A/N: Well, here's my annual Christmas fic. This one was a pain in the ass to write, because I had to discard at least three or four ideas for an AS/S fic before I finally settled on one. It's a follow-up to "After the Epilogue", but I changed the two boys' houses from Slytherin to Gryffindor, since I figured their personalities weren't really suited to Slytherin.

Happy holidays, everyone!

Fragile

I know something has changed the moment they step off the Hogwarts Express. The stolen glances when they think the other one isn't looking, the casual shoves and nudges that happen too often to be purely coincidental... it's all too familiar. I'm not surprised, not in the least, but my heart still clenches painfully at the sight of them.

"Albus!" I call out, waving so that my son sees me.

Albus looks around, finds me in the crowd, and whispers something into his companion's ear. They hurry over to me, their trolleys moving along two perfectly parallel paths ahead of them.

"Hey Al," I say, hugging him once they've stopped in front of me. He rolls his eyes but hugs me back – well, at least that's an improvement from James, who still refuses to touch me in front of his schoolmates. "Hi Scorpius," I add, releasing Albus and turning to grin at Scorpius Malfoy.

"All right, Mr Potter?" he says, returning the grin. It's still disconcerting to see such a genuine expression on that pale, pointy face. I cover up my surprise by bending to check that Albus has got all of his things.

"Well, since your dad still refuses to get behind the wheel, Scorpius, I offered to take you boys to the manor," I explain as we begin heading towards the car. I make it a point to give them their privacy by walking a few steps ahead of them.

Scorpius laughs. "You ought to teach him how to drive, Mr Potter. I'm sure he'd listen to you."

A vision of Draco Malfoy screaming that he can't find the breaks while we swerve violently through traffic pops into my head, and I let out a snort of laughter. "I think some things are best left the way they are," I say, more to myself than to the boys.

"Not all things," Albus is quick to add. I can almost see the smile Scorpius shoots him for that and Albus's answering blush.

I sigh wistfully to myself. To be young and at that stage of tentative touches and teasing comments full of meaning... it almost makes me wish I could turn back time and change things.

I look towards the horizon and see the parking lot. "Come on, boys," I say, quickening my pace. "Another minute of walking out here and I think I might freeze my arse off."

---

"Scorpius, are you sure it's all right for me to spend the holidays at your place?" I ask worriedly for what must be the fiftieth time today as we settle into the backseat of Dad's car.

Scorpius shoots me a long-suffering look. "Al, will you stop fussing? Everything's already been arranged."

I fiddle with my sleeve, not altogether reassured. I know most of the animosity between our families has disappeared over the years, but still... "What if your parents don't like me?"

"What's not to like about a speccy git like you?" says Scorpius teasingly. "I'm certain Mother will take to you. I can just hear her now: 'Oh, Albus, you're so adorably scrawny for your age! And that rat's nest atop your head! How charming!'"

"Thanks, Scorpius," I mutter, slightly hurt even though I know he's not serious. Sometimes I think teasing his peers is so natural to Scorpius that he doesn't even notice when he actually upsets someone. Then again, I guess insulting people, jokingly or otherwise, is in his blood.

Still, I love the bastard. Okay, who am I kidding? I'm in love with the bastard. It's true. For five years I harboured nothing but platonic affection for him. For five years (well, not that long... it was actually maybe one or two years, but it feels like five years in retrospect) I watched girls and boys alike hop in and out of his bed like rabbits without so much as a quirk of an eyebrow. But something, some inexplicable change in my feelings, must have crept up on me this summer, because over the past four months, the urge to throttle every living soul who ever locked lips with Scorpius has slowly but surely taken over all reason and thought.

Rosie knows, of course; she knows everything. She and Scorpius don't really get along, but somehow she got the ridiculous notion into her head that he feels the same way about me. Secretly, I don't think it's too ridiculous – I've seen the way Scorpius looks at me – but I don't want to let myself start believing that something could come out of this. Most likely he's just after me because I'm the only gay bloke in Hogwarts he hasn't shagged yet. Plus he probably thinks that because I'm his best mate, I'll understand the whole "no attachment" deal better than his other bedmates.

I guess I'll just have to see what happens over break.

