Albus had always woken up five minutes before he set his alarm. Usually that involved holding a pillow over his face and cursing the world until his phone started shouting at him to get up.
Not this morning.
Al opened his eyes. A warm expanse of light-gold flesh met them. He smiled as he looked down Scorpius's lean and muscled chest, and at the arm that crossed it, with its darker wrist and hand that ended curled around Albus's own.
The word breezed through Albus's hair. He looked up into soft grey eyes. "Morning," he replied.
"It's not quite five, we don't have to get up just yet," Scorpius offered.
Albus grinned. One of the things he had most missed over the years had been Scorpius's excellent plans.
"If we have a house-elf bring us toast and coffee, then we really only need about eight minutes to shower and dress," he suggested.
"I was thinking we could take longer in the shower."
Albus's grin broadened. The excellent plans were well and truly back. They reached for each other.
There was a rap at the door.
Albus dropped his head onto Scorpius's shoulder, and wondered if he really needed a brother, after all, given how butch Lily could be.
"Are you two awake?" The door creaked open a touch and his Uncle Charlie's voice boomed in, "Because I have breakfast ready and we need to be in at the Ministry, soon. Kingsley and Hermione are running a briefing at six and both your dads want to see you before then."
"Thanks, Charlie, we'll be there in a few minutes," Scorpius called out.
"You have ten," Charlie said, and closed the door.
Albus looked up. "That's enough for two minutes extra in the shower …"
Scorpius's face crinkled into a smile. "It took you longer than that by yourself when we were back at school if I recall correctly."
Albus pinched the arm that held him. "I didn't have your posh body washes there. It was all soap and hard water."
Scorpius raised one of his feet, then used the leverage to flip Al over onto his back, holding him there bodily. "There's more than body wash in there," he promised, and bent to kiss Albus deeply. Then he sat back and smiled invitingly.
Al watched Scorpius's face move away from his with mild regret. "Hang on …" he reached onto the bedside cabinet and retrieved Scorpius's glasses. He popped them into place. "That's better."
"I take it we're doomed if I pop in my lenses?"
"Oh, utterly. Hang on again." He reached up and activated the Unwired ticker across the bottom of the lenses. "There, perfect."
Scorpius shook his head, laughing, and reached down to slap Al's arse. "Shower, now, we have nine minutes."
Al scooted out from under him and ran to the bathroom. "We don't need to shave," he called back to his pursuer. "And I can do my shoes and socks over breakfast. And cufflinks."
And he had planned to say more, but he was caught, and there were only eight-and-a-half minutes left.
"And the Muggle grocers confirm that the party letting the lighthouse has been keeping to the tower and the connected pilothouse and not moving away from them. He says that only one of the party comes to deal with him, the others are never seen in the village. The Squib who gathered the intel works on the ferry, so there's no danger of him having been uncovered by our suspects, he's a regular visitor to the island.
"This all explains why Charlie's team could not find a Disillusionment field, there never was one. They were relying on the fact that we would never expect them to be within a Muggle settlement. It's quite clever, really."
"Thank you, Harry." Kingsley Shacklebolt stood up and resumed control of the meeting. "Hermione, if you could fill us in on where we stand with the territorial negotiations, and then Mika, if you could give some background of the island's geography before we outline the mission?"
Both figures nodded to him, and Hermione stood up to speak. Scorpius noticed that she seemed tired, but still buoyed by that nervous energy he associated with her.
"There are three practical possibilities to meet the demand for territory. The first comes from the United States, who pulled out of our extradition treaties two years ago when we wouldn't guarantee their demands. They have suggested one of their Pacific territories that was used for weapons testing last century.
"Aside from the obvious negatives in the possibility of Dark Magic traces, I strongly suspect the Battalion will refuse this offer because it comes from the Americans. They may not have signed off on any treaties, but our relationship is still strong and they are not at all known for a policy of non-intervention, which seems to be a core desire.
"The second option is the Gilbert Islands, which are currently for sale. The Muggle population shifted from these islands twelve years ago. The Wizarding Federation of Micronesian States has put their support behind the deal, it's one-hundred-and-eight square miles, and the price is a very reasonable million Galleons, which Percy Weasley has offered to pay.
"There are two downsides to this possibility, the first is that the Wizarding Federation of Micronesian States has withdrawn from the International Statutes of Secrecy. They are actually just attempting to leverage demands for aid, but the Battalion could read this as a pro-Muggle stance. Secondly, the reason that the Muggle population shifted is that climate change has seen twenty years since the islands recorded significant rainfall. Though they do have excellent reefs for diving.
