“This is your suite of rooms, Alde.”
“Don’t call me Alde,” Harry muttered as he stared at the door Malfoy was holding open. Or, Draco, really, he supposed. He’d had to get used to calling the boy by that name because he threatened to tell his parents when Harry didn’t. Plus, there were just too many Malfoys around for comfort if he kept trying to call them all by their last name.
Draco rolled his eyes. “You’re my little brother. I’ll call you whatever I want.”
“Oh, then I can call you Firebreath?”
Draco’s look of extreme horror was entertaining, but Mrs. Malfoy popped up behind Harry before he could bait Draco into continuing. “Aldebaran, you shouldn’t fight with your brother. You don’t know how deeply he’s longed for you to come home.”
Harry snapped his mouth shut. So this was going to be just like the Dursleys’, he thought, with a pang he was surprised to feel. His “relative” got away with insulting him and Harry just had to bear it. He supposed he shouldn’t have thought things would be different. The Malfoys had magic, but that was the only thing that really made them separate from Petunia and Vernon.
His thoughts went back to Ron and Hermione, who had been horrified and—well, horrified was still Ron’s reaction, although Hermione was doing her best to support him. She said Ron would come back at some point and say Harry was still his friend. For now, though, that wasn’t true.
Harry wished no one had ever discovered he wasn’t Harry Potter.
He silently walked into the bedroom and stared around. It was too big and too bare. The walls were marble, he thought, but why did that matter when they were cold and empty? The windows looked out over a garden that was probably pretty in the summer, but bleak and barren now that it was almost Christmas. Professor Dumbledore hadn’t been able to block the Malfoys when they filed for custody, but he had ensured that at least Harry didn’t have to visit Malfoy Manor until the winter holiday.
Now, he had no choice.
“Aldebaran? We wanted to know how you would decorate your suites.”
Harry sighed and turned to look at Mrs. Malfoy. She kept telling him to call her “Mum,” but how could Harry, when half the time she was snapping at him about politeness and manners and posture and the way he ate and his background? He avoided it by just not calling her anything at all. “I don’t know. I don’t know anything about this.”
Mrs. Malfoy frowned a little. “Well, of course this is very different than a Muggle—dwelling.” Harry suspected that wasn’t the word she’d been about to say. “But how did you decorate your room where you lived?”
Harry couldn’t keep himself from tensing up at the question, which he knew she would notice. Still, the Malfoys knew nothing about the Dursleys except that they had been Lily’s relatives and had given up custody of him without a protest. Harry would make sure it stayed that way.
“With shelves,” Harry said, which was true. He said nothing else, and Mrs. Malfoy stepped into the room and gave Draco a little frown.
Apparently, that meant something Harry had no idea of, because Draco immediately left and shut the door behind him. Mrs. Malfoy sat down on the empty, sheet-less bed, and beckoned Harry towards her. Harry went, trailing a foot in the carpet. It was silver-colored, and so thick that he left a trail like someone crashing through a forest.
“Aldebaran, dear one,” Mrs. Malfoy said, and then lifted him into her lap. Harry was so startled that he didn’t fight, and then he was sitting there with Mrs. Malfoy’s arms around him and her anxious face a few inches from his. “I would give anything to make you more comfortable, to make the kidnapping not have happened, but it did.” Her hand smoothed his hair back, the straight, tameable white-blond hair Harry still couldn’t get used to. Draco insisted on slicking his back with some potion, but Harry refused. “But how can we help you fit in better if you don’t tell us what you’re thinking?”
Harry just stared at the floor. Then he said, “Look. I know you love Draco more, because he’s been here all along—”
He was going to explain how Draco being allowed to insult him however he liked was making him feel uncomfortable, but Mrs. Malfoy uttered a sharp sound of distress and tightened her arms around him.
