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“No one cares how I feel about anything!” she moaned, rising dramatically from her seat and pacing across the dining room. Al sighed and focused on his comic; Roxanne did everything dramatically these days. He wasn’t sure how she found the energy.

Her cousins watched with a mixture of annoyance and amusement as she continued, “My grades aren’t so terrible! I improved in most subjects, and you still won’t let me go. It’s so unfair! Oskar and Dane are going to have such an amazing time without me!”

Her father sighed and said, for the twentieth time that week, “We said you could go on that day trip your friends cooked up if you got all of your grades up, not some of them midway.” George gave her a sharp look as he picked up a deck of trick cards. “Don’t make a liar out of me. Alright, Hugo, pick a card, just not the one on the left.”

She stomped off to the living room just as Hermione and Angelina stepped out of the kitchen with trays of hot cocoa. At least they told her at the end of the day, Al thought, sipping his cocoa. Christmas has been practically normal this year.

The day wasn’t over yet.

As the evening wound down, James, Al, Hugo, Aaron Thomas, and boys from both Ravenclaw and Gryffindor stumbled in to warm themselves by the fire after a very epic snowball fight. Fred had cast a charm on the snow banks around the house so that even though they had to throw the balls by hand, they glowed brightly as they soared through the air.

Talking and laughing with Roxanne, Rose, and Ariadne as the ice melted from their coats, the boys got ready to head home. When Aaron waved and vanished in a rush of green flames, Hermione began to scoop up the last bits of wrapping paper and Ron sank into a chair with a sigh.

Glancing around the room to gauge her audience, Roxanne nudged Ariadne, who was braiding tinsel into her hair. “Well, it doesn’t matter that my family doesn’t care about me. Everything will be better once I get back to Hogwarts,” she said loudly.

Ariadne stopped braiding, eyes wide. “Why?”

Roxanne smiled triumphantly. “Because my secret boyfriend will be there to comfort me.”

Ariadne gasped; the house around them fell silent. Frowning, Rose came over to join them as the others stared.

“Who is it, Roxanne?” Ariadne asked.

Pausing for effect, Roxanne said, “Scorpius Malfoy.”

Rose tripped, tumbling into her father’s armchair with a thud that left them both gasping. They heard something shatter, and the remaining Weasleys came crowding in.

“Your what?

“Did she just say-“

“Did she say Malfoy?

“Malfoy?” Ron repeated with a gasp, struggling to help his daughter to her feet.

Roxanne turned to face her family, saying, “We’ve been seeing each other in secret and we’re in love, and there’s nothing you can do about it.” She then stormed off to the room she was sharing with Ariadne for the weekend, leaving a stunned silence in her wake.

~

“She’s up to something,” George Weasley said, crossing his arms over his chest as the Potters and Weasleys waved at their children from the train platform. Roxanne looked especially smug as she waved regally, tossed her hair, and disappeared into the crowd. “I have a feeling we’ll be finding out what sooner rather than later.”

“Malfoy?” Ron said for the hundredth time. Hermione sighed, grabbed his hand, and Disapparated them both.

“I mean it,” George said as Angelina laughed and slung an arm around his shoulders. “Roxanne’s boyfriends have never stuck around for more than five minutes, and now she’s talking about love?”

Angelina pulled him closer. “She’s probably working on a school project or something with him. Maybe they hit it off and he’ll be her next five-minute boyfriend. Or maybe,” she added, “she’s doing it to make another boy jealous.” She smirked at her husband. “I tried that trick a time or two, but found that boys are too stupid to notice such things.”

George smiled down at her. “Good thing that idiot you were trying to impress didn’t notice, so I had a chance to snap you up.”

“Real or not, going after a Malfoy is sure to get plenty of attention,” Fred added, and the five of them turned to look at the Malfoys, who were bidding farewell to Scorpius several yards away. Noticing their not-so-subtle staring, Draco Malfoy turned to them with a frown.

Luna raised a hand and called, “Happy New Year!” Malfoy gave her the merest of nods before taking Astoria’s arm and striding away.

Fred grinned at his brother and sister-in-law. “And Mum keeps asking why I don’t settle down and have children. Why would I need my own when yours are so entertaining?” Laughing, the group Disapparated, looking forward to some well-earned peace and quiet.


~

Dragging his trunk into the nearest train car, Scorpius Malfoy caught sight of his friend Lucas Nott standing with a group of Slytherins from their year. He began to make his way over, but was quickly overtaken by a swarm of Weasleys and Potters. When Roxanne Weasley moved down the corridor past him, he stepped aside to make room, and she surprised him by pausing and sending him a big smile.

“Hey, Scorpius,” she said, then continued on her way. As Scorpius stared after her, Rose walked by, shooting him a look of doubt and desperation. Ariadne followed them into a compartment, waving at Scorpius and giggling as she closed the door behind them.

Lucas beckoned him into another compartment, where their friends looked on in confusion.

“What was that about?”

Scorpius shook his head, heaved his trunk onto a rack, and took a seat. “I have no idea.”

~

Eleanor came to retrieve Ariadne moments later, having heard that the Gryffindor Quidditch team was showing off their new broomsticks several cars over. Waving to her pseudo-cousins, Ariadne asked, “You don’t mind if I tell Eleanor, do you Roxanne?”

“Not at all,” Roxanne said airily. “It won’t be a secret much longer anyway.”

As Ariadne smiled at the pair of them and closed the compartment door behind her, Rose turned to Roxanne with a frown. “No it won’t, since Ariadne can’t keep a secret to save her life. But you knew that, didn’t you?”

Roxanne waved away her concerns and snagged a magazine from the stack the other girls in their compartment were perusing. “Everything will be fine, Rose. Don’t worry about it. Now, do you think this sweater would work with my complexion?”

Rose huffed in frustration as she secured her trunk and got ready to head up to the prefect’s compartment. “Would it kill Gryffindors to look before they leap?” She crossed her arms. “And for the record, that sweater is hideous.”

~

Ariadne and Eleanor stuck their heads into the compartment the Gryffindor team had claimed, which was full to bursting with cheerful admirers eager to get a glimpse of their new brooms.

“They do look special, don’t they?” Ariadne said to Eleanor, who nodded eagerly. “What kind are they?”

“Sonic 7’s,” said Shepherd, the team captain. He held his up proudly. “Faster than lightning. We got them for our Seeker and all of the Chasers; we’re going to be nothing but blurs above the pitch.” The girls moved further into the compartment as the onlookers cheered. Eleanor fluttered her hands at the others to make room and squeezed Ariadne into a seat next to Aaron, who beamed at them.

“Do you think you have a better chance of winning with these, then?” Ariadne asked him.

He gently handed her his Sonic 7 for inspection. “We hope to.”

“Just don’t forget to have fun, that’s most important,” she said, and he laughed.

“Never.”

A head of blond hair appeared over the sea of onlookers, and the frowning face of James Potter soon came into view. “Didn’t you see the study schedule I made for you, Ariadne? What are you doing in here messing around?”

Ariadne sighed. “We’ve barely been on the train for twenty minutes, James; I doubt I’ve fallen behind.”

The Gryffindors chuckled; James crossed his arms. “I can’t study for you, you know. Before you take your O.W.L.s, you need to take them seriously.” He stalked off, riffling through a sheaf of parchment, and Ariadne shook her head.

