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leaves fallen far from that tree

Chapter Text

It starts like this.

His face obscured by the shadows, nothing but a mouth, faintly pink; his glowing recorder set before him, sleek and shining in the light that pierces through the half-closed blinds. He refused to use magic. He said, "It's an homage," like it made sense. It didn't.

It starts like this (it always does).

"Tell me something you remember about Ginny Weasley."

The first one is blond and pale; he holds a pen in his hand too tightly – his knuckles are white. He's the first one he came to. It made sense, somehow. He's not sure if it still does now. It must. Something must still make sense, or everything will fall apart. Everything is so fragile since she's been gone.

He refused to write about her. He said, “I want to say it.” It's been a long time since he hasn't talked about her. Time has been invariably long since she's been gone.

“Tell me something you remember about Ginny Weasley.”

What does he not remember, he wants to scream, but he keeps it for himself, teeth clenched around his love, vomitive and bitter.

“She was -”

But he was wrong. There are no words to describe her. If he could, he'd open his heart and tell him to take everything of hers that's in there. That's homage, he would say. That's homage for you.

*

He remembers so many things about her, it's hard to chose one amongst all the moments he doesn't want to forget.

He doesn't want to forget anything. Not the first time he saw her, and the way his mouth curled in disgust because he was young and foolish at the time, the way she looked up at him, big, unblinking eyes, and said “You're Draco Malefoy,” like being him was the nastiest disease of all, not because they'd told her about him but because of him, what he was right at this moment.

He's never felt so ashamed. He remembers, cheeks burning crimson, threatening her - tiny, red-headed her - the first time they met.

He didn't notice her much at Hogwarts. Maybe he didn't want to, maybe too many people that weren't him noticed her, maybe everything was too quick and too tragic in high school for him to pay attention, too frantic and too jumbled. Maybe he needed to grow. He still doesn't know.

He doesn't want to forget all the insults he threw her way, the times she spat back at him, mouth open to sneer something hateful and cruel, the times she passed him by, head bowed, as though she was too exhausted to answer with her usual biting sarcasm. He doesn't want to forget seeing her drenched in blood, holding Voldemort's journal in her hands.

He doesn't want to forget her kissing Potter, again and again, little pecks on the mouth, heated, messy kisses, and his bewildered, deer-in-the-headlights look as she straddled him, as though he didn't really know who he was dealing with but knew that she was too much for him.

He doesn't want to forget her laugh, every time he heard it, every time it sprung on him as he walked in the corridors, every time the tidal wave of it hit him, every time he hated it. Forgetting won't change anything, he's learned. He's learned a lot of things these last few years.

He doesn't even want to forget the war. He knows it's all they talk about, those who lived it, or rather all they purposefully don't talk about, the heavy silence hanging in the air that carries all the suffering and the madness and the blood, but he doesn't want to forget the war.

He remembers being young and scared and scared and so, so young. He remembers his mother cradling him against her chest and calling him baby in a whisper, his father towering him, loving him so badly it made him want to cry. He remembers screaming in his pillow, having to think about killing someone, climbing on that tower and letting someone else do it for him.

He remembers not knowing what was right and what was wrong, and realizing that it was for him to decide, and being small and frightened and unsure. He remembers the face the most, or rather the non-face, eyes like slivers of coldness. He remembers thinking, “There can't have been a person here”, but there had, hadn't there?

He remembers thinking how unfair, how terribly unfair this life was, thinking like a petulant child that he had never asked for this, never asked to have to make a choice, so many choices, never asked to have to fight and never asked to have to decide who were the good guys and who were the bad guys.

He remembers it being over, finally, sagging in his mother's arms, boneless. (Seeing out of the corner of his eye Ginny's straight back, looking like his mother later, in black, young but very old at the same time, the widow of an unborn hero.)

It took a long time before it didn't feel like the war. Everything wore the trace of it – the ground, burnt within an inch of itself, the bodies, the faces and the souls. He wore the trace of it, no matter how hard he scrubbed, or how violently, how ardently he tried to forget.

He followed his mother to France after the war, didn't finish school at Hogwarts. He didn't think about it, but he knew in the back of his mind that they wouldn't have liked his coming back. The war taught him how cruel men can be – whether they're called 'good' or not. The war taught him a great deal of things he didn't want to know.

