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Scorpius Malfoy was thirteen when his parents divorced.

He’d always known it would happen someday, but he didn’t expect it to be so bloody loud.

Of course, it hadn’t started out that way. Draco and Astoria Malfoy were the consummate society couple, and even the discovery that Astoria had been sleeping with Theodore Nott for seven years hadn’t driven Scorpius’ father to do much more than draw up the necessary papers and make his evening whisky a double.

Until it was time to get Scorpius’ school supplies.

“We’re going into Diagon Alley today,” his father had mentioned at breakfast, not looking up from his Prophet. “I expect we’ll be back before dark.”

His mother had been in the middle of an apple slice, he remembers. She put it down at Draco’s announcement. “I thought I was taking him this year. You’ve always taken him, dear.”

“That’s right, I’ve always taken him.” His father put down his newspaper, and Scorpius knew it would be all downhill from there. “And I will continue to do so, darling.”

“But I’m going to get him for the second half of the summer holidays, precious,” Astoria retorted, placing her empty teacup in its saucer and moving it away from her plate. “So I’ll be taking him from now on.”

“We haven’t decided anything yet, cupcake,” Draco hissed, pushing his half-finished breakfast aside. “So for now, we’ll do it the same way we’ve always done it.”

“Of course.” Astoria was gripping the sides of the table, now. “The same way we’ve always done it. You always do everything the same way. Which is why we only have one child, by the way.”

Draco had wasted no time in exploding the remainder of his eggs Benedict all over the breakfast room. Scorpius was glad he’d had the good sense to wear his least favorite Falcons shirt that day.

“You spoiled brat -- ”

“Says the common whore -- ”

“Oh, please, you haven’t gotten it up for me in years -- ”

“Why would I, when you haven’t eaten solid food in a decade and I can’t even tell the difference between my broomstick and my wife anymore -- ”

“Stupefy! ”

“Confringo! ”

Scorpius had rolled his eyes, grabbed his rucksack, and Floo’d directly from his parents’ Belgravia townhouse to Malfoy Manor in Wiltshire. Grandmother Narcissa, who had been warning against such an explosion for weeks, promptly shoved a bit of cake into his hands and muttered darkly about his mother’s family before sealing off the central fireplace and canceling her lunch plans.

“Elladora Yaxley can wait,” she’d said by way of explanation. “My grandson cannot.”

“It’s okay,” Scorpius had replied, nibbling at the cake without much enthusiasm. “The house-elves won’t let them actually kill each other.”

The explosions didn’t die down for another few weeks, and in the end, Astoria left for the Notts’ estate outside Cardigan Bay. Draco moved into the Manor’s south wing and spent most of his time cursing. The house-elves gave up on repairing anything and just cleared the London house of porcelain dust, and Scorpius finished From Queerditch Marsh and started in on Swept Away: A History of the Cleansweep Broom Company.

His grandmother took him to Diagon Alley that year.

*

“Are you going?” his father asks abruptly, and Scorpius -- now sixteen and reedy, all knees and elbows -- nearly chokes on his sandwich.

“Am I going where?” he replies, once he’s swallowed. He meets his father for lunch in Hogsmeade every other Saturday, and while he’s had some truly atrocious food over the past three years, he’s never come this close to accidental asphyxiation. He makes a mental note to avoid eating carbohydrates when his father is in A Mood.

“Her wedding, of course,” Draco says, rolling his eyes and twirling his fork around in his spaghetti. “We’ll have to buy you new robes, if you are. I’m not going to have the Notts thinking she took all my money.”

(Astoria hadn’t taken all of Draco’s money, of course. She hadn’t even taken half of it. “Theodore can provide for us, my dear,” she’d trilled back then, signing on the dotted line. “We don’t need your father.”)

Scorpius pauses, his sandwich left mid-air. “She’s my mum, after all,” he says slowly. “Of course I’m going to her wedding. And they invited you, you know.”

Draco huffs. “I got the owl. She’s just trying to rub salt into my wounds. And she’ll sit me between Slughorn and her uncle, the gay vicar. I have more dignity than that.”

Scorpius considers mentioning the full-page ad he took out in the Prophet after his mother’s wedding announcement, pointing out that “Astoria Greengrass Nott” can be rearranged to spell “A Retro Teargassing Snot,” but he thinks better of it. “I didn’t know Uncle Purvis was gay,” he says instead, signaling the waiter for another pumpkin juice. “I thought he just liked elaborate vestments.”

“Oh, he’s as gay as a tree full of monkeys on nitrous oxide,” his father says absently, sipping his Scotch. “Not that there’s anything wrong with that, and I will always love you no matter what.”

“You’re so delightfully understanding, Dad,” Scorpius replies. “You should go. Grandmother’s going.”

“Your grandmother has her own motives.”

Scorpius raises an eyebrow. “She’s been waiting for an occasion to break in her new Ferragamos.”

“That counts as a motive,” Draco replies. “And no one cuckolded her.”

“Cuckold” has, over the last few years, become his father’s favorite word. Draco claims that it’s the only word classic enough to describe his situation, and uses it constantly. Scorpius, who spent the summer his parents fought over the remnants of the London house reading Chaucer, does not think his father realizes that the English permutation of the term has much to do with antlers and farting.

“The term ‘to cuckold’ is male-specific, anyway,” Scorpius says. “It has to do with the tendency of the female cuckoo bird to lay her eggs in other nests and abandon her maternal responsibility. So no one can cuckold Grandmother.”

His father stares.

Scorpius shrugs.

“I love you more than life itself,” Draco says finally, “but sometimes, I really do think you’re mad.”

“I’m not mad,” Scorpius says, returning to his sandwich. “I just like books.”

His father sighs. “Which is why you’re friends with Grangerspawn, I suppose. How is the frizzy little thing?”

“She’s fine,” Scorpius replies, not bothering to scold him for ignoring Rosie’s proper name. After six years, ‘Grangerspawn’ is beginning to sound affectionate. “Beat me in Charms this week, in case you were wondering.”

“Grangerspawn always beats you in Charms.”

“She’s very good at it.”

“She must be,” his father says, finally putting his spaghetti out of its misery and setting down his fork. “Although I will never understand how a child who reads as much as you do gets your marks.”

Scorpius got an O in Potions, because he is a Malfoy and Malfoys are bred for Potions excellence in much the same way greyhounds are bred for speed, but he knows that the E in Defence and the five scattered As aren’t up to family snuff. Or Ravenclaw snuff, for that matter. This would be a problem, if Scorpius cared much about being either a proper Ravenclaw or a proper Malfoy.

“School books are dead boring,” he replies before his father can bring up his Arithmancy Troll. “I’d rather read something entertaining. Or at least useful.”

“Usefulness is neither a Malfoy nor a Greengrass family trait,” Draco says ruefully, draining his Scotch. “If you didn’t look so damn much like me, I’d swear you were someone else’s child. In fact, knowing that woman -- ”

Scorpius knows where this is going.

He wishes he’d brought a book.

*

“I borrowed your Potions notes,” Rose Granger-Weasley says when Scorpius returns to the Ravenclaw common room that evening, rucksack weighed down with the books he usually talks his father into buying. “But you can have them back in an hour or so. I’m meeting Al for a late dinner.”

“Hello to you, too, Rose,” he replies without malice, dropping into the overstuffed blue armchair he’s always favored and kicking his feet up on the table. “Keep them as long as you want. I finished that assignment a week ago.”

Rose looks up from her piles of parchment and makes a face. “Oh, the life of a student in three NEWT-level classes, with your free time and low stress levels and recreational activities. I’d throw up if I had anything in my stomach.”

Scorpius checks his watch. “It’s nearly eight. Why are you starving yourself for Al?”

Rose sighs and appears to give up on whatever problem she’s trying to solve, tucking her quill into her brown ponytail and settling back into the couch. “He and Jamie and Lil were heading home for the day -- some family thing, thank God I didn’t have to go -- and he Floo’d me around noon, saying he wanted to get dinner with me when they got back. Merlin knows he barely eats, anyway. They should be back soon, probably had to plot out their next vacation to Majorca or something sickening.”

