Blood of Birds

Note: Hi! The following is a 2nd generation Harry Potter fanfiction, with main characters being Rose Weasley, Scorpius Malfoy, and Albus Potter. It will be comprised of four parts, the first of which will follow Rose. There will also be seven one-shots (or side-alongs) following other characters at points throughout the series, each uploaded separately. I've also taken the liberty to include a few re-quotes, courtesy of JK Rowling and Steve Kloves of course, to pay homage to the original books and films. So without further ado, here is Chapter 1. Happy reading!

~ Lauren

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26. Christmas Behind Closed Doors (1/2)

Flying in the cold was like walking through a blizzard, even without the falling snow. The chill sent a tingling sensation all along the nerves of one's spine, from the tip of the nose to the toenails. The wind blinded one's eyes, making them water until they ran completely dry. After a while, that chill and that wind made one's body so cold and so empty that it shut the body down, causing it to go completely numb in defense, its only way of fighting against the flight.

Scorpius knew all this from the Quidditch games he'd endured through the long winters at Hogwarts. Now, though, as his falcon self flew through a blue December sky on his way to Ottery St. Catchpole, Scorpius didn't feel any such tingling sensation, or watering eyes, or numbness. His feathers caught the chill and pointed it away, while his eyes were coated in a protective layer that the blinding wind bounced right off of, and his wings flapped and then soared, feeling every bit of the air upon which they floated.

He felt at ease in this climate, as he seemed to in just about any kind of weather. Transforming into a falcon provided Scorpius with a true escape from the human world, where thoughts of death and worries of life plagued his every breath. Still, his grief was washing away much faster than he had expected it to, mostly thanks to Rose.

She had barely let him out of his sight over the past week at school, and he'd needed very little convincing to fly to her dormitory or meet her in the Room of Requirement every night. And as she held him each evening, she'd ask him what the pain felt like, and he'd tell her that it wasn't as bad as the night before had been. Then they would fall asleep, and Scorpius wouldn't have any nightmares, so long as Rose was there. Just as Narcissa had held him as a child and covered his ears from his parents' screams in the hall, just as Al had stood by him when he'd arrived at Hogwarts feeling completely alone, and just as Lily had brought him back to the light when he'd nearly lost it forever, Rose was the one he needed now. She was the only family he had left, and so she was the only one who could help him heal.

Even as Scorpius flew now, he made sure to glide past Rose's compartment window every so often, to remind himself that he wasn't alone and to let her worried heart know that he was okay, that he was still there, that he hadn't left her. Each time he did so, she'd send a smile his way, large enough that he'd see it but small enough that Al wouldn't notice.

Albus was sitting across from Rose on the Hogwarts Express, which Scorpius had been flying alongside for over an hour now. Al, along with just about every other Hogwarts student, had no idea where Scorpius was headed for Christmas, and those who had any clue of his whereabouts (Rose, Hugo, and James) had all been ordered to remain silent by McGonagall herself. The Headmistress had gone to great lengths to ensure that Scorpius would remain protected, and Scorpius only hoped that her plan would work.

For the rest of the journey across the English countryside, Scorpius flew around the train lazily, diving underneath the elevated tracks and shooting past the window behind which sat Lucy and Lorcan, leaning against each other as they slept, with Lysander and James using their wands to draw on the two lovers' innocent faces from across the compartment. In another car of the train, Scorpius spotted the Gryff Group, Hugo and Roxanne sprawled across the two benches while Lily tried her best to help Nigel sort through a pile of books he'd recently checked out on wand-making. Scorpius also passed by Ilana Higgs as she stared blankly through the window of her lone compartment.

Scorpius hadn't let himself think of Ilana as the possible spy ever since he'd accused her of such to Rose. He wasn't going to try to analyze the motives of a girl who had only ever been there for him. The spy would have to be revealed eventually, but Scorpius refused get in the middle of it; he already had more responsibility than he could handle.

After another hour or so, Scorpius could just make out the sight of London's Tower Bridge sitting right on the horizon line. They weren't far from King's Cross Station now, so Scorpius took the opportunity to veer away from the train and start heading west for the Weasley house.

He arrived before the Weasleys did, and because they weren't supposed to be aware of his presence just yet anyhow, Scorpius tried to hide himself amongst the bare branches and bountiful snow of their front yard maple tree. Just as soon as he'd perched atop a sturdy branch, however, he heard a rustling sound that told him he wasn't alone.

Scorpius turned his head quickly to see a scruffy, black bird perched on a branch across from him. This bird was much smaller than Scorpius's falcon, but Scorpius still found himself intimidated by it. After all, he had never actually interacted with a real bird while in his Animagus form before. He also didn't know much about birds, but he did know that they had a pecking order. Upon seeing the other bird a second time, which was some sort of crow, Scorpius assured himself that a falcon would be much higher on the totem pole than this little thing. So, Scorpius subtly puffed up his chest and stared down at the crow with intimidation, which seemed to work, as the smaller bird ended up moving to a branch further away from Scorpius. The crow didn't seem to want to leave the tree, though, as it ended up staying there the whole time Scorpius waited for the Weasleys to come home.

Ron's car came up the long, straight driveway with wide, uncontrollable turns in every which way, then nearly crashed into the maple tree. Neither Scorpius nor the crow shuffled at the tree's shaking roots, though Scorpius looked down at the car curiously.

Hugo was the first out from his seat in the back, and was shortly followed by Rose. The two slammed their doors defiantly before collecting their bags from the boot. When Hermione stepped out and had sufficiently brushed herself clean of the snow that had uprooted from the earth upon their arrival, she wrapped one arm around Rose and the other around Hugo and walked with them to the front door.

Ron was the last out, and seemed both exhausted and disappointed by his less than satisfactory driving skills and the way in which his family had deserted him. After a moment of wondering whether or not they had left him alone on purpose, Ron ran after the other three while calling out, "Oi! No need to rush!"

When the door to the house closed behind Ron, Scorpius left the crow and flew to the shorter apple tree where he could spy through the kitchen window. Ron was just taking something out of a cupboard when Scorpius peeked inside, but the former kept turning his head to the opening of the kitchen, which led into the living room. That was where Rose, Hermione, and Hugo were sitting on the couch and talking, Hermione laughing at all the stories Rose and Hugo had to tell.

At one point, Hermione looked over at Ron and gestured her head for him to join them, but Ron didn't go. Instead, he turned around and faced the window above the sink, looking out at the apple tree and meeting the eyes of Scorpius, the falcon.

Scorpius knew that Ron didn't know it was him perched on the tree, but it must have been odd to see a falcon in one's front yard. Still, Scorpius found himself holding Ron's gaze for a while, if only because he could see the same loneliness and guilt in Ron's blue eyes – Rose's eyes – that Scorpius had been a victim to all year.