Anyway, back to the present. As usual, Scorpius doesn't think to apologise for offending me. He does, however, drop the sarcasm when he adds after a pause, "But seriously, Al, you've got nothing to worry about. My parents are thrilled to meet you, plus they want to pay back your family for always letting me visit."

He glances at the rear view mirror, hoping to catch Dad's eye, but Dad is preoccupied with driving and talking on his mobile. The Auror office must've called again, because he seems agitated and keeps snapping things like "incompetent" and "not my job in the first place".

"Who's your dad talking to?" Scorpius asks in a whisper.

I shrug. "No idea. Probably one of the Aurors-in-training. I'd wager it's that Creevey bloke... he's always calling Dad with really minor problems."

Curious, we both turn our attention to Dad just as he says wearily to the person on the other line, "Fine, just stop barking into my ear. We'll be there soon."

He snaps the mobile phone closed, glances into the rear view mirror, and raises his eyebrows when he sees us staring back at him eagerly. He laughs.

"Sorry, I was just on the phone with your father, Scorpius. I, er, took a wrong turn so I called him for directions."

"Wow," says Scorpius, shaking his head.

I agree wholeheartedly. "Here's hoping we don't end up like them," I whisper. I raise an invisible glass to mock toast that; he does the same. When we pretend to clink our glasses, our fingers brush and my stomach lurches. He just smiles at me and takes a sip of the air.

---

The door opens of its own accord and I follow Scorpius into Malfoy Manor, taking in the magnificent entrance hall with slack-jawed awe. "Sweet Merlin," I murmur, letting out a low whistle as I gaze at the haughty-faced portraits lining the walls. Their frames are decorated with holly and magical snow for the holidays. "Your place is brilliant, Scorpius."

He beams at me.

"Scorpius, is that you?" a woman's voice from somewhere above us rings out.

"Yes, Mother," Scorpius replies, loud enough for his voice to carry. "I've got Albus with me."

"Oh, excellent! Nibby, go downstairs and fetch their things, won't you?"

"Yes, Mistress."

There's a loud crack upstairs, followed almost instantly by a louder crack in front of us as the house-elf reappears. She bows deeply to me and Scorpius.

"Welcome back, Young Master," she squeaks to Scorpius. Then she turns to me. "Nibby has prepared the guestroom for Master Albus's arrival."

"Don't be ridiculous, Nibby," Scorpius injects before I can thank her. "Albus will be sleeping in my room with me."

Before I have time to register these words, Mrs Malfoy appears in a flourish at the foot of a set of marble steps spiralling upwards. "What's this about you and Albus sleeping in the same room?" she asks as she sweeps forward to kiss Scorpius's cheek.

Scorpius disentangles himself from her arms. "We've been sleeping in the same dormitory for over five years now, Mother," he says patiently. "I don't think Al will mind sharing my room with me while he's here. Right, Al?"

He winks at me. At a loss for words, I shake my head emphatically. At this confirmation, Nibby Disapparates with our trunks.

Mrs Malfoy frowns. "Oh, very well." She turns towards me. I flinch, but she merely hugs me. She smells like expensive perfume. Pulling away, she says to me, "Welcome to our manor, Albus. If sharing a room with Scorpius inconveniences you in any way, let Nibby know and she'll transfer you instantly to the guestroom." She pauses and peers at me in a birdlike manner. "You do look quite a bit like your father, has anyone ever told you that? My husband and I went to school with him, see."

"I know," I say automatically. "Thanks for having me, Mrs Malfoy."

"Of course," she trills, beaming at me in a way that reminds me of her son. I shift uncomfortably.

Luckily, Scorpius saves me. Grabbing me by the arm, he pats his mother on the hand and says pointedly, "We're going to go upstairs now."

"Have fun, boys," she says, waving at our retreating backs as we hurry up the stairs.

---

"That was bizarre," I declare as I flop down on Scorpius's bed. It's absurdly soft and feels exactly like what every kid imagines a puffy white cloud would feel like, except this puffy white cloud is more like a puffy silver cloud shrouded in green silk. "Slytherin colours?" I ask, arching an eyebrow at Scorpius's sheets.

He grins sheepishly as he shrugs off his school robes. "Mother and Father really wanted me to end up in Slytherin. They were a bit disappointed at first about my not following the family tradition, but they got over it soon enough."