Scorpius knows that the Potter kids are rarely at school when they don’t have to be, going on whirlwind cultural tours with their father or following the Cannons with their mother. He doesn’t care much -- Mother prefers to take her holidays with Theo and a very small bathing costume, but Dad always takes him to sunny beaches and shady groves near the equator where he can read all day while his father sleeps near the ocean and develops sun poisoning. Rosie really is the one who has a right to complain, because her father and mother drag her and Hugo to Romania twice a year to see that dragon-taming uncle of hers. She always comes back in burnt clothing and a foul mood and swears that all the palinka in the world isn’t enough to make Norwegian Ridgebacks cute.

“You should come to Bermuda with me after Christmas,” Scorpius suggests, tucking his feet underneath him. “Dad’s just going to sit in the hotel and drink all day. I could use the company.”

“You mean you could use someone to hold your book while you slather on sunscreen,” Rose retorts, but she’s smiling. “Check with your dad, and if it’s okay with him, I’ll ask Mum.”

“It’ll be fine. He’ll think I’ve gone back to girls, and then maybe he’ll stop asking embarrassing questions under the pretext of being progressive and understanding.”

Rose grins wider. “Being your beard’s already gotten me into an open-bar society wedding. A sun-soaked holiday might inspire me to fake a pregnancy scare and drive the point home.”

Scorpius snorts. Rosie’s a good friend, whip-smart and mischievous and deeply pragmatic, and pretending to be Scorpius’ long-term girlfriend around his mother entertains her almost as much as it entertains his Grandmother Narcissa. His father and grandmother know he’s bent as a two-bob note, of course, because his grandmother knows everything and his father just pries, but whenever he thinks of coming out to his mother, he’s stricken by visions of her parading him around at Social Democrat fundraisers and introducing him to Nice Young Men, and he ends up squeezing Rose’s hand harder every time.

“It’s settled, then,” he declares. “You’ll tell your mother you’re coming to Bermuda with me, your mother will tell your father that you’ve gone to visit Sarah Jordan at her family’s ancestral home in Bath, my father will leave the room frequently to encourage us to have sex, and I will finally make it through the second part of bloody Goethe’s Faust without interruption. Everyone wins.”

“Indeed,” laughs Rose, just as the door swings open to admit Al Potter.

Scorpius likes to compare the people in his life to his favorite literary characters, because not only are those characters as real to him as his family and friends are, he can put them away when he wants time to himself. His father is Dickens’ Charles Darnay, of course, with a bit of Bronte’s Heathcliff thrown in for good measure. He loves his grandmother, but she’s Scarlett O’Hara down to the bone. Mother has been and always will be Becky Sharp. Rosie could never be anyone other than Elizabeth Bennet, and her brother, the round and doddering Hugo, is a perfect Mr. Collins.

He’s known Al Potter for going on six years, but somewhat incredibly, he’s never been able to find a suitable character for him.

He finds this deeply distressing.

Also distressing is the way Al has looked ever since they returned from the summer holidays. He’s always been a thin, pale boy, but as he closes the heavy door behind him and comes to sit next to Rose, Scorpius is struck by exactly how translucent he seems. He’s pulled the hood of his crimson Gryffindor sweatshirt over his head, and in the firelight, he looks like nothing so much as an extremely overanxious monk.

“Can’t believe that bloody eagle is still letting in Gryffindors,” Scorpius jokes feebly as Rose begins to put away her quills and parchment. “I say we do away with this ‘reasoning’ business and get a really intelligent guard dog.”

Al shrugs. “Take Sir Cadogan. Please.”

“Old joke, Potter,” Rose says, cuffing him affectionately. “You ready? I could eat a Thestral.”

“Sure,” Al says, standing up and shoving his hands in his kangaroo pocket. “Ready to go, yeah?”

Rose pats Scorpius on the shoulder as they leave, and he stares at the door for a bit before pulling out The Theory of Thaumic Imponderability and settling down for the night.

*

By the time the common-room clock strikes twelve, Rose hasn’t returned, and Scorpius heads up to bed. He’s just falling into welcome half-consciousness when a knock sounds at the window beside his bunk, and Scorpius rolls out of bed in shock.

Once he manages to untangle himself from both the school-issue blankets and the enormous down quilt his grandmother gave him, he peers out the window to find Al sitting astride his broomstick, shivering.

Scorpius’s mouth opens, closes, and opens again before closing for good. Slowly, he registers the following:

1. Al is hovering outside his window.
2. Thus, Al is probably a much better flier than he professes to be.
3. He’s not really sure where his book went.
4. It’s past midnight.
5. He probably has a hard-on.
6. Al looks quite cold.

He throws up the sash and ushers Al inside, grateful that his roommate decided to spend the night in Hufflepuff.

“What in the name of Merlin do you think you’re doing?” Scorpius hisses as Al dismounts, propping his broom against Harmon Alistair’s bed and casting a Warming Charm on himself. “You know how to get into the tower.”

Al shrugs, soaking-wet sweatshirt nearly slipping off his shoulders. “The stupid eagle asked me something about cubes, I think. The hell with that.”

“The answer is nine, but she’ll accept six if you explain it.”

“I don’t have time for that,” Al says, and Scorpius is taken aback by how forceful Al’s tone is. For as long as they’ve known each other -- which is to say, ever since Rose dragged her scrawny, bright-eyed cousin over to the Ravenclaw table for their third-ever breakfast at Hogwarts -- Al has been the reserved Potter sibling, the quietly clever Seeker to their brash and boisterous Keepers; while everyone knows when Lily is angry and James is horny, Scorpius has never seen Albus express much more than mild disappointment that the house-elves had run out of strawberry jam.

And now here he stands, dripping with dew and cold sweat, riled up for probably the first time in his life, and Scorpius? Is interested. He almost wants to take notes.

Instead, he shuts the window and climbs back up on his bed, yelping rather indelicately when he sits on what instinct and experience tells him is the corner of an unyielding hardcover book. (That’s where it went.) While he rearranges himself, Al throws himself onto Harmon’s bunk.

“Your beds are bigger than ours,” Al says, scrambling under the comforter.

“There are only two of us, yeah? So it’s always seemed like a waste to just use singles. It pays to be in Ravenclaw.”

Scorpius is well-aware that he’s taking part in some of the most awkward small-talk in Christendom, but he can’t help it; he and Al are nominally friends, but Rose is the thread that connects them. He can count on one hand the number of times they’ve been alone together over the last five and a half years, and at least half of those times involved waiting for Rose to finish up in the ladies’.

He knows that Al likes the Cannons and vegetable soup and Defence Against the Dark Arts, but he’s never really known if Al likes him.

“Four boys in Gryffindor,” Al mumbles. “Not enough room for this setup.”

Scorpius nods, because there’s nothing else to say about that. Luckily for him, Al sits straight up, and the dam chooses that moment to break.

“My parents,” Al says, in an unfamiliar voice, “are getting a divorce.”

Scorpius blinks. “Okay.”

“’Okay’?”

“Um, I’m sorry?”

“It’s not your fault.” Al sighs. “Listen, I feel like a jerk about this, and I’m sorry for waking you up, and I know that you probably don’t care all that much, but I really.... I need to talk to you, okay?”

This isn’t Albus Potter, Scorpius thinks. Albus Potter is calm and rational and hardly speaks two words together that aren’t carefully thought-out beforehand. Albus Potter doesn’t openly emote. Albus Potter hides inside hooded sweatshirts and an aura of impenetrable quietude, and he does not fly outside on a cold autumn night and force his way into Ravenclaw Tower to stutter and speak in strangled decibels.

Scorpius still can’t find his literary equivalent, but he’s beginning to see why Al’s in Gryffindor after all.

