

"You won't," Thomas says firmly. "You'll be annoyingly brilliant, as ever."

James manages a quick but genuine smile.


The only area in which he's not succeeding (in fact, failing spectacularly) is his Patronus lessons. Four weeks in a row, he's gone to the Transfiguration classroom only to spend an hour casting nothing while Scorpius stands there and frowns. 

Tonight is no different. James has even brought along a list of memories, but none of them seem to be working. 

"Expecto Patronum!"

His wand fizzles like a broken firework. Scorpius — leaning against the wall with an indecipherable expression — finally steps forward.

"What memory are you using?"

James pauses. "My father taking me to the Quidditch World Cup when I was a kid."

"You don't even like Quidditch."

"Well, it's not about that, is it?" James retorts. "It's about family and friends and all that stuff."

Scorpius doesn't say anything. He looks up at the ceiling, evidently studying the shadows across it, then exhales slowly. "Try a different memory."

James is silent for a while. Swimming? Perhaps the day he joined the swim team…he'd always wanted to join a team, and he'd been so determined to succeed…accomplishment, isn't that one of the emotions Scorpius listed as triggering serotonin?

"Expecto Patronum!"

Nothing. But James half-expected that anyway. It's not even a particularly strong memory. He'd looked at a noticeboard and felt happy to see his name there. Hardly inspiration for producing a powerful Patronus. 

"Try something else," Scorpius says.

"Like what?"

"Christmas. Surely those are good memories."

James looks away, frowning. "They remind me too much of my cousin now," he says.

Scorpius falls silent. After a long moment, he makes another suggestion. "Birthdays, then."

"Just makes me think of my mother missing all of them."

"Summer holidays."

"Nice, but not exactly moments of pure joy."

"When you got your Hogwarts letter."

"I was expecting it. Would have been angry if I hadn't received it."

"First day at Hogwarts."

"Fun, but exactly what I expected."

Silence settles between them. James stares at the floor. He's got plenty of happy memories, of course he does. They're nice and pleasant and remind him of good times.  But they're not moments of powerful happiness.

"Wait," James says suddenly. "I've got one."

Scorpius nods and steps back again. James takes a breath, concentrating on the memory.  Watching fireworks with Teddy. The way James always felt thrilled every time, as though he never grew out of watching cheap fireworks. Teddy always beside him, always smiling…

"Expecto Patronum!"

…and the way the spells lit up beneath the hospital door, and James thought they looked like fireworks because he didn't realise they were resuscitation spells. One second intervals. One second for every breath Teddy didn't take.

"You're not concentrating on your memory."

James glances up. "I am!"

"You're not. I was watching, and your expression just fell like someone punched you. You were thinking about something else."

"I wasn't! The memory is just connected to something sad, that's all."

"Well, you can't use it then."

"Then I can't use any of my memories!" James hurls his wand across the room; Scorpius's irritated expression is replaced by something James can't quite pinpoint. He crosses the room and picks up James's wand.

"You shouldn't throw your wand."

"Yeah, all right, McGonagall. Spare me the safety lecture," James snaps, but he hates the way he sounds more upset than angry, his emotions belying his words.

Scorpius doesn't respond anyway, just gazes at James's wand for a long moment. "Hawthorn," he says, and James frowns.

"What?"

"Hawthorn, isn't it?" Scorpius holds up the wand.

"Yeah…how'd you know?"

"My father's wand is hawthorn too." Scorpius pauses, then swishes the wand. Stars burst forth like a tiny meteor shower, raining silver around them. "I quite like hawthorn wands. They're contradictory. They're really good for hexing, but they're also really good for healing. Their owner has to know what they want from the wand or it can backfire badly. If the wizard isn't powerful or decisive enough, they'll never master their wand."

James is doubtful. "I've never had a problem with it." 

Scorpius glances up at him. "You're the most decisive person I know. Once you've made up your mind, it's done and there's no changing it."

James's mouth twitches. "That's a nice way of calling me stubborn."

Scorpius smiles, but then looks away quickly as if afraid James will see it and mock him. James frowns and casts around for something to say.

"What's your wand?"

Scorpius pauses, then holds it out. "Guess," he says.

James accepts the wand. A pale wood. No engravings, no silver-gilded handle. When James was younger and they used to practice spells together, he always thought Scorpius's wand was a little boring. Now he thinks it's rather elegant in its simplicity. "The survivor's tree," he says at last.

"What?"

"Fir. That's what it is, isn't it? Teddy said firs could survive anything. All weather, even the hottest summers and the worst winters." James is immensely pleased with himself for remembering that tidbit of information. He turns the wand over in his hands and, still feeling slightly smug, decides to guess the core. "And…phoenix feather."

"How'd you know?" Scorpius asks, looking surprised.

"I read a lot."

"That's rubbish. You guessed."

James grins and Scorpius suddenly raises James's wand. "Expecto Patronum!"

The wisps of silver gather slowly, coming together to float through the air. James watches closely, hoping to see a clear form, but nothing happens and he realises Scorpius hasn't quite mastered a true Patronus yet.

"Sorry," Scorpius says, and James glances up. "You were expecting a corporeal form, weren't you?" He looks disappointed with himself.

"Don't apologise, you muppet," James says firmly. "It's still a Patronus, isn't it?"

There's another fleeting smile, then Scorpius gives James his wand back. "See you Monday," he says. "We've got that Potions test, don't forget."

"Yeah, of course. See you later." James hands Scorpius's wand to him, then turns and leaves.

Later on, in his dormitory, he casts Prior Incantatem just to see those little wisps of happiness again.


Harry visits Draco on the first of December. It's been a long time since he last visited; Draco has been very busy lately and responds infrequently to Harry's letters. It took quite some time to schedule this visit, and even now Draco seems a little rushed as he ushers Harry in and leads the way to the kitchen.

As Draco is busying himself with the teapot, Harry turns his attention to the Monopoly board. It’s been shoved to the corner of the table, where it’s slowly gathering dust. Next to it, there’s jewellery half-wrapped in cloth and Harry frowns, peering closer. A long silver necklace, a sapphire pendant hanging from it. A diamond-studded bracelet, a set of gold earrings, two jade hairpins. Harry looks closer at the bracelet, spotting an engraving along the inner band. To my perfect Narcissa — yours always, L.M.

Draco scoops up the jewellery quickly, placing the cloth back over it.

“So, did you hear the news about the dragon?” he asks smoothly.

