Title: Difficulties of Being
Disclaimer: J. K. Rowling and associates own these characters. I am writing this for fun and not profit.
Pairings: Albus Severus/Scorpius, Harry/Draco (past Harry/Ginny and Draco/Astoria)
Warnings: Heavy angst, profanity, slash sex. Compliant with the DH epilogue.
Summary: "You're so much like your father!" If there's one sentence Al's tired of hearing, it's that one. But maybe he can arrange things so that he doesn't have to hear it anymore.
Author's Notes: See that heavy angst warning? That's there for a reason.
Difficulties of Being
He'd always heard it, but Al really grew conscious of it during his first year at Hogwarts.
The first one to say it was Headmistress McGonagall, who Al had met a few times over the years. She looked at him with misty eyes when the Hat Sorted him into Gryffindor, and then she called him up to her office. Al went with his throat tight and his heart being so fast it almost deafened him, wondering if someone else had overheard the Hat's offer to put him into Slytherin.
It's all right for Dad to say it doesn't matter, he thought, kicking moodily at the steps of the moving staircase. He was already a hero. Even if he had been in Slytherin, everyone would have liked him anyway. But what am I?
After a few minutes in McGonagall's office, he could answer that question.
Harry Potter's son.
"You're so much like your father," McGonagall said as she handed a cup of tea and a small plate of biscuits across the table to Al. He ate them gratefully; he'd been too nervous to eat much in the Great Hall so far, even though his cousins Dominique and Louis were both in Gryffindor and promised him that they'd show him around. "The same hair, the same eyes…the only thing that's missing is the scar."
Al gave her a small smile, and then concentrated on the food while the Headmistress rambled away into some long, pointless story of Dad's "antics" at Hogwarts. Al had already heard the story, of course. He'd heard all the stories, a hundred times, and the number of people who thought he hadn't and they had to tell him about them were just more people to resent.
McGonagall finally let him go. Apparently he'd been called up there so that she could reminisce. Al leaned on the wall on the way down and rubbed his belly—he'd eaten too many biscuits too fast—and hoped that was the end of it.
Of course it wasn't.
Professor Flitwick squeaked with excitement when Al cast the Wingardium Leviosa Charm right on his third try and told Al that his father had been good with Charms, too. Professor Trelawney, who looked ancient enough to crumble away if you blew on her, got misty eyes over Al and talked dolefully about the many times she'd predicted Harry Potter's death and how he'd managed to survive them all, due to his "inner eye." Two of the portraits, even, stopped Al on the way to class so that they could exclaim over a Potter child who didn't look like a Weasley.
On and on it went. When Al sneaked out to Hogsmeade, people noticed him and sent him back to Hogwarts immediately, because "we know that Harry Potter's son what looks like him is too young to be here." Hagrid started bawling when he found Al petting his boarhound and took him to the hut for a long tea of rock-hard cake and tales about Dad and his old boarhound Fang. Professor Sinistra, who didn't ordinarily look away from her telescope, handed back one of Al's essays with a smile and a comment that a talent for maths must run in the family.
The worst thing was when Jamie noticed and made up a song and dance about how Al and Dad were twins, separated in space and time, and doomed to repeat each other's actions over and over again. Al cast a Boils Hex on him and spent a week in detention, but it was worth it for the cautious looks that Jamie gave him after that.
It got to the point that Potions, and the company of Slytherins, was a relief, because the Potions Professor wasn't one who'd known Dad and the Slytherins were too busy sneering at Al for being a Gryffindor to sneer at him for being Harry Potter's son. Al would pick up his cauldron the moment Professor Brizzgard gave the instructions for the potion and join Scorpius Malfoy.
Malfoy gave him raised eyebrows the first few times that happened, but one day, he looked straight into Al's face and said abruptly, "Do they give you the same kind of shite about being your father over again?"
Al was too surprised to lie. "They tell you that, too?"
Malfoy snorted and rolled his eyes as he turned his satchel upside-down so that all his Potions ingredients pitched onto the table. Somehow, he managed to dart his hand into them and come out with the right one every time. Al had been watching, but he hadn't figured out how to do that trick yet. "Oh, yeah. McGonagall watches me like I'm going to grow a Dark Mark on my arm or something. And Sinistra makes 'cute' little jokes about my name and Dad's name. And the portraits tell me that my father looked just like me when he was my age." Malfoy shook his head, looking ill. "I get enough of that from Grandmother, I don't need it from painted women who're trying to pinch my cheeks."
Al nodded fervently. "When I grow up, I'm going to do something completely different," he said. "Something that'll separate me so decisively from Dad that they won't have any choice but to decide that I'm not that much like him after all."
Malfoy paused and looked at him hard. "You sound like a Slytherin," he said. Al decided not to take offense; he knew it was supposed to be a compliment. "What're you going to do?"
"I don't know yet," Al said. It was hard to know what would make him happy for the rest of his life, which was something that adults who asked him what he wanted to do when he grew up never seemed to understand. "But I know it's going to be something grand, and something good, and something that will make other people look up to me. And it's my name that's going to be famous, instead of my Dad's. No one will compare me with Dad ever again. He'll be just a footnote in history."
The next moment, he blushed and shut his mouth. He'd never spoken that openly to anyone. Most of his family seemed to think ambition was evil. Dad didn't, but Al couldn't really talk to him about how Al was going to replace him and how his life would be forgotten when Al was famous.
But Malfoy grinned at him, and said, "That's what I want to do, too." He put out his hand across the cauldron, and Al smiled at him and shook it tentatively.
"You're not so bad when you let yourself be, Malfoy," he said. "That must make you different from your father, right?"
Malfoy laughed. "Call me Scorpius."
The rest of Hogwarts wasn't as bad, not with Scorpius by his side. Al now had someone to play pranks with and study with—honestly, the rest of Gryffindor didn't seem to study at all, and Rose, who was in Ravenclaw, did nothing else; you had to strike a balance—and fly with. He didn't want to be on the Quidditch team, he wasn't good at Quidditch, but he liked flying, and Scorpius was always willing to sneak out with him and circle above the Pitch a time or two, sometimes diving at the lake to see if they could scare the giant squid.
And always, always they talked about what they were going to do when they grew up.
Scorpius had lots of dreams. "I'll be a Quidditch player," he told Al one week. "You should be one, too. Then everyone will scream your name, and fans will go on talking about you for a long time after they forget about Dark Lords and wars. People don't like thinking about Dark Lords and wars. They like thinking about fun. It's the perfect solution."
Al wasn't good at Quidditch, so he thought that had to be out, but sometimes he dreamed about practicing until he was better than anyone, and watching his father's face when he saw Al leap onto a broom and go casually after the Snitch. But no, maybe it would be better to be a Beater, because then no one would think he was in his father's shadow because he was a Seeker. Al practiced with the Bludgers for three straight weeks on the sly, and the only thing that resulted from it was a broken arm that he had to take Skele-Gro for.
Well, that and Scorpius changing his dream.
"No, I think we should be wild animal tamers!" he said one day in third year when they'd conned some of the house-elves in the kitchens out of butterbeer and were talking in a window alcove that Scorpius knew about from his father's stories, safely hidden from sight. Scorpius sat bolt upright, his hair flying around him and his eyes brilliant with inspiration. "We'll travel all over the world and come back with magical creatures that no one's ever heard of before!" He punched the air with his fist. "We'll be the first to tame a dragon!"
That sounded great. Al had met Luna and her husband Rolf Scamander a few times, and they led lives that were full of excitement, capturing and writing about fantastic beasts. He and Scorpius could do the same things, and then they'd be best friends forever and never have to part.
Even drunk, there was something about that thought that made Al pause and frown. Something about it was wrong.
But he couldn't figure out what it was, because Scorpius leaped from the windowsill and insisted on taking Al to the library so that they could find the spells they'd need to tame dragons. Madam Pince discovered them, and they got in trouble, but Al didn't really care. What mattered was that Scorpius was with him, and he made faces imitating Madam Pince behind her back as she looked at Al and scolded him, which made Al laugh, which made Madam Pince turn around and catch Scorpius, which meant they got into trouble together.
Then they were going to be painters, and then they were going to be pirates, and then they were going to be spies, and then assassins, and then thieves. Al wore black hundreds of times during the next few years as they sneaked around practicing deadly spy skills. Scorpius cast a spell that flooded the Quidditch Pitch so they could sail wooden boats about and prepare for the day when they would be deadly pirates on the high seas. Al tried to persuade Lily to play the part of a kidnapped maiden when Scorpius decided that he and Al would rescue people for a living, but Lily demanded too high a price, his dessert every day for a month. In the end, he and Scorpius made a maiden out of wood and took turns rescuing her from a cave near Hogsmeade, the Shrieking Shack, a hole that Scorpius used a curse to drill in the ground, and various corners of Hogwarts.
And then, one day when they were both fifteen, Scorpius came up with the best idea of all, and the last one.
Al was panting, stripped to the waist so that his sweat could fall on the stone instead of going on his robes, and shaking. He'd run an obstacle course Scorpius had set up on the sixth and seventh floors, which consisted of several falls, several leaps across huge gaps left by moving staircases, and a gauntlet of enormous skipping boulders. When Al asked why he had to run it, Scorpius had looked mysterious and said that it was preparation for the most important plan of all, and if Al was his friend, he'd do it without question.
Well, he'd done it, and now he was so tired that Scorpius couldn't reasonably expect him to do anything else right away. Al swallowed a huge gulp of air and turned his head so that he could watch Scorpius. They were on the Astronomy Tower, their latest secret place, and Scorpius sat with his legs crossed and his arms folded on top of them, watching the stars with a wise expression that made Al afraid his next project would be that they should both become astronomers.
Astronomers only have to have fit eyes, not fit bodies, Al told himself, and then cleared his throat expectantly.
Scorpius turned around and looked at him with brilliant eyes and a slight smile curving his mouth. It was a sight that Al had seen plenty of times before, but which made him stare uneasily now. It was as though Scorpius was a siren, but instead of singing, he would just look at you and draw you into focusing on him. Al shifted uncomfortably and waited for Scorpius to speak, because he knew he wouldn't be able to look away until Scorpius did.
"I have the best idea," Scorpius said, in the caressing voice he used when he wanted Al to agree before he even heard what the idea was.
