Author's note: The kidnapping of a journalist is a major theme in this story, which also contains a moderate amount of bad language (far less than one would find in an actual newsroom) and some very mild gay sex.
"Is that it?"
"Helleborus foetidus subspecies nevillii, Lily you're a genius."
Lily Potter carefully photographed the precious specimen, while her partner, Scorpius Malfoy, gently snipped a leaf and flower for preservation.
"Only the third native stand we've found in Britain," she said, smiling. "I think Nev will be chuffed."
"If he ever gets over Luna naming it after him," Scorpius replied, grinning.
The on-again, off-again relationship between the senior Herbologists had been a source of amusement to the two friends for years. Since taking up their postgraduate apprenticeships, they had had more than ample opportunity to observe it firsthand.
"Race you back down the mountain?" Lily offered brightly.
"Oh no. Remember the last time you went down a mountain quickly with a camera?"
Lily poked out her tongue, and was about to embark on a short dissertation on insults suited to Malfoys when the owl appeared. It landed on her backpack and held out one small, gnarled leg. Surprised, she untied the parchment attached.
"Probably Neville telling us we're late," she joked. Then, as she read the words, the smile fell from her face.
"What? We've lost our funding?" Scorpius joked.
Lily shook her head. "James has been taken hostage," she stated baldly.
Without a care for the magical signatures of the specimens they had just collected, Scorpius grabbed Lily's arm and Apparated them to her home.
"Our lead story tonight on Wizards' Unwired Network News is the kidnapping of award-winning journalist James Potter.
"Potter, whose groundbreaking exposé of the international trade in protected herbs for this channel won a Golden Wand at last year's Global Flooeys, was last seen by his cameraman this morning in Helsinki, Finland, where he was working on a story. Cameraman Isaac Gamp is with us now. Isaac, can you tell us what happened yesterday?"
"Thank you, Catherine. This morning at eight am, James Potter met with me over breakfast to discuss a meeting with a source that he had scheduled for eleven am. We arranged a tracking spell for safety, as is normal in our industry, and a local Portkey that would bring James back to the hotel instantly in case of trouble.
"When he hadn't returned by two pm, the bureau was nervous, but James is a professional and had been out with sources for longer in the past. His tracking spell showed him less than an hour from the city. At three pm we received an anonymous tip-off that James had been taken by extremists, at that time we realised that his tracking spell had been disabled. This intelligence was confirmed by local authorities at six pm today with the discovery of James's wand, Portkey and recording equipment, along with a ransom demand from a previously unknown group calling themselves the Vapaaehtoiset Battaillon.
"This so-called Volunteers Battalion is demanding the release of Marti Mannerheim, a notorious local criminal imprisoned after his conviction for the senseless murders of seven Muggles. Mannerheim has become a rallying-point for anti-Muggle sentiment in the Baltics, a movement which local authorities say is not being driven by Finns, but by international extremists using the relaxed northern state as a convenient base.
"Since the first demand there has been no further contact with the hostage takers. Finnish Aurors have been working non-stop in their search for leads, and assure us that they have every reason to believe that James is still alive and well. Here in Helsinki, all we can do is wait, and hope. Back to you, Catherine."
"Thank you, Isaac. Here in London, Head Auror Harry Potter …"
"Albus? Here, drink this, it's not your fault."
Albus Potter looked up from his production monitor to find a cup of tea being thrust towards him. He took it, gratefully, and gulped down a mouthful, then screwed up his face. "Jesus, Hugo, how much sugar did you put into this?"
His cousin shrugged in that annoyingly youthful manner he still had and hefted himself onto Al's mixing panel, partially blocking his view of the studio below. "Four, Rose says you should always feed loads of sugar to someone who might go into shock."
"Right now I'm more at risk of diabetic coma, but thanks for the thought."
"Heard anything from your dad?"
"Not for the last hour or so. He's been in a meeting with the Minister since eight."
"My dad says there's lots of forensic evidence on James's kit. He says the teams studying it have loads of new information already."
Albus nodded. "Thanks Hugo, that's good to know."
"He'll be fine."
"Yeah," Albus smiled at the younger man. "Yeah, course he will."
"They're going to a break."
"After the break, Charles Marron looks at Harry Potter's annus horribilis, and asks what now for the Boy Who Lived Twice?"