"The final option is the Iberian territory being offered by the Georgians. Ron spent yesterday putting this together. While they have no formal treaty relations with Britain, there is a longstanding record of cordial diplomacy between our nations. They offer a territory of two-hundred square miles, with a guaranteed exclusion zone around that, in exchange for inclusion in the next round of Protected Magical Items Trade discussions. Which could be worth around three million Galleons annually to them.
"On the positive side, it is an excellent piece of land, and the Georgians have rich natural resources that Europe would benefit from. On the negative, they have a strong anti-Muggle movement already, which the Battalion could inflame."
Scorpius watched Al all through the presentation. He was entranced, making notes into his phone as his aunt spoke. He genuinely seemed to enjoy the politics. Which meant they would probably need to live in London. He stopped himself before he planned out the rest of their lives together – probably best to make it through the first week without killing each other before he got too carried away.
"Which do you think they'll go for?" Draco asked.
"Georgia," Hermione replied decisively. "They'd be fools not to. And we'll need to hold out for Micronesia for as long as we can, to give the Aurors time to get into place. Al, I need you to start the main morning bulletin with news that the Georgian Minister has called into question our competence in dealing with a group who are clearly a legitimate political organisation. He's said that he's happy for you to quote him as saying: 'The British are all-too-fond of tossing about the term "terrorist" when organisations act independently of their governmental desires, even when their actual acts are less violent than those endorsed by Wizarding Britain herself.' He's not available for an interview, but Georgian State Unwired is sending you some file footage you can use."
"Cheers, I'll see if we can work up an editorial on our troubled past relationships during the Death Eater years."
"Good, Al. Thanks, Kingsley." Hermione sat down, and the Minister nodded at Mika, who stood up and took her place.
"Marjaniemi is a small village, mostly birdwatchers and fishermen. The lighthouse is very close to the village, and the old pilothouse, which the Battalion is also using, was once a hotel. It is a very flat area, with a broad beach, and the buildings have many windows. A few years ago, the lighthouse had a studio added halfway up the stairs. We believe this is where they are holding James.
"In the daylight, I do not think we could mount an attack without risking James's life. But we can move people onto the island. I can take two or three English with my younger Aurors and we can dress them in cycling clothes and give them mountain bicycles to ride about. They will look like the other young people, especially if there are young women in the group. It is not unusual for campers to stay beside the beach, so that will put that group into place. If you could please choose people who know Muggle drinking songs, I think it will be enough.
"Charlie's team has flown the area thoroughly at night, and he has not yet been spotted, because they are not looking high enough. Our belief is that if we Apparate to Oulunsalo and fly by broomstick across the bay shortly after dark, we can come in on the tail of Charlie's flight wing, but at a lower altitude. They will have their dragons flame, showing that they are in a search pattern, which will distract the captors long enough for our teams to close in, stun them and rescue James."
"How do we know they won't just kill James at the sight of the dragons?" Harry asked evenly.
Mika shrugged. "It is a possibility, but it is unlikely. They will know that we are out looking, they will expect to see something. Charlie's dragonriders will have been seen elsewhere, we can be sure of that. But the dragons fly too high to see individuals when they are in a search pattern. They are looking for large areas of Disillusionment. We know there are none. They do not know that we know this."
Mika sat back down. Kingsley looked magisterially at the thirty or so witches and wizards packed into the conference room.
"So, our options are, settle the demands well before the deadline and risk constructing an unstable state to our east, or spin out the negotiations for the entire afternoon and put all out hopes on the success of the raid. Harry, he's your son, you give your opinion first."
Harry got to his feet slowly, but his gaze was steady as he looked around the room. Scorpius glanced at Albus, he was holding his breath.
"We cannot risk the Battalion. They are too much of an unknown quantity. Their members are not unified, their organisation is not cohesive, they were formed under the wing of a man who committed mass-murder, it's too much of a risk. James himself described their demands as outrageous, I think at this time he would be hoping for rescue, but not certain it will come. As would any of us in his place.
"I vote that we focus on the raid"
Ron Weasley looked at him sharply. "Are you sure?" he asked.
Harry nodded. "It's the only real option, isn't it, Hermione?"