“Oh, Aldebaran, not that, never that,” she breathed into his ear, while Harry sat frozen, because things like this didn’t happen to him. “I can see how you came to the conclusion that—oh, but it’s not true. You were always wanted, always loved, always missed. That you came back…it’s the greatest piece of good fortune we’ve ever had. I go to bed smiling every night now. I love you.”
Harry just stared at her face, the face that looked like his but didn’t know him. He swallowed and then said, “You love who I used to be. You love who I was for a few weeks. You don’t know me now.”
“Then help me know you. Tell me what’s wrong and I’ll light the stars on fire if I have to to make it better.”
Harry gave a strangled gasp and slipped out of her embrace. He had the feeling that Mrs. Malfoy just barely kept herself from reaching after him. Harry paced slowly in circles, glancing back at her. Mrs. Malfoy bit her lip and clasped her arms to her sides.
“I like Muggles,” Harry said. “The ones who raised me weren’t the greatest, but I don’t hate them. I won’t hate them. And Hermione Granger is my friend.” She was the only Gryffindor, other than Neville and the twins, who was still on his side, he thought. “Mal—I mean, Draco called her a Mudblood. I won’t stand for that. And you act like all I have to do is look like the rest of you and get yelled at a few times about my manners, and I’ll be a perfect little copy of you. I can’t. I won’t. I can’t change who I was for twelve years!”
There was a silence after that. Mrs. Malfoy blinked a few times, and Harry thought he saw the shimmer of tears in her eyes. He turned away and said nothing. He hated to make her cry, but it was still true no matter what she said.
Mrs. Malfoy stood and came around, kneeling in front of him. Harry glanced at her reluctantly. She put her hands on his shoulders and leaned in and kissed his scar. Harry didn’t flinch, the way he sometimes did when she tried to kiss his head or his cheek, or Mr. Malfoy put a hand on Harry’s shoulder. Having someone touch his scar when most people tried to act like it didn’t exist was…nice.
“I promise,” Mrs. Malfoy whispered, “we won’t try to make you hate Muggles. Your father is—unusual in his virulence. I don’t hate Muggles myself, in general. I hate the ones who raised you for keeping you away from us. But I detest my cousin Sirius, and I detest the Potters, and I detest everyone who would come between me and my family. You can go on being friends with Miss Granger. She seems to be a good influence on you.”
“Yeah, and are Draco and Mr. Malfoy going to agree to that?”
Mrs. Malfoy sighed and hugged him again. Harry felt the flutter of her eyelashes against his shoulder that probably meant she was closing her eyes. “It’s a process of adaptation, Aldebaran. It will take time to get used to you, and time for you to get used to us. I know you still jump when we call you by name. But we want to call you that. We love you, we want you to love us. And I will tell your father and your brother to keep their mouths shut on certain words and certain attitudes.”
“That doesn’t mean they’ll stop believing them, though.”
“As you cannot change who you have been for twelve years overnight, Draco cannot change who he was for twelve years, either,” Mrs. Malfoy explained, leaning back and studying Harry. “And your father has been as he is for much longer than that. Still, I will tell them to behave. In return, I ask that you give them a chance, and not insult your brother.”
“Tell him to stop calling me Alde, then.”
“Yes, I will.” Mrs. Malfoy gave him a misty smile. “I cannot tell you what it means to me to see you standing here in this room. To know that you went through—what you went through, but now you are safe, and you are home.”
Harry swallowed. “I wanted parents when I was growing up. I just thought I would never get them. And now I have a father who hates my best friend’s family and a brother who was my rival for a year and a half. It’s weird.”
“Neither of those things is as important as the fact that they are your father and brother,” Mrs. Malfoy said firmly. “I only ask that you give them a chance. Draco has heard stories of you all his life, which is the reason he can accept you at all, in the way that I’m sure he wouldn’t have if we’d adopted another child. He’ll want to make you comfortable, And let me speak with them about things like Draco insulting your friends and Lucius having his…beliefs. I am sure that I can persuade them to change for you.”