“Poor James. He’s really worried about his N.E.W.T.s, you know. The stress must be getting to him.”

“But what were you talking about earlier, Ariadne?” Eleanor asked as she passed Aaron his broom back. They were quickly shoved further into a corner as the crowd surged in for a better look.

“Oh, how could I have forgotten? You won’t believe it, it’s so romantic.”

“Tell me!”

“Well,” Ariadne began as Eleanor leaned in eagerly, along with half of the Gryffindor spectators, “Roxanne and I were talking after Christmas, and she said…”

~

The day just got stranger and stranger.

Scorpius and his friends were discussing the advantages of the Gryffindors’ new brooms versus the strategies the Ravenclaws were attempting to emulate from Egypt’s stunning win at the last World Cup. While debating the other Houses’ gimmicks as compared to their clearly superior raw talent, Scorpius noticed a lot of movement in the train corridor. In fact, more and more people seemed to be running up and down, occasionally pointing dramatically at their door.

Scorpius jerked a thumb toward the door and raised an eyebrow. “Are we missing something?”

Phoebe Crouch rolled her eyes. “Knowing the Hogwarts population, it’s probably something idiotic.”

Lucas shrugged. “Give it twenty minutes and they’ll have moved on to something else. C’mon, let’s get ready to find a carriage.”

Scorpius could feel the train slowing down; he and the others packed up their newspapers and uneaten snacks and got ready to disembark. As soon as they stepped into the corridor and joined the crowd, the excited chatter increased ten-fold. Scorpius squirmed nervously at the unabashed staring of the other students; he could only catch pieces of their conversations, none of which made any sense, but their eyes kept returning to him.

“Why are they staring at us?” Scorpius muttered as they shuffled toward the exit.

“At you,” Lucas replied, confirming his fears.

“I don’t get it,” Scorpius said, scratching his head. “Are you guys pranking me? Because it’s not funny.”

They all shook their heads. “Not us,” Lucas said, pointing toward an empty carriage that waited nearby. As they headed over, the crowd suddenly melted away to reveal Roxanne Weasley, head held high, striding toward them, a furious Rose at her heels.

She stopped in front of the carriage they had picked and said, “Let’s take this one, Scorpius,” before grabbing his hand and tugging him forcefully over, leaving the baffled Slytherins in their wake. Gathering their wits, Phoebe and Lucas barely had time to scramble in after them before the carriage set off toward the castle.

Scorpius found himself sitting across from Roxanne and next to Phoebe, whose eyes had narrowed to slits as she scowled at the interloper in their carriage. Roxanne only smiled.

“How was your Christmas, Scorpius?” she asked.

“Er…fine,” he said, glancing at Lucas, who raised his eyebrows.

After a painfully awkward silence, Roxanne said, “I know we haven’t spent much time together lately-“

“I’m sorry, have we met?” Lucas asked, but Roxanne continued as if he hadn’t spoken.

“-but I think it’s important for yearmates to bond, promote inter-House unity and all that. I think we could be great friends, Scorpius. Really great friends.”

“With exams coming up, Scorpius might not have time for new friends,” Phoebe said with a frosty smile. Roxanne ignored her.

“Will you at least think about it?” she asked, sending him a winning smile.

Eyeing her warily, Scorpius said, “I suppose…”

“Wonderful! You’re so thoughtful, Scorpius!” As the carriage came to a stop, she gave Scorpius a big hug before bounding out, leaving her new ‘friend’ frozen in shock.

He stared at the other Slytherins, who were gaping right back. “Did that just happen?”

“Nothing good can come of this, mate,” Lucas said, shaking his head as Phoebe stepped out of the carriage with a pout. “I know you’re too polite to get people off your case, but keeping your distance might be your best bet.”

Scorpius followed Lucas out in a daze. “We’ve been back five minutes and I already need a vacation.”

~

Although he preferred to work in the relative calm of the Slytherin common room, Scorpius occasionally joined his yearmates in the library, especially when more reference books were needed to properly develop their essays. A week into the new term, this proved to be a mistake.

"Hey Scorpius, can I sit here?"

Scorpius looked up from his essay to find Roxanne beaming down at him, one hand already on the available chair. "Ummm..."

"I don't know, can you?" Phoebe asked sweetly, an icy smile on her face. Roxanne didn't even blink.

Realizing with a sinking heart that she was waiting for his response, he said quietly, "I suppose, if you need a seat..."

"The library's awfully full tonight," Roxanne said cheerfully, sinking into the chair and digging out her Charms book. The Slytherins around them exchanged dark looks before going back to their own work. "What are you working on?"

"Potions," Scorpius murmured, his eyes on his essay. He hoped to Merlin that people weren't staring.

"Ugh, that essay's going to take forever," Roxanne grumbled good-naturedly. "Oh, hold on, I need another book. Be right back!"

As she strolled off, Phoebe hissed, "Does she have to sit at our table? There are plenty of empty seats!"

Scorpius shrugged in what he hoped was a nonchalant way. "Technically, since we're in the library, she can sit wherever she wants." 

With a pointed sigh, Phoebe leaned toward Scorpius, her furious look softening. "She's always barging in. Don't you think it would be nice to just study together?"

Scorpius blinked at her. "Ummm..."

"Found it!" Roxanne returned to her seat and flipped open her newly acquired book. "This should help with some of the trickier definitions. How's your essay going?"

Scorpius blinked again. "Fine." He shot a please help me look at Lucas, who only shook his head, eyes wide.

Maybe getting out of bed that morning had been a mistake.

~

“A Ravenclaw in my Potions class told me they’ve been owling back and forth for months, since he’s too shy to approach her in person,” Summer Townsend said quietly, idly flipping the pages of her textbook. Ariadne put a hand over her heart as Autumn nodded. It was a month into the term, and although she was attempting to spend more time in the library, Ariadne and her friends were having trouble focusing, much to James’ chagrin.

“I heard half the girls in school are devastated that they’ve lost their chance with him, and are plotting ways to win him over,” Autumn added.

Charlie Corner snorted and chucked a paper airplane at Al’s head; Al swatted it away, sending it straight into James’ mountain of notes. “What d’you think they’ll do, start poisoning each other?” Charlie wondered aloud as he folded another plane. “Duel in the halls until there’s only one girl left standing? Malfoy has all the luck.”

Ariadne looked from one twin to the other, saying, “Apparently Phoebe Crouch, a Slytherin in his year, was about to announce her intentions and ask him out at the start of term, but Roxanne’s reveal spoiled her plans. They’re saying she’ll stop at nothing to-“

“I don’t see how anyone can spend so much time monitoring Malfoy’s love life when there are so many uses of dragon’s blood to memorize,” James ground out. He shoved his notes into a pile and threw the plane back at Charlie, who ducked just in time to avoid losing an eye. “Don’t you lot have better things to do than gossip about Scorpius Malfoy?” He shot his sister a look. “Don’t tell me you’re in love with him, too.”

Ariadne pursed her lips and shot James an indignant look. “I was only trying to have a nice conversation with the Gryffindors, and support Al in his studies. Daddy wants us to spend more time together, remember?” As Al blushed and ducked behind his Potions textbook, she dug out her own notes and a quill and ink. “And if you must know, Scorpius Malfoy isn’t for me,” she added, tapping her chin with the quill. “He’s just so…”

Heads turned surreptitiously in their direction and the scratching of quills momentarily ceased. James raised an eyebrow.

