Part 1: Magically Challenged

September, 2016

“That’s right, swish and flick,” Harry said encouragingly. He was careful not to allow his weariness to affect his tone. If Marbella wanted to keep trying for half an hour to perfect her first wand movement, then that was what she could do. Even if so far it had only been a few minutes, and he was already worn out. The nine-year-old seemed to think that if she got this movement right, she’d never have magical problems again.

Orlando, on the other hand, was bored, always risky for class decorum. Having produced a perfect swish and flick the first time (in his increasingly agitated stated opinion, now interspersed with demands for Harry to stop Marbella and let them move on to something else, he already knew this) he was looking around for something more interesting. Any second now he’d hit on something, and then there’d be noisy chaos in the classroom.

“Orlando, why don’t you set up the tea things? Marbella, you’ve nearly got it, I think; we’ll just do this a little while longer. Yasmin, can you help Orlando by getting out the cups? River and Ashley, get Sean out of the toy corner, and the three of you go wash your hands.”

The children scattered for the familiar tasks. Some Fridays the only concentration Harry had left was remembering whose turn it was to get the tea and whose to wash up later, but he thought he might actually not go to bed at seven tonight.

“Okay, sweet potato, that’s looking good. You can practice at home this weekend, and show me how you’re doing Monday. Your mum will help you and make sure you don’t remember wrong – be sure to ask her, okay?”

Marbella laughed at the nickname and ran to wash up. He had trouble remembering the children’s names sometimes, and didn’t like the Dursleys’ pet names for each other in his mouth. So now his class was known for unexpected nicknames, and it was one of the reasons the children liked being assigned to him. Heaven knew it was better than adults wanting their children in his class because he was Harry Potter.

Harry put away his own wand and flexed his hands. They got stiff much more quickly these days. In his first year or so after the war, when his wand had been in his hand for long hours every day, rebuilding Hogwarts wards and creating new charms for the Ministry -- everything from anti-Imperius curses to neutralizing the anti-Muggleborn hexes -- by the end of the day his hand was cramped and painful. No spells worked as well as aspirin and sleep. So Harry had taken those, every night, knowing he’d have another day just like that one tomorrow. Now he supposed his hands, like the rest of him, had simply worked too hard when young, and were giving out.

He accepted the cup of tea Orlando proudly handed him. “Excellent tea, Orlando,” he said after a sip, and Orlando grinned and ran off to sit with his best friend Yasmin. And it was good. Hermione had suggested that the children all learn Muggle household skills, and even at this age, they proved to be quite adaptable. Harry, of course, had been making tea for the Dursleys since he was much younger than them. These children would have different options than the ones he had, but it was good they’d know things that no one else in their family knew, and could do their share in a magical household.

He loved the 15 minutes or so of the children’s tea. They were enjoying unstructured time, not yet bored and looking for mischief to liven up the day. He could just watch them and relax. And, of course, the caffeine was always welcome . . .

He heard a knock, and then the school administrative assistant, Hannah, stuck her head in. “There’s a parent here who’s considering placing his son in the school. His son is with him.”

“Good.” Many parents came alone the first time, but Harry preferred to watch a child interact with the others and get a sense of how the newcomer would fit in. “Thanks, Hannah. They’re welcome to come in.”

Hannah held the door wider. The first one in was a small blond whirlwind. He was dressed in black robes and a miniature Slytherin tie, but somehow looked more dressed up than simply clothed. His straw-blond hair was longish, straight, and bounced around when he moved. He popped through the doorway like a racing horse out of a chute, ran quickly towards Harry with the clatter of leather-soled shoes, then stopped so suddenly he slid another couple of feet. His legs reflexively adjusted, so that he almost appeared to have done it on purpose, but his startled face gave him away. Harry liked him already.

“Sorry, sir,” he panted, flushing. Harry placed his accent as upper class pure-blood, and blinked in surprise. The upper class pure-bloods had never conceded that the school even existed, so far as he knew.

“Scorpius, how many times do I have to say, ‘don’t run on bare floor’?” drawled the adult behind him, walking in with an air of making an entrance onstage. “Either stop, or you’ll be wearing Muggle trainers for the rest of your life.” The tone was more affectionate than exasperated.

Harry had frozen at the first words out of the father’s mouth. Suddenly, the week had taken a major downturn. It was a voice he hadn’t heard in nine years, and would gladly not have heard the rest of his life. What was Draco Malfoy doing in this school?

He took a deep breath. “Afternoon, Malfoy. How can I help you?”

Malfoy looked rather nervous and uncomfortable. “I’ve heard about your school . . . er, rather Scorpius has, and he wanted . . . well, I agreed to consider . . . ummm, if . . . “ he trailed off, then shrugged, and shifted to annoyed and arrogant, the way Harry was used to him. “Fuck it. Scorpius has a magic problem, and got really excited hearing about what his mother euphemistically called ‘a special school.’ He wants this very much, and I agreed to look into it.”

Harry nodded, understanding. Malfoy, of all people, would not want his heir in a “special” school. Add to that he must have found out it was run by a Muggleborn and Harry Potter – two Gryffindors, at that – and he must have given up a lot of pride to come here. If he’d been nagged into it by his son, Scorpius had inherited his father’s persistence, at least. Not to mention his pale looks.

“Well, Scorpius,” he said, bending down to the child who had been impatiently swerving his head at the adult conversation and bouncing a bit on his shiny shoes, “what do you want to know?”

“Everything!” the mini-Malfoy said enthusiastically. “Can you really teach magic? How do you do it? Who else is in the school? Are you the famous Harry Potter? Would you be my teacher? What are those things over there?” He opened his mouth to continue the list, but Harry laughed and stopped him.

“I don’t know if I can teach you magic, but we’re trying to find out if it’s possible. My friend Dr. Granger, who runs the research part, thinks that magically-challenged children of magical parents may be suffering from a problem which can be reversed magically. Even if that never happens, we teach children like that how to get along in a magical community, and other skills which make it easier for them to live by themselves if they choose, without having to go live with Muggles if they don’t want to. All the children here have some problems doing magic, but most can do a little and we work to develop that. The teachers are all people excited to be working on the project, who like kids. Yes, I’m the famous Harry Potter, but I try not to be. I would be your teacher, because of your age. We designed it so everyone would have the same teacher all through their years here, so I would stay your teacher too – and everyone else’s in the room.”

He glanced up, and saw Malfoy watching his son, not him. His eyes were worried, his mouth was down, and one thing was obvious: Malfoy loved his son very much. Well, that was part of the Malfoy heritage too, Harry recalled.

He remembered the last question. “That’s a fridge, and a stove. You’ve probably seen a sink before. The fridge keeps food cold so it will last without a stasis spell, and the stove heats it without spells. Sometimes we cook, and cut up the food by hand.”

“Isn’t that physically dangerous?” Malfoy asked, his brows knitting.

“We teach children to work with their hands safely. I presume Scorpius would be starting from scratch that way?”

“No, not really,” Malfoy said. He relaxed enough to walk over and perch on Harry’s desk, a little gingerly, as though he might be worried about Potter cooties. “He’s done some woodworking with a knife – under my supervision, of course – as well as handled other tools.”

Harry was tempted to ask why in Merlin’s name Malfoy knew anything about woodworking, but stopped himself. “Then he should be just fine with cutting up food. We don’t give them anything challenging, like melons.” He smiled, remembering the time they had tried that. The only solution to the mess and frustration had been a food fight. He walked over and sat in his chair, thinking Malfoy actually looked almost regal on the edge of Harry’s desk.

Malfoy glanced over at Scorpius, who had sat down next to Orlando and seemed to be describing something large, which involved rotating his chin in a circle and pretending to throw up. Orlando was laughing uproariously. For the first time, Harry saw Malfoy smile without pretence. It was a charming smile.

“While those two are occupied,” Malfoy said, turning back to Harry, “let’s get the situation clear. His mother is in complete denial that Scorpius is . . . magically challenged. She says no son of hers could possibly be a Squib.”

Harry blinked at the term, which like Mudblood was never, ever allowed to be used in front of children or anyone else. “Has Scorpius heard her say this?”

“Yes, and many other things. And before you ask – yes, she always uses the term “Squib.” It’s traditional in her family.”

Harry simply nodded.

“Scorpius is determined to be brilliant at magic to please her. He heard her talking to a friend about a special school she’d read about started by ‘Muggle-lovers,’ and he got it into his head that he could go there and be fixed. That was six months ago. He hasn’t left off begging me since.”

“And his mother?”

“Obviously, she doesn’t want him to come for a variety of reasons. Aside from the stigma, and the question of Muggle-lovers, it’s traditional for children to be home schooled. I . . . I didn’t want him to either; it’s just another way to get his hopes up. I came here today rather hoping he’d be disappointed.”

Draco rubbed his nose thoughtfully. “Now I’m not so certain it’s a bad idea. Scorpius spends most of his time with me – his mother’s actively involved in pure-blood charities – and I think he could use a few friends his own age. He seems to get along with the other children here.”

Harry hesitated a moment, trying to channel all of Hermione’s tact. “Malfoy, the children here are happy, and learning, and are around others like themselves so they don’t feel . . . well, wrong all the time. I think Scorpius could use a place where he fit in, with adults not as, well, emotionally invested as you are to talk to. I’m sure it’s very hard for someone in your position to even consider this, but it’s probably been difficult since you first noticed that he was different. I’m really impressed you decided to at least see what the school is like.”

Malfoy stared at the ceiling for a few moments, then turned and tried to smile. “Imagine. I spent my entire childhood trying to impress Harry Potter, and I finally managed it.”

Harry laughed. “Oh, you impressed me a lot of times. I just wasn’t going to let you know.” He took a deep breath. The children were getting a bit restless, although Scorpius seemed to be entertaining enough to distract them. He would fit in well, if Malfoy decided that way. “Are there other things you need to know from me, or do you want to do the rest of your research elsewhere?”

Malfoy shook his head. “Neither really, except – when can he start?”

Harry blinked. “Any time. Go back and talk to Hannah about the administrative details – she’s in charge of that. If you like, you can leave Scorpius here and he can just play with the other children. We’re here for another hour, and we’ll be working on History of Magic.”

Draco looked surprised. “You teach children this young history? In a group? Don’t they get bored?”

Harry laughed. “It’s not like Binns’ class, I promise. Hermione is always using the phrase ‘age-appropriate’ in meetings. We’re going to have a game where we pretend to be designing a magic school.”

“Isn’t designing a magic school rather cruel, since they’ll never attend?”

“Well, they may yet. Hermione is doing good things with the research. Obviously, our goal is to give these children back their magical birthright. We just don’t emphasize that in front of them, because research can take years and years. But even so, it’s part of the plan to get comfortable being around magical people. We compare it to designing a music school – not everyone in every family may be a musical genius, but the ones who are would need special training.”

Harry noticed Draco’s face looked a lot more relaxed than when he’d arrived. “All right, Potter, I’ll go negotiate with Ms. Abbott and let Scorpius get a bit more acclimated.” He started toward the door, then stopped. “Oh – and Potter?”

Harry tilted his head, waiting.

“Thank you.”

Part 2: Research

The discussion with Draco had worn Harry out. He felt depressed, useless, and angry all at once.

Harry waved the last child out of the classroom and Apparated to Hermione’s office. They had decided early on that there would be no anti-Apparation wards inside the school. The primary goal was to get the children accustomed to all sorts of magic use. Not using it around them because it might hurt their feelings was hardly going to prepare them to live in a magical world.

Hermione was bent over her desk, scribbling furiously in a notebook. Harry recognized it as the one she used for her magically-challenged research, and shared with him nightly. He’d tried to come up with some name they could use as an acronym, like Some Questions for Unmagical Infants Book, but Hermione refused to think that was funny.

“How’s the research going?”

She slowly surfaced. “Did you know that the largest percentage of magically-challenged children comes from pure-blood homes?”

Harry waved a hand, then wrapped it around the Styrofoam cup of tea he’d charmed up. “Well, doesn’t the largest percentage of magic-users also come from pure-blood homes?”

“No. More than half the magic users in the last three generations came from homes where at least one parent was Muggle born. And I’m beginning to think there’s a correlation between that and the level of power, though that hypothesis is a lot harder to confirm.”

Harry glanced at his old friend’s desk and realized that the notes were all mathematical. Arithmancy. He’d always avoided it whenever possible. Which meant that Hermione had best translate for him before he did his homework. He’d been well-punished for simply taking the classes Ron did; now that he was teaching and researching, he’d had to go back and learn things he’d avoided at Hogwarts. He was angry with someone – McGonagall, Dumbledore – for not forcing him out of his comfort level, but that was not unusual. He seemed these days to be angry at everyone for everything. If he knew the current Hogwarts Headmistress, he’d probably go up and throw things around her office.

“So there are more Squibs from pure-blood homes, more powerful magic users from half blood or Muggle born homes… that certainly would have disproved the old Death Eater claims if we’d established that while we were still going to Hogwarts.”

“There was a war on. No room for logic.”

Harry shivered. Even after all these years, remembering his school days and their bloody end was painful. He still woke up occasionally screaming from nightmares of Fiendfyre and of Voldemort asking if he were really dead. In his dreams, the outcomes were often different than reality – and never pleasantly so. “Well, there’s room for logic now. Does that mean magic is stronger when it first manifests? So the pure-bloods are inevitably going to deteriorate?”

Hermione frowned. “No. It doesn’t make any sense, but it’s more an either/or thing. Either the child is a strong wizard or witch, or has little to no magic at all. There are almost no magically-challenged children born to non-pure-blood households.”

“Well, that would explain why all our kids are pure-bloods, then.” Harry sipped his tea, which was hot and sweet and tasted like burnt twig. He’d never been great at making tea magically. “Speaking of which, we have maybe acquired another one.”

“Really? For your class?”

“Yes. His name is Scorpius Malfoy.”

Hermione blinked. “A relative of the Malfoys?”

“Draco Malfoy’s son.”

Harry grinned as Hermione immediately dated her notes and put the book away. She was predictably prone to gossip. “You’re certain?”

“His father brought him to class during the children’s tea.”

“What’s he like?”

“Still as much of an arrogant git as ever, though he’s improved physically.”

“Harry! I meant his son.”

“Oh.” Harry had really thought of bringing up the topic of Scorpius as just an excuse to discuss Draco. He pulled his thoughts back to the professional. “Nice little boy, really. Plays well with others, as dramatic as his father was but not mean nor a suck up. Surprising, really. I presume he’s got a good mother.”

“So you wouldn’t mind?”

“Not at all. After all, it wouldn’t be like having Malfoy in the class every day.”

“I can not imagine a circumstance under which we’d have a school left, if he were. By sixth year, everyone ran for cover whenever you two faced each other. It would be duelling all day, every day.”

“Not in my class,” Harry pointed out, pulling open the desk drawer in which Hermione kept her biscuits. “Because if he were in it, he’d be a… he’d be emcee.”

Hermione winced at his version of “magically challenged,” but said nothing.

Harry had found ginger biscuits and was selecting several. Hermione made them taste very much like treacle tarts, only crunchy. “It is rather odd he’s considering it, don’t you think? I mean, neither of us are exactly experts on pure-bloods, but it took a lot of work to persuade parents to send what children we do have here. And these parents are all what the Malfoys used to call blood traitors – people who hear my name or yours and are biased toward us. So why’d Malfoy come here?”

“Maybe his wife.”

“I suppose. I’m not sure he’s coming, anyway. He was snotty as always, and said, ’My son is a Squib,’ as if he just dared me to comment.”

Hermione sighed. “Your life is full of drama, Harry. Some of it self-generated.”

“Thanks, Hermione. You always have faith in me.” But Harry knew she was right. After all, Hermione had always given him the same advice back at Hogwarts: “Ignore him, Harry, he’s not worth it.” Snabbling two more ginger biscuits for the road, he appropriated the SQUIB notebook and kissed her on the cheek at the same time, leaving a few crumbs. From the new entry’s length, it appeared he had about 10 feet to read tonight.

Part 3, War Dreams

November, 2016

He was panting desperately, trying to get away. He was running through the maze, and every dead end was a grave. Every time he thought he’d found a path, he stumbled over a headstone.

Albus Dumbledore, noted winner of Witch Weekly’s most duplicitous smile award 17 years running.

Colin Creevey, too young to die

Sirius Black: it was inevitable

Remus Lupin: just another of Harry Potter’s failures

Nymphadora Tonks, because getting her cousin killed wasn’t enough for you

Severus Snape: half git, half hero

Tom Riddle (1/7)

Tom Riddle (1/7)

Tom Riddle . . . .

He screamed then, and ran back where he’d come from. He was lost there too. The headstones were thicker on the ground this way.

Ronald Weasley: the best dead friend around.

Ginny Weasley: she didn’t deserve this.

Hermione Granger: not that smart after all.

And last, taller than his head,

Harry Potter, who should have died hereafter.

He slammed against the rough stone and felt shackles snake out from it and bind his hands. His cheek was pressed against the stone, and he could see from the corner of his eye a simmering cauldron. He hadn’t killed enough Tom Riddles. There were more, more he’d missed. He just hadn’t been good enough . . .

He felt Peter pull his arm out, and a sharp knife slice it. The blood poured into the cauldron – not a trickle, but a flood. Surely there wasn’t that much blood in him? Surely . . . But it filled the cauldron and began overflowing, and he heard Peter say, in the voice he’d used to recite the spell which brought Voldemort back, “Blood from every sacrifice for you, blood from every witch and wizard in the land, blood because you weren’t fast enough, strong enough, smart enough. You fooled them, son of James, but your father never fooled me and neither did you.”

And the blood poured, and poured across the ground, until it filled the maze and overflowed like a river in the spring overflowing its banks. Harry lay against the stone, clinging to it as his blood, everyone’s blood, washed warm and sticky over him and went into the soil. Then there was the last voice, the one he’d always heard in his dreams: “Give me my wand, Peter,” and he screamed and screamed and fought to escape until suddenly he was, still thrashing, but awake, awake and his friends were still alive, he wasn’t dead, Voldemort wasn’t back, Harry was alive, Voldemort wasn’t . . .

Harry lay there in the hot damp sheets as the sweat cooled on him. Finally, he sat upright and wiped his aching eyes, then cast a Tempus. Five a.m. Well, she was a morning person.

He staggered to the fire and sat down, shivering, reaching aimlessly for the Floo powder and somehow getting it. He threw a bit on. “Ginny Weasley,” he said hoarsely, and pushed his head into the flames.

Ginny was puttering in the kitchen, singing softly to herself. She wore an old blue chenille robe over her flannel pyjamas, and looked as beautiful as always. Her head jerked up when she heard Harry’s voice, and she came into the part of the room which held the fireplace and sat in a chair. They’d designed their house when they’d just gotten married, and Harry had insisted it be tall enough to stand in, but also be set two feet above the floor so that no one had to kneel to talk. He knew this fire better than any other in the world, and looked out, desperate for a glimpse of sanity and family.

The room was the same, except that the wall colour had changed to a different shade of white.

“You must have . . . painted recently,” he said, forcing out the words.

Ginny put her hand on his forehead. “Last summer. You’re just unobservant. Oh, Harry, was it a bad night?”

“Really bad. Hasn’t been like that . . . for awhile.”

“You’re shivering, you idiot. Cast a warming spell on yourself.”

Harry tried, but his hand was shaking too much for the wand to be steady.

“All right then, go get that ugly crocheted thing Mum made you and wrap it around you. Go on, do it now.”

She wouldn’t talk to him until he’d done it. That was how Ginny was. Funny how it had taken him years to notice that he’d actually married a younger version of Molly Weasley. He loved them both, even though . . . He sighed, crawled to his feet and found the chartreuse and Kelly green afghan Molly had made for him the Christmas after the final battle. He wrapped it around him, and felt the charms she’d hooked into it activate: feelings of love and warmth and pride, what Molly called “motherly feelings.”

“I don’t know what I would do without you, Ginny,” he said hoarsely.

“Survive, I suspect. You’re good at that. Harry, last time we talked you said it was getting better.”

“It was. Well, I thought it was.”

“What was the trigger this time?”

He thought. “Maybe just Christmas. Everyone’s so happy, you know? Except the dead ones. And the hurt ones, and the orphans – Ted sent me a card a couple of days ago by the way, it was really sweet. I think he’s going to be an artist if he keeps it up. He reminds me of Dean a lot . . . “.

Ginny frowned at him. “Was that the trigger, Harry?”

He was silent.

“You can say it.”

He felt the familiar vise close around his throat. “His parents are dead. I sent Remus back to take care of him, but they came to fight instead. He grew up never knowing his parents at all.”

“Like you didn’t.” Ginny’s voice was gentle.

“Like . . . I didn’t.” Harry willed himself back under control.

“I’m sorry, Harry. Would you like to come to breakfast?”

“No, thanks.” He closed his eyes. “Gin, about your plans for Christmas…”

“No, Harry.”

“What?”

“No. You agreed to take them, they’re looking forward to two weeks with you, and Viktor and I are visiting his family. It’s a very traditional old world wizarding family, and James and Rose would be bored stiff – which means Albus would be in charge of inventing things to do, and you know how that would work out. I want to be invited back. I want them to know me as a sensible adult before they know me as the mother of the three most . . . creative children in the wizarding world.”

“I’m not sure I can. What if I just . . . forget them, or something?”

“Don’t drink, don’t take mind-altering potions, and don’t feel sorry for yourself. You won’t forget. You never have.”

He knew better than to argue. He couldn’t win.

“Now, babes, I have to go finish my tasks before Rose gets up. If you can, go back to sleep. If not, you really should go back to St. Mungo’s and talk with someone a bit.”

“I know.” He really did know. He just wasn’t going to. When he was like this, Ginny was the only one he could talk to. Even Ron and Hermione didn’t know how bad it could get. And he wasn’t dragging a wizarding therapist into it – not after what happened when the Prophet broke the story that he was seeing one.

“All right, Harry. Call if you need anything. Otherwise, we’ll see you by solstice.”

He nodded.

She looked at him, her brows knitted. “I love you, Harry.”

“I love you too.” There had been years when they couldn’t say that to each other. It was good to hear again. Although he would have liked, just a little, if she loved him the same way she had at Hogwarts – as if he were the most important person in her life. But then, he didn’t love her that way any more, maybe never had. He should have guessed when they’d finally killed Voldemort, and he’d put off talking to her afterwards. Everyone had gone to the arms of the ones they loved. He’d gone off with Hermione and Ron.

Part 4: Feelings

November/December, 2016

After a month, Harry got used to having a Malfoy in his class. After two months, he got used to having two.

The next day, Draco Malfoy had come back, son in tow, with a grim expression on his face that completely contrasted with the beaming smile on Scorpius’ face. “He will be enrolling,” Malfoy said, rather abruptly. “I would like to visit the class every other week for awhile, to observe.”

Harry had thought carefully how he’d relate to Malfoy, if he came back. “You’d be most welcome,” he said as cheerfully as if Malfoy were any other anxious parent. “Of course, if you come, I might dragoon you into helping out with the children.”

Malfoy looked rather interested. “I wouldn’t mind.”

Scorpius threw himself into the new class as, Harry was to learn, he threw himself into everything. He introduced a new game – “Being Muggles” – where they all “pretended” to have no magic and dress and act like Muggles. Harry had to go to Oxfam and buy a lot of Muggle clothes for their dress-up games. He was secretly pleased how well the game fit into the school’s educational program, and passed it on to Hannah to share with other teachers and parents.

“My dad taught the game to me,” Scorpius explained, when Harry asked. “He said he and his friends used to play it when he was a little boy.”

Harry could well imagine that for magical pure-bloods, a game where they pretended to have no magic and lived in a non-magical world would be the ultimate fantasy game. He and Dudley, when they weren’t fighting, had sometimes played at being super heroes for much the same reason.

Scorpius caught up quickly with the basic lessons, naturally. His parents had clearly been teaching him how to hold a wand and mix a potion from early childhood. Preparing an omelette was easy for him, apparently, after having removed the seeds from Hocklepeppers and counting out 20 to put in a potion to de-flea their dog.

“Because Putter is always going out where he’s not supposed to, and Dad says it’s easier to have a potion in him which keeps them away than remembering to do the charms for getting them off before he comes in.”

“Dad says,” Harry had already learned, was Scorpius’ favourite phrase. He was interested in the dog’s name and the answer surprised him. “I wanted to name it Harry after you, because you’re famous, but Dad says dogs shouldn’t be named after people – it’s not really a compliment, and I’d never met you, so I certainly shouldn’t use your first name. So I said I’d use your last name and he laughed and laughed, but then he said at least to change one vowel. So it’s Putter, not Potter.”

Harry was dimly grateful to Malfoy for that. He could just imagine a small circle of former Death Eaters and sympathizers at an elegant lawn party, with a large, dripping-tongued dog running through followed by a small boy screaming, “Potter! Potter!”

“Dad says if you hold the knife like this, you’re less likely to cut yourself,” he heard Scorpius explain to his new friend, Orlando. Orlando was such a follower of anyone he found interesting, it was fortunate Scorpius was a child who tried to meet adult expectations.

“Dad says we have to practice handwriting, just like anything else,” he comforted the frustrated Yasmin. She had been a little unhappy when Orlando turned his compass to Scorpius’ magnetic north, but Scorpius had solved that by making Yasmin his friend as well. Now the three of them did everything together. Harry had thought of Crabbe and Goyle and Malfoy, but unwillingly had grown used to the idea that it really was more like him and Ron and Hermione, in that Scorpius seemed to have no idea that he could boss them around if he chose, and they were as likely to argue with him as support him.

The next day Scorpius brought a handful of quills made of peacock feathers. “Dad says it’s more fun to practice manual skills with something pretty,” he said, and handed them out to his classmates. Although Harry was feeling that he could do with perhaps one or two fewer “Dad says” a day, he was charmed by Scorpius’ generosity. At the end of class, Scorpius approached him, looking a little awkward.

“Mr. … Harry,” he corrected himself. Scorpius seemed to live in a world where all male adults were “Mr.” or “Sir,” and the informality of the school had daunted him a bit at first. “Would you like… I brought you one too, sir?”

Harry looked at the quill Scorpius was shyly holding out. Although the peacocks on the Malfoy estate were white, these quills were all the iridescent green/blue which was the first thing he thought of when he heard of peacocks. This one was especially fine, curled into a plume which would have looked dashing in a cavalier’s hat.

He looked at Scorpius’ hopeful face. “That was thoughtful, Scorpius. Thanks.”

“It’s charmed not to break, si… Harry. And to keep a sharp tip. My dad did it.”

“Just this one?” Harry tried not to sound too surprised.

“Oh no, sir! All of them. My dad says if you give a present, it should be everything you would want for yourself.”

“Well, it’s lovely, Scorpius, and I’ll be glad to use it.” Harry put the quill into the inkwell on his desk, and smiled at Scorpius. I’ve got to meet his mother. He must have got his charm from her, and probably his manners. Though Malfoy’s manners appear to have improved, or maybe when he was in gift giving mode . . .

“Harry….”

“What can I help you with?”

“Am I… am I better than I was?”

Much to his own surprise, Harry hugged the boy. “It doesn’t work like that, Scorpius. It’s only been a week. This is going to take much longer – years, really. And you have other things to learn as well. But I like having you in my classroom.”

There was a flash of the smile Harry’d seen on Malfoy’s face when he thought no one was watching him watch his child. Then Scorpius looked stricken, said, “Oh! My dad said he’d meet me in the school library! I’m late!” and, grabbing his rucksack, ran off.

Harry sighed. Scorpius had not shown even a flash of magic. In fact, he didn’t feel like the typical Squib at all. When Harry was very near a student – or anyone – he could feel the magical energy in an aura around them. Squibs had a pale aura; Harry thought of it as a yellowish white. It flickered like a light bulb just before going out. Children who were magically challenged but had some magic had an aura which flickered, but was a little brighter in colour. Scorpius’ was more like a short in the electrical system. It flung out sparks and flowed out of him at an energy level which actually dangerous. It was so dark, however, as to look black in Harry’s mind.

Harry had told Hermione this, but she’d had no way to investigate it.

“Just keep it in mind,” she advised. “It may prove important one of these days.”

He rubbed his temples and looked around him absently. Teaching school, in its own way, was much more challenging than fighting Voldemort. It had fewer going-to-die moments, but required far more planning. Maybe he shouldn’t have quit the hero business.

There were steps outside his door, echoing on the old oak planks and then stopping. Then there was a knock on the wall next to the open classroom door. He looked up, and Malfoy was in the doorway, standing elegantly in obviously expensive robes whose effect was slightly marred by the fact a smallish boy was attached to them with a fist in a sleeve.

“Malfoy.” Harry was surprised that he was actually pleased to see him. Git he might be, but he wasn’t bad to look at, and Harry had been living like a monk for years. And to be honest, he thought Scorpius improved the look mightily. Near him, Malfoy’s constant smugness could be taken simply for pride in his boy.

“Scorpius tells me he was late because you were talking to him.”

“Yeah,” Harry said, bracing himself for venom.

“Thank you.”

Harry’s mouth dropped open, and he began channelling the inarticulate teenager he thought he’d outgrown. “Ummm, thanks, you know – that’s what teachers are for, isn’t it, the good ones, anyway, not that I’m good, but I’d like to be…”.

He trailed off, and Draco continued smoothly, “I would like to visit tomorrow and see how his education is conducted, if I may.”

“Of course, I said you’d be welcome… well, all parents are welcome, of course, it makes it easier for them to understand what we’re doing, and then they can participate with the children… er, at home, I mean, or of course, the class is good too…” What the fuck was he saying? He started thinking perhaps he should go to a Muggle club tonight. That might chase away the overwhelming sense of noticing which was going on. Noticing that in his 30s, Malfoy had grown comfortable in his own skin, and moved not like a cocky schoolboy, but like a self-confident man; noticing that Malfoy’s lashes were longer than Harry remembered, and darker; noticing that his mouth, when it wasn’t smirking, looked soft and as knowing as the rest of him; noticing that his well-cut robes emphasized, rather than concealed, the fact that he must still do a lot of physical activity; noticing that his collarbone looked like a perfect target for a bite… .

He wrenched himself away from the want which was settling into his skin, and realized that Malfoy was staring at him as if he were waiting for him to answer. He’d had no idea anyone had spoken.

Finally, Malfoy smiled, and it was a bit more like his usual smirk. “Then I’ll see you tomorrow, Potter.”

“Harry.”

“What?”

