Matter of Time
Pansy's head throbbed as Madame Nightingale tended to her, despite the mediwitch having a few injuries of her own. She and Harry patiently waited for the specialists to run their tests on Albus, who had utterly exhausted himself into compliance. Her heart ached watching her son's forlorn and remorseful glances in their direction.
"All better," Nightingale said after dabbing a bit of healing potion on a cut at Pansy's hairline.
"Thank you—" Pansy took the woman's hand between her own, "for everything."
"He's a good boy. This is just a setback," the older woman said as she smiled warmly. "If you don't mind, I'm going to have a bit of rest myself and let the others have a run of things for a moment."
"Of course," Harry replied graciously. "Can't tell you how many times Madam Pomfrey lost sleep over me."
"Oh, I heard." The woman chuckled before walking to her quarters.
Harry sat beside Pansy and brushed the fringe out of her face to get a better look. "It's not too bad, and the potion is already working. He leaned in and kissed the cut.
She felt her skin warm under his touch. This was the most time they had spent with each other in such close proximity in years, and she couldn't be more thankful. "Have you checked in with work?"
"I sent an owl and said not to bother me until I respond again," he answered. "I don't want any distractions. I just want to be here for Al, and you, of course."
"And home? Have you checked in?"
He shook his head. "I told you, I'm here for you and Al."
"What about when he's ready to leave the hospital?" Pansy asked with an anxious tremble in her voice, nervously clenching and stretching her fingers.
Harry took Pansy's hand in his and kissed it. "I'll be here as long as you need me, and longer if you'll let me."
"I don't understand," she attempted to reason his cryptic messages and affectionate reassurances. "But—"
"Don't worry about it," he insisted.
"Mr Potter, Ms Parkinson," Valiant called. "We're ready for you."
Harry was the first to stand, extending his hand out to Pansy, helping her up. "You okay?"
She nodded in response, eager to see her son but unsure of what the first words she would say to him. Now that he was awake, lucid—the fear she possessed, staring at his weakened, comatose body, gave way to anger, betrayal, and disappointment.
There was a tension in the air as the family moved closer and closer to one another—the culmination of shame, regret, and longing pulled them together with a force greater than anyone's resistance.
Pansy, reached down and squeezed Albus's foot, covered by warm blankets. It was instinct. When he was younger and upset, she would scoop him into her arms and take his chubby little feet in the palm of her hand, and give each one a comforting squish, always followed by a showering of kisses across his cheeks and forehead. How she longed for the days she could comfort him so easily.
She was tongue-tied. Aching to say something but fearful of what would come out. Behind her, Harry placed his hands reassuringly on her shoulders, urging her to be the first to speak. Pansy turned to meet his gaze, seeking his approval, to which he nodded for her to proceed.
"Albus…" her voice trailed.
Harry jumped in, "You gave us quite a scare. I'm sorry I had to Stupefy you."
"It's fine," the young man croaked, emotion already seizing his vocal cords. "Mum, Dad, I'm so, so, so sorry."
Pansy grit her teeth, wanting to keep it together. Wanting answers. Wanting to hear her son's reasons. She exhaled deeply through her nostrils, focusing on her center. "We almost lost you, you know that? I almost lost my only child. My beautiful boy. I want to scream at how damn selfish you were, at the same time, I want to make everything better and forget this ever happened."
"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to," he tried to explain, crossing his arms across his body. "I was just—"
"Just what?" she accused. "I don't know why anyone would need to be fucked up every waking moment—"
Albus startled at the mention. "Who told you that?"
"It doesn't matter," Pansy said, discarding Albus's question. She was appreciative of Harry's quiet stoicism but hoped he would know when to step in when things became too difficult. "I just don't understand. We're so close. You tell me everything, or at least I thought you did. If things were so bad, why didn't you talk to me? We could have gotten help. I could have been there for you."
"I didn't think it was a big deal," he said unconvincingly. "I was able to solve my own problems."
"But you didn't. You created more." Pansy grew more frustrated and stepped away from both Harry and Albus. "My God, Al. Potion addiction? Here I am, thinking you're this brilliant boy with a whole future ahead of you with this amazing gift. A prodigy. You know that's what Professor Apostol called you? Do you know what it's like for me to realize that you are the manufacturer of your own downfall? And how I will always question your intentions every time you brew something? Fuck, Al."
"Pans, that's enough," Harry said firmly. "Let's just let him explain himself." He looked to his son, and saw the young man grit his teeth and harden his jaw. Albus twitched and exhaled deeply through his nose. Harry wasn't sure if Albus was capable of another magical outburst, but it was better to stay cautious. "Al," Harry said tentatively, "what made you start?"
His face relaxed somewhat as he released a humorless laugh. "Why does anyone try anything? Curiosity. I just—" he paused, staring at the ceiling as if this action would allow him to search the recesses of his mind. "I've always felt something was missing, and I tried to figure out how to fill that void, but nothing would fill it. Euphorus. It just helped me forget about the hole. Like it threw a blanket over it, and just lifted me away."
"I still don't understand. I gave you everything, Albus," Pansy reasoned. "Don't you know you're loved? Wasn't I a good mother? Weren't we open? I tried so hard to be there for you. What else could I have given you?"
His eyes gravitated toward the same ones he inherited, and quickly averted his gaze. Albus slouched over and shrugged.
"Al," Harry tried, "you're so damn smart and talented. This just seems...I don't know...beneath you. I thought you'd want more for yourself than to be—" he gestured to his son's frail form, "this."
Albus blinked away the tears. "I didn't mean for this to happen. I just needed a break."
"A break from what?" Pansy insisted. "Your lovely, war-free, pampered teen years? I'm sorry, I still don't understand what in your life was so terrible that caused you to self-medicate. Merlin, Albus. Do you even have a clue of what we went through at your age?"
"Of course I fucking know what happened," he defended. "I can't go anywhere in this castle without being reminded of it. I'm surprised this place wasn't renamed Potter Hall." He let a pitying laugh pass through his lips. "You two wanted to live through it. I guess I'm fine either way."
Pansy pinched her lips between her teeth, unable to believe her son's words. "Don't say things like that, Al."
He shrugged. "I just—it's so hard to stay happy. I don't know how else to explain it."
"But what about Eva, your friends, your classes—aren't they worth it?" Harry asked, pleadingly.
"They are," Albus answered. "They keep me grounded, but when it gets really hard, I don't want to burden anyone with my problems. They have their own."
"But that's how friendship works," Harry reasoned. "I used to think the same thing, but...having someone to share that burden with makes it easier."