He liked France – still does. Mother put him in a private school, and everything felt very polished and smooth, like drifting on the surface of a lake in an oar-less boat, sometimes catching glances of his father, his shadow in a doorway or his mangled face in a mirror. They didn't talk much about the war – but then, they never talked much about anything, never had.

He liked France. He liked the sun and the Mediterranean climate, the accent, light and distinguished, but mostly just the fact that it wasn't there, where everything had happened. He met Astoria there. Her parents had fled the country too, and she was the same as him, wasn't she, merely a casualty in the big story of life and treason and death. He liked her instantly – the first time their eyes met over a cup of tea and he saw her fingers, delicate and long, and thought 'piano-player'.

He never asked that she teach him piano.

They got married in a little church in the French countryside, intimate but classy, everything she wanted. She wore a high-collared dress that seemed to wrap her throat in cobweb, delicate dentelle trembling when she breathed. He held her and kissed and made love to her, dizzy with happiness. The war is over, he thought as he undressed her with shaking hands on their wedding night. Finally, the war is over.

And it was, for a time. They came back to live in the Manor, Astoria working part-time as a journalist and him still in potions, working from home, careful not to cross paths with anyone he could have known. They holed up in the Manor as much they could, feeding off their happiness. They had the house for themselves, a wedding gift from Lucius. Everything was perfect – it felt like a dream, but Draco had always been good at living in illusions.

Scorpius was born in this illusion, a beautiful child that they both loved so much they couldn't breathe. They spent entire afternoons cuddled on the couch with the baby, Astoria's head on Draco's shoulder, his hand in her hair, murmuring sleepy endearments. Draco prayed every night for time to stop and life to just let them be, no questions asked. Of course, it doesn't work that way.

(He remembers how he used to look at her, intensely so as to miss nothing of her, the graceful way she held her shoulders straight that spoke of high society and good education, her mouth, faintly pink, her long hands and tiny breasts and long legs and perfect, grey eyes, the way she looked at Scorpius and lit up like a star, and he remembers how he thought that he was the luckiest man in the world, that all the pain had somehow been worth-it if that was what he got in return.)

But eventually (of course – it had to happen) the real world caught up to him. It started softly, like a child humming a song, short-winged birds fluttering and chirping. It didn't stay that way.

(Sometimes, even now, he asks himself how everything went wrong. He feels sorry for the life they could've lived, had they been older and wiser.)

Astoria's big, pleading eyes. “I want to do something, Draco, you can understand that, can't you?” And him, with the feral instinct that the war gave him, saying no, no, don't go, trying to hold her back and keep her, keep her from slipping through his fingers. He let her, of course. He said of course, go, but just come back, come back to me, okay?

(She didn't. Come back. She didn't come back. She got lost in the wilderness, swallowed whole by the immensity of the world, its crushing intensity. She begun suffocating. Sometimes she woke up at night saying “It's not enough, it's not enough”, words barely out of her mouth before tears were streaming down her cheeks. He knew he'd have to free her. He just tried to keep her as long as possible. Who can blame him? Who can blame him for that?)

Sometimes he's scared that they hurt Scorpius. He must have seen something – how could he not? The insults and the vases flying, flowers and water on the carpet, Astoria on her knees, begging him to let her go, frighteningly young, the youth they'd forgotten with the war, forgotten to get married with, and that she'd gotten back just now, and that burnt inside her... The piano sounding wrong, the quiet tears on her porcelain skin, Draco's cold, impassive face, and Mother's voice in his head, 'Don't try to be like your father, he was a good man, just don't, trust me, baby, darling, dear...'.

He's bright and lively now, but sometimes Draco's scared that they broke something in him that they will never be able to fix. He can do nothing but wait with bated breath and pray. He does just that, when Ginny's not looking.

After Astoria leaves (she's not bad. She's just not a mother and not a wife, she's just a child, that's all. That's all they'd forgotten. She leaves for somewhere far away and says she'll be back soon, kisses Scorpius' eyelids and Draco's mouth and grips the handle of her suitcase, whispers 'I hope you'll forgive me someday' and leaves, just like that. Draco can't forgive her), Draco takes a look around. He knows he looks wrecked and old, and there are a few headlines with his name on them saying that he's screwed up his life, the jubilation of revenge, but he ignores them.

