Nearing the end of his seventh and final year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, Albus Severus Potter was exhausted, and he wasn't the only one. All of his friends were holding on by threads. He could barely remember the last time he had talked to Scorpius beyond, 'hey,' or even had the time to write letters to his parents, but at least he had her.
He walked through a nearly empty library toward the Restricted Section. Just the mere sight of her made his heart lighter. "You missed dinner." Coolly, he leaned against a bookshelf with his hands in his pockets.
Eva Teller, another seventh year Slytherin, quirked a half smile without her eyes ever leaving the pages of her book. "Keeping tabs on my whereabouts, are we, Potter?"
"Maybe," he replied, crossing the threshold.
"You're not supposed to be here," she said, as she watched his form approaching from her periphery. "I'd hate to take House Points."
"Who says I'm not?" He stood behind her chair and dangled a permission form in front of her face. Before she could say anything, he bent over and gave her a soft kiss. "You're studying too hard. Did you eat?"
She gave him another kiss back before saying, "A little. I stopped by the kitchens and grabbed a sandwich during my afternoon patrol before coming here."
Albus looked at his girlfriend with worry and knew the pressure she was under. N.E.W.T.s were less than a month away, she was a prefect, and on top of things, she didn't have the greatest home life. It was one of the many things that brought them together. So many hours entwined with one another discussing their hopes and fears, wondering if two broken people could heal each other. He knew in the grand scheme of things, his family drama was nothing compared to Eva's struggles with identity. Graduation was so close, and she still had no idea what the future held as a witch in a religious Muggle family. It hurt him to see her in pain, and he would do anything he could to ease her worries. Albus swore he'd end up nothing like his father. He'd be there for Eva in the way his father was never there for his mother.
"Come on. Let's move to the back where it's a little bit more private. We need to relieve some stress."
With a mischievous grin, she took his hand and waved her wand, causing all of her belongings to fly into her bag. He led her, almost at a run, to a corner of the library that was dark, dusty, and untouched. Far from romantic, unless you were bibliophile with a book fetish, but as teenagers without a place of their own, it would do. They hastily dropped their bookbags and robes onto the floor. Albus placed his hand upon Eva's hip and captured another kiss. He felt her smile as their mouths connected, and loved that he could make her feel this way. She was happy, and so was he. They could escape the bullshit of reality for even a few moments.
Their kissing became heated and hungry. Hungrier than either of them had been for actual sustenance. Wandering hands ached to feel warmth and pleasure, frustrated with the clothing between them. "Wait," Eva gasped. She pulled out her wand and cast several charms in quick succession.
Albus smirked at how adept she had become at privacy and contraception spells. "You're so sexy when you're being responsible," he whispered into her ear as his hand brushed the inside of her leg and slipped up her skirt, finding warm, wet fabric beneath his fingertips. Contrary to belief, men don't usually care what color or fabric panties were made of, but how quickly they could come off or be pushed to the side. His fingers found their way to her clit and began slowly rubbing small circles. Her breathy pants were music to his ears. If there was just one thing he could do right in the world, he'd be happy if this was it.
Eva shivered under his touch, rocking her hips yearning for friction. Her eyes fluttered open to find him still haphazardly wearing his tie with only a few buttons of his shirt undone. She made short work of relieving him of his clothing when she noticed a small glass vial hanging from a thin leather cord around his neck. Curiously, she touched the cool glass. "What is this?"
"A little project I've been working on," he began to explain as he pushed her shirt off her shoulders and onto the floor. Softly, he kissed her clavicle and unhooked her bra. "I made a new form of Euphorus." He then unzipped her skirt and pulled it down with her underwear. "It's more potent, stable, and more sense enhancing." When he stood up, he had to stare. They had been together for over a year, but every time he saw her undressed, it still took his breath away.
He then popped the top off the vial and tapped a small line onto the top of her breast. She watched curiously as he snorted the powder then lick the remnants off her skin. Albus filled his lungs with air, invigorated by the substance's effects. "Fuck, that's good."
"What else does it do?" Eva asked curiously. Growing up in the Muggle world, anti-drugs campaigns were beaten into every school child, and the dangers were subliminally hidden into children's television. Potions wasn't her strongest subject, and she couldn't even remember if Euphorus was even legal, though she couldn't deny her curiosity.
"It's fucking amazing. Like all your worries disappear. Your senses become heightened. You can see better, hear everything, every bit of food tastes like the best thing you've ever put in your mouth." He gave her another kiss, letting her taste the remnants on his lips. "It's just helped me a lot getting through the past few months. This, and you. I don't know what I would have done without you."
"I love you, too." Eva wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed him deeply. Hesitantly she asked, "Can I try some?"
"Are you sure? I don't want you to feel pressured."
She nodded in consent.
He bit his lip and smiled. There was an immense curiosity he had if they were both on Euphorus during sex. He had never told her when he had been on it before, but those times she had uttered the dirtiest things to him. Screaming in ecstasy about how hard he was and how long he lasted. His cock hardened, excited to chase the sensation of innumerable shivers and explosions and happiness all rolled into one. He turned his free hand on its side and tapped a small amount of the powder onto it. "Just a little bit for now. I don't know what your tolerance is."
As a novice, she wasn't quite sure what to do. She placed her face to his hand and vigorously snorted the drug—which was a mistake. It choked and burned her insides, causing her to cough uncontrollably.
"You okay?" Albus asked with concern. "I should have told you not to snort so hard."
After the coughing had subsided, she answered, "I'm okay. I think I feel it working."
Albus leaned in closer to her naked form and kissed her forehead tenderly, happy she was willing to share this with him. He felt her fingers run down his sides and stop at his protruding ribs.
"Albus," she said concerned, "are you eating?"
"It's just stress. I'll gain it back when these damn tests are over. Promise." He pressed her up against the stacks, eager to make both of their worries disappear.
Trousers discarded, he slipped inside of her. They released a collective gasp as their bodies connected and the feeling set in. That feeling—the one that washes over you when you finally achieve satisfaction after long lengths of anxiousness and impatience—bliss. It was the type of sensation where all of your nerve endings tingle, even ones you didn't even know existed, and your mind was miraculously devoid of thought. There against that wall, with ancient books falling off shelves as they moved in unison, all of the pressures of the outside world were gone. It was just them and the feeling.
They had lost track of time in the library. As he predicted, the Euphorus had enhanced their stamina and longing. The young lovers relished every moment spent together, feeling a deeper connection than they ever had before.
"You're so beautiful." Albus couldn't help but admire the way her skin flushed pink and how her hair was splayed in every direction. He thinks that was the moment he fell in love with her. Sixth year. On the Platform, ready to board the Hogwarts Express, there she was, with her hair down. It was brown and lustrous, but not just brown. It was chestnut and chocolate and copper. The sunlight peered through the glass ceiling, highlighting everything he had been too blind to notice before. Now here, under him, in the minimal candlelight, all of those colors shone through, even with her roots soaked in sweat.
Her ocean colored eyes met his emerald ones. "I love you so much. Never stop."
Albus wasn't sure if she meant never stop loving her, or fucking her, but he planned on both. He pulled out and commanded, "Get on your knees."
He knew the high was fading. He wasn't ready for it to end. Everything was just so perfect.
While Eva changed positions, he reached for his vial. Albus attempted to tap a small amount on the back of his hand. She backed into him, ready for more, but his hands were shaky, and the bottle spilled the powder across her back.
"FUCK!" he panicked.
"What happened?" Eva turned her head to find out.
"Stay like that." He commanded. Irrationally, he proceeded to snort as much as he could. Potion ingredients were expensive and hard to deliver to the school without raising suspicion. He stayed there on his knees, waiting for the bliss. But something was wrong...it was too much...everything went black.
"Albus?" Eva whipped around, sensing something was wrong and let out a blood-curdling scream.
There he lay, face covered in white powder, naked and convulsing. She grabbed her wand as quickly as she could and reversed the privacy wards. "HELP!" she hollered with her wand to her throat, casting the Sonorous charm.
Not even concerned with either of their decencies, she checked his pulse and breathing. "Stay with me." She had learned CPR last summer but had no idea of what the magical equivalent would be. "Help!" she called again. While she waited for someone, she began chest compressions. "Wake up, Albus. Please. Wake Up."
"Where is he?" Albus's mother hollered, panicked as she flew into the hospital wing.
"Ms. Parkinson?" Eva stepped out from behind the curtain and ran to her. The two embraced, and Eva began bawling. "I'm so sorry. I didn't know. He said he made it. I didn't think it would do that to him. I'm sorry. I'm so sorry."
"Eva," Pansy tried to stay calm. "What happened exactly?"
The girl went scarlet but knew she had to tell the truth. "We were...together."
"So, you were having sex, and—?"
Eva was always surprised at how blunt Miss Parkinson was. The girl tried to be respectful but realized it was best to follow Pansy's lead and not mince words. "Before that, we took Euphorus. Albus made it into a powder form so that he could take it around with him. He said he's been taking it for months, but this was the first time he showed me, and I took some too. Albus said it would help us relieve some stress. And then during...sex…we...he wanted to take more, but it spilled, and he tried to take it all. And that's when it happened. I think I broke his ribs trying to save him."
Pansy clasped her hand over her mouth in disbelief. Desperate to see her son, she rushed to his bedside. He looked so frail and thin. His ivory skin was tinged with gray, and his soft features had sunken in, leaving his cheeks hollow and dark circles around his eyes. It appeared that the mediwitch had put him on some type of intravenous drip, most likely to flush out the effects of the drug and replenish nutrients. "Eva, how long has he looked like this."
Hesitantly, she answered, "It's been a slow decline, but became bad the past few weeks. I thought it was because of exams. We're all stressed and not eating well. I guess I didn't want to see it or was too wrapped up in myself. I should have noticed."
"Don't blame yourself. Go to the dungeons and get some sleep. I'm here now. If something happens, I'll get one of the elves to retrieve you, alright?" Pansy squeezed the girl's hand reassuringly. "You saved him."
The tears began to spill from the girl once again. Eva wasn't one of those girls who easily cried or even showed emotion, but Albus brought that out of her. "I don't know if I'll be able to sleep so far away from him. Maybe Madam Nightingale will let me stay here?"
"I'll make that happen. Just freshen up and get ready for bed."
Eva conceded. She walked to the unconscious Albus and kissed his lips. "I'll be back soon."
Pansy's heart swelled watching this sweet girl dote upon her boy. She had never imagined in a million years that a Muggle-born Slytherin would capture her son's affections and her approval on top of that. Eva was smart and driven and understood Albus in ways that others didn't. Pansy knew love when she saw it. As a mother, she was afraid that they had found such an intense love so soon in life, but they seemed to make it work. Pansy had hoped that Eva's love was enough to fill that part of her boy that was missing, but today's events proved that her broken boy would need to find the strength to mend himself.
She walked over to her son and traced his sharp nose, admiring how he hadn't inherited her small, upturned one. For years she had resented that feature and all the ridicule that came with it. Albus's nose was elegant, that combined with his sharp jawline and striking eyes, Pansy found solace that her son was a combination of the best of her and Harry both in features and resilience. "I don't know how you could put something so foul up this beautiful nose of yours. Oh, my beautiful boy, what have you done?"
The hospital doors swung open and hurried steps clacked against the stone floors.
"Albus." Harry took his son's hand on the opposite side of the bed.
"What are you doing here?" Pansy seethed.
"Pansy, don't start. I'm his father."
"When you want to be, or when your wife lets you," she scoffed. "Just leave. I've done this alone his whole life. We don't need you."
"For fuck's sake, Pans." Harry frustratedly pleaded with the mother of his child, "Can we save the arguments and finger-pointing until he's conscious? He's my son, too. And I need to be here."
"No, you don't. You weren't there when he broke his arm after falling off a broom trying to emulate you. You weren't there when he cried to me when your wife was cruel to him. You weren't there—ever." She seethed. "Why is it now, when he almost died, you are ready to be a father?"
"I have always been his father."
"Just fucking tell me what happened." He demanded. "Tell me, and I'll go as soon as he wakes up."
Pansy rolled her eyes, unhappy with the compromise, but decided to recall everything Eva had told her.
"How long have you known?" Harry accused. "How long have you known our son is on drugs?"
"Oh, that's nice. Just assume that I've been hiding his drug addiction from you." She clenched her jaw tightly, feeling a wave of guilt hit her. "I found something over summer, but I thought he was just experimenting. We all experimented when we were teens. How could we not? We made all these fantastic elixirs and serums that could make us feel anything and nothing. I know you can't say that you never tried anything."
Harry hung his head in shame, remembering the invincibility of Felix Felicis and the depression of mundanity when the potion's effects faded. "Months, you say?"
"That's what Eva said." She sat on the bed next to her son and began to stroke his long overgrown waves. A small smile crossed her lips, thankful enough of her genes had snuck in to offset the unruly Potter hair.
Albus sat up with a jolt and started coughing. Pansy quickly reached for a basin for him to wretch into. She smoothed his back and cooed soft, comforting words.
When he was done, he wiped off the sick with the back of his hand and laid back down. In a hoarse whisper, he asked, "Where's Eva?"
"She's fine. Just freshening up. She'll be back soon."
He grunted something beyond comprehension and fell back asleep.
Pansy vanished the vomit, and walked to a sink to wash her hands. Much to her dismay, Harry followed her.
"Jesus Fucking Christ, Pans," Harry stressed, "What are we going to do? It's hard to keep tabs on these things when we're so far away. We both know this school gives way too much freedom."
A tear rolled down her cheek, and she turned quickly to wipe it away. "Some of us are further than others."
He ignored the jab at his expense. "So what do we do? Rehab?"
"The N.E.W.T.s are too close. He won't get to graduate with his friends."
"Can Madam...what's the new mediwitch's name?"
"Does she have some sort of detox program? Or therapy?"
"Stop, Potter. Just fucking stop." Her voice was raised and irritated. "I haven't even come to terms that my son almost died and that his girlfriend saved him with brute strength. I'm not ready for what's next. Look at him for fuck's sake!"
"Our son needs a plan," he insisted.
"Can you stop with all the 'we' and 'our son.' He's mine. He's always been mine and just the two of us. You saw him. He woke up. Now go home to your wife."
A group of guests waited at a dock in Blackpool for the luxury yacht to pull into harbor. It all seemed a bit austere for an engagement party. Pansy Parkinson was shocked to see such a diverse mix of people. Purebloods, Half-Bloods, Muggle-Borns, and Muggles, all readying themselves to attend a private party at Crosslip Heights, Theodore Nott's ancestral home on a magically concealed island. She should have known this would happen when he decided to marry Hermione Granger. Quite the scandal the coupling caused. The workplace romance that dissolved the engagement of two-thirds of the Golden Trio. She smirked to herself, never having liked anyone from the Weasley family, and their self-righteous blood traitor ways. Oh, well. She guessed Theodore was in that category now, and as an extension of her support of the union to the Muggle-born, so was she.
There weren't too many people that she recognized in the crowd. It was no secret that some of the old Pureblood families didn't approve, but she had hoped to at least see a few people she knew. Perhaps they were all arriving late to minimize the interactions with the Muggles. She cursed herself for not having thought about that earlier.
Now, she was not in the least bit ashamed for turning up for a social event without a date. She was strong and independent, and honestly, it took the pressure off to entertain, so that she could network. It had only been a month that she received a promotion to senior editor at Witch Weekly, and she still had a lot to prove.
As people began to board, she held back, wanting to observe all the guests, and who she might want to interact with later. Hearing the multiple pops of Apparition, she knew the stragglers had finally arrived. The ship's horn blew, alerting all passengers to board. She greeted all her friends hastily as they embarked, but something compelled her to be the last one to board.
"Miss," the attendant said. "Time to go."
She nodded and walked up the gangway, looking to find no one there. With another sound of the horn, the ship left port.
A loud crack caught her attention. Pansy peered over the railing of the stern to see who it was, but they were already too far.
"Shit!" the dark figure swore as it stared at the departing vessel.
There was another loud crack of Disapparition, and in a split second, the Apparating figure had toppled her.
"I'm so sorry," said the bespectacled man. "Oh, shit. Parkinson. Forgive me."
"Potter," she replied curtly. "Going to help me up?"
"Of course. Sorry." He clambered off of her and held out his hand. The two had developed something of a cordial, social relationship since two of their closest friends had become a couple. Nothing really beyond niceties.
As she rose, she noticed the stunned attendant.
Harry looked at the young man, "Are you giving me that face because you're a Muggle or because I'm me?"
"Y-you're Harry Potter," he replied.
Potter nodded his head. "Ah good, I won't need to wipe your memory. Parkinson, can I get you an apology drink? After my fucking day, I really need one."
"What a way to charm a woman," she rolled her eyes. "Well, since Theo is paying for this, I know that the champagne and gin selection will be excellent."
He presented his arm, "You'd also be surprised what great taste Hermione has in whisky and cigars as well."
As the two walked toward the deck, she asked, "Where's the missus?"
Pansy noticed his stubbled jaw tense. "Tournament in the States. Going to be gone for three months, and she left me with the baby."
"And where is James?" she inquired politely to make conversation, despite her having minimal interest in children.
"With Molly and Arthur," he sighed. "They're wonderful grandparents, but I can't pull James from our home every time I have to work late or Ginny has to play."
"Sounds like you need a nanny."
"That's what I've said," frustration in his voice, "but she wants no part in it. 'What's the point of a big family if they can't help you out?' was Ginny's response. She's always gone, she has no fucking clue how confusing this is for him."
"You sound like you need that drink," Pansy insisted as they finally arrived at the bar.
They found their way toward another railing, overlooking the sea. Off in the distance, she saw the lighthouse illuminate, and gasped.
"What's wrong?" he asked.
With a smile, she answered, "It's just that Crosslip Heights hasn't lit the lighthouse since the Statute of Secrecy was passed. Over 400 years. I can't even believe it even works. The Notts have had their entire island cloaked for generations.
"Well, fuck. What does this mean for my department? I can't have an entire damn island appear out of nowhere for a night and disappear by morning," he said frustratedly.
She patted him on the shoulder, "The Muggles won't remember anything. They never do. They'll just think it was a trick or a passing cargo ship. They never notice what is right in front of them."
Harry took a sip of his whisky and smiled. "Well, that's true. I didn't even realize I was a wizard until I got my letter."
Pansy playfully slapped him. "See. They don't want to see or believe. It's not that they can't."
He clinked his glass with hers. "So you think this thing will have good food? I fucking hope so. Hermione has cycled through all these crazy ass food phases the past year. There was keto, then the Mediterranean Diet, then veganism, then she ate nothing but curry for two weeks straight."
Pansy couldn't help but chuckle, "Oh, that wasn't Granger, that was all Theo. I think they are passed all that."
During the journey, Pansy had forgotten entirely about her friends and networking. Talking to Harry was so easy, and he seemed happy to be talking about anything other than work and dirty nappies.
When the boat arrived at the island after it's short time at sea, they were overcome with the magnificence of the cliffside estate. There was still a bit of a journey from the docks to the home above. From the base of the cliff, everyone peered up to the stone and shell manor house illuminated by modern lighting, highlighting the magnificent architecture. Guests oohed and ahhed at the golden lanterns that levitated along the driveway and the carriages that awaited them.
Growing impatient at the wait for a carriage, Harry leaned into Pansy and whispered, "I think I might know a shortcut."
She quirked an eyebrow, fully aware that they both knew about various wards to prevent Apparition.
From the inside of his robes, he produced a small bag, reached inside of it, and pulled out a full-sized broom.
"Happen to have a second?" Pansy inquired.
"Fraid not," he replied. Harry mounted the broom and said, "Hop on."
Pansy gave him an incredulous look. "Potter, I'm in a cocktail dress."
"And I'm in dress robes," he grinned. "Can you transfigure it into a jumpsuit or a romper?"
"You know what a romper is?"
"I am married, you know. I even know the difference between an A-line dress and an empire waist." He beamed with sarcastic pride.
"Oh my god, you're gay."
He winked, "I assure you, I'm not."
So Pansy took her wand and transfigured the form-fitted red cocktail dress, with its thigh-high slit, into a sleek jumpsuit. It had been years since she had been on a broom. There really was no point once gaining her Apparition license. She mounted the broom and waited for Harry to levitate it.
"Hold my waist," he said to her. "Tightly. This thing has some kick."
She did as he ordered. His body felt warm against the biting sea breeze. It wasn't until that moment she realized she should have brought a cloak. The broom jumped with a jerk, and she found herself holding onto him even tighter. She could feel his firm muscles beneath the layers of clothing. He was definitely not one of those Aurors who stayed behind a desk getting fat.
"You okay?" he asked. "Are we going too fast?"
The wind was whipping her hair in every direction, and she could barely hear him. "A little."
"Don't worry. We're almost there."
They landed off to the side of the main guest drop off. Pansy took a moment to fix her dress and look at her appearance in the mirror. She had never been so thankful to have gotten a blowout with enhanced sleeking potions. All she needed was a bit more lipstick and to touch up her eyeliner. Potter, on the other hand, was a damn mess.
"Come here," she commanded, while rifling through her bag for some hair product. "Found it. Okay, now bend down."
She was a petite thing at only five-foot-two, while Harry only stood at around five-foot-ten, he was still tall enough to be out of her reach.
"I'm going to tell you, it's pretty unruly," he laughed.
"It's your genetics. It's why you're grandfather invented Sleekeazy's," she mentioned this bit of history so casually, "but this stuff is better. Let's go with the carefully disheveled look. Don't want you looking too poncy. It would make Draco and Blaise incredibly jealous. Voila. Take a look."
His pleased smile said it all. "Thanks."
"Shall we?" She asked, motioning to the flow of guests.
He produced his arm and replied, "We shall."
All of the guests piled into the manor's atrium, where Hermione and Theo were waiting for them at the top of the stairs. The moment the doors closed, Theo began speaking.
"To all our friends and family, thank you so much for attending. I know you're all expecting an engagement party—"
"Surprise!" Hermione held up a bouquet. "It's our wedding! We just couldn't see the logic in holding two big events."
The crowd gasped and tittered with excitement.
"For those of you going into fits about etiquette," Theo chuckled, "we don't want any gifts. Your presence is enough. And, of course, the Grangers know about this. Jean, Hugh, wave to the crowd. They were our accomplices."
"Oi! You robbed us of a stag party!" Blaise Zabini jokingly hollered from the crowd.
"And a hen-do!" Pansy added. Harry shook his head, pretending to be disappointed, and she just shrugged in response.
Hermione beamed, in all her bridal glory. "Clearly, this isn't a traditional wedding, so we are going to have a ton of fun. Please follow the lights to the ceremony. We'll see you soon."
"Hermione is going to be so pissed Ginny isn't here," Harry muttered.
Pansy didn't quite know how to respond to that. If she were here, she wouldn't have had him as company or have enjoyed herself as much as she had in the past hour.
"Miss Parkinson. Mister Potter," a younger girl addressed them, "I'm Cara, one of the wedding planners. Hermione and Theodore have special seating for you. Is Mrs Potter here, or your son?"
"No, they aren't. I'm by myself."
Pansy didn't know why, but that stung slightly.
"Please, follow me."
The Notts had a small chapel on their property, that had to be expanded with charms to accommodate all the guests. They had charmed the ceiling to look like the night sky, while silver lanterns floated and glittered above them. Pansy was thankful this wasn't an outdoor wedding, as the winds along the cliff had become even colder. She had been seated in the front row with Blaise, Draco and Astoria Malfoy, and Daphne and Graham Montague, where siblings would have been, had Theo had any. Two empty spaces were left for his parents. It was no secret that Theo's relationship with his father was strained, but there was something to be said about his capability to forgive, and still managing to find it in his heart to honor the man. She looked over to Hermione's side. A few seats in the front row were reserved for her parents and Harry. Also in attendance were Luna Lovegood and Rolf Scamander, Neville and Hannah Longbottom, and the only representatives from the Weasley family were Bill and Fleur, which Pansy couldn't help but find intriguing.
The hum of a string quartet alerted them that the ceremony was about to begin. The vicar led the procession, followed by Theodore, then Mrs. Granger escorted by Harry. Pansy had to respect Theo and Hermione for not messing with the annoyance of a bridal party or even the formality of tradition. If they hadn't done it first, she would have wanted to do it this way.
As the song changed, Hermione, escorted by her father, came down the aisle carrying a bouquet of white roses and calla lilies. She wore a simple satin sheath gown with a low back, with her hair was down in long, beachy curls. Pansy had to give it to her. Hermione Granger was killing the less is more approach to weddings. She and Theo most definitely had to give her an exclusive article for the magazine.
The ceremony itself was short and heartfelt. Theo's friends cheered at a joke about Slytherins going after what they want, including already engaged women, while Hermione made almost everyone cry when she thanked him for being the partner and challenger she never knew she needed until he came along. As the couple recessed down the aisle, followed by her parents, Pansy found herself being escorted by Harry once again. She couldn't say for sure, but she could feel the heat on her cheeks.
As the night went on, Harry and Pansy went their separate ways to mingle with their friends, but somehow kept finding their way back to one another. When the party was in full swing, and one too many glasses of champagne had been drunk, Pansy found herself craving the cold sea air. A bonfire had been lit, and around it, were cute little seating areas with warm blankets for guests to take in its warmth. One guest had already found refuge in one of the cozy spots.
He looked up and smiled. "You have too much to drink too?"
Pansy pinched her two fingers together. "Just a little bit. Nice wedding, huh?"
Harry snorted, "A shit ton better than my wedding for sure."
"Why do you say that?" she asked curiously.
"For one, no obnoxiously large wedding party. Two, professionals running the event, not some aunt's cousin's sister's best friend and their dog. Three, the timing feels right for them."
Pansy was about to say something, but Harry continued. The alcohol had dropped his inhibitions and loosened his lips.
"You know, Ginny and I married right after she graduated. We were both still in that, 'we could die at any time, so seize the moment,' frame of mind. Fuck we were so young. And then she gets pregnant when she was only a second-string player because she thought she'd never get to play. Now she's traveling around the world, I have a toddler, no nanny, and a career of my own. I think she resents me and James. I tell her how much we need her, and she tells me I'm not being supportive of her. I get it. I do. But I didn't choose this life by myself. She wanted to play house as much as I did."
She didn't know what had come over her. Pansy's lips were on his. They were warm and soft, and tasted of malt and tobacco. Her eyes opened and realized what she had done.
"I'm so sorry. I—weddings, right? They just make you all romantic, and the next thing you know, you're kissing a married man." She covered her face in embarrassment.
He laughed it off. "It's okay. You're a good kisser, but maybe we could both use some sobering potions? Maybe something for the champagne headache too?"
"You're probably right. I think I remember where the medicine cupboard is. It's been years, but I think I can manage."
Harry took her hand and helped her up. "You're hands are ice cold. Here, take my cloak."
"I'm fine, really." Surrounded in his warmth and his smell was the opposite of what she needed at that moment.
"Positive. Follow me. I think one of the upstairs guest bathrooms has what we're looking for."
Pansy did her best to keep her distance, or else she knew she would try something else stupid. This little excursion together was stupid in itself. She also needed to get out of her own head.
Commence rambling small talk.
"So...Granger and Theo must have spent quite a few galleons to renovate this place. It used to be an absolute dump. His father let the place completely fall apart. I hated coming here with my dad when I was a kid. Our fathers were business partners. I think they hoped we would marry, but Theo is such an absolute dork. Perfect for Granger. They'll have tiny half-blood brainiacs with gigantic hair."
Harry couldn't help but laugh. "I can see it already. Those brats will be insufferable."
