Disclaimer: J. K. Rowling and associates own these characters. I am writing this story for fun and not profit.
Pairings: Harry/Draco preslash, Harry/Ginny, Draco/Astoria
Warnings: Profanity, mentions of sex, angst and depression. Epilogue-compliant.
Summary: Draco has retreated into the Manor and shut himself up with the Malfoy family portraits and memoirs. These are his pantheon, the pattern he lives his life by. It will take his son and an unexpected friendship to change his worship.
Author's Notes: This is a very quiet story, and Harry and Draco don't have a slash relationship as such. More of a Draco character study than anything else.
Draco knew his marriage was the most important decision he would ever make. This was his chance to contribute to the future of the family, his chance to produce the Malfoy heir who would go shining into the future. So he reviewed all the appropriate candidates very carefully.
He needed a beautiful bride. Beauty was the Malfoy inheritance as much as wealth and power were. So he could reject those, like Millicent Bulstrode, who might pass bulging eyes or a pug nose down to his child.
He needed someone with at least moderate wealth of her own. Nothing could prevent a Malfoy from marrying beneath himself in that respect, because they were so much richer than so many other pure-blood families, but there were those who were slight steps down and those were a tumble into the tarpit. Pansy Parkinson and the Greengrass girls, as well as several others, were on the acceptable level.
He needed a powerful wife. She could have political contacts, or intelligence, or quickness with her wand, or, ideally, all three. Draco could supply whatever she lacked, but he didn't want to take the chance of too little being passed down to his child any more than he did with ugliness.
When those necessary preconditions came together in his mind, the choice was obvious. Astoria Greengrass was demure, poised, graceful, and more intelligent than her sister. She had pale blue eyes that Draco might have found watery in other circumstances, but they reminded him of his mother's during the ball when they danced together for the second time and she lifted them to his face in the light of the candles.
Her skin was pale. Her hair was blonde—not necessary in the way the other characteristics were, but Draco had to admit he would prefer a blond child. She had a light, quick step that Draco learned to identify with no more than a single second's forewarning. She had a small sense of humor and good skill with a wand.
She was the one. Draco offered for her, half-confident that he would be accepted, half-remembering that there were others searching for pure-blood women that spring, six years after Hogwarts, and that Astoria had her choice. If he couldn't have her, he would offer for Daphne, who was not as poised as he would have liked but had plenty of intelligence behind her sharp tongue.
Astoria laid his fears to rest by accepting him. Her family might have been a problem, but they were the right kind of people, the ones who still appreciated the eternal verities—power, beauty, wealth—rather than the political fashion of the moment, which was to treat the Malfoys as outcasts. They nodded and smiled and expressed grave approval when Draco came to tell them what he and Astoria had decided.
They were married in a meadow on a summer morning, the sun soft and pale behind faint grey clouds, the breeze so gentle against their skin Draco could hardly feel it. They made their promises to each other with clasped hands and assessing sideways glances.
Draco remembered thinking it was a perfect moment, the weather as distant and polite to them as they were to each other, and the sky the color of his father's eyes.
Dead in Azkaban, his father was, dead three months gone.
Astoria was pregnant a year after the marriage, and she carried the child as gracefully as she did everything else, with only a slightly paler face in the mornings after she was sick. Draco had never had to witness her vomiting, which he was grateful for. It was hard to imagine the Malfoys whose faces were pictured in the portraits that hung on his walls vomiting.
His ancestors had become his gods, by then.
His father was dead, and with his mother in exile, mourning in silence, Draco couldn't discuss the past of his family with anyone. There was Astoria, and him. There would be the child. In the meantime, Draco stared at portraits and read histories and looked at tapestries of the family tree so that he might embody the Malfoys in himself.
There was Septimus Malfoy, who had let Muggles burn him to death rather than give up the location of his wife and sons. His face was strong and cold in his portrait, Draco thought. Stoic. He used his finger to trace the edge of Septimus's cheek, and watched the man turn his head to stare at him. After a moment, he gave a stiff nod of approval.
Most Malfoys were blond, the way Draco was and the child would be, but black hair existed in a few members of the line, such as Helena Malfoy, who had married Frederic Parkinson. She was a tall woman, pictured with a small hunting dragon of the kind that had since gone extinct curled at her feet. She had black hair that cast blue shadows onto her pale skin and a cruel smile.
When she wanted to be alone, the dragon would breathe out smoke that filled the picture and blocked her from Draco's sight. Draco had to admit it was an original method to get her way, more ingenious than simply moving to another portrait.
It took Draco months to earn her trust and entice her to converse with him, but when she did, Helena had worthwhile things to say.
"There have always been Malfoys who had to be guided," she told him, sitting on the edge of the rich green chair in her library. The hunting dragon was asleep, its scales gleaming like jade. Helena glanced down at it and smiled, the smile of long companionship that Draco hoped he would eventually share with his wife. "My brother, for instance. Catullus was incapable of controlling a family by himself. He needed my advice, and our mother's advice, but she died when we were twelve, and Catullus almost drove the family to ruin."
Draco nodded. He had read the histories, but there was nothing like hearing history from the lips of one who had lived it. "What happened?" He already knew that Catullus and Helena had been twins, and Helena should have held the Malfoy lands and fortune and manor in her capable hands, but she had been several minutes younger than her brother.
Helena snorted softly. "He spent a lot of the family money on what the breeders swore were purebred Abraxans, when they looked to me like Muggle horses with stubby wings. I made him sell half of them and offer the others as broodmares for experimental breeders who wanted some Abraxan blood and didn't care where they got it. He was sulky and thought he could order me to marry Frederic as a punishment." She lifted her head, and the dragon woke and echoed her with an arch of its long neck. "What he didn't understand was that I was glad to go. My home was bitter to me, after so many failures."
"I wish I could be as great as you were," Draco muttered.
Helena didn't smile at him, but she gave him a single look from dark blue eyes and nodded once, a greater gift. "You will be," she said.
And there were others, heroes and traitors, Muggle-hunters and great Ministry politicians. Draco wandered among them as Astoria grew rounder and rounder, and fell more and more in love with his own heritage.
They wouldn't let him have the baby immediately, but when Scorpius Hyperion Malfoy was wiped free of blood and the liquid of the womb and laid safely in his cot, with Astoria sleeping exhausted in the bed nearby, Draco picked up his son and carried him into the Hall of the Ancestors, where the portraits of Helena and the others hung.
He carried the baby from picture to picture, letting the inhabitants of the portraits see him. Most of them exclaimed softly in admiration. A few turned away, but they were sullen people, or proud ones, who thought it was beneath their dignity to exclaim over a child, no matter how close he might be to them in blood. Helena nodded judiciously and stroked the neck of her hunting dragon so it wouldn't get jealous when she wanted a longer look.
"That child has a look of my brother about him," she said. "May he be smarter!"
"I'll make sure that he is," Draco vowed, cradling Scorpius against his chest. He made a small, sleepy movement with one foot, stretching it and extending the toes like a monkey. Draco considered the flushed, red look of his legs and had to admit that Helena's eyesight was better than his. Draco couldn't tell who among the ancestors he would look like yet. "His name is Scorpius Hyperion."
Helena smiled a bit. "Continuing the naming tradition of your mother's family? Well, there's nothing wrong with either name. Liable to get him teased a bit in school, but that often happens with old family names."
"It happened to me," Draco said, memory returning in a flood of overwhelming bitterness. "My first day on the Hogwarts Express. A Weasley snickered at the mention of my name when I was trying to make friends with Harry Potter."
"Harry Potter." Helena linked her hands together behind her head. "Would that be the son of Charlus? Or the boy that Lucius used to pace up and down the hall ranting about?"
"It must have been the boy my father ranted about," Draco said quietly. Had Lucius done that? Draco hadn't known it. There were always more facts to be collected about his ancestors, it seemed, and carefully stored away, even the ancestors he was convinced he already understood. "Harry Potter's father was named James. But he married a Mudblood."
"That's too bad," Helena said. "There was real power in the Potter family, at one time, and a few of us did marry them, though I don't think there were any recent intermarriages."
Scorpius stretched against him. Draco held him closer still, checked the time to be sure that Astoria and the Healer wouldn't wake and worry about where the boy had gone, and then shook his head. "No. I've read the records very carefully. No marriages more recent than 1692, and that one was a failure, without children." He looked down at his son. "At least no one can say that I haven't done my duty to the family now."
"Is that all you ever think about?" Helena asked, and she sounded sad for some reason. "Doing your duty?"
"No," Draco answered, looking up again. "I take pleasure in contemplating the history of the family, too."
Helena sighed, but wouldn't explain what she meant despite repeated questioning, and eventually Draco carried Scorpius back to the bedroom and put him in his cot. He stood there until dawn gazing down at his son, seeing in him his mother's eyes, his father's jaw, his grandfather's eyebrows, and many other transient, fleeting features that were as yet unexplained.
Whatever he became, though, it comforted Draco to know that he would always be a Malfoy.
Draco turned his head, startled. Scorpius had never come into the Hall of the Ancestors unless Draco brought him, and it was especially inconvenient for him to turn up now, when Draco was arranging a new shelf of history books under the portraits that would be easily upset by small fingers.
But here he was now, a three-year-old with his thumb in his mouth, clutching the door and swaying back and forth as if he had come a long way. He still had some weakness in his legs, Draco thought, the result of his mother carrying him around all the time, and then the house-elves doing it, when he was younger. Scorpius hadn't wanted to learn to walk, and he might have waited much longer if not for Draco's insistence that his son not be a weakling.
Draco forced a smile. "Are you all right, Scorpius? Where's your mother?"
"Mummy is sleeping," Scorpius said. His words were usually grown-up, except that he insisted on addressing his parents by childish titles. Draco didn't know why. He had called his parents "Father" and "Mother" by Scorpius's age. Scorpius wandered further into the room, staring up at the portraits and looking enchanted when the mastiff pictured with old Tertius Malfoy—arrested for murder in his ninetieth year—growled down at him. "What is this place, Daddy?"
"The place where the history of your family resides," Draco said, softening a little in spite of himself. It was true that Scorpius hadn't come here often, that Draco had more and more made the room a private sanctuary in the past few years. But that was wrong; that was robbing his son of his heritage. "Would you like to learn more about them, Scorpius?"
Scorpius nodded eagerly, and Draco picked him up and carried him from painting to painting, as he had when he was younger. This time, though, he wasn't introducing his child, the future, to the people who had lived before him and wanted to see the continuation of their blood. He was introducing his future to his past. He had never fulfilled any of the Malfoy ambitions; he had never done anything remarkable himself, except become a chronicler of the famous deeds of others. He hoped that Scorpius would do better.
"Who's that?" Scorpius pointed at Tertius, who turned his head away and sneered. He didn't have much use for anyone younger than fifty, Draco knew, and treated even Draco with a cold courtesy, though he did appreciate Draco polishing his portrait frame.
