Questions and Answers


Story Summary:
What happens when the past collides with the present and threatens to cast the Potters' and Weasleys' lives into disarray...

Chapter 84 - In the Winter Light


'The knickers are staying on,' Penny said crossly, yanking the duvet over her shoulder and turning her back on Percy.

'Penelope...' Percy began, but he got no further.

'Don't "Penelope" me, you... you..." Enraged, Penny searched for a term that would hit Percy between the eyes. 'You swotty twit!' she seethed, seizing on an epithet she'd heard Fred and George use in school, triumph lacing her voice.

'I beg your pardon?'

Penny bolted upright, twisting to face Percy. 'How could you?' she nearly wailed. 'For the first time in years, Parker was doing what he wanted. Not what you or I wanted! And you had to go and send him a Howler!' She lurched from the bed and paced around the confines of their bedroom.

'You've met Sutton Hathaway,' Percy shouted. 'The man's extraordinarily difficult under the best circumstances! And I couldn't risk any of our treaties because of all the witches in southern California, Parker has to cavort with his only daughter.' Percy's shoulders slumped. 'I just want what is best for Parker,' he entreated.

'Then you ought to have let him be,' Penny retorted. 'He went away so he could dictate his own life.' Her eyes were filled with distress. 'Of all the things you have done, Percy, this is one of the worst.' Penny scooped up her dressing gown, pulling it over her shoulders as she swept regally from the bedroom. She'd sent Parker an owl, exhorting him to return to his leisurely holiday, but Parker had been resolute. He was in San Francisco, and intended to stay there until Christmas. So far, none of the other family members were aware of Percy's rather imprudent reaction to the photographs of Parker. It had been obvious Parker was oblivious to the photographers' presence, but there was no convincing Percy of that. Nor did Penny believe that at the moment, she would be able to convince Percy that if he didn't loosen his grip on Parker, they'd lose him.


Parker shyly hung back in the kitchen door. He hadn't wanted to stay upstairs, but he wasn't sure how welcome he'd be at the family's meals. April set a box of cereal on the table, and turned for a carton of orange juice when she saw Parker. 'Don't be bashful,' she admonished with a gentle smile. 'Come eat before Leo inhales it all.'

Needing no further invitation, Parker slid into a chair next to Benjamin and April's youngest child, Marissa. She had her nose buried in a math textbook, muttering under her breath. He peered at the page at which Marissa directed an irate frown. 'It's like figuring out how much dough you have after making biscuits, erm, cookies,' he told her.

Marissa's brow furrowed. 'Huh?'

Parker took the pencil from her hand and sketched a small diagram in the margin of her book, then tapped it with his wand. A grid hovered over it and a circle cut itself out and lifted away. 'See? The larger square is the dough, and the circle is the cookie you've cut out... You find the area of the whole square, then the circle, and subtract the circle from the square...' Numbers floated and flared over the page of the textbook.

'Oh...' Marissa scribbled furiously on a piece of paper, abandoning her cereal. 'Like that?'

'Yeah.' Parker picked up the box of cereal, feeling strangely proud of helping the girl with her homework. He poured a healthy amount of cereal into a bowl and topped it with milk. 'I was wondering if I might go see the principal of the school?'

April held up the coffeepot with an inquiring expression and Parker shook his head. 'You can come with me when I drop Marissa off. I'll introduce you to Mrs. McClellan. She'll be glad of the help. There are a few kids who haven't quite learned to get a handle on their tempers and there's been quite a bit of accidental magic since school started.'

Marissa slurped the last of the milk from her bowl. 'Mom, I'm going to be late.'

With a muffled curse, April screwed the lid on a travel mug and snatched up Marissa's bright pink knapsack. 'Go brush your teeth,' she ordered, while stuffing the math book inside the knapsack. 'You, too,' she told Parker. 'It's best to catch Mrs. McClellan early, before anything has a chance to happen.'

Parker shoveled in the last few bites of cereal. 'Before anything has a chance to blow up, you mean?'

'Something like that.'

Parker grinned and jabbed his wand at his empty bowl and took the stairs up to the attic at a run. He quickly brushed his teeth and grabbed his shoes, plopping on the bottom riser of the staircase to put them on. 'Apparition? Floo?'

'Feet,' April corrected. 'It's just a few blocks away.' She checked her watch, then cupped a hand next to her mouth. 'Marissa! Come on!'

'Okay, okay... stop yelling...' Marissa clattered down the stairs, pulling a chunky cardigan over her arms. April sighed and handed Marissa the knapsack, then ushered her and Parker out the door and down to the pavement.