"And so awkward. All gangly and bushy-haired until they hit their twenties. I mean, Hermione and Theo look fantastic now, but the ugly duckling phase was real."
"Oh, don't be so harsh. We all went through our phases."
"Speak for yourself, Potter. I have always known how to make myself presentable."
"Hmm...but I think in your case, it was more of the attitude that had to grow up. You're loads more tolerable now."
Pansy turned around and scoffed, "I don't know if I should take that as a compliment or an insult."
Harry shrugged, "How about both?"
She smirked and pushed a door open to reveal a huge white marble bathroom with nautical accents. "Ooh, this is new. Now to find the meds." Pansy opened every cabinet and found nothing but towels. "Potter, I think we're going to have to check another bathroom, or just summon an elf."
The door slammed shut, and the lock turned with a click. Pansy turned to see Harry putting his wand away and shrugging his cloak to the ground.
"Potter, what are you—" Before she could finish that sentence, his mouth was on hers, his tongue begging for entry.
She parted her lips, ready to taste him again. Whisky, cigars, and beard stubble. Harry Potter had grown from a specky git to a rugged man who knew what he wanted. He hoisted her onto the vanity counter and tried to settle himself between her legs, but the dress was too fitted and had zero give.
"You're going to have to take this dress off, or I'm going to rip it off." His voice was husky with want.
She jumped back down from the counter and looked him in the eye. "Potter, are you sure? Once we do this, there is no turning back."
He turned her around and began unzipping her dress. "Absolutely sure. Are you?"
The dress pooled at her feet, revealing that she hadn't been wearing any undergarments, just little nipple covers.
"This whole time?"
"Well, this dress isn't very forgiving, and I didn't want lines. So are you going to fuck me? Last chance to back out."
Harry bent over the sink and dropped his trousers in the blink of an eye. Pansy felt the smooth tip of his cock at her entrance, and watched his face in the reflection. He wanted her. He really wanted her.
"Hey, if my tits are out, you have to show yours too."
He laughed, "Fair is fair." Harry undressed and took off the last of his clothing.
"Holy fuck, you're ripped."
"Thanks for noticing." He bent over her and took off his glasses, and kissed her again.
He was teasing her, just letting his hard cock brush against her cunt as she got wetter and wetter.
Two could play this game.
She reached her hand between her legs and started rubbing her clit. "Are you going to touch me, or should I just take care of myself?"
"Show me." He stepped back and started stroking himself. Her plan had backfired, and the game continued.
The two pleasured themselves in front of one another until she couldn't take it any longer. Pansy pushed him down onto the soft bath mat and sank onto his cock. She gasped at the fullness and pressure. She wouldn't admit it, it had been a while since she'd been with a man. And that is what Harry Potter was—a man.
She loved how rough he was but could still surprise her with tenderness. It felt so good. Not just the sex, but someone to talk to and banter with. He was something that she would want and crave. This was dangerous. Pansy knew it had to end immediately.
"Come for me," she whimpered in her most seductive voice.
On command, his hips snapped vigorously until he had spilled completely into her.
Even his grunts and orgasm face were sexy. Pansy logged that memory for the next time she needed inspiration.
He fell on top of her and kissed her, hopefully for the last time. "Don't regret anything about tonight. I know I won't."
Pansy's chest tightened. That wasn't what she wanted to hear. 'That was fun,' or 'I'm sorry. I don't know what came over me,'—anything but that. He had done the worst thing. He had planted a seed of hope.
Two weeks passed, and Pansy had no word from Harry. Not that she expected to. He was a married man, after all. A married man with a child. She'd just look back on that memory with fondness, and have a little joke to herself every time Theo and Hermione celebrated their anniversary.
She sat at her desk going through next week's upcoming spread, making notes for the designers and copy editors. Her job was incredibly fast-paced, but she really loved that about it. Completely engrossed, a knock at the door caught her so off guard, that her quill punctured the paper.
"Damn it." She cursed when she couldn't mend it. "Come in."
To her surprise, it was him. In her office.
"Hi," she stuttered in response. "Fancy seeing you here."
Harry rubbed the back of his neck and nervously told her, "Um, yeah. One of your staffers contacted me for the DILF Issue."
Pansy tried to remain professional and not laugh, but she just couldn't. "I'm sorry. That's...Congratulations?"
Harry couldn't hide his blush. "Yeah, so I just had my interview and photo shoot with James. He just went home with the nanny."
She gave him a little smirk. "Well, I'm glad you got the help you needed."
He closed the gap between them, a desk still separating them. "I have to tell you something."
"Yes?" She said eagerly, goose pimples rising.
"I only agreed to the article because it meant I would get to see you."
Pansy clenched her eyes, hoping this was just a daydream. When she reopened her eyes, he was still there, waiting for a response.
She was afraid of what the answer would be, but she asked it anyway. "Harry, what do you want from me?"
"Your time. Meet me tonight."
"Don't answer. Just show up or don't. Either way, I'll know where we stand." He threw a key card with the hotel's address and the room number on the sleeve onto her desk. "I'll be waiting at six."
He gave her one last smile before departing her office.
Pansy Apparated to a small park near the hotel, giving herself one last chance to back out. She walked over to the children playing on the swing sets, their caregivers casting a watchful eye. He's a married man with a child. It was a mantra she had repeated to herself since she left her office. If this just ended up being sex, she would have been the woman to taint his marriage. If this became something more, she would have been the woman to destroy his marriage. If this grew into something beautiful, could she be a stepmother to another woman's child? Or, if this goes completely wrong, was she strong enough to survive the heartache?
Every scenario that played through her mind told her no. Turn back. Throw away the key. Pretend today never happened.
Apparently, her mind wasn't communicating with her legs as she found herself in front of the hotel with the doorman welcoming her.
She stood in the lift and tried to convince herself they would just talk. That this was it. They would resolve the unsaid.
After some trouble with the electronic key, she finally was able to unlock the door. Her mouth dropped when she saw the suite. It had the most beautiful view of the city. She never imagined views like this without being on a broom. The room itself was full of sleek modern furniture and bouquets of red roses added pops of color in the monochrome space. On the table, a bottle of champagne was on ice, accompanied by a note.
Bring the champagne to the bathroom.
"You cheeky devil," she muttered to herself. "Harry Potter. You know there are other places to shag other than bathrooms, right?"
From the bathroom, he called, "Yes, but they don't have bubbles."
She took the bottle and found him already in a luxurious bath.
He gave her a devilish grin. "You came."
"Not yet," she smirked back.
This affair had gone beyond their control, with all the lies and schemes needed just to see one another. Harry suddenly had 'very important confidential cases,' while Pansy had to take 'inspiration outings' on an almost daily basis. As the months passed, the torrid affair had turned into the type of unbearable, heartbreaking love Pansy feared.
"I can't do this anymore, Harry," Pansy cried in his arms as they lay on crisp hotel linens. "I love you, but I can't have you. Not all of you. I can't even go out on a date with you without a disguise or being Polyjuiced. It just hurts. And every time I see you with her. For fuck's sake, I have to publish photos of your family on outings in my magazine. Do you know what that feels like? Seeing you play house with her, but I'm the one who knows your deepest fears and secrets. It's me you run to, but she gets to be the center of your life. We have to end this. We've already done so much damage."
"I can't do this either," he said softly over her sobs. "It's why I told Ginny I'm moving out."
"What?" she sat up and wiped her mascara stained cheeks. "Please don't be kidding."
"I proposed joint custody, but we'll see what the courts say."
"Where will you live?"
"I don't know. You know anyone who needs a roommate?"
It was a lazy afternoon in their new townhouse, Harry and Pansy laid in bed, imagining their future once the divorce was finalized.
"I would love a casual wedding like Hermione and Theo's, but even smaller," Pansy said as she trailed a finger down his chest.
Harry added, "Maybe somewhere tropical."
"Seychelles?" she suggested.
"Or Bali? I heard it's very magic-friendly there."
Pansy wistfully began daydreaming. "Ooh perfect. James will be our ring bearer."
"Do you want kids of our own?" He asked with an eagerness in his voice she didn't miss.
"Yes," the word escaped her lips faster than she had imagined.
"I have names for them, already, just so you know," he said proudly.
"Let's hear these terrible names," she rolled her eyes.
"For a boy, Albus Severus. Dumbledore was my mentor, and Snape was my guardian and an important part of your life," he explained.
She repeated the name in her head for a while. "A little corny, but I can live with it. I could call him Al."
"And for a girl, Lily, after my mother, and she would be named after a flower like you," he grinned in triumph.
"Oh, you romantic bastard," she teased, "You're so getting laid."
Pansy had lost track of how many times she had vomited that day. It just wouldn't stop. It could have been the curry from that sketchy restaurant or just the stress from how long and dragged out Harry's divorce was. Ginny's pettiness was utterly unreasonable. She was trying to take everything from Harry, including his son. Part of Pansy wanted to pay for Harry to get a better attorney, and the other part prayed that Harry would just let things go and they could start all over together, and they would eventually figure out how to get James.
"Olivia," She called for one of her assistants. "Can you bring me crackers and ginger ale. Oh, and set up an appointment at St. Mungos. I think I have an ulcer or something. I just can't keep anything down."
"Yes, Miss Parkinson."
Later that day, Pansy left the hospital, not with a diagnosis for a gastrointestinal disorder, but something wonderful, and she couldn't wait to tell Harry. She stopped by a shop and picked up a tiny Quidditch themed mobile. Yes, it was a little premature to decorate, but what an adorable way to surprise the man you love, and tell him that he would be a father again.
When she opened the door, Harry was already home and looked troubled. There was something wrong, Pansy could feel it in her bones.
"Pans, can you sit, there is something I need to tell you." His voice betrayed him. Any attempts to hide reluctance or emotion had gone out the window. He was about to say something he didn't want to say. "There was an accident. An illegal bludger paralyzed Ginny from the neck down, and there is nothing the healers can do. Too many nerves were severed, and leakage of spinal fluid."
"Oh my god," she gasped. While she hadn't cared about the woman, she certainly didn't want to see her paralyzed.
"She can't perform magic without the use of her wand. There are therapists that can help with wandless magic, but that all depends on her. She's going to need around the clock care, but the settlement from the team and insurance aren't enough to cover it." He paused and swallowed deeply. "She's going to need another income to support her."
"No," she shook her head. "No, I won't accept this. She can move in with her parents or one of her brothers. We'll take James. Please, Harry, think about it. This is our chance to be a real family." She fell before him and knelt on the floor. "It would be you, me, James, and this one." Pansy reached for his hand and placed it on her belly.
Tears welled in his eyes. "Please don't be lying."
"I'm not. I bought this as a surprise to tell you." She handed him the bag and watched his eyes light up as he pulled out the mobile. "Please, before you make any crazy decisions, like canceling the divorce, just think about it. We can make sure she has the right care. We can be free and happy."
"I—I already pulled the papers. I can't leave her alone."
Pansy fumed, "You did what? And you didn't even consult me? We were planning for the future. Our lives together. You're worried about her being alone, what about me? I'm having your baby."
"Pansy," he tried to reason. "She's not like you."
"Well, we both know that."
Harry clenched his jaw, biting back the words, "You're driven and resilient. Nothing stands in your way. On top of that, without me, you still have the means."
She swallowed her pride and tried to calm down. "If this is about money, I can make it work. Just refile the paperwork, add all the clauses on how you'll handle her care. Harry, please, I'm begging you."
"How will that fucking look, Pansy? Huh? I leave my crippled wife for my mistress and use your trust fund as payoff? Because that's what it's going to look like."
A fire burned behind Pansy's eyes, "Your mistress? Is that all I fucking am to you? I love you. I was willing to throw my reputation away for you, and to this day, I'm still just your mistress? Get the fuck out."
"Pansy," Harry begged, "I love you. You know that's not how I see us. It's what everyone—"
She jabbed her wand to his chest, "Get. The. Fuck. Out. Go to your wife. Just know this. This child is mine. I'll give him your name, he might even look like you, but every other aspect of his life, he's mine."
"Mrs Nott, Mr Nott, take Ms Parkinson's hands, it's almost time to push."
"It's Granger-Nott," Hermione corrected.
"Not the time, honey," Theo pointed out.
"Sorry!" She turned to Pansy, "You've been doing brilliant. How are you feeling?"
"I'm in fucking pain! Why won't they give me drugs?" She groaned.
Hermione turned to the mediwitch. "Can you do something about this?"
"We don't have any pain potions that won't also hurt the baby," she replied.
"What a load of horse shit," Hermione spat. "The muggles have safe pain medication for labor and delivery. We should too. I swear the state of women's health care in the Wizarding World is antiquated."
Pansy turned to Hermione and deadpanned, "Mines, I love you, but can you save your social justice warrior bullshit for after a push this baby out of my vagina?"
Hermione gave Pansy's hand a squeeze, "After you pop out that little demon, we're writing a piece together about this."
Pansy couldn't help but laugh, and it was definitely needed. Theo and Hermione had been so wonderful and supportive during the pregnancy, even letting her stay with them the last few weeks, but it wasn't the same as having the father of her child by her side. She blocked Harry out of her mind. If she thought about him, she'd probably break down.
"Hermione, darling, I promise that by the time I knock you up, we'll pay to get this hospital updated."
"Doesn't help me—OH MY FUCKING GOD IT'S COMING," Pansy groaned and squeezed her friends' hands as she pushed.
She was exhausted mentally and physically, sweat beading down her face, but in a few moments, she would be a mother.
Hermione wiped Pansy's brow. "You're doing amazing. I can see his head! Just a couple more pushes."
Pansy nodded and waited for the next contraction. She pushed with all her might and felt the pressure release. Then she heard it. The most beautiful sound. Her boy.
Soft and pink with a mass of black hair. He was everything she imagined and more. Measurements and clean up out of the way, her son was placed in her arms. His eyes were clenched tight as he adjusted to the bright hospital lights with tiny balled fists punching in all directions. A fighter. He would have to be for the life he was born into. Slowly, his eyes opened and found his mother's. They were dark, but it was difficult to distinguish the shade. The mediwitch who had taken his measurements shone her wand into his eyes, to inspect his responsiveness.
"What a lovely shade of green," she said.
Green. Of course. Pansy's eyes watered, overcome with joy and sorrow all at the same time.
Theo kissed his longtime friend on the top of her head. "Pans, you did it. You're a mum."
"You're going to be brilliant, you too little man," Hermione proclaimed.
"You know you nerds are his godparents, right?" Pansy remarked before kissing her son's head.
"Well, obviously," Theo scoffed.
Hermione added, "I mean, look at our collective group of friends. We're clearly the most qualified."
Despite Hermione's joke, it was true. No one else in their friend group would be able to love her son and play referee between his parents. Pansy hoped that her friends knew what a huge ask being this child's godparents actually meant.
Thankfully, Pansy's delivery was complication free, and she was moved into her new room almost immediately. Theo and Hermione let her have some time alone with the baby while they went to the hospital canteen for a bit of food and to send messages to friends and family alerting them of the baby's arrival.
Completely enamored with her little bundle, Pansy just stared and committed every feature to memory. Tiny fingers with even tinier fingernails. Wrinkly little toes. Long lashes with deep green eyes. Wispy brows. Pouty lips. So. Much. Hair.
"I can't stop saying it. You're beautiful. My beautiful boy." She cooed as he hungrily took his first feeding.
"You're a natural," Autumn, the lactation specialist observed. "You two are so in sync."
This brought a smile to her face.
One of the hospital administrators knocked at the door. "Sorry for the interruption, but we need some information for the birth certificate."
"It's fine," Pansy replied, "The baby is still feeding if that's alright."
"Oh, I see a lot of that around here," the young woman said. "Hello, I'm Annie. So, standard forms. Your name, place of birth, current age, and blood status?"
"Pansy Marie Parkinson; Salcombe, Devon; twenty-eight; Pureblood."
"And the father?"
She inhaled deeply, steadying herself to bring up his name. The baby must have been able to sense her tension, and began to squirm. "Shh, my darling. It's okay." He quieted and returned to his feeding. "Harry James Potter; Godric's Hollow; twenty-seven; half-blood."
Annie's expression went blank at the realization at who Pansy and her child were.
The media had spun the story both ways, painting her as 'The Harlot' and 'The Heartbroken.' She had tried to set the record straight as much as she could with her influence, but there was only so much she could do.
"I—I'm sorry," Annie scrambled, regaining her professional composure. "The boy's name. Have you picked one out."
"Yes, it's—sorry. Just a second." The child had finished feeding and was in need of burping. Autumn swooped in and helped Pansy adjust. The new mother smoothed his back, and he gave the tiniest little squeak of a hiccup. Pansy couldn't help but gush. "You're such a good boy."
The young woman was so warm and patient to wait so long to fill out a simple form.
"His name is Albus Severus P—" she hesitated. Parkinson or Potter? There was so much weight in a name. Give him his father's name, he could be branded a bastard. Make him a Parkinson, he would have keys to the kingdom. He was the heir no matter what, but the Parkinson name would live on—but how would that affect any future relationship he was to have with his father? Despite all anger and resentment, her heart still longed for him. And that sliver of hope led her to her decision. "Potter. Albus Severus Potter."
"My goodness," Annie replied, "with a name like that, he will surely do great things."
"I hope so," she replied. "Is there anything else you need?"
Annie packed up her clipboard. "No, Miss Parkinson. Have a good afternoon."
"I'll be leaving too," Autumn added. "Just buzz if you need my help again."
"Thank you. I appreciate it."
Finally alone with her boy, the reality of being a single parent began to settle in. When the friends went on to live their own lives, and the professionals went on to help other new mothers, she and Albus would be alone. No father. No siblings. No certainty of what the future held.
"It's just you and me, darling. Us against the world. Your father said that I could do this on my own, but I'm not sure I can. I'm going to do my damnedest. Another thing, I swear a lot, and you'll probably get in trouble from all the foul language you're going to learn from me. Just know this, I will never, ever give up on you, and I will never break a promise."
Harry never went home. He stayed there in that hospital wing waiting for his son to fully regain consciousness. When the detox took over and Albus's body shook uncontrollably, Harry grabbed extra blankets. When she began to nod off, he summoned Winky, one of Hogwarts' aged house-elves, to bring coffee and pastries. Harry even sat with Eva discussing her predicament of returning to the Muggle world.
Pansy was angry and bitter with this helpful and considerate version of Harry. Where had he been? He wasn't there the day Albus came into the world. To welcome him. To be his father. She was alone then and expected to go through this alone. She hated that just being in his presence could cause the feelings of false hope and abandonment to return. What she hated the most was that she never learned to hate him.
Thank you all for reading. If you liked this, please subscribe to the story as there will be additional chapters released in the coming weeks.
If you or your loved one are struggling with drug abuse, please contact resources in your local area for support. As a child of a former addict, I've found the works of David Sheff and his son, Nic Sheff, to be some of the most powerful material I've ever read in understanding addiction, mental illness, and its effect on the ones you love. A film produced by Amazon Studios, Beautiful Boy, was released last year based on their books. I highly recommend both the books (Beautiful Boy and Tweak) and the film, and you will see certain themes of my story were inspired by the Sheffs' story.
Thanks for reading!
Chapter 2: Not a Mistake
"You are not, and never were a mistake. Despite all the problems your father and I have, you are a product of love. Nothing made with love can ever be a mistake."
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
Not a Mistake
"Pans. Pansy, wake up," a husky voice coaxed her out of her slumber.
Her eyes fluttered open to find Harry nudging her. She made a disgusted face as she yawned, her breath tasting of stale coffee from her late night; how she longed for a toothbrush. "What time is it?" she asked hoarsely.
"Just past nine."
She couldn't have slept more than an hour or two, but it felt like every muscle and bone in her body had turned to stone. She wished she had never succumbed to exhaustion in the rickety wooden chair. While the many empty beds in that hospital wing would have been the obvious choice, this is where she decided to lay her head. She winced in pain as she stood and yawned, letting the blood flow to her atrophied muscles.
"Ahem." Harry pointed at her chest. She had managed to undo some of the buttons of her silk blouse giving her former lover a bit of a show.
Readjusting her shirt, Pansy just rolled her eyes, "Oh, not like you've never seen them before."
"It's been a few years, but I have to say, they're holding up," he said with a mischievous grin.
"Well, I wish I could say the same for you," which she knew was a complete fallacy. His hair was still black but was slowly taking on a salt and pepper appearance, making him look like quite the distinguished gentleman. He may not have been the chiseled specimen he once was, but he was still ruggedly fit.
He scratched his beard, "Oh, I don't look that bad, do I?"
"I'm not answering that." She looked down to her sleeping son, who looked less pained than he had last night. His skin tone had even somewhat returned to normal.
"I wanted to wake you up because Nightingale was just by. She changed Al's drip and added some dreamless sleep and nutrients, to help him detox." Harry explained. "She's afraid that if he wakes up in pain, the cravings for relief will be worse."
Pansy nodded in understanding. "Did she say how long he would be out?"
"At least a couple of hours." Harry bent over and stroked Albus's hair, then ran his hand down the boy's frail arm. "Eva went to class. Poor girl. She's taking this pretty hard."
"Of course she is." Pansy also affectionately touched her son's face. "She loves him. She really loves him. Not just words. It's the 'I would do anything for you' kind of love."
Her words had every intention of stinging Harry. She watched his eyes lower and jaw clench in remorse.
"If you want to head home and shower, I can stay with him," Harry offered.
"What about you?"
"I always keep a spare set of clothes on me." He pulled out the small bag with the extension charms. "Go ahead. I can watch him."
"What if he wakes before I'm back?" she replied, her voice trembling with worry. "I want to be here for him. He needs me."
"He won't wake up for a while. He still has a big fight ahead of him." Harry had come to face her and put his hands on her shoulders. His hands were strong and comforting. He gently began massaging her, using his thumbs to relieve the tension in her neck.
Pansy closed her eyes, unable to resist the welcome relief. Just for a moment, she accepted his help. Her body was tired and sore, losing the will to fight with Harry. It just felt old and petty at this point. She turned, moved her hair, and motioned to a spot near the base of her neck. "It's really stiff right here."
He kneaded and worked out the knots she hadn't even realized were there. She could feel his breath tickle her skin. His touch was so warm and familiar, in a way that she didn't want to admit made her feel safe. His fingers found their way through her hair, gently massaging her scalp; the tensions melted away to find pleasure.
No longer able to control her responses, she breathily uttered, "Oh yesss..."
Harry released a soft chuckle, and Pansy was suddenly embarrassed with whatever noises must be coming out of her mouth.
Harry untangled his fingers and smoothed her hair down. "Well, It's been quite some time since I've heard those sounds."
"Oh, stop flattering yourself." Flushed pink, she turned around and snapped, "Potter, don't you think it's in poor taste to be flirting while our son is in a drug-induced coma?"
"So, he's back to being 'our' son?" He smiled coyly.
"Oh—you're infuriating!" she stammered. "You know what? I'm going to take you up on that offer and run home now."
Harry's hand reached for hers. "We'll be here waiting for you."
Her heart skipped a beat. All the time she had put between them. Abstaining. Dropping her guard left her vulnerable to his effects. She swallowed and asked, "Is there anything you want me to get or any messages you want me to relay?"
"Tell James. He doesn't know." Harry's voice cracked, and face looked forlorn.
Pansy nodded in understanding. "I'll tell Theo and Hermione, too."
"Just come back soon."
"I always do."
"Welcome home, Darling," Pansy said to her newborn son. She looked around the townhouse, suddenly overwhelmed by how big it was compared to the little bundle in her arms. All of those little fears every new mother has began to settle in.
"Where do you want all this stuff, Pans?" Theo asked from behind her.
Her head elf appeared in front of her. Its eyes larger than usual with a wondrous glisten to them. "Oh my. Mistress, is this my young master?"
Pansy beamed with pride and presented the baby to her head of house. "Meet Albus."
"He is most precious. Fizzie will fetch Lottie to watch Young Master Albus," the elf said, ready to help her mistress.
"Oh, that's not necessary. I actually plan on being very involved in taking care of him and will only ask for Lottie's help when I need it. Right now, I need you to help Theo take all of these things to the nursery. Can you do that please?"
"Straight away," the elf replied. Fizzie levitated all of the belongings from Theo's grasp and apparated, leaving him empty-handed and without a task.
"What about these?" Hermione had followed with vases of flowers and balloons.
"Just put them in the sitting room," she directed. "I think a few people are coming over later. It would be nice to keep it all in one place."
Hermione nodded in agreement. "So who is planning on stopping by?"
"Oh, I think my parents, but who knows with them. Draco and Astoria want to bring Scorpius by. Perhaps Daphne. A few girls from work for sure..." Pansy trailed. "Oh! We can talk about your idea about women's health care. You're right. That hospital is a damn shit show."
Hermione smirked. "I'll be glad to collaborate with your staff on that article. It's something that needs to be addressed. Maybe even tease my eventual run for Minister…"
Pansy's mouth gaped in disbelief as she watched Hermione's smug grin. "No!" she responded excitedly, already imagining the future.
Theo wrapped his arm around his wife's shoulders. "It's going to be a few years, but we're laying the groundwork."
Pansy walked towards the sitting room with her friends following behind. "Well, then. Let me know how I can help."
"Right now," Hermione said, "We're just focused on helping you."
"Honestly, Pansy," Theo added, as they all sat down, "Mines and I would do anything to help you through this. We're family."
She smiled at him, genuinely feeling blessed to have a friend who has been at her side as long as he has. "If I weren't holding a baby, I would hit you for being so obnoxiously over-sentimental."
He laughed back, "Oh, shut up and let me hold my godson."
Carefully, Pansy placed the sleeping boy in his arms. Theo looked in complete awe and so comfortable all at the same time. "You look good with a baby," she remarked. "You two have plans on doing this soon?"
Hermione gave a sly smile. "We may have started trying…"
"Ah, fucking with a purpose. How ambitious of you two," Pansy smirked. "Well, make it happen soon. Then we can put our kids together for playdates. Maybe you'll have a girl, and we'll betroth them."
"Yes, because arranged marriage makes so much sense," Theo deadpanned.
Pansy snickered, recalling that once upon a time, their fathers had hoped for their marriage.
"On the topic of marriage, well, actually, sort of anti-marriage. I have another idea for the magazine," Hermione said. "The single mum. The wizarding world talks a big deal when it comes to equality and female empowerment, but then it still falls into these old constructs of marriage and legitimacy. You are the big 'fuck you' to the whole patriarchal system — Pureblood, successful career woman, unwed, and now a mother. You're not a social pariah. You're the future."
Pansy leaned back to give her two friends an impressed look. They were two of the most intelligent people who knew how to work the system from inside of it. She wouldn't put it past her if Hermione actually became Minister and Theo the head of the Wizengamot. There they were, plotting her rise from forgotten mistress to the symbol of wizarding feminism.
The wheels in the publisher's head began turning. "I'll talk to the staff about it. Perhaps we could run teasers leading up to my return from maternity leave. Talk about the lack of childcare in the workplace, how short maternity leave is, and maybe how the 'Sacred Twenty-Eight' is slowly turning our backs on the system."
"I'd gladly be a contributor to that one," Theo added. "Especially since it was my great-grandfather who wrote that bit of rubbish."
Hermione leaned in to kiss her husband. Pansy looked upon them with a pang of jealousy. They too started their relationship with a bout of infidelity and scandal, but they pushed through, persevered the judgment and ridicule, and the threats to their careers. The Notts rose from the ashes. They made it work because they wanted it. She had thought about why they worked, but she and Harry couldn't. Was Hermione more ambitious, more emotionally available? Was Harry too broken? Did his childhood destroy him to the point that he would choose honor and loyalty over his own happiness? Over the past few months, she had time to wonder and theorize. So many questions she wanted to ask him, but he was afraid she'd never get any answers.