“Why me?” is what he ends up saying.

“Because you’re the only person I know whose parents are....” Al trails off. “Sorry.”

“It’s okay,” Scorpius says, and it is. First because Al’s right, second because he looks like the loneliest boy in England, and third because any insight into the Albus Potter enigma would be helpful at this point. “It’s not that common, I know. According to Belinda Abernathy’s Love and Marriage in a Magical World, only one in every seventeen wizarding marriages ends in divorce.”

“Belinda Abernathy?”

“Magisociologist.” Scorpius feels his voice growing stronger; he’s on familiar ground now. “One of the leading researchers in the field of love-bonds and sexuality. The book came out about ten years ago, so the statistics could have shifted, but -- ”

“I get it.” Al wrinkles his nose. “It’s a book, and you practically eat those for breakfast. I won’t kill you for regurgitating old statistics.”

This isn’t how Scorpius’ conversations usually go. His father is the one who recommends him the books; his mother thinks everything he reads is ‘nice’’; and Rosie’s always up for an argument. His teachers usually wish he’d read the assigned texts, and his grandmother wishes he’d write for a change. But he’s never heard anyone sound that.... disappointed before.

He knows how to talk to his relatives and his teachers, because there are set rules for that. They pop up in Austen and Salinger and Fitzgerald, and even though his family’s a little different, he learned fast enough. And he knows how to talk to Rose, because she was the one who decided they were going to be friends on the Hogwarts Express (the first of many acts of adolescent rebellion) and no matter what he says, she seems to understand what he really means.

But if there’s some sort of example of how to speak to a more-than-casual acquaintance who looks like he’s either going to strangle someone or cry, Scorpius must have missed it.

“It’s.... it’s a really good book,” he tries.

“Uh-huh.”

“My grandmother got it for me the year my parents split,” and Scorpius doesn’t know why he says that; no one else knows that, not even his father.

Al looks at him appraisingly. “Really?”

“Yeah.” Scorpius reaches over and grabs his wand; Summoning the book from his shelves takes no time at all. “Here, you can read it if you want. It’s a really interesting study on love-magic and what happens to it over the life of a marriage.”

“Okay.”

“There are some dirty pictures near the back.”

Al gives him a small smile.

“Grandmother got it for me when we went to Diagon Alley,” Scorpius says, and why is he going on like this? “She didn’t know anyone who’d ever gotten a divorce before, and she knew I liked to read, so she found it in the shop and slipped it into my bag. I was in a big Quidditch phase that summer, so it was a little different, but it helped. I mean, Mother and Dad were really calm about it at first, but one morning, they just blew up at each other and food went everywhere and I gave up and went to Grandmother’s. They wrecked the whole house, and they’ve never really stopped screaming at each other.”

In the past thirty seconds, Scorpius has probably matched the grand total of words he’s spoken directly to Al in the past two years. This is mortifying; just because his parents are divorced doesn’t mean he has to prattle on about it like some girl. And it’s not like he cares, anyway, because they both still love him and he’s at school most of the year, and now his mother is free to be as scandalous as she wants and his father is free to pursue his grand life passion of being suspiciously resentful about it.

“You don’t sound like a girl,” Al says, still smiling, and Scorpius’ mortification deepens when he realizes that he has just said all of this aloud.

“No. Luckily, puberty solved that problem.” Scorpius smiles back. “So.... how did it all happen, anyway?”

“They were really calm about it. We just sat down at the kitchen table and they told us all about how it had nothing to do with any of us kids and they still love us, they just don’t love each other anymore, and Dad is going to move in with Uncle Ron and Aunt Hermione for a while and Mum is going to stay at the Burrow. So that no one gets the house, and it’s fair like that,” Al says, smile gradually fading.

Scorpius nods.

“And then James asked if Mum was sleeping with another bloke, and they both said that there was no one else, and then Dad told him to watch his mouth and Lily started crying because she doesn’t want to choose between them, but I think it’s just ‘cause she doesn’t want to live with either Grandma Molly or Hugo. So while Mum and Dad are trying to calm her down, James goes over and takes their best bottle of Glenfiddich, and then Dad saw him and he got really mad and everyone started yelling at each other and I think Lily might have said that she was pregnant but I could be making that up.”

“What did you do?”

Al shrugs. “Same thing you did -- I left. For all I know, they’re still there, yelling and crying and being completely loony.”

Scorpius can’t help what he does next -- he laughs. Long, hard, and deep, and it isn’t long before Al joins in.

And damn, does it feel good.

“Your sister said she was pregnant?” he manages after a while, after his hiccoughs have died down.

“I know,” Al replies, still snickering. “I think ‘up the stick’ was the exact phrase she used, and I have no idea where she got that one. I doubt she is, anyway, because she was doing shots of Firewhiskey with Hugo at the Three Broomsticks last weekend. Lil’s an attention hog, but she’s not stupid.”

“And your brother decided to openly steal good whiskey.”

Al nods sagely. “I know. It’s as if he wasn’t the one who taught me to wait until after dark in the first place.”

“And your parents are getting a divorce.”

“Yes, we’ve covered that.”

“So it’s safe to say that your family situation is, as it stands right now, pretty screwed up.”

“My dad saved the world and my mother saved women’s Quidditch. As if my life was ever going to be remotely normal in the first place.”

“It’s okay,” Scorpius says, yawning. “My grandfather let the Dark Lord stay in our guest suite. Grandmother still likes to say that we’re the Claridge’s of evil.”

By the time Al manages to fall asleep in Harmon’s bed, both boys feel much better than they did when Al first came in.

And when they go down to breakfast together the next morning, the sweetly clever smile on Rosie’s face confirms all of Scorpius’ suspicions.

*

One week later, Scorpius is finishing up his study of thaumic energy when James Potter shoves a mince pie in his face.

It’s a bit unexpected.

“What did you do that for?” Rose shouts, standing up. Al quietly passes him a handful of napkins.

“He deserved it!” James shouts back, waving the pie-tin menacingly.

Scorpius isn’t entirely certain what he does and does not deserve, but he is quite sure that James has just permanently cemented his position as his least-favorite Potter child. Al is Al, and Lily has a measure of dramatic charm about her, but James is all posturing and hot air. And, apparently, mince pie. A very good mince pie, he thinks just before casting a Cleaning Charm on himself and hastily scrubbing his face with Al’s napkins.

“And just what do you think he did?” Rose asks haughtily, slapping the pie tin from her cousin’s hand. It falls to the floor with a clatter.

“He told,” James says witheringly, slapping that day’s issue of the Prophet on the table. Front and center is a recent photo of Al’s parents at some charity event; his father is looking nervously at the camera, while his mother waves at someone to the left of the frame.

TROUBLE IN PARADISE, screams the caption.

“And don’t think this isn’t half your fault, Rose,” James is saying; Al’s grabbed the paper and is skimming the article. “You’re the one who told us to talk to him, said he knew what we were feeling, which is ridiculous because he doesn’t have feelings, and -- ”

“You seriously told all three of them to talk to me?” Scorpius asks incredulously, cutting off James’ rant.

Rose shrugs. “Yes. I only ever thought Al would actually do it, though. And I was right. As usual.”

“The point is,” James hisses, “is that he clearly went and spread our business everywhere, and now he’s laughing about it.”

“I’m not laughing,” Scorpius insists. “I think that’s Al.”

It is, in fact, Al. He’s not just laughing; he’s shaking and pointing to a line in the article, wagging his head back and forth.

“There’s no way this was Scorpius,” he says, rolling his eyes. “Here, listen to this quote: ‘”The Potters are finished,” says an anonymous source close to the children. “They won’t never get back together, not after what happened.”’ James, apologize.”

“How do you know it’s not him?” James asks, just as Scorpius is wondering the same thing.

“Because the quote is a double-negative,” Al says patiently. “I don’t think Scorpius could use a double-negative without smashing his ears in the oven like a house-elf. Find out who Lily talked to, because it’s not Scorpius.”

