Ginny Potter estimates it will only take three days into the Weasley-Potter family holiday for Albus to act on his feelings for his best friend. Albus estimates it will only take three days for him to die of embarrassment. And Scorpius, well. Scorpius is just glad to be there with Albus in the first place.
Harry Potter Universe, Harry Potter Universe > Next-Generation (2009-2040), Harry Potter Universe > Next-Generation (2009-2040) > Cursed Child Characters:
Albus Severus Potter, Draco Malfoy, Ginny Weasley, Harry Potter, James Sirius Potter, Lily Luna Potter, Scorpius Malfoy
Sexual ContentHPFT Forum House:
Fluff, Humor, RomanceInclusivity:
Albus Severus Potter/Scorpius Malfoy (HP), Ginny Weasley/Harry Potter (HP)Story Type:
Novel (50,000+ words)Themes:
Family, Friends to Lovers, Friendship, Parenthood
22 Apr 2018 Updated:
22 Apr 2018
1. The Day Before by frombluetored
2. Day One by frombluetored
3. Night One by frombluetored
4. Day Two by frombluetored
5. Night Two by frombluetored
The Day Before by frombluetored
Albus hadn't expected his mum to be the one to collect him.
Last he'd heard (three days ago), she'd been in Holyhead, doing something he wasn't really clear on (assisting training camp, perhaps, or maybe an article—she'd told him through the Floo, but at the time, he'd been more preoccupied with his Chess match against Scorpius). Because of that, he'd fully anticipated either Flooing back to Godric's Hollow, or side-along apparating home with his father. Truthfully, the very last thing he would've envisioned for his departure day from Malfoy Manor would've been this: his mum, sitting across from Scorpius' dad, cooling mugs of tea held in their hands and a million unsaid words strung up between them.
"So, ah," Scorpius began, attempting to break the tension. "That's, ah, nice mud you're wearing, Mrs. Potter. It really accents your robes."
Albus lowered his face into his hands for a brief, weary moment. When he looked back up, his mum was smiling kindly at Scorpius, and looking comically in that moment like the utter opposite to Draco Malfoy, who was sitting primly on the armchair across from Ginny Potter, his suit ironed and spotless, his hair pulled back, his expression stiff. Albus's mum, in contrast, was perched on the edge of the sofa, donning a mud-caked Holyhead Harpies kit, her hair tangled and windswept.
"I appreciate that, Scorpius. I did wonder if it clashed with the emerald. I nearly went with the Keeper's blood, but just narrowly chose the mud—a solid choice." His mum waved a hand at her kit, drawing a series of laughs from Scorpius, who found his best mate's mum a lot funnier than she actually was (in Albus's opinion). She winked in response, amused. And Albus didn't want to be dramatic…but he kind of wanted to die.
Draco Malfoy looked as if he felt a similar way. He was trying so hard to keep an impassive face that he looked a bit constipated.
"Mum," Albus spoke up, his voice a bit of a whine. "I could've gone home in the Floo. What were you doing in Holyhead, anyway? You aren't a Harpies player anymore."
She blinked, stunned. "What? Oh, damn. Well, there's three days of my life I'm never getting back."
Scorpius laughed again, and this time, Albus aimed a soft kick at his calf. Don't encourage her, he tried to communicate, but Scorpius merely gave him a puzzled (albeit adorable) look.
"Albus, I volunteered to help with this season's training camp. Gwenog's finally retired for good. Weren't you listening when we spoke earlier this week?"
"Er…no. I was too busy pummeling Scorpius in Wizard Chess," he admitted. He thought back to Scorpius' good-natured grin after Albus beat him for the fifth time in a row, his heart swelling. He looked down as his ears began burning, hoping his mum hadn't noticed, but when he glanced back up, she was giving him one of her knowing looks. Damn.
"I actually wanted to speak with you, Draco," his mum finally admitted. She leaned forward and set her half-drank tea on the table. "I was wondering if—assuming Scorpius wants to, of course—he'd like to come spend a week with us. We're all—that is, my brothers and their kids and, you know, the entire Weasley lot—going camping for a week at Shell Island. It's a belated surprise for my dad's birthday, a proper Muggle holiday, and—"
Scorpius's face had been brightening with every bit of information Ginny provided, but when his dad interrupted her with a silent shake of his head, his face dropped. Albus's stomach turned. He shifted closer to him by instinct, meeting his disappointed eyes.
"No, thank you, but I think not." Draco was firm.
Ginny hesitated for a brief moment. She glanced towards Albus and Scorpius, and then looked back.
"Are you concerned about safety? Because we are going to set up wards before we go officially wand-less; Harry would never let—"
"No. I just don't think it's the best idea."
Albus privately thought that Draco Malfoy was the bravest man alive because he'd never known anybody to pointedly interrupt his mum mid-sentence twice and live to tell the tale.
"Dad, please, you never let me—" Scorpius tried, but Draco silenced him with one severe look.
"That's quite enough," he told his son.
And then, before Albus's very eyes, Scorpius not only went against his father's command…but appealed to Albus's mum for help.
"Please, Mrs. Potter, I really want to—"
"Scorpius Hyperion!" Draco boomed. Patches of pink embarrassment bloomed over his otherwise pale face. "Sorry, Ginny. For his rudeness."
Scorpius wilted. He didn't even acknowledge Albus when he reached over and patted his knee.
"There's nothing at all to apologize for." Uh oh. His mum's voice was frighteningly cool. He screwed his eyes shut and prayed to Merlin for his mother to keep her Weasley temper in check. "He's made a decent point. You never allow him over at ours. Albus has stayed here at Malfoy Manor three times this summer and yet every invitation Harry and I extend for Scorpius is met with a stony refusal. Why? Is it a matter of distrust or a matter of pride?"
Draco sniffed lightly. "It is not a matter of either. I simply don't think it's appropriate for him to join your family holiday."
"But he might as well be family," she said fiercely. "I don't know how it was here growing up, but in my home, best mates are considered as good as family. Scorpius is Albus's greatest friend. He has a place on our holidays, just like James' best mate does and Lily's does."
"He's not—he isn't your family! He's mine. And I don't want him to leave me—" Draco broke off.
"You don't want him to leave?" Ginny latched onto the slip-up, her tone shifting to something careful and soft. Albus immediately relaxed back into the cushions at the tonal shift, because it was okay. Things were okay now. He knew that tone and his mum was about to fix everything. She was about to work out whatever it was that was upsetting or scaring Mr. Malfoy—like she did for Albus all the time—and then she was going to fix it effortlessly. He smiled at Scorpius, to try and reassure him, but he still looked terribly depressed at the turn their evening had taken. Getting invited on a Weasley holiday, camping and playing Muggles, only to have his father immediately turn it down. It was indeed rotten luck, but it would soon be mended.
"What I mean is…" Draco began. Albus felt embarrassed when he saw Mr. Malfoy's eyes growing damp. "I only see him for a few months a year, and I don't want him gone for any of it, and anything could happen out there, how would I know he's safe, and cared for, and happy, if I'm not with him?"
"Well, you're welcome to come, Draco, but something tells me you'd rather lick the soles of your own shoes than join in on a Weasley Muggle Holiday."
Draco didn't smile and Scorpius didn't laugh. Ginny's slipped from her face quickly, before Albus was able to vocalize the pity-laugh he'd been building up for his mum.
"He'll be with Harry. With me," she tried instead, her voice soft again.
"Yes. Harry Potter, who nearly caused me to bleed to death in Moaning Myrtle's bathroom. Ginny Weasley, who once made my bogeys turn into life-size bats, fly from my nasal passage and attack my face. My nose bled on and off for a week. A week."
Albus stared at his mum, wide-eyed. Scorpius had perked up in interest, too.
"And if I recall correctly," Ginny replied, not the least bit fazed. Albus could tell she was valiantly fighting off laughter but hoped Draco Malfoy couldn't. "You were pinning me against the wall and you scratched half my face."
"Well, if you hadn't kicked Patricia over I wouldn't've had to—"
"And if you hadn't been working for that horrible beast Umbridge none of it would've happened!"
Scorpius was lost. Albus was partially so. He knew Umbridge was the woman responsible for the scars on his dad's hand—I must not tell lies—but hadn't known Draco Malfoy had worked with her.
"And," his mum continued, her voice regaining its previous coolness. "Harry didn't mean to hurt you that badly and you know it. He didn't know what that curse would do."
"If Potters would stop stupidly following things they read in nasty books—"
"What is that supposed to mean?"
Albus was drilling holes in Draco's face with his eyes, desperately trying to warn him to stop, because he knew his mum was very close to becoming angry.
"You know exactly what it means."
"Might I remind you that it was your father who planted that Horcrux on me in the first place? Very brave of him, I'm sure. Using an eleven-year-old girl to get petty revenge in a feud. Who cares about the little girl, right? As long as Lucius Malfoy gets his revenge—"
"Don't talk about my father!"
"Don't talk about my husband!"
"Everybody talks about your husband and that's the problem. The only way I could plant a larger target on my son's head than he's already got would be to send him off with a clan of Potters and Weasleys."
"Harry would die before he'd let anybody hurt his family, and incidentally, he has."
"Oh, bravo! Too bad that parlor trick wouldn't work a second time, so forgive me for not feeling supremely reassured."
"Look," Ginny snapped, her tone brittle. "I know what you're trying to do. And it isn't fair to our sons. Insulting me and insulting Harry will not get us to stop asking Scorpius over. It won't make us hate you again. You can try to act like the old Draco Malfoy, but your heart's just not in it. Let Scorpius go with us. He wants to, it'll be fun. I swear nothing will happen to him. I know you don't want him out of your sight, I know that after Astoria it—"
"Please," Draco's voice broke. Albus felt a swell of pain engulf him, and he didn't know who initiated it, but he realized a moment later that he was holding Scorpius's hand. "I just—need to protect what's left of my family."
There was a soaked and strangled silence.
"It's okay, Dad. Dad, I don't have to go. I'll stay here with you." Scorpius's voice held false bravado, but he'd tightened his grip on Albus's hand. "Yeah, it'll be fun. We can have our own holiday. Maybe we can make s'mores. Rose's mum makes s'mores. I even have a muggle recipe book that she gave me for my birthday—I think it was meant to be a joke, 'cos she calls me Bread Head, but I really like it— and it has special holiday recipes for special s'mores, and there's a beach themed one, and what you do is you get blue marshmallows…oh, I don't suppose we could go to a muggle supermarket, could we, Dad?" Draco Malfoy was staring at Scorpius with a pained expression, like Scorpius had kicked him in the bollocks. "…no, guessing not. No—that's okay, no s'mores, forget s'mores. Well…we'll find something better."
Before Albus had really gotten a grasp on the expression covering Draco's face, he'd risen from the chair, crossed over, and perched beside Scorpius. Scorpius's fingers gradually unlatched from around Albus's as his dad pulled him into a sudden, strong hug. It was so uncharacteristic that Albus was gaping rudely.
"Al," his mum hissed. He quickly readjusted his expression.
"I'm sorry," Draco whispered to Scorpius. Albus wasn't meant to hear. He awkwardly stood up and paced over to the bookshelf spanning the entire length of the far wall, as if he'd suddenly found a great need to peruse The Ten Greatest Wizarding Families of the 1900s. From behind him, Scorpius and Draco were talking softly, and his mum was idly picking mud out from beneath her nails, her expression one of poorly-masked smugness. It was that look that informed Albus that they'd won, and sure enough, when Draco let go of Scorpius, he nodded.
"Well, go and pack your things. I'll help."
With a beam so magnificent it left Albus dry-mouthed, Scorpius flung his arms around Draco again, squeezing him tightly.
"You're the best dad in the entire world," he admitted, in the tender, honest way only somebody like Scorpius could get away with. Draco rose stiffly to follow after Scorpius, though Albus thought he may've looked teary again.
Albus crossed over to his mum, beaming. He fell down beside her on the sofa and gladly accepted her earthy hug. He smiled up at her afterwards.
"You're not as funny as you think you are, Mum. But you are as great."
Ginny poked Albus's side; he crossly swatted at her hands, refusing to laugh, even though she'd poked his most ticklish side.
"Wrong—I'm exactly as funny as I think I am. I am, you know, a wonder. That's what yesterday's issue of Witch Weekly called me, anyway." She lifted her chin and elevated her voice to a posh, lofty accent. "'Ginny Potter, England's own wonder, was spotted yesterday evening leaving the Ministry wearing robes with multiple ink stains. We here at Witch Weekly want to know—where is her money going? Why can the red-haired Mrs Potter not afford clean robes?'. To which I responded, quite humorously, by running around Diagon Alley like this earlier today. I can't wait for tomorrow's article: Ginny Potter, England's own disgrace, spotted covered head-to-toe in mud while making a rude hand gesture at our personality correspondent. Concerned readers are asking: who let this woman raise children? Where is the Chosen One now? Will he save the wizarding world once again—this time from Mrs Potter's sloppiness? Or has he, as recent photos of him elbow-deep in garden soil suggest, joined the dark and dirty side of the Dirt Eaters?'"
He forced his smile from his face and gulped down his building laughter, but not before letting out an amused snort. He stared stoically at his mother for a full ten seconds, but that was all he could manage. When he began laughing, she pulled him into another hug, smiling as she kissed the top of his head.
He cocked an eyebrow at her once she dropped her arms from him again.
"You bat-bogey hexed Draco Malfoy?" he demanded. He paused. "Dad's gardening now?"
"Quite proudly, yes. In response to both questions."
He'd only seen his mum's famous hex once, when he was small. His mum had brought him and James along with her and Luna on a shopping trip and an odd lady followed them around for an hour, refusing to heed his mum's orders to leave them be. Luna was supposed to have pulled them into the sweets shop so they didn't see, but she'd paused, turned them both around, and pointed. 'Look, little ones. It's important for children to understand their parents' talents.' At the time, Albus wasn't sure how that was considering a talent, as the woman's bogey-bats viciously lunged at her face. And now he was just trying not to laugh as he imagined the woman being school-age Draco Malfoy.
"Scorpius's dad worked with Umbridge?" He pressed further.
"Hmm," his mum hummed, in her annoying I'm-trying-to-decide-how-much-to-tell-you way. She rubbed absentmindedly over her knee, which Albus suddenly noticed was skinned open, the fabric in front of it torn and jagged. He thought about pointing it out, and telling her that she ought to mend it, but was afraid to change the subject.
"I'm going into fifth year, Mum! No more secrets," he pleaded. He often felt like all his peers knew more about his parents' pasts than he did. Scorpius definitely did—having read all the books on them growing up. Albus supposed he could've read those same books…but it seemed wrong to do so, to learn about the people who'd given him life through pages instead of their own words.
"I'm not keeping secrets, Al. It's really not as big a deal as it may've sounded—your dad and I can go over the story again later if you like." His mum was the only one who could still get away with calling him Al. He didn't mind it much at all coming from her because she'd loved and accepted him through every season of his life, whether he was Al or Albus.
"Well, I didn't know you once hexed Scorpius's dad. I didn't know dad used a dark curse on him, either," Albus persisted.
"We were not intentionally keeping those things from you. Your dad did so many things in his Hogwarts years—you can't really blame us for there being a few things that have gone undiscussed?"
He never got the chance to respond, because Scorpius and his dad reentered a moment later, Scorpius' luggage levitating obediently behind him. Scorpius was all smiles, looking happier than Albus had seen him in a while (even happier than he'd looked when Albus had arrived a week earlier for his third visit this summer). Albus beamed back at him. He crossed over to him as the adults began talking, their conversation merging into background noise.
("Does he need anything specific that we may not have packed?"
"No, don't worry, we've got everything."
"How can I get in touch with him? If it's a Muggle campground?"
"Hermione's got that all set up—the Minister can't exactly fall off the grid entirely, so she's arranged a few pairs of enchanted mirrors. I'll have her drop one off at your office tomorrow and we'll give Scorpius the other."
"Will there be…")
"I can't believe my luck," Scorpius burst, squirming with delight. "A Potter-Weasley family holiday! Playing Muggles!"
"Yeah, well," Albus began dryly. "Don't get too excited until you see how annoying my family is."
"Annoying?! You're mad, Albus! We're going to have the best time!" His eyes widened. "Maybe Rose will even start calling me by my name!"
Albus's stomach dropped to his toes so quickly that he felt nauseated. He had forgotten that Rose would be there for a stupid moment. He smiled back at Scorpius weakly.
He wasn't feeling very good at all when it came time to leave. His mum took his hand with her right, Scorpius's with her left, made sure he had a grip on his luggage, and then turned on the spot, sending them spiraling towards Godric's Hollow with a squeezing pressure that Albus had never liked.
Unfortunately, it was James who spotted them first as they walked up the drive. Their home had anti-apparition wards in place—the Potter parents were still a bit paranoid, in Albus's opinion—so they had to apparate into Godric's Hollow itself and walk the rest of the way towards their home on the outskirts. The minute they'd crossed onto their property (and the notification wards had buzzed), James came bolting from the house, newspaper in hand. He completely ignored Albus and Scorpius, choosing instead to give their mum a hard high-five.
"Wicked!" he cried, after giving yet another high-five. He shook the newspaper enthusiastically. "They interviewed a healer that focuses on insanity! She said your messiness was a manifestation of repressed trauma! They corned Dad in the lift at work and he said—" James pulled the newspaper back up to eye level, scanning for the spot in question. "He said: 'It's none of your business what my wife wears in public; she could run starkers through Diagon Alley and she'd still have more brains than you lot' and the paper ran the headline: Harry James Potter Calls for Wife to Travel Nude, which Rita then pointed out would be an improvement upon your muddy clothing! Mum, you've started an uprising—look! Five pages in Witch Weekly about it, a full page in the Prophet, and we got thirty owls today! Horace Slughorn, that old bat, told you to hex the lot of them and to use your bat-bogey on...places that are not noses!"
Immediately, Ginny and James Potter collapsed into peals of nearly-identical laughter. Scorpius chuckled along with them, looking from face to face, clearly wanting to be in on the joke.
"It's okay," Albus told him gently. "I don't really think it's funny, either. They're weird. They have this inside joke thing with the press. James loves all the articles that get written about our parents…the more outlandish, the better."
After James was finished laughing, he noticed Scorpius.
"If it isn't Alby's best mate! Hey, Scorp! How're you?" James crossed over and took Scorpius's hand, giving it a rather enthusiastic and hard shake. Scorpius quickly masked his grimace, though Albus spotted him massaging his hand once the handshake ended.
"Hi! You're good! I mean—I'm good! I'm excited. I've never been a Muggle before, pretend or not." A beat. "Thanks for inviting me."
"Oh, well, that wasn't much to do with me, but you're welcome, mate!" James threw an arm over Albus's shoulders, and then his other over Scorpius's. "How was Malfoy Manor?"
For James's benefit, he was very kind to Scorpius for the entire walk up to the house. Scorpius grew more and more confident as he chatted with James about the things he and Albus had done at Malfoy Manor. Albus couldn't help but feel suspicious. His brother had been extremely kind to him for the entire summer—no doubt out of guilt for being so up-himself that he hardly noticed how much his little brother was being bullied at school—but Albus doubted that the comradery would last.
"Ah," Albus's dad said, as they stepped into the kitchen. He was stirring something in a large pot that smelled heavenly—potato soup, maybe. The smell of fresh-baked bread also lingered in the air. "Hi, Albus! Hi, Scorpius!"
"Hello, Mr. Harry Potter!" Scorpius greeted cheerfully.
"Hi, Dad," Albus greeted. His dad smiled at him.
"Call me Harry, Scorpius," his dad said kindly. He grabbed a plate off the counter beside him. "Cheese and apples?"
"Mmm, yes! Cheese is my fifth favorite item to eat before dinner!" Scorpius hurried over to the kitchen table and sat. Albus reluctantly trudged over and sat beside him. He'd been hoping they could sneak up to his room before catching the attention of every family member, but clearly, they would have no such luck.
Harry sent the plate floating over to the table, where it landed gently in front of them. Albus crunched moodily on a slice of apple as Scorpius enthusiastically examined the different sorts of cheeses. While he mulled, Albus's mum came to sit beside Albus, after knocking hips with Harry in greeting. She too grabbed an apple slice. Albus's dad settled down to sit on her other side, taking her free hand in his.
"You've had a full morning," he addressed his wife. "How'd you manage to infuriate both Rita and the Witch Weekly journalists enough to write multi-page articles about you and stalk me at work?"
She wordlessly waved the hand holding her apple slice down her body. "They said I was sloppy. So I decided to show them I didn't do sloppy half-way."
"I thought we'd mutually agreed to stop having a go at the press?"
She scoffed. "Are you joking? I simply will not rest until I am crowned England's sloppiest household name."
"Well, clearly, you're nearly there. Look at you." He dropped her hand, reaching over to gently scratch a bit of dried dirt loose from her neck.
Scorpius was nibbling on a square of Red Leicester, his eyes widened anxiously as he watched the Potter parents. Albus realized he probably thought they were close to rowing. Unfortunately, they were very far from it. Ugh. Sure enough, Ginny winked at Harry, who took her hand again in response.
"You always do, anyway," she quipped.
"What? Look at you?"
"Mm. You fancy a bit of mud."
"I fancy a bit of you. The mud's inconsequential."
"Mum!" Albus cried, mortified. "Dad! We've got company, honestly!"
They'd gotten nearer and nearer as they spoke. At Albus's cry, Harry jumped slightly. His ears reddened.
"Right. Erm…oh! Your knee, Gin, what've you done to it? Let me see," Harry fussed, clearly for a lack of knowing what else to do with the awkward silence. He quickly kneeled in front of Ginny and busied himself with cleaning her wound and then mending it, while Ginny cheerfully finished her apple slice. Albus was starting to wonder if having Scorpius over was a mistake, but when he glanced at him, he saw he was entirely at ease, working his way through his fifth square.
"This is gweat chweese!" Scorpius told them, around a mouthful of cheese. He gave them a thumbs-up. Harry and Ginny laughed fondly.
"WHO'S HERE? WHO'S HERE? IS IT LUNA? LUNA! LUNA!"
Lily came sliding into the kitchen wildly on socked feet, her red hair soaked and dripping water steadily onto the floor behind her. She came to a stop at the mouth of the kitchen, her wide eyes locked on Scorpius. He smiled and waved.
"Hi, Lily!" he greeted. "Nice cat socks!"
She stared, gaping. Slowly, her cheeks began reddening. She very slowly crossed her arms over her chest, as if she were naked instead of in her stupid pink dressing gown.
"Mum!" she finally cried, outraged and humiliated. She stamped her foot; the kittens on them went leaping up towards her ankles, frightened. "Ginevra Potter! You've got to tell me if there's a real boy in the house! Damn it! Damn it all! Bollocks on top of bollocks!"
Ginny blinked. "Oh, Lily, dear—by the way—there's a real boy in the house."
Lily's face grew redder in her rage.
"Lily, language," Harry commented, but it was lazy and clearly by habit more than anything else. "And don't call your mum Ginevra."
"A real boy?" Albus demanded, insulted. "What's that supposed to mean?"
But Lily merely gave another horrified, offended huff, her cheeks flaming, and then turned on her heel and took off towards her bedroom.
"Well," Ginny said, as if nothing had happened. "I'm going to go shower. My rebellion doesn't feel quite as great when it's been caked onto me for hours."
She kissed Harry and walked from the kitchen. She'd only just cleared the doorway when Albus's dad hurriedly set the spoon down beside the pot and turned, heading after her.
"Hey!" Albus called, his stomach rumbling in protest. "Aren't you cooking? What about dinner? Where are you going?"
Harry paused. "Er…I've got to…make a phone call. Dinner's fine—it needs to simmer. See you in a bit."
Scorpius was frowning deeply. "What's a…phone call? How do you make it? What's it for?"
"We don't even have a telephone!" Albus yelled after Harry. But not wanting to give his father's true whereabouts any real thought, he let it go.
Scorpius dropped his bag on the second bed in Albus's room. He turned around, beaming.
"I like it. It's…warm!"
Albus felt a bit sheepish. His family wasn't poor by any stretch of the imagination—in fact, they were probably one of the wealthiest wizarding families left—but his home was certainly different than Malfoy Manor, which boasted a severe, aristocratic décor that the Potter house was very far from. Albus's room was emerald (Harpy emerald, actually), with mismatched furniture and two soft, double beds piled high with an assortment of colorful blankets and pillows. His bookshelf was in a state of chaos, with half the books stacked in vertical rows, half stacked horizontally, and others simply thrown on top. Albus watched as Scorpius immediately stepped to examine the bookshelf, his ears a bit hot.
"It's sort of weird, but it works," Albus said.
"It's not weird!" Scorpius assured him, his nose already buried in some muggle novel Dudley had given him last Christmas. "It's brilliant!"
Albus sincerely hoped he still felt that way about the Potter house after experiencing dinner, which was sure to be an embarrassing ordeal. He stretched out atop the spare double bed with Scorpius to look at a comic he'd found, and that's where they stayed until Lily shrieked up the stairs: Dinner is ready!
"Look," Albus began. He reached out and grabbed Scorpius's forearm, stopping him from climbing off the bed. "I know my family's really weird and…a bit much, so don't feel like you have to pretend to like them."
Scorpius was giving him one of those looks. The you-are-the-oddest-boy-I've-ever-met one.
"I think you're probably the only person on the entire planet that would complain about having dinner here, Albus. I, for one, am incredibly excited, and I won't let you take that from me. I just won't allow it, so stuff the negativity."
"Okay, okay," Albus said skeptically. "But you don't have to laugh at their jokes."
"Why not? They're funny."
"I just mean…if they're not funny…"
Scorpius's lips twitched. "Okay, I promise I won't laugh at any jokes that aren't funny."
Albus sighed, feeling like Scorpius had very much missed the point, and was in for quite a dinner experience.
Lily was in much better spirits as they came down for dinner, now that she was properly dressed and expecting Scorpius's presence.
"Sorry," she told Scorpius. She swung her red hair over her shoulder and peered at him coquettishly from behind her circular, black rimmed glasses. Albus rolled his eyes. "I was just surprised. I'm glad you're here, though!"
Scorpius—forever indifferent to girls and flirting—beamed. "Thank you! I'm glad to be here!"
Nobody could doubt that he was genuine, but Albus couldn't figure out why. Harry and James struck up a conversation about Defense Against the Dark Arts that Albus was avoiding like the plague, Ginny was entertaining Scorpius with her Harpies Best Hits stories, and Albus was glowering at Lily, who spent the first half of dinner pointedly brushing hands with Scorpius, leaning against his side, and giggling at nearly everything he said. Finally, after she leaned over to wipe something from his face with a silly giggle (and Scorpius appeared to finally catch on to the fact that Lily was flirting with him), their mum intervened.
"Lily Luna," she began, exasperated. Scorpius was attempting to shift out of Lily's reach without her noticing, but couldn't move any farther without literally climbing onto Albus's lap. Albus glared even harder at Lily for making his friend so uncomfortable. "Could you at least have a bit of tact?"
Lily shrugged. "Flirting's not tactful, Mum."
"Not the way you're doing it, that's for certain."
Lily scoffed. She flicked her hair over her shoulder. Albus ground his teeth in annoyance; Lily's waist-length hair made up about fifty percent of her sass, and Albus often felt an urge to chop it off while she slept. He'd been whacked in the face with it on far too many occasions.
"Who made you the flirting queen, Mum? Are you the flirting rule-maker? The…flirting captain? Did you study flirting; did you get an O on the examination?"
Without missing a beat:
"Your mum didn't need to study flirting because she revolutionized it. Stop victimizing our guest, eat your vegetables, and stop with the backchat," Harry ordered.
Lily obeyed, but she stabbed her fork through her broccoli a bit more aggressively than strictly necessary.
"Sorry," Albus muttered to Scorpius. His cheeks were a bit pink, but he looked baffled more than anything.
"It's okay," he assured Albus. He gradually slid back onto his own seat. He perked up a moment later. "Is that treacle tart?!"
"Don't get excited. Sugar-free. We're all still off sugar, thanks to James," Albus said miserably. He was certain that this was it. This is the moment that Scorpius would realize that he hated the Potters, that he would pity Albus, that he would wish he'd never come. But his expression didn't fall. He merely examined the awaiting dessert intently, like he found it highly interesting. That interest turned to shock after his first bite.
"Mmm! Yum!" He cried, surprised.
Harry looked extremely flattered. "Yeah? I used this new plant I'm growing to sweeten the golden syrup, it's a healthy sugar substitute; I wasn't sure if the texture would be right."
Scorpius nodded, his cheeks bulging, to show that he found it better than all right. Albus begrudgingly admitted that it was good, once his dad looked at him questioningly, his expression oddly vulnerable.
"Yeah," Albus muttered. "It's good, Dad."
James and Scorpius ended up in a conversation about animagi, animatedly discussing what creature they'd most likely be if they ever learned it. Albus, comforted more and more with each passing second by the clearly-positive experience Scorpius was having, joined in, and soon Lily had as well (thankfully fettered when it came to her crush on Scorpius). The four of them talked well into the evening, Harry and Ginny periodically joining in as they flittered to and fro. Harry joined them again around nine, much to Albus's surprise, choosing to tell Scorpius all about Moony, Wormtail, Padfoot, and Prongs, instead of joining Ginny on their nightly broom ride. Ginny joined them at ten, ushered them all into the sitting room, passed around homemade (and sugar-free) butterbeer, and dropped down beside Harry. Albus pretended not to notice her pleased smile as she spotted Scorpius's arm casually resting on Albus's shoulders as he chatted.
"So is it always like that, Dad?" James questioned. He was stretched out with his feet in Lily's lap. She was lazily painting his toenails an electric purple, not that he seemed to notice or care. Her head was resting on Ginny's shoulder as their mum stroked her hair.
"From my experience, yes. The only animagi I've known have always had the same form as their patronuses."
James looked pleased. "That's brilliant! I'd be an elk! Dad, you and I would be a proper squad!"
Lily lifted her head from their mum's shoulder and glanced up from James's feet. "No fair! I want to know what I'd be! Dad, teach me how to do a Patronus!"
"You're not allowed to do magic outside of school, Lily," Ginny reminded her.
"They'll never know! They'll think it's you and dad!"
"Why would your dad and I repetitively cast a Patronus charm at ten in the evening?"
"I dunno, you two are weird; people would believe anything of you," Lily whined. "Please?"
"No, Lily," Harry said.
"But what if I'm attacked by a dementor, Dad?! And I'm alone?! And I get my entire soul sucked out because my own father wouldn't teach me the Patronus charm?! You taught James!"
"James is older."
"You learned in your third year! I'm going into my third year!"
"Times were different back then."
Lily glowered. "If I get my soul sucked out, you're going to feel so guilty."
"Lily Luna Potter—" Ginny began sternly, but Harry interrupted.
"I dunno, Gin. Maybe it wouldn't hurt to let her practice."
Albus had been slouched against Scorpius, but he shot up at that.
"If Lily gets to learn, then I do, too!" Albus insisted.
"Oh, fine," Ginny finally snapped, after looking between Lily and Albus's excited expressions. "But if Aunt Hermione finds out, you lot are dealing with it."
Harry looked less confident after that ultimatum.
It was eleven that night, they'd all had too much butterbeer, and Scorpius was standing so closely to Albus that he could feel his body heat.
"Something happy, like books and sweets and Albus Potter!" he encouraged.
Albus furrowed his brow. "You want me to think of myself? How vain do you think I am?"
A few feet from him, Lily was standing with her eyes screwed tightly, focusing so intently on her 'happy memory' that she wasn't even breathing. At some point during their Patronus practice, she'd ditched her glasses, and Albus laughed a bit cruelly at the sudden thought that she wouldn't even be able to determine the form of her Patronus without them. He felt guilty right afterwards.
"Breathe, Lily," Ginny reminded her, from her place on the sofa.
Albus had produced quite a few bursts of silver light but had yet to produce anything corporal. Scorpius had assured him that in one of the splinter realities, he'd only managed to produce wisps as well, which kept Albus from feeling too embarrassed or inept.
"Good, Lily!" Harry boomed. Albus snapped his head towards his sister, relieved to find she'd only managed a wisp of silver. He couldn't let his little sister make one before he did. "Ten more times and I bet you'll get it, Lil!"
"We are so getting a nasty letter from the Ministry," Ginny commented, but she didn't look worried anymore. She just looked annoyed.
"Nah. They wouldn't dare. Dad saved everybody's arse. What wanker would send Harry Potter a—"
"Language, James!" Harry scolded.
"Yeah, yeah, all right," James yawned.
"You're not focusing," Scorpius tsked, drawing his focus back to his task.
Albus sighed, frustrated. "I can't focus with so many people."
"Easier than trying to do it with actual dementors around you," Scorpius said wisely.
He had a point. Albus nodded.
"Okay, here I go." He took a deep breath and stared at the floor. He'd been focusing on three really strong memories (a broom ride he'd taken with his father when he was really young, just the two of them; the time he and his mum had woken up early and attempted to bake a cake for Harry's birthday, only to end up laughing hysterically in a snowy pile of flour; the moment he'd met Scorpius and realized he'd found a perfect friend), but that time, he randomly thought about that night instead. It surely couldn't even count as a memory yet, as it'd happened only a few hours ago, but he was locked into the memory of the latter part of dinner. Warmth flooded his chest as he thought about how hard everybody had laughed, the easy, enjoyable flow of conversation, the look of genuine affection covering Scorpius' face. It was that look that he narrowed in on, and as his heart swelled with love and contentment, he cried Expecto Patronum!
Lily's cry of outrage registered before the creature in front of him did.
