Harry entered the office of the Minister for Magic and was surprised to see Draco Malfoy already there. The sight of him caused Harry's stomach to do a curious flip-flop, not surprisingly, since Malfoy's presence in his life generally acted as a harbinger of doom.
He pushed away the irrational idea and tried to smile at the Minister, ignoring Malfoy, as he had grown accustomed, unless etiquette or his job required otherwise.
"Minister," Harry greeted politely with a question in his voice.
Cho looked sombre, which did nothing to calm Harry's nerves. "I'm glad you're here, Harry. I have some news that might affect both you and Draco."
Harry glanced at Malfoy. He knew it was serious for Cho to use their given names. She always referred to them as 'Auror Potter' and 'Councillor Malfoy' while on Ministry premises.
"What is it?" Malfoy demanded.
"Alcott Nott has escaped."
Harry drew in a startled breath and shot another glance at Malfoy, whose face reflected Harry's astonishment for only a moment before its usual cold mask dropped back into place.
"How?" Malfoy asked.
"During his transport to Azkaban. There was a storm. We're still not sure if it was magically induced or if they simply took advantage of the bad weather. Regardless, we lost two Aurors in the attack."
"Who?" Harry asked numbly, feeling sick. Nott. Fuck.
"Blewitt and Montagne."
Harry winced. He hadn't liked Blewitt, but he knew the man had two children not much younger than Lily. And Montagne had been a fine Auror.
"Are there any leads?" Malfoy demanded, as if he were qualified to investigate. He was nothing more than a prosecutor for the Department of Magical Law Enforcement, allegedly helping to put away the criminals that Harry and the other Aurors tracked down and brought before the Wizengamot. Still, it was a valid question.
"No. He took Blewitt's wand and Disapparated. We don't know—"
Cho was interrupted by the door banging open. "Minister Chang, I'm sorry to disturb you, but this just arrived by owl and I thought it might be important. It mentions Auror Potter and Councillor Malfoy."
Harry itched to snatch the message out of the Undersecretary's hand, but he waited until Cho read it and then handed it over to him. The message was short but chilling.
Potter and Malfoy,
Prepare for an intimate acquaintance with anguish.
It was unsigned. Harry gave it wordlessly to Malfoy, whose face paled more than Harry would have thought possible.
"We will, of course, assign—" Cho's voice was cut off by Malfoy's.
"He'll go after the children."
Harry stared at him, eyes narrowing. "What?"
"Prepare for an acquaintance with anguish, Potter. What has recently caused Nott to fell anguish?"
Harry's blood froze.
Malfoy nodded. "His son. He blames us, he wants revenge, and now he's free." Malfoy dropped the note onto Cho's desk, turned and headed for the door. "I'm taking Scorpius out of Hogwarts. I'll put in a leave request before I go, Minister. Good day."
Malfoy was out the door before Harry could stop him. He tried anyway, racing into the corridor and catching Malfoy's robe at the shoulder seam. He gripped it tightly and held on until Malfoy stopped and glared at him.
"Why? Hogwarts is the safest place in Britain."
Malfoy sneered. "If you believe that, you're stupider than I thought." Malfoy yanked the material free of Harry's hand and straightened his robes, obviously preparing to leave. Cho Chang halted him.
"Councillor Malfoy, Auror Potter, I need you to return to my office and sit down. I have an idea that might help us all."
"A team of Aurors has been sent to Hogwarts. I'd just… I'd feel better if Lily was with you," Harry said into the flames. Ginny's face twisted with concern, but not anger as Harry had feared.
"Albus should come, too."
Harry nodded. "I'll try to persuade him, but you know how he is." Albus could write a manual on headstrong behaviour. When he was ten years old, the family had vacationed in Ireland, which Albus had protested vehemently. While they were shopping in a crowded marketplace in Dublin, Albus had vanished. After hours of frantic searching, Harry had located him at home, safe, sound, and unrepentant.
Harry would rather keep Albus close than worry about him jaunting off in a fit of independent recklessness, even though he was now seventeen and relatively mature.
"Yes, I know how Albus is. We're in—"
"Don't tell me!" Harry said quickly. "It's better I don't know, in case… Well, just in case. I'll send you another Patronus if I need to reach you, otherwise, just Floo-call Hogwarts at 1800 hours and—"
"1800 hours, Harry?" she asked pointedly.