Draco told him the name, in the kind of heavy tone that Scorpius appeared to respect, and what he had done.
Scorpius didn't really understand death yet, which probably counted for the way he wrinkled his nose. "That's not good," he said. "That's not impressive."
Tertius turned his head for one more cold glare, and then once again looked away. Scorpius, who hadn't cared about the mastiff's growl or the puffs of smoke that Helena's dragon blew at him, started to cry about the glare for some reason. Draco tried to soothe him, but Scorpius's tears got louder, and Draco finally took him to the door, where Astoria was waiting with open arms.
"What happened?" Astoria asked, looking over Draco's shoulder as though she expected Draco to have a blade he'd threatened Scorpius's life with. She really did treat him as if he were an interloper sometimes, Draco thought absently, as if he wasn't Scorpius's father and as concerned with the boy's health as any of them.
"One of the portraits gave him an evil look," Draco said. "He'll handle it better when he'd older."
For some reason, Astoria's mouth crimped with bitterness. "Do you think he'll be like you?" she asked. "Holing himself up with pictures and books, masticating the former greatness of the Malfoys over and over?"
"Of course not," Draco said, considerably startled. "I hope that he'll make the greatness present, and continue it."
Astoria left without a word, back as straight as though she was angry about something. Draco shut the door and returned to working on his books.
"Why don't you go outside more often, Daddy?"
Draco sighed. He was trying to teach his son history and genealogy whenever Scorpius didn't have lessons with Astoria or Daphne, Astoria's sister, who was his tutor. Lucius had taught Draco to read using the family records, and Draco wanted to experience the same tradition with his son. But Scorpius, while he sometimes paid attention, seemed to lose his place more often than not and ask irrelevant questions. Draco was sure that he had had a longer attention span at four.
"I don't know what you mean, Scorpius." He spoke firmly, to recall his son's wandering focus from the enchanted windows in the Hall of the Ancestors that looked out, or seemed to, on the gardens and the walls. "Come back here, please, and see if you can read this sentence for me."
Scorpius came back, though he kicked at the carpet when he walked. Draco felt his lips tighten. He would have to speak to Astoria again about speaking to Scorpius, or at least set house-elf minders on him. It wouldn't do for Scorpius to go around kicking at the carpets when he was the master of Malfoy Manor. That was the best way to ruin them, and some of them, thanks to Preservation Charms, were hundreds of years old, woven from the hair of animals that no longer existed.
"I want to read something interesting," said Draco's puzzling son, sitting down next to him and subjecting him to a bright stare. Scorpius's eyes were grey, but a paler grey than Lucius's, closer to the blazing blue Draco remembered when his mother was angry. "Tell me about Harry Potter."
Draco let his son see his mouth tightening this time. "That's a silly, childish story," he said repressively. "You need to read something that actually matters."
"Everyone else thinks it's interesting," said Scorpius stubbornly. "Mummy thinks it's interesting. The elves think it's interesting. They whisper and cry about it. Auntie tells me how Harry Potter saved us all."
Draco would have to ask Astoria to have a talk with Daphne, too. "Harry Potter was just a boy," he said. "He didn't know what he was doing, Scorpius. He didn't mean to save people. He just rushed into the gap and was there in the right place, at the right time. That doesn't make him a hero."
Scorpius leaned forwards, staring in fascination for some reason, though Draco was sure he'd spoken in the sternest voice possible. "Why didn't you like him, Daddy?"
"He was a spoiled brat," Draco said, stressing the words and glaring at Scorpius. Pansy's little boy, Horace, would have taken the hint, but Scorpius looked back with innocent blue eyes and thought nothing of the reprimand, so Draco had to answer the question. "He ran around breaking the rules and blaming other people. He thought he was so much better than Slytherins just because he was in Gryffindor."
"I'd like to be in Gryffindor," Scorpius said.
Draco sprang to his feet—he'd been sitting on the floor because he thought he should be more on Scorpius's level when he was teaching him—and reached out, then caught himself and folded his hands behind his back. He would not shake Scorpius. He would never be violent with his child. "Don't say that again," he said coldly.
Scorpius grinned at him, eyes shining with childish mischief that Draco knew he had never possessed. "Gryffindor, Gryffindor, Gryffindor," he sang, softly and tauntingly, so like a boy in Draco's memories that he might actually have thought Astoria had cheated on him if Scorpius had black hair or green eyes.
About to snap something else, Draco stopped himself. What was he doing, losing his temper like this? Lady Cynthiana Malfoy had put up with more extreme provocation and still been so cold and still that her enemies had been ashamed and negotiated a truce with her that left the Manor standing.
He turned his back and folded his hands in front of him. "That's enough of the lesson for today," he said. "Leave me."
More than the implied threat, it seemed, more than his yelling, that made Scorpius cry. Draco heard him run of the room, and winced as he slammed the door. Then he turned and went to pick up the history books.
"Children don't like to learn from statues," Helena told his back. "You can't blame them for being excited when they came to life, no matter how briefly."
Again, as she had often done before, she refused to explain what she'd meant, but gave him a look of pity. When he tried to shout at her, the hunting dragon breathed smoke out, clouding the portrait.
Draco lifted his head and smiled at his son. With the coming of his fifth year, Scorpius had learned correct address, and stood with his shoulders straight and his head held up like a Malfoy. When he came into the Hall of Ancestors, he spoke quietly and respectfully, as he had done now. "Yes, son?"
"Mother says that I can't start flying until I go to Hogwarts." Scorpius's eyes were enormous, and there was a plea in them that Draco didn't understand until he thought about the full meaning of his son's words. Scorpius was probably hoping that Draco would intervene on his side in the dispute with Astoria. "Is that true? It's not true, is it? I can go flying now? You learned when you were my age."
Draco hesitated. On the one hand, it was true that every Malfoy should get flying expertise young. One of the ways that Scorpius might bring glory to their family was by being a wonderful Quidditch player.
On the other hand, Draco didn't think that he ought to contradict Astoria if she was speaking on the grounds of safety. She spent more time with Scorpius and knew him better. Draco had to see him as a symbol.
Draco acknowledged quietly that there was another reason he was reluctant to venture beyond the Hall of the Ancestors. He hadn't done anything as trivial as playing Quidditch in a long time, and if he failed in front of his son, he would shame them both, not to mention the Malfoys in general. Draco knew he was a long way from perfect, and Scorpius needed a better model than he was.
But the only other models who could really have taught him how to be a Malfoy were dead or living elsewhere. Astoria had only married into the family; she hadn't taught herself to be more than demure and composed. The spark of greatness was missing from her, and so she couldn't show it to Scorpius.
In his more troubled moments, Draco would wonder if that meant Scorpius was doomed never to be great, either. Would he take after both sides of his heritage, or only his father, or only his mother? Draco sometimes wondered whether he should have chosen a wife other than Astoria.
On the other hand, that meant Scorpius would never have been born. And Draco loved his son, as difficult as that could be to show sometimes.
Scorpius was staring at the floor now. And something in Draco, something that didn't fear his ancestors' disapproval quite as much as the rest, roused in him, and he stood up and went over to take his son's hand.
"Come," he said. "I'll teach you the proper seat on a broom and how to resist the wind. That way, you'll represent us well when you go to Hogwarts."
Scorpius gave him an almost worshipful glance, which made Draco smile back even as he mentally disapproved. Scorpius shouldn't look up to him so much, a flawed scion of the family. He would become more than that. Draco made a mental note to give him not only the histories of the Malfoys but the histories of great inventors and generals and Ministers from other families, too. He would have to blend qualities of all of them if he was to become the most famous wizard in a hundred generations.
That was the ambition Draco had for his son, though he had never voiced it aloud to himself before.
But he had to admit, the thought seemed unimportant beside Scorpius's laughter when he had the broom hovering, and when Draco sat behind him and showed him how to fly, Scorpius laughed again and bounced up and down on the stick, and Draco tightened his arms around him not from fear of the danger but simply because he wanted to hold on to the moment.
It was completely worth it to be faced with Astoria's pursed lips and shaking head later in the day.
And it was completely worth even the memories of Potter that flying stirred up and sent racing around his head.
"And that was how Harry Potter saved us all."
That sentence was the only one Draco heard, but he could guess at the rest of the story. Slowly, he turned and marched towards the door of the room the voice had come from. He had to venture outside the Hall of the Ancestors at some point, but he didn't like to do it often, and this was the major reason why. He always found a source of disappointment in the world other people called "real."
He stood in the doorway and stared at Astoria, who sat in a rocking chair. Scorpius, six years old now, sat at her feet and stared up at her with bright eyes. His hand traveled restlessly back and forth along the carpet.
"Is that all?" he asked. "Is that really all? Didn't he have any more adventures?"
Astoria smiled tenderly down at Scorpius, a smile that Draco couldn't remember her ever giving him. Neither of them had seen him as yet. "He had other adventures, but ones that won't do for you yet, not at your age," she said, and leaned over to kiss the top of his head.
At least she has that much discretion. Draco had no wish to have his son learn about Potter's disgusting success as an Auror or his fertile wedding with the Weasley bitch. He cleared his throat ostentatiously.
Scorpius looked up, his eyes wide. Astoria's eyes were wider. She understood the meaning of the anger on his face, even if Scorpius didn't.
"I think you should remember what was lost in that war," Draco said, in the low voice he knew terrified his wife. "Names. Lives. Reputations. It's not a shiny, happy tale fit for a child."
"I know about the losses," Scorpius said, as if he really did. "But I wanted Mum to tell me about Harry Potter. And she did." He rose to his feet, clinging to the chair and watching Draco with an oddly defiant expression. "So you can't be angry at her. Be angry at me."
"Scorpius, be still," Astoria said. She stood up, too, and rested her hand on his shoulder for a moment. "Go to bed."
"But—" Scorpius looked up at her, and then the words died. He hunched his shoulders and plodded past Draco. Draco watched him go and thought about disciplining him further, but he had to exchange words with his wife, not his son. Scorpius would learn of his displeasure later, when Draco could be more diplomatic about it.
They both waited until they could hear the sound of a door shutting, which would be the door to Scorpius's bedroom. Draco turned to deliver his lecture, only to find that Astoria had attacked first, which was entirely uncharacteristic of her.
"You spend all your days in the past," she said, her eyes bright enough that they lost all resemblance to eyes Draco had loved and known. "You don't know anything about the future, about the man our son is growing up to be. In fact, you'll probably be disappointed that he's not a proper Malfoy, whatever that is. He loves you and wants you with him, and you give him history books to read. You're impossible, Draco. Can't you see that the house and your life are decaying around you?"
Draco had intended to argue. He really had.
But what she said threw him back on his loss, the grief that pulsed under the surface and made every breath he drew a struggle sometimes. If it hadn't been for the books to tend and read, the artifacts to clean, the portraits who expected his company, Draco would have lain in bed some days and stared at the ceiling. What else was there to do?
Accusations. Proof that he wasn't good enough. That was all he would ever get if he emerged into the world.