The Deputy Minister nodded. "We've already heard from the rest of the European Wizarding governments that Britain would be censured or expelled from the Union if we collaborated to construct a rogue state. We could do it, we have the money, you've made the connections, but it would have terrible consequences."
"I agree," the Minister said sadly.
Scorpius watched the look that passed between the four of them. He wished he had thought to sit beside Al, who was looking lost at this moment.
"Any dissent?" Kingsley asked the room.
No one looked up, but no one spoke, either. Scorpius was suddenly glad that his work was not here in this place of pragmatism and compromise.
Harry stood up. "I'll go and let Ginny know what's happening," he announced.
"Dad," Albus stood up, too.
"Sit down, both of you." Scorpius saw his father standing up out of the corner of his eye, he couldn't help a smile at the tone in Draco's voice. "I'll tell her, she already hates me. She can think it's my fault."
Albus shook his head. "No, listen, you're playing it wrong. What you want to tell her is that the government is trying to force the Georgian deal, even though the Georgians are not happy with us. Tell her it could fall apart at any time. Tell her the safe deal is the Gilbert Islands and Uncle Percy's money. I can have her appealing to the court of public opinion while my journalists confuse the issue with arguments in favour of the peace-loving Georgians and against the inept British Ministry. The Finns will pick up our feeds. It will give us several hours of looking as though things are happening, as though the delays are for a reason."
Scorpius was watching Al's hands. He had them stuffed into his pockets. If you looked closely, you could see the slight tremor.
"That's very good, Al." It was Harry who spoke. Scorpius watched as Albus's hands stopped trembling, came out of their pockets, relaxed.
Kingsley stood up. "That's our plan, people. I want all of you briefing your sections and ready to move within the half hour. Get me the list of Aurors who are headed out. Mika, can you organise the Muggle shopping?"
The meeting broke up into small groups of people chatting urgently. Scorpius felt his hand patted, it was his father. "You all right?" he asked.
He nodded. "I'm meant to be meeting Lily in the lab."
"I don't know if it's worth carrying on there now that we have the location," Draco mused.
"She doesn't know yet," Scorpius reminded him.
"Of course. Where will the two of you spend the day?"
Scorpius shrugged. "Lils will probably want to be with her mum. I should probably go home, keep out of everyone's way."
"Whatever you think best."
Scorpius saw Albus and Harry walking out of the room. "Dad, I …"
Harry had just bid Albus goodbye when Scorpius finally made it out the door. The younger man had turned back towards the conference room, and met Scorpius's eyes with a smile.
"I was just coming back to find you."
Scorpius felt a mirroring smile on his own face. "Good."
"Where are you off to now?"
"Down to the lab. You're off to the studio?"
"Yes. You could join me."
"I'd distract you."
Al's smile broadened into a grin at that.
"Come on, walk me down to the lab before you go."
They managed the first thirty steps in silence, and with only one accidental brushing of shoulders.
"That was impressive last night," Scorpius said, then nearly walked into a wall when he heard what he was saying.
Al was too busy laughing to make any comments.
"I meant remembering the images well enough to find James's code."
"Well, that's deflating," Albus chortled. Then he was more serious. "It's what I do, I see images," he said.
"You know how you have thousands of plants in your head? And all the science and tech that goes with studying them? I have images. I can call them up, perfectly each time. Once it's in my head, I can see it clearly ever after."
"Oh." Scorpius was impressed, but also a little worried "So when you remember …"
Albus stopped and took both of Scorpius's hands. "When I remember breaking your nose, I see you there on the floor, looking up at me. And you didn't hate me, you weren't angry, you were just hurt and confused. And I was so furious."
"I tried to be angry," Scorpius confessed. "But being confused took a lot of energy." He rubbed the back of Albus's knuckles with his thumbs. "Besides, I think you should concentrate on more recent images."
Al looked up at him and grinned again, which made Scorpius feel like a sapling with spring rushing through it. "You really can't do that when we have things to do," he whispered.
Al dropped his hands. "I'll walk you to the lab." He feigned a serious expression. "We can resume discussions early tomorrow morning after the return of my brother."
"That would be mutually advantageous," Scorpius agreed. "I'll have my people set a time with your people."
They were still smiling when they reached the lab. "Coming in?" Scorpius invited.
Al shook his head. "I need to have the first bulletin ready for seven. I should be off."
Al started to raise a hand, but Scorpius stepped back. "I'm not turning around to look, but my guess is that Lily is already in the lab and looking out through the windows."