"Damn it!" she shrieked. She slapped her wand angrily against her palm; Ginny cried out as red-hot sparks emitted, nearly hitting her full in the face. She lifted her wand just in time to deflect it. Lily looked appropriately contrite afterwards, though she shot an intense glower at Albus. It slid right off Albus's shoulders. His parents were cheering, James had called out 'nice!', and Scorpius was ecstatic.
"Cool! An owl!" His light eyes followed it as it soared throughout the room.
"It looks like Hedwig," his mum blurted, her eyes locked on the Patronus. His dad didn't reply, but Albus saw him take Ginny's hand, a proud smile in place.
Harry crossed over to Albus once his Patronus had dissipated. He pulled Albus into a warm hug.
"You got it quicker than James did," he whispered, and then pulled back. Albus grinned, his heart soaring from his father's praise.
Lily was even more determined now, and after only three more tries, they silently watched her lion Patronus prowl around the living room. It was massive and intimidating; even James was speechless.
"Whoa," he breathed.
Scorpius flinched as the lion walked near him. Lily giggled.
"Aw, come back," she lamented when it disappeared. "We only just met."
Albus was growing extremely tired, and he knew everybody else was, too, but nobody seemed to want to be the one to end the night. It occurred to him that he hadn't spent that long hanging out with his family since before he started Hogwarts. They used to do this all the time—stay up chatting and laughing, spending time together—but it'd stopped after he started school. He hadn't realized how much he'd missed it until that moment. His parents must've felt the same way, because they looked horrifically exhausted, but were still not ushering him off to bed.
"Oh, go on, Scorpius," Harry called, still grinning proudly from the sight of Lily's lion. "Give it a go! I'll take the blame."
Scorpius had clearly been waiting for those words. He closed his eyes, went eerily still as he focused on something, and then gave a confident incantation. After a series of five attempts, a small figure bloomed from his wand. A bird of some sort soared above them.
"What is it?" Lily asked excitedly.
"A bird! Are you blind?" James exclaimed. He did a double-take at his sister. "Wait—you are blind. Where are your glasses, Lily?"
"I know it's a bird, idiot! What type of bird?!"
Albus was watching Scorpius while everybody else watched the bird. He was watching it with amazement.
"A finch?" Harry wondered.
"No," Ginny said, and Albus could hear the smile in her voice. "A sparrow."
After it disappeared, Harry seemed to remember James's words from before.
"Hey," Harry frowned. "James is right—where are your glasses, Lily? You know that isn't good for your eyes."
Lily looked smug. "I lost them."
Ginny arched an eyebrow. "Accio Lily Potter's glasses." The glasses flew downstairs and into her waiting hand. "Checkmate."
Lily sighed. She crammed the glasses onto her face. "Joke's on you, parents; I'm going to bed and taking them right off."
Scorpius observed her innocently "I like those glasses, Lily. Why don't you wear them? They're nice."
Immediately, Lily seemed to melt. She glowed with happiness and reached up to straighten the dark-rimmed glasses. Harry looked at Ginny with an exasperated look, but she was watching Albus, who had been trying not to glare or frown at the scene in front of him. He met his mum's eyes and spotted the worry glowing in her eyes. It bothered him—Lily's crush. He refused to let himself examine why it did…he just knew that he hated it.
James had fallen asleep, his purple-toed feet propped up on the far arm of the sofa. Harry covered him with a blanket, ushered Lily upstairs, and then set a brief hand on Albus's shoulder.
"You two can stay up later if you'd like, but stay in the house, and keep quiet."
Albus yawned and glanced at Scorpius. He looked equally exhausted.
"We're just going to go to bed. Thanks, though."
They told his parents goodnight and then closed themselves off in Albus's room. They fell back onto their respective beds. Albus had his eyes shut and his face turned upwards, but he could feel Scorpius's eyes on him.
"Don't say it," he warned.
"Okay. I won't say it," Scorpius agreed. Albus knew he was smiling from the sound of his voice. "I won't say that your family is great."
Albus grimaced. He opened his eyes, examined his ceiling for a moment, and then turned over onto his side. Scorpius mirrored him, so they were facing each other.
"My sister's annoying, though," Albus began, watching Scorpius's expression carefully.
He frowned. "I don't get it. Why would she be flirting with me?"
Albus grinned despite himself. "You've got a certain…you're rather…" he stopped, realizing too late that perhaps best mates didn't usually comment on each other's appearances. "Er…" sod it. "You're attractive. Did you know that?"
He did not. It was news to Scorpius. Or perhaps it was just news that Albus thought that he was. He flushed.
Albus was equally red-faced. "Yeah. I guess she likes that."
Scorpius smiled slowly…and Albus panicked.
"But—you can't date her," he blurted, alarmed. "She's my little sister. You just can't. It's the rules."
Scorpius sat up. "I don't want to date Lily, Albus," he admitted, confused. "But…isn't your mum's brother your dad's best mate? So that bit about dating little sisters is not entirely true, is it?"
Albus flushed even deeper. He felt a sudden sting of pity for his Uncle Ron (even if, deep down, he knew their situations were not exactly identical).
"Well, they aren't always great moral-compasses, my parents," he grumbled. He picked at his nails and sulked. He could feel Scorpius's lingering gaze.
"She's funny and clever and pretty. But it's not like that and it never will be."
For a moment, he thought he might be brave enough to ask: why?
But then he remembered Rose. And his stomach inched its way back towards his toes. He swallowed roughly.
"Okay. We should get some sleep."
As they bustled around the room, pulling covers back, changing into pajamas, stepping in and out to brush teeth and wash faces…Albus felt the weight of Scorpius's eyes more than once. And when they finally turned the lights off and crawled beneath their covers, he turned to peer at Albus in the dark.
"It was funny to me because you're the attractive one, not me."
Albus forced himself to remain supine, even though he'd wanted to shoot up at those words. His heart thumped so loudly he feared Scorpius could hear it.
"Me?" He all but squeaked.
"Yeah. I thought everybody knew that, including you."
"No. No, Scorpius. It's the opposite."
"No way. I'm…sallow."
"You're handsome," Albus replied immediately, a bit defensive on Scorpius's behalf.
"But you're….you know," Albus got the feeling he was choosing his words carefully. "Beautiful." An awkward silence. "Is that…an okay word to use?"
Albus was terribly glad for the darkness. He smiled into his pillow for a moment.
"Yeah, that's an okay word," he finally said.
He knew that this was where they both needed to add onto what they'd said. He knew he should've said just from what I've heard girls in our year saying, you know. And Scorpius's should've said something of the same. But neither of them said anything like that. For the first time since he'd asked Rose out, Albus's heart inflated with foolish hope.
"Well, 'night," Scorpius finally yawned. "A sparrow! I hope it's in my dreams."
"Yeah, 'night," Albus said, his own thoughts straying to his silver owl. As he drifted towards sleep, he thought about his Patronus…about how he and Scorpius were the only people who'd produced a bird…he thought of his mum's and dad's…both large, strong, four-legged creatures…Aunt Hermione's and Uncle Ron's…smaller, playful four-legged creatures…an owl went with a sparrow better than a lion did…what was Rose's Patronus? He hoped viciously, right there on the edge of sleep, that it was something massive and grounded, like an elephant or an ox….
In his dreams that night, he was flying above the Burrow with Scorpius, their Patronuses soaring alongside them.
Ginny woke up with the prickly feeling that she was being watched. She rose up onto her elbows, squinted at the motionless figure in the bedroom doorway, and then collapsed back down onto the mattress. She rolled over onto her side and burrowed into the sheets.
"Honestly, if you're here to murder me, just do it. I'm too tired to fight you."
She heard Harry snort from his place at her left. The bed shifted slightly.
"Oh, that's nice," Harry scoffed. "And to think I trusted you. You'd leave me alone with the kids?"
It was too early for his dry sense of humor. Ginny grumbled and groped for her pillow. She moved it over her head and began slipping back towards sleep, comforted by Harry's nearby presence, and confident that if the figure in the doorway was a threat that he'd be able to handle it. The crisp sound of book pages turning lulled her back to sleep…
"Mum! Please wake up; I've been waiting for ages!"
The figure in the doorway was her daughter, and in that moment, she slightly wished it'd been an ex-Death Eater. The bed shook as Lily threw herself down upon it with another dramatic groan. Ginny mimicked her and grabbed tightly onto the covers, yanking them over her head. Lily gave them a futile tug.
"Lily," Harry whispered, "be quiet. I told you we aren't leaving until noon. It's six. Go and find something to do for six hours or I'll make you do some of this paperwork."
"I can't. I'm too excited. I want Mum to plait my hair before it dries. I want it to be wavy later."
"Can't you plait your own hair?"
"No! My arms don't reach right and I can't do the spell." The bed shook as Lily clambered up the mattress. She wormed her way underneath the duvet and wedged herself between Harry and Ginny. When Ginny cracked an eye open, her daughter was pouting at her, cocooned inside the blankets right alongside her mother.
"No." Ginny shut her eyes again.
"No. Ask me again at eight."
Lily, unfazed in that moment (and, really, as a character trait), responded by pushing Ginny's wand into her hands. "Please."
"Harry. You're the Head of Magical Law Enforcement. Deal with the intruder."
Lily let out a shrill mixture between an outraged cry and a laugh as Harry attempted to pry her out from underneath the covers. Ginny smiled softly as Lily's laughter filled the room, and after a few moments of unsuccessful cover-tugging and Lily-prodding, Harry gave up.
"Sorry, Gin. I've been defeated."
"You can't crush a silent, peaceful protestor without looking like an arse!" Lily yelled at him, still enveloped by the duvet. Ginny winced.
"There's nothing silent about you, Lulu," Harry pointed out. The usage of Lily's childhood pet name kept the truthful criticism from sounding too harsh. "Here's my offer: if you leave your mum alone, I'll do your hair."
Ginny and Lily gave identical snorts of disbelief into the mattress.
"What? I've seen your mum do the spell a million times. I'm sure I can manage it…"
Ginny rested comfortably on the brink of sleep as Harry attempted to plait their daughter's hair. Judging by their intermingled laughter and Lily's shrieks of horror, it was not going well. She vaguely registered Harry giving up on the spell and declaring that he was going to try it "the Muggle way", and when she finally woke completely a half-hour later, she emerged from her stifling cocoon to find four books opened on the bed, Harry's wand being used as a bookmark, and her daughter's hair in an endearingly inept French plait.
Ginny rubbed her face and squinted at the book closest to her.
"A muggle book about sailing knots?"
"Surprisingly helpful! Look!" Harry gently turned Lily around, showcasing her messy plait. Lily now had a book held so closely to her face that her nose was nearly brushing the pages; she'd neglected to put on her glasses again.
"Global Wizarding Styles of the 1800s?" Ginny questioned.
Lily peeked at her from above the top of the book. Her brown eyes were surprisingly bright, given how early she'd woken, and how late the entire family had been up the night before. "You two thought your generation had it tough growing up, with Voldemort and all. Look what these people had to wear."
She turned the heavy volume around. Ginny appraised the frilly robes.
"Tragic. Nearly as tragic as losing innumerable friends and family members. Oh, wait…"
Lily stuck her tongue out at her mum but bounced over to her a moment later, the book now lying forgotten atop the rumpled blankets. She curled up against Ginny like a cat.
"I missed you," Lily said. Her first yawn that morning spilled from her lips.
Ginny's heart warmed. She gently stroked over Lily's plait, mindful not to make it any messier than it already was. "I didn't go anywhere," she pointed out.
"Yes, you did. People go places when they're asleep. They leave." She looked at her dad. And then, like she hadn't said anything at all before that, said: "Can we go downstairs and make breakfast now?"
Harry yawned. Ginny reached over and patted his knee as he tiredly rubbed between his eyes. He caught her hand as soon as he'd righted his glasses; his thumb caressed along the line of her knuckles.
"Yeah, all right," he relented. "Go wait for me in the kitchen."
Lily scampered towards the door.
"And put those damn glasses on!" Ginny shouted after her.
"And don't wake up Albus or James!" Harry added, a few moments later.
There was a brief pause. "Too late!" Lily called.
Ginny and Harry exchanged tired looks. She knew they only had a couple minutes to spare, but if a couple was all she'd get today, she'd make the best of it. She settled down beside Harry and stretched her legs out, flinging one over his right. She hugged the right side of his body and kissed his shoulder. His arm was quick to wrap around her, holding her closer to him.
"That sodding spell…I accidentally plaited the bed hangings," he admitted.
Ginny laughed. Sure enough, when she looked up at the crimson hangings around their four-poster bed, they'd been magically plaited together. She sat up, grabbed Harry's wand from the book near his hip, and waved it at the hangings. They fell back into their solitary places. She set Harry's wand on his chest and craned her neck up, imploring for a kiss. He obliged immediately.
"Remind me why we haven't installed a dozen locks on our bedroom door?" she yawned.
"Something about emergencies. It was all paranoid rubbish, I'm sure."
"Ah, right." She reached up and pulled her fingers through his hair. It was even untidier than usual. "You did a good job on Lily's hair."
"No, I didn't. But she was pleased, and you were able to sleep, and that's what matters. Who cares if I'm not very good at it?"
"How succinct. How…rational. How…minimalistic. Where's my husband and what did you do with him?"
He rolled over, gently wedging her between him and the mattress. She smiled as his lips pressed to her cheek, her jaw, her neck.
"I've locked him away somewhere he'll never be found. So I can have you all to myself."
"Oh, well, as long as he'll be comfortable. Take me, imposter."
"You're absolutely awful, you know that?"
"Mum! Dad! Lily is out of control! She—AH! Arg!"
The door slammed shut almost as quickly as it'd opened. Ginny sighed.
"I mean, on the whole, the kids were a great idea. But right now, in this narrow, selfish moment…not so much."
Harry rolled off of her. They both took a moment to sigh up towards the ceiling.
"All right. Damage control. I'm getting good at this," Harry said. He rose, quickly changed from his pajamas, and then left the room. "Albus?"
Ginny brushed her teeth, dressed, and then began packing her and Harry's bags. James strolled into the room halfway through the task, absentmindedly tossing a Quaffle up into the air.
"Not in the house," Ginny reminded him, without looking up from her suitcase.
"Fine." He tossed the ball onto the bed and flopped down after it. "What are you doing?"
Ginny looked up from the two opened suitcases and piles of clothing littering the bed. "I'm brewing a Pepper-Up potion. What are you doing?"
"Nothing," he hesitated. He reached forward and grabbed the Quaffle again, but Ginny leaned over and swiped it before he could resume tossing it.
"Not in the house—honestly, was I speaking Gobbledegook?" She paused. She turned fully towards James, inspecting his brown eyes intently. "What's wrong?"
James caved immediately. While she had to pry every fear and concern from Albus, James would fling handfuls of them her way with only the briefest of prods.
"I want you to change your mind about Nora coming along."
If he hadn't seemed so vulnerable, she would've shot back: And I want you to stop nagging me about that, but we all don't get what we want, do we?
Instead, she said:
"What's happened that would warrant me changing my mind?"
James looked uncomfortable. It was not an emotion he wore well—he experienced it so little that he hardly seemed to know what to do with it. He shifted from foot to foot and huffed. His freckled face pursed in a serious grimace.
"Because—because it's not fair that you wouldn't let Nora come with us, but you let Scorpius."
"And don't say it's because Nora is my girlfriend like Dad did! Because even if he's thick when it comes to things like this—you and I aren't."
They exchanged a meaningful look. Ginny quickly shut the door and cast the Muffliato charm. She patted the mattress and sat as James did.
"It's not fair," James summarized. He toed the carpet miserably.
"I understand why you feel that way. But you and Nora are in a committed relationship, whereas Scorpius and Albus are...not even really aware of this themselves. The two don't really compare."
"They do so," James argued. "If you're worried about snogging, those two have just as much—"
"I'm not worried about snogging. I don't care who you lot snog. What I am worried about is my son getting even more swept up when he needs to be focusing on his N.E.W.T.s."
James parted his lips to object, his brow furrowed in indignation, but Ginny held up her hand.
"Yes, I know. You're incredibly clever, you got nine O.W.L.s, Neville was so moved by your terrarium last year that he teared up. I know, Jamie. All your successes make it even more gutting to think of you throwing it all away."
He frowned. "You dated during your O.W.L.s and N.E.W.T.s." He perked up. "And Dad was with you at the Burrow for nearly every holiday! For your entire school career!" He pointed at her, his eyes wide. "Hypocrite!"
Ginny sighed. She ignored his efforts towards deflection. "You got so many wonderful things from your father. And Merlin knows I love him. But you inherited his tendency towards obsessive behavior to a troubling degree. Nora's been here nearly all summer; you'll be fine spending a week without her."
He sulked. "I will not."
"James. Who got so obsessed with sugar that he gained fifteen pounds, refused to eat much of anything else for an entire summer, started secretly owl-ordering Chocolate Frogs in bulk with stolen money, and began having legitimate mood changes and withdrawals?"
He shuffled his feet awkwardly. He curved his spine forward, so he was staring down at his toes. "Me."
"Right. You," she said. He sniffed. She wrapped her arms around his shoulders. "My first born son whom I love very much."
He looked up at her, his expression vulnerable, hopeful, searching. And completely fabricated.
"You mean it?" he asked softly, sweetly. "You really love me?" He'd widened his brown eyes innocently. It probably would've worked on anybody else.
"With my entire heart. And you're still not having Nora over. Good try, though."
He stood up and glowered. "Well if you're not going to work with me here, Mum, then fine!"
He snatched the Quaffle and stormed towards the door.
"Bye, love. Good talk," Ginny called.
He slammed it shut behind him.
"Lily! Leave Albus and Scorpius alone!" Ginny shouted. She glowered fiercely towards her daughter until she turned her broom, heading in the opposite direction. She'd been following Albus and Scorpius for their entire (shaky) flight. Ginny shook her head in amused disbelief, turning back to her previous task. She'd just pulled the last article of clothing from the clothesline when Harry flew down beside her. He dropped from his broom and nodded towards James, who was floating listlessly near a tall oak, staring out at the far horizon with an uncharacteristically morose expression.
"What's wrong with James?"
"Oh, he hates me. I'm evil. I won't let Nora come on our holiday. What's wrong with Albus?"
"He hates me. I'm evil. I 'keep flirting with his mum and it's embarrassing'. What's wrong with Lily?"
Ginny heaved a sigh. "She hates me. I'm evil. I won't let her follow Scorpius all day long."
Harry held up his hand. Ginny met his sarcastic high-five.
"Good parenting," he said.
Ginny snorted. She lifted her left hand and checked her wristwatch.
"We'd better make sure they actually packed up after breakfast. We need to head towards the Burrow soon."
"I'll check on James's and Lily's progress," Harry offered.
"Please do. I'm biologically inclined not to hex my own children, but sometimes…"
"Careful. If Rita got a whiff of that statement, you'd be in Azkaban by nightfall."
Ginny blinked innocently. "Just a little silencing charm. That's all I meant."
"Sure," he grinned. He turned and peered towards the spot James was still hovering. "James!" He beckoned him over. "Lily Luna! You too!"
"Al, Scorpius!" Ginny added.
It took five minutes to get them rounded up. Ginny stepped into Albus's room with the two boys, checking over their packing to make sure they hadn't forgotten anything. To her amazement, Scorpius had color-coded his own packed clothes, though it didn't follow any logical sort of shade progression. All the greens were together, then the browns, then the silvers, then the blues…
"It's ordered by what colors make me feel the best!" he explained. "Green's soothing, so green's first. Brown is grounding, you know? And then silver and blue…" he paused. He looked a bit sheepish. "Er…nothing personal that red is last."
Ginny smiled fondly. "No offense taken. I like that method." She glanced over at her own son's packing "method", which pretty much consisted of throwing everything into a giant pile. "And, Al…good…pile-stacking."
"So," Ginny said. She sat down on the edge of Albus's bed. "Are you boys excited?"
Scorpius plopped down beside her. "Yeah!" he paused. "Is it true that the Burrow was originally a pigpen?"
Albus yelped. Scorpius immediately realized he must've said something wrong. Blood pooled beneath the translucent skin of his cheeks.
"Sorry! I—I meant! I just—!" He looked faint. He lowered his voice to a whisper. "Please don't hate me," he begged.
Ginny burst into laughter; she couldn't help it. Without really thinking about it, she reached forward and pulled Scorpius into a tight hug. He melted into it sooner than she'd anticipated, and for a painful second, all she could think about was the fact that he hadn't had a mother's hug in years. She batted the pain back before she lowered her arms.
"As a matter of fact, that's probably one of the only things your dad's told you about the Burrow that's actually true," she admitted. "It began as such a long, long time ago, but my parents gradually built onto it, and now it's got five floors and an attic, an orchard, a sizeable garden, and an ancient ghoul."
Hesitantly, he smiled. He looked up at Albus a second later as if to make sure he wasn't angry. When Albus smiled at him (as Albus always seemed to do whenever he looked Scorpius's way), he beamed back. Clueless, Ginny thought to herself, as she looked at each starry-eyed teen. Absolutely clueless. She gave them three days into the holiday before one of them came to their senses.
"They've got a clock like this, too," Ginny added, bringing her left wrist over in front of Scorpius, showcasing her wristwatch. Scorpius leaned over and stared at the watch face. His interest was not in the numbers running along the very edges of the watch; rather, it was in the multiple watch hands—each made up of a cursive name—and the tiny words surrounding them.
"Brilliant!" he cried, intrigued. He laughed a moment later. "Prison! Oh, I'm glad nobody's hand is pointing there. Albus, home, Lily, home, James, home, Harry, home!"
Ginny beamed. "The best gift my mum ever gave me. Comes in handy. She made it for me after your and Al's little…stunt last year."
Scorpius considered that. "I wonder what it would've said? If you'd had it then. 'Travelling'? 'Lost'? 'Mortal peril'?"
"My mum's got all her grandkids on her clock. She says everybody was stuck at 'mortal peril' for a bit."
Scorpius's blush slowly inched back as he paled. "Oh. Wow."
He and Albus looked slightly guilty. Ginny hurried to change the subject.
"Anyway. Did Harry give you the mirror yet?"
Scorpius nodded. He patted the top pocket of his suitcase. "Yep. Right here!"
"Good. Make sure not to miss any messages from your dad; he'll have our heads." Ginny rose. "Bring your suitcases down and leave them by the fireplace. We're heading to the Burrow in an hour and then Shell Island from a portkey once we're there."
She left the two boys brimming with excitement. The last thing she saw before she shut the door was their eyes locked on each other.
"Wow," Ron commented. He was—like all the adults grouped together—watching Draco Malfoy's son play with a particularly chubby garden gnome. "I haven't seen anybody this enamored with the Burrow since Harry saw it for the first time. And, blimey—I think the gnomes actually like him? He hasn't been bitten once!"
"Can you blame him for loving it here? You remember what Malfoy Manor was like," Hermione said softly. Her eyes were a million miles away. Ginny was glad when Ron reached for his wife's hand.
"It's not like that anymore," Ginny defended. She felt bound by her loyalty to Scorpius. "Albus spent nearly his entire summer there, you know."
"I still can't believe my own sister let my own nephew stay with the Malfoys…"
"Hush, Ron," Hermione scolded. "And I used to wonder where Rose gets her nepotism."
"Mum!" Hugo yelled. They turned as Hugo came bolting over, a muggle football clutched to his chest. He was out of breath. "Mum, tell Lily that there are no bludgers in football! She keeps throwing the other footballs at me!" He noticed Ginny and Harry. "Aunt Ginny! Uncle Harry! Make her stop!"
"Lily!" Harry and Ginny yelled in unison.
From the other edge of the garden, Lily yelled back:
"He was teasing me about Scorpius!"
Hermione kissed Hugo's forehead. "Go and grab the book I gave you. You can prove that there are no bludgers in football. Page ten will be sufficient, I think."
Hugo held Hermione's hand for a moment, his expression deeply fond, and then he nodded and took off into the Burrow's kitchen. Ginny could feel Ron's eyes on her.
"What?" she snapped.
"Why's Hugo teasing Lily about Scorpius, Ginny?" He had a wicked glint in his eyes.
"Oh, don't you even start," Ginny glowered. "It's nothing. Just a tiny crush."
Hermione and Ron exchanged a look that held dozens of (insulting) words. Words like: Ginny's crush on her elder brother's best mate wasn't 'nothing'. It wasn't just a 'tiny crush'. Ron turned on his heel.
"I think I'll go have a chat with my most relatable nephew, Al…"
"No, you won't!" Ginny yelled hurriedly. She could feel Harry's curious eyes on her, but she couldn't worry about that at the current moment. She ran forward and pushed Ron back. "Don't, Ron. He's touchy about Lily's crush on Scorpius. Don't bring it up."
"He'll be even touchier when his best mate marries his little sister and—"
All four adults spun around to face Molly. Ginny relaxed.
"Mum, tell your son not to harass his nephew!"
"Ron, don't harass my grandson. Get in here and help me with the packing."
Ron gaped, astounded. "Me?! Why do I have to—"
"Because I said so! Hurry, we haven't got all day!"
Ron was grumbling as he stamped his way into the house, looking every bit like his seventeen-year-old self for a moment. The fondness that image created gradually stamped out Ginny's animosity. She felt Hermione loop her arm through hers.
"Shall we check on Rose?"
Ginny saw the suggestion for what it really was. "Definitely."
The two women marched up to the room that had been Ginny's. The room they'd spent many summers in together. They walked in and shut the door behind them.
Ginny glanced questioningly at Rose's packed suitcase. She'd been up here fretting over what to bring since the Granger-Weasleys had arrived at the Burrow. She'd unpacked and repacked the suitcase thrice. But she was nowhere to be found now.
"She's with Arthur. They're trying to get all the supplies packed without magic," she explained. She plopped down onto Ginny's childhood bed. "So what's going on with Lily?"
Ginny sat beside her and reclined back. She stared up at her ceiling.
"With Lily? Nothing at all, really. She thinks Scorpius is cute, but that's the extent of it." Ginny hesitated.
Ginny propped herself up on her elbows. "But…I haven't ruled out the possibility that there might be a Malfoy-Potter union in the future."
Hermione was quick on the uptake (as she always was).
"Oh!" she said.
"Oh. How's…they're…?" She seemed at a loss.
"They're in denial, but Hermione, it's the most obvious thing. The way they look at each other…well, you'll know immediately," she hesitated. "Part of me keeps thinking but they're too young to feel that way. But then I remember that I knew about Harry from the start. When did I start doubting the validity of teenagers' feelings?"
"When you stopped being one and you realized how rampant they can be," Hermione supplied. "I do that with Rose, too. I don't mean to. And I usually catch myself. But sometimes when she's upset about something I find myself automatically dismissing it."
"Yeah," Ginny agreed, relieved that Hermione understood.
"So what do you think of it?"
"Scorpius and Albus?"
Ginny gave that question the time it deserved. She closed her eyes and mulled, listening to the far-off sounds of Roxanne and James laughing hysterically (most likely at the expense of Percy's eldest daughter Molly or Bill's son Louis, who were the 'quieter' ones).
"I think that, when they finally come around, it's going to be perfect," she realized. She thought about Scorpius's emotional openness. It was exactly what Albus needed, just like her own boldness had been the perfect foil for Harry's modesty. Together they were better, and she was certain that Scorpius and Albus would be, too.
"Rose told me that Scorpius has been nagging her for a date. Did Albus tell you that?"
Ginny bolted upright. Her heart plummeted.
"What?" she yelped.
"Yeah. Rose is adamant that she doesn't like him, but again, that could be her nepotism. I've been working on making her more accepting all summer, but it doesn't help when Ron says things like come on, Rosie, even ferrets deserve friends." Hermione's lip curled in disgust.
Ron's tactless nature didn't interest Ginny in that moment. "Scorpius asked Rose on a date?"
"Yes. End of last year."
"Bloody hell," Ginny lamented. "Damn. Look. I don't think Albus's heart can take another hit. We've got to do something about this."
"As the Minister for Magic, I'm uncomfortable meddling in our teenage children's love lives—or lack thereof."
"Of course you are. Let me amend that statement. Ron and I have to do something about this. I know he'll be on my side; he'd never be able to sleep at night knowing Rose was dating a Malfoy."
"I think you're panicking prematurely. Rose isn't even interested. Albus just needs to be patient, like you and I were," Hermione reasoned. "And anyway, they're not even sixteen yet. Who's to say they won't grow out of each other?"
Ginny gave Hermione a knowing look. "You'll see. Albus is good for Scorpius and vice versa. Things like that don't just happen."
"Unless they're just meant to be friends."
"Like you and Ron were meant to be friends?" Ginny challenged.
Hermione's cheeks lightly pinked.
"All I ask for is your insight. You're great at reading people and relationships. Just…keep an eye on the situation, all right? Let me know what you think. I'm just…well. I'm trying to do better by Al."
Hermione softened. "Oh, Ginny. You've never done him wrong. Not when he was a colicky baby and not last year, either. You've done a great job. You're a great mum."
She reached over and gave Ginny's hand a squeeze. She smiled in response.
"Thanks, but I did make mistakes. I was too removed from the situation. I thought, for the longest time, that if I sat back and offered quiet support from afar that Albus would figure everything out like I did…but I was wrong. I won't make that mistake again. Where ever there is potential for heartbreak or disappointment, I'll be there preemptively."
Hermione hesitated. "You know, not to criticize your parenting skills, but if you'd just read the parenting book I gave you when you got pregnant with James you would've saved yourself so much…"
Hermione trailed off, her words stifled by Ginny's cool look. Hermione quickly glanced at her watch.
"Oh, we should probably start getting the kids organized for the walk to the portkey."
Before Ginny could even consider hexing her, she'd hurried from the room. Those excellent instincts for self-preservation were what had kept her alive thus far, in Ginny's opinion.
"Roxanne? Roxanne! Fred, where's Roxanne?"
"—and did you check your suitcase for your books, Lucy? We don't want you getting behind because you left them at home…-"
"Dominique, how many times must I tell you— arrêtez!"
In the midst of the chaos, Ginny was finding it difficult to locate her daughter. The boys were easy—they were either there at first glance or they weren't; their dark hair (and Scorpius's white-blonde) made it relatively simple. But Lily blended in with all the other red-haired children.
"Lily!" Ginny called, impatient. She glanced up at Harry. "Is it bad form to accio your own child?"
"You know, I think—oh, there she is!" Harry nudged her, pointing off towards the kitchen, where Lily was walking hand-in-hand with her gran. He scowled a moment later. "Where has that child put her glasses now?"
Grumbling, and on the brink of developing a temper, Harry stormed off to intercede their youngest, before she could make it to the portkey without her glasses. Ginny turned towards the boys.
"All right. Stay with the group. No dawdling. No running off," she commanded.
"Yes, Mum," James and Albus chorused. "Yes, Mrs. Potter!" Scorpius cried.
Ginny paused to get a good look at them. James looked less hacked off at her (thankfully—she didn't know what to do with herself when he wasn't speaking with her, as they usually laughed together for most of the day). Albus was standing closely to Scorpius's side, whispering things underneath his breath to the other boy in what looked like a running commentary, and Scorpius was watching the ground, his face pink with withheld laughter, his fingers millimeters from Albus's. Ginny beamed.
"Right. Well—I'm going to go check in on the Lily drama. Stay together, boys."
She tactfully made herself scarce. She helped Harry locate Lily's glasses, she threatened to attach them to Lily's face with a permanent sticking charm if Lily tried to ditch them again, and then they finally set off towards the portkey. Everything was brilliant until halfway there, when Hermione made a sudden appearance at Ginny's side and dug an elbow into her ribs.
"Look," she commented.
Ginny followed Hermione's gaze. Lily and Rose were crowded around Scorpius as they walked. Albus looked supremely irritated.
"What?" Harry asked Ginny.
"Yeah," Ron pushed through Audrey and Percy and joined them. "What are you two up to? Sneaking off to Ginny's old room to chat—" he blanched. "Oh, Merlin. Are one of you…?"
"No, Ron," Ginny sighed. "Nobody's pregnant."
Ron let out a long breath of air like that was an actual worry that had been relevant for more than three seconds.
She and Hermione exchanged a look. This time, Harry chimed in with panic.
"If nobody's pregnant, why are you giving each other that look?" he questioned, his voice a bit higher than usual. He tightened his hold on Ginny's hand and pulled her closer to him, bending down to whisper in her ear. "I told you we shouldn't have done it without the potion last month, what if—"
"Oi! I can hear you!" Ron cried, horrified.
"Ignore him," George commented, from his place behind their chatting group. "He's just unfamiliar with the concept of sex."
Hermione glanced around and glared spectacularly. For a moment, Ginny feared their leisurely walk would turn into a duel.
"Harry, I'm Minister for Magic—arrest him," Hermione said instead.
Harry snorted. George reached forward and patted Hermione's ever-bushy hair.
"I only meant to tease my little brother, Minister. It's just an unfortunate coincidence that any tease of that nature also implies you."
"Yeah, yeah," Hermione snapped, though she didn't move away from him, so Ginny guessed she wasn't really that annoyed.
"Nobody—," Ginny gave Harry a firm look, "is pregnant. Including me."
"Then what…?" Ron asked, now even more curious.
"Ginny," they looked up as Bill walked through the surrounding family members, coming to walk alongside Ginny. "Will you be in contact with the Prophet this week?"
Ron groaned. "Bill, we were talking—"
"You get to talk to Ginny plenty," Bill said firmly. "Are you?"
"Yeah—I couldn't get all the upcoming pages edited in time because loads of people haven't even completed their articles for the latter part of the week yet. Why?"
"How are you contacting them? There's a situation with the Goblins and I thought it might be good to get the press involved…"
"Goblins? What issue?" Hermione asked sharply. "The St. Mungo's issue? Because I met with them right before we left—"
Bill looked stressed. "Perhaps we should walk and talk, Hermione."