"Is it related to the obstacle course?" Al glanced across the battlements of the tower at the stars. They weren't what he really wanted to be looking at, but it was better than peering at Scorpius like a lovestruck fool.
The thought lodged in his mind like food stuck in his throat.
"Yes, of course." Scorpius laughed and leaned forwards to shake Al's shoulder. "You don't really think that I would have you do something like that and not give you some reward for it, right?"
I know what reward I'd like. And then Al was confused, because no, he didn't. Mostly, he wanted to know what the idea was, so that he could deride it the way he probably would—no idea could be this good—and then go to bed.
"Well," he said, "there was that raid on the kitchens that you made me do last year—"
"I can't believe you remember things like that," Scorpius said, as he often did. "Honestly, I don't know anyone who holds grudges as long as you do, Al."
Al pushed himself up on his elbow, glad that the mood between them seemed to be shifting back to normal. "Tell me that covering me with rotten food and then leaving me trussed up for Filch to find isn't worth a grudge."
Scorpius adopted an injured expression. "If you'd just run when I told you to, then there wouldn't have been a problem."
"Hard to run when you're trussed." Al considered pouncing on Scorpius and extracting a little more payment for that prank, but Scorpius suddenly looked so solemn that Al assumed he was about to explain what he'd called Al up here for. He fell silent and raised an eyebrow pointedly.
"We're going to be Aurors," Scorpius said.
Al blinked. It wasn't what he would have expected. "But my Dad's an Auror," he said. "And if I'm going to be different from him, then I don't see how I can do the same thing."
Scorpius rolled his eyes and snorted, pushing Al hard enough in the shoulder that he slid towards the battlements. "I know your Dad's a good Auror, Al, but does he ever do anything really spectacular? I mean, the way that killing You-Know-Who was spectacular? You told me once that he just goes through his daily routine and doesn't seem to be excited about capturing Dark wizards anymore."
Al thought about it. It was a while since he had paid that much attention to his Dad's job; most of the time, he was at Hogwarts, and at home during the hols, he had more important things to think about than Auror work, like Scorpius's next owl. But yes, from what he could remember his Dad treated the job like any other job. He didn't talk about the chases and the exciting arrests and the investigations into murders, even though Al knew they happened. It was like the war. When someone asked about it, most of the time Dad would just smile and change the subject to something infinitely less interesting.
Al had had to hear the story of how Dad actually defeated Voldemort from Uncle Ron, and that was wrong. How could you put something like that behind you?
"We're going to be the best Aurors ever," Scorpius said, and his face shone like jewels. Al caught his breath. Yeah, this is different than all the other times he's thought something up. "You'll be spectacular because you have me for a partner. Your Dad doesn't have a spectacular partner, and he doesn't care enough about it to do exciting things on his own. But when there are two of us who are both committed to being the best, they'll have to notice us, and you'll become famous in your own right."
Al nodded slowly, thinking about it. Yes, it made sense. It was the right thing to do. Sometimes he'd thought about being an Auror on his own, before Scorpius suggested it, but he'd put it aside because he didn't think he could put up with all the Auror instructors talking about how much like his father Al was.
But this way, he could have what he wanted, and it would be very different from what his father had at the same time.
Al grinned at Scorpius. "Well, it's our OWLs year, and that'll be important to being Aurors as well as being fit. What are we waiting for?"
"You like to study too much," Scorpius complained. "It's somewhat disturbing."
But he willingly followed Al back downstairs, and Al found that he liked that. It was nice to be the leader sometimes.
"Your mum and I are getting a divorce, Al."
Al had been in the middle of writing a letter to Scorpius when his father said that. He found that he'd dropped the quill and blotted the paper with a spreading pool of ink that erased most of the words he'd already written. He looked at it with a long series of blinks before he managed to look up and turn around so that he could see his dad.
Harry leaned his shoulder on the doorframe of Al's bedroom and smiled tiredly at him. Al had taken to calling him by his first name lately, because that was what Scorpius did with Mr. Malfoy, and if he could do it with someone so distant and formal that he made Al's skin crawl every time he visited the Manor, then Al could do it with someone who was more open and friendly.
"I'm sorry," Harry said gently. "We would have stayed together if we could have, but your mother was more and more unhappy." He shrugged a little. "We're friends, but not really in love any longer. So we decided a divorce would be best."
"You don't need to explain to me like I'm a little kid," Al said roughly. "Anyone could see that you should have got a divorce years ago."
Harry winced and ran a hand through his hair, over his lightning bolt scar. Al wondered sometimes why he didn't get the stupid thing altered or removed. Harry had admitted that he hated it. "Yes, well," he said quietly. "First we thought you children were too young, and then we still hoped we could make it work."
"But Mum's been unhappy for years," Al said. The words seemed to be tumbling out of his mouth almost despite himself, while he was distant from them and just watched. "How is it that you only now noticed?"
He should have noticed, he told himself when Harry winced again. What kind of a husband is he? I wouldn't fail at my marriage if I got married. I would stay together and make it work and always notice when my spouse was unhappy. He didn't do that, because he thinks too much about his job and Uncle Ron and Aunt Hermione and everyone else in the family. Why didn't he do something to help his own family first?
"There's no excuse for it," Harry said in a low voice. "You're right to blame me."
"I'm not blaming you." Al's voice sounded too loud in his ears. He stood up and almost knocked the table he'd been writing at over. He was sixteen now, and his limbs were too awkward and hit everything in sight. Al already knew that he was going to be taller than his father. Harry glanced up at him, and Al felt a surge of irritation that someone who was so short was important. There was nothing about him that was heroic, nothing. "I'm just saying what you should have done, that's all."
Harry reached out and squeezed his shoulder. "I know it hurts," he said. "I think that you might prefer to grieve in privacy, so I'll leave you alone now." He smiled at Al, and the smile and his eyes both held a sharp kind of painful love. Then he turned around and left.
Al collapsed into his chair and closed his eyes, listening to his father's regular steps thumping down the stairs.
Of all the things that irritated him about Harry, the worst one was the fact that he could say something like that and cut to the heart of a situation, and then Al felt like he was whinging if he kept trying to blame him.
Harry moved out of the house. He stayed with Uncle Ron and Aunt Hermione for a short time, and then took a small house in a little experimental wizarding village in the south of Wiltshire. More people were trying to live in those kinds of villages, so that Hogsmeade wasn't the only one like it in England. Al thought he'd mostly chosen it because the people who lived there were all strangers.
Al wrote long, angry letters that he tore up and never sent. Lily did owl Harry regularly, with tear-stained letters that begged him to give Mum another chance. That drove Al mad. Didn't she realize that Harry was the one who hadn't noticed Mum's unhappiness in the past and so he was the one who broke up the marriage?
Jamie, the prat, just accepted the end of it and shrugged and said that, if they were both happier living apart, then it was the best thing for everyone concerned. Jamie was infuriating like Harry sometimes. Al tried to punch him, but Jamie was bigger and stronger and quicker, always had been, even after Al and Scorpius had been training to become Aurors for almost a year. Al staggered to the hospital wing nursing bruises and sullenly endured the lecture from the new mediwitch, Madam Pagnell, on fighting.
Scorpius was the only one who really understood. Well, not understood, because his parents had been divorced for years and he never seemed to be upset about it. But he offered sympathy and listened to Al's complaints, and that had been all Al really needed. He didn't understand what was so hard about it.
"Do you ever wish your parents would get back together?" Al asked him, one night after they'd spent the evening writing a Potions essay. They were both in NEWT Potions, and Scorpius needed Al's help most of the time now. It never seemed to bother him.
Scorpius had been lying on his bed in Slytherin and staring dreamily out a window that looked into the green underworld of the lake. Now he blinked and looked back. "No," he said, after apparently giving it some grave thought, "not really. Astoria was bored sick with Draco, you could see it." He grinned suddenly. "And with Dad's extracurricular activities, it's really for the best that he wasn't married anymore."
"He was cheating?" Al knew his voice was too shocked, an innocent, prudish voice. Scorpius's wider grin and reaching out to ruffle his hair confirmed it. Annoyed, Al ducked away.
"No, he wanted to sleep with men," Scorpius said. "And Astoria's not a man, whatever else she is."
Al choked. There was nothing in his mouth to choke on except air, but he managed it anyway. Then he shook his head. "That's impossible," he whispered. "I've seen your father, and he didn't look—I mean—"
Scorpius rolled his eyes. "It's not as though it's some brand you carry on your skin, Al. It took him a long time to realize that he preferred men, and then he thought he had to go ahead and get married because he would need children. Once he had me, though, there was no real reason for him to stay married for the rest of his life. He would have been miserable, and Astoria would have been miserable, and I would have found out that they only stayed together for me and been furious. I don't like people doing things that are just for me." Scorpius frowned for a moment, then shrugged. "So they got divorced like civilized people."
Al nodded as if he was paying attention, but in reality, he was thinking more of the first words Scorpius had said.
It's not as though it's some brand you carry on your skin, Al.
Maybe then… maybe there was some explanation for the formless emotions that roiled in his gut when he looked at Scorpius, and the dreams he sometimes woke up from. Al had dismissed them as simply being very strange, but he kept having them. There could be an explanation for them, and a name.
But it wasn't a name that he was prepared to think of in relation to himself at the minute, especially since Scorpius was the only boy he had those feelings around. Maybe he wasn't. And Scorpius was speaking again.
"I do think you're being too hard on your dad. He honestly didn't have any idea that your mum was so unhappy. Why not give him a bit of sympathy?"
Al flashed his friend an ugly look and rolled away from the bed. "If he really couldn't see that, he was blind."
"Then why didn't you tell him about it, if you saw it?" Scorpius asked in a tone of sweet reason.
Al shook his head. "That's not the kind of thing kids are supposed to do."
"You have such strange ideas, sometimes," Scorpius said in a patronizing tone.
Al hopped around the room holding his letter from the Ministry and fighting back the temptation to howl like a wolf. The owl had said that he was accepted into the Auror program. It was what he and Scorpius had been training for for two years, and still Al had worried that it wouldn't happen.
The fireplace in his bedroom flared, and Scorpius tumbled out of it, waving his own piece of parchment and talking so fast that Al found it hard to make out his words at first. "Did you get accepted? Of course you did. I got accepted. We're going to be partners, Al, and we're going to single-handedly reform the Auror program from the ground up—"
"More like revolutionize it, knowing you." Al laughed, holding his arms out, and Scorpius grabbed him and spun them around in dizzy circles, until they toppled over on the bed, laughing like madmen.
