“I admit that you don’t look like our son. But you are, Aldebaran.”
“The awfulness of that name is a good reason for me not to be.”
Mrs. Malfoy’s eyes widened a little, and she leaned towards Harry where he sat on the bed in the hospital wing. “Do not be so disrespectful to me,” she hissed. “I am your mother.”
Harry folded his arms. Mrs. Malfoy was pretty intimidating, worse than Aunt Petunia had ever been. But that didn’t matter. He wouldn’t let it matter.
Draco Malfoy’s eyes had gone very wide when Harry had hissed in Parseltongue at the dueling club. He had gone running from there as if his arse was on fire. Harry didn’t mind admitting he had laughed about that.
But it had turned out that he’d gone to Floo his parents—where he had got access to a Floo, Harry didn’t know, but he thought he could probably guess that it was Snape—and tell them that he thought Harry was his missing twin brother, who had apparently spoken in Parseltongue when he was little.
Then the Malfoy parents had shown up, and Harry had refused to listen. Sure, it was sad that apparently they’d had a kid who was kidnapped, but that didn’t mean it was him.
“Ah, Mrs. Malfoy. I just heard. I think you are claiming that Mr. Potter is actually your son, Aldebaran Malfoy?”
Harry shivered at the sound of those names together. Really, it was just…ugh. But of course, it would probably be lower-class or something of the Malfoys to choose names for their children that people would actually want to be called.
“Yes, Headmaster.” Mrs. Malfoy didn’t turn a hair, just went on sitting there as if it was her right to stare at Harry. “We have every reason to believe so. He spoke in Parseltongue, and so did Draco’s twin brother, who disappeared when he was just a few weeks old.”
Professor Dumbledore walked over to join them. Harry looked at him gratefully. His eyes were twinkling, and he winked at Harry on the side of his face that was pointed away from Mrs. Malfoy. That must mean that he didn’t believe a word of it, Harry thought. It was good to have the Headmaster on his side.
“Are you sure that your son spoke in Parseltongue, Mrs. Malfoy?” Dumbledore asked gently. “He would have been incredibly young to do so. The babbling of babies can sound like words, as I’m sure you know. And of course, Parseltongue is a genetic gift confined to the descendants of Salazar Slytherin, and no Malfoy has ever had it—”
“That is where you are wrong.” Lucius Malfoy swept through the door of the hospital wing. Harry tensed instinctively. The last time he’d seen the man had been when he was insulting Mr. Weasley, after all.
This time, though, Mr. Malfoy had eyes only for Harry, the way Mrs. Malfoy did, although he was speaking to Professor Dumbledore. “One of the granddaughters of Salazar Slytherin changed her name and married into the Malfoy line when we arrived on English soil, to hide what she was. It was a time of particularly virulent prejudice against Parselmouths. Ever since then, the talent has shown up every few generations. But we have been intelligent enough to keep it quiet. It is a source of some prestige among those we trust, however.”
“Great,” Harry said. “It doesn’t matter. I’m still a Potter, not a Malfoy. Or how do you explain this?” He gestured at his face, trying to cover everything, his glasses and his messy dark hair and his green eyes.
“Glamours,” Mr. Malfoy said. “Illusions. They can be powerful and hard to break if set in childhood. Not to worry, Aldebaran.”
“Stop calling me that!”
“For shame, Aldebaran.” Mrs. Malfoy’s voice was cold, and she caught Harry’s eye and frowned sternly. Harry found that he really wanted to cower away from it. “Young men do not say such things. This rudeness must be a result of growing up with Muggles.”
“Yeah, I did,” Harry said, snatching at the words. “So even if I was your son, you wouldn’t want me, right? Because I didn’t grow up the way you wanted and I don’t sound posh enough.”
“That’s not true.” Mrs. Malfoy’s face seemed to melt like a glacier. She smiled and reached out to put a hand on Harry’s, and Harry caught his breath. It felt like he imagined a mother would, touching him. “We would want you no matter how you behaved. It is simply that polite young men do not do that, to any adults, so we will teach you the manners you missed out on learning.”