The tears began to flow freely as Albus released the demons that plagued him. "Sometimes, I just want to know why I'm not happy. I know I'm loved. I know I have more than so many others, but I just feel—empty. No matter what I do to get my brain to see the good things in my life or try to accept the things I can't change...it's just always there."
Before Pansy had a chance to embrace her son, Harry beat her to it. His strong arms wrapped around their emaciated son, comforting him in ways he should have so many times throughout the boy's life.
At first, Albus was alarmed, not knowing how to react to his father's affection. His arms hung limply at their sides until it dawned on him he needed this. He needed to be reminded of his parents' love. With all the strength he had left, Albus held his father tight and sobbed into his shoulder, the entire experience visceral. So wrapped in his own expression of shame, grief, and disappointment, he hadn't even noticed his t-shirt was soaked with his father's tears.
"I'm so, so, so sorry, Al. I should have been there for you. I should have taught you these lessons." Harry choked between sobs.
Pansy trembled as she observed. All those times she had convinced herself that she was all the parent he needed, this was a reminder that he needed so much more. Experiences and perspective she didn't have. She was heartbroken and relieved all at the same time. Deep in her soul, having Harry in Albus's life was all she really wanted for him. It's why he carried on the Potter name. Her attempts overcompensating with her undivided attention, material things, trips, the lot—just wasn't enough. She always knew it. And it was here in front of her as proof.
For the first time, she was on the outside, and she didn't like it. She was torn between letting them have their moment, interrupting, or joining. Awkwardly, she sat beside them on the bed. Wanting to be near. Wanting to connect. She ran her hand up and down Albus's back, soothing him in a way she knew would comfort him, but still giving him enough space.
Sensing his mother, Albus instantly broke the bond and embraced her. "I'm so sorry, Mum," he sniffed.
Pansy squeezed him so tightly, his sinewy muscles and protruding skeleton feeling foreign under her touch. "Oh, my baby." Her anger faded once again, and it was just her little boy reaching out for help. She kissed his temple and whispered in his ear, "We're going to get through this, okay? Your dad and I will be there for you. We're not breaking any more promises. We are going to do everything we can, but I need you to fight, do you understand?" She pulled away and cupped his face in her hands. "I'm serious. Do you understand?"
Albus nodded slowly. "Yes, I understand. I want to feel...better than this." He sniffed and tried to calm his quavering voice. "I just...miss feeling normal. I don't even know what that is anymore."
Harry wrapped his arms around both Albus and Pansy at his son's admission. "Oh, Al. There is no 'normal,' but there is 'safe.' Also, 'happy' and 'content,' but never feel like 'normal' is something you need to strive for."
At that moment, Pansy and Harry looked into each other's eyes, and they were reminded that if 'normal' would never be a part of their vernacular, perhaps 'content' or even 'happy' could.
Albus and Pansy walked through King's Cross that first day of September, just as they had for the past four years—but something was off. There was an energy in the air that was disconcerting. Pansy nervously gripped the handle of her wand, concealed in her coat pocket. It had been years since she was this cautious in public. Probably since Albus was a baby. She couldn't pinpoint it, but she could sense something.
At fifteen years old, he was already taller than her. So much so, she had to place her hand on his shoulder to get his attention.
"Al, you put your wand in your sleeve, yeah?"
"Yeah, Mum. Why?"
"I don't know. Can you feel it?"
"Feel what?" He looked around for anything out of the ordinary. "Mum, it's just the first day of school. This place is buzzing with scared little kids. Probably one of them had a mishap on the way in. Probably some poor Muggleborn kid who has no idea what he's doing."
"Suppose you're right," she reasoned. "I'm probably just feeding off the nervous energy."
They stopped at the passage onto Platform 9 ¾.
"Mum. After you," he bowed politely.
"Thank you," Pansy responded, speedily walking through the passage.
He strolled through with the trolley, and said, "Let's drop this off first while we wait for Dad."
Pansy rolled her eyes at the reminder. Harry had been fairly absent over the summer on confidential cases, leaving little time for their son. For the most part, Albus had given up on his father, but their moments on the platform were still special. She knew that, and if there could be at least one constant interaction between the two of them, she'd support it.
She looked down at her watch. "It's ten-thirty, Albus. We have some time to head back out and grab a coffee."
"Must you say that phrase?" she asked frustratedly. "Either, 'no, thank you,' or 'yes, please.' 'I'm good' is just ambiguous and passive-aggressive."
"It's not," he defended. "It's casual, and lets you know I'm fine."
"No, it doesn't," she countered. "Be direct. It's the only way people truly know what you want."
Albus rolled his eyes, unappreciative of his mother's life lessons.
Pansy was not about to have their last in-person interaction before the start of term be centered around teenage insubordination. "Albus, don't—"
Before she could finish her words, a young woman in a plaited crown with her school robes draped across her arm, tapped Albus on the shoulder.
"Hey, Al," the girl smiled sweetly.
Startled, Albus blushed slightly as he greeted her, "Hey, Eva."
"Ahem," Pansy cleared her throat, reminding her son to mind his manners.
"This is my mum, Pansy."
"Ms Parkinson," she corrected and held out her hand. "Sorry, I'm a little old fashioned when it comes to these things."
Eva accepted the gesture and shook the woman's hand cordially. "My parents are pretty old fashioned, too."
"Are they here?" Albus asked nervously.
She shook her head in response. "They're pretty uncomfortable around magic folk. They just walk me to the gate. Haven't been back on the platform since first year."
"Makes sense," he reasoned. A glint of silver caught his eye as he noticed a shiny new prefect's badge pinned to her robes. "You made prefect?"
Eva nodded proudly. "Yeah, I actually stopped by to ask you if you did too."
"Nah," he shrugged indifferently. "Scorp."
"I knew it would be between the two of you." She shuffled her feet. "So I have to go to the prefects' carriage and then patrol. I guess I'll just see you at dinner?"
"Yeah, I'll save you and Scorp seats."
Pansy gushed, watching the whole interaction.
"Thanks," the girl replied as her cheeks visibly heated. "I like your haircut, by the way."
Unconsciously, he messed with it. "Oh, um. Thanks. It's shorter than I like."
"No, it looks good." She looked away to see the other prefects boarding toward the front of the train. "I have to go. I—I'll see you later."
The two waved farewell to each other, and Albus turned back to see a smug look on his mother's face.
"Nothing…" Pansy grinned.
"We're just friends," Albus insisted.
She released a soft chuckle. "I didn't say a word."
Changing the subject, Albus looked down at his watch. "Where is everyone? I'm not waiting for them this year. I just want to get on the train already."
