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The Biscuit Swap

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Scorpius Malfoy, at six-and-a-quarter years old, was a little smaller than the average child of his age. Although his father was a relatively tall man, he was also rather lean, and his mother, Merlin rest her soul, had been exceptionally petite and fragile. His slighter build and stature, coupled with the loneliness of being an only child who’d lost his mother when he was barely three years old, were contributing factors to his shyness, and to his penchant for keeping close to only a tiny handful of friends, among whom he counted the teacher who had been the only constant in his life other than anyone but his father.

On the cold morning of Friday, the 9th of December, the small boy, as blond and fair-skinned as the man seated across the table from him, sat quietly as he ate his oatmeal. Draco periodically sipped his cup of tea as he perused the morning edition of the Daily Prophet for news of business and politics. Finding little of great interest, he folded the parchment and set it down beside his empty plate.

“Scorpius, you’ll need to finish your breakfast soon. It will be time to leave for school shortly,” he urged.

“Yes, Papa,” the child replied, sounding rather unenthusiastic about the prospect.

“What’s the problem, son?” Draco asked with a restrained sigh. This was not an unfamiliar discussion.

Setting down his spoon, Scorpius folded his hands in his lap and stared at them. “Do I really have to go?”

“We’re not having this conversation again, Scor. You have to go to school.” There was enough admonishment in his father’s tone that the boy knew better than to argue further.

“Yes, Papa, but…”

“Scorpius!” Draco warned, his patience tested. “That’s enough!”

“Yes, sir. I have a note to give you from Teacher,” he said in a rush, forestalling any attempt by his father to scold him for speaking out of turn. He pulled a square of folded parchment from his pocket and rose from his chair to deliver it. One simply did not reach across the table; manners were an important thing in the Malfoy household.

Draco’s expression fluctuated between annoyed and remorseful. The boy had been trying to tell him something and he’d snapped at him without much reason, but any note from “Teacher” held strong potential to be bad news. He extended his hand as the boy approached to receive the note, and unfolded it with a weary sigh. The handwriting was more than familiar; he’d probably seen it hundreds of times over the course of the twenty-some years that he’d known the woman.

“What now?” he muttered as he scanned the document.

Dear Parent(s):

Please note that we will have our annual Biscuit Swap Party on Monday, December 12th at 3:00 p.m., just after the end of the school day. We ask that each child bring their favorite biscuit, in sufficient quantity for the whole class of fourteen students, to share with their year-mates. We encourage you to use a well-loved family recipe, and to include a written copy of that recipe in your basket so that everyone can share in learning about each other’s traditions.

Please don’t hesitate to contact me via Floo, owl post, or Patronus if you have any questions.

Warm holiday regards,

H. J. Granger Assistant Headmistress, Grade 1 Teacher

Greater London Academy of Primary Magical Education

Office Floo Address: HJGranger

“Fuck,” Draco mumbled under his breath. Clearing his throat, he looked at his son, who’d been waiting patiently for his father’s response. “It’s okay, buddy. We’ll figure something out. For now, though, go get your books. It’s time to go.”

When Scorpius returned a few moments later, book bag slung over his slim shoulders and overwhelming his small frame, Draco took his hand and Apparated the two of them to the front steps of the school that had been operating as the Ministry-approved source of pre-Hogwarts learning for the past six years.

As happened every day, they were greeted at the door by the same Assistant Headmistress who had sent the note which had caused the boy (and his father) unexpected distress. Draco released his son’s hand with a barely perceptible squeeze and sent him along to get settled in his classroom. That done, he turned to his own former year-mate.

“Granger, are you trying to kill me?”

She blinked at him curiously. “What? Why would you say that?” Her tone betrayed that she felt affronted at his surprisingly earnest accusation.

“The biscuit swap. When do you think I’ll have time to figure out how to make biscuits? I can’t have one more thing added to my to-do list!” he complained.

Hermione crossed her arms just a bit defensively before responding. “If you don’t know how to make biscuits, I’m sure you can get one of your house-elves to help,” she suggested helpfully.