He hadn't meant to ignite anything between Ron and Rose, but Scorpius could already tell by Rose's cold shoulder that she wasn't going to let go of Ron's lie. Meanwhile, Hugo had something to tell his father, and it looked like he'd be keeping his distance while waiting for the proper moment.

But Ron wouldn't look away. After playing numb for the longest time, Scorpius bent his stubby legs and pushed off the tree. He passed by the maple tree to see that the crow was still there and then flapped his wings forcefully to gain altitude. He flew across the countryside for the next couple of hours until night fell, and he swore he could feel Ron's eyes on him throughout duration of his the journey.

The sky was completely black by the time Scorpius returned to the Weasleys' front yard. He could see lights shining from the living room, from what must have been the Christmas tree, but he didn't see anybody inside. He quickly hopped onto the maple tree, which the crow had finally deserted, and edged carefully along the branch that led him to the third floor, the location of Rose's bedroom window.

Just as she had been when he'd come by that summer, Rose was tucked up in a chair in the corner with her reading lamp on. Scorpius tapped the window with his beak, and Rose looked up and smiled at him. She pointed her wand to her closed door and said a quick spell, probably the Muffliato one that would be sure to keep her parents from overhearing anything if they came upstairs, and then ran over to the window.

Scorpius flew in the second it was open and landed, as a human, right in front of Rose.

"Hi," she said while patting down some of his air-blown hair. "I snuck up some food for you," she added, motioning to her desk.

Scorpius nodded in thanks and then started eating; he hadn't had any food since early that morning. In between mouthfuls, he answered her silent question, "I'm fine. Been a bit bored, but the flying was nice."

"Good," Rose sighed with relief. She'd sat back down on her chair now, wrapping herself in an old Gryffindor blanket.

When Scorpius finished off his bread, he joined Rose on the chair, sitting on the armrest and letting her lean her head in the crook of his shoulder. It was funny; he hadn't been in her room since last Christmas, and this time felt so much different. He felt immediately comfortable here, like he could live in this one room for the rest of his life.

He loved everything about it: the overflowing bookshelf that had been packed four books deep on each panel, the walls that had been painted a sky blue color to contrast all the orange Chudley Cannons posters and red Gryffindor banners, and the stack of a year's worth of Daily Prophet volumes sitting by the dresser. But there was something odd about the papers.

Next to the volumes, atop Rose's dresser, sat a different pile... this one filled of letters. Scorpius knew immediately that they were all the ones he'd sent her that summer. He knew all too soon that she'd kept every last word, every last lie.

"Scorpius, it's nothing," Rose said as Scorpius stood up and walked over to the dresser. He didn't listen to her, deciding to shuffle through the letters anyway, looking for the one that had ruined everything.

Oddly enough, this letter, the final one, was in the best shape of all of them. It was in perfect condition, its folds creased back in the exact way it had been sent, the ink as clear and bold as if it had been written yesterday. Scorpius couldn't help but assume that Rose had made an effort to keep it so pristine.

Holding the letter but not daring to read it, Scorpius mumbled, "I wish you had thrown this out."

He could hear Rose coming up from behind him, so he asked, "What's the use in keeping it?" The other letters were a testament to their love for one another, but this one had no such meaning.

Rose took the letter out of Scorpius's hand gently and said, "Because it was the only proof I had that you still loved me."

Scorpius didn't understand. This was the letter in which he'd ended things between them, in which he'd said that he wasn't ready to love her.

"I knew none of it was true," explained Rose. "But sometimes my mind would tell me otherwise, and then I'd read the letter and I'd remember. I'd remember how hard you had tried to make it sound convincing, and I'd realize that it couldn't possibly be true. And then I'd talk to Al and we'd figure out where next to look for you."

Scorpius didn't feel any less guilty upon hearing this, but he decided it wasn't worth tormenting himself over, especially when that involved him reminding Rose. So, for now at least, he dropped the subject, put his arm around Rose, and the two sat on her well-made bed.

"Speaking of Al," Scorpius said quietly, "How were things between the two of you on the train?"

Rose lit up immediately upon hearing Al's name, like she had been waiting to talk to Scorpius about him all afternoon. "Oh, he's great!" she said, turning her body ever so slightly to face Scorpius.

But as she looked at him, Scorpius knew all too quickly that Rose wasn't being perfectly honest, not just with Scorpius, but with herself. She was smiling from cheek to cheek, but her eyes didn't have enough light in them to match.

"He doesn't seem very angry with me anymore," Rose continued. "And I mean, he still feels a little distant, but he's there, you know? That's all I can really ask for."

Scorpius didn't like to see Rose pandering to what was sure to be nothing but bitterness and sarcasm in Al. He wanted to tell Rose that no, that's not all she could ask for, that she could have more, that she deserves more, but he couldn't do it to her. He couldn't do it because no matter the circumstance, Rose always had hope, and to take that away from her would be like losing the central piece of a puzzle. Scorpius had chipped off the edges already, so he wasn't about to make it any harder for her to be put back together. She could have her hope, so long as he had enough skepticism for the both of them.

So Scorpius refrained from giving Rose a lesson on realism and instead lied down on the bed and held her as she took her place beside him.

"I have a good feeling about this," she said as she closed her eyes. "The three of us... we're going to be okay. Everything will be back to normal soon. I can feel it."

Scorpius kissed the top of her head lovingly, but he didn't respond to her wishful thinking. He didn't comment on her voice cracking, or the tenseness of her hand that had fisted itself around his shirt, or the fact that she had closed her eyes just so that she could lock her tears away. He didn't say anything. He just let her sleep, dream, and wish, because faith had gotten them both this far, and because it was her light that made him feel safe enough to sleep at night.

The next morning was the day before Christmas, and Scorpius woke from a uniquely undisturbed slumber as soon as the sun started shining through Rose's window. She wasn't up yet, but he knew he had to get out of her room, so he quickly went into her bathroom, changed his clothes into a clean pair of pants and another collared shirt that Rose had smuggled here in her suitcase, then came back and kissed her on the forehead before heading out the window as a falcon.

The crow was back. There was fresh snow on both the ground as well as the branches of the maple tree as Scorpius circled the house a couple of times before perching himself there. The bird was in the exact same spot that it had been in the day before, and Scorpius felt somewhat unnerved by its presence. Luckily, he wouldn't be there for long.

Today (along with tomorrow) was one of the days that Ron and Hermione had agreed to 'host' Scorpius, according to McGonagall. So, after waiting about a half an hour to see smoke come out of the Weasley's chimney, Scorpius decided it was time to head inside.

Because he didn't want to transform in front of the creeping crow, Scorpius flew into the woods to transfigure himself, then walked down the driveway as a human. Ironically, the crow flew off just as soon as Scorpius made it to the Weasleys' front porch. Trying not to give the bird's odd behavior too much thought, Scorpius took a deep breath and knocked on the pale blue door that stood in front of him.