Scorpius propped himself up on one elbow and grinned down at Al. Al stared up at him and felt those formless emotions waking up in his gut again, stirring like currents, trying to make him do something stupid. He gulped and snatched his gaze away from Scorpius's, looking down at the bedspread.
The single word was like the crack of a Blasting Curse in the quiet bedroom. Al blinked and jumped. When had it got so quiet? He sat up and cleared his throat. "Yeah, what?"
"Are you all right?" Scorpius reached out as if he was going to feel Al's forehead for fever. "You looked so queer for a minute—"
"Just excited," Al said hastily, and pulled back out of reach of Scorpius's hand. He had no idea what Scorpius would do if he thought that Al might be gay. "Have you told Draco yet?"
Scorpius laughed. "He was the one who got the owl, because I was in the bathroom! When I came out, he was sitting there with the letter in his hand and this stuffy expression on his face, like he was disappointed that I hadn't signed up for a Malfoy course in Dominating the World Through Evil. But then he hugged me and told me he was proud of me." Scorpius grinned. "We'll see how proud he still is when he starts hearing about my differences of opinion with my instructors."
Al winced. Mr. Malfoy hadn't liked hearing about the times that Scorpius got in trouble for pranks—mostly with Al, he had to admit—at Hogwarts. God knew what he would do if someone told him about the discipline problems Scorpius would undoubtedly have with the Aurors, some of them because they didn't like his name and some of them because Scorpius was a walking discipline problem all on his own.
"Have you told your Dad?" Scorpius rolled over on his back and looked earnestly at Al upside-down.
Al swallowed and looked away.
"You didn't," said Scorpius, with no hint of a question in his voice. "What is he going to think when you walk through the door into the Ministry and plop yourself down at a desk?"
"I'm not going to have a desk for three more years," Al reminded him. "They'll make us share this little cupboard-like space. I know they will."
"When you're very literal, that means you're trying to avoid the question." Scorpius stretched his arms above his head, his eyes bright and alert and never looking away from Al's face. "What's your father going to say?"
And the flood of Al's bitterness that hadn't been purged in years came pouring out of him. It wouldn't have, but Scorpius kept provoking and provoking him, and wouldn't take "no" for an answer, and frankly, Al was sick of it.
"He's going to think that the only reason they hired me is because I'm his son, of course," he said. "What else should he think? He never saw that Mum was unhappy in their marriage. He never saw how much I resent it that I look so fucking much like him! He never notices anything without relating it back to himself! He'll decide that I don't have any talents of my own, that my fate is just to be in his shadow forever—"
Al stopped speaking then, not because he was out of things to say, but because Scorpius was watching him with wide eyes and a questioning quirk of his mouth that didn't look like the expression of support Al had expected.
"I don't think you dad's like that at all," Scorpius murmured. "Maybe somewhat like that, but not all the way."
"I just—everyone says that I'm his son, and that's the first thing they notice, and the only thing they notice." Al sat down on his bed and wiped his face off. "I want to be seen for something else, by someone."
Scorpius squeezed his shoulder. "I see you as something else."
Al looked up. Scorpius looked back at him, not smiling. The air between them seemed to change for Al, as though someone had bound a cloth around both their heads and started tightening it so that their faces were forced slowly together.
And he couldn't let that happen. He had no idea if Scorpius might be gay or whether he would return Al's feelings in any sense at all, and he wasn't about to make the first move. He didn't take risks. He wasn't like his father.
He coughed and stood up, almost banging his head into Scorpius's chin, and snatched up the letter again. "Do you reckon we'll be in any of the same courses together?"
Scorpius was quiet for a moment before he answered, but that could have had a lot of causes, and then he talked in the same lighthearted tone as ever, so Al decided to ignore his own misgivings.
His father stood in the door of the Auror classroom, looking uncertainly at him. Al finished picking up his books deliberately before he turned around to face him. Harry gave him that embarrassed smile he always seemed to be wearing. Al was sick of that, too. Why couldn't his father be a man for once, and stop looking and acting weak? Honestly, he could have had anything he wanted after he defeated Voldemort, including the privacy from reporters that he was always talking about. Al didn't understand why he hadn't taken it.
"Hello, Father," he said coolly, and saw that it worked. Harry promptly lost the embarrassed smile and took a step away from him, stopping the pretense that they had anything affectionate to say to each other. That's right, Al thought. You have to stop thinking of me as your son and start thinking of me as an adult.
"So you got into the program." Harry's voice was strained, and he was looking somewhere over Al's shoulder now. Al wanted to sneer, but Scorpius had told him that it made his face look disfigured, so he didn't. And now Harry couldn't even look at Al, as though there was something wrong with him.
You made the decision to be such a poor father that your marriage collapsed, Dad. And now you can't face your children.
"Yes," Al said. "And it was entirely on my own merits, whatever you think. They didn't hire me just because I'm your son."
Harry looked back at him, his gaze meditative. That was another thing Al hated about him, that he recovered so swiftly from insults. Mr. Malfoy would have fired off some cold and cutting remark in return and made you feel it. Harry just acted as though he'd forgotten. "Do you know," he said, "I don't even think of you as my son at all. There are more important ways to be someone's son than looks."
And he turned and wandered out of the room, leaving Al to wonder why it was so hard to catch his breath.
Six months into the program, Al was hanging upside-down from a rope ladder strung across the ceiling of Training Room Five and watching Scorpius swinging towards him, laughing, his hair in a bright fluffy halo around his face and his eyes fixed on Al, and he knew that he couldn't deny it any longer.
He had feelings for Scorpius. Feelings that intensified to jealousy every time Scorpius talked about dating one of the other Auror trainees, a young woman named Sarah. Feelings that sometimes left him locked in unseeing stares at Scorpius's face, and which meant he would probably figure this out fairly soon.
Al wanted to tell him about it instead of having him figure it out. That would be too humiliating.
"Move!" Scorpius yelled as he swung towards Al, and Al started and realized that he was blocking the ladder. He faced the far wall and began to swing again, suddenly more aware of the eyes of the Auror instructors than he was of Scorpius. He flushed and fixed his attention so straight ahead that no one would be able to find anything to scold in him.
He was sure that they were judging him anyway. He was sure those heavy, judging eyes could read every thought in his mind, and that they were shaking their heads and sucking at their teeth in rejection.
Al gritted his teeth. Even here, it seemed, he couldn't escape the shadow of his father.
Oh, they didn't say it in the way that the Hogwarts professors had. Harry had been someone special to people like McGonagall, and Al got the distinct impression that these instructors hadn't liked his father at all. But they looked at him and shook their heads and sighed when he hadn't done anything wrong, or when he was honestly trying his best and still failing at a task that was slightly beyond his abilities. He could read those glares. He knew them well. They were measuring him against some other standard and finding him wanting.
What standard could there be but his father?
He couldn't change the way he looked without announcing that he somehow didn't have a right to his appearance, which his father had claimed first. He wouldn't do that. The only thing he could do was impress them so much that they forgot he was the son and started judging his father's accomplishments by him.
That was why he couldn't allow himself to brood on his feelings for Scorpius. They would become a weakness, an obsession that he would think about instead of his studies and his physical training regimen. They were already becoming that, given the evidence of this training session.
He had to get past that.
And, terrifying as it was, the only way he thought he could do that was to confess his feelings to Scorpius.
I'm not doing this because I'm weak, he reminded himself, as he reached the far end of the room and dropped from the ladder to the floor, folding his knees beneath him. I'm doing this to become a good Auror and to prove that I'm my own person, not just my father's shadow.
Put like that, the confession was tolerable.
"Scorpius, I need to talk to you."
Scorpius, still drying his sweat-soaked hair with a towel, paused and looked at him with startled eyes across the office. Al had his hands braced on the desk and his face set in what he hoped was a stern look. Scorpius looked frustrated instead of apprehensive, though.
"It was that last jump, wasn't it?" he asked. "I know it looked as though the tendon on my right leg was pulling. I swear, Al, it wasn't. What happened is that I stumbled just as I began the jump. I'm not injured, and I won't let you down in the field, you can be sure of that. I just need to—"
Al shook his head and stepped around the desk to grab Scorpius's shoulders. That left them standing very close, and Al had to swallow nervously against the temptation to back away. If he did that, then he thought he would never get the courage for this again. Scorpius's eyes were already widening with curiosity, and Al didn't think he could face the eager questioning that would begin in a moment.
"It's not that at all," he said. "It's something that's been brewing for a long time."
Scorpius wrinkled his brow and cocked his head. "Felix Felicis?"
Sometimes Scorpius would pretend to be considerably stupider than he really was, in order to defuse tension. Al didn't dare allow the trick to work this time. He bit back the building laughter, pressed his fingers into Scorpius's arms, and said, "I think I have a crush on you. I understand if you think it's only silliness or getting ideas because your father is gay. I understand if you don't feel the same way. But I had to tell you because I think it's impacting the way I work with you in training sessions. That's all."
Scorpius's eyes got wider and wider, and again Al got that urge to laugh, but for a different reason. He held it back as he had before, and stepped away—except that their office was so small his legs banged into the desk. He cleared his throat and had to stand there. He would be cursed if he looked like he was retreating.
Scorpius rubbed his forehead several times, as if he had hit it on something and thought this might be a vision, or a dream. Then he said, "Really, Al?"
Al nodded tensely, his shoulders so tight that he thought his muscles would snap in a few minutes. Here would come the laughter, or the mockery, or the scorn and the sneer that curled Scorpius's lips when he hated someone but which he had never directed at Al—
But Scorpius was giving him a wide, delighted smile instead, and stepping forwards, and clasping his hands to Al's shoulders, and murmuring into his ear, "Thank God. I thought I was the only one."
"Excuse me?" Al's voice had risen higher. He cleared his throat and tried to make it lower. "You're also in love with yourself?"
Scorpius snorted. "Sometimes, Al, you're really quite stupid," he said. "And far too obsessed with our respective fathers." He clasped his mouth to Al's before Al could do more than make a faint protest about his non sequitur.