“Call me Harry. Your son does – all the children do.”

“Very well. If you’ll call me Draco.”

Harry found himself blushing, and cursed. He held out his hand. “Agreed.”

Malfoy… Draco … stared at Harry’s hand inscrutably for half an instant, then took it. “Agreed.”

He’d been back the next day, and Scorpius had gone wild with excitement. He dragged his father around to the other children, introducing him as “Mr. Malfoy, my dad.” Harry noted that Scorpius had his hand clutched in his father’s sleeve again, and concluded that Malfoy discouraged handholding.

The lessons had gone acceptably; Malfoy had been helpful about showing children the way to hold knives and chop carrots for soup. He was apparently well-travelled; Scorpius kept saying, “Tell Orlando about the time you were in Tahiti and it rained and flooded your hotel, Dad,” or “Tell Jasmin what the wizards in San Francisco wear when they go around as Muggles.” Malfoy obligingly would tell the story, putting in small embellishments which were highly improbable but, to the uncritical ears of the children, invested the story with high drama. At the end of the day, Harry took Malfoy aside for a moment and told him, “Next time you come, I’m putting you in charge of story hour.” It was his least favourite part of the day, since he’d heard no magic stories at the Dursleys, and telling, say, a plot from East Enders did not seem desirable.

“All right. Thanks for the warning.”

The next time he came, Malfoy had prepared a story Harry knew well, about three brothers who met Death at the crossroads. He wondered if it were that well-known a story in the wizarding world, or if Malfoy had selected it specifically because of its connection to their past. It would have been hard to miss the newspaper accounts, WWW coverage, unauthorized biographies, blow-by-blow accounts of the rise and fall of Voldemort (always called coyly “The Dark Lord” in the titles) which retold the story of the invisibility cloak, the stone, and the elder wand, and their astonishing re-emergence in the hands of the Chosen One.

He had to admit it was a good story, at any rate, the way Malfoy told it. Nor were there any embarrassing gestures to recent events in the past few centuries.

“Good story, Draco,” he said at the end. “You’re now officially in charge of Friday story hour.”

Malfoy raised an eyebrow. “Well, then, I suppose I had better plan to be here on Fridays.”

Harry was busy not noticing how young and mischievous that raised eyebrow made its owner look. So busy that he almost failed to notice the smirk reappearing. He had an uncomfortable suspicion that he might be being a trifle obvious. He wondered for an instant what Malfoy would do if he asked him out for a drink after school one day. Then he firmly quashed that idea. It would just be the two of them – and a hundred reporters, once the pub owner called the Prophet. Anyway, Malfoy was married to someone who presumably made the father just as happy as she made the son.

***

Draco became a Friday fixture. The children were all delighted to see him. With them he was charming, patient, playful and even occasionally wise, with a satirical twist surfacing enough to remind Harry that this indeed was Draco Malfoy and not a Polyjuiced doppelganger of some sort. With Harry, he was reasonably polite – a little reserved, but with no particular malice of the sort which had marked their Hogwarts days. Harry was puzzled to find out he rather missed it. No one had paid that kind of fierce attention to him since. The news people paid attention in an annoying way, but they would have no idea how to get under his skin, and would presumably not attempt to do so. Life was rather flat without an opponent.

Scorpius occasionally showed flashes of magic, just as the other children did. Harry found out if he had a hand on a child’s shoulder, they were twice as likely to succeed at the simple tasks Harry set for them: levitate a feather, send sparks from a wand, clean up a small mess. When Draco tried it, Scorpius’ power was almost at an adult level.

“But I can’t spend my life with my hand on Scorpius’ shoulder,” he pointed out quietly, when Scorpius had gone to the loo.

“Still, it’s another piece of the puzzle,” Harry said. “I’ve got to tell Hermione.”

“I’ll cover. It’s story hour coming up anyway.”

“Thanks, Draco.” After a month and more of using his name, Harry had gotten accustomed to it.

“Before you leave, let me put my hand on someone else’s shoulder. Just to test the variables.”

After it turned out that the only child who improved with Draco’s hand on him was Scorpius, Harry trotted down the hall to find Hermione.

“That’s very interesting, Harry, but maybe Scorpius has a completely different problem than the others,” Hermione pointed out. “Perhaps he has actual birth damage when they don’t, or had a magical trauma in youth where they were born with a defective gene, or… well, anything.”

“You think magic is genetic?” Harry was distracted.

“Yes, of course. It’s just not clear how the heritage runs yet. I’m thinking currently that we may be able to test the foetus, maybe even the embryo, to see if it’s carrying that gene or not. Unfortunately, we can hardly ask the Muggle genome project to look for a genetic alteration for an attribute they don’t even think exists.”

Harry grunted. “Hermione, Muggles have done research which demonstrates that what you eat can change your gene structure. I don’t see how knowing what the gene is will help kids do magic. It’s a practical problem.”

“All right Harry, fine. You’re right – genetics don’t exactly fit why a boy can actually practice some magic if his father’s hand is on his shoulder. On the other hand, what has that to do with anything? The other children improve with your hand on their shoulder. We know two people working together can produce stronger magic than either working alone. Maybe that’s what’s going on – you’re just giving them some of your magic.”

“I suppose.”

“Don’t be so disappointed. More than that may be going on, you know.” Hermione looked at him sharply. “Sometimes your intuition checkmates my linear thinking, you know.”

Harry knew. He nodded. “You’re the smartest witch of our generation, though.”

“Good thing you’re a wizard, then.” She grinned at him. “Hey, who’s teaching your class?”

“Draco.”

Hermione’s eyebrows went up. “’Draco’? As in ‘Malfoy, the git’?”

“The very same. But he’s not a git any more, Hermione. If I didn’t know him from school, I’d have asked him out.”

“But now you won’t, because you couldn’t POSSIBLY be interested in a nice man who was a brat as a child.” She grinned at him. “I think it’s time to send Ron over to sort you out… or, as the telly says, ‘set you straight.’”

“Watch your language, woman!”

“All right, I will if you’ll tell – do you really want to ask Draco Malfoy out? And do you really think he’s a decent person now?”

Harry blushed. “Yes to the first. The second doesn’t matter that much to me.”

Hermione frowned. “Until it matters to you if you’re dating a git or not, I’m just as glad that you never ask anyone out. So Malfoy isn’t rude to you anymore?”

Harry thought about the occasional smirk when Harry had been just a little too… observant of the fact that Malfoy was quite fit. But that wasn’t rude, exactly. Just knowing. Neither of them had ever said a word.

“No, he’s not. And he’s quite charming with the children.”

“Probably likes the attention,” Hermione said wisely. “Malfoy always wanted attention very, very badly. Especially yours, of course.”

“Well, I’d better be getting back, then,” Harry replied, concluding that the theoretical conversation had been definitely derailed. He didn’t quite know how he felt about the relationship conversation, but that was Hermione.

Part 5: Christmas

December, 2016

At Solstice, Harry returned to the children’s house. He and Ginny called it that because it avoided the sticky question of ownership. The children lived there; either parent was therefore, by definition, welcome to stay as long as he or she wanted. Ginny usually lived there, because Harry found it convenient to live a block from his school, in Godric’s Hollow. The house was a few miles away, in the country, carefully warded with everything they and their Auror friends could come up with, as well as an Unplottable Charm. It also had a Secret Keeper – Hermione, because Ron was often gone with little notice on a Ministry investigation. Besides, Ron was an Unspeakable and therefore already had too many secrets to keep.

Ginny stayed till Christmas morning. Usually Harry slept in his own room, but on Christmas Eve she heard him yelling from the nightmares, and dragged him into her own large bed. She dealt calmly with the panic attack which usually accompanied it, cooled his sweating with a charm, and talked to him a little while until he dozed off.

He woke up to find her already awake, sitting up in bed and staring at him, and grinned sheepishly.

“Are you seeing someone about these, Harry?” she asked bluntly.

“They don’t happen often, you know.”

“They’ve happened that I know about at every significant anniversary since the War. That’s often enough.”

He shook his head. “I’m okay, really.”

“Maybe I really shouldn’t go to visit Viktor’s parents with him. I don’t like leaving you alone with the children in this condition.”

He looked at her frowning face and sat up to lean against her. He kissed her hair, warm and smelling of flowers and the hot, slightly sweaty smell which was Ginny in the morning. “It’s fine, really. You’ve already made it very clear to me that I promised, and that you really want to go. You don’t have to worry what they’ll think of you, though. They’re going to think you’re the best thing that ever happened to him, besides Quidditch.”

Her expression softened at that. “I will fool them quite nicely, you think?”

“I don’t think you’d be fooling them.”

She sighed. “I wish we could get married. He never says a word, but he’s traditional and would like that.”

“When the kids are older. We’ll get divorced, and you can get married.”

“Yes, I know, you don’t want them to have to lose their privacy the way you did. And I don’t either. I just wish it could be different, that’s all.”

Harry looked at his hands. The morning after bad attacks, they shook. This morning, the shaking was going away fairly quickly.

“You know, Ginny, you’re the best thing that ever happened to me, too. I wish things could have been different too.”

She had nothing to say to that. They sat in the warm bed they’d shared when they were first married. Harry was thinking of his painful coming out process, his realization after a year or so that he loved Ginny dearly, but the fire he’d felt had been more the sheer excitement of being loved and loving someone. It seemed nothing like what most couples felt. He finally put that together with his fascination with Quidditch magazines and locker rooms, and his interactions with Malfoy all those years of school. That had led to a series of painful discussions with Ginny, who could understand but didn’t have to like it, and then carefully using the house like a time share. Fortunately, they’d had to continue parenting together for the sake of the children, and then Ginny fell in love with a team-mate, and Harry and she had settled into a pleasant best-friend relationship which neatly balanced Harry’s feeling of being an odd man out with Ron and Hermione. Only they knew that the storybook marriage of the Boy Who Lived and the beautiful girl he’d saved when she was small was very different on the inside than the outside.

Harry was cautious with his sexual experiences, going exclusively to Muggle clubs, and not the ones fashionable for pure-bloods to go slumming in. His experimentation was brief. He’d hated it. He wasn’t the sort to deal well with anonymous sex, or one-night sex of any kind. He decided that maybe he just didn’t have much of a sexual drive, and that was convenient. Ginny’s romance worked easily and well without public attention, because when the team was working, they stayed in the same hotels and were with each other all day, stopping for meals in groups of two or three.

Viktor sometimes stayed over, once Ginny was sure their relationship was solid enough that he wouldn’t suddenly disappear from the children’s lives. He and Harry got along quite well, as long as the subject was Quidditch, comparisons of wizarding lives in different countries, or what-life-was-like-at-Durmstrang. Viktor’s mention in the press always identified him as a friend of the family, which in fact was true.

Ginny got up to put together the traditional Christmas morning fare, and Harry went to find the children. The rule was that they could NOT come wake their parents, and had to be in bed until they were fetched. This rule was always bent just a little; they tended to gather in Lily’s room, perched on her bed, talking about possible presents and occasionally grumbling at the ridiculous requirements of grownups, who thought they should sleep in till 8 at least. Harry and Ginny had concluded over the years that Ginny should prepare the meal and Harry could deal with the children, since she got angry if she found them not following the rules and Harry didn’t especially care. To keep the peace on Christmas morning, this way worked best.

In the afternoon, Viktor came over and they showed off their gifts. He’d known what they were getting, and his gifts were designed to complement them. James, who’d had a broom for two years, was beginning to be really interested in Quidditch, and Ginny and Harry had bought him books about Quidditch and a subscription to Quidditch Quarterly of his very own. Viktor brought him a pair of the gloves his own team used, and a promise to work with him in the spring on the practical application of the book on Quidditch moves he’d received. James was speechless with pleasure, an unusual phenomenon for him.

Lily’s biggest presents were all writing tools – colour changing ink, quills spelled to check spelling and write in red any word she’d got wrong, special parchment paper with metallic edges or with flowers embedded in it. If they weren’t of such different ages, Harry would have suspected his and Hermione’s child had been switched at birth, because Lily’s favourite book was Hogwarts, A History, and Rose got into all sorts of mischief trying to learn things she wasn’t supposed to know.

And Al. Harry tried not to play favourites, but Al was special. James was unquestionably Ginny’s boy, and Lily seemed to be Aunt Hermione’s girl, really, but Al was his. He was small and anxious and just a trifle prissy and worked hard to please. The eye correction spells at birth had worked well, thank goodness, so he didn’t wear glasses, but in every other way he looked just like Harry, including the expression Harry recognized from the mirror – shy and stubborn both. This year Al got his first broom, and he spent most of the day zooming around the house and then, when Ginny put her foot down, the yard. Harry went with him to be sure he didn’t go above a metre or so. Then James came out, and Harry had to concentrate hard, because James loved to tease his brother, and of course to encourage him to go much higher and much faster. Al was proving to be as natural on the broom as his father. Finally, Harry Accio’ed his broom and joined them in the air. The monitoring was so wearing the bad night faded from his memory and his body.

Viktor gave Al Quidditch robes, the colours of his and Ginny’s teams, and Al peacocked around in them proudly until Ginny told him to save them for practice. After a pick-up lunch, Ginny and Viktor were off on their 10-day visit to his parents.

There was no school for the next 10 days. On Boxing Day Harry had them take what remained of their Christmas feast to the war orphanage. Most of the children who lived there were children of Death Eaters – the Light’s orphans had lost parents as well, but generally their extended families were more intact. The post-war Death Eater trials had been severe. Harry augmented the Potter treats for this occasion, knowing the depredations his children could make on sweets and pumpkin juice. The orphans all knew Harry of course, since he tried to come at least once a month with Ron and, when possible, Ginny, to hone their basic broom flying skills. A few of them could actually make it off the ground without much help, and the other children enjoyed watching the lessons.

***

The next day they all went to visit Teddy and his grandmother, exchange presents, and talk – well, the grownups talked; to the children’s great relief, they were sent outside to play in the snow with Teddy, who helped them make snow people and showed off his wand skills by transfiguring the snow people into snow animals and charming them to chase each other around the yard.

By the time Harry needed to go back to school, he was worn out with single parenting, and delighted to see Ginny return. In the Quidditch off-season, she was their primary parent. In summers, Harry took all three children – with an occasional extra or so – to Scotland, and they camped in the wild. Months during the war of starving and feeling disoriented away from his suburban environment had marked Harry. He got survival books and set himself to learn, and teach his kids, how to live in the wild. Except for the occasional spat between Albus and James, the summers went beautifully, and Harry’s irrational fear that the children would die in the wild during a war someday were beginning to fade.

“Dad, you promised to teach me to play Quidditch,” Al said the day Harry left. He of course brought that up in the two minutes of farewells and I-love-you’s before Harry was to Apparate back to Godric’s Hollow, and couldn’t reply properly.

“I will, Al. You had to learn the basics this holiday.”

“But Da-ad…”

“Let your father leave, dear,” Ginny said, smoothing Al’s hair, which was as messy as Harry’s always was. “I can help too, you know. I’m the one who does it for a living, after all.”

Al did not look appeased. Harry hugged him again, then gave Ginny a quick kiss on the cheek. “Thanks, Gin. See you in awhile.”

He Disapparated to the sound of Albus’ argument that Dad was a Seeker, and Albus wanted to be a Seeker, and Dad had been the youngest Seeker in a hundred years, and that was much better than just playing Quidditch for money, because Dad had been famous for it, and…

As the familiar walls of his Godric’s Hollow home appeared around him, Harry shuddered to think of how Ginny’s temper would rouse with that set of arguments. He also felt guilty because Albus Severus thought that his father was the most important person on earth, and famous for reasons which had nothing to do with being a War Hero, and Harry liked Al thinking that and didn’t want him to think anything else.

But mostly he felt guilty because he was looking forward to a couple days of complete rest and silence before the school term began again.

Part 6: Albus Severus

January, 2017

By the Friday after term started, Harry was back in teaching mode and happy to be there. It had nothing to do with Mal… Draco, he told himself firmly. He just needed to talk to him about his son.

Scorpius looked a little fragile after his holiday. There was nothing Harry could put a finger on, just… he didn’t seem quite his ebullient, stubborn self. His father brought him to the door of the class as always, and this time Scorpius hung on to his robe sleeve again – something he hadn’t done since the first two weeks. Draco gently detached himself, whispered something in his ear, and Apparated.

After the first day, he didn’t cling any more, but his smile was a little forced when Harry teased him, and he didn’t run around yelling with the other children as much as usual. Harry called him up to his desk during Quiet Time, and asked him if everything were all right, but Scorpius merely nodded and waited patiently to be allowed back to his table.

Draco looked … unapproachable. He was as polite as he indubitably had been brought up to be, but somehow that courtesy made an impenetrable mask. Harry found himself missing the boy and young man whom he could make screaming and furious in 10 words. This upper-class inscrutability made him feel left out.

“Your son seems a bit subdued this week. Did something happen over Christmas?” he said quietly to Draco as the children fetched out the magical items Draco had begun stocking in the toy chest for story illustrations.

“Christmas was pretty much as usual,” Draco said shortly. Harry backed off hastily and went over to make sure the children were not overwhelming their storyteller with too many items.

Draco at least was definitely in a mood. He was holding himself well in check, but the story wasn’t as exciting as usual, somehow. It started well. “Once there was an old fox who wanted to be a young dog.” Orlando threw a stuffed fox into the air. It floated around, and Jasmine threw a stuffed puppy to join it. They circled each other for a moment, then the dog barked and chased the fox back into the toy bin.

“I think we’ll dispense with the toys today,” Draco said courteously enough, but with an edge of ice. “I’ll find it hard to concentrate on the story, otherwise.”

Harry had to admit the children were acting more like seven year olds than nine year olds – but after a highly sugared holiday, with no school for weeks, it was hard for children to get back into a routine.

The story ended. “And the old fox found that being an old fox could save his life, while being a young dog meant he almost lost it.”

It was a good story, as all Draco’s were, but rather more painful than some. Harry was absolutely certain something unpleasant for both Draco and Scorpius had occurred in the recent past. He found himself wanting to shake them, kidnap them and take them home with him, anything to wipe the chill off Draco’s face and help Scorpius return to his expansive self, rather than the contracted one.

The class settled down to do an art creative project, which doubled as a way for the teachers to learn more about them. This week, the assignment was “Draw yourself doing the spell or charm you’d most like to learn to do.”

Draco and Harry had tacitly divided the work between them. Harry went around talking about the child’s feelings about the work; Draco gave them advice on the art itself. He had proved to be knowledgeable about line, form, and colour, which surprised Harry. However, since Harry knew very little about art, he appreciated the addition of a specialist to his children’s learning.

He stopped by Scorpius’ place at the table. Scorpius was bent over a drawing, so absorbed that his friends were talking entirely to each other, and simply ignoring him. He was using crayon, and had coloured on the sheet completely: one large black piece of wax. Harry paused, surprised, and realized that Scorpius had taken the edge of a pair of scissors and was carefully using them to reveal the layers of colour underneath the black.

Harry just watched for awhile, enthralled both at Scorpius’ painstaking work and what it was revealing. Flashes of red in all directions, and in the centre, a bright lime green. Outlining the green was a bright yellow.

And then Scorpius stopped and put his scissors down. He appeared to be done. He stared at the swirls of colour thoughtfully, his face as unreadable as his father’s.

“Which spell is it?” Harry asked, and Scorpius jumped. “Sorry to surprise you. There aren’t any people in the scene.”

“No there aren’t,” Scorpius said shortly. “It’s not that sort of spell.”

“What kind is it?”

“The kind that works, but no one knows about.”

“Is that why you’re scratching off from black?”

Scorpius shrugged. “No. Or yes, maybe, but mostly because it’s dark magic, and black is dark.”

“You want to learn to do dark magic?”

Scorpius paled. “No, defend against it. The spell’s the yellow.”

“Have you seen dark magic, Scorpius?” Harry tried to make his voice casual.

Scorpius, however, went winter moon pale, and shook his head emphatically, after glancing over at his father, who was helping Marbella by fixing her broken crayon, and soothing her shame by making a show of the minor magic. Marbella was always up or down; she didn’t seem to have a neutral.

“So this is just… your imagination?”

“Yeah.” Scorpius looked at Harry out of the corner of his eye. “You’ve seen dark magic, haven’t you Harry?”

“Not for awhile now.” Harry hesitantly put his hand on Scorpius’ shoulder, and noticed that he was thinner than he looked. The magic aura he’d noticed in the fall had changed a bit as well – it was almost impenetrable now. The sparks and lightning which had distinguished it had almost disappeared, which meant Harry felt almost no magic at all. When it did spark, it felt unpleasant against his skin.

He began to wonder even more if Scorpius had lied about never seeing Dark magic done. And if he had seen it – recently.

***

As the children were putting their supplies away, Harry sat at the edge of his desk, feeling drained. He was still worn out from the holidays. He loved all his children, but being a father terrified him. He had no idea how to go about it. The nearest to a loving family he’d ever seen were the Weasleys, and none of them seemed really… well, relaxed. He’d dreamed of a quiet home, where no one made too many demands on him except to play with them and give them good advice – and of course, protect them from evildoers. Ginny told him often that his problem was he’d never lived in a family he was part of, and had unrealistic expectations. But then, she’d grown up with a full supply of rambunctious brothers and a demanding mother. She was accustomed to making demands and intervening in fights. She felt no need to stay calm and adult about it either. If Harry raised his voice to one of his kids, he reminded himself of Vernon Dursley.

For some reason, only his own children drove him to fury enough to shout. He hadn’t for years, not since he was a teenager himself. After that terrible fifth year when he seemed to walk around angry at everyone, he had learned control and almost never shouted -- not until James was a toddler. Why did he start it up again? He should be more patient – but when they did something risky or stupid, he wanted to scream and shake them and lock them in a cupboard the way…

“Dad!”

Harry’s thoughts jolted back to the present, and the familiar voice calling him. Only Albus Severus had that edgy, almost panicky, needy use of the word “dad.” James had something like a whine, but more demanding, and Lily still sounded like a generic little girl.

He blinked, and opened his eyes. “Al, what on earth are you doing here?”

“Mum wants me to learn Quidditch.”

“Answer the question, please.”

“Mum says she’s going to teach me to play Quidditch this weekend. With Viktor.”

“Well, that’s a good thing, isn’t it?”

Al’s face screwed up. “I don’t want Mum to teach me! I want you to teach me!”

“Well, Al…”. Harry pondered, torn between feeling flattered and impatient. “You know that I just live in a little room here. Even the school’s grounds aren’t that large. Your mother and Viktor will be able to teach you on a professional pitch. It’s hard to learn what you need to know without real practice on a pitch.”

“I don’t care. I just want you to teach me.”

I’m a terrible father. If it weren’t for me, Ginny and I would be living together and he could have a father and mother at the same time. We could teach him to play Quidditch together.

He shook off the old guilt feelings. “So why are you here then?” If Ginny thought Harry could persuade Al not to… well, Ginny wouldn’t think that. She knew Al as well as Harry did.

“I ran away.”

Harry stood up slowly, stared at Al, then sank into his chair with as much dignity as he could manage. James had never run away. Rose had never run away. He’d be willing to bet Scorpius had never run away. He very much doubted if Lily ever would. Only Al forced Harry to revisit his own childhood and concede that yes, in many ways, Draco Malfoy hadn’t been the only prat at Hogwarts.

Speaking of … He glanced over and saw that Draco, who had been casually standing near enough to hear all this, was now encouraging the children to put on their coats and mittens and hats and wait for their parents to apparate into the hall. Harry would at least have the necessary privacy. Thinking of what to say was something else.

“Al, did I actually hear you say you ran away?”

“Well, I Flooed away, anyway,” he sniffed. Yes, his eyes were watery. Harry’s guilt accelerated.

He knelt on the floor to look Al in the eye. “Does your mother know where you went?”

“If I told her, she’d’ve stopped me.”

“Can you think of one good reason I shouldn’t apparate you home right this minute?”

“Dad, I want to be with you. Please? I love you, Dad. I want you to teach me Quidditch.”

Harry thought, not for the first time, that there should be a manual attached to the umbilical cord as well as a placenta. He didn’t know what a good father would do. He wanted to be a good father, but …

He felt a hand on his shoulder. “Harry, may I speak with you a minute?”

He nodded, and followed Draco over to the corner. Scorpius was parked out of hearing, but he kept shooting interested glances at Al, who was after all his age. Al didn’t look up, staring at the desk as if it held the secret to Quidditch.

“I welcome any ideas you have,” Harry told Draco, feeling desperate enough to let a Malfoy feel superior if it would mean a way to respond to Al that wouldn’t infuriate Ginny or teach Al something horrible.

“We have a Quidditch pitch at the Manor. You’d be welcome to come home with us and use it – I think Scorpius would enjoy it, and I haven’t been on a broom in a long while. The two of you could stay over and fly some more tomorrow. You can firecall your wife from the Manor and tell her what’s happening, and then after a couple days’ cooling off period, you can decide what you need to do about your son running away and inconveniencing you both. My parents always thought that waiting to hear the consequences of my actions was part of the punishment.”

Harry took a deep breath. “That sounds wonderful, but Ginny will be angry that I don’t just force him home.”

“Do you think that’s the right thing to do – make him go home?” There was no judgment attached to the question. Harry found it easy to think about it, from this neutral perspective.

“No, I don’t. With James, yes, but Al’s so… well, impassioned. He’d view it as a grave injustice. I think the right thing to do is keep my promise and teach him the basics, then send him home.”

“Then you just have to decide which is worse -- making your wife angry or your son unhappy.”

“She’s not my – “ Harry bit that statement back quickly. He’d been just about to tell his long time enemy the secret only five people knew. “All right, but I need to call her right away. If she’s noticed he’s gone, she’ll be worried.”

“I can stay here with both of them, if you’d like to call from here.”

For some reason, the familiar ache in the back of his neck from the weight of having no good choices was easing. The Malfoys had not been, in Harry’s opinion, decent people, but he had no question they loved their son and if they’d made him wonder for days what trouble he was in, there probably was something to be said for it. At least it was something someone’s parents had done besides yell or lock their child in a closet or put bars on the windows.

The call to Ginny did not go well. She was, in fact, royally pissed off.

“What the hellare you thinking, Harry? Albus has been bad. Verybad – he’s put himself at risk, worried me, and if he hadn’t made it through the floo system – and you know how kids can screw it up, you’ve done it yourself – and went missing, you would have been panicky. He can’t be rewarded for that!”

“You have a point,” Harry said miserably. “But he’s already feeling I abandoned him. He needs to know I never will.”

“He’s just playing on your guilt, Harry. And you have loads of guilt to play with, you Chosen Hero, you. I swear, the child belongs in Slytherin, and I keep telling you, you need a therapist.”

“And I keep asking you, which kind – a wizarding therapist with who knows what reactions to the Boy Who Lived as a client, not to mention the Prophet’s field day last time I visited one? Or a Muggle therapist who is supposed to believe – and heal -- someone who thinks he can do magic, was pursued by the greatest and most evil wizard of our time, and oh yes, managed to kill him by dying and being resurrected?”

Ginny continued her argument. Harry kept reminding himself that she cared about him, she cared about Scorpius, she just had a completely different way of running a family. Finally, he cut in.

“Ginny, we can’t argue about this all day. Draco Malfoy is watching Scorpius, and waiting for me, and I don’t want to impose on him anymore. Just this once, let’s do it my way.”

When Ginny did not seem prepared to quit her argument, Harry sighed and closed the Floo. Ginny was used to winning, and Harry was used to letting her, but this time Draco had made more sense.

Once Ginny had snapped at him, “You always seem to give in to anyone who sounds logical.”

He had snapped right back, “That’s because I encounter people like that so seldom.”

Harry massaged his temples, pinched the bridge of his nose, and with those Muggle magics warded off his incipient headache.

Part 7: Games

January, 2017

The time at the pitch helped even more. Harry side-along Apparated Al, and picked up a change of clothes and his broom, an old Millennium 20, in his quarters. It was the last time he’d been able to rationalize buying an expensive broom when he never flew it, and the broom was like new. Just having it in his hands was joy, and Al squealed when Harry said, “Maybe you should use this, and I can use the old broom Mal—Draco said he had.”

He was immediately sorry, in the usual parental way, for having promised more than might be considerate for Scorpius. But when he Apparated to the Manor pitch, he found Draco standing there with two brooms and a Scorpius pale with excitement.

“My dad says I can ride with him!” he said excitedly to Al.

My dad says I can use his broom!” Al responded, the first words he’d said to Scorpius Harry knew about. Al was usually shy with strangers, and any of the guilt Harry felt about making Ginny angry fell away.

With Draco helping, it was much easier to show Al the basic Quidditch moves. Harry concentrated first on cushioning and safety charms. When James was born, Hermione’s present to him and his parents was all the results of her thorough research into safer flying. She’d found some state of the art charms just being experimented with. Thinking of the times he’d ended up in the Hospital Wing, Harry wished he’d known these at Hogwarts. On second thought, they were quite difficult, and the odds were he’d never have worked as hard to learn them as the Patronus charm.

Draco learned them quickly. After that, he became a Beater, since Seekers didn’t really interact with any other players. Harry worried how he’d do that and still keep Scorpius, who couldn’t fly in the slightest, safely on the broom.

Draco smirked. “Watch and learn, Potter,” he said. Puzzlingly, Harry didn’t find this insulting. Quidditch had always been the space where they met as rivals, rather than enemies, and this sounded like the old Draco. Harry was startled to find that he had rather missed the smirking, swaggering bully who always got to him -- especially since Harry won despite the taunts. He didn’t feel he’d particularly won at anything the last few years.

Draco charmed two Bludgers; first, removing the weight of them, so that they were more like foam rubber; second, making them respond to the movement of his hands.

“Will those hurt when they hit?” Harry asked, a bit anxious still. Who’d have ever thought, with his history of danger, he’d grow up to be a hyper-protective father? (Hermione, of course, when he’d asked her. No one else.)

“Let’s see, shall we?” Draco said, making a large circle in the air and looking over to where Harry was hovering. He moved his hand slightly, and the Bludger sped toward Harry so quickly that his usual reflexes didn’t help. The Bludger smashed him full in the face. It felt – and smelled -- spongy.

“Does that hurt?” Draco asked sweetly. Scorpius was covering his mouth with his hand, trying not to show his laughter. Al was laughing aloud, a carefree sound Harry hadn’t heard from him before.