After issuing the most insincere apology known to mankind, James storms away to harass the Hufflepuff boy Lily’s cuddling with. Scorpius scans the Hall for more mince pie, Rose launches into a well-researched tirade on the impossibility of James Potter, and Al carefully folds the paper in quarters before lighting it on fire with his wand.

“This doesn’t mean I’m not pissed off,” he says when prompted by Scorpius’ inquiring look. “I’m just not pissed off at you.”

“I’ll take it,” Scorpius says, just as James crams a bowl of mashed potatoes onto Rodney Wiggins’ head.

*

When Scorpius finally gets the Fat Lady to let him into Gryffindor one night later that week, he finds the common room deserted but for Al, who is sitting on the carpet and talking animatedly to the fireplace.

“ -- wait, here he is, I’ll ask him,” Al is saying, and he turns. It could be the firelight and the draperies, but whatever it is, he looks more alive than he has in weeks. “Hallo, Scorpius. Is your mother’s wedding reception open-bar?”

Scorpius raises an eyebrow. “Um, yes?”

“Great.” Al turns back to the fire. “Fine, I’ll go with you, but only because of the Firewhiskey, okay?”

Scorpius’ stomach tightens for a moment, but relaxes when he sits down in an armchair and sees Al’s father.

“How generous of you,” Harry Potter says dryly, looking over his son’s shoulder. “Hello, Scorpius.”

“Hi, Mr. Potter,” Scorpius says, giving the Hero of the Wizarding World a small wave. “I take it you’re on the guest list for what my mother hopes will be the Wedding of the Century.”

“That I am,” Harry says, then frowns. “Can’t imagine why, though. I’m sorry, Scorpius, but until about three years ago, I thought your mother was Pansy Parkinson.”

Scorpius shrugs. “Don’t worry. Aunt Pansy’s close enough. Don’t think Aunt Millicent would be too thrilled about that, though. Garfield Rookwood swatted Aunt Pansy’s bum at a party once and I’m pretty sure that’s why he only has three fingers left on that hand.”

“I think I can safely say that ticking off your Aunt Millicent is one of the last things I’d ever want to do.” Harry turns back to his son. “All right, Al? I know you’ve got class in the morning.”

“Yeah, Dad.”

Scorpius waits until they’ve said their goodbyes to ask what he’s been dying to -- “So you’re going to the wedding.”

“Well, Aunt Hermione and Uncle Ron are going -- ” Scorpius nods; whatever it is Theo Nott does at Gringotts, he deals with Rosie’s mum a lot -- “so Dad feels like he has to go. And he doesn’t want to go by himself. In his defense, he tried to get Lily to go as a daddy-daughter thing, but I think she’s staying in neutral territory until she figures out who’s going to get the house in the end. She really doesn’t want to live with Grandma Molly.”

“What about James?”

“James is a twat,” Al says matter-of-factly. Scorpius isn’t going to argue the point. “So I’m going with Dad, and you and me and Rosie can sit together and make fun of rich ladies’ hats. And drink.”

“That’s the material point,” Scorpius agrees.

“To tell you the truth,” Al says, “He asked a few days ago. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to go, then.”

“And now?”

“Now I do,” Al says simply, and Scorpius’ heart trips when the firelight catches his grin.

*

“She Floo’d me,” Scorpius’ father says the following Saturday over pasta. “She actually Floo’d me.”

“Well, that’s not so unusual,” Scorpius replies. His father’s so worked up over this development that he didn’t notice when Scorpius ordered a bottle of shiraz -- didn’t notice, or didn’t care. Either way, Scorpius is developing a pleasant buzz, which means he’s got a head start on that night’s upper-years’ party. “She calls pretty often. Even if she doesn’t really manage full sentences.”

“She did this time,” Draco says moodily. “She asked me to please come to her damned wedding, because they want me there, and they need to know soon because they’re finalizing the guest list. Probably just invited everyone in Burp’s Peerage.”

From what Scorpius has seen of his mother’s wedding plans, his father isn’t really that far off.

“You should go,” he says, quaffing his glass and pouring another. “There’ll be lots of single, drunk witches. Think of the bridesmaids, Dad. Think of the bridesmaids.”

“She’ll probably sit me with a bunch of hags. I hate hags. Always looking at me funny,” Draco says, helping himself to the bottle of wine. “Even so, I said I’d go. Can’t have you and your grandmother there without me.”

“Aunt Daphne’s still single,” Scorpius volunteers.

“Your Aunt Daphne once threatened to roast my bollocks on a spit. I can’t even begin tell you exactly how much that isn’t happening.”

“Well, there’s bound to be women there near your age,” Scorpius says around a mouthful of rotini.

“Like who? Your new best friend’s mother?” Draco asks dryly.

“That’s ridiculous. Rosie’s mother hates you.”

“That’s not the new best friend I’m talking about, Scorpius.”

Damn. “How did you find out?”

“No one shoves a mince pie in my son’s face without me hearing about it,” Draco replies. “The rest of the story followed from there. I have to say, you are your mother’s son, what with this newfound affection for lost causes and helping the underclass.”

“Al’s not a lost cause, and no one says ‘underclass’ anymore,” Scorpius shoots back. “You’re the one who’s always on me to make more friends.”

Draco sighs. “Fine. Too many Weasley children running around that school, anyway. I suppose your choices are limited.”

Scorpius could probably muster up a fine retort, but he pours himself another glass of wine instead.

He’s halfway through his next sip when his father asks, “So are you screwing him?”, and Scorpius can’t help the spit-take that follows.

What? ” he asks, as his father wipes off his tie. “What the hell are you talking about?”

“It’s an honest question,” Draco says defensively. “You spend six years doing nothing but reading books with Grangerspawn, and now you’re suddenly friends with a Potterspawn, too? You’re sixteen, Scorpius. I was bound to ask.”

“No, Dad, I am not screwing Al Potter.” Scorpius gives his father a dark look and takes a big, solid gulp of wine. “I’m pretty sure he’s straight.”

“It’s okay if you are, you know. Your roommate looks like the demented offspring of Celestina Warbeck and a refrigerator -- ”

“Dad -- ”

“ -- and it’s better than the other Potter, I suppose. Unless smashing food into one’s face is a new form of flirting. It isn’t, is it?”

“We are not having this conversation,” Scorpius groans, dropping his head into his hands. “I am going to wake up, and I will be in my bed, and this will all be an awful dream brought on by Belinda Abernathy’s new study, and -- ”

“Oh, just have some more wine, for God’s sake,” Draco snaps, and Scorpius obeys.

He realizes he never said that he didn’t want to screw Al Potter.

*

“So the Erumpent says, ‘Stupefy? I thought you meant super-fly!’”

Rose slowly lowers her highball glass. “I really don’t think that’s how the joke is supposed to go, Hugo.”

Scorpius usually doesn’t go to the bi-weekly upper years’ parties in the Three Broomsticks’ basement. It’s far away and probably illegal and the drinks are overpriced and he usually has new books to read. He’s only gone once before, last year, and he spent most of the time making sure Rose didn’t scratch Catriona Underwood’s eyes out over some issue involving Benjamin Windsor, a love-bite, and a half-finished love potion.

But this time? After pouring his father into the rear car of the Swindon train and weaving his way back up to the castle, the unthinkable had happened: he’d run out of books.

He hadn’t placed an order with Charms & Ogres for two weeks now. The library proved dry. And instead of heading to the bookshop in silence, he and his father had spent two hours arguing about Scorpius’ sexual orientation in full view of an entire Italian restaurant.

And he had a headache.

So when Rose insisted that the best way to cure that headache was with more drinking, and when Al smiled and said, “Come on, mate,” Scorpius accepted his fate and followed them back down the hill after dinner. He’s never been able to say no to Rosie, anyway; apparently, Al will be no different.

Scorpius really doesn’t want to consider the implications of that.

