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Father is going to be so proud of me, I know he is! He always says I’m exceptionally talented, and for harmless, little spells the Ministry almost never sends anyone; not unless the incident happens in front of Muggles. Well, they did send people a few times in the beginning, when my magic was still making random appearance in uncontrollable bursts. I did nearly wreck my room once when I was upset! But, though Father always put on his most sour expression as he let the Ministry investigators in, he never “obstructed the inquiry”, and pretty soon they saw that there wasn’t anyone more sinister present than me, a child not even old enough to go to Hogwarts yet, running wild with whichever magical impulse had got ahold of him at that time. So they eventually stopped coming, and I had got better control over my magic with time.

So much so that I started practising it deliberately in secret. I had by chance eavesdropped on a conversation Father had with Mother – isn’t it a wonder how no one ever notices the children, playing quietly by themselves? – and I had learned that some rooms were specially warded against intrusions from the outside. I had no idea, of course, which rooms those were – there are about a hundred in Malfoy Manor – but it seemed reasonable that my father’s study would be one of those. Now, Father had always been exceptionally careful about locking and warding that particular room when he left – apparently some of the books and scrolls in there are priceless – but I had found a way around that.

I made sure to linger in there as often as I could, browsing through the many books he had scattered about – and I didn’t even have to feign interest; you should see some of the titles! - until Father had somehow grown accustomed to my presence. With time, his level of his alertness had dropped a notch or two; more so, when he realized that I wasn’t actually going to set anything on fire and that my interest only extended to his books – as far as he knew. Eventually, he had grown comfortable, even pleased, with having me around. So whenever he was called off on emergency business, I had his place, his kingdom, to myself. And that happened – and still does – quite often.

You see, my father is a Senior In-Field Healer, paired with some incompetent bloke called Weasley, who seems to like doing things his own way and is unusually prone to accidents. So Father gets called away frequently. Always with an eye-roll and an annoyed “Bloody moron! What has he gotten himself into this time?!”  sigh, but he goes. And, surprisingly, looks worried when he does. One would think he would appreciate getting rid of this “colossal idiot”  as he likes to call him, and finally be paired with someone who’s wittier and can actually handle things on his own! But… as odd as this sounds, I believe Father nurtures some sort of twisted sense of responsibility when it comes to his work. Or his partner. I can’t really tell which.

I sort of like Weasley, whoever he is – I’ve never actually met him. He has certainly provided me with plenty of opportunities to spend time alone in my father’s study and practise magic. You see, I’ve got my own wand this summer. I’ve persuaded – Father calls it bullied, but never mind – my mother into taking me to Diagon Alley early in the summer, before the actual holidays began, rather than right before the end of them. I was determined to get a head start, to have my own, brand new wand all to myself for the entire summer. This way, I was going to have more time to practise all those wonderful spells I’ve been reading about in books placed in the lower shelves of Father’s office. That was before I realised that most of the spells were too difficult for me as a beginner, and I would simply have to build up my skill. I was such a child back then!

I believe Father likes the idea of me getting a head start; he’s always mumbling something about giving the Granger brat a run for her money. I have no idea who “the Granger brat” is, or how I am supposed to beat her, though. I asked Father about it once, but his face literally froze into that stern, cold expression that always makes me feel small. He only barked something I’m not quite certain I understood properly: “It’s his daughter. She’s supposed to have her mother’s brain.”

And he walked away, without explaining who “he"  was, or how someone comes to have their parent’s brain.

If I could choose whose brain I got, I’d pick my father’s, though. He knows so many things! I told him that once, and it actually made him laugh – which is a rare enough occasion – but only for a moment. His face fell as fast as it had brightened before, and he said – bitterly, perhaps? – that I wouldn’t like the baggage that comes with it. I swear, sometimes I can’t make heads or tails of my father’s words! It’s like I’m missing a… translator of sorts, perhaps some information that would help me to understand him better. And I can’t ask Mother, not with the amount of arguing they’ve been involved in lately! I’m only likely to score a bitter remark about my father’s inability to “open up” and “let go of the past”, which makes as little sense to me as any of Father’s words do. But you see – I can’t ask anyone else either.

It’s just us in the whole vast empty space of the manor with perhaps a handful of house-elves to attend to our needs. Perhaps once or twice a year, we get a visit from my grandparents. Grandmother Cissy, whom I love very much, is my favourite person in the entire world – next to Father, obviously. And then there’s my Grandfather Lucius, who… well, that’s rather more... complicated. It’s not that I dislike him; no, that would not be proper, but he is, perhaps… a hard man to love?

Anyway, they never stay long. They prefer to travel around a lot because… oh, blast, I don’t know precisely why! Yet another one of those things I don’t know. It’s infuriating, really! But I did overhear Grandmother explaining to Father that Grandfather doesn’t do that well in confined places since “Azkaban” – whatever that is; I wrote it down to remember it. I suppose it’s slightly mad to think of the manor as “confined” – I have never been to a building with more room; but the whole thing has something to do with “too many walls and too little air”, as Grandmother had whispered it once to my father. I’m not certain if I should discuss Azkaban with either of my grandparents, though. Something in the way my grandmother spoke the word made me shiver. It’s like the very word seems heavy and sort of… sad, I suppose. Like a giant slab of stone, meant to silence the conversation. Father would probably call me overly sensitive again.

In any event, it’s just us – my parents and I. So as it is, I’m more or less left to my own devices. Magic is my only companion. Oh, and Mother insists that I meet with that annoying Rowena Parkinson-Nott every once in a while, but honestly, even she has to admit that girl is nearly just as pretentious as her name makes her seem! Seriously, who names their daughter after one of the founders of Hogwarts?! The so-called teatime with her is murder. Nearly literally, as I always end up considering finishing her off! She is as self-absorbed as she is conceited and – quite unforgivably – stupid. She only ever asks tiresome questions, such as: “Do you like my hair today?”, “Is this cloak made of muslin?”  or, most horrendous of all: "Where do you want to live once we’re married?”

Ew, I’m a boy, thank you very much! I’ve barely turned eleven, for Merlin’s sake! I won’t consider a lifelong bond with someone so… limited – and I don’t care how pure her blood is! It always makes Father laugh when I complain about her, and he always adds, “But she is quite pretty!”  

I suspect he only does it to yank my chain, as he’s well aware that I can’t stand the girl! She is pretty, I suppose, by general standards and norms, but I think at this point, I’d rather marry Wheezy’s daughter – and Wheezy is Father’s personal house-elf, just to be clear! Rowena is… ghastly. I think I shall consider remaining a bachelor if she and her kind are all the options I have!

Besides, magic is so much more interesting than girls, isn’t it? I’ve been through a great portion of the books I got for the first year of my schooling at Hogwarts, and some are incredibly interesting! I can’t make much of Transfiguration; I suppose I will need a tutor with that… and I’m fairly certain Father won’t let me practise potions yet. I’ll leave Hogwarts: A History for last; it looks a tiny bit boring. But the book of spells – ha! I’ve been reading it devotedly and practising spells all summer, and I can do at least a dozen already! Watch me zoom by the Granger brat like Viktor Krum on a victory ride, whoever she is! Honestly, she won’t know what hit her!

And that’s why I’m looking for Father – he does enjoy it so when I show him any of the new skills I’ve mastered! And today I learned a spell called Alohamora. You have to swish with just the right swing and determination – and every locked door will open for you. Or at least most should. Either way – how splendid is that?! It took me hours to get that one right! Now if only I could find Father…

Where on Earth could he be? I swear, I’ve tried everywhere! He’s not in his study, not in his potions laboratory, not even in the garden or the library. He couldn’t have left, could he? He usually drops by, if only for a second, to inform me about it and to give me a peck on the forehead before he Disapparates, but I don’t recall him mentioning any plans! Mother is on shopping trip to Paris, and Weasley’s owl or that funny terrier Patronus of his haven’t been by. Where could Father be?

Not one of the bedrooms, surely. It’s still early in the afternoon! It’ll be hours before it gets dark, and Father rarely takes a nap during the day. Well, only when he has those godawful headaches of his, but those are few and far between these days. He had quite a number of them when I was little, but ever since he took the Ministry up on their offer to “help them with his extensive medical knowledge” and ended up paired with that terrible Weasley character, the headaches seem to have gradually disappeared. Must be all the fresh air he’s getting out there. Or perhaps, contrary to Father’s belief, Weasley is good for something after all, ha! Ha ha! Now, if only I could find Father to share the jest with him. It would surely put that tiny smirk in the corner of his mouth, which means that he really wants to laugh, but doesn’t think it proper.

Nothing for it now. I’ll try a few of the bedrooms – I can’t be bothered with the entire hundred! – and if he’s nowhere to be found, I suppose it’ll have to wait until dinner. Father would never miss that.

Oh, would you look at that! This door seems locked… and it sounds like someone is in there! I’m just going to open it as slowly and silently as possible and surprise him. Alohamora! Oh, it works perfectly!

~

I open the door a tiny crack, just to determine Father’s position, and the first thing I actually see is a giant mirror reflecting the rest of the room. I can see Father in it – only, he’s not alone… And suddenly, I feel as if all the strength has left me, and all my blood has turned to lead.

Father is sitting on the edge of the bed; his clothes are in disarray, and there’s a man kneeling in front of him. He’s broad-shouldered, with a mesmerising fiery dragon tattoo across his naked back, and his long hair is the same flaming colour as the dragon. I can’t see his face properly because it is buried in my father’s lap, doing… something that makes my father, my dignified father, Draco Malfoy, throw his head back and pant like… like… I don’t know!! Like he’s in pain or something… only he doesn’t seem to be… he’s certainly not doing anything to stop the man! His fingers are buried in the man’s flaming hair, moving with the rhythm of his head, back and forth and he’s… oh, Merlin, I’m feeling slightly faint… his… shaft is buried in the man’s mouth, and he’s whispering something like “Don’t stop… fuck… don’t you dare fucking stop…”  

Even though my knees are wobbly and I can’t seem to move, I’m also strangely fascinated by the scene. I have certainly never seen Father look like that. He’s a right mess, truly; his clothes aren’t even properly undone, as if he had only taken them off in haste. But… I’ve also never seen him look… younger and more… handsome. He’s got this expression on his face, like a mask of sorts has melted off, and he’s incredibly alive underneath. He’s very… enthralling like this. And not only have I never seen him look like this before – I’ve also never seen him look at anyone the way he does at the man on his knees before him… like he needs something from him, like he’s desperate for something. And then he whispers, “So close… so fucking close… please… Ron!”  and throws his head back. At the same time, his hips slam forward and the sound that comes out of his mouth is… I can’t describe it. It’s nearly… inhuman. Like a cross between a roar and a plea, and it’s so desperate and intense that it sends shivers down my spine. I’d never in a million years imagine Father could produce such a sound; he’s always so eloquent and civilised. His fingers are still buried in the man’s vivid hair when he drops his head onto his chest. The expression on his face is incredibly intense and serene all at once, even though his chest is heaving from exertion. He’s almost... beautiful like this... like one of those marble statues of ancient gods.

And still I can’t stop staring. It’s like I’m rooted to the ground, and it all seems as if I’m only dreaming something beyond surreal, and I should wake up any moment now.

But the man gets up now, and he’s very tall, taller than Father even. From the profile, I can see that his face is freckled, with a prominent nose and blue eyes, and he has very scarred forearms, covered in hypnotising inked serpents.

“Fuck, Malfoy… you should do this more often,” he says in a crude voice, laced with a derogatory, mocking undertone, that somehow doesn’t fit him. “You nearly drowned me in it. I should charge you double.”

And even as he speaks, something bizarre is happening to him. He’s slowly shrinking, his hair is losing its fiery colour, and he seems to be swimming in his trousers. And a few moments later, there’s a skinny, mousy looking man, in clothes that are obviously not his, standing in front of my father, and even the glorious dragon on his back is gone. Only the voice is still the same. And the expression on my father’s face twists something in my stomach. The glorious air of utter bliss is gone, and he looks positively sick. His eyes are downcast and his movements rigid when he casts a spell to clean up and arrange his clothes quickly, and there are traces of utter disgust in his expression when he reaches for the thick pouch.

“You’ll find more than double in here, as long as you keep your mouth shut,” he speaks, and his voice is strangely lifeless. “But breathe a word of this to anyone, and I’ll find you. I don’t suppose I have to elaborate, do I? Now get out of here!”

“Bloody Death Eater,” the man murmurs angrily, barely audibly, still holding his trousers together with one hand, which makes him look ridiculous; but when he weighs the pouch in his hand, his sour expression clears, and when he speaks next, his voice is more timid.

“I’m out of the hair. So if you still want to do it with your precious potion…”

“You won’t need the hair,” my Father interrupts him coldly. “I’ll provide the potion next time. You’re doing something wrong, he’s… different. His eyes are… never mind. Get out of here! I know where to find you when I need you.”

“Don’t go so high and mighty on me, love,” the man hisses at my father, looking menacing. “I had your cock down my throat a minute ago, and you whimpered just like the rest of them! I wonder how much a memory like this would be worth to certain… important people, huh?!”

And before I realise what’s happening, my father is up. In a blink, there’s a wand pressed to the vein in the man’s throat. I nearly take a step back myself at the look on my father’s face, and I barely hold back a squeal. Pure, murderous loathing if I ever saw it. It makes the man in front of him blanch, turning the unhealthy grey of old porridge. When he raises his arms in front of him defensively, they’re shaking with uncontrollable fear. And my father stares at him with his blank eyes, gone anthracite and insane, unblinking, unmoving, as if merely deciding on how  to hurt him. Merlin the Merciful, who is this man, and what has he done with my father?!

“They wouldn’t even find your bones…” my father whispers to the man menacingly. “And if a word of this ever comes out, I will know it was you, and I will come after you. Do you have any idea what kind of pain this very wand has inflicted? Would you care for a demonstration?”

The man has gone so pale he’s nearly green, and he’s shaking like a leaf in the autumn wind.

“Please… sir… Mr. Malfoy… it was only a joke, sir… just a bit of a joke. You know, I’d never… This is how I make my living, I wouldn’t… please, don’t kill me!”

Those last few words were merely a pathetic squeal, and it seems as if they had woken Father out of a strange stupor. He drops his wand slowly, and the malice is gone from his eyes, replaced by strange numbness. He takes a step back, as if he doesn’t want to get tempted or drawn into some darkness I can’t quite comprehend, and he orders in a cold, emotionless voice:

“Get out of here! And don’t ever come back. We’re finished – as long as you keep your promise!”

“Yes, sir! Thank you, Mr. Malfoy, sir… You won’t know I exist.”

The gratitude in his shaky, frightened voice nearly turns my stomach, but he’s gone in a blink, and my father collapses on the bed. He puts his face in the palms of his hands and sits there motionless for the longest time, as if all the life had run out of him. And then, his shoulders begin to shake uncontrollably, and I realise, shocked, that I’ve never seen my father cry before.

I want to move, run to him, and put my arms around him to tell him that it will be all right. But you see, if there’s anything I know about my father, it is the fact that he does not tolerate weakness. He would not be able to forgive me if I caught him off guard in such an intimate moment, so very vulnerable and exposed. I can’t get caught now. I need to come back later and make it all better for him.

Somehow, I force my legs to move, though they’re unwilling. I tiptoe away even more carefully than I normally would, as I can’t really remember if I ever managed to close the door behind me. Actually, it might be lucky that I can still remember my own name, what with the way my head is scrambled and all over the place. I keep seeing Father’s face in front of me – the unbelievable bliss, the mortified disgust, the terrifying loathing, and that unbearable sadness in the end. I feel sick and disorientated, as if my world had suddenly been tilted upside down and off its axis, and I can’t make any sense of things anymore.

But at the bottom of my confusion and distress, there is a lingering question that’s nudging at my brain as if I won’t ever find my rest again if I don’t find an answer to it: Who is Ron? And how come he can undo my father in so many ways?

~

I spend the entire time until dinner time in a strange state of semi-awareness, not completely certain I wasn’t only dreaming the whole thing, unable to make sense of things. I have no idea what to do or how to act. I think… I think I know what Father was up to with that man. It’s called sex, and I’ve only ever seen animals do it, and never… with their mouths involved. I’m slightly nauseous when I think about it, but the thought is also terrifically exciting. I can’t stop thinking about it, actually. I think I’ll never be able to see Father in the same light again. He’s so much more… vibrant when he does it, and there is something captivating about that. Oh, boy, I’m certainly a mess! Why don’t I know more about these things?!

I somehow pull myself together until the dinnertime, but when Wheezy comes to fetch me, I’m still a bit of a wreck. My insides are swimming when I approach the small dinner parlour where Father and I take our evening meal when it’s just us. Surely he’s bound to be affected. But apart from a ghastly complexion that’s unusually pale even for him, my father shows no signs of his distress. I’m incredibly relieved, I realise. He offers me a tiny appreciative smile when I take my seat and motions Wheezy to fill his glass of wine. Oh, so it’s going to be one of those evenings… just as well. I suppose I can use it to my advantage this once.

You see, every once in a while, my father decides to “test the quality of the new year” and gets… well, I suppose tipsy isn’t quite the expression I’m looking for, but if this wasn’t my father, I might call it “sloshed”. He always starts early, drinks more than is appropriate, and, in the end, needs Wheezy’s discreet assistance to keep his dignity intact. But he’s sharper and wittier and more sincere when he’s “under the influence”, as my mother calls it with loathing in her voice.

She positively hates seeing him like this, and the evening usually ends in one of his snarky remarks hitting the bulls-eye and her leaving the table abruptly, whether in tears or in furious, mortified silence. One would think she’d appreciate evenings like this – she always ends up with a glorious present or two the following day – because, of course, Father never apologises verbally.

But I – I must admit that I sort of like seeing him this way. He… well, he opens up, as strange as that sounds, and through the cracks in his heavy marble armour, the real Father pours out onto the surface. And I really like that man: he’s funny and witty, he laughs and talks with little reservation, and, most importantly, he feels strangely real. Almost as if this is the father that I was supposed to have – not the quiet, stern man that knows every book ever written on etiquette by heart, but barely ever lets a smile blossom on his face. I certainly can’t wish to see him inebriated more often – god, no … But it would be nice if he was more… approachable and less reserved every once in a while.

We enjoy our supper in amiable silence with occasional chit chat, but when he’s on his third glass, I release my first carefully measured shot.

“Father… I was wondering… do you and Mother love each other?”

He is just in the middle of taking a sip, and he barely manages to swallow it down in a dignified manner when my question hits.

“Sweet Merlin, child!” he murmurs once he regains his breath while I wait patiently. “What kind of a question is that?!”

Well, it is certainly one I wouldn’t attempt if he were entirely sober! I would never in a million years attempt asking such a thing if I’d never witnessed what I did this afternoon. But there’s some sort of stubborn idea blossoming at the bottom of my mind, and I just need to be sure. And, god, yes, I need to tread carefully!

“Well, I was just wondering,” I say, blinking innocently. “You know, since she’s hardly ever here anymore, and you two… well, forgive me for saying so, but I noticed that lately you don’t seem to see eye-to-eye much,” I say as sincerely as I can muster, and he “Hmpf!” s  into his glass before he carefully puts it down onto the surface of the table.

He’s perusing me intensely now, almost as if he’s studying me, and then he seems to reach a decision.

“I suppose it was only a matter of time before you found out,” he says bluntly and seems to be contemplating how to form the words to tell me the rest. “What your mother and I had was always a deal of sorts. A business deal, to be precise. I needed a pure-blood wife, and she needed a husband to get away from her overprotective, overbearing parents. This… was never love. Not even in the beginning. Your mother is certainly a very attractive woman, and I like to imagine I’m not so bad myself, so this… deal was never what you would call hard on us. But it was a deal nevertheless. And it comes with an expiration date.”

He’s looking straight at me now, and I can’t really tell if he’s more drunk or more sober than I think he is, because there’s clarity and sharpness to his eyes that rarely comes to light in his cultivated everyday life.

“She agreed to play the part until you were of age, but recently… she’s found it increasingly hard. And frankly, so have I. So we reached a decision to end our… agreement, prematurely, but I suppose… You see, we didn’t inform you of our decision yet because your mother was worried you would take it hard. She is a fine woman, and she doesn’t want you to think that you are not loved – and neither do I.”

I suddenly feel all my blood rushing to my head. You see, in spite of our close relationship, Father has never openly told me he loved me… not even once, not that I can recall. But right now, he’s staring straight at me, the way he does when he wants me to remember his words because they are important, and his voice has gone husky, as if he’s aware that he’s not acting like his usual self.

“You asked me before if I loved your mother. Sadly, I never could. But I will be eternally grateful to her for introducing me to the one person I fell in love with at first sight: you. I took you in my arms when you were barely cleaned, wrapped, and screaming, and you were the tiniest thing ever. You looked at me with those incomprehensible silver eyes – my eyes, and I swear I stopped breathing. Your crying subsided, and we were only looking at each other, as if getting to know one another shyly, and in those moments, I learned more about love than I did in my entire life to that point. It’s still nearly everything I know about it to this day. I offered you my finger, and you took it with both hands and put it in your mouth – and I knew that if I never loved another person in my life, it would be enough.”

I’m not sure I can talk. I open my mouth to say something, to thank him, but he hasn’t taught me how, and this is awkward enough as it is, so I remain seated and try to pour my feelings from my tight throat into appropriate words.

“I… thank you, Father. Tell Mother she shouldn’t worry. I feel quite… appreciated. You – the pair of you – have always offered me everything I ever wanted and I couldn’t ask for a more excellent set of parents.”

And then I see a tiny smile blossom in the corner of my father’s mouth, and he raises his glass to toast me, to show me his silent appreciation, so I just blurt out:

“I love you, too, Father!”

And when he puts his glass down without drinking, I see that his fingers are trembling a bit, and even I can tell that there’s a rush of emotions he’s keeping at bay and how hard I have made it for him to do so. I’ve somehow managed to reach under his shell, and I know he’s probably more emotional right now than he’s showing, so I decide to push a little further. I cannot ask him about “Ron” directly, but I can feel out the situation a bit...

“You know, earlier, when you explained about Mother and yourself, you called her a fine woman, but also that you couldn’t love her – why is that?”

And suddenly I can see all his muscles tense.

“That’s a bizarre question to ask,” he finally says curtly. “Why would you want to ask such a question? What is this sudden interest in our marriage?”

You see – that’s my father for you: the master of turning the tables. Suddenly, I’m the accused one, and I have to explain myself. I should have known better.

“Well, you see, Father – I’m growing up,” I say as calmly as I can. “I’m going to Hogwarts in a matter of days, and I will inevitably meet other children. I’m not interested in girls at the moment, and if Rowena is anything to go by, I shall remain uninterested for a very long time. But you see, eventually I will have to know about these things – things like… friendship, and… love and marriage, I suppose – and no one ever talks to me about this! And I have no one else to talk to. I’m afraid I shall be quite lonely if I don’t know how to make friends. I haven’t got any at the moment, but it’s all right, I suppose… I have you and Mother now, but you can’t follow me to Hogwarts, and I’m going to have to find my own way. And from what you told me about marriage, I could assume that love hasn’t got anything to do with it. It’s simply a contract. Yet, it seems that Grandmother and Grandfather love each other dearly. I would simply like to know why you have agreed to something less.”

For a moment, he seems stunned. When he looks at me, there is a flash of pain in his eyes that is mortifying, and suddenly I wish I kept my mouth shut. I see that I’ve hurt him somehow, unwittingly, yet deeply. He had put his utensils down carefully, and hastily took a glass of wine to his lips to cover up the expression on his face, but his hands are trembling more than before. And I silently curse my stupid tongue, my reckless curiosity and my awkwardness. I didn’t mean to… I honestly didn’t mean to hurt him; god knows he doesn’t need more pain after what I’ve witnessed today!

“Father, I… I apologise,” I tell him in a shaky voice. “I know it’s not your duty to teach me about these things, and that I’m mostly supposed to find out on my own…”

“Of course it’s my duty,” he interrupts me in a strangely rough voice, and his eyes are shining like silver moonlight, illuminating his pale face. “It’s not your fault that we’ve kept you so isolated and – Merlin help me – ignorant of certain affairs of the world. It’s just that… I suppose you will find out soon enough that the world out there is not kind to Malfoys.”

He pauses a little, and I see this is hard for him. He finishes his glass in one long gulp, as if he was hoping to find courage to continue at the bottom of it, and from the way his eyes sparkle, I can tell he’s already “under the influence”. But when he continues, his voice is strangely calm, as if he had given in and come to a decision he can no longer reverse.