“Sensible,” Ariadne said finally, underlining a phrase in her notes and folding down the corner of the page.

“Good to know where you stand on the issue, Ariadne.” Al grinned over his book at James. “Aren’t you glad we had this talk?”

James looked close to smacking his head against the table. “How is that an issue? The only issue right now is how quickly I’ll be disowned after failing these stupid tests.”

“Don’t worry, big brother,” Al said over the muffled laughter bubbling around them. “I’m sure dad will let you live in the attic after graduation. It’s the sensible thing to do.”


~

Five years earlier…

“Are you alright?”

Scorpius turned and saw a girl with reddish-brown curls peering at him between the fronds of a tall plant, behind which he had been brooding. She must have been a Ravenclaw from his class; he’d thought everyone else had left.

Straightening, he said, “Yes, I’m- well…” He sighed, too tired to put up a good front. “I don’t think the Professor likes me very much.”

He’d been so excited to take Herbology, to see the wonderful greenhouses he’d heard about and take care of exotic plants. When the Ravenclaw and Slytherin first years had finally settled down, Scorpius eagerly waited for the roll call to be finished, so that they could start their tour of Greenhouse One. His excitement was short-lived; when Professor Longbottom reached his name on the class list, the blood drained from his face, and after a moment of staring, he’d looked up and said, “Scorpius?” He had replied, “Here, Sir,” in a small voice, with a sinking feeling in his heart. His father had prepared him for the cool looks and suspicious glances other students occasionally sent his way, but it pained him to see a flash of fear on his new professor’s face.

The girl was frowning at him; he started to turn away, sorry he had said anything, when she said, “Maybe it’s some sort of misunderstanding. Professor Longbottom likes everyone.”

Scorpius shook his head. “Did you see him try to read my name?” He sighed. “And I was really looking forward to Herbology, too.”

The Ravenclaw shook her head right back. “Don’t give up! Herbology will be wonderful; they’ve brought in a bunch of plants from Japan for the new term. Oh, I know! Why don’t I introduce you? Professor Longbottom’s my uncle.” Scorpius gaped at her as she stuck out her hand. “I’m Rose, Rose Weasley.”

It was a bit much to take in all at once, but Scorpius kept his manners, giving her hand a gentle shake. “How do you do, Ms. Weasley? I’m Scorpius.”

She laughed. “Okay, Mr. Scorpius, follow me.”

Professor Longbottom was on the other side of the greenhouse, watering some delicate blue shrubs. He looked up and smiled when Rose came into view.

“Lunch will be starting soon; shouldn’t you be getting cleaned up?”

“I’ll have a quick wash on the way over,” Rose said, motioning Scorpius forward. “Uncle Neville, I wanted you to meet my new friend, Scorpius.” He looked between them in surprise, and Scorpius tried not to flinch or fidget. “I thought you might like to meet him; he’s excited to learn about your plants.”

Professor Longbottom stared at him a moment, his face a tangle of emotions before settling on a hesitant smile. “Is- is that so?” Scorpius nodded. “I’m glad to hear of your interest in the subject, young man. It’s such a wonder to help things grow and flourish.” Setting down his watering can, he added, “And I suppose it’s refreshing to meet a student who’s interested in more than an autograph.”

Scorpius’ brow knitted in confusion. “You sign autographs, Sir?”

Longbottom laughed in surprise. “No, no, not from me, from my wife. She plays Quidditch.” He laughed again, running a hand across his forehead and leaving a wide streak of mud. “You both should really be getting to lunch; you’ll need a lot of energy for your first week of classes.” His smile was far warmer as he added, “If you have any questions, botanical or otherwise, feel free to drop by.”

As they thanked him, Scorpius felt a seed of hope take root in his heart. It seemed that things were looking up.

~

After dropping by Professor Windsnap’s office for essay advice, Scorpius was on his way back to his common room when an arm appeared out of nowhere and dragged him behind a tapestry. Blinking in shock, he could just make out Rose Weasley’s face in the shadows, and she did not look happy.

“Er…hi?”

“It’s not true, is it?” Rose asked in a furious whisper. “I was sure she’d made it up for the attention, but when we got back and you- you didn’t deny it… you’re not really dating Roxanne, are you?”

“What?” He gaped at her, his brain barely able to process the accusation. “No, we’re not dating, I hardly know her-“

“Then why haven’t you told anyone?” she pressed. “Who knows how long it will take her to get bored and move on to some other story-“

“Why is it anyone’s business who I’m dating?” Scorpius grumbled. “I shouldn’t have to explain what I do, or how I feel-“

“Not talking about a secret relationship practically confirms it,” Rose said, smacking him on the shoulder. She didn’t look angry, Scorpius realized; she looked nervous.

“It’s just,” she went on, turning away, “I thought, after what you said in your letters, that we might…”

Scorpius felt his face heating up. “Look,” he said softly, “I think about us, too, about actually- I was going to see if we could get a group together for Valentine’s Day at Hogsmeade, maybe start telling people, but now…I don’t know what’s going on with your cousin, but she’s sure to get bored eventually, right?” She shot him a look of disbelief, and it was his turn to look away. “And from what I’ve seen this week, having a girlfriend- a public relationship, I mean, might be more than- than either of us could take.” She stared at him in silence, which was definitely a bad sign. “But maybe,” he continued in a rush, “we could talk over the summer, figure something out for next year-“

She shoved him again, her eyes bright. “Scorpius,” she breathed, “you are such a coward.” Then she pushed aside the edge of the tapestry and ducked out of sight.

~

It had started with a note.

A note he’d stuck in her bag on his way out of their final O.W.L. exam, that he instantly wanted back. But the smile she gave him at dinner, however brief, made all the worry worth it.

And Scorpius was prone to worry. About what other people thought of him, if he was doing well enough in his classes, if he was a nice enough friend, a good enough son. His was the plight of an only child, and as a member of an infamous family, to never be free of the watchful eyes of people waiting for him to make a mistake.

But the way she talked, in letters and, when they could find a quiet moment, in person, was a revelation. She lived in the moment and could ease his fears with a casual remark, reminding him what an amazing world they lived in and how much there was to learn and understand. Where he saw a million things that could go wrong, she saw infinite potential. She was full of ideas, of determination and hope, in the world around her, in the people she cared about and the subjects she studied, and most startling of all, in him.

But just as he was thinking this could be something, that maybe they could try to be together, things went sideways. He found out what together would mean for them, and it shook him to his core.

He was scared, and she knew it. Maybe he didn’t have much potential after all.


~

“So what do you think?”

Scorpius and Lucas were sitting in an alcove off a second floor corridor going over notes, as evenings in the library had become rather unbearable. Lucas waited for a response a moment longer before realizing Scorpius hadn’t heard a word he’d just said.

“Hey, are you with me?” He poked Scorpius in the side of the head; Scorpius swatted his hand away and sighed, gazing out the window across the moonlit grounds. “Things haven’t gotten worse, have they?”

“Do you think a fall from this height would kill me?”

Lucas snorted. “It wouldn’t be worth it to die dramatically over a girl, mate.”