A buzz at the door alerted the friends that the first visitor had arrived. Theo handed Albus back to his mother.
"Time to make your debut," Pansy beamed at her child. She smoothed the soft fabric of his mint green footed onesie. "This really is your color. Just remember that."
"I'm sorry, sir. Mistress does not want to see you," Fizzie said to the guest.
Pansy's chest seized, knowing precisely who was at the door. She held onto her son tightly, unsure of what she should do. Did she truly want to be the only parent in her child's life, or was she ready to open the door both literally and figuratively?
Hermione placed a hand on Pansy's knee reassuringly. "Let me handle this."
"Hermione—" she started to say, but the words didn't come.
"It's okay," Theo insisted. "She's got this."
Pansy bit her lip in worry as she watched her friend leave the room.
With a flourish of her wand, Hermione's purse opened and summoned an object. She sent one end to herself and another to Pansy. "Extendable Ears. You can listen to the whole conversation."
"Thank you," Pansy replied anxiously.
Hermione stepped outside and shut the door behind her.
"Aunt Mione!" A precocious three-year-old called as he ran to her.
She scooped him up and attacked him with kisses. "How is my Jamie Dodger?" The name she had affectionately given him after going through a phase of only eating Jammie Dodgers for a week. That and his mop of strawberry colored hair to match the strawberry jam of the biscuit.
"I'm good. Daddy said we're going to meet my brother today," he said in all his pure, childhood innocence.
"Did he now?" Hermione gave Harry a stern look and put James down. "Jamie, can you do earmuffs for me? Your daddy has been a very naughty boy and needs a good scolding."
The little boy giggled and covered his ears with his tiny, chubby hands. For good measure, Hermione cast a charm so that the boy couldn't sneak a listen to his father's chastising.
"What the hell is wrong with you?" Hermione poked him in the chest. "I've told you for months to make this right. I told you when we were on our way to the hospital. I've given you every fucking chance, and you think, 'Oh, I'll just pop by with James so he can meet his little brother.' How can you be so dense? Oh, and you're entirely manipulating the situation by bringing him here. Fucking unbelievable."
Harry retaliated, "Fucking hell, Hermione. Can I get in a word?"
"Daddy, Auntie Mione's mad at you," James teased.
Hermione turned to James, "Can you hear me?"
"What?" he yelled back trying to pull his hands off his ears.
"Oh, good," Hermione relaxed. "Harry, if it was me, and I was scorned the way Pansy was, I would refuse to open the door."
Harry's eyes welled with emotion. "Hermione. You know why I had to stay with Ginny. I made a vow. I promised. The Weasleys wouldn't have been able to take care of her."
"Bullshit, Harry. You made a fucking decision without consulting anyone. Your fucking impulsiveness and honor need to take a fucking chill pill every now and then," she fumed.
"She said she didn't want me a part of her life or the baby's, so I stayed away."
Hermione grew frustrated. "Harry, you're good at listening, but you're shite at listening. Am I going to have to spend the rest of my life explaining to you what things actually mean?"
Harry grew defensive. "That's what she wanted, so that's what I did, but I never stopped loving her or wondering about my son. I've kept an eye on her from a distance. It's killed me. But now that he's here, and I have two sons—brothers—I can't stay away. They need to know each other." He sounded desperate and remorseful. "Please, Hermione. I just can't stay away any longer. They need me, and I need them. Please let me meet my son."
Hermione stood hesitantly, unsure of what to do. She was torn between two friends, well, three, actually, although Ginny hasn't spoken to her much in the past few months. More importantly, she was the godmother of both of these boys, and she had promised their parents that she would always have their best interests, no matter what. "I'll take James to meet Albus— Just him."
"She named him Albus?" Harry sounded surprised and hopeful.
"Albus Severus Potter," Hermione confirmed. "She must still love you because I sure as hell wouldn't have given the baby your last name, let alone that god awful name you picked out."
Harry shook his head with a laugh.
She held out her hand. "Now give me James, and you wait out here."
"Hermione—" he pleaded.
"Harry, I can't," she sighed. "Theo and I have tried to do our best to help her get over you and ready her for a life of being a single parent."
"That's why I need to see her. She doesn't have to. I just fucked up, okay? Please, Hermione."
The door clicked open to reveal Pansy standing there with the little bundle in her arms.
Hermione stepped back, shielding Pansy and Albus from Harry. "Pansy, you don't have to do this."
"It's alright," she tried to reassure Hermione, but the waver in her voice betrayed her.
"PANSY!" James hollered. "Is that my brother?"
Pansy waved her wand, relieving James of the sticking charm. "Hello, Jamie. I've missed you. Come on in. I can see if Fizzie can find some biscuits and milk for you."
"Jammie Dodgers!" he exclaimed.
"Those are Muggle biscuits," Hermione reminded him as she hoisted him onto her hip, "But Fizzie is an excellent baker. I'm sure she can make something special."
Pansy led them all back to the sitting room without saying a single word to Harry, or even looking him in the eye. She just took a seat on the sofa and tapped a place for James to sit right next to her. Hermione plopped the boy down and sat on his opposite side. "Are your hands clean, James?"
He covered his face and snickered.
"I see," Pansy said, catching the naughty child in the act. "Theo, can you take James to wash up?"
"I can take him," Harry spoke up. "I could use a washup myself."
James wiggled off the sofa and ran to his father.
Harry confidently strode to the washroom without anyone having to tell him where to go. It was a painful reminder to Pansy that this had once been his home, if even for only a few short months.
"Pansy, are you absolutely sure about this?" Theo asked with concern.
She released a sarcastic laugh. "Not at all." She looked down at her baby, who was now wide awake; his eyes had gradually begun taking on a more distinctive green color. "Allie, what should I do? Do you want to meet your father?" He yawned and smiled. "Should I take that as a yes, or did you poop?"
Pansy lifted the baby to smell his bottom. "What has my life become, Albus? I'm sniffing a baby's arse, Hermione Granger is my best friend, and your father is Harry Potter. I must have entered a special kind of hell."
Hermione gave her a scolding look. "You better be damn thankful Hermione Granger is your best friend because I can't see Daphne or Tracey trying to clean up this mess. Throw you a posh shower, sure, but playing referee, good luck."
"Don't get so jealous, Granger." Pansy gave her a wicked smile. "You know you're my person."
The two women smiled, knowing the seventeen-year journey from school adversaries to acquaintances to this, was indeed an unbelievable feat. They interlaced their fingers in solidarity, awaiting Harry and James's return.
"They're clean!" James displayed his freshly washed hands for all to see. "Can I touch the baby now?"
"Yes, you may," Pansy replied.
The boy made himself comfortable between his godmother and his brother's mother. He put his arms out wide, something his father must have told him to do. Pansy placed Albus in his brother's embrace, while Hermione helped James support the baby's head.
"He's so tiny," James marveled. He pushed the blanket away to see more of the baby's features. Intrigued, he touched the baby's hair. "So soft."
"Be gentle," Harry called from across the room.
"Daddy, he looks like you," James said excitedly. "He has black hair."
"And green eyes," Pansy added. The first time she had addressed him since his arrival. A shiver came over her as his eyes met hers. She hated this feeling. She fucking hated hope. It was only ever followed by disappointment.
"Can I?" Harry asked, hesitantly.
Pansy wrapped her arms around both James and Albus protectively, as if somehow, she could pull strength from their innocence. She kissed Albus on his forehead then turned to Harry and said, "Yes."
Timidly, Harry crossed the room. He bent down to his sons. The elder, joyous and proud. The younger, pure and oblivious to the world he was brought into. They were different in appearance, oh so clearly taking on the features of their mothers. Pansy watched her former lover and her son gaze upon each other for the first time. Of course, she had an instant connection to Albus, but watching Harry, it was something different. Harry had once told her about the Mirror of Erised and what he saw. He said that he saw an entire family of people who shared his characteristics. People who were long gone, but whom he had received their traits—messy black hair, bright green eyes, not too tall or too short in stature, jawlines that were neither too pointed or too squared, and many even had poor vision by the number of eyeglasses he saw. While he had a family and he loved James, his son looked like another member of the Weasley family. Just another reminder he was taken into the family, but not truly a part of it. Pansy could see it on Harry's face. He now had another person in this world that looked like him. His family—but not. This was the boy Harry had rejected upon discovering his conception. The universe had punished him for his sins.
She could see tears begin to form as he took Albus from James. Harry was silent. Contemplative. He took every moment to soak in what this all meant. Pansy watched intently as Harry's eyes flicked back and forth, committing the baby's features to memory.
"I'm so sorry, Albus," Harry choked on a soft sob. He kissed the boy's forehead and let the tears fall.
It was all too much. The walls Pansy had built around herself over the past few months, convincing herself she would be okay, had crumbled in an instant. She hid her face behind her hands as she sobbed.
"James," Theo called softly, "come with Hermione and me. It's a lovely day. Let's play in the back garden a bit, yeah?"
The toddler jumped off of the sofa eagerly, too young to process the complexities of the situation.
Harry sat next to Pansy with their son in his arms. Albus must have sensed the tension in the air, and began to whimper.
"Give him to me," Pansy said softly. Cradled in her arms, Albus was soothed and comforted by his mother's embrace.
A knuckle ran under her eye, brushing away the tears. She turned to find herself face-to-face with Harry. Here in what was once their living room, on a sofa they had laid on together discussing the world and their future, she felt vulnerable. His mere presence made her long for those moments once more. That ache grew the moment she felt his lips on hers. She should have pulled away, but his kiss felt like a soothing balm on an open wound. Healing. Comforting. Salty and wet from tears, they both poured their souls into that kiss. A million unsaid things expressed through the physical. It was real. It was always real. Not a torrid affair. Not a mistake. Actual, factual, real love. But was it enough?
"I've missed you," he said mournfully.
"You know why I can't."
She sniffed back a tear, silent without response.
"I watched you almost every day. Waiting for you to come and go from work. Watching you grow more beautiful."
Pansy leaned her head on his shoulder. "Why didn't you say anything."
"I was scared."
He sighed deeply. "Of this. Of how much I still love you. Of how fucked my world is. How no matter what decision I make, I take people down with me."
The baby made a sucking noise and a funny o-shaped face with his lips. Instinctively, Pansy began unbuttoning her blouse and released one of her engorged breasts from the far-from-sexy nursing bra. The newborn quickly found his way to his mother's milk.
"Sorry," Pansy apologized, "he's just hungry all the time."
"You're a vision like this."
She blushed fiercely. Pansy had felt far from glamorous or anything more than a food supply over the past few days. It pained her how wonderful he made her feel.
"Harry, where do we go from here?" She asked.
"Let me be his father," he pleaded.
"I don't know," he said in earnest. "I don't know how to get what we both want without someone getting hurt."
"You already know what I think and how we can achieve this." She already felt defeated and didn't want to have this conversation, knowing it wouldn't go anywhere. "There won't be an 'us' if I can't have you—" her throat tightened, fighting the pain of their reality. "Once a week. Come by once a week for two hours until we can come up with a better plan. James is more than welcome."
Harry affectionately ran his thumb across the feeding child's forehead. "I promise to be there for you. I'll figure this out, I promise."
"Harry, don't make promises you can't keep."
He lifted his gaze to hers. He was so close. Too close. She was exposed in every sense of the word. Pansy knew he didn't intend to, but his mere presence dissolved her resolve.
"Pansy," he said softly, almost a whisper, soothing and comforting to both mother and child. "I'm not great with plans or even thinking things through, no matter how long it takes, I'll find a way to be a father to Albus. If I can find a way for you to forgive me, I'll figure that out too."
There she was, wrapped up in the moment, postpartum hormones fueling irrational thought, ready to let him back into her life. Her lips were parted, ready to speak.
"Daddy!" A rambunctious James hollered from the other side of the house.
Startled, unsure if the child had ever seen a bare breast, let alone a baby attached to one, Pansy quickly covered herself with a receiving blanket.
James ran into the sitting room, Hermione and Theo playfully chasing him.
"We're going to get you!" Theo called from behind. He crouched as he walked with his arms curled close to his body, resembling one of those extinct creatures she had seen in a book about prehistoric magical and non-magical beasts. While Theo was tall and long-limbed and could have easily caught up with the child in a single stride, pretending to be a velociraptor was far more fun.
"Daddy! We're playing dinosaurs. Come play with us!" The boy rushed the words in a single breath. With all his might, those tiny little hands gripped his father's wrist, attempting to coax him from his seat. "Come on, Daddy. Albus can play too."
Another wave of melancholia came over Pansy. In another life, she and Harry could have raised Albus and James together. This place would have been their home. The house would have been filled with giggles, and playing pretend and torturing godparents.
"I'm afraid he's still too little to play with you, sweetheart," Pansy spoke to the boy with affection. Not an ounce of ill will to the boy who belonged to another woman. He was just another victim of the games adults play. She felt the baby release, finished with his feeding. "Oh. He must know we're talking about him."
The little boy emerged from beneath the striped flannel blanket, looking satisfied with his little face messy with saliva and milk. It was a sight to behold, and Pansy couldn't help but laugh and gush at her son.
"Men never change. All they need is a good pair of tits to make them happy," Pansy joked. She looked over to see Harry turn away and hide his blush, in which she responded with a satisfied smirk. "Go with James. We'll be here waiting."
"What are you drawing there, Darling?" Pansy looked upon her son doodling on several sheets of paper all at the same time. She had learned not to mind the mess that came with children; crayons, paints, and all manner of creative fuel for their tiny masterpieces.
"Our family," the boy answered his mother nonchalantly, clearly too engrossed in his project to look up.
Pansy moved to inspect her son's work and proceeded to act like an art critic, a game the two of them often played after many trips to galleries and museums around London and Paris. She picked up the drawing of the two of them. "Ah, Albus Severus Potter is slowly moving from his Abstract and whimsical phase into Impressionism. There is evidence he has yet to embrace realism as there is no way his mother's head is that big, though the all-black ensembles of both subjects seem to relay status and fashion rather than a funereal tone."
Albus laughed, still not tired of his mother's sense of humor. "That's supposed to be from when we went to the fashion show. That shirt was itchy."
"Ah yes," Pansy pinched her lips between her teeth and stifled a laugh. A while back, they were in Paris for Haute Couture Fashion Week. Both Muggle and Wizarding fashion houses revealed the upcoming season's collections. With street fashion ranging from athleisure to avant-garde, both worlds passed each other, none the wiser.
There was one event held at the Grand Palais, where guests were invited to bring their children. While unconventional, Pansy always enjoyed bringing Albus along with her to different work events and even to the office. After all, his first cover shoot was when he was only eight weeks old.
It was for the Single Mothers issue for Witch Weekly, marking Pansy's return after a short maternity leave. She was stoic, in a fitted suit, long black hair with her signature fringe ironed stick straight flowing in the wind, eyeliner sharp and lipstick glossy, all while her son nursed from her exposed right breast. It was shocking and thought-provoking, receiving both praise and backlash. It was everything she wanted to accomplish. It had taken her years, but the shift from gossip rag to empowering female-focused journalism and content had begun. Unfortunately, it also began the world's fascination with Harry Potter's illegitimate son.
Throughout his life, Pansy had guarded him against prying eyes and aggressive photographers. It came to the point that Harry had bestowed one of his most prized possessions, an invisibility cloak, so that Pansy could conceal Albus when he was in public. It was when the pair made official appearances; she felt like she could better control the situation, by pre-arranging interviews and photo ops. Harry had offered additional undercover auror detail, which she would usually accept. Pansy had notoriety, first as an editor, and now the owner of a multinational media empire, but Harry was both a hero and had enemies. The two parents went head-to-head on many aspects of their child's upbringing, but his safety was something they always agreed on.
"Mum," he said, pushing a picture of his godparents and their daughter to the side, and starting a new portrait. "Do I have to go to Daddy's birthday party?"
"I'm sure he would like you to be there," she replied tentatively, curious as to where this conversation was going.
"Can we be late? Daddy was late to my birthday." He pouted as he dug the crayon deeper into the paper.
Pansy rubbed her temples. Her son had taken on many of her character traits, including being vindictive and holding grudges. She had hoped that the child would have just a touch more of a forgiving nature, but it didn't appear so. "Albus, it's poor manners to arrive late. Besides, James will be there, and so will Marina. Don't forget Teddy. "
"Yeah, but so will Rose, Hugo, and the Red Momster."
In the eight years of her son's life, the struggles of shared custody were the norm, and she had given up all hope of Harry ever changing his mind about leaving Ginny. Relations with the Weasleys were civil at best. Pansy could care less what they thought about her, but their dismissal of Albus would never sit well with her. Not everyone had treated an innocent child as if he was discarded rubbish. There was James, who adored his little brother and managed not to be influenced by the rest of his family. Teddy, Harry's godson, who also lived in a less traditional home, managed to be kind and welcoming to Albus. Then there was Theo and Hermione's daughter, Marina. Hermione somehow managed to get back into the Weasley's good graces, but they still held a grudge against her husband and their outspoken child. Albus may not have been welcomed in his father's family, but at least he was in the company of other outcasts. Strength in numbers.
"Al, is there something else going on?" Pansy asked with concern.
"I just…I don't know." The boy shrugged and kept drawing.
Upon further inspection, his drawings told a story. The boy and his mother in black with subtle smiles. A man with messy black hair with his back turned. A happy family of three between the mother and child. To the side was a drawing of a sad boy waving goodbye from a train car. The most ominous of all the images was an angry red demon sitting in a chair. She clenched her fists tightly, fury building in her gut. "Albus, is it just the party you don't want to go to, or is there more you want to tell me?"
Albus put down his crayon and addressed his mother. "James is going to Hogwarts soon."
"Does that make you sad?"
He nodded his head up and down, unwilling to say the words.
"You know you can write him letters," she comforted, "I can help you."
"If James is gone, I don't want to visit Daddy."
Times like this Pansy was reminded of the honesty of children and to trust in their instincts. Instead of insisting that he maintain a relationship, she pried further. "Do you not want to see your father anymore?"
He shrugged and grew quiet, turning into himself, afraid to reveal anything. A knot tightened in Pansy's stomach
"Al, I can't help you unless you talk to me."
"Am I a mistake?" he asked with tears in his eyes.
"What?" Astounded, Pansy reassured her son, "You are not, and never were a mistake. Despite all the problems your father and I have, you are a product of love. Nothing made with love can ever be a mistake."
At this point, the child was sobbing. "She said I was. I heard her talking to Daddy. That every time she looks at me, she sees a mistake. That if Daddy was good, I wouldn't be alive."
Pansy took her son in her arms and held him tightly, kissing the top of his head, hoping to remind him of how loved he was. "Don't you believe a word that woman says. She's awful and angry."
Choking on his tears, he said, "Does Dad love me? If Dad loved me, he would say something, right? He wouldn't just let her be mean to me. And he's never ever around."
She didn't want to make any more excuses for Harry to her son. Pansy was tired of using Harry's job to explain to Albus why his father broke his promises. Whatever his reasons were his own, it was up to her to be both parents right now. "That's something you're going to have to ask him one day. But know this. I love you. Hermione, Theo, James, and Marina love you. Your grandparents love you. The girls at work love you. Lots and lots of people love you, and I'm not going to put you in a situation that will ever make you feel like you aren't loved and supported." She kissed him once more. "Go upstairs and change. I think a walk through the city, and maybe a stop for a nice dinner and some ice cream will do us some good."
Albus gave his mother a kiss on the cheek and ran to his bedroom.
Pansy reached for her mobile and sent a text. She had been skeptical at first when FireComm released modified smartphones that worked off of magical energy fields rather than electricity. The technological marvel proved its efficiency and had quickly become part of everyday life—including sending angry messages to exes.
We won't be attending your birthday. Also, I'm calling my attorney to change the terms of our custody arrangement.
"Happy Birthday, Harry," she muttered bitterly to herself. Barely a second passed when she received a response.
I'm coming over.
She should have known this is how he would react. Instead of responding and telling him to stay put, she opened the door, ready to meet him.
The crack of apparition sounded like thunder, charged with emotional energy. There was nothing discreet about Harry's arrival. He barged through the doorway and commanded, "Kitchen. Now."
Pansy rolled her eyes as she closed the door and followed him. The elves were still cleaning up from lunch and were startled by their mistress's appearance along with their young master's father.
"Fizzie, Mudge, Lottie, can you please move onto some other tasks right now? Harry and I need this room for a bit."
The servants didn't question the orders and left immediately.
"What's going on, Pans?" Harry spat the question. "You just blindside me in a text. No explanation. No, 'we need to talk.'"
"Drink?" she asked, casually as she walked to the cupboard to prepare herself one.
"Yeah," he responded somewhat calmer. "Pansy, what is this all about?"
After pouring three fingers of whisky for herself and then for Harry, she took a swig from her glass before explaining. "Harry, how old were you when you realized your family treated you differently than your cousin?"
"For as long as I can remember. But wha—"
"How much would you have loved to have a grown-up to speak up on your behalf when your aunt and uncle would make you feel insignificant?"
"I would have given anything for that."
"So why don't you do that for Albus?" she accused. "Today he told me he doesn't want to come around to yours once James goes to school, and that your wife calls him a mistake. Is this true?"
Harry stared at the amber liquid a while before knocking it all back. "I didn't think he was listening."
"Well, he was, and the worst part is that his father didn't defend him. You know he asked me if you loved him." She poured herself a bit more to drink. Not being a Gryffindor, courage didn't come naturally, so she would take it in liquid form. "I didn't know what to tell him, other than to ask you."
He reached over to the bottle and poured a little more for himself. "You know I love him. You should have told him—"
"No." She interjected. "You should tell him. You should make time for him. You should find ways to be there even when you can't."
"How do I do that, Pans? Tell me? Because I'd love to know," he huffed in frustration.
"That's your problem, Harry. You've depended on everyone to guide and direct you. This is a problem you have to figure out on your own. I can't coordinate with your secretary. Do you have any idea of how many times you've been late or canceled on Albus? I see it on his face and his body language. He's giving up on you. Just like I did. There's only so much heartache someone can take."
Harry tried to reach for her hand, but she just pulled away.
"I'm sorry," he sighed. "I'll try harder. Maybe stop in after work, take dinner with you two more often."
"It's a start. Either here or neutral territory. Your house has...negative energy."
Harry snorted, "You're telling me."
"I still don't know why you stay. James is about to leave for Hogwarts. Find a caretaker." Pansy shook her head. "You need to move on."
"Is that so?" He turned to lean against the counter. "What about you? When are you moving on?"
She gave him a little smirk. "Who says I haven't?"
All of the color drained from Harry's face, unable to believe Pansy. "With who?"
"It's still pretty new," she blushed as she swirled the last dregs of the brown liquor. "He's a rather recent divorcé, also has a son Albus's age. You know him. Family owns the Chudley Cannons."
"You're seeing Cormac McLaggen?" Harry intoned. "Why?"
"I'm sorry, you don't have a say in who I can and can't see," she scolded.
"If he's coming around my son, I do," he stated furiously. "I don't want to see him around town with you and Al. That guy—"
Pansy saw him grow increasingly more frustrated and upset. She couldn't help but tease. "Harry Potter. Are you jealous?"
"Jealous? Of course not? I have nothing to be jealous of."
"Yeah, well get used to it. Because even if this doesn't last, I'm not going to spend the remainder of my thirties waiting around. I'm still young enough to find someone, and Albus deserves a full-time male role model. You weren't up for the job. Do you think you are in the position to deny us that?"
"But nothing," she interrupted. "I only have three years until he's off at school. I'd love to give him some routine and normalcy before then. A good start would be to have a more present father or stepfather, or even stepsiblings for that matter," she knew she had to curtail her emotions, not wanting to appear irrational or anger-fueled. Pansy closed her eyes and breathed deeply through her nose as if meditating. Calmed, she continued, "Harry, I've done the best I can on my own, but I want so much more for him. I want Albus to head to school, knowing he is loved and supported back home. That no matter how far away and lonely he gets, we are here."
She must have struck a chord because Harry was now fighting back the tears. "He is. I'll make sure he knows that."
"Actions speak louder than words, Potter," She reminded him. "We're going to have to coordinate and communicate. If not, we will get the attorneys involved again."
"No, no. It doesn't need to come to that," he assured her.
"Mum? Where are you? Are you ready?" Albus called from across the house.
"Where are you going?" Harry asked eagerly.
"Just walk around the city. Maybe dinner and some ice cream," she replied as she floated the empty glasses to the sink.
"Can I come?"
"Ask Albus." She smiled. It was a simple, good place for Harry to begin communicating with his son.
They both walked out of the kitchen to look for the boy. At the end of the hall, they found the boy, thin with his soft, wavy black hair. He looked surprised to see his father with his mother.
"What are you doing here, Dad?" He was direct, not yet skilled in the art of pleasantries.
"Your mum and I needed to talk, and I think we need to talk, too." Harry bent down to meet his son's eyes. "Can I join you? We can go anywhere. My treat."
"Greenhouse?" Albus lit up.
Pansy shook her head, "I'm sorry darling. They just won their Michelin Stars. They probably aren't taking walk-ins."
"You're taking him to Michelin-starred restaurants?" asked Harry, stunned.
"It wasn't at the time," she defended.
"How about we all just see where the paths take us. What do you say, Albus?" Harry asked.
"Just the three of us?" the boy asked timidly.
"Just the three of us," Harry happily confirmed.
Albus beamed a smile so bright and genuine, one that Pansy had not seen in a long time. She loved and hated this smile at the same time because it usually resulted in heartbreak. All the hope and expectation that would build in his little heart when his father would do and say all the right things. Despite what Harry said, how many promises he made, she knew it was going to end up the same. She watched her son take his father's hand and drag him out of the house. Bracing herself for what she knew would be a wonderful day, a glimpse of what could have been, and the eventual sadness when it would be over, she followed them out the door.
Pansy was right. Everything was perfect and lovely; from the walk through Hyde Park to Kensington Gardens to the dinner at the casual trattoria and ice cream afterward. Harry was just so kind and nurturing to Albus, everything a father should be. It was everything she wanted for the boy. But for her—the hand on the small of her back as they entered the restaurant, the way their pinkies brushed as they sat on a bench watching Albus feed the ducks with stale bread, even feeling his breath on the back of her neck as they waited in the queue of the ice cream parlor to sample the variety of enticing flavors—Harry weakened her. He had to know the effect he had. There was no way he didn't. He threatened the years of her abstaining from his temptation. It was there in front of her. Taunting. Enticing.
They had returned to her home after a lovely summer evening of exploring. Lottie headed up with Albus to prepare for bedtime, leaving Pansy and Harry downstairs to wait. Fizzie brought them two glasses of cognac as a nightcap.
"Why don't we take these in the back garden?" Pansy suggested, aching to be back outside with the cool summer breeze invigorating her lungs. Inside, with Harry and drinks, it felt too comfortable. Too easy.
"Sounds good." He stood first and held out a hand to help her out of the low upholstered chair.
She had recently remodeled, removing much of the antiques and worn-in furniture, for sleeker lines and contrasting textures. The only downside of the modern aesthetic was the furniture was near impossible to get out of if you were over four feet tall.
"Can you hold this?" he asked, handing the snifter to her. Harry shrugged off his light jacket and rolled up his sleeves. "It's getting hot, isn't it?"
"You just don't know how to dress for summer," she teased, looking down at her flouncy, maxi dress with its thin straps and her espadrille sandals.
"But I'm an auror and need to easily access and conceal my wand," Harry said as he pulled the wand out of the front pocket of the jacket. It suddenly dawned him as he eyed her up and down. "Where is yours, anyway?"