With nothing more than a significant look between the two of them, they hung back, so they could walk at the end of the group. Ron was surly.
"I miss the days when holidays meant no work," He looked at Harry hopefully. "Did you bring any homework with you?"
Harry grinned. "Nope—I finished it all this morning!" He hesitated. "But that doesn't mean something won't come up during the week. In fact, it's probably more likely that it will than won't."
Ron was nearly as sullen as Albus for the rest of the walk.
They arrived at Shell Island late that afternoon. They spent every minute of waning daylight getting tents set up and luggage unpacked; they all moved horrifically slowly without magic, but Ginny's dad was too overjoyed for anybody to complain.
"Look what we did!" he exclaimed, beyond proud. He stood in the middle of their secluded section of the campsite, gesturing at all the clumsily-erected tents. "Without magic!"
Lucy and Little Molly began clapping, joined after a moment by Louis and Hugo. Fred and Roxanne clapped, too, but theirs was slow and exaggerated, clearly put on to make fun of their more eager cousins. Ginny scowled as James and Lily joined in, theirs heavy with sarcasm, too.
"Okay!" Arthur beamed. He clapped his hands together. "Time to get the fire going and make dinner!"
Oh, God. Ginny's stomach gave a distinct rumble, displeased by the realization that they'd only be able to eat what they could make without magic. She glanced around at her brothers and found nearly every one of them looking just as apprehensive.
"Audrey! Harry! Hermione! Rose, Hugo!" Arthur called, sectioning off everybody who'd ever cooked in a Muggle kitchen. "Here's the plan for dinner…"
While Harry got roped into that dismal experience, Ginny scanned the surrounding tents. After a moment, she spotted the upcoming fifth-years, sitting grouped on a particularly large suitcase. As she approached, she saw that Rose was talking nonstop, Scorpius was nodding intently, and Albus was brooding.
"—and I've no doubts that I'll get O's in Transfiguration, Charms, and Herbology. It's Potions I'm worried about. And Care of Magical Creatures could be better, but I think I'll still scrape an O—"
Sweet Scorpius, for his benefit, looked extremely interested. Ginny had a suspicion that he'd heard this spiel a million times (probably because everybody in their family had), but you wouldn't have known it just from glancing at his expression. Albus, on the other hand…
"Yeah, we get it, Rose. You're clever. Can you give it a rest? You're giving me a headache," he snapped.
Rose looked up pointedly. "Oh, hello, Aunt Ginny."
Albus snapped his head up towards her. He lowered his face into his hands with a groan, clearly anticipating a scolding.
"Hello, Rose. Your grandad needs you over near the fire."
Rose sighed. "I cooked at my mum's parents' house once. Once! And now I'm suddenly the expert on how to use a portable BBQ."
Ginny waited until she was out of ear shot. She then took the place Rose had vacated, between Albus and Scorpius. Albus was ripping blades of grass from the earth. Scorpius was sitting with his hands on his knees, watching all the surrounding familial commotion with a fond expression. Ginny reached over and wrapped an arm around Albus, bringing him to her side in a warm hug. It was a testament to how poorly he felt that he didn't pull away. Instead, he pressed his face into her shoulder and let out a nearly-silent sniffle.
"Fifth year," Ginny commented airily. "In my fifth year, I was dating Nora Thomas's dad for nearly the entire year."
Scorpius laughed. "James's girlfriend's dad?"
"The very same," she affirmed. "I was trying to juggle him, Quidditch, and my O.W.L.s."
Albus was regarding her suspiciously. Some part of him probably sensed what she was leading up to, and yet he fell into her trap perfectly.
"I thought you and dad got together your fifth year."
"We did, but not 'til the end. It took a while for us to get there. I dated Michael Corner, then Dean. Your dad dated Cho Chang the year before…or Crescent, now, anyway. Emi Crescent's mum, you know Emi in Lily's year—"
"Emi's on the Gobstones Team," Scorpius provided. "Mrs. Crescent organizes it."
"Does she? How very tragic."
Her dry tone—still somewhat steeped in petty resentment—pulled a reluctant smile from Albus.
"My fourth year wasn't nearly as strange as yours was, but it was strange in its own way. It's difficult, you know, to see the person you fancy with somebody else."
Albus ducked his face. He stared determinedly at his knees.
"Some people are slower to come around than others," she continued, indifferent to Albus's obvious humiliation. "Like your dad, Albus. Merlin, I think everybody in Gryffindor Tower knew before he did."
Scorpius snickered. "That must've been awkward for you. Did you know before he did, too?"
"About how I felt or about how he did? I knew how I felt and had for years. How he felt…well, I had a hunch, but I wouldn't listen to myself."
She wouldn't torture Albus any longer. She stood.
"Well, anyway. Just remember that good things take time, but they'll take even less with proper communication. Stay near the campsite!"
With that, she strolled off to assist her mother.
She was sweating and frustrated.
"Look," she hissed towards her mum, red-faced from the heat emitting from the fire. "Let's just use magic while Dad's back is turned, he'll never know."
Her mum's complexion was also close to that of a tomato. She leaned back and exhaled.
"No," she said stubbornly. "No, this is really important to your dad. We'll do it the Muggle way. Somehow…"
They'd been put in charge of boiling the kettle over the fire. Harry, Hermione, Audrey, Rose, and Arthur were grouped around the malfunctioning portable BBQ. Ginny shot a longing look towards Harry, wishing he'd swoop in and save them from the smoking fire, but he looked stressed out enough on his own.
"I just don't understand why this won't stay," her mum growled. She gave the flimsy campfire spit a cross shake; it collapsed immediately for the tenth time. It couldn't hold up to the pressure of their hands, much less the pressure of the heavy kettle that was supposed to hang from it. "Sodding—portable—Muggle—shite!"
Ginny blinked. She appraised her mother with something akin to pride.
"Wow, Mum. I've never seen you this frustrated," she paused. "Are you frustrated enough to betray your husband yet?"
"No! Ginny, stop trying to convince me to use magic; we're going to do this the right way!"
"Fine, fine…okay…if you like to suffer…"
The sound of a familiar voice made her perk up. She spun around, hardly daring to hope—
"Teddy!" She cried. Sure enough, the blue-haired young man was strolling into the campground, having caught a late portkey with Victoire. He beamed towards Ginny and hurried over, greeting the passing family with affectionate slaps on the back. He stooped down between Ginny and Molly and gave them both brief kisses to the cheek.
"What's going on?"
"We're trying to get this campfire spit—"
While her mum explained the situation to Teddy—her face shining brightly with perspiration and irritation—Ginny used Teddy's sudden appearance to her benefit. While her mum was distracted, she pulled her wand from her pocket, kept it pointed lowly, and whispered an incantation, effectively transforming the flimsy, aluminum spit to a sturdy cast iron one. Teddy turned his attention to it, to attempt some maneuvering fix, and then paused.
"Ginevra Molly Weasley!" her mum screeched.
Ginny felt half a dozen sets of eyes boring into her. She slyly slid her wand up her jumper sleeve.
"Potter, actually." Ginny gestured behind herself blindly. "Oh, look, one of my kids just…suddenly…needs me. Bye!"
She scampered off towards the tent her family was staying in, ducking inside just in time. She heard her mum raging about her to her father, but didn't feel too regretful. She nearly climbed out of her skin in fright though when Harry appeared out of nowhere and pulled her into his arms.
"Arg—don't do that!" she snapped. She pressed her face into his chest and struggled to level her breathing. "Where'd you come from? Weren't you just helping my dad?"
"We figured it out. What'd you do to your mum?"
"I fixed the campfire spit."
"I'm a witch and it was beyond Muggle help."
"Keep repeating that; maybe it'll soothe your conscience."
"My conscience is just fine, thanks." She leaned back in his arms and glanced around. "Wait. Are we…alone?"
"Alone? What's that? I don't know if I've ever experienced that concept."
"We are alone! Listen. I can hear Al, Scorpius, and Hugo talking. Oh! And it sounds like James and Lily are beating Bill's kids at Muggle football."
"Really? Damn. Bill's kids are way older than ours."
"Right. That's true." A beat. "So, is my wife going to tell me about the mysterious secret she's keeping with Hermione?"
"I dunno, go ask her."
He glared, though the corners of his mouth were twitching. Ginny couldn't help the swell of affection she felt for him. She grasped his forearm, tugged, and led him back through the doorway to their temporary bedroom. She pushed him down onto the bed and sat beside him. He tapped his toes with mock impatience.
"Okay, okay. Keep your knickers on."
"Oh—do I have to?" he sounded disappointed. Ginny rolled her eyes and curled up against his side.
"Listen. Scorpius and Albus."
He stared at her, waiting. Five seconds passed.
"Yes? What?" he finally asked.
"Hm? No, that's it. Scorpius and Albus."
She met his befuddled eyes.
"I'm not following," he admitted.
"Okay, let me rephrase: Albus and Scorpius dating. Albus and Scorpius getting engaged. Scorpius Malfoy-Potter. Albus Potter-Malfoy. Albus and Scorpius adopting little babies and—"
"Whoa, whoa, whoa—what?!" Harry was wide-eyed. "What? Like—that? Since when?"
"You really are painfully thick when it comes to feelings, aren't you?"
Harry never had the opportunity to reply. Their brief alone-time was ruptured.
"Ginny, you'd better plan on hiding out here for a while, Mum's in a strop," Ron greeted. "Ginny? Harry? Are you in the—bloody hell. Okay. I AM IN THE TENT. I AM WALKING TOWARDS THE BEDROOM. I AM FIFTEEN STEPS FROM THE DOORWAY. FOURTEEN. THIRTEEN. TWELVE…"
"Oh, shut it, will you? You can come in, we're just talking," Ginny snapped.
Ron stepped in. "Once bitten, twice shy. Do you blame me?"
For somebody who was supposedly wary, he wasted no time throwing himself down upon his sister and brother-in-law's bed. Ginny stared at him pointedly for a full ten seconds until he realized what she was attempting to communicate.
"Oh, were you two having a moment?" he asked.
"I was trying to tell Harry something."
"Yeah? By all means—carry on. It doesn't bother me." He reclined back into a supine position. He exhaled and shut his eyes.
Ginny rolled her eyes up to the ceiling. "For fu—"
"Ron? Ron, are you in here?"
"Back here, Hermione!"
"Look—" Harry began, as Hermione joined them on the bed. "It's not that I don't want you two here— I mostly always want you around. It's just…we were talking about something. You know. Family matters." Ron arched an eyebrow. "Potter family matters," he amended.
Hermione leaned over Harry. "Is this about Al, Ginny?"
Ron perked up. "Al? What about Albus? What's wrong with him now?"
Ginny bristled. "Nothing is wrong with him! You watch your mouth! I may not be able to hex you, but I can still punch you!"
Ron held his hands up defensively. "Okay, okay! Still defensive, wounds are still fresh—got it."
Harry stood up. He inserted himself between Ron and Ginny, obviously foreseeing a brawl. He reached over and gripped Ginny's thigh in a gesture that lived somewhere between comforting and restraining.
"Something is going on, though," Ron pressed, looking from face-to-face. He frowned a second later. "Hang on—everybody here knows but me! You're joking! What sort of rubbish is that?! That's my nephew!"
"There's nothing to tell, Ron…" Hermione tried to say.
Ginny glanced up at Harry. He was peering at her imploringly. With an internal groan (and a brief wish that her brother wasn't best friends with her husband), Ginny nodded.
"But don't you dare speak a word of this to Albus. I won't have you teasing him," she threatened.
Ron nodded immediately. "Okay. I promise. What's happened?"
Everybody looked at her. She sighed again.
"Scorpius and Albus."
Ron furrowed his brow. "I don't—"
"She's being cagey on purpose," Harry sighed. "Ginny says…apparently…they are…together. Like…together."
"They aren't together," Hermione tried to explain, "they're just blatantly taken with each other and—"
"WHAT?!" Ron stood up from the bed. His face was reddening rapidly. "Pardon? What?!"
"Oh, is your hearing going already? Okay. ALBUS – AND – SCORPIUS – FANCY – EACH – OTHER!" Ginny reiterated.
"But…" Ron looked from Ginny, to Harry, to Hermione. "He's a….but he's a…"
He sat down weakly.
"Ron!" Hermione cried, embarrassed. Her cheeks flushed. She looked at the Potters apologetically. "We don't care if Albus is gay. Ron, I thought you were better than that and frankly—"
"What? No—I don't give a damn about that. He's a Malfoy, Hermione! Scorpius! A Malfoy!"
Ron's look of wide-eyed horror punctuated his words quite well. After a brief, stunned silence, everybody burst into laughter (except Ron). He glared at them.
"What?! This isn't funny! Harry—you could end up being related to Draco Malfoy!"
"Well, Scorpius's other crush is Rose. So would you rather be Draco Malfoy's son's uncle? Or Draco Malfoy's son's father-in-law?" Hermione said.
Ron was truly scarlet-faced now. "What?! My—my Rose?! No. No! NO."
Harry blinked. "Blimey, Ron. Tell us how you really feel about it."
Ron squared his shoulders and nodded, an oddly-determined look gracing his features. "Okay. We've got to get Scorpius to recognize his feelings for Albus. It's the top priority on this holiday. For all of us."
Ginny nudged Harry. "And they say Rose gets all her ambition from Hermione…"
"We need jobs! And—and tasks!" Ron continued. He paced in front of them, every bit as serious as he'd probably been when they started their Horcrux hunt. "Get to it, you lot! Harry—start snooping around where you don't belong! Hermione, start planning things excessively! And Ginny…" he stopped. "Oh, well, you sort of just exist in matters like these, don't you? Yeah. Keep on doing that."
Ginny shot her leg out quicker than Ron could blink, catching his kneecap in a surprisingly hard kick. He tripped and went sprawling onto the carpet, groaning and clutching his leg.
"Anyway," Ginny continued, completely ignoring Ron's moans of pain. "What do you think about this, Harry?"
"I…dunno. I mean, things are starting to make sense that I'd never really considered before. I guess…I think…yeah. I think I'm all right with it. Sort of glad, actually."
Ron mumbled something into the carpet that most likely translated into: Glad? Why are you glad?
"He's a great kid," Ginny snapped, right as Harry said: "He's nothing like Draco was, Ron."
"You need to spend time with him before you judge him." The words were climbing up Ginny's throat, raw and defensive. "The kid's been shunned by the entire Wizarding world for his entire life. He's never had a friend before Albus, not really. His mum died and left him to navigate without her. And despite all that, he's the happiest, warmest kid there is. He's happier and warmer than the majority of our kids, who've never had anything more traumatizing than a paper cut happen to them. So back off him, all right?"
Ron forced himself to laugh, but it was uncomfortable and tight. "Wow," he said. "Somebody's defensive about her son-in-law."
Ginny reared her leg back. Hermione hurriedly rose and stood between Ginny and Ron, shielding him.
"Oh, don't kick him again! He doesn't—he just—!" Hermione broke off.
"He's just a prat?" Ginny supplied.
"He's not! And I'll bet Harry's not as accepting about this as he's telling you he is, either! Are you, Harry?" Hermione demanded.
Harry withered, as he always did when he was put on the spot in matters Granger-Weasley v. Ginny Potter.
"I really do like Scorpius," he told Hermione. "And I really don't care if Albus is gay."
"But…?" she pressed fiercely.
"But…I…would not…want…Al to live in Malfoy Manor?" he tried.
"Oh, great job sticking up for your best mate!"
Harry gaped. "I—but—look, that's not fair at all!"
The tent opened. Laughter spilled in.
"Mum! Dad! Are you in here?!"
"Yeah!" Ginny and Harry cried, both equally eager for a subject change. "Back here!"
James, Lily, Albus, and Scorpius stepped in.
"Dinner's ready!" Lily told them. "Except you might still be in timeout, Mum. Gran's mad."
"I'm not in timeout," Ginny said, but then she frowned, suddenly wondering if this was part of her mum's plan all along. Maybe she had been sent to her room with no dinner without even realizing it.
"Dad!" James burst. He'd clearly been sitting on whatever he was about to exclaim since they'd walked in. He—and the rest of the kids, now that Ginny examined them fully—was covered in dirt and grass stains. "Albus is talented."
"Of course he is," Harry said immediately, confused. Ginny wagered nobody noticed it except her, but Albus seemed to inflate at those words.
"No, like…properly, jaw-droppingly talented. At muggle football!" James exclaimed. He looked from adult to adult expectantly, beaming. "He scored fifteen goals! And Hugo says that's a big deal! And Hugo knows all about muggle football; he says he plays at Grandma Granger's house all the time with the muggle kids!"
James threw his arm across Albus's shoulders and drew him proudly to his side. Albus grimaced.
"Applaud him! It was brilliant! Applaud!" He demanded, growing insulted by their silence.
Hermione quickly began clapping, joined at once by Ron. Harry and Ginny chose instead to smile, knowing Albus wouldn't want the applause. Sure enough, Albus looked like he wanted to sink through the floor.
"It's not that big of a deal, I—stop applauding, please!" he pleaded, horrified. Harry quickly batted everybody's hands down.
"It was a big deal," Scorpius piped up. He was looking down at Albus, his face stretched into a wide smile. His eyes were dancing with affection. "It was brilliant! Nobody could keep up with him and he was running and kicking the ball at the same time! Amazing."
Albus was Weasley red now.
"It was just like chasing," he dismissed gruffly. "Only…I didn't have to fly. So that made it easier."
Ginny could tell the attention was grating on him, so she quickly rose. She threw her arms around him and gave him a hug.
"You're welcome for the chasing genes, then," She told him. She stepped back and lifted his mud-and-grass stained hands. "Go wash up before dinner. You too, James and Scorpius. Lily—let me see your hands. Ack! You wash yours twice!"
James and Lily walked off. Scorpius hung back, waiting for Albus to walk out first. Albus hung back, waiting for him. They awkwardly did an identical forward-shuffle, only to stop and then laugh, meeting eyes briefly and then looking away. With perhaps one of the most adorable smiles Ginny had ever seen gracing her son's face (bashful, affectionate, warm, gentle), Albus gave Scorpius a gentle nudge and then grabbed onto his hand, tugging him through the doorway with him. They were already laughing about something else as they headed towards the bathroom, the vague sound of their easy conversation flittering through the tent.
Ginny gestured pointedly at the doorway.
"I feel much better now," Ron said cheerfully. "There's no way he'll date my daughter."
"Is that all you care about? Honestly…" Harry shook his head in disbelief.
"You know, I can't remember the last time Ron looked at me like that," Hermione muttered. Ginny laughed loudly.
"What? I look at you all the time. I'm looking at you right now." Ron peered at her with an intense, probing expression.
"Somehow, I'm not feeling very wooed," Hermione said flatly. She rose. "Shall we go see how the food came out?"
Ron stood. Harry remained at Ginny's side.
"I'll stay here and starve it out with Gin," he said loyally. "Molly would never let me miss a meal."
"Don't be so sure…she was really hacked off. Somehow she equates using magic with not respecting Dad. But personally, I think she was just really angry about the campfire spit and is taking it out on Ginny."
Ginny crossed her arms stubbornly. "I don't regret it and I'm not sorry."
"…if your mum comes in here, let me do the talking," Harry requested.
"You know, this isn't bad at all," Ginny mused. She pressed her finger lightly over the locket-shaped scar on the middle of Harry's chest, watching as the blood briefly blanched from her point of pressure. "What if we skipped one meal every day and just escaped in here for a bit?"
"I'd do it in a heartbeat. But something tells me you'd make it maybe two days and then decide you like the meal more than me."
"Never! Well, that's not entirely true…it depends on what the meal is."
"Fair enough. But, just so we're clear…I'd ditch you for your mum's roast chicken."
"I'd ditch you for her roast chicken. We can rekindle our relationship at the dinner table."
She felt him press his lips against her hair. "Deal."
They enjoyed another moment or two in their bed alone, listening contently to the loud sounds of the rest of their family enjoying dinner, before the door was pushed open.
"You were supposed to bring an ordinary Muggle tent!" Molly greeted.
"Oh, Merlin, Mum! Can we not do this again? I'm sorry, okay. I can't sleep on the actual ground; bad Chaser joints, it's a thing, ask Gonçalo Flores. And I just wanted to help earlier. We weren't getting anywhere without magic," Ginny groaned.
She buried her face into Harry's bare chest. He was slowly and slyly tugging the blanket up over himself as if his bare chest were something extremely scandalous. Molly was unfazed.
"Harry dear, there's no reason for you to spend dinner in here, come and get something to eat."
"There's no reason for Ginny to, either. I'll stick with her."
Ginny couldn't remember the last time she'd been more astounded. She sat up and stared down at Harry, aghast. He had his jaw set.
Her mum was flustered. "Well…I suppose…if Arthur is okay with it…you can both join us…"
Everybody in the room knew that Arthur wasn't (and hadn't) been angry with Ginny. Just like everybody knew Molly had never intended to shun Ginny from dinner; she'd clearly come with the purpose of inviting her back, even if her pride made her go about it in a roundabout way.
"Thanks, Molly," Harry smiled.
Ginny's mum smiled back. "Make sure to hurry out before everybody gets seconds."
Ginny waited until she heard Molly rejoining the dinner party, and then she settled back down against Harry.
"Harry Potter," she said, impressed. "You just played Molly Weasley at her own game. Do you play me like that? I've got to keep an eye on you."
"Nobody can play you, Gin. It's not possible." He reached down, guided her face up, and kissed her. "Come on—let's see if there's any food left."
As if to prove he'd never been angry with her, Arthur coddled Ginny for the majority of the meal, who was quite happy to accept his babying. Sitting there by a warm fire, stuffed with a surprisingly great meal, her cheeks flushed from firewhiskey, surrounded by those she loved most…Ginny couldn't think of a thing she'd change.
That was the sort of mood her children caught her in as they sidled up, sly smiles in place.
"Mum," Albus voiced. She guessed they'd told Albus to ask because she'd always had a difficult time refusing Albus anything, but she didn't much care. She felt incredibly fond of everybody around her, to the point that she could find no faults in them. Let them beguile her if they wanted; they hardly ever got the chance to and it was something all children should get away with at least once.
"Hmm?" She asked. Her head was leaning against Bill's shoulder. Listening to him drone on and on to Charlie and Harry about matters at Gringotts was nearly as nostalgic and comforting as her mother's hugs.
"Can we please go down to the beach? We don't want to wait 'til morning. Teddy is going and so are Victoire, Dominique, Fred, and Roxanne. Please. Scorpius hasn't seen the sea in ages."
Ginny lifted her head from Bill's shoulder and turned, glancing towards Harry. He'd paused his conversation with Bill as Albus approached. He met her eyes in turn, questioning. Ginny gave a tiny nod. Harry smiled.
"All right," Ginny permitted. James let out an excited whoop. Lily clapped her hands together, overjoyed. "Two things first, though. One: let me see everybody's wands."
At once, all four produced them. Ginny wasn't sure whether she was pleased that they were as vigilant as they were, or concerned that they felt there was a need for it.
"Okay. Secondly: name the important three. Incantations and names."
"Disarming charm," Albus began with a sigh. "Expelliarmus."
"Shield charm!" Lily piped up. "Protego!"
"And the tried and true full body-bind curse. Petrificus Totalus."
"And the order is?"
"Shield ourselves, disarm them, bind them, find our parents."
Ginny waved her hand out towards the sea. "Perfect, go on. Have fun."
All four hesitated as if it were too good to be true.
"Seriously. Go on. Bring me back a pretty piece of sea glass or something."
James slapped Albus on the back before they hurried off, clearly impressed by his brother's success. Ginny beamed.
"I think he's happier. Don't you?" she asked Harry.
Harry wrapped his arm around her, pulling her to his side this time. She snuggled against him, breathing in deeply. He was one-third the smell of Amortentia. She felt like she could've happily melded against his side and remained there for the rest of her days.
"I do," he agreed.
Ginny watched her dad laughing from the other side of the fire, burning bright with life and fulfilment. In that moment, she was confident that Albus would be okay. No matter what happened with Scorpius, he'd be all right. Because he had all of them and there was no fiercer love.
Harry leaned down to kiss her briefly; Ginny mumbled her next words against his lips.
"Why do I get the feeling we're going to regret sending them off?"
He kissed her a final time and then pulled back. He grinned at her, his palm cradling her cheek. The broadness of his grin made his glasses sit a bit askew.
"Because they're definitely up to something."
"Ah. So that's what this nagging feeling is. Seems all it takes to muffle my instincts is firewhiskey."
"Let's hope they don't catch onto that; we'll find firewhiskey smuggled into our tea," Harry laughed. He drew her into his embrace. The firewhiskey had affected him, too; he was much more publically affectionate than he usually was. Ginny's brothers had long approved of her relationship with Harry, and they accepted the fact that she was married, but she still caught them grimacing periodically at public displays. However, he didn't seem to mind much now; Ginny allowed herself to be tugged over into his lap, her arms quick to loop around his neck.
"Should we go after them?" Ginny wondered.
"No, leave them be. I trust them to get themselves out of any trouble they may get into. I don't trust them enough to think they'll stay out of trouble…but then again, I never could manage that, either."
"Hey," Ginny realized. She rested her head on Harry's shoulder. "The kids are off somewhere. Nobody's in the tent. We could steal a few minutes alone, maybe even an hour depending on how much trouble the kids get themselves into—"
"Bill! Charlie! Harry! Ginny! Come on, we're playing poker!" Arthur cried.
Ginny deflated against Harry's chest.
"Like I said," he commented sourly. "What is alone?"
She sighed heavily. She grabbed his hand once she'd dropped from his lap, tugging him upright.
"Come on. Let's go see what mad things everybody's going to gamble with."
Night One by frombluetored
Albus had seen the sea plenty of times, thanks to the innumerable trips he’d taken to Shell Cottage over the course of his childhood. It had never been a very big deal; it was simply background noise, a bit of salt on the air, a soothing constant. But there was something different about the beach there on Shell Island. Albus stood barefoot in the sand as the waning tide crashed forward into his ankles, only to slink back, his toes sucked further and further into the sand with every stationary moment that passed. He could hear James, Roxanne, and Fred arguing about something from further up the beach. Teddy and Victoire had disappeared at some point during the walk down and Albus had no interest in speculating why or where they’d gone. The important thing was that Scorpius was with him, standing a few steps back, watching the moon’s reflection on the silken surface of the water like he’d never seen anything more moving. The important thing was that they were here spending actual time with his brother and cousins, and everybody seemed to like Scorpius. Even odder still—everybody seemed to like Al. The same people he’d alienated through surly glances and harsh words the four years prior had acted like nothing had ever happened. If only Albus could stop having intermittent nightmares, he might truly believe last year was a dream.
His heart gave a sudden jolt, tugging him back to the present and back to his best friend. Scorpius had joined him further down, his own shoes kicked off. He was standing close enough for their arms to brush. Scorpius let out an alarmed laugh as he stepped into the wet sand and began sinking down. He took a step forward, yanking his feet free, and then watched in amusement as the water and sand gradually filled and smoothed over the place his feet had been moments prior.
Albus—now up to his ankles in sand—reached forward, grasping onto Scorpius’s hand. He pulled him back beside him.
“Just stand still, it feels nice,” he reassured him. Scorpius’s previous wariness dissipated quickly at those words. He nodded, planted his feet, and stared off at the distant swells of the waves as the sand inhaled him. Albus would’ve given anything for a bit of Gryffindor bravery, if only he could muster the strength to reach over and take Scorpius’s hand. It was one thing to take it casually throughout the day. It was another to take it here, sprouting from the sea, the moon’s light making even Albus feel particularly romantic.
“Whoa—!” Scorpius cried out softly, alarmed. His body swayed forward as the sand engulfed him nearly to his ankles and a strong wave crashed into their calves. Scorpius reached out, his arms flailing, and grasped onto Albus’s forearm. His hand was slick from the splashing sea water; Albus could feel grains of sand grating between their skin. He turned his face down to the sand, blushing, and with what felt like every ounce of bravery he might’ve inherited from his parents—he settled his hand over Scorpius’s.
It was instant, easy. Scorpius slid his palm down Albus’s forearm (the caress made Albus’s ears burn, his stomach jolt) and took his hand.
“There,” Scorpius said, beaming ear-to-ear. “Please be my anchor! I think these waves want to fight with me, and if they do, they’ll definitely win.”
“Definitely," Albus agreed, his own grin gradually blooming. In a surge of affection, he gave Scorpius’s fingers a gentle squeeze. He glanced up at him shyly a second later, relieved to see that Scorpius’s grin was wider still. “Don’t worry. If you get knocked down, I’ll probably get knocked down too, so at least we’ll both die an embarrassing death together.”
“…I’m not sure I’m feeling very reassured, actually. I’d prefer to live embarrassing lives together instead?”
The sea mist felt refreshingly nice against Albus’s burning face. He wished he could’ve submerged his face into the actual sea.
“Halfway there, mate,” he muttered instead.
“Halfway there?!” Scorpius yelped, turning to look down at Albus. “Do you know something I don’t?!”
It came to him effortlessly.
“Yeah,” Albus said. “If you end up going on a date with Rose in the next couple of years, she’ll eat you alive over the table in Madame Puddifoot’s tea shop!”
Scorpius laughed. “Why would she do that?! I don’t think she’d risk Azkaban just for me.” Scorpius perked up. “Or would she?”
“No," Albus deadpanned. The water suddenly felt colder, the sand grittier. He looked down and away.
“D’you what she told me earlier? When you went off to help your gran?” Scorpius continued.
Albus’s heart was sinking faster than his feet were.
“No. What?” He mumbled. He knew he’d uttered the words like they were being forced out of him, and in a way, they were. He thought to his mum’s words from earlier in the day. About how things take time; she hadn’t been with his dad in the beginning of her fifth year. And his dad had been with another girl in his fifth year. It had comforted Albus all day, reminding him that the present wasn’t necessarily the future, but he was reminded once again that love could transcend all.
“She told me that she doesn’t want to date me!” Scorpius exclaimed.
Albus looked up at him immediately, a bit taken aback. It wasn’t what he’d expected.
“Well…yeah, Scorpius. She’s told you that repetitively in every way possible. By ignoring you, by calling you rude names, by letting her friends laugh at you, by turning down your date offer…”
Scorpius nodded. “Yeah, but here’s the thing! She told me she doesn’t want to date anybody!”
This distinction meant something to Scorpius. To Albus, it was nothing new.
“So it’s not me. Well, I mean, she said it was still sort of me. Because I’m a Malfoy, and then there was that whole son-of-Voldemort thing that I’m sure will continue on despite your dad debunking it….but most importantly, she said dating seems like a ‘colossal’ waste of time and intellectual energy.” Scorpius was beaming again. “But she patted my hand after she said that, so I think maybe we can be friends! That would be brilliant, don’t you think? If Rose was our friend!”
Albus hardly dared to breathe. He knew this stroke of luck might turn out to be nothing—Rose might decide after their O.W.L.s that she did want to date and that Scorpius was the perfect candidate. But right then, it was the best possible thing that could’ve happened. Scorpius was realizing that his current chances with Rose were slim and (very importantly) his feelings hadn’t been hurt. Albus hadn’t wanted that and it had been difficult to picture a scenario where it didn’t happen. He couldn’t envision Scorpius being turned down firmly enough to stop his advances without it shattering his heart. But Rose had managed, as she always did. She may have irritated Albus to tears at times, but she was the most talented and clever person he knew.
“Yeah, that’d be nice,” Albus finally agreed.
“And if my dad keeps helping me with Quidditch, I may make the team, and maybe then people will stop teasing us so much.” He looked back up at Albus. “You know, if you got your mum to help you with the flying bit, I think you’d have a chance of making Chaser.”
Had it been a year prior, he would’ve scoffed at Scorpius for even suggesting it. But the thought of being on the team with Scorpius was undeniably a good one, even if it meant he’d have to get over his rebellious, forced hatred of Quidditch. He’d really enjoyed it before Hogwarts; he’d loved to follow the professional matches. His mum used to bring him along when she commentated. But once he went to Hogwarts, it turned into a symbol of all the people who mocked him. It would be nice to reclaim it again.
“Maybe,” Albus hedged. “I can ask her.”
As if it hinged on his mum agreeing. Scorpius gave him a doubtful look but didn’t say anything else. They were both aware that Albus’s stubbornness and pride were the real hurdles to that plan.
“They’ve got three positions opening up on the Slytherin team this year: Chaser, Seeker, and Keeper. I think I’m going to go for Seeker. That’s what my dad was and we’ve worked on it the most this summer,” Scorpius continued.
“Are you any good?” Albus wondered. Scorpius had often woken well before Albus during the time he’d spent at Malfoy Manor that summer. By the time Albus had risen for the day, Scorpius and his dad were done with practice and were usually waiting for him in the kitchen. Scorpius had always seemed too sheepish about it all to give him many details, but Albus felt now was a good time to ask, and he wasn’t wrong.
Scorpius smiled. “Not bad! I’ve only fallen from my broom twice! And I’ve caught the snitch 84% of the time, which is better than 0% of the time. So overall, I’m feeling pretty optimistic.”
“Well,” Albus joked. “If you can do it, there’s hope for me yet.”
“That’s the spirit!”
Their hands were still joined and Albus had the urge to wrap his arm around Scorpius’s waist. But before he could entertain the idea too seriously, a sudden splash towards their left drew both their eyes. Albus squinted at a dim, approaching shape.
“What is that?” Albus wondered. He pried his feet from the sand with a somewhat sickening squelch and then took a half-step forward, squinting harder into the moonlit landscape. “A dog? Did somebody’s dog wander off from camp?”