Scorpius groaned, pressing his forehead against the cold windowpane. “It’s not one girl, it’s the entire school suddenly finding me so bloody entertaining.” He thumped his head gently against the glass. “Did you hear that kid comment on my sensible wand technique in Charms today? Someone else said I had sensible handwriting at lunch, and everyone laughed. What does that even mean? It’s driving me spare.”

“So just tell that Weasley girl to cut it out, laugh it off, and go on like it never happened.”

Shaking his head, Scorpius slouched back down and stared unseeingly at his notes. “It will just sound like I’m covering something up. And if I hurt Roxanne’s feelings, all the Gryffindors will hate me.” He rolled his notes into a tube, back and forth between his hands. “You know my favorite battle plan is a war of attrition.”

“Or, new plan,” Lucas said, rolling his eyes, “you could bore her to death with your knowledge of Muggle military history until she breaks up with you.”

A smile tugged at Scorpius’ lips. “Muggles are wonderfully barbaric. It’s amazing how many ways they’ve come up with to hurl sharp objects at one another.”

“Yeah, start with that, you’ll really bowl her over.”

Shaking his head, Scorpius smoothed out his notes and forced himself to focus. “Come on, Cas, you know things are too far gone for anything I say to make a difference.” He hunched his shoulders a tad defensively, which Lucas was friend enough not to comment on. “Sometimes the best thing to do is nothing at all.”

~

“Maybe it’s time to give it a rest,” Rose said cautiously as she and Roxanne left their Transfiguration classroom and made their way downstairs for lunch. She had been hinting that her cousin should leave Scorpius alone for several days now, but subtlety wasn’t working. “I mean, he hasn’t asked you out, has he?”

“Not yet,” Roxanne replied, “but he might. Maybe I can meet up with him on Valentine’s Day. Life’s all about positive thinking, Rose.”

Rose struggled to keep the frustration out of her voice. “But if that doesn’t work out… maybe that’s a sign that he’s letting you down gently, even if he doesn’t say so. And he may not be interested in a flashy date, going around in public with a girl he doesn’t know very well…”

Roxanne tossed her hair and waved at several people as they continued down the hallway. “Sure he’s shy, but he’ll warm up to the idea eventually. And if not,” she shrugged, “we’ll have a laugh and part as friends. No harm, no-“

“But pestering people for dates might be doing more harm than you realize,” Rose pressed, her nerves frayed to the breaking point. “You always rush off in a cloud of confidence and don’t think about what other people want, or if you’re hurting someone’s feelings-“

“What do you know about feelings?” Roxanne asked, her careless air giving way to anger in a heartbeat. “You’re the one up in Ravenclaw Tower all the time, surrounded by books! Maybe you should worry more about your own love life-“

“You shouldn’t mess with people’s emotions for your own entertainment,” Rose continued sharply, her face flushed. People around them were beginning to stare. “Not because you’re bored, or because Uncle George won’t let you go to Glasgow in July.”

Roxanne gave Rose a sidelong look, her eyes cold. “Why don’t you let me worry about my boyfriends and summer plans, and mind your own business,” she replied, turning away. “Honestly, why do you even-“

“Because he’s not your secret boyfriend, he’s mine!” Eyes widening in horror, Rose took a shaky breath as all conversation around them came to a halt. Roxanne went from angry to baffled at lightning speed.

“Wait, he’s- what?”

For the first time in her life, Rose’s brain ceased to function. While she struggled to think of something, anything to say, she homed in on some familiar faces in the corridor. It was a well-known fact that any time something exciting happened at Hogwarts, a Potter would be nearby to witness it.

Al Potter looked like he’d rather be anywhere else, but Ariadne’s confusion was quickly being pushed aside by a smile.

“Oh, Rose, that’s so sweet,” she sighed. Looking between the two girls, her eyes widened in understanding. “Unless…you didn’t steal him from Roxanne, did you?”

The buzz of conversation returned with a vengeance.


~

“Alright,” James said sternly, looking them each in the eye. “Here’s how this is going to work.”

Every Potter and Weasley at Hogwarts was gathered at the end of the Gryffindor table, whether they wanted to be there or not. It was the end closest to the Staff Table, so the students leaving after breakfast had no reason to walk past them, and with a look from James any potential eavesdroppers were sent scurrying off.

“The ribbon cutting for St. Mungo’s refurbished children’s wing is Saturday night. Dad is one of several people speaking, and had already arranged for Mother and I to be there. In light of recent events-“ his eyes cut to Rose and Roxanne, “he’s gotten permission from Crawley for all of us to go. It’s not so strange to have your family there when talking about children’s healing, I suppose. Uncle Ron and his team will be providing security.”

“So we have to go listen to a bunch of stuffy speeches?” Hugo asked glumly, and the girls scowled at him.

“Oh, it’ll be wonderful, Hugo!” Ariadne assured him. “Lots of snacks and people in fancy clothes, all wanting to say hello…”

“It’s the only way our parents could arrange a…discussion on such short notice,” James added.  Rose sat tall even as she wished she could sink into the floor. “And you all have to be there to keep up appearances.”

Al sighed. “That’s what I was afraid of.”

James glared at him. “You’d better get your act together by Saturday. I’m not exactly thrilled to be meeting my future employers with you lot running around; do not ruin this for me.”

James dug through his bag while Al glared sullenly back. “You’re all going to smile and shake hands and not do anything to embarrass me. And to help you out, I’ve come up with some phrases,” he continued, holding up a square of parchment, “for you to pepper into conversations if my name comes up. ‘Dedicated’, ‘hard-working’, ‘level-headed’, ‘calm under pressure’-“

“Humble,” Al muttered under his breath.

“Should we be writing this down?” Ariadne asked fretfully. “Hold on, let me find a quill-“

“Just take this,” James said, holding out the parchment, and she stuck it in her bag. “Learn it, live it, and if you can’t remember it, just smile and nod.” He closed up his own bag and nodded to the Weasleys. “Good luck on Sunday, guys.”

Rose shivered as James stood and exchanged a few more fierce remarks with Al; Ariadne jumped in to calm him down, but Rose was no longer listening. She was trying her hardest not to look at the Slytherin table, not to break down and cry in front of everyone, and not to imagine what a ‘conversation’ between her parents and the Malfoys would be like. She sighed. Could things possibly get any worse? She wondered as she followed James back to Ravenclaw Tower. And would they ever get better?

~

After much deliberation, Aaron Thomas pushed aside his dinner plate, took a deep breath, and told his friends, “I have an idea.”

After exchanging confused looks with Lucy and Lyra, Kellen shrugged, swallowed his last bite of pie, and said, “Okay.”

“I think, this year, I’m going to give Ariadne,” he said slowly, “a Valentine.”

Kellen blinked at him. “Great. What’s the problem?”

“You’ve never sent her a card before?” Lucy asked incredulously.

“No,” Aaron replied hotly, “and the problem is that she gets about a hundred Valentines every year, even though the Potters don’t like her accepting gifts, so I always thought, what’s the point? If I gave her one, she wouldn’t even notice.”

“I think she’d notice if you sent her one,” Lucy continued, and Lyra nodded.

“No, but what if,” he paused for dramatic effect, “I gave it to her the next day instead?”

“You want to send it late?” Kellen asked dubiously, taking a swig of pumpkin juice and pushing away his own plate. “You think that will impress her?”