Albus punched several buttons and pointedly ignored Catherine's pleas for her hairstylist.
Hugo whistled. "You father is going to kill you."
"He won't get the chance," Albus sighed. "Mum will have done it first, notice that none of them have mentioned her?"
"That's not your fault, either."
Albus and Hugo exchanged looks that spoke volumes. Ginny's fury at her treatment by the media had been the reason behind their only real family disputes after her split from Harry. Her brother George's career expansion into media mogul had never pleased her, and when her sons and nephew followed, she had been … less than pleased.
At the worst points, James had argued in favour of freedom of the press, while Albus and Hugo had both surreptitiously cut critical seconds from news reports covering the separation and divorce. Catherine Worthing had almost left the evening news when Albus threw to a commercial break in the middle of her opinion piece on Ginny the day it was announced she had left Harry.
Hugo was more junior, but his affable manner had been more effective. A few hundred repetitions of: "She's done nothing wrong, and she's a terrific aunt" had worked where Albus's glaring had failed.
Albus was grateful. He knew Hugo had really wanted to be an Unspeakable. He had, too. Partly for the cool name, mostly for the all-black uniform. Journalism was James's dream. But summer jobs had been offered years ago, and natural talent combined with ridiculous salaries had won out.
"Coming back in thirty. You want me to cover and you go home? It's all right, I can do it."
"Are you sure?"
"Al, he's your brother."
Albus nodded, relieved. "Thanks, Huge."
Hugo grinned. "Just make sure you call me that in front of Catherine. And don't mention it refers to my ego."
He pushed Albus out of his producer's chair and waved his wand over the controls as the two anchors welcomed back viewers. "Go home, Al," he told his cousin. "Even I can't fuck things up in eight minutes. Give my love to Uncle Harry, and to Lils. She should be home now."
"I will," Albus promised, and with that he Disapparated.
"Lily!" Ginny Weasley's voice rang out across the garden. "Oh thank Merlin you're here!" She ran from the house and enveloped her daughter in a bear hug.
"What happened?" Lily wailed, Ginny told the story in quick bursts, holding her daughter and brushing the dirt from her climbing gear.
Scorpius considered making his escape before he was noticed, but when truth was told, he was more afraid of Lily than her mother. Her mother who chose that moment to look up.
"Oh. Scorpius. How pleasant to see you."
Lily glared. "Don't start, Mum, not now. Scorpius Apparated me here in one fell swoop, so he'll need a cup of tea. I want him to stay. We've been out collecting samples all day, and both need a shower and a good sit-down."
Ginny patted her daughter's arm. "I was being sincere. Come in, Scorpius, I'll make you that tea. Lily can find you a towel and you can use the main bathroom while Lily showers in her ensuite, there's enough hot water for both."
"Cheers, Mrs P— W, Ms … oh bugger."
Ginny actually smiled at that. "You're my daughter's best friend. Call me Ginny. Makes me feel less ancient."
"Have you heard anything new, Mum?"
"Your father's due home in a few minutes. Ron says they have loads of evidence and that the forensic team in London have most of it. The Finns and your father both say that we shouldn't worry, that the people who have James are serious and political, so they will treat him well while they negotiate. Are those dirty clothes in those backpacks?"
"Mostly clean, and a stack of samples. Can we make a stasis area in the kitchen for the ones that are still good?"
"Of course. Come on, Scorpius, you are welcome here."
He followed them in. He had always been welcomed here, but never entirely certain that he was wholly welcome. Harry had been thrilled when first Albus and then Lily had adopted him at school, but Mrs … Ginny had always treated him with a degree of reserve. His father had explained about it being another artefact of his grandfather's abortive politicking, but there had always been another layer to it.
Since the Potters had split, Scorpius had been able to put his finger on it. While she had never really minded his friendship with her children, she intensely disliked his father's friendship with her husband.
"Dump your things in Lil's room. Do you have something to put on, or would you like to borrow something of Al's? He still has half a wardrobe here."
"No thanks, I have a few changes. We packed clean before we headed out yesterday."
Ginny sat on Lily's bed while Scorpius tried to find a tidy part of the room to leave his pack. "Don't give him your pony towel, Lil, one of the nice ones."
"Mum!" Lily threw a green bath-sheet across the room to her friend. "As though I'd give him the pony towel!"