Al reached up with one faltering hand, which he ended up putting on Scorpius's shoulder. His fingers dug into flesh, still hot from the training exercises. His body shuddered, and he realized that he had stepped closer again, this time without fear. His tongue was twining around Scorpius's, and that soft blond hair was falling around his face this time, and those intense grey eyes were so close that he couldn't see them properly—
Scorpius broke free and held Al's cheeks in his hands, staring at him. Al licked his lips and tried to return the stare, but Scorpius had always had a more commanding gaze than he did. He looked away.
"Remarkable," Scorpius whispered. "I would have thought you had a lot of experience if I didn't know better." And then his voice changed so that Al had to look back and see the wide grin cracking his face. "Of course, it's good that you don't have a lot of experience."
"Why's that?" Al asked.
"Fewer people to be jealous of," Scorpius said, and grasped greedily at Al's chin, and kissed him again.
Al held him fast, his mind busy with many dancing thoughts. This was Scorpius, and he had him, and Scorpius seemed to return his feelings as far as Al had confessed them, and—
And it was something his father had never done.
Al halted outside his father's office and spent a moment straightening and smoothing the collar of his robe. He could feel his breath coming fast, and he smiled in contempt at himself. There was no reason to be nervous. He was simply going to tell his father that he had finally broken free of his shadow. Harry would be so astonished that he would simply gape. Al had had people tell him his father was quick in a crisis, but Al had never witnessed it.
He raised a hand to knock on the door, and then he heard an unexpected voice in the office: Draco Malfoy's. He paused. Had Scorpius already told his father and Mr. Malfoy been so displeased that he came down to yell at Harry about letting his second son grow up gay?
He leaned towards the door and listened, suddenly no longer certain that he wanted to simply walk in and toss the truth in his father's face.
"I don't know about you," Mr. Malfoy was saying, his voice strung so tight with tension that Al winced and felt as if he were standing in front of Scorpius all over again, "but I think two and a half years since your marriage was dissolved and fourteen years since the end of mine is quite enough time."
"Maybe it would be." Harry's voice wavered between the same kind of tension and a coldness that Al had never heard before. Maybe that was what the Aurors had in mind when they told him that his dad was good in a crisis, he thought absently. "But I keep thinking of what everyone will say—"
There was a loud crack. Al jumped and listened with a pounding heart, picturing broken bones and overturned furniture, and then Mr. Malfoy said in a muffled tone, "That hurt."
Al barely got a hand over his nose in time to conceal a snort. It seemed that some habits were inherited. Mr. Malfoy, like Scorpius, must have slammed his hand into Harry's desk to make a point, and then been startled by the stinging pain that resulted when he did that.
"I'm not surprised," Harry said. His voice was gentle and amused now, which made Al wonder if he and Mr. Malfoy had become friends over time and Al had never noticed. "What else do you expect when you hit solid oak?"
Mr. Malfoy ignored this, which was the same sort of thing Scorpius would have done, and said, "I've never known you to care about public opinion."
"Not public opinion." Harry's voice hardened slightly, and Al was reminded of the time he'd heard Harry talking to Jamie about a Slicing Curse he used on Lily. "Our families. Our friends. Don't tell me that you think your son will accept this tamely."
What in the world is he talking about? Did they make a declaration to forbid us dating already? And what would that have to do with their marriages? Al leaned closer to the door, trying desperately to make use of the slight gap without widening it further.
"My son knows that I date men," Mr. Malfoy said. "My son has long since accepted that, similar thought we may look, we are separate people with separate lives. You are the one who spends your days living in fear of what your children might think."
"Jamie won't mind," Harry said quickly, as if he wanted to defend himself against that accusation, which made no sense, because Al knew it couldn't be true. Harry never paid the least attention to what Al wanted. "He never does. I tell you, with all the pranks he pulled as a child, I never would have thought that he could have grown into as mild a man as he's done."
"But your two youngest?" Mr. Malfoy's voice fell. "Or should I say, your younger son?"
There was a squeaking sound, as if Harry had turned his chair about. Al ground his teeth and leaned in again, mentally praying that he wouldn't slip, but not wanting to cast a Sticking Charm in case they heard him. He'd never become good at nonverbal magic.
"You should consider what your children want, of course." Mr. Malfoy was almost whispering now. "But there are some things that do not concern them and never will, especially when years have passed since the divorce."
There was a soft gasp and a wet sliding sound. Al heard a brief scuffling, and then a moan that made the hair on his neck stand on end.
Not even thinking about consequences, he pushed the door the rest of the way open.
The two men in the office probably wouldn't have noticed an asteroid crashing to earth. It looked as though they were wrapped around each other, tongues thrusting into each other's mouths, arms around each other's waists, groins crashing together.
They looked wild, and uninhibited, and Al stared long enough to burn the scene on his brain before he turned and ran away. His heart was so loud that he didn't hear any cries that might have echoed after him.
Well, his heart and the one thought that clanged in his head like a gong.
No. My relationship with Scorpius is the one thing in my life that's different from you. You don't get to do this. You don't get to take my importance away.
I won't let you have this.
"Have you heard?" Scorpius lay on Al's bed, grinning at him and moving his limbs in suggestive ways. Al turned his back, trying to ignore the fact that Scorpius was naked from the waist up, and yanked his robes over his head. He'd had a hard training session today, and the lack of sleep he'd been having—both because he'd taken up with Scorpius and because he'd been worrying about how to get his father away from Mr. Malfoy—was taking its toll.
"Heard what?" Al spoke around a deliberate yawn. If he could convince Scorpius that he didn't want to hear any stupid gossip, then Scorpius was much less likely to continue.
But apparently, it was too good to resist this time. "That our fathers are considering dating!"
Al froze in the act of reaching for his jumper. Then he forced his hand to keep moving and scoop up the garment. "Really?" he asked, pretending as hard as he could to be indifferent, while he yanked the jumper over his head. "That would be a strange coincidence if they were."
He had thought he had more time. Harry had sounded so frightened—as he should be—when he was talking to Mr. Malfoy that Al had thought it would be a long time before he gathered up courage to speak to his children, let alone let other people know.
I should have found out from him, not from Scorpius.
"Yes, but it's not so strange when you consider that your father is almost all my father's been able to talk about for the last year," Scorpius said, and chortled. Al turned around to drink in the sight of his eyes shining and his mouth stretched in a wide grin, even though he already knew exactly what it would look like. Scorpius caught his eye and promptly engaged in a wicked stretch, showing off the flexing of the muscles in his stomach. "I think he's been thinking about dating him for a lot longer than this." He shot Al a grin. "And I must say, it's an excellent idea. Of course it would be, because we're both Malfoys."
Al licked his lips, wishing that he could simply pounce on Scorpius and fasten his mouth to his neck. But there was something that had to be settled first.
"Your father wants my father? And—and you're all right with it?" He took a step nearer the bed as Scorpius sat up and looked provocatively over his right shoulder, but resisted. This was too important.
Scorpius's seductive look faded into one of confusion. "Of course. Why wouldn't it be?"
"Because—" Al foundered. Scorpius had sometimes shown a distinct lack of understanding when Al tried to talk to him about being in their fathers' shadows, at least since they got out of Hogwarts. He seemed to feel they were automatically their fathers' equals now because they were of age. Al had to make him see that that wasn't true until they were completely and totally separated from their fathers, and for good. "Because don't you think that one Malfoy and one Potter getting together is enough? It might seem a bit creepy if it's two pairs of us."
Scorpius rose from the bed with a hasty motion, and Al swallowed, looking away. He's going to leave now.
Instead, Scorpius's arms wrapped firmly around his waist, almost crushing the breath out of him, and he leaned towards Al to murmur, "Who told you that it was unnatural? I have to know the name, so that I can crush him or her to dust."
Al stared at him with his mouth open for a moment, then shook his head. "I didn't—Scorpius, I didn't mean it that way!" he objected, even though part of him reveled in the deep, serious gaze Scorpius was giving him. He'll fight for me. There's few enough people in the world who will do that. "I just meant that someone might start snickering and making jokes about a 'family tradition,' or something like that, and I don't want you to feel uncomfortable because of it." That was a slight deception, but Al was beginning to see that Scorpius simply considered his relationship with his father very differently than Al considered his.
Scorpius rattled Al's teeth with the way he shook him. "I don't care, you idiot! I think people ought to do what they like as long as it doesn't hurt anyone else. I can thank you for teaching me that lesson," he said softly, and kissed Al on the cheek. "You were the one who realized that keeping quiet about what I felt for you might hurt me and you, and you had the courage to stand up and say something about it."
Al swallowed. He wondered what Scorpius would say if he confessed his real reasons, that he wanted Harry not to date Mr. Malfoy because it was mimicking Al, and Al wanted to be special and unique and alone for once in his life.
He'd probably snort and roll his eyes, Al acknowledged to himself bitterly, as he listened to Scorpius and pretended to accept his reassurances. None of them have ever really understood why I resent my Dad so much.
I'm alone, really, in my heart of hearts.
If I want someone to do something about them, I'm going to have to do it myself.
Al had to wait, of course.
He had to let the storm of the news break, so that the immediate family could all say something about Harry and Mr. Malfoy, and Uncle Ron could rage and storm and shout and say inconsiderate things and be locked out of the house by Aunt Hermione, and then apologize through the keyhole and be allowed back in, and then apologize to Harry and be clasped and hugged. He had to wait for his grandmother's shock and then her acceptance. He had to listen to Lily ask questions that had no answer, fold in on herself for a bit, and then go back to sending owls as if nothing had happened.
He had to listen to Jamie brag that he'd always known something like this would happen, and wonder in silent bitterness why he'd never told Al, then.
The newspapers rattled on about it for pages and weeks, but then seemed to realize that both Harry and Mr. Malfoy had been divorced for years and there was absolutely no evidence they'd been seeing each other before their marriages dissolved. Besides, their readers were more interested in the new celebrity couple now, not in trying to find out whether they'd been adulterers in the past. So the papers started publishing new articles and photographs and interviews and wishing congratulations that were sincere if you were addle-brained.
Al stood in their office watching a photograph of Harry and Mr. Malfoy taken some weeks after the event. Mr. Malfoy was touching Harry's cheek, coaxing him to tilt his head back. Harry did it, blinking as though he didn't know what would happen next. What happened next was Mr. Malfoy feeding Harry, with infinite tenderness, a bit of the cheese that was the specialty of the restaurant they were eating at.