He looks at the people he shared blood with. He looks at the ones he fought against. He looks at those he used to hate and those he used to love and finds that he's got to decide it all over again. He wants to sob. No one told him it would be this hard. Maybe if they had, he wouldn't have tried. But there's Scorpius cuddled against his chest, and he doesn't sob so that the heaving of his chest doesn't wake his precious child.

Barely twenty-two, tired eyes and arms and heart, he looks at all the people he knows falling apart. He looks at Potter and Weasley hurting each other again and again but failing to get away from each other, he looks at Granger not understanding Weasley and Weasley trying but never quite reaching her. He watches them fuck up every inch of their precious happiness, and he holds his child close and promises him that he'll protect him.

Life doesn't get better immediately, of course. It takes time and effort and more time, and the war has messed them up beyond saving, or so they think, all of them, for a split second. But they've always been fighters, even him, Draco Malfoy the Coward, and they believe in saving more than anything else.

Ginny is the first one to disentangle herself from the claws of her unhappiness, and it's like a giant sigh breathed out by a collective chest, crushing them all at once, freeing them from the weight they hadn't realised was even there. Draco looks at her a little closer. She looks younger than she did the last time he saw her, with her face of a war widow and the blood on her cheek, running towards Potter's unconscious body (dead – or so they'd thought at the time, and he remembers the shock of it, the kick in the plexus, drawing tears he didn't mean out of his eyes). Her hair is close-cropped, her face is bright and young, and she walks in a long, confident stride, as though she was too strong to be destroyed by a war (but she isn't, he knows that now).

He's more grateful for her at this moment than he'll ever be.

It's like her escape saves them all. It's not easy, neither is it pretty to see, but they all manage, one after the other, painfully, with difficulty. Draco tries to breathe underwater until he finds the strength to try and wrench himself above water.

Scorpius' first word is elating and terrifying at the same time. Draco can't help the sadness at being the only one witnessing the 'Dada' that falls out of his son's lips. He hugs him like he wants to break his bones. The war has left so much violence in him – in all of them. Sometimes he forgets to be careful.

He tries to trust other people around his child. He gets a baby-sitter, an old woman of the neighbourhood that he recognises from St Mungo. Her name is Theresa. She's retired, and she's gentle and motherly and has an ample bosom and grey hair. Draco likes her. Scorpius too. (Narcissa and her are the same age. Once Draco sees them side by side and blinks at how different they are, how childish and young Narcissa seems in white, her long blond hair a trail of gold on her back. He wants to hug her – both of them. He doesn't. He's still a Malfoy, after all.)

It's strange being in Diagon Alley. At first he's a bit overwhelmed, all air sucked out of his lungs, quietly suffocating in the middle of the road, but he calms down gradually as people pass him by absently. A few of them recognize him, and they look as though they don't quite know how to deal with this new, older, clean-shaven version of him, sometimes ignoring him and sometimes half-heartedly sneering at him.

He goes to a library just for the familiar smell of old books and the quietness, just to flee the dizzying, sheer speed of the crowd outside. A face peers from behind a stack of books. They both freeze.

“Ginny Weasley,” he says, not knowing why.

She doesn't say anything, doesn't reply to his salute or say “Here, that's the cowardly servant of the man who killed my brother,” doesn't say the thousand other hurtful things she could say, just smiles, a tiny, clipped smile, but a smile nonetheless, and disappears. An old man barges in to scold her – apparently she isn't allowed to Apparate in the shop, Draco thinks around a mouthful of dust – but she's already gone.

It takes a few weeks before he sees her again. She doesn't really haunt him, but he sometimes thinks about her when the sun explodes in front of his windows. (It used to scare him. It woke him up and sent him crying to his mother's lap, babbling incoherently about blood and fire, and the war. She would close her eyes and cry – hold him close like the mother she tried so hard to be.)

He doesn't write about her to Pansy, not at first. He's glad that they write to each other – he likes her more than he did at Hogwarts, and it's one of the things that make him think that maybe some things are better now, after all. He always thinks a lot before he sends his letters – he thinks about the flight of his owl, all the way across the continent to Asia (he gives her food he attaches to her leg, he thinks about her face when she'll open it, he thinks about what she'll think, what she'll do. If she'll read it immediately. If she'll understand everything. What she looks like now. If she's happy. If he's happy.

He thinks too much.

