The creamy parchment on the silver tray that the house-elf offered him made Scorpius's heart skip a beat. He shot a glance at his mother, who was calmly opening her own post, before taking the envelope and folding it in half below the table, with every intention of shoving it in his pocket and perusing it in the privacy of his own room later.
"Your father's finished rebuilding the summer house," his mother said blandly, her eyes scanning the letter in front of her. "He'd like us to come out for a few weeks before the school term begins."
"Mmm," Scorpius said noncommittally, picking up a spoon and studying his porridge. "Rebuilding the summer house" undoubtedly meant his father had stood around and glared at the wizards doing the actual work.
"You should be getting your letter any day now with your books," his mother continued. "Though I imagine Twindle can handle those."
The house-elf nodded enthusiastically at being mentioned. "Twindle can get all of Master Scorpius's school things, Lady Astoria."
"I think we'll still need to go to Madam Malkin's, though." She looked appraisingly at her son, who felt his neck grow hot. "Your school robes were showing too much ankle last I saw."
"I need shoes, too," he said, desperately hoping that this would deflect her from thinking about school.
"Do you? That doesn't surprise me." Tapping her finger against her lip for a moment, his mother appeared to come to a decision. "Twindle, please arrange my writing desk." To Scorpius, "I'll let your father know that we'll join him this evening. That will give us three weeks in the country with him before you leave for school."
This didn't seem to require a response, so Scorpius did not offer one. He'd spooned a rather large amount of porridge into his mouth when his mother calmly put down the letter and fixed him with an even, expecting look. "Now. I know you have got your O.W.L. results. Let's see them."
The porridge turned to glue in Scorpius's mouth and it was only a lifetime of practice at decorum that kept him from choking. He swallowed hurriedly, forcing the glob down his throat in a gulp that was dreadfully unseemly. "I..."
His mother's expression did not change. She didn't even blink. Swearing inwardly to himself, Scorpius pulled the envelope out of his pocket.
"Can I at least look at them first?" he asked plaintively. "Only I want to know what I'm going to be punished for."
His mother's eyes flashed with a steely glint. "Oh? And what have you done that would require punishing?"
"I don't know yet." He broke the red wax seal and pulled the parchment from the envelope, something very close to dread snaking down the back of his neck.
ORDINARY WIZARDING LEVEL RESULTS
EXCEEDS EXPECTATIONS (E)
Scorpius Hyperion Malfoy has achieved:
Ancient Runes - P
Arithmancy - A
Astronomy - E
Charms - E
Defence Against the Dark Arts - E
Herbology - O
History of Magic - P
Potions - A
Transfiguration - A
Scorpius blinked. Well, that was better than he'd been expecting. He scanned the list again; it was far better than he'd been expecting. At his mother's impatient exhalation he handed the parchment across the table, watching her face carefully as her eyes went up and down the list.
"Exceptionally average," she said finally. "Binns is still teaching History of Magic, is he? Yes, I'd thought so. I'm surprised you even scraped a P. Ancient Runes... what's wrong with this?"
Of course she would focus on the worst parts first. "I shifted my cipher three characters. By the time I'd worked out that it wasn't a double cipher, it was nearly time to turn it in."
"I see." She began tapping her finger against her lip again, a gesture he was used to watching when she was thinking. "And three Acceptables. Very average, Scorpius. And in Potions, too. We expected better of you." Scorpius set his jaw and stared at a bead of condensation that was crawling down the side of his glass of orange juice. "Well, that's that, then. I suppose with fewer N.E.W.T. classes you're eligible to take, you'll do better on those exams."
"That's it?" he blurted, looking up abruptly. "Nothing about my E's or my O?"
"Astronomy and Charms are soft and useless subjects," his mother said briskly. "And Defence is hardly something to boast of; it's about as difficult as walking and breathing at the same time." Her lips set into a thin line before she continued. "We're not going to speak of the O."
Scorpius felt his jaw drop in disbelief. "Mum, that's my favourite subject. My best one. I got an Outstanding! And you're not going to say anything?"
"No." His mother folded the parchment and handed it back to him. "I had hoped for better. We'll need to get you a tutor, of course, for your N.E.W.T. classes."
"I have one, thanks," Scorpius said bitterly, shoving the parchment back into his pocket. "She's the reason I got E's in the first place."
"A pretty Ravenclaw girl is not a tutor, she is a distraction," his mother said sharply, "and one you can ill afford."
"We are done with this subject. Go make yourself presentable; we'll head to Madam Malkin's as soon as you've righted yourself."