As soon as his fist touched the door, however, Scorpius noticed its color changing. Right in the middle it, a thin streak of black was painting the words, 'The Bird's Nest', in perfect cursive handwriting. Scorpius smiled at the magic, already impressed by the lengths Hermione was going to make her home the official headquarters for the Order of the Phoenix.

But the message disappeared as soon as the door opened, Hermione Weasley standing in the entryway across the threshold from Scorpius. She had on jeans and a long-sleeve, red shirt that would surely match the color of her family members' hair. She was wearing the necklace that Ron had given her last Christmas, and her bushy hair was hanging down around her shoulders. Just like Rose, her smile lit up the room, and Scorpius felt more than obliged to walk inside and let her greet him with a hug.

When he broke away from her, Scorpius said, "Thank you so much for having me. Oh, and I really like the door."

"You're more than welcome, Scorpius," said Hermione. "And the door was actually Ron's idea. Our new code-name will only appear if it is knocked on by a member of the Order, and if it is met with someone who is not a member, it will send an alarm through the house. That way, we won't have to worry about any intruders, since we had to take down some of the protective charms on the property in order to let people through for the meeting. It's quite brilliant, I think."

"Definitely," Scorpius agreed. He could tell how pleased Hermione was with Ron, as well as how happy she was to be deemed as the mother hen.

"Well, come on inside," Hermione opened her arms for Scorpius. "I hope you haven't eaten breakfast yet."

Scorpius shook his head and then followed Hermione into the kitchen, in the middle of which sat an old wooden table already set for five. Rose was seated on the side with two chairs, but she stood up and wrapped her arms around Scorpius upon seeing him.

"Hi," she said cheerfully as she took his hand and made him sit down beside her.

"Hi," he replied. He nodded his head at Hugo as well, who was sitting on the other side of the table, holding an unopened envelope with shaking hands.

Scorpius didn't get the chance to ask what was in the envelope when Ron walked into the room, kissed Hermione (who was piling pancakes onto plates at the counter), and then took a seat at the head of the table.

"Scorpius," he said, noticing the young Malfoy had arrived.

"Ron," Scorpius returned, standing from his seat and leaning over the table to shake Ron's hand. Rose, who was in between the two men in her life, didn't show any sign of a reaction at Ron and Scorpius's newfound understanding.

Soon, Hermione had finished cooking and the food was on the table. After telling everyone to take as much as possible, Ron and Hugo taking twice as much as anyone else, they all started eating and Hermione turned to Hugo and said, "Go on. Open it."

Hugo had already stuffed back an entire pancake when he looked at his mother for encouragement. When she smiled at him, Hugo turned the envelope around and started peeling off the fold, and Scorpius noticed the Hogwarts address on the front.

All the Weasleys looked at Hugo anxiously as he pulled out a piece of paper and read it to himself. After a moment, he put the letter down on the table, stared blankly ahead, and said, "I did it."

Rose and Hermione were squealing with joy, and Scorpius soon realized that Hugo had just received perfect marks for his most recent term at Hogwarts – a feat that only a Granger could ever accomplish. But as the Weasley women swelled with pride, Hugo looked to his father.

Ron wasn't screaming or jumping. He was sitting at the table in silence, but his eyes were wide and watery as they met Hugo's, and Scorpius could tell that the father and son were trying to read each other's expressions: Hugo still terrified by how much he was differentiating himself from his dad, Ron still unsure of just how different he and Hugo actually were.

The rest of the meal passed by quickly, Hermione, Rose, and Hugo chatting up a storm about all the books they'd read recently. For both Scorpius and Ron, however, breakfast was fairly silent, neither of them having a way to jump in to the central conversation.

After breakfast, Scorpius spent most of the day with Rose, either talking by the fireplace or walking in the snow. They didn't discuss Al much more, but Rose helped Scorpius get ready for the core alliance meeting, telling him all that she knew about some of the members whom Scorpius had never met. Then Scorpius asked her about Ron, and whether or not she was planning on talking to him any time soon. She assured him that she would, but she needed some time first.

The two were just coming inside from one of their walks when they arrived at the door to find Hugo waiting for them. He asked Scorpius if he might be able to talk to Rose for a while, and though Scorpius was hesitant to be left alone in the house, he handed Rose over willingly, knowing that Hugo wanted to talk about Ron and figuring that it would be a good idea for him and Rose to strategize together.

Not knowing what to do by himself, Scorpius walked aimlessly into the living room, where he found Hermione sitting on the floor behind the couch, surrounded by a sea of floating wrapping paper, scissors, and tape.

Scorpius was drawn to Hermione's elf-work, taking a spot on the floor and asking, "Do you need any help?"

The very focused Hermione didn't look away from her current gift as she answered, "Yes, actually. Could you help me with that pile?" She gestured toward a mountain of unwrapped presents to her right, which Scorpius got started on.

Though Scorpius could have tried to use charms to do his wrapping for him like Hermione was doing, he figured that it would be safer to start off by hand. Unfortunately, he couldn't even manage that, and ended up folding a simple shoebox into a frightening, disproportionate dragon covered in a pattern of swirling snowflakes.

"Bloody hell," mumbled Scorpius as he took a look at his dreadful work. He was as much of a perfectionist as the next person, especially when it came to neatness. Naturally, this just wouldn't cut it for him, nor did he think it would for type-A Hermione.

As Hermione heard Scorpius's swear, she turned to him instinctively and bit her lip to keep from laughing. Because she couldn't help herself, she said in the sweetest possible tone, "Please don't take this the wrong way, but that is ghastly."

Scorpius laughed with her at that, saying, "Yeah, I'm pretty hopeless. I bet you're wondering what Rose sees in me right about now."

Hermione chuckled at this as well, but it was lighter and more sincere than the last. Then she took Scorpius's hand off what used to be a shoebox and held onto his arm for a moment as she said, "Scorpius, I've never wondered for a second what Rose sees in you. If I had, I'd be the greatest hypocrite alive."

Scorpius's heart warmed at her touch, and for a minute he felt like he was about to cry. He didn't understand why she reminded him so much of his late grandmother, nor did he realize that what she had just told him was what his real mother should have been saying to him since the day he was born.

"Here," Hermione said suddenly, waking Scorpius from his momentary trance. "Let me show you how to do it."

She took the next gift off the pile, a simple book that was probably meant for Rose, and picked out one of the wrapping papers rolls. She unrolled the paper smoothly and did a test-wrap around the book to see how much she'd need, then cut it in one long, straight stroke. Then she folded the paper over the book, making sure the edges weren't at all torn, taped it together, and wrapped a gold ribbon around it.

"I used to do it by hand every Christmas," explained Hermione as she handed the gift over for Scorpius to examine. "It was one of my favorite things to do. Now, of course, I don't have enough time to wrap them all by hand, but the charms help."