“We – Grandfather in particular, but myself as well – have made some grave mistakes in judgment in the past, and we allowed ourselves to be associated with a certain malicious group of people that caused a lot of grief across the wizarding population. Their leader was someone called Lord Voldemort, though that was not his proper name. We, his followers… we were called the Death Eaters.”

And I cannot stop myself from shivering. This is what that skinny man who came to… attend to Father’s needs, had called him. The very name had an ominous ring to it.

“To make a long story short – there was a war,” my father continues, sounding just a bit tired and perhaps… defeated? “Luckily – and I say that sincerely – we were stopped by a wizard called Harry Potter, who killed Voldemort and ended the war. And none too soon, if you ask me. I don’t wish to discuss it, but it was monstrous. You will learn more about the war than you wish to know – it is all over the books, and Harry Potter is a celebrity whose influence you cannot escape.”

I don’t want to interrupt Father because it seems irrelevant, but I have indeed heard of Potter before. You see, I adore Quidditch, and for a while, when I was about eight, I had the worst crush on Ginny Potter, one of the Holyhead Harpies’ legends who sometimes does guest commenting on the important matches. I was heartbroken when it came up in conversation with her co-host that she was married to some chap called “the legendary Harry Potter”. I kept seeing that name on the shops in Diagon Alley, along with the title “the Saviour”, and I imagined that it was just a bit pretentious for someone who was clearly a Quidditch legend – but nothing more than that. Oh, boy… when I’m wrong, I’m more wrong than a troll in charge of the Wizengamot!

“I believe Potter’s son is your age,” my father wakes me up from my contemplation, sounding thoughtful. “You might be schoolmates, and I would not seek conflict with him if I were you – Potter has a long arm and grateful allies everywhere. Stand up for yourself by all means, but do not antagonise him without good reason. But should he attempt to bully you – him or anyone else for that matter – I wish to be informed of it, Scorpius. Is that clear?”

He’s looking straight at me, waiting for my promise, and there’s a nervous tremor to his lips I don’t recognise until it hits me: it’s fear. My father is afraid that I will be abused by my schoolmates. Dear god, what had he done?! Suddenly, my restless enthusiasm to attend Hogwarts seems to be ill-placed. Perhaps I’ll hate it there… Perhaps I shall be condemned to solitude and mockery for seven long years. My heart feels very heavy at the moment, but I realise that he’s still waiting for my answer, so I force myself to nod, and I see his shoulder relax a bit. He feels better knowing that I’m not willing to be a hero, suffering in silence. And then I have a strange epiphany:

“Will the Granger brat be there as well? Will she hate me, like the others?”

And much to my surprise, my father chuckles.

“Yes – and no. According to her father, she begins attending school this year, and Merlin help you and the others if she’s half as ambitious and bossy as her mother used to be… well, still is, actually. But having said that – she is probably your only hope. Hermione Granger would never raise her daughter to hate a child for what his father had done.”

“What is her name?” For some reason, I’m suddenly dying to know. If she’s my only salvation, perhaps the only person that won’t hate me, I’d really like to stop calling her “the Granger brat”.

“Rose,” my father replies and I close my eyes because that name reminds me of the gentle smell of flowers blooming in the manor gardens, and for some reason it makes me smile. I like that name.

“Rose Granger,” I say her full name to hear the ring of it, but, much to my surprise, my father shakes his head.

“She doesn’t have her mother’s surname, silly. Like all wizarding children, she bears her father’s. Rose Weasley.”

And my jaw hits the ground. But, but, but…

“But I thought you said she was clever!”

“According to her father and my… other sources, Rose Weasley is exceptionally intelligent.”

“But how?! Her father is Weasley, your  Weasley, the one you call “colossal idiot” – how bright can she be?!”

I can see that something I’ve said shocks my father. It’s almost as if he stopped breathing for a second and his eyes are so big and silver, they’re nearly supernatural. But then, he somehow forces his face into an impassive expression and answers obligingly, with only a small smile in the corner of his mouth indicating that he is, in fact, having fun.

“As I told you before, Rose Weasley seems to resemble her mother in her intellectual abilities – and her mother was the brightest witch of our generation. If my sources are correct, Hermione Granger Weasley is the most likely candidate for the next Minister of Magic, and I think the wizarding world could do much worse. But when it comes to Rose’s father… I am sorry if I made you believe that he is somehow of inferior intellect. Weasley is an acclaimed intercontinental chess champion and the man in charge of strategic operations for the entire Auror corps. He has… a specific kind of intelligence. He may come across as a bit of a Neanderthal most of the time, but the reason why I call him dumb – or “colossal idiot”, as you so accurately recalled – is because he is the world’s most stubborn individual, who likes to plunge into dangerous situations without asking for assistance. Apparently, he doesn’t want other people risking their lives for him.”

And I just sit there, with my jaw hitting the ground. My whole world has indeed fallen off its axis and is now rolling around the Universe freely. Everything I thought I knew seems false! I thought I knew Weasley… You see, Father talks about Weasley all the time, and I don’t think he even realises how much. If you ask my father about his day, at some point Weasley is going to pop up. My mother jokingly calls him an honorary member of our family behind Father’s back, because he might as well be sitting right there, at the dinner table with us. That’s how present he is. So you see, I knew about Weasley. Or so I thought.

Weasley being a colossal idiot was one constant thing in my life, and now even that belief has been shaken to the core. Weasley is not the dumb nobody I took him for - he’s a madly heroic strategic mastermind married to a genius, and even his daughter seems to be some kind of a prodigy! Tell me this is not a mad world I’ve woken up to!

I suppose Father notices my distress and he asks almost kindly:

“Why did you think I was paired with Weasley in the first place?”

“Well, because he’s an idiot!” I blurt out. “He’s a danger to himself, and he needs someone to care for him.”

And then my father tilts his head back and laughs like I’ve never heard him laugh before. It’s shocking really… and very charming. He looks years younger, almost boyish; the way his fingers comb through his hair make him look as if he’s trying to imitate me, and not the other way around.

“Now, that’s the most accurate description of Weasley I’ve heard in a long time,” he says, still unable to quite control occasional fits of laughter. “A very true one, indeed. Unfortunately, that’s only half of the truth, and only the way you and I see it. You see, Weasley also happens to be one of the most important members of wizarding society today. I already told you he’s married to the most likely candidate for the Minister for Magic, but that’s the lesser of his important connections. He’s the best friend of the one and only Harry Potter – and now you know what that means. As such, he’s a perfect target for anyone holding a grudge about how the war has turned out. And there are still many of those out there. Potter knows that, so he employed me to protect him.”

“So – you know Potter? Like, in person?” I still can’t quite get a grasp on the multitude of new information I acquired in this confusing day.

My father merely nods slowly and takes another sip of his wine, as if trying to buy time to decide what to tell me and how.

“He went to school the same year that I did. We all did, Potter, Weasley, Granger and I. Father – my father, Grandfather Lucius – had put me under strict instructions to contact Potter and befriend him because he was supposed to be important. You see, there was a prophecy out there about him being the only one to defeat the Dark Lord, so Father, always the politician and opportunist, thought that Potter would be a good man to have on his side. Only – Weasley would have none of it. Poor and entirely unexceptional – or so I thought – he had managed to make friends with Potter during the course of the train ride to Hogwarts, and when I finally managed to approach him, they were best chums already. I tried to undo the damage, of course. I warned Potter about some wizarding families being better than others and offered to introduce him to the right sort – with a welcoming hand and all. But the scar-face – that’s Potter, he bears a scar – wouldn’t take it. He rejected my offer, he rejected me, and from that moment on, we were destined to be enemies.”

There is a strange expression on Father’s face, almost as if he’s still hurt and resentful about the rejection that happened ages ago, and it bothers me, seeing him like this.

“Well… that wasn’t very nice of him,” I tell him quickly, but he only smiles a bit sadly and shrugs:

“It wasn’t a very nice offer. Not really. Not sincere, or anything. Well, obviously… I was interested in him, of course I was; we all were. I mean, who survives a killing curse cast by one of the most vicious, most powerful wizards alive, deflects it, and nearly makes the said wizard disappear by just being there, at age one or something?!”

My jaw hits the ground for the umpteenth time this evening. Potter did… what ?!

“I can see you get my point,” Father smirks, but it looks a bit lost, and he quickly takes another sip of wine before he continues.

“But in spite of my interest, I didn’t really want him. Not for him, anyway; not to stand by him and be his friend – I would have just used him for the power he had and left him when he needed me most. That’s the way I was back then; that is the way I was raised. That’s how Grandfather Lucius taught me, and that’s how he stayed on top all these years. And Potter must have sensed it – or Weasley’s expression told him as much. You see, Potter and I had to meet to hate each other – but Weasley… I hated him before I even met him. My father hated his father, and I think the family feud has been going on for centuries. We simply couldn’t stand to be around each other. Even now…”

Father shakes head as if he cannot put into words how he feels about Weasley.

“How can you work with him, protect him even, if you hate him?” I wonder out loud.

His head snaps up in surprise, and there’s a pink tinge to his cheeks that rarely makes an appearance in his complexion.

“I don’t hate Weasley, I… I mean, obviously he’s infuriating, but…”

I can’t make heads or tails of his expression. It’s more open than I’ve ever seen it; his eyes are lit up, and there’s even a strange softness to the smile that crawls onto his face. His fingers rub the stem of the wine glass as if there’s some sense memory he’s immersed in, and he whispers:

“No, I…”

But then he notices me staring, and his expression turns blank. He hastily begins cutting his food, which gives him an excuse to keep his eyes on the plate and speaks abruptly:

“In any event – you wanted to know about a certain thing, yes? Well, this is how it was: Potter, Weasley, and Granger went on to become best friends, and they were sorted into Gryffindor, while I was sorted into Slytherin – you do know about Hogwarts houses, don’t you?” he looks at me with a bit of despair, as if only now becoming aware how badly he had neglected his parental duty of informing me on the ways of the world I was about to be immersed into. I hurry to assure him that I do, in fact, know of the houses because they’re mentioned on the back cover of the Hogwarts: A History, and he seems relieved.

“Well, there was a lot of teenage drama on both sides before the full-on war broke out, but when it did…”

He goes very silent, and his expression is instantly clouded.

“I do not wish to speak of the war,” he says adamantly, and I know that this one isn’t up for discussion. But he seems grateful that I don’t push the issue and, possibly, he feels guilty for leaving me in the dark for so long, so he continues:

“Once Potter managed to beat the Dark Lord, the world was pretty much at their feet. Granger and Weasley married, and Potter married Weasley’s sister.”

“Ginny Potter!” I exclaim excitedly, and Father throws me a surprised look. I’m more than happy to enlighten him; the flood of enthusiasm just pours out of me.

“She used to play Quidditch, but she quit before I was even born. She’s still a splendid commentator, though; she knows everything, and she’s so funny – doesn’t sound girly at all! Oh, and now you’re telling me that she’s your Weasley’s sister!”

There’s that shocked, incomprehensible look again in Father’s eyes, but I’m too elated to care at the moment. I guess I’m not quite as over my little crush as I thought I was… Oh, but this is so exciting! If Father knows them, the whole lot, the Weasleys and the Potters, perhaps he could introduce me! But, at the moment, he’s too busy staring at me as if I had grown another head.

“Well, I never…” he finally mumbles, and cannot quite mask a small smile at the corner of his mouth. “Of all the people to be excited about…”

“Is she pretty?” I interrupt him, because I’ve never actually seen her either… you know that bit about being lonely and isolated – I had really meant it.

“Potter’s wife is still reasonably good-looking, given that she’s given birth to three children and is no longer in her prime. She was quite a looker in my time; I remember her having a whole army of admirers. But, though she dated around for a bit, she never cared for anyone other than Potter much.”

And then I remember another thing, and I’m surprised – and just a little disappointed in myself – that it took me so long to process.

“Weasleys are the Sacred Twenty-Eight!” I blurt out. “Ginny… Weasley would have been a pure-blood! If she was beautiful and a pure-blood, how come you didn’t consider marrying her?!”

And much to my surprise, Father throws his head back and positively roars with laughter. For the second time this evening. Will the miracles never stop?!

“A Malfoy asking Weasley’s hand in marriage?! Well, if there’s one foolproof way of giving my father a heart attack, that would be it!” he exclaims cheerily; and he can’t seem to stop chuckling. And I’m just a tiny bit insulted, mind you. I missed out on being Ginny Po… Weasley’s child here, hello! I just can’t see the funny side of it!

“I can’t see what’s so funny,” I tell him coldly. “Just because of some absurd family feud so old that no one seems to even recall how it started – honestly, Father! I can’t see why some silly surnames are important anyway! Isn’t magic what matters? I’ll be Rose Weasley’s best friend if she’ll have me!”

Father’s laughter ends abruptly at these words. He stares at me in surprise, giving me another one of those complex looks I can’t even begin to fathom. He is such an intricate person indeed…

“Well, don’t let Grandfather Lucius hear you say that,” he mumbles. “Grandmother would never forgive you if you sent him to an early grave. But… you’re right, of course. Magic is what truly matters, and if times were different, and there were no… objections, from my father’s side, Ginny Weasley would certainly be considered a possible candidate for the position… of your mother.”

He looks at me with bright eyes, and I’m certain I’m blushing like a beet. Apparently, I’m quite transparent to my father. But, at the same moment, I realise that he never answered my original question, and, excuse me, but I’m Malfoy enough to know all there is to know about shifting unwelcome attention from myself, thank you very much.

“So Ginny Po… Weasley was not a desirable candidate, and I can totally imagine why you decided not to marry Aunt Pansy. Er, believe me, I do, and I thank you for that. So you married Mother just because she was the only one left?”

“No, not precisely…” he smiles with a tiny smirk in the corner of his mouth. “You see, we managed to keep most of our assets after the war. Your grandmother had done a very brave thing at the breaking point of the war, and she helped Potter survive, so we were fully pardoned after the war. We might not have been too popular with the common folk, but with most of our money left, and Potter testifying on our behalf, there were willing candidates enough for me to choose from. No… I did not pick your mother because she was my only choice. I picked her because she fit all the standards for a mother of the Malfoy heir: she was lovely to look at, unblemished by the war, cultivated, and willing to be reasonable. Beyond that, it didn’t matter much to me whom I picked.”

“So you didn’t want to wait for a bit? See if there was someone else you could actually fall in love with?” I blurt out before I can help myself, because I just can’t see what the rush was with marriage and such. “It would be so much easier to spend your entire life with someone you actually cared for! Perhaps some such person would’ve eventually come along!”

But Father goes very pale, shaking his head defiantly, as if this was never an option, and he barely manages: “I… no.”

“But why?!” I want to know stubbornly. “Why did you give up waiting so quickly? Did you not care about being loved? All the books say love is important! Even some great magic doesn’t work unless love is involved! Did you not care about giving your heart…”

“I had no more heart to give!”

The silence that reigns after Father’s desperate outburst is thick enough to cut with a knife. I’m staring across the table at him, mouth open, and my heart positively breaks at the sight of him. His chest is heaving as if a bucket of misery just spilled its acid load there, and there’s a look of deepest, darkest despair glowing in his silver eyes. Oh, my… to be so devastated… I physically feel sick to my stomach at the sight of grief I’ve caused him. I just wanted to make things better for him and... oh, why did I go and open my stupid mouth!? Why does any of it matter now, after all this time, anyway!?

“Father…” I start awkwardly, anxious to fix this, to apologise and perhaps to simply tell him that I love him, for all the times no one else would.

But he shakes his head and raises his hand as if he wants to stop me. He’s already getting up.

“No more,” he says, in a rough voice that doesn’t sound anything like him. “This dinner is over… and so is this conversation. You are allowed to ask about things you expect to find when your schooling begins next week, but we shan’t speak of the past any longer. There are too many things you do not know about me, about the time and circumstances I grew up in, and I have no way of explaining. I do not wish you to judge me on the man that I was; Merlin knows it is hard enough to be myself as I am now.”

With these words, he Disapparates, and I’m just sitting there, heavy-hearted, wondering if he’s gone off to cry some more. Blast, I’m such an idiot! We Malfoys are supposed to be tactful – and look at me! A drunken troll couldn’t have done more damage! Well… I suppose I haven’t been a Malfoy for a very long time yet… a mere eleven years; I’ve clearly still got things to learn.

Well, best not to ponder upon my failures. I can’t have done everything right; this was only my first time interrogating! But let’s see what I’ve learned.

Fact one: Mother and Father are no longer happy together, and certainly not in love. They both deserve better. This situation will right itself once I’m off to school. My involvement is not necessary.

Fact two: Father has been in love once before, possibly unhappily, as he still cannot discuss it without getting distraught. I have no idea who that person was, or if he still feels anything for them. To make the situation more complicated, it seems that it could either be a woman – or a man. I have no way of telling, and I literally don’t have anyone to ask. It seems somehow important, but I will have to let this one rest… for the moment. I can’t do anything about it for now.

Fact three: There is someone called Ron that father clearly likes. Mere hours ago, I had no idea that such a person even existed, but now he seems pivotal. But apart from his name – and how he looks, if that is at all accurate – I have no idea who this man is. And I need to find out. Once I’m off to school, I plan to ask around – discreetly, of course – and see if someone knows a tall, redheaded man with scarred forearms and a dragon tattoo across his back. I imagine he doesn’t run around without his shirt much, but the scarred forearms covered in inked serpents should be enough to attract someone’s attention!

Of course, my plans are very sketchy once I find out who he is. I suppose he will have to be investigated a bit; not everyone is good enough for my father! Just the thought of that vicious, skinny man I saw earlier in the day, the one masqueraded as Ron, gives me the shivers. I certainly hope Ron is not a vile man! Father needs someone good in his life; someone to put a smile on his face more often, someone to care for him once Mother and I are gone. But he’s too proud and stiff to do anything about it! He’d just sit in this cold mansion forever and let himself waste away. I can’t have that! He’s my father! I want him happy, and by Merlin’s sacred long johns, I shall have him so!

Oh, I hope it doesn’t take me too long to find Ron! Father is in grave need of some intervention.

~

Merlin, I’m nervous! This is it. This is the day! I’m going to Hogwarts! Today, in mere hours! Oh, I barely slept a minute all night; I’m so very excited! The trunks are packed, and everything is safely tucked in – believe me, I nearly drove Wheezy spare with checking everything three times! So, there’s nothing left for me to do except to sit here on my bed, completely beside myself, waiting for Father.

I’ve barely even seen him after our debacle of a conversation during the dinner the other day, but frankly, I don’t have time to miss him that much. You see, my mother returned from her shopping abroad, and she’s been showering me in attention ever since. I don’t think Father has been avoiding me on purpose, though. It’s just that his Weasley has gone “barking mad”, apparently. Father nearly missed dinner last night – and he never does so without informing us about it in advance! – but when he finally made an appearance, he looked as if he had fallen off the undertaker’s shovel. Upon my mother’s silent question in the form of a raised eyebrow, he merely growled:

“It’s Weasley’s fault! He’s gone barking mad. The idiot seems to want to clean the streets of every criminal ever born before his daughter goes off to Hogwarts.”

My mother looked to the side to hide a small, sarcastic smile and an eye-roll, but Father didn’t even notice. He was too busy eating as if famished – and he rarely does; I swear that on his days off he barely touches food! And he wouldn’t even let his hunger stop him from ranting about Weasley some more:

“He’s been on shift for 48 hours straight, and only went home when Potter threatened to inform his mother! And of course the fool couldn’t wait to rush from one mortal peril to another! I barely managed to patch him up – and off he was to another apprehension, and yet another, and some more, to no end – and I kept on chasing the glorious fool all over England for two days! I swear, if I see that dog Patronus of his again, I’m going to kick the beast! Potter is lucky I’m not doing this for money – there’s not enough coin in Gringotts to pay me for such folly!”

“Then why do you do it?” I wanted to know, and only when his hand froze halfway to his mouth, I realised I must have asked an awkward question. Well, it seemed perfectly normal to me!

He didn’t answer right away, chewing on his food as if he was buying time, but then he merely shrugged and murmured:

“Someone has to keep him safe. Might as well be me. At least I know what I’m doing. Half of those buffoons at the Auror corp can’t tell the Draught of Living Death from Amortentia, and Weasley is mostly in need of medical assistance, he’s… I suppose he does well enough on other fields. Besides, I’m the only one rich enough that I can’t be bought, Potter says. I guess that’s why he picked me for the job.”

“But…”

“Finish your meal, Scorpius,” Mother interrupted me, and I could have been mistaken, but I thought there was a flash of gratitude in Father’s eyes when he looked at her. And I was once again left in the dark. Father, the master of evasion, told me why he got the job, not why he took it, and I was slightly annoyed by his clever attempt to mislead me.

As I’m too nervous to do anything else, I’m trying to figure it out myself now. Sadly, no proper answer comes to mind. Clearly, Father is annoyed by the job, he finds Weasley infuriating, and he doesn’t need it financially. Why did he agree to do this in the first place? And what keeps him from quitting? Is he really so grateful to Saviour Potter for saving their freedom and their fortune after the war? Surely his debt has been repaid by now! What else could it be? Seriously, I’ve known Father all my life and I still can’t figure him out!

And I’m also no closer to finding an answer about Ron – but at least I wasn’t expecting to; not before I’ve reached Hogwarts, anyway. But at least I’ve made a slight improvement in that field: I now know what that magic was that changed that pathetic man into Father’s Ron. And imagine my surprise when I found out that it’s not a charm at all, it’s the effect of a potion! It’s called Polyjuice Potion, and with the right ingredients, it can turn one to any other person they want to be. Well, only for an hour or so, but imagine the possibilities! It’s awfully complicated, though, and there’s a really tricky bit: one needs the hair of the person they want to turn into. And that can only mean one thing: Father knows Ron well enough to have access to his hair.

“Scorpius? Oh, there you are!”

“Father!”

It’s like he stepped out of my thoughts, and can’t help myself: I know I’m a big boy, nearly a man already, and that it’s entirely inappropriate to launch myself at him and hug him – but I still do it. To hell with being grown up for once! I’m terribly excited and anxious, and I need my father. And he recognises my distress without another word. Once I put my arms around his waist, he embraces me slowly, as if he’s not entirely sure what results this will produce. So I just shut my eyes, and I will him to hold me tighter, and eventually, he does. I don’t think I’ve been cradled like this by my father in ages … There are faint memories, somewhere beyond the edges blurred by time, of him holding me tightly when I was still very small and ill, quite feverish and delirious. That’s the last time I remember him being so affectionate.

“I’m going to miss you so, so much,” he whispers into my hair, and when he buries his face in it, I know he’s too emotional to face the world.

“You have to promise you’ll write every day,” he tells me in an uncommonly shaky voice, and I’m afraid to say anything, or I might just surrender my bravery to sobbing. So I nod furiously, and only after a long, tearful moment, I manage a whisper:

“Every day.”

Of course I will. At the moment I can’t imagine anything different. If only I didn’t feel like crying as much as I do; it’s so dreadfully embarrassing… but I don’t think I can help it. He doesn’t say anything for the longest time, and my heartbeat eventually slows down as his narrow hands run down my back soothingly.

“All right?” he finally asks and I nod, because it is, even though I don’t want to let go just yet:

“Better.”

“Good… because it’s time to go,” he says uncommonly gently, and I immediately feel the weight of his words. It’s not like I don’t  want to go… but all my anxieties have returned with vengeance, and I find it very hard to let go. But this is my father, and his tolerance for weakness is as minuscule as always.

“We’re running a bit late, and we’re going to have to hurry up,” he explains in a calm, but firm voice, and before I know it, I’m already busy trying to wipe the traces of treacherous tears off my wet cheeks discreetly to mimic his control of the situation – or at least fake it.

“But never mind, we shall make it there on time,” he assures me. “Have you got everything? Positively sure?”

I nearly nod, but there’s a bit of laughter in his voice, and I just know it’s a trick question….

“My wand!” I exclaim, and he chuckles softly. I can’t believe I nearly forgot my wand on the bed – Merlin, the Granger br… Rose would laugh herself hoarse if I showed up without my wand! Oh, my… I really am distraught! Well, the world has been saved by my father’s keen eyes once again, and when I grip it firmly, I look at him gratefully and tell him sincerely:

“Thank you, Father! No wonder your silly Weasley can’t do without you, you’re all kinds of useful!”