There was a loud commotion as several indiscreet Aurors passed through the gate, followed by Hermione, Theo, Marina, and three additional Aurors. The teen looked beyond embarrassed, surrounded by her mother's security detail. They rushed to drop off her trunk and practically sprinted toward Albus and Pansy.
"Al, let's get on the train now. I need to lose the royal guard," Marina rushed out without greeting Albus or her godmother.
"Marina," Hermione pinched the bridge of her nose. "You know why we have security, and you'll still have Aurors on the train."
"But they won't be hovering around me like flies," she huffed snarkily. "Dad, can I have my allowance now?"
"Pansy, can you believe this?" Theo shook his head. "First year was all nerves and hugs, daily letters, now all we get is attitude and requests for cash."
"Oh," Pansy added, "we were having a similar conversation before a pretty little prefect came over."
Pansy smirked at her son's embarrassment.
Marina leaned in, suddenly interested. "So who made prefect this year?"
"Eva and Scorpius," Albus answered dully, trying to mask any inflection in his voice that would egg his mother on.
"Fair choices," Marina reasoned. "They're good students, but not annoying about it. Who do you think made prefects for the other houses?"
Albus shrugged. "Don't know. Don't care. As long as they stay out of my way, I'll stay out of theirs."
"Remember prefect duties, Hermione?" Pansy teased. "I was a right menace."
"I think the word you're looking for, my dear friend, is 'cunt,'" Hermione replied with a wicked smirk.
"Language, Minister," Theo emphasized. "We're surrounded by children."
"Oh, fuck off, Theo," Pansy pushed him playfully. She looked down at her watch, and time was running out. "Al, I know you and Marina want to board now. Are you sure you don't want to wait for your dad?"
He looked down at his own watch, then scanned the platform for any sign of Harry. Forlorn, Albus shook his head. "I have a lot of reading to catch up on, and if I don't find a good seat, it'll be impossible to get anything done."
"I understand," Pansy said sadly as her heart broke to see her son's disappointment. "Give me a hug."
The mother and son embraced for what would be the last time until the Christmas holidays.
"I love you, Mum," he whispered in her ear. "Thank you for always being here for me."
"And I always will be." Before she became emotional, she pulled away and said, "I need to give you your allowance." She rifled through her handbag and pulled out a hefty leather pouch full of galleons. "This is also your Christmas shopping money, so make it last."
He nodded his head in understanding. "I will."
Hermione, Theo, and Marina had been exchanging their farewells as Pansy and Albus shared theirs. The teens swapped places and then said goodbye to their godparents before boarding the train. After some time searching, they found an empty compartment and were on board safely.
Pansy looked around and still saw no sign of Harry. "Where the fuck is he? I could kill him."
With a frustrated sigh, Hermione said, "It's highly confidential, but he was supposed to be here."
Theo whispered, "Joint operation with MI5 and MI6."
Hermione looked at him with disbelief, "Are you kidding me, Theodore? This is a matter of security. You can't just mention it casually in conversation. My god, I should have never let you watch those James Bond films."
"Oh, but you love watching them too." Theo wrapped his arms around her waist. "You get so worked up watching strategy and espionage."
"That I do…" Hermione tip-toed to kiss her husband.
"You two are fucking disgusting," Pansy rolled her eyes.
The entire station rumbled, and the ground shook beneath their feet. Everyone on the platform looked around in a panic, while screams echoed from inside the train. Pansy's face paled, imagining what could have caused the quake. She set to take off at a run toward the train, but Aurors suddenly began Apparating before them, wands drawn and readily alert. The arrival of so many well-prepared wizards was unsettling. One, who appeared to be leading the charge, stood in the center of the platform, casting a Sonorous Charm to make an announcement.
"THIS IS NOT A DRILL. BY ORDER OF THE DEPARTMENT OF MAGICAL LAW ENFORCEMENT, WE ARE ISSUING AN ENACTMENT OF CRIMSON SWIRL PROTOCOL. ALL CHILDREN MUST BOARD IMMEDIATELY. ALL ABLE-BODIED WITCHES AND WIZARDS MUST VACATE THE PREMISES TO A SAFE LOCATION AT LEAST TWO KILOMETERS FROM KING'S CROSS STATION. IF YOU'RE UNABLE TO DISAPPARATE OR ARE NON-MAGICAL, CONGREGATE BY THE GATE, AND AN AUROR WILL ASSIST YOU."
"Pansy, go," Theo instructed. "Your house is too close. Go to your parents. We'll find out what's happening, and get a hold of you after we find out."
"He'll be alright," Hermione said, not totally believing it.
"LAST STUDENT'S ON!" The conductor hollered.
"NOW!" the nameless authoritative Auror directed.
The three whipped their heads around to see the commotion. For the first time ever, the Hogwarts Express left before 11 o'clock, and not by track, but in a swirling mass of red metal and smoke that disappeared into nothingness.
Pansy gasped, wondering where the train went.
"Go!" Theo urged. "The kids are safe."
She nodded her head and disapparated without further question.
Albus felt as though his body had been sucked through a drain, a sensation he had felt a few times before when traveling by Portkey. He heard metal clank and creak as the train slammed down onto the track outside of Hogsmeade Station. Unsteadily, he pulled down the carriage windows and began vomiting. Whatever had happened rattled him to the core. He must have triggered a response because Marina was next to him doing the same thing. When he expelled as much as he could, he fell back into the seat.
"What the hell was that?" He asked, not caring who would answer.
"Dunno," Marina burped. "Could the train be a Portkey? That's impossible, isn't it?"
Albus looked back outside. "We're already here. It must be."
A concerned Auror came knocking at the carriage door. "Miss Nott, are you alright?"
"Dizzy and just got sick," she responded plainly. "What happened?"
The Auror stoically stuck to protocol despite looking a little woozy himself. "There was a security threat at King's Cross, and we had to take emergency precautions."
The two had planned on interrogating the Auror and attempt to throw their parents' names around, but the man was stoically devoted to his station, only telling them to disembark.
When they got off the train, the platform was in complete chaos. Children looked pale and disoriented, several with sick all down the front of their uniforms. The students were all instructed that they would need to be seen by awaiting Healers before heading to the castle, to make sure they were well enough to make the travel by boat and carriage. First years were rounded up by prefects as they were the first to be examined. The youngsters were shocked and overwhelmed by their initiation into life at Hogwarts.
Albus and Marina sat on the pavement, bored, waiting for their turn to be seen, and also waiting for answers from any adult willing to tell them what on earth had happened at the station. They waved at Scorpius and Eva, who looked completely out of their depth, managing the students. A few of their housemates tried to sit with them, but Cribbins shooed them off. It only made the two more anxious about the situation.