It took a great deal of effort to not glare as Scorpius rose from the table, but he did stalk to his room in a rather indecorous manner, and if he shut the door more forcefully than it actually required, well, he didn't know what else his mother could have expected.
He paced for several minutes, muttering to himself, before he threw himself into his chair at his desk and picked up a quill.
You probably already know, but I got an Outstanding on my Herbology O.W.L. I'm chuffed to bits, but Mum doesn't think much of it, and I'm not looking forward to breaking the news to my dad.
I got E's in Astronomy, Charms, and D.A.D.A. as well. D.A.D.A.'s thanks to you, of course, and Astronomy and Charms thanks to Rose, which is why I think Mum doesn't care much for those, either.
I wish I was telling you about my results tonight, rather than my dad.
Scorpius furrowed his brow, then scribbled out the last line. It sounded childish.
I get the feeling that your reaction to my marks will be a trifle different than my dad's. Especially since I only got an Acceptable in Potions, and he and Mum both got Outstandings when they were in school. I'm just surprised I passed.
He lifted his quill from the parchment for a moment, debating writing down the other thing that was bothering him. It wasn't really something one went to a teacher for, particularly not the Head of a completely different House. And yet Professor Longbottom was more than just a teacher. He'd been something solid and dependable, a pillar of steadiness when the rest of Scorpius's world had made little sense.
Professor Longbottom had helped him with so much else. Maybe he had some insight into this, as well.
I think sooner or later, I'm going to have to tell them about Rose. I don't know how. I think Mum already suspects, but Dad - well, you know how my dad is. Sorry to burden you with all this, but I need to talk to someone or I'm going to go mad, and Rose doesn't want me writing her. I don't think her parents think any more highly of me than mine do of her. I don't even know if I'm going to send this to you. I'm just so
I miss school. I don't care what my parents tell me to do, I'm still going to take N.E.W.T. Herbology. And I don't care what Professor Thatcher tells me, I'm going to join Junior Herbological Society again, too. I know he's put out that I'm practically the only Slytherin who isn't in his Astronomy club but to be honest, if Rose wasn't in my same Astronomy section I'd have been bored to tears.
I'll be at our summer house in France for the rest of the holiday. (I'd rather be at Hogwarts.) Have the Flutterby bushes seeded yet? They're close, aren't they? I know that's why you didn't want students near them at the end of last term, but I'm not just a regular student, right?
Thanks for your help last year. And the year before. And the year before that. All the years. I know my parents aren't proud of me, but I am, and I think it's you who taught me that my pride shouldn't be dependent on theirs. So thanks.
See you in September.
He stared at the page for a while as the ink dried. Should he send it? He couldn't use the family owl, because his mother would be using it. He supposed he could try to hire a post owl in Diagon Alley, but he doubted his mother would allow him to send a letter to The Professor Who Shall Not Be Named.
He left the letter on the desk as he "made himself presentable", as his mother so eloquently put it. He stared at it as he did up the front clasp of his robe - his mother was right, as always: they were short - and before he thought about it too much he snatched the parchment up and stuffed it into an inside pocket. He'd find a way to send it.
"I'm sure Flourish and Blotts already knows the books set for N.E.W.T. classes this year," his mother said thoughtfully as they passed the storefront. "I know Twindle is competent, but I'd feel much better if we bought them ourselves."
Scorpius shrugged. Aside from his Herbology text, which he likely would be buying on his own in secret anyway, the prospect of new schoolbooks did not excite him. And he'd already read the N.E.W.T. Herbology text that Professor Longbottom usually set, so unless he was going to vary from the norm, there wasn't going to be anything new to learn from books anyway.
But as he wandered through the high shelves while his mother enquired at the desk, he turned a corner and very nearly disintegrated into happiness as he recognised the broad shoulders and thickset torso.
"Professor," he said, smiling so broadly it made his cheeks ache.
Professor Longbottom turned, a book lying open in his hand, and his responding smile somehow made Scorpius breathe easier. "Scorpius," Professor Longbottom said, sounding pleased. "How have your summer holidays been going?"
There was more to the question than the tone implied, Scorpius knew. He cleared his throat. "Er, all right, really. I'm left to my own devices, mostly."
Professor Longbottom nodded slowly, and Scorpius knew he'd understood: Scorpius's father had not been particularly present.
"I got an Outstanding in Herbology," Scorpius blurted after a moment of silence. "Just found out this morning."
Grinning heartily, Professor Longbottom reached out and clapped Scorpius on the shoulder. "I know. Well done, Scorpius. I'm proud of you."
