The gleaming scarlet train was magnificent, he thought. Surrounded by voluminous clouds of steam that seemed to swell up to the high ceiling, it looked like something out of a wonderful dream.
He voiced these thoughts out loud, his tone one of awe. His father chuckled and murmured something inaudible in response.
"Father, what if I'm in Hufflepuff?" he said suddenly, the horrible thought striking him as he gazed around at the numerous families clustered together for one last good-bye. He craned his neck to look up at his father, who was standing behind him. "Can I go to the headmistress and ask her to put me somewhere else?"
Draco Malfoy arched an eyebrow at his son, half amused and half exasperated. "I highly doubt you'll be sorted into Hufflepuff, Scorpius."
"But what if?" Scorpius persisted, unable to shake his fear of being placed in the house that both his parents had admitted to despising.
"I'm quite certain you'll be in Slytherin," said Draco firmly, and his tone made it clear that the subject was to be put to rest.
Scorpius shrugged. "If you say so, Father…" he said dubiously.
His attention wandered back to his surroundings. It looked as though the Hogwarts Express was about to leave, because the billowing steam was starting to thicken, and students could now be seen clambering onto the train, their trunks in tow. As Scorpius surveyed Platform 9¾, mimicking his father's supercilious expression, his eyes fell upon a cluster of red-headed people.
"Who're they?" he demanded, pointing his finger at them.
This time, his mother answered him.
"You needn't pay attention to them, darling," said Daphne Malfoy, sniffing disdainfully, "they're only the Weasleys."
"Hang on…" said Draco, his voice suddenly tense. There was a look of intense concentration on his pale, sharp-featured face. "It looks like Potter's lot is with them, too."
"Oh?" said his wife, sounding uninterested. "Well, I'm not surprised, he always did like to hang around with riff-raff like the Weasleys. Why, he even married one, when half the girls in our year would have had him…"
She gave a light, tinkling laugh, as though she had just said something vastly amusing. Draco, however, paid no attention to her. He had taken an unconscious step forward, his eyes fixed on the tallest head of black hair in the lot.
"Father?" said Scorpius uncertainly. He had only seen that strange, intense look on his father's face once before, and that was when he had been looking at a photo album containing pictures from his Hogwarts days. Curious, Scorpius had tried to sidle over and glance over his father's shoulder, but Draco had abruptly slammed the book shut and ordered Scorpius out of the room.
Scorpius followed his father's gaze over, and was startled to see that several round, freckled faces were now staring back at him, wearing identical expressions of frank curiosity. One boy's face stood out from the rest; his hair was thick and jet black, and he had bright green eyes that brought to mind grass after a rainfall. Scorpius blinked twice, then arranged his features into a look of haughty indifference.
"Draco,do stop glaring at Harry Potter. The train's about to leave."
His wife's reproach seemed to snap Draco out of his thoughts; he gave a curt nod to Harry Potter (whom, with an inward gasp, Scorpius now recognised from his schoolbooks), and turned back to Scorpius, the intent look in his light grey eyes gone.
"Have a good term, then, Scorpius," he said, and though the words were delivered coolly, there was a certain quality of warmth to them.
Scorpius nodded solemnly, still marvelling over the fact that Harry Potter was standing within fifty yards of him. "Bye, Father, Mother."
Daphne smiled and leaned down to hug her son briefly. "Try to stay out of trouble, darling. We'll see you for Christmas break," she whispered into his ear.
Again, Scorpius nodded, too eager to get on board the majestic Hogwarts Express to pay much attention to his mother's parting words. Having divested himself of his trunk earlier, he now joined the ranks of students waiting to climb on board the rapidly filling train.
Once he had jumped into the carriage and waved good-bye one last time to his mother and father, Scorpius began searching for an empty compartment. He felt a pang every time he glanced into one filled with excited students chattering away; though he knew that carrying his father's surname would guarantee him associates in Slytherin, he was nevertheless filled with the secret fear that he would have a difficult time befriending his new classmates.
Scorpius vaguely recalled his father telling him something about a Slytherin compartment near the back of the train, so he hurried on down the corridor, glancing into some of the windows he passed. About half-way down the train, however, he skidded to a halt, for he had just seen someone familiar through the last window he had glanced into: the boy with the jet-black hair and bright green eyes. Now quite desperate for the company of a familiar face, Scorpius slid the compartment door open and stepped inside, praying that the boy, who was alone inside, wasn't a Hufflepuff.