Scorpius took a half-step back. He dropped his hand from Albus’s and moved it to his shoulder, clenching hard.
“Albus. That is not a dog,” he breathed. He tightened his hand to the point of pain. “That’s a wolf.”
Albus stared. “Oh…yeah, I see that now, it’s got a…oh, sodding hell—it’s coming closer! We’re dead.”
“Deader than dead. Don’t move!” Scorpius exclaimed, his voice high in fright. “Don’t run. It’ll only chase us.”
“I…don’t think that’s the proper thing to do in this situation, Scorpius,” Albus hissed. His body was coiled tight with fear. He didn’t think he could’ve run even if he wanted to. “Playing dead is for bears…right?”
“Uh…er…erm…” Scorpius panicked. “I don’t know! I can’t remember! I don’t know if I’ve ever read a book about what to do if wolves attack! Why have I never read that book?!”
“Shh!” Albus cried. The wolf had noticed them without a doubt. Albus’s heart froze as it turned and began stalking their way. “Okay. New plan. Run!”
Albus grabbed Scorpius hand and gave him an almighty yank, tugging him forcefully along behind him. He sprinted down the beach, flecks of water and sand spattering high up his legs, and didn’t dare to stop. He didn’t even consider the fact that they both had their wands; running had seemed, instinctively, like the better option.
“James!” Albus screamed, waving his free arm overhead towards his brother. James looked up from the driftwood he was perched on. He peered into the distance, towards the rapidly approaching wolf (Albus could hear the noisy panting and the soft slaps of paws against wet sand), but seemed entirely indifferent.
“Hey, Al. You all right?”
“Wolf!” Scorpius shrieked. He overtook Albus at that point but refused to let go of his hand. Albus’s arm was yanked painfully as his shorter legs tried to keep up with Scorpius’s pace. They both tripped on a higher pile of sand near the spot James was (having been unable to see it in the dim light) and went sprawling face-first, earning a mouthful of sand.
This is it. We’re dead. Dead. As Scorpius said, deader than dead.
But James was howling with laughter. And the panting had stopped. Albus could still feel Scorpius’s hand, warm and sweaty in his, and that gave him the strength to sit up. He brushed the dry sand from his face and turned, peering around them. He didn’t understand. There was his eldest cousin, Victoire. Where had she come from? And most importantly—why was that same wolf curled up in her lap, half his massive body spilling out it, his chin turned contentedly towards the sky as she scratched behind his ears?
“Erm…” Scorpius squeaked. He half-crawled backwards away from the wolf, knocking back into Albus. “Victoire, is this your…pet? Because—because I think it’s important for you to know…wolves don’t make good pets. You can’t really domesticate them.”
Victoire was enjoying herself immensely. She shook her blonde hair out behind herself and laughed.
“No? Watch this.” She gently prodded the wolf’s back. “Make a sandcastle.”
Albus gaped as the wolf clambered off Victoire’s lap and immediately began digging in the sand. Only a minute or two later, and a distinct shape began to emerge.
“Erm…” Scorpius repeated.
Albus narrowed his eyes. He turned his gaze from the wolf, to Victoire’s star-filled eyes, to James’s hysterical laughter. He thought randomly to the five hour long conversation James had instigated about animagi the night Scorpius had arrived at the Potter household. He felt a chill race down his spine.
“Teddy?” he realized.
The wolf stopped immediately. Albus still flinched by instinct as it turned and trotted over. He grimaced as the wolf (Teddy?) gave a friendly and somewhat apologetic lick to the back of Albus’s free hand. Scorpius’s lips had parted.
“You’re a—you!” Albus was at a loss. That speechlessness only grew when Teddy transformed back into his human form, right in front of Albus’s eyes. His eyes were bulging. “You!!!”
“Sorry, Al,” Teddy told him. His hair shifted from electric blue to bright pink. “James blackmailed me. Are you all right?” Albus nodded numbly. He turned to Scorpius. “Are you all right? You look a bit clammy.”
Scorpius was still clinging weakly to Albus’s hand.
“Yes,” he squeaked, higher than normal. “Yes. Fine. I’m fine. You’re a…”
“Animagus. Been working on it for three years.”
“But…you’re not registered,” Albus blurted. “My dad’s going to—to arrest you!”
“Your dad’s not going to find out,” Teddy said brusquely. “I was going to register, but then I considered how beneficial it was for Sirius that he wasn’t registered, and I decided I’d do it a different way. I’d do it the way my dad’s best mates did it.”
“And how I’m going to do it!” James said proudly. “Like the first James and Sirius!”
Albus spun around. “What? Are you an idiot?”
James stuck his tongue out at Albus. Albus was initially taken aback by how childish it was, but then he noticed something small stuck to his brother’s tongue.
“Mandrake leaf! I’ve had it in my mouth for an entire month. Nora will be glad to be rid of it,” James said proudly. “It’s part of the process.”
“I don’t think this is a good idea…” Scorpius tried to say, but James cut him off.
“I didn’t bring you slithering Slytherins here to lecture me. I’ve heard that you’re exceptionally good at Potions, Al.”
“No? Who told you that?” Albus demanded. “I’m good at a potion. One! The Polyjuice Potion! And I’m not even good making it—just taking it!”
“Still, you have more experience with illegal potions than me. I never did get on well with Potions,” James continued. “Neither do Fred, Roxanne, or Dominique.”
Albus turned his focus onto his other cousins.
“Not you three, too!” He moaned, horrified.
In response, they stuck their tongues out, revealing a leaf each. He turned to Victoire, pleading. Thankfully, she shook her head.
“I’m not. No way. My Patronus is a butterfly," Victoire assured him. “And while it’s never been proven that you’re always what your Patronus is, I haven’t seen a case that disputes it, and I don’t want to end up splattered on some Muggle’s windshield.”
“The moon,” Scorpius said, realization dawning over his features. “This is the only night you could do the potion for probably another year or two. But how are you going to do it— you don’t have anything with you.”
“Moon? What about the moon?” Albus demanded.
“It’s a blue moon. The second full moon this month. This step of the process can only happen underneath a blue moon,” Dominique explained.
“And we’ve got everything we need with us. I nicked this off of Aunt Hermione,” James continued, pulling a tiny, beaded bag from his pocket. “It’s got an Undetectable Extension Charm. I’ve got everything we’ll need in here. I just need you to help with the potion.”
Albus backed up, shaking his head.
“No. No way. I’m not taking part in this! Why can’t Teddy help?! He’s obviously made it successfully once before!”
“Because I don’t approve of this,” Teddy said sourly. “I won’t tell on them, and I certainly won’t help them, so all I can do is hang around to try and keep them from maiming or killing themselves, both of which are likely to happen.”
Roxanne and Fred exchanged a look. “Cool!” they hissed.
“I can tell on them!” Albus cried. He glowered at James. “I can’t believe you stole from Aunt Hermione! I hope she finds out and thrashes you! No—I hope she finds out and makes you do all of Dad’s backed up paperwork!”
“Uh…” Scorpius tightened his grip on Albus’s hand and leaned over, hissing: “We stole from your Aunt Hermione last year, remember?”
“That was different!” Albus hissed back.
“You won’t tell,” James said, a mischievous grin in place, “because if you do, I’ll tell everyone—” he shot a pointed look at Scorpius. “—everything.” He winked.
A wave of panic washed over Albus. He felt a bit queasy.
“I don’t even know what you’re talking about,” Albus snapped, but he could hear the uncertainty in his own voice. In a fit of desperation, he pulled out the biggest weapon he had. “And…and…I’ll tell Mum! I’ll tell her you’re teasing me! And she’ll…hex your face off!”
James shrank back for a moment. They stared at each other, brother to brother, testing the waters. Who was bluffing? Who had more to lose? Albus wagered that losing one’s face was a pretty high price, but he also felt that the risk of losing his friendship with Scorpius was an even bigger one.
Before either could make the next gamble, a brilliant light distracted them both. They turned at once.
“Lily!” James snapped, his wary eyes on the prowling lion. “You idiot—you can’t keep doing that! You’ve still got the Trace on you!”
“The Minister is here, as well as loads of adult wizards and witches. They’ll never know it was me,” Lily said casually. She smiled fondly at the Patronus. “Besides, I love him. I’ve named him Fleamont. He’s my friend.”
“Lily, you’re not doing this, are you?” Scorpius spoke up, his voice nervous. “You’re too young.”
“No, she’s not!” James, Fred, Roxanne, and Teddy chorused fiercely.
“Over my literal dead body!” Teddy added. He had always been extremely protective of Lily, something Albus was grateful for in that moment. The last thing the world needed was Lily to be even more powerful than she already was, and the ability to morph into a lion whenever she wanted would certainly grant her more of it.
“She’s just watching with me,” Victoire reassured them all. “That’s all. Don’t yell at her. Come here, Lily.” Lily and ‘Fleamont’ walked over to Victoire. The Patronus faded and disappeared, but Lily didn’t seem to mind. She was cuddled warmly against Victoire’s side now. Albus scowled. He’d never understood why she was so coddled; she needed it less than any of them.
“So what do you say? Are you going to help me or not?” James asked. He stared hard at the side of Albus’s face until he finally turned, meeting James’s eyes. “If you don’t want to help, fine. I mean, you’ll just be giving the Slytherin house a bad name. But I’ll…respect that. But if you tell on me, I’ll make your life a living hell. Promise.”
Albus groaned. “Dad’ll kill me,” he breathed weakly.
“No, Dad’ll kill me, because I’ll tell him I threatened to ruin your life if you didn’t help. I promise I won’t let you take the fall if this turns sour. Please? Trust me, okay. I won’t mess this up. I won’t get caught. But if I do, I promise I won’t let you and Scorpius take any blame. Dad won’t be disappointed in you.”
Albus hesitated. Part of him wanted to agree eagerly because he’d really liked spending time with his brother again. He’d liked being his friend for the past day. He really wanted James to like him, to respect him. But he was worried. He was worried about James and his cousins. He was worried about what would happen to his parents if James died. He remembered how pale they’d looked when his life was in danger. What would happen if they actually lost one of their children?
He looked up at Teddy. “Are they properly prepared? Or acting like typical Gryffindors?”
“Typical Gryffindors,” the past Hufflepuff Head Boy answered. “But I will admit they’ve done their research.”
“And you’ll know if I mess something up? You’ll step in? You won’t let them get hurt?”
“Of course not. But I won’t help you get it right, either.” Teddy responded. “If the potion is done incorrectly, I won’t let them drink it.”
Albus turned and looked up at Scorpius, and then he turned and looked back at James and his cousins.
“Hang on,” he told them. He tugged Scorpius a few feet away from the group. “What should we do?”
Scorpius was chewing on his bottom lip. “I dunno. I mean, if Teddy is going to check everything, I guess there’s no risk in us helping. And it sounds like they’re going to do it with or without us. Best case scenario: we muck it up, waste their supplies, and they have to wait two years for the next blue moon.”
“Cunning. Clever. Spoken like a true Slytherin,” Albus complemented, surprised. “Worst case scenario?”
“Worst case? Teddy misses a mistake, they take it, and they get permanently stuck as half-human, half-animal creatures.”
Albus sucked in a breath. “So it’s a big one. A big risk.”
“I mean…it depends on how attached you are to James…”
Albus glowered James’s way. “Right now, not very. I wonder why they asked me. Lily is the Potions prodigy. Slughorn’s been begging to adopt her since her first Potions class.”
“I bet Lily refused to help if they wouldn’t let her do it, too,” Scorpius shared.
“Yeah, that sounds like Lily,” Albus shifted from foot to foot, anxious and uncertain. “What do you think?” He asked again.
“I have to decide?”
“Yes. You’re the level-headed one in our duo.”
Scorpius looked up at the sky as he thought.
“Well. We did want to have more friends this school year.”
“Yeah, but I didn’t exactly anticipate that committing a crime would be the stipulation…”
“In retrospect, Albus, you probably should’ve. Look at our track record. The last friend we made was Voldemort’s daughter and her friendship hinged on us, you know, conspiring to kill your dad and bring back hers. So. On the whole, we should be quite used to being used for evil gains.”
“True,” Albus nodded. And then, with a burst of what could only be explained as genetic Gryffindor fault, he squared his shoulders. “Sod it. Let’s do it. Let’s show them how good we are at illegal potions!”
Scorpius pumped his fist up into the air. “Yeah! All right!” He frowned a moment later. “Wait—illegal?” He trailed after Albus, his warm hand grasping his forearm. “Will we go to prison, Albus? Because I can’t go to prison. I can’t sleep on low-quality bedclothes…--”
“Fine,” Albus told James, “we’ll help. But we have some conditions.”
Scorpius’s voice in Albus’s ear:
“We do?” He hissed.
James hooted gleefully. “Brilliant! Okay, what do you want, Al?”
Albus hesitated. What did he want? He turned and looked down at Scorpius, whose eyes had grown wide.
“Er…one moment.” He pulled Scorpius back again.
“Okay, so, you told him we’d do it. Slight, minor detail. We can still back out. Tell him you meant to say...we won’t help?”
“No, we’re still doing it. But we need to get something from it. We aren’t going to work for free anymore,” Albus declared. “From now on, if we’re going to be used, we’re going to get payment.”
“Fine, okay, great, let’s just pop down to Azkaban and tell Delphi she owes us a thousand galleons.”
“No, I’ve got something better. C’mon.” Albus walked back to his brother, Scorpius following after. “Okay. James, if you make Head Boy this year, you’ve got to give Slytherin at least fifty points every week.”
James arched an eyebrow. “For what, exactly?”
Albus crossed his arms. “Because your little brother’s in it. Make things up. Ten points to McGinty for getting to class on time, ten to Malfoy for holding open a door—whatever. But I want fifty each week.”
“You are aware that if you win the House Cup because of this it’ll be cheating?”
“It’ll still be a win. The entire system’s corrupt, anyway.”
James appraised him with something akin to amused disbelief for a long moment. And then he laughed.
“Sure, all right! Deal. If you help with this potion, I’ll award your sneaky, snaky points.”
Albus looked at Scorpius for input.
“Er…decent. Okay.” James and Albus stared at him. “…I haven’t exactly decided how I feel about this yet. Ask me again in ten minutes, or after somebody loses a limb.”
Roxanne was less pleased. “Traitor,” she glowered at James.
He shot a cocky grin her way. “No worries, Roxie. I’ll just make sure to award Gryffindor fifty each week as well.”
Albus shrugged. “I’m not worried because Gryffindor loses about two hundred points each week on average. It’s turned into the pranking House and that’s to my advantage.”
James looked uncertain for a brief moment in time, but it passed quickly.
Between the steam wafting over his face and the pressure of Lily’s eyes boring into the back of his head, he was finding the experience decidedly unpleasant.
“Okay, good. Now…we drop one drop of bowtruckle blood, stir thirty-one times counterclockwise, add another drop facing north, stir twenty-one times clockwise…”
“Wait, slow down,” Albus pleaded. He sat back on his legs, sweating and feeling prickly anxiety surging through his veins. “That was thirty-one and then twenty-one?”
“Er…” Scorpius nervous flipped back to that page. His light brow furrowed as he re-read. “Right! Thirty-one counterclockwise, twenty-one clockwise, eleven counterclockwise, then one clockwise…”
“Okay.” Albus said. He was hyper aware of his cousins’ eyes on him. He struggled to appear composed and confident. “Of course, perfect.”
Sodding hell. Sodding hell. What am I doing?
“Okay…got the bowtruckle blood…one drop…like so…” he held his breath as the drop released from the dropper. It splashed atop the potion, and at once, it turned into a brilliant emerald. He turned and looked up at Scorpius hopefully. “Emerald?”
“Emerald! Though, it says there should be ‘streaks of red’?” Scorpius lowered the book and leaned forward, peering with Albus at the potion. It was stubbornly green. “Right…maybe it gets the streaks after we stir?”
“Maybe. Yeah. Let’s try that.” Albus agreed.
Infuriatingly enough, Lily cleared her throat from behind them.
“Al,” she sang. “Al, you made a mistake.”
“Shut up, Lily, I did not.”
But he felt like somebody had just dropped an ice cube down the back of his shirt. And his stomach clenched. Because it really should’ve had red streaks by now.
“You did so, and I know what it was," she continued.
Scorpius bounced over to her eagerly. He turned the book towards her. “What was it?”
“Sorry. My expertise doesn’t come free. You have to let me take some of the potion if I tell you.”
“No!” James glared.
“No.” Teddy said.
Lily looked a bit taken aback. She frowned.
“Fine,” she shrugged. “Mess it up. See if I care.”
Everybody was beginning to look earnestly nervous now. Scorpius was examining the book like it held the secrets to the universe, his bottom lip pulled between his teeth again. Albus was momentarily distracted by the sight of him: brow furrowed, cheeks flushed, lip bitten…
“Albus!” James snapped. “Stop ogling Scorpius! What did you mess up on?”
Albus jumped, mortified. “I-I’m not—I dunno! I did the drop, I put the correct number of unicorn hairs in, I just…” he trailed off, his eyes on the dropper. Was it a half-drop dropper? He dove forward so quickly that he slammed his head into the cauldron. He saw bright lights from the force of it, and before he could steady himself, he went sprawling down into the dirt.
“Albus!” Scorpius exclaimed. “Albus—there’s a cauldron there!”
There was a dull thunk as Scorpius threw himself down beside Albus. He felt one hand brush down his back and another settle on the back of his head. “Are you okay?!”
Albus sort of wanted to lie there for hours with Scorpius’s hands on him. But he felt that might be a bit ineffective. He slowly sat up, his forehead throbbing madly. He winced and pressed his palm over it. Scorpius batted his hand away and then inched closer to Albus. He grasped his face in his warm hands, peering hard into his eyes.
“Albus,” he said. “Repeat after me: owl, sparrow, lion, dog, cat.”
“Name five animals that start with the letter A!”
Scorpius paled. He gripped Albus’s face firmly and pulled it closer to his own. Albus could feel his breath against his lips now. His cheeks burned.
“I think you’ve got a concussion…and a fever, you’re burning up!”
Surprisingly, James interrupted before Albus could actually perish from embarrassment.
“He’s fine; he’s just a stupid git. He couldn’t name five animals that start with A even before the hit to his head. He’s fine to keep working. Right, Al?”
James glowered. Albus—feeling quite dizzy and a bit nauseated—nodded back shakily. Scorpius wasn’t convinced.
“No…I don’t know, James. I think we should take him back.” He reached up and pried one of Albus’s eyelids up. “His eyes look a bit wonky.”
“No! They always look like that! He’s almost done!”
“He’s not!” Scorpius cried, outraged. “We’re only a page in! There’s fourteen more!”
“That’ll only take a bit longer!”
“Albus, do you feel like continuing?” Scorpius demanded. Albus gave his head a tiny shake; pain pierced along his skull as he did so. A thought occurred to him.
“Ant. Ant, Scorpius. That counts, right?”
Scorpius’s face fell. He turned to look at James.
“I’m taking him back to the adults.”
“Victoire is training to be a Healer!” James remembered. He spun around, his eyes searching for Victoire. “Vic, come check on him!”
But Victoire was eerily silent, standing far off from the group, her expression intense.
“What?” Teddy asked his girlfriend immediately.
Roxanne, Fred, and Dominique, who’d been carefully setting out the ingredients they’d need for the next steps in order, froze. And then Albus heard it, too. Giggling. Snapping branches. Low voices.
“Who’s this far out?” Roxanne hissed.
They’d disappeared into a thick grove of trees to make the potion, certain that nobody would be that far out from any other campsite. Which meant it had to be somebody from their campsite. But even then, why would they be sneaking around these woods?
“Be…very…still…” Dominique told them all, through gritted teeth.
Immediately, everybody froze. Albus wasn’t even sure if they were breathing. He looked around nervously as the noises grew closer and closer. His heart stopped when he realized that, whoever it was, they were going to walk right into their little clearing, and there was nothing they could do about it. And it only got worse.
“Wait—,” a familiar voice said, pausing mid-laugh. Albus, Lily, and James exchanged dismayed glances. “I think I hear something.”
The footsteps stopped. Albus’s dad spoke next.
“Yeah, I do, too. It sounds like…bubbling?”
They looked at the bubbling cauldron. Before anybody could make any real efforts towards getting rid of it, the Potter parents stepped into the clearing, pink-cheeked and a bit disheveled. Everybody froze.
Albus looked at Ginny. And then—with intense trepidation—he looked at Harry. Both Harry and Ginny scanned their eyes slowly over the group of panicked children, landing at last on the cauldron and the book lying face-down on the dirt, the spine clearing broadcasting The Art of Animagi: How to Become an Animagus in Two Short Years, Guaranteed!
“Run,” Fred hissed through the corner of his mouth. “Save yourselves. Run!”
At once, everybody but Albus and Scorpius dove in opposite directions, scattering towards the trees. Harry bellowed an incantation Albus had never heard before. Everybody slammed into an invisible barrier and went falling backwards onto their bottoms, groaning.
His mum seemed taller than usual. The leaves in her tangled hair somehow didn’t hinder her imposing presence even a bit. She drew herself up and ground her teeth.
“Who?” She snarled.
Immediately, nearly everybody’s fingers pointed at James, who huffed.
“You lot are the worst bunch of Gryffindors I’ve ever met!” He cried. “What happened to bravery?!”
Roxanne backed up, her eyes on Ginny’s wand. “We’re brave; we’re not suicidal.”
Everybody waited with bated breath to see what would happen. Harry looked like he’d been kicked in the bollocks. Ginny was gnashing her teeth. And then—
“Who the bloody hell is the wolf?!” Harry demanded. It seemed to hit him a second later. “Edward Lupin!”
The wolf turned and began pawing at the invisible barriers, but was unable to make any more progress than his human form had. Accepting his fate, he slinked over, his tail between his legs. He gently nudged Harry’s hand and peered up at him with true puppy-dog eyes.
“We’ll have words later, you and I,” Harry said coolly. And then: “Sit.” Teddy whined and then lowered down onto the ground at Harry’s feet. He gave a heavy sigh.
Meanwhile, Ginny was stamping her way across the clearing. Roxanne darted behind Fred, who darted behind Dominique, who darted behind Victoire. Lily stood her ground. But it was James she was headed for.
“James Sirius Potter!” She shrieked, and then she grabbed his ear. James sighed up at the sky, grimacing in discomfort, his body bent at the waist to accommodate his mother’s shortness. Ginny released his ear a moment later, though her eyes were blazing. “This is by far the stupidest thing you’ve ever done!”
James parted his lips to argue (or perhaps remind Ginny of something worse he’d done), but their mum waved her wand forwards, furious. James immediately became mute. He opened his mouth soundlessly and then glowered at their mum. In a fit of frustration, he made a very rude hand gesture. Albus recoiled in horror, but Harry beat Ginny to it; he was towering over James in a second, the living embodiment of rage.
“Apologize! I don’t ever want to see you disrespecting your mum like that again!” Harry boomed.
James arched an eyebrow and then pointed at his throat.
“Mime it, I don’t care how, just apologize!”
They all watched with repressed laughter as James attempted to mime out I’m sorry, Mum. When Harry felt his apology was sufficient, he stepped back. Ginny seemed reluctant to take off the silencing charm but did a moment later.
“We didn’t do it!” James burst, as soon as his ability to speak was returned to him. “Teddy’s the only one who completed the process, and we had nothing to do with that! And he wasn’t helping us! He was just…supervising!”
“Yeah, well, he wasn’t stopping you either, was he?” Harry pointed out. He scanned the rest of them, his eyes landing once on Albus, and then trailing back to him. “What’s wrong with Albus?!”
Ginny spun around immediately, her eyes searching their small group. Scorpius spoke up bravely.
“He’s hurt. He hit his head really hard on the cauldron. He needs to be looked over.”
Harry and Ginny locked eyes. She nodded. As she hurried over to Albus, Harry ordered the rest of the kids.
“I want everybody to go back to the campsite. You are going to tell your parents exactly what you’ve been attempting to do. Teddy, you can tell Bill what you were helping Dominique to do. And rest assured that I will be checking with everybody tomorrow to find out what stories you’ve told. Go. Not you two, James and Lily! You stay here.”
They groaned. Albus listened to the sounds of his cousins sulking off. His mum’s soft hands prodded gently at his forehead a moment later, drawing a cry from his lips.
“Sorry—you’ve got quite the bump. What happened?”
Albus closed his eyes as his mum inspected his wound, listening as Scorpius calmly told them everything.
“Dad—don’t!” James shrieked.
“Are you seriously asking me not to vanish your illegal potion?” Harry breathed. James didn’t dare say another word in protest.
“—and then we agreed to help, and I knew we shouldn’t, but I like James and Roxanne and Dominique and—well, everybody really. And…I didn’t want them to hate me. So Albus and I tried to help, but we weren’t doing that great of a job. And then you two arrived," Scorpius finished.
“Two hours. We leave you kids alone for two hours and you try to become animagi!”
“Just James,” Albus spoke up. “They wouldn’t let Lily.”
“Oh, well, thank Merlin for small miracles!” His mum snapped.
“Mum,” James whined. “What is my punishment?”
“I don’t know yet. I’m going to think on it for a long while until I come up with something appropriately horrible. Up, now. Back to camp.”
“Mum, I’d rather you hex me, honestly,” James pleaded. “Just get it over with…we’ll call it even…just lash out in your anger…I know you want to…my face is pleading for a bat-bogey hex…”
“You know what I’d like? I’d like to be able to spend an hour with your dad without worrying that you’re going to set yourself on fire, or dismember yourself, or transform yourself into an Elk! That’s what I’d really like. Get moving.”
“Please hex me, Mum, please…” James continued. Everybody knew that a hex would pale in comparison to whatever punishment their parents would come up with if they were given time to really think it through. Ginny hauled Albus gently to his feet. Scorpius quickly wrapped an arm around his waist. Albus felt okay to walk on his own, but he kept that to himself. He leaned against Scorpius as they began the walk back to camp. James continued his whining the entire walk, but their mum steadily ignored him. She broke as they entered the campsite.
“James! I have not ever and will not ever hex my children! But if you don’t stop and get yourself to bed, I’ll sell your broomstick. I swear I will.”
James widened his eyes. He took off running towards the tent a second later. Ginny spun around.
“Lily, Albus, and Scorpius. Explain why nobody thought to tell on them.”
Albus was quick to throw James to the dogs. “James threatened me, Mum! He said that he would tell…” he trailed off. He darted his eyes to Scorpius, hoping his mum would somehow understand. And she must’ve. Because her expression grew even steelier a second later. “But I wanted to tell. I did!”
“He did!” Scorpius chimed in.
“Yeah, he did. Because he’s a snaky—”
“Lily, that’s quite enough from you, and frankly, you lot have made me ashamed to be a Gryffindor. Why is it that the only two not trying to become illegal animagi were the only two non-Gryffindors?” Harry demanded.
“I wasn’t going to take the potion—” Lily tried.
“Not for lack of trying, I’m sure,” Ginny said dryly.
“Teddy was a Hufflepuff and he—”
“Teddy is an adult! He did it illegally, and he’ll have to answer for that in some way, but he is an adult! You are a child!”
“I am not a child! I’m a man!” James shrieked from the tent. Ginny jabbed her wand forward; the tent zipped up in front of James’s face.
“Ginny! Magic!” Gran yelled.
His mum glanced Gran’s way, her jaw set. “Not the time, Mum!”
Albus became aware of the other sets of bickering parents and children. He drew his arms around himself and wondered when their happy family holiday had turned into this. Sodding James. But then he felt a brief sting of guilt because it wasn’t really all James’s fault. He heaved a sigh and looked up.
They looked at him at once.
“It wasn’t just James, you know. Roxanne, Dominique, and Fred were co-conspirers. They’ve been carrying Mandrake leaves in their mouths for a month, too.”
Better to throw them all to the wolves instead of just James. Harry and Ginny looked at him and then at each other. A long moment passed, in which they seemed to have an entire conversation without any words whatsoever. And then they looked back at Albus.
“Thanks for being honest, Al. You and Scorpius can go back to the tent. You too, Lily.”
Albus hesitated. He stuck his hand into his pocket and fingered the bits of sea glass he’d grabbed before they’d retreated to the woods. He approached his mum.
“Here, Mum,” he said. He held his fist out, and when she opened her hand beneath it, he let the soft blue sea glass fall into her opened palm. She stared at it.
“You asked us to bring you sea glass,” Albus reminded her, beginning to feel a bit nervous. Should he have waited? But she softened completely a beat later. Albus let out a relieved breath when she gathered him into her arms. She gently kissed his wounded forehead.
“Thank you, Al," she told him. “It was sweet of you to remember.”
He smiled. She closed her fingers around the sea glass fondly. “Go on towards the tent, all right?”
“Okay. ‘Night, Mum.”
A smile and a term of endearment. He was definitely saved. Scorpius waited until they were completely out of earshot, and then he nudged Albus.
“Skillful with a perfect delivery—10 out of 10, clever Albus strikes again!”
“I really did get that sea glass for her, before I even knew we were in trouble.”
“Oh, I know,” Scorpius assured him. “But you can’t deny your timing was perfectly cunning.”
“Well, we didn’t do anything. We should be her favorites for the rest of the holiday,” Albus said stubbornly.
“Yeah, I agree.” Scorpius nodded seriously. He looked concerned a moment later. “But they won’t send James to prison, right?”
Albus laughed. “Nah, they’ll be over it by morning. They just wanted to frighten him out of ever trying it again, I’ll bet.”
“Oh, good.” Scorpius said, relieved.
Albus woke well into the night (or, rather, the early morning). For a moment, he was unsure what had woken him. And then he heard the sound of his grandad whistling from outside of the tent.
He drifted in and out of sleep for a few more minutes, but hunger was nagging painfully at his stomach, and he knew he wouldn’t be able to drift back off. With a quick look at both Scorpius and James—who were both still sleeping deeply—he dropped from his bed and padded lightly across the carpet. His grandad was probably getting things ready to start breakfast. He hoped he was still out there by the time he made it outside; after Albus’s hectic night, he could’ve used a quiet hour or two with his grandad, who was always steady and calm no matter the weather.
He shut the door to the bedroom behind him, tiptoeing quietly down the small hall, past Lily’s room, and then out into the main living area. He’d made it halfway in when he heard noises from inside his parents’ room. He paused, hesitating. Eavesdrop or continue out? He was going to continue on, but then he realized it was laughter, and he was too intrigued not to check it out. He inched across the room by-by-bit. He slowly sank down and sat just beside the closed door. Thankfully, the magical tent didn’t include any sound insulation.
“—I’m not surprised. Honestly, nothing they do surprises me.” It was his Aunt Angelina. She was laughing, too.
“That’s because you know the full extent of what Fred and I got up to when we were their age,” George pointed out. He sounded completely chuffed. “I think it’s brilliant. I mean—I didn’t tell them that, of course—but good for them! They’ve got some initiative!”
“I think it’s horrid!” Aunt Hermione whispered. Her tone was drenched with horror. “They could’ve severely maimed themselves!”
“I don’t even know what to think,” Harry said, around peals of laughter. Albus heard the unmistakable sound of his mum laughing along, as well as Uncle Ron. “You should’ve seen their faces. They really, truly thought they were going to get away with it. Those four kept Mandrake leaves in their mouths for a month. An entire month!”
“Well, Teddy did get away with it! What are you going to do about that?” Uncle Bill asked. He sounded a bit cross.
“Hermione and I decided we’re going to get him registered immediately. We’ll play it off as a paperwork issue.”
“I’m not happy about it, though,” Aunt Hermione piped up. “I think the rules ought to apply evenly to everybody. Even if their godfather is Harry Potter.”
“Oh, don’t mind her,” Uncle Ron sighed. “She’s been on this…netipot--”
“Nepotism!” Aunt Hermione interjected, sternly.
“—nepotism kick. She thinks I’m making Rose prejudiced," Uncle Ron scoffed. “So now suddenly everybody has to follow the same rules. Since when has that ever applied to any of us?”
“To be fair, Ron, your daughter did bully my son for years,” Albus’s mum said, her laughing tone giving way to something a bit cooler.
“She didn’t bully him—she just…chose different company," Uncle Ron said.
“Don’t you two start,” Uncle Bill said sternly.
Albus’s mum gave another laugh. “I just wish you lot had been there. James was begging me to hex him rather than plot another punishment.”
“What are we going to choose for his punishment?” Harry asked.
Ginny snorted. “That was the punishment. He’s going to spend the rest of the holiday terrified over what is coming. But nothing’s coming.” A pause. “I adore him, but he can be really thick sometimes. Harry and I were looking through the book earlier, and that potion would’ve taken hours to set up. What did they think—we wouldn’t notice them disappearing for the entire night?”
“They were probably hoping you’d drink enough firewhiskey not to notice,” Aunt Angelina pointed out.
“Angelina, isn’t Roxanne’s Patronus a mole or—”
“A fox! She wanted to spend her spare time prowling around England as a fox! It’s like she’s begging to get shot!”
Harry snorted. “And can you imagine James if he’d succeeded? He would transform every time you turn around, getting his antlers stuck going into doorways, knocking people over…a nightmare. It’d be a nightmare.”
The adults all burst into poorly stifled laughter. Ginny quickly shushed them.
“Hush, you lot—the kids can’t know we find this hilarious. I think I properly frightened James for once and I don’t want to ruin that, lest he tries again next blue moon.”
Albus heard the sound of the bed creaking.
“We’d better head out. I think Dad’s ready to begin breakfast, and Fleur’s probably wondering where I am,” Uncle Bill said.
Footsteps started towards the doorway. Albus quickly bolted from the tent, running blindly out towards the main fire. His grandad looked up.
“Albus!” He cried, elated. “You’re up early!”