“Thanks for your concern, Malfoy; perhaps you’d like to see for yourself.” Harry moved his own hand, and the Bludger leaped for Malfoy, who dived spectacularly so that it missed them by an inch. Scorpius screamed with excitement, and Albus cheered.

For a few minutes it was a free for all, with the two boys discovering that it was possible to hit the Bludger and send it flying in a deliberate direction. By the end of that time, Scorpius and Al were so wired that it took all of their fathers’ attention and patience to pull them back into the rules of Quidditch.

Scorpius proved to be excellent at hitting the Bludger exactly where he wanted it to go. Harry caught himself just in time before he said, “You’re a born Beater!” Al was of course anxious that he’d be doing something wrong, but he caught on quickly and went after the snitch as fiercely as Harry ever had.

After all four of them were so worn from trying to beat each other to the Snitch, which they ended up doing by tacit agreement when playing with the Bludgers grew old, Draco led them into the manor. He told Bobby, a young house elf, to show them to their rooms.

Harry washed quickly, threw on the robes he’d brought, advised Al put on the robe he’d pulled off to play but leave his dirty clothing, and followed Bobby obediently back to what appeared to be an informal sitting area. Draco wasn’t down yet, but Scorpius was, and immediately ran up to Al and started discussing Quidditch rules. Since Al seemed more than ready to talk to Scorpius, Harry left them to it and wandered about the room. There was a series of French doors leading to a terrace, and behind them were gardens in the French style, extraordinarily formal but beautifully laid out and with several exquisite fountains, each of them featuring one of the more attractive magical creatures in verdigris. Harry identified a Hippogriff, a Unicorn, and a Dragon before he stopped looking at the gardens and turned his attention to the Manor.

At certain parties, Harry had learned to fence with words and make polite small talk appropriate for strangers to report casually afterward, “Oh, yes, I met Harry Potter, quite pleasant, really.” These parties were marked by the sole presence of the upper class – not merely pure-bloods, but wealthy -- what Sirius had once, trying to explain why the Black family was so respected despite its Dark interests, called “old money”. Old Money were people who, even if they lost their entire fortune, would still be viewed as One of Us in a way New Money or the middleclass would never be. The Weasleys were never invited to such parties. The Blacks were invited as a matter of course. Harry was invited partly for his heroism, partly because Potters had come to gatherings of Old Money for centuries. Harry went to them at first because he was a hero and expected to; later because he needed their support for his school, both financial and emotional, and was trying to find parents of Squibs.

It was at these parties Harry had first begun to understand Draco Malfoy, not as a unique annoying git, but as an annoying git whose way of being annoying had a lot to do with being Old Money. When he was honest with himself, he conceded that Sirius had many similar qualities, all under the chapter heading called “Natural Privilege.” When Harry spurned Draco’s advances on the Hogwarts Express, he had not only rejected one of his own class for an inferior, he had acted neither apologetic nor defensive, implying his own class was inferior. By Old Money standards, Harry had insulted the class he sprang from.

At these same events, Harry had learned that Old Money did not employ decorators and had no interest in style. If the embroidered brocade curtains of the 18th century were working, they would stay there, right next to a chair Uncle Edward found in an Indian bazaar and obscuring a table Great Aunt Martha brought into the family when she married. While taste was valued, it had more to do with the value of each piece in a tradition, rather then how everything went together. Magical pieces might be displayed, but they were far more likely to be housed in a large Magic Room, near the Book Room, if they were at all interesting.

The Manor followed this pattern, mostly. Much of it was quite old, obviously left from previous generations of Malfoys. None of it matched; each piece was one of a kind, from what looked like a Tudor bench to a worn Aubusson on the floor. However, several new pieces had been acquired which were most unusual. Harry had seen a few pieces like them, when he was a guest in a wealthy person’s home or at a major public function at the Minister of Magic’s mansion. He’d asked about the first he’d seen, and was told it was made with a combination of Muggle carpentry and magic charms, and sold under the label Light. He always knew it immediately, because it was well-made furniture, but never simple, and with identifiable styles of paint. There were delightful designs on it, many of them moving, and always absolutely perfect for the task for which it had been designed.

A small end table, a wooden-framed chair, and a mirror all shared space in the room. The end table seemed relatively unassuming, until Bobby brought Scorpius and Al pumpkin juice and placed it on the table. It immediately grew holders around the glasses, lifted into the air, and floated to where the boys sat on the floor near the fireplace, beginning a game of Exploding Snap. When Scorpius said, “Come here,” patting the floor as if he were calling a dog, the table obediently landed between them, and then transfigured its legs until it was at a perfect height for reaching the juice and putting their cards on. A large yellow lab, the dog Scorpius had named Putter, raised its head, stared at the table thoughtfully, then lowered it and went back to sleep.

“Won’t the explosions hurt the table?” Harry asked Scorpius, imagining the fierce reaction of any parent to the loss of what he knew was a spectacularly costly piece of furniture.

“Nah,” Scorpius said cheerfully, squinting at his cards. “There are all kinds of charms that protect it from things. My dad says there’s no point in having beautiful furniture if you have to worry about using it.”

Harry vividly remembered the Dursleys, where everything nice had been forbidden to him because he might damage it. There were plastic mats over the high-traffic areas of the carpet, and covers for every appliance in the kitchen. He suspected that, if the telly weren’t on all the time, Petunia would have made a dust cover for it as well. He preferred the Malfoy point of view.

On the other hand, the Dursleys had never been wealthy enough to own a Light piece, even if they’d been a Wizarding family.

The colours on all three pieces were in the blue-violet-red range, a little brighter than Harry would have thought Malfoy’s colour preferences would be. Perhaps this was evidence of his wife’s taste.

He began to look at the mirror, intrigued by the landscape of stars and mountains carved into it and painted. It reminded him of Art Nouveau – the mirror frame itself delicate and strong, the colours almost other-worldly, midnight-blue sky similar to Parrish’ colouring. As he reached to run his finger around the carved lake, which had a very small squid swimming in it which suggested he should recognize the view, he heard a cough behind him.

It reminded him unpleasantly of Umbridge – a “hem hem!” which would only get worse if ignored. Umbridge was in Azkaban, but Harry still tensed.

He turned around and saw a woman carved of ice standing there.

At second glance, she was not quite so cold – there was an expression on her face which looked borderline annoyed, in fact. But she was perfect as an ice carving, and nearly as clear – blue white face, white hair which made Malfoy’s look yellow-brown, grey eyes and prominent bones. Only once had the carving wand slipped – she had a dimple in her chin which, while not a flaw, certainly was not as elegant as the rest of her. She was wearing midnight blue robes and a silver chain around her neck, from which hung a pendant of crystal. She also wore a cap of silver wires, each crossed wire emphasized with a clear crystal bead. She was unsmiling but not frowning, she was beautiful – and Harry had never felt so uncomfortable with any stranger. Somehow her beauty reminded him of Bellatrix, which wasn’t fair to this woman but triggered his defences.

“Hello,” he said awkwardly.

“I am Atropa Malfoy,” she said, voice as cold as the rest of her. “You are clearly a guest of my husband’s.”

If communication includes providing new information, Harry thought, the second statement was most certainly not communication – in fact, it almost checkmated it. This was Scorpius’ mother?

He hesitated only an instant. One advantage of being a famous hero was that one could not help acquiring certain social skills from the endless procession of formal dinners and dances.

“How do you do?” he said, calling on all his charm. “Then you must be Scorpius’ mother. I’m his teacher, Harry Potter.”

The unsmiling face definitely moved onto the frowning side of the scale. “His teacher? You mean at that school for Squibs?”

Harry glanced out of the corner of his eye to where the two boys had stopped their Snap game and were listening. Al was wide-eyed and a bit shocked. Scorpius had gone even paler, except for bright red along his cheekbones. Every protective instinct in Harry rose to help him.

“We do not consider them Squibs,” he said, encouraging ice into his own voice. “They are Magically Challenged in various ways, and need help.”

Atropa sniffed. “A Squib is a Squib, and in Scorpius’ case, it does not matter. My son is not and cannot be viewed as someone with any magic problems. His father simply indulges Scorpius’ fears of inadequacy.”

Harry felt his hand twitch for his wand, and took firm hold on his temper. “So you do not believe that Scorpius is challenged in that way?”

“Not at all. He was a little blocked once, but that was because his father put fears into his head. I have worked with him and he is fine. Which is as it should be – he has excellent lineage.”

“All pure-blood, I presume?”

She stared at him, and sneered. “What else?”

“I see.” Harry casually walked over to where Scorpius was sitting. The child’s hands were trembling, and his eyes were wide. The edges watered. “Scorpius, I realized that we flew around the pitch today a lot, but we never walked it. Al would probably understand the set-up better if he saw it from the ground. Would you be so kind as to give him a tour?”

Al, startled, opened his mouth. Then his eyes narrowed and he closed it again. He jumped to his feet and grabbed Scorpius’ hand. “Come on, Scorp, show me the pitch. Let’s see how long it takes to run around it.”

He did not let go of Scorpius’ hand as they left the room. Harry had never felt prouder of him.

Then he turned to Atropa, and did not try to disguise his fury. “Are you trying to undercut your son, or is that simply a secondary benefit of bragging about his family?” She blinked and stared. “You are horribly insulting. The Zabinis talked about how . . . how clueless you were at school, but I never understood how truly socially incapable you are.”

“Sounds like a case of pot and kettle,” Harry snarled. “Scorpius has problems using his magic. That doesn’t make him less than “fine” in any way. He’s a wonderful boy, and you should be proud of him – but pretending he hasn’t got a problem doesn’t mean it’s going to go away. You knew that, or you wouldn’t have allowed him to come to us.”

“ ’Allowed’ him? I certainly did not! His father indulges him far too much, and he is the one who gave in to Scorpius’ constant nagging, as always. Scorpius is completely undisciplined, and has learned how to be helpless despite my best efforts. We have been discussing this over the Christmas holidays, but Draco simply disregarded my wishes, as usual; in this case, I suspect, with your encouragement. No doubt you have heard an extremely poisoned version of my concerns.”

“Draco has never even mentioned you.” She tried to hide the fury in her face at that, and Harry thought how ironic it was, that he’d thought she was the good influence in Scorpius’ life. He was beginning to understand why Draco and Scorpius had returned to school so subdued. No doubt the “discussion” as she called it, had been incessant lecturing.

“Well, he has mentioned you,” Atropa snapped back at him. “Says that you have fulfilled your potential, and –“

“Ah, my dear.” Draco’s most arrogant drawl cut her off. “I see you and Mr. Potter have met. I’m sorry – we played Quidditch this afternoon, and the time got away from us. I thought we’d have a small, informal dinner. You are of course welcome to join us.”

“Thank you, but Father and I have a charity dance, as you may remember,” Atropa sniffed. “You were unwilling to attend, as I recall.”

“Your memory is excellent as always, Atropa.”

Harry came to two conclusions. First, that Atropa was furious at Draco, and seemed to make a habit of that. Second, that Draco disliked her thoroughly.

“It was good to meet you,” he lied, and did not take her hand.

She looked at him with the unsmiling face again. Obviously, she was not as angry at him as she was her husband. “Do call again,” she said vaguely, and swept out of the room, leaving behind her the scent of dried roses and a trace of the same darkness Harry had detected in Scorpius’ magical aura.

Part 8: Night

As soon as Atropa left, Draco took Harry’s elbow and said, “Come with me.” Harry obediently followed him down a corridor to a smaller room, a little more formal but somehow welcoming, with squashy chairs and walls of books. Draco waved Harry to a chair, then opened a cabinet and stared at it.

“Firewhiskey? Muggle scotch? Butter beer?”

Harry opted for a small glass of Firewhiskey, and Draco did the same. They sipped it in silence for several minutes. Harry was feeling guilty for snarling at Draco’s wife, although he couldn’t actually regret it. He remembered too well how he’d felt as a child, disliked by his own family.

Draco lounged, legs crossed, in a slightly shabby leather chair, and stared at his glass. The silence was not unfriendly. Eventually Draco took a deep breath and drank the last of his whiskey.

“More?”

Harry shook his head. Draco poured himself another half glass.

He took a sip, stared at it, and abruptly laughed. “It was rather pleasant to see the old Potter from school,” he observed, and then actually looked at Harry. “I missed the fire.”

Harry flushed. “Scorpius is a wonderful boy,” he said. “He was getting upset by what she was saying.”

“So you found an excuse to send him out of the room and launched yourself at Atropa.” Draco’s voice remained neutral. “The rest of us are far too terrified to stand up to her, at least directly.”

“You apparently stood up to her enough to get Scorpius into the school,” Harry replied.

“Well, yes, but that was accomplished with avoidance and deafness,” Malfoy explained coolly.

Harry snickered, then sobered. “I’m sorry I was rude to your wife.”

“My dear Harry,” Malfoy drawled, “have I said anything which would suggest that I am less than delighted that you were rude to Atropa? If so, I do apologize for misrepresenting myself.”

“Did you hear everything after the boys left?”

“I heard everything. I was in the hall when I saw Atropa enter. With her, it’s always better to assess the situation before entering it.”

“I can understand that,” Harry said. “What made you interrupt at that particular time, then?”

Malfoy snorted. “I was concerned that Atropa was going to find ways of insulting you based on what little she knows of you from Scorpius’ and my reports.”

“And you weren’t sure I could take care of myself.”

“Well, she is the mother of my son. I wouldn’t want her dead or transfigured into a slug.”

Harry did laugh at that. “I’ve learned a bit more control than I used to have, Draco. Facing young children every day forces you to practice not hexing people who annoy you.”

“Ah, that would explain why I never acquired such an ability. Scorpius is not a challenge by himself.” Draco poured them each another finger or so of Firewhiskey. “Well, since Atropa is out for the evening, we will certainly have to entertain ourselves. Shall we go find the boys and see what they wish to eat?”

The rest of the evening should have been pleasant, but Harry felt the familiar prickle on the back of his neck. Part was surely just adrenalin from feeling so protective of Scorpius. It was indeed the old Potter – the “Chosen One” lashing out at anyone who threatened someone he was supposed to protect, but feeling oh, so inadequate to the task. And partly it was Al showing up. Harry couldn’t help feeling as if he were in the middle of a quarrel, with no right answers, and it was panic all over again – he wouldn’t be able to decide and someone would die and it would be his fault . . . .

He pushed his food around his plate, trying to disguise how little of it he was eating. He looked up once to see Al watching him, looking worried in a way no 9 year old should look. He was a terrible father. Al was just like Harry, and Harry’s parents at least had the excuse of being dead.

He rubbed his eyes. Headache coming on. He hoped to hell Draco was sleeping behind solid doors and walls. He did not want someone hearing him having nightmares. Draco would either be snotty as hell, which would at least be familiar, or he’d be like Ron and Hermione, fussing over him. Harry preferred to be alone when he lost control, though it was nice spending time with Ginny afterwards, because she didn’t make him talk about it if he didn’t want to. It was going to be difficult to reassure Al, who usually slept through Harry’s screaming because the first spell Ginny ever did when Harry started those dreams was Silencio.

“Dad, Scorpius says I can sleep with him. Can I?”

Well, one problem solved.

“Yes, but don’t stay up all night talking.”

He watched them run out of the room, laughing, and forced a smile. “You know, I think I’m a bit worn out from the week. Do you mind if I go off to bed myself?”

Draco stood, and helped Harry out of the chair with a firm hand under his arm. “Not at all. Are you feeling all right? You look pale.”

“Yes, just . . . just tired.” Draco conducted him to his room, which seemed rather formal, but then, this was Malfoy Manor. He had a fleeting thought at the door that Draco might come in, but his host simply rubbed his shoulder, said, “Have a good night,” and left him there.

Harry ignored all the grooming chores he should be doing, pulled his shoes off, and threw himself into the large, welcoming bed.

He woke up two hours later to cold sweat and the echoes of someone screaming. What woke him was not the forests of death he was running through, but a hand on his arm.

Harry still slept with his wand in his hand. Any habit dies hard, but that one had kept him alive. He raised the wand and suddenly the hand closed around his wrist.

“Wake up, Potter.”

Malfoy sounded calm and certain of himself, and that, more than the pressure on his wrist, stopped Harry from snapping out the first hex he could think of. He froze, Reducto still on his lips.

The hand on his wrist remained for a few seconds more, gripping painfully, and then relaxed. “Are you awake enough not to slice me to ribbons?”

“I never . . . “ But Harry knew better than to complete the denial. It would be untrue.

“Lumos.” He blinked, and Draco sat down on the edge of the bed. He was wearing a slightly shabby, fluffy robe which had dancing snitches all over it. The robe was a light blue, the colour Harry’s Aunt Petunia called “baby blue,” and the snitches were in various neon colours. Harry blinked again.

Draco snorted. “Christmas gift from Scorpius,” he said. “With the economic and transportation assistance of my mother. When he was six.”

Harry remembered one of Dudley’s favourite insults: “You’re ugly and your mama dresses you funny.” He had no idea where Dudley’d acquired it. In this case, the first part was certainly untrue – but the second part seemed to fit, although Scorpius had probably picked out the robe.

“It looks . . . like a little boy who loved you gave it to you,” he said truthfully, forcing down a laugh.

“Well, it’s warm and he likes to see me wear it,” Draco explained, as coolly as if he were wearing the maroon velvet brocade with gold trim which Harry would have guessed was his nightwear. “At any rate, pleased as I am to provide you with midnight amusement, why were you screaming my house down?”

Harry flushed. “It wasn’t intentional.”

Draco sat back against the footboard of the bed and crossed his legs. His slippers were leather lined with fur, a bit above ankle height, and Harry had a sudden urge to pet them. He looked as if he were about to begin an odd meditation. Perhaps tantric, Harry thought hopefully, then reminded himself he was no longer a teenager and he hadn’t liked Malfoy that way when he was.

Draco simply stared at him for a moment thoughtfully. “You don’t like people to know you have bad dreams, or you don’t want me to know?”

“People. Including you,” Harry added hastily.

“Why not?”

Torn out of sleep and questioned matter-of-factly, Harry blurted out the answer. “Because people fuss. I’ve had bad dreams most of my life, and none of them killed me.”

“The Dark Lord?”

“Was a source of a lot of them, yeah. And I suppose he still is – leftovers from the War, you know?”

“I know.” Harry could see that he probably did.

“You must have your own memories,” he said tentatively. This house, after all, had been where Voldemort lived that last year.

Draco nodded. “You aren’t sleepy, are you?”

“Hell no. I’m running on an adrenaline high, between the dream and being woken up from it.”

“Come on, then.”

Draco took him quite a distance – into another wing. This room looked as though once it might have been a small ballroom, but it looked more like a warehouse to Harry’s eyes. The wooden floor was scuffed and scratched, even occasionally gouged to raw wood. There were sawhorses and piles of lumber all over. Most of it was raw; a few boards were stained casually and roughly; the stain was uneven and a few boards had more than one colour on it. A large worktable with multiple wood clamps around its edge stood on one side. On it were several pieces of wood. Tools hung along the side wall – a large quantity of them, including, to Harry’s surprise, an electric drill, staple gun, and sander. The wall next to it had a massive wooden cabinet with battered drawers, each one labelled “nails 6,” or “nails 10” or “bolts 2”. Harry found that mysterious. His uncle Vernon had never allowed him down in his workshop, but Harry had peeked in once or twice and nothing had been labelled – or neat, for that matter. Aunt Petunia seemed to be the tidy one.

This was neat in a very used way. Harry thought about the difference, and finally put his finger on it. This wasn’t neat to impress anyone. It was neat because its owner was by nature methodical, and put his tools away. He glanced at Draco, trying to reconcile all the different Malfoys he’d never met in school with the one he’d known.

“Is this your workshop?”

“Yes.” Draco shrugged off his robe and proved to be wearing a faded t-shirt and flannel pyjama pants. Harry wondered what magic made the ordinary night clothes look so enticing. Night wandering with an attractive man carried a strong potential for embarrassing him.

Draco did not seem to be aware of Harry’s minor lust. He was arranging the boards on the table carefully.

“Come here, Harry.”

Harry obediently came over and took the board handed him. It was about two feet wide, a quarter inch thick, and clearly not a cheap piece of wood, judging from the grain. There were comments engraved into the bare wood: “You’re alive, so it’s a good day,” and “Worse things happen at sea,” and Harry saw other mottos of that sort on the other boards. Besides the mottos, there were carefully incised flowers which looked vaguely tropical.

They also looked familiar. “This is like the Light pieces in the family room!”

Draco’s smile was a bit smug, but probably deservedly so. “It had better be. I wouldn’t care to think I was losing my touch.”

“You make that furniture?” Harry could not believe a Malfoy who worked with his hands and sold products.

“You sound surprised.”

Draco stretched before he answered; not as if he were posing for Harry, just as if he were feeling stiff. But Harry had to look away. Draco was far more fit than he’d been at Hogwarts. Apparently physical work agreed with him.

“You do know that after the war, the Malfoy estate was sequestered? We were allowed to live here, but we had no access to any liquid assets.”

“Yes, of course. Even the Daily Prophet couldn’t get that wrong.”

“We needed to eat, and I needed . . . something to do. “ He picked up a piece of sandpaper and handed it to Harry. “This is extra fine – just to make sure the carving didn’t create a place which someone could catch their robes on. Go over it slowly, and try to get it into the carved lines too.” He picked up another piece of sandpaper and a board of his own. “My sixth year was absolutely horrible, only trumped by the seventh year. But there was one thing which I actually liked doing – repairing that cabinet. While I worked on it, I had a thought – the piece was broken both because the magic wasn’t working right, and the physical cabinet itself was damaged. I had to fix each problem before it could work. Don’t worry, you can’t hurt the piece if you sand it lightly. It’s wood; very forgiving.”

Harry realized he’d been rather nervously brushing the sandpaper across an edge. He concentrated on seeing how it worked. He couldn’t see a difference, but the wood under his hands felt different after he rubbed it lightly with the sandpaper and then used the cloth Draco handed him to wipe the dust away. Not significantly different, just – slightly better.

“So, since Malfoy Manor had a plethora of old damaged furniture, I took it apart and started experimenting with it. I learned a lot about craftsmanship when I was doing it. Magic is wonderful, but too many use it to cut corners. I’ve been in houses where they’d just added on rooms by magic. The cupboard taught me that if it’s defying laws of gravity, the magic’s going to deteriorate quickly. People who cut corners are living in death-traps.”

Harry thought of the Weasleys’ Burrow, and a faint anxiety stirred.

Draco glanced at him, and smiled – the nice smile that Harry had never known Malfoy had. “Oh, it’s not imminent, and if you maintain the magic, it’ll be fine – but leave it to deteriorate a year or two and it falls apart. My mother’s cousins grew up in a truly horrible house, with all sorts of dark magic affecting it, but it was built in traditional ways, and no one could actually be killed in it – by the house falling apart, I mean.”

“Grimmauld Place?”

“That’s the name. Oh, you’re connected to that somehow, aren’t you? You donated it to the Ministry for a museum and archive related to Voldemort.”

“Yes.” Harry had discovered that he liked sanding. He did not want to think about Grimmauld Place or his connection to it while doing this soothing work.

Draco seemed to understand. He stopped talking then, and for almost an hour they simply carefully sanded, then wiped with a slightly damp cloth.

“Couldn’t you do this by magic? I mean, it wouldn’t deteriorate, would it?”

“Probably not, but I like to do things the right way.” Draco leaned back and said, “Aguamenti.” He tipped his wand over his mouth and let the water pour in.

“That’s an impressive trick.”

Draco laughed. “Not really. The impressive part is how many growing boys can do it without their mothers seeing and telling them to use a glass. Or later, their wives.”

Harry remembered trying to get water in the goblet, the first time he went looking for Horcruxes. Would his last adventure with Dumbledore have ended up differently if he’d grown up with magic, and could have just poured water into his mentor’s mouth?

Why did everything pleasant end up in an unpleasant memory? He put down the board and clenched his hands.

“Open your mouth, Potter.” He looked up, surprised, and a stream of water was tipped into his mouth. He closed it in shock, and the stream continued over his hair, glasses, and bare chest (Harry saw no need for a shirt in bed.) He jumped from the cold, and Draco laughed.

“Thought you might be getting sleepy.”

“You lie, Malfoy, like a rug,” he snarled, without actually minding.

Draco Accio’ed a towel and let Harry dry himself, then called a shirt from his closet. It was thickly woven, incredibly soft cotton, and dark green. Harry put it on and revelled in the feeling. Maybe he should obey Ginny’s nagging and Viktor’s advice and buy some clothes.

They spent a couple more hours at work on what Draco said would be a mirror cabinet. He showed Harry the paints he used – magic, so that the carvings could move – and let Harry rub the first layer of primer carefully into his board.

“This takes a lot longer without magic,” Harry commented finally, yawning.

“Yes, well, it lasts a lot longer too,” Draco said. “Looks like you’re ready to try sleeping again.”

“I guess so.” He realized he hadn’t thought about anything but paint and wood and how to put things together for hours. “Thanks, Draco.”

Draco flushed a little. “It’s all right. I figured . . . It’s a good way to block out the ghosts of screaming. There were a lot, during the war..”

“Was it terrible?”

“Yes. And now it’s over.”

Harry decided not to press that. “And you make furniture works of art using Muggle techniques and magic, even though the Ministry released your property. Does this mean you don’t mind Muggles as much?”

“Yes, but not so much because of the wood working, although that was interesting. It was Scorpius.” He looked as though he wished he hadn’t said that.

Harry pushed. “Because he might not fit so well into the magical world?”

“It’s hard to look down at people with little or no magic when one of them is your own son.” He rubbed his eyes. “When I know that more than anything else in the whole world, he’d like to be able to do the things I can do without thinking about it – get a drink of water, fly a broom, Accio the book I was reading earlier. That his whole life . . .” Draco’s voice thickened, but he continued, “his whole life, he’ll have to be careful and plan where he’s spending his time and with whom, because he’s not . . . he’s not normal.”

The last few words were whispered. Then Draco shook himself and said, “Time to sleep. And you’re going to need to change your pyjama trousers – they’re still damp.”

“I’ll have you, Draco,” Harry said cheerfully, deliberately harking back to the threats of a much younger and far less wise Malfoy. “You’ll be wet too, before I’m through with you.”

Draco’s eyes shuttered, and then Harry couldn’t see him because he’d shut off the lights in both the workroom and the hall. “I have no doubt you will, Potter,” he said, a hint of something in his voice Harry couldn’t quite identify. “I have no doubt I willbe.”

Part 9: Ambitions

Early Spring, 2017

Harry circled above the tree at the top of the hill above the school. Its flowers looked like a bowl of popcorn. After admiring the fluffy white blossoms for awhile, he got back to flying. He was trying to get into shape because Albus Severus was determined to try out for Quidditch in the fall, his first year, which meant that summer promised to be Quidditch intensive. James, already an excellent Keeper with a bone structure he’d inherited from his Weasley mother, was supportive, but only if Al didn’t compete with him.

Which is pretty much a summary of their relationship, Harry thought wryly. Now he knew more about raising siblings, he thought his relationship with Dudley had actually been pretty typical in a family which favoured one child over the other. One of these days, he’d have to look him up, now that he knew Dudley had no more been the spawn of the devil than, say, Malfoy.

He smiled at that thought. He’d seen quite a bit of Draco the last few months. Scorpius and Al had become co-conspirators in life, and after Al had paid for his runaway transgressions by being grounded from flying for two weeks, every weekend they weren’t together was a weekend lost. They’d both gone quite Quidditch mad, or at least flying mad. At first, that meant Draco was also perforce Quidditch mad, since he had to fly for Scorpius. But one gray morning when their fathers both seemed far more interested in coffee and silence then getting out to the pitch, they had discovered that Al could fly Scorpius just as easily as their fathers could, and it was a lot more fun for everyone that way. After that, Harry and Draco had peaceful weekends with the occasional, “Come watch us, Dad! We’ve figured out how to fly upside down and dance in tandem!”

Since Harry, at least, preferred not to know when his son was attempting suicide-by-experiment, he tried not to think how the boys were spending their time.

The weekends James and Lily also came were much more contentious. James deigned to show his little brother and his friend the right way to fly, which led to shouting from an Albus Severus who saw no reason why James should tell him what to do simply because of an accident of birth. Scorpius, on the other hand, admired Al’s brother, and thought he probably knew everything, since James was on the Quidditch team. That of course simply made Al angrier. Lily, whom Harry suspected more and more had been cloned by Hermione and left at St. Mungo’s mislabelled, found Quidditch boring and sat in the stands with a warming charm and a book, simply adding an umbrella when it was raining, since she had not yet mastered Impervius.

Draco had watched the boys happily quarrelling and Lily happily reading, and punched Harry’s arm, lightly.

“Come on, Potter,” he said. “We need a project.”

After some debate, the project turned out to be a table for the school. The students each ate in their own classrooms, primarily because the large central room had no suitable furniture. There was an old Muggle table, but for the amount of children they had now, it took up way too much space and somehow made the place echoing and unfriendly. On the other hand, as word got out, new children were coming and it seemed likely they’d need the larger table soon, or perhaps more than one.

“We’ll make one that will work however many there are,” Draco said cheerfully. He always seemed much happier making design decisions than relationship negotiations. That probably explained why he was still married. “We can build the charms for expanding and shrinking into it – we’ll just have to figure out how it’ll know.”

“How it’ll know? A teacher could . . . “ The staff at the school had been discussing what size the table should be, although it was so old that shrinking and enlarging it had over time made it rather shaky.

“Harry, the school’s for Squibs.”

“Magically challenged.”

“Whatever. Anyway, I think magical power should as much as possible be built into the objects of the school, so the kids won’t feel helpless. It’s also a great thing for me to practice on. When Scorpius grows up, I want him to have whatever he needs to live comfortably in a magic environment – to be as normal as possible. And then I’ll market that furniture so that other wizards’ children can have it too.”

It occurred to Harry, as they adjourned to the library and started sorting through books on charms to find table-appropriate ones, that Draco might not hesitate to use a hurtful word, such as Squib, but spent much of his time trying to make things easier for people he cared about. Perhaps that was what Crabbe and Goyle had found good about his friendship, not just his father’s influence.

After that, every weekend was spent on table design. Draco was a perfectionist. Sometimes Harry had to stomp outside after an argument and simply fly around the pitch – or over the countryside – to calm down after Draco would say, with all Hermione’s arrogance but without her tact, “Well, yes, a second rate table wouldn’t have drawers in it – but wouldn’t it be useful to have them?” or even, “Potter, you have the imagination of the offspring of a house elf and a Blast-Ended Skrewt.”