Harry smiled and ate it. There was no blush, no shamed look, no nervous darting of his eyes from side to side to look for reporters, even though he had to know they were there.
Al nodded and shut the paper with a sharp motion of his hands. It was time.
"Dad? Can I talk to you?"
Harry looked up at him with a faint, pleased smile. Al had picked this time deliberately. He knew Harry wasn't out on a case, and Scorpius was busy studying for an exam in his worst subject—Stealth and Tracking—and wouldn't surface from his notes until tomorrow. Mr. Malfoy was out of town on a business trip. Scorpius had always been vague about his father's business, and Al hadn't cared enough to ask.
It was perfect.
"Sure, Al." Harry shut the door and motioned for him to take a chair in front of his desk. Al did, his hands clenched on the edges of it. Harry studied him, the smile slipping off his face. "What's the matter? It sounds serious."
"It is, Dad." Al stared at the floor. If he looked too angry or too eager, then his father would probably suspect something, and Al couldn't have that happening. "I—did you know that I'm dating Scorpius Malfoy now?" He peeked up through his fringe. He hated that his fringe was so much like his father's, and sometimes he'd tried cutting or changing his hair, but most of the ways he could wear it just weren't comfortable.
"I didn't know that," Harry said, smiling again, "but I suspected. Congratulations. He's a much more pleasant young man than his father was at that age."
He smiled wistfully off into the distance, and Al knew, just knew, that he was thinking of Mr. Malfoy and something they'd done together recently. Al broke sharply into his reverie.
"It's just that—that Scorpius and I started dating before you and Mr. Malfoy did," he said carefully. "We just didn't want to tell anyone right away. And then it kind of got swept away in the big row about you two."
Harry laughed. Al couldn't remember hearing him laugh that happily in years. "That was something, wasn't it?" he asked, shaking his head. "But still not as bad as I thought it would be. I think the British public is pretty much tired of me."
And so am I. But if Al said that before he was ready, then it would ruin everything. It would seem too personal, and Harry would assume that meant he could ignore what Al was saying, all the important things that he needed Harry to hear.
Al cleared his throat. "I just—I wonder…"
"Yes?" Harry leaned forwards, smiling at him, his eyes open and kind and his face so warm that Al could almost imagine he was Jamie or Lily, who were Harry's favorite children.
Al felt his cheeks get warm, and he shook his head. He couldn't be distracted by thoughts like that. If Harry could only love him some of the time and not other times, that just proved that he wasn't a great father after all and the warmth he was showing right now was a lie.
"I think that having two connections between our families like that is strange," Al breathed. "I don't think I like it."
His father's smile vanished at once, and now his face looked more familiar. He leaned back in his chair and plucked at the desk. "Why?" he asked carefully.
"Well, it's like two step-siblings dating, isn't it?" Al countered. "Or the parents of two people who fell in love independently getting married."
Harry glanced up from under his fringe in turn, and his eyes were hunted. Al wondered why. Since when had his life ever been hard? No one had told him that he was in the shadow of his father and would never be able to establish something worthwhile and important on his own. "I reckon it's a little like that, yeah."
"I don't want that to happen." Al bit his lip and did his best to summon a look of tormented innocence into his eyes. "There's enough attention paid to our family because you're a celebrity."
Harry's fist clenched. Al knew he had chosen his words wisely. Harry was sensitive about the fact that reporters bothered his children. He'd tried to give them privacy, but it didn't always work.
"What are you saying?" Harry asked. "I can't stop the rumors from spreading or people from speaking insults, which will happen once they find out about you and Scorpius."
"I'm not giving up Scorpius," Al said fiercely. "I deserve a chance to be happy."
Harry blinked at him. "Of course you do. I would never suggest you do that."
"But that only leaves one solution," Al said, and leaned forwards on the chair, staring, and waited for Harry to see.
His father's eyes shut. Green, like his, and his grandmother Lily's. Al hated it. Why couldn't he have eyes that were exactly his own, dark or blue or grey like no one else's in the family? He didn't want the light brown eyes that Jamie and Lily had inherited from their mum, because then people would say he looked like them and Ginny.
"Al," his dad whispered.
"I want to be happy," Al said. "I spent so much of my time when I was a teenager not being happy. I deserve this. I don't like you dating Mr. Malfoy and I want you to stop."
Harry made a small tortured sound.
Al had hoped that he wouldn't have to play this last card, because he didn't like hurting his father, he really didn't. But it was necessary. His hair and his eyes and his face and his name and his career weren't his own; Scorpius had to be.
"If you really love me, Dad, you'll do it," he whispered.
Harry looked up at him. His cheeks were ashen, but his eyes were calmer than Al had expected them to be.
"I do love you," he said. "I promise. But I don't think I can show that love by giving up Draco."
"You do a really poor job of showing it," Al snapped, and rose to his feet so fast that the chair overturned. He stalked towards the door, his temper seething. He would have to find another way to get Harry to give Mr. Malfoy up. It was intolerable that the one different thing he had ever done should be taken away.
Al wanted to hear the words so much that he wasn't sure he'd heard them at first. He glanced over his shoulder and licked his lips. "What?"
"I said I'll do it." Harry stretched one hand towards him, his eyes big with yearning. If he wants me to make nice, then he should have noticed that I was unhappy and Mum was unhappy a long time ago, Al thought viciously. "But I'm asking you to reconsider. Why should you care what people say? Why should me and Mr. Malfoy bother you? You know your mum and I won't be getting back together. You know—"
"You don't love me," Al said. "I knew it."
Harry's head bowed until his chin touched the desk. Then he gave a small nod.
Al stood there looking at him for a few minutes until he decided that he had to leave. For some reason, finally winning a victory over his father didn't feel as good as he had always assumed it would.
Al knew when his father and Mr. Malfoy broke up. There was no way that you could have been in the Ministry and not known. But he and Scorpius had a better seat for it than most because they were going through the Auror office at the time to deliver a document to the Head of Magical Law Enforcement.
The hissing shout cut through the door of Harry's office. Scorpius paused and stared at the door with his mouth open. Al crushed his fingers together around the parchment and tried to look as shocked and surprised as he thought he would probably be expected to look.
"No," Mr. Malfoy's voice said next, and it shook. "Someone told you to do this. I don't believe that you chose to do it on your own. Who was it, Harry?" His voice sank, but they were close enough and the voice was clear enough that Al could easily make it out. "Tell me. Please."
Al held his breath. He could see Scorpius tensing and turning his head, and if his father betrayed him now, then Scorpius might be upset with him. Al didn't want that to happen. Things were going so well. Why couldn't they just continue? Why did his father have to ruin things like usual?
The silence broke with Harry's voice, which said, "I can't tell you. I mean—why do you think that anyone else had anything to do with it? That's a little offensive, don't you think?" He sounded more normal now, and Al found himself taking deep, calming breaths. This was better. Harry's words would probably get Mr. Malfoy so angry that he would break up with Harry without thinking twice about it.
That was the vision of things that Al had in his head. He could see the expressions on their faces so well. He knew Mr. Malfoy was a cold and proud man who had taken forever to take a regular lover even though he'd been divorced for years. He knew his father carried around a burden of guilt for everything except what he should have felt guilty about, unless someone reminded him of that other guilt, and then he would pick it up, too. It would be easy to break them apart.
The vision in Al's head didn't include Scorpius.
He stepped directly across the corridor and knocked on Harry's office door.
Al froze. Then he glanced over his shoulder, hoping that he had imagined both the movement and the sound, and that Scorpius hadn't really done that. But Scorpius had his jaw clenched and a cold look in his eye that his father could have been proud of.
It was happening. Al stood still, concentrating on not crumpling the message. When that didn't work to calm him down, he counted his breaths.
Harry opened the door. His smile was strained, twisted. Al thought he'd probably smiled like that when he was dueling You-Know-Who. "Yes?" he asked. "Oh, hullo, Scorpius." His eyes went over Scorpius's head, and he winced. Al stood up straight and glared back. There was no reason for the pain he felt. To cause his father to wince, he must be doing something right.
"I heard what you said," Scorpius announced.
Harry winced again. "Well, yes, since you were right out here," he said. Al rolled his eyes. Why was his father always so graceless when he was surprised? You'd think that living forty-four years would have taught him how to recover better.
"And I think that my father's right." Scorpius looked over Harry's shoulder.
"Of course I am," said Mr. Malfoy's haughty voice, and he came into view behind Harry. Al had some hope, because his face looked like a marble statue's, the way it always did, and then he let his hand rest on Harry's shoulder and nodded to Scorpius. The hand clutched tight; the nod was deep. "I am right because Malfoys always are."
Scorpius smiled back. Harry stared and blinked. So did Al, with a sinking heart. Couldn't Scorpius see how alike he and Mr. Malfoy looked? Wasn't he bothered by it? Couldn't he see how necessary it was for them to break free from their fathers' shadows? Scorpius had seemed to understand when Al explained it at school.
Or was that a lie like everything else? Has everyone always been lying to me, and pitying me, and never understanding me?
"Someone put you up to this," Scorpius told Harry, blunt and fearless, his hand on his hp and his eyebrows raised skeptically. "Now, maybe you don't want to betray them, and that's fine." His tone said that the person who'd done it should be hung from the top of the Astronomy Tower. Al looked at the floor and shifted the document from his right hand to his left, because it was about ready to slide out of his grip with all the sweat covering his palm. "But if you don't have a problem with my father, if you're only leaving him because you think that someone else would be happy if you did, then I think you should consider his happiness." Scorpius's voice lowered and became even more intense; Al had heard it sound like that when he was proposing another career change. "Doesn't he deserve some care from you?"
Harry's eyes clouded, and he looked back at Mr. Malfoy. Mr. Malfoy, of course, had adopted the perfect injured expression just as he did. He raised his hand to Harry's cheek and cupped it, his eyes wide, his lashes trembling.
Al took the inside of his cheek between his teeth and champed it until the blood ran. Scorpius had hit on the perfect tactic, of course. Harry never listened if you told him he should change his mind—unless you managed to make it clear he was hurting someone else. Al had counted on his plea working because, no matter how happy Harry was, he would give it all up for his children if they asked.