"I bet my dad's behind this," Albus said, flustered. "Probably pissed off the wrong people, or someone was released from Azkaban, or just waited for today to execute some crazy plan because he knew there would be a distraction."
"Oi. Don't say that out loud." Marina nudged him, "I know you're annoyed right now, but some of that might be true. We don't want to scare anyone."
Albus looked up to Cribbins, the sun blinding him in the process. The Auror, alert as ever, pretended not to be eavesdropping on his charges' conversation. Already annoyed, Albus said casually, "You know, I don't trust Aurors. They always withhold the truth. My dad's one of the worst, isn't he, Cribbins?"
The Auror cracked a smile and responded, "Mr Potter, I'm not going to insult my superior to entertain a teenager."
"Suit yourself," Albus shrugged. Utterly bored and tired of waiting.
"You could read, you know," Marina remarked, peeking up from her book.
Albus hadn't even noticed that she had found something to occupy her time. Might as well join her. He had planned on reading on the train anyway, so he pulled out his textbooks.
"What's that?" Marina enquired, not recognizing the cover.
"Introduction to Chemistry," he answered. "Professor Apostol wants me taking a multi-disciplinary approach to Potions. Have to learn a bit of Muggle science."
"You're on a specialized track?" Marina responded, disbelieving. "But you haven't even taken your O.W.L.s."
He responded with a smug smile and set to reading.
After what seemed like hours, every student had been examined by a Healer, administered a Portkey sickness draught, and given the clearance to head to the castle. The first years were ushered to the small boats, awaiting their inaugural departure, while the older students clambered onto the carriages.
Cribbins, along with the other Aurors that were on the train, took to their brooms and surveyed the students' travel from the skies, finally giving Marina and Albus permission to join their friends. Marina left to join a group of fourth years from different houses, while Albus joined a carriage of boys, all from Slytherin House.
"Gents," he greeted, sliding into the seat next to Scorpius. "Alright, let's see it."
Timidly, Scorpius displayed his polished prefect badge.
"Whoo…" The boys taunted in unison.
"Shove off," he told them, unable to hide his proud smile. "That was a shit show. Didn't even get a chance to have our orientation meeting before this nightmare."
"Potter, do you know what happened?" Able Barnes, a burly boy, asked.
Albus shook his head in response. "That Auror was a total wanker. Wouldn't tell me anything, and I said, 'you know who my dad is, yeah?' and he said, 'your dad ordered blah blah bullshit.'"
The boys laughed along playfully.
Scorpius leaned over to his best friend, and asked, "Does it feel weird not having James this year?"
"Yeah," Albus answered truthfully. "At least I have you arseholes."
"And Marina," Dom Warrington, a rather thin and awkward-looking boy, said suggestively.
"She's like my little sister. We're god siblings, if that's a thing. No." Albus replied in disgust. "But my brother did give me a few things as a send-off." He reached inside his rucksack, looking for the gifts from James.
"I didn't see him on the platform, or your dad," Scorpius mentioned.
"It's because they weren't there," Albus stated matter-of-factly. "Jamie had training. But I had a feeling dad wouldn't show if he didn't have to bring James. No fucking clue where he was. Probably being the great Harry Potter or some shit."
Scorpius looked to Dom and Able on how to react to Albus's snide jab at his father.
"Ah! Found it. Check this out." He presented an ancient-looking piece of parchment and tapped his wand to it. "I solemnly swear that I am up to no good."
The boys all looked in amazement as the map revealed itself. They chatted excitedly amongst themselves of what this could be used for and how they'd be able to get away with things or even use it to 'accidentally' bump into girls at the opportune moment.
"You're putting me in a compromising situation," Scorpius shook his head. "On the one hand, I'm a prefect. On the other hand, so is Lana Pucey, and I wouldn't mind accidentally catching her in the prefects' bath…"
"Mate," Warrington shook his head. "She's a seventh year, and way out of your league."
Scorpius threw his hands up in defense. "I only mentioned catching a glance. Said nothing about having a shot with her."
Albus rolled his eyes and said, "James gave me another back to school present," while opening a mint tin to reveal several hand-rolled joints. "We have the whole weekend to fuck about until term officially begins. I don't think they ever thought about the first of September falling on a Friday. What do you say?"
Warrington beamed and added, "I had the same thought. Knicked a bottle of Ogden's from my dad's study."
"Got mead," Barnes said proudly.
All three boys looked to Scorpius, wondering what he contributed.
"What?" He asked if stating the obvious. "I'm a bloody prefect. I'm not smuggling in contraband. I have an obscene amount of sweets. That's the most you're going to get from me."
"But you are going to join us, aren't you?" Albus asked, jutting out his lip. Peer pressure compounded with a lifelong friendship.
"You're the worst," Scorpius sighed, giving in. "After rounds. I shall join you miscreants."
The three other boys grinned in triumph.
The early arrival of the Hogwarts Express gave the older students the opportunity to freshen up at their dormitories. Remembering that he had promised to save a seat for Eva, Albus took extra care to look and smell his best. Taking a mixture of Sleekeazy's and pomade, he attempted to do something with his overly shorn hair. His mother's reasoning for the short hairstyle was the fact she knew he wasn't getting it cut during Hogsmeade weekends, which was true. He just hoped it would grow out soon. At this length, his natural curls just sort of poofed without any real definition. The most he could do was make sure it didn't look like a scouring pad.
As everyone filtered into the Great Hall, the group of fifth years took their seats.
"That's saved," Albus told Barnes as the boy tried to take the seat next to him.
"Yeah, what about the other one?" Barnes was confused as to why Albus was saving two seats.
Trying to play cool, Albus answered, "Eva."
"Really? Hmm...Then she's probably going to need a seat for Helena. Yeah, alright." The boy seemed excited about the prospect and scooted down the bench to make space for two.
After completing their duties, Scorpius and Eva found their friends.
"Hi," Eva said cheerfully.
"Hi," Albus responded in the same friendly manner.
"I'm starved," Scorpius complained. "My entire breakfast ended up on the pavement."
Others at their table shared similar sentiments. While the teens grumbled about food and the events of the earlier part of the day, Eva leaned in to whisper in Albus's ear.
"Do you know what happened? At the station?"
He shook his head. "Wish I did. Everyone expects me to know because of my dad, but honestly, he never tells me anything."
"I'm sorry," she said as she put a hand on his shoulder. "I just hope that my parents are alright. They're so defenseless, you know?"