 “No, just- so it wouldn’t get lost in that flock of cards she’ll get at breakfast,” Aaron explained, gesturing aimlessly as Kellen continued to look unimpressed. “And it falls on a Hogsmeade weekend, since it’s on a Friday this year, so Saturday-“

“Oh,” Lyra said. They all turned to her.

“Oh?” Aaron looked instantly worried. “Oh what?”

“Haven’t you heard?”

“Heard what?”

Realization dawned on Lucy’s face. “Right, the Potters are leaving for a family thing at St. Mungo’s this weekend. So Ariadne won’t be here on Saturday.”

Aaron’s face fell. “Never mind. It was a dumb idea. That’s probably a sign-“

“If the card’s going to be late anyway,” Kellen reasoned, “who cares if it takes an extra day or two?”

“One day might be okay, but more than that…” Aaron sighed. “I don’t know. I hadn’t even figured out what the card would say. Maybe I should wait-“

“How about,” Kellen cut in, waving his hands dramatically, “Happy Valentine’s Day?”

Aaron scowled. “That’s too- ugh,” he groaned. “What’s the point of sending one if it’s that generic?” He turned to the girls for support. “A real friend would say something more, wouldn’t they?”

Lucy smiled encouragingly as Kellen muttered something under his breath that sounded suspiciously like, “Friends, sure.”

“There’s no need to over-do it,” she said, and Lyra nodded in agreement. “Simple is fine. Maybe add something small to set it apart from the other cards she gets, something that makes it clear it’s from a friend.”

Aaron nodded slowly. “Okay, I’ll think about it. And if I come up with something, I’ll send it Monday when she gets back. And if I send it,” he looked at each of them in turn, “you lot had better not tell anyone.”

Kellen rolled his eyes and grabbed his school bag. “I’ll happily pretend this conversation never happened. It’s been almost as painful as when you forced us to write poetry last term.”

Aaron nearly set his elbow in the last slice of pie. “Kellen,” he said, his whole face lighting up, “that’s it.”

The others exchanged more confused looks. “What now?” Kellen asked with a laugh, a bit stunned by the joyous look on his friend’s face.

Aaron beamed at them. “I know just what to write.”

~

The six of them waited in silence as Headmaster Crawley waved his wand and lit a cheery little fire in his office grate. After picking up a small wooden box from the mantle, he lifted the lid and waved them over.

“I trust that while you are away, you will behave in a way that reflects well on Hogwarts and your families,” Crawley said as James stepped forward; his eyes were on the girls.

“Thank you for making these arrangements, Professor,” James replied, grabbing a pinch of Floo Powder from the box. “It means a lot to our parents to have us join them for this event.”

“Indeed.”

One by one, they took Floo Powder from the proffered box and stepped into the flames, and found a grim looking Harry Potter waiting for them in the vast Ministry lobby. It was strange to see such a large place so empty; the dark tiled floor shimmered in the candlelight. After Hugo, the last to come through, had dusted off his robes, Harry beckoned them closer.

“Your grandparents are letting us stay with them at the Burrow since we’re such a large group, but it was more secure to have you lot Floo here first.” He pulled an old jump rope from his pocket and held it out to them. “You have about a minute to get situated.”

He held one end of the rope and passed the other to James; they spread it between them and the others grabbed on.

Rose moved to take a handful near the end. In a soft voice, she asked Harry, “On a scale of one to ten, how upset are my parents right now?”

The look on his face was answer enough.

~

The Potter family had a system when it came to parties and events: Harry would bring James if he needed to impress people, and Ariadne if he needed to charm them. Apparently Harry Potter was more approachable when presented as a proud father, and whichever child he brought was a great conversation starter. Al didn’t mind; he was happy to stay home and bake with his mother or read comic books in his bean bag chair by the fireplace. To have the entire Potter family at an event was rare, and they were getting a lot of attention.

If Scorpius had just picked one girl and been done with it, Al thought sourly as he shook yet another stranger’s hand, I wouldn’t have muddle through this.

To his left, Ariadne was talking animatedly to a small group of smiling people next to the beverage table. They laughed heartily when she reached the end of her story. Al sighed and resisted the urge to look at his watch. Instead, he stole a glance at the far table where his three pseudo-cousins sat, staring glumly at their little plates of fruit and cheese. They were allowed to fade into the background, although Al was grateful that he’d be excused from Sunday’s dinner. He wouldn’t be envying them for much longer.

“Here he is,” said his mother’s voice, and Al turned with a grin to see Luna approach from his right, accompanied by several familiar faces.

“Well, Albus Cedric!” the first man exclaimed, clapping Al on the shoulder and beaming as Luna moved to stand behind him. “I think you’ve gotten taller since Christmas! How have you been?”

“I’m good, Uncle Amos,” Al replied, belatedly remembering that the Diggory’s had made a donation toward the children’s wing. “It’s nice to have the project finally done,” Al added, to keep with the party’s theme, “so more kids can come get treatment.”

“We’re all so pleased with how it turned out,” Amos said, beckoning over the taller of the two young men who stood behind him. “Brendan was just moved into the Children’s Healing division; he’ll be leading his own team on the ward when it opens on Monday.”

Brendan ducked his head while Amos gave him a pat on the back and the other man grinned. Al liked Amos Diggory’s foster sons; even after all they’d lost in the war, they always seemed to be smiling, and listened patiently when young Al had chattered on about the qualities of the various Green Lanterns. Liam, Amos was saying, had transformed his photography hobby into a flourishing studio, and would be taking portraits for a prominent family in a few weeks. Al smiled and congratulated them both.

“James may be working with you soon, Brendan,” Amos added. “Is your brother still planning to be a Healer?” he asked Al.

“Yes, he is,” Al nodded, thinking of his assignment for the day. “He’s been working hard to get ready for his NEWTs; he’s really dedicated.”

“Who knows, maybe he’ll be on my team one day?” Brendan said, snagging a tiny sandwich from a passing tray. Al grabbed a couple for himself as his mother gave his shoulder a squeeze and moved back into the crowd. He deserved a reward for saying all that with a straight face.


~

As Shell Cottage was only used by the family in the summertime, it was graciously offered up as a meeting place. The Potters agreed to play host and hostess. After magically adjusting the dining table Sunday evening, Harry and Luna sat on one end across from Astoria and Hermione. On Astoria’s side sat her husband and son, the final spot going to James to round out the table. Ron sat across from Malfoy, alongside Ginny and Rose.

After everyone had been arranged and was seated in frosty silence, Luna stood and waved James over to the kitchen.

“This didn’t turn out as well as last week’s lamb, I’m afraid,” Luna said regretfully as she placed the roasting pan in front of Harry for him to carve. “We had the Clarks over for dinner,” she added for the Malfoys’ benefit. “They’re trying to plan a holiday abroad for the summer before their oldest goes off to Hogwarts.”

“How nice,” Astoria said stiffly, accepting a plate of lamb and root vegetables from James.

“I suggested Norway,” Luna continued as she and James handed everyone plates of food. “It would be lovely in July. But Dove is just excited to visit a new country. They’re all named after birds, you know,” she clarified, handing Malfoy a plate.

He accepted it with a small nod. “I’m aware.”

Silence fell.

Harry ate a small bite of lamb, smiled appreciatively at his wife, and turned to face the table at large.

"I got a letter from Headmaster Crawley the other day-"

"Because why would he write to me about my own son?" Malfoy cut in harshly.