Or he should have. But from the way his eyes shone and the arm he wound around Mr. Malfoy's waist, he was considering giving all he'd promised Al up for his lover.
And Al had to stand there and take it. If he protested, if he cleared his throat, if he drew too much attention to himself, then either Mr. Malfoy would guess or Scorpius would remember that he'd talked about being worried when their fathers started dating, and that was the end of the game.
"Yes," Harry breathed, with a look on his face that shouldn't be in public. Al glanced away, but still had to listen to a voice that shouldn't be in public, either. "All right. I do—I love you, Draco. I never would have—" He broke off with a choked gulp. "I love you."
Al didn't hear Mr. Malfoy's answer. He was listening to his bitterness.
He said he loved me. He doesn't.
Someone knocked on the door of their office like an earthquake trying to get in.
Al looked up from his desk, where he was completing sample paperwork, in surprise. Scorpius wouldn't have knocked like that; he felt confident enough to simply walk into the office. So did most of the Aurors who trained them and regularly cursed them as not good enough to be here. Harry would have knocked more timidly, and Lily would have opened the door and peeked around it.
Maybe it was Uncle Ron, Al thought, but Uncle Ron wasn't usually that angry. He called cautiously, "Come in."
Jamie whipped the door open and stepped inside. Then he cast several complicated locking charms behind him. Al frowned at him. It was unfair that Jamie was training to be a Dragon-Keeper and still knew more spells than Al did. Spells that would be more useful to Al than to him, too.
"What are you doing here?" Al asked. From the look on Jamie's face, it wasn't for a joke, but Al reminded himself that his brother was occasionally good at acting, when he had to be for a prank. "Has something happened to Mum?" Ginny had been visiting Jamie Uncle Charlie in Romania while one of the Quidditch teams she reported on played there.
"I figured out what you did," Jamie said. "It has your fingerprints all over it." His voice was flat, and his face was dark, and Al suddenly remembered that Jamie had cast spells during the practical portion of his Defense NEWT that stunned the proctors. There was no particular reason for him to remember it, but he did anyway. "I'm only amazed no one else figured it out. You prat. Why would you try to take Dad's happiness away? This is the only time I've ever seen him happy in years."
Al felt his mouth fall open. Jamie was—well, Jamie. He pranked people and laughed them out of being angry and got along with everyone. He didn't get angry at them. And he'd always been closer to Ginny than Harry.
Al was the one everyone thought should be close to his dad, because he looked like him.
He swallowed old bitterness, but the thought was fortunate; it reminded him of why he was doing this. He folded his arms and leaned back in his desk. "I think it's weird," he said flatly. "Scorpius and I were dating first. Why can't he and Mr. Malfoy wait, or date other people? I don't want them to be together."
Al's jaw hurt from how low it was hanging. Jamie didn't say things like that, either. And it was said in an emotionless tone, instead of screamed. Al had always thought Jamie would scream and rage if he got angry. It was unnatural to be that calm all the time.
Jamie stepped forwards and stared at him from across the desk. "That's childish," he said. "Vicious. Idiotic. I don't think you're that much of an idiot, Al. We're grown now, and the divorce was years ago. Either you're still hanging onto pain that's ridiculous now, especially since Mum isn't upset, or something else is going on."
"I don't think a child's pain over divorce is ever ridiculous." Al was glad now for all those books about coping with a parental separation that Aunt Hermione had given him. He could quote them and sound innocent and injured.
"Bollocks," said Jamie. "Bollocks, all of it. This isn't about that, I know it isn't. It's about you and looking like Dad, isn't it? I remember the way you tried to change your hair so you wouldn't look like him and glared at people when they exclaimed over the resemblance." He leaned closer. "You don't want him to date a Malfoy because you're dating one. That's it. It has to be."
"If you knew the answer, why did you ask me?" Al said, but he knew his face had twisted when Jamie said those things, and Jamie, curse him, was quick enough to notice that.
"Because it's the stupidest thing I ever heard, and I hoped you were smarter than that."
Jamie sounded sad and tired now. He shook his head. Al found that he couldn't look away from his brother's eyes, even though they were warm and nice and normal brown Weasley eyes, not these stupid green ones that made everyone have to stare and that Harry just had to give him.
"It's only your problem with it," Jamie said quietly. "No one else ever had a problem. Mum thought it was cute that you were so similar. Dad was proud. Scorpius, I know, likes you because you're you, not him. The teachers were tiresome, but so what? They got used to it and stopped talking about it. And it was your choice to come into the Auror program, where you knew the comparisons would continue. It's such a minor thing, Al. No one except you has ever cared about it, until now, because you tried to take Dad's happiness away."
Al shot to his feet. He couldn't take this sitting down.
"Do you know what it was like?" he demanded. "He looked like me, he liked to do the things I liked to do, I was in his shadow, everyone remembered him instead of me—it was like he lived my life before I could! And now he's taken the only friend I ever made away."
"No, he hasn't," Jamie said, wrinkling his forehead.
Al glared at him. Jamie wasn't stupid. He was being deliberately slow, then, and refusing to understand.
This was why Al had never told anyone about it. He knew it would sound petty to them, and they would try to laugh him out of it. But this wasn't something that could be laughed away. It was his bitterness, the fate his father had condemned him to by having children in the first place and then not caring enough about giving them lives and independence of their own. Jamie only didn't feel that way because he was so good-tempered.
"He took the man who looks like Scorpius," Al said. His words dripped acid, from the expression on Jamie's face. Good. That was the only way to make him understand. "He had the idea after we did, but he did it anyway. He publicized this silly love affair of his while we were still struggling along in secret. That was the first thing I ever did that he didn't do, the first thing I could ever be proud of. And he corrupted it."
Jamie closed his eyes. "You have a very strange idea of corruption," he whispered.
"This is the way I feel." Al had calmed a little, because at least he had spoken the truth and Jamie couldn't accuse him of lying. "There's no way that you can question it or change it or do anything about it."
"Really?" Jamie's eyes opened then, and Al found himself falling back a step. He didn't mean to. There was no reason. He was the one in Auror training, and not his brother. But still, the fire he saw gleaming back at him for a minute…
"Really," Al said. "Because Dad will just be more miserable if it comes out. You should have seen his face when Mr. Malfoy was asking him who put him up to it. You'll hurt them both if you persist." And now the calmness was real. He had won a victory. He had to have won a victory. After so long of having his life taken away from him, he deserved to win something.
Jamie gave him a dark smile. "I think that's all true," he said. "Dad always did have too much regard for you. He'd stop doing things that might have made the rest of us happy because it looked like they were upsetting you."
Al snorted. "You're a partial and biased observer," he said. "Dad never did anything to oblige me if he could help it."
"You believe that." Jamie's voice was soft. "You really and truly believe it."
"Yes. I can remember him giving Lily treats and listening to the stories of your pranks. But all he did was look uneasily at me and hover over me and nothing else." Al folded his arms. He felt lighter second by second. He hadn't realized how good it would make him feel to discuss this with someone else.
"He was uneasy with you because you made it clear that you were displeased with having him for a father," Jamie said. "Should he have been confident? That would only have convinced you he didn't care even more."
Al shook his head. "You've got it wrong."
"And so have you." Jamie turned his back and walked out of the office without another word.
Al sat back down behind the desk. It was ten minutes before his hand would stop shaking, but so what? He'd made an argument that Jamie couldn't go up against, an argument that he would never be able to shake from his memory.
Little things like hands shaking were nothing next to that.
"Ah, yes, Al, just like that…"
Scorpius had his head tipped back, his blond hair spilling down his shoulders, his eyes shut as his voice escaped in ecstatic murmurs. Al nibbled gently up his shoulder, his tongue flicking out every few seconds to mark the skin his teeth had already touched. They had a fire lit in the hearth that was only used for Floo connections most of the time, and the firelight melted lovingly over Scorpius's skin.
Al paused until Scorpius started to twist around to complain about him stopping, and then he flicked his tongue again and bit down, so hard that Scorpius twitched beneath him and gave a little startled cry.
"Shite! You're vicious when you want to be," Scorpius said, but his words escaped in a long, drawn-out moan, and Al flicked his teeth and his tongue fast again and moved his hands slowly down Scorpius's chest towards his groin, in contrast. They hadn't got to spend much time together in the last week and were taking their time now. Scorpius had his shirt off, but not his trousers, and Al still wore his robes.
"I want you so much," Al said, and that was a confession and answer. From the way Scorpius twisted around after all and claimed Al's mouth in a hungry kiss, he took it as both. Al threaded his fingers through Scorpius's hair and did his best to hold on.
Their lips and teeth rubbing and colliding against each other still couldn't mask the noise of the Floo whooshing up. Scorpius promptly rolled off the desk and hid behind it. Al cleared his throat shakily, sat up, and tried to look as if nothing was wrong, though he knew his blush would betray him. If he and Scorpius were caught snogging in their office, the Aurors would reassign them to different partners. It was one thing for trainees to date, was the view of the Ministry of Magic, but quite another for them to engage in "coital activities" on Ministry premises.
Al was even gladder that Scorpius had moved so fast when he saw the head that was taking shape in the flames.
"Hullo, Mum," he said miserably.
"Bloody fuck," Scorpius's voice said from under his feet. Al kicked the desk to try and get him to shut up, while he inclined his head to his mum and sat up further.
Ginny Potter—she'd kept Harry's last name because she said that changing it once in her life was quite enough—raised an eyebrow at him. Her lips quivered, and Al was sure that she knew what he'd been up to, but had decided to pretend she didn't. Al smiled at her. They had always understood each other better than he and Harry had. For one thing, his mother gave a damn whether he lived or died, and if he was miserable or happy while he was alive.
"How's Romania?" Al added.
"Pleasant." Ginny rolled her eyes. "Your Uncle Charlie's conversation hasn't improved over the years, however. It's all dragons this, dragons that, and the other morning when he finally seemed to get interested in something I had to say, they brought word that one of the females was laying and he had to dash off."
Al grinned. "I know the feeling," he said. "Jamie gets the same way sometimes."
"Speaking of Jamie," Ginny said, her eyes sharpening, "your brother brought me an interesting story the other day, and said that I should talk to you about it."
Al knew that no smile had ever left his face so fast. And then it didn't help that he started breathing as though someone was torturing him.