“If they have to be persuaded to change, does it really matter? Is it real?”
“We all have to work on making this real,” Mrs. Malfoy said, her arms tightening around him.
And that was true enough that Harry felt a little calmer, and let her talk with him about the kinds of pictures he might want to have on his walls, and whether he wanted to change the color of the carpet and the curtains on his bed.
Harry stared at the enormous pile of gifts lying on the floor in front of him. There were two piles, but while he had been sure that the Malfoys—his mum and dad, that was so weird—wanted to spoil him, he had naturally walked towards the smaller one, assuming the bigger one was for Draco. It was beyond strange to think that the bigger one was for him.
Even stranger, Draco was grinning smugly at him. “I added a few things to the pile for you, Aldebaran.” At least he’d stopped with the stupid nickname, even if it meant that Harry had to hear his awful full name even more often.
Harry glanced over his shoulder. They were in the middle of an enormous drawing room with so many mirrors on the walls that their reflections flashed distractingly back and forth, and which was decorated with all kinds of tree branches. Mr. and Mrs. Malfoy stood behind him and smiled the way Uncle Vernon had when he got a new car. They nodded encouragingly at the pile, which was decorated with more branches, and what looked like a pile of ivy.
“Come on,” Draco said. “What, did you never do this before?”
“Draco,” Mrs. Malfoy chided. Draco sat down with a huff and reached for the top present on his pile.
Harry sat down slowly in front of his. He’d have expected all the presents to be wrapped in green and silver, or maybe white and silver, which were the dominant colors in Malfoy Manor, but it seemed that his parents had found at least one variation of every single color. They were all different sizes and shapes, and all different paper.
“I never did get to do this before,” he whispered, and then he tore open the first present, which turned out to be a thick woolen cloak, pure white wool with a huge silver Malfoy swan on the back. The swan was part of the family crest, which Mr. Malfoy was teaching him about. Harry swung it around his shoulders, and gasped aloud at how warm it was.
“Imbued with a permanent Heating Charm,” Mr. Malfoy said, sitting down behind him on a silver thing that was called a chaise long-goo or something like that. “We want you to be warm in the storms of life, Aldebaran.”
Harry looked down and touched the cloak so that he didn’t have to show his face.
The present Draco was holding up was a similar cloak, but it had an underlining of green, so Harry watched it without envy. Mr. Malfoy had had a talk with him the other day that had seemed obscure, but Harry had finally worked it out: Mr. Malfoy was trying to ask if he was really happy in Gryffindor House or wanted to transfer to Slytherin.
Harry had firmly and clearly refused to leave his House. Yes, some of the other Gryffindors were being idiots right now, but he could still deal with that. He could deal with it pretty well if he gave up on hoping for Ron to talk to him each time he walked into the common room. Right now, Ron wouldn’t do that. Harry had to accept that and go on.
“And look,” Draco sang out as he took another box off the top of the pile and opened it to reveal a huge assortment of chocolates. “The best of Honeydukes!”
“That’s the sweet shop in Hogsmeade, right?” Harry had seen a box on his pile that was probably the chocolates for him, but he ignored it and poked curiously at a package that looked like a broom but was only about half the length. A camera flash went off next to him and he looked up self-consciously.
Mrs. Malfoy was lowering the camera, smiling at him. “I just wanted to have a photograph of both of you,” she explained. “Before this, we only had a few pictures of you right after you were born, Aldebaran.”
Harry nibbled his lip. The smile on Mrs. Malfoy’s face was so sincere, or at least it looked like it, and Mr. Malfoy was also beaming as he sat there with a cup of tea….They looked ordinary right now, even though Harry knew they really weren’t. Maybe now was a good time to ask.
“Could you please call me Harry?” he asked. Mrs. Malfoy’s face darkened with a shadow of pain, and Harry had to turn away from her, but he faced Mr. Malfoy. “It’s just—I really, really can’t get used to that name.”