“No, really,” Hugo is insisting. “It was in Mad Muggles last week. At least, I think it was. No, wait, maybe it was in Wands Crossing. Anyway, that’s the joke.”

Scorpius frowns. “It’s not very funny.”

You’re not very funny,” Hugo grumbles, getting up from their booth. “If you’ll excuse me, I’m going to sit with people who know what real humor is.”

“That’s us,” Rose calls. “Oh, sod it. Go back to Hufflepuff, why don’t you.”

“I will,” Hugo yells, stumbling over towards the Finch-Fletchley twins. “Because they know how to have fun.”

“Again, us.” Rose rolls her eyes. “I don’t know where he came from. Sure he isn’t your brother?”

Al shakes his head. “No way. He doesn’t have a hero complex, a death wish, or a bad temper. Definitely not ours.”

Scorpius knows that he shouldn’t be studying the way Al’s eyes crinkle when he makes a clever remark, so he pours the better part of a glass of cabernet down his throat before replying. “So James got the hero complex and Lily got the bad temper. You got the death wish?”

“It’s not so much a death wish as it is a recurring desire to be struck down by a bolt of lightning whenever James or Lily does anything other than breathe within ten feet of me,” Al says. “Wait, did that even make sense?”

“Sort of.” Rose cocks her head. “Drink more. Then it will.”

Al obeys, finishing his pint in one gulp. “More?”

Rosie nods, while Scorpius gestures to his bottle of wine. “I will not be moving for a goodly long time, I assure you.”

The snort Rosie issues doesn’t come as a surprise, and as the two cousins walk towards the bar, Scorpius thinks he hears Al say, “Does he always get this wordy when he drinks?”

“You don’t know the half of it,” is Rose’s faint reply.

This, Scorpius thinks, is probably true. He never used to talk much at all, and even then, he’d only talk about books. Then Rose came along with her quick wit and her insistence that friends talked about more than textbook indices and the true sex of Shakespeare, and he let her in, a bit, because Rosie has always been very good at spotting cracks in the armor, as it were. And he thinks that maybe, just maybe, he’s always had a lot to say that just never made it out, and maybe that’s why his sentences get longer as his blood-alcohol content gets higher.

So first there was Rosie, and then there was wine. And now, there’s Al, and while Scorpius has accepted the omnipresence of the first and the Veritaserum-like properties of the second, he doesn’t really know what to do about the third. This is uncharted territory, he thinks, and --

“MALFOY.”

“No one calls me that,” Scorpius complains, abandoning that train of thought as James Potter takes his brother’s recently vacated seat. “It’s incredibly nineteenth-century. We do not live in a bloody P.G. Wodehouse novel.”

“I have no idea what you just said,” James slurs. “Was it about a book?”

“Yes.”

“Makes sense.” James punctuates this with a snort. “You live inside those.”

James and Albus, Scorpius thinks, are only brothers in their resemblance to their father; James got the glasses, Al got the eyes, and they both got the messy black hair. But that’s where the similarities end. James struts around in shrunken rugby shirts and his Quidditch cords as comfortably as Al hides out in oversized hooded sweatshirts and baggy jeans. James is a burly gorilla of a boy, barrel-chested and indelicate, while Al slips through doorways and around corners with nary a word.

James really does look like he has a hero complex, and Al -- well, Scorpius can see why the boy has a selective death wish.

“What do you want, James?” he asks with a sigh. “Do you want me to read you the Child-of-Divorce Riot Act? It’s all about self-destructive behavior and unacceptable parental substitutes. It’s really quite spectacular.”

James blinks. “You use big words when you’re drunk.”

“I use big words all the time,” Scorpius replies. “I’m just more apt to misuse them while inebriated. Now, if you want to hear my speech, you’ll have to give me a second to warm up, but if you’re just going to hit me -- ”

“I’m not going to hit you!” James cries, pushing his thick-framed glasses up the bridge of his nose. “Just listen to me. Because. I’m not going to hit you in the face this time. I have something to say. To you.”

Scorpius privately thinks the over-enunciation is hilarious, but he doesn’t say anything; he really doesn’t want to get hit this time. “Sure, James. I’m listening.”

“The thing. The thing is,” James says, throwing an arm around Scorpius’ shoulders, “is that I’m okay with it. You and my brother. You two. It’s. Okay. Because I know it’s hard. Being only two of you, of course. So I get it. And I’m not going to punch you anymore.”

Scorpius really has no idea what James is talking about -- two sixth-years with divorced parents? Two boys who voluntarily submit themselves to Rosie’s verbal abuse? Two students who have been hit in the face by James Potter? -- but he thinks it’s probably best to benignly agree. James is actually quite large. “That’s nice.”

James smiles, and for a moment, Scorpius sees a flash of Al in his face.

“What happens between poufs stays between poufs, right?”

....aaaaaaand it’s gone.

What? ”

“You and Al!” James says gleefully, banging his mug on the table. “I didn’t get it. At first, you know. But then I watched for a bit. And you’re a pouf, just like him! But if you hurt him I really will hit you.”

“James.” Scorpius actually has to remind himself to breathe. “What the hell are you talking about?”

James snickers. “Don’t tell me. Don’t say you didn’t know. My brother is -- is -- the poufiest pouf to ever gay his way down Shirtlifter Alley. He thinks that’s why our parents are splitting up, you know.”

The pit in Scorpius’ stomach develops so fast that it makes him dizzy.

“No,” Scorpius says quietly. “I didn’t know that.”

“He does, he does does does,” James sing-songs. “Of course, it’s not. I don’t know what it is. But it’s not that. Al. Being gay, that is. I think it’s because Dad is secretly in love with Aunty Luna. She’s always over the house and she wears short robes and Dad talks to her way more than he talks to Mum -- ”

James.”

“OKAY FINE.” James pouts. “Anyway. That’s why he said he was going to talk to you. When Rose said we should. Because you probably knew what it was like, he said, to feel just like he does.”

He’s dizzy, and cold and unsteady and faint, and he grabs at the stem of his wineglass, rolling it between his thumb and forefinger, reminding himself that he’s still solid and real. Al thinks that his parents broke up because of him, which means he thinks Scorpius’ parents broke up because of him, and there is just so very much wrong with that, and what does Al think of him, and dammit, Scorpius, this is why you should just stay home with your books.

“Oh, God,” is what he says instead, letting his head fall into his hands. “This isn’t happening.”

He feels a huge mitt of a hand pound him on the shoulder. “It’s okay, mate,” he hears James say. “I’m sure your parents didn’t split up just because you’re a pouf.”

“Thank you, James, that makes me feel loads better,” Scorpius mutters, just before he quietly passes out.

When Rosie nudges him awake a few hours later, he gives Al the most loathsome look he can muster before racing out of the barroom and back up to the castle.

*

“Why won’t you talk to me?” Al finally asks at breakfast, three days later.

Scorpius pretends to have a mouthful of porridge. Eventually, Al gives up and leaves Scorpius to the latest Inspector Rebus novel.

*

His mother has had some truly loony ideas in her time, Scorpius will readily admit. There was the time she married his father, of course, and the time she decided to name him bloody Scorpius Hyperion. Not to mention the time she’d decided to throw a giant wedding and invite everyone in the world including the father of the boy he might possibly have feelings for and his entire bloody family.

But hiding a Portkey in the pumpkin patch? This could really take the cake.

“I hate you, I hate you, I hate you,” he mutters to the pumpkins, slip-sliding his way through the wet grass and brushing soaked hair from his face. Leave it to his mother to get married in November. In Wales. During one of the rainiest seasons on record.

“THIS IS MISERABLE PLANNING, MOTHER,” he bellows to the sky, well aware that he looks like the vegetable-patch version of Don Quixote and not giving even the slightest damn. The Portkey is going to activate in five minutes, and the wedding is in two days, and --

“Scorpius?”

He looks up, and through the rain, on the other side of the pumpkin patch, stands Al Potter.