"H-hi," Scorpius stammered.
The boy looked up. "Hullo," he said pleasantly.
"Can I sit down?" asked Scorpius, gesturing at the empty seat across from the boy.
He shrugged. "If you'd like. My friend Rose has gone to say hi to some girls she met on the way here, but she'll be back."
Slightly annoyed by the boy's indifference but grateful for a spot anyway, Scorpius sat down on the indicated seat. "What's your name?" he asked immediately. Remembering what his father had said about meeting new people just in time, he extended a hand.
"Albus," said the boy. He smiled and shook Scorpius' offered hand. "What's yours?"
"Oh, you're the bloke Uncle Ron was talking about!"
Scorpius blinked. "Who's Uncle Ron?"
"My mum's brother," said Albus, waving a hand airily. "Anyway, I saw you earlier, I think. I didn't recognise you when you stepped in here, but you're Draco Malfoy's son, aren't you?"
"Yeah, I am," said Scorpius, swelling with pride. He regarded Albus warily. "Are you – related to Harry Potter?"
"He's my dad," said Albus excitedly, apparently delighted that Scorpius had made this connection. "How'd you know?"
"I think my father knew yours at school," said Scorpius, taken aback by the sudden surge in Albus' enthusiasm and the fact that he was, indeed, Harry Potter's son. "Maybe they were friends?"
Albus' expression fell slightly. "Oh… well… I dunno," he said, looking somewhat uncomfortable. "Dad and Uncle Ron were best friends, and Uncle Ron didn't seem very happy about… seeing your dad."
"Oh," said Scorpius flatly. Inside, he was bristling. Who did this Ron person think he was? He must have been a Hufflepuff, of course. And, speaking of houses…
"Which house d'you reckon you'll be placed in?" said Scorpius casually.
"Dunno," said Albus, and for the first time, he looked anxious. "I really hope I don't get put into" – his voice dropped to a low whisper – "Slytherin."
Scorpius straightened up quickly, as though he had been shocked. "Why not?" he demanded indignantly. "Slytherin's full of great witches and wizards!"
"No, not at all!" exclaimed Albus, looking thunderstruck by the idea of Slytherin housing anyone great. "They're all bad people… rotten to the core, Uncle Ron says. Voldemort was a Slytherin."
It was with great difficulty that Scorpius didn't gasp at the sound of the forbidden name. "You said it!" he whispered, dumbfounded.
"The Dark Lord's name!"
"Don't call him that," said Albus, his nose wrinkling. "Dad – he says the name, too – told me only his Death Eaters called him that."
Scorpius shifted in his seat. "I didn't know that," he said truthfully. His father, he knew, had once been affiliated with the Dark Lord; it was something he often told Scorpius he was not proud of. Scorpius had never imagined his father as a Death Eater, though.
"Anyway," said Albus cheerfully, "what house d'you want to be in?"
Scorpius opened his mouth to reply with the obvious answer – "Slytherin" – but found himself closing his mouth before he could get the word out. Did he really want to be in Slytherin after all? He'd never really thought about it; all he knew was that he didn't want to be in Hufflepuff.
Sighing, Scorpius replied, "I dunno."
Albus grinned. "Well, that's all right, too. Dad didn't know either. He says you can choose if the Sorting Hat isn't sure."
"Really?" said Scorpius, immensely relieved. So if he was, for some reason, considered for Hufflepuff, he could always choose the alternate option. "That's great!"
"Yeah," agreed Albus. "I really hope I'll be in Gryffindor."
An image of Albus dressed in a suit of armour and wielding a heavy sword flashed into Scorpius' head, and he couldn't help smirking. "You seem like more of a Ravenclaw to me," he said matter-of-factly.
"You think so?" said Albus thoughtfully. "Ravenclaw wouldn't be bad, I suppose."
Scorpius couldn't help smiling at him. "I'm really glad that –"
His sentence was cut off, however, by the sound of the compartment door sliding open. Both boys glanced up to see a rosy-cheeked girl with somewhat bushy brown hair walking in.
"Oh, hello," she said to Scorpius, who, irritated that he had been interrupted, nodded shortly at her.
"Rose, this is Scorpius," said Albus to the girl. "He's my new friend."