"I wouldn't even know where to start," said Scorpius as he marveled at the perfection of Hermione's wrapping skills. "I mean, clearly I didn't with the wrapping, but I'm talking about the gifts as well. How do you know what to get people?" He was thinking about Rose of course, because though she'd picked out plenty of trinkets for him to give to her family, he hadn't thought of anything to give to her.

As Hermione started on the next gift, this time using her wand to wrap it, she said, "From what I've heard, all the gifts you've ever given have been plenty appropriate."

Scorpius thought about what he'd ever given Rose before that she might have told Hermione about, but the only thing he could think of was the ring, and he just happened to have found that in the Forbidden Forest. Now, he only had one day to come up with something perfect, and he didn't exactly think that the woods of Ottery St. Catchpole would be filled with free jewelry.

After grunting about such, Scorpius said, "Well, it's the thought that counts, right?"

"Oh no, that's complete rubbish."

Scorpius looked up at Hermione to see that she was entirely serious, and he grinned when she said, "It's the delivery that counts. And I've been told from more than one witness that no matter how worried you are about something, you always deliver."

She was right. The ring hadn't been the perfect birthday gift; the perfect gift was letting Rose know that he still cared. His transformation of the Room of the Requirement hadn't been the perfect Valentine's Day gift; the perfect gift was every moment that Rose and Scorpius had spent in their clearing since. The rose petals and fireworks hadn't been the perfect anniversary gifts; the perfect gift was finally telling Rose everything she'd been waiting to hear.

And it was true; he did have a way with delivery, whether that meant conjuring his patronus at the last possible moment, catching the snitch even when his team had no hopes of winning, or leading a meeting full of witches and wizards that had twice as much experience as him. Scorpius always found a way to do what he was supposed to in the end, even when nobody expected him to succeed.

Thinking about how he might deliver for Rose, Scorpius admitted, "I just want her to know that leaving her this summer was the biggest mistake of my life, and that I never want to leave her again."

Hermione didn't seem to have any trouble figuring out whom Scorpius was speaking of, as she suggested, "Then find a way to tell her that you're done leaving. Find a way that will make her believe that you're ready to be still."

As he listened to Hermione, Scorpius was struck with an idea. So, as he stood up in determination, he said to Hermione, "Thank you," before heading out of the room.

On his way, however, he paused by the chess set that was sitting on the coffee table beside the couch, looking down at it and picking up the white knight.

"Do you play?" a voice asked from behind Scorpius.

Scorpius put the knight down and turned around to see Ron looking at him from the doorway, where he might have been standing for a while now.

"I used to," answered Scorpius plainly.

Ron didn't say anything more on the matter, but he dropped his head down to face the floor as he added, "Would you like to stay for dinner?"

No thought was necessary for Scorpius to reply with, "I'd love to."

Christmas morning was perfect. Scorpius woke with Rose in his arms, and then re-entered the Bird's Nest after flying out of Rose's bedroom window. The crow was back on the maple tree, but Scorpius ignored it and was let inside the house by a beaming Hermione and an enthusiastic Ron.

Because the Potters had decided to spend the morning with Teddy and Victoire so that they didn't have to shuffle baby Remy around, it was just the Weasleys and Scorpius for the first half of the day, corralled around the Christmas tree opening gifts with each other. Rose and Hugo put their differences with Ron aside for the time being, so everyone was included in the gathering.

Ron, as usual, went first in the annual round robin of gift-giving, followed shortly by Hermione, Hugo, Rose, and finally Scorpius. There was nothing too surprising about any of the presents, and Scorpius had decided the night before that he didn't want to give Rose her gift right away. He wanted her to open it in private, so he'd told her as soon as they'd woken up that he'd give it to her later that evening, when they were alone in her room again.

All too soon, the morning was over, and Scorpius was on the couch listening to Rose argue with Hermione as they all waited for the core alliance members to arrive for the scheduled meeting.

"I don't understand why I can't just sit in the background and listen," Rose pleaded. "I promise I won't make a sound." She was upset that her parents had ordered her to be absent (or rather, upstairs with Hugo) during the meeting, as she was still underage and therefore couldn't yet be a member of the Order.

"Rose," Hermione responded, "These are McGonagall's orders, not mine. You need to respect that."

"Your mother's right, Rosie," Ron piped in. He'd been cleaning up in the kitchen while keeping a lookout for any of the expected gifts, but now he had joined the crowd in the newly spacious living room (everything had been pushed to the side to make room for all the people that were coming) and was standing by his wife's side.

"But I thought Scorpius was supposed to be the leader!" Rose fired back at them. "Doesn't that mean that he should get to make all the decisions?"

Scorpius shrugged his shoulders and tried to hide himself within the wooden chair he was currently sitting on. He didn't want to get in the middle of this particular fight, since he knew that Rose had inherited her persuasive skills from both her parents.

"Yes, but imagine how that would make him look." Hermione replied. "Plenty of other underage witches and wizards, including the majority of your cousins, are looking to be a part of the Order as well, and we can't very well let you all in. Even some of the ones who are of age and who are part of the Order aren't allowed to be in the core alliance."

With the exception of Scorpius, James was the youngest member of the core alliance, at only seventeen, but he was the son of the Ministry's best Auror, so he had a right to his role. And Rose would have that same right, just as soon as her next birthday came around.

"Fine," Rose sighed, realizing that she wouldn't win the fight against her mother.

As Hermione made her way out of the room, Ron looked at Rose and pointed to his ear, but the sly suggestion was thwarted by Hermione when she yelled from the kitchen, "And don't bother trying to use any Extendable Ears! We're going to have eleven pairs of eyes watching for them!"

At that, Rose and Ron both sighed in disappointment, but when the doorbell rang and Hermione announced that the Potters had arrived, Rose's face perked up and she ran to the door. Ron and Scorpius followed suit, while Hugo could be heard crashing down the stairs.

Ginny, James, and Teddy walked inside with cherry cheeks and snowy skin. They were quickly bombarded with hugs and kisses from the Weasleys. Just as soon as all had greeted one another, Hermione offered Ginny some tea and she and Ron dragged her into the kitchen, while Rose pulled James aside as Scorpius overheard her asking him, "Did you happen to bring your Invisibility Cloak?"

Meanwhile, Teddy and Hugo had some sort of secret handshake they were performing that showcased Teddy's color-changing hair. By the time they finished, Teddy had settled on his preferred color, blue, before he and Scorpius walked through the hallway and into the room that was now full of chairs, ordering Hugo to stay behind on watch-duty.

"How are you, Scorp?" Teddy asked as they took their stances by the doorway, both of them trying to ignore Rose and James's not-so-inconspicuous whispering in the corner.

Scorpius had always felt slightly awkward when around Teddy Lupin. He supposed it was because they had similar upbringings, raised mainly by a grandmother and the Potters. But of course, Teddy was actually Harry's godson, whereas Scorpius wasn't truly connected to the boy who lived at all.