Holding a glass slipper.

Even if Al does have weird, self-loathingly homophobic notions about parental relationships, he’s just done Scorpius a huge favor.

“Oh, thank you, thank you, thank you,” Scorpius yells, breaking into a run. “You’re so my best friend right now. Thank. You. Oh, this is fantastic.”

Al shrugs. “Don’t mention it. I found it when I was helping Hagrid pick out the gourds earlier. Seemed kind of weird, until I remembered what weekend it was. And how nutty you said your mother is.”

Scorpius gratefully accepts the glass slipper, tucking it carefully up his sleeve; his hand is curled around the heel, clutching it tightly. “Oh, she’s completely bonkers. She thinks she’s being romantic and whimsical when she really just needs her own ward at St. Mungo’s. Really, thank you.”

“Will you stop thanking me?” protests Al. “I promise that I won’t make any Cinderella jokes if you stop.”

“Okay,” Scorpius says, suddenly realizing that a) Al has taken hold of his coat sleeve, and b) Al is moving closer every second.

This isn’t going to end well.

“Did you know that in the original story, the Cinderella character’s slipper was actually made out of fur?” he babbles desperately. “This whole business with the glass slipper all just goes back to an early modern translation mix-up. The French words for ‘fur’ and ‘glass’ are homophones, so -- ”

“I don’t care.” Al’s getting closer; Scorpius can see the green rings around his pupils.

“ -- it’s the Charles Perrault translation that’s the likely suspect, you know, in the first English version of Mother Goose. I read about it in this study that came out of America, somewhere in the South, I think? The state with a lot of letters? Mississippi, that’s it. It’s this great transliterative archive on folk tales, I can probably give you the -- ”

“Oh my God, stop talking about books,” Al hisses, and drags him forward.

Scorpius has always had very particular ideas about how his first kiss would go. It would be inside, first of all, preferably in some well-insulated room with lots of pillows and blankets and possibly a radiator. Second of all, it was supposed to be with an international Quidditch star or a decorated author, someone Scorpius could bring back to the Manor for the sole purpose of watching his father’s jaw drop. And third of all, it wasn’t going to be very wet at all, and if it was, it would be owing to tears of passion. Or something.

But here he is, standing outside in the Hogwarts pumpkin patch, rain pouring from the sky, with Al Potter pressing their lips together and clinging to his jacket sleeve for dear life. He’s not inside. He’s not kissing someone famous. And he’s very, very wet.

And right now, he couldn’t be happier.

Of course, he thinks as he slides his hand up to grip Al’s shoulder, he’s also quite confused. About the mechanics of this whole thing, to start. All the kisses he’s read about start with passionate fireworks and everyone just seems to know what they’re supposed to do with their hands without any instruction, but Scorpius is as lost as a Hufflepuff on Countdown. When two boys kiss and it’s not part of the lead-up to porn, who’s the girl? When do the tongues come in? Can you really have a passionate kiss when the other person is only touching your sleeve? And what do you do about the stubble?

Then Al solves the tongue problem for him, and Scorpius rapidly forgets the rest of his questions.

He lets his free hand wander up until it’s tangled in Al’s stupidly messy hair, angling the other boy’s mouth for a better fit. He feels Al’s hand move up his own arm and over a bit, coming to rest in the hollow between his shoulder blades, and he instinctively moves closer.

Instinct. So that’s what this is. That’s how everyone else does it.

With tremendous effort, Scorpius stops thinking.

They’re sharing the same space now, legs tangled together and mouths nearly fused, nibbling and licking and breathing the same air. If he were allowing himself to think, Scorpius would know that a little-used part of his hippocampus is waking up and pumping certain chemicals throughout his body, hormones and pheromones racing through every muscle and blood vessel. He’d know that these instinctive reactions are long-buried impulses left over from his perennially endangered ancestors, wizard and Muggle alike, and he’d probably try to bizarrely rationalize the whole thing by blaming it on slick grass and unpredictable weather.

Luckily, Scorpius isn’t thinking. Unfortunately, this means that he forgot to keep breathing about thirty seconds ago, and it’s Al who has to break them apart.

“Nnngh,” says Scorpius, not caring that he hasn’t actually said a real word. He’s mentally congratulating himself on not coming inside his trousers.

Al just stares at him for a moment, green eyes searching; Scorpius doesn’t know what he’s looking for, but it seems as if he’s found it.

“I’m glad my parents are getting divorced,” Al says hoarsely. “It gave me an excuse to really talk to you.”

Scorpius opens his mouth to reply -- he’ll say something brilliant and pithy, of course -- but before he can make even the most pathetic vowel sound, he feels a familiar tug behind his navel.

“Oh, fuck,” he hollers instead, watching Al and the pumpkin patch spin away in a whorl of colors.

When he finally lands, he doesn’t think he’s ever been unhappier to see Nott House in his entire bloody life.

*

When his mother moved into the Nott estate just before his third year, she’d oohed and aahed and gushed until Scorpius thought her lungs would give out. It was as if the woman hadn’t grown up in Mayfair, gone to boarding school in a castle, and been married on the grounds of an eleventh-century manor in Wiltshire.

As far as Scorpius can tell, the only thing Nott House has on Malfoy Manor is a distinct lack of psychotic peacocks.

As soon as he closes the front door, his mother descends on him in a cloud of perfume and silken robes. “Oh, my darling,” she exclaims, kissing both his cheeks, “I’ve missed you.”

Scorpius allows himself a small smile. Astoria Greengrass once-Malfoy almost-Nott may not be the most maternal woman on Earth, but she tries, in her way. She’s absentminded and self-absorbed and more than a bit shallow, but -- as Grandmother reminds him so often, when his father drinks too much and can’t say her name without profanity and spittle -- she loves her son very, very much.

“Hello, Scorpius,” he hears from the staircase, and he looks up to see Theo.

As far as soon-to-be stepfathers go, Theo’s okay. He does something at Gringotts, which brings in the piles of gold his mother enjoys so much, and he’s not around very often when Scorpius visits. He knows enough to stay out of the way, and he doesn’t pry. Theo has about as much interest in Scorpius as Scorpius has in Theo, which really isn’t all that much. He’s not Pa Ingalls, but he’s not a Dickensian villain, either -- in the grand scheme of Scorpius’ life, Theo is Rosencrantz. Or possibly Guildenstern. Either way, it doesn’t make much of a difference.

He knows that Theo and his father were friends, way back at Hogwarts, but something must have happened and it all went pear-shaped, because you don’t really sleep with your friend’s wife unless he’s not exactly a friend.

(It was probably that time Voldemort moved into the Manor, Scorpius thinks. He once read a Muggle history book that said everything in English history could be tied to the Rise Of the Middle-Class; industrialization, commercialism, literacy -- all that junk could be tied back to just one thing. Scorpius thinks that every issue in his father’s life can be tied to That Time Voldemort Moved In. Lost all his friends? Voldemort moved in. Had to finish school at Beauxbatons? Voldemort moved in. Father went to Azkaban? Voldemort moved in. Wife leaves you for another man? Experiencing deep-seeded intimacy issues.... stemming from when Voldemort moved in. Scorpius is constantly documenting this theory, but he knows his father would have his guts for garters if he ever mentioned it.)

“Hello, Theo,” Scorpius replies, voice echoing off the corridor walls as his mother disentangles herself.

“You’re soaked,” she says, shaking out the sleeve of her robe.

Scorpius rolls his eyes. “Yes, Mother, that tends to happen when you hide a Portkey outside in a November rainstorm.”

“Wasn’t that clever?” she breathes. Scorpius isn’t surprised; his mother doesn’t really understand sarcasm that well. “It goes with the theme, darling. I’m going to be wearing glass slippers -- Charmed, you know -- and I’m going to float down the aisle in a pumpkin carriage! The house-elves are doing it up as we speak. And the reception is going to be a ball, of course.”