And there it is, that look again that speaks of shock and awe and lights up his eyes. I really need to figure out what brings it about, dammit! Only I’m out of time, because he holds me closer yet again and tells me:

“This is not going to be too pleasant. I’m going to Side-Along Apparate us, and Wheezy will deliver your suitcase later. Hold on tight.”

I do as he says, and I close my eyes for good measure. He’s right, it’s not very nice – like being squeezed through a giant blob of rubbery nothingness or something – but the next time I open my eyes, I’m on the Platform 9 ¾, and the Hogwarts Express is slowly approaching the station. We’ve made it on time.

~

Merlin the Great! Wow… oh, my… I’ve never seen such a mass of people in one place! The station is positively crawling with anxious looking parents trying to communicate with their restless children over the noise, there are people running around, shouting names and it’s all so very loud and chaotic! So many of the kids are already in their school robes that it makes me worry if I should have put them on as well. Beside the loud, excited chatter, there’s also quite a bit of crying going on, as well as laughter and squeals from the kids recognising their friends after the holidays. Perhaps I would be one of those next year. Or perhaps I would stand there as friendless as I am now, with no one but my father for company. That particular thought makes my heart heavy, so I try to focus on my surroundings to keep my mind occupied. You can immediately tell the Muggle-born kids from the rest. They are the ones standing as close to their parents as they can manage, observing the magical world for the first time with big, awed eyes and scared faces.

Well, I’m a bit anxious myself, to be honest, but I don’t want to make Father feel bad about letting me go alone into the big, bad world, so I do my best to put on a brave face.

But, suddenly, there’s a rustle in the crowd and an excited whisper:

“Here they come!”

I look at Father with lack of understanding, but he merely shrugs and says a single word: “Potter.”

And then I crane my neck just like the rest of them! I want to see the legendary man as well… and his wife, if possible. Mother didn’t want to come to the station with us. She claimed that she would utterly embarrass herself, so she decided to say her goodbyes at home. When I left her, she was indeed all puffy-eyed, and still crying like a widow. Damn… it made my eyes misty as well, I confess! But something tells me that Ginny Potter is made of different material.

The first one that shoots into the station is a tall, tanned, yet freckled boy with a wild mop of jet-black hair and gangly limbs, and he carelessly pushes his trolley to the side to have a good look at the crowd. There’s a big, confident smile on his face, and clearly for a good reason: he barely stops, when there are screams and cheers calling him from all sides:

“Jamie! Over here! Jamie, oi, mate!”

“James Sirius Potter, the elder son,” my father informs me in impassive voice. “Not the child that will be attending Hogwarts in your year.”

Well, clearly James Potter is very popular. He soon disappears into a crowd of kids rushing at him from all sides to say hello and I can spot girls fixing their clothes hastily and nervously touching their hair when they close in around him. Poor fellow. I can’t imagine the horror of holding the attention of a hundred Rowenas.

But then there’s even more excitement when a relatively short and wiry man steps onto the station… Father’s curt commentary, “The man himself, Harry Potter”, is quite unnecessary, really; he might seem physically unimpressive at first glance, but Harry Potter radiates incredible authority. There’s something in his alert pose and those black-rimmed glasses that shouts “Auror!” from ten feet away, and even his unruly hair and kind smile cannot undo the impression. There’s no need to tell me twice that this man can do some serious damage. His magnificent magic is nearly palpable.

A boy that follows him into the station could have easily been his younger clone.

The boy Father introduces as Albus Severus Potter resembles his dad in his unruly hair, average height, slender figure, and quick gait. It’s all there, really, except for the glasses, and that makes all the difference. His pale face, with a small cluster of adorable freckles scattered across his nose, is dominated by a set of almond-shaped, vividly green eyes, and those eyes are really something. I hear the gasps and odd squeals of girls as he modestly looks at the ground, blushes, and pushes his trolley faster to catch up with his father. In spite of his distinctive looks and the resemblance to his famous father, he doesn’t look conceited; more like nervous, just like the rest of us. I sort of feel a bit better already. If Albus Potter can feel jittery in spite of his celebrity status…

But I promptly forget to finish that thought, because here she comes! She’s leading a small, redheaded girl by the hand, and I might have released a little mental squeal in excitement: Ginny Potter, ohhhh…! She’s beautiful! What was Father on about – “reasonably good looking” ?! Look at that long red hair! Look how slender she still is, and nearly her husband’s height! She’s got that no-nonsense, confident expression on her pretty face, sprayed with most adorable golden freckles, and the big determined-looking brown eyes don’t display the faintest sign of tears. I exhale happily. She’s just as pretty as I imagined her to be. Damn… why does she have to be such a perfect match for her husband? I almost hate him a little when he stops, waits for her to catch up, and kisses her cheek when she does. She literally glows in response, and… oh, damn again. Well, at least I get to stare and no one cares. I’m nowhere near the only one.

But then I realise that I’m still holding onto my father’s forearm when I feel his muscles tense under my hand, and I follow his eyes to see what had got his attention. And I honestly forget how to breathe. I guess there’s no need to go looking anywhere after all… because here he comes. It’s Father’s Ron.

~

Even if it’s the first time I’ve seen his face properly, I immediately know what Father had meant by “he looks different”. The man that just stepped onto the Platform 9 ¾ is seriously impressive! Yeah… so much more than his clone! Perhaps it’s the way he carries himself... He’s half a head taller than Father – so, very tall! – and unlike many tall men, he seems very comfortable with his height. He’s got the broadest shoulders I’ve ever seen, and the long red hair, flowing down a strong, long neck in a loose plait, is just as flaming as I remember.There’s even a sort of silken glow to it in the summer sun that pulls one’s eyes to it, as if there were priceless treasure on display.

His eyes are a stunning, brilliant blue colour, and Father was absolutely right: his impersonator must have done something wrong, because those dull blue eyes I remember him having barely resemble the smiling, lively pools of sapphire blue on this man’s – Ron’s – face. But the man in my father’s bedroom certainly got the serpents on his forearms right – they are right there, visible under the rolled up sleeves of his shirt, displaying some serious muscle. So it’s really him. But what is he doing here?

I’m eagerly waiting for Father to introduce him as he’s done for everyone so far, but he says nothing. His eyes are resting on him as if he wanted to get his fix before he got noticed, but he’s not the only one staring either. Like I said – he’s impressive. Very handsome, even. I totally get Father. Good choice, Dad.

But then my jaw unhinges a little, because suddenly Harry Potter himself is waving at the redhead, beaming and shouting, “Hey, Ron! Over here!”, and I can feel my Father’s arm tense under my fingers again. He doesn’t like it – and I can’t blame him. The Saviour himself seems eager to meet with this man – to god knows what purpose – and there’s nothing Father can do to compete for his attention. But much to my surprise, the tall redhead simply shakes his head and replies in a deep, melodic, almost booming voice:

“In a minute, Harry! I just need a moment with…” and then his eyes search the crowd and stop directly on my father, and he smiles. “… with Malfoy here,” he finishes the sentence and doesn’t even wait for Potter’s reply.

He heads straight towards us, towards Father, cutting through the crowd like lightning through the clouds. People are obligingly moving out of his way, and he throws a few cheerful “Cheers, mate!”  grins into the crowd. He’s got a very beautiful smile, like it radiates from his face. The closer he comes, the more rigid my father becomes, and by the time the redheaded man reaches us, there’s a completely impassive expression in place on Father’s face.

Up close, Ron is even taller than he initially seemed, and there’s something in those deep blue eyes when he looks at my father that makes my skin prickle. Like he’s… hunting or something, and those mesmerising sapphire eyes are a trap. I almost feel sorry for Father. He doesn’t stand a chance of staying cool; I can already feel the rush of blood making his skin warm where I’m holding onto his arm. The combination of that look and a warm, slow smile stretching across the lightly-freckled face from the softest-looking mouth I’ve ever seen on a man, is bound to be devastatingly irresistible to my father. Frankly, Father is doomed before Ron even speaks.

“Hey, Malfoy,” he says, and his rich, warm voice is so unlike the gruff voice of his impersonator that it makes me smile. I like him already. And Father…

“Hello, Weasley,” he says, and my world comes to a slow halt.

~

This... is Weasley. Father’s Weasley. Ron is Father’s Weasley. The colossal idiot. The man my father… thinks aboutthat way, when he’s… you know. Suddenly nothing makes sense anymore, and I’m beginning to wonder if I should pinch myself to wake up. But on the other hand, so many other things suddenly begin to make sense that I wonder if there really isn’t a colossal idiot around – only it’s me, not Ron Weasley.

For one, Father’s obsession with his Weasley is completely understandable in the light of my new knowledge. Yeah… completely. He’s… wow. I think most men in the station are busy comparing themselves to this fine male specimen. Even I wonder if I’ll ever be that tall, and what effort it takes to get shoulders that size. He’s nothing like the Weasley I imagined. He doesn’t even look stupid, and I can’t imagine anyone – but my hopelessly smitten Father – referring to him as “colossal idiot”. He looks sort of… laid-back and carefree, I think. But now I already know that there’s more to Weasley than meets the eye. If he’s the head of strategic operations of the entire Auror division and the international chess champion, this might all just be a carefully placed façade. Oh, I so like them smart! And so does Father!

Speaking of Father… I should have known, really. All that fussing about Weasley… he literally never shut up about him. And all that snotty eye-rolling, ending abruptly with a worried expression whenever Weasley’s Patronus appeared. I think Mother knows already. She must have met him at some point, and she couldn’t have missed the signs. My mother is smart; that’s another reason why my father picked her for his wife.

And then there’s Potter’s behaviour when he saw him arrive… and the same flaming hair his sister, my rapidly forgotten idol, Ginny Potter has… And the way people moved out of his way, like he’s important … Yep, it’s all there. Things just fell into place the moment Ron was introduced as Father’s Weasley. Oh, and not let’s forget the look on Father’s face! Yes, that look! That stricken, awed look whenever I mentioned “his” Weasley. Puzzle solved. Poor Father. Would you look at that stone face?! All this effort channelled into trying to look cool and composed. My heart breaks a little knowing how very vulnerable he is underneath.

“I just wanted to thank you, you know… for yesterday,” Ron Weasley speaks warmly, and his eyes are focused on Father’s pale face. “You went out of your way to get me out of trouble – time and time again – and I guess I owe you one. I think I was pushing it a little, trying to clean up the Avery Gang’s activity of two years in two days.”

“Yes, well, that was rather… rash, if you don’t me saying so,” my father replies stiffly, but for someone like me, who knows him well, it’s obvious from that little tinge in his cheeks that he’s not quite as unmoved by Weasley’s gratitude as he’d like to pretend.

“My mother shouted me deaf after watching my pointer on that clock of hers stuck on “mortal peril”  for two days,” Ron Weasleys smiles sheepishly, and in my opinion he seems rather cute, looking all boyish and such. Must be all those freckles and that naughty sparkle in his blue eyes. I can feel the muscles in my Father’s arm twitch, as if his arm wanted to move on its own, and he barely manages to keep it under control.

“But I guess I really hated the idea of them operating in the Hogsmeade area, yeah?” Weasley explains thoughtfully. “It gave me chills, thinking that my Rosie and… oh, this one’s yours, then?”

His blue eyes are suddenly on me, and I somehow feel warm underneath them. It’s the strangest of feelings, but I think Ron Weasley possesses some powerful magic he doesn’t know he has. Like making people like him or something… It’s a totally real thing, I’m telling you!

“Yes, well, this is my Scorpius,” Father hugs me protectively across the shoulders, and when he glances at me, I can see the small smile of a proud parent in the corner of his mouth. “Scorpius, say hello to Mr. Weasley.”

“Pleasure to meet you, Mr. Weasley,” I squeak, and offer my hand, only to discover that it got completely lost between the large palms of his hands. Merlin, that man has hands made for claiming and keeping lost goods. And I happen to know Father is just a little bit lost. So on a whim, I add hastily: “Father talks about you all the time.”

Father throws me a horrified look of darkest doom, but I’ve certainly got Ron Weasley’s interest now, even if it’s only indicated by a raised eyebrow.

“Does he, then? Does he call me a colossal idiot much?” he asks me with a small naughty smile shining brightly from somewhere inside those warm blue eyes, and I blush furiously. Now I’ve kicked myself in the shin! What am I supposed to tell him?! I’m a terrible liar, but telling him the truth is unthinkable! Oh, boy… he really is infuriating, isn’t he?! And so very charming…

“Sometimes,” I tell him as truthfully as I can, and out of the corner of my eye, I see a despairing look on my father’s face. “But he only says it, because he’s worried about you,” I add, and blink innocently at him. For some reason, it makes him throw his head back and roar with laughter. It’s… epic. His laughter is like a golden stream of joy pouring from some wonderful place deep inside of him, and I see my father swallow. That laughter totally does it for him, I can tell.

“You’ve got a lovely son, Malfoy,” he says, and before I know it, his fingers are in my hair, and he ruffles it up a bit. Funnily enough, it doesn’t irritate me. It makes me feel daring, bold, and sort of reckless. I like myself with ruffled hair.

“He’s quite the diplomat already. My Rosie is going to like him,” Ron Weasley declares, and that finally prompts my father to speak. He’s barely said a word all this time; he’s all too busy devouring every detail of his Weasley, as if he didn’t get enough time with him every day.

“So where is this daughter of yours? You can’t tell me you left her behind!”

And Weasley just smiles straight into his snark.

“Nah… They’re on their way. Hermione sent me ahead, “to stop the bloody train” , if I have to. It’s Hugo again. He’s miffed because almost everyone will be off to Hogwarts, and he feels left behind. So he went into hiding. For nearly two days already. He’s been leaving us angry messages all over the house, but we can’t find him. And – he’s got Hermione’s wand.”

“Merlin,” my father murmurs, looking something between shocked and amused. “Is this country even safe with your wife’s wand gone?”

“Possibly not,” Ron Weasley admits in a flat voice, and then corrects himself. “Most definitely not, considering her wand is in Hugo’s hands. She’s afraid to leave the house!”

I sort of guess that Hugo is Weasley’s younger son, and he really seems to be a piece of work. I’m somewhat shocked over myself how entertained I am at the thought of such a child. Perhaps he would like to be my friend if no one else wants to. I’ll just have to wait for a bit. I wonder how much younger he is?

“Aren’t you even a little bit afraid your daughter will miss the train?” I ask, because I’ve just realised I’ve been looking forward to meeting the mysterious Rose Weasley, but he just smiles at me and shakes his head.

“No, not really. You see, my Hugo might be a mad genius mastermind when it comes to all kinds of mischief – but he loves his sister dearly, and he would never ruin this experience for her. So no, I’m not worried. And frankly, neither is she, my Rosie. My wife is the only one fussing about, but then again, he does have her wand… My guess is he’ll come out at the last moment so his mother doesn’t even have time to yell at him.”

Blast… that’s rather genius indeed, I have to admit. This boy definitely sounds more fun than Rowena. Why don’t I have friends like that?

“So yeah, I really need to go now…” Ron Weasley says next, and he’s looking at my father again. There’s something in his voice that sounds like regret, like he doesn’t really want to leave. “Got to say hello to my sister and my nephews, see if Harry wants to grab a pint later. Stop the bloody train, if I must – even if I have no idea how. Perhaps I’ll just go and lie in front of it and see if Harry can save me, and you can patch me up. It’ll still be less painful than the damage my livid wife can do. So, erm, thanks again… for yesterday. Bye, Scorpius – for now, at least. I’ll bring Rose over to introduce her to you once she arrives.”

And he turns to leave, and I can almost physically feel the waves of disappointment and despair rolling off my father. I am not at all surprised when he speaks hastily.

“Has it healed, then? The gash on your stomach… the one bleeding heavily. I tried my best with that one, but the blade was magical, so I was wondering…”

Ron Weasley stops dead in his tracks and turns back to my father with a blissful grin that somehow looks mischievous.

“Of course it healed, I told you it would. I heal really well, and for all your snark and grumpy disposition, Malfoy, you’re a damn good healer,” he smiles and adds nonchalantly: “Want to see?”

And before my poor shocked Father has a chance to reply, those long adept fingers begin opening the tiny buttons of the shirt, and…

“You can’t take your shirt off in front of everyone!” my father hisses, but it doesn’t really sound angry, just hopelessly desperate. And I can see why… I want a body like this when I grow up! Merlin… Ron Weasley is all hard muscles, tattoos, and scars. He must work out, or something – or this Auror business is for professional athletes only!

“Not taking anything off, am I?” the redheaded menace mumbles, completely unperturbed. “Just opening a few buttons to show you the scar. You asked about it, didn’t you, so it’s all your fault if I’m indecent.”

I see what my father had meant by infuriating. I chance a glance at Father, and there’s such a mixture of shock, want, and despair in his eyes that it’s nearly painful. He must have seen his Weasley’s torso a thousand times working so closely to him, but he still stares at it as if he’s hypnotised by it. As if in a trance, his arm moves, and his fingers slide across the chiselled muscles, along the scar, and Ron Weasley’s eyes are glued onto his face the entire time.

“Always so cold,” the redhead murmurs softly. “Is there no life in you?”

My father’s fingers stop their journey abruptly, and his head shoots up as if he just broke out of enchantment. He opens his mouth to say something, but he never gets there. At that very moment there is commotion in the crowd around us and the thick lines of people are parting as if a train is coming through:

“Ron! Ronald?! Oh, there you are, Merlin be thanked! We made it! I swear I’m going to murder Hugo here when I get back!”

The woman that shoots out of the crowd has a thick mop of wavy brown hair piled into a messy bun on top of her head and she looks smart, sharp and bossy. I imagine she’s pretty enough when she isn’t frowning and her intelligent brown eyes aren’t sparkling with anger. She’s firmly holding the hand of a redheaded, gangly boy who’s already taller than me. Surprisingly, he looks totally unfazed by her obvious rage. His piercing blue eyes are instantly on me, and his smile is just as infectious as his father’s.

“I’m Hugo,” he says without delay, and offers me his hand, not really bothering to wait for someone to introduce us. Above our heads, I can hear Hermione Granger Weasley bark in a sharp, annoyed voice:

“Merlin, Ron, what have you been up to?! Close your shirt, for god’s sake, people are beginning to stare. I swear you’re as bad as Hugo! I can’t leave you alone for a minute!” – at which Ron Weasley just smiles leisurely and begins to close his shirt up slowly.

“You must be Scorpius Malfoy,” the redheaded boy speaks in a subdued voice, as if he doesn’t want to bring our conversation to the attention of the adults.

“How do you… how do you know that?!” I’m shocked beyond words. I never knew of his existence until moments ago, but he seems to know who I am.

“Well, you sort of look like your dad… a lot. And he’s been around. He drops by for a pint sometimes, after a long day. We’ve met. But mostly,” he lowers his voice to a whisper, “he just stares across the keg at my dad.”

My eyes must be the size of the dinner plates. Merlin the Clueless… I never knew my father visited the Weasleys! And I guess someone else is in on his secret. Oh, my… what am I to do? My mind is completely blank at the moment, and I’m barely able to speak.

“But how…?”

“Isn’t it funny how no one ever notices the little ones?” he smiles, and it’s like someone lit up another sun. He’s really got a stunning smile, and in spite of my shock, I find myself smiling back before I can help it. He doesn’t look too malicious… perhaps he could be reasoned with not to tell anyone. But before I can reply, the chatter of adults above our heads slowly subsides, and Hugo says loudly, as if for their ears.

“And of course your dad’s more interested in Rosie because you’re to be school mates. But then again, people usually are,” he shrugs.

“I’m sure my father isn’t… why would you say something like that?” I wonder, but at the same time, I realise that Father never really mentioned any other child of Ron Weasley’s than his daughter.

“She’s very smart, for one,” Hugo says leisurely. “She can do most of the stuff from the first year books already. All but Transfiguration, actually. And… well, I suppose you’ll understand when you see her. Here she comes,” he says calmly, while I’m still gasping, trying to overcome my shock at how behind Rose Weasley I am already!

I turn around toward where he’s pointing, and I see… an angel. Not only is the ethereal, heavenly creature approaching us wearing a long, white summer dress, flowing in the wind, she also has a cloud of fiery hair floating in the air behind her, the most crystal blue eyes on the planet, and she’s… she’s the absolute most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. I stand there rooted to the floor, gawping in a most undignified manner at the miracle that is Rose Weasley, and when she smiles and offers me her hand, I barely dare take it. I feel myself flush from head to toe when our hands touch.

“Hello,” she says in a sweet, melodic voice. “I’m Rose.”

“I… I’m Scorpius Malfoy,” I barely manage to stammer, and even though I’m making a colossal fool of myself, I can’t stop staring. She is a goddess.

I see Ron Weasley’s shoulders shake in laughter and his wife frown, while my father mutters nervously under his breath, “Scorpius”, and I somehow manage to close my mouth.

“I hope… we should be great friends,” I produce somehow, and I see her flash me the same stunning smile her brother has. Oh, I’m in Heaven. I’m holding the most gorgeous girl on the station by the hand, and I’m not willing to let go – it is so warm and gentle… I’m still holding her hand… Oh, my dearest god, what a simpleton she must think me! I let go of her hand reluctantly, and I immediately wish I had it back. Rose smiles again, I suppose gratefully, and says kindly:

“Would you like to come with me and get introduced a bit, before the train leaves? My cousin Al – that’s Albus Severus Potter, but never mind that awkward name – well, Al is very interested in meeting you. But don’t let James intimidate you – he’s that big, snotty lad over there. He’s full of himself most of the time, but down under – under a lot of conceited rubbish – he’s a really great guy. Hugo, are you…?”

But Hugo just shakes his head quietly. As he tilts his head in the direction of the adults almost imperceptibly, he says calmly: “No, I’ll stay for now… I’ve got… things to do. And it’s not like I’ll be going with you,” he adds with genuine sadness.

And then I learn another thing about Rose Weasley when she hugs her brother across the shoulders fiercely, without a warning: my beautiful new friend is also wonderfully spontaneous and very loving, as fiery as her hair, as tender as her name, and cannot stand to see anyone miserable. I think I just buried my plans to remain a bachelor.

“But you must come to say goodbye before the train leaves,” she almost pleads with him, and her crystal eyes are full of tears. “I’m going to miss you so very much, Hugh!”

He doesn’t say anything, but I can see his sister’s words aren’t making it any easier for him.

“Stop it, Rosie…” he finally whispers, still holding her close. “You’re embarrassing me, and if you make me cry, I swear I’ll hex your hair blue, spontaneously and all! You know I’m going to miss you as well.”

“All right, you manly prat, you!” she says, laughing through her tears, but eventually does let go of him. “But you must promise to write every day, or I swear I’ll send you a Howler a day for as long as it takes for you to start writing regularly!”

“Will do,” he mumbles and tries to dry his cheeks as covertly as he can. “I’ll probably fire-call lots as well, you know… to keep you up-to-date,” he says meaningfully, and Rose, funnily, rolls her eyes up, but then just nods as if she knows what he’s talking about.

“Come along, Scorpius,” she pulls me behind unexpectedly, and all of a sudden I’m holding her hand again! Oh, I’m sure every boy on the station is green with envy right now! And Rowena Parkinson-Nott, surrounded by a group of equally dull-looking friends, just stares at us, gawping, and the look in her eyes is close to murderous. Can this day get any better?

“Does everyone call you Scorpius? Would you prefer something shorter? They all insist on calling me Rosie, which is even longer than Rose. Imagine how infuriating I find it!”

I’m perfectly fine just listening to her and not saying a word; she’s got such a lovely voice! But eventually, I notice that she’s expecting my answer, and I say as politely as I can:

“If you’d like me to call you Rose, I shall of course – though I think Rosie is lovely as well. But I can’t recall I’ve ever been called anything other than Scorpius. I suppose it’s because I don’t have many friends.”

She comes to a stop and looks at me – like, really looks at me, as if I matter and she really wants to see me. Merlin, she just has the loveliest eyes ever, doesn’t she? I feel the blush creeping into my cheeks under that perusing, clever look, and then she grips my hand even more tightly and declares firmly:

“I think I’ll call you Scorp. Scorpius is just too long. And I suppose… you can call me Rosie if you really want to, but I’ll have to scold you for it,” she smiles and blushes herself, and I just sort of melt like a candle under that smile. So much so that I forget to ask her the important question clinging to the back of my mind…

But you can’t blame me – the next half an hour is the biggest blur I’ve ever experienced in my solitary life. There’s an army of new faces, some curious, some surprised, most friendly, and a few suspicious ones, all staring down at me, and they all come with names – too many names for me to remember. I remember Al, Albus Severus Potter, with stunning green eyes and a shy smile; I almost lose all the feeling in my hand with the crushing handshake of his older brother Jamie, and I kind of forget to talk when I find myself shaking hands with the one Harry Potter and there are photographers around to take pictures of us!  