Draco never apologized, nor did Harry. But when Harry got back from storming the countryside, there would be tea and excellent scones, with his favourite blackberry jam, waiting for him.

When Draco got furious, he’d take a piece of wood and burn or carve designs into it. The activity took as long as Harry’s storming, but somewhere in the process he’d move from angry to pleased with himself. “Come see this, Harry.” All would be as it had been. Harry preferred fighting with Malfoy to any of the Weasleys, who seemed to want him to stick around so they could yell. Harry hated being yelled at. Then they wanted to apologize and hug him and talk about it. Harry preferred avoiding that too.

Harry slanted to a landing by the school. Of course it had no Quidditch pitch, but he thought they should put together a cricket or football field. The children needed something. He could ask Draco to start it tomorrow – it was Friday, and he’d be working in class. Draco might enjoy coming up with a new sport which resembled the rules of Quidditch but was played on the ground – or maybe even a combination of on the ground and in the air. Then all Wizarding children could play the game together, and everyone feel useful. Al was determined Scorpius would be able to fly by himself by fall. He had somehow got it into his head that they would be going to Hogwarts together.

Harry was so busy thinking about adding American basketball to the mix, and wondering how to persuade Al not to set Scorpius up for failure, he was completely unprepared for Hermione’s “Hi, Harry.” He managed to avoid swerving into the tree whose top he had recently been admiring, and stopped abruptly just above the ground.

“Hello, Hermione.” There was no point reproving her; Hermione just didn’t understand flying enough to avoid distraction risks.

“I’ve got news about the magic gene.” She seemed to be glowing. Harry forgot his irritation and sent his broom off to its shed.

“Tell.”

“Let’s sit down somewhere private.”

“All right. But I need a shower before I sit anywhere in the school – maybe outside?”

She nodded, and Harry transfigured chairs from tree roots, then made a table, growing it out of the ground to make sure that it didn’t wobble. Hermione nodded approvingly, though she refitted the back and added a cushion to the seat of her chair before she sat.

“Remember when we used to sit on the ground?”

“What I remember best is when we slept on the ground. That’s when I got my first inkling that my body wouldn’t do just anything I wanted it to. Or it would, but it complained afterwards like Malfoy in Care of Magical Creatures.”

“Nice segue, Harry, it’s actually Scorpius Malfoy I want to talk about.”

“All right.”

Hermione put on her reading glasses – just for short distances, she’d said ruefully, admitting to another age deterioration – and looked at her stack of papers. She’d decided a long time ago that rolls of parchment were fine for children, but she needed papers that didn’t find it easy to roll off the desk in quantity.

“All right, first let’s review what we’ve been working on.” That was Hermione’s tactful way of saying to Harry (or Ron) “You never seem able to remember anything important, so try to get this back into your consciousness.”

“We decided to check further on Scorpius’ aura, as you call it.” Hermione looked Harry directly in the eye. “Since no one but you seems able to see or sense these things, it felt rather weird to look for something that maybe you were imagining.”

“I told you, the power was one of the dubious presents I got –“

“—When Voldemort died. I know, I know. It still makes research an act of faith, which is not what it’s supposed to be, dear. But I did it because I do believe you, and then . . . well then, I started finding mentions of it.”

Harry sat up straighter. “What kind of mentions?”

Hermione frowned. “It doesn’t seem to have anything to do with squi . . . magically challenged people.”

“Hermione, just make your point. Nobody’s listening.”

She nodded. “Fine. The point is, after you mentioned how Scorpius’ aura felt, I decided to see if it might be in among the darker magics. The fact you didn’t like how it felt suggests that. Your new abilities seem to centre on facing darker powers.”

They’d had that discussion. Harry knew the theory why. He nodded.

“So the books I’m finding hints in are older ones. Grimoires and such.”

Not good. “What kind of facts?”

“Let me go back a bit in the research, Harry.”

I’m not liking this already, Harry thought. “Go on.”

“We test every student who enters the school with the Malleus Maleficorum, you know that.”

“How could I not? The first time I tried it, Augustus Hallowby kicked me. ”

“Well, that was because you hit the knee reflex, not the magic reflex – it was your own fault.”

It was an old argument. Harry didn’t pursue it.

“Scorpius’ magic level was unexpected.”

Hitting a child’s knee lightly with a silver hammer triggered a series of entries on a chart Hermione had charmed beforehand. Teachers were not encouraged to look at the charts until a second test was done, two years later, to avoid bias working with the students.

“Unexpected? They’re all unexpected, Hermione. Wildly varying and inconsistent – a talent for potions but none for charms, a . . . “

“Unexpected because he had absolutely none.”

Harry put a finger on his mouth and sat back in his chair. After a prolonged silence, he finally found something to say. “That’s impossible.”

“Why impossible?”

“Draco talks about Scorpius’ baby magic. I was not especially strong – he was still on the low side of magic abilities – but he had some. Magic gets stronger after babyhood, not weaker. Never weaker.”

“Unless there’s a magical accident.”

“Are you saying Scorpius had a magical accident?”

Hermione shook her head. “All the ratings are at zero – every single one.”

The Malleus Maleficorum was Hermione’s own invention, and therefore perfect. They’d started talking in faculty meetings about marketing it, with a strong possibility of raising enough money to make the school self-sufficient. Harry was perfectly willing to continue paying for it out of his own pocket – or more precisely, his parents’ Gringotts’ vault – but he liked the idea of the school becoming an independent institution, not dependent on any donor.

The Malleus measured various magic abilities, for charms, spells, transfigurations, jinxes, potions, nurturing and harvesting magical plants, raising magical animals, and other attributes which drew on innate magic to be successful. Sometimes a child might be hopeless at wand work, but have real talent for growing plants – as witness Neville Longbottom, Harry thought. It was still new, only a few years old, but it had already proved useful for helping guide children to their strengths, creating magic exercises for their weaknesses, and most important from a long range perspective, determining if all the work the staff did changed anything. The verdict so far was cautiously optimistic.

Hermione had let Harry name it for his birthday. It amused him to name it after a famous document advising how to identify and kill witches. Hermione had rolled her eyes; Ron had laughed. It stuck.

“How many get zero ratings in anything?”

“Usually with the most challenged, there are one or two zero ratings. I think with more adjustment the Malleus might let us differentiate between absolutely no magic and only a tiny bit, and we’d find out there were no actual zero ratings. I’m going to try this out on Muggles when I think of a way to ethically find some test subjects. I’m betting that most Muggles will be above zero, but not a whole lot.”

“And Scorpius is at zero in everything.” Harry thought about this. “All right, now tell me how your recent research fits in.”

“There’s no way to completely, totally, absolutely strip someone of their magic. There will always be traces.”

“So with a better instrument . . . “

“Maybe, but I don’t think so.”

“You say there’s no way, but Scorpius has no magic. What’s the connection?”

“You can’t eliminate it, but you can redirect it.”

“Redirect it? You mean – deliberately?”

Hermione firmed her lips. “Harry, I think something else is using Scorpius’ magic. And whatever that something is, it’s Dark.”

***

Hours later, sitting in Harry’s small flat with a nearly empty pot of tea before them, Harry pulled his already messy hair into tufts. “So you’re saying that there are methods to use others’ magic without their permission and while they’re alive?”

“Yes, and they’re all . . . well, evil. Sort of like using someone else’s body, only infinitely worse. Magic is who we are. It drives us, it’s inextricably connected with all our bodily functions. Wizards live longer than Muggles because of it; the children we are working with are condemned to lives basically as long as Muggles, no more, unless our research produces results. Magic attracts other wizards to us; we don’t just have pheromones, we have . . . well, they don’t have a word for it here, but let’s call them meta-pheromones, or maybe meta-magical-pheromones.”

“That,” Harry groaned, “sounds like a line from a Disney musical. Not one of the good ones.”

“At any rate, taking one’s magic is taking away life and health, not just a talent. And I am wondering why anyone would bother – after all, Scorpius doesn’t seem to have had much to begin with.”

“Spite? Revenge?”

“If so, it would have to be someone practiced in Dark magic with an axe to grind against the Malfoys. Do you know anyone like that?”

“Not personally, but I wouldn’t be surprised if there were a lot. After all, a Malfoy saved my life and helped me beat the Dark Lord – twice.”

“Could they get near Scorpius?”

“Not with Draco around.” Harry grinned at the thought of what would happen to whomever tried. Draco might have calmed down a bit with age, but he still had the fierceness he’d had when trying to Crucio Harry fifth year, as far as his son was concerned. “And I wouldn’t care to cross his mother, either.”

“You said she was an awful woman.”

“She is. And an awful wife. And probably an awful mother. But no one would call her magically incompetent, I think, and she’s possessive. She doesn’t even like it when Draco decides anything about Scorpius. Not that she has much choice.”

“Why not?” Hermione asked.

Harry bit down on his impulsive first sentence, “Because she’s not like you, Hermione, and Draco is definitely not like Ron.” He searched through the bits Draco had let fall about his family life to find a reasonable explanation.

“She’s a pure-blood – second daughter of one of the minor European families. Although it was an arranged marriage, apparently she was really excited and pleased to be asked. Draco says she didn’t really get what she expected, though – not a leader in magic whose father was reputed to be the Dark Lord’s right hand man. Just a cabinet maker who putters, as he put it.”

“He seems much pleasanter that way.”

“I think coming to terms with the fact that he didn’t have to be like Lucius, but could do what he liked, has made all the difference. He’s still ambitious, of course – but his ambition is to be a permanently famous name in furniture making, like . . . oh, I don’t know. Chippendale, maybe.”

“I can see that she’d be disappointed in her ambitions.”

“Which means she needs to get her ambitions realized through her son. And from what little I’ve seen of Atropa, she’s absolutely determined for him to be a successful wizard. Which means anyone using his magic would be stealing from her, personally.”

“I can tell you now – take the “probably” out of her being an awful mother. It’s certain.”

Harry snickered a bit at that, then got serious again. “So what we know about Scorpius is that he has no magic at all? But I felt it.”

“How did it feel?”

Harry thought about this. “Like . . . like an electric wire shorting out, I suppose. The Dursleys used to have a lamp that Uncle Vernon insisted was very expensive and well-made, and it did look nice. But a bulb in it would blow up unexpectedly when they turned it on – not every time, you know, but within a month or so. When it was working, it flickered a little. Scorpius is like that, except the flickering goes on all the time, and I haven’t felt him short out yet. He’s also managed some of the charms and easier spells.”

“When is his magic stronger or weaker?”

“This isn’t a measurable thing, like your Maleficus, you know. Just my impressions. It felt stronger every day, really, until the hols. Then when he came back, it felt . . . almost not there. Now I feel it again. Also, it’s less stormy. There aren’t as many . . . lightning flashes.”

Hermione frowned. “I’m getting confused by this metaphor, Harry. You’re comparing his power to electricity, and the lack of it to lightning.”

Harry smiled apologetically. She was right but he . . . was also right. “I can’t describe it any better. Sometimes it’s like a weak current which can work a light bulb, but dimmer. There’s another power in there too, and sometimes it increases the power, but other times it just . . . overcomes it.”

Hermione was silent for nearly a full minute, still frowning. Then she said, “Is there any possibility Malfoy could be experimenting with Scorpius?”

"Of course not. Draco’s not like that.”

“Are you certain?”

“I’d stake my life on it.”

“Would you stake Scorpius’ life?”

“What are you saying, Hermione?”

“It would take a lot of power to achieve, but what you’re describing sounds like an Augeo Potentia potion which didn’t take very well.”

“What’s an Augeo Potentia potion?”

“It’s very old – not even Hogwarts’ restricted section would have a book with such a recipe in it. It’s been banned for over a millennium. I only ran into it because I was researching ways to enhance or remove magical power. I thought the magic might have a connection to our project. This one is one of the Darkest, apparently because it uses demons.”

“Demons?” Harry snorted. “There aren’t any such thing.”

“Yes, there are, Harry. They may well be just a magical creature we don’t understand well, but there are Dark creatures whose only urge is to hurt, and some are classified as demonic. Then there are some . . . think about Dementors, who change what we are, not our physical selves, but our souls. Anyway, this combines some kind of demon and some kind of potion, and is supposed to create a symbiotic relationship between the wizard who drinks the potion and the demon. The demon provides magical energy, and in return the wizard provides a home for the demon – his body.”

“Sounds like really unpleasant Dark magic.”

“It is – and the catch is that the wizard can become power imbalanced. When he does, the demon gives him random magical power, instead of a steady supply, and drains his body instead of simply occupying it. The unbalanced wizard will die fairly quickly.”

“What causes unbalance?”

“I don’t know,” Hermione confessed. “The texts are hard to find, remember?”

Harry shivered. “I’m not going to tell Draco until we have something more certain. You will continue the research, won’t you? Even though it’s not Squib related?”

Hermione nodded. “Of course I will.”

Part 10: Labour of Love

May, 2017

Harry stood back and stared admiringly at the table. The charms Draco had put on it didn’t show, of course, but it was nice to know that it would always be the right size for whomever came. Although you had to know where the right place was to touch, if you did you could also tell it to grow wider, and make room for feasts. Other charms ensured that it couldn’t be damaged, even if the dog chased the cat down the middle of it. Charms against bacteria, spills, and other common domestic hazards made it completely functional even for the use of the most magically challenged.

But the magic of the table extended to the Muggle cabinetry skills it had required. Some of those Harry had done himself. Draco had been near him every moment as he screwed the apron to the top, and had helped him make the flattish drawers which they’d designed with a locking charm to keep their contents out of the hands of curious children. One drawer Harry had made by hand three separate times. Draco demolished it twice and simply said, “You can do better than that.”

Harry hadn’t thought he could, but he did. Most people thought he was fine the way he was, or thought he was hopeless. When they pushed too much, he simply pushed back. He’d got through Hogwarts that way, after all, never trying except for DADA and related learning. But Draco seemed to think Harry could be good, and wasn’t yet. When the drawer’s dovetails finally fit together well, and the drawer itself slid in and out without being loose or too tight, Harry had never been prouder of an achievement in his life.

He couldn’t tell Draco, but one of the things which had made it so difficult was Draco’s closeness and the fact that Draco was completely unselfconscious, focused on tools and rabbets and Harry’s hands rather than Harry. His soft blond hair brushed against Harry’s cheek as he leaned over to demonstrate the finicky knife work it took to make two pieces fit together. His body was warm and solid, and he smelled good – of hardwood sawdust and expensive soap and Malfoy. Harry’s stomach clenched with want, and resisting it.

Finally, Draco had touched his shoulder lightly. “I think this is as perfect as it gets,” he’d said, and stood back to admire it before beginning the painting. All Harry wanted was to get closer to that focused calm. Draco Malfoy – calming. It was amazing how a war could change a person. Where Harry still woke up with nightmares, Draco had a craft which was remarkably like art, and could lay his ghosts.

The next time, the table was almost completely painted. Draco did not use wand work for the painting, any more than he did for the actual physical crafting. “Magic is fine for changing your environment quickly,” he’d explained, a smear of dark red paint on his cheekbone highlighting his enthusiastic face. “But for long term things that last, like furniture, you want something you don’t have to maintain, don’t have to check on, won’t slowly lose its solidity. The charms on the table are charms in the table; they’ll last as long as the work does itself, or I hope they will. But the physicality of it will last hundreds of years, so even if the charm for keeping the dust off, for example, failed finally, it would still be a beautiful and functional piece.”

Beautiful it certainly was. They had argued over the design together – Draco’s snark came out the most when it came to taste. Harry had wanted natural decorative things – flowers or shells or even geometrical shapes. Draco thought children would enjoy a table with many choices for their entertainment embedded in the design. He wanted sayings, and words to simple spells, and the beginning or ending sentences of famous tales.

They compromised, and did it Draco’s way. There were magical creatures which could and did stalk each other across and under the table. They had to go around any obstacle someone might put on the table, so children could help them capture or rescue their prey. When it was caught, it would turn into the animal which caught it and its captor would turn into another random magical creature, so that the stalking and capturing was constantly changing, in a perpetual game of magical tag.

The creatures hid among flowers and herbs painted highly realistically. There were more of these than the creatures, so that the constantly changing tabletop would not make adults seasick. There were also sky scenes.

The flowers and herbs were themselves puzzles; there were questions like, “How many plants which are useful in calming potions can you find on this table?” “In which kind of habitat are you most likely to find dragons? What kinds have you found?” “What is the name of this constellation?” All the writing was in bright colour and Draco’s smooth flowing script, part of the beauty of the design as well as functional.

In some of the places a space which looked at first glance like a forest or desert terrain seen from the air would, on closer inspection, turn out to be a game board design. There were several wizards’ chess boards, and tic tac toe grids which could be written on with quills and would self clean after the game was finished. There were other boards Harry didn’t recognize, presumably children’s wizarding games.

His favourite part was the centre. Draco had set up a Quidditch pitch there, with tiny painted figures in Slytherin and Gryffindor colour having what looked like an intensely competitive Quidditch game. Every so often, the tiny Slytherin Seeker would get the Snitch, and the Gryffindor Seeker would tackle him so hard they both fell off their broomsticks and tumbled into the lake which lay to one side of the pitch.

“Why the Slytherin Seeker?” he asked, suspecting he knew the answer.

Draco grinned. “Because I’m doing the painting.”

“Couldn’t they take turns? It’d be more fun if you didn’t know who was going to win.”

“Oddly, that’s what all the other Seekers at Hogwarts said about you. At any rate, I couldn’t possibly do turn taking magic – it’s very complicated.”

“You,” said Harry, without animosity, “are a forked-tongued liar.” He waved his wand at the fliers, and the snitch suddenly reversed its flight and zoomed into the Gryffindor’s hand.

Draco pulled out his wand, and the Slytherin seeker sat up, pulled out his own wand, and transfigured the Gryffindor into a giant. This overwhelmed his broom, and both Gryffindor and broom tumbled into the lake with an enormous splash.

“No escalation,” he said hastily, as Harry concentrated on what should happen next. “You really will mess up the charms. You’ve given me a wonderful idea for a game table, though. We could do something like Wizards’ Chess, but much more complicated.”

“Ron would like that.”

“Enough to pay my going rate?”

“What is your going rate for a piece of furniture like this?” Harry stretched and began looking around for his cloak. It was getting late.

“For this table? Assuming I had done all the work, design and execution, around 5000 Galleons. Minimum.”

Harry’s jaw dropped. “You are joking.”

“I told you, Harry, my business was doing fairly well.”

“But… you said this was going to the school.”

“Of course it is, and as an anonymous donation. I can’t put my name on it with you doing so much of the work.” He looked at Harry, his head cocked. “Oh, for… don’t look so horrified, Potter. It’s just a table. The children will enjoy it. You wanted to learn some carpentry work. We did this for fun.”

“For fun.” Harry pulled himself together. “That’s very generous of you, Draco.”

Draco shook his head. “Whereas running a free school for defective pure-bloods is not? Malfoys have always donated to appropriate charities, Harry. It’s just that the lessons of the last 20 years or so have helped me redefine what’s appropriate.”

“Well, it was … I do appreciate it. It was fun. I’d be glad to do more, if you ever wanted to work with me again.”

Draco shrugged, and followed Harry as he walked to the chair where he’d slung his coat. Draco was wearing his usual Muggle work ensemble: carpenter pants, grey button-down shirt, and boots which Harry strongly suspected were Doc Martens. As he walked nearer to Harry, quite suddenly Harry felt … well, stalked. Not in a bad way, but as if he were one of the magical animals cavorting on the table. Draco in those clothes was just too fit not to notice, and Harry had given up trying not to notice months ago.

Draco didn’t stop moving closer until Harry’s back was to a wall near the door. He stood there, his face just slightly higher than Harry’s, and looked at him thoughtfully. His expression was unreadable.

“I think that I did diagnose you correctly after all,” he said. With one finger, he began to draw patterns on Harry’s shoulder.

“Wh…what? Diagnose me?”

“I thought you would need to be courted. I was right on that.”

Something like hot flashes were going up and down Harry’s neck and the back of his legs. He couldn’t look away from the grey eyes intently staring into his own. Part of him wanted to run. Most of him wanted Draco to move the one step closer required to remove all space between them.

“But,” Draco mused, “I was wrong as to why. I figured you were just too used to being approached, and didn’t want to bother to reverse that process. But that’s not it. You seriously don’t know when someone is interested, do you?”

The pattern Draco was tracing began to burn. The shirt, Harry noticed dimly, was the softest cotton he’d ever felt. Draco’s mouth was so close that he was practically whispering in Harry’s ear. The vibrations were going directly to Harry’s cock. He wasn’t quite tracking what Draco was saying.

“I… er… I can tell sometimes,” he said.

“Can you?” Draco’s calloused hand traced his cheekbone. “I’m not just talking about sex, you know. You probably have the club practice down.”

“Yeah. But… erm, well, since everybody’s there for the same thing …”

Draco forced him to stop talking by covering Harry’s mouth with his own. It was not a hungry kiss. It was the kiss of someone who knew what he was doing, and probably had thought about this one quite a lot, but still wasn’t quite sure of his welcome. Draco’s lips brushed his and then traced a path to the corner of his mouth, and around it. He caught Harry’s upper lip in both of his, just for an instant, then came to the other corner. There he flicked his tongue into it, so briefly Harry wasn’t even sure he felt it before Draco continued his leisurely journey, kissing above his lip and nibbling his way by Harry’s nose.

Nobody had ever kissed Harry like that. He didn’t know there were ways to kiss which were so gentle and yet … well, demanding. Draco had moved a hand behind his head and was threading through Harry’s tumbled hair, stroking it as one might a cat’s fur. His other hand slid to Harry’s wrist and moved one finger over his artery, stroking its pulse at the same tempo.

Harry was beginning to realize that any place on his body could be an erogenous zone, if Draco Malfoy were touching it. He made a sound, soft and hungry, in the back of his throat, and quite suddenly Draco was closer, and the tentativeness was gone, and his tongue was lightly stroking the roof of Harry’s mouth. It explored the space between Harry’s gums and lips, while Draco’s body was pushing Harry firmly to the wall. Harry was going into overload. His senses couldn’t decide whether to concentrate on Draco’s tongue and its explorations, or the wonderful feeling of Draco’s body hard against him, or Draco’s arm, which slid away from his wrist now and pulled him even closer, or Draco’s scent, so intimate at this distance. He felt his knees begin to tremble, and was startled to notice he was near to falling down. He’d read about that, in the bad romances Hermione secretly read, but had never believed it could actually happen. He was shaking. He put his arms around Draco’s neck and tipped his head and began to reciprocate by mapping Draco’s mouth.

It was Draco who finally broke the kiss. He loosed his arms and stepped back just a little and watched Harry’s face intently. Harry, half drunk from getting what he had wanted so long, simply stared back.

“Are you all right to Apparate?” Draco asked, looking a little amused. Well of course, Harry thought irrationally, he probably went around kissing people all the time. Probably had it on his planning clock: Today, kiss ____ and the blank got filled in when Draco finished the task.

“I’m fine. But I’ve changed my mind about Apparating.”

“Are you sure? We don’t know each other that well. You don’t know . . . why I’m doing this, and I have no idea what you’re after.”

Harry squared his shoulders, knitted his brows, and looked straight into Draco’s eyes. “You. I’m after you. You can tell me why you’re doing this, but it’s not going to make much difference. I’ve wanted you since the first day you came to class last fall – maybe the first day in any class. If you’re available, I’m taking what I want. I’m going to try to keep it. Why are you doing this? What are you after?”

Draco’s eyes widened. “Harry, you’re so . . . Harry. It took me years to figure out why I kept picking on you – I was an adult watching younger cousins. One of them kept doing everything he could to get her attention – chased her with a frog, pushed her into the mud, harassed her friends – it reminded me of how we clashed at Hogwarts. The next summer when family got together, they were dating and that – that looked somehow even more familiar. I thought of you, as I did during the cousin incident, and it hit me – I wouldn’t have minded at all if we ended up together. I had such a crush on you, Harry. And then this year . . . it looked to me it might go both ways.”

Harry was blushing and glaring both. “You should have said something.”

“At what point? Owl you? Bring it up when we were discussing Scorpius? When you were an overnight guest in my house and having a nightmare? I just couldn’t find a way into the discussion.”

“Now’s a pretty good time.”

Draco’s mouth turned into that beautiful smile Harry had never known he had. “I tend to agree.”

“One thing…” Harry hated bringing it up. “You are married. I don’t want to…”

“You won’t be,” Draco interrupted. “Not in the least. We have the usual pure-blood family arrangement – although in Atropa’s case it was only one child, not two. She’s had him, and now we are both free to live our own lives. It appears you have the same arrangement with Ginny Weasley.”

Harry thought about it. “I suppose. I didn’t know it was usual.”

“The Weasleys almost certainly married for love,” Draco said. “But that’s far less common.” He smiled at Harry’s face. “The system works fairly well, Harry. And I’m not betraying Atropa in any way by … inviting you to my bed.”

Those words made Harry forget any family discussions. “Fine. I accept. Now let’s go there.”

Draco laughed, and kissed him quickly on the mouth, and led him out of the workroom.

Part 11: Consummation

Draco’s bedroom fully fit Harry’s expectations. It looked large to a boy who grew up in a cupboard, and was large for the Dursley’s suburban rooms, but it was not the largest bedroom he’d ever seen by any means. The double bed was covered with a worn needlework quilt, whose colours once might have been bright but had now faded to shades of mustard, chartreuse, and a pale rose which had probably once been deep red. There was a comfortable chair next to an old Adam fireplace, another wooden chair on the other side which looked as if it dated back to the Renaissance and probably did, and a battered Persian carpet on the floor which might have been 19th century. The linens which showed were almost luminescent white. There were no curtains on the windows – Harry suspected Draco’s contribution to the design of the room. The moon was almost full. It lit the fountains in the outside gardens, and provided just enough light in the room for it to look mysterious and old.

It smells like Draco, Harry thought, linen and sandalwood and moonlight. He cursed himself for a romantic idiot, but it did.

Draco stopped just inside the door and turned to Harry. In the moonlight, all Harry could see was the pale hair shining, and for an instant, light glancing off his eyes. “This all right?”

Harry nodded, his throat suddenly thickening. What I always wanted, he longed to say, but was terrified to do so. Instead, he moved the step closer which enabled him to circle Draco’s waist, and pull him close.

This kiss was not like the last one, because it was Harry’s idea and they knew where they were headed. It was as if they’d been together a long time, and knew the other’s body, but had been away on an extended visit. Draco, who seemed to like Harry’s hair, had tangled his hands in it again, cupping Harry’s head and kissing each eyebrow, cheekbone, ear, jaw, lip before he moved to the other side and kissed upwards in reverse order. Harry, unable to reach Draco’s mouth because of this, allowed it for a little while, then took advantage of his strategic abilities and stuck his tongue into the opening of Draco’s nostril as it came within reach.

Draco snorted, pulled his head back, and began to laugh. Harry leaped to the now-available mouth and pushed into it. So this was Draco – this soft, slick, warm, gently vibrating opening that welcomed Harry in and reciprocated.

Draco broke the kiss. He leaned back just an nth and removed Harry’s glasses. “We could probably do this better lying down.”

Harry pushed down the irrational fear that Draco would change his mind if they parted long enough to move to the bed. He nodded, and moved away to remove his clothing.

“Shoes only, Potter,” Draco breathed, as he himself was unlacing his boots. “I like unwrapping my own presents.”

And oh Merlin, those words went straight to his cock. For a moment, Harry couldn’t move from sheer lust. Then he staggered to the bed and fell on it, more or less on his back.

Draco came and stood over him. He was chuckling again. “Do you dance like this, Potter?”

“Yes,” Harry replied truthfully, a trifle embarrassed.

“Then when we dance, I’ll lead. Tonight, however . . . .” he slipped down next to Harry and put a hand on his tie and throat. “Tonight, let’s just learn the steps.”

From then on, Harry’s memories were flashes of things he learned about Draco Malfoy and, by extension, himself.

Draco was the sort to unwrap presents slowly, and save the wrappings. Harry’s silk tie slid slowly around his neck and off. Hands undid each button, mouth kissing and tasting the skin under it. Each sock came off by inches, with warm fingers tucked between cotton top and skin and sliding downward. A hand on Harry’s waist as the other unzipped his jeans and slipped inside, pulling them off slowly while not touching Harry’s skin. Returning for his boxers, with a little after-thought lick of his navel, and pulling them down just to the bottom of his arse in back, leaving his front covered, while he stroked their smooth fabric and drove Harry to begging in the process. Draco folded each piece quickly and absently as he removed it, as if the habit of keeping clothes tidy was stronger than for the habit of having sex.

Draco liked licking corners. He licked Harry’s armpits and the back of his knees, and while his tongue did not leave Harry’s skin in between those places, it stopped and wiggled in every corner and, to his consternation, Harry nearly came right then. Draco continued to explore Harry’s body for other corners Harry’d never noticed he had, finishing between each finger. Harry, passive at first for fear he’d demonstrate more clumsiness and deter Draco’s interest, lay there trying not to moan or worse, scream.

Draco liked it when Harry screamed. Whatever he was doing, when Harry couldn’t stop a noise about it, Draco escalated. There was finally a point where Draco was licking the join between Harry’s leg and pelvis, carefully not touching anything technically viewed as an erogenous zone, when Harry, much to his embarrassment, stiffened, sprayed semen everywhere but especially up (where it obeyed the laws of gravity and landed mostly on his face) flung back his head and roared. Draco looked up, smirking like the smug git he once was, but Harry had to admit this time he had something worth smirking about.

Draco had much more experience than Harry. Harry might be in his 30s, but what with being officially married, and in the closet, and loathing anonymous encounters, he had less experience than most 19 year olds. Certainly less than any other 19 year old celebrities, with the possible exception of various dead saints and martyrs. Draco’s obvious knowledge terrified him. Shyness made him awkward, and Draco had already teased him about his awkwardness falling into bed. Of course, he’d liked Draco teasing him, but still . . .

Draco liked Harry’s awkwardness. He saw it in the little smile while Harry simply lay there, quivering and gasping after that sudden orgasm. He felt it in Draco’s hands, resting now on his thighs, and in Draco’s mouth, as he finally – finally! – put his licking fetish where Harry wanted it, and very slowly licked the drips from Harry’s cock. He heard it in the murmuring voice which sounded much more like the one he’d heard Draco use for Scorpius than anything else he’d heard Draco say, when he stopped licking and climbed up Harry’s body to lie on it, a heavy, warm, comforting, purring blanket. And he tasted it in the next kiss, which somehow restored Harry’s balance and made him want to demonstrate his own skills, both at once.