"I heard about Narcissa," Teddy added solemnly. Scorpius's grandmother had been the last living Black daughter, after the infamous Bellatrix Lestrange was killed in the Battle of Hogwarts, and following the death of Teddy's grandmother, Andromeda, from a few years back. Now that they were all gone, Teddy and Scorpius were two of the very few wizards remaining from the Noble and Most Ancient House of Black.

Scorpius nodded, not wanting to recount the grief he had endured following Narcissa's passing, some of which he was still struggling with. Teddy seemed to understand this, perhaps better than anyone, as he didn't say that he was sorry or ask if there would be a funeral. He had been an orphan from only a few months old, so Teddy was well versed in the topic of death, and therefore knew that pity was far more aggravating than comforting.

With frustration rather than pity, Teddy commented, "This whole Forbidden Flock is getting way out of hand. Hearing all the deaths pile up almost makes me wish I'd become an Auror so that I could start fighting now."

For as long as Scorpius had known Teddy, through seeing him with the Potters during the summer or at Christmas, he had been somewhat obsessed with avenging the death of his parents. After graduating from Hogwarts, he'd enrolled in an intensive training program to become a member of the Wizengamot, the wizarding court of law. Scorpius knew that he was just waiting to bring in the death eater responsible for murdering the Lupins, though it sounded as if he'd settle for any killer these days.

"Tell me about it," Scorpius agreed. He hated having Harry out there looking for Astoria and not being able to help with the cause. He just didn't feel like the difference he was meant to make was one that could be made from backstage in the wings.

Still, Scorpius was curious to know how much Teddy knew about some of the members of the Flock other than Astoria, so he asked, "Have you convicted anyone yet?"

"Of the Flock?" asked Teddy. When Scorpius nodded, Teddy answered, "Not since Vincent Goyle. I'm itching to give Rookwood a piece of my mind, though."

Knox Rookwood was the one who had killed those two Muggles in Little Whinging. Scorpius didn't know much about him, other than what Albus had mentioned about him being related to an old death eater, but it sounded like Teddy knew plenty.

"Did you know him or something?" asked Scorpius, looking directly at Teddy to see him staring into nothingness, his big brown eyes drooping just as his skin began leaching the blue out of his hair.

"Oh, I knew him all right," said Teddy. "He and his twin sister were in Victoire's year when we were at Hogwarts. They didn't know much of each other until Dom got to school." Dominique Weasley was Victoire's younger sister, and she must have been about twenty years old now. Scorpius remembered her from Hogwarts, but he'd never had the chance to meet her, since she'd been four years above him and was in Ravenclaw house.

"She and Knox were together for years, even after he graduated," Teddy continued. "He was her date at Victoire's and my wedding two years ago, by which time they were already living together. But then we came back from our trip to Paris to find out that he'd disappeared, not even bothering to leave a note for Dom. We never heard from him again until we saw that article about him in the Daily Prophet. Now, Dom's still a complete wreck, and apparently he's become Astoria's best pet."

Rose hadn't mentioned any of this to Scorpius before, and he had a feeling that Teddy was telling him in confidence. And as appreciative as Scorpius was to know more about this Knox person, who would have been in his seventh year when Scorpius started at Hogwarts if he was Victoire's same age, something about the story just didn't add up.

Trying to make sense of it all, Scorpius asked, "But if Knox was older than Dominique, how'd they ever get to know each other?" He was fairly certain Dominique had never played Quidditch, and that was one of the only ways students interacted with others who weren't in their same year or house.

"They were in Ravenclaw together," stated Teddy matter-of-factly.

Scorpius turned to Teddy in shock. He had assumed that Knox had been in Slytherin. With the exception of Peter Pettigrew, there wasn't a single witch or wizard who went bad whowasn't in Slytherin, and there had definitely never been one in Ravenclaw. At least, not until now.

Unfortunately, Scorpius didn't have time to ask anything else before another knock was heard at the door. "It's the Creeveys!" yelled Hugo from the entryway.

Teddy and James remained in the living room as Scorpius went to greet the guests, Rose catching up to him in the hallway. She had her hand around his instantly, and he asked, "Did you get it?"

"Of course I did," she said proudly.

Scorpius glanced at her sweater to see that it was a little fuller than usual, James's cloak stashed underneath it. "Don't get caught," Scorpius warned her.

"I won't," Rose promised as they came to the entryway. She then kissed Scorpius on the cheek and whispered, "Good luck, and don't worry. I'll be there the whole time." He smiled and watched Rose say hello to the Creevey couple before heading upstairs to her room.

Once she was gone, Scorpius introduced himself to Dennis and Natalie Creevey, the parents of Colin and Nigel. They were lovely people, both incredibly common-looking in appearance, with mousy hair and mahogany eyes, but they were also abhorrently happy, with permanent smiles that warmed the entire room.

After meeting Scorpius, the Creeveys turned to Hugo and embraced him like a son. It only took a few seconds for them to start chatting away with Hugo, who quickly warned them not to mention his secret to Ron and Hermione. They promised him to keep quiet, and then Hugo hugged them one last time before being banished to the third floor.

Just as Scorpius motioned for Dennis and Natalie to meet the others in the living room, the door opened again to a very bundled up Neville Longbottom. He shook Scorpius's hand and wished him a Happy Christmas, but seemed distracted by something from outside.

Scorpius shifted himself around the still open door to see a woman with long, unkempt waves of blonde hair standing in the middle of the front yard and staring up at the leafless maple tree.

"Is that an Umgubular Slashkilter in that tree?" asked the woman, whom Scorpius assumed was Luna Lovegood Scamander.

"Oh, it's probably just that bloody crow," Scorpius yelled out to her, not sure what sort of creature she had just spoken of, but completely certain that it wasn't residing in the Weasleys' tree.

Just as soon as Scorpius had finished his sentence, however, Neville had a hand on his shoulder and was saying, "Don't try to set her straight, Scorpius. There's absolutely no use in it."

Scorpius didn't respond as Neville widened his eyes and held his arm out for Luna to take his hand as she made her way up the front steps. "I don't think it was a crow," she said as Neville slipped off her coat.

Luna was wearing one of those ugly Christmas sweaters with an embroidered reindeer that had a protruding red nose, along with the strangest earrings Scorpius had ever seen. Though they didn't stay in his line of vision for long, he was fairly certain that they were tiny jewels in the shape of radishes.

How Lysander and Lorcan could have ever been created from this person, Scorpius would never know. Still, he invited her inside cordially and pointed her in the direction of the kitchen after she said something about craving pudding.

"Isn't she brilliant?" Neville said dreamily as he walked after her, to which Scorpius didn't feel the need to reply.