He sees Ginny again at an open mic night in a club in London. He's begun to walk around the city – he always feels as though he's discovering over and over again, as though he's never really known it, after all. He finds little nooks he can barely fit in, voices he'd never heard before, music he hadn't realized was even here. He's like a child, a little giddy and hopeful, like all this blood that has frozen is ready to flow freely again in his veins. He wants to try everything, to touch everything. He can't wait to take Scorpius to the man who makes shrimp-flavored ice cream, hold his sticky little hand and make him twirl in the air.

That's why he's here, that night. A little at random, a little not really, as though fate was only waiting for an occasion to make them meet again. This time, she really smiles at him, like she's rehearsed. He wonders to himself if that means she's thought of him – and then promptly thinks that he's too old to make himself this kind of reflexions.

She walks towards him. At some point he gets this stupid thought that maybe she'll crash into him, a walking trainwreck, or that she'll pass through him, just like that. But she doesn't. She stops a few steps away from him, she looks at him in the eyes, she holds a hand out, and she says:

"Hi."

He finds her beautiful. He shakes her hand. He tries to smile. He's not really sure how it comes out in the outside, a jumble of lips and teeth, oddly incoherent.

"Hello," he says, more softly than he thought himself capable. He doesn't really want to hurt anyone anymore. He didn't want to in the first place. He's always been a bit of a coward, to tell the truth.

She leads him to a table, doesn't ask for his permission or his assent, just kind of takes his wrist between two long, white fingers and makes him sit next to her in a booth in which three women, probably about their age, are already sitting and looking up at him expectantly.

He smiles. "Draco Malfoy, nice to meet you."

(It's Narcissa, she's burnt the manners into him, the gallantries and the decorum, carved on the inside of his ribs.)

They smile. One of them has on a lipstick that's very bright, red or pink, he can't really see in the changing light. Ginny is wearing a little glittery dress. She looks young, not like someone who's lived through a war. He wants to hug her for all the good she does to all of them just by existing. She saves so many lives just by being here, he's not sure she realizes.

The girls introduce themselves. Natasha, Lavender ("We were in school together? I was Ron's girlfriend for awhile." She meets Ginny's eyes and they laugh. He doesn't remember her, but he feels like maybe it's not really an inconvenient) and Vivyan.

Ginny looks him at in the eye again. She has little flecks of gold in her pupils. She's effortlessly beautiful.

"We don't hate you, you know," she says as the music starts, and no one hears but him (but what she really means is 'I').

He nods. He doesn't know what he could possibly answer to that. What do you answer to someone who tells you they don't hate you? Thank you?

"It's over now," she says, vehemently. "We were all victims, anyway."

He knows all that, but he isn't the same thing hearing it from someone else's mouth. He feels absolved. He feels white.

"Thank you," he answers, even if it wasn't the right thing to say – not exactly.

It's a good evening. They drink and sway between the tables, half-dancing with their palms open. Lavender is sharp and pretty and bubbly. She has a kid she loves like burning. She laughs like a princess that has drunk too much wine. When Ginny and Draco crash back into the booth, they break one of Vivyan's bracelets, a strange, wiry thing she's brought back from Africa. She just laughs. She says things are made to be broken. It resounds in Draco's chest.

He likes her and he likes her friends, the essence of a youth they haven't had the time to live. Natasha dances with a boy and a girl, holds both their hands and smiles, eyes shut in the middle of the dance floor. Draco wonders if beauty and happiness are the same thing. He isn't sure.

When he comes back to his son that night, his cheek still a little sticky from Ginny's gloss where she kissed him and whispered a 'See you soon' that felt like a promise and maybe was one, he watches him sleep for a moment, heart racing wildly in his chest. "I made it," he thinks, elated, as he watches the beautiful thing he created. He thanks every god he knows, and even the ones he doesn't.

Their relationship progresses in baby steps, foggy evenings in tiny restaurants, dancing, music, and this one time at the library when he sees her and they get talking about literature for nearly two hours. "I've met all these books after the war," she says with a gesture that encompasses the whole room, the building, even, her eyes a little sad. "I felt like they were waiting for me." He doesn't know if they were, but if it's the case, he thinks they were right to.

He falls in love with her slowly but surely. It's a strange thing, being in love with Ginny Weasley. She's not at all like Astoria – she brings a lot of things with her, turbulent brothers and an history of loving people and also Harry Troublesome Potter (he says troublesome because he's afraid she'll hear somehow if he thinks something else. After all, he has a tendency to think loudly when it's about Harry Potter and Ginny has revealed herself to be much more stronger than expected). It's a whole package you get to deal with when you fall in love with Ginny Weasley. You have to be ready to face the consequences.