Harry flushed. He had forgotten how much she hated "that Ministry shit" which had included everything about his job by the time they had split up. "I mean 6 p.m.," he amended. "How is Neville?"
Her face lit up and he smiled in bemusement, acknowledging that it was still good to see her happy, despite everything. He still loved her, after all, just not in the way either of them needed. "Nev is great. He's found three new species since we've been here and he's so excited, you should see him." She coughed and added, "Well, I'll tell him you said hi."
"Thanks, Gin. Hopefully this will blow over quickly."
Ginny nodded. "Bye, Harry. I'll talk to you at 1800 hours." She wrinkled her nose at him and broke the connection.
"She seemed to take that well," Malfoy commented from behind him and Harry whirled. He hadn't heard the git come in. He bit back a scathing comment about conversations meant to be private, but decided getting into a shouting match with Malfoy would not be beneficial, particularly if Cho's plan was to be put into effect.
"Yeah, she's great," Harry said instead. "How did…?" He trailed off, unable to remember the name of Malfoy's wife. It started with an A, he recalled. Aurora? Amelia?
Malfoy rolled his eyes. "It doesn't matter. Are you ready?"
Harry got to his feet and dusted off his knees before grabbing a handful of Floo-powder from the mantel. "Yeah, let's go." He tossed the powder into the flames, stepped into the embers and called, "Hogwarts!"
He tumbled out and nearly fell over before righting himself. He would never figure out the nuances of graceful Floo Network travel if he lived to be 150, unlike Malfoy, who stepped out as though entering through a regular door, damn him.
Minerva McGonagall stood behind her desk, looking as stern as ever, but her features softened when she saw Harry. "Good afternoon, Harry. Draco, it's nice to see you again, although I wish the circumstances were not so dire."
Harry nodded at her, but turned his attention to Albus, who stood next to Scorpius Malfoy. Albus looked as though someone had caught him setting fire to the Potions classroom. Harry's eyes narrowed and he wondered what his son had been up to that would warrant such a reaction. He supposed he would find out sooner or later.
Scorpius looked pale to the point of ashen. He actually swayed against Albus for a moment, and Albus caught the edge of his sleeve to steady him. The boys shared a look and Harry blinked at them in surprise before he remembered that they were friends and had been for years. Harry wasn't quite used to the fact.
In Slytherin green, Scorpius looked almost exactly like Draco at seventeen, except he was not quite so thin and pointy. Draco had been living under the stress of Voldemort and the war at the time, which had made him almost skeletal and decidedly unhealthy-looking. He certainly didn't look that way now, Harry noted, shooting a sidelong glance at Malfoy. He looked cool, collected, professional, and decidedly, well… good, if Harry was honest.
Malfoy caught his gaze and his grey eyes narrowed. Harry looked away. Malfoy was still a git, of course, that part hadn't changed a bit.
"Why…?" Albus coughed and started again. "Why are we here, Dad? Has something happened?"
Harry nodded. "Yes, Albus, I have some bad news that will affect you and… Scorpius."
Albus took a step closer to Scorpius as if to protect him and his chin rose defiantly. Harry stared at him in puzzlement.
"For pity's sake, Potter, don't scare them. Boys, a dangerous criminal has escaped and vowed revenge upon both of us. We… Potter and I… and the Minister, feel that Hogwarts may not be the safest place for you. Apologies, Headmistress."
McGonagall nodded. "Understandable, Mr Malfoy."
"Anyway," Harry said, "we've decided to send you and Scorpius to stay at Grimmauld Place until this is sorted. Unless you prefer to be with your mother, Albus? We're sending Lily to her and she is more than willing to have you along." He looked at McGonagall questioningly.
"Lily is gathering her things and will be here shortly," McGonagall said. "She is accompanied by Auror Thomas."
Harry nodded, relieved. Dean would take care of Lily.
"Wait, you want me and Scorpius to go to Grimmauld Place? And do what?"
"Well, stay there, of course. We've put it under a Fidelius Charm and it's Unplottable, so you'll be safe as long as you don't leave." Cho had agreed to be the Secret Keeper. "It shouldn't be an extended stay, since the entire Auror Department is looking for the culprit."
Albus and Scorpius shared a look that seemed to express volumes of information, even though not a word passed between them. Albus turned back to Harry and a grin lit his features. Harry's son had gone from looking like a condemned prisoner to acting as if they had announced Christmas early. Harry's eyes narrowed. "Your homework will be sent along," Harry warned. "And any practical lessons will be taught by Hermione. She's agreed to look in on you, along with George."