Draco liked it when Harry took control. As soon as Harry had recovered from that overwhelming experience, he tightened his muscles, grabbed Draco around the back, and rolled them over, neatly reversing their positions. Draco laughed at that, and struggled a little, but when Harry began stripping him one-handed, ruthlessly ripping off anything which would not give immediately, he stopped struggling and laughed harder. Harry always ripped the wrappings on his packages, too excited at the gift to take it slowly.

And Draco really, really liked Harry tangling their clothes-free bodies together and continuing to push against Draco. It wasn’t like any of the “how to” pamphlets some anonymous person (Harry knew it was Hermione, but they were both too embarrassed to acknowledge it) used to leave in his cloak pocket when he first came out. He vaguely knew there was a technical term for it, but it wasn’t accessible to his memory after this long. It wasn’t like “fucking” or “buggering” or the other common sex terms. He hadn’t actually done this before – men at clubs didn’t usually hook up long enough to be naked in a bed together. But it was brilliant, really brilliant, better than anything he’d ever done: Draco’s smooth skin moving against him, sending electrical shocks which somehow pulsed around his back and legs and shoulders and arms before they translated that into pleasure and sent it to his groin. Draco wasn’t looking as calm as he had been; it was his turn now to beg, lifting his hips and pushing into Harry, murmuring obscenities which increased as Harry began experimenting with his thumbs, digging into the very bottom of Draco’s flat belly and pushing down until Draco squeaked, and continued squeaking every time, even as he was laughing at himself, until he stiffened, grabbed Harry’s shoulders, and gasped “Harry!” as if Harry could save him, could pull him out of some gully into which he was sinking, and Harry put his arms around Draco and held him tightly as he released and then simply lay there under him, shaking as if terrified, with little gulps that sounded like sobs, until he moved his head a few inches and tucked it under Harry’s jaw, as if he’d been rescued now and was safe.

They lay there like that, just breathing together. Harry thought sex with Draco was a lot more even than he would have expected. It was as much like the sex he’d had with strangers, or even the slightly uncomfortable but stimulating sex he’d had with Ginny their first few years, as swimming in a resort pool was like diving into a reef. Intensely more beautiful, but less safe. You came back from such adventures different, and Harry knew he wasn’t going to be the same now. He was afraid that he would never, never have sex again with anyone else, without thinking the whole time of what he was missing, what he once had.

“Is there a reason you’re gripping so hard, Potter?” He blinked, and realized that his hands were on Draco’s forearms, clenched tight.

“Merlin, sorry Draco.” Then Harry remembered that his weight was not inconsiderable, and rolled off, staying closed enough to feel Draco’s skin all along his front. “That was . . . that was intense.”

“Yes, I’d noticed.” Draco’s voice sounded a bit hoarse, but otherwise he was as calm as he usually was. Harry feared for an instant he’d just imagined more, until a thread of moonlight caught just right to show something shiny on Draco’s cheeks. Harry reached over, wiped it off, and licked it. Salt.

They were both silent for a little. Then Draco took a deep breath and raised his head. “You always surprise me, Harry. Even when I think I know exactly what I’m doing, you always throw in another twist and fly in a different direction than I thought.”

“Is that bad?” Harry was too relaxed to be anxious about that.

“God, no. It’s . . . only you, Harry. Only you.” And then Draco rolled over a little, and kissed him, and it was salty and so, so sweet.

“So you’ll let me stick around?”

He knew Draco smirked at that, though he couldn’t see it in this light. “Actually, I insist. I have 24 years of repressed sexuality to relieve.”

“Twenty-four years?”

“The first two or three may not count. At any rate, Harry, I wanted to take it slow because . . . because I thought we would be good together. Not just for the night. “

“And you were right.”

“Yes. And much to my surprise, I’m worn out. Sleep here tonight.” And then a glint of light caught his teeth, and Harry knew he was grinning. “I’ll make it worth your while in the morning.”

“Yeah, I’m sure you will.”

Draco turned and curled, and Harry curled around him in the peaceful familiarity of sleep.

He had no dreams at all, that he remembered.

***

There were two Dracos, Harry thought after several weeks, besides all the others he’d discovered already. Daytime Draco was controlled, and usually easygoing. When he disagreed, he would shout, but he would get over the anger and he knew it. When he was happy, Harry had to look quickly before Draco controlled himself enough it was too hard to tell. Only when he thought no one was looking did he smile that smile Harry’d fallen in love with. Not even his son saw Draco unguarded.

But when it was dark, and they were alone together, Draco seemed to strip off defences the same way he took off his clothes: piece by piece, set aside to be of use later. And what moved hot and wet and smooth against him was pure . . . well, purely Draco. A Draco who had decided he wanted Harry, he wanted to be Harry’s, and saw no reason whatever why mutual possession was not possible. What Harry experimented with, Draco threw himself into. What Draco wanted to try, he proposed. Harry’s level of experience rose dramatically.

Of course, daytime Draco sometimes segued into night time Draco unexpectedly. Like the time the two were playing Billiards in the billiards room, Harry had sunk his last ball, and was jumping in place gloating, since it was the first time he’d ever won this game between them. Suddenly there was a warm and unexpectedly shirtless body behind him, grabbing him and tipping him onto the table. Draco’s idea of a winner’s celebration met Harry’s approval completely, even though it included the slight possibility that house elves might come in and see them playing their new table game.

Sometimes, as Draco lay asleep, Harry wondered why this pale heir of the Malfoys had decided Harry was what he wanted to have. Draco said he knew now what he’d decided the first time they’d met – that he’d make this aggravating, messy, green eyed boy with no manners see him, see Draco Malfoy, and although his strategy had improved, his intention never changed.

I don’t know if I see you yet, Draco, Harry thought. But it’s quite possible I do. In the country of the blind, the bloke with glasses has an advantage.

Sex, of course, had to work around their respective offspring. Draco’s solution to that was elegant – since Harry was feeling less frantic about teaching his children to survive these days, they should settle in a castle in Scotland, let the children play in it, but have decent shelter – and stone walls as well as a Silencing Charms – at night.

So that summer Scorpius and Al had a wonderful time, and Lily usually came along, her book tucked in her cloak pocket. James was in a highly unpleasant phase; he wanted everyone’s attention, all the time, and since his means of getting attention seemed to be those of his paternal grandfather’s in school, None of his family wanted to be near him. Scorpius, who admired James and thought him clever at Quidditch, was willing to associate with him. However, James unfortunately had the same attitude towards the Magically Challenged that Scorpius’ father once had toward the Muggle-born.

“Perhaps if we take him flying and just dropped him over the North Sea without his wand?” Harry said morosely one extremely trying day.

Draco laughed. “It depends who presided over your trial. If the decision makers were parents of teenagers, I think you’d be safe.”

Harry couldn’t imagine which he liked better – having someone so sympathetic about the trials of parenting, or having someone who could make fun of death threats. Ginny, Hermione, even Ron would simply have been horrified by his discussing ways one might kill one’s son. The fact that Harry never, ever would harm any of them wouldn’t make it all right to suggest otherwise.

He leaned back against the warm stone of the castle. The sun had moved on now, too near setting to offer them heat, but it had left enough to make the beginning of night pleasant. Draco leaned next to him, and on impulse, Harry took his hand.

“It’s been good this year,” he said. “The next will be even better.”

Part 12: Loss

August, 2017

“What the fuck do you think you’re doing, Potter?”

Harry had been sitting at his desk trying to put together his lesson plan for the following semester. It had occurred to him that he might be able to bewitch brooms so that all the children could fly a few feet above the ground. He didn’t think he could keep them all airborne at once, but certainly a couple at a time. Or maybe Hermione –

It was at this point Draco stormed in. Harry looked up and thought of sweeping all the papers to the floor and laying Draco on the desk instead. He was wearing a cable knit grey wool jumper, grey trainers with grey laces, and a pair of black trousers which followed the outline of his body quite nicely. Altogether, his clothes emphasized everything Harry liked about Draco Malfoy’s body, and therefore, according to the logic of lust, needed to be removed from it as soon as possible.

Most attractive, of course, was his fury. Harry hadn’t seen Draco angry since Hogwarts, at least not out-of-control with it. These days, when he got annoyed, he became icy and quiet. Harry liked him that way, but this angry, flushed, glaring, chest-expanding Malfoy was familiar and welcome. He hadn’t been sure if that Malfoy was still there.

“I’m planning lessons. Why do you ask?”

Harry waited for Malfoy to get even angrier. His fury always increased if Harry had acted as if he were completely oblivious to Malfoy’s mood. He felt a small anticipatory prickle on the back of his neck.

And Malfoy responded as predicted. His flushed face darkened, and so did his eyes. He looked as he did when he wanted Harry very, very badly. Harry had no doubt he did – but what Malfoy wanted today seemed to be to hex him into a slug. Just in case this Malfoy actually still had the old one’s complete lack of anger control, Harry surreptiously shook his wand into his hand from its sleeve holster.

“You’d be well-advised not to be facetious, Mr. Potter,” Malfoy snarled, as if he were channelling Snape. Harry supposed he conceivably might be. “You have been messing with my son’s life behind my back, and I am not pleased.”

Ah yes, another aspect of the old Malfoy – the drama queen. Harry decided that if he wanted sex next weekend, he would be well-advised to bring the temperature down.

“Sorry, I didn’t expect you here,” he said, as calmly as he could when what he wanted most was to pull him onto the desk and kiss him thoroughly, which would certainly not improve Malfoy’s temper. At least, Harry doubted that – or he could have put their battles at Hogwarts to better use. “What’s the matter?”

This did not seem to calm Malfoy at all. “The matter, Mr. Potter,” he growled, sticking his face almost into Harry’s, “is what you have done to Scorpius in the guise of support.”

That explained the “mister”. You couldn’t hiss “Harry” or “Potter.” Harry took off his glasses and wiped them clear, frowning. “What have I done to Scorpius?”

“He has received an invitation to Hogwarts.”

That finally made a little sense. Harry smiled. “Wonderful. He must have tested with enough magic then.”

“Wonderful!” Malfoy was speechless. He looked at Harry’s desk thoughtfully, espied a glass paperweight holding down student art, snatched it and flung it at a desk. The weight only chipped, although it took a big divot out of the top of the desk. There was no especial loud shattering sound, which seemed to disappoint Malfoy. He pointed his wand at the paperweight and shouted, “Reducto!” The shattering sound must have been quite rewarding. Harry ducked a bit to avoid flying glass shards.

Harry’s own temper was being tested now. He pulled his own wand out and yelled, “Reparo!” It occurred to him that they really had gotten more mature – at least they weren’t throwing hexes at each other. He repaired the student table while he was at it, then turned to Malfoy.

“If you’re talking about the letter I wrote to Hogwarts for him –“

“I am. You know damn well I am!”

“Atropa asked me to do it. As a teacher.”

“And you couldn’t tell me?”

“She asked me to keep it a confidential matter. I didn’t think she had much hope of getting him in, so I was glad to. I knew you would have a say in whether he actually went or not.”

If anything, this seemed to feed the fire. “You kept it confidential from me? Just because Atropa asked you?”

“Yes!” Harry snapped. “You may not have noticed this, Malfoy, but she is legally also his parent and guardian. You and she may not feel that your relationship is more than an economic agreement at this point, but she’s also concerned about Scorpius, and has as much right to pursue possibilities without you as you do without her.”

“There’s a difference, Potter, which you, never having had parents, might not appreciate.” Harry’s hands clenched as Malfoy played the familiar, and always infuriating, parent card. “I am concerned about Scorpius; Atropa is concerned about her reputation as Scorpius’ mother.”

Harry fought to keep his temper. “Look, Malfoy, I’m sure it’s an important difference to you, but I’m a teacher. I have to stay neutral in these things. Trust me, there are lousier parents in the world than Atropa. After all, wanting to see if Scorpius might be eligible for the most important school for pure-bloods in the British Wizarding world does not constitute neglect or psychological torture. She didn’t even tell him and get his hopes up unnecessarily.”

“The Hogwarts letters came today; one to Atropa telling her that her case had been considered, specifically citing how Harry Potter’s words helped the Headmistress decide; and one to Scorpius himself. You can imagine how delighted he is, how completely, totally amazed. He has no idea what he’s walking into. And he’ll be in a house which values ability, not mindless courage. He’ll be worse off than Longbottom.”

Harry’s temper finally snapped. “Living through your son, are you? Perhaps he won’t be a Slytherin – perhaps he’ll actually be someone the Wizarding world can admire. Perhaps they’ll even admire him for qualities other than the raw power you seem to find him wanting in.”

Malfoy took a deep breath. Harry braced himself for a spell or a physical attack.

But Malfoy’s voice was cold, colder than Harry ever remembered hearing it. “Goodbye, Potter.” And he turned around and stalked out, making just as attractive an exit as he had made an entrance.

The difference was that this time Harry was angry too. Worse, his heart was hurting – a greater pain than he had expected, if Draco and he stopped seeing each other.

He stared at the door Draco had stalked through as if it were its fault. Then he gritted his teeth, and did what he did best, which was put the feelings neatly away, and went back to planning the lessons.

***

A few days later, Harry was exhausted from lack of sleep. His mind had kept defending his decision. Without Draco hearing the defence, it just kept reiterating. He hadn’t written an unsolicited letter; he’d done what any teacher would do at any parent’s request, and written a letter describing Scorpius’ ability to accomplish small spells, his increase in magical control over the months he had spent in school, and his professional opinion that Scorpius was highly motivated and would work hard to succeed. If the Headmistress decided to give him a chance, Scorpius would be a rewarding student regardless of his level of talent.

What’s biased about that? Harry demanded of Draco, who raised an eyebrow and sneered at him. The sneer looked odd on the adult face; real-life Draco hadn’t sneered, and Malfoy hadn’t been that old. Since both were hearing him only in his imagination at 3 a.m., he couldn’t shake a better answer out of them or hex them into the next shire.

In the daytime, he missed him. With class not in session, he didn’t even have the possibility of Draco showing up on Fridays. He’d heard nothing from him. Al was wandering around the house looking lost, Ginny reported – Scorpius had owled him privately, and while Al wouldn’t say what it was, he had said that he couldn’t go visit Scorpius at his house any more.

“Don’t worry, Harry,” Ginny said cheerfully, in a morning fire check-in. She and Viktor were spending a week at home with them, resting for the Quidditch Cup, and giving Harry time to plan his year. “He keeps saying he can’t wait till he sees Scorpius at Hogwarts.” She frowned suddenly. “But then he says he’d better not talk to Scorpius at the station or mention him in front of you. What’s that about? Why shouldn’t he mention him if you’re there?”

Harry was grateful that Al was a bit secretive and Harry himself had never mentioned how his relationship with Draco had grown. He gave a watered-down version of their fight, presenting it as Malfoy being worried about Scorpius’ chances at Hogwarts and blaming it on him.

“That’s stupid. Malfoy sounds like as big a git as ever. Odd that Scorpius seemed to like him. And you were spending time with him without quarrelling, weren’t you, till the boys started staying over on their own?”

“Yeah. These things happen,” he said, feeling lost, and dishonest. “Malfoy’ll get over it.”

He owled Draco that evening.

Draco, I’m sorry if you think I was overstepping my bounds with Scorpius. I would have written the same kind of letter for any child in my class. I know you’re concerned for his happiness. I am too. I am truly sorry for what I said about Slytherins – I was defensive, and just looking for something to piss you off. Guess it worked. I miss you. Can’t we get past this?

The answer came within an hour. The eagle owl flew in, dropped a small piece of parchment on Harry’s desk, and flew off again, making clear it expected no answer. Harry opened the parchment. It was one word.

No.

Harry felt that frozen up, heavy chest feeling he’d had as a child when he was near crying. It was ridiculous that he might be near it now. Men didn’t cry if they broke up with someone. Even if it wasn’t their idea to break up.

He started to Incendio the letter, and then reconsidered. Instead, he folded it and put it in the bottom drawer of his desk, just to remind him that no relationship was likely ever going to work out for him. It was time to grow up. After all, at least half the married folk he knew were unhappy; romance was nice, and made the chest monster purr, but romance ended shortly after the marriage. Lucky he didn’t make that mistake again, anyway. Not that he could have, Draco already being officially married.

***

Harry spent the next two weeks helping the children prepare for school, comforting Lily for not going this year, and cleaning the house from attic to basement (Ginny was less tidy than he was, and tended to count on him for fall cleaning and spring cleaning). Harry liked cleaning – he was good at it, and since this was his own place, with only people he liked living there, it felt good to make the house pleasant for them any way he could. He’d once had a thought that he had picked up one quirk which made him more like his Aunt Petunia than her own son. Of course, he suppressed the thought immediately.

He was having bad dreams when he did sleep. Sleeping with Draco had seemed to keep them away. Harry refused to think that it was because he unconsciously felt protected by Draco Malfoy; it was more that they were both survivors of the same war. It had felt much safer with Ron and Hermione than on his own, and for good reason.

Draco had talked about it haltingly, one morning when they didn’t want to get up, and really couldn’t quite see another round right then. Harry forgot how the subject arose, but he remembered Draco staring at the beautiful rounded ceiling of his master suite, and telling Harry that his workshop used to be a formal dining room.

“Once the Dark Lord came to live there, it wasn’t the Malfoy dining room any more,” he said. “It was the evil git’s favourite place for public shaming and rewards, and for making an example of anyone he felt like. After I failed to kill Dumbledore, he made me do Crucio on people – even a Hogwarts teacher, till he killed her in front of us, right there at the dinner table.” He stopped, reaching for breath. Harry had leaned against him, saying nothing, just listening.

Draco finally leaned a silky head against Harry’s bare shoulder, and allowed the other to put an arm around him. “When the Manor came back, Mother was all into redecorating and . . . I’d call it exorcism. When I explained we didn’t have the money, and my father was returned to Azkaban, she went about doing everything she could with magic. She let me have the dining room when I explained I needed a place to make furniture for us to sell. She just said, ‘Convert the formal dining room, then,’ and I just did. She didn’t need to say why that room.”

He was silent then. Harry couldn’t tell if he were remembering Narcissa and himself in the post war emptiness, when everything was terrible and only Harry’s testimony had kept them out of Azkaban. He might have been remembering, even worse, what happened in the war.

Finally Draco had sighed, and climbed out of bed. “Fancy some billiards, Potter?” he’d asked. They had said nothing else to each other the whole morning, outside of “Who breaks?” and other practical questions. Still, it had somehow been a comforting silence.

I miss him, Harry thought again, as he’d been thinking off and on since that terrible day in the classroom. Damn him anyway. Only Malfoy could get to him this much.

He received a polite thank you letter from Atropa, smoothly avoiding the issue of Draco’s fury and emphasizing Scorpius’ joy and his potential to save the Malfoy name. He longed to show it to Draco, simply to hear his comments on the “Malfoy name” and why Atropa had no concept of saving it – or perhaps on the fact Draco already had.

He and Ginny and the children went over to dinner with Ron and Hermione towards the end of the week. James was busy showing off; he seemed to have turned into a monster over the summer. Harry’s more experienced parenting friends – those with adolescents themselves – reassured him that this was temporary, although the invention of boarding school had probably coincided with the creation of leisure time for adolescents, all of which would be spent complaining about their parents, if they had them. Focusing their hostility on teachers was infinitely preferable.

As a teacher, Harry disagreed; as a parent, he thought that a full year living with a James who teased his younger brother unmercifully and postured for his friends was not a punishment Harry – or Ginny – deserved. Still, this year Al was leaving too, and he would miss his middle child very much, especially since there was a chance he too would turn into a difficult semi-stranger. Then Harry would be standing on the platform at the end of the year listening to Albus Severus inform him that his parents were embarrassing him and really, so-and-so (probably Scorpius, if that friendship lasted through Hogwarts) had told him that nobody wore robes like that any more, especially with trainers when they were his father’s age, of course, and perhaps his parents could stop meeting him on the platform like a baby but let him catch the Knight bus. And not to call him by his baby nickname, his name was Albus Severus and it was a good one, though they could call him Albus like his best friends did, or Potter Minor, which he’d gotten used to.

At any rate, it wasn’t as likely; James and Al were just different personalities. Harry had watched (and helped) Teddy Lupin go through those early years, and he had been a popular young man who eventually became Head Boy. He’d loved the name and that entire year he’d made a new head for himself every morning, telling people to call him HEAD Boy, instead of Head BOY. Although Teddy’d had his hormonal flashes like any young man or woman, he’d never been unpleasant to be around – a delightful mixture of both his parents

While the children were all out hanging on James’ every word, and Ginny was telling Hermione that she wished now he’d been named after Fred, except then he might be a criminal mischief maker rather than an arrogant creep, and Hermione was telling Ginny that he was a delightful boy, really, and very kind to Rose, Harry took Ron aside and told him about Draco. He led up to it carefully, and managed to get through the part where Draco came and yelled, then left him forever, without breaking down.

Ron, of course, was furious, and began to review untraceable hexes which Malfoy deserved and Ron was willing to offer.

“Snakes don’t change their skins,” he said sententiously, when Harry’d explained that Malfoy was different now.

Harry blinked, but decided not to remind Ron that snakes did change their skins, which Ron, had he ever thought about it, already knew from basilisks and potions. Instead, he took Ron’s affection into account, and simply enjoyed the fact that he still had a friend to watch his back, nearly 20 years after Hogwarts. Though his tendency to jump in front of Harry to do it meant Harry sometimes had to go through him.

“Thanks, mate, but I did think he’d changed. Really, he probably has – it’s just he’s really, really protective of Scorpius. And justifiably so – imagine a Malfoy Squib. Everyone whose family suffered at Lucius’ hands will have a fine source of legal revenge.”

“That’s absurd, Harry. No one would hurt a kid because his father or grandfather was a Death Eater.”

Harry just stared at Ron, who eventually squirmed. “All right, but not hurt hurt.”

“Embarrassing, exploiting, humiliating, bullying – those all count as hurt to me.”

“Well, his Dad did all those things when he was at Hogwarts.”

“And you remember how much you liked it.”

Ron clearly thought that a Malfoy deserved what he got. But then, he hadn’t happened to meet Scorpius more than once or twice, and hadn’t spent much time with him. Harry knew Ron was much more willing to hurt a theoretical Malfoy than he would a young Scorpius.

“So if you’re so worried he’s going to get hurt, Harry, why didn’t you try to keep him from going?”

Harry shrugged. “That would have been unfair. Scorpius may have been protected, or even over-protected, by Malfoy, but I’ve talked to him from time to time about the kinds of things the wizarding world might throw at him. Anyway, there are two things which make me feel fine about it.”

“Those being?”

“First, he’s not his Dad. He’s a sweet boy who takes a lot of risks, but always for what we’d call the right reasons – to right wrongs or to push his body or mind to the limit. He won’t annoy as many people. He’s quite popular in my classroom, and I see no reason that wouldn’t be the case at Hogwarts.”

“Sounds like you. And the second thing?”

Harry smirked. “Al.”

“Albus? You think having Al around will somehow protect Scorpius?”

“I don’t think it. I know that if anyone says the wrong word to Scorpius, Al will be hexing him from here to doomsday. Al’s really got a lot of power and control for his age, and he’s fearless, so he’d go against a seventh year if necessary – and you know most seventh years think it beneath them to pick on firsties anyway, so that’s not likely. Also, Scorpius can certainly hold his own in a physical fight. I would never bet against the two of them.”

“Harry, you’re scary. You’re talking as if Scorpius is a third son – or a fourth, really, since Teddy practically lives with you every summer – and that you approve of the fact they’re dangerous.”

“Well, I could have used those two at Hogwarts when we were there.”

“You had us.”

“Yeah.” Harry thought about that a minute. “Hey, do you remember –“

And they were off, recalling their own adventures at Hogwarts and after, forgetting they were grown men now, with children the age they had been.

***

Telling Ron had been a good idea. Hermione already knew quite a bit about Harry and Draco, and would keep confidentiality. Harry saw no reason to tell Ginny now; if it had worked out, of course he would have. He felt a stab of pain at that phrase, but . . . well, he was a grownup now, and had to live with such things. Nobody’d died, had they? He might have bad dreams, but Voldemort wasn’t reaching him through them.

Draco and Scorpius of course were at the Hogwarts Express. Ron warned him with a nudge, and when Draco – no, Malfoy again – saw Harry looking at him, he nodded. It was stiff; he was clearly uncomfortable, but driven to be civil. Harry thought he looked a little thinner and unhappier then he’d been last spring. Maybe it was Harry’s own happiness that had coloured his view, though.

He was grateful Ron had told the children that they’d all gather together at the station with whatever Weasleys came and celebrate. Al was so busy arguing with James and greeting cousins he hadn’t seen for months Harry would have thought he hadn’t even noticed Malfoy and Scorpius.

Then he saw Al’s eyes drift casually to where they were standing. He might have missed it, if he hadn’t been looking. Scorpius gave a short, sharp nod and then turned to his father. He tugged at Malfoy’s coat and asked a question, and his father’s awkwardness lightened as he returned his attention to his son.

Harry continued to watch them. Ron had gone off on Rose beating him in class, while the other children listened to Ron and reacted according to their personalities.

It was funny how missing someone could feel like arthritis; a literal physical pain in every muscle and joint, and heat around the eyes.

The family banter continued. Harry knew he should participate, and came back to the present, focusing just in time to hear Lily express her hope for Teddy to marry Bill and Fleur’s daughter. He joined in, but he thought he could tell that Draco was watching him as he laughed at James’ generosity.

Albus was frightened about being in Slytherin. Harry mentally swore at Ron and James equally. He reassured him as best he could. He wanted to say then, “Watch out for Scorpius,” but it wasn’t necessary. Al would.

He watched the Express leave, thinking of all the times he’d been riding it, headed into danger which no parent could ever have protected him from. His had died in the attempt. Al would take his own risks, but there was at least no megalomaniac killer risen from the dead attempting to murder him on a regular basis. As far as the past was concerned, all was well.

As for the present, losing someone was part of life.

Part 13: Runaway

December. 2017

Harry did not see Draco again for months. The class seemed to miss Scorpius, but went well without him nonetheless. Despite Hermione’s lack of interest in Quidditch, she had helped charm the brooms and actually helped keep them all flying while Harry coached them in a modified version of Quidditch. After a couple of other teachers asked to be included, it became much easier. They could assign one of them to deal with broom emergencies, such as the time Alfonzo fell off his broom and wouldn’t let it go, shrieking for fear of falling four whole feet. The others could continue circling each other and, eventually, hitting Bludgers and looking for specially modified Snitches which would fly, at the highest, 10 feet.

Harry missed Scorpius, he missed Al, he kind of missed James (the summer before, when James was around, was still fresh in his memory) and he really, really missed Draco. He missed the puttering and the bickering about what constituted art or kitsch. He missed having someone to talk to at any time of day or night. And of course he missed the sex. Not just physical pleasure, which he certainly could have managed at a local club, but the intimacy. No one would make him feel loved and admired by just smoothing their hand down his arm. No one would make him feel treasured by making him wear a shirt to bed when he had a cold. No one would move a sly morning hand to his groin while still feigning sleep, or tease him when he couldn’t help screaming.

Sometimes it felt so lonely, he would go to the children’s dining hall after hours and trace the patterns on the table they had made. Hermione had been delighted with it, and promised to keep secret the fact Draco and Harry had made it. But Harry no longer looked at the enchanted games and puzzles. He had memorized them quickly. Now he just touched it, and pretended Draco was right behind him, bickering about the colours he picked, a little too far away for Harry to sense his body heat, but no farther than that.

He finally broke down from Ginny’s worried nagging and confessed that he’d been having a relationship with Malfoy and Malfoy had ended it. Her ready sympathy helped a little. Harry spent a lot of time with her for a few weeks – not just fire calls nearly every day, but evenings out which were very like dates. Ironically, the Prophet took note of these and ran pictures in its “society” section (the Prophet was nearly a hundred years behind the times, Ginny commented) and then editorialized that it was wonderful to see such a fine role model as Harry Potter, who after 20 years still appreciated his wife, helped raise the children, and made a difference in the community. Then followed various pictures taken of him and Ginny over the years. There was one where Harry was holding up baby James, who laughed at all the attention paid him. (Harry remembered years later, news attempts to get a picture of Al at the same age ending with Al in panicky tears, breaking cameras all over the place with accidental magic.) Here they were attending a Fifth Year Commemoration with Harry as, of course, Guest of Honour; there spotted at a wizarding fun fair with their children around them (“in clean robes for once,” Ginny had said, celebrating their good fortune that the children had also been neither fighting nor ill from all the sweets Harry had allowed them despite her excellent advice that one Chocolate Frog each would have been more appropriate). There were others which made him laugh, and an old one of him, believed dead, being carried into the Great Hall by Hagrid. That one had been found in Colin Creevey’s camera after the battle. Seeing it made Harry a bit sad.

But the best pictures were recent ones, in full colour, of Ginny and Harry on “dates.” The wizarding paparazzi took time off from earning a living harassing Muggle celebrities and took full advantage of Potter public appearances. So Harry was caught flinching at strobes in a series of elegant restaurants, playing darts with Ginny at the Leaky Cauldron, walking hand in hand with her in a wintry park, and – Ginny’s favourite, Viktor’s least-favourite – kissing and smiling at each other at the pleas of Dennis Creevey, who had taken up where his older brother had left off and wanted a “personal” picture.

Ginny laughed when she saw it run on the front page. It was definitely not her nice laugh.

“Malfoy will see that, and even if he was just in it for the sex, he’s going to hate wondering if you gave up on men and went back to your wife or what.”

Viktor, who had recently read them a sports page gossip article hinting that he was gay, since he so often was with the Potters and had no known girlfriend, snorted. “We should have Dennis do a picture where Harry is kissing me. I think Mr. Malfoy would be even more jealous, and the sports editor would feel she had achieved a . . . a scoop, I think it is, outing me before there was evidence.”

“I want you both to know I don’t share, just in case you’re wondering,” said Ginny, but she was laughing. “When Lily’s in 7th year, I’ll consider letting you guys kiss in public, though. It would certainly explain our divorce.”

“But how would it explain your remarriage?” Harry asked, topping off his tea.