Scorpius nearly smiled. It was like travelling back in time more than ten years to his first visit to this house. Instead he grabbed a change of clothes from his pack. "I'll be quick, and I can make the tea, give you two some family time."
Ginny smiled again at that. "Thanks, Scorp. You're a good boy."
He shut the door behind him and walked down to the main bathroom. They were both holding up well, given the circumstances. That boded well. Harry Potter was one of the more pragmatic adults he knew, if he felt confident that James was well, then there was every probability he was.
Scorpius's feet took their usual detour towards the cobalt blue door that marked Albus's room, and, as he had for the last seven years, he redirected them away. It was stupid, really, he and Albus had been not-best-friends for longer than they had lived in each other's pockets. The bathroom was down the hall, right turn, second door on the left.
They had bought a new towel rack since he had last visited. Or, more likely, Ginny had taken the old brass model with her when she left. This was a flash modern version that seemed a little anachronistic among the Edwardian tiles and taps, but Scorpius felt the warming charms as he draped his towel over it, and smiled to himself.
Definitely a Harry purchase. He had never met another adult with as much love for home comforts as Mr Potter had.
He locked the door and slipped out of his filthy clothes, turned on the hot water in the shower, and did a careful check for new cuts and bruises before taking off his glasses and popping them carefully on the vanity. It wasn't that he and Lil weren't careful, but their job took them up mountains, down crevasses, and even caving. Taking a battering was not uncommon. It wasn't bad today, though, just one new bruise from where he had let the rope smack against his thigh while he was belaying Lily.
The hot water was welcome. It had been a long Apparition, on top of a long day's climbing and gathering. As Scorpius squinted at the bottles arrayed on the ledge he found one of shampoo, and applied a liberal dose. He had just lathered up his hair when he remembered.
Scorpius rushed the rest of his shower and dived into his towel. He pulled the tiny phone from the pocket of his dirty trousers and tapped it with his wand. A miniature Luna Lovegood looked at him.
"Hello, Scorpius," she said, smiling. "You're not up a mountain, are you?"
Scorpius moved his towel up a little, and cursed his lack of foresight. "No, at the Potters, there's a bit of a crisis, James has been taken hostage and Lily and I came straight here."
"Of course, is everyone all right?"
"James is still missing, but Harry has told everyone that he thinks he will be safe. I have a load of samples; can you come by and pick them up in the next few days?"
"We'll be there tonight," Luna promised. "Give us a few hours. Take care of Lily, and give our love to Ginny and Harry – and Al, of course."
"Of course," Scorpius muttered as Luna's image disappeared.
Scorpius dressed quickly and went down to the kitchen to begin making tea. Everything was stored where it had always been. The tea brand was slightly more expensive than the old family brand they had drunk when he visited on school hols, and there were actually chocolate biscuits in the tin now that Lily no longer lived at home.
He had a pot brewing on the table and a plate of biscuits arranged when the kitchen door opened.
"Mr Potter …"
He was wrapped up in a hug. "Harry, Scorpius. It's good to see you here. Sorry about the circumstances."
Scorpius felt twelve again, and, for a moment, absurdly happy. The summer that his parents had divorced had been spent with the Potters, and it had been perfect. They had sung songs around the piano, gone mushrooming, he and Al had been allowed to spend a week in a tent in the back garden, with Harry popping by nightly to shake his head at them. When he had cried, Mr Potter had given him a hug, and a Chocolate Frog, and told him it would all be fine. And it had been.
He wished he could give Harry a Chocolate Frog now. "Are you all right?" he asked, stepping back and taking in the older man's shadowed eyes.
"Worried. Stressed. But I have every reason to believe that James is well and will be treated reasonably by his captors."
Scorpius nodded at him. "Is he really being held by Finns?"
"As far as we can tell. And they're famously polite." Harry gave one of his interview grins, as Lily had termed them.
Scorpius poured him a cup of tea, one sugar, lemon. "He's their leverage. They'll treat him well while they're negotiating," he surmised.
"They will." Harry nodded. "Where's Lils?"
"With Ginny, she was headed for the shower last I saw her. We were on top of a mountain when the owl found us."
Harry's grin was real this time. "You two go to the most astonishing places. Still enjoying it?"
"Oh yes. It's the best job I could have imagined."
"That's good to hear. You two would go mad sitting in an office."