Harry lets the matter go. “Ah, yes. The escaped Short-Snout. Took a rather interesting detour over Leeds.”

“Apparently the Ministry was up all night casting memory charms left, right, and centre.”

They laugh and move onto other topics, but Harry keeps glancing at the jewellery when he thinks Draco isn’t looking. Narcissa’s beautiful jewellery; gifts from her adoring husband, gifts that ought to become family heirlooms.

Soon to be sold.

The price for Scorpius’s future.

Harry wants to say something about it. Tell Draco not to worry, he’ll pay for it instead. Or ask if it’s really worth it at all, is it truly necessary?

"Look," Draco says, drawing Harry's attention to a stack of invites. "Scorpius has already been invited to so many social events. I can't believe it. Look at all these opportunities!" He picks up an invitation, his eyes bright.

Harry nods. "He's popular already."

And later, when Harry picks up his cloak and goes to the Floo, he pauses and tells Draco he’s a good father.

Draco doesn’t know how to respond to that. He blinks, and looks confused, and then he reddens slightly and says, “Well. I try.”

Harry’s grin broadens into a smile. “See you next week, Malfoy.”

“Next week, Potter.”

Harry steps into the fireplace.


At James's next Patronus lesson, Scorpius arrives twenty minutes late and is full of tense comments and stony expressions. At first, James can't figure it out; he thought things had been improving between them, but Scorpius is downright irritable with him.

"Any suggestions for memories?" he asks Scorpius after another failed Patronus.

"No," Scorpius says tersely. "Maybe you should give up and work on something else."

James tries his best to ignore Scorpius's snappish tone. "Well, we could always try duelling. We've got that Defence test coming up."

"I don't think that's a good idea."

"Why not? Don't you trust me?"

James had spoken the words carelessly, lightly, but Scorpius stares at him until the silence grows thin and fragile. James, feeling unexpectedly stung, is about to pick up his bag and leave when he notices the way Scorpius is keeping his left arm quite still, as if he's hurt it.

James narrows his eyes as realisation dawns. "For Merlin's sake, just tell them to leave you alone."

Scorpius glares at the ground between them. "They'll graduate soon."

"Another seven months of this? You're mental. Just throw a few hexes and they'll leave you alone."

Scorpius snaps then. "That's always your solution, isn't it? Hit the problem until it goes away."

"It's worked so far. I don't see anybody hexing me."

Scorpius reaches out and wraps his hand around James's wrist, and James feels unnerved by the intensity and anger in Scorpius's expression. "You don't get it, do you? That's how they win. They want me to throw jinxes, and hexes, and shout and hurt people. So then they can turn around and say, we told you. Just like his Death Eater father." As Scorpius speaks his next words, his grip on James's wrist increases painfully. "But I will never let them win."

James looks at him for a long moment. "Let go of me," he says evenly.

Scorpius finally glances down then, and he seems almost surprised by the fact he's still holding James's wrist. He lets go.

"Hold out your other wrist," James says, and Scorpius looks at him, confused. "The one with the new Dark Mark," James adds. "Don't bother denying it's there."

"No. This is my problem, I'll deal with it — "

"This is our problem, and we're dealing with it."

Scorpius stares at him. After a moment, James impatiently leans forward, grabs ahold of Scorpius's wrist, and begins the transfer charm. After it's finished, James steps back and turns away.

"I should get back to the common room, I promised Rose a game of chess," he says.

Scorpius nods. "See you next week," he says, his voice carefully blank.

They leave, walking in opposite directions.


He'd hid the last Dark Mark with an illusion charm; it hadn't been his best spell work, but nobody spent much time staring hard at his wrists anyway. This time, however, James has an idea.

He bides his time. Two days pass until, by happy coincidence, he sees a group of Scorpius's tormentors slip into the library.

"Back in just a minute," James says to Rose, who's ranting about the outcome of a recent Quidditch match.

" - honestly, if Stevenson wasn't so bloody selfish and learned how to share the quaffle, it — what? Oh. All right."

He ducks into the library and weaves through the aisles, looking around until he spots the group of students. They're gathered around a study desk, whispering about something.

"Hello," he says brightly, making several of them jump.

The prefect, who appears to be the ringleader, frowns at him. "What do you want?"

"Just wanted to say," James says, keeping his voice light and casual, "you probably should be a little more careful about the pranks you play. Giving Harry Potter's son the Dark Mark? That's really low, even for you. To be honest, I'm not actually sure people will find it that amusing."

The prefect pales. "What? We never..." He trails off as James holds up his arm, rolling the sleeve up. "But...we didn't...that wasn't for you, it was..."

James ignores that. "You're not going to be very popular, are you? There's an awful lot of people attending this school who actually like my father. Saved a lot of lives, you know? They're not going to be pleased about your little joke. Very bad taste."

The lanky girl next to the prefect speaks, looking horrified. "But — we didn't — you're not going to tell people we did, are you?"

"Yes," James says. "Bit hard to hide the evidence, isn't it?"

The students exchange panicked looks. "Wait," the prefect says urgently, grabbing James's arm. "Look, I'll cover it up for you, I'm one of the best at Charms — "

James shakes him away. "I didn't come here to ask for your help. I came here to warn you. You'd better be very careful who you give these tattoos to."

The prefect pauses, looking bewildered, then realisation sinks in. "I..." He glances at the other students. "Yes, we will."

"In fact, you'd better be careful who you speak to. Or even look at."

The prefect nods slowly. "Right," he says nervously.

James turns and walks away. Behind him, he can hear urgent whispering, but it doesn't worry him.

As he turns the corner of the aisle, he bumps into Rose. She's grinning widely at him.

"Oh, for Merlin's sake. Did you follow me?"

"No," Rose says cheerfully.

"And you heard everything."

"Oh, no, of course not."

That night, she gives him all of her notes for the upcoming Defence Against the Dark Arts test and finishes his Charms essay for him.


That weekend, James attends his first swim meet at Durmstrang. The other boys — Thomas, Iwan, and Noah — are all keen to show off their knowledge from previous years.

"Last year, Beauxbatons hosted it," Thomas says. "We weren't allowed to go near the girls."

James laughs. "What were you supposed to do, sit in the middle of the Quidditch pitch?"

"It was torture," Noah says gloomily. "There were all these girls in their swimsuits and Saltworth said anyone caught ogling would have to swim a lap in the unheated pool."

James is indignant. "Hang on, they have pools there? We have to swim in a freezing lake during the Scottish winter! Where's our pool?"