Pansy handed Harry his drink. She then parted the layers of the lightweight fabric of her dress and found a hidden slit, to reveal a holster strapped to her thigh; her cedar wand with its jade inlay handle safely tucked away. His eyes. They lingered on her exposed skin for much longer than they should have. Her chest pounded, anxiousness, and flattery threatening to give way to poor judgment. She shook off the feeling and quickly covered back up.
They walked to the back and found themselves seated several feet apart, separated by a side table. Maybe it was the peaceful evening, or they just wanted to relish the past few argument-free hours, but a single word didn't exchange between them for a good while.
Harry cleared his throat, the first to speak, "Pans, I had a great time."
She gave him a genuine smile. Not a smirk. Not a cheeky grin. A real smile. "So did I. I think Albus did too."
"I would love to do this more," he said wistfully. Just the three of us, maybe with James too, before school starts, of course."
"Why do I feel like there is a 'but'?" She grasped her glass firmly.
He said with sadness in his voice, "I just don't know how. Not with how unpredictable my job is and—"
"Has she gotten any more control with wandless spells?" Pansy struggled for small talk.
"No. Instead she just spends her days frustrated and mad at the world. Takes it out on everyone."
"I'm sorry to hear," she remarked, unsure if she meant what she said. There was a vindictive side that was happy to see Harry miserable and suffering for his choices. But the compassionate, motherly side of her, was pained to hear that it wasn't just Albus who had suffered at the hands of Ginevra Weasley's misplaced anger.
"It is what it is, right?" Harry shrugged, and put down his empty glass. "At least you get to move on, right?"
"Oh, we're not getting into this again," she shook her head and laughed. "It's not even exclusive. It's been a few dates. That's it."
"Did you sleep with him?"
Pansy choked on her cognac, unable to believe Harry could ask such a direct question. "Merlin."
Harry snorted, clearly pleased with himself.
"Not that it's any of your business, but yes," she said almost gloating. "I'm a woman with needs."
"How long has it been?" he further inquired. "Since the last time your needs had been satisfied?"
"You're prying." She put her glass down and got up from her seat. "I'm going to check on Albus, and then I think we need to call this a night."
"Want to know how long it has been for me?" He baited her, knowing that she would want to know. Had he found another mistress? Did he try to satisfy himself with his paralyzed wife? Why on earth would he tease her this way?
"Potter, you don't have to—"
"Marina's birthday last year," he started, "in the guest bathroom."
"Oh," she blushed. "That was a mistake. We were just feeling nostalgic."
"I quite enjoy nostalgia." He was now facing her, his hands on her hips.
"I—I can't. Not anymore. I'm tired of this cycle. Just falling back into each other's arms when there is an illusion of happiness." She pulled away. "You just have this control over me. Like an addiction. Just let me quit you. Quit this."
"Pansy, this will always be here between us," he stated the obvious while reaching for her hand. "I'd rather live a half-life with you than a whole life without you."
"That's where we don't agree." She stood her ground. "I will be valued at my full worth, not discounted. You might be willing to cheapen yourself, but I won't. Not anymore. I deserve better, and so does Albus. He needs to see that love is one hundred percent. Love isn't worth it unless you are willing to give everything. That's not us. And it never will be. I think it's time you go home."
"But I wanted to see Albus before he went to sleep," he stuttered, scrambling for a retort. "Please, Pansy."
"It's late. I'm tired. He's probably already asleep."
"Then, tomorrow? I'll come by tomorrow." Harry insisted.
"I'll meet you at Florean's," she replied. "Bring James. I'll buy him a little something before he goes off to school. I think moving forward, visitation on neutral territory would be best."
"What did I say? What did I do? Everything was going so well. I thought I was making progress."
"You were, it's just..." Pansy struggled against her instincts and reason. Each thought conflicting one another. Heart and head in two different places. Always, when it came to Harry. "We need to make sure that we don't confuse Albus. We can't have him think that it will ever be the three of us as a happy unit."
Harry nodded, rejected, but understanding compromise had to be made. "You're right. I know what false hope is like. Maybe it is better if we draft up the terms of visitation. Set boundaries."
"Thank you," she said softly. This concession felt far from a victory or even provided solace. "Go upstairs and say goodnight to him. I am just going to be out here for a little bit."
As he passed her, Harry brushed his hand against hers. "I still love you. You know that, right?"
"I know," she whimpered as a single tear hung at the crease of her eye, threatening to fall. "Go now. We'll talk soon."
Beneath the high pressured jets of the shower, Pansy soaked in the warm relief her sore muscles so desperately needed. She knew she didn't have much time to dawdle, especially with the uncertainty of how the sleeping potion would interact with Albus's unknown drug tolerance. The tears stung her eyes once more. If there were a moment to let all of the emotions loose, here in her bathroom, without anyone's eyes on her, would be the perfect time.
She sniffled and sobbed as she lathered the shampoo and massaged the conditioner through her long black hair. Countless memories flashed through her mind looking for clues as she scrubbed her skin.
Was she too lenient and did she expose him to the world too soon? Harry was often absent, but was it entirely his fault? She had pushed him away to protect herself, but had she damaged their already fragile relationship in the process? But Harry was a fighter. If he wanted to be there for Al, he would have fought with everything he had.
It was pointless to look to the past or even point fingers and place blame. All that was left was how to move forward. How to help her boy, and maybe finally get to the point of forgiveness with Harry and let him be a part of their lives.
Pansy got ready as quickly as she could—blow-drying her hair, putting on minimal makeup and perfume, and dressing in a pair of black jeans with a soft shirt and stylish oversized cardigan, and booties. She summoned a few extra sets of clothes and her toiletries into an overnight bag already planning on booking somewhere to stay in Hogsmeade.
Anxiously she looked at her watch. She had already been gone an hour, and she still hadn't even touched base with the office, or Theo, Hermione, and James for that matter. Grabbing her necessities, she headed down the stairs to her home office.
She cracked open her laptop and started drafting a few emails. While the teenage pureblood version of herself would have never had been caught dead using Muggle technology, she had to admit, in the past twenty-odd years since graduating, she was thankful computers and mobile phones had become standard in Wizarding society. She couldn't even imagine if she had to publish a whole magazine with only using spelled quills and letterpress. A smile crossed her face as she remembered how Albus complained about Hogwarts' anti-technology rules in nearly every letter. Complaining about his typing skills being much more proficient than his Quick-Quotes Quill or about how unsanitary it was to allow owls to fly into the Great Hall at breakfast or how much he hated waiting for letters to be delivered and received. Her boy. Her dear sweet boy. Confident in his abilities, creative, loved fiercely, and always looking for a better way to do things. Bright and ambitious, but always, always searching. She cleared her throat and shrugged it off and set to typing. She began to address her assistant, but thought better of it and added her public relations rep and associate editor.
Sorry I didn't contact you sooner. Something has happened with Albus, and I'll be at Hogwarts and Hogsmeade for the foreseeable future. I need you to handle a few things for me.
Olivia, cancel all my meetings. I will set up a remote location for conference calls. Just inform everyone that I had urgent family matters to attend to. I also won't have any access to emails or text when I'm on the Hogwarts grounds, so all approvals from me will have to wait until the late evening. If urgent, Sonia can approve on my behalf.
Sonia, forward me all the articles we have written about addiction and rehab, and the sources. Also, find any materials from the family perspective on addiction and how to deal with it.
Marguerite, I need you to handle the press on this. Albus had an overdose, and I know that the other rags and bloggers will be looking to spread this before Harry and I have even had a chance to get the full story. Keep this under wraps.
I'm sorry for this brief and most likely overwhelming message. I'll update you all when I have more information. Feel free to text me. It will take me a while to respond, but I will eventually reply. Thank you all for everything.
Editor at Large
Witch Weekly Magazine, Parkinson Publishing
The moment she hit send, panic struck her. Her family's situation was now very real, and the outside world would eventually know. Now it was time to tell the people she knew loved Albus most.
Her parents still hadn't adopted technology, and they would be furious if she told them via floo call or a letter. She'd have to make time to visit them in person or send Theo to retrieve them. Her hands shook, imagining how that conversation would go. They would probably blame her parenting style, the fact she never married and that Albus never had a consistent male role model, how career-driven she was, and all the innumerable ways she failed them as their child. No, she was not looking forward to that conversation, but they loved their one and only grandchild. He was the future of the Parkinson line, even if not by name.
Pansy's thumb ran across the glass of her mobile, looking for Hermione's private line. She had one that was screened by the Ministry, and another one just for friends and family. Pansy typed two words and hit send.
When you're best friends with the Minister for Magic, you don't usually expect a quick response, but on this day, out of all of them, she did—and Pansy couldn't have been more thankful.
"Pansy, what's going on?" Hermione hadn't even waited to be greeted when she heard the call connect. The tone of concern in her voice was unmistakable. Hermione could be shrewd, judgmental, and condescending, but she was warm, compassionate, and empathetic. She made up all the faults caused by the burdens of her intelligence with the openness of her heart — some of the qualities that made her an excellent leader.
"Is Theo with you?" Pansy asked hopefully, not wanting to have to recall this another time.
"Actually, yes," Hermione responded matter-of-factly. "We just got out of a meeting."
"Are you in a private place?"
Pansy heard Hermione ask a few people to leave the room, followed by the shuffling of feet and the shutting of a door.
"All clear. You're on speaker now," Hermione stated.
"Pans, what's going on?" Theo asked worriedly.
"It's Albus," Pansy's voice trembled. She then went on to recount what Eva had told her, the evening, arguments with Harry, and Madam Nightingale's detox plan.
There was a long silence between them. Hermione and Pansy both crying softly on either end of the call.
"Shit," Theo muttered.
"I'm so sorry, Pans," Hermione finally said. "So you say Eva's never done the drug until last night?"
"That's what she told me," Pansy confirmed.
"Do you really think that Albus was doing this by himself, without anyone else knowing? Scorpius? Marina?" Theo's voice trembled, mentioning his daughter's name.
"I—I don't know," Pansy stuttered, the thought hadn't even crossed her mind.
"Pans, you know what it's like in the dungeons," Theo pressed. "A bunch of rich kids with too much money and too much influence."
"Did McGonagall say anything about a search or further investigation on contraband?" Hermione pressed on.
"She hadn't, but part of the problem is that the substance is not technically contraband. It was probably even brewed in the Potions Laboratory," Pansy responded frustratedly. "Theo, Mines, he's beyond N.E.W.T. levels in Potions. He has the run of the lab and tutors students. This damn drug was in the sixth year textbook."
Hermione exasperated loudly. "You're right. We can't incriminate the children for substances that aren't technically illegal. I'll call an emergency meeting of the governors, N.E.W.T. and O.W.L. testing board, and McGonagall. We need to figure something out."
"Hermione," her husband pointed out, "We'll get to the point where we restructure the curriculum and reclassify substances, but right now we have a bigger problem."
"Thank you," Pansy said in agreement with Theo, "I do agree with you, Hermione, but policy won't help Albus or any other child at that school now."
"So what do you want me to do, Pansy?" Hermione asked, struggling between her roles as the Minister and friend.
"Be his godparents. Be supportive. I don't know, help me figure out how to get him sober enough to complete his N.E.W.T.s. Do what you need to with the governors, but get to the root of things. Merlin, these kids have no one to talk to about their problems." Pansy seethed recalling her own anxiousness with the death of Cedric Diggory and the oncoming war, without anyone other than her friends to confide in. Snape was no help at all. They were currently in a time of peace, but that didn't make the worries of adolescence any easier. "We send our kids off with little to no guidance — one Head of House for over a hundred kids. Hermione, you and I both know the prefect system is a joke. For fuck's sake, Albus's girlfriend is a prefect and didn't even see this coming."
Pansy felt hopeless. She knew she needed to come up with a solution for her son, but it was all so overwhelming.
Theo was the first to speak, "I'll meet you at Hogwarts. I don't have any cases today. We'll figure this out together."
"Thank you," she said appreciatively.
"I have meetings," Hermione said frustratedly, "but I'll see if I can get them rescheduled. I'll speak with McGonagall before I meet with the governors and testing boards. We can start with small steps. I'll also look into how we can install rehabilitative support at the school, just to get Al through the last few weeks. I promise you, Pans, we'll think of something. We won't give up on him."
"Damn it. I'm crying again," Pansy laughed at herself. "I don't know what I would do without you guys."
"We love you too," Theo responded. "Give me an hour or two to wrap things up. I'll meet you at the school. Hospital wing?"
"That's probably best. We can join Marina for lunch," Pansy suggested.
"I hope there is sticky toffee pudding," Theo said excitedly.
"My husband, you are a child," Hermione teased playfully. "I'll try to join you. If not by lunch, perhaps we can meet in Hogsmeade for dinner."
"That sounds good. I'm going to try and find a place to stay in town for the next few days," Pansy remarked.
"Okay, we'll be in touch. I'll text and owl when I'm on my way," Theo said.
"Me too," Hermione added.
"Thanks. Okay. Bye."
"Bye," the couple said in unison.
Her chest felt just a little bit lighter, having talked to Theo and Hermione, and possibly having the beginnings of a plan for Albus.
She looked for the Floo-Inns app on her phone and began searching for available rooms. Much like their Muggle counterparts, Floo-Inn allowed magical folk to book rooms, homes, and other lodgings around the world, with one huge difference, all locations had the Statute of Secrecy in mind. It had become very popular with those traveling for work who needed warded and protected spaces to practice magic, and with young families who needed additional protective measures for accidental magic. In seconds, Pansy had found a block of row houses that had been recently renovated for short-term rentals. She picked the one that looked the cleanest and had elf quarters. With a few clicks and a transfer from her Gringott's vault, she had a temporary residence for the next week.
Pansy summoned Fizzie and explained the situation. The elf was heartbroken to hear about her young master but listened to her mistress intently. She nodded as she was given directions to take Pansy's belongings to the rental house and that she would be staying there with her. Pansy agreed that Fizzie may travel back and forth between the homes if anything additional was needed. Packing her laptop, chargers, and notebooks, Pansy told the elf that was the lot, and she was free to head to the other house.
There was one last thing for Pansy to handle. James. She had put this off for last, knowing that this would destroy the boy. He wasn't a boy anymore. He was a twenty-one-year-old man with a career. Pansy pursed her lips, trying to remember where James was. He had been drafted to the Falmouth Falcons but was on loan to Fitchburg Finches in Massachusetts. Not wanting to call him at what could be an ungodly early hour, she texted him.
James, sorry to send this in a text. Albus had an overdose and is being sedated while he detoxes. It was Euphorus, a potion he brewed and reworked into a powder form. I'll tell you more. Call me when you're free.
Pansy was already out the door, ready to apparate when her mobile rang in her pocket.
It was James. "Pansy," he croaked, his voice still waking, "I'm so so sorry."
"James, you have nothing to be sorry about," Pansy reassured.
He took a deep, rattling breath and said, "But I do. It's my fault."
A/N: Thank you all for reading. If you liked this, please subscribe to the story.
Chapter 3: Unknowns
Most of your worries as a parent are all the Unknowns.
Another heavy chapter. This was never going to be light and fluffy.
Also, my daughter just started middle school, she's eleven, and I poured a lot of myself into Pansy in this one.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Pansy apparated into Hogsmeade, relieved she hadn't splinched herself. Her mind was racing, unable to process the past few hours. Her son had nearly died, his father waltzed back into their lives, and now, she had come to the realization Albus wasn't the only Potter boy self-medicating.
She patiently listened to James blame himself for introducing Albus to the finer points of herbal remedies and how it helped him cope while he was in school.
"Pans, I promise. It was just herbs. I swear I had no idea Al was doing harder drugs. Fuck, he's my little brother," she heard the young man sob on the other end of the phone, riddled with guilt. "I just wanted to make things easier for him. I didn't know this would happen."
Pansy clenched her teeth and shut her eyes tightly as she breathed in deeply to calm herself. In her heart, she couldn't blame James. Then who was to blame? Was anyone at all to blame?
Drugs, alcohol, sex, theft, deception, and the multitude of temptations that await the curious and the susceptible; she had experienced the exhilaration of their seduction in her time. A taste of these vices wasn't enough to fuel an addiction. They were merely distractions. Flights of fancy that take you away from reality and the root of the problem.
She grappled with the fact that there was no way to keep her son safe. Pansy now doubted her transparent approach to parenting; honestly telling Albus of her own experimentation and exploits while at school. Should she have been more guarded? Given him precautions, warnings, guidance?
Walking towards the Hogwarts gates in her flurry of what-ifs, the aroma of freshly roasted coffee filled her lungs. She spotted a new coffee shop, with its freshly varnished wood trim and matte black paint. Its warm light on the gloomy mid-morning beckoned her.
She walked up to the barista and placed her order. "A large dark roast, please."
"Room for cream?"
"No, thank you."
"Anything else I can get you?" the young woman asked.
Pansy eyed the delectable pastries. She gravitated toward all the decadent chocolate treats. A smile quirked across her face as a memory from third-year Defense Against the Dark Arts recalled itself. There were no Dementors around, but she sure as hell felt like someone sucked part of her soul out. "I change my mind. Two large cafe mochas, extra shot of espresso and two pain au chocolat."
The girl quickly made the drinks, handing them in a drink carrier along with a paper bag containing her treats.
Unable to resist, she took a sip of the warm frothy beverage. Her body felt soothed by the effects of caffeine, cocoa, and milk. Instantly, she felt like she could brave the day ahead.
Pansy strolled into the hospital wing with far less dramatics than she had the night before. Her mind was still clouded but could feel the rays of clarity slowly shining through. When she reached Albus, he was still sleeping, and so was Harry—in the same uncomfortable chair she had fallen asleep in earlier. She unconsciously smiled at the sight. They looked so similar when they slept. It was really the first time she'd seen them side-by-side in their slumber. She never had the opportunity to watch Harry fall asleep with Albus in his arms, or observe as they took adorable mid-day naps with their toddler. Her heart yearned for something she never knew she wanted. Pansy thought she had moved past every moment that could have been. The moments of lamenting, wishing Harry was there. He missed out on so much. She pushed him away. Then blamed him for staying away. But he was here. Before her. Ready to be a father, by their boy's side.
For the first time in a long time, she approached him without malice or bitterness. Gently, she ran her hand down his arm to wake him from his slumber
"I'm up! I'm up!" he exclaimed with a jolt.
"Oh my god!" Pansy cackled. "Relax, you spaz. It's just me."
Harry laughed at himself as he straightened his skewed glasses.
She handed him the coffee cup and pastry, and then pulled a seat next to him.
Harry deeply inhaled the scent of his breakfast. "Mmm. This smells so good."
"They say chocolate heals the soul," she remarked, wishing she hadn't drunk her own mocha so quickly on the carriage ride up to the school."
Harry was about to put the cup to his lips when Pansy remembered to cast a quick warming charm.
"Thanks," he said with a smile. Carefully, he sipped the chocolatey coffee. "Mmm. You're right. This is just what I needed."
"Wait until you try the pain au chocolat. I practically inhaled it," Pansy remarked, noticing the friendlier tone in her voice. Perhaps there was something magical about the chocolate.
She looked over to Albus, and his drip was almost ready to be changed. Like clockwork, Madame Nightingale had another mixture of nutrients and potions prepared for him.
"Hello, Ms Parkinson. Mr Potter," she said with a yawn. It was clear that the mediwitch also had a rough night caring for her charge. "Just one more round to help him flush things out, then we'll let him wake up so we can assess his situation. I'm sorry, but can I ask you to move for a moment?"
"Of course," Pansy responded. She and Harry stood to move out of her way.
"Also, I need to check his catheter and his urine," the mediwitch further explained. "After I empty it, I'll be running tests to see how much is left in his system."
"Thank you," said Harry. He escorted Pansy to the bed on the other side of the curtain, where they sat and waited.
"So," Pansy began, "I talked to Hermione and Theo."
"Theo will be here for moral support soon, but I may have him go to my parents later after we know more about what's going on with Al."
"It'll be good to have him around. What about Hermione?" Harry asked.
"Oh, you know, her mind thinking about a million solutions at once," Pansy smiled fondly. "She's going to try to come here, to be here for us, but I imagine she wants to talk to McGonagall about everything—student mental health counseling services, school-life balance, better staffing, and mentoring programs, changing the curriculum, reclassify what is acceptable and age-appropriate, and god knows what else."
"Those are all great ideas," Harry added.
"They are." Pansy nodded in agreement, but also to remind herself they were steps in the right direction. "But I have been thinking about a plan to get us through the end of school."
"And that would be?"
"I have the girls at work pulling some additional information for me before I make any final decision, but I have been thinking about staying here in Hogsmeade until the end of term. And with McGonagall's permission, I'll have Albus stay with me in the evenings." Pansy sighed, overwhelmed by the daunting task ahead of her. "If he's to take his exams and graduate, he has to be here, but there is no way he can wait weeks for treatment."
"No, he can't," Harry added, "but you think it's necessary to stay here in Hogsmeade?"
"Before you say anything about opening up a secure Floo connection between here and home, I thought about that. It would just stir up controversy. We'd be scrutinized for weakening school security, you'd be torn apart for abusing your authority as head of the DMLE, and if anyone sees Albus in London before the end of term, the press will get wind, and blow things out of proportion before he can even start recovering."
"I see your point. Having a seventh-year Hogwarts student in Hogsmeade won't raise too many suspicions. They'll just think he snuck out of the castle or is on an errand for a professor." Harry said. "Have you had a chance to look at any counselors or family counselors nearby?"
Pansy shook her head in response. "I was hoping that Sonia would have some referrals in her research for me. The hard thing would be to find someone willing to come here or a private home."
"I'm sure we could find someone to accommodate us and be discreet about it," Harry said confidently.
Pansy gave him a weak smile, happy they were on the same page. "Thank you. Also, I've been thinking."
"It's probably important that family counseling is part of his treatment." Pansy's voice trembled. In her mind, she knew that she and Harry were Albus's parents. To say they were a family, even in an unconventional way, always tasted bittersweet on her tongue. "I'd like James to be there, too. If he's around."
Harry's face warmed and reached for Pansy's hand. His hand was rough and calloused against her smooth, meticulously manicured one. "I think it's long overdue," he said with a croak in his voice. "You got in touch with James then? Was he even awake?"
She lowered her eyes, not wanting to see his reaction when she revealed yet another secret kept by his sons. "He's distraught and is trying to come home as soon as possible. He...he blames himself for Al. James said he introduced drugs to Al—just herbs. He didn't go into specifics, but I would imagine it may have been liverwort, echinacea, or Jimsonweed—rather innocuous things you could find in the greenhouses and far easier to score at school than marijuana."
"You sound like you're speaking from experience, Parkinson."
Pansy lifted her head to find Harry quirking a brow in her direction. "Did you know James was smoking?"
Harry nodded his head in response. "It just never seemed that bad, you know? Just a teenager doing normal teenage things." He gave a humorless laugh. "I guess I overlooked it because I wanted 'normal' for him. Not being branded as the world's savior or anything."
"So what did you do?" Pansy asked.
"Nothing. Just told him if his grades slip or he gets kicked off the team, we're pulling him out of Hogwarts and he'd be stuck at home with a tutor—"
"—and his mother."
"Yeah," Harry sighed defeatedly. "None of that stuff ever happened. He graduated, got drafted, and went on to being on his own."
"We're sort of fuck-ups as parents," Pansy joked, not realizing she had intertwined her fingers with his. Tears threatened to fall again, the salt stinging her eyes.
"You're not a fuck-up. I'm the only one who deserves that title. You're brilliant and Al's amazing. He just...needs help." He wrapped his arms around her and whispered in her ear, "It's going to be okay."
She was tired of fighting him. All these years of fighting and self-preservation only led to their current situation. His embrace. His comfort. His smell. It was overwhelming. It was a piece of home she hadn't felt in so long.
"I'll take care of our boy. We'll figure this out. We'll go to family counseling. I'll take a hiatus from work if I have to. I promise to be there."
"But you break your promises," she said with the weight of all of her previous disappointment.
"No more." He kissed her temple. "No more letting you, Albus, and James down. I'm done with putting you all to the side."
Today was the day.
They had gotten everything off the list at Diagon over a week ago. Albus had his brand new wand—cherry, phoenix feather, eleven and a quarter inches, slightly yielding. Pansy had the good sense of buying Albus two sets of uniforms and shoes to fit now, and to grow into. She had checked and rechecked the list, ensuring that all the supplies were packed.
Everyone had imparted wisdom to Albus in some form or another. Pansy had remembered being so overwhelmed by the size of the school. She reviewed Hogwarts: A History to show him the layout of the school, and places to make sure he knew how to get to, and places to avoid. Harry and James had also done the same, but with a slightly altered map that Pansy hadn't known about. Hermione and Theo bombarded him with study tips, arguing over methodology and where was the best place in the library to study. Albus's grandfather gave him sound advice on how to navigate school politics and powerful allies, while his grandmother gave him a sack full of pocket money.
All that was left now was to send him off.
A wizarding car service arrived to pick them up. The driver easily accommodated the trunk as the boot had an undetectable extension charm.
Sitting quietly in the back, Pansy tried so desperately to be happy and excited for Albus. Boarding the Hogwarts Express for the first time was such a hugely momentous day in a young wizard's life. She remembered her own first time; timidly boarding the carriage, looking for a place to sit and find people she knew. Terrifying and exhilarating at the same time. Ready to make memories that would last her a lifetime.
This time, she was the parent and not the student. It hurt like hell. She knew neither of them wanted him to go.
Why is this the standard of Wizarding education? Pansy had asked herself on more than one occasion. Separating children from their parents during their formative years. She thanked the heavens she didn't have a daughter, remembering how traumatizing it was getting her first period without her mother to turn to, and having to go to Madame Pomfrey. It was such an awkward, clinical situation, when all she wanted was a hug from her mother. While her son's changes wouldn't be the same as hers, he'd be going through all of it with only other teenage boys to guide him. Internally she groaned recalling the disgusting things she heard in the common room, such as a seventh-year Marcus Flint telling third years how to properly finger a girl.
She tried not to think about losing a good deal of involvement in her child's life during the short drive from their home in Hyde Park Gardens to Kings Cross station.
Albus stared longingly out the window at the passing surroundings.
"I'm going to miss home," he said casually as they passed his favorite Thai restaurant. "What's the food like at Hogwarts?"
"Very, very traditional and very rich," she laughed. "We did have French that one time."
"No pizza? Sushi?"
"Perhaps. The student population has gotten a bit more diverse, and maybe the elves have learned to shake it up a bit." Pansy thought wistfully, "I just remember a lot of roasts, stews, and pies. Delicious, but not the variety you're used to. Honestly, I didn't have the palette you have now until I became an adult, so I didn't really mind."
"Will you send me food?" he asked. "The first spell I'll learn is a warming charm."
She mussed his hair. "I'll see what I can do. I think curry and pizza could travel well. Not sure how well sushi or falafel will, though."
He counted the weeks on his hand until the Christmas holidays. "It will be forever until I'm home."
"I promise you that all of this, and maybe more will be waiting for you when you return," she reassured him. "As long as you write to me, I'll make sure that you'll have something to tide you over."
"I can't believe I can't bring my phone or a tablet or laptop," Albus groaned. "Why does magic have to be so old fashioned?"
"It's so you can truly find out what you're capable of," she answered, despite being torn on the subject herself. "As much as I love instant communication, patience, and longing are important values to learn. The same goes for reading, writing, and learning in a distraction-free environment. Al, I know it sounds primitive compared to the life you live now—but magic. Feeling it flow in and out of you, surrounded by it, radiating off of the people around you, and the old building," she said, beaming, "It's remarkable. That castle, it's special."