It was a chilly morning, and Marissa pulled the edges of her cardigan closer together, but for Parker, it was almost a typical London autumn morning. For the first time since he'd left England, he felt homesick. They walked down the street to a large, red-bricked Victorian-style building. Marissa darted through the wrought-iron gate joining a boisterous group of children, engaged in an ordinary game of tag. April followed at a slower pace, pausing to greet a cluster of parents, as she led Parker to a diminutive woman standing in the middle of the courtyard, applying a brightly colored plaster to a tiny girl's finger. 'Good morning, Mrs. McClellan,' April called.

'Mrs. Prewitt! What can I do for you today?'

April gently pushed Parker forward. 'I'd like to introduce to you Ben's cousin from England. This is Parker Weasley. 'Parker, this is Maura McClellan, the principal of Alamo Square Elementary. This is the one Ben told you about that was coming from Hogwarts,' April told Mrs. McClellan.

A bell tolled three times, sending the students scurrying into the building in a chattering mass. 'Why don't you come with me, Parker,' Mrs. McClellan said. 'And we'll see where you'll fit in best.'

April patted Parker on the shoulder. 'Come by Salem when you're done here, if you want. I'll feed you lunch.'

'All right.' Parker followed Mrs. McClellan into the school. 'So how many students do you have here?'

'Right now, we have just a smidge over one hundred. One hundred four, to be exact. Seventeen in kindergarten, sixteen in first grade, eighteen in second grade and third grade, fifteen in fourth grade, and nineteen in fifth grade. The fifth graders will start Salem in the fall, of course.'

'I thought San Francisco's branch of Salem had close to three hundred students...?' Parker asked.

'They do. Every branch of Salem has a few elementary schools that are more-or-less attached to it. The students receive a Muggle education, with appropriate magical elements integrated into it. Like at Hogwarts, the children are put down for Salem when they're born. Not everyone who's down for Salem goes to a school like this, though. Several children's parents choose to educate them at home. If they are Muggle-born, we start home visits with the families when the child is roughly four or five, depending on their birthday, the year before they're set to begin school.' Mrs. McClellan briskly walked down a corridor lined with finger-paintings and into glass-walled room. She walked through a door and partially closed it. 'We have students from California, Oregon, and Washington State. About half of them board here during the school year. The rest of them live at home.' She sat in an oversized chair and motioned for Parker to take the chair on the other side of the desk. 'Now then, when Benjamin Prewitt said you were interested in volunteering, I took the liberty of running a background check on you through your Ministry.'

'Why?' Parker stiffened at the intrusion into his privacy.

'We're technically a public school, and there are certain things we are required to do by law,' Mrs. McClellan said smoothly. 'Your grades at Hogwarts were excellent, and your...' She glanced down at the scroll. 'Head of House, Professor Rafael Moreno - who was a graduate of the branch of Salem here in San Francisco, by the way - said you were a hard worker and had quite a rapport with the younger students.'

'Erm... Thanks...'

'I understand you attended a Muggle school in London until you started at Hogwarts.'

'My mum taught me at home until I was eight, then I went to primary school.'

'What happened?'

'My two younger brothers. Payton was born when I was six and Patrick two years later.' A wry smile lifted the corner of his mouth.

Mrs. McClellan smothered a chuckle. 'I think we'll start you in kindergarten. You're still so young, that it might be best if we have you in with the little ones. If you think you can handle it.'

'I'm the third of eighteen cousins, I ought to be all right.'

Mrs. McClellan smiled kindly. 'You don't talk much, do you?'

'When I have something important to say,' Parker countered. 'But I've learnt it's best to keep thoughts to myself until I know what's going on.'

The principal's lips twitched. 'I see. There is one, small concern,' she said. 'Those pictures in the Dominion?'

Parker looked down at his interlaced fingers. 'It won't happen again,' he promised softly.

'Come, then. I'll take you on a tour of the school, make your identification badge, fill out some paperwork, then I'll introduce you to the kindergarten class. It will be good for some of them to have a positive male influence in their lives.' She rose. 'Shall we?'

'When do I start?'

'Day after tomorrow.' She eyed Parker as they walked into another part of the office. 'You know, if you find you enjoy working with the kids... Stanford University has a program...'

'What kind of program?' Parker asked suspiciously.

'It's for witches and wizards who would like to teach. You have to double up on the classes, because you'll be able to teach in one of the elementary schools or in Salem when you're done. And you have to take the classes required by Stanford.'