Harry leaned back and shook off her touch. Sure, he would have liked a mother, but he had had a mum, and she had died for him. Harry owed her some loyalty. He ignored the stricken look that came over Mrs. Malfoy’s face, and turned back to Mr. Malfoy.
“So if you claim that I’m your son, it should be pretty easy to break these spells, right?”
“It should indeed.” Mr. Malfoy aimed his wand at Harry, and it took everything Harry had to sit still on the bed. But he reminded himself that Professor Dumbledore was right there and he would do something if Mr. Malfoy tried to hurt him. “Finite sanguis potentem!”
There was a flicker that seemed to strain the corners of the room as though the spell had really woven a huge spiderweb through the air, and then something pulled at the corners of Harry’s face. He gritted his teeth. It didn’t hurt as much as the times that Dudley and Piers had caught him and beat him up, or being thrown in the cupboard without meals.
When the sensation passed, Harry blinked and looked at the Malfoys. They wore unmistakable expressions of disappointment. Harry smiled a little. “I still look like me, right? Sorry that I’m not who you were looking for,” he added, because he thought he could be a little gracious now that he’d won, and he did hope they found their kid. “Maybe you’ll find him someday.”
“Now that it has been proven that Harry is indeed a Potter,” said Professor Dumbledore cheerfully, “I think he should get back to class.”
But Mrs. Malfoy had abruptly stood, her eyes very wide. “Could he have?” she breathed. Then she brandished her own wand, and the incantation that came out sounded like it was in some other language, not Latin. Not that Harry knew Latin very well.
This time, the pulling sensation was brief, but there was a sharp, stinging sensation on his scalp that raced up and down. Harry gasped and buried his face in his hands. His eyes were stinging and tearing up, and he didn’t want anyone to think he was crying. It didn’t really hurt, it just pulled a bit, that was all.
When he looked up, his eyes weren’t tearing up anymore, but there was something that still blurred his sight. Harry scrunched up his face and rubbed at his forehead. Had Mrs. Malfoy tried to blind him, or something?
“Oh, look at you, Aldebaran.”
Harry jerked back in surprise as Mrs. Malfoy abruptly hugged him. Her embrace was warm and comforting, and yes, it was exactly the way he had sometimes seen Aunt Petunia hug Dudley. But he shrugged off the idea at once. That was ridiculous. Mrs. Malfoy wasn’t his mum.
“Let’s get those glasses off. They must be tremendously uncomfortable for you. No Malfoy has ever needed them. Or Black, for that matter.”
Harry stared at her, not knowing what she was talking about, and Mrs. Malfoy whisked the glasses off his face. Harry opened his mouth to object that he wouldn’t be able to see without them, and then closed it. The hospital wing around him was clear and shining, and he could see the faint smile on Mr. Malfoy’s face and the shock on Professor Dumbledore’s perfectly.
Unease grabbed him and strangled him so tightly that he couldn’t breathe.
Mrs. Malfoy was laughing, slightly, her eyes wide open and her smile so bright that Harry thought it looked unnatural on her face. “Oh, Aldebaran!” And then she conjured a mirror, or took one out of her robe pockets for all he knew, and held it out to him.
Harry jerked back from it like he had from her hug. That wasn’t him in the mirror, it was Malfoy! White-blond hair and grey eyes and somehow they had attached an illusion to his face to make him think—
Except for his clear vision. And the fact that a lightning-bolt scar still stood out on the forehead of the berk in the mirror.
Harry put down the mirror. “You’re really desperate to pretend that I’m the son you lost, aren’t you?” he asked, his eyes flitting back and forth between Mr. and Mrs. Malfoy.
“You are our son.” Mrs. Malfoy stepped back to him and shaped the contours of his face with her hands. Harry tried to ignore the feeling that they really had changed and just shook his head.
“You can say whatever you want, but I’m not going to believe you.”
“I, too, would like some reassurance that this is not a complex illusion.” Professor Dumbledore seemed to have recovered from his initial shock and was smiling, but Harry took comfort in the fact that it was a steely smile. “While it is always a sad thing to lose a child, you cannot take over Harry’s life and make him into a replacement for the son you lost.”