“Don’t you think I’d have thought of that if I had any bloody house-elves?” he retorted. “Our last one passed away at the old age of two-hundred-forty-one a few months ago, and I haven’t even had time to think about replacing her. I’ve got all I can handle and then some, Granger. Give a bloke a break!” he pleaded, raking a hand through his short blond hair in frustration.

“I’m not unsympathetic to your situation, Malfoy, but this is an important tradition to the children. We’ve been doing this since the academy opened and they look forward to it every year,” she stated.

“I appreciate that, but you know I’m a single father, without any domestic help, just trying to keep a roof over our heads and food on the table. I can whip up pasta and scrambled eggs and oatmeal and baked chicken, but biscuits will be my undoing. Can’t I just buy some?” he pleaded.

“It’s not that I object to you buying them rather than making them, but all the children share stories about their family recipes and traditions. I’d hate to have Scorpius feel singled out,” Hermione told him, sympathetically.

“And I appreciate you thinking of him in that way, but the truth is that we don’t have much in the way of family traditions to share. With my parents gone… and he was so little when his mother died that we never really had time to…”

Hermione swallowed anxiously as she witnessed Malfoy’s dismay. While they interacted often, and with some degree of cordiality, he’d rarely displayed emotion of this sort. She concluded that their circumstances at home must be even more challenging than she’d realized. She felt a pang of remorse for adding pressure to the situation and empathy for their loneliness. It was a state with which she was not unfamiliar, even surrounded by so many children every day.

Before the thought fully formed, she found that she was grasping the man’s forearm and offering her help. “I know things are difficult for you, Malfoy. How about this? I’ve got some baking to do this weekend anyway, so why don’t the two of you join me on Sunday afternoon and I’ll help you. Just think about what your favorite biscuit recipe is and drop me a note by the end of the day.”

Draco looked at her with a mixture of relief and confusion. “You… You’d do that for us?”

“Of course. Scorpius is such a sweet boy, and I know he struggles without his mother. You’ve done a remarkable job raising him on your own, but I know it can’t have been easy. He… He tugs at my heart sometimes,” she confessed. “I’m not blind to his introversion, you know.”

His shoulders dropped a fraction of an inch, which was another fairly dramatic gesture for the man who was typically so outwardly controlled and composed. Hermione thought she might have even seen a glint of moisture gathering in the man’s steely grey eyes. “You’re sure?”

“Absolutely. It’s no trouble at all,” she confirmed with a nod. “Just get that note to me later today and we’ll coordinate from there. For now, I’ve got to get the children settled, so I’ll take my leave.”

With a dip of his head, Draco bade her goodbye and left for the day’s work at the small apothecary that he managed.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

It had been a long, frustrating day. One brewing error by a new employee had cost Draco two hours of unproductive time, and he’d been unable to finish cataloguing the delivery of ingredients that had arrived from his largest supplier. As he was closing up for the day, preparing to collect Scorpius from the after-school daycare that operated within the academy, he groaned as he realized that he’d never had an opportunity to even think about the biscuit issue, never mind keep his promise to get back to Granger with an answer by the end of the day. He’d have to wing it.

He Apparated to the school and was once again met at the door by the woman his son called “Teacher.”

“I apologize, Granger. Things were all tangled up at work today and I didn’t even have a minute to think about biscuits,” he explained.

Seeing his fretfulness (and his relative state of dishevelment, blond hair mussed and tie askew), she couldn’t bring herself to scold him. “No worries, Malfoy. Scorpius is finishing up a little art project with Rose Weasley, so he’ll be a few more minutes. Why don’t we sit in my office for a while and chat? We’ll come up with something, I’m sure.”

Following her dutifully, he peeked into the playroom that they passed en route to see the two children she’d mentioned working on a small Yule tree, adding strands of tinsel and brightly colored garland. His boy seemed content, so he didn’t pause nor interrupt them.

Opening the door, Hermione invited him in and waved her hand toward one of the guest chairs. “Make yourself comfortable. Would you like some tea?” she offered, then set the kettle to boil with magic when he nodded.

“So, does Scorpius have a favorite biscuit?”

Draco shrugged. “He’s not very fussy; he’ll eat almost anything that I give him. He does like chocolate.”