He thinks maybe she loves him too. He's not sure, because they fight a lot and sometimes she has little gestures that show him she doesn't trust him completely yet (a hand that draws away, an unconscious flinch, all these things that sting, despite everything). He thinks it must be easier for him to love her, because she knows the worst of him and he has to convince her that he isn't like that, that this isn't all there is to him. But there's something. There's no mistaking the spark that glints in her eyes when she looks at him, unguarded, sometimes.

(They fight about the war, the things they did and didn't do. All the ideas that were planted in his head and that stick, but also the ones he really believes in. Her insistence on loving the whole world. Her petty meanness. She sends sharp little jabs that hurt, her lips upturned in a sneer.)

One night, when he's walking her home, he dares to step forward and kiss her, but she dodges his lips and retreats in the safety of her flat, her eyes a little apologetic (the flat in central London, tiny but comfortable, with brightly coloured walls and a collection of autographed Bludgers). He understands, but he can't help but be hurt.

He doesn't try again for a long time. "It was too soon," he thinks, and he's right, but he also thinks he'll let he make the first move the next time. He does let her. She makes the move, in her own time. He's grateful. He's grateful for everything she does.

He introduces her to his son on the first of march 2010. It's a sunny afternoon outside, the nature buzzing with renewed energy, and it felt right to bring her here today, with her nose full of spring scents and her light skirt. She doesn't wear a lot of skirts, he found out, because she likes to be taken seriously and because it's too girly, anyway, not practical enough for a daredevil like her.

He laughs when she says that, but it's true, of course, she spends her time climbing and running and falling and always getting up, her hands scratched. Sometimes he's the one to put alcohol on her palms, and she laughs and winces. He admires her for that. He admires her for a lot of things – she blinds him a little.

She wears this skirt (light blue, a flimsy material, almost see-through) because Fleur gave it to her. "She brought it back from Paris the last time she went," she says, frowning a little for some reason. Her nose is adorably scrunched up. He's a little in love with her, nothing new.

She crosses the threshold with something that resembles wariness. (Much later, she won't even think. It'll take time, but it'll happen. In return (but the word isn't good, it isn't a trade, it's life) he'll eat with her friends and he won't even mind).

The light floods into the room as it tends to do these days. He knows it's the climate change, but something small and hopeful in him, rekindled by the solitary life he leads with his two-and-a-half-years-old son, thinks it's because life is better, brighter, and is only going to get better. He deserves it. They all deserve it, no matter what they've done. (No one is innocent in a war. There are only heroes and villains and martyrs.)

He's talked the maid into taking the day off to see her son in Manchester. The house is silent, the only noise the crickets outside and the shuffling of the leaves. A gentle wind is blowing that makes the air crisp and fresh. She takes a deep breath. Narcissa lives in the joint house, but she's always been very quiet. Sometimes when he was a child he had to remind himself to notice her (she became more conspicuous during the war. He knows now that she woke up to protect him, and it makes him feel warm and sad at the same time).

Scorpius comes running down the stairs like a tornado. His hair is sticking up in every direction, and he seems to be screaming something about pirates and evil sorcerers. He runs right into Ginny's arms. She lets out an undignified 'oof', caught unaware, but her personality catches up to her and she crouches to hug the little boy, her mouth stretched out in a smile. Draco's heart kind of seems like it wants to explode.

Of course, they hit it off, and then it goes seamlessly, Ginny coming more and more, and once, walking up to him at night as he leads her towards the fireplace, cupping his face and kissing him, square on the mouth, not a really good kiss but a Ginny kiss, messy and enthusiastic and burning. Him kissing her back. It takes time but not as much as he thought it would. He goes to the Burrow and they don't even stonewall him too much, just look at their entangled hands with matching looks of confusion, but shrug, because they're 'good people', at least some of them, or they think they are. Draco knows they're having a hard time with it, but he also knows that Ginny's a 'deal with it' kind of girl, so he doesn't worry too much.

In reality, it takes years for the Weasleys to tolerate him, and a few more for them to like him, even if there's still this undercurrent of distrust, this ready-to-jump wariness in their movements that Ginny's unconditional love for him wiped off of her. He doesn't mind as much as she should, because just Ginny will always be enough.