“The spell I removed is one exclusive to the Black family,” Mrs. Malfoy said, not bothering to look away from Harry as she answered Dumbledore. “I thought that perhaps Sirius Black might have put it on him. I knew the reversal charm, but there was no way the true illusion would have been removed without it.”
“Who’s Sirius Black?” Harry asked. Professor Dumbledore had narrowed his eyes, so he might know, but Harry didn’t.
“He was your godfather—or at least, the man picked by your supposed parents to be your godfather.” Mr. Malfoy’s voice was as hard as Professor Dumbledore’s smile. “He is a member of the Black family, as my wife also is. He betrayed the Potters when he was meant to keep the secret of their house from the Dark Lord, and he paid for it. He’s in Azkaban. The wizarding prison,” he added, with a slight sneer.
Harry braced himself with that sneer. He knew that it was his expression of confusion that had made Mr. Malfoy do it. That suggested that they would always despise him for what he didn’t know, and it didn’t matter if they were related or not.
“When you and Draco were only a few weeks old,” Mrs. Malfoy whispered, “Sirius came to visit me. It was a tradition in my family for all the cousins who could to come and see the newest children who had Black blood in them and offer them a blessing. Sirius made all the right noises, and at the time, as far as I knew, he had always been kind to me, despite being on bad terms with his parents and his brother and one of my sisters. He—he made a comment about the security arrangements on the nursery, and laughed. He was always joking.” Mrs. Malfoy closed her eyes. “Then you vanished a few days later. Of course I spoke to Sirius, because I thought he might have taken you for a prank. It was the sort of thing he would have done. But he didn’t have you with him, and he let me search the rancid flat where he was staying.”
“You’re saying that he took me to my mum and dad and put this illusion on me,” Harry said flatly, and then shook his head. “I’m talking like I believe you. Of course I don’t.”
“You will have to learn better manners, son.” Mr. Malfoy had dropped all trace of the sneer, but Harry still watched him suspiciously. This didn’t mean he was going to be fool enough to trust him. “We are your parents.”
“No, you’re not. You could still be lying. It’s convenient that you’re blaming someone who’s in prison and can’t defend himself, isn’t it?”
“A stubborn, suspicious child,” Mr. Malfoy said, and turned to Professor Dumbledore as if he was going to ignore Harry for the rest of the conversation. “There is a simple way to find out the truth, if you still doubt it. Permit your matron to draw blood and—”
“That is blood magic, Lucius, and I forbid it in Hogwarts.”
Harry shrank back. There seemed to be a shadow looming around Professor Dumbledore, and his eyes were narrowed and his face harsh and fierce.
“Of course it is,” Mr. Malfoy said. “But we have a right to authorize it for our child.”
“Only if he is your child. You have not yet proven that to my satisfaction.” Professor Dumbledore put his hand on Harry’s shoulder, and Harry sighed in relief. He’d been afraid that people would ignore him all day, when this was his bloody life. “You will have to come up with another solution.”
“Administer Veritaserum to Sirius Black. He will tell the truth.”
“He would have to consent to it first, and you would need more proof than you have.”
“Men,” said Mrs. Malfoy, not quite under her breath. She placed her hand in her pocket and took out a diamond bracelet that Harry blinked at. All he could think was that it was so rich Aunt Petunia would probably have liked to own it, even if “freaks” had made it. It looked as though there was something in the middle of it, though, so you couldn’t really wear it like a bracelet. Mrs. Malfoy held it up. “Professor Dumbledore, I think you recognize this.”
For the first time, Professor Dumbledore hesitated. Then he nodded. “I saw it pass through the hands of several Malfoys and Black students in this school, although I must admit that I never saw it in its present form.”
Dread pooling in his stomach, Harry stared at Mrs. Malfoy as she brought it over, smiling comfortingly at him. “We combined two bracelets to make this, Aldebaran,” she explained, and turned it around. Harry could see that strands of diamonds joined in the middle to form two birds. One of them might have been a swan. “Only someone who has the blood of both families, or blood from one of them and a marriage bond to the other, can touch it. Not even my husband can. It will prove that you are who you really are if you can touch it.”