He fingers his red and gold scarf thoughtfully before unwrapping it and flinging it at me. I catch it without thinking. My fingers involuntarily clench around the soft material. I swallow – it's still warm from Scorpius's body heat. I drop the scarf, resisting the absurd urge to bury my nose in the fabric and smell it.

"So, um, I like your room," I say, more as an attempt to distract Scorpius from my heated cheeks than anything else, though the compliment is entirely truthful. Scorpius does have a very nice room. It's at least twice the size of mine and plastered with posters of Puddlemere United players. I watch one of them angle into a particularly impressive dive and pull out of it with the Snitch clutched triumphantly in his hand.

"You would," Scorpius snickers. I grin – I was the one who convinced him to support the United back in third year.

Humming some obscure tune, he bounds over to the bed and drops down next to me. I inhale sharply, wondering what's going to happen next...

Nothing. All Scorpius does is lean over me and pull out the top drawer of his dresser. "Here," he says, straightening up and handing me a small, wrapped parcel. As I hold it in my hand, I feel the thing inside it knock against the side of the box. I nearly drop it in surprise.

"What's this?" I ask dumbly.

"Your Christmas present, you idiot," he says, lightly punching me on the arm. "Except you can't open it yet. Not until Christmas."

"Then what's the point of giving it to me now?" I grumble, expertly concealing the fact that my heart is fluttering inside my ribcage. That wouldn't be a very manly thing to admit.

"Patience, my dear Albus," Scorpius says with a smirk.

"I won't be the only one who has to exercise it," I retort, reaching down to rummage around in my trunk. "Here, I got something for you too... one second, let me – oh, here it is."

I toss him the gift I bought for him at Hogsmeade. It's nothing special; just a leather bound copy of Hogwarts, A History. He's wanted one of his own for a while. I had his name inscribed on the binding, a feeble attempt to personalize an otherwise impersonal gift.

"Thanks," he says, grunting as he catches the heavy present. "Merlin's balls, what did you get me, Al? A bar of gold? You know I've already got more than enough of those."

Laughing, I shove him playfully. "You're just one of the more fortunate people in this world, then."

"You're one to speak," he shoots back, returning the shove with more force.

I incline my head, conceding defeat. Scorpius is right, of course. Dad's fame and successful career have filled our Gringotts vault to the brim. We've got so much gold that at the end of every year, Dad has his secretary distribute the excess to all the major wizarding charities. Don't get me wrong, though; I'm not a big spender. Mum always tells me stories about how she grew up in poverty, so I try to live as modestly as possible. My brother and sister, on the other hand, are ridiculously spoiled. But birth order is probably largely responsible for that, since they're the oldest and the youngest of the three of us.

"Al." I turn towards the sound of Scorpius's voice and nearly leap out of my skin – sometime while I was lost in my thoughts, he must have moved closer to me, because he's practically sitting on my lap now.

"What?" I squeak, not sure whether I should edge away or take advantage of our proximity.

He gazes at me very intently. I gulp. Is he going to kiss me? What do I do? The only person I've ever kissed was Dora Brown, and that kiss was an absolute disaster. I didn't have a clue what to do with my hands – or lips, for that matter – and just sat there dumbly while she cleaned out the inside of her mouth with her tongue. Of course, there was the obvious fact that she was a girl and I only kissed her to see if there was any possibility of me being straight (definitely not, I decided afterwards), but... well... a kiss is a kiss, and I don't want to ruin my chances with Scorpius by being a shoddy kisser.

To my mixed relief and disappointment, Scorpius doesn't lean in for a kiss. Instead, he flicks his eyes downwards.

"What's with the scarf, Al?"

I let out a shaky breath. "What about it?"

He picks up one of the loose ends and gives it a gentle tug. "Why do you tie it so tightly?"

My hand automatically flies to the knot of my scarf. "I don't know," I mumble, hooking a finger under the material and pulling at it nervously. Now that Scorpius has brought it up, I can't help noticing that the scarf is perhaps a little snugger around my neck than necessary. Then again, maybe my throat is constricted for other reasons.

Scorpius is still holding onto my scarf. I clear my throat with some difficulty. "Er... I think I should go say hi to your dad."