They plot to write a petition about it; there's little else to keep them occupied. Durmstrang is hosting the first swim meet and the other students are rather unfriendly. The Hogwarts team are staying in a draughty dormitory and any time they make too much noise, an angry prefect storms in to shout at them in Bulgarian.

"What's he saying, anyway?" Thomas asks after the fifth time it happens.

"What do you think he's saying? 'Shut up', I imagine."

Regardless of chilly dormitories and angry prefects, It's nice just to be there with his team mates. They complete their events over the weekend, James achieving good results, and they're full of cheerful celebration when they return to Hogwarts on Sunday night. They miss the evening meal, but Saltworth arranges for supper to be sent to the Great Hall. She sits with them and is too pleased with their results to tell them off when they start loudly singing their school song and flicking crumbs at each other.

James goes to his dormitory in high spirits. "Is it always this good after a meet?" he asks Thomas.

"You haven't seen anything yet. Wait until we make it to the European School Championships, and then even Saltworth joins in the singing."

"Oh, Merlin, no."

Thomas laughs. "See you tomorrow, Potter."

"Tomorrow, Pearson." James waves goodbye and begins ascending the stairs to the Gryffindor tower, Iwan by his side.

He sleeps easily that night, tired but happy.


The week drifts past, snow gathering on the grounds as December settles into place. Come Friday, Scorpius is running late for the Patronus lesson and James is suspicious. He idly scratches at the fading Dark Mark on his wrist, wondering if he needs to give that prefect another little reminder.

But when Scorpius arrives, he seems unbothered. "Hi," he says, setting down his bag.

"Hi," James echoes. "So, what are we practicing tonight?"

Scorpius looks around the room, then waves his wand. "Exinanio."

Desks rush past James, soon followed by chairs, until the room has been cleared, leaving James standing alone in a sea of space.

"Are you still interested," Scorpius asks, "in duelling?"

"Oh! Really?"

"With some conditions. Nothing that causes harm," Scorpius says firmly.

James nods. "All right. Well...shall we begin, then?"

They bow to each other, then turn and walk in opposite directions. Just as James reaches the wall and turns around, all the candles suddenly flicker out as if a breeze has run around the room. Across the darkness, Scorpius's face is a pale blur. James readjusts his grip on his wand, holding it aloft, ready at any moment to deflect.

After a long moment, he calls out, impatient. "Come on, then!"

"I've already made my move," Scorpius whispers into his ear.

James jumps, his heart pounding, and whips around. "Expelliarmus!"

His spell ricochets into empty darkness. There's nobody there. He turns back around. Scorpius is still on the other side of the room, walking slowly towards him.

"Expelliarmus!"

The spell misses Scorpius somehow, even though James knows his aim was perfect. He blinks. Is Scorpius too far away? He starts racing towards him, but the distance between them never seems to lessen. What's happening? By pure chance, he glances up, and his footsteps falter. Far above him, in the darkness, there's a mirror image of him gazing at himself. 

And then he's suddenly falling, tumbling through the air — is he the one on the ceiling, looking at his reflection below? — and then shooting stars are lighting up the room, so bright he has to close his eyes, and he calls out, feeling afraid suddenly.

"Scorpius!"

Scorpius speaks as if he's right beside James. "I promised I wouldn't harm you."

James opens his eyes. "Expell—"

The stars disappear at once. Darkness. He lands in it; it splashes around him like ink, and he sinks slowly. For a moment he feels utterly disoriented. The darkness rises and falls, an endless ocean, and when he finally surfaces, he's on the ground and Scorpius is standing in front of him, his wand held aloft.

"Expelliarmus!" James shouts.

The spell shoots right through Scorpius as if he's a ghost. James's jaw drops. He reaches out and brushes a tentative hand through Scorpius's chest. It's an illusion. Residual magic. Now that his eyes have adjusted to light again, he realises the image of Scorpius is thin and shimmering slightly.

"Over here!"

He whips around. Scorpius is running across the room. Every step he takes, he leaves behind an imprint of himself. He keeps doubling back and changing directions, and James can't even tell which Scorpius he should be aiming for. Just as he raises his wand, silver droplets begin to pour like rain, except they're upside down, falling from floor to ceiling. Unless...unless James is somehow still tumbling through the air, and he's the one upside down...

He stumbles, the ground feeling uncertain beneath his feet. The images of Scorpius snap back together like magnets. Then Scorpius flicks his wand and the floor disappears. The air turns thick as treacle; James drifts through it, silver raindrops catching lazily on his clothes and skin. He loses his grip on his wand and it floats away from him, and he tries to battle through the heavy air. The silver rain is pouring hard now, picking up momentum, and the ceiling opens up like a sky, clouds of gold storming across it, the rain crashing over James like a waterfall even though he's completely dry. All he can do is wait, caught helplessly in the tide of Scorpius's spells.

His hand closes around something. His wand.

He turns, his feet suddenly on firm ground. "Expelliarmus!"

Scorpius's wand flies from his hand. The air returns to normal. The clouds disappear.

James exhales shakily. "Well, that's..." He stops as, in his hands, Scorpius's wand turns into an elegant koi fish and swims away from him, towards the ceiling. "W-what? I don't..."

Scorpius smiles lightly. "You've been fighting empty-handed, it seems."

"What?"

Scorpius's smile widens. From one sleeve, he pulls out two wands. His wand, and James's.

"My wand!"

"Are you sure?" Scorpius asks.

"But..."

Scorpius tosses James's wand into the air. James reaches out to catch it, and —

"Geminio!"

The wand duplicates. James grabs both of them. They duplicate again. And again. And again. Soon he's surrounded by ten, twenty, thirty wands. They fly into the air like a swarm of birds, then explode into fireworks. Sparks rain down, every colour, and then come together and form a koi fish again. It circles James and he reaches out, trying to catch it —

The tiny beat of wings against his palm. He opens his hand and a golden snitch flies out. Another one appears to join it, and another, and all of them are swarming around James until the fluttering of wings slowly morphs into the crashing of waves, and he's swept away in a riptide of gold, and it's all he can see...

He hears the soft murmur of yet another incantation, and he manages to reach out blindly, his fingers closing around a sleeve. He pulls Scorpius close to him and for a moment they tumble across the floor together.

James doesn't need his wand now. Scorpius's wand slips from his hand and James grabs it.

"Finite Incantantem!"