"We would. Biscuit?"
Harry shook his head. "I should go and find Ginny and Lil, let them know I'm back. Can you stay for a few days? Lil will want you around."
Scorpius nodded. "Luna and Neville will be here tonight, too," he said, remembering.
"You can bunk in with Lil, then. She still has the trundle bed under hers."
"Would you like me to start on dinner? I'm not flash, but I can put a decent stew together, or some pasta. I'd like to be useful, leave the family for family things."
Harry patted his shoulder. "That would be great. It really is good to see you here."
"Good to be here," he answered softly as Harry left the room. There had been years when this room had felt far more like home than the manor ever had. If nothing else, he would be able to repay a few favours.
Scorpius had browned the beef and onions and was halfway through chopping sundry veg when Albus arrived. A chicken followed him in through the kitchen door, and so Scorpius had a full thirty seconds of Al and poultry flapping about to compose himself before his old friend looked up.
And dropped his briefcase. On his foot.
Albus tried to pretend it hadn't happened, and was more successful at that than at hiding the surprise on his face. "You must have brought Lily," he blurted out after what looked to be a slight struggle.
"I did. And now I am cooking dinner for all of you, because your house is about to become crazy. How are you?"
Albus pushed his tangled hair back and down with one hand while making a vaguely airy gesture with the other. "Good, fine, not too worried, happens all the time in this industry. You're looking well. I should put the chickens away, shouldn't I? Dad's forgotten."
Scorpius nodded. "Put the chickens away. I'll make a fresh pot of tea, everyone's forgotten about this one."
Albus walked outside in a nonchalant fashion, which would have been convincing if Scorpius had not been able to hear him sigh with relief as he closed the door.
He felt like sighing, too, but decided to smile instead. Ill-behaved chickens had been a staple of the Potter household for as long as he had been coming here. Mr Potter had called them a connection to the land, Mrs Potter had called them evil pecking egg producers. Once, he and Albus had opened the crockery cupboard to find a chicken nestled on top of the dinner plates.
The stew was on and a fresh pot of tea brewed, with cups poured and on a tray for delivery before Albus came back in. "Yours is on the table," Scorpius told him. "I was just taking these in for your parents and sister, but there's room on the tray for yours if you'd rather go."
Albus looked almost grateful. "I should let them know I'm here," he replied, adding his cup and saucer to the tray and taking it from Scorpius.
Scorpius watched him leave the room again. Two interactions and a few dozen words before fleeing. Clearly one of those weeks, then. Before he could work up a proper grump his phone beeped. Scorpius tapped it with his wand, and a tiny version of his father appeared.
"You're at the Potters'," Draco Malfoy looked around approvingly.
"Yes Dad. I Apparated Lily straight here when we heard the news. About half an hour ago, now."
"How are they holding up?"
"As well as can be expected. Are you working on the case?"
His father nodded. "I'm running the forensics."
"That's good." And it was. His father had pioneered much of the science that underpinned the new field of Wizarding forensics, creating reagents that could react to spells and even certain witches and wizards, once they were on record at the Ministry.
"Will you be coming home?" Draco's voice was quite level, but Scorpius knew what he hoped for, and was sorry to disappoint.
"Not tonight. I'll try and come by tomorrow."
Draco nodded. "Come into the Ministry with Harry in the morning. I have some plant samples that you could take a look at. I think an expert would be able to come up with a closer identification than I can manage. Bring Lily if you like."
Scorpius smiled. Compliments from his father were to be treasured. "I will," he replied.
"Make sure everyone eats dinner," Draco reminded him. "They'll all be a bit out of their minds, but James will be fine."
"Yes, yes I'm sure he will."
"Good night, then."
"Good night, Dad. Good to see you."
"You too." Draco smiled and flickered out.
Scorpius stirred the stew. He heard the front door pushed open with a call of names at the other end of the house and realised that the Weasleys had started to arrive. Flicking his wand with the practiced ease of a bachelor, he sent the kettle off to refill.
They ended up extending the dining room table twice. All the Weasley brothers save Charlie appeared, with wives in tow. Hugo and Rose rushed in as soon as they were able to get away from work. Mr and Mrs Weasley sat bravely in one corner, Scorpius surreptitiously poured whisky into Mr Weasley's tea after he noticed the old man's hand beginning to shake. He was rewarded with a smile of gratitude.