"You'll see him later," says Scorpius carelessly. He tugs on my scarf again, this time with enough force to pull me forwards as well. "Seriously, though, Al. Why can't you loosen up?"

"Iam loose!" I protest. Then I blush, realising the innuendo behind my words. Dammit, I always do this.

Scorpius grins wickedly. "No you aren't. You're too uptight. It's always either homework or Quidditch for you. Why not go out and have some fun every once in a while?"

"Scorpius, I'm not having this talk with you right now," I say sharply, suddenly annoyed. He always complains about my so-called inability to have fun, and right now I've never been less in the mood to hear it.

Something in his expression softens. "Sorry, Al, I was only joking."

"You joke too much," I mutter. "Are you ever going to grow up and take some things seriously?"

"I do take some things seriously," he says quietly. He releases my scarf and lets his hand drop casually onto my knee. I bite my lip, wanting to cover his hand with mine but too scared to make the first move – what if I'm interpreting all of this in the wrong way?

"Like what?"

"Well, take right now, for instance. We're having a serious moment, aren't we?"

I stare at him, the knot in my stomach even tighter than the one around my neck. "I – I suppose."

"I'm serious about other things," Scorpius continues, as he grips my knee and leans closer so that our faces are mere inches away. I try my best not to hyperventilate while my mind frantically struggles to stay focused on what Scorpius is saying. "Other things," he repeats softly, "like you. Like our friendship. Like... wanting to kiss you right now."

"Wanting to – Scorpius, are you sure?" I blurt out, blushing to the roots of my hair.

Genuine hurt flashes across his face, and he pulls back. "Of course I am." I must look pretty dumbfounded, because he flinches a little and scoots away. "Look, sorry if I misread your feelings, Al, but I thought... never mind. Forget it, I'm sorry, I shouldn't have said – mmph!"

As you might have guessed, that "mmph" is a result of me pushing Scorpius onto his back, pinning him down to the bed, and cutting off his flustered apology by sealing his lips with mine. I kiss him hard and without any particular technique, but Scorpius doesn't seem to mind – after the first stunned second, he wraps his arms around my neck and tilts his chin upwards, encouraging me to keep going. And when he starts kissing me back, I'm lost. I never imagined after snogging Dora Brown that it could feel this fucking brilliant. My head spins with each touch of our tongues, each soft sound he makes in the back of his throat. I never want it to end.

Of course, being that I've only kissed one person in my lifetime, I haven't quite yet mastered the art of breathing through my nose, so eventually I have to pull away to refill my lungs. Gasping for breath, I gaze incredulously down at Scorpius. With his hair mussed and lips swollen, he looks even more incredible than usual. My heart skips several consecutive beats at the sight of him, and then one more when I realise what I've just done. It's funny how quickly anxiety can turn into confidence when the cause of your anxiety is no longer confident himself.

Scorpius licks his lip and smiles up at me. "Your technique could use some work," he murmurs, "but that was decent for your first time kissing a bloke."

"You'll have to help me practise, then," I say, laughing breathlessly.

"I could do that," he replies, using one hand to tug me down by my scarf while the other one snakes under my jumper and starts stroking the bare skin of my back. I shiver and carefully ease my weight onto my elbows.

We're so close now that I can see each and every one of the pale lashes that frame his eyes, which look less grey than blue up close. "Can we talk about this?" I say nervously.

His hand stills. "You don't regret anything, do you?" he asks. His eyes rapidly flick back and forth between mine, as if he'd rather find the answer to his question there than have me voice it.

"No, not at all!" I exclaim. "It's just... I meant what I said earlier. Are you sure?"

"Why wouldn't I be sure?"

I look away, but my mind fills in the gap: Because you've slept with half of the school, and I don't want this to be another meaningless fling to you.

"Al," Scorpius says warningly, "I know what you're thinking, and you're wrong. You wouldn't believe me if I told you how long I've wanted this."

I sigh. He's working on untying my scarf now. Annoyed, I catch his wrists and hold them still. "How long?"

He shakes off my hands and resumes his task, eyes determinedly level with my neck. "Three years."

Shocked, I try scramble into an upright position, but Scorpius refuses to let go of my scarf. "You're lying," I say flatly. I don't want to believe that I waited four months for no reason.