“So, what happens if I touch it and I’m not a Malfoy or a Black? It stings me?” Harry was considering faking a reaction like that, if only to get them to leave him alone.
“No, it merely fails to show any magic. Do try it now, Aldebaran.” Mrs. Malfoy held out the bracelet encouragingly.
And that reminded Harry of Aunt Petunia coaxing Dudley to eat. Harry concealed a shudder as he let his fingers glance gingerly along the joined birds in the middle of the diamond chains.
The bracelet lit up from within, a buzzing, ringing sphere of brilliance that made Harry lift his hand to shield his eyes. He paused when he noticed that his fingers were longer, too, and his skin paler.
“Why do I look like I’ve never spent any time in the sun?” he demanded.
“That is the mark of a Malfoy, that pale skin,” Mr. Malfoy said. Harry peered at him warily. There was a weird tone in his voice, like he was enormously proud but trying not to show it. “Oh, Aldebaran…” He bowed his head. Harry now had the deeply uncomfortable feeling that Mr. Malfoy was trying not to cry or something.
But before he could say anything, Mrs. Malfoy was at him again, folding him in her arms and cuddling him to her chest. Harry sat stiffly, while his heart dropped straight down to his shoes.
He could see Professor Dumbledore’s face over Mrs. Malfoy’s shoulder. As he watched, all the twinkle went out in Professor Dumbledore’s eyes. He bowed his head.
Shit, shit, shit, went back and forth in Harry’s head. Malfoy is my brother, and my parents hate Muggle and Weasleys, and I don’t look like myself.
And my name is bloody Aldebaran. Ron is going to laugh so hard.
“But not really.” Ron was backed up against the wall of the staircase that led to Gryffindor Tower, his eyes so wide that Harry was surprised that he hadn’t sprained something. “You’re Malfoy. Or his twin,” he added, because Hermione had poked him in the side with an elbow, and Harry supposed it was about not supporting him. “Or you’re Malfoy who put that scar on your head for a prank. Not Harry. Not our Harry.”
Harry swallowed. He hated the feeling that he didn’t belong to them anymore. “Apparently my real name is Aldebaran Malfoy—”
Ron snorted hard, and then clapped his hand over his mouth. Harry gave him a tentative smile that Ron didn’t return.
“I felt the same way when I heard it,” Harry agreed. “But somehow I got taken to my mum and—I mean, the Potters when I was a baby. They conducted some tests that proved I’m a Malfoy.” Mr. Malfoy had done the blood magic after the bracelet test. Professor Dumbledore seemed to think he couldn’t prevent Mr. Malfoy from doing it then, because the bracelet had proven that Harry really was this Aldebaran bloke. He seemed to be in shock, and had just stood back and watched numbly.
“How did it happen, though?” Hermione asked. She at least sounded curious instead of upset.
“They think that someone called Sirius Black took me. Apparently he was my godfather and Mrs. Malfoy’s cousin, and he betrayed the—the Potters to Voldemort.” Harry ignored Ron’s flinch and took a deep breath. “Mrs. Malfoy said she heard something about how James Potter was infertile, but she’d ignored the rumors.”
“That’s it, though!” Ron broke in suddenly. “They’re rumors! You can’t trust her! She’s probably lying about everything. And you saw the way Malfoy’s dad went after my dad in the bookshop. How can you trust them when they’re lying about everything?”
“They did tests that didn’t lie—”
“Tests can be fooled,” Ron said, with a loud scoff. “And why would you want to be a Malfoy anyway? Especially one with such a stupid name?”
“Ron!” Hermione said. She sighed and looked at Harry. “It’s not as though I like Malfoys, Harry, but if the tests don’t lie, then I think you should try to get to know them. It must be wonderful to have your parents really be alive.”
“How can it be when they’re like that?” Ron asked.
“I don’t know,” Harry said. “I just want you to know that I’m still me. I’m not going to suddenly start swaggering around with my nose in the air and believing in blood purity. I’m still here.”
“No, you’re not you,” Ron said, shaking his head. “You don’t look like Harry, and you don’t talk like him, and Harry would never make any deals with a Malfoy, no matter what kind of family he wanted!”