A light feeling suffused Scorpius's chest, and he felt as though he might float away. "Thanks." Remembering, he plunged his hand into the inner pocket of his robes, pulling out the letter. "Here. I was going to send it by post, but - I don't know if Mum..."
The grin on Professor Longbottom's face faltered slightly as he took the folded parchment. He did not say anything, but simply tucked it into his own pocket. "Are you buying your schoolbooks?" he asked.
"Yeah. Mum reckons that the shop already knows what the N.E.W.T. textbooks are, and she's decided what I'm taking already."
"Ah." Professor Longbottom nodded thoughtfully, then turned and pulled a book from the shelf. "Don't bother with the regular N.E.W.T. Herbology text. Get this one. When you can." He handed the book to Scorpius, who immediately opened it to a random page.
"Dense," he remarked after a moment of scanning the words.
"But comprehensive," Professor Longbottom said, tapping the page. "I should know. I wrote half of it."
Scorpius instantly shut the book to look at the cover, and, yes, emblazoned in gilded letters were the names of the authors, KNASTER AND LONGBOTTOM. "I didn't know you were published."
"Well, I don't like to brag," the professor said lightly, and indeed he looked a little embarrassed to have mentioned it, if humbly proud. "But I think you'll find it more interesting and in-depth than the traditional text."
Nodding, Scorpius ran his fingertips over the embossing on the book's cover. "I'll remember it. And I'll get it when I can." As though on cue, he could hear his mother calling his name. "I have to go. It - it was good to see you, Professor."
Professor Longbottom nodded. "It was good to see you, too. I'll be seeing you again soon."
His mother looked irritated when he rejoined her. "And where were you?"
He shouldn't answer honestly. He knew that. "The Herbology section," he answered defiantly, tilting his chin up.
A tightening of the jaw was the only response that his mother allowed. "If we're done, we should go home and pack for France," she said coolly.
"I'm done," Scorpius responded with just as little inflection. If they weren't going to talk about it, then they weren't going to talk about it.
He shot a glance back at the book shop just before they Disapparated. He'd have to write them to purchase that book. Even if Professor Longbottom hadn't placed it directly in his hands and told him to read it, he liked to think that if he'd been perusing the shelves, he would have seen the professor's name and bought it just because of that.
"This is disgraceful."
Scorpius bowed his head. The words shouldn't be hurting him. They shouldn't. They were just words. But dammit, they rained on him like physical blows.
"Two P's. I don't care what your mother says. If you had any discipline at all you'd have got at least an A in History of Magic. For the love of - it's just rote memorisation! A budgerigar can do that!"
He'd got an O in Herbology. Scorpius tried to hold on to that thought.
"And an A in Potions. Scorpius, Potions is our family's heritage. An Acceptable? What did you do, bite your thumb at the Examiners?"
His father shook his head and thrust the parchment back at Scorpius. "You'll have to have a tutor, of course. Lord knows what you'll be good for, with this ragtag collection of N.E.W.T. classes, but I won't have you bringing home substandard marks again."
"Yes, sir," Scorpius said stiffly. And then, despite his better judgement, "Are you done haranguing me?"
Either his father had noticed the bitter cast to his tone, or he was partly human after all, because he stopped pacing and took a breath. "Exceeds Expectations in D.A.D.A. and Astronomy."
Wordlessly, Scorpius nodded.
"And Charms. Charms are... well, they can be useful. In the proper circumstances."
Scorpius nodded again.
Scorpius could swear his heart stopped.
The pause stretched for a thousand years.
"At least you got an Outstanding in something." His father gestured aimlessly toward the other side of the house. "It's late. We should all get to bed."
Shock made it difficult for Scorpius to nod. Coming from his father, this was practically a ticker-tape parade.
"Don't listen too hard to your mother. She just wants you to do well. We both do. And after your first year..." His father sounded distinctly uncomfortable.
Scorpius licked his lips. "I think I've done rather well. And I've come a long way since first year."
His father stared at him for a moment, then nodded. "You have. At least in some aspects." He cleared his throat. "The ones that matter, anyway."
This effluence of praise was going to make it difficult for Scorpius to sleep. "Thanks," he said faintly.
His father shrugged. "It could have been worse." He turned his back, studying the darkened countryside out the window. "We'll talk over breakfast about what N.E.W.T. classes you'll be taking."
Scorpius's hand was on the handle of the door when his father spoke again. "I'll have a word with your mother about her opinion of Herbology. If that's what you're best at, it would be ridiculous to ignore it." He paused for several moments, and assuming he was dismissed, Scorpius opened the door.