"-about recent developments at Hogwarts," Harry continued, "and his opinion was that you would respond better if the message came from me, seeing as how we're... acquainted."

Malfoy scoffed. "At this point I'd be happy to hear from anyone, since Scorpius refuses to tell me what's going on." Scorpius, who had been staring fixedly at his plate, flinched. "How did Crawley put it? He's having 'interpersonal conflicts?'" Harry nodded.

Malfoy's eyes swept the table before returning to his son. "Are the Weasleys bullying you?"

Ron, who had been watching in stony silence, straightened in his seat. "Now hold on-"

"You need to stand up for yourself, Scorpius!" Malfoy continued, his voice filled with frustration. Astoria breathed in sharply and put a hand over her heart as she watched the exchange. "You have just as much right to be at that school as anyone else."

"I reached out to you all to give the children a chance to explain themselves," Harry said calmly. "Could you keep your comments to yourselves until they're done?" When no one interjected, Harry turned to Rose, who had to fight the urge to flee the table. "Would you like to start?"

She nodded, having guessed that this was coming. Taking a shaky breath, Rose focused on a point over James' shoulder and told them an abridged version of events, from the reason behind Roxanne's sudden interest to... certain bystanders accidentally fueling the Hogwarts rumor mill. She was loathe to mention Ariadne’s involvement with her parents present.

"Roxanne wasn't trying to be mean. She was mad at Uncle George, and Scorpius was just..." Shocking, forbidden, seemingly available. "...there."

Malfoy took a deep breath, nostrils flaring, but Hermione spoke first.

"While there seems to be no malicious intent, Roxanne's actions were thoughtless and ultimately hurtful," she said formally. "We'll tell her parents what happened, and have her apologize to Scorpius in writing, if that's agreeable to you," she added, looking at Malfoy.

Malfoy nodded minutely. "Agreeable, but ultimately pointless. This doesn’t erase my son’s mistreatment or the damage to his reputation."

“But we agree that it’s a start,” Hermione pressed on. “We can’t solve all of the world’s problems in one sitting. Will you please ask Roxanne to give Scorpius some space?” she added, looking between James and Rose. James raised an eyebrow Rose’s way, and she blushed.

“I- I don’t think that will be a problem,” she stammered.

“Great,” Ron said, smiling tightly, and moved to get up from the table. “So if that’s all-“

“Is there anything else you’d like to add?” Harry asked before anyone else could try and leave. “Rose? Scorpius?”

Rose bit her lip, the words refusing to take form. Scorpius squared his shoulders and faced his father for the first time.

“Don’t be too mad at Roxanne, alright?” he asked softly, and Malfoy frowned. “She didn’t- she didn’t know that…”

He looked to Rose, and she said in one breath, “She didn’t know we were already together.”

More silence fell.

What?!” Ron turned to her, aghast, as the others continued to stare.

“And how do we know that this isn’t some sort of cruel joke?” Malfoy asked sharply, his eyes darting between Rose and Scorpius. “That these girls haven’t been making up stories to embarrass our son?” Rose paled at the mistrust in his eyes, but refused to look away.

“There’s no need to jump to conclusions,” Hermione cut in, frowning at him, but Malfoy continued undeterred.

“How is that not the logical conclusion?” he asked. “After everything he’s been put through this term?”

“Rose wouldn’t do that,” Ron ground out, clearly struggling to stay calm. “If this is true, it’s sincere, although misguided-“

“We’re really together,” Rose said in what she hoped was a firm voice, daring to look over at her mother’s face. It was surprisingly grim.

“I just can’t believe it,” Ron said, looking at his daughter as if she’d sprouted a third arm. “You have your pick of lads at that school. What about the Thomas boy, isn’t he in your year?”

Rose felt her face heating up. “Dad-“

“Or what about James?” Ron added, building up steam. “What’s wrong with him?”

James choked on a bite of potato; Scorpius gamely thumped him on the back, clearly wishing he could melt into the floor.

Ron scowled down at his plate, as if waiting for his own vegetables to attack. “He must not think much of you if he wanted to keep your relationship a secret,” he muttered, stabbing a parsnip rather viciously with his fork.

“Why don’t I get everyone some more water?” Ginny offered as Rose spluttered beside her. “I’ll be right back.” As she darted into the kitchen, the two fathers glared at each other across the table as James gulped what was left in his glass. Ginny brought over a pitcher and carefully refilled it.

“Not that your father is saying you need to pick a boy now,” Hermione added, shooting her husband a look.

“No, that’s not what he’s saying,” Malfoy said, eyes glittering dangerously.

“And what am I saying?” Ron asked darkly, unbuttoning his cuffs. To Rose’s horror, her father began to roll up his sleeves, his scars on full display. This was not good. It was his most famous interrogation technique, and had scared many a criminal into tearfully confessing. Ginny returned to her seat, glancing his way; she pursed her lips and said nothing. “I’ve got nothing against my children making friends of all stripes,” he continued, “but I would hope they’d think seriously before getting involved-“

“Maybe he needs some time away, while these stories die down,” Astoria suggested, looking worriedly over at Scorpius. “All this stress can’t be good-“

“I can’t leave school, Mum!” Scorpius exclaimed, glancing between them.

“That would only make things worse,” Malfoy said, shaking his head. “And I’m not letting them run him out of school. Perception is everything at this point, and you must understand how this looks, Scorpius,” Malfoy added, in a tone Scorpius knew meant imminent danger. “Potential employers have their eyes on Hogwarts, and they won’t bother putting truth to rumor. Fooling around with more than one girl makes you look uncaring and reckless, and it won’t do you any favors when we start sending out letters next year.”

“I’d be happy to write Scorpius a letter of recommendation, if you like,” Harry said cautiously.

“I don’t need any more favors from you!” Malfoy bit out. Both Malfoy and Ron were on their feet; Rose couldn’t remember either of them standing up. Harry moved swiftly around the table to grab Ron by the shoulder. Malfoy took a deep breath, visibly reigning in his anger, and let it out slowly through his nose.

“These girls aren’t just sabotaging our son’s social life,” Malfoy continued. “His future is at stake. And you may not think he’s good enough for them, but he deserves a chance at a good career. Not that any of you understand how difficult that can be.” He looked down his nose at Ron, who watched him carefully, clearly ready to draw his wand. “Not everyone gets to stroll into their chosen career path to a round of applause.”

Ron crossed his arms, the scars that wound around them twisting like snakes. “You know exactly what I’ve done to get where I am.” He let that hang in the air a moment before continuing ruthlessly, leaning forward. “Poor you, having to deal with prejudice and disappointment just like the rest of us. What do you want, a medal?” If the table hadn’t been between them, their faces would have been inches away; Harry kept a firm grip on Ron’s arm as Malfoy’s eyes narrowed to slits.

“You should be thanking your lucky stars you survived the war and didn’t spend a second in jail, not many in your position could say the same. I can’t count how many times we saved your bloody life, just so you could spend it moaning about getting a raw deal.” He leaned in and put both hands on the table, dragging Harry forward. “You can show your gratitude by staying the hell away from me and my family.”

