Rose is unexpectedly relaxed when Scorpius finds her just before dinner. This may have something to do with the fact that she is wrapped in the arms of James Potter, who is looking at her with an expression of surprised adoration.
"Um ..." Scorpius begins eloquently.
She stands up quickly, rearranging her skirt and blouse as surreptitiously as possible. "Um ..." she replies.
James continues the Potter children's run of successfully explaining the universe that day. "I am so sorry," he tells them. "I was such an idiot and pushed Rose until she turned to you, even though I should have known all along how you felt about Al. If you both decided to hate me, I'd completely understand."
Scorpius bursts out laughing. "You're dreadful. You can't even fake sincerity for me and Rose. Honestly, James, if Rose didn't have the biggest smile I've ever seen on her face, I'd tell her what a bad person you are."
"Oi!" James grabs Rose and pulls her to his side. "Hush your mouth or I'll tell Al you're actually straight."
Rose laughs. "Oh as though anyone would believe that," she says, rolling her eyes comedically. "I really am stupid sometimes ..."
Scorpius blushes. "I do fancy you," he says, "just not as much. It's always been Al ..."
Rose kisses his cheek lightly, like she used to, and blushes slightly when she sees the bruise she has left there. "I know. And much as it horrifies me to say this, it's always been James."
James holds her tightly. "Good. Keep it that way. All other girls are dead to me."
"Yes, yes they are," she tells him, smiling wickedly. "So," she asks Scorpius, "where is Al?"
"Gone to find Lily and say thanks. I should join him, actually."
"Ok, bye." James waves with one hand in the subtle fashion they've all come to know and tolerate.
Laughing, Scorpius moves off to find Al. He is out by the greenhouses, still looking for Lily. There is no one about, so Scorpius kisses the back of his head. Al turns, smiling. "Hey, you," he says.
"Where's Lil?" Scorpius asks.
"Haven't found her yet. Hugo says she went off with Piers Duke and Maisie says she went off with Ryan Timms."
"You don't think ..."
"I would put nothing past her," Al says, grinning.
Scorpius can't resist that grin, and so, when Professor Longbottom comes around the side of his nursery, he finds the boys in each other's arms. "Malfoy, Potter," he says cheerily.
They spring apart. "Sorry, sir," Scorpius stammers.
"Perfectly fine, Scorpius, where would sixteen-year-old students be without the greenhouses? Takes me back ..."
"To when you were a student, sir?" Al asks, smiling happily.
Professor Longbottom laughs. "Merlin no, dreadful years, werewolves, Umbridge and Voldemort. No, I was thinking of last week ..."
Both boys laugh and their Herbs master tells them to make sure they're back inside in time for dinner, then leaves them to their own devices.
"Told you," Al says, with only a trace of smugness.
"Do you think it will all be that easy?" Scorpius is a little nervous.
"Only one way to find out," Al replies, taking his hand and holding on to it as they head back into the castle.
They pass Professor McGonagall as they walk through the oak doors. "Scorpius, I was hoping to see you," she says. "May I borrow him for a moment, Mr Potter? I'll return him shortly."
"Yeah, sure ..." Al is too startled to say anything else.
She walks a few steps away with Scorpius, then smiles at him conspiratorially. "I just had a word with Professor Longbottom, and I wanted to say about time. We had a bet with Professor Flitwick that the two of you would work things out before you left school, Neville and I are ten Galleons up."
Scorpius has rarely been this startled. "You are terrible gossips!" he exclaims. "I thought you were meant to be role models!"
Professor McGonagall chuckles quietly. "Oh Scorpius, it's adorable that you'd still think that in the face of all available evidence. Though we are all very good at actual magic ..."
He can't help laughing, too, and she pats his cheeks. "You've brought a smile to my face, and that's always something to be glad about. Now scamper off with your young man and break the hearts of all those young girls. They could do with a spot of toughening up."
"James is going out with Rose, now," he tells her.
"Well, there's a mercy," McGonagall laughs. "That just leaves the Duke and Jigger boys as the main causes of tersely worded letters from parents. On your way, I'll see you in class tomorrow."
Scorpius doesn't tell Albus what his mentor has said, but as they walk hand in hand into the Great Hall, he is smiling broadly.