He’s got a stern face, but kind eyes the same surprising colour as his son, and it’s kind of hard to stay star-struck when everyone around me calls him Dad or Uncle Harry. He looks at me straight in the eye – and frowns, like there’s something about me that he can’t quite pinpoint. But then I smile sheepishly and his face relaxes. I call him Mr. Potter, and he doesn’t correct me, so I’m guessing he’s comfortable with that. And by the time I come to shake hands with Ginny Potter, I’m a hardened veteran of smiling and handshakes already.

She’s still pretty, that much I can say; but since I met Rose I think every other woman fits into Father’s “reasonably good-looking” category. I would have been beside myself with joy only half an hour ago – but now I’m strangely exhausted from all the hyperactivity I’m not used to, and I simply let her hold my hand as she looks at me with prolonged interest.

“Interesting…” she comments with a raised eyebrow. “You look like your Father, but he’d never shake hands with a Weasley… so I assume you must somehow be different. You’d better be. Your father was…”

“Ginny,” her husband interrupts her in a kind but firm voice. At the same time as Al mumbles, “Mum, he’s not his dad, you know!” When she stops abruptly, I hurry to reassure her:

“My father is quite fond of his Weasley! I mean… your brother. He rants about him a lot, but he’s…”

Blast. I can’t tell her my father’s probably more than a little bit obsessed with her brother. So I just finish carefully with: “He worries about him a lot. According to my father, he’s prone to getting himself in dangerous situations.”

His Weasley, huh?” she smirks, apparently having only heard one thing, and I wish I had bitten my stupid tongue before I spoke.

“Ron would run anyone around the twist,” Mr. Potter sighs. “It’s like he wants to get injured.”

“Ron never cared for injuries of any kind if it got him what he wanted from Malfoy,” Ginny Potter comments dryly. “Of course, at Hogwarts, that meant he’d be willing to pay with a bloody nose for a chance to knock his teeth out, but that, apparently, might have changed. His Weasley, indeed!”

She huffs and gives me a long, meaningful look, and I have a sudden epiphany that Ron Weasley just might be the colossal idiot my father takes him for. Would he really do that? Get himself in danger… risk getting injured… to get my Father’s attention? No… probably not. No one is quite that foolish. Probably.

I know nothing of Ron Weasley, I realise. I don’t even know if he likes my father in any way, let alone that  way. And he’s married on top of everything! But so is Father. Doesn’t stop him from… I blush at the memory. Oh, this is harder than Arithmancy! How am I supposed to solve this?!

But whatever I’m supposed to do, it will have to wait. Suddenly, there’s the sharp whistle of the train resonating through the air, and I panic. I don’t even have my suitcase!

“I have to…” I try to tell Rose hastily, but my father is by my side before I can finish my sentence, and he just nods at the Potters courteously.

“Hurry up!” he tells me. “Your suitcase is already on the train, and Wheezy is instructed to guard it with his own life. Have you got everything? Your wand? Good. I suppose that’s it, then. It is time…”

I don’t even let him finish. I hug him fiercely, just like I saw Rose hug her brother, and I can feel from his stiffness that I’ve surprised him. But he immediately relaxes and holds me close.

“Write every day, just like you’ve promised,” he whispers into my hair, and I nod furiously as I’m fighting to hold back the tears. I’m going to miss him terribly.

“Come on, Scorp! Al’s got us a free compartment!” Rose is already calling me from the train, and I reluctantly let go. I’m never getting this part of my life back again, and I feel it heavily.

When I come onto the train, I rush to the window to say my last goodbye, and I’m surprised to see Ron Weasley standing next to my father. He and his wife had joined the Potters, but somehow she ended up standing a few feet away, closer the Potters than to her own husband, her face twisted into an expression that looked like a forced smile – while the redhead had ended up near my father’s side. They look strangely… right together. Like they belong in the same story… as if they share some invisible magic… or something equally bizarre. I can’t explain it. Perhaps there is something about this pure-blood lore after all… Because it’s so cramped, their arms are touching and their fingers are so close that I’m nearly itching for them to intertwine them. Oh, why don’t they?

When the train is already moving, I spot Hugo standing a bit to the back of the Potters, and he’s waving just as enthusiastically as the rest of us. But then he notices Rose and I practically hanging halfway through the window, so he tilts his head meaningfully towards our fathers, and by my side, Rose smiles sadly and sighs heavily. When we finally get the top halves of our bodies back in the train, I notice that Al is gone. Rose collapses heavily onto the bench and says sulkily:

“I wish he didn’t do that.”

“Do what?” I ask her, thinking of Al. “Disappear, you mean?”

“Not talking about Al, am I?” she says with an unhappy face. “He’s probably been kidnapped by Jamie to be introduced to his mates. No… it’s Hugo. I wish he stopped… insinuating.”

“Insinuating what, exactly?” I ask tactfully, but I think I already know.

“Well, this is probably going to make you laugh your guts out, but my foolish little brother actually thinks there’s something going on… between your dad and mine,” she bursts out. “Imagine that!”

I see her glance at me, probably looking for the signs of shock or at least incredulous laughter, but I’m way too busy trying to arrange my thoughts into words in such a way that I won’t have to lie directly. I’m not doing a very good job of it, I’m afraid.

“Oh, you can’t be serious!” she says with disbelief in her voice. “You barely spoke a word to Hugo! He can’t have persuaded you already!”

“It’s not that,” I murmur. “It’s… I witnessed… something.”

“What?” she demands sharply. She’s ever-so-slightly intimidating and very… I like her like this.

“You’re better off not knowing,” I assure her quickly. “But… it’s… uhm… it doesn’t really say anything about your father. Not a thing, I assure you. It’s just that mine… I think my father might have a little… thing for your dad after all. What I witnessed doesn’t leave much room for any other interpretation,” I say miserably when I see her face fall. Yet, once this confession is out of my mouth, as mad or sad or whatever it makes her, I feel as if I just lifted a giant burden off my chest. Finally, I was able to tell someone.

“I see…” she says thoughtfully. “So you witnessed something that makes you think your father has a thing about my dad – but nothing that says my father has a thing for yours?”

I’m quick to nod, and I choose to keep that one look of Ron Weasley’s when my father touched his stomach to myself. I can’t explain it anyway, and she looks so pleased.

“I’m sure there’s nothing going on,” I tell her honestly. “My father would never… not while he’s married to my mother anyway.” I just know that much about my father, all right? I know it. I’m not just saying it because it makes her face relax and brings that beautiful smile back, and this time it’s undoubtedly grateful – I’m not.

“Maybe that’s what Hugo was picking up, then,” she says in a much more cheery voice. “Your father’s vibes… he must have. There’s nothing going on.”

And in the face of her joy, I feel a strange tug at my heartstrings when I remember my father’s misery, so before I can stop myself I blurt out:

“Why do you pay any attention to Hugo, then, if what he says makes no sense to you?” I ask her, and the pretty smile is wiped off her face so quickly that I could kick myself. She doesn’t say anything for the longest time, but after I nearly give up hope of finding out, she finally answers the question.

“Because he’s usually right,” she says quietly, sadly. “He’s highly perceptive, always has been. He picks up on the slightest changes of mood, recognises the undercurrents of every gesture – it’s like he can read people’s minds. Or… hearts, in this case,” she whispers and I feel like putting my arm around her shoulders and taking away some of her sadness.  

“Would it be so horrible if he was right again?” I ask her as gently as I can.

“Well, I don’t know about you, but I like my family the way it is, thank you very much,” she says a tad angrily, and my heart sinks at the thought that I somehow managed to ruin what could be my only proper friendship in the seven years of schooling before me.

“And I like them happy,” I tell her quietly, because I really don’t have a better argument. Her big blue eyes go wide as if she’s heard something shocking, and on a whim, I decide to spill the rest. I at least want to make her understand if I can’t have her agree.

“My parents haven’t been happy in a while,” I tell her sincerely, and it feels strangely surreal how normal I find it to discuss the private affairs of my family with a girl I’d never seen before today. “Frankly, I don’t think they’ll last much longer as a couple now that I’m gone. Mother is restless, and Father… My father only ever talks about your dad – he doesn’t even realise how much. Mostly he likes to pretend he despises him – he calls him ‘colossal idiot’ on every occasion – but the way he makes it sound, it’s more an endearment than anything else,” I smile, because I remember how very fooled I was by my father’s words for the longest time! And I only had to look at his face to see different. So I tell Rose that.

“You should see my father’s face every time your dad sends his Patronus! Whatever he is busy with, he drops immediately and literally rushes to get to him, looking every bit as if the world is coming to an end. I’ve never heard him talk with that much passion about anything or anyone else. There’s more fire in his snarky description of his “Horrible field day with that colossal idiot”, than in all his interaction with my mother. So… yeah, perhaps it’s only one-sided. I don’t know,” I admit, but then add bravely: “But I wish it wasn’t. They look like they might be good together.”

And then my wonderful new friend surprises me by nodding. A bit defeatedly, but still…

“I’ve got nothing against your father, you know. I’ve only met him on a few occasions, and he’s got more manners than all my relatives combined. He’s very… I like talking to him, because he never treats me like a child. He doesn’t come often, but when he does – I suppose Hugo is right,” she admits reluctantly. “He does stare at my dad an awful lot.”

She pauses like she’s thinking, and then she sighs heavily.

“My parents, they… they love each other, I think… I hope they still do. But they’re not very well matched. My mum is much too critical, and my dad holds his own like a true Weasley – whether he’s right or not, just for the sake of it. The little time when their jobs don’t clash, they spend bickering rather than trying to make it work. I think when your father visits… Mum doesn’t like it very much. She’s none too fond of him as it is, and then my dad seems to enjoy his company so much that it just rubs her the wrong way.”

“What… what are they doing … you know… when they’re together?” I ask shyly, blushing. I’m desperately curious about it, but I don’t want to force her into talking about a relationship she can barely stand. But she simply shrugs and doesn’t seem to mind answering:

“Not much, really. Sometimes they just sit on the sofa in silence sipping their butterbeer, until your father starts saying he should really get up because it’s late and he’s expected. And Dad never really asks him to stay, but he keeps finding excuses to delay him, and your father keeps finding reasons to humour him. On other occasions, they arrive still hyped from all the action, and they banter playfully like an old married couple – but there’s always this… oh, I don’t know… like there’s a line they don’t cross, but they keep playing at the edge of it?” she looks at me as if I knew what she was on about – and actually, I think I do.

“Oh, I don’t know! Perhaps I’m only imagining things! Hanging around Hugo will do that to a person,” she says with an angry despair in her voice, and adds quietly:

“I wish there was someone I could talk to. Someone to ask. But when I try talking to my parents, either of them, I can’t get any proper answer from them. Dad just goes very red and mumbles something like: “Pumpkin, don’t worry your little head with it. Your mum and I are fine, we’re just, er… a little stupid, the way adults sometimes get, you know?” And he’s so honestly ashamed, and tries so hard to be amiable with Mum… It’s just ridiculous and so completely out of character that I can’t even hate him for it! And Mum is even worse! She only ever barks at me that every marriage has its difficulties and that she wishes Dad didn’t bring “that smirking bastard”  along, because he “brings out the worst”  in her. And she just wanders off. How is that a valid answer?! It’s so infuriating!”

I guess it’s not only my father who’s an expert in the art of dodging delicate questions... Must be an adult thing. But I have a more pressing worry now than adults and their silly, complicated lives. I swallow the knot in my throat and decide to jump into this river with my clothes still on.

“You think… do you think we could still be friends, even if all of our parents don’t get along… or get on a little too well, or whatever this is?” I blurt out, and I feel my cheeks grow hot. At least my voice isn’t too pleading, and if she’s going to say no…

But she just looks at me as if I grew another head and says softly:

“Well, I should hope so… Just because our parents are being silly… It’s not like I have many friends, you know… and I won’t. Mum says clever girls never do. It’s only Al – and he’s my cousin, it’s sort of his job to be my friend, but you…”

Now it’s her turn to blush. “Dad said you were very clever,” she says hastily. “I’d like a clever friend. And you’re a different kind of clever than I am. What you said before about liking your parents to be happy – that was very, very clever. Incredibly clever. Because that’s what it comes down to, isn’t it? Of course I’d like to see them happy as well. I just never thought that seeing them together and happy weren’t one and the same thing,” she confesses and her pretty soft lips are trembling.

She angrily moves to wipe away tears pooling in her eyes before they can spill, and when I see how badly her hands are shaking, I just don’t care anymore about how awkward this should be. I follow my instincts instead, moving closer and I hug her across the shoulders. Oh, dear god… she’s the sweetest, most precious thing ever when she leans her head into me and tries not to cry. Much. And I know that I should feel bad for her and be sympathetic – and I am! – but mostly, I’m in Heaven. She has such soft hair! She smells so gorgeous; so unusual and… girly. She’s warm against me, and for the first time in my life, I realise how much I miss human contact like this. Hardly anyone ever hugs me – and it’s totally the best thing ever! I feel so… important and… mighty, holding her like this – how come people don’t hug more often?!

If Father’s Weasley makes him feel like this when he cares for him… I suddenly remember that single, desperate, “Ron!”, that came out of my father’s mouth when he… you know, and now I understand better. Father needs his Weasley. And I need a plan. And an ally; Merlin do I need an ally! Rose has made it clear: we’re going to be friends, but this is the one thing she won’t help me with. So, option one: I work to change her mind. And option two: I try to find someone else to help me. Perhaps Al…?

As if I’ve somehow called him with my mind, Al chooses that exact moment to barge in – and stops dead in his tracks at the sight. And we spring apart a bit, though I admit that I didn’t really want to. Rose hastily tries to dry her tears, and Al just looks from one of us to the other with his mouth still open.

“Blimey,” he finally says. “You have to tell me how you did that! Jamie would gladly give me half of his allowance to know how to make Rosie cry – he’s been trying for his entire life to no avail!”

“You need to shut up Albus Severus Potter!” Rose hisses so menacingly, I wince. “Breathe a word of this to James, and I’ll hex a big “Call me Daddy Junior” sign on all your robes – and don’t you think I can’t and won’t!”

Wow… she’s a… Rose Weasley, my angel, can really hold her own! I feel my mouth stretch into a smile because I like this girl more with every passing moment. But then I see Al blanch and swallow. Surely, she wouldn’t…

“Merlin, Rosie…” Al tries.

“It’s Rose, not Rosie, how many times do I have to tell you?! You, of all people, should know everything there is to know about awkward names!” she shuts him down angrily, and Al looks so miserable and sheepish that I feel like I need to interfere, as risky as it is.

“I think Albus is trying to apologise, aren’t you, Al?” I ask him meaningfully with a raised eyebrow, and he simply jumps at this tiny window of opportunity.

“Of course. Uhm… Rosie… er, Rose – you know I’d never do that. Tell James, that is. I was just… shocked, I suppose. I’ve never seen you… er, you know.”

Well, it’s not much of an apology, but I guess my Rosie isn’t one for holding a grudge. She “hmpf!”s at him, but I can see by her relaxed face that she’s forgiven him.

“So… does anyone care to tell me, what this is all about… preferably without hexing me?” Al asks carefully and I have to admire him – he’s definitely braver than his shy demeanour makes him seem. But Rose simply shakes her head tiredly and tells me quietly: “You can tell him. I’d just make a mess of it.”

So I explain, and a few minutes later Albus Severus Potter is staring at me incredulously, trying to come to terms with the most shocking bits of information:

“Oh, bloody hell… So yeah, I kind of suspected about Uncle Ron and Aunt Hermione, really – Dad… gets involved, like it or not. He’ll be devastated if they make him choose in the end, though… But I had no idea that it might be because of your father!You sure he likes Uncle Ron… that way? Oh, bloody hell! This one is going to run Dad around the bend! So you think Uncle Ron…”

I give him a miserable, meaningful look because I feel like I’m lying to him not telling him about that proprietary look Ron Weasley gave my father at the station, but Rose says, “There’s no proof of that,”  so loudly and adamantly that I don’t have the heart to tell speak up. But Al glances at me, and I think… I think he might know.

“So, yeah… er, no proof for now,” he picks ups hastily. “But it doesn’t really matter, does it? You say your father won’t do anything about it because he’s too proud and old-fashioned and still married – as is Uncle Ron? Now, how are we ever going to solve this?!”

I like his way of thinking. I like him thinking about “solving” it. As in, with us involved. I definitely like Al Potter.

“We need a plan,” I tell him at the same time Rose says: “We need to wait. My parents may yet reconcile and while your parents are still married – you said it yourself that your father wouldn’t make a move. So until the adults decide what they want…”

She’s right of course. Only I’m disappointed. I was hoping we could move things along a bit…

“Er, Scorp… come with me, I’d like to introduce you to Jamie and his friends properly. It’s a ritual you can’t avoid. Might as well go through with it. If you’re lucky, he might actually leave you alone… if he thinks you’re gutsy enough.”

Al is looking at me with such meaningful determination that I don’t really argue. I don’t particularly want to get introduced to James Potter any more thoroughly than I already was, but I think Al has something else in mind.

And he does. As soon as we’re in the corridor of the train, Al drags me along, finds another empty compartment, closes the door carefully, and whispers as if he was still afraid that Rose might hear him:

“We need Hugo, that’s who we need!”

What?! Hugo? Why Hugo? What could a freckly 10-year-old possibly do?

“We need a spy, basically,” he elaborates. “And Hugo has the ability to tell better than anyone what’s going on. Not to mention that he’s a bit mental, totally fearless, and has better, more efficient plans than anyone I know. Save for Uncle George, perhaps. Rose wants to wait, but frankly – her parents are miserable around each other, have been for a while. Even my dad knows; he’s just pretending it isn’t so because he’s got too much on his plate already. But Uncle Ron comes to crash on the couch too damn often. “I can’t be in the same house with her, we’ll kill each other. Why did she marry me in the first place if she can’t shut up about how rotten I am?!”  is something we all know by heart. I mean, my parents row as well – Mum’s a Weasley, I don’t think she has any low tones in her vocal repertoire! – but they don’t get on each other’s nerves like that. Besides…”

He looks around as if he wants to check there’s really no one listening in, and then whispers with caution: “I saw the way Uncle Ron looks at your father when he thinks no one’s looking. Like your father is something precious he wants to own. And I know you saw it, too. Rosie is being stubborn and doesn’t want to acknowledge it, but… yeah, you know, it’s definitely there. And… there’s more. I heard my mum telling my dad that she saw Aunt Hermione in a café on Diagon Alley, involved in what appeared to be a very private conversation with some annoying, self-absorbed bloke she works with named Michael Corner, whom no one in the world can stand. And he went on to hold her hand! Mum nearly went in at that point and interfered, because… yeah. You’ve met her. Mum has a temper. But, though Aunt Hermione moved the git’s hand off her, she didn’t leave, and Mum says that anything short of slapping him means that there’s something going on. But we can’t let Rosie know,” he adds quickly, almost pleadingly.

“She’d be devastated. She thinks the world of her mum and… well, I just think it would be better if she found out from her own parents.”

I heartily agree. Somehow the goal of not hurting Rose Weasley has ended up very high on my priority list in the last couple of hours or so. And Al’s determination not to hurt his cousin only makes me like him more. I’m so lucky he wants to be my friend!

“Uhm, that’s it then,” he mumbles. “That’s settled. I’ll send Hugo an owl tomorrow and see what he has to say. Come on now,” he suddenly pulls me along again as he opens the doors of the compartment. Seriously, those Potter-Weasley children are all just restless balls of energy – do they ever stop?!

“Now I really have to introduce you to His Majesty James in case it comes up in a conversation,” he makes a face as he mentions his brother’s name. “He likes to think he runs this school. Just you wait until Hugo gets here next year; James won’t know what hit him!”

And the rest of the train ride is just another big blur of names and faces – as James graciously acknowledges that I exist yet again – as well as mind-blowing new experiences when the train finally stops. Merlin’s cauldron, that Hagrid bloke is huge! And I nearly melt onto the boards of the boat that takes us across the lake in the moonlight when Rose huddles closer to me, murmuring that she’s cold. And then the sight of Hogwarts just takes my breath away... I never knew… I never knew there was a place in this world mightier than the manor! It’s so beautiful! My arm sneaks around Rose’s shoulder, and I’m staring at the approaching ancient castle under a carpet of stars. I just know I’m going to be happy here. And strangely, I think of my father and wonder if he’s lonely without me tonight. And without his Weasley.

~

All right, so that just happened… I was sorted. And… somehow I’ve ended up at the red table! Disaster! Green, you silly old hat, I was supposed to go to the slithery greens! I know that much; I’ve looked up the houses since my conversation with Father and apparently, that’s some serious business! The Malfoys have always been sorted to Slytherin, every last one of them, as far back as the records go – and I’m a Gryffindor?! Oh, joy… not! Father is going to combust with anger. How am I ever going to tell him?! Perhaps he’ll pull me out of the school! Oh, blast… Maybe I could have another go at sorting? I’m going to have to talk to the Head of the house, Professor Longbottom about it… Oh, I wish I didn’t think silly thoughts while I was being sorted!

You see, this is all my fault. When we were informed about sorting, my Rose gave me a long, sad look and told me: “This is it, then. I suppose we will be going our separate ways here. I’m a Weasley, we’re all Gryffindors by default. But you’re a Malfoy – and there’s never been one outside of Slytherin. But we’ll hang out during the school breaks, won’t we?”

She looked at me with those big, blue eyes pleadingly, and I couldn’t nod fast enough. I had a knot in my throat, and I was terrified. I couldn’t really wrap my head around the stupid concept of sorting. Why would someone create such a cruel mechanism of bringing friends apart? I’d only just found Rose, and now I was going to end up all alone and friendless again, forced to keep company with a bunch of kids I might not even like! And what about Al? Where was he going to go? Oh, I was willing to bet he was a Gryffindor as well!

My legs were literally shaking when it was my turn, and I approached the Sorting Hat. I sat on the chair with the heaviest heart and awaited my inevitable verdict with one thought, and one thought only in my mind: “I want to stay with my friends”.

“Oh, would you look at that?!” an ancient voice spoke in my head so clearly, it startled me. “A Malfoy at long last… and a Black. Quite a bit of Black in you, isn’t there? There was very little in your father when I last spoke to him – now that  was a proper Malfoy! But you… you’re interesting. Definitely smart enough to be Ravenclaw… hard-working as well, I see… and you put a lot of heart into everything you do, little Malfoy, don’t you?”

“Yes,” I heard myself think – or say, or something – because I couldn’t lie. “Is there any chance you’d let me stay with my friends?” I blurted out hastily, and I was surprised about his playful chuckle.

“Of course there is… there always is. And what a bold thing to do, asking like this.”

And that was all the warning that I got. Because in the next moment it shouted out: “Gryffindor!”  – and for a long moment, the Great Hall went absolutely dead quiet. Headmistress McGonagall removed the hat from my head, and I found myself staring at the sea of dumbfounded faces. And then James Potter roared like a lion and began clapping hard enough to ignite his hands, and the rest of the Gryffindor table followed. I chanced a glance at my Rose, and I could see such a lit-up, happy expression on her face that, for the moment, I could not bring myself to regret my folly. I did it, didn’t I?! I managed to stay with my friends. Or so I hoped.

Just before I headed off I the direction of the Gryffindor table, I caught the sight of Headmistress McGonagall looking at me with the strangest expression that looked like a mixture of awe and sorrow. When our eyes connected, she whispered something quite incomprehensible in a voice the sounded shaken: “Good God. I never knew I’d live long enough to see that shade of Black grey again… Well, run along, child, and good luck!”

On my way to the table, I passed a pasty-coloured Al, who was squeezing his fists tightly enough to turn his knuckles white, and there was a determined, almost fanatical expression on his face. I had already exchanged a hundred handshakes, endured a million claps on my back, and comfortably settled at the Gryffindor table when it was Al’s turn. He walked to the Hat as if to the place of his execution, and when he took a seat, there was once again a silence so thick one could hear a pin drop. And the Sorting hat really took its time. It was long minutes upon minutes of waiting that just wouldn’t end, and after people were already whispering about a “hatstall”, there was another loud “Gryffindor!”  – but somehow I thought that the Hat didn’t sound quite as sure as it did with me.