Neville and Luna arrived as everyone was sitting down to eat, and promptly offered their services. Luna's two years living in the Baltics had given her excellent language skills, which she was happy to put to good use. Charlie Weasley was said to be flying not-quite-approved runs over the thousands of small islands that littered Finland, with plans to expand into the sparsely populated north.
It was a good hour before anyone sought to apportion blame.
"If you'd just stuck to the joke shop, George, but no, you and Lee had to revolutionise communications in the Wizarding world," Ginny's voice was low, but bitter. "James wanted to be an Auror when he was a boy. He'd never dreamed of journalism."
"Ginny," Harry's voice was tired.
"No, it's all right." George turned his chair around to face his sister. "From the minute he saw what we were doing when Lee and I built the Network, James knew what he wanted to do with his life. He wanted to be an Auror because he is a crusader, Gin. The best place for him is in the press, he can make genuine changes in the media, not just deal with small cases one at a time."
"He can't do anything while he's held prisoner!"
Albus spoke over his mother and uncle as they both raised their voices. "He wanted to go!" he shouted. Everyone turned to him, and he continued more quietly. "I did the research for this story, and I could have given it to anyone, but he wanted to go. He always wants to go. It's what he loves doing. Journalists get taken hostage sometimes. They get released most of the time. He … he wanted to be there."
Scorpius, Neville and Luna crept from the living room towards the kitchen, leaving the debate to the family. Penelope, Fleur and Angelina joined them a few minutes later. Angelina took over the kitchen duties, making tea and cutting cake for the group that sat around the kitchen table.
"He will be all right," Luna assured them. "The Finns are very organised."
"Do you think George will be all right?" Angelina asked grimly. "I feel as though we've abandoned him."
"Al seemed determined to stop Ginny killing him," Neville suggested.
Angelina nodded. "I suppose she's less likely to strangle him than she is George. Still, I bet he's glad you're here." She smiled brightly at Scorpius.
All these years and they still forgot.
"Percy blames himself," Penelope said, mournfully. "He wishes he'd never invented the bloody Unwired."
Angelina and Luna both clustered around the teary-eyed woman. Percy's year of bonding with Arthur after the war had unexpectedly led to a multi-million Galleon venture developing Wizarding versions of Muggle technology. It had meant that neither man had ever needed to return to the Ministry, which Percy rejoiced in, though Arthur had never ceased taking Kingsley's calls.
The sudden shift in technology had replaced the War as the marker between one age and another. Arthur still referred to their inventions by their original names, the Unwired had first appeared as the Homoprojector, and wished for them to go back to their original status as curiosities. But a generation steeped in Muggle studies had seen the phone, Network and Unwired become pervasive years ago.
"It's not anyone's fault," Neville muttered.
Lily and Rose came dashing in from the hallway and shut the door tightly behind them. "It's getting ugly out there," Lily said. "I told them I had to check the samples."
"Hey Scorp!" Rose grinned at the face he pulled. She knew he had always hated the nickname. "You picked a hell of a time to return to the scene of the crime."
Conversation ceased and all the older faces turned in their direction.
"Figure of speech," Scorpius assured hastily. He turned back to Rose. "I brought Lily back, and it seemed sensible to stay."
"I'm glad you did." Rose patted his hand. "We need a sane head around here. The more members of the family you get together, the lower our average IQ."
There was buzzing in Scorpius's pocket. He pulled out his phone apologetically. "Sorry." He stepped outside and tapped it with his wand. "Dad? What's up?"
His father's face was pinched. "Is Potter there?" he asked urgently. "His phone is off. So's Weasley's. We have news."
"Hold on." Scorpius ran back through the kitchen, down the hall and to the dining room where the clan was still gathered. He stopped at the door; George and Ginny were standing and yelling at each other now. Harry glanced up at the movement in the doorway, and came outside when Scorpius held up the phone.
"Dad. For you," he whispered.
Harry walked down the hallway, muttering quietly with the projection of Draco Malfoy. Scorpius hovered beside the doorway, unwilling to intrude on the conversation. Albus slipped out of the room, where at least four people were now shouting, and joined Scorpius.
"Is there news?" he asked.
Scorpius nodded slightly. "My father, for yours. I don't know anything yet, they've just begun talking."