"Didn't a bunch of people die in it? Didn't Dad actually die there? And didn't he have to kill people in self-defense? As a kid? Are you sure you're sending me to a safe place?" he questioned his mother.
Pansy's face paled, not sure how to answer his questions. Part of her believed he wasn't genuinely fearful for his life and was trying to worry her to the point that she would keep him home. He was tricky like that. If they had other options, she might just let him stay home. Before she could respond, the grand station came into view, and she could easily change the subject. "Oh look. We're here."
The driver loaded the trunk and his backpack onto the trolley. No owl, toad, or cat. He knew the family owl would be flying back and forth regularly, so no need for a second. He thought toads were foul and had no place anywhere, especially anywhere near him. And cats. Well, he was more of a dog person.
As they made their way through the station, they saw more and more wizarding families filter in. Pansy scoffed at their ridiculous interpretation of Muggle attire. "For Merlin's sake. How do people still not know how to dress in public?" She herself wore slim, black cigarette trousers, crisp white shirt, houndstooth wool capelet, and stilettos. Even her son was dressed stylishly in a pair of black jeans, graphic tee, bomber jacket, and gleaming white trainers. Albus had been slowly gravitating toward streetwear, but Pansy made sure it was always put together—and designer.
"When do I have to change into robes?" He asked, looking even more forlorn at another freedom he would be giving up.
"The prefects will come around and let you know," she said reassuringly. "Don't worry, you can still wear whatever you want around the common room and the weekends."
"Is it like that for all the common rooms?" he asked, "I mean, in case I'm not a Slytherin."
Pansy looked personally affronted. "I'm sorry, my son, but I can't possibly imagine you anywhere else."
"Well, you know, Dad wasn't, and I thought it might be kind of nice to actually live with my brother. You know, in the same house." He shrugged, attempting to not look so affected.
"Oh, darling," she said affectionately. Her heart ached at this little admission. Now she wanted that for him. Someone he knew and loved to watch over him while he was away. But, Albus and James had such different personalities and goals. The Hat sending Albus to Gryffindor seemed like such a long shot, but telling him anything otherwise would be absolutely defeating. Instead, she said, "You know, The Hat is mysterious and does see where you're meant to be. It could be possible."
Albus's smile spread broadly, and he gained a pep in his step as they speedily head toward Platform 9 ¾.
After dropping off his trunk, they set off to find friends, family, and say their goodbyes.
As Pansy looked around at all the students, Albus looked so small beside these young men and women. Was she really this small when she was a first-year? Her chest tightened, wondering if they would be kind to him, bully him, or just ignore him completely.
The Malfoys were the first set of friendly faces. Scorpius and Albus hugged each other and talked excitedly about what sweets they had packed and how much pocket money they had for the trolley. Eager to board, Scorpius got onto the train and promised to save him a seat.
Pansy regretted the awkward encounter she had with Cormac, who was sending his son, Declan, off for his first year as well. The small talk was dry and uncomfortable, and she just wanted it to end. She still can't believe she dated the man for three months. He was a great shag, but a complete neanderthal.
Hermione and Theo stopped by, despite Marina still being a year away from her first year. They knew how much it would mean to Albus to wish him off.
In a completely unexpected turn of events, Pansy's parents even showed.
It was almost time to go, and Pansy saw Albus look around anxiously for James and Harry.
"Where are they?" he muttered nervously.
"They should be here shortly," Pansy tried to reassure her son, when in actuality, she was fuming. This wasn't the day for his excuses and lack of punctuality.
That's when she saw the lanky strawberry-haired teen charge through the gate, his father running behind him, and surprisingly, no Ginny.
Continuing to speed, James deposited his trunk with the others. We waved to his cousins who were already boarding, and hollered, "I'll see you on the train." He made a beeline to Albus and gave him a big bear hug and ruffled his hair. "You ready?"
"Not really," he laughed, squirming out of his brother's embrace. "Got sweets and a couple of Galleons, though."
"Brilliant!" James turned to Pansy and gave her a hug too, then Hermione and Theo, and politely greeted the elder Parkinsons. Whereas Albus could be reserved and cooly observed a situation before engaging with people, James was warm and friendly, an extrovert in every way.
The loud whistle of the steam train alerted bystanders departure was only moments away.
"Come on, Al! It's time to go," James said excitedly.
"Go ahead," Harry said, putting his hand on Albus's shoulder. "I want to talk to your brother real quick."
James gave his father a quick hug and hopped onto the train.
Hermione looked down at her watch. "We're going to go, too."
"But Mum!" Marina pouted. "I want to see the train pull away."
"Sweetheart, we have lunch with Granny and PopPop," Theo reminded. "Let's give Al a hug, and we'll be off."
The Notts each bid Albus farewell in their own way. Hermione gave him a big hug with more words of advice, Theo and Albus did their signature handshake, and Marina punched him in the shoulder and threatened him if he didn't write.
Harry fidgeted waiting for his turn with Albus.
Mr and Mrs Parkinson could see that father and son needed a private moment.
"Pansy, dear," her mother said, "we'll wait for you over there. Maybe we can get a spot of lunch as well."
Mr Parkinson followed his wife but made sure to look back and throw a scowl in Harry's direction.
Pansy stepped to the side while staying within eavesdropping range.
Harry bent down to meet Albus's eyes. "How are you?"
"Scared, I guess," he responded in earnest.
"And that's okay," Harry said comfortingly. "Did you pack the cloak?"
The boy smiled and tapped his backpack. "It's safe."
"Good. I'll let you be the judge of when would be the best time to use it." He gave a wink.
"Dad. You and James are Gryffindor. What if I'm in Slytherin?"
Pansy suddenly understood that there was even more to this. Albus was already so much like her. All he was looking for was to have something to have in common with his father and brother.
"Albus Severus," Harry beamed proudly, at the boy, "You were named for two headmasters of Hogwarts. One of them was a Slytherin and he was probably the bravest man I ever knew."
"But just say—"
"—Then Slytherin House will have gained an excellent student, won't it? It doesn't matter to me, Al. But if it matters to you, you'll be able to choose Gryffindor over Slytherin. The Sorting Hat takes your choice into account."
"It did for me," said Harry. "And besides, your mum was a Slytherin, and she's one of the most resourceful, brilliant, bold, and driven people I know. She embraces the best of what Slytherin has to offer."
Pansy blushed, not having expected a compliment or having her House praised in that way.
The whistle sounded one last time. Scorpius banged on the window waving Albus onto the train and opened the window.
"Come on, Al!" the fair-haired boy hollered.
Albus only had a chance for a quick group hug sandwiched between his parents.
Pansy squeezed in a few parting words. "Shower daily, brush your teeth twice a day, floss nightly, and do not wear dirty uniforms or underwear."
"Gross, mum," he replied. "Who do you think I am?"
"A boy," Harry chuckled. "Listen to your mother, or I'll have the elves spy on you and make sure you're actually washing up."
"Get on the train, boy!" the conductor called.
He quickly clamored onto the train and found the cabin Scorpius saved for them. Albus hung out of the window and waved goodbye to his loved ones on the platform. He yelled as loudly as he could over the rumble of the steam engine. "I'll write to you. I promise."
"Oh, my beautiful boy," Pansy began to sob as the train pulled out of the station. It was real and even harder than she imagined. She was sending her little boy off to raise himself, with only her letters to guide him.
Harry draped his arm around her shoulders. "He's going to be okay."
She shrugged him off, clearly still upset with Harry's tardiness in spite of his sweet words. "You almost missed this."
"Better late than never," Harry attempted to joke.
Pansy gave him a scowl, unimpressed.
Trying to diffuse the tension, he said, "Pans, come on. I made it. You know I wouldn't miss this. We even had a good talk."
"Yes, and the train almost left him." She pointed in the direction of where the steamer was just moments ago. "I told you to get here earlier."
"James and I ran into problems at home and—"
"Save it." She closed her eyes, calming herself, not wanting to cause a scene. "One day Albus is going to realize your excuses are just bullshit and he deserves better. When that happens, he won't forgive you." She stormed away towards her parents, not bothering to look back.
You were right. I got sorted into Slytherin with Scorpius. (This is where I would spam you with snake emojis if I was allowed my phone.) James seemed sad at first but joined me for breakfast, so looks like I'll still get to hang out with him.
Dinner was pretty good. Especially the sticky toffee pudding.
You'll never believe this. There's a Muggle-born girl in Slytherin in my year. There are like only 3 in the whole house. Not that there's anything wrong with that. It's actually pretty cool.
I hate the common room. It's dark and smells like mildew. I miss my sunny room and the view of the park.
Writing with quills sucks. Can you send me felt tip pens? I will write you longer letters if you do. (Insert kissing emojis).
Miss you already.
Pansy put down the letter and cackled to herself. She had truly pampered her son. Day one, and he was already moaning.
Since Albus received his letter, she had become nostalgic, and countless memories flooded in. She remembered her first night in the dungeons, and didn't care for it much either; homesickness taking hold. Her poor parents. They must have had letters just like this, full of whinging and the odd observations of a spoiled child.
She reached into her desk and pulled out a parchment and quill, and began to pen her response.
My Darling Albus,
Welcome to the long legacy of Parkinson Slytherins. I am so proud of you and am confident you are in the right place. The friends you make there will only push you to become your best. I'll let you in on a little secret. I also hated the dungeons at first. I missed my house in the country. I missed the grassy hills and the sea and the little farmhouses. I missed my mum and dad and our elves. But little by little, Slytherin became my home. The sloshing of the lake across the windows lulled me to sleep. My housemates became like family. Sometimes I miss that musty smell. Just give it time.
A Muggle-born in Slytherin, you say, and three of them? Well, times are changing. Looks like someone has talked some sense into that hat. With as many difficulties that await muggle-borns in the wizarding world, I would imagine that a fair share of them have the ambition and resourcefulness to succeed in Slytherin.
Enjoy your time, darling. Study hard and enjoy the process of learning. And if anyone gives you shit, remember who you are and where you came from. No matter what people say, you are the best of us.
I love you, my beautiful boy. I look forward to your next letter. Don't forget to send letters to everyone else.
I'm so proud of you.
P.S. No, I will not send you pens. You will learn the art of letter writing and work on your penmanship and calligraphy.
I'm glad you got the letter and aren't disappointed. I had my first Herbology and Potions classes today. I really liked them. It was weird seeing Neville as a teacher. I just know him as your friend. He was really nice to all the kids and made us feel really welcome. He also talks to us like kids, but not babies. It's really annoying when grownups don't know how to talk to kids.
James wants me to join him for dinner at the Gryffindor table, but I'm kind of scared to. I'm not like him. He can just plop down next to me at the Slytherin table and not care what people think. I guess that kind of courage is why I didn't end up in Gryffindor. Also, his cousins are pretty mean to me, but he promised we would sit with his friends. I don't know why a bunch of fourth years would want to hang out with a little kid like me. I guess it's pretty cool.
I know you must have some super important case to work on. I'll write to you again soon. Stay safe!
Harry drummed his fingers on his desk, reading his son's letter for the third time. It just hit him how lonely he was with both of his boys away at school. He had so little time with them as it was, and now they were both in Scotland, so very far away. What was worse is that he had the chance to be there for them.
Next to the letters from Albus and James was a letter from McGonagall he received a few months prior.
Professor of Defense Against the Dark Arts.
The woman he respected the most in this world, who had taught and guided him, wanted him to teach and mentor the next generation. It would have been perfect. He'd take a job that was less dangerous and would allow him to see both of his boys every day. It was just too good to be true.
He told Ginny he wanted to take it. It was a sign—an opportunity—and he had to take it.
Her response: And what about me?
Harry attempted to explain that he'd make it work. That there was enough money in savings, and their investments would cover everything. Unfortunately, that wasn't the case. Once he looked at the salary, his current holdings and the less than fruitful dividends the past few quarters, the trusts he set up for the kids, and cost of Ginny's ongoing care, he couldn't make it work financially. Not on a professor's salary.
Declining McGonagall's offer was one of the hardest things he ever had to do. She was one person he still couldn't stand disappointing. Minerva was the closest thing he had to a mother, especially with his relationship with Molly permanently fractured.
Why he had kept the letter all these months, he wasn't sure. Now looking at it beside his children's letters, it was another painful reminder of how his wife continuously stood in the way of his happiness.
Harry swiped open his phone and looked at the photos he took from the Platform. He had been so secretive. There was Al, waving from the carriage, Hermione hugging him, and of course, Her. Aging gracefully was an understatement. Her elegance and confidence only adding to her beauty; never wavering in her convictions or how the world perceived her. But he knew her. The vulnerable side of her that only the most trusted knew. The Pansy Parkinson that laughed at corny jokes and cried when she was sentimental. The Pansy Parkinson who loved fiercely and protected what was hers. And he'd taken it for granted.
"I'll never stop paying for my mistake, will I?" he said to photo Pansy. "I could have had it all."
He balled up McGonagall's letter and threw it in the fire, burning way the reminder of what could have been. He knew his and Pansy's time had long since passed, but being a real father to his boys was so close, yet so far away. Seeing their faces every day, watching them learn and grow, making friends, and maybe even fall in love. He would have just loved to see them figure out who they were and their abilities. As he lamented on an alternate reality, he carefully tucked away the letters in the top drawer.
At least they had each other. Despite all his failings, their relationship was the one thing that gave him solace.
"Albus," James whispered, "You here?" He crept behind the greenhouses with his wand dimly lit.
"Over here," a disembodied voice called from a few feet away.
"Not fair," James laughed as he watched his little brother pull off the invisibility cloak.
"You've got the map and know disillusionment charms. I'm just a wee baby fourth year who knows nothing." Albus jutted out his bottom lip mocking a pouty toddler. "I stopped by the kitchens and got bacon butties and pumpkin juice."
"Brilliant," James said as he pulled a blanket out of his rucksack. "I brought mead and liverwort."
"What in the bloody hell are we going to do with liverwort?" He questioned, "Brew a tonic for your dicky tummy?"
Albus's ears perked up at that. He'd only ever used the moss as a potions ingredient and picked it on scavenging trips for Herbology.
Sensing his brother's confusion, James said, "It's calming, and it also makes you feel fun."
"'Makes you feel fun'? James, you need to read a book or something. Your vocabulary is abysmal."
"Shush you posh wanker," he chided, "now sit your arse down, and let's enjoy my next to last night at Hogwarts."
Albus sat down cross-legged and said, "Thank you so much for fitting me into your busy schedule, Mr Potter. I'm sorry I don't compete with wild Gryffindor House parties."
"Oh, shut up. Tomorrow is obligatory." He poured the mead into two glasses. "Tonight is about family. Cheers."
"Cheers." Albus clinked his glass against James's. The mead was sweeter than he had expected. He had snuck a taste of his grandfather's Ogden's at Christmas, but he didn't see what the big deal was. This stuff, on the other hand, was great.
"Like it?" James asked.
"Yeah." Albus loved this spot. The greenhouses were on a bluff overlooking the lake. Everything smelled so fresh and crisp; the multitude of exotic plants, the surrounding forest, and the breeze coming off the lake. His mother was right. He would eventually find his place at Hogwarts, and it would become more special and magical than he could have ever imagined.
"I'm gonna miss it," James said sadly. "You know, we moan about classes and homework, but this school, it shapes you."
Albus laughed, "Yeah, I was just thinking the same thing. You ready for graduation?"
"Trunk is pretty much packed, N.E.W.T.s are over, and I head to training the moment I arrive in London. Like, I literally get off the Hogwarts Express and apparate to Falmouth. Dad already had all my things sent to my new place. Gran's pretty pissed that I'm not having a graduation party. I really don't fucking want one." He took another sip of mead. "Every gathering is the same. My family tries to be normal even though my parents obviously fucking hate each other."
James reached into his pocket and pulled out a pre-rolled joint containing the herb Albus had only known as a moss to treat inflammation and digestive problems. He watched his brother light it with the tip of his wand, take a few short puffs, drawing out the smoke. Coughing, he smiled, letting the effects hit him immediately. "Here, take a few hits."
Albus took it between his fingers and examined it. It smelled fine. What was the harm in trying something that came from the greenhouses? He mimicked the same actions his brother took, rather unsuccessfully. He gagged and coughed so much, he swore it was going trigger his gag reflex and would end up throwing up everywhere. "Oh, god. I'm going to spew."
Laughing hysterically, James just said, "No, you're not. Just calm down and sip your drink."
He did what his older brother instructed. Breathing deeply through his nose, he focused on relaxing. The mead had started to tingle and warm his insides. That feeling he knew. But the liverwort, he wasn't quite sure how that was supposed to feel. "I don't know if I smoked enough."
James took a few more puffs of his own before passing it back to Albus. This time he would be more cautious—drawing in the smoke, tasting the burning herbs, filling his lungs. He focused on the exhale, pushing it out slowly. Suddenly, he felt it hit. The slowness. The heaviness. He wasn't sure he liked it. He started to panic.
"Al. Al!" His brother snapped to get his attention. "Are you okay?"
"I feel like mud. This does not feel like fun," he said worriedly.
"No, no. That's good," James tried to reassure him. "Lay down. Look at the stars. Everything will make sense when things go slowly."
Albus leaned back on the blanket and looked up to the night sky. There were so many twinkling lights. He loved that about Hogwarts. There was far too much light pollution in London to see anything other than the passing airplanes and helicopters. Staring at the celestial bodies, he began to understand the slowness. His body sank into the earth, and all the worries and everyday details disappeared. "James?"
"Yeah. You think Professor Nebula is hot?"
James cracked up at how quickly Albus went from panicking to mumbling about fancying his teacher. "She's pretty fit for a professor."
"I think I'm rubbish in her class because I stare at her tits and arse the whole time. My mum would hate to hear this, you know with her raising a feminist and all. Whoo-hoo gender equality. But it's like, I know Professor Nebula is saying words, but I don't care. My stupid boy brain sees boobs, and it just wants to sexually objectify her. I mean, I just finished my fourth year of that bloody class, and I think I know like two constellations." Albus pointed to the sky. "That's Scorpio, and that's Orion."
"Actually," James corrected, grabbing his brother's hand and pointing toward the correct direction. "That's Scorpio, and that's Orion. See the three stars of his belt? And that is Sirius."
"Oh, fuck. I suck at that class. At least I only have one year left. Then I can stop creepily lusting over my teacher," Albus admitted.
"Hey, admission that you're a creep is the first step to recovery. You feeling better?" James asked, puffing on the last of the joint.
"Yeah," he said with a laugh. "It feels fun."
Suddenly the boys went into hysterics unable to control their laughter.
James fought through his bout of giggles, "I'm going to miss you, Al."
"You're just graduating, James. Not like you're terminally ill or anything," Albus said as he reached for his rucksack. "Where are those butties?"
"Munchies," James pointed out. "Hand me one."
Albus took a bite. "Mmm...Ohmyfuckingod this is like the best sandwich I've ever had." He then took another enthusiastic bite.
"Merlin, this is fucking good," James added. "I hope I can afford an elf on a player's salary."
"If you ask my mum, I'm sure she'd get you one for a graduation gift," Albus said nonchalantly.
James just shook his head. "You seriously have no concept of money, do you? How much is that hoodie?"
"Um, we had to buy it in pounds, so I'm not sure what that is in galleons. About a thousand pounds. Is that a lot?" he asked.
"You're joking? For a red hoodie that says, 'Supreme' and has little Ls and Vs on it?" James questioned, astounded.
"Actually, it was a steal. See, it was a limited edition, and it's a couple of years old. Saw it going for over three grand. Got this from a stylist, Muggle-born, that works with the new men's magazine. Said it was so small and didn't know anyone who could fit it." Albus said, proud of himself.
"Al, your hoodie could pay for a caregiver for my mum for over a month," James exasperated, then took another sip of his mead. "Do you ever run out of money?"
"Not to my knowledge," Albus shrugged. "Grandpapa explained we have investments that just sit and make us money. Mum's just keeps growing the media company. She's got her eye on a few smaller magazines in Singapore, Japan, Albania, and I forget where else."
"Out of the two of us, you definitely got the better deal," James groaned.
Albus remained quiet. He'd never thought of it that way. "But your family are the 'good guys.' War heroes and the lot. And there are so many Weasleys. I thought it would be fun all the time, and you always have someone at your back."
James laughed humorlessly, "Yeah, there's all that, but it means shite if your dad doesn't love your mum and is just there for you and to pay for her care."
Not knowing how to respond, Albus sat and listened.
"You know, Aunt Hermione told me that before you were born, Dad and Pansy were happy. Really happy," James smiled, "I sort of remember it. I was confused at first, but I must have really liked your mum to not care that Dad moved out. You know they wanted to get married?"
"No," Albus answered in earnest. This fact sobered him slightly.
"Yeah, Dad filed divorce papers and everything. Then Mum had her accident," James grew quiet. "Dad had the choice of staying with my Mum to take care of her, or sending her to my grandparents, and taking me to be with you and Pansy. Can you imagine that, Al? We could have grown up in the same house. Dad and Pansy could have been happy. Hell, I could have been wearing overpriced hoodies, just like you."
"Really? Hermione told you that?"
"Unbelievable, yeah? Sometimes I hate my parents. I really fucking hate them. My mum for being a bitch and taking her disability out on everyone. You ever read stories about people with prosthetics or learning disabilities, and they go onto amazing things?" James questioned.
"Yeah. Shit's inspiring. Makes me feel spoilt and lazy," Albus said, "which I am."
James pushed him teasingly, "Yeah, you are, you prat. But mum. She's just bitter and has never been able to move past her accident. It's like I don't even have a mum. I have Dad, but...I don't fucking know. He's never really around. Says it's his job and his responsibilities, but I really think he just works to escape how unhappy he is."
"Possibly." Albus sat up and started picking at the grass. "Have you heard from him lately?"
James shook his head. "Maybe about a month ago."
"I got a package a few days after my birthday," Albus mentioned, "but nothing since."
"Me neither. He said something in a sort of cryptic note about going out for pasta. I think he might be on a case in Italy." James shrugged. "I'm not even sure that he'll be at the graduation."
"He'll be there," Albus said assertively. "He'll be late, though."
They both laughed, recalling their father's perpetual tardiness.
"Don't lose that, Al," James told his brother.
"Optimism in people. Also, the sooner you realize our parents are people and not gods, the more you'll come to terms with their flaws. Even Dad."
"Does this herb make you smarter? Because that is some of the most reverent shit I've ever heard you say. Usually, it's just dick jokes and wondering when we're going to eat."
"Oh shove off, smart arse," James laughed. "Here, have another smoke."
Albus smiled and took the joint from his brother. "So, what else is hiding in the greenhouses that I don't know about?"
She looked up between swollen lids to find an exhausted and still worried Eva, clutching books while carrying a heavy rucksack on her shoulder.
Pansy looked down at her watch to see that it was nearly lunchtime. In her emotional state, she hadn't realized how much time had passed, or how long she had been crying in Harry's arms, all she knew was her eyes hurt like hell, and his scent surrounded her, even as she pulled away.
"Eva. Sit," Harry invited.
He and Pansy scooted down to make room on the bed.
"How is he?" she asked, hopefully, setting down her belongings.
Pansy sighed, "Still sedated. Nightingale has some tests. She wants to try and run some other examinations while he's awake, but that's all we really know."
"Oh," the girl said as the anxiety edged into her voice. "He didn't miss any class, by the way. It's his free period. Al sometimes assists for Professor Apostol when he isn't studying."
"Does he know?" Harry asked.
"I don't know," she responded, "I'm sure McGonagall told him. He's his favorite student."
"I'm going to want to talk to him some time by the end of the day," Pansy stated, sounding perturbed. The Potions Master must have known something. He must have had a clue that his star pupil had put his gifts to other use.
"Can I see him?" Eva tried to peek around the curtains. She could hear Nightingale muttering spells and clanking around metal and glass.
"Miss Teller," the mediwitch called from behind the curtain, "Mister Potter is resting, and you need to be off to lunch soon."
Eva protested, "But—"
Emerging from behind the fabric barrier, the mediwitch sternly said, "Go to lunch. When you get back, I will be ready to wake him."
Harry and Pansy looked at the woman with interest.
She continued, "I must warn you. He may not be in the best mood or want to see anyone. Everyone coming down from substance use reacts differently."
"Oh. Okay," the girl replied, looking like someone had given her a sack of Bertie Bott's but they were all earwax flavored. The peaks and valleys of hope.
"Go now," Madame Nightingale said with a softer, more encouraging voice. "We'll see you soon enough."
The girl nodded in understanding before turning to Albus's parents. "Would you like to come to lunch with me? I—I haven't had the heart to tell Scorp and Marina the full story. I snuck in and out of the dorms last night, and have been avoiding them all day."
"I think a hot meal would do us good," Harry said, "what do you think, Pans?"
"Yeah." She turned her head in Albus's direction quickly, and then back to Eva. "That sounds lovely. Marina's father will be here soon, as well. Maybe you two can go ahead, and I'll wait for Theo."
"Are you sure?" Harry placed a hand on her shoulder.
She placed a hand on top of his, acknowledging the gesture. "Yes, I told him I would be here. Just save me a seat."
Just then, a set of hurried steps clacked toward their direction. Theo was dressed in a sharp gray suit with lavender accents, all which to compliment the plum Wizengamot robes. He was out of breath and pulled a paisley silk handkerchief from his pocket to dab the sweat off his brow. "Oh, good. I caught you."
Pansy gave him a bewildered look. "What are you on about?"
"As I walked into the castle, two owls dropped dossiers into my hands." He held them out for display. "One was addressed to you, and the other is for Nightingale. I'm assuming they are both about Al. You know I love my mobile, but those clever birds. Can't put anything past them."
Excitedly, she grabbed both envelopes and ran into the mediwitch's office, hoping to the information contained in those documents would have some answers on how to proceed.
"Do you happen to know if there will be sticky toffee pudding, would you?" Theo asked Eva.
She shook her head, "Sorry, Mister Nott. Lunches have gotten quite healthy. There were some complaints that the students weren't getting enough fruit and veg, and too many sweets."
"Hermione," he grumbled his wife's name. "She reads one Muggle article about fat muggle teens, and she thinks all teens need to be on a diet and growing their own food."
Harry snorted, "Are you complaining about the Minister's policies, Chief Warlock? Are we starting a policy row?"
"No, I'm complaining about my wife and not having any carbs for weeks!" He huffed. "Beauregard!"
An ancient elf appeared before them. Liver spots dotted his wrinkled skin from his droopy ears to cracked toenails. His eyes hazy with glaucoma desperately tried to focus. Harry imagined that this elf must have been here since his parents were school children.
"Mister Nott!" The elf chirped cheerfully, realizing who had summoned him. "I hasn't seen you since you was a lad. How may I be of service?"
"It's good to see you, too." Theo smiled. "I'd like for you to prepare lunch for six of us in the governor's boardroom. Warm, comforting dishes. Stew, pies, maybe a bit of bubble and squeak, and an absolute must, pudding."
"Banoffee pie," Harry added.
"Yes, sirs," the elf bowed. "Anything for you miss?"
"Well, I'd love a Coke, but I don't know if an elf could just pop 'round a Tesco and pick up a two-litre," Eva smirked.
"Beauregard could try. What is Tesco?" the elf asked sincerely.
"Don't worry about it," Harry snickered. "She's having a laugh."
"Very cheeky, Miss," the elf scolded in a sweet, grandfatherly way. "Anything else Beauregard can arrange?"
Theo added, "Please find my daughter and Mister Malfoy, and tell them to meet us in the boardroom."