As Scorpius remained in the entryway, he silently counted all of the core alliance members that were already here, while listening to the dizzying sound of conversation coming from just about every direction. Upon coming to the conclusion that there were ten people in the house (not including Rose and Hugo), Scorpius realized that they were missing only one person, and at the same time he remembered who that one person was.

He didn't have more than a split second to brace himself before a pop came from down the road and Scorpius spied through the door's peephole to find his father walking up the driveway. Scorpius opened the door for Draco before he even got to the front porch, and let him inside without saying a word.

As soon as Draco's shoes touched the rug in the entryway, it was as if all the coziness of the Bird's Nest started peeling off, layer by layer. Draco's sour face and surly disposition gave the air around Scorpius a kind of tenseness that hadn't been there before, and as Draco made his voice heard by saying hello to his son, silence swept across the rest of the house like a flood of water coming over a lively forest ground.

It was an odd thing to be the one leading Draco. Scorpius had always walked behind his father, and he had such a distinct memory of doing so right before Draco had told him of Narcissa's death. But now it seemed as though they both knew that Scorpius would no longer walk behind his father. As he approached the living room where the most important members of the Order of the Phoenix were waiting for him, Scorpius knew that he would no longer walk behind anyone. Others would now walk behind him.

Ron was the first person Scorpius and Draco came to. The chairs had been arranged in a large circle within the room, but Ron had the chair by the doorway, just beside the one in front of the fireplace. That one was more alone than any of the other seats, separated from its neighbors, Ron on one side and Neville on the other, by a couple of feet each. Scorpius didn't need to be told that that was to be his chair.

He didn't sit down right away, however. It took a while for Ron and Draco to glare at each other before Ron manned up and shook Draco's hand, then gestured toward an empty chair on the other side of the room, directly across from Ron. Draco still didn't say anything as he took his seat and surveyed the assembled group of witches and wizards.

Scorpius did so as well, taking a moment to familiarize himself with his surroundings before he sat down. Ron was on his left, followed by Hermione. Then came Ginny, James, and Teddy. Draco was lodged in between Teddy and Dennis, who was beside Natalie. Luna and Neville connected the Creeveys to Scorpius, and thus completing the circle.

In the center of that circle sat the moved dining room table topped with piles of paper, and in between Hermione and Ginny floated a small notebook and a Quick-Quotes quill that would be recording the meeting's minutes. And though there wasn't anything visible between Scorpius and Ron, the former could hear the steady, rhythmic breathing of the girl he loved, hidden beneath James's cloak.

Knowing that Rose was there, Scorpius found the confidence to finally take his seat and address his team. "Okay," he started, rubbing his hands across his pants to try to shake off his nerves. "So, first off, I'd just like to thank you all for coming. For those of you who I'm only just meeting, I'm sorry it's not under better circumstances, and I hope that I'll be able to get to know you over time."

There was chuckling and smiling from most of the room, which Scorpius took to be a good sign. So at that, he decided to turn things over to Ron, saying, "I suppose we should start with some updates. Ron, what can you tell us about Astoria and Harry's whereabouts?"

Nine pairs of eyes automatically shifted away from Scorpius then, which felt somewhat refreshing. Soon, his own eyes followed, looking directly through Rose to face Ron as the newly-appointed Head of the Auror Department informed everyone, "Astoria's exact whereabouts are currently unknown, though Harry came close to catching her when she took a detour to Malfoy Manor. Unfortunately, he arrived too late and was then stalled when–"

Suddenly, Draco interrupted quite bluntly, "When he found the dead body of my mother upstairs and decided to wait for my arrival from the Ministry."

Everyone lowered their heads when Draco spoke, trying to avoid eye contact with the man who felt very much like an imposter. Scorpius was beginning to wonder why he had agreed to appointing Draco to the core alliance, not to mention why he had ever told his father about Rose. Both decisions seemed utterly nonsensical now, but Scorpius supposed that he would just have to live with them.

"Yes, exactly," Ron picked up where Draco left off, trying to lighten the mood once more. "But what matters is that Harry didn't lose Astoria's trail completely. He's been following her through Scotland this past week."

"You mean, he's near Hogwarts?" asked Neville. He was the alliance's main spokesperson for Hogwarts, so naturally he was worried that the castle might be in danger.

This time, Ginny answered, most likely because she was the last person to have spoken with Harry directly. "He thinks Astoria's just toying with him," she explained. "She wants him to think that Hogwarts is threatened so that he'll order Ron to send out the rest of the Aurors. She's not actually going to attack."

"And even if she were," Scorpius added, "McGonagall's the only one at the castle, and it's completely locked." Neville already knew this, of course, but Scorpius thought it might be good to let the others know. Dennis, Natalie, and Teddy sighed in relief.

Turning everyone's attention back to the Aurors, Scorpius asked Ron, "And is the rest of the Flock being tracked?"

"Yes," Ron answered. "I have my ten best out following some of the people that have been sighted with Astoria, including the ones I fought off at the Creeveys' this summer."

"What about that dark boy?" Dennis asked from across the room.

"Oh, yes, the hooded one," added Natalie in remembrance. She and her husband weren't nearly as experienced in fighting off dark wizards as Harry, Ron, or even Hermione, but they were still more than qualified to be here. They had held their own when Astoria had attacked their home that summer in search of their Squib son, Colin, and Scorpius didn't sense any fear in their voices as they relived that night now.

They were used to dealing with fear. Rose had told Scorpius the other day that they were trained Obliviators, witches and wizards that worked in the Department of Magical Accidents and Catastrophes and specialized in modifying and erasing the memories of Muggles who had witnessed magic. The Creeveys were experts in the art of fragmenting fear, and so they knew how to fragment their own.

"I'm going to take a wild guess and say that the hooded figure was Rookwood?" asked Teddy.

"It was," Ron concurred.

"Slimy little geezer," Teddy swore under his breath, throwing James into a bit of a tizzy.

Once they both calmed down some, Ron continued, "But Rookwood doesn't seem to be an easy one to keep track off. My guys don't have any clue where he is now."

There was obvious disappointment in just about everyone's faces upon hearing this, most of all in Teddy's. His hair had just turned a shade of bright orange, a cross between hopeful yellow and raging red.

Figuring it was about to time to switch subjects, Scorpius transitioned the alliance into the next update. "Hermione, any news from the Ministry?" he asked. She wasn't the only Ministry worker in the room, but she was the highest ranked, and therefore the closest to Shacklebolt, the Minister for Magic.

Hermione took the floor with ease, saying, "The Minister's main priority right now is getting word out, just as Scorpius and McGonagall have been doing at Hogwarts. Post has gone out with informative letters, wanted posters have been put up all over Diagon Alley, and most recently, every overage witch or wizard has been sent a Ministry token that is in direct correlation to the Auror department. It's meant to be used for safety measures, as a sort of S.O.S. It was modeled after the ones we used in Dumbledore's Army, so a message can be sent from where the serial number should be in order to request help from an Auror."