Albus didn't know, but he could imagine. "Hopefully, they'll tell us something soon."
The sorting ceremony went a painstaking pace, as compared to previous years. The children were still shaken up by the events of the day, and the hat had difficulty pinpointing their actual characteristics. When it was finally said and done, and each noble house had new students, McGonagall finally took the podium to address the masses.
"Welcome, everyone. I know that today was quite harrowing for all of you. Rest assured that actions taken today, were meant to protect you, and bring you to Hogwarts safely. I'm thankful that we will have an entire weekend to recover before the start of term officially begins."
The boys passed mischievous looks to one another.
"There was a terrorist attack on one of the Muggle platforms. A bombing that killed seven and injured several more."
The children gasped and began muttering speculations.
McGonagall continued despite the students' chatter, "The Ministry has assured us that all Muggle parents that were on the platform at the time of the bombing were escorted to safety. All students' families have been cross-referenced with those with reported injuries, and thankfully none of the victims were connected to any Hogwarts students. Your families were also informed about your emergency travel and any symptoms reported by the Healers."
The children muttered amongst themselves, speculating who caused the bombing.
"Unfortunately, I don't have much more to tell you. The Ministry will post their official release in tomorrow's Prophet." McGonagall then carried on with the traditional start of term announcements.
"Al," Warrington called. "You think your dad is keeping everything hushed up?"
"Probably, but I wouldn't worry about it. He always has a 'reason.' Out to protect the greater good," Albus responded snarkily.
"You okay?" Scorpius asked quietly.
"Yeah," he responded reactively, not really knowing if he was. His tongue was heavy and mouth parched, aching for a goblet of water. Each slow sip soothing his throat. He closed his eyes and breathed slowly, trying to drain out all the noise around him, eager for the feast to come and go. The seclusion of the dormitory called to him. And with it, escapism in the form of herbal and alcoholic remedies.
The next morning, the Great Hall flooded with more owls than usual. Albus's head pounded from last night's overindulgence. He poured himself a cup of coffee and added a splash of milk with two teaspoons of sugar.
An ancient, yet regal owl swept in and landed elegantly on his shoulder. Instantly, he recognized it as his grandfather's owl. In its clutches were two envelopes, one from his grandparents and one from his mother, and the Daily Prophet. After rewarding the bird with a sausage, it took off. He waited around to see if he would be receiving any other letters, but none came.
Albus ran his fingers over the green wax embossed with the Parkinson seal and opened his mother's letter.
01 September 2023
My Darling Albus,
I've never hated the school's ban on technology more than right now. How are you? How bad was the Portkey sickness? The report they sent me barely said a thing. I wish I could just see you right now, just to know that you're okay.
Before you worry, I'm fine. I am still at your grandparents' house. Hermione and Theo don't want me returning to London until they know something, but they haven't told me what that is. I've tried getting a hold of your father all day, but he's not picking up. I hope he at least gets in contact with you.
Take care, my darling. Please write back soon.
"Typical," Albus scoffed to himself, clearly upset about his father's lack of communication.
He unfolded the Prophet to see Hermione speaking at a podium with his father standing beside her stoically. Albus inspected his father's features, looking for something. Worry, remorse, anger—something. All Albus knew was that his father was there, ready to talk to the press, without having written a single note of concern to his son.
Albus grit his teeth, his frustrations taking over any control he had. The newspaper, still gripped in his hands, erupted in an explosion of confetti.
A few of his housemates complained about the mess, but he wasn't listening. He sulked until a delicate hand on his shoulder calmed his fury.
"Hey," Eva said. "Want to go for a walk?"
He smiled back and said, "Yeah. I'd like that."
"Very nice," Professor Apostol praised as he inspected the cauldron and set of beakers. "I think you're really making the connections between chemistry and Potions."
Albus smiled proudly, confident in his progression. "The theories are so closely related. The fact that these teachings aren't taught simultaneously is such a shame. Thank you for giving me this opportunity, Professor."
The middle-aged Asian man clapped his hand on Albus's shoulder. "I just wish all my students had the fervor for the subject as you. Albus, you do know you're far past Ordinary Wizarding Levels, don't you?"
The young man smirked with a twinkle in his eye. "Maybe…"
"It's good to be modest," the professor said, "but it's true. We educators dream of being able to mentor prodigies. It's not often that we get one."
"Mum says it's in my blood," Albus stated. "She and my dad are both rubbish, but it's in the family."
"Well, genetics are part of the equation, but never doubt your own abilities, Albus."
Overwhelmed by the compliment, Albus quickly changed the subject. "Professor, I wanted to do some additional research. After reading about the different phases of matter in chemistry, it had me thinking. I know that some potions can't be rendered into different forms because it changes its magical potency, but there have to be writings on experiments blending chemistry, potions, and transfiguration."
"You've figured it out," his professor beamed. "Albus, I'm preparing you to learn alchemy."
"Alchemy?" Albus stammered. "But that's really advanced magic."
"And, you're ready." The man crossed the room and pulled a few books from his shelf. "I'm going to let you get a peek at next year's curriculum and an introduction to alchemy. Remember when you told me how silly it is that we have to drink all of our medicines when Muggles have convenient tablets?"
"Yes," the boy affirmed.
"When you get back, we're going to attempt making Dreamless Sleep into a tablet. I've never been able to do it either, so we'll just have to try it out together."
Albus was beaming. He threw his arms around his mentor, but withdrew quickly, embarrassed at his show of emotion. "Sorry, professor. Thank you for believing in me."
"Thank you for being a great kid." The man smiled before looking down at his watch. "You best get a move on. I have another class in a few minutes."
"Yes, Professor." Albus gathered all of his belongings, including his new books. The sixth-year textbook dropped to the ground, opening to a potion Albus had never seen before. "Euphorus. It gives the user a blissful feeling for several hours, melting away all stresses and worries. Hmm. Interesting."
Albus dog-eared the page and left for his next class.
Pansy yawned, still not used to the time difference. She had been in the Singapore office for two weeks, readying her newly appointed editor's inaugural issue featuring an up-and-coming designer.
"Well, she is all wrong for the spread. These girls are just so...similar. Nothing special to draw in the eye." Pansy tutted, reviewing headshots from a local agency. "What do you think, Anthony?"
A handsome man with Eurasian features walked around the table to stand beside Pansy. He tapped his finger on one photo that had snuck its way under the others. "This one. She has full lips and a fire in her eyes. She fits Kimi-KO's newest line. She's not like these other demure porcelain dolls."
Pansy held up the photo and inspected it, imagining her with a deep red or even black lip. White lashes. Maybe a mohawk? Before she could discuss with Anthony, her mobile began to ring.