“It is the name of a star,” Mrs. Malfoy said in a low voice. “And it had never been used before in the Black family, just as no twin sons had been born to my branch of the family in recorded history. You’re unique, Aldebaran. That was the only reason I called you that.”
“I know,” Harry said. “And I appreciate that you wanted to make me unique.” The words felt stiff on his lips, but who knew? Maybe the Malfoys would respect them better than they would less formal words. “But…it’s just too much. And even my best friend finds it laughable.”
“Weasley can—” Draco interrupted in a hostile tone.
“No, even Hermione does, and she’s pretty open-minded. Please?”
The Malfoys exchanged glances. Then Mr. Malfoy leaned forwards and said, “I have been thinking along the same lines. Not that the name was too much, but that it was too much for you. You have grown up very differently. We do not want to pay tribute to your kidnappers or the Muggles who raised you, but neither do we want to cause you pain. And you are so different from our Draco. We want to pay tribute to who you are.” Mr. Malfoy took a deep breath, as if saying all that had been painful for him. Harry thought it probably had been.
“A compromise is possible,” said Mrs. Malfoy. There was a wistful tone in her voice, but Harry forced himself to ignore it. He would probably start worrying about whether he was making everyone happy, and this wasn’t the time for that. “What about Henry? That has Harry as a nickname, but we wouldn’t have to call you by it all the time. And you could keep Aldebaran as a middle name.”
Harry thought about it. He knew that they would never agree to keeping James as his middle name, and he could see why. Harry had his own memories of James Potter, or thoughts about him, but of course the Malfoys would never share them.
“Does it matter that I’d be Henry Malfoy?” Harry asked. Mrs. Malfoy had told him that she had chosen her twins’ names for the way they sounded with Malfoy, and he almost thought this might be too simple, or too lower-class, or something.
But Mrs. Malfoy gave him a soft smile. “There was an ancestor of yours, a long time ago, who carried that name, during the Norman invasion,” she said. “Well, he was Henri Malfoy, but it amounts to the same thing. Yes, Henry. We love you no matter what you’re called, and—and perhaps it’s time to let go of the fantasy that things can be exactly the way they were if we just call you Aldebaran. Things are never going to be exactly the way they were. What I want is here, now, with you.”
Harry beamed at her. Mrs. Malfoy caught her breath, and Harry realized it was probably the first time he had smiled at her with any meaning behind it since she had found out who he really was.
Who he really was. Harry thought about it as he went back to the pile of presents, at Draco’s loud insistence. Maybe who he really was was some kind of combination, the person he used to be and the person he was when he was born and the person he would be going forwards.
And if that was the case, then it really was the best decision for all of them for him to be Henry Malfoy. The compromise, not the perfect thing, but the combination.
He glanced up in time to see Mr. Malfoy nodding in response to something Mrs. Malfoy had said. Maybe, with more time, he could think of them as his parents.
“I removed it from the school,” Mr. Malfoy was saying now. “Everything has changed. The—obligations that we thought we had are no longer there. Our family has to come first.”
Mrs. Malfoy closed her eyes. Harry had the impression she was enormously relieved, although of course he didn’t really know why.
But he would learn why. And it sounded like it was good, whatever “it” was that Mr. Malfoy had taken away from the school.
“I got a bigger book than you!”
Harry turned back to Draco, who was smiling at him with a sharp edge, and opened the package that looked like a half-size broom. It turned out to be exactly that, but it was a Nimbus 2001 that sprang back to full size once the paper was removed.
“I already have one of those,” Draco sniffed.
“Yes, but who’s going to defeat you as Seeker on one of these?” Harry countered, and laughed when he saw Draco scowl.
Mrs. Malfoy took another picture.
Mr. Malfoy leaned back in his chair and looked content with the world.
Maybe, someday, Harry thought, I will be, too.