“Morning, Grandad! I came to…help with breakfast!” Albus said.
His grandad beamed hugely. When he pulled Albus in for a quick hug, the affection coming off his grandad made him feel like he’d done something bigger than he actually had. He helped him get the kettle going, a peaceful silence settled over them. A silence that was broken as the adults left the Potters’ tent.
“Albus?” Harry asked, confused.
“Morning, Dad,” Albus said. He turned back to the fire. He beamed when it surged, growing brighter. “I think I’ve got it, Grandad!”
His grandad clapped his shoulder. “You do, Albus, fabulous! Fabulous!”
All of his siblings and cousins (except for Lucy and Rose) were still asleep. Albus was sitting between his mum and dad, sipping scalding tea that was too weak.
“Al?” His mum asked softly.
He looked up at his mum. She studied his eyes, her brown eyes full of concern.
“If you ever wanted to talk—you know, about Scorpius, or anything really—I’m here. And I care. And I always want to listen. And I think I would understand.”
He bowed forward. He took a deep, awkward sip of his tea. His mum continued.
“I know it can be difficult to feel like the person you like doesn’t really see you. Or sees you in the wrong light.”
“But,” Harry interjected. He looked nearly as uncomfortable about this as Albus felt. “I can say, from experience, that often times that person does see you in the same way. It just takes time for them to come around.”
He didn’t know how they knew. And he wanted to dig a hole into the dirt beneath his feet and crawl into it at the notion that they did. But oddly, it helped. It helped that he didn’t have to tell them anything. It was one less thing he needed to worry about, and he was thankful for that.
“I dunno if it even matters," he finally told them. Talking about this to his parents was difficult, in general, but to his dad especially so. Their relationship was much better than it was the year prior, but it still felt a bit unstable at times.
“Because of Rose?” His mum asked knowingly.
Albus balked. “How do you know so much about this?”
“I’m clever," she dismissed. “I don’t think you need to worry about Rose. I’m sure Scorpius does have a crush on the idea of her, but he doesn’t…look at her the way he looks at you. And things like that can’t be fabricated. Besides, from what I hear, Rose and Scorpius aren’t even friends.”
“They might be soon, though,” he said miserably. “Scorpius is going to try out for the Quidditch team this year. He’s been practicing all summer. And once he’s on the team, he and Rose will have loads in common. And I’ll be all alone because I’m rubbish.” He kicked the ground moodily. “Brooms don’t listen to me. They don’t like me.”
“You’re great at muggle football, though,” his dad pointed out, completely missing the point.
“You say that almost like you want to be good at Quidditch,” his mum mused carefully. “I thought you hated it now.”
He shrugged. He kicked at the ground again, this time scuffing the toe of his trainers.
“Because if you didn’t hate it, if you wanted to try out for the team, I could have you ready in a week.”
He burst into laughter; he couldn’t help it.
“Mum, you have seen me on a broom, haven’t you?”
“Yes. And I’ve seen the difference it makes when you believe in yourself. You were a really decent flier before Hogwarts, Al. I dunno what happened there. But before you started worrying about what people thought of you, you flew just fine.”
He didn’t say anything.
“You need to want to do it, though. Don’t take up a hobby just because you’re worried about Rose and Scorpius.”
He let the silence stew for a few moments, and then he looked up at his mum. Her hair seemed brighter underneath the rising sun.
“I don’t know what I want, Mum,” he admitted. He hated how torn his voice sounded. “I just know that…it makes my stomach hurt. When they’re together. And it makes me feel miserable.”
“Like a monster’s inside of you, ripping away at things it ought not to rip at?” His dad suggested lightly.
Albus’s head flew in Harry’s direction.
“Yeah, you could say that, actually,” he realized.
“Mmm, yeah, I’ve felt that before. Awful feeling," he agreed. “But the good news is that it doesn’t last forever. Either you get the girl—er, boy—or you move on. What you’re feeling now will pass. You’ll be just fine, no matter what.”
It took a moment, but as his dad’s words seeped in, he realized that that’s what he needed to hear. His heart lightened. He gave his dad a surprised smile.
“That—Dad, that really helped." He could hear his own astonishment.
His dad’s eyes widened. “Wait, what? Seriously?”
Albus nodded. “Yeah. I feel less sick. You really made me feel better!”
Harry laughed, overjoyed. “I said the right thing!”
“Yeah! You did!” Albus agreed, his dad’s joy contagious. He laughed along with him. “Great job, Dad!”
“Yeah!” His dad cried, and before either of them really thought it through, their palms met halfway in a hard high-five that left Albus’s hand stinging.
“Cute,” Ginny commented fondly. “My cute, emotionally stunted boys. I’ll leave you to it.”
They ignored her. “Thanks, Dad,” Albus said sincerely.
“Thank you!” Harry shot back. “For—you know. Letting me be your dad.”
The long-awaited awkward silence settled in, but Albus didn’t mind it so much. He looked back at his dad.
“I’m sorry. About last night. I should’ve told you immediately.”
Harry sighed. “The truth is…I wouldn’t’ve if I were in your shoes. So I understand. I even understand why James did it.”
Albus gave it a shot. “It’s a bit funny, though. Right?”
Harry snorted. He leaned in closer. “Yeah, more than a bit funny. But don’t tell your mum I told you that. We’re all supposed to pretend to be really angry until dinner tonight.”
Albus laughed. He glanced back over towards his mum. His heart lurched when he spotted Scorpius, his eyes still a bit sleepy, talking cheerfully to her. Albus beamed at him, and Scorpius must’ve sensed his gaze, because he looked over a second later. His smile met Albus’s.
“Well,” Harry stood. “I’ll leave you to it. We’re all going down to the beach today. And then there are rumors about a massive football match…though there’s already talk that you’re an ‘unfair advantage’ to Team Potter, so we’ll see what happens.”
His dad walked off a few seconds before Scorpius walked up. He sat down beside Albus.
“What adventures await us today?” He asked eagerly.
Perhaps it was the slight caffeine from his tea kicking in. Perhaps it was residual joy from having an actual, successful communication with his dad. Perhaps it was the subconscious memory of how happy he’d made his grandad that morning. Whatever it was—something spurred Albus to reach over and pull Scorpius into a hug.
“Right,” Scorpius mumbled, his mouth pressed against Albus’s shoulder. “We do this now. All the time. I really like it, this.”
Albus’s heart swelled alarmingly. “Me too. I really like this, too.”
Scorpius tentatively wrapped his arms around him, too. He squeezed tightly. Albus countered by squeezing him tighter. Scorpius laughed into his shirt.
“This is not the hug of losers!” He wheezed proudly, though he was clearly having difficulty inflating his lungs. “You’re—going—to—kill me—with—love! It’s okay…I mean—I can’t – breathe – but no—this is nice—”
Albus quickly loosened his arms. It didn’t pass his notice that Scorpius said love instead of friendship. He was positively glowing in response.
“Sorry,” Albus beamed.
“No,” Scorpius said. He rubbed over his ribs. He smiled. “It’s a good hurt.”
Was Scorpius blushing too? Or were his cheeks pink from having the air squeezed from him? For once, Albus dared to hope that it was the first.
“I’m really glad you’re here,” Albus admitted. He hadn’t planned on saying the words, but they went along perfectly with the feelings of affection and gratitude that had risen within him.
“I’m really glad I’m here. It feels right to be here. Like it’s where I’m meant to be. And that’s a big deal…because I don’t ever feel like I belong anywhere.”
They both turned and looked in opposite directions, but Albus was sure that they were both smiling.
Ginny entered the tent with a scalding mug of tea balanced in each palm. She set one on the small table for Lily and then crossed to the boys' room with the other still perched precariously (and a bit painfully) in her hand. She knocked once.
"It's me," she greeted.
Grumbling, determined to be cross: "You'll have to be more specific."
Ginny rolled her eyes.
"I've got tea," she pressed.
The bed James was occupying groaned a bit as he presumably stepped down from it. She shifted the mug to her left palm as she listened to his approaching footsteps. She peered down at her right with a frown; it had been a bad idea to take the tea in so soon. There was an angry red circle stinging her flesh.
The door opened. James blinked down at her, bleary-eyed, his untidy hair even more wayward than usual. Creases from his pillow adorned his already-freckled cheeks. Ginny held out the mug, handle facing outwards.
"Here. It's really hot!" She quickly added, as he went to grab it around the middle as she'd done. "Take the handle."
He obliged, pulling it carefully over to him. He blew on the steaming surface for a moment, paused, and then turned, heading back into the bedroom. But he left the door open, which had always meant in James-language: I want you to come in, but I'm not going to ask you to. Ginny absentmindedly rubbed her burned palm as she entered. She followed James to the small table in front of the window. She sat across from him. For a few seconds, they observed each other warily. And then:
"What were you thinking, James?"
He angrily pushed his hair back (or tried—his fingers got stuck halfway through the process).
"Obviously that I wanted to maim and kill myself to leave my poor, poor parents with more dead loved ones. Really—what did you lot expect? James Sirius and Fred hatch up a plan—what other way could it go?"
It stung. Ginny leaned back as if he'd physically struck her. She would've expected words like that from her middle son, who often spoke quickly and thoughtlessly when enraged. But not from James, who had never been a particularly angry child. Things had always seemed to roll right off of him—punishments, lectures, embarrassment, inconveniences. Consequently, she hadn't come prepared for attack, and she was caught off balance by the hostility of it (taken aback, as always, by the quick, unbidden image in her memory of a broken, red-haired young man buried beneath rubble—)
"That's not funny."
He was withering with guilt already. He seemed to shrink down, and as if to give himself something to do, he lifted his scalding tea cup. He winced as he took a tiny sip.
"It was only a laugh," he finally said.
"What? Trying to become an unregistered animagus or joking about our dead loved ones?"
He ducked his face. "Animagus."
"Well, it's not a laugh. There's a reason only a handful of people have ever successfully become animagi in my lifetime. It's dangerous."
"Teddy did it—"
"Teddy, from what I understand, had outside help from an adult. He isn't being very forthcoming about who that adult is, but I'd wager whoever it was knew what they were talking about."
"I'm nearly an adult. At my age, Dad was plotting the downfall of Voldemort. You were running a rebellion inside Hogwarts at age sixteen!"
Ginny instinctively pulled her arms beneath the table, as if he hadn't ever seen the light scars before. He noticed.
"I don't have scars to show for what I did," he grumbled.
Anger roused up within her. She had to take a moment to inhale slowly. "James. The key difference between the things that your dad and I did at your age and the thing that you did is that what we did we had to do. There was no other choice. You can't possibly imagine the state of the world. How could you? You're alive now, in this wonderful world, because of the things he did."
James took another painful sip.
"James Potter did it. And so did Sirius Black."
"To help protect people from their friend—and, of course, their friend himself—every full moon. Again—a necessity." She watched him lower his face further. He sniffed quietly.
"I would've gotten away with it. I had everything—it took me a year to amass all those ingredients. And now it's all gone."
She wasn't quite ready to bemoan the loss of his illegal animagi supplies.
"Good. The frightening thing is that you probably would've gotten away with it, had we been home instead of on holiday last night. And that terrifies me. Do you know what the hardest thing about being your mum is?"
"Do I want to know?"
She continued on. "The hardest part is that I can't protect you as fiercely or completely as I love you. If I could, we wouldn't be having this conversation right now, because you never would've attempted something so dangerous."
"Danger's a part of life, Mum."
"It shouldn't be for you lot. Not the way it was for your dad and me." She leaned forward. She reached across the table and gently tapped his chin, so he'd look up at her and met her eyes. Brown bore into brown and she felt a sea of love and concern flood her. "Elective danger is still danger. An accidental death is just as tragic as a heroic one. There's no laugh to be had in genuine injury. It's just not worth it—do you understand? Not to me, not to your dad, not to anybody on this earth. Nothing is worth you risking your life, and I never want to hear of you risking it for a laugh ever again." A pause. She pursed her lips for a moment and willed herself not to cry. She willed him to understand, because if she couldn't get through to him now, she never would. "James. You're so important to me."
He cleared his throat gruffly and looked towards the carpet. Ginny knew he was close to tears—something he'd avoid at all costs.
"I'm sorry," he finally admitted. It opened a floodgate. He glanced back up, his eyes wide and aching. "I'm sorry, Mum. I knew it was a bad idea. But I was jealous of Teddy. And I felt like I wasn't living up to my name if I didn't try. I loved the idea—I still do. But I shouldn't've done it the way I did. I should've asked McGonagall to teach me and I should've done it the right way. And…and…I shouldn't have pulled my cousins into it."
Ginny gave him a wry smile. "James, Albus told us that Fred, Roxanne, and Dominique were just as much to blame as you were."
James shook his head immediately. "No, that's not true. It was me. All me."
"Well then, it was extremely impressive how you tricked all three into keeping leaves in their mouths for an entire month. Very cunning—are you sure you weren't meant to be in Slytherin?"
"Er…yeah, maybe I was meant to," he shrugged. "Did you tell their parents that it was all my fault?"
"No. Of course I didn't. Because it wasn't. Not that George and Bill would've believed that, anyway—they know their kids."
He huffed, dejected. "You should've checked with me first! So we could straighten our stories out! Because I promised everybody that I would take the blame."
Ginny stared at him, overcome with a mixture of fondness and exasperation. "James, who told you that you were the resident martyr?"
"I did," he proclaimed bravely.
"Well, as the resident martyr's mother, I squash that idea." She turned her head to the side, examining him curiously. "Why don't you tell me why you involved Albus and Scorpius. And don't say it's because you couldn't do the potion. Maybe you didn't want to do it—but you could do it. Don't let Slughorn catch you saying something like that."
He flushed for the first time. He squirmed uneasily.
"I don't want you to tell him, because it would sound mean out of context," he began.
He looked up. "I wanted him to feel like, I dunno…like he was a part of it. You know? Like he was useful." A beat. "Also, I really didn't want to do the potion; I hate Potions."
Ginny hesitated, torn between gratitude and annoyance.
"I'm glad you were involving yourself in Albus's wellbeing, but I'd prefer if, in the future, those efforts didn't involve breaking the law. Okay? Promise?"
He sighed. "Well, I guess. If I must."
"You must." She rose from the table. She turned to cross to his side, so she could pull him into a hug, when something caught her eye…an almost empty mug sitting on the windowsill that hadn't been there last night.
"Oh, yeah," James told her, noticing her glance. She could hear the grin lurking in his voice. "Dad came by before you."
Ginny arched an eyebrow. "And…let me guess. He inevitably gave the same exact lecture that I just did."
"Nearly word-for-word at some parts. I gave him an eight out of ten—he made some good points, but I'm not sure his heart was in it. He didn't seem that angry. You get an 8.5 out of ten because your delivery was spot on—I could really feel your emotion, Mum, nice job."
"Of course he was angry," Ginny said sharply. "What you did was very dangerous. And would you stop rating our lectures on a ten-point scale? It was cute when you were five but it's beginning to get a bit tiring."
"No, you love it, I know you do. And I think Dad was sort of proud of the animagus thing. He kept ruffling my hair like he always does after winning Quidditch matches."
"Okay, he may've been proud that you made it as far as you did, but he was angry. Because what you did was dangerous and reckless. Do you remember the long chat we just had?"
He nodded seriously. "Yes. I remember. You love me, I'm your favorite child, life wasn't life until you birthed me, the sun wouldn't shine if I lost a limb, when I breathe little puffs of glitter tumble out of my mouth, everything I touch turns to gold, and I'm not allowed to ever do something that risky again."
Ginny laughed before she could stop herself. She observed James with fond annoyance.
"That's what you took away from all that?" She finally demanded. He nodded.
"Face it, Mum. You love me. It's so sweet." He jutted his bottom lip out and fluttered his eyelashes. "Your precious first-born son."
Ginny shook her head. "I can't believe you're actually mocking me for loving my child."
"Believe it. It's time for us to laugh again, Mum. It's been…" he trailed off, peering up at the ceiling with a thoughtful expression. "Thirteen hours—at least!—since we've shared a joke. I don't like it. Makes me homesick. It's like one of us has been Imperiused."
Ginny rolled her eyes.
"Well, forgive me, but I'm not amused by the idea of you potentially squandering away the life I gave you."
"Okay," James said. "Right. Because the favorite child thing."
"Sorry, I get it! I really do." He stood and opened his arms, something that rarely happened these days. He'd long out-grown being the one to initiate hugs with his parents. Ginny stepped forward and pulled him into her arms, hugging him tightly.
"I really am sorry, Mum," he mumbled into her hair. "I didn't mean to disappoint you. That part sucked."
She tried to suppress her grin and failed.
"Ha, ha," she teased good-naturedly. "You love your mum. How sweet."
It wasn't really that funny, but he roared with laughter anyway, clearly relieved that she was joking with him again.
She met up with Harry on the outskirts of the camp where their post was being forwarded.
"How was your talk?" They greeted in unison.
They grinned at each other. Harry stepped into the brief pause.
"Great. Really great. I reassured Albus! He felt better after we spoke. It was a big deal. Easily in the top ten of my entire life." He was beaming. Ginny reached over and took his hand. Her thumb rubbed lightly over I must not tell lies.
"That's great, Harry," she smiled.
"And yours with James?"
"Point five? What'd you get an extra half point for?! I only got an eight…"
"My emotional fortitude, I believe. Why didn't you tell me you'd already spoken with him?"
"Because I knew he needed to hear it from both of us."
"Yeah, he did," she reached over and lightly smacked his shoulder. "What were you ruffling his hair for?! He told me you're proud of what he did!"
"Sorry! I tried to be stern and cool but…" he trailed off. "You've got to admire his guts and how close he came."
"Yeah, there's that, or I could admire the fact that he's still got all his limbs attached, thanks to our timely intervention."
Harry snorted. "All I can say is…it's a bloody good thing we snuck off from the party last night."
Ginny appraised him as he rifled through the letters he'd gathered. She watched the subtle shift of his muscles beneath his skin.
"Mmm, yes, bloody good thing," she agreed. Her tone made him glance up, his eyes twinkling. He gently nudged her.
"Stop that—no blazing looks, we're due back at camp soon."
"Blazing look? What the hell is a blazing look?" She demanded, her lips twitching. "Did I stumble upon one of your inner poeticisms again?"
He went to reply, an amused grin in place, but paused. His expression dropped and furrowed into something baffled as he stared down at the letters in hand. He lifted one up and waved it.
"Uh oh. Why's Dean writing you?"
"What?" Ginny reached forward and snatched the letter. She scowled a moment later. Ginny Weasley, The Den, Godric's Hollow…- "He knows my surname is Potter."
Harry moved to stand behind her, his chin resting on her shoulder, peering down as she opened and unfolded the letter. Ginny scanned the greeting, but was distracted by the slight tenseness she felt emitting from Harry's body. She folded the letter back down, reached up, and drew his glasses halfway down his nose.
"What?" He asked defensively. He reached up to right his glasses, but Ginny snatched his hand.
"I can hear you getting possessive back there."
"I'm not," he scoffed. There was a pause. "…Aren't we going to read it?"
"We are, but for the record, it's addressed to me."
She unfolded the letter, and for the first time, it occurred to her that perhaps his jealousy beast had only gone dormant in his chest, instead of being properly eradicated. She'd have to deal with that later. She made a mental note.
"Dear Ginny, it's been so long, I've been meaning to write since Nora and James began dating...etcetera etcetera…oh!"
Harry turned his face to the right, and she turned hers to the left, both attempting to meet each other's shocked gazes. However, they only managed to painfully collide faces. Harry backed up and impatiently rubbed over his nose.
"What?" He blurted.
Ginny quickly turned back to the letter and reread it, to make sure she hadn't misunderstood. Nora and I recently got into an argument and she let it slip that she and James are planning on getting married once he turns seventeen at the end of this summer. Nora has a tendency towards exaggerating, so I thought it best to check with you before I took this seriously…
She and Harry shifted to face each other.
"Married! He can't get married!" Harry blurted, alarmed.
Ginny looked back at the letter. "What would Hogwarts even do if they did? Would they still live in their dorms? Are there hidden marital quarters? What the hell are they thinking?"
"This is a year of firsts for Jamie. First time trying to become an illegal animagus…first time attempting to elope with Nora…" Harry trailed off.
"Wow, yeah. And you know who the best person to talk to him about this is?" Ginny pressed the letter into Harry's hands. "You!"
She turned, attempting to make a get-away, but Harry snagged her hand.
"No! No way! Your lecture scored higher than mine; you go talk to him!"
"It should be man-to-man! Dad-to-son! Husband-to-…potential-husband!"
"It should be a nice, gentle Mum talk!"
"'Nice, gentle'…Harry, you do remember who you married, right?"
He groaned. "What am I supposed to say to him about this? I married my first girlfriend, too."
"But you didn't do it during Hogwarts."
"No…because I was too busy trying to kill Voldemort!"
They stared at each other.
"Okay. New plan. Flip a coin," she suggested. "That's fair."
He dropped the letters down onto a stump and then rooted through his pockets. "Okay, sure. Okay. This side is mine and it means you have to talk to him about this."
"Fine. And if it's the other side, you have to talk to him."
They had a brief argument about who should get to toss it, then had another disagreement over the way the first toss landed, until finally…
"Ha!" Ginny leaned over and gathered the massive pile of letters. "I'll go take these back to camp and you can go talk to our son."
"Fine!" Harry shouted after her. "But if he ends up married, it's not my fault!"
"I'm not sure how many letters I assumed the Minister would get in a day, but it was decidedly less than this," Ginny greeted. She dumped the obscene stack onto the log beside Hermione. Hermione quickly set down her tea and reached for the topmost one eagerly, like it was an enthralling love letter instead of a letter from Gringotts.
"Here we go," Ron said, coming over to collapse down beside Hermione. The motion of his fall made nearly twenty letters topple and fall from the stack; Hermione leaned down to retrieve them with an annoyed glance Ron's way. "She'll be Minister for the rest of the day."
"I'm always the Minister."
"Yeah, but some days you're more Minster-y than others." Ron snagged on her forgotten tea. He peered around Ginny as he took a sip. "Where's Harry? Didn't he go with you?"
"Otherwise occupied," Ginny answered shortly. She'd separated her letters from the stack and was steadily sorting through them, putting them in order from most urgent to least.
"Meaning?" Ron pressed.
"Meaning it's none of your business." Ginny held up a letter with a beam. "Neville! And going by the return address, he and Hannah are back from Hawaii."
"Ooh, tell him I said hello!" Hermione said, nose buried in an eight-foot scroll of parchment covered in tiny, sprawling script.
"Is it to do with Al?" Ron pressed. He was now sorting through Hermione's unopened letters. "Blimey—Hermione! Three from the Chudley Canons manager! Why's he writing you? Can I read them?"
"Absolutely not!" Hermione blindly reached to her left and snatched them from Ron's hand. She glanced at them briefly, seemed to process the letters themselves, and then looked back up. For a moment, it appeared almost as if she'd only just realized Ron was sitting there. "Ron. Actually. Yes. It's him—he's been harassing me about the same thing for months. If you could just…read every letter that he's sent. Actually…" she began quickly rummaging through the letters. They all watched as a surprisingly large pile amassed in Ron's lap. "Read anything to do with any sort of sport. Please," she tacked on, giving him a sweet smile. Ron melted predictably.
"Yeah, okay—brilliant!" Ron rubbed his hands together gleefully. "Do I get to make executive decisions as well? Shall I get one of your fancy quills? I do think the Canons should go back to their old uniform design…" he mused.
"…We'll deal with that when we get there. For now, just…read them and summarize them to me." She didn't say thank you, but she didn't need to; the brief kiss she pressed to his cheek a moment later was seeping with so much affection that the words were hardly necessary. Ginny found herself missing Harry.
She sorted her post and moved on to sorting Harry's. She paused halfway through the process.
"Strange. Why did Neville send a separate letter to Harry? He never does that."
Hermione hardly spared her a glance. Ron shrugged, an obscenely long letter from the Chudley Cannons manager still held up. He seemed to be making notes in the margins, going by the quill held between his teeth.
Ginny placed the letter on the top of Harry's stack. If Neville had felt it pertinent to write Harry and only Harry, it was definitely something important.
She read through two articles, fully edited one, and then looked up. Impatience was beginning to set in. Where was Harry? How long did it take? She was debating getting up to go seek him and James out when he suddenly appeared to her left, as if he'd sensed her restlessness.
"There you are, took you long enough! Here—you've got loads of letters," Ginny greeted. He strolled over, took the pile Ginny was holding out, and began sorting through them. He scowled a moment later.
"Two days. I'm away for two days," he grumbled, mostly to himself.
"Harry!" Ron cheered, looking up at the sound of Harry's voice. "Missed you, mate. Where'd you get off to?"
Harry made a noncommittal noise, his brow pursed as he examined Neville's unopened letter. Ginny cleared her throat and looked at him expectantly.
"Well?" She demanded.
"Everything's fine," he said cryptically. He fell down onto the log beside her. He rested his hand on her knee soothingly and let his post fall to the wayside. Ginny understood what he meant through his reassuring touch; she beamed and ignored the Granger-Weasleys' baffled looks.
Harry was beside himself with pride.
"Nine! A nine!"
Ginny gaped. She turned fully towards him and met his high-five.
"Nice! Unprecedented! So everything's back to normal? Nothing to…you know…worry about?"
"Nothing at all! It was a fluke. Everything is back in working order."
Ginny collapsed against his side, relieved. "Oh, thank Merlin."
Ron was looking between them, his brow furrowed.
"What are you two…you know what, never mind, I don't think I want to know," he hurriedly stood. He patted Harry's shoulder roughly but seemed unable to meet his eyes. "Er...I'm glad everything's…all right, Harry. I'm just going to go down to the beach to check in on our progenies."
"Progenies. Nice word," Harry praised. "I'm going to assume you mean our kids."
"Er…thanks, yeah…I do…" with another strange look their way, Ron hurried off, his ears reddened. Hermione tsked.
"You two should stop doing that to him. You're going to give him a complex."
"A complex? As if he hasn't already got multiple?" Ginny quipped. She hesitated. "But what exactly did we do to Ron?"
She looked at Harry. He shrugged, staring off at the space Ron had been standing, a befuddled, regretful look in place like he'd done his best friend some grave error.
Hermione looked up. "You know. Making whatever Harry was up to sound like that."
"Sound like what?" Harry asked.
"Well, like you were…well…to somebody who didn't know what you were really doing, Harry, it sort of sounded like…" Hermione trailed off, cheeks burning, and then disappeared again behind her letter, mumbling something about needing to finish this before lunch.
Ginny had begun replaying their previous words in her mind, but she was unable to finish her examination.
"Mum! Dad!" Albus came into view, sprinting up from the path leading down to the beach. He came to a stop in front of them, Scorpius a few steps behind. They were both wet from the sea with sand plastered up and down their legs.
"Yes? Everything okay?"
"I'm starving," Albus complained. "Scorpius is, too."
"I'm only starving if it's convenient for you, Mr. and Mrs. Potter!" Scorpius corrected from behind Albus, a good-natured grin in place despite his 'starvation'. "You look busy with work, so I'm only slightly famished until you're done, and then I'm starving again."
"What happened to all the snacks on the beach that Gran brought down?" Harry asked. "I spent all morning helping with those."
"Gone! All gone," Albus lamented. "We didn't even get to have any before they disappeared."
"You know you've got to get food the moment it's put out when we're all together, Al. Every man for himself." Ginny rose, tucking her letters beneath her arm. She beckoned the boys to follow her. "We've got more snacks stashed in the tent."
"You're the best!" Scorpius punctuated his words with a small hop.
Ginny grinned at both boys, reaching over to halfheartedly brush sand from their shoulders as they all walked. "What were you two doing? You're literally covered in sand."
"Lily bet us ten galleons each that we couldn't dig ourselves out of the sand if we let her bury us in it," Albus said.
Ginny snorted. "And?"
"…can we borrow twenty galleons, Mum?" Albus asked.
"No, but you can direct her to me when she asks for payment. She owes me thirty galleons and ten sickles."
Scorpius looked up at her, intrigued. "Ooh, for what?"
"A variety of bets. I thought she'd learned her lesson about gambling, but apparently not."
"I think she just learned not to bet against you, Mum," Albus admitted. "She's burying Hugo and Lucy as we speak."
"Oh no," Ginny groaned. She opened the tent and led the way over towards the cupboard. "Those two are going to end up sobbing messes and Hermione and Percy will harass me."
Albus and Scorpius tore into the cupboard, pulling various items out and gathering them into their arms.
"Here, just take what you can carry now and I'll bring the rest down in a minute. Harry and I will be there soon."
"Thanks!" Albus and Scorpius chorused. They hurried off in a rush, eager to get back to the beach. Ginny began putting snacks into a bag, and as she did, she realized a tin of real biscuits had somehow ended up in the mix. Were they left in their tent from the last camping trip they took (before the sugar ban)? Were they planted there by the Granger-Weasleys in an attempt to make the Potters fold? Was Hermione sick of the sugar-ban Ron had instilled after Ginny bet him that his family couldn't last as long as hers could? She didn't know, but she'd be damned if she didn't open the tin to try and gather more clues.
She eased the top off and peered down into the tin. The biscuits seemed innocent enough. She reached in and pulled one out. It didn't feel old. She shot a quick look at the tent doorway. One bite wouldn't hurt, right? Nobody would know. It wasn't even a real cheat—she was simply trying to figure out when the biscuits had been left here, in case she needed to get revenge on her brother and sister-in-law…
She took a small bite. Beneath the sickly burst of sugar across her tongue, the texture was closer to that of a rock than a biscuit. She attempted to chew through it, dedicated now to this slip-up, but her stomach was churning.
"No. Nope. No—ugh, that's horrendous," she whispered to herself. She turned, searching for the bin, and leaned over it, spitting out the half-chewed biscuit.
"What are you doing?"
She spun around, her palm pressed over her lips. Harry was standing smugly in the doorway.
"I'm…I was…vomiting," she lied.
His eyes flickered from her face, to the trash bin, to the opened tin of biscuits.
"Yeah. Yes." She nodded and reached up, pressing the back of her hand to her face faintly. "I'm not…I'm not feeling so well. You might have to go to the beach without me."
His arms were crossed over his chest. His smirk was annoyingly endearing. She fanned herself with her hand as he approached, as if her nausea were giving her heat flashes.
He lifted the tin. "I wonder if it has anything to do with these biscuits that contain sugar—something we haven't had much of in years?"
"Nope." A beat. "And if it had anything to do with those biscuits—which it doesn't—it'd be because they're stale, not because of the sugar."
She glowered. "I am not!"
"You are so! What was that rubbish about how we were all going to stand united and nobody was going to eat sugar? That if James was on a ban then we all were—Potters United?"
His smugness was only mounting by the second. Ginny wrapped her arms around her stomach, as if her nausea was back.
"Okay. You caught me," she groaned weakly.
"I did," he grinned.
"You know now."
"You know that I'm—"
The tin clattered to the floor of the tent, spilling stale biscuits along the tiles. Harry's eyes had doubled in size behind his glasses. His panic short-circuited his thought process.
"What? What?!" He stumbled back, gripping at the edge of the countertop for purchase. He had paled magnificently. "…pregnant?"
She buried her face into her hands. "Twins!" She wailed.
She sneaked a glance at him through her fingers. Too far. The twins thing had been too much.
"That is the opposite of funny!" Harry cried, still leaning weakly against the counters, his palm now pressed over his heart. He lifted a quivering hand and shakily adjusted his glasses. "That's—that's evil, Ginny!"
She collapsed into snickers. "See—there are much worse things than me sneaking a bite of sugar. But, for the record, I spit it out. Do you want to see?"
"No! I believe you." He shook his head. "Twins! Just the idea and I need a nap."
She met his eyes. His green ones softened first, and then the corners of his lips twitched, and then he succumbed to laughter. He'd crossed the space between them in only a few moments. She melted into his embrace.
"Did you read Neville's letter?" She asked, her face still buried into his shirt.
"Yes. What if we did?"
"What if we did what?"
"What if we had another baby?"
"Then you'd have to send me to St. Mungo's for psychiatric treatment." She leaned back and peered at him suspiciously. "Why? Are you feeling ill? How do you go from nearly fainting at the mere suggestion to saying something like that?"
His cheeks were pink. That was the first thing that registered in her mind. And then she saw the sheepish smile blooming, the hesitant way he'd averted his eyes.
"What? Merlin—what?!" She demanded, growing truly worried now. She regretted her joke, regretted ever bringing the topic up.
"I don't know…you're right, of course, it'd be a bad idea—another baby. I guess I just realized…well, for a while, I felt like life was sort of…finalized. Like I couldn't change much anymore. We were done having the kids, we'd established ourselves in our careers so firmly…but what if something did change?"
"Like…a baby?" She was trying not to sound incredulous. But the thought was ridiculous to her.
"No. Not really. The baby's a metaphor."
"The baby's a metaphor?" She demanded. Her stomach rumbled. "Harry—I'm too hungry for riddles. Can we have this conversation after lunch? And we should probably go feed our children who are actually, you know, real. We can tend to our metaphoric baby later."
"No, we need to have it now," he demanded, impatient. Brimming with an emotion she couldn't name. He pulled a roll of parchment from his pocket. "Look. And I need to know what you think about it."
Ginny quickly snatched the parchment from him, but trepidation kept her from unrolling it as quickly as she'd taken it. Fears that it would be some study on why having four kids was superior to three kept her on edge. Finally, after a pleading, fretful look from Harry, she hesitantly opened it.