My new friend… Albus' words echoed in Scorpius' head, and almost immediately, he felt something warm and soothing rise and start to expand in his chest like a great balloon, so that he was afraid he might lift off his seat out of sheer relief.
He wouldn't be alone after all.
Draco was just about to return through the barrier between Platform 9¾ and King's Cross with his wife when, out of the ruckus behind him, he heard a familiar voice calling out his name.
He stopped in his tracks and slowly turned around. Daphne paused beside him.
"Potter," he greeted, with a tight-lipped smile.
Harry Potter was running up to him, a vague, blurry figure emerging out of the dissipating mist. He glanced at Daphne when he stopped, his eyes bemused behind the godawful glasses he still wore.
Draco understood what he wanted. "Daphne, go wait by the car," he said calmly.
"But Draco –"
"Go. I'll be there in a few minutes."
Daphne's dark eyes flickered from Draco to Harry, and the look in them was a little too shrewd when she nodded and left.
"Well, what is it?" said Draco, taking a few steps to the side so that they weren't blocking the exit. He let his gaze lazily rake over Harry, taking in his tousled black hair and narrow shoulders. It had been a long time since they'd stopped to talk like this.
Harry leaned against a pillar, crossed his arms, and smiled crookedly at Draco. "So Scorpius is starting school, too?"
Shrugging, Draco sidestepped the question and said easily, "I noticed you've added another brat to the brood."
"What, Lily?" Harry rolled his eyes. "Funny, Malfoy. She's nine years old. Surely you haven't been hiding from society for that long?"
"I've been in France with my wife," said Draco stiffly. He saw, over Harry's shoulder, the Weasley girl standing a few yards away, holding her daughter's hand and waiting for Harry. Uneasily, he shifted his weight from one foot to the other. "So what is it?" he repeated.
"Come on, Malfoy, what's wrong with a bloke fancying a short chat with an old friend?"
"'Old friend'?" Draco snorted. "Hardly." He paused. "You've sent another one off, then?"
"Albus? Yeah, it's his first year, too." Harry seemed to guess what Draco was thinking, because his smile widened into a grin. "Maybe he and Scorpius will be best mates. Imagine if they both ended up in Gryffindor –"
"No son of mine will ever step foot into the Gryffindor tower," interrupted Draco scornfully.
"Don't tell me you're trying to convince poor Scorpius that Slytherin's the only way to go," said Harry, shooting Draco an exasperated look.
Draco merely regarded him coolly.
Harry rolled his eyes again. "Heard you got offered a teaching post at Hogwarts," he said, switching the subject so suddenly that it took Draco a while to catch up.
"Oh?" he said at last, not altogether startled that Harry knew about this. The man had contacts everywhere.
"Oh," Harry affirmed gravely. "Potions Master, apparently. Might've even put in a word for you myself –"
"I declined," said Draco simply.
This at least seemed to take Harry by surprise. "Really? Why?"
"Teaching isn't really my thing," said Draco delicately. "I'm fine with managing the apothecary."
An odd expression stole over Harry's face. It looked like a cross between confusion and regret. "Well… okay," he said slowly.
"I never thought you'd go back to the Ministry," said Draco, in an almost accusatory tone, trying to move away from the subject of the job offer he'd received, "not after all the crap they pulled."
Harry shrugged. "We've been over this before. I've always wanted to be an Auror; it wasn't a hard decision."
Draco regarded him appraisingly. It had suddenly struck him how many years had passed since Hogwarts, since seventh year, since it had all ended and started anew.
Harry looked as though he were about to turn around and leave now, but Draco, wanting to get in one last word, surreptitiously flicked his wand under Harry's arm at Ginny Potter, whose gaze immediately slid out of focus.
It seemed that Harry had been waiting for this, because he was smiling when he turned back around. "Yeah?"
Draco swallowed and took a step forward, closing the distance between them. Ever so lightly, he ran trembling fingers along the line of Harry's jaw and met his old rival's bright, knowing gaze.
"I haven't forgotten what you did for me," he said hoarsely.
He shook the left sleeve of his robes back, exposing the pale underside of his forearm so that only Harry could see. Nineteen years ago a serpent-tongued skull had leered at him from there, from the skin that was now marred only by a white, shining scar. And now, though Draco imagined that he could still feel the shadow of the ugly, snake-like tongue twisting against his skin on some nights, it was gone – because Harry had destroyed Voldemort and consequently eliminated the tattoo's venomous influence.