“You seduced poor Viktor,” Ginny replied, handing him the sugar. “He became confused. And I was hurt from your betrayal, and so the two of us found comfort in each other’s arms.”

While they were all laughing, Harry had a nasty little thought. He hoped Ginny was right, and Malfoy saw the pictures with her, and they hurt him. Hurt him a lot.

He wanted to hurt Draco, he admitted only to himself, enough that he came looking for Harry, even if only to yell at him again.

***

Al and James’ letters brightened his day occasionally. James recounted Quidditch practice and games blow by blow, and touched on the unfairness of the teachers and Headmistress, who were always giving him and his friends detention for nothing. Harry who knew the kinds of “nothing” James & Co. could get into, wrote back sympathetically, but consistently pointing out that it was a student’s job to follow school rules. He felt a tiny bit like a hypocrite, but that, of course, was parenting. After he wrote back, Harry passed the letters on to Ron, who loved reading every word of the Quidditch reports and fumed at the unfairness of teachers.

Al’s letters were long and unpredictable. He seldom had detention, but when he did, he seemed to need Harry to reassure him that he wasn’t a hopelessly bad person. Since he and his best friend had ended up together in Gryffindor, Harry could guess the sort of reasons for detention, all related to curiosity and . . . well, more curiosity.

Al’s best friend was, of course, Scorpius.

Harry had been relieved to hear that Scorpius was in Gryffindor. Draco’s fears about harassment by his housemates wouldn’t come true – certainly not as badly – in Gryffindor. His house didn’t have the same kind of pecking order as Slytherin. Scorpius, as a pure-blood and the son of a Slytherin, would not be an obvious target for them in the same way Neville Longbottom, for example, had been. Still, he would have loved to have been there when Scorpius wrote to tell Draco that the Sorting Hat didn’t think being a Slytherin was right for him.

Scorpius seemed to thrive as a Gryffindor. One reason that Scorpius wasn’t as much of a target, Harry feared, was that Al covered for him whenever possible. He knew both of them well enough to read between the lines and notice the casual revelation – “our homework,” “we got E’s,” “Can’t write much because Scorpius and I have to practice Charms.” Al had gone into full protective mode. It was sweet, but too much of a burden for any child.

Once in late September, Al included a note Scorpius had written for Harry. One phrase had been crossed out thoroughly, but Harry simply Revealed it out of curiosity.

“Dear Harry, I miss talking to you. You made everything so much easier. Some of the teachers here are very smart, but don’t explain very well. I wish I could talk If you ever come to Hogwarts, please say hello.”

Harry, of course, started making sure to drop in every other week or so. James was pleased to be taken out for lunch, especially since Harry always stood James and Al’s friends to lunch at the same time. Scorpius and Al enjoyed that part, but afterwards, when James and the others went off to do important third-year things -- like stay in Hogsmeade and not mention that Harry had stopped being with them after lunch time – the three of them would find a place to sit quietly and privately. Scorpius would flush and look away, Al would haul out a carefully printed piece of parchment with a list of charms and transfigurations on it, and Harry would show the boys how they worked.

He was privately certain Albus knew and could perform everything on the list, but Al maintained the fiction of “we” having difficulties, so Harry did as well.

Scorpius grew paler and a bit thinner during the fall. He looked nearly as unhealthy as Malfoy had during his sixth year. Harry tried to find out what the problem specifically was, but Scorpius seemed to have lost the habit of confiding in him – or perhaps anyone.

What Harry wanted to ask was, “Do you ever talk to your Dad?”. But that conversation was off-limits by its nature. He had been stupid to get involved with Malfoy.

In late November, Harry firecalled to say he was coming that weekend, and both boys looked very uncomfortable. They had a silent conversation as Harry watched, and then Al said, “Umm, Dad, this is not a good weekend for it. We have a lot of homework we have to catch up on.”

“Not been doing any detentions, have you?” Harry asked cheerfully.

They shook their heads in unison.

“We’d really like to see you next weekend, if you could come then,” Scorpius said hopefully. It was agreed.

When Harry arrived the following weekend and stopped by the Headmistress’ office, as he always did, she mentioned that Draco Malfoy had been there the week before, confirming a donation for improvements to the Slytherin Common Room.

“Did he and Scorpius go out to lunch, then?” It was ridiculous how hungry he still was to hear any news of Draco, even just that he’d been acting like a father, which was no surprise.

It was, however, a surprise when she answered, “Yes, and they took Albus Severus with them too. I presume that’s acceptable?”

“Yes, of course.” He mused about this as he took the steps to the Fat Lady portrait. Apparently Draco’s refusal to interact with Harry only included Scorpius at Harry’s home. He supposed that made sense. After all, he was inviting Scorpius to lunch fairly regularly, and wouldn’t have dreamed of owling him or firetalking at Malfoy Manor.

But what were the boys thinking, seeing both of them and making sure they never saw each other? They’d known Draco was coming last weekend, Harry was certain of that. They were conspiring like little adults to avoid confrontations.

Harry sighed. He hated this. He wanted Draco, and there was no way in hell he could ask those remarkably Slytherin little Gryffindors to make sure that Draco and Harry didn’t miss each other at Hogwarts. He’d heard the jokes about parents making it up as they went along, but it seemed to him that all of adulthood was ad libbed. And all the adults kept that secret from the next generation.

He longed for a script to tell him what to do.

Al’s letters came more and more seldom during the fall. Harry thought nothing of it until he received one of James’ occasional letters, this one written to pass the time one weekend when his transgressions had been minor enough not to earn detention, and he’d merely been forbidden to enjoy a Hogsmeade weekend.

Al is such a stupid kid sometimes. He’s hoping to be on the Quidditch team next year, but instead of watching us practice and learning something, he’s spending all his time trying to help Scorpius keep from failing at everything. A lost cause, if you ask me. Now, he could be a pretty good Seeker, I think . . .

And the letter returned to the usual Quidditch discussion. Harry was beginning to see why Hermione used to sneak off to the library when Ron and he were discussing all-important issues, like a 2-person feint using a Seeker and a Beater.

Harry inquired as to Scorpius’ classes with his next letter, but although Al dutifully wrote back, he seemed to have forgotten the question. When Harry firecalled to suggest his visiting, Al told him, “Not this weekend, Dad. We have too much homework.” School and research began to take up too much of his time as well, so Harry didn’t push.

***

One day in mid-December, Hermione sent him a note with two spelling errors, asking him to meet with her “as soon as possible”. The errors could only mean that she was too excited to proofread. Harry dropped all the work he had planned for the afternoon and Apparated to her office.

“Harry, I think we’re closer to a breakthrough,” she said excitedly. Harry helped himself to her tea, since he was in no mood for burnt twigs today.

“Tell.”

“The genetic research is going nowhere.”

“This is a breakthrough?” They’d been depressed since the early reports came back.

“Obviously, it wasn’t at first. But then I sat down and thought about what it meant.”

“I’m listening.”

“Since there definitely is some correlation between the family of origin and the probability a child will turn out to be magically deficient, if it’s not genetic, what is it? So I realized – it’s probably not biological at all. It’s magical.”

“That would seem logical.” Harry was listening carefully, but he wasn’t entirely sure Hermione had moved to the correct conclusion. A few times in her life, Hermione had been wrong – and when she was wrong, her errors could be spectacular.

“What would explain it magically? From everything else we know about magic, pure-blood children should be much less likely to have problems because they have a much higher association with magic. They should have an easy time drawing from the energies around them to be stronger.”

Harry nodded. They’d gone through all this a long time ago.

“Well, what if there’s only a certain amount of magic you can absorb? If beyond that, it has a catalytic reaction and turns into a . . . into a negative? That would mean that the pure-bloods who can’t do much magic are in fact the most powerful.”

“That doesn’t suggest a solution to me.”

“But Harry, of course it does. We have to remove the children completely from a magical situation and raise them as Muggles. Just think – the reason you have all the power you do might be because you were Muggle-raised.”

That thought jolted through Harry, attracting him for a minute. It would retroactively justify his terrible childhood, because without it, his magic might have been lost. On the other hand, his class loved it, laughing and playing with whatever magic they could manage. Their parents lived in a magical world. What would it be like to grow up without it anywhere? It would be as bad – no, worse – than it was for the Muggle-borns who came to Hogwarts and had to hide their talents at home.

He shook his head. “I don’t think so, Hermione. When Draco was touching Scorpius, his son’s magic improved. When I touch any of the children, they have more power. If it had catalyzed into some kind of negative, it wouldn’t work like that.”

Hermione’s face fell. “Back to Square One, then.”

“Let’s not give in that easily.” He felt a pang. When they were arguing, and Harry conceded the point, Draco would usually say that. Now Harry’d got into the habit, apparently. He would have welcomed Draco’s slightly sneering, but undeniably intelligent, perspective in this discussion.

Harry began to count what they still knew to be true on his fingers. “The highest proportion of Squibs come from pure-blood families. Magic is a force like electricity, which moves through a wizard’s body and can be accessed by him. It can occasionally, with someone very powerful or with willing consent, be drawn from someone else’s body and used. It doesn’t seem to be inherited; nor is it probably a recessive gene which, when reinforced, drains magic out of the body.”

“But from what you see of children’s auras, there is a lot less energy in some of them, and that does parallel how much magic the Malleus Malleficorum measures.” Hermione was beginning to look happy again. “So, if your sight is indeed a talent – and there’s no reason to think it isn’t – the question becomes, ‘what are magical children exposed to . . . I mean, what are magical children exposed to which Muggle children aren’t? Well, that’s obvious – magic.’”

“No, reverse that, you’re thinking like a pure-blood. What are Muggle-borns exposed to that born-to-magical-parents are not?”

They were silent, thinking. They threw out ideas for awhile, then sat again. Harry glared at his teacup as if it were causing the problem. “The only thing really they’re exposed to for certain are their parents. Situations change too much – not even allowing for the way magic manifests itself differently in different countries.”

“Their parents . . . .” Hermione’s eyes widened. “Harry, do you know any natural circumstances where having too much power can backfire?”

“Probably a lot, if I paused to think, but the one which springs to mind is the one I used before – a car battery. If you jumpstart a car with too big a battery, it can blow up. Or, for another electrical example, put a light bulb in a socket which gets too much electricity, and bam!”

“What if the battery were only slightly too big?”

“I don’t know all that much about cars, Hermione. If it’s like a light bulb, it would be damaged – might still light for awhile, have strong surges which look almost normal, but eventually just short out.”

“You see where I’m going with this? What if it was having problems as a battery, but you attached it to another one?”

“You can start a car with someone else’s battery. That’s what a jumpstart is.”

“What if . . . what if two powerful magical people were touching when the magic began?”

Harry blushed. “That’s usually how . . . er . . . the magic is conceived, so to speak.”

“Yes, of course, but Harry – what does it do magically?”

Harry leaned back, hating how hot his cheeks were and deciding to let Hermione know how it felt to be embarrassed. “I don’t know, Hermione, but if you and Ron give it a shot, I’ll watch your auras, wait for the moment of conception, and tell you what I see.”

To his shock, horror, and secret admiration, Hermione didn’t immediately reject this scientific method. She did flush, however, and shook her head after thinking about it. “Wouldn’t work, Harry. Ron couldn’t possibly . . . keep his end up with you watching.”

They laughed uncomfortably, then continued to laugh, a trifle hysterically, as each of them envisioned Ron’s reaction.

“Well, I think we’ve got a little further,” Hermione said finally, wiping her eyes. “Good work. We’ll pursue the metaphor and see how it helps. In the meantime, aren’t you supposed to meet the Express tonight? I’ll give you a lift if you like.”

***

In all the greetings and excitement at the station, Harry still managed to follow Scorpius with his eyes, from his place next to Al’s side over to Draco’s. He’d smiled fleetingly at Harry before he left, shoving Al’s shoulder just a little. Then he turned, and straight as a spell from Harry’s wand went a hundred yards away, where his father stood waiting alone. Draco looked a little older, and some of his hair was much paler blond; Harry supposed that was how Draco would grey. Scorpius didn’t stop to nod or shake hands or do what the other boys were doing; he just kept walking until his face was smashed flat against Draco’s midnight blue robes, and his arms as far around his father as he could reach. Draco held him tightly, cheek resting on hair which looked so much like his own Harry couldn’t tell where one Malfoy left off and the next began. There was a slump to Draco’s back. Harry had only seen that slump when Draco was feeling helpless about his son. He wished he could go over and massage his back till it went away.

Then the two Disapparated, and Harry turned back to his own children. James was inches taller – Harry suspected what they’d paid in school fees had all been made up for by groceries that fall – and less dramatic in his gestures, although his clothes made up the difference. He wore what looked like an extremely short school robe and long, tight black jeans tucked into laced knee high boots, which Harry assumed was the absolute newest fashion statement among wizards James’ age at Hogwarts. It appeared that he’d already spent the Christmas money from his grandparents on clothing. He was smiling and teasing his mother, and she was laughing. Welcome back, James,Harry thought, happy that the arrogant stranger who had left on the Hogwarts Express apparently wasn’t coming back on it today.

Al . . . Al turned out to be right next to him, looking up at him with eyes suspiciously reddened and puffy. “Hi, Dad.”

Harry held out his arms, and Al hugged him much the way Scorpius had Draco, except that his face was to the side. “Hi Al. How are things?”

“Fine.”

“Did you do well with the final assignments?”

“Yes.”

“And Scorpius –“

“Can we please not talk about school, Dad?” Albus asked, letting go of him. “I mean, it’s the hols.”

“All right.”

They went home in Ginny’s car, an elegant leather-seated Volvo Viktor had given her “for the children.” Viktor was already back with his parents, and Ginny was leaving to join him the next day. They were going to have a ski holiday in Switzerland. She had asked her children if they were sure it was okay to leave them for Christmas, and they continued to reassure her, while clearly planning a noisy month all together without (what they viewed as) Ginny’s iron discipline. James clearly was pleased to see her. Al was awfully quiet, but he sat between her and Harry and, whenever they stopped for stoplights, he held her hand. His left was in Harry’s the entire time. Lily and James, in the back seat, did not notice. Harry knew that Al wouldn’t have been as clingy if he thought they’d see.

“He won’t tell me what he’s upset about,” Ginny said unhappily later, helping Harry work on adding a temporary extra room to use to keep the presents and tree and other secrets in.

“Me neither.”

“Well, he talks more to you, so just keep pressing. It’s probably about Scorpius.”

“Yeah.”

She put an arm around his waist. “Who knows, it might turn out something which will give you an excuse to call Malfoy.”

“Ginny, that’s over.”

“Yes, that’s why you’ve been such a fount of high energy and happiness this fall.” She smiled, and kissed his cheek. “Come on Harry, let’s take them out to Diagon Alley. I’m not going to be eating fish and chips or other disgusting, fatty substances in Switzerland, so I have to load up now.”

***

In the next few days, James clearly was trying on the role of Big Brother. Al wouldn’t cooperate, basically locking himself in his room and doing who-knew-what with the Young Wizard’s Big Box of Potions, a kit he’d had for years. So James took on Lily, and spent a lot of time with her, taking her to see Muggle shop windows, and to shop in Diagon Alley for Christmas gifts. So far as Harry could tell, James talked non-stop to Lily, telling her wonderful stories about how exciting life at Hogwarts was – stories unmarred by truth. Lily seemed to enjoy it, so long as they could go to a bookstore every day.

That left Harry with a lot of time for his own work, and for Al. He didn’t need much time for the latter. Al came out for meals, and that was about all. He didn’t even do that regularly at first, until Harry insisted that he at least leave his door open to have some connection with the rest of the household. He came to meals with the others when they were home. Harry and Ginny had raised their children without the Wizarding Wireless or any Muggle entertainment other than themselves . So Al even spent time with them after supper playing games, but he was very quiet -- unusual for Al -- and when James began teasing him by cheating, seemed indifferent – unheard of for Al.

Owls came every day – eagle owls, so Harry was pretty sure they were from Scorpius. Al didn’t share these missives, however, and when Harry asked how Scorpius was doing, Al would just say, “Fine.” That was how Al was doing, too, when Harry inquired after that. He saw James looking at him occasionally, frowning as if he were worried, but James wouldn’t talk either. Harry remembered the wall the younger generation of friends – the Weasleys, Hermione, and himself – raised against the older one, and for the first time thought perhaps Molly Weasley had had a point when she tried to keep them from plotting together .

Three weeks after the Hogwarts Express returned, Harry was taking an easy afternoon reading some discussions on detecting magic power, and enjoying the peace. Al was in his room as usual, James was staying over with a friend, and Lily was spending the weekend with her grandparents to learn some magic for making Christmas sweets. Outside was grey and dismal, with grey snow on the pavement and a matching grey sky. He was inside with a good fire and a pot of tea. Life was good. Really.

Until Al came shuffling into the office. His eyes were red again, and he looked uncertain. “Dad? Can I talk to you?”

Harry put down the rolls of parchment. “Of course, Al. What’s up?”

Al sat heavily on Harry’s battered red couch and stared at his shoelaces. He seemed not to know where to begin.

Harry began to feel mildly alarmed. “Albus, talk to me.”

Al looked up then. “I’m worried about Scorpius.”

Harry considered, then weighted the parchment down and went to sit next to Al on the lumpy couch. “Why?”

“He . . . he was asked not to come back to Hogwarts.”

Harry was stunned. “Did he do something he shouldn’t have?”

“No, he . . . he just couldn’t do the work. He was fine in Potions, and Professor Longbottom says he was pretty good in his class, but he couldn’t do anything where you need a wand. He was doing everything right, Dad – he got the wand movements quicker than me, and pronounced all the words just right – but nothing would happen. Or it would be very, very weak, like with Wingardium Leviosa he could lift a feather easily but couldn’t lift anything heavier with his wand than with his own hands.”

“How’s he taking it?”

“He ran away.”

“WHAT?”

Al’s eyes were getting suspiciously watery. “He ran away a week ago, and he’s been owling me. He says he’s going to live as a Muggle in the Muggle world, where no one will despise him because he can’t do magic. But he owled me every day at least once, and two days ago, the owls stopped, and I don’t know what to do, and it’s my fault because when he met me I’d run away to make you teach me Quidditch, and he thinks I know the right way to do everything.”

The tears by now were flooding down, and Harry put an arm around Al comfortingly. “It’s not your fault, Al. You were punished for doing it, and Draco made very clear to Scorpius that it was a very wrong thing to do. Scorpius knows it’s wrong. Where is he?”

“I don’t know.”

Harry’s mind was frantically bouncing between sticking his head in the fire and calling Draco immediately, and Apparating to whatever part of town Scorpius might have selected to hide in. It took him an instant for Al’s words to sink in.

“You don’t know? He didn’t tell you?”

“He wrote that if I didn’t know, I wouldn’t have to lie. And that made sense, though I didn’t know . . . I didn’t know that . . . Dad, I would tell you if I knew, because I’m so worried and I don’t know what to do.”

“All right, Al, just calm down. Let’s review this. Are you saying his father doesn’t know where he is?”

“Of course not – that’s what running away is. But Scorpius left him a note, telling him why he’d left. And he explained that I didn’t know where he went, and why he wouldn’t tell me, so Mr. Malfoy wouldn’t show up here.”

Harry thought how a parent would feel, finding such a note, but pushed down the sympathy panic for Draco, as he would have if it were his own, in order to do what had to be done.

“What about his mother?”

“His mother’s the main reason Scorpius is gone. She’s absolutely furious with him. They had a huge row about it, and then she went off to Canada or somewhere after saying she was ashamed to have spawned a Squib who wouldn’t even try to be normal.”

Cold fury helped calm Harry’s panic. What a piece of work Atropa was.

“And his father’s been really weird this fall, and kind of . . . distant, like he was angry Scorpius even tried to go to Hogwarts.” Al’s green eyes looked into his father’s. “We know that you aren’t talking to him anymore, and Scorpius thinks that’s what’s hurting Mr. Malfoy, but I knew that his father yelled at you first, because you came home all pale and sometimes when you dream you . . . you call his name. So Scorpius and I almost had a row about which of you had hurt the other, but we decided if you didn’t want to see each other, we should help, and then maybe you’d both be happier. Scorpius doesn’t think keeping you apart is doing his dad any good, though, and he thought Mr. Malfoy might be happier if he didn’t have such a problem kid to take care of.”

“Oh god,” Harry said. “Stop talking, Al, and let me think.” He closed his eyes and tried to figure out what to do through the mountains of pain he felt for father and son. “Did you keep his letters?”

“Yes, Dad.”

“Then go get them.”

Al looked for one minute as if he were going to refuse, then took a deep breath and ran to get them.

Harry skimmed through them. Scorpius had thought the South seaside would be a fine place to hide, since it was big and they’d gone there on holidays. His letters got progressively more distressed – he wrote about being hungry and finally looking through the enormous rubbish tins behind stores where Muggles seemed to keep their leftovers. He climbed in them after the stores closed, to find food, although sometimes it was scary because there were others looking as well.

Finding a place to sleep was even harder, and Scorpius had tried doorways and under benches until he had found something which would work. He was just wanting a warm place, any kind, and found some kind of labyrinthine, abandoned Muggle place. It had a few crumbling outbuildings, one full of distorted mirrors, another full of junk: broken pieces of carved wooden horses, a shiny harness with fake jewels, big rolls of plastic. Some of the construction seemed to be falling apart – he slept with his head under a table he’d found because occasionally bits of the roof came off.

Carved wooden horse parts? Distorted mirrors? Either a figment of nightmares or . . . leftovers from a funfair. That would narrow it down a little – the rising of the ocean was beginning to take back some of the beaches.

He threw on a coat and slipped the papers into the inside pocket. Fortunately, Scorpius had been careful to use as little parchment as possible, so they weren’t impossibly bulky, although harder on Harry’s eyes than they would otherwise have been.

“I have a job for you,” Harry told his son. “You are to stay here – no matter what, understand? We’ll need someone who can answer fire calls and make them if necessary; take the owls that might come and send others. Do you understand? It’s not a punishment, it’s not protecting you – I need you. Kreacher will make sure you’re all right, of course, but I need you to do this.”

Al stuck out his chin. “I understand, Dad. I can be reliable.”

“Good, because I’ll be relying on you.”

Harry found an old pack he’d used when the family experimented with Muggle camping. He threw in clothes, a lot of sandwiches and fruit, and a map of England. He shrank the pack to the size of a tiny coin pouch and put it in his jeans pocket. Muggle clothes could pass in the magic world – the reverse definitely was not true. He hoped Scorpius had had the sense not to wear his robes.

The last letter from Scorpius had been brief:

Albus, I’m scared. There’s this weird thing . . . well, I think it’s a magical creature, but not the kind Mr. Hagrid would show us. Not just dangerous, but evil. I mean it, really evil. And it’s . . . well, I’m probably imagining things.

I wish you were here. It would be nice to have someone to talk to, especially someone with a wand. You know how I told you I felt all . . . empty this year, as if something was missing, but not anything good? I don’t feel empty anymore. I haven’t since Mother tried to give me more power, before she gave up and left. She uses different magic for that than Dad. Dad just touches me, and lets me borrow some of his. It’s more like . . . like Mother was taking some of mine, and replacing it with something else. But I don’t think she did it on purpose. Taking my magic, I mean. She wants me to have magic too bad to do that.

Tomorrow, I’m going to think about what I should do next. I’m not free of all magical things, even here, and I haven’t met any Muggles to live with. Some offered me stuff, but they scared me. Would Harry let me live with you? After school starts . . . I don’t want to be with the Squibs again, Albus. I’m tired of being defective. But I don’t know . . . I hear noises. I’m going to send the owl off. He lives in trees outside; he refuses to stay in this place. Maybe he knows better than me.

Love, S Malfoy

Harry was struck by the “love” – not the existence of it, but the fact that a boy Scorpius’ age could write that to a friend. Since none of the other letters were signed that way, it indicated a greater degree of desperation than the letter itself did.

“All right, Al, I’m going now,” he said, as cheerfully as he could. “I’m going to Malfoy Manor first to find Draco. Then if he’s still there, and not somewhere looking for Scorpius, we’ll probably go together to find him and bring him home. If by any chance you hear from him, tell him to ask at the nearest Muggle store where he is and the name of the place. If an owl comes, tell it to wait for an answer and then try to reach me or Hermione. I’ll owl her before I leave. If neither of us can be found quickly, firecall Ron in the Department of Mysteries and explain. He’ll get the Aurors or someone to help. I don’t like that ’magical creature’ part.”

Al nodded. Harry wrote a quick note to Hermione, asking her to do a computer search for all unused amusement parks in England (he hoped only England!) and telling her Scorpius’ situation.

His last sight before he Apparated was Al, forlorn on the big couch, staring at the fire, already waiting for news.

Part 14: Lost

December 23. 2017

Harry snapped back into existence at the gate of Malfoy Manor and found himself standing in almost a foot of powdery snow. He leaped out of it and grabbed the gate, but the wards would not let him through. He stuck his wand to his throat, said “Sonorus!” and without stopping for breath, “Draco! Draco Malfoy! I need to talk to you now.”

He hadn’t been terribly careful about the modulation, and his words echoed from the sky and off the Manor and outbuildings, resonating until it sounded as though God himself was calling Draco.

The echoes died away and there was silence. Harry was just considering calling again when the gate in front of him slid open.

He trotted through, wand in hand, and skidded to a stop at the front door, where a figure in black stood waiting.

Draco was a mess. His face was ravaged, his hair was tangled, and he clearly hadn’t slept or eaten for quite some time. He had probably been wearing his clothes for awhile as well, since they, on the contrary, looked slept in. Harry recognized the midnight blue robe he had removed from Draco the first night they were together.

Draco was trying to keep his face cold and indifferent. His eyes, however, rested on Harry as if he thought Harry was the Chosen One who could save him.

“What do you want, Potter?” he croaked.

“Scorpius.”

“He . . . er . . . isn’t here at present.”

It struck Harry then that Draco simply wasn’t currently the calm, centred person Harry had gotten used to. This was the Malfoy of the Battle of Hogwarts; the Malfoy who had cried in the girl’s loo and confided in a ghost; the Malfoy who, when he was hurt in class, screamed out that his father would make people pay; Malfoy, who needed help.

Harry closed the gap and took Draco’s arm.

“Draco, I know more about where Scorpius is than you do. Albus has been in touch with him until a couple of days ago. I came here to help.”

Draco looked relieved for an instant. Then his eyes clouded up.

“I don’t need your help.”

“I think you do. You’re a mess. Anyway, you’ve got it.” Harry wanted to stroke his hair, kiss him hard, hug him – something. But if Draco rejected it, they’d have a longer argument before looking for Scorpius.

“Where is he?” Draco had abandoned argument, though Harry knew that was temporary.

“A seaside park closed for the winter, we think. We don’t know what part of the country. No –“ this as Draco tensed, as if to Apparate – “you can’t just go around without knowing where you’re going, Draco. Hermione’s researching locations now. What I want you to do is shower, shave, dress yourself in Muggle clothes, get your wand -- and why you’re running around without it I can’t imagine -- and tell the house-elves to fix you something to eat. With protein. By that time, Hermione will probably have the information for us.”

“Why would I need a wand?” Draco asked. “I knew it was you.” Then his lips trembled. “Why?”

I must not tell lies. “Because I love you, and I don’t want you to go through this alone. And I love Scorpius, and so does Al, so we need him back. And because he’s a kid and needs help. Take your pick – all of the above. I know you’re so furious with me you haven’t spoken to me for months and months, but right now, I don’t care. I’m here. And I’m not going.”

Draco looked him up and down. Harry knew his jaw was set in the famous Potter way, indicating this one he was going to win. He didn’t care if Draco ordered him away. He meant it. He wasn’t going.

Finally, Draco took a deep breath, and his tense shoulders relaxed a little. “All right.” He turned and walked back into the house, leaving the door open for Harry. Harry smiled grimly and followed.

“Where do you want to wait for me?” Draco’s voice was still hoarse, but a little more controlled.

“In the library, or wherever your oldest books are. I want to check something.”

Draco nodded. Harry went into the library as they passed. He glanced around at the old and newer books. Seeing the billiards table by the fire made his heart hurt a little, but he turned away, and raised his wand instead. “Accio Augeo Potentia formula.” He held his breath. He’d thought about the Malfoy’s extensive Dark library for quite awhile now – Hermione might not have found it at Hogwarts, but there was a possibility . . .

A large, leather-bound tome struck him on the knuckles. It came not from the shelves, but from a small table next to a wingback chair.

He didn’t even glance at the title, but opened it quickly. It fell open to a page in Latin. Harry’s Latin was dubious – another thing he should have taken at Hogwarts, since he wasn’t a home-schooled pure-blood. He quickly substituted a translation spell, and skimmed the introductory page.

Augeo Potentia is one of the oldest of the Darker spells. It is based on controlling a Magical Creature, a daemon called Dementiatus. There is currently a program in place to breed submission into these creatures; see Dementor.

The Potion itself is not difficult to make, as the reader will see. However, the goal is to control a Dementiatus, so the reader is strongly cautioned that if any errors are made, Augeo Potentia may reverse, and drain magical power into it. . .

Harry heard Draco’s step in the hall, and quickly shrank the book and slid it into his watch pocket. “Dressed already?”

“’Shaving’ is not something wizards do, Potter.” Draco’s skin was still translucently pale, but Harry was glad to hear a little snark back in his voice. “A spell is faster. I thought you might care to eat with me.”

“Of course.” The house elves had prepared a hasty meal of thick soup and bread. Draco drank quite a bit of water, and Harry suspected that he was suffering from the remains of a hangover. He seemed far less interested in his meal, however. Harry finally put down his spoon.

“Draco, eat. You’re not going to be able to help Scorpius if your body gives out.”

Draco looked at him, apathy still haunting him but just a faint spark of the old resentment at anyone telling him what to do. Then it went away, and he obediently began to spoon soup into his mouth.

As he was conferring with the elves about packing and shrinking basic supplies, a house elf reported to Harry that someone was asking for him on the Floo. He followed her into the elegant little room, and was unsurprised to see Hermione’s face waiting for him.

“Well?”

“How’s Malfoy?”

“Bad. The way you’d be if it were Rose or Hugo. Do we have anything that might help?”

She frowned. “Well, in a way.”

He sat on the little padded stool which seemed to be there for the purpose. “Go on, Hermione.”