"Just don't tell him stories about Harry Potter again," Draco said, and turned away, leaving Astoria with her mouth open.
The Hall of the Ancestors shone with comforting, welcoming light. Draco had paid handsomely for expensive covered torches that would burn bright but not provide open flames that could damage his heritage. He had installed them himself, since he didn't want anyone without Malfoy blood in this room. He shut the door behind him.
"There's someone here to see you, Father."
Draco put aside the book he was reading and frowned at Scorpius, who stood next to Great-Uncle Tiberius's portrait. Tiberius Malfoy had been a daring and inventive duelist who had died in one of his duels before his thirtieth birthday, but that was no reason not to put up a memorial to him. "What do you mean? Why are you announcing it to me, and not one of the house-elves?"
Scorpius stared at him without answering. He was seven now, and ever since he had started going to wizarding primary school, Draco thought something had changed in him. He was more thoughtful, slower to answer back, but also slower to obey.
"You'll see," Scorpius said, and then turned and walked out of the Hall of the Ancestors. Draco had to sigh and follow, since if Scorpius was lying they would have to have another talk about obedience, and if he wasn't, this might be an important visitor from the Ministry who needed to be placated or bribed.
Harry Potter stood in the drawing room.
Draco halted in the doorway, physically incapable of going further. Potter had his back to Draco as he examined one of the shelves on the wall, but there was no mistaking him. Not that wild dark hair, that shaggy way he wore his cloak and his scarlet Auror robes, or that unbalanced stance of his, more suited to a Quidditch broom than the ground.
"Here he is," Scorpius said loudly. It was impossible to be sure which of them he was addressing.
Potter turned around.
Those green eyes hit him like a blow. Draco winced, and hoped he covered it by moving to the side and indifferently nodding to Potter. "What have you come to ask me?" he said. "As far as I know, Mother hasn't come back into the country since the Ministry exiled her, and your lot have already looked for Dark artifacts in every conceivable corner of the Manor." No need to feign the bitterness in his voice then, not when those searches had torn the Manor apart.
"Father!" Scorpius hissed.
Potter, surprisingly, smiled, and then moved forwards, holding his hand out. "No need for insults," he said. "I'm not here on Ministry business. I'm here because my sons will start attending the same primary school as your son does soon, and I wanted to ask a few questions and notify you that they'd be here."
Draco kept his arms folded and didn't reach out to take Potter's hand. It would be wrong. He had abandoned his own past, letting it be absorbed into the past of his family. He was a failure, not someone who could add to the Malfoy greatness. "You should speak to my wife," he said. "She's the one who arranged for Scorpius to attend that particular school and knows everything about it."
Potter lowered his hand and stared hard at him. Draco glared back. He hoped that Potter couldn't hear how hard his heart was pounding, or see how hard it was for him to keep standing there instead of bolting away.
He couldn't turn back in time like that. For all the time he spent among portraits and history books, he knew that he couldn't stop things from changing. The problem was, he had mucked everything up when he had tried to act on his own behalf. The last important act he would ever commit was begetting Scorpius. He had done that now, and so done his duty. Now he could stay silent while Scorpius went out into the world and added another name to the pantheon of Draco's dreams.
"I'll speak with her, then." Potter's voice was clipped, and his eyes cold. Draco was glad to see it. Rudeness, coldness, couldn't set fire to dreams and regrets that he should have outgrown long ago. "Where is she?"
"I have no idea," Draco said, and then turned his head to look at his son. "I imagine Scorpius can take you to her."
Scorpius stood there with his hands in fists at his sides, eyes wide and hurt. Betrayed.
Draco looked down. Scorpius, Potter, Astoria, all expected too much of him. He was small, and over. He didn't like to be reminded of his smallness, but more than that, he didn't like to be reminded that other people might depend on him anyway.
"Fine," Potter said, and there was a new note in his voice, something that almost fooled Draco into looking at him again. He fixed his eyes on his hands to prevent that temptation. "I thought this could be a new beginning for us, Malfoy. I see I was wrong."
"Yes, you were," Draco murmured.
Scorpius led Potter out of the room, already beginning to chatter. Draco was glad for that. Let Scorpius learn as much as he could from Potter. Let him make friends of Potter's sons. Let him have the chances Draco had never had. It would be good for him, and that way, he wouldn't make the many and unforgivable mistakes of cowardice and stupidity that Draco had.
When Draco was sure they were gone, he went back to his temple and his solitary worship of duty and the family.
"I'd think you would have anticipated this."
Draco shook his head, and then shook it again. He had been feeling as though someone had dumped a basin of cold water on him since Astoria had announced she was leaving. Among the other things that disconcerted him about the announcement—the suddenness of it, his ignorance of Astoria's unhappiness, his worry about what Scorpius would think—there was the thought that no divorces had happened in the Malfoy family. Ever. Spouses separated, or took other lovers, or tried to kill each other, but they didn't simply part and then advertise the parting to the rest of the world. Weakness was not to be displayed beyond the marble walls of the Manor.
But it was easier for Draco to deal with than, say, the news of Scorpius's divorce would have been. It was just another way he had failed his family.
"Why would I?" he asked at last. "You knew when we married that it was mostly for convenience and duty."
Astoria took a deep breath and picked up her latest trunk of packed books. Her eyes were brilliant and stormy. Draco blinked at her. She looked like a beautiful woman now, and not the girl he remembered wedding. When had that happened?
"I know what it was," she said. "And I know what I hoped it might become."
Draco sighed in irritation. The shock was leaving him. He wanted to know a few things, and then he wanted to retreat to the Hall of the Ancestors again, and the people he loved and understood. "Why did you wait so long to leave, if you were so unhappy?"
"Because Scorpius is eight now. I think he can handle this." Astoria arranged her robes around her legs. Those were technically his robes, Draco thought distantly, bought with his money, but he didn't feel like challenging her. "And of course he can visit me at times, and I'll make sure that he's happy."
"He's happy here," Draco said, mildly insulted.
Astoria looked up at him with grey eyes that were like stone now. "No, he's not. You spend too much time with your ancestors and not enough with your son. Why?"
"You know what I lost in the war," Draco began, half-happy to have an audience for his failures and inadequacies. That way, Astoria could understand why Draco had to be a custodian for those members of his family who had achieved more than he could.
"And I also know the war was sixteen years ago," Astoria said, so sharply that Draco felt a dig in his heart, through the armor he had tried to force himself to wear against the world. "If you don't get over this, then you'll simply fossilize yourself. They'll find you as a marble statue in the middle of your bloody Hall." Her face was taut with anguish, and Draco struggled to understand why.
"I don't think that's the worst fate," he offered, when he realized she hadn't left yet because she was waiting for an answer.
Astoria closed her eyes and shook her head. "You're hopeless," she said. "Or at least you'll require someone with a lot more patience than I have." She turned and left, her robes snapping around her ankles.
Draco stood still, arms wrapped around himself. Astoria's reference to becoming a marble statue made him feel chilled. He couldn't remember that happening before.
As he turned to go back into the Manor, he caught his son's eye. Scorpius stood on the stairs, his hands clenched around the banisters. His eyes were wide and tearless, which Draco hadn't expected. It was a day of strange happenings.
He started forwards, meaning to touch Scorpius on the shoulder and say—something. He didn't know what.
But his son turned and went up the stairs. Draco watched him until he turned the corner, and then his will drained out and he went back to his own sanctuary.
But Astoria had planted a seed of trouble that occasionally grew and troubled him more in the next years, as he looked around at the portraits and wondered if they would like his company as a statue, or whether they really only needed his money to keep the room comfortable, well-lit, and warded.
Laughter attracted him, and Draco finally gave up on reading the particularly dense history book he'd chosen—a book that Great-Great-Aunt Lavinia had written, and which was torturous even by Malfoy standards—and walked out of the Hall of the Ancestors to examine the possible scene through the nearest window.
Scorpius was running around the middle of the largest, flattest part of the grounds, scattering white peacocks with every charge. A Quaffle leaped about him, seemingly enchanted to go in random directions. Another boy ran with him, one with wild black hair flying and a mouth stretched wide in that annoying laughter.
Draco knew whose son he was without asking.
As he stood there, wondering whether he ought to go out and scold Scorpius for not having asked permission to bring a friend home, another figure joined them. This one was tall, and also had black hair, and Draco thought at first it was Potter's elder son. But surely a boy who was only one year older than Scorpius wouldn't be that tall.
Then a sense of inevitability settled into his bones, and yes, it was Potter's face that briefly turned to the window.
Potter seemed to have caught sight of Draco, because he paused, brow furrowing. Draco found himself looking instinctively for the old scar, though the papers said that it had faded when Potter defeated the Dark Lord, but he was too far away to see it.
The boys ran in circles as the Quaffle bounced back into the air and hovered there, tauntingly far above their heads. It would only be a few minutes, Draco thought, before they complained to Potter and he turned back to lower it for them.
But there was that small space of frozen time where Potter and Draco stared into each other's eyes.
And then, somehow still before Scorpius and the other boy gave into frustration, Potter extended one hand and curved it in an unmistakable beckoning gesture.
That was when Draco understood he would be welcome to emerge from the house and join the game.
He froze, staring, his hands locking so hard into the windowsill that he would find splinters driven beneath the skin later. But he couldn't move, couldn't make a decision, and so Scorpius and the other boy shouted, and Potter turned his back as though Draco was of no account after all. Why should he be, in the face of a new generation that wasn't going to be prone to his mistakes?
Draco closed his eyes, more shaky than he should be when such a random moment had sliced across his senses.
And the treacherous thought came that he could go out. He could extend his hand to Potter, and play with his son, and learn the name of the small boy with black hair. There was nothing forbidding him from doing that.
Nothing except the voluntary exile he had undertaken from the world, the barrier that separated him because he must try not to impose his failures on his child. Scorpius could learn nothing from his example, could care nothing for him. Draco had to stay away or risk destroying what he had built so far. Maybe nine-year-olds weren't as impressionable as infants, but still, they could absorb unwanted lessons.
Draco turned his back and walked with heavy steps into the Hall of the Ancestors, where a short time later he found himself studying the stone blocks in the walls and noting the heaviness of their placement.
Strange. He had never likened the Hall to the dungeons before.
"Malfoy! I need your help."
The shock of hearing Potter's voice made Draco drop the book he was reading. He cursed in his head as he turned about, though his expression remained as calm and perfect as he knew it should be. He had had much practice saying things to himself that he would never share with anyone else, because no one else would understand him.
But he knew, he knew, that he shouldn't have let the late autumn sunshine tempt him out of the Hall of the Ancestors into reading a book on tracing magic through Muggles by the library fire. That just meant people could find him more easily.
"What is it, Potter?" he asked, standing back, because bending down would be a violation of his dignity. Potter, whose head floating in the flames proved that he didn't care about bending down, gave him a single fierce glance.