“As do you, if I recall correctly,” she observed with a grin, handing him the cup of tea she’d prepared. “Black, right?”

“Yes, thank you. You’re not wrong,” he admitted, relaxing slightly in his seat.

“Was there a particular type that you used to have as a child, if there’s not one that Scorpius particularly prefers?”

“There was one that I do remember being especially fond of when I was very young. It was a dark chocolate cookie with white chocolate pieces. It was soft and warm, and I remember dipping it into a glass of cold milk,” he recalled.

“Was there something special about when you’d have that particular one?” she wondered.

“Well, yes, but it wasn’t connected to special events, per se,” he answered, pausing thoughtfully afterward. “It was something that only Mum and I shared, just the two of us. Father was not a big fan of sweets, and he was often busy with other things. It was something that she used to do when she wanted to have time just with me. It was… nice.”

“Well, that sounds like it may be a good option. You could tell Scorpius about you sharing special moments with his grandmother and how it was a wonderful memory for you. Do you have any idea if there’s a written recipe that you’d be able to find?”

He shook his head. “I doubt it. I’d bet that it was made by the house-elves, and your guess is as good as mine as to whether they’d have written anything down. If they had, it would likely be in Elvish rather than English.”

“I’m sure I could find someone to translate…”

“I haven’t been to the Manor since my parents died, Granger, and I have no intention of ever going back,” he interrupted. “Let’s just find a basic recipe somewhere that comes close.”

Hermione smiled back at him softly. “I think I can manage that. Come by my place at noon; I’ll make lunch for us then we can work on the biscuits,” she suggested.

“Oh, that’s not necessary. Scor and I will be fine…”

“I’m sure you would, but I’ve got to eat, too. It’s no trouble. I was dying to make a roast, but I’d be eating leftovers for a week, which I’d rather not do. It’d be a favor to me, honestly,” she claimed.

“Well, if you’re sure.”

“I don’t say things I’m not sure about, Malfoy. Be there at noon and wear something casual. You know the address, right?”

“I do, from the picnic you did last summer for the children,” he confirmed. They spoke for a few more minutes, discussing Scorpius’ progress in learning arithmetic and spelling, and Draco and his son departed shortly after, once he and Rose proudly displayed their finished art project.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

It hadn’t taken much convincing to get Scorpius on board with the idea of visiting “Teacher” for a lunch and biscuit-baking afternoon. The little boy clearly adored the woman, and spoke about her often, and in glowing terms, when he summarized his day’s learning at his father’s prompting. The fact that he’d seen his son happily interacting with another pupil, even if she was a Weasley, was another moment of great hope that he might be ready to break out of his shell a bit.

After helping Scorpius with his morning bath and selecting an appropriate outfit, Draco left him to read on his own for a few minutes while he attended to his own ablutions. After a quick shower and shave, he dressed in a pair of tan twill trousers and a dark blue cotton jumper. It wasn’t new nor particularly expensive, so he wasn’t worried about getting it dirty. It had only taken about twenty-five minutes for him to be ready; he had another half-hour to kill before they were expected at Granger’s house.

As much as he’d have loved to just relax, there was a bit of work to do. Their flat wasn’t large, but required neatening and cleaning as much as any home would. And homes where six-year-olds dwell have more than their fair share of messes, regardless of this child’s reasonably tidy habits. There would always be soiled laundry and meal preparation and dusting and floors to be done. With an assist from magic, it was certainly less daunting, but in the three years of performing such chores after Astoria’s passing, and especially since the death of his house-elf, Draco had learned that housekeeping was a challenge. He resolved to try to hire a new house-elf, and soon. He shook his head and allowed a brief quirk of his lips at the law Granger had championed to require compensation for the creatures. Even though the vast majority of the Malfoy fortune was gone, lost to Voldemort’s profligate spending and enormous post-war reparations, he wasn’t a pauper. He had a good job and he could afford to pay for a little help, if only he could find the time to make it happen.