Albus nodded grimly and pulled a hipflask from his pocket.
Scorpius stared. "You don't drink."
Albus took a long swig, then coughed quietly as he tried to swallow it. "I'm taking it up."
"I'm not sure your body is," Scorpius couldn't help commenting.
"Give it time; I only stole Uncle Ron's flask an hour ago," Albus replied with a rueful smile.
Harry came striding back up the hall. "Inside, boys, Albus, you're about to get a call." He turned and called down the hallway. "Lily, bring everyone, there's news."
His son was already tapping his phone, the figure of Catherine Worthing appeared, with hands reaching into the frame to add blusher and eyeliner.
"We need to run a newsflash, we've just received a file from the Finnish Aurors, it's a ransom demand, they want it made public."
"Run it. Run the file in full, no commentary, just an intro. Plain closing. No editorialising until we know how they want us to play it." Albus's voice was crisp and firm.
"Not even to question what the Ministries are up to?" Catherine's voice wheedled ever so slightly.
"Nothing! Keep it plain. This is James."
Catherine's chin tilted up. "Of course. We're ready to roll."
"Go. Tell Peter to keep the camera angle on you still, you want to look serious."
Albus snapped his phone shut, cutting off the transmission. He sagged back against the wall, and stayed there as the others rushed past.
One of Scorpius's hands reached out towards him before he thought to stop it. He turned it into a rather ungainly stretch instead.
"Should we go in?" he asked. "Watch the broadcast?"
For a moment he was certain Albus was going to say no. Then the young Potter turned and walked into the dining room.
Like most established Wizarding families, the Potters' Unwired Network was installed in the same chimney as their Floo. Harry flicked it on and called for quiet at the same time. "There's a ransom," he announced.
The woman Scorpius had just seen in miniature appeared in full colour glory in the hearth. She announced that a file had been transmitted from an Unplottable point in the Arctic Circle, and that viewers should be aware that James Potter was speaking under duress.
And then he was there, looking dishevelled but otherwise fine. Slight lines of tension around his mouth were the only indication that things were not all well.
"It's the fourth of June and I am in an undisclosed location. I'm being held by members of the Vapaaehtoiset Battaillon, who have a list of simple demands that they require to be met before I am released. The first of these is the most crucial, they demand a Muggle-free homeland in a state that does not have an extradition arrangement with the European Wizarding Union. They require no less than one-hundred square miles of habitable territory, consisting of either a single land mass or adjacent islands.
"The second demand is for a sum of fifty thousand Galleons to be delivered to a point that will be announced later.
"The third demand is for the immediate release of Marti Mannerheim.
"My captors recognise that these are not simple requests and will make themselves available for some small negotiations. However, they require in-principle agreement to each of these demands by dawn tomorrow; here that will be 3:12am.
"If this agreement is not given, I will be executed. If all demands are not met by midnight GMT on June seventh, I will be executed.
"My captors have given me every reason to believe that they are serious. The location where I am being held is heavily guarded and I have several wizards around me ready to deliver a Killing Curse at all times.
"Aside from the imminent threat of doom, I have been well treated by my captors."
James flickered out suddenly and Catherine reappeared in the air.
"The transmission ended at that point, at this time we have not heard from either the authorities nor the Potter family as to whether the demands will be met. Excuse me for one moment …"
Catherine pressed her earpiece and listened intently. Scorpius became aware of a muttering behind him, it was George Weasley.
"This station's owners have just pledged to pay the sum of fifty thousand Galleons. Now all that remains is to see how far the nations involved are prepared to negotiate for the return of this favourite son. We now return you to your scheduled viewing, but rest assured that we will update with information as soon as it becomes available to us."
"Oh Mum!" Ginny wailed, throwing herself into Mrs Weasley's embrace.
Mr Weasley left his chair to shake George's hand. Harry was already on his phone to Draco, barking orders as he rushed from the room. Scorpius found Lily under his arm, and held her tight. He looked up at Albus, standing in the middle of the room, and looking as lost as he had ever seen him.
"Clever!" Ron was hugging Hermione. "He's given us his latitude. That sunrise is fifty minutes before Helsinki, they can narrow the search hugely."
Some of the woe seemed to lift from Albus then. "Do you think they'll release Mannerheim?"