He continues to be surprised everyday with how much he continues to love her. They fight, of course, they do (how could they not?), and they change each other, but in a good way, or at least he thinks it's a good way, and that's enough for him.

They're having dinner, curled together in the couch, her head nestled in the crook of his neck, his arm looped loosely around her waist. He dims the light with a slack wrist, his wand dangling between his fingers, buzzing lightly when he whispers 'Lumos reductis'. (He's not afraid to use his wand anymore. He knows he's not the only one who hid it in a drawer and left it there for ten years.)

"Does Astoria ever come to see Scorpius?" she asks in a little voice, barely above the crackling of the fire.

She's been here for five years now – she knows the answer.

He sighs – it isn't really a sad sigh, it's just a sigh. It means what it means, a lot of things, not all of them sad, and not all of them happy, either.

"Do you know why?" Ginny asks, sounding genuinely curious. He smiles down at her. God, her loves her so much.

"She doesn't have your maternal instinct, Gin. She was happy with Scorp at first because he was pretty and it was what she thought she wanted, a baby and a family," he gives her a look that means 'You know the Greengrasses', "but it wasn't. He exhausted her."

Ginny's eyes are really big, and the fire throws a red flame amongst the diamonds that shine in them. "But he's her child!"

He presses her against his heart. He doesn't understand either, but he doesn't judge.

"I know."

Times passes quietly, dripping like hot wax on a candle, slow and thick.

"She's not a bad person, you know. She's just – she was made to be free, that's all. She couldn't have anything tying her down, I guess."

He feels that Ginny is on the verge on saying something, but he kisses her to shut her up. She'll never understand, it's not her fault, she's just not part of this world, of this selfishness that can sometimes be a little too sublime. It doesn't matter, he just doesn't want to linger on it. Sue him.

"You want to have another baby?" she asks very suddenly, pulling back from the kiss, a hand poised on his chest, light but firm.

He's not going to lie, he's surprised. He really shouldn’t be, because she – unlike Astoria – does have this "maternal instinct", whatever it is, the patience for Scorpius that she doesn't have for herself, the spontaneity and the warmth and the readiness to make herself ridiculous. And they've been together for five years now, after all, it's a lot, and Scorpius will be off to Hogwarts in a few years, it makes sense, not that he expected Ginny to have planned to make sense, because he hasn't, couldn't, isn't the type to think about that.

He's always thought they were too young – he has a lot of reasons not to have thought about it at all, actually. He's always thought they were too young – but they aren't, not anymore. Ginny is thirty now and he's thirty-one, it's not the 'limit' but in a few years it will start being late. (It's like his vision of them hasn't changed with time, he realizes. They're still newlyweds in his head.)

The thing is – it's something, a pregnancy. He knows what they say, that it's something you do together, but he also knows it isn't completely true. He doesn't have a body that shifts and bends and stretches to accommodate a someone in his belly. He doesn't mind it, it's how it is, but there's a difference, and changing, changing like that, creating something and making it grow, it's not nothing.

(He thinks that it's more important, more huge for him than it is for her, because his mother didn't deal well with it either, didn't know what to do with the stretch marks and the little wiggling thing in her arms. It's king of a curse, he thinks. Frost, on her heart.

It's okay, she loves him. It isn't enough, but it's an effort.)

But Ginny had a mother like there are in fairytales, a woman with a large bosom who's buxom and wide-hearted, exuding warmth, a mother that cooks and scolds and gives birth like it's her job. He's grown to love Molly (he suspects she likes him too), but he was surprised at the beginning to find out that she was exactly as she seemed, as vibrant and fiercely loving. He sees Ginny in her, all the time.

He has a jumper with a green D on it in his closet – his emotion when he opened the package and found it (they were in Italy at the time, visiting a couple they met through Theodore and became friends with) made Ginny laugh.

"Okay?" he says, asks, a little tentative. He really should think about this.

He feels more than he sees her lips stretch in a smile. She kisses the back of his hand and she repeats, the word buzzing against his skin, surer, more confident:

"Okay."

They have the baby. It's a long process, feels longer now, in the ripe heat of their age that is at the same time the height of their youth and the beginning of something else less frantic, calmer. The nine months feel like nine months – it's kind of a novelty, because the last time they felt like a wild whoosh of wind and a breath and there it was, a baby dropped in their lap.