Albus' gleeful expression did not change. It made Harry suspicious. Albus might have been Sorted into Ravenclaw, but he seemed extremely Slytherin at times, possibly helped along by his friendship with Scorpius Malfoy.
"Great!" Albus said. "Fab! That's excellent, isn't it, Scorpius?"
Thankfully, Scorpius looked less enthusiastic. "Won't they notice our absence? And what about Quidditch?"
Albus' face fell. "Oh god, Quidditch! I forgot!"
Scorpius threw him a disdainful look, as if forgetting about Quidditch was a punishable offense.
"You let us worry about that. Go pack your things. Well, some of your things. And make sure your schoolmates don't notice you leaving. We're trying to keep this quiet."
Albus rolled his eyes. "They'll notice we're gone by morning."
Harry smiled. "No, they won't."
Scorpius gasped and Albus burst out, "Polyjuice? Oh no, you are not going to pretend to be me!" Twin stares of horror shifted from Harry to Draco and back again.
"In a manner of speaking," Harry said. He could not disclose the actual solution, but thankfully Polyjuice was not to be used. The Department of Mysteries had come up with a more permanent solution, which the Ministry had been keeping under wraps for years.
Scorpius leaned over and hissed something in Albus' ear. Albus flushed and then turned and grabbed Scorpius' arm. "Excuse us a moment," Albus said brightly and then dragged Scorpius across the room to a point as far from the others as possible. There the two boys engaged in a whispered conversation that involved Albus flailing his arms while Scorpius crossed his, looking very much like his father. Scorpius shook his head several times and Albus shot occasional worried glances in their direction, but he seemed to be trying to convince Scorpius to go along with the plan, so Harry left them alone.
"What do you suppose that is about?" Malfoy asked dryly.
Harry shrugged. "Scorpius seemed upset about missing Quidditch."
"He's the Slytherin Seeker. Of course he's upset."
"Albus is a Chaser, but he never took Quidditch quite as seriously as James."
Harry had already contacted James about the Nott situation. James had not been happy about leaving his job at George's shop until Harry had mentioned they were sending him to Romania to stay with Charlie and Teddy. Apparently the lure of working with dragons was great enough that James was willing to give up his job playing with potentially dangerous substances at Wheezes. At least for a time. And Harry trusted Charlie to protect him, even from someone as dangerous as Nott.
Lily thundered up the stairs and into the room only to launch herself at Harry. "Daddy!" she shrieked. Harry grinned and twirled her, even though he was getting far too old for such a thing and his back protested with a twinge he would feel later. Dean Thomas gave Harry the thumbs up, entering the room more sedately behind Harry's daughter.
Harry set her on her feet and she asked, "What's going on? Dean says I have to go stay with Mum. Where is she this time? I don't mind, of course, because Transfiguration is bollocks—"
Albus laughed, drawing Lily's attention.
"Lily," Harry warned.
She wrinkled her nose. "Sorry, Headmistress," she said without even looking at McGonagall. "Albus isn't coming, is he? And why is Scorpius here? Surely mum won't allow Albus to drag his—"
"Lily, why don't you shut it long enough for Dad to get in a bloody word edgewise? In fact, just shut it." Albus' words were sharp and the warning glare he gave his sister caused her to stick her tongue out at him.
Harry quickly explained the situation and she gave Albus a speculative look. "You are going to Grimmauld Place? With Scorpius?"
Albus nodded, still glaring daggers at her. To Harry's surprise, Lily burst out laughing. She muttered something about Albus being "bloody walking Felix Felicis" and then shook her head. "All right, then. When do I leave?"
Harry let out a breath. Lily was the unpredictable one of the bunch and he had been most worried about her reaction. He checked his watch. "About an hour. Do you have everything you need?"
Lily nodded and looked at Dean, who held a large pink knapsack. His expression was pained. "Yes, I told the only people who matter that I was going on an extended holiday, so they are all properly jealous and I will make mum buy loads of gifts that I can bring back for them. I hope she is not in some horrible, horrible place like that wretched jungle in Peru that she dragged us to that one time…"
Lily kept on and Harry's attention wandered back to Albus and Scorpius, who had finished their conversation. Harry could tell by the set of Albus' face that he had persuaded Scorpius, which was a relief. Harry wasn't sure what they would have done with Scorpius if he had refused to accompany Albus. Harry didn't feel that Malfoy Manor was safe at all, despite Ministry surveillance and a twenty minute argument with Malfoy regarding the same.