Jamie never intended to go to the press. He went to Mum.
That's not fair.
"It couldn't have been that interesting," Al said, trying to play dumb and hoping desperately that it would work, "or he would have told me about it."
"He said you already knew it." His mother's eyes were like pins now, Al thought. The kind that they used to hold squirming bugs that weren't dead yet in place. "That was the point. That was why he had to come to me."
No denying what this was about, now. Al took a long, slow breath and released it again. "Mum, it's not what you think," he said.
"It's exactly what I think." His mother leaned so near that Al thought she would lean out of the fireplace and slap him. "I've never understood this insane grudge you have against your father, Al. I only know that it's lasted for a long time, and Harry's never done anything to deserve it."
"He made you unhappy!" Al said, shocked. He'd been the only one to notice the way Ginny got silent around Harry for months before they got divorced, and how her letters never mentioned him at all. "How is that not deserving it?"
"It started before that," Ginny said. Her voice and her eyes just got sharper and sharper, to the point that Al didn't think any bugs pinned with them would have a choice except to stop squirming. "When you were a child, I noticed it. Jamie and Lily were happy to wave to people who recognized Harry, but you shrank. I could understand if you hated the publicity. God knows, there was enough of it." The distaste in her words made Al hope that she wouldn't be that hard on him after all. If she thought it was hard being Harry Potter's wife, she must understand, at least a little, why it was harder being Harry Potter's son. "But you always yelled at him, and not the reporters who crowded around him. Why, Al?"
Al shut his eyes. He knew the answer. He could feel the answer in the sweat along his skin, in the way his fingers gripped the edges of the desk. But if he said it, Mum would be just as deaf to it as Jamie.
"Al? I'm waiting."
"It was his fault!" Al burst out. That was the answer, the reality, and if they didn't like it, they should stop asking him. "He was the one who defeated You-Know-Who and had us! Why did he have to do that? Why did he have to go out in public wearing his scar? Why couldn't he cast a glamour on his face? It was his fault we were famous, and it's his fault that I look like him, and if would just do something else, then I wouldn't have to live my life feeling like I was an inferior copy of him!"
Silence. Al knew that misunderstanding was building up against him, and he tried to brace himself to resist it.
But it was hard, so hard that tears stung his eyes. Why couldn't someone try to adopt his perspective just once? Would it be so difficult for them? Surely it wasn't as difficult as it was to be Harry Potter's son who looked just like him and had to be reminded of that every time someone commented on his face?
"That's ridiculous," Ginny said. "Harry didn't choose your appearance, and he wanted to have children. Are you really saying that you want never to have been born, Al, because some people mistake you for your father?"
"It's stupid," Al said. "The way people think I'm him."
"I agree absolutely," Ginny said. "But blame the ones who think that way. Why should you blame him?"
"He could do something to stop it. He's the great and powerful Harry Potter. They should listen to him." Al was aware he was mumbling the words like someone in a fever, but he couldn't stop. She would understand him if she just listened hard enough. Why not? She had to.
"You have a very child-like conception of him still," Ginny said softly. "I told him that he shouldn't have treated you like you were fragile. I know why he did it. He loved you so much, and he was afraid that things would be more difficult for you than for Jamie or Lily. But wrapping you up in silk doesn't make you fit to face the challenges of the world. You thought he could do anything—I remember the way you would run to him when you were little and hurt and demand he heal you immediately—and that means you think he should be able to do anything still. Even the things you know he can't affect."
"I wanted to have something of my own," Al whispered. "Just once. I thought my relationship with Scorpius was going to be that. And then he stole it because he wanted to sleep with Mr. Malfoy. Why did he have to?"
"I can't say that I know everything that happens between Harry and Draco," Ginny said. "But I know one thing. Love can fade away. It happened between Harry and me. Love can also be destroyed. That happened between your Uncle George and Aunt Angelina, because George thought more about Fred than about her. I think you're awfully close to destroying the love that should be between your father and you because you're trying to deprive him of his happiness."
"He doesn't need it," Al said. "Not the way I need it."
"You're such a child, still," Ginny said, with a wistful ring in her voice. "So much more than Jamie, or even Lily, who writes me letters full of chatter about boys and robes."
The whoosh of the Floo said she was gone. Al sat there, feeling as though someone had opened his bones and filled them with isolation. Why did everyone in the world persist in hating and misunderstanding him?
"So that's it."
Al jumped and spun around. He had forgotten Scorpius was in the room. But he was, rising up from his crouching position behind the desk, and for the first time since they'd become friends, Al saw that beautiful mouth hard with disdain for him.
"I was just a weapon in your war against your father," Scorpius said. His voice made Al's cheeks sting. He stooped down and picked up his shirt, yanking it over his head with a quick motion and then somehow ordering his blond hair with a single shake of his neck. He didn't look at Al now. "Never someone you really loved or wanted. Just part of your endless series of cries of Understand me, pay attention to me, love me, you don't love me enough! to him. I should have known." He strode to the door and yanked it open.
"It wasn't like that," Al said, his voice soft and small. Scorpius had always understood him, and now he was walking away, too?
Scorpius glanced over his shoulder, and Al couldn't face his brilliant eyes or the curl of his lip.
"Yes, it was," Scorpius said. "I would say that you're not capable of loving anyone but yourself, except that isn't true."
Al looked up with faint hope.
"You don't love yourself, because parts of you are also parts of him," Scorpius said, and ducked out the door.
Al lowered his head as the door slammed.
It seemed to close in his heart as well as outside him.
He hadn't realized how much it would all change.
There was no Scorpius beside him when he came back from the training exercises and needed someone to talk to about the near failures, the unfairness of the instructors, or the way that he would succeed next time.
There was no Scorpius bent over the desk and furiously scribbling at a report on their activities that was due in an hour, flashing Al a hurried but charming smile.
Most of all, there was no Scorpius lying on the bed in their shared room, his neck tipped back to expose just enough flesh to make Al salivate, and smiling at him in that coy, secret way that Al knew no one else got to see.
They still shared a room, and an office, and training exercises. But Scorpius attended them all with a cold silence that might as well have put him on the other side of the moon. Al tried and tried to get his attention, but the way Scorpius turned his head to the side and never saw him wounded him all over again.
He tried to tell himself it was nothing, that he could have other lovers, that he would get over this and go on.
It didn't work.
Because what he missed wasn't just their lover relationship, new and startling and wonderful as that had been, but Scorpius as a friend.
There were other people Al knew in the Auror training program, but no one he had sailed a flooded Quidditch pitch with, or almost fallen off the Astronomy Tower with when they were both drunk. None had Scorpius's smile and confidence to call his parents by their first names and be utterly accepting of the reason those parents had divorced. No one else thought House divisions mattered enough to be proud about but not enough to hold apart two people who wanted to be together.
Scorpius was air and light and freedom to Al.
He didn't know how he had never known that before.
His life was empty without him, and dragged—was grey, and bleak. And while it didn't help to see his father carrying on with Mr. Malfoy, Al realized after an almost an hour of staring blankly at a photograph on the front page of the Prophet that he no longer really thought about or saw them.
He saw Scorpius.
Walking in silence along the rocks at the bottom of a deep pit he'd never known was there, dragged along by his own tormenting self-consciousness, haunted by the last thing Scorpius had told him, Al came, if late, to the knowledge of the only way to make it all right.
There was love and mistrust in the way his father looked at him. The mistrust was entirely new. Al supposed he deserved it after what he'd done the last time he'd been in his father's office, but it still hurt.
"Hi, Dad." Al licked his lips. "Could we sit down and talk about this?"
The door locked behind him. The power of the silence wards that Harry set up next made Al's hair curl. Al swallowed. Did his magic get more powerful when he got happier? Or was it always that powerful and I never noticed?
The list of things that he hadn't noticed seemed to grow longer day by day.
"Sit down." Harry gestured to the chairs in front of his desk. Al didn't remember there being two the last time he was here, he thought as he saw down in the wooden, straight-backed one. The other chair was a large red plush one with golden trimmings. Mr. Malfoy's taste, he was almost certain.
Al looked at his father with alarm. He'd practically barked the word, and he leaned back in his own chair with his hands folded behind his head. His eyes were direct and cruel as sunlight. Al flinched, then took a deep breath.
The words came out of him as if he were pulling up his guts with them. At least they were said now, as much as his stomach ached. And it was bitterly worth it to see Harry's eyes widen. Clearly, he hadn't expected that at all.
"I'd like to know why you did it," Harry said quietly. "And why you're sorry. I don't think it was anything I did."
Al winced and nodded, bracing his hands on his knees. He felt as if he was going to keel over, his head spinning and his heart racing. He would get through this, though, because he had to. "Scorpius broke up with me because he found out what I did," he said. "And I miss him. And—I always looked so much like you. I started thinking that you had lived my life already and used it all up. They always told me that I was like you. That I looked so much like you. I didn't know what to do with that. But it shouldn't have been what I did. I'm sorry."
Harry remained silent so long that Al thought he wasn't going to reply and so his apology wasn't going to be accepted. He almost panicked until Harry spoke.
"I love all my children," he whispered. "But you were the one who looked up at me and captured my heart. I thought you'd need my help more than Jamie and Lily did. You looked so fragile. I wanted to help you, but I thought I might crush you.
"I know about being a soldier, Al. I know about being an Auror. But I don't know much about being a father to someone who needs so much from me.
"So I kept a distance from you because I was so terrified of doing something wrong. But that deprived you of some of the care that you should have had, and it made me too afraid of your disapproval, so you had more power over me than you should have. It was unfair to Jamie and Lily, too, and it was one of the oldest disagreements your mother and I had. She thought the way I treated you was wrong. She was right." Harry took a deep breath and then looked at Al with blazing eyes. Al found himself trembling in his chair. Was that what You-Know-Who saw when he died?
"But none of that excuses what you did." Harry's voice was a growling, gathering thunderstorm. "I finally let myself be happy, and you tried to take it away. You would probably have succeeded, too, if Draco hadn't been stronger than both of us. Why, Al? And no excuses about wanting to keep a Malfoy all to yourself this time."
Al looked at the floor and shook his head. He was beginning to regret coming here, but what else could he have done?
"I've told you all that I thought," he said dully. "I wanted to be different, and to make everyone stop looking at me and seeing you. That was the only motivation. I didn't—I didn't think about destroying your happiness. I just thought about keeping mine."