"Scorpius and Al are missing," he said. "They told me that they were going to leave their school and travel to your house today, but that was hours ago. When I asked your elves, they said they'd never arrived."
"How do you know my elves well enough to talk to?" Draco asked, feeling oddly violated, as if he'd discovered that someone spied on him when he undressed at night.
No one had done that since Astoria, and Draco couldn't imagine that anyone would be interested any time soon. But that didn't lessen the surge of irritation at Potter's words.
Potter gave him a flat stare. "It doesn't matter. But I do spend time over here when I want to bring Al home, if you must know. Scorpius is lonely and needs a man to talk to." His eyes were cutting, but Draco looked back at him silently, without response. Potter seemed to realize that Draco wouldn't answer insults, because he snorted in disgust and went on, "We have to find them."
"They're probably fine," Draco murmured. "Scorpius knows the countryside around the Manor well. Hiding for a lark would be more likely than something serious happening to them."
Potter shook his head. "With all the enemies we both have, you still think that."
A bitter laugh that Draco hadn't intended to release bubbled from his throat. "You have enemies. No one has thought me worth coming after in years, and Scorpius isn't old enough yet to be a threat to anyone."
"That's what you think," Potter said, eyes almost compassionate. His voice altered again, becoming brisk. "In the meantime, this doesn't help us find our sons. Meet me at the gates of your Manor in ten minutes. We'll coordinate the search from there."
Draco opened his mouth to refuse, but by then, Potter's head had disappeared. Draco turned slowly and looked out the window, watching as the sunlight slanted across the lawns and touched the changing trees with curious fingers.
His son was out there somewhere. Ten years old. The future of the family, the future Draco had so often promised himself would be different from the family's past, and better than it was.
And he found it hard to feel anything, as if all his emotions were muffled under the spreading knowledge of his own failures.
Draco caught his breath, blinked hard, and unfroze enough of himself to go and give orders to the elves, as well as to cast a Tempus Charm so that he could be sure he would make Potter's deadline.
"You look much better in an outdoors environment than in that stuffy house, Malfoy."
Draco hunched his shoulders and didn't answer. This was the first time he had ventured out of the Manor in…he couldn't even name the last time he'd passed the door. Perhaps it was on a journey to Diagon Alley that he had forgotten, or perhaps a time he had played outside with Scorpius, but it wasn't coming to him now. He nodded to Potter and waited for him to explain how their sons had been lost.
Luckily, Potter had enough sense to realize that they should attend to business, instead of irrelevant personal remarks. He waved his wand, and a parchment map unfolded itself neatly from mid-air and fell into Draco's hands. Draco accepted it with a blink and watched a red line blaze from Magical Experiences Primary School across the downs towards the Manor.
"This is the way that they should have taken," Potter said briskly. "We'll search along it first, because we don't know yet if they've been kidnapped or not, and if they have, then we should find some signs of a struggle. I've taught Al to resist, at least. I don't know if Scorpius has received similar training."
He gave Draco a look so jaundiced, so disapproving, that it made the years vanish and Draco reacted as if they were still in school. "What would I need to train him to protect himself against?" he snapped. "Most of the time, the Manor's wards and the house-elves would be more than enough to defend him from any threats."
Potter smiled at him. His smile had changed, at least, so bright that Draco wondered if he needed fires in his house. "Good! That tells me something. Very well, let's go look for Scorpius and Al." He strode out, legs moving as though he did this every day. Draco shivered and cast a yearning look over his shoulder at the house behind him.
It had been so long since he was outside those walls. And he was afraid that he would be as much of a failure at finding his son as he was at everything else.
Potter was waiting for him, one impatient eyebrow raised, his head tilted back to look over his shoulder as though he couldn't imagine anything more tiresome than waiting.
This is Scorpius we're talking about, Draco told himself forcefully, stung into action as much by the contempt in Potter's eyes as anything else. My son. The future of my family. The boy who loves me, although God knows why.
"Coming," he said, and managed to quicken the pace of his legs to match Potter's, with some effort. His muscles creaked and groaned at him all the way, like doors long unused being opened once again.
The boys definitely weren't in the school, or anywhere along the path that they would have walked from it towards the Manor. Draco, more worried now than anything, cast a spell that ought to let him find any traces of Scorpius if he had passed near; any locks of his hair or scraps of his robe would resonate to Draco's magic. But he didn't pick anything up, and had to shut his eyes a moment.
"We'll find them, Malfoy."
Draco widened his eyes and turned his head. Potter was standing next to him, one hand extended as if he'd been about to rest it on Draco's shoulder. He promptly dropped it and turned away with a small cough. "I just don't want you to worry," he muttered. "It would distort your face."
Draco didn't know what that meant, and he really had no wish to explore it. He had thought of another method to locate Scorpius, since Potter the Master Auror was fresh out of ideas. "I need to Summon something from the Manor," he said. "And then I need you to forget what you saw here and any intentions that you might have about reporting it to the authorities. Understand?"
Potter's eyes widened apprehensively behind his glasses. "What are you going to do, Malfoy?"
Draco flicked his wand and cast the Summoning Charm without answering. Then they stood there in the pale light from the cloudy sky above, with Potter watching Draco suspiciously from the corner of an eye.
Draco looked back and made sure that he kept his own expression aloof. He was the one who came to me and demanded my help. He can put up with my methods if he doesn't want to do this on his own.
The slight whistle of the traveling object cut the air, and then it smacked handily home into Draco's palm. He turned it over and whispered the incantation that would check for any disruption in the seal. There was none, and he nodded and broke the seal with a stab of his fingernail.
"That looks like blood," Potter said, voice thick. "Is it? This had better not be blood magic."
"Not even if it finds our sons?" Draco asked softly, and Potter shut up, the way Draco had known he would. He thought he was getting it back again, his sense of how to handle and spar with Potter. "That's why I told you to keep your mouth shut," Draco added, and then carefully dribbled three drops of Scorpius's blood into his palm.
The magic took effect almost immediately; it was a hanging spell Draco had cast ten years ago, when Scorpius was two days old, and left to complete itself if Scorpius's blood should ever touch his father's skin. The tingling pull that raced beneath his palm and up his arm was strong enough to jerk him around to face towards the west. Draco nodded. "This way." He started jogging.
Potter came up beside him, striding fast and staring at him from the corner of an eye. Draco ignored him effortlessly, or almost so. It was hard not to preen in the face of the stare.
"That wasn't like any blood magic I've ever seen," Potter said, this time as though he were disappointed that he wouldn't get to arrest Draco.
"That's because this is Malfoy blood magic," Draco said serenely, and left him to chew on that while his hand led him along the path to Scorpius.
They had to go further than Draco would have thought, and he had started to entertain the idea of a kidnapping after all before the tingling abruptly stopped. He looked down and found that they were standing in front of a small hillock, overgrown with huge, drooping ferns. Draco nodded and bent down.
"Come out of there this minute, Scorpius," he said. "And bring Mr. Potter with you." Potter would probably think it presumptuous if Draco called his son by his first name.
There was silence for a long moment. Draco once again used the blood, and his hand buzzed and itched and shot out to point at the northern edge of the hillock. Draco walked in that direction until his hand fell limp.
"I know you're there, Scorpius," he said. It was amazing how he could sound so calm when he was so angry. "Come out or I'll use the Summoning Charm."
Scorpius crawled into sight at last, on hands and knees, his head bowed, probably because he wanted to hide his expression of sullen resentment. The tousle-haired boy Draco had seen playing with him more than once followed, blinking at Draco with eyes as green as Potter's own.
"Why did you do that?" Draco asked. He preempted Potter, probably in his rush to ask the same thing, and Potter shut his mouth and looked annoyed. Let him, Draco thought. This was important. His son had never done anything like this before, and it seemed strange that he would now, when he had only a few months to go until he started Hogwarts.
"Because I wanted to see if you'd notice," Scorpius muttered, staring at his feet.
Draco shut his eyes for a moment. He could see the walls of the Hall of Ancestors so clearly. The portraits on them were beloved, familiar friends by now; he knew where all of them hung and the personalities of the people who filled them, even those who had never spoken to him. He knew its size. He knew the warmth of the fires. He would give a great deal to be back with the portraits, standing within it.
When he opened his eyes again, Potter and small Potter were watching him curiously. Draco ignored them. Scorpius was the one he needed to convince.
"I'm sorry," he said.
Scorpius looked up with wide eyes. "What?"
"I'm sorry," Draco said. He hesitated, then knelt down in the grass. If he could, he would have chosen to have this confrontation happen in a different place, rather than in front of Potter and his son, but needs must. He put a hand on Scorpius's shoulder, and Scorpius blinked even more. Draco wondered if his son could remember the last time his father had touched him; Draco wasn't sure he could. "I should have paid more attention to you. I shouldn't have spent so much time in the Manor."
Scorpius started to say several things, but each time, emotion seemed to choke them off. "Why did you?" he whispered at last.
Draco shook his head. "After the war, and so many things being lost, I thought I was a failure. I married Astoria and had you. I did my duty to the family. Then I thought it would be best if I retreated, and let you grow up on your own. I'd made a hash of everything else, so I thought I'd make a hash of raising you. Besides, you were my ambassador to the outside world. I was nothing."
Scorpius choked again. Then he said, "You were still my father."
Draco nodded slowly. "I know. That's why I'm sorry, because I should have realized that and stepped up long since."
Scorpius leaned forwards until his brow rested against Draco's shoulder. Draco stroked his hair and cast a glance that he knew was half-nervous, half-defiant, at Potter and small Potter.
Small Potter looked curious, but also was glancing a little sideways, as though he knew this was a private moment he shouldn't watch. Potter had his hand on his son's shoulder, and was smiling, for some reason. A huge, devouring smile, in fact, Draco thought, suspicion rising. As if he'd anticipated that Draco would apologize to Scorpius all along or some such rubbish.
Well, never mind. Draco turned back to Scorpius. "Don't do something like that ever again," he said. "No matter how much you want to get my attention. Break the windows in the Manor instead. Rip up my books. Knock down the Hall's door. But not that."
Scorpius stiffened. Then he said, "But you love the Manor."
Draco licked his lips. This would be hard, very hard to say, with someone else watching, but he had to. "I love you more."
Scorpius gave a little sob and flung himself forwards. Draco held him, head bowed, and tried not to meet Potter's gaze. It was enough that one member of the Malfoy family insisted on showing his feelings.
But Scorpius was a child still, and not Draco, or Lucius, or Tiberius, or Helena, or any other Malfoy. Perhaps that individual expression and difference could be allowed.
Potter cleared his throat, which sounded like a chuckle. "I'm glad that this ended happily for all involved," he said.
Draco glared at him and muttered, "You would say that," but there was no heat in either look or words, and from Potter's contented smile, he knew that.
In the next few days, Draco made an effort to spend more time with Scorpius, joining him at meals and following him into the library to ask what books he liked to read. He felt awkward doing it, somehow false. He hadn't done this before, when he should have. Scorpius might feel now as if too little was too late and Draco should simply have been a better father from the beginning, rather than trying to make it up to him when he was almost eleven years old.