"You going to get that?" Anthony asked. He walked to the desk to retrieve the phone and noticed a familiar name. "It's your son's father."
She exasperated, "What the hell does he want? Oh, just silence it. I'll text him later."
Anthony did as Pansy requested, but moments later, it rang again. "It seems urgent."
Pansy held her hand out, ready to accept her phone back. Reluctantly she answered, "What are you doing up at this time, Potter? It's what, a quarter past four in the morning?"
"What does it matter?" Harry snippily asked.
"I'm working." Anthony gestured toward the door, wondering if he should leave the room. She shook her head and pointed at the spread, urging him to complete his work. Pansy turned her attention back to her call. "Can I help you with something?"
"How is it that neither you or our son managed to tell me that you'll be in Asia over the holidays? I just found out from Hermione." Harry's voice was full of hurt and frustration, being left out of the loop.
"I'm sorry, you're upset that you weren't made aware of someone's coming and goings?" She scoffed. "That's rich. I don't know what to tell you. There's nothing to discuss. I will be heading home for about 24-hours. I Portkey on the same day Al comes home, we head home for the night, repack, and take the Silk Road Express."
"That's not enough time for me to see him," Harry retaliated. "Why does he need to go with you? You'll be working the whole time. He can stay with me."
Pansy laughed, "We both know he would hate that. You'll be working even more than me, and he'll be stuck with your wife berating him and her family vilifying him for just existing. No. Besides, he's been looking forward to this trip for weeks. I'm not going to take that away from him."
"You're keeping him from me," Harry stated. No ire or even disappointment. Just a calm that was eerily factual. "Wow. Thanks. Tell me why."
"I'm tired of seeing him broken-hearted, and he's tired of feeling it. He's old enough to make that decision too. Albus told me directly he doesn't want to spend Christmas with you."
Harry breathed heavily on the other end of the phone, not saying a word.
"Are you still there?" Pansy asked, still sounding annoyed.
"Yeah," Harry responded. "I guess I'll see you at the platform or maybe your house."
"Just show up. Don't say anything to either of us. It's better that you prove us wrong."
After another battery of tests administered by Madam Nightingale, Albus fell back asleep. Pansy and Harry agreed they needed to meet with Adler and Valiant to discuss their son's treatment, so they decided to return to the boardroom where not only Theo was waiting for them, but also Hermione and McGonagall. The headmistress appeared troubled, clearly allowing the weight of disappointment to overcome her as another Potter boy's life was threatened under her watch. In the Wizarding World, one easily forgets that darkness takes all forms.
The table set for twelve seemed vast, and whatever decisions they made in this room would carry a sense of resolution. A boy's future—perhaps the future of the school—hung in the balance.
Pansy was the first to speak. "Thank you all for coming to help us through this difficult time." She paused to exhale through her nostrils. "I just want to see Albus start his treatment and graduate. What do we do next?" Seeking the answer, she turned to Adler.
"It could be a few more days to fully detoxify his system," she said truthfully. "Then I would suggest a rehabilitation program that would last for at least 28 days—"
"No." Pansy shook her head with fervent conviction. "That's not what he needs. He said he needs normal. He needs happy."
Valiant protested, "Ms Parkinson. Albus is vulnerable, and could slip back into using without proper supervision."
Harry looked to see a truly affronted McGonagall, face twisted from the unintentional, or completely intentional, insult. He could understand her offense but sided with the Healer regarding the staff's attentiveness when it came to child welfare. When it came to Albus, on the other hand, he sided with Pansy.
"No disrespect, Valiant, but I too want Albus to have the opportunity to graduate with his friends." Harry's voice was stern and commanding. "We'll find a way to keep him monitored here the last few weeks of school, and he'll enroll into a treatment plan upon graduation. Right now, he needs support from the people he loves."
"Potter, that could be a lot of effort on the behalf of one student," McGonagall interjected. "And to be monitored like a toddler. That won't make life any easier for him. Students would begin to notice."
"Not to mention criticism from his peers could drive him to bouts of anxiousness and instability," Adler reiterated her colleague's and the headmistress's concern.
A heavy audible sigh came from down the table. Theo folded his hands and brought them to his chin, as if in contemplative prayer. "What if he's not the only one?"
All eyes moved toward his direction, in equal parts curiosity and dread.
He licked his lips and inhaled deeply before speaking. "I'm not certain, but from the sound of things, several children at this school are dealing with dependency in some form or another. Potions, medicinal herbs, alcohol, Muggle street and prescription drugs, even sex addictions, eating disorders, and self-harm. It's alarming. I don't remember it being this bad when I was here, but we had different problems back then. Honestly, I could be wrong. All of this could have been going on when I was here, and I just didn't pay attention."
"It's because you were a fucking nerd, Theo," Pansy snorted. "This is a boarding school. Of course, these things have been going on for years. It's systemic. Even more reason for my son to get the help he needs. If we help others, even better."
"Ms Parkinson!" The headmistress exclaimed defensively. "I'll have you know—"
"This school's boarding model is antiquated, Minerva," Hermione spoke up. "There's no need pretending otherwise. Look at the group you're talking to."
Silence hung in the room as they shared glances.
Hermione continued, "We need to do better by these kids. Yes, there are only a few weeks left of the school year, but let's pilot a program. Even if it's just Albus. If it works, then maybe there are things we can fine-tune and roll out next year."
Pansy looked across the table to her friend and mouthed, thank you.
"Very well, Minister," McGonagall responded begrudgingly. "Do you have any propositions on how we develop this plan."
With a deep sigh, Hermione rubbed her temples, as if summoning the ideas. "I have a few."
Over the next two hours, they deliberated on how the Ministry and Board of Governors would financially support initiatives to students struggling with addiction, while the Healers made their demands requesting a designated wing to treat students as they go through the program. McGonagall made concessions to allow additional parental visitation and involvement, including a dedicated Floo to Hogwarts for parents whose children going through treatment. Most importantly, they came to an agreement on how to treat Albus until graduation.
"Thank you." Pansy felt like she could breathe for the first time in hours, as a weight lifted off her chest. "Sincerely, your ideas and support mean the world to us."
"Thank you, everyone," Harry's voice quavered as he expressed his appreciation. "This has been an incredibly trying experience for us."
"Oh, but you can handle anything. You're The Boy Who Lived," Theo teased.
"And gladly, I can pass that title down to my son."
Pansy smiled and squeezed his hand under the table.
"Meeting adjourned." Hermione slapped her hand on the table, not having a gavel.