Silence, so thick and deep that Al could hear his heartbeat. He wondered for a moment why he didn't hear Harry's, and then winced. His mum and Jamie would undoubtedly say that he didn't deserve to hear a heart that he'd cut himself out of.
Then his father stood up and walked around the desk. Al tensed, but kept his eyes on his lap. His father had never been violent—not with him. He didn't think he was about to get slapped or pushed out of the chair or cursed.
Well, he didn't think that, much.
Harry knelt down in front of his chair. Shocked, Al looked up then.
Harry's face was thoughtful and soft. He reached out and took Al's elbow, shaking it slightly.
"You're right," he said. "I don't think I understand, not completely. But that's because of the different ways we grew up."
Al blinked. Where's the blame? Or else the denial of what I said? Those had been the only reactions when other people heard about what he'd done to his father for so long. Even Scorpius, when they were together and he'd been more patient and sympathetic than anyone Al knew, had thought it was silly that Al was so concerned about standing in his father's shadow.
"I would have given anything to look like my parents," Harry said, "before I knew who they were. When I heard that I had my mother's eyes, that I had my father's hair and face, and that my parents hadn't died in a car crash, it was like coming home. It was better than Hogwarts, better than finding out I was a wizard. Hagrid gave me a photo album with pictures of my family. I finally belonged somewhere. I had people who looked like me, and it was wonderful."
Al nodded involuntarily. He'd seen that album and looked through it several times, though always in Harry's company. None of his children were trusted to touch it on their own.
"But then," Harry said, and sighed so hard that his fringe flipped up, "I found out something about my father in fifth year that nearly destroyed all my pleasure in looking like him. He was cruel and a bully to Severus Snape. There was no reason for it. Snape couldn't be a threat to my father. He was poor, and James was rich. He was in Slytherin, the most despised House in the school, and James was in Gryffindor. My father was an athlete, a prankster, and he had three best friends. Snape was alone. I'd known a few of those things, but not how bad it was. Of course, most of his friends were eager to tell me the good things."
Al stared. Sometimes people hinted things like that about Grandfather James, but no one had ever said it like Harry just had. Even the professors at Hogwarts who remembered Al's grandfather, like Flitwick, were more apt to talk about how talented and funny he was than how cruel.
"Gradually," Harry went on, coming back from whatever distant place he'd been staring into, "I realized that there are some things that you have to forgive people for. I wasn't born when my father was tormenting Snape and I couldn't have stopped him. I'm still ashamed he did that, but his pranks weren't the sum total of him, no matter how cruel they are. Just like this little exploit isn't the sum total of you."
Al flinched. He wasn't sure what cut him more, Harry's even words or the steady stare of those merciless green eyes.
"That's the thing we find hard to deal with," Harry said, very softly, "that people are so mixed. We want them to be good or evil, heroes or Dark Lords. Oh, there are a few like that, but not the majority. When we treat them like that, though, we produce the kind of resentment that turns some into Dark Lords. I don't think that's worth the opportunity for some other people to act like heroes." He shook his head, his mouth hard.
Then he visibly pulled himself back to the present and clapped his hands briskly together. "I forgive you," he said. "I hope that you're able to forgive me in time for all the problems that I never knew I was causing you." He paused, squeezing Al's hand, and then added in a different tone, "If you do it again, when you should know better, I think that you'll find I can still be stern."
Al shivered and nodded. His father looked stern, the way Al had seen him in newspaper photographs when he dispatched a Dark wizard.
But for the first time in years, Al was not afraid of him.
Harry seemed to sense that. He smiled at Al and hauled him to his feet. "Go on, get out of here," he said. "I have a lot of work to do."
Al held onto his hand when Harry tried to pull it back, clearing his throat nervously. Harry watched him, nodding a little when Al coughed hesitantly.
"I'm sorry, Dad," Al said at last. "Really."
Harry's eyes softened, and he slightly shook his head. "When you're young is the time to make mistakes," he said. "That way, you don't have as much responsibility that can make you fuck up other people's lives. Thank you, Al." And Harry hugged him, roughly and awkwardly, before letting him go. Al couldn't remember the last time he'd done that.
He left slowly, glancing over his shoulder. Harry was already buried in a pile of paperwork, frowning at it.
An unexpected thought squirmed deep in Al's mind as he walked away from Harry's office door.
I might want to come back and talk to him again. Not about Scorpius or Mr. Malfoy or looking like him. Just to talk.
That was what he did, sometimes. And he concentrated on his Auror work, and talked with his mother and Jamie, and answered Lily's letters that had been piling up in one corner of his office, and went to dinner with Uncle Ron and got pissed at the pub he favored. Normal things. Things that eased the gallop of Al's heart and made him think that he could go on living, after all.
It didn't mean as much without Scorpius, but nothing did, and no matter how much Al tried to get Scorpius to sit down and listen to him, he turned away with a curled lip.
Maybe he would listen eventually. Maybe he would come back to Al and let him explain, which was all that Al wanted to do.
But maybe not, and Al had to face that possibility, too. It was all a consequence of his own stupidity.
He knew he couldn't promise never to be stupid again, but at least he could promise never to be stupid in that way again.
Al stiffened. He knew already from the name that the person speaking to him wasn't someone who normally did. Everyone addressed him as Al. Mum and Dad had started that when he was young, because he screamed and kicked when someone called him by his full name. This had to be a stranger.
But the voice didn't sound like a stranger's.
Al turned around.
Mr. Malfoy stood behind him, arms folded and eyes so harsh that Al shuddered. He suddenly remembered that they were in a corridor most people didn't take, buried deep in the Ministry. Al had taken it because he'd been assigned to help out in the Department of Mysteries as a punishment for skiving off. He wished now that he'd taken any other. It was an effort just to breathe, never mind to stand up and pretend he didn't care.
This close to Mr. Malfoy, which Al had never been before, he suddenly realized that there were differences between Scorpius and his father after all. Mr. Malfoy's face was more pointed and his eyes harder and colder. His hair was paler, too, which only made sense, because he was older. Al could understand, now, why Scorpius had so hated to be compared with his father. But he really had thought they looked alike.
"Harry told me that you apologized," Mr. Malfoy said, his voice lingering in a caress over Al's father's name that Al hated. "Is that the truth?"
Al wondered for a moment why he seemed so sure that Al wouldn't lie, and then considered the coldness of Mr. Malfoy's face again. He probably thought Al wouldn't dare to lie.
And the stupid thing was, he was right.
"Yes," Al said. "I did. He suffered enough from what I did, and I decided that even though I don't like looking like him, that isn't enough excuse to try and ruin his happiness." It was the same sort of thing he had said to Mum and Jamie, but he had said it willingly to them. It sounded small and pathetic in front of Mr. Malfoy.
Still, Mr. Malfoy didn't look as if he considered it that way. He cocked his head, bird-like, studying Al from different angles. Al tugged nervously at his hair, then forced his hand to drop to his side.
"I fail to see why you would resent looking like Harry," Mr. Malfoy murmured. "Harry is beautiful."
Al tensed, but recognized the baiting and did his best not to rise to it. "Looking like him makes people think I am him," he said. "Just the same. You're not your father, Scorpius told me that, and Scorpius isn't you. Would you like people thinking you were the same all the time, though?"
Mr. Malfoy paused, as though Al had said something that got his attention. Then he said, "And would you do it again?"
"No," Al said. He clenched his hands into fists and fought not to show how annoyed he was. His fear was diminishing in the wake of his temper, something that usually happened to him once he had a chance to get used to a threat. Of course, for years no threats had seemed as important as the threat of his father taking over his identity in the eyes of everyone else. "I discussed this already with my father. I don't have to talk to you."
Mr. Malfoy gave him a sharp smile, said, "You do have a spine. He will be pleased to hear it," and started to leave.
Al rolled his eyes, tried to imagine how his father would take to hearing a "reassurance" from Mr. Malfoy, and snorted. At least he could turn away with the knowledge that his dad knew he hadn't been lying.
Will he stop calling me that? But under the circumstances, Al thought it best to do nothing more than nod over his shoulder.
"If you hurt him again," Mr. Malfoy said, in a whisper that coiled along the walls and seemed to echo back to Al from impossible directions, "then I will come on you again in a corridor like this. And there will be a smear of ash to attract the attention of the next curious wanderer."
It was a stupid threat. But for some reason, Al kept on shivering long after Mr. Malfoy had turned his back and swished away.
Al leaned his head on the mantle of the fireplace and sighed. The flames on the hearth warmed him, and he had learned how to cast the spell that made an enchanted window, so he could look out on the same scene that their back window at home showed in the summer: a long lawn with trees in the distance and sun-shadows sprawling on the grass.
It was still lonely, but he thought he'd recover. Lily had written a letter to him that evening that managed to make him smile with its breathless account of Hufflepuff pranks, and she was thinking about becoming a robe designer. Madam Malkin had agreed to take her on as an apprentice that summer, after she left Hogwarts, and see if she would do.
There were good things happening in other people's lives, even in Al's. He could survive this.
When he heard the door opening, he thought it was a dream at first, since it was weeks since Scorpius had deigned to enter the room when Al was there. He froze and didn't look around. Scorpius had probably only come to get some clothes or retrieve a book.
But the footsteps came to a heavy halt behind him, and then Scorpius stood there, breathing. Al swallowed and still didn't look around.
"My father said you'd apologized to your dad and got your courage back," Scorpius said. "Was he wrong about the second one?"
Al turned slowly. Scorpius raised an eyebrow at him and shook his head. "Only you would make that mistake in the first place," he said, "or go on backing away when I acted a bit angry instead of just yelling the truth over my protests. I was acting stupid, but I can't be blamed, because it was in reaction to your much larger stupidity."
Al smiled in spite of himself, and reached out. Scorpius rolled his eyes and moved forwards into the embrace. "I'm not going to run away," he muttered, "or break."
"I know," Al said, closing his eyes, and for the first time, he felt as if he really did know.
They stood like that, slightly swaying, for a little while. Then Scorpius pulled back and cleared his throat. Al looked up at him through eyes that he told himself were not misty.
Scorpius gave him a smile with all Hogwarts, and all daring, and all friendship, and all love, in it.
"I have," he said slowly, "a wonderful idea."