And there was the long record of his failures, too, which made Draco still go back to the Hall of the Ancestors at night and dream beneath the portraits.
But Scorpius turned to him with an eager face when Draco asked the first question about books, and showed him a thin book Draco didn't remember seeing before. "I like this one," he said.
Draco picked it up and turned it over. The photograph on the cover was of a moving, stretching, smiling baby. Draco thought he knew who it was, from the baby's big green eyes, even before his gaze went to the title: A Biography of Harry Potter.
"You really admire Auror Potter, then?" he asked, remembering just in time to give Potter his proper title. He looked again at the book in his hands and wondered where this obsession had come from. Astoria's bedtime tales?
Scorpius nodded, and his eyes were filled with the kind of honest enthusiasm Draco could remember experiencing at his age. "Yes! And isn't it brilliant that he likes me and comes over to the house to play with me and Al, sometimes?"
"It's brilliant," Draco conceded. Then he paused, and added, despite himself, "Al?" He hadn't thought the Savior of the Wizarding World would give his son such a Muggle name, though it did fit into the Potter tradition of names for the last few generations.
Scorpius giggled. "His full name is Albus Severus Potter. But don't tell him I told you! He'd get angry—Father, what's wrong?"
Draco forced his eyes open again. He had had to shut them when he heard the middle name. Potter, you have unexpected depths. But then again, I should have known that from the way you played with my son.
"Nothing," he said. "Tell me why you like him. What is it about the book that fascinates you most? Would I like it if I read it?"
Scorpius flopped down on the floor in front of him, either not noticing or ignoring the way Draco winced at the ungraceful movement. Draco could almost hope that it was ignoring. "I don't know, Father," he said. "I don't think I know you very well."
Draco reached out and rested his hand on Scorpius's hair. Once again, he had to shut his eyes, but this time, it was because of the threads of sorrow that felt as though they had been tugged taut in his chest.
"It won't all change at once," he said aloud, and didn't know if he was saying the words to reach his son or himself. "You have to remember that. It'll take time and work to move out from the shell."
"Dad?" The next moment, Draco felt Scorpius move in what was almost certainly a flinch, because Draco had told his son over and over again not to call him by that childish name.
Draco welcomed the occurrence, because it meant he had a chance to change things. He opened his eyes, and saw Scorpius looking apprehensively at him. "Sorry," he muttered.
"It's fine," Draco said. "Now, I think you were telling me about the book."
It might be stupid—his father would certainly have laughed—to say that Scorpius's face opened like a flower, but that was what happened.
"Potter." Draco stood there with arms folded and face distant. He knew that, as if he was watching himself from outside. Not that he needed the help of his arms to look confined and wary, in truth. Caution wrapped around him like the bands of a steel snake.
Potter had owled and asked if he could come over. Draco had assumed that he meant bringing his son to see Scorpius, and perhaps staying to play with them, and had answered readily. But instead Potter had placed Al in the back garden with Scorpius and was walking up the front steps towards him, eyes bright and alert. Draco wondered if he was the suspect in a crime he didn't know about, then considered that that might almost be preferable to what he thought Potter would demand of him now.
"Did you know," Potter said conversationally when he arrived on the top step, "that I got divorced two years ago, too? I think it helps Al, to have a friend who went through the same experiences he did."
Draco stared and opened his mouth to say that Potter couldn't possibly have divorced the She-Weasel; he would have heard about it. But then he remembered that he hadn't read any newspapers in years, and simply stood there feeling awkward.
Potter didn't seem to find the silence uncomfortable. He waited, eyebrows raised, and Draco decided that it was incumbent on him to say something so that they didn't stand there in silence for hours.
"Well, I reckon it's important for people to have support," he muttered. "What's your support?" It was a stupid question, but the only one he could think of to ask that would build on what Potter had already said.
For some reason, Potter flashed him a dazzling smile. "My friends, and my children. They didn't blame me for the divorce, thank God. That happens sometimes, and then the couple make it worse by trying to use the children against each other." He sighed. "Ginny and I were never perfectly suited, but we both wanted children, and, well…other things that the other could give. So we made a compromise."
"I'm sure that part of what she wanted was her celebrity crush," Draco muttered.
He hadn't thought Potter would hear, but Potter gave him a dangerous glare which melted into another smile. Draco shook his head. He understood almost nothing of what was happening today, including why Potter would want to speak with him.
"I've missed you," Potter said, which made no sense either, and then took his arm. "Do you have a room where we could talk while we wait for the boys to finish playing?"
Draco took Potter to the library with a view of the back gardens. And Potter talked about Auror business with a quite shocking lack of secrecy about official procedures—well, perhaps not shocking, when Draco considered who this was—and about raising three children and their different reactions to the divorce.
Then he started talking about Mind-Healers and the need for someone's help to emerge from depression. Draco didn't understand why he was talking about that until he leaned forwards and said softly, "Don't you find that so?"
"I've never visited a Mind-Healer," Draco said. "And if you think that Scorpius might have 'problems' and that your precious son can't play with him—"
"Of course not!" Potter waved a hand, looking horrified. "I was talking about you. You're depressed because of the war, anyone can see it, and I think you need help."
The freezing stare Draco gave him shut him up then, and they sat in silence until Al and Scorpius were ready to come inside and tell them all about their "bloody brilliant" practice match, with Al playing as Beater and Scorpius as Seeker.
When Potter left, Draco ate dinner with Scorpius and sat listening to his chatter with no more than half an ear.
It was strange, but speaking with Potter, and especially trading insults with him, had felt like stretching muscles that had been cramped and aching for too long.
"Have you made an appointment with a Mind-Healer?"
That was Potter's first question during their next conversation, and Draco almost dropped his glass of Firewhisky (which he was drinking only to be sociable; getting pissed in Potter's presence, especially with his strange preoccupations, struck Draco as a spectacularly bad idea). He turned around and tried the freezing stare again.
Potter seemed immune to it this time, balancing his glass on his hand and looking so hard, for so long, at Draco that he finally snapped, rattled, "Of course not. Why would you assume I had?"
Potter exhaled, a long stream of almost noiseless air, and shook his head. "Because I think you could use help to recover from this," he said. "And I don't think I can offer you that kind of help, between the kids and my job and my own mental issues."
"I don't need to 'recover' from anything," Draco said, sitting down and tilting his head at the haughty angle that had made Astoria despair. "I am quite happy living alone in my house and raising my son."
"But your tendency to hide and your scars from the war almost prevented you from raising your son." Potter pushed his glasses up his nose. "Don't you want help in case they do that again?"
"I think it's a bit rich to come in and start speaking to me like that, as if we were friends, as if you understood," Draco said, biting the words off.
"I haven't observed you for a long period of time, no," Potter said, sounding unabashed. "But I've listened to Scorpius talk about you, and I've listened to you and looked at you during the times when I was here and you were visible. I think you retreated into a world of your ancestors and family because it was the one world you still felt secure in. You need someone who will give you a firm basis outside that, from which you can interact with other people." Abruptly, he stopped, as if embarrassed, and pulled at his fringe. "I'm sorry. But the language gets into your mind if you read the books long enough."
"You read?' Draco said.
Potter laughed instead of getting angry. "Prat. That's the Malfoy I knew." He leaned forwards. "At least consider it? I know Scorpius is happier now, but he tells Al all the time how worried he is about you, how he thinks you haven't left the Manor grounds in years."
"The Malfoy you knew is dead," Draco said. "We all change. And so what if I haven't left the Manor? In other centuries, pure-blood families might spend years in their homes without venturing beyond the walls."
"That's because they were besieged," Potter said. "And I think we should be able to choose the changes that happen to us, as much as possible. Have you chosen yours?"
Draco clenched his hands down on the arms of his chair. "I'm trying to make a difference for Scorpius," he said, forcing the words past the tight circle of his throat. "That is all I can do right now."
He had no idea why he'd made such an intimate confession to Potter, and still less why Potter bowed his head and turned the conversation.
But he found himself watching Scorpius at dinner that night, wondering why the boy would worry over him, as if he were the parent and Draco the child. Scorpius glanced up and caught him at it.
"What's wrong, Daddy?" he asked, after swallowing the piece of chicken in his mouth and dabbing at his lips with a napkin.
"Something I can't tell you yet," Draco said, and then realized he had spoken to Scorpius more like an equal than a child. He shouldn't have to bear that burden.
"Something that troubles me," he said instead. "But I'm sure I can handle it."
Scorpius bowed his head like Potter, and started talking about something else, like Potter. That night, the worry that troubled Draco was not so much whether he could be a good father as whether someone else already fulfilled that role for his son.
Draco hesitated for long moments outside St. Mungo's. He had cast a glamour that turned his hair black and made him look taller than he was as a disguise. He had wondered if he really needed it. It had been eighteen years since the war. Most people weren't thinking about the Malfoys and their losses anymore.
But this was his own comfort, rather than other people's. In the end, he had cast the spells and gone.
Now he tensed his shoulders and walked in, waving his hand in front of him automatically. He had always found walking through the apparent Muggle store window into hospital more distracting than the barrier that guarded the platform where the Hogwarts Express departed. But he didn't bump against glass this time, and in moments he was walking up to the Welcome Witch.
She gave him a professional smile. "Are you here to see someone, or speak with someone?" She must have already decided that he didn't require immediate treatment if his hair was the right color and he had the right number of heads and limbs, Draco thought.
"I'd like to make an appointment with a Mind-Healer," he said.
The Welcome Witch nodded seriously and tapped her quill on the parchment in front of her. "What's your name?"
"Gordon Fletcher," Draco said, pulling a name from the air at random. There was no reason to go in as a Malfoy when he had taken so much trouble not to appear as one, and if he had to lie a little about his experiences, then that was fine. He would rather lie than expose all of himself at once.
He wondered what Potter would say about that, and then wondered why he was wondering.
"Please have a seat, Mr. Fletcher," said the Welcome Witch, and touched another piece of parchment with her wand. There was a cascade of bright purple sparks from some spell that Draco didn't recognize, and the parchment folded itself up and melted into the desk. The witch smiled at him again and looked expectantly at the door as someone else came through. "They're waiting for someone to become available."
Draco sat down in one of the high, straight-backed chairs and waited. He was an expert at this, at least, since these chairs weren't so different from the ones at the Manor.
A woman in a flowing green robe came down the stairs to meet him shortly afterwards, smiling at him as if she already knew what bothered him and had found nothing in it to distress her. "Mr. Fletcher? I'm Mind-Healer Melody Hargrave. Come with me, please."
She led him to her private office, somewhere within the bowels of St. Mungo's, and sat down in the least comfortable chair, waving him to a plush one. Draco sat and watched her expectantly. He'd never been in a Mind-Healer's office before and had never thought he would be, and had no idea what would happen next.
"Do you know how we work with our patients, Mr. Fletcher?" she asked.