As if searching for traces of the Dark Mark, Harry gently ran calloused fingers over the exposed part of Draco's forearm, his eyes still fixed on Draco's. "I know," he said, before pulling his hand away and tugging Draco's sleeve back down to his wrist.
Draco frowned at him. "You saved my life –"
Harry shook his head and lowered his dark lashes. "Now's not the time."
"Then when?" Draco demanded, the words coming out harsher than he had intended. "We're not getting any younger, Harry. Our children are already off to Hogwarts –"
"Do you think age has anything to do with it?" Harry interrupted, holding Draco in his intent gaze. "Besides, there's nothing to discuss. I already told you, you don't owe me anything."
"I haven't repaid you!" Draco argued.
Harry glanced around nervously before cupping Draco's face in both his hands and leaning forward so that their foreheads were touching. "You have," he whispered, his breath ghosting over Draco's lips.
Against his will, Draco's eyelids fluttered shut at Harry's touch, and a blur of unbidden memories swam to the front of his mind…
…They were at Severus' funeral, and silent tears were streaming down Potter's face. It was the first time Draco had ever seen Potter cry. Gripping his mother's hand tightly, he choked back a sob of his own and averted his eyes from the sight. Potter's wet cheeks were a testament to his grief, to Draco's grief, to the first thing they had ever had in common, and Draco was suddenly seized with the bizarre desire to go over and comfort the boy he had detested all his life…
…The courtroom was cold and dark, and Draco barely suppressed a shudder as he looked around at all the hard, unforgiving faces staring down at him.
His father's hand felt heavy on his arm and did nothing to quash his fear. He knew nothing could save them; their very name induced revulsion and contempt amongst the witches and wizards now glaring hatefully down at them.
And then a ringing voice spoke out of the heavy shadows: "If it weren't for the Malfoys, I would be dead right now. They risked their lives to save mine. They deserve to be cleared of all charges."
Looks of surprise flitted across the sea of faces. There was a resounding silence, and then the voice of the Chief Interrogator rang out in the dungeon, "Very well, Mr Potter!"…
…Potter was sitting at the very back of the Leaky Cauldron, swirling his bottle of butterbeer absently and looking troubled. Draco hurried up to him, making sure to keep his face hidden beneath his hood. He knew he shouldn't be there… he couldn't risk being seen… but he had to tell Potter…
Potter didn't even start when Draco laid a hand on his shoulder, but looked up sharply. "Dolohov," whispered Draco into Potter's ear, bending over very slightly. "I know where he is. Follow me."
Potter didn't question Draco's intentions or reasons. Nodding once, he swiftly got to his feet, threw on his cloak, and gestured silently for Draco to lead the way…
…A vivid flash of purple light, and Potter collapsed, clutching at his chest and hissing in pain. Dolohov yelled something unintelligible and grabbed his companion. They started running, and suddenly Draco was running too, running after them, his wand drawn, fury blurring his vision and making him see red – and then a flash of green, and Dolohov was dead.
Struggling for breath through a throat constricted with terror, Draco dashed back to the clearing where Potter had fallen, praying that he was still alive…
…"Number twelve, Grimmauld Place," gasped Potter, his voice taut with pain as he clutched frantically at the front of Draco's shirt with trembling fingers…
…They were in a dusty but spacious room. Feeble sunlight streamed in through the velvet-curtained window, illuminating red and gold wall decorations and a handsome bed, upon which Potter lay, his white face contrasting with the dark blue sheets.
"You need to go to St. Mungo's," hissed Draco, as he busied himself over a flask of deep red liquid. "I'm not an expert at brewing potions, Potter, I can't completely cure you –"
"No," rasped Potter, grimacing as he tried to wave the suggestion away, "you're doing fine, Malfoy. I never thought… you were brilliant back there. You killed him, didn't you?"
Draco swallowed and determinedly kept his gaze fixed on the potion he was preparing…
…"I need to know where the rest of them are," Harry fumed. He was angrily pacing the length of the kitchen, pausing every once in a while to grit his teeth and press a hand to his chest, where the half-healed wound Dolohov had inflicted still pained him. "Malfoy, you need to tell me!"