Al's eyes darted left. "You would be right. I will be nodding seriously at you and looking as though this has been a very serious conversation on serious topics."
"Go and help save your brother, you idiot."
"Come and see me through the day so I don't go mad dealing with my family."
"You'd be more compliant mad, you're on your own."
Scorpius watched as Al reluctantly turned and left. When he was out of sight he spun on his heel and headed into the laboratory, which was empty aside from Lily and Antony.
"I have news," he announced.
Lily's eyes were huge with wonder. "Yes," she agreed. "I can see that."
Albus had never lied to his mother before. Well, that wasn't strictly true. Of course he had, but they were the standard lies every child tells its parent: my room is clean, I've done my homework, I'm not having sex until I'm married.
Never an organised deceit like this.
"Unfortunately, what seems to be happening is that our Ministry and the Georgians are being distracted into a game of diplomatic tit for tat. They're not focussing on James anymore."
Ginny looked worn out, but was buzzing with nervous energy. "What can I do, Al?"
"Come into the studio and make a plea for the Ministry to stop debating and just bring James home. Uncle Percy is going to repeat his offer on screen, so the Battalion know it's there and it's serious."
His mother's face grew hopeful. "Is that all? I can do that now."
Albus nodded encouragingly. "Good, Catherine Worthing has asked if she can do the interview. You'll like her Mum, she's nice. Why don't you go and put on your green suit? Or the blue dress robes, you look pretty in both of those."
"Oh Al, my hair, my face, I'm a mess."
"That's all right, we have people at the station who can fix you up. You're still beautiful, Mum, you just haven't been sleeping."
"I'll go and change."
Albus watched her go. Most of his family were back in the kitchen, he could go and join them. He pulled out his phone. "Scorpius Malfoy."
Scorpius's image flickered into view a few seconds later. "Al? Where are you?"
"I'm at home. I only have a minute. Can I ask you something?"
"Was I a good friend before I went mental?"
"Yes, what's going on?"
"And last night – that's planned as an ongoing thing?"
"Yes." Scorpius looked worried now. "What's going on?"
"I'm taking my cynicism and ability to manipulate others to new levels."
"It's necessary," Scorpius reminded him.
"I still feel like shit. Will you be around this afternoon?"
"At the manor. Just call. I can come to you."
Scorpius's image was looking at him gently, smiling. "It's going to be all right."
He nodded. "I'll see you later." The transmission ended.
Albus took a deep breath. "Mum?" he called up the hallway towards her room. "Do you want me to go and ask Gran if she'd like to come, too?"
The studio was more full of Weasleys than usual.
"I've got the second break coming out of Helsinki!" Hugo shouted.
"Catherine!" Albus yelled.
Catherine was already running to her anchor desk.
"Five-second delay," Al barked. "Have commentary ready in case we need to cut suddenly. Charles, have you found that footage from Great Wizarding Dive Holidays yet?"
"Yes, and I have two experts in rain production on their way in."
"Albus?" It was his Uncle Percy. "Can I have a minute of screen time? I've decided to add another hundred-thousand Galleons to the ransom."
His eyes looked so hopeful. Albus took a deep breath. "You're a champion, Uncle Percy, but don't you think you should make the offer through the Ministry now that the negotiations are underway?"
Percy shrugged. "You said yourself, they're unwieldy and hypocritical. We can get our message out directly here."
"It's just that now might be a bad time. And we don't know who we're dealing with, really. If they turn out to be a violent group, that money could be used to fund acts of aggression. We should wait to hear from Dad, or Aunt Hermione."
"Albus," Percy had his uncle voice on, "look at their chief negotiator, he seems eminently reasonable."
On the Unwired display, the Finn had just nodded to the cameras outside the negotiation rooms, on his way out of the meeting for a few minutes. He wore a plain black robe, and had a conservative haircut.
"But he goes by the name Mr X."
"Give it a few hours. If the negotiations are still stalled tonight, then we can run with it."
Percy had not amassed a fortune by chance. "All right," he agreed.
Hermione was speaking on the display now. "… are progressing at a steady pace. Both sides have indicated that they are prepared to take the full time allowed to bring this matter to a successful conclusion. Finland has also indicated to Britain that it will be distancing itself from a proposed movement within the European Wizarding Union to seek Britain's expulsion if a territory is settled on the Battalion. For their part, the members of the Vapaaehtoiset Battaillon have agreed that two of the three territories offered could be acceptable to them, and we are confident of a successful conclusion to this discussion."