'I don't know. I'm supposed to go into the International Magical Law training program in Britain next summer...'

Mrs. McClellan gazed appraisingly at Parker. 'No need to make any decisions today. But again, if you enjoy working with the kiddos, it's merely an option.'


Al propped his foot on the bench in the Quidditch changing room, and taped his ankle. It was the one he'd sprained in that disastrous game with his uncles last summer, and he didn't want to take chances with it. James perched on the other end and held out a hand. Al silently plopped the roll of tape into James' palm, then pulled up his socks. 'You've been playing really well lately,' James commented.

'Thanks.' Al pulled his boots on and began the painstaking process of tightening the laces just so.

James tore off a strip of tape and began to wrap his wrists. He didn't know what to say to Al any more, especially after he'd nearly punched Al's teeth into his throat before they came back to school. It left a burning sensation in the pit of James' stomach. While he and Al hadn't always been best friends, and at times James tolerated his younger brother's presence, but there had never been a veritable wall of awkward silence between them. He glanced up at Madeline and made a small gesture that might have been a shrug or a hitch of his shoulders to settle his jumper in place. He grabbed his gloves and picked up his broom. 'See you on the pitch,' he muttered to Al, then followed Madeline out of the changing room.

'He hasn't said more than two words to most of us, either,' Madeline said quietly, shielding her eyes against the glare of the sun.

'That's because he thinks we were all in on the arse-kicking Uncle Bill and the rest of them delivered,' James sighed. 'Even thinks Mum and Dad were in on it. Especially since they were dead set against him even playing a scrimmage with England.'

Madeline jabbed her wand and her hair in order to plait it properly and heaved a gusty sigh. 'I wish we could go back.'

'Yeah. Me, too.'

'Play hasn't suffered,' Madeline mused, 'but that... camaraderie we had before... it's just... gone...'

James snorted, adjusting one of his arm guards. 'He doesn't trust us anymore.' He mounted his broom and dug his toes into the ground, preparing to push off. 'Can you blame him? The people he's supposed to trust - that Dad and Mum always told us we could trust - beat the hell out of him. Not to say the git didn't deserve it,' James allowed, 'but it shouldn't have been us.'

In the stands, Lily leaned back with her elbows braced on the bench behind her, tilting her face up to the sun, scarf wound securely around her throat, wrapped in her cloak. Scorpius closed his Ancient Runes textbook and aped her pose. 'Does it bother you?' he asked.


'That all your older cousins have such a tight grip on their positions, it might be another couple of years before you get a chance to play?'

Lily's eyes popped open. 'We'll have to see how it goes, yeah? They did have to find someone to take over Izzy's position, and it's only fair to let the older ones have a go at it first,' she said reasonably. Her nose scrunched with evident disgust. 'Or at least that's what Mum says.' She shook her head. 'Look at that. Nicky and Alex cannot play Chaser. Beater or Keeper, sure, but Alex can't keep up with the Quaffle and Nicky couldn't throw it past a Keeper if his bum was in flames. Sophie doesn't want to do anything else but play Beater. Hugo prefers to play in non-competitive situations.' Her eyes closed once more. 'I just have to bide my time... They'll see...'

Scorpius gazed at Lily as if he'd never seen her before. 'Do all of you learn how to be this crafty in the womb?' he asked conversationally.

'We're half Weasley,' she said with utter seriousness. 'Mum says it's a survival instinct.'

Scorpius stared at her for a long moment, then burst out laughing. 'That I can believe.' He scooted a little closer to Lily so their elbows bumped. 'I daresay you're going to need it in a few years.'

'Maybe not with Mum,' Lily replied. 'But with Dad? It's going to be interesting...'

'Lucky you,' Scorpius murmured. 'Mine could care less about what I do.'

'Is he really that bad?' Lily asked sympathetically.

Scorpius shrugged. 'I don't know, and I really don't care,' he said stonily. 'He couldn't be bothered with me for the last fourteen years, so why should I bother with him for the next fourteen?'

'That's a little harsh, don't you think?' Lily ventured.

'Probably. But I can't say I'm too fussed about it,' Scorpius said off-handedly.

Lily sat up. 'What if... What if your mum and dad... stay together?'

'I don't know.' Scorpius' grey eyes briefly grew stormy, then cleared. 'Maybe I'll just have to be content with seeing Mother from time to time. Find somewhere else to live. Merlin knows I do not want to live in that pile of a house longer than I have to.'