“Ron!” Hermione said again. She sighed and reached out to take his arm, but Ron backed up and kept shaking his head.
“It just isn’t right,” he said. “I mean—Harry, you’re Harry, not Aldebaran. You should have refused to let them turn your face that way and go with them, if you’re really Harry. If you’re going to stay Harry.”
“I’ll have you know—”
“No, listen to me.” Ron was pale instead of red, which made Harry feel an uncomfortable stir in the bottom of his stomach. “Malfoys have never tried to be friends with Weasleys. You can’t be my friend.”
“But I am your friend!”
“That just proves that you didn’t really know who you were, and neither did I.” Ron turned and walked up the stairs to Gryffindor Tower, and Harry called after him. But Ron only said, when he was near the top of the stairs, “My Harry would have denied them.”
“Well, excuse me for wanting a family!” Harry yelled, as finally his temper cracked. He had known Ron would take this badly, but he had never thought it would be this bad. “You have brothers and a sister and parents, and you act like you despise them! And you want me to turn my back on them just because of what I look like and what my name is! You’re stupid!”
“Yeah, that’s the way it is.” Ron only nodded, looking abnormally calm. “Malfoys insult Weasleys.”
He disappeared. Hermione looked torn between going after him and staying with Harry. Harry looked at her and sighed, and the anger drained out of him.
“I didn’t mean to say that,” he whispered. “But he wants things to be true that can’t be true. I don’t like the Malfoys, but I know they’re going to fight for custody, and they’re going to get it.”
“Of course they will.” Hermione came up and hugged him, lightly, probably sensing how stiff and uncomfortable he was. “It’s not right that you should have to turn your back on them because Ron’s upset. And—maybe he’ll come around. You know, when he sees that you’re not really turning into a different person because of the way you look.”
Harry nodded, although he didn’t really feel convinced. But what could he do? He’d explained things, and Ron had got upset and stormed off, and right now, he didn’t have much more time to stay and explain things. Mrs. Malfoy had said that he could have half an hour to speak to his friends, but then they needed to leave. There was some kind of legal documentation they needed to do, and that could only be done at the Ministry.
Harry cringed. Hermione did at the same time, and smiled at him with her lip trembling. “Do you think you can get them to stop calling you by that name? It really is awful.”
“I don’t know if they will,” Harry said, with a sigh. “As far as they’re concerned, Harry is a name that my kidnappers gave me, and they don’t want to use it.”
“If they really love you and would do anything for you, then they’ll get used to it.”
Harry paused, and then had to smile. Hermione’s idea was more than a little wonderful. At the same time, he didn’t know if he wanted to ask anything of the Malfoys.
But he would have to. They were going to control his life from now on.
That made Harry lose the smile. After eleven years with the Dursleys, he knew the worst they could do. He hated it, but he could survive it. How was he going to cope with the Malfoys? Especially since he’d seen Mr. Malfoy and Draco in that shop selling Dark artifacts? What did they own? What spells would they use to punish him if he didn’t do what they wanted?
At the same time, Harry knew that he couldn’t just give up and go along with everything they wanted. That wasn’t him. And he wasn’t an obedient little doll like the Malfoys would probably want.
Maybe if I bother them enough, they’ll give me back my illusion and let everyone pretend that I’m just Harry Potter?
It was an idea, Harry admitted, as Mrs. Malfoy called for him again and he hugged Hermione and then turned to go back down the stairs. It was definitely an idea.
“A Malfoy! Well, how wonderful indeed, how most wonderful!”
Minister Fudge had been saying some variation of that for the last hour, while they stood in a small room with a polished wooden table and chairs and waited for people called Aurors to bring in Sirius Black. Harry was getting tired of hearing it.
But he didn’t say anything, because he was clinging to the hope that Black would say that the Malfoys were wrong, and he was really Harry Potter. He looked up sharply as the door opened and the Aurors, clad in scarlet robes, dragged in Black.
Harry shivered. The man looked insane. Matted black hair clumped around his face, and he had grey eyes that looked like Mrs. Malfoy’s and Draco’s. And Harry’s, now. Harry shuddered a little.