Malfoy hadn’t moved an inch; Astoria stood at his side, watching him nervously. “As if we would spend another voluntary moment with you and yours. And your families are the only ones that deserve their happy endings? Every decision I make is met with suspicion and distrust; I have worked hard these many years just to be regarded with indifference. You think I deserve to wallow in misery until the end of my days for mistakes I made when I was sixteen? No one deserves that, and my son certainly doesn’t deserve your scorn and prejudice. He deserves to find happiness, although what happiness he could find here escapes me. Perhaps this will be his awakening to the disappointments of the real world.” He grabbed his cloak from a rack in the corner and swung it around his shoulders. “You won’t be seeing us again.”

He strode to the door.

Astoria grabbed his arm and sent him a pleading look. “We needn’t leave things on such terms, Draco; these people were willing to speak to us, in their home, to talk this over-“

“I know the Greengrass in you hates burning bridges, Astoria, but we’re only here in their home because you couldn’t pay them to set foot in mine,” Malfoy said bitterly, and her shoulders slumped. Scorpius glanced Rose’s was a final time before moving to stand beside his mother, his eyes sad. Taking his wife’s hand, Malfoy turned his back on the Weasleys and said to Luna, who regarded him solemnly, “If they wish to contact us again, they may do so through my solicitor. Potter has his address.”

Then the trio made their way out the door and into the night.

~

Harry returned to his seat with a sigh; his footsteps were almost deafening in the stunned silence left in the Malfoys’ wake.

“That could have gone better,” he said, pulling off his glasses and running a hand over his face. He smiled ruefully as Luna leaned over to give him a hug. “What now?”

Ron looked ready to say something scathing, but Hermione cut him off. “Ron and Ginny will take Rose and James back to the Burrow. I’ll help you and Luna pack up the leftovers. We’ll reconvene in an hour.”

“Mum,” Rose said, “I didn’t mean to…” She squared her shoulders, trying to get her thoughts back in order. “What can we do to make this right?”

“Don’t worry about it, Sweetie,” Hermione said, mustering up a tired smile. “Roxanne will apologize, and we’ll take it from there. This is about more than you and Scorpius.”

“But this is my life!” she said indignantly, but the adults were already packing up.

“I think we’ve said enough for one night,” her mother replied, in a tone that brooked no argument. “One hour,” she repeated, and the others nodded. James followed Ron and Harry to the fireplace, the look on his face making it clear what he thought about being excluded from their meeting. Rose reluctantly followed them to the fireplace, with the sudden feeling that when she left, she’d be leaving something very important behind.


~

Back at the Burrow, Rose went upstairs and waited for the adults to gather in the kitchen before tiptoeing back down. She nearly shrieked in alarm when she bumped into Ariadne, who had been sneaking down from a different direction. They were quickly shushed by Al and James, who were already crouched at the foot of the stairs. Hugo and Roxanne were helping Fred and George with inventory at the shop, a task Roxanne hated with a passion; Rose was glad to be spared their probing questions for one more night.

James was passing around small globs of flesh-colored putty; hoping their parents were too riled up to sweep for Extendable Ears, Rose stuck one end in her ear and watched the putty creep towards the kitchen door.

“The timing could hardly be worse, but we’ll have to play the cards we’ve been dealt,” her mother was saying. A kettle whistled in the background, followed by the clinking of mugs. “We’re lucky he already mailed Harry’s invitation; it can’t be rescinded without a serious breach in etiquette. He may try to freeze you out, but you have to think of some way to convince him to help.” She paused, probably to take a sip of tea. “Malfoy is our only link to the Zabinis.”

“Will you stop focusing on the case for five minutes and think about our family?” Ron asked; they heard footsteps; he was clearly pacing the floor. “What is going on at that school? I have half a mind to write Crawley about their slipping standards-“

“At least Crawley wrote to Harry about what was going on,” Ginny put in, and Ron scoffed.

“What’s the point of having a Headmaster in your pocket if he doesn’t write until he’s totally lost control of the situation?”

Harry raised an eyebrow. “He has graciously agreed to help keep our children safe, not to sleuth out who they’re secretly dating.”

“And forgive me for wanting to track down the next wave of counterfeit potions ingredients before they hit the open market!” Hermione added. “And if we can’t figure out who’s framing Zabini before the sting operation comes together in March, an innocent man could go to Azkaban.”

“Harry has over a week to figure out what he’ll say to get Malfoy to help us,” Ron said firmly. “For right now, our priority has to be Rose. And whatever’s going on between her and his son needs to stop.”

“What would we say?” Hermione asked. “ ‘I know we always told you to be friendly and outgoing, Honey, but the sociopolitical structure of Wizarding society depends on you making better friends?’ Or that it would just be easier for everyone involved to keep her distance?”

“If not for the good of society, for what’s left of my poor sanity,” Ron said. “I don’t care how useful he is; I don’t want to be involved with that family any more than we have to be.”

“As hard as it is, we have to look at things from their perspective,” Harry said. “The children’s,” Harry added when Ron scoffed. “This isn’t just about us anymore.”

“And what happened to us is not that boy’s fault,” Ginny said softly. “For what it’s worth, Neville says he’s a nice kid. Nothing will ever excuse what happened-”

Ron let out a harsh laugh. “But you'd think there would be some justice! Because while you and Neville were being tortured at Hogwarts, Malfoy was hiding in his stupid mansion, waiting for things to blow over, just so he can make sanctimonious speeches twenty years later about how tough his life has been. He sat there safe and sound with your wife locked in his basement.” They exchanged wide-eyed looks as they heard Ron growl and slam his fist into something solid.

“I won’t have it! I won’t live to see my daughter in that house…I can still see her, Harry, still see her standing there with those monsters while they dragged us off, still hear her screaming; I had nightmares for years.

They heard Harry sigh. “You don’t have to tell me about bad dreams.” There was a pause; when Ron spoke again, his voice was shaking.

 “It’s one thing for you to go to his stupid parties and report back to the Ministry, it’s another to expect me to have our children cozying up to his son and mucking around Voldemort’s old headquarters. I don’t care if he’s turned over a new leaf, if he wants my family involved, he had better kiss my boots and beg for mercy. This ends here.”

~

The Potters and Rose staggered back upstairs to the room the boys were sharing, rolling up their Extendable Ears with shaking hands. Once James closed the door, Ariadne rounded on him.

“Did you know?” she asked, tears in her eyes. “About Mum?”

James nodded, and she sank down onto the edge of the bed, flanked by Al and Rose, who gaped up at him in shock.

“Do you remember the story Mother used to tell us about the princesses in the castle?” he asked. “And how one lived up in the Tower, and one was kept deep underground, but neither could leave?”

Al shook his head as if to clear it. “Are you saying that it was true? And Mr. Malfoy was a princess in our bedtime story?!”

James nodded again, sitting gingerly next to him. “I asked her a while back where she got the ideas for those stories, and after doing a lot of thinking, she finally told me. It was her way of dealing with her fear, making it into something beautiful.” He let out a shuddering sigh, his hands clenching at his sides. “Mother was taken to help the Death Eaters lure Dad out of hiding; they kept her in the dungeon for safekeeping, and the Malfoys were practically under house arrest, so… they were sort of trapped together.”

After letting that sink in a moment, James added, “Our families have been through a lot, but they got through it. Their problems weren’t solved overnight, though, and this won’t be either.” He reached over Al for Ariadne’s hand, but they were all looking at Rose. He didn’t say anything more, but she heard his final thought loud and clear.