His voice rings across the room. There's a cacophony of thunderous noise as the spells collapse, sending bright colours spiralling into the air like sparks from a fire, and then there's silence. The room is dark and empty again. James doesn't move for a moment, then pulls away from Scorpius and sits up. He's breathless, his heart still racing, blood pounding through his veins. After a moment, he laughs weakly.

"You," he says, "are something else, Scorpius Malfoy."

"Something else?"

"That was...that was like seeing real magic for the first time. Like everything else I've ever learned has just been a silly trick."

"Oh." Scorpius leans against the wall and closes his eyes.

"You all right?"

"Just a little tired," Scorpius murmurs.

James isn't surprised. He'd meant what he told Scorpius. That was the best magic he'd ever seen. Transfiguring ceilings into oceans, forcing gravity to obey different rules, creating darkness from thin air, and somehow — in the midst of it all — stealing James's wand and replacing it with an illusion. Even secretly mimicking the action of an Expelliarmus spell when James tried to cast it. Layers and layers of illusion...

"When did you take my real wand, anyway?" James asks.

Silence.

Scorpius has fallen asleep.


James sneaks back into the dormitory well after curfew. Scorpius had slept for nearly two hours, at which point James had shaken him awake and directed him back to the Ravenclaw tower.

"We duelled," Scorpius had told him sleepily.

"Yes, and you were completely brilliant."

Scorpius had looked absurdly happy as he wandered back to his dormitory.

And now James walks up the long flight of stairs to the Gryffindor tower. "And where have you been?" the Fat Lady demands.

"Flimflam."

"Excuse me, I asked you a question — "

"Flimflam!"

She glares at him but swings the portrait open nevertheless. "Just like your father," she mutters. "Always showing up at odd hours, telling me that my job is to ask for the password and mind my own business — "

"Sounds like good advice," James says as he steps into the common room; he hears a muffled — but extremely indignant — "Well! I never!" as the portrait swings shut again.

Smiling, he practically floats to bed.


However, the next week, a slight shadow appears on the horizon: James receives an appointment for a careers advice meeting with McGonagall. He isn't pleased.

"Do I have to go?" he asks the boys in the dormitory.

"Everyone has to," Martin says. "The Head of House is supposed to help you pick your career."

"I wondered when we'd get our careers advice." Iwan looks delighted. "I've got a bunch of questions about dragon handling."

"That's a brilliant career!" Martin looks envious. "Wish I'd thought of that, I would've paid more attention in Care of Magical Creatures."

"I haven't a clue what I want to do," James says uncertainly.

"You'll figure it out." Paul claps him on the back.

"Yeah, maybe."

But as the date of his appointment grows closer, he starts quizzing everyone around him in the hopes of gathering ideas for a career. Martin's thinking about becoming a herbologist; Paul's thinking about broom making. Iwan wants to be a magical creature carer, and Rose says, very tentatively, that she's thinking about going into professional Quidditch.

"What's so bad about that?" James asks; Rose seems rather downcast.

"Mum doesn't approve at all. Says I've got amazing grades and I should do something with my intelligence."

Rose isn't the only one prickly about her career choice. One evening, as James is studying for a test with Scorpius, he unwisely asks him about his career advice meeting.

"Bet you're looking forward to it."

"Why?"

"Well, you know, on account of being a complete genius at Charms and Transfiguration. And nearly every other subject."

Scorpius turns the page of his textbook. "I'm not very interested in it."

"In what?"

"Spells."

James stares at him. "What? Just — spells in general? But — you've got advanced tutoring with McGonagall and everything, you're — "

"A natural prodigy, yes, I hear it from the professors all the time."

"But you could do absolutely anything you want," James tells him. "I've never seen magic like yours. There's wizards twice your age who haven't got half your strength. Or talent. No wonder McGonagall thinks you're the best thing since auto-inking quills."

"Practice, mostly."

"I could practice for years and I'd still be nowhere near your level. You could be anything. Any Ministry job, or even a Hogwarts professor."

Scorpius mutters something. James pauses.

"What?"

"Magic is fun," Scorpius says at last. "That's all it is to me. It's fun. It's not a career."

James doesn't understand. "You...you want to become a Muggle?"

"I want to work in a Muggle field."

"Like what?"

Scorpius tenses. "I've...I've always wanted to be an astrophysicist. Ever since I was little."

"A what? Is that something to do with astronomy?"

"Sort of. Things like...how a galaxy forms."

"Oh." James has never even thought about those types of things. "So, how do you become a...a physics wizard, then?"

Scorpius gives him an irritated look. "Weren't you listening? There's no career for it in the Wizarding world! It has to be Muggle, I'd have to go to a Muggle university, which I can't — "

"Why not?"

"Because they work differently! They'll need a score and a certificate, one from a Muggle school that I obviously didn't attend! You don't even know what I'm talking about, do you?"

James doesn't understand why Scorpius is getting so worked up about it. "Well...sort of...I don't know, maybe ask your dad about it?"

"He doesn't even know what a television is! What could he possibly know about A Levels?"

"What are those?"

Scorpius looks at him, his jaw clenched, and James changes tack.

"What about Professor Flitwick?"

"What about him?"

"He's your Head of House, he's your career advisor then. He might able to — "

"He doesn't want to hear it. He just goes on and on about how I'm such a talented wizard, I've got such potential, I could pick any Ministry career I wanted...oh, never mind. Just forget it," Scorpius snaps, and he grabs his textbook and stuffs it into his bag.

"Wait, I was just asking..." James trails off as Scorpius snatches up his bag and storms off.

James is angry at first — angry that Scorpius is being so moody about it, angry that he's snapping at James even though it's not James's fault — but he more he thinks about the conversation, the more his anger fades. He thinks about Scorpius ranting about the impossibility of attending a Muggle university, and he remembers, when they were far younger, Scorpius talking sadly about the Muggle world in which he spent his childhood.

He sits and thinks for a long time.


The next day, after classes have finished, he spots Flitwick and McGonagall walking along a corridor, McGonagall nodding.

"Yes, Filius, I quite agree. The seventh years can be quite creative, I'm not surprised they've set up a post-exam Cheering Charms service — oh, hello, Potter," she says briskly. "If you'd like to discuss your careers appointment tomorrow — "

"No, it's not that. It's about Scorpius Malfoy."

Flitwick's eyebrows rise; McGonagall pauses, giving James a faintly suspicious look. "I'm afraid I cannot discuss details of other students — "

"No, I don't want to know anything about him," James says quickly. "The opposite, actually. I want to tell you something about him."

"Perhaps we should go to my office," McGonagall says.