The people at the Great Hall paid no attention to that, though. The communal roar that exploded through the Great Hall was deafening. Al approached us, all shaky legs and a big, glorious smile plastered across its face, and he was mumbling like a mad man: “I did it! I really did it!”

He plopped down on the bench next to me, and for the next few minutes he disappeared under the bodies of everyone that rushed in to congratulate him. When everyone was gone, he finally leaned into me and whispered in a shaky, slightly hysterical voice:

“Bloody hell, I did it! It took me forever to persuade it – that bloody rag wanted to put me in Slytherin! But I kept on repeating what my dad had told me – that I could choose and that I didn’t want to be in that damn Slytherin, did I?! And I did it! It budged! Oh, bloody hell, I’m so relieved. I swear I didn’t sleep for days!”

And that was the first moment that I actually noticed the Slytherins staring at me with resentment in their eyes, and I remembered that this is where I was supposed to have gone… Blast… I didn’t mind sitting in Gryffindor – it was all the same to me, really – but what about Father? He was bound to be disappointed!

But then, “Weasley, Rose”, was next, and I forgot my predicament for a while. My lovely Rose was a shade paler than earlier, but she walked to that Sorting Hat like a girl on a mission. She sat down – and again we were up to a few long minutes of waiting, though nowhere near as long as it took for Al. Another “Gryffindor!”  later – the Hat seemed to be chuckling this time – followed by another ear-splitting howl – Rose sat down beside me. She looked from me to Al, who couldn’t stop smiling, with a mock-stern expression:

“You two dorks! I’ve had a million arguments ready for the Hat to put me in Ravenclaw – I would have blossomed there! – but then you stubbornly ran towards this table, the pair of you, and you left me no choice. I imagine the Hat must’ve thought me quite daft once I told it that I wanted to follow you two towards whichever doom you were headed for!”

But once we hugged her simultaneously, she began laughing and told us good-naturedly: “Oh, I suppose it is what it is now. I guess the Gryffindor house could use some proper intellectual boost, and at least Dad will be over the moon, that’s for certain.”

At that moment, I was still way too elated to properly consider what I had done. I was not going to end up lonely after all, and that was all it mattered. But now, sitting in a Gryffindor common room next to Rose and Al, usurping the sofa in front of the fireplace, the consequences of my decision are beginning to weigh heavy on me. It’s not that I don’t like it here – if anything, I like it too much! It reminds me of a library in the manor, and it feels cosy and comfortable to hang around in.

But it still bothers me… How come I don’t miss being a Slytherin at all? And for Merlin’s sake, what will Father have to say about it?! Surely I should warn him – send an owl before he finds out from someone else! But I just can’t bring myself to do it, and I have no idea how to phrase it, so that he doesn’t come here and take me home, or do something equally catastrophic.

“What’s up with you?” Rose finally notices my distress and her voice immediately sounds concerned. “Are you worried about telling your father which house you were sorted into?”

Yep, she’s right – she would have definitely done well in Ravenclaw. I just nod quietly because I don’t want to be a big baby about it, but I’m so very worried about it I can no longer keep it to myself.

“I suppose I should send him an owl,” I say, and I hate my pathetic, shaky voice.

“Would you rather fire-call instead?” she asks kindly, and I kind of forget how to breathe. I know of fire-calling, obviously, but I’ve never done it all by myself – and I’m not even sure I know how. But I nod quickly before I can change my mind, because I suddenly realise that I’m desperate to talk to my father. I’ve never spent a night without him near, and though the boys’ dorm seems nice enough, it’s not familiar, and I’m desperate for some little sense of home.

“We need to wait for everyone to get to their beds,” Rose whispers. “I don’t think we’re supposed to do that – or know how to do that, even – but Mum always works so late, she taught Hugo and I how to use it so we could contact her in case we needed something. Shouldn’t be more than another ten minutes before everyone is gone, I reckon. Hardly anyone’s left around.”

So we wait and Rose tries to keep up light chit-chat with Al – perhaps to pass the time, not make us seem suspicious, I don’t know, and I don’t really care, because I’m growing more nervous with every passing moment, and I can barely pay attention to anything else except my panicked thoughts. How bad would Father find my sorting? Would he consider pulling me out? Disowning me, even? By the time the common room empties completely, I’ve already made myself a nervous wreck.

“Finally!” Rose whispers when the last of the uninvolved Gryffindors heads up the stairs. “Stubborn bastard. I had to tell him to bring down his Transfiguration books so we could go through the text to finally chase him away,” she murmurs in annoyance, and I have a feeling that she wouldn’t have been entirely ill-placed at Slytherin. Unlike me, of course…

“Ready? All right, then. I’m going to say the incantation, and you’ll immediately have to speak the name of the manor address clearly. If it all works as it should, you should be able to see your dad in a few moments if he’s still up and about – and anywhere near the fireplace.”

I nod, feeling nearly faint, and desperately trying to arrange my thoughts into something that would resemble an explanation as to why there is no serpent crest in my background.

“Father? Father! Oh, there you are. Good… Erm, I…”

“Scorpius, son, has something happened?!”

My father sounds more alarmed that I’ve ever heard him, and I realise that it’s quite late to be fire-calling anywhere, let alone one’s agitated father… Oops.

“Er… nothing, really… nothing tragic anyway. Actually, that depends. You might find it rather disastrous. The fact is… oh, I don’t know how to say it! I was sorted into Gryffindor,” I finally blurt out miserably, and my chest feels tight enough to stop me from breathing.

For the longest time he doesn’t say anything – and then he smiles.

“Yes, well, I thought you might be…” he replies calmly. And my jaw hits the ground.

“You thought… I might be sorted in Gryffindor?” I ask him incredulously, as if checking if my hearing still works. How could he have possibly thought that?!

“Well, the thing is… Grandmother Cissy might have mentioned it to me that you remind her of her cousin, a rather infamous scoundrel Sirius Black,” he starts cautiously. “The one and only Gryffindor in the family,” he elaborates. Oh… I see… That’s what McGonagall had meant with her bizarre remark about the Black shade of grey…

“Did he have grey eyes?” I blurt out, and I can see I’ve startled Father.

“Well, now that you mentioned it… yes, he did. A very particular shade as well, I’m told. How on Earth…? Never mind, I suppose it’s not important. In any event – at first I thought it was a bit of a joke, I confess. But once I took a closer look at your… well, behaviour mostly – since you’re practically a copy of me at that age in appearance – I arrived at the same conclusion. You, darling, are definitely more a Black than a Malfoy, regardless of your looks,” he says smugly and I can’t believe he didn’t at least see fit to warn me. Slytherins, seriously…

“But otherwise – are you all right? Are you unhappy in Gryffindor? Is someone giving you a hard time already?” He sounds genuinely concerned, and I’m so relieved in the face of his reaction that I hurry to put him to peace.

“Yes. I mean, no. Yes, I’m all right with being a Gryffindor, Al Potter and Rose Weasley are right here with me – Rose was kind enough to show me how to fire-call…” – to which my father murmurs, “Figures” - “… and no, no one’s been… pestering me so far. James Potter and the lot gave me a very loud welcome. I was only worried how you might react,” I confess, and I see him flash a tiny smile. I think he might be pleased that I cared about his opinion so damn much that I fire-called at near midnight to find out what it was.

“Did you mention Rose was there?” he says unexpectedly.

“Well, yes, but…”

“Could you call her to the fire, please… and give her some privacy. I’ve got someone here that would like to talk to her.”

“Of course, it’s just…”

“Goodnight, Scorpius,” he interrupts me, sternly, but kindly. “You need your rest, son. It is far too late for this, and I’m fairly sure you broke a rule or two already. But I suppose that goes with the territory when you surround yourself with the Potters and the Weasleys,” he murmurs, and glances to the side as if there is someone there to share this observation with.

“Goodnight, Father,” I say obediently, because even if he’s hundreds of miles away, he’s still my dad, and I want to show him how much he still matters to me.

As soon as I pull my head out of the fireplace, I encounter Rose, who looks rather anxious and worried.

“Why would anyone want to talk to me?!” she wonders aloud, but not for long.

“Hello, Rosie,” her father says from the flames, startling us all. His voice is strangely tired, and his expression looks… sad, perhaps even a bit defeated. Ron Weasley is with my father! What could it all mean?! Hip hip hooray? Perhaps it’s a bit early for that…

“Dad!” Rose says equally stunned. “What are you…?”

But then she realises that she’s not alone, so she looks at Al and I sternly and arches her eyebrow as if to say: “Do you mind?”

She only needs to do that, and we’re already tripping over ourselves and each other to hurry up the stairs into the boys’ dorms. I sense that this is indeed a conversation she may not want anyone else present for. Not to mention that she’s just a bit scary when she does the eyebrow thing. Which I totally love. Yep.

We can’t really discuss any of it in front of the other boys, even if a couple are already snoring, but I’m fairly certain that we kept on turning over all the different possibilities in our minds. What could Ron Weasley be doing at my father’s place at that time of the evening? It was nearly midnight! He’s never dropped by before! Why now? My mother was still around, so they couldn’t have been… er, no. My father wouldn’t. Not as a married man. I think.

And it isn’t until much later, when I’m already sitting on the edge of the bed, ready to hop in, finally feeling the full weight of the day behind me, that Al calls me across the room.

“Pssst, Scorp… Want to check if Rosie went to bed yet? She could be upset or something. Uncle Ron sounded… strange.”

Bless him! How come I never thought of that?! As tired as I am, I’m game at once. If Rose needs me, I’m going to be there for her, day or night. And possibly, I might be a bit curious to find out what this is all about.

Al, the caring Potter child, was right indeed. Rose had not gone to bed yet. Instead, she is huddled on the sofa in front of the fireplace, staring ahead of herself blankly, and from her puffy eyes it is obvious she was crying.

“Rosie, Merlin… is everything alright?” Al hurries down the stairs and carefully sits down next to her. An upset Rose Weasley could be a volatile thing. I follow more slowly, not really sure what the etiquette of talking to a girl while you’re wearing a pyjama is, but when I see her sad, tear-stricken face, I throw the etiquette to the dogs and rush to hug her.

“Oh, Scorp… Al…” she mewls, and the dam that keeps her tears away is successfully broken.

“Shhhh… Rosie… don’t cry…” I try to put her at peace as she sobs into my shoulder, and this time I really feel for her. I feverishly look at Al sitting on the other side of her, to see if he perhaps has any idea of how to comfort a crying beauty, but he shrugs helplessly, and I know I’m on my own. I don’t entirely mind it, truth be told. I confess – I like being Rose Weasley’s pillar of strength.

After her sobbing finally subsides, I motion for Al to get me some handkerchiefs, which he gladly does, feeling useful at long last, and then I chance posing the delicate question.

“Rosie… what happened?”

She doesn’t say anything at first, and then she gives a deep sigh, barely holding back the sobs.

“Mum and Dad split, that’s what happened.”

Oh, good. I mean, shit. Obviously, that’s horrible. But I can’t help it if I’m just a little bit excited for my own selfish reasons.

“Rosie, are you sure ?” Al asks quietly. “They’ve been at odds before, you know. Perhaps there’s still a chance…”

“Not this time,” Rose interrupts him, looking sad, but quite certain. “They had a terrible row and some things… came out. It’s quite irreversible, I think. According to Dad it all started the way it always does with them: innocently enough. Dad wanted to grab a pint with Uncle Harry, and Mum had – for some bloody reason! – promised to go back to work – which would leave Hugo unattended. Now, Hugo doesn’t mind, I assure you, and Gran Molly would welcome him any day or night – but I suppose that they were just looking for a reason to jump at each other… seriously, things have been smouldering for days. It’s like they couldn’t wait for me to go away…” she says in a shaky voice, and I squeeze her hand to show my support. She looks at me gratefully and offers me a tiny, sad smile.

“So Mum suggested – acidly, I imagine – that my dad should consider staying home a bit longer than only for a sleepover every so often – which is rich, coming from her, Mrs. ‘Oh-I-don’t-mind-working-weekends-to-get promoted’! I can totally understand Dad lost it. I’ll probably get all the details from Hugo, but things only escalated from that point on. Dad even tried avoiding the row at one point, and he Apparated to Uncle Harry’s. But she followed him there, shouting all kinds of things about him being an incompetent father – which he really isn’t! He tries very hard, while she’s out there, making a career for herself. And then she had to bring up Michael – that’s Michael Corner, her co-worker and the world’s most terrible snob. Apparently, that sorry excuse for a wizard told her repeatedly that Dad wasn’t good enough for her. And I guess at that point Dad must have lost it; he loathes Michael Corner,” she sighs, while Al is busy pretending to be puking behind her back.

“I can’t say that I blame him, that Corner bloke is an utter idiot. Mum always brings him up when she wants to make a point that Dad isn’t doing that well in life, because “Michael is building a career”, “he’s politically savvy” and “so smart” . He’s a slimy self-absorbed arse, if you ask me, but for some reason, it really gets to Dad if she’s comparing him to Corner. So he shouted at her why wasn’t she with Corner instead of him, and she shouted back that she was considering it – and you see, this is how I know that this is the end for them,” she concludes sadly.

“Dad was devastated. He didn’t say so, obviously, but Mum was once his best friend as well, and now he said he didn’t feel he could trust her again. And he was so angry he couldn’t trust himself around her either, so he Apparated away again, this time going to your father, Scorp, because he knew she’d never follow him there. At least that’s what he told me. But I think he only wanted to be somewhere he feels safe; with someone he trusts to take good care of him. I know Dad – right now he’s terribly wounded. His self-esteem is wobbly at best on a regular day, and if he trusts your father not to kick him while he’s down… I don’t think he even trusts Uncle George like that. Uncle Harry, obviously, but he’s torn between them, and I think Dad doesn’t want to put him in that position. He’s terribly protective of Uncle Harry, you see… Oh, why did she have to go poking at him?!” she suddenly barks angrily, and if I was on the receiving end of that temper, I’d be hiding behind a big, fat shielding charm by now.

“She’ll end up with that conceited git no one in the family can stand, and Dad… I don’t want him miserable,” she says with unexpected determination. “He’s pretty awesome, he deserves better. And he’ll be moping for months if she moves on and he doesn’t. No. We can’t have that. We need a plan.”

I look at Al, grinning widely behind her back, and my hand is itching to high-five him.

“We need Hugo,” Rose promptly decides – and who am I to argue?

~

“Rosie… Rose,” I correct myself quickly, because I want to be on her good side for what I have to say. “It’s just… it’s a very silly idea. It’ll never work!”

And it is, I’m sorry to say. It is just the kind of an idea one would expect from a 10-year-old going for a prank, isn’t it?! What we need is a proper plan to bring our silly father’s together, since they’re clearly too clumsy to do it on their own! Merlin, are those two clueless – and stubborn! – or what?! One would think that with the way things were going in September, they might be dating already, but nooo! Not those two… stiff, pigheaded, smitten oxen! Ugh, I swear those pure-bloods are the worst! Old-school ones, of course; I myself am perfectly reasonable.

But it’s nearly Christmas holidays already, and there’s been next to no progress with those two. And I admit, I feel a bit guilty about it. We’ve been following the situation carefully, of course, and I’ll be the first to say that Hugo’s input in his role as a spy was priceless – but we haven’t actually done anything about it. Nor could we, I tell myself; not stuck in the school as we were and, frankly, terribly preoccupied.

Oh, but it’s been such mad days! It’s honestly been the craziest, most intense period of my life. The school life is awesome, but, boy, those teachers sure ask a lot of us. And you try competing against my Rose – it’s exhausting, I’m telling you. I don’t think that girl ever sleeps! We’re tied on all classes but two: Transfiguration, where she’s slightly ahead of me, and Flying, where I have her beaten outright. Because, you see, the unbelievable has happened: I’ve been made the Gryffindor Seeker, imagine that!

One would think this would be the one job firmly in the clutches of one of the Gryffindor Potters, but I’ve been incredibly lucky in that respect. Apparently, when it comes to physique, the lanky and tall James Potter is far more a Weasley than he is a Potter, and as such, not really fit for the job. He makes a mean Keeper though, and I heard him boast to other boys that Uncle Ron’s been target-training him, and that if he does well enough with grades, he’ll be allowed to attend a summer Quidditch camp in Bulgaria run by a family friend, Viktor Krum. Viktor bloody Krum!! A legend! Oh, boy, do I envy him!

Anyway, that left me with one Potter to run against, but Al, who’s just the coolest bloke ever, surprised us all with his decision not to play for the house team at all. It seems he’s is determined not to be what he grumpily calls “mini-dad”. He’d make a splendid Seeker; we all know he would. But he refuses to follow in his father’s footsteps. Instead, he wants to be a journalist like his mum, or maybe even an author. He writes long, detailed messages home, mostly to Hugo – “thick as thieves, those two”, Rose says – and the ones I saw are small literary masterpieces. I’m not even joking, he’s really good! And he simply jumped at the chance to commentate on the Quidditch matches, and his smooth, informative commentary, packed with dry humour and snark, sometimes nearly knocks me off my broom with giggles while I’m still in the middle of the game. He’s perfect for the job – and he’s in the one position that keeps him close to the action and just at the edge of the spotlight – exactly where he’s comfortable being.

So you see, against all odds, I was given my chance, and because the silly, outdated rule of “no Quidditch drafting of the first-years” had been abandoned when Harry Potter made Seeker and the Slytherins complained – I was invited onto the team. I can’t remember when I last saw Father give me such a blissful, proud smile as he sported when I told him the news. I honestly thought he was going to jump into the flames and hug me!

Anyway, with all the crazy mess made of piles of homework, long hours of learning, and afternoons filled with the Quidditch practice, I had next to no time to focus on the affairs of my father’s heart – and now I’m about to go home for the Christmas holidays, and I feel terribly guilty about it. But not everything is lost, as Hugo insists on reminding us adamantly. Because, you see, perhaps I was a bit rash in saying there’s been no development.

There has indeed been no going back to the way things were between Rosie’s parents, just as she predicted. We got the rest of the story from Hugo, and apparently, Rosie’s dad couldn’t – or wouldn’t – give her all the details when they first talked. It makes perfect sense, since the rest of what went on in the Weasley household had to do with my father – who was standing behind her dad’s back during their conversation. It seems that Rosie’s mum soon realised that her remark regarding Michael Corner made her look bad, and she immediately went into counter-attack.

“Oh, as if you’re so innocent yourself!” she shouted at her husband according to Hugo. “You keep on bringing home that stiff snob you work with, as if he hasn’t done enough damage to last us a lifetime! Haven’t you got enough of him at work? Why does he have to come over so often anyway?! Don’t you take me for a fool, Ronald Weasley! I see perfectly well the way he’s looking at you – like he’s starved for you! And the way you laugh at his mean snark and all those inside jokes... I feel like a third wheel around you two! God knows what you get up to when it’s only the two of you!”

“Clearly not to half as much as you and Michael Corner do,” Ron Weasley pointed out coldly, apparently still somewhat in shock, because Hugo said he wasn’t even shouting.

“Oh, please! He’s barely held my hand, and even that… what do you take me for?! While you practically undressed for your pure-blood snot today at the station – and you might as well have, the way he drooled over you. I thought he was going to jump you right then and there! It was embarrassing, and god, it was humiliating! Merlin, Ron! He always brings out the worst in you, can’t you see?! It’s pathetic the way you keep dancing around one another. Why don’t you man up and throw yourself around his neck already?!”

“Because unlike that bloody slime Michael Corner, he’ll never have me!” Ron Weasley had apparently roared in a way that it nearly threw her backwards. “Not while I’m married, anyway! Not while he is!”

He would have been all right if he quit at that point, Hugo said, but apparently he was already too livid to stop. He took a stab at her that he had to know would ruin whatever little was left between them.

“Perhaps it’s negligible to you – perhaps it’s not all that important in the world of Muggles you grew up in – but you see, us pure-bloods, as low as you think us, take our marriage vows seriously!” he said acidly, and he Disapparated without even looking apologetic.

Rosie just covered her mouth with her hand when Hugo told her that bit.

“Oh, no… Dad,” she said, her voice heavy with remorse. After a while she added quietly. “He never knows when to quit when she pulls his strings. He doesn’t care one bit about that pure-blood rubbish; he just said that to hurt her. No wonder she followed him to Uncle Harry’s. She must have been completely beside herself.”

“Pale as a parchment,” Hugo confirmed. “And completely bone-livid. I think Dad might have Disapparated to save his life.”

Well, we knew the rest – and a bit more followed in the days to come. When Ron Weasley returned home, he came back to empty closets and no one at home, with only a message waiting for him on the table:

“Your mother will make sure Hugo comes back in the morning. We’ll talk about further steps when we both calm down. But I can’t stay another minute under the same roof with you. Keep the house. Unlike you, I have somewhere to go.”

“He was ready to write an angry reply, but I talked him out of it,” Hugo told us. “I told him I’d write her a message instead, something decent and civilised so she can’t say he put me up to it, and he grudgingly agreed.”

Even with the layer of soot and fire on him, one could not miss Hugo’s mischievous grin.

“Hugh, what did you tell her?” Rose asked him sternly because it was apparently impossible to think that Hugo would miss out on an opportunity like this to promote his agenda.

“Nothing much,” he blinked innocently. “I just informed her that Dad returned from the Malfoy’s feeling all better, much calmer, even smiling, and that apparently Mr. Malfoy took good care of the little splinching he got while Apparating there in a right state. And that Dad told me I can have her study room for my experiments,” he beamed straight into the flames. Having already heard some horror stories about Hugo’s methods of invention, I imagined there was no better way to tell Hermione Granger Weasley loud and clear that she had no business coming back. Or nowhere to come back to. Uh… I have to admit that was… efficient. Please remind me, however, never to get on Hugo Weasley’s bad side; he’s a subtle sort of ruthless.

And the scandal that rocks the wizarding society pages within a week of Ron Weasley’s visit to my father doesn’t really come as a surprise to any of us: that rag the Daily Prophet has found out from “undisclosed sources”  that Draco Malfoy and his esteemed wife Astoria Greengrass Malfoy discreetly filed for a divorce – the first one in this century! – in front of the Wizengamot due to “irreconcilable differences” . Both my parents were “unavailable for comment”, but that old crow Skeeter harassed me with owls for days, encouraging me to spill the feelings of a “poor abandoned child, branded by his parents’ scandalous divorce”. That is, until McGonagall lost her patience and nearly blew up Skeeter’s owl, upon which there was promptly an article in the newspaper about “The delinquent and sadistic Death Eater ways of the youngest Malfoy”.

Though I expected it, I admit that I was a bit shocked by my parents’ eagerness to go their separate ways. I was certainly immensely grateful for the warning I got from my father regarding such a course of events. If it had been unexpected, I imagine I would have been crushed. It wasn’t the nicest of news. But still… I knew that at least my father had a chance to be truly happy for once, and that helped me deal with it. That, and the fact that Rose apparently came to accept the inevitable and no longer rejected the possibility of our fathers having a go at each other.

But those two dorks haven’t, imagine that! Not yet, anyway – and this calls for an emergency intervention. Hugo said he’d rather serve as a practise doll for the Cruciatus curse than watch those two stumble around each other awkwardly for much longer. Since the divorce and the separation, they’ve been spending nearly every afternoon together, and, according to Hugo, the air was ready to spontaneously combust with tension from all the sparks between them.

“They only go to their respective beds in the evening, and it takes them forever to part, but neither of them will take the first step – it’s quite maddening to watch, really!” Hugo’s last report before Christmas read and that’s why we called an emergency meeting before we all head home.

“Oh, you don’t have to tell me,” Rose sighs when she reads Hugo’s message. “Dad is terrible that way! His self-esteem was negligible to begin with, but after years of being criticised by my mum, I doubt there’s any left at all! I can’t imagine he’d ever make the first move. I bet he’s got all these horrible scenarios going on in his head of how this could go wrong, and in how many ways… and how he’d never be able to look your father in the eye if it did and, oh, what if he misjudged him… He’ll never do it. Maybe if he was dead drunk, and even then… the morning after would be terrible.”

“Not much better here,” I sigh. “It’s frustrating, really, how stiff my father is when it comes to showing affection. Even to me… it’s like he almost doesn’t know how. I don’t think it’s the confidence issue with him, but… it’s almost like he’s afraid to give in. My father is a very private person, but underneath, he’s as passionate as they come – uhm, don’t ask me how I know that,” I add quickly when I notice how Rose and Al are looking at me with curiosity and interest. I feel myself blush, remembering the sight of the beautiful bliss spreading across Father’s face when, for once, he allowed himself to let go. Merlin the Brave, this love thing is complicated! I’m not even twelve; I don’t know how to put into words how I think my father feels!