Draco shook his head. "I thought—talking, potions?"
"It depends on their troubles," said Hargrave. She pulled a bowl towards her that looked like a Pensieve, except that it was made of pale green stone the same color as her robe. "I favor memory work, examining memories in situations where the patient has fear or discomfort and describing different ways that things could have happened. At times, I work with alternate universes through mirrors and allow patients to meet different versions of themselves who made different decisions." She said it as casually as if she had been talking about brewing Pepper-Up Potions, Draco thought in disbelief. "What is your trouble?"
Draco licked his lips. He thought of Scorpius's face, and Potter's. He thought of the way Astoria had turned her back on him when she was leaving, and the way Helena Malfoy sometimes refused to talk to him.
Again Scorpius. Again Potter. He thought he knew this wasn't the right thing to do, but—the most amazing thing of all—he thought he might have the courage to try something else if it wasn't.
"I've spent most of my time since the war hiding inside the past," he began.
"Scorpius tells me that you've started going to a Mind-Healer."
Draco closed his eyes with a small hiss of irritation. That should have been his news to tell or not tell. But of course he should have guessed that Scorpius, with his liking for Potter, would tell a secret that he saw as something to brag about.
"Yes," he said, turning around with the cups of tea in his hands, and hoping that Potter would understand, from his short response, that he didn't want to talk about it.
Potter was smiling with pleasure, though, and took only one gulp of his tea before he continued. "That's wonderful! Did they suggest someone special? How much progress are you making? Have you discussed—"
"That's enough," Draco said sharply.
Arrested in mid-flight, Potter looked like a puppy who'd had its nose bruised against a mirror. "Why?"
"Because," Draco said, and then stopped. He wasn't sure that he wanted to speak all the bitter words brimming up inside him. He lifted his cup and drank instead.
But that didn't help, he realize, because Potter was still leaning forwards and watching him with yearning eyes. Draco rolled his eyes and gave in. If he got stung by the poison, that was his fault for approaching a snake with warning hood appropriately flared.
"Because I've only begun to acknowledge that I won't fail at everything I do," he said. "Because I've only begun to think that hiding inside my house isn't a good way to raise Scorpius, or to make up for my mistakes in the war. For years, in fact, I thought about the mistakes and wallowed in my guilt, but just assumed that there was no way to change them or atone for them. I was useless, a dried-up rag of a person. The last significant act I did was siring Scorpius. You think getting over that is easy? You think that because my son needs me and I know that now, it's easy to think of myself as worthwhile? No, Potter. I don't want to talk about this with you, because you would try to make me change my mind and jolly me out of my bad mood—and all the while, you'd be making the assumption that it's easy to do this. I don't want to hear it."
He turned back to his tea. Potter was silent. Draco didn't think he was watching him, but staring at the far wall. Probably wondering why he had ever come in the first place, Draco thought acidly, or waiting for the shouts that would signal Al and Scorpius were done playing.
"I'm sorry," Potter said.
The apology made Draco have to lean back in his seat. "Excuse me?"
"I'm sorry," Potter said. "I didn't realize I was doing that—I wasn't being mean on purpose—but it happened." He ran his hands through his hair, then looked in the other direction as if he assumed the window would be less confrontational than Draco. "I have to remember not to do that," he muttered.
Draco shook his head. "I doubt you meet with anyone else who would take offense at anything you said." He had almost said that none of Potter's other friends would misunderstand him that way, but had stopped himself. Whatever lay between him and Potter, he didn't think it deserved the name of friendship.
"You're wrong," Potter said. "And even if they didn't, it's still a good reminder to myself, when I hope that my association with you will be long and deep."
He gave Draco a quick smile, then glanced out the window again and stood. "I think our boys are done."
Draco sat there for a minute before he could stir and follow Potter. A long and deep association? What did that mean? Why would Potter assume they had anything in common besides a divorce and their sons' friendship?
It was baffling.
"Are you glad that we woke you up and you started spending more time with me, Father?" Scorpius was sitting on the edge of his chair at the dining table, one foot swinging while he pushed around the vegetables on his plate with a fork. He had spent most of the meal talking about Al Potter and what they were doing in school tomorrow, but Draco wasn't fooled. His son only chattered that much when he had a question that he was afraid to ask.
He didn't think he had known that four months ago.
"Yes," Draco said. He didn't see the need to elaborate. Some of his feelings weren't things he could burden Scorpius with, and others were so private that he would have found it difficult to talk to his parents about them. He focused on his wine and sipped it instead, wondering if Scorpius would move on.
He didn't. He leaned forwards and asked, "And are you glad that Mr. Potter comes here so much? I know that he wants to be your friend, like Al and I are friends."
Draco knew that he frankly stared at his son, and wished that he hadn't. It was no part of his plan to force Scorpius into being an adult sooner than he was ready for. He tried to keep the same calm demeanor as he had before he and Astoria divorced, though with more affection. Scorpius didn't need to see his father upset or angry.
"I am glad," he said, when he had left enough silence for Scorpius to look uneasily away. "But I don't think that you can be right about what he comes for, Scorpius. We—we don't have enough history between us to be friends."
"Al and I became friends the first day," Scorpius said triumphantly, as if he had solved a universal puzzle.
"That's not what I meant," Draco said. He seemed to say that a lot around his son now. "We had history between us at school, yes, but it was a history of taunting and insults, hexes and trying to kill each other. We can't start over from that."
"Why not?" Scorpius demanded. "You didn't see each other for at least thirteen years. So why not?"
"Because it's more complicated than that," Draco said. Scorpius opened his mouth to dispute this, and Draco said, in quick frustration, "You and Al—you're better people than I am, Scorpius. You have interest in each other. You made friends quickly because you had no reason to keep away. And Potter might be a good person, too, for all I know. But I'm not, and I need time to learn how to be one again. Potter might claim that he wants friendship with me, but he has no idea what that would entail."
Scorpius stared at him so long that Draco started to stand. It was still difficult for him to endure prolonged contact with other human beings sometimes, though he was better with Scorpius than with anyone else.
"You're not a bad person," Scorpius whispered. "Dad, you're not."
"You have no idea what I did when I was in school, Scorpius." Draco forced himself to speak harshly. "I should let you see my arrest records, and the official histories of the war. Then you'd know."
Scorpius gazed at him fearlessly. "Let me see them. I know they're going to prove me right, and you wrong."
Draco shook his head. His heart was breaking and choking him, both at once, and he knew no other way to get the point across. "Scorpius, even if I was a good person, Potter only wants to be on cordial terms with me. Not friendship. That's something deeper, more important." Draco had started to think that he hadn't ever really known what it meant, either, given his haughtiness in school and Vincent and Gregory's dimness.
"You're wrong," Scorpius said. "I'm right, and you're wrong."
Draco went to fetch the arrest records and the history books, giving up on a conversation that wouldn't go in any productive direction for the moment.
"Will you permit me to see your memories?"
Draco hesitated. On the one hand, Hargrave had been nothing but kind and helpful so far, asking him to describe his memories after he relived them in the Pensieve and then giving him her own perspective on those actions that he found hopeless or foolish. Draco had begun to believe, slowly, that there might be more than one way to view his past, and that had helped him to start thinking differently about the present.
But she had never asked to see his memories. And a good thing, too. The blond hair might not be a matter for comment, but looking shorter in his Pensieve memories was noticeable.
Hargrave sat across from him, hands laced across her stomach in the pose that she often adopted, as though nothing would make her happier than to wait forever. Her eyes squinted at him, but Draco thought that was because of the sunlight behind him, rather than because she disapproved of his actions.
"I…" Draco licked his lips. "I would value your perspective," he said. "But I'm using an assumed name, and you might not like the person I really am."
Hargrave smiled. "I thought so. I know several families of Fletchers, and you're not akin to any of them. But I know enough of your mind and memories now not to object to anything I find there. May I?" She reached for the Pensieve on the table, which showed the last memory of the time Draco had stood in the Hall of the Ancestors, arranging and rearranging the Malfoy histories with a furious passion and not responding to the house-elf who'd told him Potter was there.
Draco closed his eyes. She might miss the clues in his face, but she would see the ones in the book titles.
But he must have had more courage than he knew, or more impulsiveness. He leaned back and lifted his hand from the rim of the Pensieve.
Hargrave plunged her head into it. She was under for a long time. When she surfaced, she gave Draco a single glance and asked, "Why do you think of that particular place as a refuge from the world? The world is in there with you, your elves and the deeds of your ancestors."
Pathetic though the subterfuge might be, Draco was still glad that she hadn't spoken his family name aloud. He answered quietly. "They did grand and terrible things. I did nothing like that. I'm not hiding from the world as a whole, just the world of my particular life. I failed extensively in the war. I didn't help either side. I cowered. I had moments when I could have killed or otherwise made a difference, and I didn't do anything."
Hargrave was silent for a few moments more, appearing to think deeply before she leaned back and linked her hands in their usual position. "How many of the war heroes do you hear about now?" she asked.
Draco blinked. "Not many," he said. "Except for Harry Potter."
If Hargrave cared about the tone of bitterness in his voice when he spoke the name, she didn't show it. "Exactly," she said. "Their actions changed the world for them, and perhaps for others. But most people have forgotten them now, nineteen years later. Harry Potter stays in the news because he is an Auror and because of the magnitude of his actions; otherwise, I imagine that his name would also have begun to fade. Yes, ordinary individuals can make a difference, but the differences die out, and so do those who remember them.
"Punishing yourself for failing a single, decisive test might make sense. But not punishing yourself for a series of bad choices where what you did was refrain from acting, the way most people did. You are the overwhelming majority of people in this war, Mr. Fletcher. You, and not Harry Potter. The war heroes' stories get honored because they're so rare, honored and then dropped again. Why punish yourself for being like so many others?"
"Because my ancestors weren't!" Draco snapped. "They did things."
"All of them?" Hargrave tilted her head. "Unless I am deeply mistaken about who you are, your father did nothing during the war, either, except perhaps lead one raid on the Ministry, and the evidence for that was disputed."
"But he acted," Draco said. "He chose his side."
"And he never regretted it?"
Draco paused. He hadn't thought about that.
"I suspect," Hargrave said, voice warm and gentle as falling sand, "that you have thought about the actions that your ancestors took, and not their emotions. Who is to say that they might not have regretted what they did, or thought something else, some other action that did not enter the history books, more valuable? Who is to say that they did not think of themselves as failures while alive, and it was their descendants who made them the honored figures they were?"
Draco bowed his head. He remembered the shining, absolute faith in Scorpius's eyes when he had said Draco was wrong, and he was right.
"You are not alone," Hargrave said. "You are not the only one in the world who has ever felt these things, and your failures are ordinary flaws, human faults. Now, that does not mean you cannot work to conquer them. But it also does not mean that you need to apply a whip to your back for every single one of them, for years, because your failure is unique in the annals of your family. It is not."