Flitwick nods. "Well, I'll speak with you later, Minerva — "

"No," James interrupts, "I think you ought to hear it too, Professor."

McGonagall exchanges a look with Flitwick.


 James sits in the comfortable tartan armchair, waiting. He'd finished telling his story quite some time ago; McGonagall has been considering him over her spectacles ever since. Flitwick seems content to sit in the armchair opposite James, waiting patiently.

"Malfoy is an extremely talented wizard," McGonagall says at last. "I regard him as a Transfiguration prodigy, and I do not use that term lightly."

"Oh, yes," Flitwick adds. "A wizard of remarkable capabilities. I haven't such power for a very long time. It seems a shame for it to go to waste — "

"No, don't," James says before he can stop himself.

McGonagall raises an eyebrow. "Don't what, Potter?"

"Don't start going on about how good he is at magic. That's what the problem is. Everyone keeps putting all these expectations on him and it's not fair. Your job is supposed to be listening to what he wants, not the other way around." James hesitates, but he's already started his speech and he decides to plunge recklessly onwards. "I reckon you're distracted by his surname. You keep thinking of him as a Malfoy, from one of the old Pureblood families, like the Wizarding world is all he's ever known. But that's not true. He was raised in the Muggle world, and ever since he was little, he's dreamed about being a physics...an...an astrophysicist," James finishes, stumbling a little. "And you might think you're helping him with all this talk about magical potential, but you're just helping him kill his dream."

McGonagall looks at him, then offers him the biscuit tin.

"Thanks," James says cautiously, pausing slightly as he pulls out a squeaking sugar mouse.

"I ran out of ginger newts, I'm afraid," McGonagall says, noting his expression.

"Shame."

"Yes, quite."

James nibbles on the ear of the sugar mouse, much to its alarm. McGonagall surveys him for a moment, then turns to Flitwick.

"He would be a suitable candidate," Flitwick says to the silent question James missed.

"I'm afraid that young Malfoy has left it rather late, though," McGonagall says, and James's heart sinks.

"He...he can't do all his physics stuff?"

"Well, preparation for Muggle universities are preferably arranged by the time students are sixteen." McGonagall opens her desk and retrieves a stack of papers. "He will need to undertake very intensive studies if he wishes to gain his certificate of education."

"What's that mean? Can he do it? Can you sort something out?"

"I can make arrangements. The Muggle Liaison Office exists for a reason, Potter. From time to time, we have students who wish to pursue qualifications in the Muggle world." McGonagall picks up her quill. "However, it really is best if they tell us as soon as possible. I will make an appointment with a liaison officer immediately."

Flitwick nods. "If this is truly what Malfoy wants, then as his Head of House, I will do my best to see it through."

James exhales. "Thank you." He stands up and goes to the door.

"Just a moment, Potter," McGonagall says, and James pauses. "It takes quite some courage to tell two professors they are wrong."

"Oh," James says uncertainly.

She gives him a faint smile. "Twenty-five points to Gryffindor."


The next day, in Potions, Scorpius is called out of class.

"A word with Malfoy, please," McGonagall says, and Slughorn nods. Scorpius looks worried as he slowly gathers his things, and though James is still a little stung that he snapped at James during their argument, he feels bad about Scorpius's look of pale anxiety. 

"Don't worry, it's nothing bad," he whispers as Scorpius goes past him.

Scorpius frowns at him and turns away, following McGonagall from the classroom.

James goes back to work.


He doesn't see Scorpius for the rest of the day, including their Divination class. For the rest of the week, Scorpius seems to make himself scarce. That Friday evening, James goes to the Transfiguration classroom. The classroom is empty and dark. James walks across the room, his footsteps echoing, and puts his bag down on the near the neat rows of desks. There's some leftover instructions on the blackboard from a seventh-year lesson; the spell looks difficult at first glance, but James looks a little closer and begins understanding it. Don't look at what it is, Scorpius is always telling him. Look at why it is. Then you'll understand it forever.

He waits for a long time.

Scorpius never shows up.


 The next day, Saturday, James plays a game of football with the dormitory boys. He scores some magnificent goals.

"Iwan's the same," Martin complains. "All that swimming and strength training, it isn't fair! You two are awful."

"I think James is a great player," Paul says happily.

"Yeah, because he's on your team!"

They laugh and go inside, trailing mud behind them, much to the outrage of Grimble, the caretaker. Ahead, James catches a glimpse of blond hair, but it's Lorcan. He smiles and waves at James as he goes past.

"Haven't seen Scorpius all week," James observes.

"Oh, didn't he tell you?" Nate asks. "He was granted special permission to drop some of his classes and attend specialised tutoring. There's a few Muggleborn students who are doing the same thing, actually."

"Oh." James should have remembered Nate is one of the few people on good speaking terms with Scorpius. They're always helping each other with their Herbology projects. "He told you that?"

"Well, I'm one of those Muggleborn students. I want to go into engineering, so I applied for special tutoring too."

"Congratulations," James says, and he means it.

"Thanks." Nate pauses. "Scorpius has been really busy. Otherwise I'm sure he would've told you."

James offers a quick smile. "Right, yeah."

He appreciates Nate's effort, at least.


 Christmas break is fast approaching. James finally has a moment with Scorpius, catching him on his way to the Great Hall for lunch.

"Hey, Scorpius."

"Oh, hello," Scorpius says distractedly, putting his bag over one shoulder.

"I was just wondering if we're still doing Friday lessons." James pauses. "You haven't shown up for the past two Fridays..."

"Oh, yes, right, sorry about that. I've been really busy."

"That's all right. So, this Friday, I was thinking — "

"I'll be busy again."

"Oh."

Scorpius reaches out and touches his shoulder. "Thanks for talking to McGonagall and Flitwick for me. I'm grateful, I really am, but I'm working on this really demanding project at the moment, so..." He drops his hand and brushes past James. "I should really be working on it right now. See you later."

"Bye," James echoes, watching him disappear down the corridor.

James tells himself he doesn't mind, and come Friday evening he stands alone in the Transfiguration classroom again, practising endless spells by himself.


It's the final day of school before Christmas break. James is making his way to the library after dinner; Lorcan and Lysander are accompanying him. Both of them have developed some highly interesting theories about chimaeras, and James, while thinking the whole idea is mad, is also too curious for his own good.

Just before they step into the library, however, Lysander pauses. 

"The stars are bright tonight."

James looks around. The nearest window only shows his reflection. "Are they?"