"And I don't imagine Longbottom would much like losing his protégé, after all he's done for you."
It was said so softly that Scorpius was not entirely sure he was supposed to have heard it. Feeling rather dazed, Scorpius left the study, wandering aimlessly through the halls until he came to the room where he usually slept.
All this time, he'd assumed that his parents simply hated Professor Longbottom because of old school grudges. But the tone of his father's voice… it had been envy. Scorpius wasn't quite sure what to do with that information.
He nearly jumped out of his skin when Twindle burst into the room, thrusting a silver tray at him, upon which laid an envelope.
"This came for Master Draco a few minutes ago," she said squeakily.
Immediately recognising the signet pressed into the red sealing wax, Scorpius snatched up the letter. "Thank you," he said distantly as she bowed out of his room, tearing the parchment of the envelope in his haste to open the letter.
I said it earlier, but I'll say it again: I'm proud of you. I knew you'd do well, and it's unspeakably humbling to have contributed to your achievements. I have the utmost confidence that your parents will come around, as well, even if it takes some time.
The Flutterby bushes should be seeding in mid-October. I'd prefer to keep students away from them for a month before and after, but you are correct: you are not the average student. I was actually hoping I could impose upon you to do some sketches for me when they are in their vital stages.
Never lose your pride in yourself. I'm flattered that you attribute your confidence to me. I had always hoped that I'd be able to instil that in you, and I'm elated that you've found it.
The issue of Rose is something that may take more than a simple letter can convey. If you can wait until the term starts, I'll be more than willing to sit down with you to suss out what options you have. That you'd take me into your confidence this way is more of an honour than I think you'll ever understand, and I'll do my best to be worthy of it.
It was impossible to describe the feeling that bubbled in Scorpius's chest as he read the letter over again. It was enormous, threatening to burst him at the seams.
His parents loved him. He knew that. But Professor Longbottom appreciated him. Respected him, even. Was that what his father was envious of? Was he jealous that his son had a more adult bond with Professor Longbottom than with him? Or did he resent that the professor had requisitioned Scorpius and, through the attention that Draco Malfoy had never seen fit to administer to his son, turned Scorpius into the kind of son no Malfoy would ever want?
Twindle had made crepes, but Scorpius was not particularly hungry. He speared the slices of strawberry one at a time and chewed them for a long while before swallowing, as though if his mouth were full he would have more time t think over how he was going to start this conversation.
His father was reading the paper and paying little mind to the plates of fruit. Next to Scorpius, his mother was eating in small bites, glancing up every so often at her husband as though waiting for him to start something.
Scorpius took a deep breath and laid his fork down on his plate. "I know what N.E.W.T. classes I want to take," he said bluntly.
Very slowly, his father lowered the paper a little, his face carefully blank. "Oh?"
Scorpius nodded. "Charms, for one. And Defence Against the Dark Arts."
His mother laid her fork and knife down as well. "And Astronomy, I expect."
"Actually..." Heart beginning to beat slightly faster, Scorpius glanced between his mother and father. "I'd like to propose something."
One of his father's eyebrows twitched in curiosity. "Go on."
"I'd like to write to Professor Longbottom. He's friends with Professor Cain, the Potions master," Scorpius added quickly as a shadow of irritation flashed over his mother's face. "He might be able to get me into Professor Cain's N.E.W.T. Potions class, on a - I don't know, on a probationary measure or something. If I have a tutor, like you want to get me, I might be able to keep up with the coursework. Professor Longbottom likes me; he'd do it if I asked."
Intrigued, his mother nodded slowly. "That's... surprisingly resourceful of you."
"But," Scorpius interjected, "in exchange, I want to take Herbology - and not feel like I'm being disowned for it."
Letting out an exasperated sigh, his mother looked plaintively at his father, who simply shrugged. "I told you. He's keen." He folded the paper neatly and laid it down on the table. "Scorpius," he said, very seriously. Scorpius looked from his mother to his father in slight surprise; he'd never heard his father take that tone with him before, as though they were talking as... equals. As adults. "Do you even want to take Potions?"
Scorpius swallowed. "A lot of Herbologists have at least some kind of Potions background. And Professor Thatcher told me at the end of last year that I'd make a cracking Herbologist."
His father's eyebrows shot straight upward. "I have a hard time imagining Tycho Thatcher ever using the word 'cracking'." Next to Scorpius, his mother snorted a bit indelicately.