This was the first time Scorpius was hearing about the new form of communication, and he was thoroughly impressed. The coins would make it possible to have a country-wide security system, and there was no way Astoria could infiltrate it, since each coin would be coming from the Ministry itself.

"That's excellent!" Scorpius praised highly. Now that they'd gone over all the news from the primary departments at the Ministry, Scorpius asked, "Are there any other updates we should all be aware of?"

He didn't expect there to be any, but surprisingly enough, James leaned forward in his chair and said, "Yeah, actually. My mum and I have taken the liberty to talk to all of the major Quidditch teams about the Forbidden Flock. They've agreed to put extra precautions on all the stadiums, protective enchantments and things like that. I've also spoken with some of my teammates from the Montrose Magpies, and we'd all like to donate the majority of our sponsor money to the Auror department. They're going to need to train people fast if they want to keep up with the growth of the Flock, so we figured they could use a few extra galleons."

"I've an article written about it for the Daily Prophet that should be printed this week," Ginny added.

Scorpius was impressed with this too. After what James had pulled with Nigel at the last Quidditch match back at Hogwarts, Scorpius had lost a lot of respect for the guy. Now, though, he couldn't help but see the compassion Rose was always trying to convince him was actually there somewhere. Then again, the whole thing might have just been Ginny's idea.

"All right, great," Scorpius commented before moving on. The next topic was what he'd really wanted to get to, since it was the one he was most involved in. "Next on the agenda is strategy. We've got the Aurors out there, and we've raised awareness, but we need to be prepared for an attack. For that matter, we need to be prepared for a war."

Reactions to Scorpius's proclamation ranged from excitement (Teddy, James, and even Neville), to anxiety (Ron, Hermione, Ginny, Dennis, Natalie, and Luna), to absolute dread (Draco). Amongst it all, though, there wasn't one person who was willing to object.

Still, they did have questions. Draco, the one whose face had been flushed with anguish, asked bitterly, "How are we supposed to prepare for a war when we don't know where or when it will take place, let alone how strong the enemy force is?"

Scorpius didn't want to be the one to respond to his father, but when nobody else had any ideas, he gave in and said, "I've been thinking about that a lot, actually. See, right now, we're all assuming that Astoria has all the control, but maybe that's only because we're handing it to her."

Everyone was intrigued by this, and Scorpius was so rattled up by his idea that he found himself standing up and clapping his hands on the central table as he suggested, "What if wedecide where we want this war to take place? I'm not saying that we have to give it a date, but we could at least choose a location. We'll just make it so that the Flock has no choice but to meet us there if they really want to take us down. That way, we get the home-court advantage."

"And where exactly do you suggest we make our 'home court'?" asked Dennis. The home court was a Quidditch metaphor that Scorpius had read about once before.

"Actually," replied Scorpius, "I was hoping that one of you might be able to tell me."

For a while, there was silence. Nobody wanted to offer up a place they knew and loved just to see it get destroyed, which Scorpius didn't blame them for. Just when it was quiet enough to hear a pin drop, however, Luna said in an incredibly high-pitched voice, "How about Hogwarts?"

All those who had been a part of the Battle of Hogwarts looked to Luna with creased foreheads and pained eyes. Meanwhile, Scorpius, James, and Teddy looked to each other with fresh enlightenment. Scorpius had already been helping McGonagall prepare Hogwarts for a possible attack, so why not prepare it for a war?

"Luna," Scorpius spoke to the table, pointing a finger in the air as he shook his arm to keep his blood flowing. "That is a brilliant idea!"

Now the creased foreheads and pained eyes were all on Scorpius, but he wouldn't let anyone protest before he could explain himself. "Think about it!" he exclaimed. "Everybody who will be fighting in this battle went to Hogwarts, so we all know it well. The castle's one of the largest and most protected buildings in the country. And most of you have fought there before, which means that you can learn from any mistakes you made then and prevent them from happening this time around. That's about as perfect a place as I can think of."

"And what about all the kids?" asked Natalie. "When Hogwarts was threatened during the Second Wizarding War, hundreds of underage kids ended up in the middle of the fight, either because nobody was there to make sure they left the castle, or because by the time they knew what was going on, there was no way to leave. I should know; I was one of them."

"Then we make sure there are enough ways in and out of the castle for them to escape," James said, standing up and pulling out the Marauder's Map. Scorpius didn't even have to ask before James offered to try to make copies for everyone.

Neville and Ron were on their feet as well, quickly hunching themselves over the opened map and suggesting all sorts of hidden doors and tunnels that could be built into the castle's foundation. Before long, everybody had gathered around the table as Scorpius led a discussion on defensive and offensive enhancements to the castle, as well as possible placements of Order members all across the grounds.

Eventually, the discussion took a turn for the worse when Teddy asked if the Order should have any rules regarding the outcome of a fight. "If we made sure to keep everyone alive," he suggested, "They could be taken to court, and that way everything would be perfectly legal. They'd most likely end up in Azkaban anyway."

Some people were fine with the idea, like James, who added, "Yeah, we could take their wands and keep them in the dungeons until the battle's over. I mean, that's what the cells are there for, right?"

"They could use a few security enhancements," said Draco, recalling his days in the battle, having been brought to the dungeons with the rest of the Slytherins only to escape from the basement with ease. "But I agree. Not everyone in the Flock deserves to die."

Scorpius was skeptical of the idea, though. Ron seemed to be thinking the same thing, as after having a silent conversation with Hermione, he looked directly at Draco and argued, "They might not all deserve to die, but I can tell you one thing: They will be fighting to the death. If we try to give them any second chances, we'll only lose twice as many battles."

From then on, the argument grew into just what Scorpius had been afraid of: an extremely personal brawl between two completely opposite wizards. Still, there was no stopping it once it had started. Everybody else in the room didn't dare to interrupt the tallest and most powerful men there, and so they just watched and listened with narrowing eyes.

"I thought the Order was meant to be a defensive organization," Draco fired back. "And now you want to take out every possible life that's aligned with the enemy, even if they're aligned against their will?" Scorpius knew that Draco had been a death eater so many moons ago, but that he had had no say in the matter.

Even if Draco had good reason to argue his side, though, Scorpius still found himself agreeing with Ron as the latter replied, "Well, we won't have time to separate between the ones who are fighting against their will or not. And even the ones who are doing it against their will can do plenty of harm. Do you really want to take the risk of seeing what fear can do to them?"

"I know perfectly well what fear can do to a person," Draco seethed. "But if they know that they won't be killed by the other side, they won't have any reason to succumb to that fear in the first place."

Dennis and Natalie were nodding hesitantly in the background. They didn't like the idea of killing anyone, especially the innocent. James and Teddy seemed to agree, but they hadn't lived through a war like their parents had, nor had they witnessed the true wrath of Astoria like Scorpius had.