“The reception was always going to be a ball, Mother.” She pulled him away from a life-changing realization and a fantastic kissing session; Scorpius feels as if he has the right to get a bit shirty.

“Well, yes, but that’s besides the point.” Astoria swoops up the stairs and clutches Theo’s arm. “And at midnight -- ”

“Let me guess. We’re all going to turn into mice, and Slytherin’s basilisk will eat us all?”

“Don’t be ridiculous, Scorpius, I wouldn’t dream of letting a basilisk into the house. All that slime, and with those eyes? No,” his mother says, “All the lights will go out! And Theo and I will escape to Ibiza while it’s dark.”

“What are you going to do about the guests?”

“Oh, darling, you think too much. I’m sure they’ll figure something out,” Astoria trills airily. “Just make sure everyone’s gone by the time we get back. And if anyone gets us a lead crystal decanter, be a dear and put it right on the front table, I’ve wanted one for ages.”

Scorpius looks at Theo. “And what are you going to do?”

Theo shrugs. “Show up, I suppose. Astoria, it’s getting late. And you did just drag your son across the country by Portkey. On a school night. I think it’s time for bed?”

Astoria makes disappointed noises, but Scorpius gratefully obeys; while it’s not the same as his four-poster at the Manor, he has a nice queen-sized feather-bed on the third floor of Nott House, and his mother bought him an Ocean-Sounds Imp for his fifteenth birthday. He could do with a hot shower. And a good night’s sleep. And a nice, long wanking session.

“Good night, Mother,” he says, handing his rucksack to a passing house-elf. “Good night, Theo.”

As Astoria climbs the stairs, Theo leans over the railing and beckons Scorpius closer. “Several guests, including your Grandmother Narcissa, will be here at noon tomorrow. You’re probably going to want to cover up that bite on your neck before she sees it.”

Scorpius reddens, nods, and scampers up to bed.

*

The next afternoon, Scorpius is observing the singularly amusing sight of his mother attempting to carve a block of ice with her wand when his grandmother barrels across the inner courtyard and ruins the whole thing by doing it properly.

Well, sort of.

“Honestly, Astoria, I don’t know why you didn’t ask me to do this for you in the first place,” Narcissa says, preening. “You know that home decor and event planning are my specialties.”

His mother is staring at the now-carved ice sculpture. “I was trying to make a castle,” she says meekly.

Narcissa arches an eyebrow. “Really.”

“Yes, really.” Astoria blushes as she glances at the sculpture. “That is -- not a castle.”

“Oh, of course it is, dear,” his grandmother says soothingly. “It’s just.... well, it’s just one turret, isn’t it? Lovely and minimalist, if you ask me. Now, run along and make sure the elves are setting up the ballroom according to the diagram. We can’t put the Yaxleys next to the Goubankovas, you know.”

“Yes, Narcissa,” Astoria squeaks, scampering back to the house.

Astoria might not be her daughter-in-law anymore, but Scorpius knows that Narcissa won’t let a tiny little fact like that get in the way of her bossing Astoria around before her own wedding.

Scorpius cocks his head as his grandmother swoops over to sit by him. “Tell me the truth. You’re here to do politely what Dad’s too blunt to do himself, aren’t you?”

“Now, dear, your mother loves you very much,” Narcissa says absently, sitting down and patting his hand. “And you must always remember that. A mother’s love is very strong.”

“Uh-huh.” Scorpius rolls his eyes.

“Very, very strong. And,” Narcissa says importantly, “I’m sure that if you were to marry someone who later left you for your own school friend, she’d do everything in her power to cock up the wedding.”

Scorpius nods at the sculpture. “Cock up, indeed.”

“I’m sure I have no idea what you’re talking about, dear. That is an exact depiction of the Astronomy Tower.”

“I’d believe you if you weren’t winking,” Scorpius replies.

He loves his father, and he loves his mother, but Scorpius actually likes his grandmother; she’s always taught him the best jinxes and brings him the best books, and she was the only one who didn’t look a little pained when he came home for his first Christmas holidays and said he was perfectly happy not being in Slytherin.

Draco rants. Astoria gushes. But Narcissa? Narcissa listens.

“Grandmother, can I ask you something?”

“Of course, dear. As long as it isn’t about the bloodstain on the drawing-room wall.” Narcissa shudders. “I can’t get it out. It’s like being Lady Macbeth.”

Scorpius is already so nervous that he completely misses his grandmother’s normally petrifying reference to Voldemort, and powers on. “Did my parents -- Grandmother, do you think my parents divorced because of me?”

What? Who on earth said that?” Narcissa says, sitting straight up. “Did your mother tell you that? Or Theo? Oh, for the love of Merlin, just wait until I get near that wedding cake -- ”

“No, no, no,” Scorpius says quickly, knowing that she’ll end up ‘fixing’ their wedding cake anyway. “Nothing like that. I was just thinking -- well, that is, a friend of mine -- well, it came up in conversation, and I realized I’d never thought about it.”

Narcissa sighs, drawing his hand between hers. “Darling boy, why would you think your parents split up because of you?”

“Because I read too many books? Because I’m a pouf? Because -- oh, because I’m in Ravenclaw?” Scorpius says, screwing up his eyes and wishing he’d never said anything at all. “It could be anything, Grandmother. It really could be me.”

“Scorpius Hyperion Malfoy -- ”

Grandmother -- ”

“ -- that is the biggest load of Crup dung I’ve heard in my life. And please remember that I raised your father,” Narcissa says firmly. “Your parents split up for many reasons, mainly because your mother is a tramp and your father is a moody brat, but you are not to blame in any way. I thought we were past this, you know.”

Scorpius hangs his head. “Well, I was talking with a friend of mine -- ”

Narcissa gently lifts up his chin. “Scorpius, Albus Potter’s parents didn’t split up because of him, either.”

“How did you -- ”

“First of all, I can read. Second of all, I have a modicum of common sense. And third of all, your father can’t keep his mouth shut.” His grandmother releases his hand and slides an arm around his shoulders instead. “Your friend is probably very confused right now, and being sixteen can’t help. Do you remember what it was like for you when your parents divorced?”

Scorpius nods. “I moved in with you.”

“You moved in with me, as did your father, but you also lost yourself in books, Scorpius. I don’t think I ever saw you cry, or yell, or do anything you might have been expected to do.” Narcissa shakes her head. “You just went on your way, dear, and you’ve never really stopped. Do you know that this is the first time in years I’ve seen you without a book in your hand?”

“I -- ” Scorpius falters. “I’ve been busy.”

“You’ve been busy being a friend, it sounds like. And don’t listen to your father when it comes to friends. As this -- ” Narcissa gestures to Nott House and its attendant wedding decorations -- “will attest, he doesn’t really know much about the subject. Albus Potter is probably a fine friend, dear, and whatever it is he said to you, just know he didn’t mean it. He’s probably confused and trying to avoid dealing with it, just like another little boy did three years ago.”

“Actually, it wasn’t him,” Scorpius says. “It was his brother who said it.”

“Oh, Lords,” his grandmother sighs. “So not only did he probably not mean it, he probably never said it in the first place. Sometimes I forget how much you missed, not having siblings. You never listen to them, dear. Now, your Aunt Andromeda is perfectly lovely now, but when we were girls -- ”

“ -- I have completely cocked up,” Scorpius groans. “Completely, utterly, totally. More than the sculpture. Oh, dammit.”

Narcissa squeezes him tighter. “It’ll be all right. And if it isn’t, you can always blame your parents.”

*

Scorpius spends the rest of the day hiding from his mother and stealing horrified glimpses at the ice sculpture from the house’s inner windows. He makes a valiant attempt to write letters, but he only succeeds in telling Rose what color tie he’ll be wearing.

He tries to steal from Blake and Pope and Bacon, but it doesn’t work; every letter he tries to write to Al ends up in the rubbish bin.