"Okay, no, he didn't actually say cracking," Scorpius admitted, astonished at the casual atmosphere around the table - he'd expected to have to fight to defend his proposal. "But that was the general idea. He didn't even want me taking N.E.W.T. Astronomy, said there's not much by way of careers that use it." He took another breath. "I really think my chances are best with Charms, D.A.D.A., Potions, and Herbology. Two I'm good at, one I'll try really hard in, and one I'm better at than anyone in my year."
"Isn't that a bit immodest?" His mother asked sharply.
Scorpius blinked. "Not if it's true. Professor Longbottom told me I was, and he wouldn't lie."
Eyes narrowed, his father was studying him intently. "You never said you were the best in your year."
"You never asked," Scorpius replied pointedly. "And if I'd brought it up you'd have ignored me."
He could tell that this new information was impressive. His mother looked thoughtful, rather than ready to spit nails, and his father looked pleased behind the blank expression he was trying to maintain.
"If we say no, you're just going to sign up for Herbology anyway, aren't you?" His mother sounded resigned.
"Of course I am."
"Then why ask us at all?" She folded her arms in front of her and looked at him expectantly. "Obviously our approval means nothing to you."
"It does, though." Hearing the words aloud made him freeze. He was not the only one; his mother looked as though she had been Stunned. "I've spent my life trying to get you to approve of me. I've... just about given up, to be honest." He stared at the filigree patterns on the edge of his plate, unable to bring his eyes up to look at either of his parents. "I'm not the son you wanted, and I'm sorry you're disappointed in me. But I'm not changing, not for you or anyone else, and I'm used to you not approving by now, so..."
He hadn't said so many words in one sitting to his parents since he'd started school. He imagined that it was that as much as what he'd said that made up the dumbfounded silence that rang about the breakfast table.
It was his father who cleared his throat first. "We could do much, much worse than have a Herbologist for a son." He peered at Scorpius, who felt as though he couldn't breathe. "But no more of this 'Acceptable' rubbish. You bring home E's and better, you understand?"
"Yes, sir!" Scorpius nodded enthusiastically, and then turned his gaze to his mother. "Mum?"
After sharing a lengthy look with his father, she sighed dramatically. "It appears I'm outnumbered." A wry smile quirked one side of her mouth. "I will postpone my disappointment until you are twenty-four. If you've published an article by then, we'll consider cancelling the disappointment permanently."
Hardly a ringing endorsement, but Scorpius would take his victories where he could. He rose abruptly from his chair. "I'm going to go write Professor Longbottom. See if he can get a word in with Professor Cain before term starts." He paused. "Thank you," he managed, the words feeling odd in his mouth, and he was alarmed to find that his throat felt tight, as though he were on the verge of tears.
"Twindle," his mother said, turning away so that he could swallow the unexpected emotion without embarrassment, "please bring me my correspondence book. I have some enquiries about tutors to make."
In the hall outside the breakfast nook, Scorpius leaned against the wall. Now that it was all over, his knees were shaking almost uncontrollably. Never had he imagined he'd have been able to speak to his parents like that. It was as though they'd finally seen him as something more than an unruly child that needed to be controlled or protected, and more like an actual person.
More like the way Professor Longbottom saw him.
His mother passed by him on her way to the sitting room, no doubt to pen several letters to tutors. She smiled warmly at him as she passed, and Scorpius could feel a faint smile on his lips in return. As she glided down the hall, it occurred to him that there was one more thing he should say.
His father had returned to the paper at the table, lingering over his cup of coffee.
"Dad," Scorpius said, proud that his voice wasn't shaking. He slipped into the chair next to his father, who lowered the paper again.
Scorpius took a deep breath. "You're my father. And nothing can change that."
His father looked nonplussed. "In a purely biological sense you're absolutely correct."
Trust his father to try and twist this into something sarcastic. "No - I mean -"
He was stopped by his father shaking his head, a half-smile tugging at his mouth. "I know what you mean." He coughed, looking slightly uncomfortable, and then reached over to ruffle Scorpius's hair in a gesture he'd not used since Scorpius had been about seven. "You grew up too fast," he said awkwardly, as though not sure what he should be saying.
In an effort to ease the tension, Scorpius let out a little laugh. "Just wait until I start dating."
His father snorted. "As if you're not already. I was sixteen once too, you know." He returned his eyes to the paper. "Just stay away from the Weasley brood and you'll be fine."
It took all the effort Scorpius could muster to keep his face straight as he stood and left.
Well, he'd brought them round to one important life choice. Maybe during Christmas holidays he'd try his luck at another one.