"Very well, sir." With a loud pop, the elf was gone.
Pansy and Nightingale walked out, looking hopeful and determined.
"Good news?" Harry inquired.
"I don't know if it's good," Pansy started, "but we know more of what to expect and what our next steps should be. Let's grab lunch and I'll tell you more about it."
The warm meal was exactly what they needed. Every nostalgic bite brought a smile to the faces of the alumni. The adults had to admit neither of them had eaten this rich or decadent since hitting their forties. Indulging in copious amounts of potatoes, cheese, and roast meats was by far an exercise in eating their feelings.
They weren't the only ones enjoying the comfort classics. Eva, Scorpius, and Marina looked like they hadn't eaten in ages.
"We've eaten nothing but fucking cauliflower and grain bowls," Scorpius muttered between bites, feeling the adults' eyes on him. "I understand the Minister's stance, but for crying out loud, did she forget how big this school is and how quickly we burn it off."
"Speak for yourself," Marina pouted. "Boys have the most absurd metabolisms."
"Especially Albus. I swear, he could eat an entire cow," Eva added.
Pansy's fork clattered onto her plate, silencing the room. She clenched her hand around her napkin, reminded that this jovial luncheon had a purpose. A purpose they hadn't yet discussed. Her eyes darted around the room, noticing the concerned stares. She couldn't believe that an off-handed comment about her son was enough to set her spiraling. There was no more putting it off.
"You kids know we're here about Albus," she began. "He overdosed last night, and Eva had to use a Muggle technique to keep his heart beating."
"CPR," Eva explained, "a series of chest compressions to keep his heart pumping. I was so panicked, and we had only touched on first aid spells briefly. I—I couldn't remember any."
Marina put her hand reassuringly on her friend's shoulder. "You saved him. It doesn't matter how. Using Muggle techniques doesn't make it any less heroic."
"Thanks," Eva responded.
Because of the year age gap, the girls hadn't become close until Marina's fifth year, when she had become a prefect and trained under Eva. Coincidentally, it was also the year Albus and Eva became a couple.
"Absolutely," Pansy said warmly. "But there is still a lot we don't know. Madame Nightingale has him sedated so he can rest and flush the potion out of his system. She ran some tests and wants to run a few more after he wakes."
"Can we see him then?" Eva asked eagerly.
Harry shook his head sadly, "It's too dangerous."
The teens looked at him, confused.
Pansy placed documents in the center of the table and said, "Research says detoxification could take up to 72 hours. Since we don't know how long he's been taking the drug, his dependency may affect the control of his magic."
"So, it's best we know what we're dealing with before he receives any visitors," Harry said with an authoritative presence that clearly came from his years in law enforcement. "I don't want to get any of you into trouble, but do you know how long he's been doing this, and have you done any of it with him."
They all grew quiet and uncomfortable with the question and simultaneously hung their heads. Marina was the first to speak.
"I smoked a few times at parties, but that's about it."
"Is that all?" Theo asked with concern, urging his daughter to be forthcoming.
"Yeah, Dad," she responded. "I don't really like that out-of-control feeling. It's not for me."
He exhaled deeply, relieved, thankful his daughter was as much of a control freak as her mother. Hermione also never enjoyed anything more than a few glasses of wine.
"I also just smoked a few times, and the one time last night," Eva replied. She attempted to be factual and direct with the adults, but no matter how tightly she clenched her jaw, her true emotions shone through as droplets trailed down her face. Her voice quavered as she burst out, "I can't believe he hid it from me. I thought I knew him, and thought he would have told me how bad it was or that he was on this sooner. He didn't need to go through any of this alone."
"But what would you have done with this information? Would you have brought him to therapy, or gotten him to quit, or do you think you would have followed him down this path? You tried it last night. What if you liked it? What if you loved it? Would we have another brilliant student addicted to Euphorus? Another overdose? Possibly dead? Tell me, Eva, what do you think you would have done? Because I can tell you, love makes you blind and do stupid things." Pansy's rapid-fire interrogation of the girl came as a shock to the students, but not to Theo or Harry. She knew how to ask all the hard questions that no one was ready to answer and point out the obvious even if it stung like daggers.
"I—I only tried it last night because he wanted me to," she said sadly, and truthfully. "Drugs just aren't something I've looked to try. But he was reaching out to me and—"
"There you go," Pansy affirmed, "he didn't tell you before because he wasn't ready. But he was last night, and you wanted to make him happy."
"Pansy…" Harry interrupted her, sensing she could be redirecting her frustrations at the wrong person.
She took a breath to calm herself. "Eva, I'm sorry, but you can't blame yourself for not noticing, and don't think he didn't love you enough to tell you. We are his parents, and he didn't come to us, either."
"Sometimes, secrets exist to protect those we love. Other times, secrets exist because of shame." Harry spoke from experience. "We hide these things that make us feel...wonderful, maybe even complete, because deep in our hearts, we know we shouldn't be doing it."
Pansy felt Harry's hand reach for hers under the table; seeking an apology for his truthful words. Her hand stilled, not wanting to return his affections, but not wanting to pull away either.
Between stifled sobs, Eva gave a heartfelt confession that resonated with everyone in the room. "I love him, and I feel like I failed him somehow. That I'm not enough."
"We all feel like that. His parents, most of all," Harry said somberly, watching a choked-up Pansy struggle for control. His attention turned toward the young man that had looked so much like Harry's childhood nemesis, only with warm brown eyes and a softer jawline. A much younger Harry would have been oblivious to body language and vocal inflections. This was not the bumbling Harry Potter of his youth. He had honed keen senses of observation, noticing how Scorpius bounced his leg on the ball of his foot nervously and refused to meet anyone's eyes. "Scorpius, you've been quiet. Is there something you want to tell us? Anything that could help us develop a plan for Al?"
The lanky boy with pale hair shrugged his shoulders and clenched his jaw.
"Scorp," Pansy pushed, "You two have been best friends since birth. You must know something. How bad is this?"
He raised his head to meet their eyes. Immediately, they noticed he wore the same dark circles under his eyes that Albus did. Feeling trapped, Scorpius reached inside his robes and removed a glass vial tied to a leather cord, and placed it on the table. "Here. An achievement in potioneering combined with Muggle chemistry. Two years in the making; Euphorus in powder form."
Harry summoned the glass vial and inspected it curiously. He tapped a little on the table to get a better look. The powder was as fine as cornstarch with an opalescent sheen. "Scorpius, what would that amount do to you?"
"If you're just starting out," he answered, thoughtfully, "maybe keep you blissed for maybe twelve hours. For a while, it's more like six, but I am back up to around ten. I quit for a while until I found out Mum's illness came back, and just the stress of school got so bad."
Pansy asked, "What about Albus? Did he ever quit and start back up? What is his tolerance like?"
Scorpius looked away, feeling like this was a betrayal of their friendship.
Sensing this, Pansy said, "The more we know, the better we can help him, and you if you need it."
He shook his head, agreeing to comply. "Al's tolerance is about three or four hours. Ever since he figured out the formula, he hasn't really slowed down."
"And how long ago did he perfect this technique?" Theo asked, mentally tracking the timeline. "Potions are a tricky thing. You said that it took two years to develop this. So you're saying that you were experimenting with Euphorus for even longer?"
Before Scorpius could answer, a little elf wearing white healer robes appeared in the board room.
"Sorry to interrupt," the elf said politely. "Prozie is here from St. Mungo's to help Madame Nightingale. She has asked for Ms Parkinson and Mister Potter. Albus Potter is waking."
Without haste, they stood up and walked toward the elf.
"I'll continue speaking to the kids," Theo said, with an almost judicial tone in his voice.
"You going to write me a brief too, Nott?" Harry joked.
"What's the point? The D.M.L.E. is notorious for losing evidence." Theo gave him a wink. Leave it to the Wizengamot and Department of Magical Law Enforcement heads to keep up their friendly rivalry, even when out of the court system.
Pansy and Harry took the elf's hands, quickly disappearing from the board room and reappearing in the hospital wing. Both parents tread the waters carefully, torn between wanting to be by their son's side and staying cautious. Harry was the first to draw out his wand.
"Do you think that is necessary?" Pansy huffed, "he's weak and not fully awake."
"Or he's a ticking time bomb," Harry responded.
She rolled her eyes and left the auror's side to see her son. He was surrounded by Madame Nightingale and two other healers.
"Ms Parkinson, Mr Potter, this is Healer Alder and Healer Valiant from St. Mungo's, and you've met Prozie." Nightingale kept her niceties to a minimum. "They have more experience with substance abuse and its long term effects on wizards."
Adler was a woman only a few years older than Pansy and even shorter in stature than she was. She had a warm face and was pretty in a natural, unfussed way. Her makeup was minimal and made no attempt to hide the bags under her eyes or her graying hair. "We administered a potion that should wake him momentarily. Hopefully, if he is calm, we can quickly run a battery of tests and help the lot of you plan the next steps."
"Oh, thank goodness," Pansy put her hand on her chest, thankful for that small bit of good news. She looked down to see her son's lashes fluttering, eyes struggling to open. His jaw was tight, and the look of anguish from hours before had returned. Without any regard to the warnings she was given about his instability, she took the seat next to him and gripped his hand. "Albus, darling. Mummy's here. You can wake up now. We're here to help you."
His voice was hoarse and dry, and his breath smelled of death. Pansy didn't mind, Albus was returning to the land of the living.
"Mum…" He croaked again as his eyes opened to tiny slits, letting his mother come into focus. "What...what are you doing here? Where am I?"
"Al, don't you remember?" She asked hesitantly, "You—"
"Allow me," the tall, stern-looking wizard interrupted. "Mr Potter, Hello. I'm Healer Valiant. What is the last thing you remember?"
"Who the hell are you? Where am I?" Albus was coming to much more quickly than expected. He looked around frantically and could sense the tubes connected to his arm and out of his penis.
"Albus, look at me," his mother insisted. "You're in the school hospital. These healers are specialists."
"Specialists, why the fuck do I need a specialist? I'm fine. Just needed to sleep it off." He shook his mother's grasp from his hand.
"You had an overdose," Adler said in calm, soothing tones. "Do you remember that? Do you remember blacking out and your girlfriend saving you?"
"She what? Where is she?" He became angry and frantic, like a caged animal. "What time is it? Where's my wand? Where's Eva?"
Pansy urged, "Allie, please settle down. She's not allowed to see you unless we know you can stay calm."
"Don't call me that. I'm not a toddler," he spat. "I'm fine. Just let me go and get to class. I'll see you in a few weeks when term is over."
Angrily he attempted to yank out the IV from his arm. The healers jumped into action and pinned his arms to his sides, pushing Pansy out of the way. She stumbled to the foot of the bed as the three healers wrestled the teen with his superhuman strength. Even after reading about it, she didn't think it was true. How could one person, so completely depleted of muscle mass still have so much strength? Neither of the three healers could cast a single spell.
"LET ME GO!" Albus hollered at the top of his lungs.
Pansy began to walk backward. She was terrified. The first time she was ever scared of her son. She could feel the rage and magic radiating off of him. The one thing that was stronger than her fear was her love of him. "Albus, please. You have to listen. You have to relax."
"MUM!" he cried out with tears streaming down his face as he continued to fight the three adults; his rage manifesting a myriad of motions. "Make them stop. Please."
"They'll stop when you stop struggling, son." Harry stepped beside Pansy.
"What are YOU doing here?" Albus grew more enraged to see his father.
The little elf held out his hand ready to intervene, but Harry motioned for the elf to give him a moment.
Harry pleaded over his son's screams and wails. "Albus, we both love you very much, and we want to help. We all want to help. Theo is here too. He's with Eva, Scorpius, and Marina. Please, just listen—"
The sound that emanated from Albus came deep from his magical core. The scream was powerful. Deafening. It shook the walls and the ground beneath their feet. His magic was out of control. His body levitated out of the grasp of the healers as winds swirled around them. Plastic tubing that had been attached to his body vanished.
Harry was reminded of the times when he was younger, and rage-fueled his accidental magic, but this. This was far more intense than anything he had subconsciously conjured.
Albus was nearly four feet over the bed, sobbing and erratic. Then it happened. A shock of blinding light projected from his aura, and with it, a release of the pent up magic they had all feared.
The healers were thrown into different directions. Harry was lucky enough to have fallen onto an empty bed. But where was Pansy? He frantically stood up, his ears ringing and eyes struggling to focus. Harry found her on the ground, blood trickling down her forehead. Harry turned to see his son shocked and frightened, but still out of control of his magic. He knew Pansy wouldn't forgive him for this, but he had no choice. "I'm sorry, Al. Stupefy."
His son fell like a ragdoll onto the mattress. Adler was the first healer up and immediately began attending to Albus. She looked up for a split second and said, "Thank you, Mr Potter," and went back to her patient.
He scooped Pansy off the ground, and she woke in his arms, "What—"
"Albus sort of blew up," he tried to explain, "lost control. How's your head?"
"Hurts like hell," she replied, "you can put me down now."
Gently, Harry laid her down on the bed opposite of their son's. "Don't kill me, but I had to Stupefy him."
Instead of hitting him or screaming or even turning the same curse back on him, Pansy covered her face and tried not to cry. "We're nowhere close to figuring this out, are we?"
Harry, took her hand and kissed it tenderly. "We will."
For those of you concerned about my depiction of Ginny's management of her disability, please know that none of this is Weasley bashing, or an attack on the quadriplegic or paraplegic community. While I never show her directly, she's another victim of circumstance who has also made some terrible decisions in her life, and has never learned to process her trauma. Harry has poured himself into his work and isolationism, Pansy has devoted her life to her work and her son, Albus into academics and drug use, and Ginny has fallen into depression and embracing her victimization. These are all cause and effect circumstances and personality traits.
P.S. You can always reach me on my Facebook page if you ever want to DM me about any questions you have about my stories, or look for me on AskFM if you want to be anonymous. Just search SaintDionysus.
Chapter 4: Matter of Time
"There is no 'normal,' but there is 'safe.' Also, 'happy' and 'content,' but never feel like 'normal' is something you need to strive for."
Thank you so much to Lovesbitca8 for her patience and brilliant alpha/beta work
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
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."
Thank you so much to those of you who have been following the story and have patiently waited for this update. It was some pretty heavy subject matter, that took me quite some time to push through. I hope you enjoyed.
Chapter 5: Better with You
Harry and Pansy reunite, and a flashback to the exact moment of the start of Albus's downfall.
Thank you for waiting and to Lovesbitca8 for your watchful eye.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Better with You
The door barely closed, and Harry's mouth was on hers. Pansy was startled by his eagerness, and even more surprised at her own. She threw herself at him, rifling her fingers through his hair. They lost themselves in heated kisses, hands roaming over their clothed bodies.
"We're still in the foyer," Harry rushed out in a single breath, before pressing his lips back upon hers.
"Upstairs?" She asked, instinct suppressing rational thought.
Harry gave her a devilish grin and hoisted her up, wrapping her legs around his waist. Pansy gasped in surprise. He carried her in his strong, cradling arms in hurried determination to her bedroom, slamming and locking the door shut. They made their way to the bed as Harry shrugged his jacket to the floor and kicked off his shoes, all while his lips barely left Pansy's skin.
"Harry," she exhaled breathily, his kisses on her neck dwindling her reserve. "Maybe we should talk first."
He nipped at her neck. "Or how about talk during?" he said in deep seductive tones.
"Cheeky," she laughed before her breath hitched as he found the spot right behind her ear that always made her melt. She steeled herself because she wanted to make this decision with a clear head. "Harry, I—I just want to be clear of what this is. Set ground rules."
That seemed to have snapped him to attention. He cleared his throat and pulled away from her, taking stock of their heated state—their clothing in various states of removal, her lipstick smeared, his glasses askew. There was a nervous look in his eyes. "Yes. Of course."
She gave him a smile that seemed to set his nerves to rest. Pansy leaned in for another kiss, and before she even knew what she was doing, she began undressing as she spoke. Starting with her shoes and socks. "Harry, I invited you in because I wanted to." She then pulled her arms out of her cardigan. "Maybe I'm emotional and a little nostalgic—"
Harry ran his knuckle against her cheek. "I get it. One step at a time. I don't expect that this will fix everything, but I don't believe it can break us any further."
"So, you're okay with this just being for the night?"
Harry kissed her forehead. "Let's just be here for each other in this moment, and we'll figure things out along the way."
With a relieved exhale, Pansy touched his face and said, "I'm glad you're here."
He turned to kiss her palm and replied, "I am too."
In a moment of tenderness, he helped her undress. Carefully minding her delicate fabrics, even putting them onto the floor in careful piles. First her shirt, then jeans. Pansy felt uneasy as he stared at her in just her bra and underwear, crossing her arms over her body.
"Don't." He took her hands in his and pulled her close. "You have nothing to hide. You're gorgeous."
"I'm not," she looked down and shook her head. "I have these stretch marks and saggy boobs, I haven't been to the gym in about a month." Her voice trembled as her insecurity reared its ugly head. "Maybe this was a mistake." She tried to take her hands from his hold, but he pulled her in closer.
"What you are is a woman. A beautiful woman." Harry pressed his head against hers. "One I should have been growing old with. I could have been there telling you every day how beautiful you are so that you'd never have to feel this way." He leaned in and kissed her shoulder.
"We can't talk about what could have been," she sniffed, small droplets blinked from her eyes and rolled down her cheeks. "There's nothing we can do about the past."
"You're right." He came face to face with her and wiped the tears away. "Come on. You've cried enough today."
"Isn't that the truth?" she replied with a laugh.
Harry then shrugged all of his clothes off but his boxers. For a moment, they just stared at each other in their underwear, a little unsure of what to do next.
"Lay down with me," Pansy remarked as she sat on the bed, motioning to the spot next to her.
He crawled across the bed and made himself comfortable as they faced one another. Earlier, they were fueled by emotion and lust, but here, the two felt comfort. Solace. They couldn't help but smile as they gazed at one another. They scooted in closer, pressing their bodies together. Warm and familiar, despite the passage of time.
Pansy ran her fingers along his arms and his back, then his chest and torso, feeling his muscles, remembering his body. She cupped his scruffy face and searched for his lips. As they kissed, the heat of their tongues building a fire in her belly, she could feel their bodies mold into one another. His hands roamed her skin, squeezing and kneading her aching muscles. She smiled, recalling the way he used to touch her.
There was a song he used to play for her—it was a lazy melody that surrounded her in warmth. The man's smooth, bluesy voice sang about lying beside his lover, exploring every inch of her being. Harry said that the song always reminded him of her.
It had been years since she was anyone's Wonderland. More like a long-forgotten playground, aging and rusting. But here. In this moment. Harry, with his gentle caress and kisses on her skin, she felt cherished. Alive.
She inched her fingertips under the waistband of his boxers, pushing them down, ready to touch him, while he reached behind to unclasp her bra. Her chest heaved as the pressure released, followed by his warm skin against hers. Without any reservation, her hand grasped around his length, curiously wondering if he was still the same. Her hand pumped him up and down, eager to feel him grow and harden at her touch. He was just as willing to explore her, only pulling her panties down enough to fit his hand between her legs. His fingers ran down her folds, teasing her clit, wanting to settle in her warmth, but met with resistance. Pansy could feel her body betray her, not as slick and inviting as in her youth.
Harry didn't say anything or force his way in deeper. He just made his way further down the mattress, taking her panties with him. He settled his face level with her cunt, his breath hot with anxiousness. When his tongue finally pressed against her folds, the wetness felt like a soothing balm. He gave several fluttering flicks of his tongue against her clitoris, sending shivers through her whole body. When she tried to muffle her loud moans with a pillow, he commanded, "Don't," encouraging her to succumb to the pleasure. He continued to lap and her folds and dip into her pussy, all while rubbing his thumb against her nub.
Pansy writhed and bucked under his gentle ministrations. His pace in rhythm with hers. She teetered closer and closer. It was all too much. "Stop. I can't."
"You can." His fingers dipped into her, pumping faster, curled up to hit the spot that she always had trouble reaching on her own. "Come for me, baby."
He called her, baby. She hadn't heard that in forever. If it was anyone else, she would hate it, but with Harry—it was a pet name he only ever used when they were like this. Nostalgia triggering her senses, a blissful orgasm rippled through her. In all these years, it was unlike anything she had been able to give herself, or even her occasional hook-up.
Her heart was pounding, and her legs quivered. Once wasn't enough. She had a taste of what it was to feel boundless pleasure, and she wanted, needed more. Pansy screamed his name and commanded him, "Don't stop! Don't stop!"
He eagerly did as she said, letting wave after wave come crashing down.
The proverbial dam broke—her cunt slick with juices.
Harry rubbed his fingers up and down her folds, taking as much as he could to rub on his cock. She watched him pump himself hungrily. As many times as she had just come, she still wanted to feel him inside of her. "Do you want me to fuck you now?" he asked with a husky growl.
"Yes," she begged.
He thrust inside of her without abandon. They both groaned, their senses overwhelmed with the connection. It wasn't just the diffusion of sexual tension or reprieve from the emotionally taxing day. It was a homecoming. Their bodies entwined in a way that hummed with magic and promise.
She had forgotten. All the years, pushing each other away. This magnetism, stronger than physical attraction or even their history—it was magic. Destiny. It was warm and all-encompassing. Every snap of their hips felt like atoms colliding and fusing. Pulling him close, Pansy wrapped her legs around him and wondered if their auras were as brilliantly colored as she felt they were.
With each passing moment, the walls around them fell. Not brick by brick, but an explosive shattering of mortar and stone. Years of animosity and reserve gone.
Harry pulled out and rolled onto this back. "Get on top. I want to watch you."
Pansy straddled him and sank down onto his length, taking in sharp inhale as he filled her completely. She rode his cock lazily, staring into his eyes brightened by the moonlight. Her mind finally caught up to her body. Countless moments convincing themselves they were toxic together, when in fact, being apart was truly the source of all their pain. They could have had a life together. A tear rolled down her face, angry at the lost time.
"No more crying," he reminded her sweetly as he brushed away the tear.
She bent down and kissed him, her hips still rocking. "Be with me," a soft pleading whimper escaped from her lips.
He sat up to meet her. His lips on hers, pulling them between his teeth, sucking on the supple flesh. She moaned as he ran his hands up and down her back. His fingers threaded through her hair, tugging her head back, leaving her neck exposed for him to nip and suck at her skin. Making his promise with actions and not words—holding her, encouraging her, giving himself completely to her.
Pansy called out every command as she straddled his bucking hips. "Harder." "Faster." "Yes!" "Don't stop." "Fuck me." Every thrust into her, pushing her closer to the edge.
"Are you going to come for me?" He taunted, swirling his tongue around her nipple, his hips snapping harder and faster against her.
She cried, "Yes! Yes! Yes! I'm coming—" Her muscles fluttered and contracted around his throbbing cock, bringing him also to climax. She could feel his cock harden and shoot what felt like neverending streams into her. It was a carnal instinct. Not just sex. Harry's seed inside of her—she felt claimed.
Pansy stayed mounted on him, her heart pounding and breath ragged, skin glistening with sweat. She leaned her forehead to his. Unable to form words, unsure if she wanted to. She had already made herself so vulnerable to him, and he to her.
Harry tugged her to his chest and gently rolled her off of his softening cock. He kissed her nose and then her lips, all with the tenderest of touches.
His finger pressed to her lips.
"It can wait until the morning." His arms wrapped around her, and he kissed her temple.
She nodded her head and curled into his embrace. Before she knew it, they had fallen asleep.
Pansy splashed water on her face. Cold. Cleansing. She rubbed her swollen eyes, wondering how much sleep she would need before the puffiness subsided. Staring at the mirror, she carefully patted her skin with the towel, and reflected behind her was Harry, still in her bed, still naked. She shook her head, trying not to focus on last night's events. Instead, she reached for her toothbrush.
Scrubbing away, her thoughts couldn't help but drift. They had said so much with so few words, but was any of it true? Was last night just comfort, or could they actually make it work this time? And what would Albus say? Would this help his recovery or make things harder? She had been so lost in thought, it was only when the toothpaste no longer tasted of mint did she realize how much time had passed.
Sipping the water from the glass, she felt him come behind her. His skin against hers, still sticky and smelling of sex. He kissed her shoulder and said, "Good morning."
She flinched at the smell of his morning breath. "Do you want me to send Fizzie to get your belongings?"
Harry covered his mouth and laughed. "That bad, eh?"
Pansy made a face and nodded.
"Let me just splash a little water on my face, and I'll go freshen up there."
"You sure?" she asked, hesitant to let him go.
"Yes." As if reading her thoughts, he added, "We can meet at that coffee shop before going back up to the school. Maybe bring something back for Al, Eva, and Nightingale."
She smiled at the thought. "I like that idea."
He kissed her forehead before pushing her out of the way.
Pansy scoffed playfully. Harry scrubbed his face with water, cleaning the sleep from his eyes, then rinsed his mouth. She handed him a towel, already expecting him to ask her for one.
Harry patted his face dry, then said. "I'll see you there in about 45 minutes?"
He gave her a quick peck on the cheek before hastily dressing and leaving.
A smile grew across her face as she stepped into the shower. For the first time in a long time, uncertainty didn't feel so daunting.
Another September, another goodbye. King's Cross seemed busier than ever, but this time, Albus wasn't as reluctant to leave his mother. He was excited to see his friends, continue his Alchemy tutoring, and regain some independence. Maybe it was getting older, or maybe it was because he had a great summer with his mum, but heading off to school didn't feel as hard as it had in the past. They both had things to get back to, and it was nice, starting to have a life of his own.
Actually, he wouldn't be the only one leaving from the station that morning. She had her own bags in tow, ready for another trip to one of the international offices, leaving just before the Hogwarts Express departed. Albus couldn't remember if it was Milan or Beijing or New York. His mother's diary was impossible to keep up with, and he was somewhat relieved he no longer had to. He had spent the summer globe-trotting, tagging along as her "intern," and on the Witch Weekly payroll.
Pansy was far too busy to notice what he had stockpiled from apothecaries he visited at every one of their exotic stops. She may have thought it was all part of his intensive study, but Albus had motives of his own. James may have opened up the possibility of herbal relaxation to him, but it was Albus's own curiosity that propelled him further.
He flipped through his advanced potions texts looking for ways that sustain that sense of relaxation and calm, without reeking of smoke or smelling like he had raided a liquor cabinet. The elixir he had found early last year, Euphorus, seemed to be the perfect solution for him. By the way it was described in the book, it was the kind of high he was chasing. To feel light, and lifted from reality. It was said to balance ill moods and anxieties, bringing a wash of peace and happiness. But what really attracted him was that it was odorless and tasteless, and probably wouldn't send off any alarms to anyone around him if he was on it.
As much as Albus had wanted to experiment, he just never had the opportunity. While at school last year, he didn't have any access to the ingredients without his mother asking about his expenses, or dipping into the school stores without Professor Apostol knowing what he was up to. The biggest roadblock over the summer was they hadn't been in any one place for longer than a week. Euphorus was a complicated, temperamental potion, that took weeks to brew, exposure to sunlight for one hour a day, and required costly ingredients. But in a few hours' time, he would be on his way to Hogwarts, where magical experimentation was the norm, in a castle far too large for its student body. He already knew where he would set up his workshop—the abandoned girls' bathroom.
From the time his father had discovered it was the entry to the Chamber of Secrets, no one dared enter, even though the ancient beast was long dead. It still frightened people, wondering if residues of the Heir of Slytherin's dark deeds lingered. Albus found their irrational fears comical. He was one of the few who knew the whole story of the Chamber and the bathroom. It hadn't been Harry who had told him the stories. It was Hermione who had told him tales of their adventures. All those bedtime stories lodged themselves into his subconscious, only to surface and give him the idea of also using that bathroom to brew illegal potions. While Euphorus wasn't technically illegal, it really wasn't school-sanctioned either.