She took a deep breath. “First, the geography. There aren’t many halls of mirrors left in England at any funfair. Or many funfairs, for that matter. Two of those are in Kent; the other two are exhibits in local museums, so probably people would come through occasionally. I think Scorpius is probably in Kent, unless –“ she raised a hand as Harry started to scramble to his feet – “unless there are places Muggles don’t know about which have halls of mirrors. And since mirrors are inherently magical, that’s quite possible.”

“Kent it is. What else?”

“All right, Harry, my best guess is the one at Folkestone. The old funfair’s been around forever, really, and this time of year it’ll be pretty deserted. There’ll be a few people, but nothing like Margate.”

“Fine. I’m off to Folkestone.” He made to move, and Hermione shook her head.

“Harry, I’m not done.” Harry took a deep breath and tried not to bounce.

Hermione smiled a little at his expression. “You need to know this, Harry. Folkestone was once a Wizarding centre –witches and wizards went to with their families there for summers at the seaside.”

Harry focused his attention. ‘Once was’ seemed a significant phrase. The wizarding community was nothing if not traditional, and if Folkestone had been a resort, even flooding wouldn’t have kept it from continuing to be. Nothing less than a major magical cataclysm would explain it.

“They were driven out by a magical force. No one knows what it was; this happened in the 16th century, and the records were a bit sketchier then.”

“Any descriptions of the force?” Harry’s hand began twitching for its wand.

“The Aurors of the time said that the whole area suddenly went . . . well, clouded. Emotionally clouded, as if the happiness of the world were all gone.”

The back of Harry’s neck prickled. “Sounds like Dementors.”

Hermione nodded. “There were no Dementors in the 16th century, however.”

“How’d you know that?”

“Stayed awake in History of Magic. The Dementors were actually hybrids created to make an old Dark creature more useful.”

“Dementiatus.”

“And how did you know that?”

“Looking up more about the Augeo Potentia.”

“The Augeo Potentia uses Dementiati?”

“Yeah. As a binding agent with the potion, not in it.”

“Oh . . . dear. Harry, the Dementiatus was the most dangerous demon known to the Wizarding world. It’s probably what chased them away from Folkestone. But they’re extinct.”

“Well, maybe there’s an old one around.”

Hermione looked doubtful. “I don’t see how. Although it’s said in much more obscure magical terms, basically wizards created a hybrid which simply bred the old Dementiatus out of existence.”

“At any rate, it looks like we’re definitely headed in the right direction, considering you thought Scorpius’ energy sounded like a screwed-up Augeo Potentia.”

“Yes, but I’m worried, Harry. Dementors, a Dark potion, a hall of mirrors distorting your realities – not a good combination.”

“Don’t worry about me. Save your worries for a frightened 12-year-old without any magic.”

Hermione nodded. “Good luck. And keep in touch.”

“Al’s got strict orders to stay by the Floo.”

“I know – I called there first, just in case. Don’t forget you can send your Patronus.”

“I don’t forget that – but if there are any versions of Dementors about, I’m going to need my Patronus with me. Take care, Hermione.”

“Has his mother been informed?”

“She’s in Canada or somewhere.”

“I’ll look through the school records and try to track her down. No mother would want her child threatened by Dementors, no matter how indifferent a parent.”

Harry nodded, and closed the Floo. He pulled both hands through his hair, and turned to see Draco, looking rather more awake, tucking a tiny trunk in his pocket.

“Does she have any ideas?”

“One really promising one.”

“Then let’s go there.”

“Have you ever been to Folkestone?”

“Apparated through there once. Is that where we’re going?”

“Yes. And if you have an image of it . . . “

“Got it.” They pulled tightly together in the stance of side-along Apparition, and left Malfoy Manor.

Part 15 Reflections

December 23, 2017 (continued)

They landed on an ocean beach. Draco immediately let go of Harry and, flushing, backed away so hastily that he stumbled. Harry ignored Draco’s embarrassment. His wand was out, and he went into fighting stance, looking around him. If this was a place with Dark magic, it was best to be prepared.

It looked deserted, except for gulls screaming to each other. Sea, sand and sky were almost the same colour, only white lines of breaker foam cutting across the expanse of grey. A line nearly as white, of cliffs Harry sincerely hoped they wouldn’t have to climb, cut off the beach at one end.

As Harry relaxed, he realized that Draco was looking at him. Then, slowly, he shook his own wand from his sleeve and looked around himself.

“Now where?”

Harry thought an instant, threw a nonverbal Four Point Spell, then pointed his wand. “That direction. There should be some broken down old buildings not far from here.”

By tacit consent, they joined arms and Apparated to the buildings.

Although these were some distance from the shore, flood damage was evident on the sides of the building. It segued into general damage from weather and vandalism, so all sides of the buildings were battered and peeling and covered with graffiti. But in among them was a more-or-less official Muggle sign that floods had been involved – an arrow of black paint with a line about a metre up, with the words “flood level” neatly printed in red.

“Should we worry about floods?” Draco asked, not sounding especially concerned.

“I don’t think so. I don’t think they’re like tsunamis or anything.” Harry thought, not for the first time, that his education pre-Hogwarts had been terribly spotty, making him both an under-educated Muggle and an under-educated Wizard. At least I’m consistent. “I think what we really need to worry about is Dark magic. But first, we have to find it.”

He felt Draco’s eyes on him as he moved slowly ahead, feeling for Darkness with every sense. It had been a long time since he’d done anything like this. He felt the familiar slime of Dark magic brush against him, and turned toward the largest of the decaying buildings. Draco was at his shoulder, a steadying presence.

It had been 19 years and more since Harry’s scar had hurt him. Now it was throbbing -- not Voldemort-level pain by any means. Perhaps curse scars might simply wake in the presence of the purest Dark magic around. He hoped so.

Neither of them spoke. There was complete silence except for the occasional rattle when a foot accidentally kicked a can hidden among the litter, and the soft sound of their footwear on fallen plaster.

The building looked just as any other might, but Harry stopped before they finished crossing the large room, which might have once been a dance floor. Something malevolent pulsed around him. It was so obvious, Harry couldn’t understand why Draco wasn’t flinching next to him. It ate into his skin, curled around his wand hand, looking for life and joy in order to take it away.

Expecto Patronum,” he heard at his shoulder, and a beaver shimmered near him. It paced around the two of them, huffing, and the feeling diminished.

“Thanks.”

“We’re in this together, Harry.”

That thought warmed him, and in the satisfaction of Draco’s acknowledgment, it was easy to conjure up his own Patronus, almost absentmindly. The stag and the beaver looked at each other for an instant, and then the stag began to circle behind them while the beaver led them on. Harry felt as though he and Draco were cocooned together in a protected space, magical in the best sense. It was the same feeling he used to have after they’d worn themselves out and were drowsing wrapped around each other. He turned and looked at Draco, whose eyes were heavy-lidded and looked much as they had at those times.

Draco glanced at him, and the smile on his face was calm, and affectionate, and comforting. We’re going to be all right, Harry thought. For a moment, he was tempted to stop and kiss this annoying git who somehow had become the most important person in his life. But Scorpius was in danger, and he suppressed the urge.

They followed Draco’s Patronus into the next room, and stopped. This was the room Scorpius had described, Harry was certain. It was a maze, and every wall was mirrored. Most of the mirrors were distorted, all different. The first one spread their bodies so that they looked as if they weighed 20 stone. As they moved forward, the next one showed them so thin and wan that Draco looked worse than he had 6th year, and Harry shivered. Draco’s left hand rested on his shoulder comfortingly. His wand hand, of course, remained free.

They moved forward slowly. The beaver was clearly not able to solve the maze. It drooped and stopped. Draco signalled it to follow them instead, shoulder to shoulder with Harry’s stag. The light from the Patronuses lit the mirrors to dazzling.

Harry rather wished they couldn’t see the mirrors, however. In each, their reflections were disturbing. In one, they looked furious, ready to hex each other to oblivion. In another, Draco was bleeding badly, an arm hanging over Harry’s shoulder for support. Harry’s face was annoyed and impatient, as if he thought Draco were being a nuisance.

The next showed Harry as a small child, terrified, locked into his cupboard, and Draco loomed over him, as tall as Vernon Dursley had been and as powerful. Harry flinched.

Draco stopped, and Harry obeyed the pressure on his shoulder and also stopped.

“These are odd mirrors for Muggles to have,” Draco said, frowning. “I didn’t know they could have magic mirrors.”

“Flitwick used to tell us that all mirrors are magical,” Harry reminded him. “Just that most of the magical reflections, Muggles can’t see.”

Draco pointed his wand at the mirror before them, showing Harry as a small child. “Finite Incantatem.”

The mirror’s surface shivered into a million separate drops, then was whole again. This time, they were standing as themselves, but the surface behind them was filled with Fiendfyre, licking at them.

Harry tried the same spell. Again, the mirror trembled and then reorganized. He recognized his and Ginny’s old bedroom. He was sitting in the middle of it, looking miserable, holding one of James’ old dolls. He recognized the scene – it was the night of their break-up, when Ginny had gone back to her mother’s and taken all three of his children with her. Just the memory made him nearly crumble from the pain of that night.

He felt Draco’s arms firmly around him now. “Harry, it’s Dementors. I’ve never heard of them having the power to take over mirrors as proxy for sucking the joy out of one – but what else could it be?”

Draco’s Patronus nosed past them and clawed at the mirror. Once more, it dissolved, but when it re-formed, what it reflected was Draco, wrapped around Harry, his hair like a halo of gold and silver. In the mirror, Harry leaned against him, and smiled.

Harry took a deep breath and imitated his reflection, standing until his own Patronus nosed him on the neck. That brought him back fully to the present – and Draco’s comment.

“I’m not so sure it is Dementors, Draco. We need to move forward, though. The Darkness is somewhere near the centre of the maze. If we follow the worst images, I think that’ll be the right path.”

This time, as they moved forward, they held hands, and their Patronuses followed closely behind them.

Harry grew tired of wincing at each new reflection. It was as if a group of Boggarts were putting on an impromptu set of charades. Without the Patronuses, he might have just stopped and frozen in place. He wondered if Scorpius had attempted this maze. Perhaps he hadn’t seen anything but the usual distorted “funhouse” reflections Muggles saw.

Draco came to an abrupt stop. His fingers dug painfully into Harry’s hand. Harry, perforce also stopping, looked at the mirror in front of them.

It reflected neither of them. In fact, the background did not reflect the Hall they were in. It was more like a dungeon – made of stone, dimly lit, and judging by the shivering of the one huddled figure in it, cold.

Scorpius had his arms around his knees. He was staring straight forward, his face bleached, eyes large and dark. Harry’s first impulse was to lift him out of there, but checked himself. Draco had already leaped forward, but his hand only banged against the hard silvery surface. Scorpius didn’t look up – apparently he could neither see nor hear them.

Harry looked at Draco’s face and made him sit on the floor so he wouldn’t faint.

“What’s… what’s going on, Potter?” Draco asked, his voice so hoarse that he could barely get the last words out.

“I don’t know,” Harry replied, running his wand along the edges of the mirror looking for curses or at least hints of what they were up against. It was slimy with Dark magic everywhere – the purest he’d ever encountered. Even Voldemort used a range of magics. This was simple, pure – and loathsome.

Finally, he put his wand down, and running on sheer instinct, pressed his hands to the mirrored glass.

He felt the aura he’d sensed from Scorpius, but far more vividly. Besides the dark colour, he now could feel that it was, indeed Dark. And now, instead of the flickering light bulb effect, something very strange was happening. The light was in half swirls now, circling rather like the tornados he’d occasionally seen in films Dudley was watching. But as it got halfway, it disappeared into blackness. Then it returned, as if it had always been, but turned invisible.

Or dark, Harry thought grimly. He narrowed his eyes, as if that could make more visible something which was, at heart, more a metaphor which his brain translated into colour because what he saw in auras had no sensory equivalent.

But if Scorpius had magical power in him, whatever it was, why was it doing this? Before, it was as if the Dark power were a curtain thin enough that Harry could see flashes through it. At times, such as after Christmas, it had strengthened, but then it slowly thinned again. He’d only known Scorpius 18 months or so, but he’d never seen anything like this in or around him.

Harry moved closer to the mirror. “Scorpius.”

The boy did not look up. That didn’t surprise Harry. He put his wand to his throat and tried it with “Sonorus!” Nothing.

Scorpius moved just a little in his huddle; not responding to anything outside himself, just easing his position. He put a hand over his eyes, and Harry realized after a moment that he was crying.

He looked quickly at Draco, who was staring at Scorpius. Draco had realized what Scorpius was doing at the same time Harry did. He knelt and moved forward, putting his hands flat against the glass and then his face. If he sensed the same sliminess as Harry, it didn’t seem to matter.

“Cori!” he said urgently. “Cori!”

Scorpius had put both hands to his face now. He was crying harder – and, Harry saw with shock, so was Draco.

He let Draco be as close to his son as he could manage for a minute, then pulled him back. “Draco, we have to figure out how to get him out.”

Draco’s glare was fierce. “You think I’m not thinking?”

Harry didn’t say what he thought, which was precisely that. Not that he could blame Draco. He hoped that if Al or James were ever in such a position, Draco would be the one with enough distance to do something practical – because Harry would be charging ahead, wand in hand, lost to all reason.

“How are you at Legilimency?”

Draco blinked. “Not a newcomer to it, but it was never my best skill.”

“Then you’re better than I am. Try that next.”

Draco suddenly reached out and grabbed Harry’s thigh, wrapping his arm around it tightly. Harry felt Draco’s whole body shaking. He set his legs to give as much support as he could.

Then Draco took a deep breath, firmed his face, lifted his wand, and said, “Legilimens.”

Scorpius looked up.

Part 16 Demons and Dementors

Harry felt a small surge of . . . something rush through him. It was Dark, and angry, and as it passed it turned him to ice. Mine, something said inside his head. Mine. Some kind of force, powerful and slimy, pushed his hand farther away from Scorpius’ face in the mirror.

No, Harry answered, and gripped his wand. Not yours. Ours.

“D-Dad?” He could hear Scorpius, which surprised him. Then another voice, which surprised him as much.

“Cori, my little Cori. You can hear me?”

“Yeah, sort of. And others too, now. Well, another person, and that awful . . . thing. I’m not Cori, Dad, that’s my baby name. I haven’t been little for years.”

“Sorry, son.” Harry glanced at Draco and saw him teary-eyed and smiling at the same time. “I know, I promised when you were five I’d call you Scorpius, but it’s been . . . never mind. You hear other voices?”

“One might be mine,” Harry offered. Draco turned and looked at him, startled.

Scorpius’ head came up. “Harry, is that you?”

“Yes, it is. We’ve come to get you out.”

Scorpius looked much happier. “Can you kill that horrible thing? It’s trying to eat me.”

Draco and Harry looked at each other. “What thing, Scorpius?” Draco asked carefully. “Describe it.”

“I can’t see it, I can just feel it. It’s . . . I can’t describe it. It’s eating me. I don’t know why, but it hurts, and it feels like it keeps stinging. It was eating at me, and I thought no one would ever come for me or remember me . . . ”

“Scorpius,” Harry said, putting a hand on Draco’s arm before he said anything else, “Your father and I need to talk. And I think the thing you’re talking about can hear us if we’re talking to you. So we are going to be quiet for awhile, all right?”

Scorpius nodded, gulping. “I’m a Gryffindor. I can handle it. At least I know you’re looking for me.”

“Looking? You can’t see us?”

“I’m in a little stone room with no walls or doors. How could I see you?”

Draco’s mouth tightened.

Harry stayed soothing. “We have a slightly different view, Scorpius. We know where you are. We just have to talk a little while about getting you out of there, but we will be back as soon as we can.”

The cold voice came. It is not yours, Master of Death. It is mine. It was given to me, not you.

Harry stood up and pointed his wand towards the mirror which reflected Scorpius. “Finite Incantatem.”

The voice laughed harshly. You think it would be that easy? There is no magic which can match my power combined with the potion. The child was given me. I am taking it now. I was cheated, and contracted to this one with no power. Once it is dead, at least I can release myself.

Harry looked at Draco, who ended the spell, and walked away from the window a little shakily. Harry took him to the nearest maze cul-de-sac.

“Can you hear the other voice?”

Draco shook his head.

“It’s what’s holding Scorpius prisoner. It claims that Scorpius was given to it.”

“That’s ridiculous. No one would give Scorpius to anybody. He belongs to me – and I suppose Atropa, but he’s her ticket to acceptance among pure-bloods. She wouldn’t give him away, even if she didn’t care about him. And she does – in her own way.”

Harry had his own opinion, but he kept it to himself. “Draco, Hermione and I have been doing some research on Squibs that’s branched out into a direction unique to Scorpius. I borrowed a book from your library which I’m hoping will help us.” Harry took the tiny book out of his pocket and brought it back to its original size.

Draco grabbed it and read the page Harry pointed out to him quickly, then continued as Harry tried to read upside down. When he looked up, his eyes were large and he looked as angry as the day he had stalked out of Harry’s classroom last summer.

“Did you read all this?”

Harry shook his head. “Potions – I thought you could understand it faster.”

“How did you find it?”

“Accio’ed – but it was already on a table in the library.”

“Yes, it would be.” Draco threw the book hard to the ground. “Atropa. Atropa used that potion on Scorpius.”

“Well, Hermione thought the way I described his magical aura sounded a lot like an Augeo Potentia gone wrong. But Atropa couldn’t have, Draco. It appears that the Dementiatus is extinct – crossbred into another species. That’s what Dementors are – the evolutionary next step to the Dementiati.”

“So.” Draco crossed his legs, leaned against the wall, and stared at the book. “She – or anyone else – wouldn’t have access to a demon?”

“Well, not that kind of demon, anyway. Whatever it is, though, it clearly believes that Scorpius is bound to it, and we need to find how it happened and if there’s a loophole.”

“The book gives the spell for summoning to negotiate. But though Dementiati are powerful, this claims they can’t own any wizard or witch. They’re more . . . well, symbiotic. It’s Dark magic, blood magic, although nobody dies from the contract. A wizard willing to make a deal with this demon basically agrees that it can have all his unused magic. In return, the demon augments the wizard’s magic with its own. It’s the concept of synthesis – that magic combined is not simply twice as powerful, but a lot more powerful. So magic generates magic.”

Harry felt a jolt of excitement. “Say that last part again. About magic generating magic.”

“You’re a powerful wizard, Harry. Probably the most powerful wizard on Earth, between the Deathly Hallows and your inheritance of Voldemort’s power. When you put your hand on anyone with even a tiny bit of magic, it works with theirs to increase it. Anybody raised in the wizarding world knows that phenomenon.”

“So if we worked magic together . . . “

“We might have even more powerful magic. Or we might cancel each other’s magic out – that happens with really incompatible . . . umm, powers, I suppose, might be the best term. There’s an old, old story, older than the Deathly Hallows, about a Witch and a Wizard who had incompatible powers – he drew his from things of the earth, and she from things of the air. They had a daughter who could only do magic with water and fire . . . .” He shrugged. “It’s an old story. I heard it in my cradle, but it’s not terribly exciting, so it doesn’t get retold much.”

“Did the story have a happy ending?”

“Well, that was it. The daughter learned to control the powers of fire and water. That was her magic. It was obviously one of those teaching tales about being what you can be, not something you’re not.”

Harry clutched his hair with his hands. Muggle-born children should start wizarding education far before Hogwarts, he thought. Neither Hermione nor he had ever heard this story.

“So it’s a moral tale, like the story of the Deathly Hallows?”

“Well, the Deathly Hallows is different; it obviously turned out to be . . . “ Draco trailed off. “What are you trying to say, Harry?”

“We’ve got a certain way in our research on what causes children of pure-bloods to have magic problems – because most Squibs we know of come from pure-bloods.”

“You wouldn’t notice any Squibs who were children of Muggles,” Draco pointed out. “Because technically they wouldn’t be Squibs. They’d be . . . . just more Muggles.”

“Yeah, and that’s where I think we went wrong. I think . . . I think it’s like if you mixed two kinds of gasoline in a car, diesel and petrol. One of them would work, but they mess up the engine because they’re designed for different machines. Only in this case you could use either; just not both.”

“I don’t know much about Muggle technology, but that doesn’t matter. “I don’t see your reasoning, Potter. What has this to do with Squibs?”

“Suppose you and Atropa had such different kinds of magic that it couldn’t blend.” Hermione was right, Harry thought. It’s magical, not genetic. But she was wrong too. Isolating the children from magic wouldn’t have any effect on the problem. “Scorpius might have got both kinds, but they’d more or less cancel each other out, because they were so completely incompatible. And he would look like – he would be -- a Squib.”

“So Scorpius is a Squib because his parents weren’t compatible. His children might not be?” Draco looked almost distracted at this.

Harry knew that for a Malfoy, to have one Squib child might not be a tragedy, but the fear that child meant that no one in Draco’s direct line would be magical must have been devastating. “Probably wouldn’t be, unless they were unlucky enough to come together with someone else with the exactly same reasons for being magically challenged.”

“Well, it still begs the question – how the fuck do we get Scorpius out, especially if there are no Dementiati so that’s not the problem?”

Harry grinned without humour. “Something is holding him, and I don’t know anything else which makes symbiotic contracts. I think it’s time to call up a demon and see what happens.”

***

Preparations for the spell took a little while. They entailed drawing a full pentacle on the stone floor. Harry crawled around the cracked paving, swearing as the sharper spots managed to break the skin, book in one hand and wand in the other. Draco glanced at the book and then reproduced the signs on the five corners. Fortunately, this appeared not to be the kind of demon who, if one didn’t set up extremely complicated protection spells, could break out of the pentacle and kill the summoner. Nonetheless, despite the urgency, neither wanted to risk the wrong results, if for no other reason than failure would then raise the question if it were the wrong spell or the wrong execution. Harry had unpleasant memories of Snape’s DADA classes, towards the end when the git had forced them all to identify what spell could solve a problem by this very challenge. When he had time to breathe, he mentally apologized to Snape for believing he’d been making it so difficult just to prove how infinitely superior he was to any student.

Harry was grateful that Draco did not question him once. He didn’t even ask what Harry thought he was calling up if all the Dementiati were extinct. Which was good, because Harry didn’t want to answer that. He wasn’t sure; he had a vague suspicion, and that was it.

Finally, they had the summoning drawn except for blood. They ran into a small impasse there. Harry knew it should be his blood, as the more powerful wizard – like baiting a trap with the best cheese around to catch a mouse. Draco was absolutely positive that his blood would be just fine, and not put Harry at risk. Harry, of course, denied that there was risk, and insisted he wasn’t protecting Draco, it was only logical.

After quite a lot of shouting, and a bit of name-calling, they finally compromised – they would use both kinds of blood, and take the risk together.

Draco turned out to be carrying a silver knife, which he un-shrank and sterilized with a candle he had also brought.

“Why not a spell?”

“Potter, did Snape ever allow us to prepare potions materials with a spell?”

“Do you always bring a potions kit with you?”

“No. Only when I’m anticipating having to do magic.” He smiled at Harry then. “You didn’t think I’d let you have all the fun, Potter?”

“You never do.” They sat against the wall, drinking water from their wands. Harry accidentally poured quite a bit over himself, which in the chilly, crumbling building wasn’t especially pleasant. When he complained, Draco sighed.

“I think it’s so unfair you’re such a powerful wizard, Harry. You think like a Muggle.” He made a quick motion, and Harry was dry. “Now, how long have we got?”

“Two hours. We’ve got a little time.” Midnight was the book’s declared requirement for demon-summoning. Harry moved a little closer to Draco. Now that they were focused on a solution, Scorpius’ father was much calmer. What Harry had missed the most was that calming comfort – to see him walk in and just feel safer, more himself, in that presence. If he only had Draco for the few more hours it would take to save Scorpius (he hoped) he wanted to feel that again, to remember what it felt not to be alone.

Draco reached over and brushed a bit of hair out of his eyes. “You need a haircut, Harry.”

“I’ll put it on my to-do list,” Harry said. “Unless you think we should drop everything and go into Folkestone to see what barbers they have to offer.”

“I think not.”

“You never know – the demon we’re summoning might be a stickler for a fashionable appearance.”

“Then we are both doomed, and might as well go to Plan B immediately,” Draco said. “Which reminds me, what is Plan B?”

“Currently, there is no Plan B,” Harry admitted. “I always figure, one plan that works is all we need.”

Draco looked at him, and shook his head. “Gryffindors.” But he said it affectionately. “All right, do you want to slice your own wrist, or shall I?”

“Let’s do each other’s. It might help augment the magic that way.”

“Good point.”

***

The directions took fire and blood and a thousand words. They took turns doing the incantations, to try and avoid draining themselves. The Augeo Potentiatis spell, of course, would come after the conjuring, if indeed, anything appeared.

They finished with 10 minutes left, and celebrated by collapsing next to each other. “If Scorpius is a victim of Augeo Potentiatis and this,” Draco said hoarsely, “who the hell could have done it? Atropa simply doesn’t have the strength or . . . or focus to call something like this up. Even if the Dementiatus exists, which is unlikely. And if there were one left, how would she know about it?”

“I don’t know. Perhaps she had help, or perhaps she didn’t do it right. I’m guessing the latter, frankly, or possibly both. I think I could do this alone, if I were absolutely driven to – but it’s taking a lot out of me, and I’ve got a pretty strong will.”

Draco grinned involuntarily. “Yeah, and the sea is wet.”

“Well, sometimes it’s useful.”

Draco cocked his head and looked at him for a moment, then put away his wand and came over. “Put your wand away, Potter.”

“Why?”

“Put it away.”

Harry pushed it back up his sleeve, puzzled. As soon as he had done so, Draco caught his shoulders and pulled him close.

The next thing he knew, he was being kissed, with every bit of focus and attention Draco had previously been paying to raising the demon. Stunned for a second or two, Harry enthusiastically returned it as soon as he could. Draco’s mouth was as soft on his as he remembered. He was perhaps clinging a little harder than he had used to, and his frame was a little thinner than Harry remembered, but the kiss was as sweet and warming as always.

When they paused to breathe, they stayed wrapped together, Draco’s forehead resting against Harry’s. “I thought I’d never get the chance to do that again,” he said, as if he hadn’t been the one who had broken it off.

“So I’m forgiven?”

“Harry, I forgave you the moment you pointed that stubborn chin at me, told me you loved me, and you weren’t going to go away, even though I said I didn’t need your help. I’ve never been a match for Harry Potter when his mind was made up.”

“Like I said, sometimes it’s useful.”

Draco grabbed a handful of his hair, and pulled Harry’s head a little closer. “Potter, it’s the thing about you that gets me hottest. Didn’t you know that? You never give up. You never back down. Even when you were this little, lost-looking, raggedy boy I’d only seen in Madame Malkin’s, you stood up to me on the Express, and defended someone else. You get to me better and faster than anyone else ever has or ever could – and Merlin! your self-righteousness could drive me to Firewhisky for breakfast! -- and if I ever yell at you, you yell right back . . . but I’ve missed you like hell. You didn’t give up on me, and you came to help. You’re Harry Potter, and there’s never been a time I didn’t want you. Am I forgiven?”

Harry smiled evilly. “I’ll tell you later. In the meantime, we have a demon to raise.” But, to make sure Draco understood where the demonstration was likely to head, he slid his hands under the other’s warm jumper and onto his bare back, then pressed himself against Draco’s chest and groin and let him feel how much he was looking forward to having time to forgive.

At midnight, Draco spoke the final words from the centre of the pentacle, Harry at his back.

For minutes on end nothing happened. Harry would have assumed nothing was going to, but Draco caught his shoulder as he sighed and began to leave. While Harry was more powerful, he knew Draco had much more knowledge, so he obediently waited.

Eventually, they were rewarded. A thin grey vapour began to appear within the pentacle. The bone chilling cold Harry associated with Dementors began to seep into his bones. He called his Patronus to the edge of the pentacle, and Draco followed suit. Both Patronuses lay down at the very edge, huddled together. Harry had never seen anything like that. The beaver looked especially hostile, showing its teeth and chattering to itself. The stag looked just a little bit anxious, with its horns tilted toward the centre.

Then . . . Something . . . appeared, seeming to form itself out of the cold fog around it. Its lines formed and reformed, as if it were made of fog itself. A feeling of sorrow and loss came with it; not, as with the Dementors, as if all the happiness in the world was gone, but as if that loss would someday be inevitable, no matter how one resisted. Harry somehow got the feeling that this Being regretted that as much as any human might. He felt almost a pull of sympathy, although surely that was absurd.

“Wizards! I have seen no wizards for some time,” the Being said. “I have not seen ones that know how to call me for twice that. And now I have seen three wizards in the course of a day. How remarkable.”

Harry drew himself up, and looked the Being in the eyes, or at least looked directly at the point on the form where its eyes were most likely to be. “I’m Harry Potter,” he said. “Was the third you saw young?”

“You are all young,” the Being pointed out. “I am nearly a thousand years old. But the third looked like a wizard’s young. He had the look of your companion.”

Harry thought about this. “You have seen no wizards before this week for a long time? What is a long time to . . . you? How shall we call you?”

“Call me Bereus. Nothing short of several centuries is a long time to me.”

“Then you didn’t – you haven’t – no wizard has bargained with you to bind Scorpius?”

“Who is Scorpius?”

“My son,” Draco said.

“I have made no wizards’ bargain to share power. The ones of us fool enough to do that with your kind almost always died of it.”

Harry thought that was quite a different point of view from the book’s, but might well be true. “Our young is imprisoned in a mirror or a stone cage – we’re not sure which.”

Bereus laughed. “If you can’t tell, how will you get him out?”

“I don’t know, but we will.” Bereus looked at him thoughtfully, and said nothing. “Do you know what has imprisoned him?”

“Of course.”

Draco jerked next to him. “Please tell us then,” Harry said, acting as if he were unsurprised.

“What can you give me if I do?”

Damn. He should have known Bereus had been behaving far too amicably for a demon.

“What do you want?”

The pentacle they stood in grew colder. “I want a mate.”

Harry blinked. “You are the last of your kind, Bereus. I don’t think we can do that.”

Small shards of ice filled the air. “Then your young will die.”

“Oh, shit,” Draco murmured. “What do we do now?”

Harry didn’t think it was the time to stop and discuss the possibilities. “Okay, okay, I’ll get you a mate. Just . . . we need help. Have you ever had children?”

“No. Why would I want a mate if I’d already had one?”

“Er . . . yeah.” Harry did not want a silence Bereus might fill in with reflection. “When you do, you will want to protect them no matter at what risk to yourself.”