The final Hogsmeade weekend of the year is a fortnight after Liberation Day. Narcissa Malfoy Owls to say that she will be in town and would love to have lunch with all the children, then spend the afternoon catching up with Scorpius. The Potter/Granger/Weasley clan thinks this is a brilliant idea, particularly when Narcissa says it's fine for Lily to bring Piers and Ryan and for Hugo to bring a date, too. In the end, Oonagh Quigley agrees to accompany him, because there is such a thing as a free lunch, if you plan for it.
Scorpius Owls the Three Broomsticks to book their usual dining room, and adds that a more adult menu might be in order, quite aware that Lily's usual treat choice of fish finger sandwiches will attract scandalised looks from his grandmother.
On the day itself they resemble nothing so much as a gaggle of geese as they traipse through the town flapping their robes and giggling. Narcissa Malfoy is wearing her saintly patience face by the time they have all wombled into the dining room. She kisses Scorpius and Al and smiles at the others. Then runs her eyes around the group once more.
"So, Scorpius, any news?" she asks, flicking her eyes towards Rose and James who are sitting with hands interlaced.
"I am sure I mentioned we broke up in my last letter," he says, with an exaggerated sigh.
She laughs, and laughs harder when Rose's well-aimed bread roll hits Scorpius on the head. "I'm sure you did, dear, I'm an old woman, prone to forgetting."
James argues against this position with such passion that Scorpius expects to see another bread-related act of violence at the table.
"You Gryffindors all look chirpy," Narcissa says brightly.
"I have aced my NEWTs in no small fashion and as of yesterday we are the champions of the world of Quidditch," James explains.
Ryan Timms snorts. "I think you'll find that's England, thank you Viktor Krum!"
"And you only won because the Ravenclaw Seeker was distracted at a critical moment," Oonagh Quigley drawls.
Scorpius changes the topic before anyone can mention again who he was distracted by; the first four thousand rounds of teasing have been quite enough. "Ravenclaw's set for the House Cup, though, if we can stop Lily getting Ryan expelled in the next couple of days."
Ryan laughs, and Lily pulls a face that proves she could gurn for England. Food arrives and arguments are forestalled for a little while.
Narcissa congratulates Scorpius on his speech. Mr Potter forwarded a transcript of it to the Prophet and The Quibbler and gave brief interviews endorsing its position to both papers. Lester's congratulatory Owl simply said: "I'm keeping your seat warm at the Ministry."
Scorpius shares the praise where it belongs. "Couldn't have done it without Al's help on the research, nor the fact that I have excellent role models at home."
Narcissa laughs some more. "Certainly, I put myself forward as a role model for all young people who believe in travelling the world regularly and investigating all the best resort establishments."
Oonagh Quigley starts to pay a lot more attention.
"You know what I mean," Scorpius corrects her. "Because you're not gallivanting around the globe working on your tan, you're hosting galas, introducing people, networking those who would otherwise avoid each other. It's diplomacy by dinner party, and it works a hell of a lot better than sanctions and rules."
Narcissa holds his gaze for a moment, then tosses her hair prettily. "My grandson makes me sound much more capable than I actually am." She winks at them all and they realise that come the end of the universe, Narcissa Malfoy will have a plan for an out.
"So, tell us what really happened when the Manor was attacked," James asks, subtly.
Her smile is genuine this time. "I talked to that poor man. I told him what had happened to my family during the War. He told me what had happened to his. We comforted each other."
James nods, and Scorpius notes that he had not been wholly joking when he had suggested she resolved the crisis with tea and cake. On that topic, he cuts the jam sponge that is on the table and hands plates around to his schoolmates.
School topics fill the remainder of the meal. Lily is confident about her OWLs results, Hugo is, too, though he is more concerned with the fact that he cannot make girls take him seriously. "It's because you're pushy," Oonagh tells him. "Not like Maisie, she's all pliant and biddable." She rises to her feet and thanks Narcissa for the invitation and lunch. "It was wonderful to meet you, my mother always told me what a beauty you are."
Narcissa kisses Oonagh's cheek and sends her warm wishes to her mother. Oonagh says goodbye to the others. "I'm off to find Maisie."
Lily looks after her for a moment. "Me, too," she decides, and follows. Ryan and Piers exchange a brief look of hope and follow her, babbling thanks as they dash out the door.