The man glanced back and forth between them with no sign of recognition. Minister Fudge cleared his throat and adjusted his bowler hat. “I’m afraid that he’s not really all that sane, Mr. Malfoy.”
“That’s all right.” Mr. Malfoy waited until the Aurors left the room and then took out a sparkling vial from the corner of one pocket. “I assume that this stays between us, Minister?”
“Oh, well.” Fudge had eyes that darted back and forth like a rabbit’s when he was nervous. “The man didn’t consent to Veritaserum, you know, Mr. Malfoy,” he added, with a vague reproach.
“How could someone in the state he is in consent to anything?” Mr. Malfoy asked smoothly. “And we need answers.”
“Yes,” Draco said. He stood next to Harry, and he hadn’t moved away from him since they came into this little room through the fireplace. Now he leaned heavily, so that Harry nearly staggered from the weight. We’re supposed to be twins, but he’s taller and heavier than me. So maybe we’re not twins? “I want to know why he took my brother.”
Harry sneaked a look at Draco. Why did he want Harry? Wouldn’t he just enjoy being an only child, and see Harry as the competition? That was the way Dudley had always seen him.
Draco gave him a challenging stare, and Harry turned away, to look at Black again. It was still beyond weird to be reminded that the eyes looking at him now were the same color as his own.
He must have missed them pouring the Veritaserum down Black’s throat, because Mr. Malfoy was taking back an empty vial. Black’s head bobbed on his neck for a minute. Then he looked up with glazed eyes.
“Whazz?” he muttered.
Harry bit his lip, desperately afraid Black might not be able to talk. Then they would never get answers, and he would have to go along and be a Malfoy for the rest of his life.
Mr. Malfoy spoke. “State your name.”
“Sirius Orion Black.” The voice that emerged from Black’s lips was unexpectedly strong and firm, nothing like the other. This time, Harry hoped that Mr. Malfoy hadn’t created a potion that would just make Black repeat whatever the Malfoys wanted to hear. But no one else seemed surprised that he sounded that way.
“What are you in prison for?”
“The betrayal of James and Lily Potter.”
Loathing squirmed in Harry’s belly. Mrs. Malfoy had told him a little about the Death Eaters and the background of the crime that Black had been involved in. He couldn’t believe he hadn’t known about it before.
But, of course, he felt conflicted about it. Because it was terrible that the Potters had died, but they weren’t really his parents, but they had died protecting him, but they had stolen him…
“I think we have established the baseline for the Veritaserum,” said Mr. Malfoy, and then asked, “Did you steal our son, Aldebaran Malfoy, from his cradle and place him with the Potters?”
Harry felt as though someone had punched him. He staggered back and grabbed something. He thought it was the table, but then he realized he was leaning on Draco. He drew himself free, or tried, but Draco wrapped an arm around his shoulders and refused to let go.
“Why?” Mrs. Malfoy asked the question, soft and heartbroken. She touched Harry on the arm, as if she wanted to hover between him and Black.
“Lily and James wanted a child. They couldn’t have one. They both got hit with curses during the war. They were both infertile.” Black was staring straight ahead, reciting the story as if it had happened to someone else. “They wanted it desperately. It was destroying them. I would have done anything for James. And I knew that you had two children. Why did you need them both? One of them could be rescued. He could go up in a Light family and he could have parents who would really love him and not use him as a status symbol. So I stole him, and used an illusion spell, and Lily and James conducted the adoption ritual to make it permanent.”
There was a dreadful silence in the room. Harry didn’t think he’d heard a silence like that when they told him he was a Malfoy. He just stood there and stared, and Mrs. Malfoy hugged him from behind, her quiet tears falling on his head. Draco seemed frozen, clinging to Harry and not moving.
Mr. Malfoy was the one who stepped forwards, his face dark with rage.
“So you came to visit us. Why did you do that?”
“I knew Narcissa had had twins. I was thinking of taking one. What did you need with two children? You—”
“Yes, you said.” Mr. Malfoy was almost hissing, although Harry didn’t think it was Parseltongue. “How could you do that to your cousin? You were close when you were young.”