Adler and Valiant went ahead back to the hospital wing, while the rest held back. Harry walked to face his former head of house.
"You don't need to say anything, Harry. I already know. I've failed you, and I've failed my students." McGonagall admitted. "I don't know what is harder. Protecting children from dark forces or protecting them from themselves."
Hermione put a reassuring hand on the elderly woman's shoulder. "Minerva, this is a situation you can't take all the blame. We've assessed a situation, and now we're going to fix it. We'll get you and the students the support you need, and we'll meet with the governors to see what else we can do."
"There needs to be more parental involvement," Pansy added. "Christmas, Easter, and Quidditch matches aren't enough, especially with the young ones. Parent weekends at the school or in Hogsmeade. Even if every parent isn't able to attend, at least the children will know that adults care about them."
"While it may be difficult with the Muggle parents, I like the idea, Ms Parkinson," McGonagall conceded. "I'll set up a meeting with the governors. Hermione, I'll let your office know when that will be. You'll coordinate bringing the Healers to the meeting as well?"
"Yes, and anything else we come up with," Hermione confirmed.
"I want an inquiry on Apostol," Harry said sternly. "I know the man is a great teacher and encourages his students, but I doubt he knew nothing about what Albus was doing."
McGonagall looked affronted once again, this time, on behalf of her staff.
Harry responded to her sternly. "I'm serious, Minerva. If you don't, I will. And if I'm involved, I'm turning this whole school upside down. I was one of the biggest rule breakers ever to walk through these corridors. I know every passage, hidden alcove, and how the kids communicate in secret. If you want your students to enjoy their time at Hogwarts and not have Aurors roaming these halls, and searching students and faculty, their post, rooms, and belongings, you'll run an investigation."
Pansy had never really seen Harry in Law Enforcement mode. He was strong and commanding. It took her by surprise and needed a moment to come back to the conversation.
"Very well," Minerva agreed, having no actual choice in the matter. "I'll stop by to check in on Albus later this evening. If you don't mind, I need to speak to his namesake for some advice."
They all bid their farewells, and the headmistress left the room.
"Anyone else notice how she only calls you two by your first names?" Pansy's eyebrow quirked. "Once teacher's pets. Always teacher's pets."
"Oh, shut up. Come here." Hermione held her arms out, awaiting Pansy's embrace. The darker haired woman practically flung herself into the other's arms. They held each other tightly, sharing soft sobs. Hermione broke their embrace and held Pansy's face in her hands, wiping the tears softly with the pads of her thumbs. "It's okay. We're here. Theo and I will always be here for you. We made a promise to you and Al."
Pansy nodded, "I know."
"Merlin, what brand of eyeliner and mascara do you use? Your makeup still looks fantastic," Hermione joked.
"I'll send you some," Pansy smiled. "Thank you so much for pulling the 'Minister Card.'"
"It's for the greater good and the future of Hogwarts, so I think it's excusable." Hermione smirked. She released Pansy and then flung her arms around Harry, then whispered in his ear. "I'm glad you're here."
"Me too." He returned the hug and squeezed her tightly. "We're going to be okay."
With a smile and a shake of her head, Hermione laughed, "You will be. You always are."
Theo ran his hand along his wife's back. "Let's visit Al before we head to dinner."
"I could kill for a roast or some pie. Maybe a curry. No salad." Hermione said. "I just need comfort food after a day like this, you know?"
"That's a brilliant idea, darling." Theo grinned.
Pansy snorted, witnessing her two best friends so perfectly in-step in their relationship, down to their cravings. She had given up any hope that she would have anything like the two of them possessed. A warm hand found its way to the small of her back. She looked up to her right to find his green eyes, somewhat paler than they had been in his youth, but still captivating nonetheless.
"Let's say goodnight to our boy."
She smiled and walked forward, not bothering to contest him on his use of 'our.'
Albus was awake again when they returned to the hospital wing. Without the drip, his sleep was interrupted by bouts of shivering as his body fought to reject the poison. He groggily sat up to greet his parents and godparents.
Hermione sat right onto the bed next to him while Theo took the notorious wooden chair. Pansy couldn't help but laugh, watching him shift uncomfortably. She looked in Harry's direction. He too was struggling to hide a laugh as he observed Theo struggling.
"How are you feeling, kiddo?" Hermione asked as she smoothed Albus's hair out of his face.
"I've been better," he replied with a forced smile.
Theo squeezed Albus's shoulder reassuringly. "Good. Don't lose your sense of humour. It will get you through some of the hardest of times."
"Well, I OD'd while fucking my girlfriend, and then she broke my ribs saving me. There has to be a funny story in this scenario one day," Albus joked but then immediately started coughing.
Hermione passed him a glass of water.
Graciously, he responded, "Thanks."
"We're going to help you, Al," Hermione told him. "We're going out on a limb to help you and help the other kids at this school."
Theo then added, "We don't expect you to succeed right away. It's a lot to push through. All we ask," he paused to look around to everyone, "all of us, is that you try and that you want it. Can you do this?"
Albus said shakily, "I'll try." He looked up to his godfather, the one male figure that has been a constant in his life. "I'm scared, Theo."
Tenderly, Theo took Albus's hand. "Me too. We're all scared."
"We're here, Allie," Hermione cooed. "Always."
Moved by the outpouring of love from his family, Albus teared up. His nose twisted as he sniffed through the emotions. "This is nice. I sort of forgot what it was like to have everyone around."
Pansy clutched her shirt as her son's words pierced her, reminding her of all the fears she had the very first day of sending him to school.
"Well," Hermione said with a shaky voice, also affected, "it may be too late for you, with you graduating soon, but we're going to make sure that kids at this school will have more opportunities to see their families throughout the year. It's clear that you kids need us more than you're permitted."
The door creaked open, followed by the unmistakable clacking of the standard Mary Janes every girl at the school wore. Everyone turned to see who it was.
"Eva," Albus said breathlessly, stunned and full of hope all at the same time.
Theo and Hermione stood.
"We're going to go now," Hermione said sweetly. She kissed him on the forehead. "I believe in you."
Theo gave Albus a gentle hug, cautious of any unhealed injuries. "You've got this."
Albus sat up a little straighter and told his godparents, "I'll see you two at graduation."
Hermione extended her hand to Eva. "Fantastic work with the CPR."
"Thank you, Minister," the girl shook her hand proudly, "Muggle Methods still have a place in our world, don't they?"
"That they do," Hermione beamed.
Theo also shook Eva's hand in thanks. He turned to Pansy and Harry. "We'll just be outside the doors."