"I – I don't know," Draco stammered. It was the truth. He gripped the edge of the table tightly. "I don't know, Potter, but I – I'll try to find out."
Harry looked up, and there was so much gratitude shining in his eyes that it hurt Draco to look at him. "Thank you," he said…
…The front door slammed open and footsteps thundered into the entrance hall. Draco looked around just in time to see Harry burst into the drawing room, beaming.
"Are you mad, Potter?" Draco demanded, striding across the room to meet him. "You may have healed enough to leave the house, but –"
"Greyback! We got Greyback!" Before Draco had time to wrap his mind around what was happening, Harry laughed out loud and swept Draco into a tight hug.
Draco's eyes widened, but he didn't push Harry away. "Harry," he said shakily, as comprehension settled in, "he tried to attack my mother when he found out that she had spared you. H-he nearly killed her – said it was her fault that the Dark Lord died."
"I know! That's why I rushed here to tell you instead of going to the Ministry with Ron!" Harry exclaimed gleefully. He held Draco out at arm's length, and his face fell when saw the confusion on Draco's face. "What's wrong? Aren't you happy?"
"Yes, I am, it's just…" said Draco, struggling to find words to express his gratitude.
Harry's expression softened; he seemed to read Draco's mind. "I did it because I wanted to, Draco, not as repayment."
They were suddenly so close that Draco could see the myriad indefinable emotions flickering in Harry's eyes. "Is this okay?" said Harry hoarsely, as his hands came up to cradle Draco's face. With a swooping feeling, Draco knew what was coming next. He tried to say something, but each word seemed to die in his throat, so that all he could do was nod numbly; one ringing second later, Harry's lips were on his, warm and soft and perfect, like something out of a long-forgotten dream…
…"Gone, Draco, they're all gone, I couldn't do anything to save them… Sirius, Dumbledore, Remus, Tonks… Fred…" Harry broke off there and buried his face in his hands. "Why? Why did they have to die for me?"
Draco exhaled shakily and said nothing. This was the first time Harry had spoken to Draco about the deaths of his friends, and Draco didn't know how to react. Not being skilled in the art of comforting someone, he sat down on the bed next to Harry and awkwardly stroked his untidy hair, letting him wrestle with anguish that was, unlike last time, incomprehensible to Draco.
The evening wore on, and when Harry finally looked up, his eyes were red-rimmed, though his cheeks were dry. "Stay with me tonight," he whispered, his voice breaking. He gently took Draco's hands in his, as though afraid that Draco would vanish like so many of the loved ones he had lost if he gripped too tightly, and tugged him forward. "Please."
And though Draco knew that it all had to end eventually, he obliged. That night, with Harry's steady heartbeat drumming a reassuring rhythm in time with his own, Draco forgot, for the first time since the start of the war, that he had any regrets…
Draco's eyes flew open. "No," he said, dispersing the memories with a shake of his head, "not to the fullest."
Harry sighed. "Then we still have time." There was a slight pause as he gazed over his shoulder at Ginny, whom Draco quickly returned to normal with a flick of his wand, and then he said lightly, "The offer still stands, Malfoy."
Draco clenched his jaw. "I know."
"I'll tell them to give you more time," said Harry, smiling a little too warmly. "They'll wait for you, no worries. Drop by my office if you change your mind, yeah? Or you could always bring Daphne and Scorpius round for Christmas dinner – Ginny won't mind, I swear."
He grinned at Draco, then turned and strode back to his wife and daughter. With a heavy heart, Draco watched him lead them away, his arm around Ginny's shoulder and little Lily clutching his hand.
Two days later, Harry dropped by Draco's shop on his way to work to show him a letter he had received from Albus:
Dear Dad and Mum,
Guess what? I got sorted into Slytherin! I was devastated at first (and I know Uncle Ron will be, too), but don't worry – I met a really nice boy named Scorpius on the train, and he's also in Slytherin. He's promised to help me adjust to Slytherin life, so I'm not that anxious anymore. I reckon things won't be so bad with him around.
P.S. – Can Scorp come over for the holidays? I know it's a bit early, but he's never seen a garden gnome before (imagine that!), and I want to show him ours.
"Repaid to the fullest," said Harry, smiling, before turning around and exiting the store. He left the letter in Draco's hands.
A/N: The lovely akurin has translated this fic into Italian! If you're interested in reading it, send me an e-mail and I'll give you the link :)