"Deputy Minister, what do you have to say to the voices calling for your resignation and for the resignation of this government over your willingness to negotiate with terrorists?"
Hermione smiled tightly. "I say to those anonymous voices that Britain will do everything possible to ensure the safety of its citizens, and that British journalists will be supported in whatever arena they find themselves working."
"But would the Ministry be going to such efforts if the journalist in question were not Harry Potter's son, in fact, your nephew?"
"The Ministry would go to these lengths for any of our citizens caught up in a political conflict anywhere in the world. If you will excuse me, I have a debriefing."
The journalist attempted to ask another question, and was silenced with the death glare that Albus had spent his entire adult life attempting to emulate. But his aunt delivered it with vigour. She didn't seem perturbed, her hands weren't tapping on her files as she walked away – she wasn't anxious.
"The talks are going well."
"What?" Percy was still beside him.
Al looked around. "Sorry, I said that the talks are going well. You can tell from Aunt Hermione's body language."
"Well, that's good. We should tell your mother."
"You go and tell her, I have to pop out for a little while."
Percy looked surprised. "Now?"
"I'm following up a lead."
Percy tapped his nose. "Say no more. I'll go and talk to Ginny. She'll be thrilled. She's very proud of you, you know."
Albus thought it best if he didn't speak just then.
Once Percy was out of his sight, Al chased down Hugo. "I need you to take over for a while."
"Now. I have to go and chase down a few leads."
"Al, I can do that. You stay here, this is the biggest story of the year."
Albus shook his head. "Private contacts, could all be nothing, could be something big. I want you to keep going with what we have. If news breaks out of Helsinki, cover it, but do not let Uncle Percy or Mum near a camera. Nor George."
Hugo frowned. "George owns the station."
"Hex him if you have to. I mean it, your mum will kill us if we let any of them get involved further."
"Your mum will kill us. With her little hands."
Hugo nodded. There was only one member of the family that they were truly afraid of when everything boiled down to it.
"I'll be back. No changes till I am, okay?"
"Yeah, all right. Al?"
"You're not hiding anything bad are you?" Hugo looked like the little boy he had been a decade ago.
Albus hugged him briefly. "Nah. All fine. Just looking for the edge to the story, you know?"
Hugo grinned confidently at that. Albus left before he had to lie to anyone else he loved.
"Mr Malfoy?" Al knocked tentatively at the door.
It opened by itself, to reveal both Draco and Al's father in the Malfoy Ministry office. "Come in, Albus. Your father and I are drinking to excess. Care to join us?"
"No, thanks, I'm fine. Dad? I thought you were in Helsinki."
"Kingsley wouldn't let me go," Harry said, with just the slightest slur.
"I think I see something exploding outside, if you two will excuse me." Draco stood up and walked carefully from the room.
"I tried to ring you, but your phone was switched off, so I called your office and they said you were here." Al sat down on the edge of the sofa, beside his father.
Harry sighed. "I have nothing to do but wait for the next seven hours. Damned if I'm going to spend them all sober."
"Have you heard from Mika?"
"Yes, he says everyone is in place, it's all going well so far. One puncture for the cycle team which was fixed using Muggle methods. Apparently having to read the instructions in the puncture kit is very realistic."
"What are you doing here? I thought you'd be off securing another Flooey."
Albus snorted. "Don't particularly care about that at the moment, what with worrying that you're likely to go spare, James could not come back and Mum could kill me."
"Your mother won't kill you, Albus."
"She might kill one of us when she finds out what we've done."
Harry reached over and pulled his son to his side, and held him there with one strong arm. "I will tell Ginny what we have done and why we did it as soon as we can do that without jeopardising your brother. And if she's angry, she can take it out on me. She should be proud of you, I know I am."
Al let the warmth of his father's embrace warm him for a moment before he asked the question he needed to. "But what if it doesn't work? Dad, I know James is your favourite …"
Albus felt himself suddenly clutched to his father's chest. "Is that what you think? Oh Al, is that really what you think?"
And Albus couldn't speak, then, nor for a few minutes afterwards. He tried to be subtle about wiping away his tears, but that just made Harry chuckle.
"Here." His father pulled a handkerchief from his pocket and handed it over.
Albus restored himself to manly stoicism.
"Do you want to stay for a drink?"