"I'm not."

"Then why the bloody fuck didn't you say anything?"

"Because," Scorpius snaps, looking up briefly, "you were so popular, with your stupid little fanclub, and I wanted to prove that I was good enough for you before I told you how I felt."

"By sleeping around?" I say incredulously. I don't even bother pointing out that I can't stand my "stupid little fanclub" and the way they follow me around everywhere. That's beside the point.

Scorpius grits his teeth and attacks my scarf with new vigour. I nearly choke when he pulls viciously at a particularly stubborn knot within the larger one. "How else was I supposed to catch your attention?" he says angrily.

"We'rebest friends, Scorpius! You get more attention from me than the rest of the school combined!"

"I wanted a different kind of attention," he says petulantly. He sighs as he loosens the last loop. "I just wanted to show you that, you know, being with me was worth something."

Having completed their goal of undoing my scarf, Scorpius's hands drop back down to his sides. He turns his head away, refusing to meet my eyes.

Exasperated, I push myself to my knees, allowing him room to sit up. I don't know what to say. One part of me is touched that Scorpius has wanted me for so long, another part is furious that he chose such a roundabout manner of expressing it, and a third part just wants to forget all of this and go back to snogging.

Before I can decide which part's argument holds more merit, someone knocks on the door. Scorpius and I leap apart, flustered.

"Come in," Scorpius calls out.

The door swings open and Mr Malfoy enters, looking for all the world like an older version of Scorpius. I'm surprised to see that he's wearing casual robes; without his usual high collared coat, he looks oddly out of place.

Mr Malfoy's eyes flick over to me and narrow just the slightest. I stare at my hands, afraid that if I look him in the eye, he'll somehow read my mind and figure out what his son and I were just doing.

"Welcome back, Scorpius," he says, nodding at his son. His voice is like ice: cold and smooth, with just an edge of sharpness.

"Thank you, Father," says Scorpius respectfully. "This is Albus Potter."

I reluctantly meet Mr Malfoy's gaze. "It's a pleasure to meet you, sir," I say politely.

"Likewise, Albus," he says, inclining his head. His grey eyes are colder than Scorpius's. "You look like your father."

"I've been told," I say softly.

He studies me for one more moment, his expression inscrutable, then turns back to Scorpius. I breathe a silent sigh of relief. "Your mother would like the both of you to come downstairs for supper now."

Scorpius stands and gestures for me to do the same. As we follow Mr Malfoy out of the room, Scorpius brushes his hand against mine and slants me a questioning look. I check to make sure Mr Malfoy isn't looking before squeezing his hand briefly and mouthing, "It's all right."

---

"So who was the best?"

It's Christmas day, and Scorpius and I are lying outside in the garden, our backs cushioned by a thick layer of fresh snow. We've just come from Christmas brunch with Scorpius's family friends (many of whom I'll be glad to never see again, though I have to say that Scorpius's gorgeous godfather, Blaise Zabini, is an exception), and I'm still in that warm, glowing post-meal state. The skies are clear, the sun is out, and fairies are dancing in the air above our heads – everything's perfect, but as usual, my insatiable curiosity decides to ruin the mood.

With a yawn, Scorpius stretches lazily, hands gliding through the powdery snow. "What are you talking about?"

"Who's the best lay you've ever had?"

Scorpius rolls onto his side and glares at me, pink-cheeked and scowling. "Shut up, Al. It's none of your business."

"Why not?" I say defiantly. "I'm just wondering."

"No you're not. You're trying to guilt trip me."

I scoop up a handful of snow and wave it threateningly in Scorpius's face. "This is going down your trousers if you don't tell me right now."

Scorpius knocks my hand away. "It was you," he says.

"You're only saying that to make me feel better," I mumble, blushing as I remember the night before, when Scorpius took my virginity in the most perfect way possible. I guess that's one of the advantages of a best-friend-turned-lover – you don't have to tell him how much experience you've had, because he already knows. Looking back, I can't believe we actually had sex in his parents' house. That'll be one to tell the kids, I think wryly.

"Do I look like the kind of person who'd lie to make someone feel better?" He rests a hand on my hip, a simple gesture that sends a shiver up my spine. "Last night was amazing because it meant something."