Narcissa's laugh bubbles over. She waves her hand at Rose and James. "Go, you terrible young people, go off and spend your time with each other and leave an old woman to her family."
They kiss her cheeks and promise to visit her through the holidays. "Cheers Narcissa," James farewells, before whisking Rose away.
Albus is the last to leave, he is shaking his head at his ill-behaved relatives. Narcissa pulls a package out from under the table and hands it to him. "Happy birthday for tomorrow, dear," she tells him. "Must be nice to have it after exams for once."
He opens the wrapping to find a leather-bound notebook, with creamy thick pages inside, plus a hand-crafted quill and bottle of ink. Albus kisses her cheek and hugs her. "That's perfect. Thank you so much!" He turns back to Scorpius and smiles. "I'm off, leave you two for some proper family time. And whatever you choose is fine by me." He squeezes Scorpius's shoulder on the way out.
Narcissa smiles after him. "That's much more like the Al of old. I'm glad, I wasn't sure we'd see him again for a time there."
Scorpius smiles, too. "I love him," he tells her, guilelessly.
His grandmother's eyes widen, and her lips turn up a little at the corners. "Oh," she says, then murmurs in a voice almost too quiet for him to hear that some things never change. She wraps him into a warm hug. "I'm glad," she says. "The two of you have always been so close. It makes me happy to think you'll keep that. Have you told your father yet?"
"Dad?" Scorpius hasn't even considered the question until this moment. "I suppose I ought to ... I think he knows, though, I think he may have known before I did, really."
Narcissa laughs loudly. "You may be right at that. And Mr Potter should know if you and Al are up to it."
Scorpius nods. "Yeah, I think Al has a plan."
She smiles at him for a long time. Eventually he ducks his head, blushing. "You're really growing up, aren't you?" she asks. "I'll miss my little Scorpius, but I think he's become a wonderful young man. Now, do you want to run away and be with Al on this beautiful afternoon?"
He takes her hand. "I'll see him later. I'm exactly where I want to be right now."
Al is waiting for Scorpius when he returns to school. "I told her," he says, taking Al's hand. "She thinks it's wonderful."
"Excellent. Now we just need to tell our parents. Dads first. I have a plan."
Scorpius laughs. "I knew you would."
Al grins evilly at him. "I actually have two plans. The other one involves the fact that tomorrow is my birthday and there's no one in the Prefect's bathroom."
Scorpius has already started to walk in the direction of the fifth floor.
An hour later, the two of them are nestled amid a pile of fluffy white towels on the tiled floor, with another towel thrown over the mermaid painting, for decorum's sake. Al is playing with Scorpius's hair and Scorpius is tracing the lines of Al's ribs. It is possible that they are the most perfectly formed ribs in nature.
A ghostly head with glasses peers through the wall and asks: "Can I come back in, yet?" An equally spectral hand, wearing a finely made sleeve, reaches through the wall and pulls Myrtle back. Scorpius is sure that he knows the voice that whispers "Sshhhh."
On their way up to Gryffindor Tower, Scorpius and Al pass Oonagh Quigley with one arm each around Piers Duke and Ryan Timms. They appear slightly shell shocked but on the whole pleased. Scorpius knows that Al is holding back any number of comments on inter-House unity and he is very happy about this.
The Fat Lady swings the door open in response to Al's "Tempus fugit" and they find Lily feeding sweets to Maisie Carrington, who is lying in her lap, and James and Rose shrugging their shoulders in mute acceptance. "We were about to send out search parties," James tells them. "Except Rose reminded me that you two covered for us on Wednesday."
"And Tuesday, Thursday and Friday," Al adds. The two boys plonk themselves down between the sofas commandeered by their friends.
"Did you tell your grandmother?" Lily asks.
Scorpius nods, smiling. "Yeah, she was really happy. But she said we should definitely tell your dad. I think she's hoping he'll tell your mum."
Rose rolls her eyes. "Trust me, Aunt Ginny won't be a problem. Gran on the other hand ..."
Lily laughs and wrings her hands in a Molly Weasley-like fashion. "Is it because your parents divorced, dear? Did we let you read two many books when you were young? It's not that I mind about the boy thing, your Great-Uncle Bilius, after all, but did it have to be a Malfoy? They're so pale and so likely to attract international incidents ..."