"Strange," Draco muttered as he poured a cup of wine that he didn't trust the house-elves to handle properly, "how being told that I'm not unique should make me relax."
"It has that effect on me, too."
Draco started. The bottle of wine slipped from his hand, followed by the cup, and he had to cast a series of quick spells to ensure that they would both reach the ground without breaking or spilling anything. Then he spent a moment composing himself. By the time he turned around, he hoped that he looked, as he was, icily furious.
"Who told you that you could simply let yourself in through the wards?" he demanded of Potter.
"Your son." Potter seemed unaffected by Draco's outburst, except that he might have strolled to the chair he usually occupied with a bit more caution. He sat down, went through a careful rearrangement of his robes, and then lifted his eyes to Draco's face. "Is that wine shareable?"
"Not with you, not today," Draco said, and ignored the idea that he was being unreasonable. Hargrave had told him that he would have such ideas on occasion, and he should pay no heed to them. He would heal at his own pace, regardless of what others tried to tell him or impose on him. He finished pouring his cup and thought about moving towards Potter, but remained standing near his chair. "What do you want?"
Potter looked at him keenly, and then something changed behind his face. He stood up. Draco sipped his wine, and hoped that hid the shaking of his hands and his intense eagerness for Potter to leave, as well as his intense fear that leaving now meant the other man wouldn't come back.
"I'm sorry," Potter murmured, leaning forwards to take the cup of wine from Draco's fingers. "I was trying to be subtle and slow, and I thought that speaking in vague terms would let you warm up to me on your own terms. But all it's done is confuse you."
"I am not confused," Draco said, and grabbed Potter's wrist, forcing him to bring the cup of wine back. "I asked you a simple question, one that you should have been able to answer without hesitation if your intentions were innocent. Why do you keep coming here? You could simply let your son run free in the gardens with mine, without speaking with me."
"It's a poor thing I've done to Scorpius and Al, but it's the other way around now," Potter admitted. He didn't seem to mind Draco moving his hand away, instead staring as if he were fascinated. "I've been coming mostly for you, not for them."
Draco's fingers trembled, but he locked them in place and they stilled. "You still make no sense," he said. "What is a friendship like this, pursued against your own natural inclinations and with someone who's almost never been out of his house in the past eleven years, worth to you?"
"This," Potter said, and leaned forwards to touch Draco's lips with his.
Draco shuddered and stood still for longer than he should have. Then he broke free and stared at Potter, touching his lips. "So Weasley divorced you because you were bent?" It was the only thing he could think of.
"She divorced me because we didn't love each other anymore." Potter's eyes were bright and calm, and Draco reckoned he must have heard that particular accusation before. "But I do find myself more intensely attracted to men than women, yes."
Draco dropped his hand, abruptly aware that he was keeping it at his mouth as though holding someone precious, and sneered. "What part of 'terminally awkward, obsessed with his family past, pure-blood' don't you understand, Potter?" he demanded. "There's nothing in that to attract you."
"Why don't you let me decide who I'm attracted to," Potter said, leaning against the mantle, "and I'll do you the same courtesy."
Draco rolled his eyes. His heart was still thumping and throbbing, his pulse stuttering back and forth as though he'd nearly fallen. "I'm glad that you at least recognize I might not be drawn right away to your high and mighty maleness."
"I'm sorry," Potter said a third time. "I'd intended to wait until you were more back on your feet before I said anything, but I saw that I was making you unhappy. So I decided to make it clear."
Draco turned his back and nursed his cup of wine again. "There's nothing in me to hold someone like you," he said, and he heard the snap and ring of iron in his voice. That was good, at least, implying that he was holding on to his values.
"Ah, so you value commitment as well," Potter said. "Excellent."
Draco spun around. He would have aimed his wand, but he didn't think that he wanted to cast any more spells to catch the cup of wine. "Stop playing, Potter!"
Potter's eyes became cooler, his smile vanishing. "That's the last thing I'll do," he murmured. "And right now, today, I'll leave you, because you're clearly distraught." He majestically ignored Draco's snort. "But at least you know the truth, now, and can make your own decisions."
He turned and left, and Draco leaned back against the wall, his heart a roar and thunder in his ears. When he heard the pop of a house-elf appearing, he looked down and found that some wine had spilled on the carpet after all.
The poor house-elf probably never understood why Draco ordered it out of the room with an imperious gesture and a shout.
"See? I told you that Mr. Potter was good, Father."
Considering Scorpius's tone and flushed cheeks, Draco reckoned he should be glad that he got the more formal title at all, and no insults. He looked up from the book he'd been reading, or attempting to read, when Scorpius entered the library. It concerned Pensieves and memory theory, and Draco had hoped it would help him understand his experiences with Hargrave better. So far, it hadn't helped, because his mind was worrying over what Potter had said to him like a dog over a bone.
"Why do you care so much, Scorpius?" he decided to directly ask this time. "I'll let you play with Al even if his father insults me, after all."
Scorpius hesitated and looked wary for the first time. Draco didn't ordinarily like the look, but he did think that he should make some attempt to establish some authority. However much he had failed during the past few years to do his duty, he was still the adult and Scorpius the child.
"Well," Scorpius said. "I just thought it would make things easier for me and Al if you were friends with Mr. Potter."
"I've asked you not to lie to me, Scorpius," Draco said quietly, setting aside the book. This time, he thought his tone worked, because Scorpius jerked and then turned to face him.
"I just—" Scorpius made a little chopping motion with his hand. "I want to see you happy."
And this is the reason that I do have trouble feeling like the father. "It's not your job to worry about my happiness, Scorp," Draco said. He had heard Al Potter call his son that nickname, and though it made the skin on his back crawl a bit, he thought he could get away with it.
Scorpius gave him a look that was both startled and pleased. Then he said, "But it matters to me. Besides, you make Mr. Potter happy. And I care about him, too."
Draco shook his head. "And you think that, what, dating would make us happy? If that's what Potter even wants." Yes, there was the joke about commitment and the kiss, but Draco couldn't draw conclusions from that. He still thought it was extremely unlikely that Potter knew him well enough to be sure he wanted to date him.
Scorpius gave him a pitying look that once again made Draco wonder exactly who was the older one here. "You haven't looked at Mr. Potter, then, Father. He looks at you as if he wants to date you every time he's here. Like the sun shines out of your arse—er, I mean, as if you were the center of the universe."
Draco frowned. It seemed impossible that he could have missed that level of emotion. Potter wasn't very subtle. More likely, Scorpius had seen something small and misinterpreted it to give support to what he wanted to happen.
"You know that it might not work out that way," he said. "We might not date at all. We probably won't."
"But you could try," Scorpius said. "Just like Al and I tried being friends even though everyone said that because I was a Malfoy and he was a Potter, it wouldn't work out, because our fathers were famous enemies."
Draco smiled sadly. "They still remember that about us, then?"
"The headmistress of the school is obsessed with you both, I think," said Scorpius. "She remembers everything."
Draco shook his head. "I've never thought about dating Potter before, Scorpius. It won't work out. I don't think it will, at least," he added quickly, to keep Scorpius from giving him the speech about good chances that he could practically see building behind his lips. "I might be willing to call him my friend, but no more than that."
"I think Mother wouldn't mind if you dated someone else," Scorpius said.
"This has nothing to do with your mother," Draco said. He knew the look he gave Scorpius was strange, but he didn't know why it wouldn't be. Where had he got the idea that Draco was pining over Astoria?
"Then why not date him?" Scorpius put his hands in his pockets and leaned against the door in a pose that looked positively common. He went on before Draco could correct him, though. "You could try."
"It has to do with history and the past and politics, and lots of other things," Draco said.
"Al says those don't matter," Scorpius said. "His parents were together for those reasons, but they weren't as strong as love in the end."
"Al is ten years old," said Draco gently. "Of course he would think that."
"I'm ten, too," Scorpius said.
"It's different," Draco said, and ignored how weak his voice sounded, because this was his life and he was the one who would make the decisions this time. "Go to bed, Scorpius."
He went, scowling over his shoulder. Draco leaned back in his chair and thought about Harry bloody Potter for ten whole minutes before he shook his head and returned to his book. He could think about Potter where it was hard to think about memory theory, yes, but the thoughts got him nowhere, so he might as well engage in productive struggle.
I shouldn't be here, Draco thought, even as he knocked and then stood back in case Potter threw the door open and tried to spit on him. There's nothing between us and no reason for it to work out if there was. Why am I here, instead of waiting for Potter to come and dance attendance on me?
He knew the reasons. Hargrave had convinced him to come. And Draco had started thinking that confronting Potter in his own home might show him a little more of what the man was like. But those reasons didn't seem good enough now that he was actually here.
Potter opened the door of the pleasant house, and gazed at him, open-mouthed. Draco raised an eyebrow. "Surprised?" he asked. "Or offended?"
"Definitely the former," Potter said, and then grinned wildly at him and reached out one hand. "Won't you come in?"
Potter's house was serviceable, Draco decided, though nowhere near the size or elegance of the Manor. It had several rooms, each decorated in a different, vivid color, and Draco wondered if that was Potter's doing or his former wife's. One was clearly a bedroom, one clearly a kitchen, but the others looked as if they were in-between rooms that could be whatever Potter wanted them to be at the moment.
Potter led Draco to the largest one, which had a window with a curved arch, and drew up a chair for him. "Do you want wine?"
Draco paused and looked more closely at Potter. He was sweating and fidgeting with the edge of a cloth thrown over the back of the chair he stood behind. Draco blinked. He's nervous. He's actually nervous to have me here.
That helped relax him. He sat down and shook his head. "No, thank you."
"Er, right," Potter said, and then came over and sat down opposite him. There was silence for a few minutes, while Draco sat there wondering what would happen next and Potter sat there drinking Draco in with his eyes.
"I came here because I wanted to see you," Draco said, deciding that he should seize the initiative, "and speak more about what you said the other day."
"When I kissed you, you mean?" Potter wiped his hands once on his robes, and then leaned forwards.
Draco nodded. "I don't know if I'm ready to date someone else yet. It's pleasant to have a friend for Scorpius, and of course you come along as part of the package. But I truly hadn't thought further than that until you kissed me." He was glad he could discourse of that as calmly as Potter seemed to be doing.
"You should," Potter said, in a breathless voice that Draco didn't think he'd been meant to hear. "You're beautiful."
Draco blinked, but Potter didn't repeat that. He might not know he'd said it aloud. Draco sighed. "You should think about this a bit more. That's what I want. For you to think, and to give me time to think."
"I don't know that I need more time, but you can have everything you need," Potter said. His smile abruptly vanished. "As long as you don't go back into your Hall of the Ancestors and shut the door behind you."
"I wouldn't do that to Scorpius," Draco said. "But I might do it to you, and I wouldn't want you intruding." He had to make that point. Hargrave had told him that he was too much in thrall to his family's legacy and needed to make some decisions that were solely for himself. If Potter couldn't be a part of his life because of Draco's own desires, Draco intended to make sure Potter knew it and wouldn't simply assert a claim.