"Perhaps we should stargaze instead," Lorcan agrees.

"It's a little cold for that," James says reluctantly.

"Not if you bring the stars inside."

James, still looking at the window, steps into the library doorway and immediately runs right into Scorpius; they both drop their textbooks.

"Sorry," Scorpius says, kneeling to collect his books. "I'm glad I bumped into you, though. I've been looking for you."

"Have you?" James asks, his voice a little cool. "Anyway, I'm busy."

"Oh, no, we've decided to go stargazing instead," Lorcan says.

"Yes, see you later, James," Lysander adds, and the twins turn and walk away, leaving James with a vague sense of betrayal.

"I just want to show you that spell I've been working on," Scorpius says to James. "It won't take long."

James sighs and leans against the wall, crossing his arms. "Let's see it, then."

"Not here, it requires a lot of space."

James dutifully follows Scorpius up stairways and down corridors. The stone walls radiate cold and he shivers slightly, wishing he'd brought his cloak. 

Scorpius stops suddenly. "Ready for the spell?" he asks, not turning around.

James glances around the corridor. "What, here?"

"Of course."

Realisation hits James about a second before Scorpius raises his wand and taps it against the stone wall.

"Limens."

The wall melts away and Scorpius steps through it. James doesn't move for a moment, his gaze transfixed. After a long moment, he follows Scorpius.

The field stretches on and on, a lazy summer night. The grass sways in the faint breeze. In the corner of the room, beyond the shambling fence, is the old oak tree. Every branch perfectly replicated, every leaf carefully created. A cloud of butterflies, small and white-winged, rise and dance around James. He looks up into the night sky at the countless constellations, the moons waxing and waning, the planets glittering.

"I wanted to say thank you," Scorpius says.

"Most people would've sent a card." He tries to speak lightly, but his voice betrays him. 

Scorpius smiles at him.


James returns home for Christmas in a startlingly good mood, Harry notices. He helps decorate the tree, and puts the star atop it, and wraps presents for his cousins. Rose visits to help with the Christmas baking and Harry keeps a careful eye on James, half-expecting a little prickliness, but James tells Rose to pick any recipe she wants and they'll make it.

"Eclairs," she says excitedly.

James groans. "Trust you to pick the hardest recipe in there."

"Oh. Shall I pick another?"

"No, I said you could pick anything you want," James says firmly, and begins fetching ingredients.

"It's good to have an impressive recipe up your sleeve," Harry adds, wiping down the counter in preparation of the mess that's sure to come. "Girls like a boy who can cook. Speaking of which — "

James rolls his eyes. "No, Dad. I haven't got a girlfriend yet. Nobody's asked me out yet."

Rose puts her hands on her hips. "Oh, really? Remember Abigail Banhart? Blonde Hufflepuff prefect? She invited you to three study sessions in the library before giving up!"

"Yeah, History of Magic, she said. Most tedious subject ever."

"Courtney Willett, smartest witch in our Potions class? Asked you to Hogsmeade for the weekend?"

"She said something about a tea shop, it sounded boring."

"Audrey Molinaro? Slytherin Seeker? Offered to show you some moves?"

"Quidditch training? In the middle of December? No thanks."

Harry starts laughing. James frowns at him.

"What?"

"For Merlin's sake. You're as oblivious as me when I was your age," Harry says. "Never mind, James. I made quite a few mistakes too. I remember the first time I kissed a girl — "

"Oh, gross, Dad. I don't want to hear about your dates."

Harry continues anyway, too amused by James's expression. "Ravenclaw named Cho Chang. She cried when I kissed her."

James stares at him. "What did you do to her?"

"Nothing!"

"It's a wonder you managed to find anyone after that," James says, measuring sugar into a cup. "Mum must've been mental to marry you."

"Well, your mother never cried when I kissed her. In fact, she — "

"No, that's okay. I don't need details."

Harry laughs. "One day you'll be embarrassing your children with stories of your first date, you know. You'll be telling them all about the girls who cried when you kissed them."

"No, I won't. I won't be stupid enough to kiss crying Ravenclaws." James pours the sugar into the bowl. "Anyway, why aren't we interrogating Rose about her boyfriend?"

"Oh, Rose!" Harry's delighted. "You didn't tell me that. Is he nice?"

"God, you sound just like my mother," Rose mutters. "What do you expect me to say? 'He's awful, I can't stand him'?"

"He's captain of the Hufflepuff Quidditch team," James says, grinning. "And a prefect, and he's just lovely."

"Shut up, James," Rose retorts, shoving at James. They jostle for a moment, throwing half-hearted insults at each other, both dissolving into laughter after Rose dumps a handful of flour into James's hair.

For a moment, Harry thinks, it feels just like it used to.

Home.


Scorpius comes home with an enormous stack of textbooks and a newfound determination to read them all. It had been a battle just to get him home; he'd wanted to spend Christmas at Hogwarts, studying of all things, but he'd reluctantly acquiesced after Draco had promised him plenty of study time.

Well, there are a few social appointments coming up, but surely Scorpius will happily leave his books behind for just a few hours.

"I don't recall having this much homework when I was your age," Draco comments as Scorpius begins unpacking. He picks up a book and frowns at the title. Advanced Mathematics, Core One and Two. The other books have equally unfamiliar titles about geography, earth sciences, chemistry, and physics. "What, exactly," Draco says, "are they teaching in Muggle Studies these days?"

Scorpius glances up, then smiles as if he's about to reveal a spectacular surprise. "Well...I'm not taking Muggle Studies anymore. Or Divination. Or History of Magic, or Herbology."

Draco stares at him. "You've dropped out?"

"What? Oh, no! No, exactly the opposite. I've talked to my professors — James did, actually, he was completely brilliant, he arranged it all — and I've been approved for something called the Alternative Qualification Pathway, it's this program for — "

"Yes, I know what it is," Draco interrupts. Back in his schooldays, his fellow Slytherin students used to make fun of those who enrolled in that program. Squibs In Training, they'd called them.

Scorpius's smile wavers. "You...you don't approve," he says.

Draco doesn't know what to do. He paces around Scorpius's room for a moment. He wants his son to be happy, but why would Scorpius — with so much magical talent — throw it all away to settle on an ordinary Muggle career? And will the other Purebloods shun Scorpius's choice? Will it even matter? Pansy did say it was all very progressive these days.