“I am aware of that.” Bereus sounded oddly amused. “So wizards still think other magical creatures are fools – and not like them?”

“Well, it depends. But to get your mate, I need to know what bound Scorpius. If you’re the last of your kind, it wasn’t a Dementiatus, was it?”

“Yes . . . and no.”

“And why have you lasted so long? Can you mate, anymore?”

“I have slept among the mirrors. Not that my life is your business.”

“Harry . . . “

“Sssh, I’m getting an idea here. It all makes sense at last.”

“What does?”

“Everything. Just be quiet for a bit, Draco.” The ideas were coming together as they had for the Elder Wand; smoothly, demanding no linear thought. Harry knew what Atropa had done, and why it failed; and he knew what was bound to Scorpius. He had to come up with a way to release them both, or Scorpius would die.

Harry walked a little closer to Bereus. “I will give you what is bound to Scorpius for a mate, in trade for releasing the bond.”

Draco jerked abruptly, but to Harry’s relief mastered the impulse and said nothing.

Bereus was silent, pondering this. “Agreed. Except that I cannot release the bond. Whoever is bound must do that.”

“How?”

Again, it sounded as if the Dementiatus were laughing. “Immature ones cannot make such agreements. The binder must not have understood the situation.”

“Well, how can we clarify?”

“All your child has to do is make it clear that he did not choose the contract and did not want it, and he will be free. So will the one who holds him, who is as bound by the agreement as he is.”

“He just has to say it?” Harry asked. Simple solutions were not generally familiar to him, when it came to life or death situations.

“Of course. Using his power to reject the bond.”

Uh oh. “What power?”

“His wizard power, of course.”

“Uh . . . what if he doesn’t have any?”

“Then how can he reject a magical bond?”

Harry thought quickly. “His magic is . . . is gone. We can return it to him. What happens while we’re doing that?”

“His binder will of course attempt to share any power. His binder is truly angry because she was promised a wizard’s power, and received almost none. So she will fight to get it.”

“Oh, crap.” He started pacing in a small circle. “Will you help us fight her?”

“Of course not. The only agreement we made was for information. I have been generous with that, because I want you to succeed. I need a mate. But how successful would I be with her if I forced her to give up what power she has?”

“Merlin, a logical demon,” Draco murmured. “He would have done well in Slytherin.”

“Be careful, or I’ll think you’re going to stop valuing pure blood,” Harry replied absently. “But he’s right, so here’s what we’re going to do. You’re going to give Scorpius power enough to make him able to reject his magical bond. I’ll be holding off the Dementor.”

“What Dementor?”

“You were right – Atropa didn’t call up a Dementiatus. Even if she were powerful enough herself, she didn’t know one to call. So she substituted for a Dementor – the closest thing to it.”

“But that . . . that’s insane. You can’t just substitute one being in a specialized binding for another! They don’t have the same characteristics!”

“Well, that would explain why his magic energy is so odd, wouldn’t it? And Scorpius’ aura varied; it became the darkest and muddiest when he’d spent time at Malfoy Manor. That’s also the time your home felt the most depressing and sad. I suspect Atropa felt renewing the spell might improve the results. Of course, what it did was simply worsen his magic, because the Dementor wasn’t getting sufficient power and had more control over him just after the bond was reinforced. But because he was so low in magic, the magic would have been like diesel to a machine which wanted petrol – which would make the Dementor ill, so her control loosened.”

He felt the heat beginning to rise off Draco’s body in waves. “Atropa . . . I’ll kill her. So she’s the reason Scorpius is a Squib? She’s feeding a Dementor with his magic?”

Harry shook his head. “No, that part you had right, Draco. She wanted Scorpius to be powerful, and he barely had any magic at all. I’m sure this was an attempt at getting him more. Unfortunately, she wasn’t familiar enough with the theory to do it properly, or in this case, leave it alone.”

“All the same, I’m going to kill her.” Harry didn’t try to talk him out of it. They’d deal with that when there was time, too.

“But . . . Harry. I can’t even reach Scorpius. How can I lend him some of my magic?”

Harry decided to go directly to the sticky part. “You won’t be lending him anything. You’ll be giving him some.”

Draco looked at him. “I’d give Scorpius all of it, and my life as well – but how?”

“Fortunately, he doesn’t need your life, and he doesn’t need all your magic. What he needs is his engine flushed out and refilled clean.” He thought about thanking Vernon Dursley for forcing him to do the dirtier car maintenance, but couldn’t bring himself to do so. Particularly since this was a metaphor.

“What’s that?”

Harry took a deep breath. “A Muggle metaphor about draining and refilling an engine that’s clogged. Draco, this is the big one, okay? I think I’ve got the answer, I hope I do, but no time to explain or try something else instead. Can you trust me, just this once?”

With Scorpius’ life, he added to himself, knowing how difficult that would be for any parent, but especially for Draco, who had so many of his own ghosts. Trust Harry Potter, who was an enemy most of your life.

But Draco, looking terrified, nodded.

Harry smiled, his throat too tight to speak. The Draco he had seen at night, the one who put himself completely into Harry’s hands, trusting him, was showing himself now.

He coughed, and turned back to Bereus. “All right, we’re ready to free both of them. But once we have, we’re going to be tired. I need your word that you will take your mate and leave immediately before she seeks to take anything more from us.”

“Agreed.”

Harry took out his wand and began erasing the pentacle, so that Bereus had freedom for what he needed to do. Draco spoke very quietly as they walked the arms of the star. “Harry, he’s a demon – by nature vicious and unreliable. They do bad turns to humans whenever they can.”

“Yeah, like Slytherins,” Harry said, and Draco blinked in shock. Harry erased the last line of the pentacle and looked him in the eye. “That’s the Slytherin reputation, and you know how legitimate it is. Well, who do you think gave demons that reputation? The same people who said Centaurs were lesser, and Half-bloods were lesser, and Half-Giants were dangerous, that’s who. Well, I don’t have to believe the Umbridges of the Wizarding world. And I’m not going to.”

Giving Draco no time to respond, he walked back the few steps to the mirror Scorpius was in.

“Use Legilimens, Draco, and give him your power.” This was the part he was least sure of, so Harry spoke as confidently as he could. “Just think of it going into him. Imagine orgasm leading to conception – you know the feeling of everything wonderful, and then exhaustion? Give him that.”

“Do you mind if I think of you instead of Atropa?”

Harry flushed a little, but shook his head. “Of course not. Take everything we’ve ever had, and give it to him with the magic. It will be like re-conceiving him in a way.

“Don’t hold back?”

“You won’t have to” if this works. “It will be like donating something from your body – like blood – which can be replenished. So give him as much as you can.”

“Harry, you said ‘draining and refilling’ . . .”

“I did, didn’t I?” Harry took several deep breaths. “Well . . . your job is just to give, Draco. Trust me, and no matter what you hear, please don’t stop trusting me. And Scorpius will come home safely.” I hope.

Draco got as close to the mirror as he could, and said, “Legilimens.” In a moment, they heard Scorpius, not quite as terrified as when they first spoke to him earlier, say, “Dad? Harry?”

“Yes, we’re back,” Harry said cheerfully. “And we’re pretty sure we know how to get you out of there. Are you aware that there’s something sharing your magic with you?”

“I found out . . . a little while ago. Maybe a day or two – I don’t know how long I’ve been here. Once she trapped me in the mirror, I could hear her, sometimes.”

“Well, she’s trapped too, inside your . . . well, your body, or your soul, I’m not sure what. We’re going to free both her and you.”

He felt that icy, slimy voice in his head. “You lie. I have tried to be free. Now I will take what is mine.”

“You’ll be free. Scorpius is not yours. An adult contracted with you, but you know a wizard must make his own agreements.”

Then let him dissolve the contract.” There was a bit of spite in the voice.

“I don’t want to be contracted with you,” Scorpius said. He waited, then said puzzled, “Well, didn’t it work?”

“It won’t work, Scorpius, until you have enough magic inside you to take your own magic back.” Harry tried to make his thoughts sound reassuring.

“I don’t have any magic,” Scorpius responded, and his voice was shaky. “Hogwarts said so.”

“You have to trust me,” Harry said, feeling madly that he was going around sounding like a Conservative MP, begging trust from everyone and hoping they never found out that he didn’t deserve it. “Your father is going to give you some of his. All you have to do is to . . . well, take it. Just close your eyes and feel the magic build up in you, and when you feel . . . full of magic, then say, “I don’t want to be contracted with you” and mean it, every bit.”

“And that’ll work?”

“Magic is will, Scorpius, remember? Will using power focused on something. We can raise your power, but the will and focus depends completely on you. If you’re strong enough, the magic will come.”

“You never said that in class.”

“No,” Harry agreed. “I didn’t.” He felt elation flood through him. He’d never said it because he’d always thought Squibs had no way to get magic power. But now . . . it made sense, he thought, and fit everything they knew so far. Perhaps all Muggles could become magical too – and wouldn’t that confuse the expectations of the wizarding world! Still, he wasn’t Hermione. The only thing standing in the way of one of the biggest steps forward in the Wizarding World was – he might be wrong.

I’m not wrong. It was an affirmation. He wasn’t wrong because he couldn’t be wrong. If he were wrong, Scorpius would be trapped. If he were wrong, Draco would be devastated. He would not be wrong. “Draco.”

“All right, Scorpius, pay attention. Remember to feel for the magic in you. You must pay attention only to what you feel from me and what it’s doing to you. Harry will have his own task, but you can’t get distracted. Do you think you can manage that?”

Draco’s thoughts were calm and centred – nothing like the devastated father Harry had seen and heard. A great bubble of joy started rising in him. Next time he called up his Patronus this was the moment he would remember – working together with Draco to build something infinitely more important than a table. Assuming I’m not wrong, and we succeed.

He felt Draco’s magic begin to move like a warm wind stirring his hair. He’d never thought of magic as having personality before, but it did. It was earthy, warm, solid, and yet somehow light. To say it was powerful was irrelevant. Far more integral was how it tasted, how it felt, like sand drifting through his mind, like a column of dust in a hot country, like soil drinking deep after a rain. It felt nothing like Harry’s own. His had always seemed like air more than anything; when he paid attention to it, it felt like a great wind passing through, like birds inviting him to follow them into the sky, like Quidditch just before he caught the Snitch.

He felt the Dementor nosing hungrily at Draco’s magic, and Harry’s beginning to rise with it as he thought about magic and it called him. Perhaps wizards and Dementors really wanted the same things; perhaps “soul” and “magic” were two words for one phenomenon. He opened up his own power, and sensed the Dementor going after it like a starving animal after food.

What would it be like to be a Dementor? To always feed on joy because one had none inside? Because surely magic was joy. Every minute since Harry had known himself to be magical, nothing had ever been intolerable again. The nightmares – hell, the battles – did not overbalance the reality that he could move a little stick – or his hand – and the world around him changed.

Harry had been planning on using his magic to distract the Dementor by hurting her; by experimenting with a series of attempts at causing pain. Instead, he imagined stretching out his hand and letting her nibble at the magic in his palm; bowing politely as to a Hippogriff; replacing her gray, tattered clothing with a glowing yellow robe. He felt the headache he’d had since they found the Hall of Mirrors leave him, and realized that the Dementor found the feast she was freely given far better than the one she had been trying to take. He happily handed her more power, trusting her to use it to heal herself, and knowing he was losing nothing.

Then he said to her, hoping Draco and Scorpius were too busy to hear him, “I want you to take any magic in Scorpius that is not like what his father is giving now.”

The Dementor was silent for what seemed a long time. Harry braced himself, wondering what to do if she refused.

“All right,” she said finally. “It is not tasty magic, but I will. ”

He felt waves of magic leaving Scorpius, in harsh, fiery bursts.

“Enough,” he heard her say finally. “It is gone, and I am ready to be unbound, if your offspring is ready to unbind.”

Harry checked back on Draco and Scorpius. Scorpius’ presence felt strong, electric, certain. Draco’s was tired – not weak, but as if he’d spent the day playing Quidditch. Harry crossed his fingers.

“Are you ready to speak, Scorpius?”

“It’s just so nice,” Scorpius answered, clearly completely focused on the magic rather than the problem. “It’s like . . . . it’s like the day you do everything right, you know?”

“Yes, I know. Now use it, and say what you want to say.”

“I never wanted to be bound to you,” Scorpius said to the Dementor, and Harry felt surges of magic surrounding each word. “I don’t think you liked it either. So let me go, and I’ll let you go, and we can both go home.”

He felt the Dementor slide away from him. It still felt a bit more like a slug than a mammal – but slugs had reasons for their slime too.

Scorpius stepped through the mirror and clung to Draco. Harry leaned against another mirror and simply tried to get his breath back.

And Bereus appeared in the mirror, too tall to really fit, glowing with fire.

Scorpius took one look and stepped back farther into Draco’s arms. Draco looked at the Dementiatus superciliously, as if having a demon in the room with no wards or protections was just like an evening party at Malfoy Manor where an unwanted relative had showed up without an invitation. Then he looked at Harry, making it clear it was still Harry’s party.

“You’ll take her somewhere else?” Harry asked. He was no longer particularly worried what the Dementor would do to them, but having a Dementor at Folkestone could only increase the depressing atmosphere. Besides, if Bereus left too, perhaps it could become a wizarding resort again. Perhaps they could bring the children here for the summer instead of Scotland . . . it might be a nice change. The children knew how to survive in the wild. They were strong and smart. It was time they practiced getting along socially with people of different ages and experiences. Harry could have used such training.

The Dementor made something that sounded rather like a sniff. “He takes me nowhere. But I will take him. We will find our own kind.”

Was Harry anthropomorphizing when he thought the creature of flame and smoke looked pleased? At any rate, they left, and the place was only a deserted maze of mirrors again.

Draco had lifted Scorpius into his arms. Scorpius’ arms were around his neck, and any hesitations about being “treated like a baby” were clearly on hold. He had his blond head tucked under his father’s neck, and his eyes tightly closed. Bruises and cuts Harry had not noticed before made him look even younger. Draco’s hair mingled with his son’s in a pool of brightness and Harry felt himself melt with affection for both of them.

“It feels really nice, Dad,” Scorpius said sleepily. “Having magic, I mean.”

Draco looked worried. “Well, I’m sorry you don’t, any more. I’m not inside your head just now.”

Scorpius yawned, then grabbed his father’s sleeve. This time he didn’t hold on to it, just pulled out Draco’s wand. Harry realized that Scorpius’ habit of sleeve-holding had something to do with feeling safe with his father’s magic.

He looked around, squinting a little from sleepiness, till he seemed to focus on a half-rusted tin lying among the rubbish. Then he moved the wand precisely as he had learned the first day in Harry’s class, and said, “Wingardium Leviosa.

The can moved nearly to the ceiling and floated there.

He grinned proudly as Harry and Draco’s jaws both dropped. “This is my magic, not ours, Dad,” he said, a trifle smugly. “You gave me some and I can keep it. It feels different – it’s only the good kind, and my body doesn’t feel like it’s going to be sick all the time.”

So the magic drain had not just worked enough to lend him magic. Harry had been right; once the clogging mixture had been removed, Scorpius' own abilities were now maintaining his power. “I think we may need to discuss this with Hogwarts’ Headmistress after Christmas,” he said. “And Hermione and I are going to have an article to write.”

Draco took the wand back from Scorpius and tucked it away. They turned and began walking out of the building; somehow, it didn’t seem a comfortable place to Apparate.

“Well, you need a new title,” Draco said. “Something which reflects your new destiny. The Boy Who Got a Demon Laid? The Man Who Solved the Squib Problem?”

“Maybe,” Harry mused, “I can get away without being noticed for this.”

“I’m noticing you.”

Harry glanced over at Draco’s trousers, and saw that was emphatically true. “Well, that’s all right. We’ll need something to do after the boys go back to Hogwarts.”

“I can think of a few things.”

Harry stopped and grabbed his arm. “Let’s make the list later. I have an 11 year old at home alone, and a couple of children to locate. Tonight’s Christmas Eve, and I have to figure out how to make it special for them, since Ginny’s not going to be there and I am going to be barely moving.”

“Simple,” Draco replied, and grinned. He pointed at Scorpius, and Harry looked and saw that his mouth was open, his head had fallen back, and he was sound asleep and drooling a little in his father’s arms. Harry wondered when he’d become so unromantic that a fit man in a nice shirt looked even better with a gangly blond child and drool on his shoulder. “We’ll bring all the Christmas stuff to the Manor, and have it together. I’ll tell the house-elves to make a feast, Scorpius will play host to the younger generation as much as needed, and after dinner we will leave them to their own devices and go to bed.”

“Sounds good to me.” He looked across the expanse of grey seaside. He felt as if they’d been there weeks, but it hadn’t even been 24 hours. The sunrise hadn’t quite forced its way above the horizon, but today at least there was going to be a sun. Perhaps Bereus had been making the fogs and greyness, and had decided to resolve his yearning to mate somewhere else. Harry could relate to that.

He caught Draco’s arm, and they Apparated home.

Part 17 Epilogue

Harry looked around at an origami flock of phoenixes, flamingos, and peacocks circling the tree. The fluttering and swooping birds almost hid the group of young people under it. The impatience which had started the evening had been sated by a period of fierce unwrapping. As they were unwrapped, the paper was enchanted to turn into birds – Harry’s compromise between two approaches to unwrapping a gift. Now Harry had set the birds the task of finding any last presents invisible among all the colours.

Draco aimed his wand at a golden peacock, and its tail became teal and gold. Harry watched it sail around the tree, identify a small package which had been overlooked, swoop down on it, and carry the gift to Lily, whose eyes widened with delight. The others laughed affectionately as she almost snatched it from the peacock and ripped it open.

“That’s quite a nice peacock,” Harry said lazily. “I thought Malfoys preferred white ones.”

“You’re labouring under a misapprehension, Potter,” Draco said, watching Lily unwrap the thin jewelled bracelet he’d given her and blush with delight. The Potter-Weasley family was a bit short on femininity – Ginny wasn’t the bracelet sort herself, and Harry gave Lily books mostly – and this was the first piece of jewellery Lily had ever been given. “If you had been honoured by being invited to Malfoy Manor before the Dark Lord took it over, you would have seen a pride of peacocks whose tails were the envy of phoenixes. It was only after Voldemort moved in that they all turned white from terror. It was the same phenomenon which happened in the 18th century with then-Dark Lord Oberon, which turned Malfoy hair white.”

Scorpius looked up from where he and Al were tangled in a large construction of… something… from enchanted bricks and wood. “Is that true, Dad? That’s not true, is it? Because they have chicks, and the chicks are white too. Is it true?”

Harry and Draco laughed. “You’ve got to quit lying to your son, Draco,” Harry said, catching a Chocolate Snitch which had just evaded James’ grasp, and thinking himself fortunate James was a Keeper, not a Seeker. “He’s beginning to be able to deal with your logic.”

“It’s a rite of passage in my family,” Draco retorted. “We have earned our inheritance if we can tell when our father is lying.”

“My dad would never lie,” James said, emphatically. He was a little prickly around Draco just now; he had caught him and Harry kissing three times already – in the dining hall, on the terrace, and in front of the fireplace, where at least there was mistletoe – and had figured out the nature of their relationship without it actually having to be spelled out to him. Of course, that meant all the children knew. Harry had no idea what Lily thought – probably just accepted it and went back to her book – and knew Albus and Scorpius were not at all surprised, but pleased that they no longer had to make sure their fathers didn’t accidentally encounter each other. James had a bit of a problem with change, and more than any of them had been raised with Ron’s emphatic condemnation of all things Slytherin, of which Malfoy was the prime example.

Harry figured that James would come around. Harry would stay out of it as much as possible. He saw James occasionally casting thoughtful glances at Scorpius and Al, and he could sympathize with James’ 14-year-old anxieties. No, son, it doesn’t necessarily run in families, and you can’t catch it.

The last present – a musical game – had been located, and James was experimenting with it. The noise level went up to nearly unbearable. It hadn’t been far from there anyway. Harry was exhausted. He’d had a very long 24 hours, and although they’d slept for almost eight hours after returning, he didn’t feel completely caught up yet.

Scorpius had his head on Al’s shoulder, and was nearly asleep himself. He’d had a lot of exercise earlier, despite his ordeal. Draco had handed him one of the manor’s brooms, and said it represented a new one he would get after Boxing Day. Al and Scorpius had chased each other on broomsticks for hours, Scorpius pausing occasionally to shout such things as “This is the best Christmas ever, Dad!” Now that he could fly his own broom, Harry was going to talk to Ginny about teaching him a few Quidditch moves so that he might be competitive next fall.

Harry stood up. “James, cast Silencio before you go any further with playing that music. Lily, it’s time to change for bed. Al, you might want to help Scorpius navigate to his room – he shouldn’t have to sleep on the floor again.”

“I love it when you take charge,” Draco whispered in his ear. The unexpected vibration against the ear, knowing it was from Draco’s lips, made Harry shiver involuntarily. Not to mention the sentiment. Harry wasn’t used to thinking of telling the children what to do as taking charge. But Draco appeared to be asking for…

There was a soft laugh. Then Draco stood up and looked at them all benignly.

“Enjoy yourselves, the rest of the evening,” he said. “James, I assume that you can ensure Al and Lily do what they need to do to end up in bed?”

James nodded.

“Good; feel free to enjoy the house as you wish. Your father and I have had a very, very long day and night, and I’m going to show him a minor carpentry problem to get his assistance. Then we’ll tuck ourselves away for the night.”

Harry kissed and hugged each of them, even James, who groaned softly but allowed it, even Harry’s extra-hard hug. After Scorpius’ adventure, the thought of one of his children going missing was just too close to the surface.

“Tomorrow’s a long day, children,” he said cheerfully. “I need some sleep before the Weasley dozens arrive. Just clean up in here before you go to bed.”

He let Draco lead him to his workshop then.

“What carpentry problem do you have that couldn’t possibly wait till after Christmas?” he asked, puzzled and just a trifle suspicious. “Are you planning to work on it tomorrow?”

“No, tonight.” Draco took his arm and led him into the room.

By the light of many candles, Harry could see a large table, something like the children’s table they’d made but in different colours. The predominant colours were green and gold, elegant enough that it was probably an adult’s dining table. But Harry couldn’t be certain, because on the table, contrasting brightly, were what must have been millions of red rose petals, forming a layer a couple of inches thick, with a few dropping onto the paint-spattered floor.

“What the hell…”

“Harry, please, language. They’re roses – my favourite roses, actually.”

“What are you going to do with them?” He glanced away from them back to Draco, and surprised an expression beyond lust – a combination of hunger, affection, and intention which turned Harry’s ankles to water. “I thought this was a carpentry problem.”

To his surprise he felt himself lifted by a quick spell and laid supine on the table. “It is, Potter. I want to test its stability.”

Oooooh. Various parts of his body twitched enthusiastically. “I see. This is why you need my help?” He was trying to keep up the light banter Draco seemed to want, but found it difficult. He was already hard and desperate. He moaned in pure reaction.

Draco’s smirk widened at that. He toed off his shoes and leaped to kneel over Harry. “Not too tired?”

“It’s been months, Malfoy.”

“That’s no answer.” But if Harry had planned on a follow-up response, he had no chance. Draco slid his hand inside Harry’s trousers and cupped a buttock. Harry moaned again, and bucked against him.

Draco used his wrist to slowly draw Harry’s trousers and pants down.

It was an odd feeling to have his fairly comfortable cotton jeans gone away, and soft, silky, sweet-smelling petals rubbing against his hips instead. Remarkably sensual and unfamiliar. Harry felt rather more naked than he’d ever felt in his life.

“Draco…”

“Ssssh.” Draco soothed Harry’s tenseness by taking a handful of petals and rubbing it against his chest. “This is apology sex. I’m not very practiced at it.”

“Apology sex includes rose petals?”

“Why not?”

The incredibly soft, smooth, silken coolness now moving across his abdomen, with Draco’s warm hand at the edges of them, kept Harry from even trying to think of an answer. Draco kept moving his hand slowly, and the petals soon were stroking his cock. He looked at Harry’s face and quickly used his other hand to circle Harry’s cock with thumb and forefinger.

“Oh fuck, oh god, oh…”

Draco vibrated with laughter. His handful of petals kept circling Harry’s groin, softly stroking each sensitive bit. Some of them slipped between every crease, and Harry was screaming now, even forgetting obscenities in the incredibly focused pleasure. He jerked forward, tacitly begging, and Draco drew the roses between his thighs, rubbing them at the join of legs and hips, then moving backward and stroking them over his cleft.

“Don’t want to come, yet…” Harry gasped. “Want you… want to be joined to you. Missed you so much.”

Draco kept his handful of petals tight against Harry, but managed to nibble at his neck between words. “I was completely, totally, absolutely wrong, Harry. Did I mention completely? And wrong?”

“Yes, but don’t stop doing that. I mean it, I’m going to die if we’re not together soon. Oh shit, Draco… You said you had what you needed.’

Harry didn’t want him to take the time to undress. Draco sensed that, and simply pulled lube out of his pocket and unbuttoned his trousers. “Being dressed contradicts the sensuality,” he pointed out.

“Do I give a fuck? You wanna top?”

“Harry Potter, always the cultured gentleman,” Draco snorted, but his eyes said something infinitely less insulting.

“Yeah, well, after I’ve blown my insides out coming, we’ll see what well-bred phrasing you can come up with for “Fuck me, Potter, harder.” Harry spread his legs to provide as much access as possible.

“God, Potter, have I ever mentioned that you are the most fun of anyone I know?” Draco was oiling himself now. Harry and he had not been dressed while having sex before, and Harry stared, thinking Draco’s hard, thick cock surrounded by unbuttoned black trousers was the sexiest thing he’d ever seen. Except of course the rest of Draco.

Harry felt himself breached, and grabbed Draco’s wrist. It had been awhile, and hurt a little. “So why Potter, Draco? Aren’t I Harry now? You always call me Potter in bed… and now even on this table.”

“Potter, this isn’t a table – this is the bed of roses your life hasn’t been. It’s symbolic of what I intend for you the rest of your life. It’s as near to sentimental as you’re ever going to get me, so enjoy it. And may I point out that when you come, you’re in all likelihood going to be screaming ‘Malfoy.’”

Harry gasped as Draco removed his fingers. “Do I?”

“So far, always.” Then Draco pushed in slowly, his own legs rough wool between Harry’s thighs, his cock filling Harry, the rose petals soft against his back. Harry almost blacked out from pure sensuality, pain and pleasure crashing together, his arms around the man he’d thought he’d lost.

Draco helped Harry move his legs to Draco’s shoulders. He was wearing a thick silk shirt, and Harry toed off his borrowed slippers and tried to unbutton it with his feet, which proved to be impossible. Draco kissed each foot, put them back where they belonged, and unbuttoned his own shirt. Harry grabbed his own handful of rose petals and traced it across Draco’s nipples.

“Oh, fuck! Potter, that feels… don’t stop.”

Harry’s cock was flat against Draco’s belly. He opened his hand so that the petals fell like splashes of paint onto him, then replaced the palm of his hand against Draco’s nipple. Draco groaned and began to move, and Harry forgot all about the roses. It was Draco, his own, annoying, intelligent, snarky, talented, arrogant, sweet git, and Harry called him all those things as they occurred to him.

But somewhere around “fucking git, arrogant bastard beautiful hopeless mine…” his name came out as “Malfoy,” and then it was “Malfoy, Malfoy, MalFOY!” just as Draco had said, until Harry was screaming too hard to form any word shape at all, and only Malfoy’s strong grip on him kept him from falling off the table in a series of uncontrollable twitches. And Malfoy was coming too, his lips nuzzling the hollow of his throat, silken hair scattered with rose petals resting on Harry’s cheek, whispering “Harry, Harry,” and then, in a roar, “Potter!”

It was familiar and so new still to lie together, getting their breath back. This time, Draco was stroking Harry’s head and body, staring at him as if he’d forgotten what he looked like but was determined that wouldn’t happen again. Harry smiled back at him sleepily.

“Malfoy,” he said.

“Potter.” Then Draco smiled back at him. “What do your friends call you?”

Harry blinked. “Harry, of course.”

“And people you don’t know?”

“Mr. Potter, usually.”

“So who calls you Potter these days?”

Harry began to understand. “You. Only you.”

“That’s right. I have a part of you no one else has. Not just your name – but it’s what I’ve called you since we were Albus and Scorpius’ age.”

Harry put a hand against Draco’s cheek. “You knew I’d show up, didn’t you – when Scorpius was missing?”

Draco flushed, and then nodded. “I thought you would. I kept wondering where you were. You’re a much better human being than I am, Potter.”

“Wars are never over, Draco. We grew up during one. We just have different ghosts.”

Draco moved off of Harry and then came back. “Can I take my clothes off now?”

“Yeah, okay. Just don’t forget where you put them.”

“I’ll transfigure the roses into a dressing gown.”

Harry thought about this. “A trifle flamboyant for me, don’t you think?”

“Better than little golden snitches buzzing around.”

Harry laughed. “I was disappointed that you didn’t give me a robe like that for Christmas.”

Draco’s eyes were drooping. The excitement of the day had finally caught up with him. “I’ll see what I can do tomorrow. While you tell Ron how your life is changing.”

“Oh shit.” Harry sighed. “Life is never easy.”

“The day after tomorrow, I have to go look for Atropa.” Draco’s voice was grim, and Harry knew murder remained in his thoughts.

“Mmm, I don’t think that would be a good idea. And it won’t be necessary.”

Draco’s sleepiness withdrew, and he looked suspicious. “Why not?”

“I owled the Auror’s office. She’s violated some serious anti-Dark regulations. They will be looking for her. With any luck – for her – they’ll find her before the Dementor does. That Dementor was quite annoyed when she left, about being treated concerning the magic.”

Draco looked for one instant if he were going to snap at Harry, but then he sighed. “You are such an interfering do-gooder.”

“Yeah. No hope I’ll outgrow it, either.”

Draco yawned again. “Then I’ll just have to keep an eye on you, I suppose. I need to sleep, considering what I’m facing tomorrow – a hostile teenage boy, a really hostile gang of Weasleys, and an awfully smug do-gooder. Happy Christmas, Potter.”

“Happy Christmas, Malfoy.” Harry put his arm over Draco’s waist and rested his hand on the smooth belly. Despite the roses, the table was a little hard, but he wasn’t about to complain. As Draco had said, Harry wasn’t going to sleep on a bed of roses very often. He might as well enjoy it tonight.

The End

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