“I think he was never encouraged much to show his feelings when he was growing up,” I try anyway. “And then that blasted war came he wouldn’t talk about, and I don’t think he ever had much chance of allowing his heart to take over. I believe he’s terribly frightened of what he would become if he did. He’s used to having control in practically everything, and… well, I don’t know much about love, but people act pretty silly when they’re smitten,” I shrug, and I don’t really look at Rose, because I have a feeling I might be blushing even more. “Perhaps he’s afraid of that. Or maybe he just had a bad experience,” it suddenly dawns on me and I remember how hurt he still sounded when he said he had no more heart to give to my mother. It is certainly possible that my father loved before, he was young once as well, as hard as it is for me to imagine. “Maybe he was disappointed or… he lost that person – there was a war after all,” I point out and Rose nods.

“That makes sense,” she says thoughtfully. “But knowing that neither of them would make the first step – or even why – doesn’t bring us any closer to a solution. It seems we have to nudge them a little…”

Well, normally, I’d say that in case of my rigid father we’d probably have to hit him on head with a shovel, strip him naked and tie him to Ron Weasley – but I still remember the look on his face in that moment when he called out “Ron!”  – and I think that a little nudge just might do to make him fall apart… Oh, I don’t know! Father is so complicated… and I might just be bright pink by now from all the embarrassing thoughts I’ve been having during our “emergency meeting”.

“Well, does Hugo have a plan, then?” Al asks and I wonder what the little redhead had done to make his cousin trust him so implicitly. “I think if he does, we should go with that.”

“Never mind Hugo’s plan,” Rose says, somewhat irritated. “Scorp and I both agree that it’s silly. It’ll never work. We need something more solid.”

“But what is it?” Al insists. “You know his plans usually don’t sound like much, but they always come through.”

“Oh, he’s got this childish, crazy idea that Scorp and I could trade suitcases – and we’d blame you for pranking us by switching their appearances – and once we “discovered” that, Scorp would drag his father over to our place, preferably in time for Christmas dinner – because he can’t live without his study notes or some such rot – and then, between the three of us, we’d make sure he stays. I told you, completely crazy and way too much improvisation involved. Too many things could go wrong, and then we’d have to wait until summer holidays to set them right.”

“Oh, I see… Have you got a better plan, then?” Al asks calmly, and upon seeing our blank expressions he proposes boldly: “So what’s the harm in trying? In the worst case scenario, we end up with nothing, which is what we have now. I doubt a drink, or whatever it comes down to, with Uncle Ron will make Scorp’s father realise how impossible their relationship is. And with Hugo around… anything goes! And I’m prepared to take the blame for the suitcases,” he adds after a small pause. “Blame Potter. That actually might make it more believable.”

I can’t say that I begin to see the reasoning behind his words, but he’s right: this… silliness is all we have.

“Well,” I say feebly. “Perhaps if we tried… I can’t see how we could harm anything. At least we get to see where we stand – and they get to see we don’t object to… uhm, their union.”

“Damn, I wish I could be there to see it, but Mum will insist that… Hey, won’t Uncle Ron be expected at the Burrow for Christmas?” Al suddenly remembers.

“Albus Severus Potter! If you had bothered to open your mother’s mail from last night, you would have known that it’s Grandma Molly’s and Grandpa Arthur’s 40th wedding anniversary, you chimp!” Rose says sternly. “All their children are chipping in and they’re going for the second – well, first, they never had the first one, really – honeymoon. I think they might have gone already, actually. There will be no Christmas at the Burrow this year, silly! I hope you sent a card!”

“Uhm…” Al begins to fidget, and I think it’s pretty obvious he forgot about the card.

“Well, you’re right lucky I sent one and signed all our names,” Rose says with a mild smile on her lips contrasting her stern tone. “James forgot as well.”

So I guess that’s settled. I hope I don’t end up feeling like a complete idiot after this holiday.

~

“But Father! You can’t expect me to spend my holiday in the company of frilly pink knickers – Merlin, why do girls wear those?! And Rose’s notes! I can’t revise on those! I can’t even read her handwriting; this thing is coded, I’m telling you! We need to get my suitcase back! And I’m going to make Al Potter wear those knickers when I see him next, I swear it!”

In all truth, I haven’t actually opened Rose’s suitcase for the fear of what I might find. But Father looks fairly amused at my words, and I’m playing my part of a whiny child as best as I can. And after minutes of my resolute attack, his resistance to the idea of going around to Ron Weasley’s place on Christmas Eve is slowly beginning to crumble.

“I suppose I could drop by the Weasley’s to collect that unfortunate suitcase,” he sighs, but of course, that won’t do.

“And leave me here alone, on Christmas Eve?! Father!” I complain, going for reproachful as much as I dare. “I just got here! That’s hardly… Oh, do whatever you think is right,” I’m trying to look as miserable as I can, because I can’t press the issue too hard, or my utterly Slytherin father might start suspecting something. “I just thought… How are you going to tell if nothing is missing? Will you be gone long?”

“Oh, for Merlin’s sake! Come here, then! If you’re dying to see the Granger br… your friend Rose, why don’t you just say so?!” he pretends he’s annoyed, but there’s a small satisfied smile playing in the corner of his mouth. He’s certain he has me figured out. You have no idea, Father.

“Oh, may I?!” I jump at the opportunity before he has a chance to change his mind and I throw in my most blissful smile. “Thank you so much, Father! I’m sure we won’t be long.”

He smirks and holds me under my arm for Side-Along Apparition, mumbling something that sounds like: “Proper marauder, second generation” , which makes no sense to me whatsoever.

And off we are into the rubbery blob of Apparition. Oh, dear… Here goes nothing.

~

“Dra… Malfoy?! Merlin, you startled me! Is something the matter?”

As our luck would have it, we landed in what appears to be the Weasley dining room; warm, modestly but tastefully decorated in a traditional Christmas fashion, and lit by the flames of the fire crackling happily in the hearth. We literally appeared inches from the master of the house, and if my father was to topple over, he would have landed in his arms. Damn shame Malfoys don’t topple over!

“No. Well, yes. I’m terribly sorry to interrupt your evening, Weasley, but this son of mine… There seems to have been a bit of a confusion regarding our children’s suitcases…”

My father sounds properly embarrassed, and all of a sudden I don’t think that this is such a silly idea any more. His eyes are literally glued onto Ron Weasley’s tall figure, and when the redhead smiles at him slowly, with a lopsided grin that makes his blue eyes shine like precious gems, I immediately understand what Hugo meant by tension and sparks. I think Father forgot the rest of what he came here to say. But luckily, Rose barges in, saving the day. She must have heard us Apparate, and she seems to be as ready and determined to do this as any exam.

“Dad!” she shouts, in a voice oozing annoyance the second she opens the door. “I haven’t got my suitcase! I’ve got Scorp’s! This is all Al’s doing! I swear I’m going to… oh. You’re here…”

Oh, but she’s perfect! She’s a much better actress than I am, and I can’t stop myself from smiling goofily at her. She gives me one of her radiant Weasley smiles, and she runs across the room to hug me.

“You’re here, Scorp, you’re actually here! Merlin, I was so upset when I found out about the suitcase – how was I going to revise?! And… oh, you didn’t open it, did you?!”

She actually manages to feign some horror and panic, and I gulp, because, technically speaking, I’m not going to lie if I say “no”, but Father will think that I am, and… oh, this is awkward!

But luckily Ron Weasley comes to my rescue. He must have realised there was no way for me to know that I had his daughter’s suitcase unless I opened it, and I guess Weasleys are just good that way. Good for getting people out of trouble.

“Never mind that, Rose,” he waves his hand dismissively to divert her attention, and points to the suitcase my father and I delivered. “I’m sure Scorpius was as horrified as you were at the discovery of a mix-up. Now, take this monstrosity of a suitcase upstairs before someone breaks their neck on it, and come downstairs to keep our guests company. The least we can do for their trouble is to offer them a drink.”

Well, I suppose an outright dinner invitation was too much to hope for, since we crashed in uninvited, but…

“I would have invited you to stay over for dinner, but I’m sure you’ve got somewhere better to be…” Ron Weasley’s warm voice interrupts my musings, and… I don’t think – it just flies out of me.

“Yessss! I mean, no, we’ve got nowhere to be, do we, Father?”

There you have it, in case you ever needed any proof I was a proper Gryffindor. I act before I think every time. Seriously. But there’s nothing for it now, so I tug on my father’s sleeve and whisper straight into his astonished face in a voice as pleading as I dare:

“Please, Father. Let’s just stay here. It’s… nice. And it’s going to be such a lonely dinner at the manor with Mother gone. Please.”

Well, I don’t do puppy eyes; I’m a Malfoy, for god’s sake – but I’m also an 11-year-old whom his father adores and rarely says “no” to, especially when he hasn’t seen him for months. I know how to play this game – but then again, this is Father, and he’s as unpredictable as ever. So I’m left with little choice but to hold my breath while I wait for his reply.

“It would really be no bother,” I hear our host’s voice say calmly, with just a subtle tinge of a sweet invitation in it. “That is, if you’re willing to go with simple. I’m afraid I’ve got no 12-course meals ready, since it was only going to be the three of us…”

But, as if on cue, there is a pop of Apparition in the hallway and I can barely believe my ears when I hear Rose’s shocked voice through the half-closed door: “Mum?! And… you?! What is he… what are you doing here?”

And my blood kind of freezes a little in panic when I hear the exasperated voice of Hermione Granger:

“For the millionth time, Rose, he has a name. Call him Mr. Corner if you must, though you know very well he’d much rather have you call him Michael. And for the record, we were invited.”

The feeling of disappointment that floods me is instant, but then I look at Ron Weasley as he walks to the door and closes it completely, and the expression on his face speaks for itself; he shakes his fiery head and suddenly looks pale and kind of defeated.

“Not by me,” he says. “I wouldn’t. I can’t stand the idiot, and she’s only here to rub it in my face she’s got someone and how poorly we cope without her. She must be making it up. She wants to see me humiliated, I guess… I haven’t really bothered with much this year; I thought we’d just go for domestic and cosy the three of us…”

“Can you keep them out for another few minutes? You know, delay them. I imagine I only need about five minutes.”

That … was my father. He sounds cool and composed, and there’s determination in his voice that wasn’t there a moment ago.

“Sure,” Ron Weasley says in an insecure voice, frowning. “But what are you…?”

“Give me five minutes, and you’ll have nothing to be embarrassed about. Just… go out there, tell them you’ve got company, and buy me some time. And send Rose in as you leave, please. I will need to know where everything is around here.”

And Ron Weasley just nods and heads towards the hallway without another question asked. It dawns on me that he puts his very life in the hands of my father daily, and the level of trust between them must be off the charts. And for some reason, this silent faith in my father moves me more than any elaborate confession of love would. They are meant to be. They already are you know, all that and more together, and all we really need to do is to find a way to make them see that. Shouldn’t be that hard! But in these circumstances, with Rose’s Mum present, damn it… it’s nearly impossible.

I hear Rose’s voice full of annoyance clearly when the door opens briefly – “Well, it is customary to announce yourself with the host, you know!”  – but it’s soon interrupted when her dad speaks calmly:

“Rosie, it’s all right, really. Your mother has every right to be here, I’m sure she’s missed you. Hello, Hermione and… you. I won’t lie, it would have been nice to have a bit of a heads-up, but I suppose we’ll have to make do with what we’ve got… Oh, Rosie, would you please attend to our guests… our other guests. In case I’m mistaken, one of them needs your assistance with something.”

“Guests? What other guests?” is the last thing I hear Hermione Granger say in a voice laden with suspicion, but then Rose walks in and crashes the door behind her in a way that rocks the house. She’s positively bursting with anger.

“She brought that bastard!” she hisses. “All he ever says to me is how I’m nowhere as good as my mother yet! In a hundred different ways! Even Mum has to hold him back sometimes, the obnoxious arse that he is! The smirking git constantly asks me all these impossible questions and riddles he must have read in some obscure scroll somewhere, and…”

“So sorry, but we’ve got no time for that at the moment,” my father interrupts her, but upon seeing her upset, fuming face, he elaborates quickly: “Your father entrusted me with the task of making him look good in front of that pompous troll out there.”

Oh, would you look at that?! It looks as if my father just bought Rose’s allegiance for life with these words; she positively beams at him!

“So, in order to succeed, I need you and Scorpius to help me set things up a bit. Where do you keep your “special occasions” dinner plates, utensils and table decor in this place? You see, I requested your assistance because I’m positively certain your father has no clue.”

Merlin, Father! Keep this up and I’m going to be jealous! Rose nearly squeals at his words, and for a moment there I thought she was going to hug him. But she hugs me instead, whispering: “Your dad is the best!”, and… well, I suppose thanks are in order for that, Father. I’m sure I’m as red as Rose’s hair, and I confess myself quite over the moon about the hug.

But it’s all over too soon, and she’s back to business as usual – my practical, efficient Rose.

“It’s all there, in Grandma Molly’s chest in the corner. The best of china as well as the table cloths, napkins, and other decorations. That was the only thing solid enough to protect it from Hugo and his experiments. And the silver utensils are in this drawer… Oh, the table can be elongated easily,” she reports with urgency in her voice, because the sounds on the other side of the door are becoming increasingly more agitated and loud, and it seems as if any minute now, someone will barge through and ruin all our efforts.

“Stand back,” my father warns us calmly, and then… Then my jaw unhinges a little. I’ve never seen such magic performed so quickly. His hands and his wand are practically a blur and he’s barking spells so quickly I can barely follow. Engorgio! Alohamora! Wingardium Leviosa! Tergeo! A long string of complex incantations makes the table elongate, the tablecloth and candle holders appear, napkins and silver utensils fly from the chest and drawers, while the plates land on the table without a single one breaking. When it’s all set, my father mutters a charm that I recognise for glamour, and suddenly everything seems to glow as if it’s brand new and very precious. Even the candles flare to life.

“Wicked!” Rose whispers, stunned, just as my father murmurs: “Damn, I’m getting slow!”

But he notices our incredulous, awed faces next, and he explains matter-of-factly: “Your Grandmother Narcissa used to make me do “le banquet royal” setting in under a minute. Now, as to the food and beverages... I’m afraid I’m going to have to leave you for a minute. It won’t be more than that.”

When he’s gone, Rose claps her hands excitedly and spins around the room, looking every bit like a princess made of flames with that cloud of fiery hair dancing through the air behind her.

“Yessss! Your dad is awesome! Merlin’s knickers, I’ve never seen the table, any table, look so gorgeous! Oh, your dad totally needs to teach me that, I’ll impress the wits out of Grandma Molly! Now, that should shut Mum up, always criticising Dad… Invited my arse!”

“Oh, she was invited alright,” a voice behind us says and I nearly jump out of my own skin. From the barely suppressed shriek Rose gives, I imagine she didn’t know Hugo was with us in the room either. How can he make himself so invisible?! Merlin, he spooked us both within an inch of our lives!

“Hugh, you idiot!” Rose barks angrily. “You nearly made me jump to the ceiling! Why do you always have to lurk in the dark? And what do you mean “she was invited” ?! You wouldn’t!”

“Oh, yeah, about that…”

We both stare across the room when the lanky redhead appears as if he just emerged from his ghostly form. He seems to have been sitting on a windowsill all this time, practically one with a thick, velvet curtain.

“Sorry about that, Rosie!” he says politely, but the naughty smile painted across the freckled face and ocean-blue eyes don’t seem to project any regret. He’s clearly enjoying this.

“You see, I needed to have a good glimpse at your father, Scorpius,” he explains casually. “There wasn't really a good chance until now. I had to be sure, or I would have called it off. Would you say your father was a tad possessive and… well, terribly protective?... I guess. Sorry, I can’t think of a better word.”

Neither can I. This description is spot on; I couldn’t find a better one myself. So I nod enthusiastically, but when I notice the stormy expression on Rose’s face, a tiny, sheepish ‘I guess that’s accurate’ is all I manage.

“Brilliant. Now how would all those qualities come to shine in all their glory when there is no competition?” he wants to know calmly, and it’s slowly beginning to dawn on me how brilliant – and scary! – his plan is.

“Possessive of whom – if there’s no one to claim ownership against? Protective from whom, if there’s no one threatening something of his? Uhm, that would be Dad in our case. This is the only way, really. So I invited her. And that imbecile fart. She might be too civilised if she was on her own.”

All right, so the boy is brilliant. And absolutely raving mad, of course… but if we play it right, this just might work! If someone tries to put Ron Weasley down in front of my father – someone other than him, that is – Father is going for their jugular. No question about that.

I think Rose must have reached the same conclusion. A tiny spark of a smile shines in her blue eyes, and she does her best to hide it under her stormy face.

“That’s just mad!” she starts, but when her brother only smiles beatifically and blinks innocently, completely unperturbed, she finally sighs and lets her tense shoulders sag.

“Fine, then,” she pouts, subtly surrendering her guns. “You should have let me know, though! You know I hate not knowing. And if this blows up in our faces, you’re taking all the blame, you hear me?!”

“Sure thing,” Hugo agrees without blinking. “Explosions are my thing. I can take lots of things blowing up.”

“Ohhhh, you… you’re impossible, you know?!” Rose pulls him closer, tousling up his hair, and she’s already smiling full-on. I’m fairly certain Hugo Weasley possesses the same irresistible charm his father does – only he doesn’t mind using it on purpose. I no longer wonder at Al’s trust in his cousin. This boy is truly something.

At that moment, my father appears in the middle of the room – with a proper army of house-elves on hand, carrying trays with more food I’ve ever seen served in our home. I recognise some of my favourite dishes, and my mouth begins to water. Without an explanation I know what he’s done: he simply had the entire Christmas feast from the manor moved to Ron Weasley’s house.

The house-elves disappear as silently as before and we – my smirking father, two Weasley children with unhinged jaws and I, smiling goofily - we’re left with a proper Christmas banquet, part of it served on the splendidly dressed dining table, and another part of it waiting its turn in the bowls and trays laid onto the table in the corner of the room that my father casually transfigured from a spare chair.

“Just in time,” he announces in a smug voice, and not a moment too soon.

The door flies open and Ron Weasley barges in, red in the face and looking absolutely livid. He throws a loud “Fine!”  across his shoulder, which is immediately echoed by an adamant “Splendid, then!”  coming from his wife that follows him in, and stops dead in her tracks. The snotty-looking, balding man on her heels knocks into her at her abrupt stop and gawps without bothering to close his mouth. I can’t honestly say I blame either of them. My father has really outdone himself this time. So I guess the game is on.

~

“Merlin, Ron…” it escapes Hermione Granger before she gets ahold of herself, but even so I can tell she’s impressed.

My father casually slips Ron Weasley’s side, as if he belongs there. The sight of Father standing by Ron Weasley’s side, however, seems to do something to Ron Weasley’s estranged wife. She flushes deep red, then pales, and for a moment there she looks genuinely hurt. But when she speaks, her voice is shrill, as if she’s determined to hide whatever weakness my father’s presence touched upon.

“I should have known,” she says angrily, almost bitterly. “I don’t suppose I can ask what he’s doing here…”

“No, not really,” Ron Weasley says somewhat more calmly, as if my father’s presence alone was enough to put reins on his legendary temper. “Not since you let me have the house. You had somewhere to go, remember. Unlike me. My house, my guests.”

Using her words against her doesn’t go down so well with Hermione Granger, and she immediately opens her mouth, undoubtedly to reply with another accusation. But in that moment Hugo drops his weight around her neck, with a happy: “Mum!” , and she instantly mellows down somewhat, hugging him rather fiercely. For all her toughness, Hermione Granger seems to really love her children, and I discover that I don’t really have anything against her. She was just… in the way.

I can’t say the same about the man in her company, smiling a thin, overly-polished smile. He looks conceited, stuck-up, and… well, Rose’s description of slimy doesn’t seem entirely out of place. He’s… unpleasant.

“Hello, Mr. Corny,” Hugo says merrily, and Rose giggles without restraint. The man frowns and attempts to reply, probably to correct him, but Hugo won’t be disturbed.

“I’m sure you remember my dad from school. He was a Quidditch Keeper that year when Gryffindor won the cup over Ravenclaw! My whole family plays, you know! Everyone… but Mum. I guess you at least have one thing in common, huh?”

I see my father’s eyebrows shoot up in surprise, followed by a tiny smirk. I’m guessing no one informed him about Hugo’s… talents. Well, don’t look at me! I thought he was just a silly 10-year-old, but the way things are going, I confess myself genuinely impressed. Thanks to him I might actually enjoy this evening!

“Yes,” Michael Corner drawls, and he sounds as if he’s talking through his nose. “Wasn’t that the year that Malfoy… Mr. Malfoy here wrote him that embarrassing song? “Weasley Is My King” or some such?”

I have no idea what he’s on about, but he’s smiling slyly as my father stiffens up. But in the end, it’s Ron Weasley that takes us all by surprise when he throws his head backwards and positively roars with laughter.

“Close enough,” he confirms, still smiling into the frowning faces of his ex-wife and her new partner. “Best song ever – it got me going like nothing else could! We never would have won that cup if it wasn’t for that song! I never got to thank you properly for that, Malfoy!” he turns towards my father, and here they are again, those sparks between them that even a child like me can see. My father’s smile is something between a smirk and sentimental when Ron Weasley leans into him and murmurs:

“I still know the lyrics, you know… Do you? Perhaps you could sing it to me again some time…”

“Right, can we sit down?” Hermione Granger barks abruptly, as if determined to cut short the unexpected moment of camaraderie, almost intimacy, between her former husband and my father. “We wouldn’t want all this splendid food to go to waste, would we?” she asks with fake cheerfulness.

But even she can’t hold back a genuine smile when Hugo simply shoots towards the table, expressing all his Weasley enthusiasm regarding food in a loud cheer:

“No way! Are you kidding me?! I’m going to stuff myself silly and under the table! Thanks for all the nice treats, Mr. Malfoy! This Christmas wouldn’t be half as nice without you!”

“You’re welcome, young man,” my father acknowledges gracefully. “It is the least I could do after your father so kindly invited us to join you.”

And Hugo just smiles brilliantly.

“There’s no one else he’d rather have,” he says simply. “If it wasn’t for you dropping by ever so often, he’d be dead bored with just me for company. I can’t call him “colossal idiot” or something equally accurate when he’s moping about without sounding rude and ungrateful – not when he’s trying as hard as he is, being as it’s just us now. But you can, and it does wonders for him! He’s smiling for hours, even after you leave!”

Ron Weasley blushes in a way that it clashes terribly with his flaming hair, and he looks right adorable so embarrassed.

“Well, yes… If I’m going to be an idiot who enjoys this prat’s company, I might as well be called a colossal one,” he mumbles and I can see my father is trying – but not quite succeeding – to suppress a smile.

“Just trying to cheer you up,” he offers to his redheaded partner, and if he’d added ‘darling’ , he might as well have put a ring on Ron Weasley’s finger and called it a deal. They’re probably not aware of it, but for all the world, they look like a married couple already.

“Ron, for Merlin’s sake… food! Now, Ronald!”

I think Hermione Granger noticed it as well if her shrill, angry voice is anything to go by.

“Stop shouting, woman, you’ll ruin my appetite,” Ron Weasley murmurs, frowning, but still turns towards the dining room and heads towards the splendidly-decorated dinner table with the rest of us. I pick a seat next to my father, and I’m pleasantly surprised to see Ron Weasley slip into his chair on the other side of him. He’s still quite red in the face, and not really looking at my father, but given what Rose told me about his struggles with his mangled self-esteem, I think it took a lot of guts to do that. He could have surrounded himself with both his children, but he picked my father’s side instead, and I think… I think Father really appreciates it. There’s a tiny, almost dreamy smile in the corner of my father’s mouth, and try as he might, he isn’t able to erase it.

Hugo quickly picks a chair next to his dad, and Hermione Granger, who seemed to be headed for it, stops abruptly, flushes a little, and hastily selects a chair next to Hugo. Perhaps that used to be her place, next to her now former husband? Is it just old habits dying hard, or did she deliberately want to sit next to her ex? Oh, I know it’s so very wrong – but I’m kind of enjoying this! I find this barely visible exchange of human emotions quite fascinating, and I’m simply dying to see how this evening turns out.

But then I almost choke on a piece of brie I started chewing when I see the horrified face Rose makes once she realises she’s going to have to sit next to Michael Corner. Merlin, Rose… give a boy some warning! Oh, my… I’m desperate to let out my giggles now! How very inappropriate. I can’t, of course – Father would think it quite brutish if I started this festive meal with uncontrollable laughter! But, God, I want to… yes.