"All right," Harry said briskly. "Lily, you wait here for your mum. I'm going to get the boys settled at Grimmauld Place. Be safe." He gave her a heartfelt hug and pressed a kiss onto the top of her head, feeling a rush of fierce affection. If anything happened to any of his children… well, he would make what had happened to Voldemort seem delightful in comparison.
"Malfoy, you ready?"
Malfoy nodded and Harry gestured Albus over. Albus joined him, but then shot a worried look at Lily. "Hey, Lils, keep yourself out of trouble."
She gave him a surprised look and then smirked at him. "You, too. Don't do anything I wouldn't do in that dusty, nasty old place with those rickety beds. And furniture. And things."
Albus rolled his eyes. "Let's just go, Dad, okay? Bye, Lils."
Harry gave his daughter one last worried look, grasped Albus' arm, and took them both into the fireplace and off to Grimmauld Place.
Malfoy's nose had wrinkled immediately upon stepping into the parlour at Grimmauld Place and Harry inwardly cringed when he viewed the house through Malfoy's eyes. He had tried to maintain the place, but in truth he hated being in it and recollecting all of the unpleasant memories contained within the dark walls. As his last link to Sirius, however, he couldn't bear to be rid of it.
"It's… been awhile since we've used it for anything," Harry admitted. He occasionally volunteered it as a Ministry safe-house or temporary lodgings for out-of-town friends, but he had never undertaken the major overhaul he'd always tentatively planned for the house.
"Obviously," Malfoy said.
"Come on, Scorpius. Let's go pick out our rooms!" Albus said and bolted for the stairs. After a glance at his father, who nodded, Scorpius followed at a more sedate pace.
"Try not to touch anything!" Malfoy called after him. "Until it's been disinfected!"
Harry scowled, but Hermione walked out of the kitchen Levitating a silver tray full of ceramic mugs and a steaming pitcher. Malfoy greeted her with a polite nod. He and Hermione worked together frequently at the Ministry, as they were employed by the same department. Sometimes Hermione actually nagged Harry to "try and get along" with Malfoy, which he found bothersome.
"Harry, this place is so full of dust it's going to take me a week just to turn the living room back into a living room and not a catch-all for dust bunnies. Hello, Draco. Hopefully we won't have to stay here that long. Did you get the boys' lessons from Professor McGonagall? We don't want them falling behind on their studies because of this nonsense."
"Yes, Hermione," Harry said, although he had no idea about their lesson plans. He supposed he should ask once he returned to Hogwarts. Trust Hermione to think of studying while Harry was preoccupied with the man who was trying to destroy their lives. Harry smiled at that; it was almost like old times.
"I'm glad you find this amusing, Potter," Malfoy said, sounding anything but as he picked up a mug of tea and sipped at it.
Harry sneered at him and picked up his own cup. Thank goodness the boys were in separate Houses or this plan of Cho's would never work. The fireplace flared and Cho Chang stepped out as if called by Harry's thought.
"All right, everything is in place at the Ministry," she said. "Ron Weasley is impersonating you, Harry, and Jack Martinson has taken your place, Draco. With any luck, Nott will strike at them, but we're highly doubtful that will happen. He seems bent on revenge, so hopefully this plan will lure him out." Her lips thinned and Harry knew she was questioning the wisdom of setting the trap at Hogwarts amongst so many children. Still, Harry knew it was their best chance.
"We'll be careful," he assured her.
She nodded grimly just as Albus and Scorpius bounded down the stairs. "Hey, Dad! Oh hi, Minister Chang! Want to tell us what this is all about?"
Harry shook his head. "Hermione will fill you in after we leave. We need to get back before you're missed. Now, remember, whatever you do, stay in the house."
Albus gave Scorpius an enigmatic look. "That won't be a problem. Are you really planning to impersonate us?"
"Yes, so you need to tell us everything you can about your friends, your classes, and anything else you think we should know."
"With diagrams for Potter," Malfoy added. Harry resisted flipping him an obscene salute, barely.
The boys sat down and began to speak, sometimes talking over each other. Albus actually drew diagrams, much to Malfoy's amusement.
"And in Charms no one ever sits next to Beau Beason," Albus said after over an hour of relentless information sharing.
"Not if they want to retain their sense of smell. We don't think he's bathed since birth."