Al shook his head. "I think I'd just be in the way. I'm still not sure that Mr Malfoy likes me."
"He's resigning himself to the fact he may have to."
Al snorted a laugh in a particularly inelegant fashion. "Is there anyone who doesn't know?"
"Your mother, your grandparents, possibly Kingsley if he wasn't paying attention in the meeting this morning. Although given your Uncle Ron picked up on it, I wouldn't lay money on that."
"I had a job offer from Bermuda last year, maybe I should look into that."
"Are you headed back to the studio?"
"Not just yet."
"Say hello to Scorpius for me."
Al smiled at his father. "I will."
Scorpius had nearly finished his letter when he heard footsteps behind him. Since there were no house-elves fussing, it could mean only one of two people, and Charlie Weasley had never slipped his hands inside Scorpius's shirt and kissed his neck.
"Hello you. I thought you were going to call."
Albus didn't look up from Scorpius's neck. "I just needed to get away for a little while. I have to go back in a few minutes."
"All right." Scorpius ran his hands up Albus's arms. "How many minutes are a few?"
Al kissed the top of his head and moved away. "Too few, I'm afraid. What are you up to?"
Scorpius was too slow to stop Al snatching up the letter and starting to read. "Reading private correspondence," he replied ruefully.
"Love letter?" Albus teased. He glanced over the neat black script, then looked up, confused. "Scorpius, this is from your godfather. I never knew you had a godfather. Who signs themselves just S? What does he do? Where does he live?"
Scorpius gently took the letter back and placed it under a book. "He is an old friend of my father's, and very, very averse to publicity. He lives with a charming young man in Wales and designs magnificent gardens for Wizards and Muggles alike. Every Christmas he plays the Dame in the local Muggle panto. You'd hate him."
"You're defending him to me, I loathe him."
"Good. You may never meet, because he would despise you."
"I'm glad we cleared this up."
"Why are you here?"
Al's shoulders slumped. Scorpius stood and kissed him in one fluid movement. "Are you all right? Is James all right?"
Albus nodded, and kissed him back. "I just needed to get away."
"You're taking my clothes off."
"That's not going to work with the few minutes part of the plan."
"No, there is a scheduling conflict there. But you seem very tense." Scorpius winked as he moved his hands to Albus's belt.
Al caught those hands and shook his head regretfully. "I can't, I really can't."
Scorpius nodded. He pulled Al's shirt back into place and started doing up the buttons. "Later," he said.
"Later," Al agreed.
And Scorpius left it at that. How much later really depended on whether or not James Potter was still alive at the end of the day.
"There, you look completely businesslike again."
Albus tucked his shirt in, and reached for his tie and jacket. He piled them neatly on the desk beside them. Scorpius watched Al's hands as he smoothed the wool flannel and the strip of silk, and he concentrated on not saying anything. Albus looked up at him.
"If I need to, can I stay with you?"
Scorpius caught hold of him and held him. "Yes," he murmured into Al's hair. "Yes. Of course. Always. You always could."
Al stayed there for a long moment. With a press of lips to the side of Scorpius's face, he moved back. "I have to go. I'll come back when we know."
Scorpius nodded. "I'll be here."
"Oh thank Merlin!" Hugo came running through the studio towards Albus.
"I hope whatever that was was important, because your mother is about to kill your father if she can find him, and all hell is breaking loose in Helsinki, and Uncles George and Percy are both threatening to disown me and I was counting on them funding my retirement."
Albus patted his cousin on the head. "Deep breaths, Hugo. I'll deal with the family, you grab Charles and Catherine and call in every ex-Wizengamot member who's not barking mad that you can find. I want you to lead the next bulletin with negotiation tactics, why both sides would be choosing this moment to walk away for half an hour in order to appear stronger when they go back. Bring in the Muggle Studies woman they used to have at school for those interminable lectures, she had some Northern Ireland blather that she went on at length about that was like this … Starmount? Stormfront? She'll know."
"Is it all okay, Al?"
Albus looked at him squarely. "It is. I swear to you, it is. Now can you do it?"
Hugo nodded, smiled, and was gone.
Albus walked through the studio and down the long hallway to his office, resisting the urge to drag out his steps.
His mother met him at the door. "Oh, Al! Thank Merlin! I was so worried! You have to do something! It's all going wrong!"
Albus put an arm around her gently and walked her back to his chair. "It's all right Mum, it's all part of what they expected."