She has to stop there because she can no longer be heard. Gryffindors in other parts of the common room have left off their discussions to giggle, and Albus appears to be dying, he is laughing so hard. Scorpius tries to look sternly at her, but is unable to keep the smile from his face for long enough.
Al's plan is a simple one. Since Ginny Weasley is in the Outer Hebrides with Luna Lovegood for two more days, and Narcissa Malfoy has taken her former daughter-in-law on a spa day, all that remains is for the other two Potter children to bunk off to the Granger-Weasley house. Rose has managed to arrange transport for all of them. On the train she shyly confesses that the second thing her father asked her after she wrote to tell her parents about her break-up with Scorpius was whether it was over another boy.
"I suppose he must have known about you and James," he tells her, happy they are still good friends.
She shakes her head, smiling. "No, that was the first thing he asked."
Scorpius's father grins as he looks levelly at his son. "You've grown in the last few months," he says, and looks as though he might shake his hand for a moment, before deciding to hug him while he still can.
"Dad," Scorpius speaks quickly, sure it will all be fine, unsure that it can possibly be as easy as he hopes. "Can we go to the Potters'?"
His father smiles. "Already sorted, you'll be there next week."
Scorpius shakes his head. "No, I mean now."
Al drags his father over to them, and both men are wearing the same slightly bemused expression. "Hello, Draco," says Mr Potter. "Apparently it's urgent. I've got lunch ready at home and I seem to have all but run out of children, so I don't mind."
"All right, Harry, I'll have my driver follow your car."
Scorpius and his father chat briefly, but by the time the two cars turn onto the A40, they are sitting in comfortable silence. His father is prepared to wait, and Scorpius is ready for anything. Rose has offered them her family's barn if things go completely pear-shaped. Soon they are at the Potters', and Scorpius and his father follow Al and Mr Potter inside.
Mr Potter does indeed have lunch ready, and there are sandwiches neatly lined up on plates in the sun room. Mr Potter takes a plate and sits down in his favourite chair. Scorpius's father sits behind them and waits for the two boys to explain what they're up to. Al picks up and puts down a plate of sandwiches several times. Then he takes Scorpius's hand and turns to his father.
"Dad," he says, gently but seriously. "It's not a schoolboy crush. It's real, it's right, and I'm happy."
Scorpius glances briefly behind him. His father is smiling brightly. He smiles back at him, then turns back to Mr Potter, who is frowning.
"Dad, I'm sorry ..." Al says plaintively.
"What? Oh no ..." Mr Potter shakes his head. "No no no no no, don't be sorry at all! You're great! You two are great and I'm happy for you. Really, really happy." He hugs the two of them, and steps back to look at them. "And I'm sorry I ever said it could be just a crush, as it turns out I'm a complete idiot."
Scorpius hears his father snort with laughter behind him.
Mr Potter looks past them and grins. "Yeah, thanks for the vote of confidence."
Albus turns around and looks at Scorpius's father. "Is it all right with you, Mr Malfoy?"
Scorpius's father smiles softly at the two of them. "I've never seen my son so happy as he is with you. Of course it's all right."
The two boys, and they feel such boys in front of their fathers, hug briefly.
"Draco, I ..." Mr Potter's voice trails off.
Scorpius's father stands up. "We should talk," he says.
Mr Potter regards him for a long moment. "Yeah, yeah, we should."
He opens the door that leads from the sun room to his study, and Scorpius's father walks through it. As he passes by, Mr Potter's hand brushes his shoulder and lingers for a moment. With a quick, shy smile at the two boys, he closes the door behind them.
Albus is staring. "Oh no," he says, shaking his head. "That did not just happen."
"Al ..." Scorpius laughs.
"That's not right, that's not right at all!" he exclaims. "I'm going to have a word." He takes half a step towards the door.
Scorpius pulls Albus back to him and kisses him until he shuts up. "It's a perfect June day. You and I are going to swim in the river."
Al relents, accepting that protest is hopeless. "Ok, fine. Have it your way. I'll grab some bathers."
Scorpius looks at him, raising one fine eyebrow. Al laughs, picks up two of the towels that are kept by the garden door and together they walk out into the sun and down towards the willows swaying in the breeze.