"It's — no, it's fine," Draco says at last. "Just...it's a bit of a shock, that's all. Don't they need my permission first? They can't just — they can't just withdraw you from classes, from core subjects — "

"I've kept the core subjects," Scorpius says quickly. "I'm still doing Transfiguration, and Charms, and Potions. And since I'm over sixteen, Professor McGonagall said parent permission wasn't necessary."

"You've only just turned sixteen. And it's young, it's very young, to be deciding on a career. You really need to keep your options open, especially since you've got such extraordinary magical capabilities. It just seems like such a shame..." He catches sight of Scorpius's expression becoming closed and guarded, and hurries to remedy it. "I just don't want you to make a decision you'll regret."

"I won't regret it." Scorpius stares down at the floor. "I thought you'd be proud," he mumbles.

"I am, of course I am, this stuff looks very challenging and I'm sure you'll apply yourself, as always." Draco pauses. "Just...perhaps resume Herbology, at least? Divination can still be removed, it's a waste of time. But if you want a Ministry career, it won't hurt to make sure you've got all the right classes covered."

Scorpius nods and turns away, busying himself with another stack of textbooks.

Draco takes his cue and leaves.


Dinner that night seems even quieter than normal. Scorpius, unusually, isn't reading a book; he's staring at his plate, poking at the peas. Draco is busy mentally analysing their earlier conversation and realises something.

"You said that Potter boy arranged this."

Scorpius looks up from his plate. "James? No, he just...made things a lot easier for me."

"Why would he do that?"

Scorpius pauses. When he speaks next, his voice is carefully neutral. "He's much nicer now."

"Oh, really? Went from being a complete bully to suddenly being your best friend, did he?" Draco frowns and sets his cutlery down. "You'll want to be very careful around someone like that, Scorpius."

Scorpius says something, too quiet for Draco to hear.

"What?"

Scorpius raises his voice. "I trust him."

"You've certainly made a lot of interesting decisions lately." Draco meant to say it lightly, but the words hang in the air like rainclouds, ominous and heavy.

Scorpius doesn't say anything for the rest of the dinner.


Christmas arrives; Draco has spent an inordinate amount of money of gifts. Scorpius is pleased but somewhat bewildered with his main gift: a Starfire Phoenix, the next upgrade from Scorpius's old broom, a Starfire Century.

“These are very expensive,” he says, looking up from the broom and chewing at his lip.

“Well, I’ve been very busy with my work.”

“You could’ve spent it on other things,” Scorpius protests. “I don’t need a new broom, my Century is only a couple of years old.”

“You don’t want it, then?” Draco asks lightly. It works; Scorpius finally smiles, his face lighting up.

“Of course I want it.”

“Are you sure? I can take it back to the shop and buy you socks instead.”

Scorpius laughs, lifting the broom reverently from its packaging. “Thanks, Dad. It’s amazing, I didn’t expect anything like this.”

But Scorpius will need a top-of-the-line broom if he’s going to be playing Quidditch on any of the privately-owned pitches of Pureblood families. And his other gifts follow this line of thinking: brand new robes with elaborate stitching, and quality clothing that speaks of class and wealth just a little better than Scorpius’s favoured jeans and t-shirts. And then, as Draco takes Scorpius to the conservatory, another necessity for courtship: a snowy white owl. Scorpius must be able to send and receive invitations.

Scorpius eyes the owl. The owl eyes him back.

“Does it bite?” Scorpius asks.

“Owls don’t bite. They peck.”

“Does it peck, then?”

“Of course not. Go on, hold out your arm.”

Scorpius edges forward and very hesitantly holds out his arm. The owl flutters down from its perch and lands on his forearm. Scorpius winces.

“It’s…got claws.”

“Ah, talons, yes. Best to wear something with thicker sleeves.”

Scorpius tries to give his arm a little shake. The owl hangs on with admirable determination.

“Is it a pet?” Scorpius asks.

“Well, it’s not for dinner.” Draco is amused.

Scorpius gives his arm another shake. “But…will I have to feed it?”

“It’s an excellent owl, very well trained — it will return to you after hunting its own food.”

“Oh.” Scorpius shakes his arm, this time with quite a bit of force, and the owl finally hoots angrily at him and returns to its perch. “Does it have a name?”

“Yes, it’s named Arcas,” Draco says firmly, before Scorpius can suggest any Muggle-esque pet names.

“Arcas,” Scorpius repeats. “Well. At least I have a reliable owl for my post, then.”

But Draco saves the final gift for after dinner: a calendar. Scorpius accepts it, looking bewildered.

"Oh...thanks?" he says.

"Open it up."

Scorpius flips through the pages. It's filled with all the social obligations Draco has so carefully inked in, all the accepted invites and lunches and high teas and garden parties. 

"You're going to be very busy," Draco says, smiling. He knows Scorpius doesn't have too many friends, and surely Scorpius will be delighted at all the arrangements Draco has made. 

"I'm visiting...relatives?" Scorpius asks, staring down at a very intense June page. Summer is the season of choice for socialising.

"Pureblood families. When I was your age, I spent so many afternoons visiting family friends, enjoying parties and little celebrations...they're some of my fondest memories. And now, they'll be yours, too."

"Oh."

Draco's smile fades. "You don't like it."

"I...no, no, of course, it's...thank you," Scorpius says, glancing up at him. "I'm just...not great at socialising, that's all."

Draco rushes to reassure him. "Oh, I made sure not to begin with large events or anything like that. I was quite careful to structure the schedule so it's just a few little lunches at first." He pauses. "This is a very big opportunity, Scorpius. These Pureblood families are very influential, they can open up so many doors for our family. I just want to make sure you have the brightest future possible."

Scorpius looks at him, then down at the calendar again. "Thank you," he repeats.

Draco smiles, relieved.


The day after Christmas, James is lounging about on the sofa, enjoying a comic book (a gift from Rose) when Harry appears and begins making his way toward the Floo.

"Just visiting Draco, I'll be back soon."

"Oh! Wait a minute, I want to say hello to Scorpius." James scrambles off the sofa.

Harry raises his eyebrows, but he doesn't say anything further about it. They step through the Floo together and moments later, stumble over the hearth in the drawing room at Malfoy Manor. The room is empty, but Harry simply sets off down the hallway.

"Isn't it polite to wait by the hearth?" James asks.

"Oh, it's fine. Draco doesn't mind." Harry turns the corner and, just outside the library, bumps into Draco.

Draco does mind, James thinks, going by his expression as he looks at them. He frowns at Harry, then gives James a very frosty look; James has no idea why. He can’t recall doing anything particularly offensive lately.