"I bet you say that to everyone," I say crossly. I'm not quite sure why I keep trying to provoke Scorpius. I know it's stupid and petty, and I feel like a jealous girlfriend for constantly needing to be reassured that I'm the most important, but the thought of Scorpius with someone else... of them doing what we did last night... it drives me mad, and the only way to chase it out of my mind is to hear all the reasons why I'm an exception.

Scorpius pushes me away, his expression stormy. I half expect a thundercloud to appear out of nowhere above us. "Good grief, Al, will you ever stop putting yourself down? I've fucking been in love with you for three years! Isn't that proof enough that I'm not going to just throw you away after I've had my way with you?"

I wince, feeling like an idiot. This must be the reason why I've never been in a serious relationship before. "I know. I'm sorry. I just have a hard time believing that you'd change your lifestyle for me."

Scorpius heaves a great sigh and throws an arm over his eyes. "Albus, one more self-hating comment and you'll have a twat where your balls should be."

"But you'd still shag me," I point out resignedly.

The corners of Scorpius's lips tighten, but he says nothing. We lie in silence for a while, watching the wispy clouds overhead drift lazily across the bright blue sky.

"You know," Scorpius finally says quietly from beside me, "you've really got to drop this obsession with my past, Al. You never had a problem with it until now."

"I did. I just didn't say anything."

"Then keep not saying anything."

We relapse into another stiff silence. I hate these moments, when neither one of us knows what to say to melt away the tension. The thought that maybe we're wrong for each other as anything more than friends flashes through my head, but I squash it as soon as it starts to develop. If anything, I've got to snuff out these doubts for Scorpius's sake.

"I'll try to change. That's all I can give you."

I must have said the right thing, because Scorpius visibly relaxes. "I know, and I appreciate it," he says softly. "You don't have to worry about other people. Things are different now." He hesitates, then entwines his gloved fingers with mine. Something in my chest bursts, spreading warmth throughout my body. Who knows, maybe I'm dying, but I can't say this would be a bad way to go.

"I can't believe how badly we've cocked up our relationship already," Scorpius continues, and the mood lifts, just like that. "I think you're too popular for me, you think you're not good enough for me... and we're already talking about cheating. Maybe we should hire your cousin to counsel us."

I scoff. "Rosie? No way, she'd probably borrow 101 Ways to Make a Gay Relationship Work from the library and recite the whole thing to us."

"Fair point."

"Hey," I say, suddenly remembering something, "I brought this" – I extract Scorpius's Christmas gift to me from my pocket – "with me. Can I open it now?"

Scoripus nods. I rip the wrapping paper away from the box in one go, and he makes a face. "You have no refinement whatsoever, Al."

"It's there to be taken off," I say, shrugging. I lift up the box inside, amazed. It's about the size of my palm and made of smooth, elaborately carved wood. "Merlin, Scorpius, where'd you get this?"

"The box isn't the present, you twit. Go on, open it up."

I comply. There's a little silver latch shaped like a goblet; I undo it and flip the heavy lid open.

A flash of gold darts out of the box; Scorpius plucks the Snitch nimbly from the air before it can escape. He holds it between his thumb and forefinger and hands it to me, grinning in a very self-satisfied way.

I gape at the Snitch. Its tiny wings are beating against Scorpius's fingers in a vain attempt to escape his grip. "How'd you get that?"

"I sucked Flint off in the locker room after he caught it in the Slytherin vs. Ravenclaw game," replies Scorpius, waggling his eyebrows.

I don't know if he's being serious or not, but jealousy rears its ugly head anyway. I hook an arm around Scorpius's neck and tug him towards me, closing my other hand around the Snitch. "You do know I'm going to have to kill Flint now," I murmur against Scorpius's lips before kissing him softly.

"There's the infamous Potter jealousy streak again," Scorpius says teasingly, leaning in for another kiss. I open my mouth to apologise, but he shakes his head. "I don't mind a little of it every once in a while. I'd love to see you take on Flint. That'd be a duel worth watching." Upon noticing my thoughtful look, he adds quickly, "I'm not serious, Al. He'd probably ditch the hexes and go straight for your head with his fists."