I didn't want to mention this in my other letter in case your kids got a hold of it—I know how they like to read my letters. I'm writing on behalf of McGonagall, who's still abroad on her 'long-awaited holiday' and has left me in charge in her absence. Simmons put in notice yesterday and Hogwarts is, once again, in need of a Defense Against the Dark Arts professor. I know I've suggested you nearly half a dozen times now. And I know you've refused McGonagall's offers nearly half a dozen times. But when she asked me to contact anybody I thought might do a good job—you're still the first person I thought of. Not to get too soppy…but you know how much Dumbledore's Army and your instruction changed me. I think that would be great for the students.
As for your kids...well, even if they hate the idea, at least you'll be close enough to supervise them. Not to stress you out on your holiday, but you don't know the half of what they get up to while they're here…
Give Ginny a hug for me and tell her that I've sent a package for her to the Den. James' birthday gift should be arriving there shortly, too.
P.s. Did you figure out the slug problem in your garden? Did the lemon juice and eel eyes work? Let me know.
Harry looked deeply vulnerable when Ginny looked back up. She was still lost.
"Harry…if you're asking how I feel about this…I've always been supportive of this idea. You're the one who's always said 'not yet, there's more to tie up'. And then you went and got yourself promoted and I assumed that was that."
"There always was more to tie up. More escaped Death Eaters, more rumors of resurgence…but I guess I just realized that it'll never be completely over. Not the way I planned on it when I was young. When I started as an Auror, I thought there'd come a day that I'd catch the last one. But there is no last one. I'm either going to leave now or I'm going to chase after them until the day I die. And I would've been happy doing that…but it's not like it was before. I'm not the only one that can do it now. I'm not…the Chosen One anymore. I'm just Harry. The issues that I deal with now…well, there are plenty in my department capable of handling them without me."
Ginny reached up and took his face in her hands. She studied his eyes, the corners of her lips perking up. "I know what this is about. Hermione gave you an ultimatum about tidying up your office and sorting your paperwork, didn't she? And you're planning on doing a Weasley. You're going to storm out in a fit of raging glory, a couple of fireworks blowing up behind you, and leave your office transfigured into a swamp."
His lips twitched. He seemed relieved by her response; the vulnerable tension ebbed from his eyes.
"No…well, that's a tiny part of it," he teased. "I'm always interested in doing a Weasley. Take that whichever way you like. Umbridge-era Hogwarts slang or literally…"
"I knew it! I knew you fancied Charlie!" She exclaimed. She peered into his eyes seriously. "If you were only honest with him about how you feel, Harry, I'm sure that—"
He cut her off with a kiss, smile to smile, laughter spilling against each other's lips.
"You know what I meant."
She dropped her hands from his face and pointed at herself. "Potter," she reminded him.
He slid his hands up her back, from her hips to her hair. "Still a Weasley."
She waited until their laughter died down, and then she gently got them back on track.
"So, what are the other parts?" She pressed. "Your other reasons for wanting to leave the Ministry?"
"For one—it's the Ministry. No offense to Hermione."
Ginny nodded seriously. "Mmhmm."
"I'm tired of being at work until odd hours, tired of the stress. I don't know. I haven't decided anything. I'm just…considering it, for the first time. The annoying letters I was bombarded with by the department today didn't help, either."
"Right. Well, no matter what you decide, I'm on your side. Choose based on what will make you happier and don't worry about anything else. Money is obviously fine; they can route the Floo to our house just like they did to Neville and Hannah's; you'll probably be just as ogled in both places. So if you want to remain at the Ministry, we'll keep up how we've been—staying sane through lunch breaks in each other's offices. If you want to give teaching a go—we'll get lunch in Hogsmeade. Either way, I get lunch and you, so I'm fine with either option. And speaking of lunch…"
He kissed her a final time. He linked their hands afterwards.
"I think your dad carried it down to the beach. Shall we join our kids?"
"I suppose," she said. She lifted the bag and walked with Harry towards the tent exit. "I do know one thing about this hypothetical situation, Harry."
"Yeah? What's that?"
She looked up at him. "You'll need to speak at length with Albus before you decide anything. James and Lily will think it's Christmas come early for you to be their professor…Al, on the other hand, may find it suffocating."
"Look at that," Ron repeated gleefully.
"I'm looking, all right? Would you stop interrupting my conversation to tell me to gawk at my nephew and his best friend?" Hermione asked, annoyed. She turned back to Bill. "Anyway, what I was saying was…"
"Yes, what she was saying—" Percy chimed in, from his place beside Bill. He had finally wormed himself into a conversation with Hermione about actual, Ministry things, and he was enjoying every second of it. Hermione, on the other hand, looked like she may've been forming a headache.
"Stop staring at them," Ginny hissed, elbowing Ron's ribs. He reluctantly tore his eyes from Albus and Scorpius, who were neck-deep in the sea, arms presumably around each other, and involved in an animated discussion. Rose, Lily, and James were nearby—Rose on a floating mat, Lily on an inflatable tube, and James diving in search of seashells for Nora. Remarkably, Rose was in conversation with Albus and Scorpius and seemed to be laughing almost as often as the boys were. Ron was extremely chuffed to see his daughter having fun but also remaining out of Scorpius Malfoy's arms.
Harry approached, after shooting a not-so-subtle, pleased look towards the children in the sea, and then passed Ginny a plate. She gladly accepted it. Ron stared.
"What about me?" Ron demanded.
"What about you?" Harry shot back.
"Well, where's my food? Ginny got a plate."
"Ginny is my wife and the mother of my children, Ron."
"And I'm your best mate since age eleven. Pay up! I'll take…" he leaned over, examining Ginny's plate. "Everything she's got, except the cucumbers. No cucumbers."
"Get your own plate! Do I look like your wait staff?"
"The Boy Who Waited Tables," George piped up, passing behind their group briefly. Roxanne succumbed to giggles at his side.
Ron glanced to his left at Hermione, his expression daring to morph into something hopeful.
"Hermione…" he sang, his tone sickly sweet.
"No. And I'll take a chicken sandwich," she replied, without looking up from the parchment in her lap. Percy and Bill snickered.
"Well, this is just utter, flaming—"
"Dad!" Hugo bounced over. He collapsed down on the end of the beach towel Ron was sitting on, three plates stacked haphazardly in his arms. Without a word, he distributed one to Hermione (he'd accurately guessed she'd want the chicken), one to Ron (to Ginny's amazement: without cucumbers), and then one he set in front of himself. Ron was speechless.
"Hugh…Hugo…" he looked incredibly moved. "You're just the best son on this entire planet."
"I know. I'm one-of-a-kind. Right, Mum?"
"Right, Hugo. You're going places," Hermione affirmed, her tone tender.
"I'm not only going places. I'm going to name the places after me."
Ron set his plate in his lap and leaned back. Around a mouthful of potato, he said to Harry:
"I knew this kid thing was a brilliant idea, mate. Best thing we've ever done! Well—top five, easy. We've done a lot."
"Ron!" Hermione snapped.
"What? Hugo knows he's in my top five. And I'm in his. Right, Hugh?"
"That's not the point—the point is you shouldn't place the birth of our children on a list—"
"Right, Dad!" Hugo beamed. "The world's best son put with the world's best dad. It's karma. All your good deeds paid off. I'm the reward!"
Ginny and Harry exchanged a quick, skeptical look. The sense of humor in the Granger-Weasley house had often baffled them, simply because most of the things they said weren't meant to be humorous at all. Had James, Al, or Lily uttered that same sentence to either of them, it would've been the driest, most sarcastic, and most hilarious thing uttered all day. And yet…
"I love you, little man." Ron squeezed Hugo's shoulder affectionately. "Did you try the sausage rolls?"
While Hugo and Ron dived into a surprisingly descriptive rating of each item on the lunch menu that day, Harry drew Ginny's attention back to the sea. Albus and Scorpius were now piled atop Rose's floating mat—she was perched on the edge and had an outwardly annoyed expression in place, but all the adults could tell she was secretly amused and enjoying herself (because they'd seen the same expression on Hermione's face innumerable times growing up). It also did not slip Ginny's attention that her son and Scorpius were nearly halfway on top of each other, despite the fact that were was a good bit of room on either side of them.
Angelina and Audrey joined them.
"Harry…" Angelina trailed off, her brow furrowed. "Don't get offended if I'm wrong, I'm just curious. But is Albus…with Scorpius? You know, like boyfriends?"
"Not yet," Harry and Ginny chorused.
"That's the cutest thing I've seen all day. Look at how happy they are. I haven't seen Albus that happy in years," Audrey smiled.
"Who would've guessed it'd be a Malfoy making one of your kids happy, eh, Ginny?" George was back, this time with a wink and perfectly-timed quip. "I love the universe—it just sets my jokes up for me. I've got loads of new material brewing."
"Don't you tease him about this, George," Angelina ordered sternly, "he has a right to live peacefully away from your jokes."
"What? No, he doesn't. He's my nephew; he hasn't had that right since he was born into my family. He'd be disappointed in me if I didn't make at least one joke…"
"He wouldn't. And you won't." Angelina and George locked eyes. Something was communicated. George nodded quickly.
"I wouldn't project feelings onto the boy," Percy piped up pompously. "It appears to me that Albus needed a friend desperately and finally found one."
"Just because you and your best guy mate Oliver Wood got on in a similar way doesn't mean most mates go around staring at each other with dopey smiles and repressed—"
Percy, cheeks flaming, quickly interrupted George.
"You know good and well, George, that Oliver and I never got on."
"Perhaps not in a way he'd readily admit in front of Audrey," George hissed underneath his breath. Charlie—who'd been quietly discussing something about fire-proof fabrics with Fleur from the far side of their gathering—looked over their way.
"What are we debating?" He asked.
Fleur nodded towards the water. "They are taking guesses if Albus and the Malfoy child are together."
Charlie, now staring out towards the water, gave his first bit of insight onto the matter: "Oh, yeah, Albus is gay." He blinked. He turned and examined the group. "Nobody knew that?"
They all stared at Charlie, stunned. Gradually, everybody began to laugh. George guffawed, Ron looked a bit befuddled, and Ginny smiled.
"You can join in on our betting, then," George said eagerly. "I bet Lily 100 galleons that—"
"George! Stop betting with my daughter!" Ginny reproached. "She doesn't need to be encouraged!" A pause. "And actually, don't bet on my children's love lives, either!"
He ignored her.
"I've got 500 galleons that Albus will make the first move, 600 on Scorpius, and a surprising 150 on Rose telling each boy how the other feels. Oh, and Percy put 25 on them being 'just mates', but that's stupid, so we're ignoring it."
"Hey!" Percy cried indignantly.
Ginny was shocked. "That's…" she quickly added it. "You lot have invested a total of 1,275 galleons on Albus's personal life. Who has been placing bets?!"
She looked around at her surrounding siblings. Everybody looked some degree of guilty, except Hermione.
"You know what the most surprising bit was?" George continued. "Dad put 200 on Albus."
"Dad?!" Ginny shouted, taken aback.
From the other side of the beach, Arthur looked up.
"Yes, Ginny?" He yelled back.
She was flustered. "Nothing!"
"You should all be ashamed," Harry said, looking from person to person. "Betting on our child's happiness. It's deplorable."
He looked at Ginny. She looked at him. Deplorable…but hilarious, and really, inherently harmless. They looked back.
"But we'll match the 500 on Albus making the first move. We know our son," Ginny said.
"Ginny! Harry!" Hermione scolded.
"What?" Harry demanded, already scrawling his name on the list George had presented. "If we win, we'll give the money to Albus."
Percy tsked. "Did the war really take this much out of all of you? Did it drain your morals entirely? Despite popular opinion, there is no grey area. There's white, black, and that's it."
"Perce, didn't you put 25 down?" Ron pointed out.
"And you wouldn't know much about what the war took from us all…Percy Better-Late-Than-Never Weasley," Charlie spoke up. Percy flushed. And while both Ginny and George half-heartedly defended him, he made sure not to make hypocritical comments again.
The adults had long finished eating by the time all the teenagers made their way to shore. Having demolished loads of snacks earlier, they weren't hungry until much later. Ginny supervised Lily as she made a plate (she still tended to over-estimate the amount she could eat in one sitting and Ginny hated wasting food), helped Albus and Scorpius carry their multiple cups and plates to the Potters' towels, and then sat down with them.
"So," she greeted. She examined their sunburnt shoulders, sandy limbs, and salt-soaked hair. They'd need a cooling charm later for the sunburns and definitely showers. "How's the water? You two need to put more sunblock on after you're done eating."
Albus waved her concern off. "It's great! Not as cold as I thought it'd be."
"I think I touched a shark!" Scorpius added.
Ginny looked between them skeptically. "A…shark? You're sure?"
"It was that or a dolphin," Albus told her.
She peered out at the sea, watching Ron and Hermione wading out with sudden uneasiness.
"Look at you!" Molly appeared behind the boys, fussing-face in place. "Burnt! Red as lobsters! Ginny, you were supposed to make them reapply the sunblock every thirty minutes!"
Ginny—who had never in her life had to use muggle sunblock instead of the normal potion—glowered.
"I'm not convinced anybody can remember nor have the time to reapply all that every half-hour, Mum. That can't be right. "
"Hermione remembered. Look at Rose and Hugo. They aren't burnt. Percy did, too. Molly and Lucy are fine."
"Yeah, well, we can't all be Hermione or Percy. Erm…what is that? What are you doing to them?"
Her mum was now squirting globs of bright green gel onto each boy's shoulders. Scorpius jumped, alarmed. Albus cried out and hissed 'Cold! Cold, Gran!', James merely continued eating his sandwich, and Lily got up and ran from Molly, refusing.
"Lily! Get back here now!" Molly shrieked.
"No! It looks gross! It'll get in my hair!"
While Lily hid behind her grandad, Molly began spreading the gel over Albus's shoulders.
"Oh, I get it! It makes it stop stinging—the sunburn," he realized.
She moved onto Scorpius. He beamed.
"Wowza! Muggle magic! It does! Thank you, Mrs. Weasley!"
To Ginny's disbelief, Molly rounded on her and Harry next.
"I'm not sunburned!" She defended. But then she glanced down at her own shoulders and frowned. Her freckles were in sharp contrast against the bright red. "Oh, damn. Maybe I am."
She jumped as her mum semi-aggressively squirted the gel onto her shoulders too. She lectured as she rubbed it into her sunburn.
"…-rays are very dangerous, the Muggles know all about it, that's why they invented that sunblock cream which will keep your skin from turning the shade of your hair…-" Ginny tuned her out, turning to glance at Harry. He was having a stare-off with Lily, who was still ducked behind Arthur.
"Get over here now," he mouthed towards her. Reluctantly, Lily sulked over towards them, but she wasn't happy about it. She flinched spectacularly with every bit of gel her grandmother applied.
"Ha, ha," Scorpius said to Albus. He'd turned towards him, peering down at him with a sunny smile. He drew his finger through the green covering Albus's collarbone. "You're green."
"You're green," Albus shot back, lifting his hand to draw a similar line on Scorpius's skin.
"Look—an S! For Scorpius." Scorpius dropped his hand and stared at the S drawn through the gel, looking extremely proud. Albus blushed. When he met Scorpius's eyes, Scorpius's complexion pinked, too. It added a new layer to their already-sunburnt faces.
"Are your faces burnt too?! Look up!" Ginny's mum turned her attention back to the two boys, keying in on their red complexions.
"Mum," Ginny complained. "Leave them alone. It's just going to wash off once they get back in the water anyway."
Molly reluctantly agreed to leave them be until they returned to camp (after Ginny swore she'd make the boys apply sunblock as directed), and the kids got back to eating lunch. She wasn't sure when it'd happened, but before they ran back down to the water, Ginny spotted the messy A Albus had traced onto Scorpius's bicep.
"Oh, it won't be long now," she commented, watching them dunking each other underneath the waves. "Someone will cave. I wonder how we'll know who or when. I wonder if Al will tell us."
"I hope so," Harry frowned. "How will we know who won the bet?"
She rolled her eyes. When she glanced up at him, she saw he actually was pink from the sun. She pressed her finger against his cheek, watching his skin turn white briefly before returning to its burnt hue.
"Some sunblock for you, I think," she relented. She tentatively lifted his glasses. She laughed. "Oh, Merlin. You've got a glasses line."
She eased his glasses down his nose, folded them, and set them nicely to the side. She leaned up on her knees and kissed the outline of the bridge of his glasses.
"Don't worry about it. It suits you."
He looked skeptical. "That's what you say about my scars."
"And it's true every time I say it." She pulled on his hand. "C'mon, let's see how cold the water is. You can't have those on in the sea, anyway."
"You'll lead me? You won't let me step on any children or crabs?"
They set off towards the water. She steered him deliberately over a bundle of damp towels, which almost certainly looked like a vaguely-childlike lump in his blurry eyesight.
"Oh, damn!" She cried. "There goes a child. Dismal damage."
He jumped, alarmed. It only took him a brief nudge to the towels to realize what it really was.
"You know, at this point, I don't know why I still fall for it…I know you're going to do it as soon as I say it, and yet…"
She was waterlogged and shivering. She'd moved her and Harry's towels directly beneath the sun, hoping the meek rays would warm her quickly. Harry was half-asleep to her right, his glasses still folded to the side, his skin hot to the touch and dusted with sand. She reluctantly tore her eyes from his peaceful expression and refocused on the pages of her journal; she'd finished editing all the articles she'd received in the post, but now she was drafting her own article. After watching the brief game of muggle football that the kids had performed along the wet sand earlier, she'd become inspired.
She refocused on her forgotten page. Despite the lack of airborne flairs, mesmeric Snitches, and the cherished risk of death, Muggle Football boasts an air not unlike that of Quidditch; it emphasizes flawless teamwork, it hinges on every player pulling their own weight, but it still gives the individual an opportunity to shine. As my son, Albus, scored his tenth goal, I was reminded most strikingly of Wilda Griffiths' flawless streak of goals in the 2001 match between –
"Hey," Albus collapsed down onto the towel, out of breath, his hair plastered to his forehead. "We're going to have a massive football match after dinner. Are you going to play? They're assigning teams."
Ginny looked off towards the group of people. She spotted Scorpius gesturing animatedly as he chatted to George. She could make out the gist of what he was saying—that he and Albus would be on the green team. She met her son's eyes.
"How many players on each team?"
"Hugo says there has to be at least seven and we're allowed to have up to eleven."
"Oh, well, put me down for Team Green if the other adults sign up."
Albus beamed. "Green? You're sure? But James and Lily are on Team Red."
"I'm positive. I've seen the way you play; there's no way I'm joining your competition. Besides, I'm used to playing matches in green…"
She trailed off, a sudden surge of nostalgia overtaking her. Stop, she chided herself. Those days were long gone.
"Oh, I think Scorpius wants you, Al," she nodded towards the group. Albus turned, spotting Scorpius as he bounced up and down, shouting 'Albus! Albus Potter!'.
"What about Dad?" Albus asked impatiently. He was edging towards Scorpius with every word.
"Put him on Red. I love beating him in sports."
"I heard that," Harry mumbled into the towel.
"Okay, thanks!" Albus hurried back to Scorpius.
Ginny glanced back at Harry. She suddenly worried that he harbored a secret football talent and that she'd just bolstered her own competition.
"You, er. You're not any good at football, are you?"
"No—never had any friends in the muggle world to play it with. Hey—will you pass the sunblock? It's been thirty minutes, right?"
"Two hours. Close enough. Here— I'll do it, you rest."
"Aren't you writing an article?"
"Yeah, but now I want to wait until I've actually played this sport to finish it."
She reapplied his sunblock, intervened in a rowdy fight between Lily and Hugo that nearly cumulated in Lily punching Hugo in the face, and then settled back down with her journal. She flipped through the various half-written articles, forgotten letters, lists, and proper journal entries until she located a mostly-blank page.
"All right, I'm going to write Dean back. Brief me on the situation," she told Harry.
She'd only halfway finished when James came meandering up the beach. He collapsed down onto the towel beside Ginny, out of breath and sweat-soaked.
"Rough day?" Ginny remarked.
"We were practicing. The Red Team. Where were you, Dad?"
Harry gave a halfway convincing snore. James rolled his eyes. He shifted over onto his stomach and peered curiously at Ginny's journal.
"What are you doing?"
She covered the page with her hand. "What have I said about reading over my shoulder?"
"That it's rude. Did that say 'Dear Dean'?" His voice had shifted from exhausted to terrified. "Why are you writing Nora's dad?!"
"I'm not. I'm journaling. Hence—a journal." She lifted the book and waved it.
"You do all sorts of stuff in that thing! Mum, why are you writing him?!" James pleaded. "Is this my punishment?!"
"No, James. Your punishment was wondering about your punishment, because I'm sure you were up all night envisioning every possible thing your dad and I could do, and I'm confident that you'll remember the worst case scenario you envisioned the next time you think to do something so stupid." She set the journal back down and returned to the page.
"But…it said 'Dear Dean'. I saw that. So unless your journal is named Dean, which would be a bit inappropriate in my opinion, that's a letter to Nora's dad!" He persisted.
"I'm writing him to let him know that I'm arranging the venue for the wedding," she said, her face impassive.
James hesitated for a moment, and then he leaned over Ginny, prodding Harry's back firmly. "Dad! Dad! I know you're awake! Mum's writing Dean! Her ex-boyfriend!"
"Tell Dean I said hello," Harry requested.
"Sure thing, Harry," Ginny agreed.
She took mercy on her first born a moment later.
"James, I'm just replying to the letter he wrote me. I'm reassuring him that you and Nora don't have plans to elope before graduation."
"Oh," he relaxed. He rested his chin on the towel. "Yeah, no, we're planning on a joint graduation party-wedding. It'd be boring to marry before we finish seventh year."
Harry turned his face to the side, meeting Ginny's skeptical look. They looked back at James.
"Well, as long as you've graduated, we'll support that. You know we're fond of Nora."
"Yeah," James said proudly, a broad grin in place. "And Dean and Seamus are fond of me, too."
"Of course they are," Ginny responded. "They'd have no reason not to be."
Their conversation was interrupted by Teddy.
"Ginny, Green's practicing."
She closed her journal. "Brilliant." She slid it over and wedged it beneath Harry's chest; he merely gave a slight grumble. "Don't let James get his hands on that."
"But I want to know what you say about me in it," James lamented.
"I journal about more than just my kids, you know. Trust me—you read that, you'll be getting information about loads of things you never wanted to know. Anything I've written about you I've said to you before. No mysteries there."
"Well now there's a mystery…" he trailed off, his brown eyes locked on the spot the journal had disappeared. "What could be in there that's so secretive…?"
"James, let it go," Harry said firmly.
"Fine, but only if you promise these secretive things aren't exciting Dumbledore's Army stories."
"They're definitely not that."
"Okay, then you're right. I probably don't want to know."
When Ginny entered the sectioned off spot right on the outskirts of the beach, she was surprised to find Albus and Scorpius wrestling on the soft ground, both in fits of giggles. She paused.
"Er…is this part of football?" She hissed towards Hugo.
"Not technically. I think they're fighting over the ball?"
Ginny glanced towards a spot of white in her peripheral vision.
"But the ball is over there."
Hugo turned towards it.
"Oh. Then I have no idea what this is about." He blew the whistle around his neck. "Break it up, Malfoy, Potter! This isn't wrestling! Wrong Muggle sport!"
Scorpius rolled off of Albus and onto the ground, gasping around laughter. Albus propped himself up on his elbows, flushed and laughing in time with Scorpius. Ginny spotted what they'd presumably been fighting over— the last frosty bottle of homemade butterbeer, now lying sadly in the dirt, dust-coated and derelict. Neither seemed to remember it was there.
"Al," Ginny called. Albus quickly looked up. He seemed horrified to see her there, most likely because he'd been writhing on the ground with his crush only a moment ago. Or maybe he thought she'd be horrible at football and dreaded her addition to the team—who knew? She'd certainly prove him wrong if that were it. "All that over butterbeer?"
"What? What butter—oh. I mean…well…yeah. It's the last one."
"You can have it," Scorpius told him immediately. He sat up, grinning broadly.
"No, you can have it," Albus argued. "I didn't even really—" he stopped, blushing furiously in a way that certainly would've put 11-year-old Ginny Weasley to shame.
"How about we give it to Lily? Maybe it'll settle our debt with her," Scorpius suggested. He began dusting dirt from his swim trunks, and after a moment of consideration, leaned over to brush dirt from Albus's shoulders. However, the boys had either been damp from the sea or sweat, because the dirt wasn't going anywhere. Scorpius seemed to realize this after his tenth caress and lowered his hand, his face glowing.
"Yes. Yeah. Good. Good idea," Albus all but squeaked. He clambered quickly to his feet. "Let's—football!"
"All right," Hugo called. "Gather 'round, Green Team. Welcome to Theory of Football. First, we'll briefly discuss the history, and then we'll discuss the mechanics, and then we'll place you in positions..."
While Hugo lectured, Albus and Scorpius were chatting underneath their breath about beating Rose and James. They seemed determined to do so. And Ginny couldn't help but wonder if this game would be the catalyst they'd all been waiting for—
"Aunt Ginny!" Hugo whined. "Are you listening to me?"
"Hmm? What? Yes?"
"What's the most important position, then?"
"…Chaser? But, like…the football variation?"
He stared. "Aunt Ginny, I don't speak to hear myself talk, you know."
She felt genuinely ashamed.
"Sorry, Hugh. Carry on. You're doing a great job. I'll pay attention—promise."
"Carrying on," he continued briskly. "The goalkeeper's job is just the toned-down role of a Keeper, only there are certain specific rules…"
By the time he finished lecturing, it was nearing dinner, and Ginny had learned more than enough to write her article later. She was determined to win—not because she wanted to beat Harry, not because she cared too much about football, and not even because she despised failure—but because it seemed to be really important to Albus. He had a determination in his eyes that she'd hardly ever seen there, one that she knew quite well (because she'd seen it in his father's eyes many, many times). She couldn't know for sure what was going on inside his mind, but for whatever reason, the outcome of this game was crucial to him. And she wouldn't let him down again.
Night Two by frombluetored
If Hugo blew that damn whistle one more time, Albus was certain he’d end up with it shoved into places that whistles didn’t belong.
“No, no!” Hugo shrieked, giving the whistle another shrill blow. “Stop! Uncle Charlie, you’ve got to pass the ball! Your teammates are there for a reason! Aunt Angelina and Aunt Ginny are wide open! Wide open!”
From Albus’s left, Aunt Angelina muttered something to his mum, her lips shielded by her palm to keep anybody from lip-reading. Both women burst into giggles a moment later.
“Louis!” Hugo continued. “What are you doing?! How is lying in the grass helping your team?!”
Louis—currently puddled on the grass, injured—was being seen to by Victoire.
“Hugo, he’s injured! I think he tore something in his leg," Victoire reminded him. She risked a glance around herself, and once she saw that their grandad was otherwise occupied in a conversation with Teddy, she pulled her wand out and pressed it to her brother’s calf, murmuring something. A brilliant, gold light enveloped his muscle.
“Shake it off! Shake it off, Louis, or we’ll replace you!” Hugo bellowed, having missed Victoire’s mending spell. He was already scanning the field again, looking for his next victim.
“Fine! I’m back,” Louis snapped. Whatever Victoire had done was spot on; he bolted back into his position without even the slightest grimace. Albus followed his progress to the end of the field. He locked eyes with Scorpius, who was playing goalkeeper. Scorpius gave him a thumbs up and beamed, and Albus was momentarily distracted…
Another whistle blow. This time closer to Albus’s ear. He flinched and reached up, cupping his hands over his ears.
“Would you stop with the whistle?!” He shouted.
Hugo was breathing down his neck now. “Pay attention! You’re our center midfielder! You cannot be scattered!”
“I’m not! I’m not scattered!” Albus yelled back. “And if you blow that bloody whistle again…!”
“Aunt Ginny, Albus is threatening me!” Hugo whined.
Ginny, inspecting a scrape running down the length of her forearm, said: “Hm? Sorry, you’ll have to speak up, Hugo. My ears are ringing with a mysterious whistle-like sound.”
“Fine,” Hugo bellowed, his face shining with perspiration. “Let’s continue! Aunt Audrey—you’re doing perfectly. I wouldn’t change a thing.”
Audrey—who’d grown up playing football—beamed.
“Scorpius, when you’re paying attention, your goalkeeping is admirable…when you’re paying attention. Stop daydreaming!”
Scorpius straightened his posture and saluted Hugo.
“Aunt Ginny…” Hugo trailed off, appraising his aunt. “Perhaps be a bit less aggressive with the ball. It’s not a Quaffle, and if you miskick and hit somebody’s leg, you may break a bone.”
“I’ll consider your criticism, Hugh.”
“Teddy…care more about this, please? Victoire—I think you’re only here for the opportunity to mend people, but you’re pretty decent, so carry on. Louis…nice job working through that injury! Uncle Charlie…you’re good, but you can’t play all the positions at once. Aunt Angelina.”
Angelina arched an eyebrow, her expression challenging.
“Er…perfect, as always. Only…maybe chat a bit less. Albus, focus! And Grandad…”
Arthur looked up expectantly, his face tomato red from exertion. He was grinning broadly. Nobody had the heart to say anything negative.
“Now I know where I got my talent from! Keep it up! Okay, Green Team! Back to practice and then we can eat!”
There were low grumbles of disagreement. Albus’s stomach growled along with them. He met Scorpius’s eyes from across the makeshift field; they shared a frown.
“Oh, come on, you lot! Push through! Don’t you want to beat my sister—I mean, the Red Team?!” Hugo demanded.
“I do want to beat your sister,” Albus called. “…and I guess the Red Team in general.”
“Then focus!” Hugo punctuated that order with a stomp of his foot.
“Hugo,” Aunt Audrey interrupted. She crossed the distance between them and wrapped an arm around Hugo’s shoulders. “I think we ought to get to dinner now; you know how Weasleys get if they miss meals, yeah?”
“I’m a Weasley and I’m just fine with—”
“Well, you’re a special breed, my love,” Audrey continued. Albus marveled at how soft and sweet she could keep her voice, when he knew she was absolutely starving, going by the conversation he’d overheard between her and Uncle Charlie. “We should go back and be with the others. Hermione is probably wondering where you are.”
Hugo (who was the living embodiment of a ‘mummy’s boy’) hesitated.
“Well,” he hedged, “I did tell Mum I’d help her draft letters during dinner.”
“Right—wouldn’t want to leave her all on her own, would we?”
“No, we wouldn’t. Okay, Green Team. Let’s break for dinner. Eat well, but not too well because—’
Albus was already making a beeline across the field. Scorpius was making a beeline towards him in the opposite direction. They reunited in the center. Around them, everybody else was chattering and making their way back towards the main camp.
Scorpius slung his arm around Albus’s shoulders, pulling him close against his side. Albus allowed himself to lean fully into him.
“Good goalkeeping,” he complimented. “How would you like to steal Hugo’s whistle with me?”
Scorpius laughed. “I thought you were going to yell at him well before you did! You kept flinching every single time he blew it.”
“It was awful!”
“It was slightly obnoxious. But I think, overall, it was a good practice! Our outlook is good! I’m decent at goalkeeping—you know, I really questioned Hugo when he placed me there, but I see why he did. You’re obviously great, your Aunt Audrey is surprisingly good, your mum and Aunt Angelina are great players—but that’s no surprise—and your Uncle Charlie probably could play every position himself. We’ve got a good chance!”
“Yeah, but we’re against Rose, James, Lily, Fred, Roxanne, my dad, Dominique, Uncle Ron, Uncle George, Uncle Bill…that’s tough competition.”
“True,” Scorpius nodded. He tightened the arm around Albus’s shoulder. Albus’s heart swelled. “But we’ve got you.”
Albus was beaming for the entire walk, to the point that his face ached by the time they sat down for dinner.
They’d unwittingly sectioned off into teams for dinner. The Green Team observed Red. The Red Team stared right back at them. Aunt Angelina and Uncle George were making such intense eye contact that Albus and Scorpius moved places, putting distance between themselves and the couple.
“And then,” Albus’s grandad said, enthusiastically ignoring the competitive silence dividing the family, “I kicked the football across the field! Right across it! And it went into the goal!”
It went into their goal. Meaning, had they been playing, he might’ve scored a goal against them (maybe—Albus wasn’t really positive on the rules, he’d zoned out during Hugo’s lecture). But Albus loved his grandad too much to ever tell anybody that, and everybody else on Green was in a similar place. The majority were averting their eyes. A few were struggling not to laugh. And others—like Albus’s mum and Charlie—were glaring around at their teammates, as if daring somebody to embarrass Arthur. Nobody dared.
While Hugo and Arthur updated those who hadn’t joined a team (Hermione, Percy, Gran, Fleur, Little Molly, Lucy) on Green’s practice, the Potter family was sizing each other up. Lily moved her plate and planted herself right in front of Scorpius and Albus. As she chewed, she looked from each boy’s face, as if searching for weakness. Her eyes were hardened. Albus found it a bit frightening to meet her gaze head-on.
“Lily, stop, you’re creeping me out,” Albus finally snapped.
She ignored him. She glanced over her shoulder at Harry.
“Left ankle, Dad.”
Albus looked from Harry to Lily, mildly alarmed.
“What?! What about my ankle?”
“And for this one,” Lily continued, pinning her eyes on Scorpius. He flashed her an innocent grin. Her cheeks pinked, but she steeled herself and carried on. “His weakness will be his kindness. Exploit it, Red Team. And Mum. Mum, Mum, Mum…” Lily shifted, so she was facing their mother. Ginny continued eating, indifferent, meeting Lily’s fierce eyes easily. “This one’s got a temper.”
“Watch it— ‘this one’ birthed you.”
“Probably while in a temper,” Lily shot back. Emboldened, she turned back to Albus. “Scorpius.”