It was clear that Ginny, Neville, and Luna stood firmly on Ron's side, for they comprehended the gravity of the situation, and knew all too well that it would take far too much time, effort, and space to try to spare anyone on the Flock.

Hermione was the only one who seemed to be completely torn between the two sides. She knew that the sacrifice would be worth all the lives of Order members that would be saved if the Flock was to be rid of completely. On the other hand, she kept looking to Draco with pure and unbiased sympathy, wanting things to be as fair as possible.

But none of their opinions had any influence on Ron or Draco. They just kept fighting amongst themselves, Ron the next to speak. "Look, we need to keep as many lives as possible from our side."

"Oh, so you think this is all for the greater good?" Draco interrupted. "Because I don't know about you, but I would define the greater good as keeping as many lives as possible,period. It shouldn't matter which side they're on."

"So says the man who just happened to choose the wrong one!" Ron had no sympathy for Draco, and most everybody knew why.

Similarly, Draco refused to be disparaged by a Weasley, so he threatened Ron by asking, "Do you really want to talk about choosing sides? Do you really want to go there?"

Acting overly confident in himself, Ron leaned over the table toward Draco and growled, "Don't you dare threaten me in my own home."

"I have a right to threaten you when you've let my son inside your home without my knowledge of it!" Draco had been fuming all evening, and now Scorpius's prediction had been confirmed: that Draco's fuming was solely his fault.

Ron was about to argue back when James piped in, "Relax! He's almost seventeen years old, and he still needs permission from his parents to visit his girlfriend? He's the leader of the Order of the Phoenix, for crying out loud!" James had never been afraid of speaking his mind, though it was still surprising to hear him try to defend Scorpius.

But James learned his lesson all too quickly. In a matter of seconds, both Draco and Ron were glaring at him with clenched jaws and stinging eyes. After that, James kept his mouth shut, along with everybody else.

Draco and Ron slowly faced each other once more, and Ron said quietly in a frighteningly hoarse tone, "My daughter is in love with Scorpius. She trusts him, and if she trusts him, I trust him."

It was one thing to think that Ron may be coming around, but it was another to hear it aloud. Everything that Ron had done up to this very moment had been in attempt to protect Rose. It just so happened that now, after everything that Scorpius had been through that summer and fall, and considering how strong it had made him, he had become the best way of protecting Rose.

"You would trust a Malfoy?" Draco asked doubtfully. "Why?"

"Because this Malfoy chose the right side," answered Ron.

That hit a soft spot somewhere deep in Draco. He uncoiled himself slowly and took his hands off the table, then held his left wrist, where he'd once been branded with Voldemort's Dark Mark, and said solemnly, "I can't erase the scar he gave me, nor the ones he carved into anyone else."

Out of the corner of his eye, Scorpius saw Ron take Hermione's hand as he nodded and said to Draco, "I know. But if you want to be a part of our side this time, you need to be willing to let go of the other."

Draco surveyed the room, his eyes meeting Hermione's with remorse, then Ginny's and James's with uncertainty, Teddy's with understanding, Dennis's and Natalie's with pain, and Neville's and Luna's with admiration, until he came to Scorpius. Draco's icy eyes met his son's with nothing but hope.

It was one small smile that did him in. Scorpius merely lifted the corner of his mouth ever so slightly, but it was enough for Draco to nod with complete exhilaration and answer Ron with, "Okay. I'll do it. I'll let it go. I'll let her go. I'll do anything you need me to do."

He shook hands with Ron and then Scorpius, and upon seeing the smiles and yawns make their way across the other faces, Scorpius addressed them all one last time and said, "How about we call it a night?" They'd accomplished a great deal of planning tonight, and everyone had various jobs to do now. They could sort out their fighting rules another day.

Everyone agreed and soon lined up at the front door to leave. Teddy was the first to go, hoping to get back home in time to help Victoire put Remy to bed.

Dennis and Natalie went next, and they thanked the Weasleys for having them and told Scorpius to say goodbye to Hugo for them as they walked outside to brace the cold.

Neville and Luna left shortly afterward, and their rekindled love for one another was infectious as they kissed amongst the falling snowflakes before Apparating hand-in-hand, Luna calling out, "It really is an Umgubular Slashkilter!" as they disappeared.

Ginny and James gave plenty of kisses and see-you-soon's as they walked into the freshly darkened sky, headed back to Godric's Hollow.

Last but not least, Draco shook Ron and Hermione's hands once more and said sincerely, "I am so sorry for all the pain I've caused on your family." Ron let Hermione answer by kissing Draco on the cheek, though he didn't let go of her hand. Scorpius thought about what Harry had told him that past August, about how Hermione had been tortured at Malfoy Manor, and he was proud to see his father finally taking responsibility for it.

But when Draco turned to Scorpius and asked, "Would you mind walking out with me?" Scorpius was hesitant to follow.

That was until he heard a velvety whisper from his right ear say, "Go on. I'll meet you upstairs."

"Okay," Scorpius told his father. Draco waited while Scorpius put on his coat, then hugged Hermione and turned to Ron.

"Thank you," he said, "For standing up for me."

"Thank you for standing up for Rose," Ron replied. He had most definitely overheard Scorpius's conversation with Hermione from the day before, and Scorpius appreciated the effect it had had on Ron. He only wished he could be completely honest with Ron about where he was actually spending his nights, but he knew that if Ron were to find out, whatever trust he had in Scorpius would be completely crushed.

So Scorpius didn't say anything more as he left the Weasley house and stopped at the driveway to speak with Draco. His father had his hands on Scorpius's shoulders as he said firmly, "I meant what I said in there. You're the side I choose, Scorpius."

Looking up at Draco, this was one of the first times Scorpius saw his dad – not his father, but his dad. And because of that, Scorpius let his guard down, if only for a moment, to ask Draco, "And you really believe we can stop her?"

Draco's eyes glistened, whether from tears or just from being in the moonlight, Scorpius didn't know. Either way, the sparkling ice added a whole new layer of meaning as Draco said, "With you leading us the way you just did in there, I don't think there's any way we won't stop her."

Like Draco had said before, he couldn't erase what he'd done in the past. He couldn't save Astoria like he so desperately wanted to, and he couldn't go back to Scorpius's birth and be more present during his childhood. But he could try to make up for the time he'd lost, and his last words were what convinced Scorpius to let him. At that, he hugged Draco, and he imagined that one hug representing the hundreds they had never had.

Draco didn't ask Scorpius where he'd be leaving to, Apparating by himself and trusting that Scorpius could manage on his own. And that he did, Scorpius walking into the woods to transfigure into a falcon and then sit on the tree branch next to the crow, waiting to hear Rose's window open. After twenty minutes or so, Scorpius heard the familiar sound of the sliding glass and flew up to meet Rose.

 

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