Glancing at the Grandfather clock in the small foyer, Draco called to his son while he pulled on an overcoat. “Come on, Scorpius, it’s time to go.” He grabbed one satchel containing a bottle of wine and a bakery-made apple pie, and another with a change of clothes for his son – just in case – and lifted the boy onto his hip after ensuring that his jacket was zipped properly. He noted that, even though he was a bit small for his age, it wouldn’t be long before he wouldn’t be able to cart him around in this manner. That made him rather melancholy, but he shook it off and pasted a pleasant smile on his face. He closed his eyes, pictured his destination, and Apparated to her front walkway.

The cottage at which he appeared was quaint and cozy, covered in natural shingles with bright white trim. A red door, adorned with a festive wreath, welcomed them at the top of the steps. Since his hands were full, he asked Scorpius to ring the small brass bell that hung near the entry. It was only a few seconds before the door opened and Hermione greeted them warmly.

“Welcome! Come in!” she said, reaching to relieve Draco of some of his burdens. Scorpius, to Draco’s surprise, extended his arms to be gathered up by his teacher.

“Thank you, Granger. We’re glad to be here.” He opened the satchel containing the goodies he’d brought. “These are for you, or well, I guess, all of us. Some of it. Scorpius won’t have wine. Of course.”

Hermione just looked at him and grinned. “Thanks. Why don’t you put them on the table in the kitchen? Right through there,” she said, tilting her head to indicate the proper direction. Turning her attention to the boy, Hermione said, “Let’s get you out of that jacket,” and set him down on his feet.

By the time she’d hung the garment on a hook in the foyer, Draco had returned.

“Whatever you’re cooking smells heavenly,” he complimented.

“Joint of beef, garlic mashed potatoes, and roasted asparagus,” she listed. “I hope that will be to your liking.”

“Perfect. I don’t make roasts often, as it’s just the two of us now, so it’s a great treat.”

“My thought exactly. I’ve been craving a Sunday roast, but that means a trip to the Burrow, and I’m not exactly eager,” she noted.

“No explanation necessary,” he said, raising a hand as a nonverbal signal that she needn’t continue. The story of her acrimonious break-up with Ron Weasley was epic, even years later, and far better known than she’d have preferred.

“Well, anyway, everything is just about ready, if you’d like to be seated in the dining room. There’s a tossed salad waiting, and if you’d like to open the wine, that’d be wonderful.”

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

Their luncheon was far more comfortable than Draco had anticipated. They’d both long ago ended any animosity between them, with the partnership that a single parent tends to form with his child’s primary daily caregiver and educator. This, however, had been the first time the two of them had spent a more extended period of time together. It was clear that Scorpius was completely comfortable with Ms. Granger, and that made Draco less apprehensive about letting down his own guard. They’d been trading stories of recent events and just the teeniest bit of gossip, using language that ensured that Scorpius wouldn’t pick up anything untoward.

“You aren’t serious! There’s no way she’d…” Hermione began, then dissolved into peals of laughter.

“Oh, but I am! And not just once, but twice!” he alleged. His wicked smirk chose that moment to make a long-missing appearance… and faded almost as quickly. It was as though he’d caught and scolded himself for having a cheerful moment.

Hermione decided not to press; they didn’t have that kind of relationship, at least not yet. Instead, she deflected. “Well, that must have been quite the sight,” she observed.

“It was,” he agreed. “I suppose people aren’t always at their best when they are in need of a visit to the apothecary.”

“I’ve no doubt you’re right,” she finished. Glancing toward Scorpius, she noted that he’d gone quiet, too, although the fact that the conversation had veered into slightly more grown-up topics was probably a factor. It was time to lighten things up and get the biscuit-making project in gear, she decided.

“So, who’s up for making a mess in the kitchen?” she said gleefully, clapping her hands together.

Draco rolled his eyes. “As long as it’s not too much of a mess,” he admonished Scorpius. He turned to Hermione and whispered, sotto voce, “Don’t encourage him! You’ll never get the place clean.”

“Au contraire! I have magic!”

“Can’t argue with that,” he observed wryly.

“Shall we get started?” she offered, leading the way into the kitchen from the dining room. “I’ve already organized the ingredients, and I think I have a good recipe, so we just need to measure, mix, and get it all into the oven. Sound good to you?” she asked, addressing Scorpius.