'Will you be happy?' Lily persisted.

Scorpius stretched and opened his textbook once more. 'I suppose I will just have to find out, won't I?'


Draco steeled himself before he knocked on the door of the Minister of Magic's office. He was gratified to find his palms were only slightly sweaty and slid just a little on the doorknob. Kingsley, Ron, and Hermione sat at a small, round table, with the partial manuscript of his book in front of them. A thick purple file rested under Harry's hand, while Hermione leafed through a copy of Draco's probation terms. Kingsley motioned to an empty chair. 'Please, sit.' Hoping they weren't able to see his trembling, Draco clumsily pulled the chair out and dropped gracelessly into it. Kingsley folded his hands together. He hadn't wanted to sentence Draco to a lifetime of feeling as if his every move and word was watched and recorded, fearing it would reduce him to a quivering, cringing mass of uncertainty. 'Can I have something brought to you? Tea, perhaps?' Draco mutely shook his head, pressing his lips together. 'Coffee, if you prefer,' Kingsley persisted.

'No, thank you,' Draco rasped, throat dry with anxiety. Harry winced in sympathy and waved it wand. A tray appeared in the middle of the table, containing a pitcher of water and several glasses. He flicked his wand at the pitcher and it filled four of the glasses. He wordlessly Banished three of the glasses to the other occupants of the table, then Summoned one for himself. Draco flashed him a brief look of gratitude.

'I've gone over the terms of your probation,' Hermione began briskly, clearly in charge of the meeting. 'There is nothing that precludes you from having your textbook published.'

Draco's shoulders slumped slightly in relief. 'Thank you...'

'As for your wish to publish it under a pseudonym, we see no reason why you cannot avail yourself of that option.'

'B-but what about the rest of the Wizengamot?' Draco looked around at the three of them wildly. 'Don't they need to have a say in this?'

The corner of Kingsley's mouth tipped up in a wry smile. 'I see no reason to involve the Wizengamot. We're not asking to change the terms of your probation, just ensuring we're not going to violate them.' He leaned forward a little. 'The only caveat is that it must be vetted by the Aurors before we send it to be printed. I've also taken the liberty of forwarding a few pages to Zachary Williams, the current Hogwarts Potions master. He was quite pleased with it. In fact, he would like it to be ready in time for school next September.'

'Ideally, that would mean it needs to be completed by March. That also gives us - you - time to have it illustrated,' Hermione interjected. 'Do you have someone in mind?'

'I... No.' Draco could feel his pulse thrum in his ears, pride threatening to burst through his chest.

'Do you mind if we approach someone?' she asked. 'I believe he will be discreet.'

'Who do you have in mind?' Harry asked, making Draco jump a little. It was the first time Harry had spoken since Draco had walked into the office.

'I thought Dean would do nicely,' Hermione said. 'I sent an owl to him when you first brought your manuscript to me.' She turned to Draco. 'You remember Dean Thomas from our year at school? I asked him to do a few sample illustrations. He's sent some sketches for your approval,' she told Draco, sliding a sheaf of paper across the table for his inspection.

Draco spread them over the table, stunned by the intricate details of the drawings. 'They're good,' he said quietly. 'Very good.'

Hermione, in a rare show of impatience, tapped her fingers on the table. 'Well? Shall I send word to Dean that he can get started on the rest of it?'

Draco's eyes widened slightly. It was all too much, too fast. He hadn't been prepared to have his request to have the book published using a nom de plume granted, much less given the opportunity to collaborate with another person. 'Will I be allowed to correspond freely with Thomas, or must I send everything via an intermediary?' he asked, after swallowing past the sizable lump in his throat. Hermione, Kingsley, and Harry shared a glance that made Draco's stomach curdle.

It was Kingsley who cleared his throat before replying with great reluctance. 'It will have to go through Harry or Hermione,' he told Draco.

Draco felt the blood drain from his face. 'But that's no different from what's been done the past twenty years, is it?' he rasped in dawning realization.

'I'm afraid not,' Harry said. There was no sympathy on his face or in his voice. Strangely, Draco felt grateful for that. Draco didn't think he would be able to handle sympathy just now. Everything would be arranged for him. Just like in the past. What little control Draco held over his life, he wasn't willing to cede to someone else.

'I'll have to think about it,' Draco said, looking at his hands, laced tightly together on the surface of the table.

'Of course,' Kingsley intoned. 'Send an owl to Harry when you've come to a decision.' He leaned forward. 'I think I speak for all of us when I say I do hope you complete this.'