“Of course it’s not only my dad who adores you,” Hugo addresses my father pleasantly, as if merely picking up some casual chit-chat. At those words, Ron Weasley might have just swallowed down a spoonful of very hot pumpkin soup, and looks as if he accidentally drowned himself. “Rosie does as well,” Hugo continues, and pointedly ignores his mother’s stiff, disapproving expression. “She’s always on about how clever and kind you are…”

“No talking with your mouth full, young man! I’ve taught you better than that!” Hermione Granger tries to interfere, sounding annoyed, but Hugo doesn’t care much for being interrupted.

“And she says – look, Mum, empty mouth! – she says you always treat her with the same respect as you do the adults. Even if she’s not quite on the same level with Mum regarding knowledge yet, and doesn’t know things like… where thestrals come from, originally, or the fifteen uses of dragon blood, and such.”

“Oh, that would be rather absurd to ask of her, wouldn’t it – given the fact that no one knows where thestrals come from originally – and that the dragon blood only has twelve known uses,” my father remarks matter-of-factly, and offers a tiny smile into Rose’s strangely frozen face. “Merlin himself was said to have followed herd after herd of thestrals on his dragon to find out where they came from, but the legend says he always ‘lost them on the horizon’ ,” Father explains further. “And since the death of Albus Dumbledore no one has bothered much with studying dragon blood – I’m very much involved in the world of Potions since my work requires me to stay on top – I’m certain I would have known such a curious thing.”

“You bastard!!!”

All right, so I just jumped to the ceiling… almost literally, I’m afraid. We all did, when my lovely Rose furiously turned towards the rather pasty-looking Michael Corner at her side and shrieked the words. In the next moment, her fork flew against his hand, and had her shriek of doom not warned him, she would have easily impaled it on the pronged utensil.

“Rose! What on God’s earth…?”

Her mother sounds as shocked as the rest of us, but Rose is too livid to be swayed.

“You made me believe she knew, you balding piece of rubbish! You kept on throwing all those impossible riddles and challenges at me at every opportunity, insinuating that my mother already knew all these bizarre things and so much more… that I’d never be as good as her until I knew them as well. And Merlin knows how much joy it gave you to see me struggle trying to find the answers that you knew very well weren’t there! You knew I’d try to find them; you knew very well I’d break my back just to prove you wrong that I’m no worse than she is only because I’m half Weasley!”

“Rose, darling… Michael wouldn’t, surely… There must have been some misunderstanding.”

Rose’s mum looks flabbergasted and quite miserable, looking from one to the other, but Rose won’t even give her time to make up her mind.

“Like hell he wouldn’t!” she shoots back angrily. “Like I would make up something like this! He keeps on mocking me and rubbing it in my face, every chance he gets, that I’m too much my father’s daughter to be quite like you yet! As if I’d ever want to be a blind fool enough to pick a snot-face like him over Dad! He’s worth ten of you on any given day, you demented, slimy…”

“Young lady, that’s enough!”

The voice of Hermione Granger cracks like a whip, and finally, Rose stops shouting. But her mouth is pressed into a thin, stubborn line, and if the looks could kill, her mother would probably have to look for another lover – after she was done scraping what little was left of this one together with a teaspoon.

“Now, everyone relax, please. Michael…”

“Just a bit of a jest, darling… more of a healthy challenge, really,” he replies immediately, smoothly, as if he had his answer ready long ago. “We always agree that children need to be challenged if they aspire to come to something in life….”

“Then get your own, and challenge those, you sadistic git!” Rose explodes so unexpectedly that it makes him jump.

Hermione Granger hisses “Rose Weasley!” in exactly the same moment when my father raises his glass as if toasting to Rose and quietly says:“Hear, hear” .

“Oh, don’t you dare encourage her unhealthy temper!” Rose’s mum barks at him, as if she could barely wait for the opportunity. “Her behaviour is unacceptable! She should be dismissed from the table this instant, and…”

“But you’re hardly in a position to dismiss anyone, are you?” my father points out coldly. “You’re nothing but a guest here since you willingly walked out of here – and this is still her home. If I was you, I’d watch my mouth.”

Touché. Looking at her blanched face, I can tell right away that this is a painful subject to Hermione Granger. Perhaps Rose’s mum isn’t quite so without regrets about leaving her life and her family behind as she’d like everyone to believe…

“You should mind your own business, Malfoy! This is my daughter we’re talking about…”

“Then I suggest you show her some motherly affection and take her side for once,” my father proposes with a dismissive expression on his face. “Your… date ... clearly doesn’t deny her allegations and she is obviously distressed – yet you still you take his side. Surely you can’t be that desperate for male company to pick… this specimen over your own child?! Or is there something else at hand? You wouldn’t be after his well-oiled powerful connections in the Wizengamot, O Ambitious One?”

“You insolent, evil…”

“Wow, wow, Mum! Christmas dinner, remember?” Hugo interferes, and blinks at her with his innocent, big blue eyes in a way that it makes him look very young and hurt. “Merlin, people…”

And Hermione Granger has the good grace to look slightly ashamed, though still defiant. Even my father relaxes his “snake-about-to-strike” position and takes a sip of his wine. The little scoundrel, who nearly made me forget he’s behind all this, smiles beatifically and proposes sheepishly:

“Look, I’ll trade places with Rose and sit next to Mr. Corny myself if it would help matters.”

Upon Rose’s immediate “Oh, god, yes, please!”  Hugo flashes one of his unbeatable Weasley smiles, and it seems the evening has been saved. Until the silence that follows the trading of places is broken by calm, but undoubtedly threatening Ron Weasley’s voice:

“I’ll say this though: Humiliate my daughter once more, Shorty, and I’ll make sure your slimy, insignificant line comes to a brief, unglamorous end.”

“Ronald Weasley!” his wife barks immediately, red in the face and clearly ready for a confrontation. “I don’t care if this is your house or not! That is no way to speak to…”

“This little butter-face of yours should be glad I didn’t make a dent in his pasty façade and kick him out into the snow! As far as I’m concerned, he should apologise to Rose and…”

“Mum! Dad! I’m hungry! You’re not going to do this again, are you?!”

Hugo sounds whiny and miserable, and when he rubs his belly like a three-year-old, the big blue eyes do their job again.

“Oh, darling… but of course not. You’re right. It’s Christmas Eve. Let’s just enjoy this lovely food, shall we?”

Hermione Granger sounds as stiff as if she’s choking on her own anger, but after a moment she seems to swallow most of it and sends a meaningful look in the direction of her companion. Upon her gesture, Michael Corner gives a little cough as if he just remembered.

“Well, yes. Rose, dearest… I apologise for causing you distress. I assure you it was unintentional.”

“Oh, shut it,” Rose says under her breath, and I can’t help myself – I giggle. It’s only good then, that Hermione Granger uses that very moment to proclaim rather loudly and victoriously:

“How very mature of you, Michael, thank you! I’m sure Rose accepts your apology. Thanks goodness there’s at least one proper adult among us!”

One,” my father points out with a raised eyebrow and a cold smirk, and toasts at her as if he’s volunteering for the job.

“So, Mr. Corny,” Hugo quickly says with his mouth full, and upon a stern look from his mother, swallows down thickly. “What do you do? Are you still a paper pusher at the Ministry?”

My father nearly chokes on his wine, while Michael Corner goes uncharacteristically red.

“Hugo!” his mother barks, but his eyes just grow big and round when he looks from one parent to the other, as if confused:

“What? What did I say? Dad said that’s his job!”

“Yes, your father would,” Hermione Granger says coldly. “Michael is, in fact, a very important man at the Ministry. He negotiates and lobbies for our proposals at the Wizengamot council. A paper pusher certainly doesn’t describe his responsibilities, and it’s not a very nice term, Hugo.”

“Sorry, Mr. Corny,” Hugo says, once again with his mouth full. “It was – like you said – unintentional.”

Michael Corner barely hides his disgust at Hugo’s exaggerated gluttony, but he nevertheless says graciously, if a bit stiffly:

“Of course. It was an honest mistake. You’re too young to know about such serious things.”

“Oh, but I’d like to! No one ever tells me anything! How am I ever supposed to find out? So you work with Mum? Like with her, in the same department?”

By now, I already know that nothing Hugo says or does is purely accidental, and I wonder if adults are at all aware that they are just pawns in what seems to be a very clever game. I think my father is beginning to suspect… and enjoy himself.

“Yes, your mother and I are… very close co-workers,” Michael Corner confirms with a conceited smile that says “and much more” .

“But Mum is a department chief… So you work under her, actually? Do you have to do everything she says?”

Michael Corner’s smile fades considerably when he figures out he walked straight into that one.

“Well, not exactly…” he tries carefully, clearly not completely certain how to tackle this one. He nervously glances at Hermione Granger, but she’s too busy glaring at Hugo to mind him. The little spirited redhead is, of course, completely unperturbed:

“Oh, don’t be ashamed if you do! We all had to, for ages, Rosie and I! Dad… not so much, he’s a rebellious one, and Merlin, is he brave! I guess he’d have to do what Uncle Harry told him, though. He’s the boss in Dad’s part of the Ministry. But I don’t think Uncle Harry tells dad much what to do. He always says he trusts him and that Dad is his department’s biggest asset. That’s why he hired Mr. Malfoy here to protect him.”

“Did he now?” Michael Corner suddenly says with interest, and sounds quite relieved that the focus is no longer on him and his inferior position. “I was wondering about that…”

“About what, precisely?” my father says, and there is a certain sharpness in his voice that says “tread carefully or else…!” .

“Well, about the nature of your relationship, to be honest. You have to admit, it is rather… bizarre.”

“In what way? It’s not like Weasley and I run around in pink tutus fighting the bad guys, you know!”

Rose giggles out loud at the mental image, and I admit I have to stuff my mouth full of wonderful rosemary potato wedges not to follow her example. And it’s almost like my father is encouraged by her reaction. He puts down his glass of wine, which he was clutching a little too hard, and leans forward in his seat, looking every bit like a snake about to strike.

“We are partners, Corner. We do things partners do, I’m sure you know what that is – the obligations that come with it and the boundaries of such a relationship. Or at least you should. He goes out there every day, saving your ungrateful Ministry arses, and I dare say that if wasn’t for his presence of mind and swift reactions, you and half of the Ministry would probably already be roasting in Hell, slightly charred at the edges. Seven times over. He calls me when he needs my help, I patch him up and occasionally, we have a glass of Ogden’s and call each other idiots because we go a long way back and we can. Nothing too bizarre about that, I imagine.”

“Well, no. But… isn’t that work… well, beneath you a little bit?” Corner says smoothly, and in spite of his politeness, everyone knows just what he’s implying. “Chasing Weasley around the country? All due respect to his job, I’m sure it’s important to some, but we – well, I, for one – always imagined that you, out of all of us, would be off to have a splendid diplomatic career somewhere.”

And Father surprises us all when he snorts and somehow makes it sounds dreadfully derisive:

“Yes, you’re definitely the type that would put “splendid” and “diplomatic” in the same sentence, aren’t you? I will have you know that this is the most glamorous work I’ve ever done. Sometimes I’m soaked up to my elbows in blood, Corner – usually the blood of one Ronald Weasley, whose bravery and efforts are, after all, important to some – and yet this is the cleanest job I can imagine. No lies, no pretence, no suffering the company of people you can barely stand to promote your agenda, no kissing the right rear ends to get what you want...”

Rose giggles again, but at the sight of her mother’s murderous look, she tries to get it under control. But my father really seems to be on a roll.

“I, darling Corner, am protecting the life of the one the Saviour himself would miss the most – and you think that job is beneath me?! A statement daft enough to make Gilderoy Lockhart proud, surely!” he barks, and looks at Michael Corner as if he is a pitiful lunatic who just strolled into our midst. Whoa, he must be seriously infuriated under that chilly façade! Go get him, Draco Malfoy! And he does.

“There’s dozens of them – power-hungry, unscrupulously ambitious back-stabbers – in the Ministry, ready to replace you if you all but blink, but you try finding one – none too squeamish! – to do my job. You try finding one to replace him!” he says fiercely, and points at Ronald Weasley, who instantly blushes to the tips of his fiery hair. “I dare you! You won’t read of his achievements in the Daily Prophet, because most are classified, but just yesterday Potter himself called him “priceless” and “irreplaceable” . I dare say there aren’t too many out there who can take out the entire Avery gang single-handed, while some ungrateful Ministry toady gets to take credit in the media for ‘yet another success of British Wizarding Law Enforcement!’

“Avery gang – that was you?! You never said...”

Well, even I, the oblivious one, know that, yet for some reason Hermione Granger sounds shocked, even mortified.

“Not allowed, was I? But you could have found out. You have clearance,” Ron Weasley says calmly, pointing out with not so many words that his then-wife just didn’t seem to show enough interest. And for just a bit there, she almost looks ashamed.

“Wow, Dad! The Avery gang?! All by yourself? Grandpa said there were like a dozen of them at least!”

Rose Weasley sounds awed and it slowly begins to dawn on me that this, perhaps, was indeed no ordinary achievement.

“Well, Rosie, they made two mistakes. First of all, when they realised that they were being targeted, they panicked and got scattered about. I couldn’t have taken down all of them if they were all in one place, fighting as one, but like this…” he shrugs. “It still took Malfoy and I two days to chase them across the British isles, but – ”

“I chased after you, not after them,” my father interrupts him, leaving no doubt who he thought should take the credit for the notorious gang’s apprehension.

“Same difference,” Ron Weasley replies calmly. “If you didn’t patch me up in that graveyard, my kids would be fatherless right now.”

“And what was the second mistake?” Rose, always the curious and meticulous one, wants to know.

“They began operating in the area of Hogsmeade,” her father replies quietly. “You were going to be nearby after summer… I just couldn’t have that.”

“Oh, Dad…” Rose says, covering his big hand with hers, and I can see her thin fingers trembling.

In the meantime, my father glares at Michael Corner so intensely that he begins to squirm.

“Well, yes. No one said that Weasley isn’t doing a jolly good job – that apprehension was rather spectacular, Weasley, old chap! – I just meant… why should it be you, Malfoy, minding Weasley’s well-being, since it is a well-known fact that you were none too fond of him back at school? So I thought… Well, you have to admit it is… extraordinary.”

I have to give it to the man – he’s sweating profusely as my father’s hard grey eyes bore holes into him, but in spite of his nervous fidgeting, he’s still trying to smooth-talk his way out of this.

“And you dated Ginny Weasley at school; how come you’re not married to her?” my father shoots back, and excuse me but – what?? He – what?!

How could this pale, plain-looking, boring… oh, please! She must have been hexed blind or something! Of course, there is more to men than just their looks, whatever those may be, my shocked brain provides, but... Is he really that clever? He was a Ravenclaw, and his intelligence is what Hermione Granger appreciates about him, but still… really?! I think at this point, I’m just desperate to find an excuse, an explanation, something, any reason, why should Ginny Weasley, such a fiery beauty, ever look twice at this man. I can’t think of anything.

“Well, the general opinion was that she only dated him to make Harry jealous,” Ron Weasley unexpectedly pops in – and I can’t believe how stupid I’ve been. Of course! That’s must be it! That’s an explanation I can buy. Why didn’t I think of that?

“They were never going to be serious, though,” the redhead explains without bothering to even look Michael Corner in his red, agitated face. “My sister never cared for anyone other than Harry much. In the end, she’d have no one but the best.”

“Unlike some,” my father says, and glances at Ron Weasley with a small, undecipherable smile in the corner of his mouth, and… oh, bloody hell, Dad – this was nothing but shameless courting if I ever saw it! It makes me smile goofily, and across the table, Rose secretly shows me thumbs up.

“Never mind me, Malfoy,” Michael Corner says, sounding more than slightly annoyed. “You haven’t really answered my question. Why him – Weasley? Evasive much, Malfoy?” he says with that forced, snotty half-smile he has and… oh, damn, I find myself wishing Rose’s fork was more on target. He’s horrendously vexing.

“I suppose I haven’t, no…” my father replies calmly, a trace of a dreamy smile still lingering about his face. “Nothing to be evasive about, really. After the war, I had a massive debt to pay to Potter & Co., not only for saving me, but also for testifying on my family’s behalf, and for… well, for simply ending that godawful war. So when Potter called and offered me the assignment – with the usual mumbo jumbo, you know, the post-war integration, I can’t be bribed, there’s no one quite as competent he’d trust, blah blah – I didn’t really feel I should turn him down. Weasley and I had… a few rough moments at the beginning…” – Father smirks at this point, and Ron Weasley quickly masks his smile by taking a sip of wine – “… but I suppose with time, I came to value his work, his dedication, and his tenacity. And somewhere along the line, his character,” he shrugs and looks Michael Corner straight in the face, as if daring him to question that.

“I see,” Michael says smoothly. “So I suppose you two are considered friends these days?”

“Partners,” Ron Weasley replies immediately, with a certain finality, as if he’d come to terms with that word long ago. It is, of course, a term that could mean less – or much more than – friendship. It soon becomes clear which when the redhead puts his fork down and looks Michael in the eye. “I put my life in his hands every day. There’s no one – well, no one but Harry – that I trust more. Plus, I can tell him straight up when I think he’s acting like an idiot, no need to play nice, and that’s very… liberating. Especially when I know he’ll do the same for me.”

He glances at my father’s face, and - yep, that tiny smile in the corner of my father’s mouth is still there and seems determined to stay.

“I get to say it a lot more, though,” my father says smoothly. “You’re stubborn like a mule and very reckless. And I’m faultless, of course.”

“Oh, my… I dare say you two sound like an old married couple already!” Michael Corner remarks, and I would consider mentally applauding his statement if it wasn’t for a nasty, derogatory smirk on his pasty face.

“And how would you know?” my father lashes out immediately, frowning, as if sensing his masked disapproval. “It’s not like you have any experience on the matter. As I understand it, you have yet to find someone bedazzled enough to marry you.”

“I’ve always maintained a belief that it’s better not to rush these things,” Corner replies snottily. “Serious relationships forged at too young an age tend to get broken too easily – as I’m sure everyone at this table is aware of,” he adds slyly. However, at the sight of Rose glaring at him across the table furiously, tightly clutching a fork in her hand, he seems to think better of his gloating, and he picks up quickly.

“That said, now that my darling Hermione has done me an unexpected honour and graced me with her affection, I confess myself quite ready to give up my bachelor status.”

“Oh, splendid!” Hugo comments happily before the uncomfortable silence can settle in. “A wedding around the corner! I love weddings! There’s so much delicious food, and Grandma Molly makes a killer… oh. Uhm… Grandma Molly is still kind of fond of you, Mum. She might make you one of her yummy wedding cakes after all,” he says, trying to sound apologetic for pointing out what an outsider Hermione Granger will make of herself if she marries Corner.

“Let’s not rush things,” Hermione Granger replies stiffly. “We haven’t actually determined anything in particular yet.”

“But not for the lack of trying, darling,” Corner protests immediately. “I’ve tried discussing things with you on several occasions but…”

“Wait, what?” my father interferes with sudden interest. “I was about to congratulate the happy couple, but it seems you haven’t even asked her properly yet? Surely even you cannot call this rushed – you’ve known her since you were eleven!”

“Well, yes… I mean no… that is to say – I’ve tried asking her, but it is so very hard to find an appropriate moment. We’re both so very busy, you see…”

“Well, Michael Corner, I never thought you such a berk! You must be the proper embodiment of every desperate woman’s nightmare! How is a lady to accept when there is clearly nothing to accept yet, and all the rules of courtship have clearly been ignored?!”

My father, the insufferable pure-blood and a proper brat at times, is clearly having a time of his life.

“Hermione and I have adopted more modern principles, Malfoy!” Corner replies stiffly, but the pink tinge in his pasty cheeks speaks volumes of his embarrassment. “She’s a very independent woman, and I sincerely doubt she would appreciate the rules of traditional courtship much.”

“I suppose you tell yourself that when you haven’t done your job as a suitor properly,” my father smirks. “But you forget, Granger here was already married once. She knows very well what she’s missing out on. No wonder you’ve had so little success ‘asking’ her. Proper courting etiquette is important, Corner, and ladies are sensitive that way. I suggest you familiarise yourself with it. I doubt you’d have much success with, oh, let’s say: ‘Darling, I just happened to walk by the jewellery shop this morning and I saw a lovely ring, very well priced. How would you like to wear it and consider us engaged?’ That won’t work! Every woman is a bit of a romantic underneath, even if she pretends otherwise. They want to feel special, priceless, and cherished. And honestly – who doesn’t? There’s time enough to be practical and level-headed later in the marriage. But proposals are meant to sweep your beloved off their feet. Surely you can put some heart in it!”

Hermione Granger, surprisingly, doesn’t say a word during my father’s lesson. She’s rather pale and clearly far from joyous, yet she makes no attempt to interrupt him. And from the bewildered look in Michael Corner’s eyes, it is obvious that it’s slowly beginning to dawn on him that my father just might be right...

“Hermione… darling, you should have said… how was I supposed to know?”

“It doesn’t matter,” she says just a tad too quickly in a flat voice. “You’re right. We’re… I’m too modern for these practices…”

“Mr. Malfoy!” Hugo cuts through the heavy seconds of silence that follow her fading words. “You know, perhaps we shouldn’t be so hard on Mr. Corny. As you pointed out yourself, he’s the only adult here who’s never been married before, and he’s clearly at a disadvantage. It’s possible he doesn’t know how to ask, and it isn’t fair to expect it of him, so there’s no point in scolding him for it. But here’s an idea how to be of assistance: you could demonstrate.”

“I’m not sure what you mean?” my father frowns, but I know very well what the clever little scoundrel is aiming at.

“Well, you seem to be an expert of sorts when it comes to courting procedures and proposals and such. Why don’t you show Mr. Corny here how it’s done properly? That way he can learn how and make my mum happy again!”

“That’s an absurd idea…” my father starts at the same moment when Rose cheers excitedly:

“That’s brilliant! Do show us, Mr. Malfoy, please, do! Oh, I so very much long to see it! I’ve seen the way Muggles do it in those movies Granny Granger borrows us, but I’ve never seen an actual proposal up close. And I so very much want to!”

“I’m afraid it’s impossible, young lady,” my father says smiling, almost like he wanted to oblige her if only it was in his power to do so. “For one, if I wanted to do it properly, I’d need an engagement ring, and, of course, a proper partner willing to participate in demonstration. Since I have neither…”

“I have a ring,” Hugo speaks unexpectedly. “Dad took his off when him and Mum… you know, so I asked if I could take it, and he said it was a mine to have, since he’s no longer married. You see it’s a ring all Weasley men get to wear once they’re married, and I had to put it on a necklace because it’s still much too big – Dad’s got these really giant hands. But it’s a very nice ring, and I suppose it’ll do for a demonstration. And since it’s Dad’s ring – why don’t you just use my dad for practice? Surely he wouldn’t mind, would you, Dad?”

“Merlin, children…” Ron Weasley says, as red in the face as I was ever going to see him, and perhaps it’s the excellent wine, but he’s doing a very poor job of trying to hold back a smile. “I’m sure Mr. Malfoy agrees this is a very silly idea…”

“No, I don’t,” I say quickly, because I’m a Malfoy, am I not? “Father never speaks to me about these things and I would appreciate a demonstration, thank you very much! I’m sure it will be very useful for everyone present,” I stubbornly ignore a shocked look from my parent, and I grin sheepishly straight into Rose’s brilliant smile. That’s it, this girl is mine!

And my poor flabbergasted father just sits there with a look on his face that plainly says:“Is everyone mad?!”, but then he glances at Ron Weasley’s smiling face, and I think for a second there he forgets how to breathe.

“I’m not sure…” he murmurs, but in that moment Michael Corner snorts loudly, and his voice full of mockery fills the room:

“Come on, then, Malfoy! You’re not going to ignore desperate pleas from the young ones, are you? They’re dying for entertainment, and frankly, so am I. And of curiosity, of course. You’re not going to pass up a chance to teach me a lesson, are you? You, and… your partner ?”

Somehow he manages to say the word “partner” as if it’s something false, dirty, and offensive, and a pink tinge in my father’s cheeks indicates he registered it as well.

“Indeed I am not,” he suddenly replies in hard, feisty voice, as if he reached an unexpected decision. Without taking his eyes away from Corner’s pale face, he sticks out his hand towards Hugo and says: “The ring, please.”