"Best to be safe," Albus said and nodded.
"Time is of the essence, boys. That will have to do. Now, if you will please link hands with your fathers, we will begin," Cho said and lifted her wand. They all got to their feet.
Albus grinned and held out his hands. Harry took them and marvelled at how Albus had grown. They were nearly the same height and had almost identical green eyes and unruly black hair. Albus' mischievous grin, however, was pure Ginny. Harry couldn't help but smile back. Bloody hell, the last few disintegrating years of their marriage had been difficult, but Harry wouldn't have given up a moment of it, because he had three amazing children as a result.
Next to them, Scorpius linked hands with Malfoy. Cho began to cast the complex spell over Harry and Albus. The boy watched with fascination and seemed to be trying to memorize her words. Harry wondered if he would have to Obliviate Albus afterward to keep him from attempting the spell on his own.
Harry shut his eyes and let the magic wash over him. Unspeakables had tried the spell on him several times in the past. It was experimental and had not previously worked, but Cho seemed to believe there had been a breakthrough. The air thickened and seemed to crackle around them. Harry's skin felt prickly and hot, but he knew it would pass. Everything turned eerily blue for a moment and then faded back to normal.
"It didn't work," said Albus.
"Oh my god," Hermione cried. "How could you have kept this spell a secret?"
"It's still in development," Cho replied, giving her a stare. "And do you think it should be common knowledge even if it works perfectly?"
Hermione swallowed, still looking from Harry to Albus and back again. Albus looked confused. "From my viewpoint, it works perfectly," Hermione said.
"But nothing happened," Albus protested.
"Yes, it did," Scorpius whispered. "Your father… is you."
Albus let go of Harry's hands and then looked at Cho. "Let's see it again, then."
She lifted her wand and Harry said, "Those bound by the spell cannot see its effects. But to outside parties, the changes are evident."
Cho cast again and as Harry watched, Draco Malfoy slowly morphed into his son. Albus gasped.
"Amazing," Hermione whispered. "How long does it last?"
"Until cancelled by the caster," Cho replied. "Or until my death, of course. A simple Finite Incantatum will not disrupt it. We worked hard on that. Unfortunately, we have only been able to make it work with direct family members. We believe the magical signatures have a connection through the bloodline, parent to child."
"What do you call it?"
"The Changeling Charm." Cho tapped her wand against her thigh while Harry looked from one of them to the other. "One more thing." She pulled two silvery objects from a pocket and handed one to Harry and one to Malfoy. Harry looked at it curiously—it was a bracelet fashioned of silver links with a blank expanse that seemed to await engraving.
Harry put his on without being asked and Malfoy did the same after a moment of hesitation.
"Now link hands," Cho ordered.
Harry held up his hands with a challenging stare at Malfoy, who glared back and then threaded his fingers through Harry's. Harry fought off a blush and swore at himself for behaving like an idiot. It was Malfoy, for fuck's sake, and they were not holding hands, they were performing a job.
Cho cast another spell that Harry recognized from prior uses. Malfoy's image wavered and then the Scorpius persona seemed to break and fall away, leaving adult Malfoy looking as he always did.
"You already treat one another like children," Cho said primly. "No need for you to see each other that way, also. Don't take the bracelets off, since they allow you to see through the spells on one another."
Harry shrugged and quickly released Malfoy's hands. He admitted it might have been strange trying to work—undercover, no less—with Draco Malfoy looking like Scorpius.
"We should get going," Harry said. He gave Albus one last stern look. "I'm sure you already know the rules."
Albus grinned lazily. "Don't leave the house. Don't give Aunt Hermione a hard time or she has permission to hex me into a potato. Don't blow anything up. No Quidditch in the house. No loud parties."
"Or quiet parties," Harry added. "No parties at all."
Albus rolled his eyes. "Fine." A smile played about his lips and Harry could not shake the feeling that the joke was on him, especially when Albus added, "Have fun at Hogwarts. Don't do anything Scorpius and I wouldn't do."
Scorpius nudged him with an elbow hard enough to force an oof, but Albus only laughed.
"Thank you, Albus. I'm sure we won't. Malfoy?"
Malfoy nodded. "We'll keep in touch. Let us know the—"
"Instant we hear anything at all about Nott. I will," Cho finished.
"Take care of them, Hermione," Harry added.
"Of course, Harry. Don't worry."
Then he and Malfoy stepped into the fireplace and went back to Hogwarts.