Draco nodded silently, then lurched to his feet. He stumbled from the office and came to a halt in front of his assigned Auror. The Auror tapped a small pewter card with his wand and gestured for Draco to Apparate.


Hannah turned a page in the book she read to Eric, brushing her lips over his silky fall of hair. It had been a space of some weeks since their last visit with the Ministry witch. Frankly, Hannah had expected a barrage of those unannounced visits by Cary Bodington, now that the probationary year with Eric drew to a close. They had received an owl from the Ministry, setting a date for the hearing to determine whether or not Eric would stay with them permanently. Hannah turned another page automatically, the story ingrained into memory. It was Eric's favorite. The story ended and Hannah laid the book aside. 'How about we have a nice sleep before Daddy comes home?' she asked, standing up to place Eric in the cot, when a knock sounded through the flat. 'Oh, bug... blast!' she hastily amended. It did no good. Eric giggled in glee.

'Bugguh!' he shouted, squirming in Hannah's arms.

'Daddy is in so much trouble for taking you to the Gryffindor Quidditch game and letting you sit next to Minerva. He ought to have known that her language would be less than exemplary for a toddler,' Hannah continued. Eric whined for Hannah to set him down, but she clamed her arm around his body as she opened the door. 'Who are you?' she blurted at the sight of the strange witch.

'Sally Hitchens. I'm here to conduct your final inspection.'

Hannah craned her head around Sally and peered down the corridor. 'I hope you won't find me unbearably rude, but where is Ms. Bodington?' She stepped back to let Sally into the flat, and set Eric on the floor, as soon as the door closed. 'Do sit yourself down.'

Sally perched in an armchair, taking out a file from her bag. 'I'm afraid Ms. Bodington is no longer overseeing your case.'

'Thank Merlin for small mercies,' Hannah snorted.

'There was a question if she was able to be as impartial as she ought, especially with you and Mr. Longbottom.' Eric clutched at Hannah's trousers, staring at the strange witch, wide-eyed. He buried his face in Hannah's knees, then peeped around the back of her legs at Sally. 'Hallo there, Eric,' Sally said gaily, waving at the boy. 'Any illnesses aside from run-of-the-mill colds?'


'Appetite good?'

Hannah hefted Eric into her arms. 'Very,' she said wryly. 'He doesn't wake up straightaway, but he's hungry and not quite ready to face actual food. So he has half a banana. Then cereal or porridge. Sometimes a bit of egg. Around ten, he'll have the rest of the banana, or some other fruit - melon, strawberries - yogurt. Lunch. Another snack, then dinner. He usually goes to bed right after dinner.'

Sally nodded, flicking her wand at Eric. 'Weight looks good.'

'Thank you.' Hannah held Eric a little closer.

'How often do you or Mr. Longbottom need to leave Eric with someone else?'

'Two or three times a week for a few hours...' Hannah trailed off uncertainly, hoping that didn't count against them.

'And Eric has no problems with you leaving?'

'Not until recently. He's gotten a bit clingy,' Hanna explained.

'That's rather normal,' Sally murmured. 'How does he get on living in the school?'

'He loves it,' Hanna gushed. 'Everyone from the Headmistress to the students dote on him. If we happen to take meals in the Great Hall with the students, there's usually a dozen older students willing to mind Eric so Neville and I can eat.'

'Mmm-hmmm,' Sally scribbled a few notes in her file. 'I think that's everything. We've got characters in your file, and we'll meet at the Ministry next week for your final hearing. It will consist of you and Mr. Longbottom, Eric, a member of MLE, and myself.' She slid the file back into her bag and held out a hand to Eric, who shyly touched it. 'At this point, I believe it's safe to say the hearing is merely a formality.'

Hannah hugged Eric tightly, blinking back the rush of tears. 'Thank you,' she mouthed.

'We'll see you next week.'


Parker stood in the middle Alamo Square Elementary's playground, supervising dismissal at the end of the school day. The students who lived at the school - most of which were Muggle-born, but more than a few half-blood and pure-blood students stayed as well - took full advantage of the playground, taking a half-hour to run about and relax before they had to start their homework or start getting ready for dinner. He felt a tug on the back of his coat. 'Mr. Weasley!' piped up a tiny girl.

Parker knelt next to her. 'Yes, Sadie?'

'I hurt my finger!' She held up a small index finger, where a barely visible scratch marred the pink skin.