"Come on, Scorpius, have a little more faith in me. I spend half my life dodging Bludgers. Flint couldn't get a hold of me even if he tried."

Scorpius levels me with a challenging look. "If you're that confident in your agility, prove it. Let's see who can catch this Snitch first."

Well, I'm always up for a challenge. "You're on, Mr Seeker. Ready?"

He nods, his jaw set determinedly. I release the Snitch and it flits off, glittering in the bright sunshine. Laughing, we take off, ploughing a jagged path through the snow as we chase the winged ball by foot.

Several circles around the grounds later, we both stumble to a halt and collapse onto the snow, panting like we've just flown around all of wizarding Britain. I've got the Snitch clutched victoriously in my right hand.

"I win," I declare, rolling over and burying my wind-chilled face in Scorpius's scarf. It somehow manages to smell like both fresh air and expensive cologne at the same time.

Chuckling, he winds his arms around my waist. "I did lie about one thing earlier," he says as his gasping breaths slow down. His tone is serious despite the mischievous gleam in his eyes. "Ready to hear it?"

"As ready as I'll ever be," I reply, suddenly wary.

"That Snitch isn't Flint's. It's the one I caught in our first game against Slytherin. Remember that?"

I think back. "The one where I nearly caught the Snitch without meaning to?" The corners of my mouth twitch as I remember how the tiny golden ball zoomed straight into my hands instead of the Quaffle I was expecting. "You threw a fit later in the locker room. Said I was plotting to steal your position."

"That was our first fight," Scorpius says almost fondly. He blows a wisp of blond hair out of his eyes. "I was so angry, I forgot to give the Snitch back to Hooch afterwards."

"So that's what the Snitch means? 'Here's to more fights in our future'?"

Scorpius scowls. He looks adorable, and I want to kiss him again. "You are such a wanker, you know that?"

"What can I say? You bring out the best in me." I pause. I know Scorpius; he never gives gifts unless they have some special meaning. "So what does the Snitch really stand for?"

"Snitches have flesh memories. They remember the touch of the first person to catch them, which is why Seekers are the only players that don't wear gloves." He smiles at me. "This one will remember mine forever. And I hope you do, too."

I gaze at him, amazed. Merlin, I love him. "Who's the one growing a vagina now?" I say teasingly. Then I remember something. "But what if you were wrong about how I felt? How would you have explained this?"

"I would've said that this way, since the Snitch has my touch imprinted on its memory, you'll always have a part of me with you. Either way, you'll never be rid of me." Scorpius wraps the two ends of my scarf around his hands. "I like it when you leave it loose like this," he whispers.

The sun shines overhead, warming the Snitch in my hand. I lean forward and kiss Scorpius. His lips are cold and wet with melted snow, and nothing has ever tasted so sweet.

---

As I lean on the windowsill and gaze down at them, my eyes are drawn to the Snitch clutched in Albus's hand. Immediately, the Snitch Dumbledore left me in his will comes to mind. I open at the close.

I close my eyes briefly. Dumbledore was right, of course. Each chapter of life begins with the end of its predecessor, and nothing has ever made me believe that more than the sight of those two boys lying in the snow, kissing like the world revolves around them.

I hear someone approach me from behind and hold my breath.

"Here to pick up Albus?" says the soft, drawling voice.

"Yeah, Ginny wants him back for Christmas dinner." I step to the side. "Come here, look."

He moves to stand beside me and gazes down at the sparkling white grounds, absorbing the scene framed by the expensive curtains of the drawing room window.

"I never knew..." he breathes after a moment.

"No?" I question softly.

The silence that settles between us is familiar and comfortable, a silence between two old friends.

At last Draco turns to me, his face illuminated by the bright sunshine streaming in through the patterned glass. "If he hurts my son, Potter..."

"He won't." I have utmost confidence in my reply, and the gratitude that flickers through his eyes shows me that he does too.

He sighs, a fragile sound worn down by a lifetime of regret. "Is it selfish of me to want those years back?"

"If it is, we can be selfish old bastards together."

"Together. If only."

My throat tightens. Without thinking, I find his hand under the sleeve of his robe and squeeze it gently. "Here's hoping they don't end up like us," I murmur.

He smiles sadly at me. "Cheers."