“Scorpius, Harry and his son are here,” Draco announces as he sweeps into the library, as if Harry has brought along a rather murderous goblin. Scorpius, sitting in an armchair and reading a thick book, looks up and spots James.

“Oh,” he says, looking caught between standing up and staying where he is.

“Harry and I will be in the study,” Draco adds crisply. “James will be…where will you be, James?”

“Er,” James says, and Draco nods firmly.

“Yes, good idea. The kitchen. You can make yourself a cup of tea and stay out of the way.”

Harry clears his throat. “Draco, a brief word?”

Draco frowns. “I suppose,” he says. “James, if you wouldn’t mind leaving…?”

“Sure,” James says brightly, only too pleased to escape Draco’s suspicious gaze.

“Wait just a minute,” Harry interjects. “Why can’t we just duck out into the hallway for a moment?”

“What, and leave your son here?

“Excuse me? If you’re so paranoid that he’ll grab Scorpius and throw him out the nearest window — ”

"Paranoia, is it? When your son has a reputation for being rather volatile — "

"Excuse me?"

Scorpius coughs. James clears his throat. Both their fathers ignore them.

“This is Scorpius’s home, in case you hadn’t noticed,” Draco retorts. “He has a right to feel safe — ”

"Exactly what are you implying about my son?"

“Now, listen here, Potter — ”

“I’m just going for a walk,” James announces.

“ — was not my intention, but if you insist — ”

James leaves. He stands in the hallway and studies a painting of a narcissus flower, pretending he can’t hear the faint argument.  The door opens and closes again. He glances up; Scorpius gives him a tense smile.

“Still going, are they?” James asks.

“Yes, unfortunately.”

They study the painting together. James, for want of something to do, puts his hands in his pockets.

“I’ve got an owl,” Scorpius says suddenly.

“Oh.”

“Do you want to see it?”

They go to the conservatory. The owl is asleep.

“It’s a snowy owl,” James observes.

“Is that important in Wizarding culture or something?”

“No. My dad had a snowy owl, that’s all.”

“Oh.”

They both consider the owl a bit longer.

“Do you want it?” Scorpius asks.

“Want what?”

“The owl.”

“Isn’t it your pet?”

“It’s got talons,” Scorpius says gloomily. “I have to wear my Quidditch wrist guards all the time. And it pecks. And it eats field mice. And rats.”

James pauses. “I thought you liked rats. You had that pet one, didn’t you?”

“Yes.”

“Doesn’t your father remember that?”

“I think he forgot.”

They survey the owl. It deposits a large dropping on the floor.

“You can keep it,” James says.

They look at each other, and then start laughing.


 Scorpius seems to relax more after that. He takes James to the living room, showing him a pile of presents. James picks up the new broom, impressed. 

"Looks nice. Flies well, then?"

"I assume so. It's got integrated stabilising spells and auto-speed charms."

James puts the broom back down and surveys the large heap of brand new robes, all carefully tailored, all elaborately stitched. "Did you get all this stuff for Christmas too? And a broom, and an owl? Must've cost a mint!"

"Dad says I've got to look presentable for some Pureblood stuff," Scorpius says uncertainly. "Listen, James, you're Pureblood, aren't you?"

"What?" James laughs. "No, of course I'm not."

"But...your dad is a wizard, and your mum's a witch...?"

"That's not how it works. To be Pureblood, you can't have any Muggles in your direct ancestry. My dad's a Halfblood, so therefore I'm Half too. I mean, strictly speaking, nobody's truly Pureblood — somewhere in the family tree, there's always a few people who ran off with a Muggleborn or married a Halfblood — but the families would just disown them and say they didn't count as part of the family."

Scorpius stares at him, eyes wide. "Is...is that what they do? Disown people who don't marry other Purebloods?"

"Well, yeah. Got to keep the 'pure' in Pureblood, right?"

Scorpius fiddles with his sleeves. "Doesn't that...doesn't that seem a bit...harsh?"

"That's why there's a bit of disagreement about it in the wizarding world."

Scorpius finally leaves his sleeves alone and glances up at James. "You seem to know a lot about it."

James shrugs. "It's considered common knowledge."

"Not to me." Scorpius gives him a tense, fleeting smile. "I feel like I know nothing. I'm going to end up embarrassing myself in front of all these Purebloods."

"Just tell your dad you're not interested in attending that sort of stuff, then."

"I don't have a choice." Scorpius's shoulders slump. "This means everything to my dad, he says the other Purebloods are the one chance we've got for a better future. I can't make mistakes. I can't mess this up."

James studies him for a moment: the unravelling thread on his collar, the way he's fiddling with his sleeves again, the scuff marks on his shoes. He remembers Scorpius on their first day of school, thin and small and afraid. Well, James decides, he's been to so many events and boring galas that it seems selfish to keep all that knowledge to himself. He reaches for the calendar and flips it open. "Right. What've you got first? Oh, a fancy brunch. My condolences."

And he spends the next half hour going through the events in the calendar, explaining things, making jokes to help Scorpius lighten up, and it's only slightly ruined at the end when Scorpius says, sounding sincerely grateful, "Thank you, James, you're — " and Harry charges into the room, grabs ahold of James, and says, "We are leaving."

"Oh. Are we? Well — see you at Hogwarts, Scorpius..." James trails off, his farewell lost as Harry drags him from the room.

"The nerve of him! Do you know what he knows about you? Nothing! Absolutely nothing except what I tell him!"

James makes an educated guess at the conversation topic as Harry crams him into the hearth. "So you've been telling Draco that I'm a murderous fiend, then?"

"I absolutely have not!" Harry pauses to bark out their address, then continues the conversation as soon as they arrive in their own grate, even as James stumbles and coughs on a cloud of ash. "I confided in him, I told him I was having some issues with you — "

"Like what?"

"It's nothing, just back in third and fourth year when you were having some minor issues accepting my — "

"Endless exasperation at my constant failures?"

" - gentle guidance," Harry finishes.

James rolls his eyes.

"And I trusted him, I thought as a father of a son of the same age, he would understand, and now he's exaggerated the whole thing, and he's imagining that you're some awful bully and you're out to get Scorpius and — and sabotage his life, or something equally ridiculous, and — what do you mean, constant failures?"

"It was just a joke."

"Well, it's not a very funny one," Harry says firmly, storming into the kitchen and angrily fetching mugs from the cupboard. "You had a lot of problems, James, and looking back, I realise I was not very responsive,