“Yes, Teacher, it sounds like fun,” he agreed timidly.

Hermione grabbed an apron from a hook on the wall near the pantry and tossed a clean dish towel to Draco. “You may want to enlarge that and tie it around your waist, at least. Or I can duplicate my apron for you,” she suggested.

“No!” he said, with rather more vehemence than he’d intended. “I mean, no, this is fine. Your apron is… a little frilly for my taste.” He blushed.

“Well, far be it from me to impugn your masculinity!” she teased. “Here, turn around and I’ll tie it for you.”

That seemed a step just a tiny bit too far, and he pasted a grin on his face and grabbed the towel from her, casting an enlargement spell, wrapping it around his waist and tucking it into the back of his trousers. He knew her well enough to know that this was simply her helpful way, but she was female, and, Merlin, it had been so long since he’d paid one any attention – or had it paid to him. It was his turn to deflect.

“So, where do we start?”

“Here,” she answered, using a sticking charm to affix the recipe she’d printed to the door of the cabinet where they could both see it. “Scorpius, let’s get you up on the stool so you can see what we’re doing.”

Draco took that task upon himself as Hermione tuned the Wizarding Wireless to some holiday music.

“Draco, maybe you could tell Scorpius a little about why you like these biscuits so much,” she prompted. “He needs to learn so he can tell the story during our Swap Party.”

He seemed not to know quite where to start, and there was a heavy silence for a few moments before he finally began to speak. “Well, I know that you don’t remember Memere and Pepere very well, Scorpius, because you were quite small when they both passed away, only eighteen months when Pepere passed and just a year older than that when Memere did.”

Scorpius interrupted then with a comment, adding solemnly, “And I was three when Mummy went to Heaven.”

“That’s right, buddy. And because of that, you didn’t get to see many of the family traditions we all had together. These biscuits weren’t specifically part of our holiday tradition, but they were something special that I shared just with my Mum, whenever we wanted to have a day just the two of us,” he explained.

“Did Mummy and me have something that just the two of us did?” Scorpius asked.

“Mummy and I, sweetheart,” Draco corrected. “Yes, you did. Before she got sick, she used to sing to you every night. Mummy had a lovely voice, and I’d hear her from my little study where I finished paperwork for the apothecary.”

Scorpius’ face bore a sad expression. “I don’t really remember that.”

“It’s okay; you were so little, I’d be surprised if you did. I’ve saved some memories for you to look at whenever you’d like,” Draco revealed.

“Do you have memories of when you and Memere would have biscuits together?” the child asked.

“Of course.”

“I’d like to see them, too, someday. Maybe not today, ‘cause I think it might make me a little sad, and I’m having too much fun spending time with Teacher and you,” he said.

Having faded into the proverbial background while the two Malfoys spoke, Hermione chose that moment to reemerge. “I think we’re having fun, too, Scorpius, and it’s time to add the eggs to the sugar. Would you like to help me crack them into the bowl?” she offered.

“Can I?” he asked eagerly.

“Of course! I’ll show you how to do one, then you can do the others,” she said, demonstrating the technique of lightly tapping the egg then breaking it open into the bowl. “Your turn now.”

The first attempt yielded a bit of shell into the bowl, but the next two were flawless. “I think your son may turn out to be a world-class biscuit baker, Malfoy,” she complimented.

He smiled in response, then said, “I see potential, but let’s get that one piece of shell out of the bowl. No crunch in this recipe.” He used his wand to levitate the fragment away and into the garbage bin. “There, perfect!”

“Your dad has amazing control of his wand, Scorpius, doesn’t he?” she observed.

Draco nearly choked in response. “Why, thank you, Granger.” His jaw worked momentarily as though he were going to say something more, but he held his tongue.

When she noticed his wide-eyed expression, it dawned on her what she’d said, and she flushed brightly at the unintended interpretation. “Yes, well, you’re welcome.” She quickly turned her attention back to the bowl where she’d set a wooden spoon to cream the butter and eggs together.

“Now, the cocoa powder. Malfoy, it’s there on your right, if you would,” she urged.

He handed the tin to her with a surprisingly careful grin, and she measured out the required amount. “Now, the flour.”