Lily appeared at his elbow with a glass of water. "Here, Mum," she murmured.
Ginny ignored her. "What who expected?"
"Ours or theirs?"
"Both, Mum, they're working together."
Ginny sat back, and looked at him coldly. "What have you done, Albus?"
"Mum, don't snap at Al." Lily glanced at him, loyal as always.
"It's all right, Lils. Mum, you need to go home, and you need to swear to me that you will say nothing to anyone, not even Hugo, and that you will stay off the Network. There is an operation in place to pull James out and it is well underway and anything you do or say now will put him in incredible danger and could kill a couple of dozen Aurors."
"Was this your father's idea?"
"No, Mum, it was mine."
Ginny stood up, and took Lily's hand. "Don't come home, Albus. I'll let you know when I can bear to look at you again."
Lily squeezed Al's shoulder with her spare hand. "I'll sit on her," she promised.
There was a very long moment of silence after they had left. It was Molly Weasley who broke it. "Albus, look at me. Do you really know what you are doing here?"
He looked directly into his grandmother's eyes, which were hard and canny beneath their nannadom. He nodded. "I do. It's the only real chance James has."
"That's rubbish!" Percy exploded. "The Battalion are more than happy to take my money and go away."
"And what guarantee do we have that they'll leave James behind? Or that they won't just grab the next high-profile victim they find? Or worse, with that level of funding they could afford to attack more than individuals."
"Stop shouting!" Molly's voice rang out above theirs.
Percy spoke calmly, then. "I do not like the idea of trusting the Ministry on this. They have failed too often in the past."
Albus nodded in sympathy. "If it was the Ministry, I wouldn't. But it's Dad, and Aunt Hermione, and Uncle Ron. I'm trusting them. And I am trusting myself to know what James would want. I truly believe that this is the only way."
Albus counted four long breaths before Percy nodded.
Molly stood up and gathered her knitting. "Come on, Arthur, boys. Lily can't manage Ginny on her own."
Albus bit his lip to stop it from trembling as his family filed out the door. His Gran was the last to leave, she stopped beside him first, and craned up to kiss his cheek. "You're a good boy, Albus. And you're the smartest of my grandchildren, though you must never mention that to Rose. Ginny never really understood what it was like, but I know that sometimes you have to make the hard decisions. I'll talk to her. She doesn't really mean it."
"I love you Gran," Albus whispered.
"I love you, too, dear. We all do."
He relaxed just a little. Molly was nearly out the door when she turned back one last time. She winked at him. "And when James is safely home, Lily tells me that you have news."
Five minutes passed before Hugo came looking for him. He seemed startled to find the office all-but empty. "What did you say?"
Al shrugged. "Mum started to have a conniption, Gran thought it was best they all went home."
"Good-oh. Can I steal you? Catherine's starting to panic about her editorial."
"Yeah, of course. I'll come through with you."
Scorpius could not remember the last time that he had Side-along Apparated his father. He knew this was the first time that Harry had come, too.
"I just thought that we were starting to be a bit too drunk for the Ministry and that we would be more comfortable at home," his father told him in carefully enunciated syllables.
"And so you will," he agreed, steering them both into his father's private study. "Until they rescue James and Harry has to be reunited with him whilst in an alcoholic stupor, which no matter how charitably Al's cameraman shoots the footage, is going to look bad."
"Ah ha!" His father extricated a small bottle from his inner pocket and flourished it. "I have Sobering Potion! Which makes one sober!"
"You have clearly planned well. And I will now move it to the bookcase, which makes one think the bottle will survive the next hour."
Harry looked up at him suddenly. "When does the sun set?"
Scorpius knew he did not mean over Wiltshire. "Seventy minutes. They'll let us know as soon as they can."
"Whisky!" declared Draco. "Fire, Muggle, Scotch and Irish. We will compare!"
Scorpius closed the door behind him. He wanted to stay. He wanted to call Albus. He wanted to Apparate to Bothnian Bay and climb onto the back of a dragon. He sat down and wrote up his field notes instead. At a few minutes past ten, he came back and stood outside the study door. He could hear footsteps, and his father's voice.
"Here, Harry, drink this. It's nearly time."
It was twenty-three minutes before he heard the ring of his father's phone. The voice that boomed out was unmistakeable. "Merlin, Harry, do you ever turn your phone on? We have him, he's safe, a few bruises, but he's fine, he's here."