"You're awfully quiet," Pansy said, interrupting his thoughts.
"Sorry, Mum. Just ready for school, I guess." He shrugged nonchalantly and flipped his hair to the side. Albus smiled smugly to himself, reminded of how he didn't receive his annual haircut before the start of school. He should probably send a thank you letter to the stylist at the London Witch Weekly office who scolded his mother for even suggesting he cut his hair.
She must have known he thought about it because she reached to preen him, pushing his hair out of his face and tucking it behind his ear.
"Mum, cut it out." He shook his head, letting his curls fall in different directions.
"Alright, Alright," she sighed. "You're a teenager. I no longer have control over your look."
"Nope," he responded with a confirming grin.
She poked his side. "Darling, I'm so sorry I can't wait until the train pulls away. Especially after last year—"
"It'll be fine, Mum. I know you would be there if you could." Albus kissed his mother's cheek. His smile tightened as he refrained from saying or even thinking about his father.
"Hermione and Theo will be there to see you off." Pansy had also failed to mention anything about Harry, either.
"I know." He smiled.
They arrived at the gate and proceeded, as usual, the routine of dropping off his trunk an unconscious effort.
Pansy looked down at her watch, "Damn. I really should go now, especially with how packed the station is."
"It's okay." Albus extended his arms and wrapped them around his mother. He stood a head taller than her now, and kissed the top of her head. "Love you, Mum. Thanks again for a brilliant summer."
She squeezed him back tightly. "I loved having you with me at work. Maybe next summer, I could get one of your friends to take on an internship so you won't be so alone."
He laughed at that. "Maybe. That or you might end up with a sexual harassment case from one of my idiot friends trying to hit on the models."
Pansy looked up to her son with brows furrowed in contemplation. "Hmm. I think you're right. You are a rarity when it comes to teenage boys. I guess we'll just send for them for a long weekend or something."
"I think that might be wise." He hugged his mother one last time. "I'll write to you as soon as I get to school."
"And I'll send you care packages from all my stops."
"Don't work too hard, Mum."
"And you stop being so hard on yourself all the time."
He laughed uncomfortably at that, not really knowing how to respond. Perhaps his mother had noticed more than she let on.
Pansy looked down at her watch. "Shit. I have to go." She gave Albus one last kiss on the cheek. "Love you."
"Love you too."
With a crack, she Disapparated to one of the other magical train platforms. Albus turned to search the crowd for his friends, hoping to catch up before his godparents and Marina arrived.
Then he saw her.
Looking unlike she had ever looked before. Her long brown hair cascading down her back. Not in a plait or a messy bun—but swaying and bouncing, shining in shades of amber, honey, and polished walnut. She had turned slightly, not enough to see him, but enough for him to catch her smile. He liked her. He knew that. But this time...there was something different. Something more. He couldn't quite place it, but it made his chest seize and stomach flutter. It had been months since they had seen each other face to face, and he just couldn't wait any longer. Albus swallowed hard, his throat was suddenly dry as he approached her. "Hey, Eva."
She turned around in a flash and threw her arms around him. "Al!"
Albus was both shocked and relieved by her excitement in seeing him. It was a hopeful clue that perhaps she felt the same way. He wrapped his arms around her and inhaled the scent of her shampoo. Albus knew it might be too soon to cross the lines of friendship, but the way he enjoyed feeling her against him—he didn't want to let go. He released her, but not before running his hand down her arm and reaching for her hand. "You're here early."
His heart nearly jumped out of his chest when she squeezed it back in return. "Yeah. I was hoping to catch up with everyone before having to head into the prefects' carriage."
"I'm glad you did." His smile turned shy as he ran a thumb across her knuckles.
"Did you get any of my letters?" Her blue-green eyes were wide and hopeful. "I wanted to thank you for the little trinkets you sent me."
Albus nodded his head. "I did. It just sucks that every time we tried to text, we were never in the same time zone, or I was working, or you were working. I really wanted to meet up at Diagon. What happened?"
"Oh, my parents. They would only drop me into London on a day that was convenient for them. It's okay. We're here now, right?" Her smile was bright and contagious. Albus couldn't help but grin when he looked at her. "Where's your mum?"
"She also had a train to catch," he explained. "Hey, do you want to grab a compartment and chat before it gets really crazy?"
"I'd like that," she replied as her cheeks tinged pink.
They hadn't let go of each other's hands as they walked toward the train.
"Al." She turned to face him, still walking hand-in-hand.
"I really missed you."
Albus licked his lips and couldn't hide his smile. "I missed you too."
He helped her board the train, and they took the first available compartment. His heart began to race, finally being alone with her, but he felt eyes peering at them through the windows—a few faces he recognized, watching intently. Eva must have read his thoughts. She started pulling down the blinds, giving them more privacy. Falling into a natural rhythm, they sat down next to each other, and Albus took both of her hands in his. Their hands were warm, albeit a little sweaty. They looked at one another and smiled coquettishly.
"I thought about you a lot," Albus said with all the sincerity he could muster. "As great as my summer was traveling, I missed getting to see you and talk to you every day."
"Me too," she replied, sounding mournful at the time they had lost. "I would stare at my phone, waiting for a text, hoping you'd be up, able to reply."
He released a chuckle. "I had to fight the urge not to send you a million messages, knowing I would either keep you up or get you in trouble."
"I wouldn't have minded," she said, moving closer. "Al, you know I like you, right?"
"Do you know I like you?"
"More than a friend?"
Albus pushed her hair behind her shoulder, exposing her neck and jawline. "Definitely more than a friend. Have for a while."
"So what are we going to do about it?" she asked as her smile turned from sweet to something more taunting and alluring.
He leaned in, feeling her breath warm against his skin. Everything seemed to move in slow motion. He watched her lashes flutter, and eyes bore into his, her lips parting, anticipating his touch. Throat even drier than before, his Adam's apple bobbed beneath his skin as he swallowed. Inching closer to one another, after a summer of being apart, and even longer as friends avoiding the inevitable, they finally kissed. Soft and gentle. It was the type of first kiss he had hoped. Longing and pining finally fulfilled by the unhurried pressing of lips. Gentle smiles tugging at the corners of their mouths. The unbelievable satisfaction of something as pure as a kiss.
Albus imagined this was what Euphoria must be, as he felt lighter and pulled out of his body. He and Eva continued to kiss, opening their mouths, letting them taste one another. She tasted of something sweet, like fruit juice. He hoped his cappuccino earlier hadn't come to haunt him, but as she kept kissing him, he guessed all was well. His hands moved to her waist and hips, wanting to feel her curves beneath his palms. He had imagined touching her body, the heat of her soft skin against his. So many fantasies of her just like this as he stayed awake at night touching himself.
He felt her fingers rake through his hair, massaging his scalp and pulling at his strands. It was impossible for him not to grin. Yet another reason he should never have short hair. The longer they kissed, the closer he wanted to be to her. He wondered if it would be too much if he coaxed her to sit on his lap. What were the rules of intimacy when you'd just crossed the threshold from friendship to boyfriend and girlfriend? His brain halted, and he couldn't recall actually asking her.
Breathlessly, he pulled away from her. "This means you want to be my girlfriend, right."
"Yes, stupid." She placed her hands on the sides of his face and started kissing him again.
Albus felt Eva curl her body closer to him, pulling him on top of her. If he could snog her for hours until they reached the school, he would. Time was running out. Soon the train would be full of noisy children, and she would have to leave for prefect rounds. There were more things he wanted to say, but he knew there was more time for that later. At that moment, he just wanted to make the most of their time together.
His hands glided up her sides as he kissed her neck. The softest gasp escaped her lips, followed by a gentle moan. She tilted her neck, clearly asking for more. As he kissed and sucked at her skin, Albus felt his pants tighten. All her lovely sounds of appreciation commanded his attention. Things didn't get any easier when she opened her legs to him and ran her fingers along his neckline and down his chest.
He settled between her, their bodies lying across the less than comfortable cushions.
Albus had never had a serious relationship. Just the odd Hogsmeade date here and there, and the occasional snog session with someone at a party. He knew Eva wasn't that experienced either—this was all new for both of them.
Albus took a moment to look at her and ask, "Are we moving too fast?"
"No." Eva pulled him back down, eager to resume kissing and exploring.
At that moment, the compartment door slid open with a bang, and all the blinds rolled up. Marina looked down at their disheveled hair and compromising position.
"Ahem," she tapped at her new prefect badge. "I've come to collect my fellow prefect. And you—" she paused to roll her eyes for effect. "The Minister wants to see you."
Eva, flushed with embarrassment, slid from beneath Albus and started smoothing out her clothes and hair.
Annoyed at the interruption, he practically spat, "Can't you just say your 'mum'?"
Marina just sighed and proclaimed, "Oh Albus, what would your life be like if I weren't a pest? Come on, lovebirds. We have things to do before this train leaves in 15."
"I'll see you later." Eva gave Albus a quick kiss before hurrying out of the carriage, headed towards the other end of the train.
"Bye, Allie," Marina smirked, celebrating her victory in this little game of taunting him.
He groaned, standing up, willing his erection to subside before seeing Theo and Hermione. Albus reluctantly left the comfort of the carriage, already missing Eva. He knew his godparents wanted to see him off, and part of him wanted to see them too, but he felt these ceremonious farewells had become tedious. Another part of him feared his father was also there waiting.
It had been over a year since he had seen his father in person, and part of that was his own doing. He had told his mother that he didn't want to see his father during any of his holiday breaks. Pansy made sure of it, and he complied. He wanted his father to fight. He wanted him to exercise his custody rights. Sure, Albus still received the odd letter here and there, but there was nothing that showed Albus that Harry truly wanted to be part of his life. It hurt, feeling that rejection all the damn time.
"There he is!" Hermione beamed as Albus stepped off the train.
"You just saw me two days ago," he laughed in response to her excitement.
She pulled him into a big hug. "Oh, shush. I can still miss you and want to see you more."
In Hermione's embrace, Albus felt safe and loved. The momentary spiral of self-loathing easing some.
Separating, she gave him a good look. "Did you get something to eat? There's nothing but rubbish on that trolley. I can send for someone to grab a sandwich or some crisps."
"No, I'm fine," he responded. "Mum and I had a big breakfast."
"Is she already gone?" Theo asked.
"Yeah. Just dropped me off and had to run."
Theo then said, "Ah, well, we'll be the ones to see you off, then."
Albus then gave him a hug. "Thanks," he whispered in Theo's ear.
Theo released Albus and clapped his hand on the boy's shoulder. "So what was the hold-up, Al?" A suggestive smile appeared on his face.
"Eva," he said with a grin.
Albus nodded. With James in America playing Quidditch and his father out of the picture, Theo had become the older figure Albus had turned to talk about girls with. He really couldn't talk to his friends because they were even more clueless than him. "I didn't even have to tell her how I felt first. She said it, and it just happened naturally after that."
Hermione and Theo smiled and reached for one another's hand.
"That's usually how it goes. When two people have feelings for each other, you can't really hide or deny it." Hermione said as she rubbed Albus's arm affectionately.
The train whistle blew, and the conductor hollered to call the stragglers aboard.
"Wait, Al." Hermione looked back towards the gate. Albus followed her line of sight to find his father, standing anxiously, looking as if he didn't know how to proceed. "He wants to see you. Do you want to see him?"
Albus swallowed, not knowing how to answer. He shook his head, hoping Harry saw the gesture. "I have to board."
"Of course. Is there anything you want me to tell him?"
Albus kicked at the ground. "That if he wants to see me, he should try harder."
Hermione brushed one of the curls from his brow and said in smooth, comforting tones. "I know what you mean. I'll try to do my best to explain it to him."
"Whatever," he shrugged. "Sorry, Hermione. It's just—I have to go."
"Albus, wait—" Theo called.
He turned around to see what he had to say.
"We'll see you at the Slytherin-Gryffindor game, and we'll take you and Marina out to dinner. Feel free to invite Eva and Scorpius."
Albus appreciated the way Theo didn't make him dwell on his issues. He did his best to put on a happy face. "Sounds good."
He bounded up the steps back to the compartment, pleased to find his friends waiting. The train whistled its final cal,l and it was off, marking the start of another school year.
How's everything going? Are you done taking over the world yet? I hope the international offices aren't giving you total hell, and you can finally come home. Hermione and Theo are coming next week for the match. Honestly, Slytherin is going to lose because the team is an absolute shitshow, but I'm hoping you can join us. I have a weird feeling that Dad might try and show up after what happened on the platform. I don't know if I really want to see him, so if you're there, it might make things easier.
School's good. It's a hell of a lot harder than before, but at least I like the classes more. No more wasting time on rubbish, I don't need to know. Though, I sometimes wish there were different sections of the library or the common room just for N.E.W.T. students. I get that first years don't know what is going on, but they're just so needy and lost, and it's so hard to be helpful and get your own things done.
And the part I know you're going to ask me about if I don't tell you...
Things with Eva are going great. She's...I don't know. She makes me happy and gets me. No, we haven't had sex yet. Yes, I remember the spells you taught me. No, I won't tell you when we're planning on doing it, because I don't know when that will be. Yes, I'll tell you when we are active. And if you do end up coming next week, please don't interrogate her.
But that's it for now. My letters will probably be more like short updates or longer ones every once in a while. As always...missing my phone.
Pansy smiled down as she read the letter from her son. It just astounded her how much he had grown and his maturity. In her eyes, she would always see him as her baby, but there in black and white, he was showing her he was growing into a man. Conscious about his goals, his developing relationship, and even his way of communicating to her. He was still honest and expressive, but he now had his secrets and wanted to keep them that way. It hurt a little bit being on the outside, but she understood. She had been the same way, except she would have never told her mother about losing her virginity to Draco Malfoy. What a horrendous thought. She snickered, remembering all 60-seconds of it. Pansy said a silent prayer that her own son would manage to hold out a little longer.
She pulled her calendar up on her laptop and looked at next Saturday. Miraculously, she was free, there would be the issue of adjusting back to the time zone, but she would manage. Drumming her fingers against her keyboard, not actually pressing buttons, she contemplated if she should reach out to Harry. Hermione had given her a slightly different account of what had transpired than what her son had told her. Apparently, it has seemed that Albus did want to reconnect with his father, but wouldn't be direct about it. Pansy rubbed her temples, weighing the pros and cons. From every angle, Pansy could only see the same cycle of hope and heartbreak. And as much as she just wanted to stamp Harry out of their life for good, Albus was still a minor, and his father still had rights, even if he didn't exercise them often. She released a long sigh, resigning to let things play out, whatever the outcome.
Albus woke up early that morning, more anxious about seeing his family than the upcoming match. Albus grabbed his belongings and headed to the bathroom.
After his shower, he gave himself a good look in the mirror and winced at the scraggly whiskers at odd lengths. He lathered the top of his lip and his chin with shaving cream, then scraped away the facial hair. Secretly, he hoped to one day be able to grow a beard like his father, or at least have some masculine scruff. But as of now, he felt like a boy playing pretend with his shaving kit.
Finally dressed, he was ready to head to breakfast. He kept it casual in a comfortable green hoodie, joggers, and oversized puffer jacket with some statement piece trainers.
In the common room, Eva had stepped in from the girls' dormitory corridors at almost the exact moment he had. He smiled, seeing how much effort she had put into her outfit for the day, almost taking a completely opposite approach. Her hair had been styled in big bouncy curls rather than her usual air-dried waves, while a little black beret sat on her head. She wore her best woolen coat with her prefect pin affixed to the lapel, while her house scarf draped around her neck in a stylish cowl. With her coat still unbuttoned, he noticed a green wrap sweater dress that accented all of her features, complete with tights and riding boots.
"Oh my god, I'm overdressed," she said in a panic.
"No, no," Albus reassured as he rushed to her. He slid his arms into her coat, wrapping his arms around her waist and pulling her in close for a kiss. "You look beautiful."
"But you're in a hoodie, and I look like I'm about to host a reception or something. Should I change? I just wanted to impress your mum and the Minister."
He brushed a stray hair away from her eyes. "You look perfect. My mum is going to give me so much hell for my hair, she won't be able to talk about anything else. I promise."
Eva's eyes widened, still concerned. "Are you sure?"
"Forget about my mum, you've already met her. You're a prefect, a representative of our house, and you're about to meet the Minister. You've done everything right." He gave her a sincere smile, hoping she finally saw reason.
"You're right. I am a prefect—"
"Hey losers," Marina announced herself with a yawn. Her hair was tied up in a messy top knot, and she appeared to have rolled out of bed and just threw on a jacket, some trainers and a scarf.
"What the fuck are you wearing? Are those pajamas?" Albus admonished.
Marina pointed at her green tartan trousers. "These? Don't worry. They're fresh."
"Oh my god," Eva went back into crisis mode. "I'll change."
"No, you won't," Albus insisted. "Marina. You can't wear that to the match. Your parents will be here, along with that, the press. Are you really going to do this and make them and Slytherin look bad?"
"What?" she scoffed. "I'm in House colors. And you're wearing joggers and trainers."
"But my parents aren't the Minister and head of the Wizengamot," he replied pointedly.
Eva stood silently, looking as though she should interject, when Scorpius entered the common room, wearing his finest, looking impeccably polished.
Scorpius took one look at Marina and said, "Nott, change into something more appropriate, or I'll have you put on probation. Prefects must maintain a certain level of decorum when we have special guests in attendance at the school."
"But—" Marina's face fell, having been scolded so publicly. "Alright, Malfoy," she resigned. Her eyes narrowed at Albus viciously before turning on her heel, heading back to the dormitories.
Albus rolled his eyes, wondering if Marina would outgrow this horrid mix of rebelliousness and entitlement. He turned to Scorpius, and mockingly said, "I think she likes you."
Scorpius blushed for a second. "Um...I think she just needed to be reminded of the role she took on."
"Or…" Eva began, "she finds being reprimanded by older authority figures sexy."
Albus barked with laughter while Scorpius's fair skin turned a deep shade of red.
Eva shrugged, pleased with her joke.
"Teller…" Scorpius paused. "Just you wait. Our next round of patrols, I'm going to get you back for that."
Albus threw his hands on Scorpius's shoulders and started pushing him toward the exit. "Scorp, embrace being a Dom. I think it suits you. Honestly, I think Marina could use a whipping."
"You know—" Scorpius inhaled and exhaled through his nostrils, "I've said it before, and I'll say it again. You're the worst."
"And yet, I'm the best friend you'll ever have," Albus reminded him.
"How unfortunate for me."
Walking through the halls, hand-in-hand with Eva, Albus was filled with so much pride and joy. It was a hard feeling to express. He was fully aware he didn't grow up with parents who loved each other, and his only reference of a happy relationship were Theo and Hermione. Yes, his grandparents had been together for over 50 years, but the marriage didn't exactly seem like an affectionate one. In a little way, he felt like he was on his way to succeeding where his parents had not. His time with Eva had been so fulfilling, he hadn't even thought about attempting to brew the Euphorus. The ingredients just sat in his trunk, safe in their glass jars.
After breakfast, they all headed towards the pitch, where seats in the Alumni section awaited them. When they arrived, they found several rows reserved for Minister Granger, her guests, and security. Albus saw Hermione and Theo waiting for them, but no sign of his mother. He was both excited and nervous for Eva to meet his family, no longer as his friend, but as his girlfriend. Their dynamic had changed, and he hoped his family would still take her in and be as kind as they had in the past. He held onto her hand tightly, and brought it up to her lips and kissed her knuckles. "You're not nervous, are you?"
She bit her lip in a way that said everything. "A little."
He untwined their fingers and wrapped his arm around her waist. "Don't be. They'll love you."
Eva smiled and leaned her head against his shoulder. "I hope so."
The adults stood, waiting to greet the students.
"Thank you for inviting us, Minister." Scorpius was the first to extend his hand in greeting.
Theo chuckled, "Scorpius, don't act as if we haven't known you since you were in the womb."
The young man laughed. "Sorry. It's just at official functions, you know?"
Hermione squeezed his shoulder. "We know you're doing your duty, but it's just us, Scorp. Are your parents joining us? I invited them but never got a response."
Scorpius forced a smile. "Not sure if they can make it. Mum's feeling poorly."
"I'm sorry to hear," Hermione replied.
"Have a seat," Theo insisted while gesturing to a designated seating area. There was already a group of other well-dressed students donning crimson and gold scarves. "We also had to invite the Gryffindor prefects. Couldn't look like we were playing favorites."
Scorpius nodded in understanding and took his seat on the opposite side of their rivals.
As Marina greeted her parents, Albus looked out to the crowds, looking for signs for his parents. There were just so many people, he didn't know where to look. He was really regretting leaving his Omnioculars in the dorm.
"Earth to Al," Theo called.
His head snapped toward his godparents, a little embarrassed by his distraction.
"Come here, Albus," Hermione said affectionately before hugging him, followed by a hug from Theo.
"Hermione, Theo, you've met Eva before, right?" Albus asked as he presented his girlfriend.
"Briefly," Theo replied as he presented his hand. "Lovely to meet you, Eva."
"Thank you, Warlock Nott." She took his hand and shook it, then turned to Hermione and shook hers. "Lovely to see you again, Minister."
"Mum on the way?" Albus asked.
"Yes," Hermione responded. "She told me she was about to Apparate to Hogsmeade right before I lost reception."
"Cool," Albus responded. Hesitantly, he asked. "And Dad?"
Hermione and Theo exchanged glances before she said, "Yes, but he's not coming alone. Ron and Susan are coming as well, but Teddy is also coming with his girlfriend, Victoire."
"Fantastic," he responded, the word dripping with sarcasm. Albus's stomach tied in knots, thinking of this much larger group and the new set of dynamics to add to the existing tension. Of course, a Gryffindor and Slytherin match could never just be a sporting event. It had to dig up decades-long feuds and put everyone on edge.
"We still outnumber them," Theo said coyly, easing Albus's tension some.
"Yet, you went for the neutrals…" Albus said accusingly, pointing at Theo and Hermione's lack of house colors, opting for shades of black and gray with pins of the Hogwarts crest affixed to their cloaks.
Hermione rolled her eyes. "Alright, alright. Just sit down. The box is starting to get crowded."
Eva and Albus took their seats next to Scorpius and Marina. A whole row behind them as left empty, which they reasoned was reserved for all of the Minister's guests. Being high up in the stands, they felt the bitter cold intensify around them.
"Fuck it's cold, and I forgot my gloves," Eva complained as they waited for the match to begin.
Albus took her hands in his, rubbing them vigorously, letting the friction warm them. He brought her knuckle to his lips and kissed them. "Better?"
"A little." She scooted in closer to him and tucked her hands under his jacket.
"Here." Marina passed them a little jar containing a flickering flame.
"Thanks." Albus took it, and he and Eva wrapped their hands around the little jar.
"Can someone cast a fucking warming charm, or do I need to do it myself?"
Albus laughed as he heard a perturbed voice call from further down the bleachers. He spotted the source, and as expected, it was his mother. She, too, had opted for style over formality, wearing high-waisted olive green leather leggings with black booties and a turtleneck charcoal gray jumper, finished with a houndstooth cloak with a fur collar and matching fur cap.
"Your mum looks fierce," Eva gasped.
"That's Mum," he said proudly. Albus couldn't help but grin, watching Pansy reprimand the Ministry security detail and some of the older wizards. She pulled her wand out, demonstrating what they should have done ages ago. Upon her urging, the others cast the spell, sending warmth that radiated throughout the stands.
Finally appeased, she ascended the stairs. She waved at Albus and pointed upward, letting him know that she would check in with her friends first.
Albus nodded in understanding but continued to observe his mother.
"Hermione, you must insist on better conditions for this stadium. It's dreadful."
"Not the Ministry's problem, Pans," Hermione responded with a laugh. "Take it up with the Board of Governors and the alumni supporters."
"I will." She finally reached her seat and greeted Hermione and Theo with kisses on the cheek. "Speaking of the board...where are Draco and Marcus?" Pansy looked through the crowd. "Shouldn't they be here?"
"Draco might not be able to make it," Theo said in soft tones, "No idea where Marcus is. His daughter is Seeker this year, so I imagined he'd be here."
"I see…" Pansy's voice trailed thoughtfully. She placed her bag down and said, "I'll be joining the kids for a bit. Watch my things?"
Hermione waved her off and said, "Of course."
Pansy stepped onto the bench in the row ahead of them. Albus stood to help his mother down.
"Thank you, darling." She kissed his cheek and gave him a big hug. When she released him, she took a good look at his appearance. "I like this. Did we get this in Seoul?"
Albus nodded in response.
"Some of the pieces. A few are New York and Paris."
"Let's sit for a bit," Pansy said. She began tugging at Albus's curls. "This is getting trimmed at Christmas."
He groaned with annoyance, "I know mum."
"I promise to take you out for Thai food after as a reward."
"Deal," he agreed and affectionately rested his head on his mother's shoulder for a brief moment.
"Eva, will you be able to come into London over the hols and stay with us?" Pansy asked.
"Oh," she said nervously. "Maybe for a day trip, but my parents wouldn't let me stay with a boy overnight. They're not as progressive as you, Ms Parkinson."
"I see." Pansy paused as if looking for loopholes. "I would suggest staying with Marina, but the Notts spend the holidays at Crosslip Heights instead of the Minister's Mansion…"
"It's alright, Mum. Eva can come into town for a day trip to see me, and I can go and see her for a bit." Albus responded.
"Of course. We have a few weeks to figure it out." Pansy affectionately reached out and squeezed Eva's hand. "Maybe we'll invite your whole family for dinner one night."
Albus watched Eva shift in her seat uncomfortably. He knew how uneasy her family was around magic, so he spoke on her behalf. "Maybe we'll pick one of our favorite restaurants instead."
Pansy gave a slow nod of understanding. This was something Albus had mentioned to her before.
Cheers and buzzing chatter came from further down the stands. Albus stood up to see what the commotion was. A sea of spectators parted as special guests made their way through the crowds. Yelps of excitement and people asking for autographs. It was the kind of attention that only a celebrity—or hero—would receive.
He exhaled in a huff and dropped back into his seat. "Dad's here." His jaw tightened and swallowed dryly. He knew he shouldn't feel so anxious about seeing his father, but he was. Estranged. What a word. It felt eerily accurate right now. Strange and distant, yet part of him was excited and longed to see the man.
Eva squeezed his hand tightly, while his mother placed a hand on his shoulder.
"Do you want me to stay here with you, Albus?" Pansy asked, her protective, motherly instincts taking hold.
He tapped his heels nervously, trying to decide. Albus knew that he had to face his father sooner or later, especially when it was Albus who had told Hermione that he wanted his father to try harder.
"I'll be okay." The way he said it, was more of a personal affirmation than a response to his mother.
Pansy kissed Albus on the cheek. "I'm just going to be right behind you, alright."
As his mother was taking her place with the other Alumni, his father had reached their section. Where his mother had been beautiful and stylish, his father was ruggedly handsome. No frills. A pair of old jeans with scuffed boots, a simple yet tailored double-breasted black wool coat, gray scarf, and woolen cap. Perhaps this was a sign of neutrality, but Gryffindor's prodigal son had returned and didn't wear a stitch of red or gold. Albus hoped that in some way, Harry was saying that he was here for him, and not some dumb match.
Harry met Albus's eyes and gave him a tentative smile and wave. Albus forced a smile, trying not to let his anxiety and other feelings get the best of him. He could do this. It would just be his dad—but it wasn't. For a split second, Albus forgot that Harry would be joined by his in-laws and godson.