"No," Hermione answered seriously. "But we can negotiate in good faith regarding the land and money; there's more than enough wealth in this family to buy James's safety on those demands. And the Finns will hold out the promise of Mannerheim for as long as they can."
"I don't feel he's their focus," Albus muttered.
Hermione looked at him. "I agree. I had the distinct sense he was third for a reason. That's good."
Lily patted Scorpius's arm. "I'm okay, you can let go now."
Scorpius looked down at her and smiled. "Sorry, Lils."
She looked over to where his attention had been occupied. "Talk to him!" she urged, and pushed him in the direction of her brother.
Albus looked up at him hopefully as he stumbled across the room. "Um …" Scorpius managed, eloquently. "My dad tells me they have some plant material that he thinks will help identify the hostage takers."
"Is that public knowledge?" Albus asked, news hat on.
"I don't think so, but you could say that there was a great deal of material being investigated, that would be safe enough."
"I don't want to risk anything. He's my brother."
Scorpius held his tongue. James was more than that. As the ticker across the bottom of the drama screening on the unheeded Unwired had it, "Wizarding's Favourite Son" was missing.
"Both our fathers are working on this. I don't think they've ever failed on a case like this, they're not about to start." It was the strongest comfort he could think of.
"Dad won't let anything happen to James," Albus agreed.
"He wouldn't let anything happen to any of you," Scorpius corrected.
Albus's eyes were bare for a second, then he nodded, and went to talk to an uncle.
"You did well." Lily was back at Scorpius's elbow.
He snorted, and she patted his back. "My brother is a banana, but you still did well. Ooh, Dad's back."
Harry was pulling on his coat as he walked in the door. "I'm going back in. Bill, could you come along? Malfoy's pulled some identifying data from the transmission that he wants you to check, and he also has some unusual fibres from James's recording gear. Kingsley's organised a meeting with the Finnish Minister and Chief Auror. I'll be back, but not till very late."
"Ginny, I swear that's all I know at the moment, but the minute I have anything else, I'll call you. And Malfoy will call Scorpius if he has news."
She nodded acceptance. "Good luck."
"D'you need a hand?" Ron offered.
They glanced at Hermione, who smiled. "Go, do Auror things. There's something I feel I'm missing in that message, but I can think about it here. I'll help with the tidying up. Rose and Hugo can make sure I get my doddering carcass to bed while you're off being manly."
Ron kissed her head fondly.
They went. Hermione, Rose, Fleur and Angelina took care of the cleaning up, while Penelope and Molly sat with Ginny.
Lily and Scorpius arranged the bedding. "Luna and Neville can have the guest bedroom, Uncle Bill and Aunt Fleur can have the playroom. Mum will probably want to stay over, she can have the study."
Scorpius noticed that neither of them were suggesting anyone sleep in James's room. They were most of the way through transfiguring daybeds into doubles and supplying blankets and fluffy pillows when Albus joined them. He carried sheets and tucked in hospital corners obligingly, helping them make quick work of the job.
It was almost like old times.
"We're full to the gunnels," Albus observed as they dropped some fresh towels on the end of the last bed. "Are you staying, too?"
Scorpius nodded. "Your dad asked me to."
"You may as well sleep in my room, I've still got the old bunks, believe it or not."
Was it really going to be that easy? "Um …" he began.
Albus blinked. "Oh, of course you're bunking in with Lily, yes, obviously … um… right. Good night."
Scorpius watched as Albus walked quickly down the hallway to his room. He turned to Lily. "He has no idea, does he?"
"My brother is very smart, but he can be spectacularly obtuse."
A frown crossed Scorpius's forehead. "But your father knows, doesn't he?"
She patted his shoulder "Of course he does, or there's no way on Earth you'd be sleeping in my room."
"So what does Al think we fought about in sixth year?"
Lily smiled one of her womanly smiles of infinite wisdom. "He has told himself that you just grew apart once you started hanging around with me."
Scorpius stared at her in disbelief.
She laughed. "I know, I even had first years asking whether the two of you were going to get together or kill each other. But we don't call him Captain Oblivious for nothing, you know."
"Just … he… I …"
Lily patted Scorpius's shoulder. "I know, I was there. But when my brother finds something too hard to handle, he rewrites it so that it is bearable for him. Deciding you just grew apart hurts less than him admitting how much he bollocksed things up."
"Scorp, I know."