That, too, was passed over and she added it to the bowl. “Time to stir it all together!” she announced.

“Let me!” Scorpius requested.

The two adults exchanged a glance and shrugged. “Sure, buddy, but go slow. You don’t want to wear it, you know,” Draco cautioned. Of course, the warning went unheeded, and within seconds of beginning to stir, Scorpius had a face-full of tiny bits of cocoa powder and flour, spluttering as the particles traveled into his nose, mouth, and eyes, and the bowl was in danger of toppling from the counter.

“Oh!”

“Let me get…”

“Here’s a tow…”

“Oomph…”

“Sorry, let me just…”

“No, my fault…”

“Hahahaha! Papa, you’ve got…”

The three finally paused and stepped back to find that, in the chaos, Scorpius had tipped the bowl further, causing some of the contents to coat the front of Draco’s jumper and the skirt of Hermione’s apron.

“Well,” she observed with a belly laugh, “That clean-up was remarkably unsuccessful!”

Draco stood with arms held out to his side and mouth agape as he assessed the damage. “That’s the understatement of the day, Granger.”

“Here, let me…”

“Oh, no, you don’t! That’s how we…”

The absurdity of the situation was just too much, and all three finally dissolved into unrestrained laughter. Finally, Hermione recovered enough of her breath to ask, “How do you want to handle this, Malfoy?”

“For a start, hand me that towel so that I can wash off Scor’s face.” He took the kitchen towel that she’d dampened and cleaned the flour and cocoa away, then continued, “Since I’ve been sitting on your kitchen floor, laughing my fool head off, covered in baking products, why don’t you call me ‘Draco’ and from there, how about a quick Scourgify?” he suggested, opening his arms wide to expose his soiled jumper.

“I think I can manage that,” she said, pulling her wand out of her apron pocket and casting the requested spell. “Care to return the favor?”

“Of course, Hermione. Thank you,” he said, stepping closer to help her out. “Turn around,” he instructed, as he reached to untie the bow at the back of her apron. “It’d probably be more effective to remove this and toss it in the laundry.”

“Capital idea! I’m pretty sure I’ve got another one in the linen drawer, anyway,” she said. “Now, let’s see how we can salvage this little project.”

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

Forty minutes later, when the third batch of biscuits was removed from the oven, Hermione excused herself to use the loo, leaving the two Malfoy men to their own devices.

“Are you having a good time, Scor?” Draco asked.

“Yes, Papa. I told you Teacher is a nice lady,” he said.

“So you did. More than once,” he allowed. “She was very kind to us today.”

“And she smells nice, too,” the little boy noted.

Draco blinked twice before answering. “That’s the vanilla and the chocolate.”

Scorpius shook his head. “No, Teacher smells nice all the time,” he argued. “I like when she works with us in class. She’s really smart.”

“You like Miss Granger a lot, then?” Draco probed.

The boy nodded affirmatively. “I hope I can go to her school forever.”

“Well, there’s Hogwarts when you turn eleven, you know,” Draco reminded him.

“But I don’t want to leave Teacher, ever! She’s my friend, even when nobody else wants to be,” he answered, quietly but firmly.

Draco sat silently for a few moments, chewing thoughtfully on a biscuit that had broken when removed from the baking sheet. “What would you think about Miss Granger being Papa’s friend, too?”

Scorpius bounced in his seat with unbridled joy. “I was hoping you would think she’s nice!”

Draco smirked slightly at the emerging Slytherin nature apparent in his son’s comment. “Okay. We’ll see what happens.”

Hermione returned to the room then and saw the two trying to look nonchalant and failing miserably. “What?”

“Oh, nothing, Hermione. We were just talking about the scent of vanilla and chocolate, and how pleasant it was,” Draco claimed, winking slightly at his son.

“Oh, yes, I agree! There’s nothing better!”

“This was fun, for both of us. Maybe, if it wouldn’t be too much trouble, of course, we could do this again sometime?” Draco asked, with just a hint of hope in his voice for the first time in far too many years.

Hermione smiled at the two. “You know, I think that, maybe, that could be arranged.”