Potter nodded. "But we can meet?"
"We can meet," Draco said. "As friends."
Potter smiled again. "That's fine. More than I thought I'd get at first." He held out his hand.
Draco clasped it and shook.
He didn't think he knew for sure what kind of growth would spring from this, if anything at all, but at least he'd made a decision, one that he felt good about and could stick with.
Draco gritted his teeth, told himself that the kind of exclusion he could imagine was almost certainly worse than the kind he would see in reality, and opened the door of Flourish and Blotts to enter for the first time in eleven years.
No one turned to look at him, although he walked with his hair uncovered, in rich robes that proclaimed his family's money, and without the glamour of Gordon Fletcher. Two witches in loud robes continued arguing about the merits of some author Draco had never heard of. A man with several children clustered behind him read from a large book with bright pictures. The shopkeeper turned to Draco and elevated his eyebrows.
"Yes? And what kind of book would you be looking for, young man?"
Draco paused. Given his receding hair, he hadn't thought "young man" was exactly how he would be addressed. But he would take it over the kind of insults that he'd thought up before he walked in.
"Books on the most recent Potions theory," he said carefully. He was glad there weren't a lot of people in the shop at the moment. Crowds, of the kind he'd forced his way through as he traversed Diagon Alley, could still make him sweat.
"What was the last one you read?" the shopkeeper asked, bustling through the shelves as though it was an honor for him to personally serve Draco. Perhaps he'd noticed the rich robes and not anything else, Draco thought.
"Er, Liggins," Draco said, and then tried to sound more confident when the shopkeeper glanced back at him. "Christopher Liggins. On The Process of Potions Transfigurations."
"Oh, we have many more new ones than that," the shopkeeper said scornfully, as much to say that Liggins had lived in the unenlightened ages when no one understood brewing. "We have Elaine Sedaddle, The Precise Use of Potions. That one's popular among the theorists, which I can tell you are, sir. And then there's Jeremiah Liggins—Christopher's older brother, you understand—with The Complete History of Feathers In Potions, Volumes One and Two. I would recommend the second volume myself, as more carefully researched, though of course…"
Draco let the soothing chatter wash over him, and bought both the books the man recommended, though he avoided several others that seemed more devoted to "exciting" potions such as love draughts rather than magical theory. The shopkeeper, who had already revealed that he was called Kendal Flourish, chattered endlessly away at him as he led him back up to the front.
"And what's your name?" he asked at last, abruptly, as Draco was counting out the Galleons he owed. "I never did let you speak it! I'm like that, really," and he wagged his head from side to side. "A sad fault, my wife tells me. Nothing sadder."
Draco looked up into his eyes and said, "Draco Malfoy."
"Might have guessed, with the hair," said Flourish, and accepted Draco's Galleons the way he would have accepted anyone else's. "I hope that you enjoy your books, Mr. Malfoy, and don't hesitate to return when you require anything else." He winked. "We also have owl order, for those special orders that you need late at night."
And that was the only reference to any possible Dark Arts involvement, Draco reflected as he stood on the shop's threshold with his books. Perhaps he had only purchased Flourish's respect with his Galleons. But that bought civility was still better than the intolerable staring and subdued insults he had imagined.
Flourish might not have meant any reference to Dark Arts, either. After all, it was in the shop's interest to cooperate with the Aurors and not sell any openly illegal books. Perhaps he had referred to more risqué texts instead, the ones that hinted at illegal potions without ever describing them enough for anyone to brew them.
Draco shook his head and drew his wand to Apparate. Teasing out possible motives for shopkeepers was not a productive use of his time. The important thing was that he could venture out of his house, lessen his past isolation bit by bit, and still survive.
Scorpius didn't usually come into the library at this time of day unless he had something immensely important to ask. Draco looked up and saw him frowning in the door, turning over a piece of parchment in his hand.
"Yes, Scorpius?" he asked at once, putting aside Sedaddle's book and sitting up. Modern potions theory made him feel rather inadequate. Draco was sure that his facility would come back as he studied, or he never would have tried it, but it did mean that he was much gladder of interruptions than he once would have been.
"I got the Hogwarts letter." Scorpius bit his lip and looked, as he often did, much more adult than his years. The only time that Draco saw him look calm and "normal," in fact, was when he played with Albus Potter.
"Congratulations," Draco said levelly. He wanted to go over and hug Scorpius, but he wasn't sure it would be the best thing. He had been closer to both of his parents than Scorpius was to him, and even then, it had been hard to do anything more than show the letter to his father, who had inclined his head in approving silence. His mother had embraced him, but it was a tentative, fluttering hug.
"I—" Scorpius blew out his breath. "I know that we were going out to dinner in Diagon Alley to celebrate tonight, but do we have to? Can't we stay home?"
Draco stood up and crossed the room to his son. Scorpius, in his self-appointed role of parent, was always worrying that Draco didn't leave the Manor often enough or for long enough. For him to ask to stay home was unusual. "Scorpius, what's the matter?"
Scorpius tried to stand taller and straighter than usual, but he was still just an eleven-year-old, and he ended up collapsing into the effort and searching Draco's face with big, anxious eyes. "I'm going," he said. "I'll leave for Hogwarts in September. And I'm looking forward to it and everything, but—Dad, what are you going to do when I'm gone?"
Draco put his hands on his son's shoulders. He thought he could understand the anxious looks that Scorpius seemed to be casting him lately and the absent way Scorpius often responded to questions. "You're afraid that I'll fall back into my old pattern of only staying in the Hall of the Ancestors and not interacting with anyone else?"
"Well, won't you?" Scorpius tried to sound defiant. He only sounded nervous.
Draco shook his head. "I have Hargrave now, and though I'll miss you, I can write. I hope to change, yes, but only to become more engaged and less distanced than I have been, not to go back to what I was."
"And you have Mr. Potter."
Draco nodded. He still thought about Potter's kiss sometimes, but in isolated moments, rather than continuously. He thought that was best for the moment. "I do."
"Are you—are you going to listen to him?" Scorpius asked in such a high-pitched voice that Draco wasn't sure what he was feeling, and a glance into Scorpius's face didn't enlighten him, either. "Are you going to be with him?"
Draco flinched for a moment. He knew what answer would please Scorpius best, but he honestly wasn't sure he could give it. It was still a struggle to remind himself that there was a world beyond the Manor's walls and that not everyone would automatically hate him on sight, as he had assumed for so long.
But he knew what Hargrave—and, hopefully, Potter—would say about it, so he clenched one hand and spoke. "I don't know, Scorpius. It has to be my decision, and not his."
Scorpius looked uncertain now, but he nodded as if that made sense and Draco wasn't a horrible parent for suggesting it. Draco decided that he wasn't going to collapse in relief, and instead gave Scorpius an encouraging smile.
"Just—can we stay home tonight?" Scorpius asked. "So that I'll have some more time with you?"
"You'll have time with me no matter what," Draco said firmly, "even if we go to the restaurant. That was what you wanted to do originally, wasn't it? It's one thing if you've really changed your mind, it's fine, but if you want to do it, don't let worry for me deter you from it."
Then he held his breath. He thought that was the right thing to say, and Hargrave was working with him on trusting more of his own instincts and impulses rather than thinking he was a failure at all times, but—
"Yeah," Scorpius said, and his smile was shy. "I'd like to go. And maybe we can meet Al and Mr. Potter there."
Draco didn't say that he thought his son had arranged that. It could only be a hope and not a prediction, after all. He did nod and say, "If you like."
As it turned out, Albus and his father were there waiting for them, and Draco managed to nod to Potter and accept his greeting with what he thought was becoming gravity. It didn't hurt that Potter spent most of the meal with his eyes fastened on Draco, and had to be distracted by his son several times to join in the conversation.
Perhaps feeling flattered by Potter's continued attention, little as he understood it, wasn't a failure, either.
It was the night before Scorpius was to go to Hogwarts.
Everything was finally, finally, packed up and picked up and put away. Scorpius had all the books that he thought he would need right now, although he had undoubtedly forgotten some and would have to owl frantically back home the moment he started to unpack his trunks in Hogwarts. The new school robes had been cleaned by a team of house-elves that had worked for six hours because Scorpius found something wrong each hour. (No matter what else he and Astoria might have done, Draco thought, they had managed to raise a son who was at least a Malfoy in the amount of time he spent worrying about clothes).
Now Scorpius was asleep, lying in his bed with his head propped up on his pillow, breathing loudly. Draco rather hoped that the beds in the Slytherin boys' bedroom still retained the Silencing Charms that everyone had put up when they discovered what a heavy snorer Theodore was. One of Scorpius's hands lay outstretched on the blankets as if he wanted to snatch at everything being offered him.
Draco resisted the urge to take the hand. He didn't want to wake Scorpius up.
And he should go to bed himself. Astoria was coming in tomorrow, so that they could have a family breakfast—well, a parents-and-son breakfast—before taking Scorpius to King's Cross Station. Draco thought he would need time to emotionally prepare for seeing her, not to mention everything else.
But still he lingered, looking.
He didn't think a few months of sustained attention to Scorpius could make up for ten years of relative neglect before that. But it was better than nothing.
And he would write. And he would try not to let the silence of the Manor cause him to retreat into the Hall of the Ancestors, where there were portraits who would at least speak to him. Besides, become the hermit he had again, and even that would stop. He knew, now, why Helena had sometimes refused to respond to him for days or even weeks.
It would be hard. But he would try.
Scorpius's voice said hopefully in his head: I know someone who would be more than happy to come over and keep you company if you're lonely.
Draco rolled his eyes. Yes, it was time to go to bed when he decided to have rows with his son that his son wasn't even awake for.
He touched Scorpius's forehead, once, with a fingertip, before he moved off.
It hadn't been as difficult with Astoria as he expected, when she smiled at him and he nodded and they sat down and ate together with Scorpius, who was chattering in the kind of high, bright, excited voice Draco could remember using to conceal his own nervousness. And now they were standing at the station, waiting for the train that would make a difference in both their lives.
A movement from the other side of the pillar caught Draco's attention. He turned his head, and saw the herd of red-headed Weasleys running along, accompanied by the smaller black spot that was the heads of Potter and Albus.
Draco's heart was beating very fast. It was a morning of endings and beginnings, and though Astoria stood beside him, that had stopped mattering some years ago. They hadn't understood each other, and they were better apart. She had a close friend, Draco had come to understand, who she would probably marry soon.
And Potter and his former wife were separated, too, though Draco didn't know all of the reasons.
It occurred to him that he'd like to.
So he waited until Potter turned towards him, and then—out in public where everyone could see it, in front of Scorpius who would certainly take this gesture as meaning more than Draco intended, under the gaze of judging Weasley eyes—Draco inclined his head in a nod.
Potter nodded back, and didn't smile.
The smile was in his eyes, which made Draco look away quickly, stunned and breathless.