"Oh God, Charlie …"
"Dad? Dad, are you there?"
The door in front of Scorpius opened. His father stepped out. "Come on." He let his father lead him away towards the kitchens. "Harry will let Al know," Draco assured him. "I finally feel like cake."
"Me, too, Dad. Me too."
Draco had headed back to the study with half a Victoria sponge by the time Albus arrived. Scorpius was in his bedroom, scultping the remains of his piece into a tiny scale model of Ben Nevis when he heard the footsteps running through the manor.
"Al, here!" he called, and was barrelled into a moment later.
Scorpius felt himself picked up, and hastily put back down. "Safe, sound and just needing to be fully checked out for curses by the Finnish Unspeakables before they bring him home! Aunt Hermione's organised a Portkey straight to Dad's place, and he'll be going straight there!"
"They tell me my Dad is hiding here with yours."
"This is true."
"I should tell him I'm here," Al said, with a slight hesitation.
"Yes, you should."
Al's eyes sparkled. "Except the minute he knows I'm here, then I'll need to sit and celebrate with him, rather than with you."
"Yes, you would."
"So it would make more sense if you were to go and see if it looked as though he needed me, or if he was about to head off home, and then if he was comfortable and not going anywhere for a little while, then I could just take a small amount of time to share my personal joy over the recovery of my brother with the other person I've recovered in the last few days."
Scorpius laughed. "You're outrageous."
There was no point arguing, really. "All right, I'll do it."
The study door was open a touch, and Scorpius could hear laughter as he came closer. His father was speaking, and he could hear the clink of glasses again.
"And I don't mind admitting that I was genuinely worried for a few hours there when we had no clues, no plan and no idea where on Earth your firstborn was. It was looking bleak, my friend.
"And then, when all seemed lost, mini-Potter came to save the day and order was restored. And there was cheering and jubilation among the masses."
"You are appalling."
"It's true. Why are we friends again?"
"Because I give you an excuse to skive off from the office."
"And my house-elves make a superior treacle tart."
"Should you be headed home?"
"In a while, when James is due."
"Still hiding from the ex, eh? That'll never do, Harry. You're a national hero, after all."
"You avoid her!" Scorpius could hear the laughter in Mr Potter's voice.
"That's because she loathes and despises me. Whatever small degree of rapprochement we managed through the friendship of our children disappeared utterly when the two of you divorced."
Scorpius could not help himself. He peered around the corner.
"She blames you, and me," Harry sighed.
Draco gave a harsh bark of laughter. "Us? We never so much as snogged."
"I know, she's unreasonable."
Draco appeared to think on the topic for a moment. "I suppose we could," he offered. "Charlie and I have a very open relationship, and he likes you."
Harry shook his head, laughing. "Thanks, but no. It would be just a trifle too incestuous, given the boys."
"Thoughtless," Draco agreed.
"It'd really annoy your ex-wife."
"In itself, almost reason to turn a perfectly good friendship into a torrid affair, but I'd have no one to complain to when you started to annoy me."
Harry shook his head. "Only if I wanted to be hexed."
"Well, never say I didn't make an effort."
Scorpius stepped away from the door quietly.
Albus was waiting for him when he walked back to his room. "So?"
"I think he's going to wait here until the moment James is allowed to leave Finland."
"So that's about an hour."
Albus looked at him and grinned. "An hour is heaps of time."
Scorpius nodded. "Enough for six showers, maybe seven."
Albus pushed Scorpius hungrily against the wall and pressed his body against him. "This is not the time for comedy," he growled.
Scorpius let his head fall back against the wall as Albus's lips moved their way from his jaw to his collarbone. "No comedy," he promised. "But inside the bedroom would be nice."
Albus grinned. "I don't know, I rather like this wall."
Scorpius shook his head. "Oh Al, when will you remember that I spend my days climbing things and wrestling carnivorous plants?" He pushed Albus back and hoisted him over his shoulder in a fireman's lift. "Bedroom," he decided, firmly.
"You are cheating!" Albus laughed. "This is completely unfair!"
"It's a cruel universe."
Albus reached down inside the waistband of Scorpius's trousers and grabbed his pants. "Yes it is," he agreed.
Scorpius was laughing as he hit the wall and let the two of them slide down it. "I thought you said no comedy!"
From far up the hallway came the unmistakeable sound of a door being firmly closed.
A few laughter-filled seconds later, Scorpius's door followed suit.