I think Hugo always planned to turn things in this direction. How else could one explain that there’s a ring in his hand before one could blink? But he doesn’t drop it into my father’s hand; he places it in with care and then closes my father’s fist around it.

“I trust you,” he says simply and it’s just the oddest thing… until my father nods and quietly says:

“I know.”

And in the next minute, my father, Draco Malfoy, is up and in front of the chair of one Ronald Weasley. The second their eyes meet, there’s a connection that’s simply magical. It charges the room in a way that it makes my hair stand on end, and it’s so real I can feel it pulse in the space between them like a living, breathing entity.

“Draco,” Ron Weasley says quietly, almost pleadingly… and my father drops to one knee.

~

It feels as if the time slowly came to a halt. In a surreal scene I could never have imagined, Draco Malfoy, my proud, cold father, is kneeling in front of Ronald Weasley, and in a moment of absolute silence, their eyes connect quietly, and it looks… it looks incredibly intimate. Almost as if they no longer realise there are other people around. I know immediately that my father doesn’t have to say a single word to get this man, but he’s a Malfoy, and he’s going to want to do this right. Like in a slow dance, his arms move upward, and his long fingers wrap around Ron Weasley’s giant hands – and that’s when I know for certain that once he’s done here, there will be no doubt in Ronald Weasley’s mind that he’s the one for my father.

“There was a time when this would have seemed impossible,” my father says quietly, and there’s a strange tremor under his composed voice. “Not so long ago I could have only dreamed it. I never thought I’d make it this far, tell you things I have to say to you, confess… and ask you. There are so many things I have to say, and I don’t really know how. You must know how I feel about you… you must. My son seems to know, your children, everyone… But just to make it perfectly clear, to you and to the rest of the Universe: I love you, Ronald Weasley… and I never loved another.”

So it was him! All these years my father loved Ron Weasley, and just… wow . The weight of that knowledge renders me speechless. A small, muffled gasp escapes Hermione Granger, and with the corner of my eye I catch the sight of her pressing a hand to her mouth, trying to conceal an unspeakable emotion, perhaps even a sob. But it is a clear as day that this is no longer her game – that this is not a game at all. Ron Weasley’s eyes, full of awe, are glued to my father’s face, and in those deep blue, bottomless ponds my father tries to find his words and himself.

“You see, I’ve tried many times – out of despair and to no avail – to determine when it was born… this… love that caused me so many sleepless nights and bothered me to no end. It seemed like a child Draco went to bed one day, loathing you heartily, and a young man Draco woke up the next, realising he was hopelessly smitten. I must have been in denial somewhere in between, surely, because my thoughts were always full of you. We were hardwired to hate each other before we even met, and from the first moment on, I wanted to hurt you, humiliate you, fight you, steal your friends and tell you that you were nothing, that you didn’t matter, that I didn’t care about you. But one day, I realised my entire world rotated around you as if you were a magnificent force I could not escape. For me, everything was about you. I suddenly realised how I think of you… and as you can imagine, I was devastated.”

A small smile appears in the corner of Ron Weasley’s mouth, almost as if this something he can relate to, and I’m thinking that perhaps Father’s obsession didn’t go quite as unnoticed as he might have thought. I see Ronald’s thumbs sweep across the knuckles of my father’s hands, slowly, soothingly, and my father returns his smile.

“You knew?” Father wants to know hastily, but Ron Weasley shakes his fiery head.

“Just… sensed… something,” he says quietly. He sends a quick, nervous sidelong glance in our direction, and I’m thinking that perhaps he can’t say more because there are kids in the room. Shame, that! But he blushes again and picks up quickly. “But I had no idea about the love bit; I never… I never would have assumed … Just, perhaps, that… you wanted me. I always thought it was just wishful thinking on my part… because I found myself wanting you, too. And I hated myself terribly for it. But love… it never crossed my mind. Not back then, it didn’t.”

“I didn’t recognise it for what it was for the longest time either,” my father confesses thoughtfully. “I ran from it, I think. In my circumstances – with my father breathing down my neck, with all the world shattering around us – it was unthinkable. Love like this one was no easy thing for a Malfoy to carry around in his heart… and it nearly broke me once I realised it was there. Yet in the darkest of times, it was what I found myself clinging to. Once I finally confessed to myself that I loved you – it saved me. It kept a little part of my soul clean, a little part of my heart warm, and I found myself still breathing, hoping, wanting, and not giving up. And after the war… I… I would have sunk under the weight of the ruins my life was, Ron, if it wasn’t for the love I had for you.”

Ron Weasley tilts his head with a perplexed expression on his face, as if he’s not entirely sure what that means.

“You see, I was lost after the war,” my father continues calmly, but there’s a tinge of sadness in his voice that wasn’t there before. “Everyone was off to live their splendid, happy new lives, finally free from the fear of war that lingered about for so long, but I… I suppose… my wings were broken. For years, I had no idea what to do with myself. I watched you all from afar – happy, in love, getting your lives together, and careers beginning – and I knew there was going to be none of that for me. In spite of the pardon Potter got us, the Malfoys were branded as ‘traitors’ – and I was a Malfoy. No one cared about the man I was beyond my name. My parents wanted me to marry and to start my life anew somewhere abroad, but that would mean letting you out of sight – and I just couldn’t. So I lingered on. I think of that time as my ghost years – I barely remember anything other than the endless days of wandering about the manor, the godawful nightmares, occasional trips to St. Mungo’s or to yet another hearing at the Ministry, always followed by those endless headaches that were nearly the end of me. Until that one miraculous day… The day I saw you and Potter in the park with his child.”

“I remember that day,” Ron Weasley says thoughtfully. “You looked as if you were withering away. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone so lifeless. It gave me chills. Jamie was just learning how to walk, and when he stumbled towards you, I thought he was going to topple you over. I don’t think I was ever so surprised in my life than the moment I saw you pick him up to stop him from falling, and you held him close in your arms. For some reason… I always thought you’d hate babies.”

“Old Draco might have,” my father smiles tiredly. “But that child came to me, found me, hugged me with no prejudice, smiled at me like only someone innocent can – and tried to take most of my hair home with him as a trophy. That little creature in my arms was a sign from heaven. I swear, I looked at him and I saw you… I suppose those blue eyes and freckles did the trick. Then you came to collect him, and I asked you if it was yours, and you said no, not this one, but that you were headed in that direction. And you told me, with these exact words: “You should get one of your own, Malfoy. He looks good on you – and children make life go on.”

I never saw a look so vulnerable on my father’s face. It breaks my heart to imagine how shattered and desperate he must have been, how starved for a chance to spend a few precious moments in the presence of the only person he ever loved. And Ron Weasley just smiles at my father gently and shakes head slightly, almost as if he can’t believe that my father remembers every last word he said to him. I can see it on his face that this honesty is something they both need. Way to go, Dad… way to go.

“It was as if those words cracked open a hole into the darkness I was submerged in, and the light and hope poured in. There was forgiveness in your words, which was the one thing I could not give to myself. And hope for the future. Just standing near you opened my heart. When you ran off to chase after the little Potter scoundrel again, I sat down on a bench and just stared after you for as long as I could. I didn’t even realise that Potter Senior came to sit near me until he spoke. He must have been watching me for a while, because the first words he said to me were: “You love him, don’t you?” And I couldn’t lie. I nodded, and he asked for how long. So I told him: “Always” – and he looked awfully shocked when I had said that. He sat silently with me for a while longer, and then, just before he left, he turned back to me to say: “You should consider telling him one day, you know. He’s got plenty of scars to live with as well – and some of those only you can heal.” He left after that – and my life got turned upside down once again,” my father says, and for a moment he seems deeply immersed in reminiscing.

But then he looks up into Ron Weasley’s stunned face again, smiles almost tenderly, and tells him the rest.

“As soon as I got back, I told my parents that I was finally ready to consider marrying, and my mother was beside herself. Just seeing her this way made things better – brighter. She was rejuvenated, and so was I. For the first time since that blasted war ended, I wanted to move on. And I never looked back. Once I allowed myself to have a new beginning, the miracles never stopped. The first and biggest wonder of all was the birth of my son, my Scorpius, and I – I don’t have words for that. The love I felt for that tiny, precious bundle of life in my arms was life-altering. And just when I came to terms with the fact that that was going to be all the love I would ever know – Potter dropped by with his offer. I know it’s odd, but it almost looked as if he remembered our conversation, and this was his way of giving me a second chance. With Potter, one never knows.”

“I wouldn’t put it past him,” Ron Weasley agrees quietly. “Harry is his mother’s son, and my mum said Lily Potter’s magic used to light up every life it ever touched. Harry is just good that way.”

“Well, I swear the well-meaning Scarface very nearly killed me with shock that day – and I’m willing to bet he knew it! I remember I could barely breathe during the half-hour of his visit. Just a chance to be near you… like I was ever going to pass that up ! There weren’t going to be any sacrifices too difficult, no adjustments of my lifestyle too impossible. I didn’t even pretend I’d think about it; I blurted out ‘Yes’ before he even finished properly. I was going to be near you once again, and to me, it was as if I was born again, with all the opportunities that come with a fresh start. I nearly worked myself into frenzy when he said that he still needed to clear the arrangement with you, and I was certain that you had rejected it when I didn’t hear from him by the end of the day. But the next morning there was this funny dog Patronus hopping around my feet, and I nearly had a breakdown when I heard your voice. Within half an hour, we were already hissing at each other like we were back in school again, and by the end of the day, I was more in love with you than ever before,” my father says simply, and I see their fingers intertwine tightly.

“Bloody hell…” Ron Weasley whispers, but there are unshed tears in his eyes, and my father’s voice is choked as well when he speaks next:

“I never forgot Potter’s advice to tell you. I just… I didn’t know how, and I’ve always been such a bloody coward. We both know there are things in our world one does not break, and relationships that are sacred, so I fully expected to spend the rest of my life loving you quietly. But then you slowly began responding to me. I saw the challenge and the longing in those magical eyes of yours; I noticed your smile turned blissful at the sight of me, as if there was no one else in the room – and it got unbearable. I sought your company every chance I got, and I dreaded your free days knowing there was no hope I would see you and get my fix. I came to need you, Ron, and I was doing a poor job of keeping it to myself. Soon, Astoria noticed – and so did your wife. I knew something had to give. That night after our kids left for school and you came to me… I…”

My father swallows thickly.

“I was in complete shock and awe at the sight of you at my door. I should have just told you that night. I came so close to telling you. Seeing you so hurt and upset made my heart ache with yearning to make it better for you, to tell you how wonderful I found you, how irresistible… and ask you to stop minding your wife’s vicious words and look into my eyes instead to see your true worth. But Astoria was still around, just a few rooms down the hall, and I couldn’t… I just couldn’t. But I should have. I shouldn’t have cared about anyone but you. Instead, I let you go, and I’ve never stopped regretting it.”

“But you didn’t just let me go, did you?” Ron Weasley says, and his low voice is barely above a whisper. “You listened to me, you told me I was right to come and that I was always welcome. And you wouldn’t let me go until I calmed down. I didn’t know what to expect when I Apparated to your place, but you made it all better. With Harry so torn between Hermione and I, there was nowhere else I could have gone – and you didn’t let me down. You didn’t pry into me with questions; once, I was done talking to Rosie, you simply transformed the sofa in front of the fireplace into a makeshift bed for me, poured me some Ogden’s, and sat down next to me. You knew just what I needed. I wish I hadn’t been so bloody exhausted, but it was the most peaceful I’ve felt in a long time and… I just drifted away.”

He looks a tad embarrassed at those words, and totally adorable at that, but strangely determined to finish saying what he started.

“I must have I woken up at one point during the night and I saw you still sitting there. You were threading your fingers through my hair and looking at me as if I meant something. I’ve never seen anyone more beautiful. I wanted to tell you… things , everything, but I was too bloody tired, and I thought that perhaps you were just an impossible dream. But I woke up with a smile next morning and the image of you still etched into my mind. You can’t say you just let me go when you gave me so much. I won’t let you… love.”

“Don’t, precious,” my father whispers, and his hoarse, broken voice makes it impossible to miss how ravaged he has become. “Don’t do this to me. This is supposed to be a proposal from one pure-blood to another, a properly lengthy one, just as the tradition requires. I get to tell you how wonderful you are, and you don’t get to undo me by the very last seam… Merlin, Ron, please… Just… Please, let me say it or I may never get my chance again, and I so need to say it; I need to tell you…”

He shuts up abruptly to collect himself, and then it just crashes out of him:

“I was an idiot to let you go. That last look you gave me before you Disapparated… and the words: ‘Thank you… Draco.’  You called me by my name for the very first time, and for a moment the world stopped spinning. You sounded so grateful, yet so wistful, and there was such longing for more in your eyes that it shattered my heart to bits. The second you were gone I knew what a fool I’d been. How could I have passed up on an opportunity like that?! Was I really so snobbish, so true and faithful to my pure-blood traditions that I was willing to lose the one person I’ve loved since I was 15? So I swore to myself that morning to never miss a chance like that one again, and to do everything in my power to show you that it’s you I want. And this, now, is it. This is my chance. I might owe it to our scheming kids…” – oops, I’m thinking sheepishly – “… or even to narrow-minded Michael-bloody-Corner over there, but I’d be a very miserable fool for the rest of my life if I let you go again. So, Ron… Ronald Weasley…”

My father breathes deeply and looks his redhead straight in the eye. Everyone in the room is waiting for his words with baited breath.

“Ronald Weasley, would you please do me the immense honour and accept this ring… and my heart with it? I have nothing else of value to give, but I promise to cherish, protect, and respect you, care for your children as if they were my own, and… please, please give me a chance to love you.”

For a second, time seems to freeze… but then Ron Weasley nods slowly, utters a shaky, nearly soundless “Merlin… yes!”, smiles blissfully, and without taking his eyes off my father’s face, offers him his left hand. Only then do I notice how badly my father’s hands are shaking, but he still somehow manages to put a ring on his redhead’s finger. In the blink of an eye later my father is pulled up with magnificent force, and he finds himself transported into Ronald’s lap as the large hands close around him. And my father can’t stop smiling. He can’t stop staring into those brilliant blue eyes either.

“Brute,” he whispers gently, and fixes a loose lock of fiery hair behind the redhead’s ear lovingly. “My beloved brute. I love that wonderful strength of yours so much.”

But Ron Weasley doesn’t say anything. One of his hands finds its way into my father’s hair, and his mouth seeks out my father’s with such urgency and hunger that it is perfectly clear to anyone watching that there must be years and years of hopeless yearning behind that kiss.

“Merlin, Dad,” Rose murmurs, sounding shocked and astonished all in one. “Holy Godric, save some of him for later!”

And frankly, when my father lets out a small helpless moan of most dire need, I know exactly how she feels. I feel like removing myself and giving them some privacy. They barely seem to know we’re still here anyway. Merlin, the bearded… I can feel the blood rushing to my face and… uh, this is embarrassing… but, ehm… oh, my… terribly interesting, if you don’t mind me saying so. For some reason, my eyes are still glued onto them… my father with his eyes closed, completely immersed in the kiss that seems to have no end… and Ron Weasley, all fiery and passionate, clearly in charge, and so obviously enjoying this exchange of desire and tenderness that it sends shivers down my spine. They’re all too beautiful together.

“Well,” Michael Corner drawls after a few unsuccessful “ahem” s, that seem to have no effect on anyone altogether, as all of us children are still happily busy shamelessly staring at the two unsuspecting stars of the evening. “Your fathers certainly seem… dedicated to the cause. Quite a performance, really. I must congratulate them… once they can be bothered to register their guests again.”

“Of course, Mr. Corny,” Hugo says calmly. “We all must. It’s customary with engagement.”

Michael Corner tries to snort, but it sounds strangely hollow.

“A brilliant performance, to be sure, most persuasive. I’ll be the first to say that… but surely they can’t have possibly thought it valid! They’re both men, for Merlin’s sake!”

“What they are…” Rose speaks softly as if not wishing to disturb them, yet there’s a strange glee in her voice. “… are the descendants of two pure-blood families, and one of those interesting scrolls I came across while looking for fifteen uses of dragon blood had something to say about that. It was on ancient laws and customs of the pure-bloods that are still in practice today, however obsolete. It seems – and please, correct me if I’m wrong, Mum, as you seem to know everything – it seems that if proposal is done between the two consenting members of pure-blood families with the family ring, it is binding. Regardless of gender, it appears, as none is mentioned. I’m quite certain that, as an established pure-blood, Mr. Malfoy was aware of that when he asked for Hugo’s ring.”

And judging by the defeated look on Hermione Granger’s ashen face, so was she. The smile on Rose’s pretty face is so smug, I just want to kiss it off the darling, lovely girl! My Rose is such a star, honestly!

“But surely this… engagement is pointless,” Michael Corner insists, looking perfectly put-off and quite red in the face. “The Wizengamot will never allow any further formalisation of such a… queer, anomalous relationship. Two wizards, indeed… It would be without precedent, and I hardly think…”

“But Mum will take care of that, won’t you, Mum?” Hugo interrupts him, blinking at his mother with all the sweet, innocent trust of a child in his almighty parent. “This is the new millennium; why shouldn’t one marry the person they love, a wizard or a witch? Grandma Granger says it’s common in their world, and if Muggles can understand that, wizards can’t be too far behind, yeah? Besides, it’s so… unjust . And if you think my mum would ever allow for such an injustice to continue on her watch, then you don’t know her very well, Mr. Corny! I’m sure she’ll start a campaign, petition the Wizengamot and such, won’t you, Mum? You’ve done it for the house-elves; it was epic! And I’m sure you, Mr. Corny, will heartily support your… erm, future fiancée and your boss all the way, because what else is such a modern man with progressive beliefs to do?”

“Certain traditions are best left…” Michael Corner starts stiffly, but it seems as if no one is willing to hear him out tonight.

“Well, of course I will do whatever I can,” Hugo’s mum says quietly, but adamantly – and I must admit I’m shocked. “You are perfectly right, Hugo. This condition is insufferable, and I’m very glad this… anomaly has come to my attention. And I am exceptionally proud that I managed to raise children that are so open-minded and sensitive to injustice,” she says calmly, and for a second, something like shame passes over Hugo’s face – and it’s gone just as fast as it made an appearance. The little man is tough as nails and – well, correct me if I’m wrong, but I’m smelling a future Slytherin.

“Will you sign the papers, then?”

That was Ron Weasley, and it looks as if he finally saw it fit to give my poor, breathless father, hopelessly trying to stifle a most blissful smile, a short break.

“What papers?” Michael Corner frowns. “Surely he can’t mean…”

“Well, Corny,” Ron Weasley says sarcastically. “Why do you think it took me so long to hop on this beautiful piece of male ar… fantasy, currently settled in my lap? I would have been at him faster than a Niffler at a shiny galleon once he was a free man, but my lovely wife wouldn’t sign all the bloody divorce papers! I’ve signed mine ages ago, but she keeps delaying and saying we should talk, and when I try to, she keeps finding excuses. But I want my new life, Hermione, and I want it with him. So, if you have any decency left at all…”

“Yes, I’ll sign your papers, Ron,” Hermione Granger interrupts him with a calm demeanour, but her face is flushed, and there’s a tinge of defeat in the tone of her voice. “In fact, that’s what I came here to do.”

A three-year-old could tell by her choked voice that she’s lying, but Ron Weasley is gracious – or perhaps happy – enough to let her keep her dignity.

“I’m glad that’s settled,” is the only thing he murmurs, and I can’t really tell if the unshed tears in his former wife’s eyes are those of powerless anger or disappointment.

“Well, it’s not like you left me any choice,” she sobs unexpectedly. “You got everything in the end: the house, the loving fiancé, even the kids… Rose as good as hates me… You might as well get the bloody papers!”

“Hermione,” Ron Weasley says softly and it’s obvious her sadness moves him. I remember that this woman used to be his best friend and I realise that their relationship perhaps isn’t as simple as it seems.

“Oh, Mum, I don’t hate you!” Rose suddenly rushes towards her mother and hugs her fiercely. “I love you, but… perhaps I’m just a little bit afraid to become you,” she whimpers and hides her face in her mother’s embrace. “And I really don’t like him… this one… Mr. Corner. But I want you to be happy, and if he makes you happy the way Dad didn’t… then I suppose I’ll try a bit harder to like him.”

“You’ll never be like me, darling,” Hermione Granger smiles at her daughter through her tears. “There’s too much of your father in you, and your father doesn’t know how to be miserable for any length of time. I, however… Oh, I suppose you’re too young to understand. Hugo, come here, sweetie. Will you give your mother a hug before she leaves?”

Hugo approaches sheepishly, but when his mother hugs him tightly and buries her face in his hair for a moment, he returns her hug with the unabashed enthusiasm of a child that misses his Mum.

“I’ll visit you, yeah? You promised to take me to a Muggle science museum! And Auntie Luna’s husband is having an opening of the Magical Beasts Museum in the honour of his grandfather next week, and I’d really like to go with you! Dad won’t know half the stuff on display! And Mum… I’m sorry, uhm, you know… for today.”

“That’s all right, Hugo Weasley,” she laughs, wiping her cheeks dry, and she seems to be a completely different person when she does… kind and such. She should definitely laugh more! “I know half of this calamity of a dinner was you! I’d recognise your mark anywhere; I watched you grow up for the better part of your 10 years, didn’t I? Where do you suppose all this grey hair comes from? I’m barely 38, and I’m going to be more grey than McGonagall soon – and it’s mostly your doing, young man!”

“You’re very pretty this way, Mum!” Hugo says eagerly. “Really! It makes you look distinguished! Isn’t she the prettiest, Mr. Corny? You should tell her as often as you can think of it, you know!”

“Well, yes… yes, of course…” Michael Corner smiles stiffly, but it’s perfectly clear he’s had it with this evening and cannot wait to leave.

“Mother of baby Merlin… you know you’re old when an advice from a 10-year-old sounds perfectly sound to you,” my father murmurs and even Hermione Granger cannot hold back a laugh.

“I’ll send your papers with the first owl tomorrow morning, Ron,” she says when she gets up to leave. “And Malfoy… Draco… that was a lovely proposal,” she says quietly. “You better make him happy – and my kids! – or else…”

“Not the canaries, surely!” Ron Weasley murmurs, sounding horrified – and I swear sometimes I can’t make heads or tails of what the adults are saying; it’s like they’re from another planet!

I’m not completely aware how successful our “intervention” was until my distinguished father grabs Ron Weasley by the sleeve and mumbles something about having certain things to discuss… Right. They’re kissing like mad before the door even closes behind them, so, well… yes. I guess we all know what they have to “discuss”. Merlin… old people, seriously. And they’re trying to teach us morals and manners and such!

“Merlin the horny, for your sake, I hope the two geezers put a silencing charm on,” Hugo murmurs, and quickly heads for the door. “I’m gonna go over to Al’s place for a bit – you know, share the news, start the gossip mill going, reanimate Aunt Ginny and such… I’ll be back before midnight, all right?”

“Make sure that you are,” Rose shouts after him, but whether he heard her or not is anyone’s guess. But as soon as he's gone, my beautiful Rosie laughs happily and spins around the room like a fiery cloud – and suddenly I don’t mind that “staying on our own” bit at all. No. Nope. Not when she dances close to me, out of breath and still smiling, and hugs me fiercely.

“We did it, Scorp! We really did it! Oh, it was wonderful!”

I’m already blushing like a tomato and I’ve got a million of these weird, crazy sensations swirling up and down my body, but then this crazy, lovely girl leans forward and presses a very real, very tender kiss into the corner of my mouth.

“You … were wonderful. Thank you!” she whispers, and – …

And suddenly, I completely understand Father and his “I forgot how to breathe”. Rose Weasley… you gorgeous creature, at least warn a boy, will you?! Merlin Almighty… She’s blushing prettily, and I’m smiling goofily from ear to ear, and I… I think must be floating about a foot above the ground!

“Want to watch some old Muggle movies from Grandma Granger?” she asks me shyly, nervously, but still doesn’t let go of my hands.

“Do they have proposals in them?” I blurt out, for godknows what insane reason.

“They might,” she says sheepishly, and glances at me worriedly from underneath her long eyelashes.

“Then by all means,” I say quickly.

You see, I need all the education I can get in that field, and what better way to get it than in the company of my future wife.

When we settle on the couch in front of the TV-lision, leaning onto each other, I’m just about the happiest boy ever. Oh, I hope they’re all gone for a long time! For the night, I’ve quite had it with any kind of intervention!

 

~ The end ~