'Oh, that looks terrible,' Parker agreed. 'I think it might need a plaster.' He reached into his coat pocket, where he kept a supply of plasters. 'Especially a pink, sparkly one.' Sadie giggled as Parker made a production of applying the bandage to her finger. 'There we go. All better, eh?'

Sadie threw her arms around Parker. 'Thank you!' she trilled before darting back to the swings.

'Hey...' Parker whirled around. Mackenzie stood on the other side of the fence, bundled into a bright red pea coat. 'Michael told me where you were,' she added quickly.

'Okay.' Parker shrugged and turned back to the playground. 'Oscar!' The boy in question froze, half a step away from snatching the ball from Sadie and her friend. 'Go find your own ball,' Parker said mildly, emulating one of McGonagall's signature looks.

'Oh, all right...' Oscar muttered.

'Can we talk?' Mackenzie asked.

'I'm working, Mackenzie,' Parker said, stuffing both hands into his coat pockets.

'I meant when you're not working,' she snapped.

Parker checked his watch. 'I've got another hour,' he told her.

'Mind if I wait?'

'Suit yourself,' Parker said in a bored tone of voice. His back was turned to Mackenzie, so he didn't see the stricken expression on her face. He gathered the boarders into a line and herded them into the school. 'Kenji, take the little boys upstairs to wash, please? And...' His eyes traveled over the line.

'Me! Me!' Sadie jumped up and down, waving her arms in the air.

Parker smiled. 'Okay, Sadie. You take the girls upstairs.' He gestured to one of the older girls, and she nodded in with the understanding that she was to "help" Sadie.

Sadie doubled back and tugged on Parker's coat sleeve. 'Mr. Weasley? Are you gonna stay for dinner?' she asked hopefully.

Parker's heart melted a little. Sadie's parents had all but abandoned her when she was a toddler. She was what Regina Simpson, the kindergarten teacher, called, "in the system", raised by a series of Muggle foster parents, the latest of which had been grateful to hand her over to the school. Sadie's uncertainty about her life caused her magic to manifest at rather inopportune moments. Parker wondered what would happen to the little girl when the Christmas holiday arrived. He made a note to ask Mrs. McClellan in the morning. 'Not tonight, Sadie,' he said with no small regret. He made a small noise in the back of his throat and ran a hand over her tousled hair. 'But tomorrow, I promise, all right?'

'Okay,' Sadie sighed mournfully. She trudged into the school, the aura around her slightly dimmed.

'It seems like I've got competition for your affections,' Mackenzie said dryly.

Parker's mouth twisted. 'Affections?' he snorted. 'Yeah. All right.'

Mackenzie's fingers clutched the fence railings. 'Dammit, Parker!' she hissed. 'I didn't know those stupid photographers were even there!'

Parker heaved a sigh. 'I don't want to talk about this here,' he said. 'And I'm supposed to be inside with the kids.' He strode to the gate and opened it, motioning for Mackenzie to come inside. 'You can wait in my classroom, and we'll go back to Benjamin's house and talk.' He held the heavy door open for Mackenzie. 'Go down the corridor and take the second left. Kindergarten's the last door on the right.' He turned at the first right, heading for the dining room, where he would supervise the children preparing for dinner. He waited until he was out of sight of the main corridor then paused, raising a shaking hand to his head. Parker took a deep, steadying breath, and made his way into the dining room, making sure the tables were set and ready for the children.

He could deal with Mackenzie later.

But Parker wasn't quite sure what his father would say when he went home for Christmas and announced the sudden left turn his life was about to take.


Parker took Mackenzie's coat and hung it in the small closet. 'So. Talk.' He tugged off his own coat and hung it beside hers, taking an inordinate amount of time to do so, keeping his back to her. After the initial burst of anger burned itself out, he realized he hadn't been angry with Mackenzie, but he had been quite disappointed that she didn't feel she could be honest with him about herself. He had also been quite angry with himself for allowing Percy to mandate what he did with his life from six thousand miles away. He was even angrier with Percy for painting a crude portrait of Mackenzie. He'd done some research into Mackenzie himself. April had a basket with old issues of Witch Talk in the sitting room, and Parker had taken several of them up to his room one night. If Mackenzie was guilty of anything, it was that she tended to favor blonde, hulking types that didn't seem as if they had much between their ears. He had wanted to make a trip down to Malibu to see her, once he'd settled in at the school, but hadn't wanted to risk the ire of his father again. But now, with her standing not five feet away, what Percy wanted didn't matter.