You have to decide if he’s worth it.


~

After waiting in the corridor for a few minutes, watching students pour out of the surrounding classrooms, Scorpius spotted a head nearly as blond as his own in the crowd. Moving closer before he could talk himself out of it, he cleared his throat and asked, “James, may I have a word?”

The Ravenclaw in question stopped and turned, but before he could reply another voice called out, “Sick of girls, eh, Malfoy? Though a Potter’s a bit out of your league.”

The hallway echoed with his friends’ laughter; Scorpius didn’t move, wouldn’t give them the satisfaction of a sharp look, although he couldn’t keep his face from burning. James’ gaze slid from Scorpius to his group of tormentors, who had begun to quiet down.

James gave them a cool smile. “Funny.” Looking back at his friends, he said, “I’ll be right back. Save me a seat, will you?” Jasper and Ioan nodded and kept walking; James turned and strode off in the opposite direction, with Scorpius at his heels.

He wished he were bold enough to look back at the shock and unease on the other boys’ faces. James’ not-so-secret motto was ‘Don’t get mad, get even,’ and in a few days, a week maybe, they would find their pumpkin juice at dinner to be unbearably spicy, or that their shoelaces would refuse to stay tied, tripping them up and down the halls of Hogwarts. James Potter always had the last word, and he never got caught.

Scorpius repressed a shudder. This probably wasn’t his best idea, but he didn’t currently have any others.

James opened the door to an empty classroom and Scorpius followed him in. He leaned against the teacher’s desk and crossed his arms while Scorpius gathered his thoughts.

“What’s up?”

“So,” Scorpius began, taking a deep breath, “Things didn’t exactly go well with my parents the other day. Well, you know, you were there. So…” He sighed. James waited patiently for him to continue.

“So Rose hasn’t said anything to me, and I’ve no idea what to say to her, and I’d really like to be friends again, even if we never…” He groaned inwardly; this wasn’t how he’d meant for this to go.

“And what do you need from me?” James prompted.

“My Father may thaw out eventually, but in the meantime, I’d like to keep whatever’s between me and Rose… quiet.” Choosing his words carefully, he continued, “People have all sorts of theories about why no one’s ever found out which girls you’ve gone out with until long after the fact. And I know not to believe everything I hear,” he added hastily, “but I just have to ask: how do you do it? And how do you decide if a girl’s worth it?”

James watched him a moment more, his eyes narrowing slightly. Scorpius was ready to cut his losses and make a break for the door when he asked, “Promise you won’t tell anyone?”

Scorpius nodded. “Of course. If you’ll do the same.”

“Invisible ink,” James said at last. “The high-end stuff the Weasleys sell. If you’re not sending a letter by owl post, have someone give it to a friend of theirs so they can deliver it, and they won’t be able to trace it back to you very easily.” He moved away from the desk, standing up straighter; Scorpius found his own posture improving.

“But all that’s pointless if you don’t pick the right girl. She needs to be someone you can trust, who respects your need for privacy. And it’s a lot of effort for something casual; if she’s someone you really care about, all of the extra work is worth it.

He tilted his head. “Do you think she’s worth it?”

Scorpius swallowed, his mouth suddenly dry. “Thanks, James. Sorry to pull you away like that, it’s just… a lot to think about.”

James smiled and headed for the door. “The easiest way to impress a Ravenclaw is by doing some serious thinking.”

~

Monday evening found them at the end of the Hufflepuff table, Ariadne and Rose on one side, James and Roxanne on the other, and given a wide berth by everyone else as dinner wound down.

“It should all blow over soon,” Ariadne said earnestly. “There’s always something new for people to talk about. Why, just this morning I heard-“

“And that’s the problem, isn’t it?” James cut in, frowning. “You really need to stop gossiping, A.”

Ariadne scowled at him. “Is it gossip if someone tells me something that they’ve heard is true?”

“Yes.”

“What did you hear, Ariadne?” Rose asked, not eager for another fight. “Just in case the other prefects should know.”

She lowered her voice. “The professors have exposed a cheating ring, and it was started-“ she paused for dramatic effect, “by Ravenclaws.”

James laughed. “Sure it was. I bet the Gryffindors started that just to mess with us before the next Quidditch match.”

Roxanne huffed and crossed her arms as Ariadne sighed. “Well, I did hear it from Sydney.”

With a tentative smile, Roxanne gently kicked Rose’s foot under the table. “It wasn’t me.”

Rose smiled back. “I know.”

A small owl glided over the table, and they all stopped to watch. It turned in mid-air and landed beside a carafe of pumpkin juice, a letter in its beak. The owl leaned toward Ariadne, who accepted the letter, then flew off into the night.

She carefully opened the little envelope and peeked inside. Her eyes widened.

“Well?” Roxanne prompted. “What is it?”

Ariadne blushed. “Ummm… nothing.”

James watched her through narrowed eyes. “If it’s nothing, then show us. Unless it’s test answers from that cheating ring, then Rose will have to turn you in.”

Rose scoffed as Ariadne shook her head. “If you must know,” she said slowly, eyes on the envelope, “it’s a Valentine.”

The girls gasped in interest and James’ eyebrows shot up. “Valentine’s Day was last week. And don’t think I didn’t notice that flock of owls at your table, A, you know Dad doesn’t like people sending us things.”

“Dad said no gifts, not cards, I know the rules,” Ariadne said firmly, pulling the envelope close to her chest. “And I know Dad has all of my mail checked for danger, so it’s not as if he doesn’t know.”

“But not this one,” James pressed, his hand twitching as if eager to snatch up the offending letter. “Someone must have just gone up to the Owlry to send this to you now, after Crawley’s gone up for the night. You should probably show me, just to be-“

Ariadne groaned. “Can’t I have-“ she paused, lowering her voice. “Can’t I have just one thing to myself? It’s not a big deal, and it’s not cursed or anything.”

James crossed his arms. “You don’t know that. And maybe I need to have a talk with your tardy Valentine, to see if his intentions are pure.”

Ariadne paled a bit at that. “It’s just a note, James. Would you please just let this go?” When he continued to frown, she added, “Alright, I’ll show Rose, and she’ll tell you there’s no need to worry.”

He thought for a moment and nodded his assent. Ariadne carefully pulled the note from its envelope, cupped her hand around it so no one else could see, and tilted it toward Rose.

On a square of crisp white card stock with a posh logo embossed at the top was a poem, written in clear, careful script:

~

Happy Valentine’s

Day to Ariadne P

From Aaron Thomas

~

Rose bit back a smile and nodded. As Ariadne slid the card back into its envelope, she told James, “It’s fine.”

James pursed his lips, clearly wanting to say more but knowing when he’d been beaten. “If you see or hear anything suspicious, or get any more strange letters, you tell me or Crawley, alright?”

Ariadne smiled wryly. “Yes, Dad.” She put the letter in her bag and turned to Rose. “You won’t tell anyone, will you?”

Rose smiled reassuringly back. “It’ll be our secret.”


~

Epilogue

A few days later, Rose reached into her bag in search of a quill, and found a bit of folded parchment instead. Checking that no one in the common room was looking, she unfolded the paper and found a message inside:

I should have tried harder, and I’m sorry. Could we try again?

After reading through the note several times, Rose grinned, tucked the note back in her bag, and got started on her homework.