It feels different – maybe even better, but he doesn't want to compare his children, and he won't do it.

Ginny wears the wide belly and swollen ankles as well as she does anything, with a smile and shining eyes. They learn to deal with this strange protuberance when they navigate in the kitchen. Everyone coos – Molly especially, but really everyone.

It's a boy.

Happiness flows in, open doors, doesn't leave.

The years pass. Ginny Weasley is laughing in his living-room, her head thrown back, strands of burning hair flowing on her shoulders. He'd never thought it would happen, ever. He's glad it did, though – he's glad it still does. He's deliriously happy.

"Have you talked to Pansy about the baby-sitter?" he asks. Her smile is infectious. He doesn't bother trying to resist it.

He doesn't bother trying to resist her anymore. It's useless, and he doesn't want to. Besides, she does a remarkably good – and frightening – Bat-Bogey Hex.

"I did," she says, her smile not faltering one bit. He's always had trouble not letting his face fall back down to its schooled impassibility, but she can go on smiling for hours. He loves that about her. Sometimes he thinks he loves everything about her. It's a little scary, but he's grown used to it – it doesn't terrify him nearly as much as it used to.

"She told me she would give me the name, and that Nat will love her."

"I hope so. He's terribly picky."

She laughs again, honey and sun running down her open throat. "I wonder where he gets that from," she teases.

He kisses her.

It took them time, and effort, and love, to succeed. It hasn't been easy. It still isn't. But they made it. They are here, now, in their house, with their children and their love and their wonderful, wonderful life, and he can't help but wonder what he did to deserve this happiness. (At first, Gin didn't like the house. She thought it was too snobbish, too 'Pureblood'. She didn't like the big staircase and the thick, heavy curtains. She felt like a stranger, she'd said at the time, when she'd moved in with him, two years after their first kiss. She didn't want to be a stranger in her own house. Eventually, though, they worked it out, they made compromises. They always swore they wouldn't let their differences tear them apart. He's proud that they stuck to this promise.)

He starts a little when Nat storms into the room and heads straight for his mother's legs, clutching at them with that desperate strength that only comes from a game he's invested himself wholly into. Scorpius comes running after him a while after, and stops short when he spots the two of them. "Too old to play games," his ten-years-old face, red from the embarrassment, says.

Draco opens his arms and is relieved when Scorpius buries his face into his chest – relieved that he isn't too old for that, too.

He breathes in deeply, his son pressed against him; he looks at his wife and his children and he thinks, this, this is happiness. He can't really believe it, but here it is.

Ginny and him – they've held onto each other for so long, it's even gotten a little abstract, a time that you don't count in years but in memories, in moments like those, basking in the warm glow of their happiness that still feels newfound.

Scorpius is almost ten. He'll receive his Hogwarts letter in July. Sometimes they spend hours wondering which house he'll be sorted in, which friends he'll have, if he'll play Quidditch (but they're pretty sure he won't. He was always more interested in his toy train than in the toy broom they offered him for Christmas when he was three). He calls Ginny 'Mama', and she presses him against her heart and lets his breathing regulate the beating of her heart, even though he squirms and claims he isn't a baby.

God, this life.

And because everything is radiant and vibrant and beautiful, he draws Ginny closer, so that the four of them form a multi-legged, smiling, breathing entity. A family. That's it, he thinks to himself, inhaling a waft of flowery perfume from Ginny's flaming hair. A family.

(Draco doesn't have many memories after that, not any he wants to share, anyway. He'll stick to this, Ginny's hair tickling his nose, Scorpius' arm secured around him making his leg fall asleep. This is where he belongs. The rest – after – doesn't matter.)

*

He doesn't break down. He opens his mouth to say something, but nothing comes out, and he closes it back. He shuts his eyes for a fleeting second – fluttery eyelids, something like a tear hanging from one of his lashes – and when he opens them again, they're his eyes again, mercurial grey, hard and unrelenting.

"I remember everything about her," he says, and the other man, hidden in the shadows, admires him for not letting his voice break.

Then, just as the silence threatens to take over and drown them, he whispers, his voice soft and fragile and unlike him, "She had a beautiful laugh."

He sounds so tired – exhausted really, exhausted by the pain and the grief, his shoulders heavy and his eyes inexorably sad.

The other man sweeps out like a tiger, swift and sleek, feline even, without making a sound. He wouldn't have known how to do that before. He does now.