'You weren't a notch on my bedpost,' Mackenzie murmured. 'You never were. I mean, in the beginning, I was really more curious about you than anything else. But I liked you from that first date. I liked you more than anyone else. I like being with you. It's not complicated with you. You could care less about who I am. Or rather, who my father is. I wanted to come up and see if I could have a second chance.' Her voice cracked, heavy with emotion. 'Parker, please...' she begged. He still faced away from her. Mackenzie closed the distance between them and laid a hand on his stiff shoulder. 'Everyone deserves a second chance.' A single tear traced down her cheek, followed in quick succession by another, then another. 'Even girls with less-than-stellar reputations.'

Parker turned then and wiped the tears from her face using the cuff of his jumper. 'You're right.' He wrapped his other arm around her shoulders, gathering her close. 'Please don't cry, Macks...' He buried his face in her sunny blonde hair. 'My girl cousins aren't the weepy sort, so I'm not quite sure what to do when a girl turns into a hosepipe.'

Mackenzie sniffled and reared back a little. 'That's not very comforting,' she told him haughtily. Parker merely smiled and brushed his lips over her forehead. She swiped the back of her hand over her face. 'I've got a question, though?'

'Go ahead.'

'What the hell's a hosepipe? If you're going to use--' She was silenced by Parker's mouth landing on hers, kissing her thoroughly. He grunted in satisfaction.

'I always heard that was an excellent method to shut someone up,' Parker mused. 'Seems to work very well.'

It was quite some time before either of them spoke again.


The conservatory was warm and muggy, the windows fogged over in the frosty late November morning. 'I wrote to Potter last night,' Draco said, snipping magically cultivated Muggle herbs to use in the next section of his book. 'I'm going to accept their terms,' he said, feeling only slightly defeated. The book was taking shape in his head, and the anticipation of fulfilling a dream that was wholly and completely his blunted the edge of frustration.

'Good for you,' Daphne said approvingly.

Draco moved to bundle the herbs together and hung them upside down in a corner to dry. 'It feels... Good,' he said, evident surprise coloring his tone.

'How much do you have left?' Daphne inquired.

'Just the last few chapters of the fourth year course of study,' Draco said distractedly, as he critically examined the leaves of a clump of lavender. Letting the lavender fall from his fingers, he watched Daphne's hands as she moved through the conservatory, crooning to a corner of delicate orchids. Unlike his, they were bare, devoid of any hint of their marriage. 'Why don't you wear your wedding rings?' he asked suddenly.

Daphne looked at him through the leaves of the plant she watered. 'I wear them,' she protested mildly. Draco pointedly looked at her naked left hand. 'I don't wear them when I'm gardening,' she huffed.

'You never wear them,' Draco corrected. 'When you're reading, you don't wear them. When you're helping Perri in the kitchen, they're still in your jewelry box. The last time I saw you with even just the wedding band on was when you took Scorpius to London to catch the train to Hogwarts.'

Daphne set the watering can down on a table. 'Have you seen them?' she blurted incredulously. 'They're hideous!'

'I had no hand in choosing them,' Draco objected. 'My father arranged all that.'

'And you wonder why I choose not to wear them,' Daphne huffed. 'I hope you recognize they don't suit me at all. Even just the wedding band by itself.' She retrieved the watering can and resumed her tour of the conservatory.

'I think I might love you,' Draco blurted.

The watering can hit the floor with a resounding clang. Daphne stared at Draco heedless of the spreading water soaking her shoes. 'What did you say?'

'I... I think I might love you,' he repeated weakly.

'Oh...' Slipping a little in the puddle of water, Daphne turned and stumbled away, face heated with more than the humid warmth of the conservatory, heading for the relative sanctuary of the library.

Bemused, Draco followed her as she paced the perimeter of the library, fingers trailing along the spines of the books, shoes squelching in the quiet room. 'You love me?' Daphne said softly.

'The last several months have been... I'm still a convicted criminal on probation, but I don't feel like that with you.' Draco shoved his hands into the pockets of his trousers as the silence unfolded between them. 'It won't hurt my feelings if you don't reciprocate.' He spun on one heel, prepared to march stiffly up the stairs, when a sodden shoe smacked him between the shoulder blades. He whirled around and Daphne stood on the other side of the room, her other shoe loosely balanced on her palm. 'Your aim leaves much to be desired,' he told her. 'There are much better ways of getting my attention.'

'At least it wasn't between your eyes,' she retorted. 'You can't just tell me something like that!'

'Why not?'