“Yes?” Scorpius asked.
“No, it’s an observation for Albus’s weakness. Okay, Team. I think I’ve made a lot of decent observations. Time to separate.”
James immediately stood up, plate in hand, and began walking to another part of the camp. Albus noticed that a lot of other Red Team members had moved over there already. Lily stood and grabbed Harry’s hand.
“Come on, Dad!”
Harry hesitated. “Erm…I’m not sure it’s in my best interest to do that.”
“It is if you want to win!” She argued, her own temper flaring. She pulled fruitlessly on Harry’s hand. “Come on, Dad!”
The Potter parents locked eyes.
“Go on, Harry. I’m going to beat you anyway,” Ginny commented.
Harry scoffed, though Albus thought he was probably only a few seconds from laughing. He stood suddenly, nearly sending Lily falling backwards onto her bum.
“Okay, Lulu. Let’s go.”
They walked off, leaving Albus, Scorpius, and Ginny grouped together. Albus turned and watched all the Red teammates conspiring together. He was feeling less confident.
“It’s a tactic, boys,” Ginny said. “What they’re doing. We used to do it all the time—we being the Harpies. If you enter a room with the attitude that you’ve already won, united and laughing, it’ll mess with the other team’s heads. Don’t let them mess with yours. We’ve got this. They can put on a show about deciding our weaknesses, but we’ve already found theirs.”
Scorpius perked up. He reached over suddenly and settled his palm on Albus’s upper thigh—casually, like they did that all the time. Did they do that all the time? Suddenly, Albus couldn’t remember a thing. He stared at Scorpius’s hand, his eyes wide. His stomach was rocking like the sea and his heart was drumming. He’d had a sulky question perched on his lips— ‘and exactly what is their weakness?’—but he never got the chance to blurt it. He anxiously began shoveling food into his mouth, hoping it’d disguise the way his entire face had just caught flame. Hoping nobody could tell that every nerve in his body had somehow just merged beneath Scorpius’s hand, to the point that he was hyper aware of every subtle shift Scorpius’s knuckles made. And, again, not meaning to be dramatic…but he thought he might die right there from the sheer torture of having to sit chained in place, immobile, for fear of what he might do if he were to react in any way. The brief memory of Scorpius’s body beneath Albus’s as they wrestled flew to mind. What he wouldn’t give now to propel himself forward, to knock into Scorpius’s frame, to press his lips to his skin—any skin, really, he wasn’t fussy…--
“Al. Albus.” He shook his head and found his mum’s concerned face in front of his. She placed her palm on his forehead. “You look like you may faint. Are you feeling all right?”
“Er…erm…” he panicked. He felt cold and hot all at once, and he abruptly wanted to be somewhere else. He jumped to his feet. “I have to go now. Practice. I need to practice.”
With one last cautious look back at Scorpius, who was watching him in soft concern, Albus hurried off.
It was a bad situation all around.
Albus paced the grass in the small field their match was to be held in in only a half-hour’s time.
He’d thought it’d get better—his panic and his blushing and his—well.
But it only seemed to get worse the closer he and Scorpius got. It was worse today than it’d ever been, probably due to their closeness all day and all the bare skin. And he wasn’t sure how much longer he could stand it. He would either have to tell Scorpius how he felt (and the thought was petrifying), or he’d have to tell him that they couldn’t touch anymore. No—maybe not stop touching entirely. He couldn’t imagine cutting hugs out of their friendship. But no more unexpected touching. He’d need warning beforehand. He’d need Scorpius to give him at least two minutes of mental preparation before he set his palm on his thigh. But would that even be enough?
No matter what—their friendship was the most important thing. Albus wouldn’t have survived without Scorpius; Scorpius had accepted him without fault from the very start, at a time when most people couldn’t stand to be around him. And he wouldn’t and couldn’t do anything to strain that relationship. So it was extremely upsetting to be faced with this potential divide—something that his own mind and body were doing, something he couldn’t control, something that could ruin everything. He felt very betrayed, and in that moment, he also felt hopeless and extremely close to tears. Because what if this was the beginning of the end? How was he meant to go on with Scorpius when his feelings for him were taking on a life of their own? He couldn’t go forward pretending like he didn’t feel anything because all it took was one unexpected touch and he was an unholy mess. But he couldn’t tell him, either.
More than anything—he couldn’t bear the thought of losing him. Just the suggestion made his throat tighten and his eyes sting. Who would he be without Scorpius? Not Albus. Not Albus Potter. Scorpius made him better. He couldn’t lose him. He couldn’t sleep in their dorm and pretend they were strangers. He couldn’t eat in the Great Hall without him. He couldn’t function without him.
He’d been angrily kicking the ball into the goal, over and over again. At the sudden greeting, he jumped and managed to poorly send the ball spinning sharply to the left. His dad entered the field and smiled softly.
“Well, if that’s how you’ll be playing, I think Red Team will be all right.”
Albus’s eyes were stinging fiercely. His vision began blurring. And his dad panicked.
“No, I’m sorry, Al—that was a joke, a really stupid joke; I’m a git.”
Albus would’ve liked to have defended his own honor and told his dad that he wasn’t crying because of that, but to speak would’ve been to succumb to tears. It was taking every bit of his focus and strength to keep the tears at bay; there was nothing left over for banter.
His dad approached. He gently kicked the ball to the side and out of his path. He reached down and gripped Albus’s shoulder. Albus refused to meet his eyes.
“Are you all right? What’s wrong?” His dad whispered. He looked around himself carefully. “No one else is here. If you want to talk about…things…no one will hear.”
Albus sniffed. His nose was running at an alarming rate, as if determined to release some of the pressure of his withheld tears. As he reached up and wiped it on his sleeve, for lack of a better option, he could almost hear his gran scolding him.
Harry deflated underneath Albus’s silence.
“Or,” he continued, his voice filled with feigned indifference, “I could get your mum. If you don’t want to speak with me. That’s okay! If you want me to go, I can go.”
For a man who had so many vast talents, he wasn’t very good at masking his injured feelings. Or perhaps Albus just knew how to read him by now.
“I don’t want Mum,” Albus finally choked. His dad absolutely knew now; anybody could’ve heard the swells of tears trembling beneath each word.
“Oh,” Harry was panicking full-force. Albus was looking towards the ground, so he noticed when Harry clenched his fists nervously. I must not tell lies stood out in even greater contrast. His wedding band shifted with the pressure, revealing a very noticeable tan line. “Oh. Okay. Grandad, then? Uncle Bill? Teddy? Uncle Charlie? Gran? Vic?”
His dad trilled off people Albus had a history of confiding in, but Albus didn’t want to speak with them. If he was going to talk to anybody about this, it would be his dad, but he couldn’t seem to get the words to past his lips. His chest felt like it may burst, and he could hardly make out anything behind the blurry film of his tears, and his throat was prickling. The ridiculousness of his reaction made it even worse, because he felt angry and frustrated with himself, and that only egged the impending tears on. He looked up at his dad, blinking hard against the escaping tears, and gave up.
“I want to talk to you,” he admitted, his voice strained, and a second later he was crying. He briefly registered his dad pulling him into his arms. He felt the soft texture of his dad’s cotton shirt against his skin as it stuck to his already tear-streaked face. His dad rested one hand on the back of Albus’s head, holding him protectively in place in their embrace, like he had when Albus was a little boy. Before things got so complicated. Before he found himself crying in the middle of a makeshift muggle football field over the longing he felt for his best friend.
“What’s happened? Did something happen with Scorpius? Was one of your cousins being mean?”
The full defensive fury of Harry Potter was something to behold. For the second time that year, Albus found it quite easy to merge the idea of his father with the man who’d willingly died at the hands of Lord Voldemort to protect his friends. Had Albus offered any name of any cousin who may’ve wronged him, he knew they would’ve regretted it.
“No, nothing like that.”
He couldn’t get much else out around his sobs. He gave up and cried it out, his face pressed into his dad’s shirt, all his repressed emotions leaving him at once. For at least three minutes, he stood there with Harry, expelling his suppressed trauma from the events of his fourth year, the anger he still felt at the way he and Scorpius had been treated for years at school, and the confusion and hopelessness he felt in periodic waves about the way he felt for Scorpius. All the while, Harry held him, sometimes patting his back, but mostly just standing steady. It was the right thing to do. If Albus had felt even a bit better, he would’ve smiled and told Harry that.
Once he felt like he could speak without gasping like a fool, he leaned back and wiped impatiently at his face. He looked up at his dad, his eyes shining.
“Dad, I’m going to ruin it all. The only good thing I’ve got at Hogwarts, and I’m going to ruin it.”
Where his mum gently pried, Harry threw out confident guesses. This time, he was spot on.
“Your friendship with Scorpius?” A nod. “Because you fancy him?” Another nod. “Have you spoken to him about how you feel?” Albus quickly shook his head, his eyes widening in horror. Harry laughed softly. “No, I don’t blame you—I would not have either. Okay, so, you feel certain that he doesn’t feel the same way?”
“I dunno, Dad. Sometimes…I wonder. I think that maybe he does. But then I worry that I’m… just seeing what I want to see.” His hands were trembling. He shakily wiped more tears from his face. His dad withdrew his wand, conjured a handkerchief, and passed it to Albus. He sniffed again and mopped at his tears.
“I know for me,” his dad began, each word measured and thoughtful, “it’s difficult to read people sometimes. I usually just—don’t. It’s one of the many reasons your mum and I work so well—because she doesn’t make me guess. She was blunt about everything, and then eventually, we knew each other so well that it became intuitive.”
Albus’s chest burned fiercely with what he could only describe as jealousy.
“Must be nice,” he spat.
Harry realized his mistake. “Oh, no, sorry—I’m getting to a point with all that. Sorry…I’m not very good at this. But I promise…I’m trying my best.”
Albus nodded. He continued wiping at the periodic tears that leaked from his eyes.
“My point is that, for people who aren’t always the best at reading people—or, which it may be in your case, are good at it but second guess themselves too much for it to be effective—it’s best to just be honest. You’re only going to drive yourself mad if you don’t. Trust me, I know. You think you can keep it all bottled up but you can’t. I know you’re worried about your friendship, but how are you meant to go on like this?”
“If he doesn’t feel the same way, he’ll think I’m...gross.”
“Do you really think so? Because I don’t know if I agree. Scorpius has never given me any reason to think he’d be judgmental or reckless with the friendship you two share.”
“You and I both know, Dad, that if he doesn’t feel the same way, things will change. And almost certainly for the worst.”
“Maybe,” his dad relented. “But things are going to change anyway. They were always going to. Fifth year is a time of changes whether you like it or not. I can’t say for certain what’s going on in Scorpius’s head—I was always rubbish at Occlumency and I’m sure I’d be just as bad at Legilimency—but I do know that you’ll drift apart if you don’t say anything, because I know you. You’ll push Scorpius away out of fear of losing him. And then you’ll lose him. So. Basically. I think you should tell him you fancy him. Now…how to do that? I haven’t got a clue. Frankly, the idea is terrifying. But I do know people who would have ideas.”
“Mum?” Albus was wary, unsure if he wanted to embark on this conversation with both Potter parents present.
“Mum? Merlin, no. Your mum’s not exactly a subtle person. She told me she was pregnant with James by casually dragging me into a baby shop during a routine shopping run for Quidditch supplies. I nearly fainted. No, I was thinking more along the lines of Aunt Hermione.”
“Maybe...” Albus tried to imagine asking his Aunt Hermione for advice on how to tell Scorpius he fancied him, but it was such an alien idea that it was difficult to envision.
“I’d remind you that everything will end up okay—but I know that’s not always the best advice. It may end up okay, but I’m sure it’s very painful right now,” his dad said wisely. Albus’s throat gave another sear. He was terrified he’d begin crying again. He pushed through the feeling until he felt semi-stable again.
“Better?” His dad asked hopefully.
In the wake of his breakdown, he felt embarrassment flare through him. He stepped back out of his dad’s arms and cleared his throat.
“Sorry, Dad. It was…silly. To cry.”
“No, it wasn’t,” his dad said firmly. “Crying isn’t silly. And you don’t need to be embarrassed. Honestly, Albus, I expected you to fall apart months ago. After I saw Cedric die, I think I probably cried that entire summer. And what you and Scorpius saw—well. It’s not an easy thing.” Albus was feeling worse now. Seeing a classmate die was a good reason to cry, but he wasn’t crying about that. He was crying over this.
But his dad continued.
“And feeling worried that you’ll lose your greatest friend isn’t easy. That’s the most terrifying thing of all. That, I think, is the most fundamental fear there is. Except for maybe death itself, but even then it depends on the person. The point is…the fear of losing somebody you really care about, somebody you depend on…that’s not a silly reason to cry. It’s many witches’ and wizards’ worst fear. Mine included.”
Albus wanted to duck back into his father’s embrace, but he felt he was too old for it. He settled for smiling weakly. He had no choice but to accept his father’s words as truth, because there was no way to doubt the sincerity weaved between each syllable. And, after all: his dad had died because of that fear, the fear of losing his friends.
“I do,” he told his dad.
He hesitated. “You do what?”
“I do feel better now.”
Relief flooded Harry’s face. He beamed.
“Yeah? I did a decent job again?”
“A great job.”
His dad nodded, smile still steady. “So would you say it was like…a five out of ten? Or lower? Higher?”
Albus furrowed his brow. “I dunno. Do we have to use James’s scale for validation?”
His dad had a haunted look. “No, we don’t have to…I’m just realizing how trained I’ve become…that kid’s got me judging everything on ten-point scales...”
Albus laughed. It was shaky, but it was there. He grinned.
“Okay. We can say…an eight.”
“An eight! That’s way higher than I was expecting! I’ll take it. I’ll take it gladly.” He hesitated for one awkward moment, and then reached forward, pulling Albus into a tight hug. “I can’t wait to tell your mum that I got an eight. Can I tell her?”
“Sure, you can tell her,” Albus allowed. He was shocked that he had the control to say if his dad could or couldn’t. It made him feel important. “So I should tell Scorpius.”
“Yes. You should,” his dad replied, pulling back to observe Albus seriously. “You should definitely tell him.”
“That’s up to you. If you start feeling this bad all the time…you should do it sooner rather than later. He wouldn’t want you to feel this way.”
Harry was probably right about that. Albus just didn’t know how he was supposed to tell Scorpius. It sounded a lot easier to do than it felt. And now that he’d cried it out, he felt like he’d overreacted, like he could easily continue pretending he felt nothing at all. Even though his dad seemed to genuinely feel like Albus had a good reason to cry, he felt a bit stupid.
“Everyone will be here soon. You should go find Scorpius. He was worried about you.”
Albus furrowed his brow. “You saw him?”
“Yeah. Your mum might’ve…sent me to check on you.”
“Oh, great. I’m sure Scorpius thinks I’ve gone mad,” Albus groaned.
“No, he’s just worried and confused. Go on back. You can do it.”
Albus dragged his feet. He hesitated.
“But…say that I tell him, and then he tells me that he doesn’t…what do I say back?”
“Well…I guess you just say…’okay’. I mean, there’s not much else to say, is there?” His dad pointed out.
“’I’m sorry’?” Albus suggested.
“Why should you be sorry? It’s not like you asked to feel that way. It’s not like it’s hurting anybody.” Albus wasn’t convinced. Harry continued. “Look, your mum had a blatant crush on me for years before I came around. I knew she felt that way. It wasn’t a big deal. The only thing that came between us was the fact that she was embarrassed because of it. If you act normally, Scorpius will, too.”
Albus inhaled deeply. He squared his shoulders. “Okay. Okay, yeah. I’m going to do it.”
His dad beamed. “Yeah?”
“Yeah! I’m going to. I’m going now. I’m going to tell him.”
Albus took another deep breath. He didn’t move for at least five seconds, even though he was screaming at his legs to move. He seemed to be frozen in fear.
“Er…do you need a gentle push, Al?”
“Might be necessary, yeah.”
His dad carefully pushed him forward, forcing Albus to take a step. Once he’d ripped his feet from the ground, he was able to take another step, and from there he marched towards the path back to the campsite. He could do this. This was for the best. He was going to march up and tell Scorpius that he fancied him, that he thought he was beautiful, that he wasn’t satisfied with being just friends, that the thought of losing him—or the sight of him with another person—was gutting and could reduce him to tears faster than anything. He was going to thank him for entering his life, for—
“Albus!” Scorpius jumped to his feet, relieved.
“See? There he is,” Lily told him. She looked vaguely annoyed. “I told you he was okay.”
Scorpius hurried over. He reached forward and grabbed onto Albus’s hands, peering worriedly into his eyes. Albus’s mouth went dry. The words pooling in his mouth crumbled. His brain blanked.
“Where’d you go? Is everything okay?”
“I…I needed to…I left because…”
Scorpius waited, inching closer to Albus with every second that passed, as if struggling to hear him.
“I…” Damn. Damn. Damn. “I’m just nervous about the game. I went to practice.”
Scorpius’s shoulders dropped. “Oh,” he said. He didn’t release Albus’s hands. “Why are you nervous?”
“Just…you know. I want to beat James and Lily and Rose.”
“Me too,” Scorpius agreed, but he was studying Albus’s face, his own vulnerable. “Are you sure that’s why you left? Did I…make you uncomfortable?”
Shy. That was the word. Albus stared at Scorpius and realized he’d suddenly gone very shy. Patches of pink were blooming across his cheeks. His eyes were wider than usual with apprehension. He’d dropped Albus’s hands. He was studying every expression that shifted across Albus’s face as if he’d have an exam over it later. He thought he had made Albus uncomfortable, that he had disgusted Albus. By setting his palm on his thigh. By…making a move? Or was it just Scorpius being Scorpius? Albus wanted to turn on his heel and race back to the clearing, to ask his dad, but he had been staring blankly at Scorpius for too long already.
“No! Not at all!” He blurted. His heart was rising dangerously. “No! You never—you never make me uncomfortable. I love when you touch me. I mean—” Albus’s face grew uncomfortably hot. The horrid blush spread down the back of his neck, over his ears. Lily succumbed into giggles from behind Scorpius. “Er. You know. You’re my—and. I like to…hug you…because…you’re so…my friend. My special…friend.”
Merlin’s pants…kill me. Would Lily kill him if he asked nicely? Maybe. He peered back towards her, but she was grinning evilly. No. She wouldn’t kill him without seeing the way this panned out, and she would tease him for the rest of his life.
“Lily!” Ginny suddenly shouted from inside the tent. “Get in here!”
Albus felt slight relief to have his nosy audience gone, but not enough to quell the awkward tension covering both him and Scorpius. Lily scoffed.
“No, Mum! I’m talking!”
“You’re not talking—you’re eavesdropping! Now!”
Lily dared to ignore their mum. Albus guessed she felt watching this was worth whatever punishment her parents would dish out. And Scorpius was still staring at him, his lips moving soundlessly, his face Weasley red.
“Oh,” he said, his tone colored with surprise. “Oh. Well…the thing is…I, you know. I like to. And I was worried that maybe that wasn’t…okay. Or normal? ‘Cause, er. I never really see…other mates who want to do that. And it made me feel bad because I don’t want to…” Scorpius trailed off, visibly struggling to put his feelings into words.
“No,” Albus said again, quickly, wanting to spare Scorpius the pain of stuttering on, even if it meant he had to. “No, it’s okay, because I feel the same way…you know, I like to, too. Touch you, that is. So you’re not…making me feel bad. Honestly…I left because…I was worried that I—”
“LILY LUNA POTTER!”
“NO, MUM, IT’S JUST GETTING GOOD!”
“I SWEAR IF YOU DON’T GET INSIDE THIS TENT—” there was a sudden motion to the left. Scorpius and Albus turned and watched Ginny struggling with the tangled tent doorway, clumsy in her irritation. She gave up, blasted it apart with her wand, and then stepped out. She glowered at Lily in such a way that would’ve had Albus scrambling to comply. “Get your little self inside this tent or so help me—”
Lily scowled. She flicked her hair over her shoulder, rose, and then looked to Albus and Scorpius. Albus couldn’t meet her eyes.
“There is one word to explain what you two idiots have just stuttered nonstop trying to explain, and that word—”
“That’s it!” Ginny raged. “No Easter holiday with Luna and Rolf! No hiking for sodding yak fairies!”
Albus hadn’t seen his mum in such a temper in a while. He wondered if she knew what he’d been planning on telling Scorpius. He wondered if she wanted him to tell Scorpius, too. She probably did.
“No, Mum! No!” Lily’s outraged cries faded as she stomped into the tent.
“Yak fairies?” Scorpius said skeptically. Half of Albus was relieved by the subject changed—because things were getting dangerous—but the other half was terribly disappointed. He heaved a sigh.
“I think my mum just made that up, but there’s no telling with Luna.”
Scorpius laughed slightly. Albus gave a forced, short chuckle. They stared at each other, hesitant and uncertain. After what felt like decades, Scorpius stepped forward and retook Albus’s hands. His stomach jerked.
“I’m Scorpius. You’re Albus. We didn’t even really hug until a year or so ago. But then we did. So we can be…touchy. If you are okay with it, and I am, too. There’s nothing wrong with it.” He paused. That vulnerable expression returned. “Right?”
He was certain that Lily could probably hear his heartbeat pounding wildly from all the way inside the tent.
“Right,” he said, a bit weakly. “We’re just—Albus and Scorpius.”
“Right. And we can be whatever versions of ourselves that we want to be.”
“Right…” Do it now. Say it now. Do it now or you never will. “Scorpius…”
He dropped his eyes to the ground. He took another deep breath.
“The thing is…I’ve got a very specific version of us in mind.”
“Oh, okay,” Scorpius said. He didn’t get it. His tone was light. “Well, you know what I always say—planning is the first step to success! A clear vision never hurts!”
“Right, I vaguely…recall that. Er. What I really mean is that I feel—”
“GREEN TEAM!” Albus’s grandad’s shout echoed throughout the campsite. “IT’S TIME.”
Albus looked around, horrified, as people began spilling from their respective tents. He and Scorpius took a few stumbling steps back from each other, their hands separating, blushing to the roots of their hair.
“Hold that—hold that thought,” Albus told Scorpius. Scorpius smiled, nodded, and reached easily for Albus’s hand once again.
Albus’s mind raced with panicked thoughts for their entire walk. By the time they made it to the clearing, he was dazed, confused, scattered. Hugo wasn’t having it.
“Ouch!” Albus cried, rearing back from Hugo, who’d just delivered a surprisingly strong smack to Albus’s shoulder. “Hugo! What the—!”
“I don’t know what has gotten into you since practice, but if it’s Scorpius—deal with your feelings. We have a match to win. No excuses! Get focused! Rose has already been going on about how she and James are going to smash the Green Team so hard that they fly back far enough to meet Albus Dumbledore! Get it together!”
Albus was left gaping as Hugo stamped off to scold somebody else. Scorpius hesitantly met Albus’s eyes. They both looked in opposite directions a moment later.
“Okay, well, he’s mad,” Albus tried to laugh, but nothing came out but a weak exhalation of air. “As if—as if I’d…”
Whatever he’d said, it’d been the wrong thing. Scorpius seemed to get smaller. He dropped his face.
“Yeah. I suppose I’d better get to the goal—it won’t keep itself.”
Albus felt his heart jump with panic. “Yeah. Okay. But I…what I meant, what I said to Hugo…”
Scorpius was already gone, weaving through the people cluttering the field, each donning at least one garment of their team color. An old, green cap was shoved on Albus’s head by Victoire. She tapped his nose.
“What’s wrong with you? Did Hugo punch you in the stomach?”
“Do you need me to look at it?”
“No. I just—need to get this over with so I can talk to Scorpius.”
His dad sneaked his way over. He was wearing a slightly-too-small red t-shirt.
“Well?” He greeted Albus.
Albus sniffed. He shrugged his shoulders.
“Oh, damn,” his dad whispered, horrified. “Did it go badly? Do you want to forget the match? We can, if you want.”
“No. No, I want to do the match. I’ll be fine. I’m just…Dad, I’m really bad at talking about my feelings.”
“Welcome to my world,” Harry patted Albus’s shoulder briefly. “We’ll talk afterwards, okay?”
“Okay,” he replied miserably.
Everybody moved back to where they were meant to be. Rose was beaming at Albus.
“I’ll try not to beat you too badly,” she told him. “I was studying football techniques all throughout dinner. I’m ready for this.”
Albus wasn’t in the mood. “Whatever, Rose.”
She frowned. She edged closer. “Are you okay? What’s wrong? I’m not serious. I’m actually fairly intimidated by your football skills, which is a new feeling all around.”
“I don’t care about football!” He hissed. He glanced over his shoulder towards Scorpius. His heart plummeted at the listless way Scorpius was nodding as Arthur talked to him. Albus was certain that Scorpius wasn’t processing any of it. He looked back at Rose, desperate. “I think I hurt Scorpius’s feelings.”
Rose glanced back that way too. “Oh, yeah, he does look a bit like a kicked puppy. Worse than when I rejected him. Did you reject him?”
“No! At least—I don’t think I did.”
“Well, what did you say?” Rose demanded. Albus regretted confiding in her. Her bossiness and nosiness were a terrible combination when it came to asking her for advice.
“Hey, what’s everybody talking about?” Uncle George interrupted. He looked between both teenagers. “We’re not, perhaps, talking about Scorpius and Albus, are we? Because I’ve got a very specific conversation I’m supposed to look out for when it comes to Rose discussing that matter—Ow! Angelina! I’m coming, fine!”
Uncle George appeared only to be dragged off again. Rose continued.
“So? What’d you muck up this time?”
He felt a sting of instinctive, defensive anger pierce him.
“It doesn’t matter. Never mind. Let’s just play this game. Beating you will make me feel better at least for an hour.”
Rose arched an eyebrow at his harsh tone.
“You don’t have to be so mean,” she said coolly. “I was only joking before. And I was trying to help you.”
“I don’t need help.”
“You need more help than I nor anybody else can give you,” she snapped.
Hugo whistled. Albus jumped.
“The Red Team won the coin toss! They get first kick-off!”
The game began and Albus slipped away. He sank into the match entirely, focusing only on the ball. He was indifferent to the players around him, to Hugo’s whistle-blows, to the shrieking. He made one goal. And then another. And then two more. After his sixth, Lily collided with him head-on, her leg sneaking between his to steal the ball. But she’d misjudged her speed. They both went careening down with a sickening crack.
“Stop!” His mum screamed. “Hugo! Stop the match!”
His parents and Victoire arrived at once. He was already climbing back up to his feet, his heart pounding, a bit disoriented from his adrenaline. He shoved his mum’s and Victoire’s hands away. He could feel thick blood pouring down his face. His nose had gone numb and he was having a difficult time breathing out of it.
“I’m fine! I’m fine!” he shouted at them.
Lily jumped up from the ground, eyes ablaze. If she noticed the angry knot protruding from her forehead, it didn’t show.
“Me too! Dad, I’m fine!” She shoved the adults’ hands off too. She and Albus faced each other, teeth gritted.
“It’s on,” Lily growled.
“It’s been on,” Albus shot back. And without waiting for Hugo to figure out what was going on, he side-swiped the ball and took off towards the Red Team’s goal, Lily on his heels. Had she successfully become an animagus, Albus was fairly confident she would’ve transformed right there and devoured him.
He very nearly made another goal. Lily propelled herself forward with reckless speed at the last moment, managing to cut sharply in front of him and gain possession of the ball. However, she had turned at a bad angle, and Albus definitely heard her ankle make a cracking sound, but she bolted forward towards the Green Team’s goal despite. Albus chased after her. There was a noticeable limp in her gait now.
“Catch it, Scorpius!” Albus shrieked, once he realized he wasn’t going to be able to steal the ball before Lily made a shot. Their grandad tried to intercept, but Lily merely leaped around him. Scorpius met Albus’s eyes for a moment. He nodded, Albus stopped running, and then he nodded back. He bowed forward to catch his breath, his palms on his thighs, and waited.
“YEAH!” Louis cried. “Great save!”
Albus looked up in time to see Scorpius toss the ball back out. They exchanged a fleeting grin—one that lifted Albus’s heavy heart. I didn’t mean it, he tried to communicate through his eyes. Whatever it sounded like—that’s not what I meant.
“Aunt Ginny! Get James! No—James! I don’t care if he’s your son! Get him! Get—oh, that works, too, Uncle Charlie!”
Albus spun around and raced back towards the middle of the field. James was on the ground, Uncle Charlie and his mum crowded around him. He was moaning in pain.
“What happened?” Uncle Charlie demanded, panicked. “I hardly even brushed you, James.”
“He’s faking, Charlie! Ignore him! He’s tricking—arg!” Their mum’s words broke off with an outraged shout as James popped up from his spot and immediately stole the ball from Charlie’s feet. He bolted back across the field kicking it towards the Green Team’s goal.
“Foul! Foul! MY KID JUST MADE A FOUL, HUGO! Call it!”
Hugo— who was flipping frantically through his football book, sweat stains blooming beneath his arms—looked up.
“I don’t know what to do, I don’t know if that really counts as a foul!”
“Fine! I’ll referee! James, you’re grounded!”
“Dad says I’m not!”
“Dad’s grounded too!”
Albus had a horrible stitch in his side, but he thought he might be able to cut James off. He circled back towards Scorpius’s goal. He was gaining on James, but not quickly enough. Scorpius just barely managed to save it; a few millimeters to the left and it would’ve landed right into the back of the goal. Relief flooded Albus.
“Nice one!” He shouted.
Scorpius—beaming—pushed his hand out. Albus nearly tripped over his feet in his haste to bolt over and meet his high-five. Hugo blew his whistle.
“Fine!” Albus thundered. He turned and headed back up the field, chasing after Rose, who’d nabbed the ball. She scored a goal, Angelina scored one for the Green Team, Charlie and Albus’s mum teamed up and scored two more, and then Albus stole the ball again.
“A few more minutes!” Hugo told them. Albus ignored him, his eyes narrowed in on the goal that Uncle Ron was guarding. He made it up to the goal with the ball but had it stolen by Roxanne a moment later. He and Roxanne ran the length of the field—Albus stole it back—she stole it from him—he stole it from her—
“You can do it!” Scorpius shouted. “Go, Albus! Go Albus Potter!”
He was sure that they were already winning (but by how much, he wasn’t certain). But that didn’t matter in that moment; he was determined to make this final goal, to end this quickly, so that he could apologize and explain himself to Scorpius.
Nearly every member of the Red Team was charging at him now, all previous formations forgotten. Albus weaved between them all, accidentally elbowing Rose in the face and tripping Fred, and with his last burst of energy, he kicked the ball violently forward. He stumbled backwards from the force of it, managing to trip and fall painfully onto his bottom (nearly sitting on James’s face—who was sprawled out on his back for reasons uncertain to Albus). The breath was knocked from Albus from the force of his fall, and consequently, he missed watching the outcome of his shot. Seconds later, the field erupted into a mixture of angry shouts and elated cries. In the midst of it, Albus could make out only Scorpius’s voice.
“You did it! Albus, you did it!”
Dazed from his loss of breath, his entire body aching as his adrenaline ebbed away, his legs unsteady—Albus stood. He impatiently pushed through everybody, scanning the crowd for Scorpius. James’s and Rose’s cries of defeat were holy to behold. Teddy and Victoire cheered victoriously nearby Albus, but he didn’t pause to speak to them. His parents were engaged in what appeared to be a friendly argument, Lily stamping angrily around them, but that didn’t matter, either. What mattered was finding Scorpius.
He searched the crowd for him now, his heart dangerously full, all his repressed words perched for flight. After a brief moment of searching, he spotted his best friend’s blond head, making his way towards him through the crowd of Weasleys with equal purpose. As people parted, Albus spotted the breathtaking grin on Scorpius’ face, and everything narrowed down and simplified. Scorpius wasn’t sad anymore. He was happy—he was here with Albus, and he was happy, and he didn’t want to be like ‘normal friends’. And maybe that meant exactly as it sounded; maybe he was good enough for this: for Scorpius’s affections, for his family’s pride. Maybe he deserved to be happy, after all.
Albus didn’t know what possessed him to do it; he certainly hadn’t had the conscious thought. But before he could consider much of anything, he’d begun tearing across the grass in a run towards Scorpius, his own whooping laughter carrying loudly over the din of his family. He slammed into Scorpius, he felt Scorpius’s arms envelop him tightly, and then—
He was kissing him. Who had moved first? Did it matter? As he fell into the warm softness of Scorpius’s kiss, he decided that no, it didn’t matter. Nothing mattered, except for the boy entangled with him. He went blind, he went deaf; the only thing he sensed was the pressure of his best friend’s mouth on his, the gentle sweep of a hand through his hair, the touch of another against his hip. One long kiss turned into a series of them. Albus had a palm pressed against the back of Scorpius’s neck and his other had found a permanent home over his best friend’s heart, feeling out the rapid throbbing, his own pounding with a similar franticness. He could’ve stood there forever, but Albus felt a pointed hit to his arm a moment later. He knew enough by now to tell Rose’s beatings apart from anybody else’s.
“Oi!” She cried, as Albus and Scorpius jumped apart. “You’re in front of our grandparents! Have some respect!”
Albus was hurdled back into reality as he stepped back from Scorpius. He felt his stomach clench in embarrassment. He looked around tentatively, still a bit dazed, and found nearly everybody smiling at them. Except for Uncle Ron, who was…cheering? Either that or he’d just been stung on the foot by a bee; he was jumping up and down and hooting. Albus could feel Scorpius’s eyes on him; he turned and glanced back, and as he did, he felt himself automatically leaning forward…
“OI!” Rose insisted, swiping at Albus’ arm again. “Neither the time nor the place!”