"We'll just be a minute," Pansy assured. She walked toward her son and kissed him on the forehead. "I'll see you in the morning. If anything happens, I'm only in Hogsmeade and can get here quickly."
"I love you."
"Love you too, Mum."
She gave him one last kiss on his cheek before also saying goodbye to Eva. "Don't be too hard on him," Pansy said with a smile.
Eva returned the gesture with a smirk of her own. "Not too hard. I know he's probably beating himself up enough for all of us."
Pansy gave the girl a squeeze on her arm. "It's going to be a rough couple of weeks, maybe even months. Are you ready for this?"
With the utmost conviction, Eva said, "Yes." The girl hesitated, as if she wanted to say more, but left her answer at that.
As Pansy held Eva appreciatively, Harry said his goodbyes to Albus. "I'll also be back in the morning."
"You don't have to—"
"I want to, Al," Harry said sincerely. "Of all the times I've lost people I've cared about, or nearly died myself, I have never been afraid of death—until last night. Albus, I know I haven't been the best dad, but almost losing you—"
Harry's eyes became blurry with the welling of tears. He laughed as he took off his glasses to wipe away the wetness.
"Why are you laughing, Dad?" Albus asked, confused.
"I'm laughing at myself." There was something about the look in Harry's eyes that there were millions of things he wanted to say to his son. "Irony. I spent my existence protecting the world, and in the end, I made a complete arse of myself when it came to you. I couldn't protect you. I've wasted so much time. So much time not being there for you...and your mum."
Albus gave his father a questioning look at that last statement.
Harry gave his son a kiss on the forehead. "Love you. We'll see you in the morning."
"Harry, are you ready for dinner?" Pansy called with her arm around Eva. "I think this one deserves a long talk with our boy."
"That she does," Harry walked over to Eva and gave her a hug. "Make sure you make time for yourself, too."
"I will Mr Potter," Eva responded as she released his embrace. She walked over and sat next to Albus on the bed and leaned in for a kiss. Before their lips touched, she socked him in the arm.
"Ow!" Albus yelped.
"Don't you ever do that again!" She demanded before pressing her lips to his.
Between kisses, he said, "I won't."
"Because I'm not saving you next time?"
"You sure?" he smirked, not with his usual exuberance, but it was there.
"Yes, because there won't be a next time," she insisted.
Coming back to their reality, he said, "Thank you."
"Oh, shut up," she scoffed, trying to hold back the tears.
He pulled her in closely and buried his face into her neck. "I love you."
"I love you, too." She held him tightly. "Don't ever do that to me again."
Harry and Pansy quietly excused themselves and let the quarreling lovers makeup in private.
Harry, Pansy, Hermione, and Theo managed to find a little curry shop at the east end of Hogsmeade for a quick dinner. With their bellies full of Vindaloo and Korma, on top of a stressful day, they decided to call it an early night. The couple were the first to depart. All that was left was for Harry and Pansy to part ways.
"Let me walk you to your place," Harry insisted.
"Harry, it's not necessary," she protested.
"I insist," he said as he presented his arm for her to take.
Pansy rolled her eyes as she threaded her arm in his. "Very well."
He stood a little taller with a smug face. "You called me, Harry. Twice."
"What?" Pansy asked, confused.
"You only call me Harry when you aren't mad at me, which is… pretty much always," he looked down at her and smiled. "Probably years since you've called me by my name."
Pansy was taken aback. "Has it?"
Harry just smiled at her before changing the subject. "So, where is this Floo-Inn you booked?"
"Fairview. It's a bit far, but I wanted to be close to the school gates," Pansy explained.
"I thought the same thing. I'm on Ollerton."
"You're not going home tonight?"
Harry shook his head. "I haven't been home in about a month."
Shocked, Pansy was at a loss for words.
He laughed at her expression. "Don't act so surprised. We both know that I was only there to support her financially. Some investments started paying off. One day, after a long investigation in Belfast, I just couldn't do it. I couldn't go back."
"And you just never returned?"
"I did, just to say I was moving out, and that it was time." Harry exhaled deeply, freeing himself of the weight.
"Why haven't you told Albus and me?" Pansy insisted.
"I wanted some more finality, with the lawyers, especially with how resistant she was the first time I tried."
Pansy nodded her head in understanding. They were quiet for a moment, the sound of her heels clacking against the pavement the only noise between them.
"Do your feet hurt?" Harry asked. "It's been a long day."
She laughed. "A little."
"We still have a bit of a walk, how about a ride?" he suggested.
"You still keep a broom in that bag?" She asked disbelievingly.
"That I do," he grinned proudly.
"Merlin, it's been almost twenty years since I've been on a broom."
"You're joking." Harry knew precisely the moment she was referring to.
"At least I have jeans on this time." Pansy twirled, displaying her much more practical ensemble.
"Well, I liked the red dress," he mentioned casually as he dug the broom out of the bag.
"You remember what I wore?" She asked, stunned.
"How could I forget?" Mounting the broom, he asked, "Ready?"
Pansy laughed and sat behind him and wrapped her arms around his waist. In no time, he had kicked off the cobbles, and they were up in the air. The little shops and ancient homes became tiny boxes below them, with Hogwarts and the Black Lake looming and glistening in the distance. Harry made short work of their commute, zooming over rooftops and open gardens. Slowly, they descended onto Fairview, a short street with only six houses flanked by two streets with towering row houses.
"It's this one," she pointed. "It's a lot smaller than mine, but it's cute and will do."
"You brought Fizzie, didn't you?" he crossed his arms judgmentally.
"Of course I did," she said, unashamed.
They were at the door now, ready to say their goodbyes.
"It's been a long day," she said. "We should get some rest."
"Absolutely." He put his hands in his pockets. "Goodnight."
"Goodnight," she replied. She turned the key to unlock the door, but before she turned the knob to step in, she called to him. "Harry."
"Yes?" He asked, stepping closer.
"I don't know if I could have gotten through today without you."
He stepped closer to her and pushed the fringe out of her face and kissed the cut she had received during Albus's outburst. "You should have never gone through any of this without me."
All at once, every hair on her body raised on end, sending shivers down her spine. "Harry… It's late."
"But is it too late?"
Their gazes lingered as her palms splayed across his chest, whether to push him away or to feel his warmth against her skin was still uncertain. Her left hand found the knob and swung the door open. She stepped backward, away from him, and crossed the threshold.
Harry sighed with forlorn exasperation, hanging his head in defeat. He turned to leave.
"Where are you going?" she called.
She leaned casually against the door jamb, and said with a smirk across her face, "I don't know if it's too late or not, but maybe we can find out."