“She married into the Malfoys. She wouldn’t do that unless she’d given up on her heart and decided that only ambition mattered. She would have married someone else and been happy that way.”
“You did it for the Potters?” Mrs. Malfoy had got her voice back, but her tears were still falling. Harry could feel them. He could feel that, and he could also feel a great numbness inside him.
“Yes. They were dying for want of a child. They were arguing all the time. I was afraid their marriage would end.”
“Why did they agree?” Mr. Malfoy asked. He was coiled and quiet now, but he still reminded Harry of a snake. “I hated James Potter, but I would have thought he had more honor than that.”
“All they wanted was someone to love. And once the illusion was in place, Harry looked like them. He was only a few weeks old. He could have been theirs. He was still innocent. They looked at him and they loved him at once.”
Harry closed his eyes. So his parents were the way he’d always been told they were. They’d loved him at once. They had been willing to die for him.
He was aware of Mr. Malfoy asking Black other questions, and some answers, like how Black had helped them with the adoption ritual and told everyone who asked that Lily had simply been concealing her pregnancy so they wouldn’t keep her from fighting in something called the “Order of the Phoenix.” And how James Potter had named Harry his heir at once and bragged about him to his other friends, someone named Pettigrew and someone named Lupin.
But his head was spinning so badly that he didn’t really listen. It was—it was so terrible. The Potters had loved and kidnapped him. Black had thought he was saving him and he’d kidnapped him. The Malfoys would have used him as a status symbol and they’d missed him.
Nothing made sense. He didn’t know what to do.
He must have said something like that aloud, because Mrs. Malfoy bent down and whispered in his ear, “You don’t have to do anything, Aldebaran. Just be yourself and let us love you and teach you how to be with us.”
“You’re my little brother,” Draco added. “It doesn’t matter who you were before or that you got stolen when you were little. That’s not your fault.”
Harry opened his mouth to argue that he was who he was and that he wouldn’t change, and not to call him Aldebaran, but then shut his mouth again. Honestly, he was tired of arguing. He was tired of standing here and listening to Black. He just wanted to leave.
Mrs. Malfoy seemed to sense it. She stood up and murmured, “Lucius?” Mr. Malfoy turned in the middle of asking another question and looked at her. “I am going to take the boys back to Hogwarts. Aldebaran needs to rest. Draco has agreed to field the questions for right now.“
Mr. Malfoy nodded and locked eyes with Harry. He gave him a fierce, proud smile and murmured, “You are handling this incredibly well. I am so glad you are home.”
Just a few words, but they felt as if they were the strongest ones Harry had ever heard. He let Mrs. Malfoy lead him and Draco to the door. Draco still had his arm around Harry’s shoulders.
Harry managed to ask a question when they were in a lift going back up through the Ministry. They weren’t going to take the Floo back to Hogwarts, for some reason. “What’s going to happen to Black?”
“He’ll be in prison for the rest of his life,” Mrs. Malfoy said quietly. “We thought about having him go through another trial, but there’s no point. He already has the best sentence he can have. A Kiss from a Dementor would be too quick.”
Harry assumed the Kiss was some kind of execution or something. He said nothing, though. His stomach was roiling, and he didn’t know how to feel.
Black had done what he’d done for love of his best friend. The Potters had loved Harry. The Malfoys loved Harry, or they had loved the little baby they’d had and lost.
And then Black had betrayed the Potters, which maybe proved that love wasn’t so deep after all.
Harry didn’t know how to think, what to feel.
Mrs. Malfoy kept him close to her as they headed back through a huge space with a fountain in the center of it, whispering to him. “We’ll go as slowly as you need to. We have the rest of your life, Aldebaran. Twelve years is going to be nothing to it.”
Harry wanted to ask a million questions. Like how Mr. Malfoy had supposedly fought with Voldemort, and how he was going to make that work with Harry being Voldemort’s enemy.
But it was too much for one day, and he got back to Hogwarts and walked up to Gryffindor Tower when he could finally get away from the Malfoys, and went up to his bed and drew the curtains to get away from the Gryffindors.
It was so much simpler, at last, to just be able to fall asleep.
“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.