*

“You know, except for the part where your father yelled ‘whore’ a lot, the ceremony wasn’t half-bad,” Rose says the next evening, snatching a chocolate-covered strawberry from a passing waiter. “Would have been quite enchanting, really.”

Scorpius shrugs. “I’m just glad he kept the more piercing profanities to a minimum. I think Grandmother was getting tired of hexing him.”

“The one with the tentacles was really quite brilliant,” Rose says, frowning. “Oh, Christ, it’s my parents. Take my wine glass.”

“That’s not going to help anything,” Scorpius protests. “Then your father will just think you’re dating an alcoholic, and a Malfoy to boot.”

“Better that than the alternative,” Rose hisses as her parents draw closer. “Mum! Dad!”

Rose is the spitting image of her mother, but she gets her sense of humor from her father -- or so Hugo’s always said. Scorpius has never actually seen Rose’s father smile. Ron is usually glaring at him; sometimes, Rose’s mother will jab him in the side with her elbow and he’ll switch to a grimace, but glaring seems to be his default. Rose constantly assures him that her mother adores him and that her father is stuck in a permanent state of arrested development when it comes to Malfoys, but Scorpius still feels the urge to hide behind the ice sculpture as they approach.

“I didn’t think you were staying for the reception,” Rose is saying, just as Scorpius gives up on escape routes.

“Harry said it would be open-bar, so we thought we’d have a few,” her father says, eyeing Scorpius suspiciously. “But it looks like you already found that out.”

“Ron, stop it, he’s gay and terrified of you,” her mother chides him. “Scorpius, you can give Rose her glass back. Make her take it like a woman.”

Rose guiltily snatches her glass out of his hand. “Don’t say that too loudly, Mum. His mother doesn’t know about -- well, you know.”

“Fine.” Her mother rolls her eyes. “Ron, you don’t have to loom like that. He’s gay, he’s perfectly nice, and he’s gay. Again.”

“The stage-whisper isn’t much better, Mother.”

He’s lived through a lot today -- his father screaming bloody murder during a religious ceremony and his mother practically molesting her new husband at the end of it particularly stand out -- but right now, Scorpius really, really wishes the floor would open up and swallow him whole. There’s only so much one boy can take.

He excuses himself and floats through the crowd, nodding at his mother’s friends, but mainly looking for Al.

His heart skips a beat when he sees a thatch of messy black hair, but it plummets when he sees who it belongs to. And who the hair is sitting with. And what the hair and its companion are doing.

“She’s EVIL,” Al’s father is yelling, raising his glass in the air. His tie is undone, and he has a red blotch on the side of his face. “Pure EVIL, I tell you. I give her the house, and what does she do? She takes it!

“BITCHES,” Scorpius’ own father booms, toasting Harry with what looks like a full magnum of whiskey. “They’re BITCHES. Women. ALL OF THEM. They come into your life, ruin it, and then -- my boy!

Scorpius has been spotted, and even the sight of Al on the other side of the table -- looking just as humiliated as Scorpius feels -- can’t quell his dread.

“Hello, Dad. Hello, Mr. Potter. This might seem like a weird question, but I thought you hated each other?”

“Bygones,” Al’s father says, tossing a sloppy arm around both their shoulders. “We’ve found a common enemy. And it’s women.”

“They’ve been doing this for, like, two hours,” Al says apologetically. “I had to cast a Silencing Spell. People were looking.”

“My boy,” Draco says proudly. “Did you do that sculpture? It’s magnificent!”

Al’s father tilts his head to the side. “It’s melting, is what it is. Do you know, it really looks quite an awful lot like a -- ”

Magnificent,” Draco repeats. “Oh, my dear, dear boy, I couldn’t ask for anything more from you.”

“Um, Grandmother did that,” Scorpius says desperately, sliding out from Harry’s drunken embrace.

“Your mother is brilliant, Malfoy,” Al’s father cheers.

“Of course she is, Potter. She saved your sorry hide, didn’t she?”

“That was twenty-five years ago,” Harry groans, and while Draco protests, Scorpius takes the opportunity to slip around them and sit next to Al.

“Okay, this is easily the third time they’ve had this exact argument,” Al hisses to him. “Now, your father is going to go on about youthful misguidance and my father is going to talk about knowing the difference between right and wrong. Then that gets them talking about our mothers and what bitches they are, and then they shout a lot and do shots. Then, they both start crying, and your dad yells something about bad eggs and my dad tries to look for my mum, but he gets distracted by the ice sculpture, and it starts all over again. The whole process takes about twenty-four minutes.”

“I’m sorry. I am so, so sorry,” Scorpius says.

Al shrugs. “Really, it’s okay. It’s getting kind of old now, but at the beginning, it was really amusing.”

“Not about them,” Scorpius says, glancing at their fathers out of the corner of his eye. His father has pulled up his sleeve to expose a bare arm, and Al’s father is examining it with what looks like a Sneakoscope. “I mean, about before, and how I stopped speaking to you. It was just -- ”

“Let me guess,” Al cuts in. “James said something completely stupid about poufiness and divorce, you believed it because you were drunk, you thought I was only being friendly because I felt bad for you, and you ignored me until I stuck my tongue in your mouth. Is that about right?”

Scorpius is shocked. “Um.... yes.”

“That’s about what I thought.”

“You know, I didn’t come over here to agree with you,” Scorpius says. “I came over here to apologize, and I was going to tell you about how glad I am we started talking in the first place, and how I don’t like you just because you’re another poufy boy from a broken home. I like you because you’re you.”

Al laughs. “I know that. I was just waiting for you to pick up on it. You always think gestures have to be grand and romantic, and that everything has to mean something else. You read too many books,” he says, catching Scorpius’ hand under the table.

“Can you blame me?” Scorpius says, using his free hand to gesture to where his father is crying into Al’s father’s shoulder.

Al shrugs. “Not really, no. But I grew up with James for a brother, so I think we’re about even.”

Scorpius nods. “I think we should probably kiss now. I quite liked that.”

Al leans in, and Scorpius closes his eyes; after about ten seconds of waiting, he opens them again. Al’s stopped a few inches away from his lips, and he’s grinning ruefully.

“We can scandalize your mother’s wedding guests, I suppose, but I think our fathers are doing a fine job of that,” he says to Scorpius’ disappointed expression. “As much as I’d love to run off for a snog, I think we should probably make sure that they don’t kill themselves, each other, or anyone else unfortunate enough to walk by.”

“What about later?” Scorpius persists.

“Sure, later.” Al pauses. “If we can find the right time, that is.”

“They’re turning off all the lights at midnight,” Scorpius says, smirking. “Mum and Theo are going to make their grand escape then, and my mother’s grand escapes always take at least seven minutes. And lucky for you, I know exactly how to get out of this room with my eyes closed.”

“And we’ll be going where?” Al asks playfully, hooking his hand in Scorpius’ sleeve.

“Upstairs, two flights, third door on the left. My bedroom,” Scorpius replies quietly. “If that’s okay.”

“As long as I don’t have to fly up there. No broomstick jokes, please.”

Scorpius pouts. “But it’s so appropriate!”

Al smiles. “Wait until midnight, then.”

A month ago, Scorpius couldn’t have waited until midnight, because that’s not how stories like this are supposed to go. He and Al should be in each other’s arms already, preferably on a balcony or deserted moor of some sort, locked in a passionate embrace that speaks of eternal love and devotion. They should be tearing each other’s clothes off by now, buttons pinging off every available surface and bedsprings creaking under their weight. There should be heavy breathing and arching and shuddering and sighing and ohs, and they should throw off the restraints of family and society and do all this right then and there.

But now? Scorpius knows that’s not how real life goes.

“I can’t think of a character for you,” he says suddenly, and Al doesn’t miss a beat.

“Scorpius, I’m just Al,” the other boy replies, and Scorpius knows that’s about the size of it.

And as he leans against Al’s shoulder and watches his father dump a glass of whiskey over Harry’s head, he knows he wouldn’t have it any other way.