“Where is the time? And the place?” Scorpius asked her curiously. “We can go there?” He met Albus’s eyes. “Want to go there, Albus?”
“Live there, more like it,” he quipped, without even thinking about it. Both he and Scorpius grinned shyly at one another while Rose gaped. Albus pursed his lips against his pleased laughter, his cheeks coloring darker.
“Rose!” Hermione scolded. “Leave them be!”
“Yeah! Get over here, let them kiss!” Ron scolded.
“Come on, you lot,” Harry hurriedly ordered. “Leave them. I mean it, Lily!”
“Aw,” Lily lamented. “But it just got properly interesting…”
“Who kissed who?” Uncle George was asking frantically. “Who made the first move? Who saw it—did anybody?!”
The chatter faded as Harry banished everybody towards the path leading back to camp. Leaving Albus and Scorpius mere millimeters from each other, their wide eyes locked, alone except for each other.
“Er…” Albus squeaked.
Scorpius blinked his light eyes, stunned. There was something inexplicably lovely about the pinkness of his lips and cheeks in contrast with his white-blond hair. Albus scanned his face, his own heart picking up pace, and then reached up. His movements were hesitant, jerky, but he forced himself to press forward. He gently scratched above Scorpius’s upper lip and beside his nose, scraping away at the blood that’d transferred from Albus’s (probably broken) nose. He hadn’t felt the pain while they were kissing, but he felt it now—it was a stinging, hot, full pain. He slowly lowered his hand once the blood was gone, Scorpius’s eyes following its path.
The silence dragged on. The only thing protecting Albus’s heart was the fact that he wasn’t certain who’d initiated the kiss; it very well could’ve been Scorpius. He played around with a few weak jokes, to try and pretend the kiss had never happened, but he couldn’t get himself to do it. It had happened. And it should’ve happened long ago. And he wanted it to happen again. So he would have to follow his parents’ advice—he’d have to be honest.
“So,” Albus began. He could feel his heartbeat pounding in his head now. “That’s the idea of us that I was talking about. That’s the version that I…” be brave. You can even be foolishly Gryffindor brave, but be brave, even if only for this moment. “…wanted. Want,” he corrected. “The version that I…want.” A beat. “Please say something back quickly, because I may combust any moment now.”
Scorpius didn’t move or say anything for a full three seconds, which under any other circumstance, would’ve flown right by. Now, however, they inched forward. Albus’s hands were trembling. He felt like he may be sick. And then—the corners of Scorpius’s lips twitched. A slow, warm smile bloomed. Albus grinned back immediately, his eyes greedily taking in Scorpius’s beam because that had to be a good sign. He couldn’t look that happy if he were preparing himself to let Albus down gently.
Scorpius reached up and set his palms on Albus’s shoulders. He took an almost bouncing step forward. He stooped down, Albus watching him carefully all the while, and slowly tilted his face towards Albus’s. Albus’s heart made an uncomfortable lurch like it’d actually skipped two beats. He found himself staring at Scorpius’s blond eyelashes.
“It’s a good idea,” Scorpius finally told him, his tone bright, his words soft. “This is the idea of us that I had, too. I just didn’t know how you felt.”
If Scorpius didn’t close the gap between them soon, Albus was going to. It was a fresh torture, waiting there on the brink of a second kiss, Scorpius’s breath fanning out across his chapped lips. He’d fallen into Scorpius’s eyes in the all-consuming, soppy way he’d never expected himself to ever personally experience. For the first time, he noticed flecks of soft blue mingled in with the grey. Oh, Merlin, Albus thought. He felt a bit winded again. What have I done?
“Your nose,” Scorpius said, his brow furrowing in concern.
Albus, forgetting his injury for a moment, reached up self-consciously. “What—what’s wrong with it? You don’t like it?”
Scorpius laughed. He lowered his hands to Albus’s waist, looping them around to pull him close, his touch a bit shy—but leaking with affection. “What? No! I just mean…” he reached up, gently tapping the top of Albus’s nose. He winced. “Well, it might be broken. I wanted to…but I didn’t know if it would hurt…”
He trailed off, his words giving way to a bashful smile. Albus swallowed roughly. His blush was searing down to his shoulders now (it was possibly the most impressive blush he’d ever had to date). He inhaled briefly through his mouth, lifted a trembling hand to Scorpius’s cheek, and then craned his neck up. He pressed his lips gently to Scorpius’s. A thrill raced down his spine and to his toes, and Scorpius must’ve felt it too, because he tightened his arms around Albus’s waist, pulling him closer.
They had no idea what they were doing. It was, in all honesty, the first real kiss for both of them. But Albus found it easy to get swept up in it; easy to press into Scorpius’s embrace, easy to share embarrassed laughs after fumbles, easy to keep kissing him. They were both getting a bit emboldened, and Albus was considering giving techniques a try that he’d seen James and Nora exhibiting throughout the halls at Hogwarts, but then Scorpius accidentally collided noses with Albus a bit too hard for Albus to ignore. He reared back, his face throbbing madly, pain blinding him for a moment.
“Sorry!” Scorpius was horrified. His hands grasped Albus’s. “Are you okay?”
Albus pulled one hand free from Scorpius’s. He pressed carefully along his swollen, blood-caked nose. He beamed.
“I’m brilliant. Well—the nose is a disaster. But I’m brilliant.”
Scorpius—bouncing happily on the balls of his feet—leaned forward, wrapping his arms tightly around Albus. He pressed his face into Albus’s shoulder. Albus carefully rested his cheek against Scorpius’s, too. He hugged him back, and as he did, he felt a familiar wave of affection wash over him. He squeezed him tighter, his affection nearly violent due to the sheer force of it. He wanted to tell Scorpius how much he cared about him, but he felt like the words were probably extraneous.
“I’m brilliant, too,” Scorpius admitted, his words muffled into Albus’s shoulder.
They exchanged sly grins periodically during their walk back. Albus caught Scorpius glancing at him from the corner of his eye about as often as Albus was glancing at him. They linked hands halfway through the walk, flushed and pleased. Albus wasn’t excited to face his family—and he certainly hadn’t planned on making his kiss a public, family event—but he had to tell Scorpius sooner or later in some way, and he was breathlessly relieved to have it over and done with.
“They’re going to be insufferable,” Albus told Scorpius as they came up to the edge of the campground.
“Do you think they’ll be okay with it?” Scorpius asked nervously.
“They’ll be fine. It’s Rita Skeeter who’s going to have a fit. ‘Son of Voldemort involved with Harry Potter’s son’—she’ll think it’s Christmas.”
Scorpius laughed once. It trailed off, giving way to a quizzical, hopeful look.
“And are we?”
“Yeah,” Scorpius said. He beamed. “I should know what proper title to use. How do I introduce you? Is it ‘Albus Potter, my good friend’ still? Or is it ‘Albus Potter, my…’” he trailed off. For a moment, Albus thought he might give an excited squeal. He felt an urge to seize him into his arms again in response. He had to scrounge for self-control.
“Well, I’ll always be Albus Potter, your good friend,” Albus pointed out.
“Yeah! My good, good friend! My good, good boyfriend?” Scorpius suggested. Innocently, hopefully. In the open, kind way only Scorpius seemed to be able to utter things. There was no insecurity, no manipulative suggestion. He seemed to be genuinely curious and honestly hopeful that the answer would be yes. And Albus, well. He felt like jumping up in down in place, and his heart was beating out an enthusiastic tune. That seemed right in a way that nothing else had since he started Hogwarts. My boyfriend, Scorpius Malfoy seemed right. He could imagine himself saying it. He could imagine the wave of comfort it would bring him to be able to say it.
“I would love to be your good, good boyfriend,” Albus beamed.
Scorpius smiled so widely that his eyes were nearly shut. He linked his arm with Albus’s.
“That makes me happy,” he told Albus. “In fact, I’m feeling positively gay!”
Albus snorted. “You are such a geek,” he said affectionately.
They were still laughing as they stepped in the campground. Albus had expected to be bombarded by cousins the minute he stepped foot into the clearing. But, instead, he found himself staring at an almighty row.
“Erm…” Scorpius trailed off, surveying the scene. “Is this because of…us?”
Uncle George was angrily waving a bit of parchment in the air. Albus’s parents were both physically restraining Lily, who looked ready to smack Roxanne across the face. Uncle Charlie was in a serious, deep discussion with Uncle Bill, Rose was getting what looked like a lecture from Aunt Hermione, and Gran appeared to be fiercely scolding Uncle Ron.
“Retreat,” Albus said, eyes wide. “Go back…slowly…nobody’s seen us yet…”
“Aw,” Scorpius lamented. “Spoke too soon.”
“Oi! SHUT IT!” Uncle George thundered. “They’re back—we’ll just ask them! And then we can settle this!”
“No, you will most certainly not ask them!” Molly snapped her head Uncle George’s way, transferring her rage from Uncle Ron to Uncle George.
“But Mum!” Uncle George complained.
Albus’s mum had her wand out. And—uh oh. Gran did, too. Uncle George backed up, hands up in surrender, wary eyes glued to the wands pointed his way.
“Okay, okay! I get it, mama bears! What do you propose we do, then?”
James was making his way towards them. Nobody noticed.
“Hey,” James greeted. “Let’s get down to it. Everybody had a bet on who would make the first move, but the thing is, your kiss was really ambiguous; half of us think a different person initiated it. So if you’ll just tell them loudly that Scorpius is the one who initiated it, I’d be really grateful, and I’d be two hundred galleons richer.”
Scorpius was astounded.
“You bet two hundred galleons on me?” He pressed his palm over his heart, genuinely moved. “Wow. You think I’m brave.”
James impatiently nodded towards Albus. “Braver than him. So—what was it? Who did it? Who plucked up the courage—and that was courageous, nice job. In front of the entire family and everything. I’m proud.”
He reached forward and clapped both their shoulders. Albus and Scorpius exchanged a look.
“James! Leave them be!” Gran demanded.
“Quickly, quickly,” James urged through gritted teeth. “Who was it?!”
At once, both Albus and Scorpius pointed at themselves. James groaned.
“Oh, Merlin, you two don’t even know, do you? Nobody thought to put money on it being mutual! Not even Mum and Dad…they put money on—”
He broke off abruptly. Albus met Scorpius’s eyes. He could see that his mind was working out this new information, too. If James made a point to stop speaking, that meant that their parents had bet on the category opposite of the one that he’d bet on. Which meant that they’d put money on Albus. Which meant that if they won, they’d most likely give it to Albus, since they had no use for the money, anyway. He’d had his eyes on a new wizarding Chess set…
Albus and Scorpius shared a brief, conspiratorial nod. Albus looked back at James.
“We were just teasing. It was me. I initiated it.”
Being cunning wasn’t a fault after all. James’s face fell.
“Scorpius, seriously? What happened, mate? I was counting on you,” he groaned.
“Sorry...he just…pounced first!” Scorpius lied.
Pounced? Albus scrunched up his nose (painfully) at Scorpius. Scorpius grinned and gently knocked his hips into Albus’s in response.
“Damn!” James hissed. He closed his eyes briefly in chagrin, heaved a sigh, and then smiled. “Ah, well. At least you two finally communicated. That can be my reward.” He turned and headed back over. “Uncle George, it was Albus, confirmed by the lovers themselves.”
Mingled cries of joy and outrage. Uncle George held up a silencing hand.
“No, that’s it, that’s final!”
While the adults began divvying out money—more money than Albus had expected—his gran hurried over. She pushed Albus down onto the closest bench, her wand held ready.
“We aren’t supposed to use magic—” he tried to remind her, but he broke off as a relieving warmth spread across his face. She’d effortlessly mended his nose with a brief wave of her wand. He waited as she cleaned the blood from his face with another.
“I don’t care; I won’t have my grandson in pain,” she scoffed. She tipped his chin back, peered critically at his nose, and then nodded, satisfied. “Perfect.”
She leaned forward and kissed the top of his head. And then, to Scorpius’s utter delight, leaned over and kissed his, too.
“Good,” she told them, her eyes shining. She nodded. “Good.”
Overcome with emotion, she walked off, most likely in search of Grandad. Scorpius was literally squirming with joy.
“I think she likes me!”
“Yeah, I’d say so, too.”
Rose, as it turned out, was really into the idea of them together (probably only because it meant Scorpius would stop asking her out). The entire family grouped around to roast marshmallows, and even though everybody was making it a point to not bring their improvised kiss up, people were showing their approval in their own, subtle ways. Rose was being unusually kind to Albus. Victoire kept smiling happily at them. And—strangest of all—Uncle Ron of all people was ecstatic. He spent nearly two minutes raving about how perfect the marshmallow Albus had passed him was, affection leaking out between every word, and then he pulled both Albus and Scorpius into a hug so tight that they could hardly breathe. Later, Scorpius hissed towards Albus that he thought his ribs may be bruised.
The families gradually retreated to their own tents. Albus expected to be bombarded by one of the Potters once they were alone within the tent, but that didn’t happen. Something amazing did instead.
“Here,” his mum said, a mug of hot chocolate in hand. Albus didn’t have to be told that it was real chocolate; he could smell the sugar from where he was sitting. He hesitated. He looked up, meeting his mum’s eyes.
“Really really. Come on, you lot! There’s a mug for everybody—yes, even you, James.”
Lily flew across the room. She grabbed a mug and promptly brought it to her lips, nearly drinking a third of it in one gulp. She lowered it a moment later. Her glasses were completely fogged up.
“Hot! Burning! Scalding! Oh, it hurts so good!” She exclaimed. She staggered over to the sofa, blind, and plopped down with her mug.
James was a bit warier. He held his mug like it was a ticking bomb.
“I dunno if I can handle this,” he admitted, uneasy. “It’s already calling to me…”
“You can do it if you want to,” his mum encouraged. “You’ve got willpower in there somewhere. But if you aren’t comfortable, the blue mug is sugar-free.”
James hesitated. “Half of each?”
Ginny smiled. “I like that answer. If that’s what you want, sure.”
“I think I’m done taking risks for another week. Well, three days, at least.”
Harry was contently sipping at his, his glasses equally steamed up. Albus walked over and sat beside his dad. Scorpius sank down on Albus’s other side. Harry leaned forward and smiled at both of them. Albus grinned back.
The hot chocolate was thick and terribly sweet. There was a layer of cream on top that left a little cream mustache above Scorpius’s upper lip. Albus found himself reaching up to wipe it away without even thinking about it. Scorpius beamed.
“You look hilarious, leave yours,” Scorpius requested.
Albus took another sip, muffling his laughter into the drink. Once everybody was seated in the living area, their mugs in hand, Albus steeled himself for an ambush. Lily was swinging her legs happily, looking between Albus and Scorpius with a sly grin.
“I thought you’d be angry, Lily,” Albus blurted, without even thinking it through. Idiot, he chided himself, you just opened the door yourself.
Lily shook her head rapidly. Her long hair managed to get enough momentum to whip James in the eyeball. He cried out and glowered, half-blind, at Lily. He crossly gathered her long, thick hair, flinging it over her other shoulder.
“That hair should be a registered with the Ministry as a dangerous creature!”
Lily ignored him.
“I’m not angry. This frees up my heart for other exploits.”
Harry looked wary. “’Other exploits’…Lily, you’re thirteen.”
“So? I can love things. Quidditch, dueling, dragons, Gobstones—”
“Oh, please don’t love Gobstones,” Ginny grimaced.
“—gardening, chocolate, The Pumpkin Pasties’ second album, cats, the Patronus charm, kicking people’s arses—”
“Okay, Lulu, I get it,” Harry reassured her, looking rather relieved himself.
Their conversation was interrupted by the loud buzzing of the enchanted mirror Scorpius had temporary possession of. He jumped up.
“Dad! My dad!” He hesitated. “May I be excused?”
Ginny smiled fondly. “Of course, tell him we said hello!”
Albus watched him apprehensively as he hurried off to the bedroom. Would he tell Draco Malfoy? What would Draco Malfoy say? He anxiously picked at his nails until his dad reached over, settling his hand over Albus’s.
“It’ll be okay,” he reassured him quietly.
“What if Mr. Malfoy—”
“He won’t. Scorpius is his entire world. He won’t.”
Albus let out a relieved breath. Ginny, James, and Lily were in a deep conversation about something involving Lily’s Easter holiday plans. Albus took the opportunity to exchange words with Harry. He leaned closer.
“Dad, I didn’t do it the way I said I would, but it still worked. And I feel…I feel so happy,” he admitted. His heart rose into his throat at the admittance. How long had it been since he’d felt this way? Years. His last memory of feeling this content and light was from age seven, sitting on the roof of the Den with his mum and James, playing Exploding Snap as the sun rose. “And I don’t know if I would’ve had the bravery to do it if we hadn’t spoken.”
Harry—visibly affected—looked to the side. He cleared his throat after a moment. When he looked back at Albus, his eyes were moist.
“I wish I could explain how wonderful it is to hear you say that, Al,” he admitted.
For the first time, Al didn’t sound wrong on Harry’s lips. It sounded just as affectionate as Lulu and Jamie did. Perhaps it always had—maybe Albus had imagined the awkward weight of it all along.
Albus, not wanting to cry again, attempted to shift the topic.
“I was an idiot, though, Dad,” he admitted. His cheeks flushed at the memory. “You should’ve heard me trying to tell him…it was horrible…it’s like I suddenly forgot how to speak English.”
Harry laughed. “I can imagine.”
“Is that how it was when you told Mum?” Albus asked.
Harry turned and glanced at Ginny. Albus followed his gaze. His mum had her head ducked, conversing quietly with James and Lily, her hair partially blocking her face.
“Er…” Harry got a faraway look in his eye. He smiled softly and stared off into space. “No. To be honest, Al, I didn’t tell her.”
Albus furrowed his brow. “Well, you must’ve at some point, because I exist.”
Harry laughed loudly. “Okay, well, let me rephrase: I didn’t verbally tell her. Basically…I did exactly what you did. Or, I guess, you did exactly what Idid.”
“Right after Gryffindor won the Quidditch Cup. Common room. Everybody around us—Uncle Ron included. She ran at me, I at her, and I just—did it,” Harry shrugged. Whatever he was watching in his mind’s eye, it was a good one. He collapsed back against the couch cushions, still smiling softly. “And that was that.”
It was too good to be true.
“Really? Just like that?”
“Yeah. Just like that,” he said, that faraway look still there. Albus gave him a moment. He shook his head and looked back at Albus. “I mean—we had our year-long break while I was searching for the…--way to defeat Voldemort. But once that was over, we picked it right back up, and it was better than ever.”
Albus was emboldened by that knowledge. Because—as much as his parents disgusted him from time to time—he knew they were soulmates. He knew loved each other. He knew they supported and trusted each other with everything. And, well, there were definitely worse couples to follow in the footsteps of.
“My dad says hello,” Scorpius said, as he exited the bedroom. He plopped back down beside Albus, and when he boldly reached for his hand, Albus knew the conversation with his dad had gone better than anticipated.
Scorpius beamed. “Everything’s perfect!”
“Good,” Harry commented. He took another sip of his hot chocolate. “I didn’t want to have to duel Draco again.”
Ginny snorted. “Because you did such a good job the last time?”
He rolled his eyes fondly.
“Mum, tell us now, please?” Lily pleaded.
Albus looked at her curiously. “Tell us what?”
Ginny and Harry exchanged a look. Ginny rose.
“Before we get into that,” she began, her tone forcibly light. She dug an envelope from the pocket of her jeans and crossed over to Albus. “Here. This is yours.”
He took it curiously. Scorpius leaned over as he opened the flap. They both stared.
“Er…Mum, I think you gave me the wrong envelope,” he said, hardly daring to hope.
“No, I didn’t. Five hundred galleons. Now, I won’t tell you what to do with it as long as it’s legal, but might I suggest you save at least half of it and give Hogsmeade a chance this year? Might be fun with loads of pocket money.”
Albus hesitated. He glanced at Scorpius. He was looking off, probably estimating how many Pepper Imps they could purchase with that kind of money. He looked back at his mum.
“Yeah, okay. Thanks, Mum,” he smiled.
She patted his knee warmly, her own smile brightening her face. She ignored the sulky looks James and Lily gave her as she sat back down.
“Now,” she began. She looked to Harry. “Your dad and I want to talk to you about something. And we want everybody to be honest. There’s no right or wrong way to feel about this. And Scorpius—your opinions on this are valid, too.”
Scorpius looked a bit taken aback. He nodded tentatively.
“Harry?” Ginny prompted, after a long silence.
“Okay. Look. I really don’t want anybody to get upset. So if you hate the idea—I won’t do it. Period. So can you promise me you’ll all be honest?”
“No problem, Dad!” James said.
“Always am!” Lily chipped in.
“I guess so, yeah,” Albus agreed.
Harry exhaled. “Okay. Well, Simmons is quitting.”
“YES!” Lily and James chorused.
Albus was indifferent. Simmons had never been kind to him, but then again, not many professors were.
“And…I’ve been offered the position.”
His dad actually closed his eyes, as if he couldn’t bear to watch the expressions flittering across his children’s faces. Lily promptly screeched, jumped up from her spot on the couch, and flew over to Harry. She shoved Albus over, wedging her hips between his and Harry’s, and threw her arms around their dad.
“That’s the best news ever, Dad! Ever! You would be so great at that! And I would have no homework!”
“No, Lily—you’d still have homework,” Ginny told Lily, eyeing her strangely.
Lily continued to beam. “I’d have so many free evenings!!”
“No…Lily, that’s not—” Harry tried to say, but James cut him off.
“Professor Potter, I’d be honored to be taught in my N.E.W.T. year by the Boy Who Lived,” he sank forward into a mocking half-bow. Ginny lightly smacked the back of his head. He straightened, grinning. “Anyway, yeah, Dad. I’m all right with that.”
“Would you live at Hogwarts?!” Lily asked their parents. She seemed thrilled with the idea. James, however, grew suddenly guarded. Albus was sure he was thinking about all the nighttime ‘strolls’ he and Nora took.
“No. I’d Floo there every day like Neville does.” Harry turned to the side, peering over Lily towards Albus. “Al?”
Albus looked down at his lap, thinking hard. He pulled his bottom lip between his teeth and gnawed. Having Harry Potter there might make people judge Albus even harsher in comparison…but it also might make people be nicer to him if they could see that Harry Potter was proud of his Slytherin son. Having Harry Potter there might make people idolize the Potter family even more…but it also might show his classmates that Harry’s a normal person. His dad was a huge geek when it came to Defense Against the Dark Arts. One lecture consisting of Harry ranting about the brilliance of Expelliarmus might nip all that hero-worshiping in the bud once and for all. And even if it didn’t…maybe it wouldn’t be so bad to have his dad there every day. He felt like they were at a place now where they understood each other. And, if he was being frank with himself, he’d need all the support he could get if he and Scorpius planned on revealing their relationship to their peers.
“That’d be all right, I think.”
Harry looked astounded. “Really? Honestly? You’d be all right with me being your professor?”
Albus nodded. “Yeah. Honestly—couldn’t make things at Hogwarts any worse.”
“I love that idea,” he shared. “Simmons was horrid! He lectured nonstop and we hardly got to try anything.”
Harry was cautiously glancing around the room as if he expected somebody to change their mind.
“Why do you look like one of us is going to hex you, Dad?” James demanded. “We love you, idiot.”
“James,” Ginny sighed. “Really?”
“…That’s ‘idiot’ as in…the affectionate nickname I have for you, Dad. Not a disrespectful insult.”
“Oh, of course,” Harry said dryly, “how could anybody get the two mixed up?”
“Sorry,” James said, “but we do. We love you.”
“Yeah, so much!” Lily agreed, hugging Harry again.
Harry seemed to be forcing himself not to look Albus’s way. Ginny was staring holes into him, willing him to pipe up, too. But nobody needed to tell him to.
“We do,” he agreed easily.
It was only two words, but the smile Harry gave him made Albus feel as if it’d been much more than that.
Albus stumbled as they apparated onto the lane in front of Malfoy Manor. From his side, his mum merely swayed for a moment, and then she let go of Albus’s hand for the sake of straightening her robes. Scorpius was leaning weakly into Ginny’s side.
“That’s never good, nope. Never.”
Ginny hugged Scorpius to her side sympathetically.
“Sorry, Scorpius. You’ll eventually get used to it,” she reassured him.
Scorpius walked forward on unsteady legs. He quickly reached for Albus’s hand.
“Be my anchor again, please,” he paled, “I feel quite queasy.”
Albus immediately wrapped his arm around Scorpius’s waist. He gripped him tightly, entirely happy to stumble down the lane, Scorpius’s body pressed to his. By the time they made it to the tall, imposing door of Malfoy Manor, Scorpius seemed less likely to vomit. Ginny waved her wand, bringing Scorpius’s levitating suitcases down onto the doorstep. The door drew open a moment later.
“Dad! Hi, Dad!” Scorpius beamed. He moved forward, and without the typical moment of awkward hesitation, Draco Malfoy pulled him into a strong hug.
“Come in,” Mr. Malfoy told the Potters, over the top of Scorpius’s head. “Tea?”
“Well we’ve just got to—it’s become a tradition now,” Ginny declared. Draco snorted.
Albus led his mum through the familiar, elegant halls of the Manor. They settled down into a different tea room than they’d been in before; this one was Albus’s favorite. It had silk sea-foam green wall hangings and tables made of glass. It was airy in a way nothing in the Den was. The best bits were the chandeliers, made up of crystal peacocks. Ginny looked like she might’ve had a different opinion about the room’s decor as she sank down, but her expression quickly shifted to something neutral a second later.
“I’m returning your son to you precisely the way I received him—you’ll notice he still has all his limbs attached. Harry and I are quite proud.”
“Hilarious,” Draco said. “I suppose the real miracle is that he seems to have retained his levelheadedness despite being with Weasleys and Potters for a week.”
“And believe me, Draco—we tried to squash it out of him, but he stood firm,” Ginny said.
This time, Draco did smile. Albus and Scorpius exchanged a grin.
“Well, did you have fun? Did they treat you right?” Draco asked Scorpius.
“Like family!” Scorpius affirmed. “I had a great time. Dad, I’m good at football.”
“Yeah! It’s this sport and you use your feet to move the ball around the field! Albus is brilliant at it!”
Scorpius flung a proud arm around Albus’s shoulders, and without a second thought, he leaned over and kissed his cheek. Albus’s face caught flame. Draco politely ignored the display of affection.
“Ginny, I’m assuming you and Harry will have no issues with Albus joining Scorpius and me on holiday next summer?”
His mum’s lips twitched. “Depends. What’s the destination?”
“An ex-Death-Eaters convention,” he scowled.
“Oh, how educational!” Ginny shot back. “Seriously—what’s the destination?”
“You’re just trying to be difficult, aren’t you?” She demanded, but she was smiling, and so was Scorpius’s dad. Albus realized that this was Draco’s shaky attempt at joking around.
While the parents continued their odd, stunted chitchat, Scorpius reached over and took Albus’s hand. He unfurled Albus’s fingers—Albus hadn’t even realized he’d been nervously clenching his fists until that moment—and idly began tracing over the lines on Albus’s palm, each movement gentle and curious. Albus let his head fall against Scorpius’s shoulder, his eyes dropping to his own hand, watching Scorpius trace over his palm like he was trying to memorize it by touch. He yawned. Scorpius let his own cheek fall against the top of Albus’s head. Albus longed for a blanket.
“Harry and I would be glad for Albus to accompany you two,” Ginny finally said seriously. “But! I think the next thing on the Malfoy-Potter to-do list is to host a dinner.”
Draco Malfoy looked uneasy. “At the Den?”
“Or the Burrow?”
“No! No. The Potter household would be sufficient.”
Ginny nodded. “Then it’s settled. How’s next Sunday?”
“It’s…fine, yes. That should work well. Scorpius, is that okay with you?”
Scorpius yawned. He ceased his palm-reading and laced his fingers with Albus’s instead.
“Brilliant! And we can have them over this Sunday.”
Ginny and Draco glanced at each other again. They both seemed to realize at once that they were going to be spending a lot more time together than they’d expected. But, because Ginny loved Albus, and because Draco loved Scorpius, and because they both probably loved each other’s kids as well, they both nodded.
“Sure, Scorpius,” Draco said stiffly.
“We’ll be here,” Ginny promised.
Draco stood. “Scorpius, will you take your bag to your room?”
“Okay, sure thing!” Scorpius hopped up. Albus followed.
“I’ll help!” He said quickly.
They’d only just cleared the doorway when the parents began speaking again. Scorpius drew Albus to a stop, hovering just beside the doorway, listening intently.
“Well?” Draco demanded.
“How did Harry take their relationship?”
“Very well—as did everybody else. Scorpius said you were okay with it?”
“Albus is the best Potter by far. He’s a great kid.”
“Scorpius is the best Malfoy by far. He’s a great kid, too.”
“I’m glad we can finally reach an understanding on something.”
Ginny laughed. “Kids are amazing, aren’t they? Who would’ve thought the Malfoys and the Potters would end up friends?”
“Certainly not me. Though I do have one stipulation.”
“If they stay together and end up married, I get to plan the wedding.”
Ginny burst into laughter. “You’re joking! Draco Malfoy, wedding planner?”
“There is a very specific way that Malfoy weddings—”
“Oh, Merlin! You know what—sure. Scorpius is your only child—plan away. I’m sure it’ll be beautiful, even if it is superfluous.” A pause. “Though, if I see one ice sculpture of a peacock, I won’t be responsible for what happens to it.”
“Well, it wouldn’t be a Potter gathering if somebody didn’t vandalize something,” Draco said. There was a pause, and then: “Thank you. For taking Scorpius. I was worried, but…you were right. He needed it. I’m glad that he went. And it means a lot to me that your family treated him as your own.”
“I thought that offended you—us treating him as our own?”
“Take the compliment and gratitude, Weasley.”
“Sure thing, if you take mine. Thank you for allowing him to come. I know it wasn’t easy, but I appreciate it, and I know Albus does, too. And thank you for treating Al so well all summer.”
There was an awkward silence.
“Shall we hug?” Ginny commented—clearly joking.
“We’re not that good of friends.”
“So no, then. No hug.”
“No.” A pause. “Should we have sent them off alone?”
“They’ll be sharing a dorm for the majority of the year. We’ve got no choice but to trust them.”
“Fair point…still…they must be nearly finished by now…”
Scorpius and Albus grabbed hands and took off running towards the doorway, where Scorpius’s bag was waiting. They were out of breath and gasping out laughter as they grabbed it and took off up the necessary flights of stairs. They collapsed down onto Scorpius’s bed, hearts pounding, temples damp with sweat. Albus turned over onto his side to face Scorpius. Scorpius mimicked him.
“I need to start running. This is awful, feel this,” Albus complained. He pulled Scorpius hand forward and pressed it over his frantic heart. Scorpius grinned and brought Albus’s up to his.
“Then I need to, too.”
Albus let his eyes close. He rested on Scorpius’s massive bed as his own heart rate gradually slowed, in time with the rhythm of Scorpius’s heart, pounding out beneath his palm. Scorpius scooted over bit by bit. He cuddled up to Albus’s side.
“Sneaky,” Albus joked.
“Scorpius Sneaky Malfoy. That’s me! Always stealing affection from my boyfriend.”
Albus’s heart beat irregularly, like it was trying to fit two beats in the place of one. Scorpius moved his head over and rested his ear over Albus’s heart.
“You’ve got a weird heart, it goes: bum, bum-bum-bum, bum. Is that normal?”
“Probably not. What about me is normal?”
“Fair point.” Scorpius threw an arm across his stomach, hugging him closely. “Luckily, I like weird hearts.”
“Luckily, I like weird boys.”
Scorpius nudged his outer thigh with his knee. They both laughed.
“We’re coming up the stairs, Al!” Ginny warned.
“Aw,” Scorpius lamented. He slid over, putting a respectable distance between them. “I can’t believe we’ll have to wait until Sunday to see each other.”
Albus frowned. “Don’t remind me.”
“But at least we’ll get to go back to Hogwarts soon!” Scorpius continued.
Albus sat straight up. He peered down at Scorpius with his lips parted and eyes wide.
“What?” Scorpius asked. He sat up, too.
“I don’t think I’ve ever heard you say that. That you’re looking forward to going back to Hogwarts,” Albus admitted. He swallowed. “What’s more—I don’t think I’ve ever agreed before.”
Scorpius cast a quick looked at the door, leaned forward, and pressed a brief kiss to Albus’s lips. He leaned back but Albus leaned forward, lamenting the loss.
“One more for the road?” Scorpius guessed.
“We’d better, to be safe,” Albus said seriously. He pressed his lips back to Scorpius’s and smiled. When he leaned back, he put further words to the way he felt.
“I’ve never looked forward to it before. I used to spend every second of my summer dreading going back.”
“Me too, but I feel like this year will be different. In a good way. Your dad will be there, Rose sort of likes us now. And we’ve got each other—all day, every day.”
Their shared smile was interrupted by the opening of the door.
“All right, Al. Time to go,” Ginny said.
Albus stood from the bed. He collapsed into Scorpius’s hug once he’d risen, too. He pressed his face into his shoulder and tried to memorize everything about that moment: Scorpius’s hands on his back, the smell of his shirt, the gentle thumping of his heart, the warmth of his skin. The togetherness made Albus feel whole.
“See you on Sunday,” Scorpius whispered.
“Sunday,” Albus agreed.
He walked from Malfoy Manor, stopping to turn and wave at Scorpius every few steps until he was out of sight. His mum took his hand.
“Ready?” she asked.
Albus beamed. “Yeah, I am.”
Ready to be happy, ready to be new, ready to be Al.
Fifth year would be the best year yet.
Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters and settings are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. No money is being made from this work. No copyright infringement is intended.