Teddy and Victoire, Albus could handle. Ron was a whole other story. His wife Susan was kind and generally a peacekeeper. Al didn't know much about her, but he would put money on her being a Hufflepuff alumna. But watching the chubby, middle-aged man wrapped in Gryffindor regalia from to head-to-foot, waddle up the stairs set Albus's blood on fire.
The man was a piece of shit, as far as Albus was concerned. He quickly learned what the word "bastard" meant, just by being in his presence. Honestly, Albus couldn't understand how his father could still be friends with the man.
Without warning, he felt Eva's lips on his. He hadn't even realized how pursed they were or how tight his jaw was until he relaxed to kiss her back.
"Thought you needed that." She said softly after pulling away.
He leaned in to whisper in her ear, "I'll need lots of that. Maybe just not in front of my parents."
"Maybe you're right." A sly smile tugged at the corner of her lips. "I'm not sure being attached to your mouth is really the impression of me I want them to leave with."
"A few more won't hurt." He kissed her tenderly, distracting himself from the world around them, pulling strength from her. She was something healing. How he wished he could bottle this feeling she gave him, so he could feel like this all the time. He pulled away and whispered, "Thank you."
The blush on her cheeks and her slightly embarrassed smile set his stomach aflutter. Yes, he was happy his mother was there, but having Eva was something he never imagined he needed.
Albus felt the presence standing over him. This was it. No more postponing the inevitable. He rose to meet his father, and Eva stood alongside him, holding his hand even tighter than before.
"Hey, Dad." His voice was shaky with hesitation. He noticed one of his allies was missing. "Where's Teddy?"
"Sitting in the Hufflepuff Alumni section." Harry pointed to an elevated area speckled in black and gold. "Don't worry. He'll join us for dinner. He's excited to see you."
"Wow, you've gotten tall." Harry, too, had his emotions betray his voice. There was remorse and sadness, having let so much time pass.
"It happens," Al clipped. Of course, he grew. It had been over a year.
"Hi, I'm Harry." He reached out a hand to Eva, not waiting for Albus to introduce them.
"Eva," she smiled cordially, albeit a little hesitant. Albus was thankful for her polite, neutral tone. Honestly, he wouldn't know how he would have handled her if she was either too eager or too defensive. There was enough of that struggle raging through his mind.
"Are you expecting more friends?" Harry asked, motioning to the empty seats next to Albus.
"Yes," he lied.
"Is it alright if I sit next to you until they show up?" Harry's voice was sincere, desperately seeking passage back into his son's life.
"I guess," Albus responded nonchalantly, as they all sat down.
"So…" Harry struggled to start a conversation. "How're N.E.W.T. classes?"
"Still doing the Alchemy thing?"
"How is that? Is it hard? I was alright at Transfiguration, passable at Potions—"
"So I've heard."
Harry must have sensed Albus wasn't going to allow his walls to come down so easily, so he turned his attention to Eva. "So, Eva, what are you focusing on?"
She hesitated to answer the question, chewing her bottom lip in contemplation. "I, um—am still undecided, but I'm taking Charms, Potions, Transfiguration, DADA, and Herbology. Figured they'd give me the best headstart after school. To be honest, might even go back and take some Muggle courses after graduation."
"That's brilliant!" Harry brightened. "Are you a half-blood?"
"Muggle-born," she answered proudly.
"I had no idea...wow, a Muggle-born Slytherin," Harry said, the words foreign on his tongue. "But Muggle college. Loved Hogwarts, but definitely could have done with learning more maths and government—"
Albus could sense his ire building the more his father spoke. It all just felt so feeble and desperate. "Why are you here, Dad?"
Harry's face fell, watching his son already go on the defensive. "What do you mean? I wanted to see you…"
"Did you?" Albus scoffed.
"Al, of course, I wanted to see you." His voice was pleading, trying to make his son see reason. "You know there aren't a whole lot of opportunities for parents to come to Hogwarts during the school year."
"There are Hogsmeade weekends, ceremonies—" Albus looked to the sky as if searching for the words. "Oh, and you're fucking Harry Potter. I'm pretty sure you could have walked through those doors whenever you wanted to. Oh, like...after a near terrorist attack."
"Now that's not fair."
"You only ever want to meet somewhere public, where no one can make a scene, and you still end up looking like 'Hero Dad.'"
"I didn't set the rules, Albus." His father sounded more stern. "You and your mother—"
Albus clicked his tongue loudly in annoyance, cutting his father off. His jaw locked tight, and he began seething through his nose, trying to suppress his rage. Eva tried to calm him down, but he shook his hand from her grasp and shoved his hands in his jacket pocket.
"Al?" she asked calmly.
He gave her a warning look and shook his head. Letting her know that he needed to handle this on his own.
"Dad, let's be real here. You picked today because you thought everyone would be in a good mood, and if they weren't, you'd just soak in the hero worship. Hogwarts's favorite son returning to his old stomping grounds." He laughed humorlessly and stood up, licking his lips and shaking his head. His temper rose, and so did the volume of his voice. "YOU want to be loved. Adored. Made important!"
Pansy stood and put herself between Harry and Albus. "Hey, what's going on? Perhaps we can discuss this somewhere else?"
"No, I deserve this," Harry said, egging his son on. "Tell me, Albus. Remind me of what an absolute fuck-up of a father I am."
"You—" his bottom lip trembled, and his eyes stung, threatening to cascade tears down his face. But he wouldn't. He wouldn't give his father that satisfaction. "When will you stop trying? You didn't want Mum. You didn't want me. YOU WANT ALL THIS! For everyone to fucking love you when you had it. You fucking had it!"
"You think this is what I want?" Harry said accusingly. "You think I wanted to miss out on your life?"
Albus looked the other way, not wanting to read his father's expressions.
Harry steadied his breath and tried reasoning with his son. "You pushed me away. I thought that was what you wanted. It's what you chose—"
"THAT'S WHAT YOU CHOSE!" Albus was now screaming at the top of his lungs. "YOU PUSHED US AWAY MY WHOLE LIFE. I JUST SAID WHAT I MEANT INSTEAD OF MAKING FUCKING EXCUSES."
"Albus, Honey," His mother tried to calm him down. Pansy gave Harry a scathing glance and said, "Potter, you should go."
"No," Harry responded indignantly. "I'm not leaving things like this. Let's just go somewhere, the three of us—"
"Don't you get it?" Albus laughed with a mixture of annoyance and hysteria. "Mum and I don't need you."
Hermione stood from her seat. "Let me help. I have access to Apparate us to the headmistress's office—"
"No need." Albus decided then and there he was done with this conversation and done with his father for that matter. He turned in the opposite direction and stormed off, pushing his way past his friends.
"Albus—" Eva cried.
"I've got him. He needs—uh—just stay here." Scorpius said in a rush, hot on Albus's heels. "Al! Wait up!"
"Scorp!" Eva's call faded in the distance, drowned out by spectators.
Albus didn't slow down. He just wanted to get the hell away from his family as quickly as he could.
In no time at all, Scorpius had caught up as Albus was descending the stairs. Albus didn't respond but was thankful to have Scorpius at that moment.
"Here." A metal flask was shoved into Albus's hand.
"Thanks." He didn't even bother to ask what was in it, all he cared about was that whatever was in that flask would dull the pain he felt in his chest. It passed his lips, warm, sweet, and comforting. Firewhisky. The good stuff. Of course. He gave the flask back to Scorpius, who then took a swig of his own.
"You just left Eva."
"I—I can't have her see me like this. Not yet."
"I'm sure she could handle it."
"I know she could. It's just..." He shook his head, not knowing how to express himself.
"Come on," Scorpius urged. "Let's get as far away from this shitshow as possible."
The boys walked quickly in relative silence, the crowd drowning out any of their attempts at communication regardless. They hadn't noticed how often the flask had been passed between them. It was when they were stumbling back up to the castle, they realized how heavy and numb they felt. They practically fell into the first set of benches they found.
Albus drowned the last swig of whisky. "This was some good contraband. You're not a very good prefect, Scorpius Malfoy."
"Nope." He chuckled. "So what the fuck was that?"
He finally allowed the tears to fall down his face. "I'm just fucking tired of it, Scorp. I'm so fucking tired of not being his priority. I don't need to be." Albus it the inside of his cheek, desperate to describe the ache inside of him.
"But you want it?"
Albus nodded, his chest heaving, breath stuttered from his overwhelming emotional state. "I hate that I still want it."
"At least he's not dying," Scorpius said, the words bitter on his tongue.
"I thought the treatments were helping…"
Scorpius shrugged, "It's so up and down. Not even sure it's working anymore. Mum's body is so worn down by it all. You know, sometimes, I don't even want to go home. I don't want to remember my mum deteriorating. Fuck, Al. Do you know how jealous I was of you for going abroad every holiday?"
"I invited you—"
"You know I fucking couldn't." He sighed frustratedly. "Dad wants us to cherish every moment, but I just want to fucking run away from it. Just for a little bit. You know?"
"I know exactly what you mean." Albus reached into his pocket and pulled out a joint. "Want some?"
"Yeah, fuck it. Everyone is at the match." He took it from Albus. Using his wand, he lit it as he took soothing puffs.
Albus took a few hits of his own, and said with a half-smile, "I'm feeling just a little better."
Scorpius snorted before saying, "Fuck, I wish we had something harder. I just want to be numb. Or happy. Something better than this fucking hell."
"Actually…" Albus suddenly remembered something sitting in their dorm. "You feel like doing a little extracurricular project with me?"
Albus extinguished the flames that had been slowly burning for weeks. He looked down at the cooling, swirling pearlescent liquid, its odorless vapors wafting into his nostrils—calming him, washing away all doubt. "Scorp, I think it's ready."
"You sure?" Scorpius hopped down from his perch on the window sill and bounded over to the small cauldron in only a few short strides. Excitedly, he examined the elixir, and the same pacifying effects hit his system. He inhaled even more deeply, letting his head loll back backward, savoring it. "Merlin…" Scorpius muttered. "If that's just the vapor—"
"I know," Albus said with a smirk. He pulled out a pack of vials, and with a few waves of his wand, the dropper caps of the dozen or so bottles twisted off and levitated in the air.
Scorpius helped, charming the liquid from the cauldron, dividing it between the small glass bottles. With a few careful swishes of their wands, they sealed up the vials and had a year's supply of the drug, or at least by their calculations.
The boys had researched some of the best ways to administer the potion. Drops seemed to be the safest bet. Easy to dose. Easy to hide. A drop here and there to take the edge off. Albus took one bottle for himself and handed one to Scorpius.
"So let's start with a drop each, yeah?" Albus stated, waiting for Scorpius's approval.
Carefully, they each placed a drop of the Euphorus on the center of their tongues. Almost instantly, the boys started to feel the bliss come on. Warm and comforting, their stresses and worries melting away.
Already in a hazy, dreamlike state, Scorpius smiled at Albus with heavy-lidded eyes. "We fucking did it."
They sat across from each other, waiting for the drug to really take hold. Albus felt relaxed and happy, but not much different than a glass of whiskey or a couple of bottles of champagne at Christmas.
"I think we need to take more," Albus reasoned.
"Just one more drop," Scorpius insisted.
Albus nodded his head in agreement. Just one more drop. The second drop hit them both faster. Without even realizing it, Albus dragged his fingers across his face, caressing every curve and divot, hollowing his cheeks, mesmerized by his own anatomy. The sensation of the short, stubbly hair of his upper lip contrasted by the longer hair of his eyebrows. He started alternating the stroking of his brows and the nonexistent mustache. "What do you think I would look like with a beard?"
He glanced over to Scorpius pulling at his bottom lip. "You'll never grow a beard...I won't either...our faces are too rubbery."
Albus giggled and sat closer to his friend. He leaned his head against the other boy's shoulder.
Scorpius didn't mind, and rested his head on top of Albus's.
"You're my best friend, Scorp. You're my ride or die."
"What the fuck does that mean?" Scorpius laughed.
"I dunno. Some Muggle saying. I think it has to do with motorcycles or sex." Albus snorted.
"I'm not high enough to fuck you, Al, if that's what you're asking."
"You're not my type. Too pale and you have a bony arse." Albus chuckled to himself. "But seriously. You're always there for me."
"Shut the fuck up," Scorpius blushed. "You're there too. Cradle to the grave. See, that's a phrase that actually makes sense."
"Isn't that the truth. My mum has pics of her holding me and your mum holding you the day I came home from the hospital." Albus recalled with a wave of nostalgia, despite not being able to remember the actual event. In that same album was a picture of his father holding him. His mother looked so sad. She had forced a smile for the photo, but her eyes said everything. "Scorp, we have shitty Dads."
Not even bothering to address the swift change in conversation, Scorpius responded, "You have a shitty dad," Scorpius corrected. "I have a desperate, heartbroken, distracted dad."
"A dad who is more focused on a dying woman than his very alive son." Albus could see Scorpius try his best not to let the animosity toward his father grow, but he knew that pain. Even if Scorp didn't say anything, Albus knew exactly how his friend felt.
Scorpius sighed in resignation. "In no way do I win in this situation, do I? I'm losing both of them. And when she's gone, who knows what he'll be like. He's already a shell of what he was."
"Yeah," Albus responded almost mechanically, his mind between conscious thought and the taunting euphoria. He squeezed his hands tightly into fists, then splayed them open wide. He stared at his hands, marveling at how long his fingers were and the tingling sensation that pulsed through his digits as he repeated the motion. Though he had been telling himself to succumb to the bliss, he wasn't quite ready to let go. There was more he wanted to get off his chest. "Sometimes, I think I ruined my mum's life."
"What are you saying?" Scorpius asked his response slow and lacking his usual articulation. "You're her whole world."
"Exactly." Albus buried his face in his hands, fearful his emotions would get the best of him, but the drug wouldn't let him. "Sometimes, I think she would have been better off if she didn't have me. She could have moved on from my dad, and I don't know, had another chance at life—had a whole family."
"Don't be stupid, Al. She has a family. You have a family. So fucking what if it's not traditional." He got up to his feet and reached for Albus. "Come on. Let's get back to the common room before we end up too fucking high to find it."
Albus took his friend's hand and shakily got to his feet. He reached into his pocket for the little vial. Holding it between his two fingers, he stared as it swirled and shimmered behind the clear glass. "It's so pretty…" Mesmerized, he placed another drop of the potion on his tongue, aching to suppress the pain of his emotions, threatening to seep into his bones.
Scorpius turned his gaze toward him. The boy's blinks slow, with heavy lids. "You sure it's okay to take more?"
"It doesn't feel strong enough," Albus reasoned. "I'm still sad."
"Me too," Scorpius added. "Let's clean up and just take more in the dorms. Then if we're too fucked up, we'll have someone to check on us."
Albus agreed, "We don't tell the girls. Just the guys."
"Why don't you want Eva to know?" Scorpius questioned as he charmed all of their belongings into a bag with Undetectable Extension Charms.
"Because...honestly—" he took in a deep inhale before hanging his head, "I don't know. I guess I don't want her to know exactly how fucked up I am. If she knew I was like this, it might scare her away."
Scorpius clapped him on the shoulder. "I get it. We all have our secrets. Maybe one day, yeah? If you love her, you have to let her in. Do you love her?"
Albus was silent for a moment, thinking about the question. He imagined her smile, her touch, and her laugh. Something deep from his gut bubbled up to his chest, filling him with warmth mixed with anxiousness. All he could think about was getting back to her. His eyes went wide in realization. "Shit. I think I do."
"So, you going to tell her?"
"About the Euphorus? Fuck no." Albus replied as if the thought was ludicrous. "But...maybe I can be more honest about the stuff up here." He tapped his temple.
"Come on then, loverboy. Let's go. By the way, is this potion making you horny?" Scorpius adjusted his trousers, his partially-erect penis causing him annoyance.
"Yes, but I'm still not fucking you, Scorp," Albus laughed. "But I hear Gemma Hale is on the rebound."
Back in the common room, Eva had been waiting in one of the worn, velvet wingback chairs, and looked less than pleased. As Albus and Scorpius approached, Eva stood abruptly and stomped toward them.
"Scorpius Malfoy. We had rounds tonight. I had to do them with Higgs. You're on patrol with Marina tomorrow. Where the hell were —"
Albus pressed his lips to hers, cutting her off, hoping she would calm down. It wasn't until he felt her relax in his arms and fall deeper into the kiss, did he finally speak. "It's my fault, Babe. I needed Scorp to help me on a project."
"And why didn't you ask for my help?" she asked pointedly, not quite as relaxed as he had hoped.
"I'm sorry, Eva, but it was a really complex potion, and he's number two in our year after me. It just needed someone with a lot of patience." Albus winced, realizing that didn't come out that great.
"I'll try not to take offense." She huffed.
"Let me make it up to you," he pleaded as he took her hand.
"And that's my cue to go," Scorpius waved farewell and headed in the direction of a group of girls sitting by the fire.
Eva pouted, "I'm still mad. Do you have any idea how much Higgs talks...about nothing?"
Albus laughed. "I avoid him at all costs." He pulled her in close and whispered in her ear. "Want to go to my room? There's something I want to tell you."
She gave him a suspicious look. "Must we be in private for you to tell me?"
"No," he responded, "but…"
"In my room, I can massage your tired feet from all that patrolling." He made a pleading face, hoping it was enough to entice her.
"Your eyes are all glassy. Have you been drinking or something?" She put her hands on her hips, waiting for an answer.
Eva clicked her tongue, not entirely approving of that answer.
"Look," Albus reached for her hand. "Just come with me so I can tell you I love you."
"What?" She asked, her eyes wide in shock.
"Oh...I fucked it up. I was going to start with some conversations, a bit of a snog, maybe go down on you—"
Her lips were on his, interrupting his hazy train of thought.
"Albus Potter," Eva started, "I love you, too."
"So...room?" He asked eagerly.
As he had promised, Harry met Pansy at the coffee shop. Initially, they had just planned on taking their drinks and pastries to go, but as luck would have it, their barista had made an error and prepared everything to be enjoyed at the shop. Pansy had a feeling that the girl had recognized them, by how awkward the girl was acting, and how much more done up her hair and makeup was from the day before.
Pansy sipped her coffee slowly, savoring every drop. Harry hadn't even touched his coffee, and just stared at her.
"What?" she asked.
"Nothing," he said in embarrassment. "It's just…"
"Just what?" Pansy inquired.
"I like how gently you press your lips against the mug, so you don't smear your lipstick."
She blushed fiercely. "Oh...that. I—I started that in school. Before I discovered long-wear lipstick. I don't even need to do that anymore. A force of habit, I guess."
"There are so many little things I forgot," he began. His lingering gaze and open mouth, looked like he wanted to say more, but didn't.
"I'm not used to your beard," she said, a flush of pink staining her cheeks.
He scratched at the scruff on his face. "You don't like it?"
"No, I do...it's just that…" she lowered the volume of her voice to hushed tones. "I didn't realize how sensitive the skin between my thighs is. Your scruff left some...bumps."
"Oh...OH." The realization came to him, and he flushed a deep red. "I—I um. I can start conditioning my beard."
Pansy bit her bottom lip, amused by Harry's shyness, and eagerness to please. "You don't have to, but I'm sure I could get you some product."
"Thanks." Harry looked down shyly as he sipped his coffee. Pansy bit her lip in amusement as she caught him sneaking glances of her over the top of his glasses.
"Harry—" she hesitated, "We definitely can't tell Albus about this. Not until—"
"I know, Pans." He placed his cup down onto the saucer. "He doesn't trust me, and I haven't given him reason to." Harry sighed as he reached for her hand. "Anything I will say to him will feel empty. All I can do is show it. To him and you."
A lump formed in her throat. She knew he wasn't an idiot. He knew the damage he had done, and how broken and fractured the three of them were, but perhaps there was still hope. That this experience would be the molten gold to piece the broken shards of their lives back together. Living through the hardships would make them more beautiful.
"Do you know what kintsugi is?" She asked.
His smile broadened and let out a small laugh. "I do." He laced his fingers with hers, wordlessly telling her she didn't need to explain any further.
Pansy's skin shivered, and it had nothing to do with the temperature. Her body and heart were letting her know that they had completely betrayed her judgment, and were his once again.
The barista returned with the rest of the order they planned on bringing up to the castle—three mochas and three pain au chocolats.
"Thank you," Pansy remarked. "Actually, could I get another one of these to go?"
"Me as well," Harry added.
With pastries and coffees in hand, they walked up to the castle—together.
When they arrived at the hospital wing, they were surprised to see Eva in bed with Albus, her arms wrapped protectively around him, her chin nuzzled against his shoulder. Pansy placed her hand on her heart, overwhelmed at the sight. Eva never had to prove how much she loved Albus. It was just there, for the whole world to see. Pansy could only hope and pray that the two of them had the strength for what would happen next in their lives.
Madam Nightingale walked toward Harry and Pansy to greet them. "Good Morning, Ms Parkinson, Mr Potter, did you sleep well?"
Pansy did her best to suppress a smirk. "Well enough, all things considered."
Harry nearly choked at the innuendo. "Yes. Sleep has proven difficult...Erm, we brought you a little something." He handed her the pastry and paper coffee cup.
"Smells delightful. Thank you," the woman said graciously.
"You let Eva stay with Albus?" Pansy asked.
The woman nodded her head. "She was here studying, and Albus had already fallen asleep. His body went into fits, so I told her to hold him while I retrieved extra blankets." The woman smiled at the recollection. "He started calming down almost instantly once she was under the covers. She was so sweet as she reassured him that he would be okay. I just didn't have the heart to send her back to her dorms."
"You're far more understanding than your predecessor," Harry joked. "There were times I could have really used a friend in here."
"Poppy and I have some very different views on what people need to heal," Nightingale explained. "Speaking of which. I received a letter early this morning from the Minister. She confirmed that the governors and St. Mungo's will be meeting here at the school to review the plans we discussed yesterday. You don't need to concern yourself with the details, but Albus, and other students like him, will have new facilities—hopefully by the end of next week. Until then, we're still figuring it out."
"And his classes?" Pansy asked.
Nightingale raised her hands, "One day at a time, Ms Parkinson. Right now, his health is the highest priority."
"Of course," Pansy shook her head a little embarrassed. "I guess I'm just already positive he'll make a full recovery."
Harry placed a hand on her shoulder. "We can hope, but we can't put the pressure on him."
She placed her hand on his, thankful for the reminder and support.
"Hey, you—" Albus's sleepy voice muttered.
"Hey, yourself," they heard Eva reply.
They were out of Pansy's view, but not out of earshot. "Sleepyheads, would you like some coffee?" she called.
"Mum?" Albus called.
"I'm here too," Harry added.
Eva was slipping out of the bed as the three adults came to the bedside. She had fallen asleep in her uniform from the day before, and it was all wrinkled and askew. Stretching her body from side to side, she yawned, "Merlin, this bed is small."
Pansy laughed before giving her a hug. "Thank you for taking care of Albus. You are too good for him."
"Mum, don't tell her that. She hasn't figured it out yet." Albus joked.
"Oh, I have. A long time ago. You're lucky you're pretty," Eva returned with a quip of her own.
"Here," Harry passed them their goodies.
Albus took a deep inhale of the mocha. "Coffee...How I miss good coffee."
Pansy smiled as she recalled an eleven-year-old version of her son complaining about how much he missed good food.
Eva placed hers down on the side table and started to gather her things. "Thank you so much, but I'm just going to take this to go. I've missed one of my classes already, and still need to freshen up." She gave Albus a kiss on the cheek. "I'll see you later. Love you."
"Love you, too."
She took the coffee and excused herself, before heading back to the dorms.
Madam Nightingale said, "Albus, I'll be back to run your vitals after you've finished your breakfast. I'll also need you to provide me with a sample to run some more tests."
"Yes, ma'am," he responded.
She gave them all a nod and headed back to her office.
"How you feeling?" Harry asked, with far less tension than he had the day prior.
"Sore. My head's pounding, and it feels like someone's squeezed my eyeballs," he answered honestly. "Only slightly nauseous."
"And the cravings?" Pansy asked hesitantly.
"Not terrible, thanks to this," Albus pointed at the drip in his arm, "but still there."
"It's a start, right?" Pansy said with optimism.
"It's something," Albus shrugged. "Have they said what they are going to do with me after detox is over?"
Harry nodded his head. "We don't know all the details, but an unused part of the castle is going to be converted for students who need some extra help, and you'll be able to move in there soon."
"Will Eva be able to stay with me?" He asked.
Pansy shook her head. "I don't know, but I would imagine not. From what I read, most rehabilitation programs are about overcoming dependency in all forms."
Sadly, Albus responded, "That makes sense."
"Once you move into the facility," Pansy explained, "I'll probably have to head back to London, too."
Harry must have noticed a look of panic on Albus's face. "It's all still in the air, but we'll be there for all of the family sessions."
"Both of you?"
Harry and Pansy nodded in confirmation. Not even thinking, Harry wrapped his arm around Pansy's shoulders as he said, "Both of us."
Albus's eyebrows shot up in confusion and waved his finger between his parents. "What's this?"
Pansy went on the defense, "We're trying to get along for your sake. We thought it was better to not be at odds while you're going through rehab."
He scrunched his lips to the side and shook his head. "I'm not buying it. I get the, 'let's get along for Albus,' part, but what's with the arm. You would have punched Dad by now."
Harry removed his arm in a very indiscreet, very uncool way, and scratched the back of his head. "Your mother and I are trying harder to be friends."
"I thought you'd be happy that we aren't trying to kill each other," Pansy added.
"I am," Albus responded, "but...you just seem so relaxed. And you came together and had coffee. Dad looks like he put effort into his outfit and mom doesn't have RBF—"
"RBF?" Harry asked.
"Resting Bitch Face, Harry," she answered.
"And you're calling him Harry," Albus continued. "NO." His eyes went wide as the pieces came together. "Did you...NO...Impossible..."
Harry and Pansy locked eyes, with shared expressions of hilarity and mortification.
"You did, didn't you?" Albus exclaimed. "You fucked. I'm detoxing, and you had sex?"
Pansy had to clap her hand over her mouth in order to keep herself from laughing. Especially with Albus giving her a wide-eyed, 'explain yourself,' look. It took a moment to compose herself. "Albus, your father and I are adults. And if we needed to comfort each other last night…"
"Enough. I get it." Albus threw his hands up in surrender, regretting pushing the subject. "Fuck, I'm going to be in therapy forever." He laughed before taking another sip of his coffee.
And there it was, Pansy thought. Her son's smile. That's when she knew things would get better.
I cannot believe how long it's been since I've updated! My goal was to get it up by the time my episode on the Wine, Wands, and Waffling Podcast went up, but life, man. Life. And this chapter is a LONG one. I thought I could wrap this story up in one chapter, but I have one more planned. For real this time.
For my Confessions fans, you may notice that I snuck in a kintsugi reference. It's really some of the most beautiful symbolism in our world. I just had to use it again for this story. The Japanese art of kintsugi teaches that broken objects are not something to hide but to display with pride. This traditional Japanese art uses a precious metal – liquid gold, liquid silver or lacquer dusted with powdered gold – to bring together the pieces of a broken pottery item and at the same time, enhance the breaks.
Also, some very, very important news. I started a podcast called Original Characters, where I chat with fanfiction authors who are now creating original content. We'll cover topics from fandom pressures, traditional and self-publishing, marketing, and more. I've already had on Lovesbitca8 and JLPierre, and have upcoming episodes with ToFadeAwayAgain, Writerspassion18, Olivie Blake, and more! I hope you get to check it out! On all major podcast platforms