'Because it's complicated!' Daphne shouted. 'It's not just you and me. It's you, me, and Scorpius. And what if we have another baby?'

'Do you want to have a baby?'

The question took Daphne aback. 'I - I don't - I haven't thought about it...' She pushed her hair from her face. 'Have you?'

'Sometimes,' he admitted. 'How it could be different...'

'But do you want one?' Daphne persisted.

'I don't know.' Draco took a step forward. 'Do you feel anything...?'

'It's... It's complicated...' Daphne looked down, seemingly surprised that she still held a shoe. She let it drop to the floor. 'I think I might love you,' she said softly.


The Ministry office was located at the end of a seemingly endless corridor. Neville and Hannah walked slowly with Eric between them. Every so often, he would pick his feet up, trusting that his parents wouldn't allow him to fall, and swing monkey-like from their hands. Neville glanced at Hannah over Eric's head. 'Nervous?' he asked softly.

Hannah shifted the change bag on her shoulder and shrugged. 'Not really. This is just signing the paperwork, isn't it?' She looked down at Eric's head bobbing between them. 'The only difference between when we woke up this morning and when we go to bed tonight is that his last name will be...'

'Longbottom,' Neville finished with a grin. The grin faded a bit. 'I wish Gran were here to see this,' he said wistfully.

'Dad's meeting us at the Leaky Cauldron later,' Hannah reminded him. 'So is Minerva.'

'She is?'

'Yes.' Hannah grunted as Eric kicked himself into a particularly high arc, giggling. 'Just a small celebration dinner.'

'Okay.' Neville opened the door of the MLE office, blinking in the bright light that spilled forth. The room was gaily decorated with fanciful depictions of magical creatures, and a corner of the room was filled with toys and child-sized tables and chairs.

Sally came to meet them, her hands full of parchment. 'Lovely. You're right on time. Follow me, please,' she instructed briskly, leading them to an alcove that contained a table with chairs clustered around it. 'Just waiting for Mrs. Granger-Weasley to arrive.' Sally busied herself with spreading out the parchment. 'As the Head of MLE, she needs to sign the final adoption papers.'

'And she's here,' Hermione said from the doorway. 'Are you ready to be parents?' she asked Hannah and Neville.

'Yes!' Hannah declared, lifting Eric into her lap, while Neville beamed.

'Sally produced four quills, distributing them to Hermione, Hannah, and Neville. 'Let's get these papers signed, shall we?' She wrote her signature on each of the three scrolls with a flourish, then stood aside for Hermione to add hers. The scrolls were passed to Neville, then Hannah. As soon as Hannah lifted the quill from the last scroll, all four signatures flashed brightly, then faded. 'There now. He's all yours.' She waved her wand over the parchment, and the scrolls rolled themselves up tightly, then a deep purple ribbon bound around each one. One flew to Hermione, one to Sally, then the last to Neville.

Neville gazed at the scroll in slight disbelief. 'That's it?'

'That's it,' Hermione said gently.

'Eric Anthony Zhao-Longbottom,' Hannah whispered. 'You do have his birth parents' information and photographs somewhere, don't you?' she asked.

'Yes, of course,' Sally replied. 'If you ever want to see it, all you have to do is ask.'

Hannah rested her chin on top of Eric's head for a moment. 'What about if he wants to see it?'

'With your permission before he's of age. After he's seventeen, he can ask for himself,' Hermione told her. She produced a small camera. 'First official photograph,' she said. 'Scoot closer,' she ordered Neville. Hermione smiled in satisfaction as Neville draped an arm over Hannah's shoulders, and laid his other hand over Hannah's hand that was clasped over Eric's middle. 'Smile...'


'Eddie said Dad was up here,' Hannah said, picking her way carefully up the stairs. She pushed open the door to one of the private rooms, peering into the darkened room. 'Maybe he meant one of the other ones... Dad? Dad?'

Lights suddenly blazed into being. 'Surprise!' Neville and Hannah's mouths dropped open in comically identical expressions of shock. Hannah's father, Samuel, stood in front of a small group of people: Hermione, Ron, Harry, Ginny, Dean, Seamus, McGonagall, and Ernie Macmillan.

'What is this?' Neville asked weakly.

'It's a party, you gormless git,' Ron teased. 'Congratulations, Dad.'

'How does it feel?' Harry asked, handing Neville a butterbeer.

Neville ran a hand over Eric's hair. 'It's a relief,' he told them. 'Nobody can take him away now,' he added with a touch of ferocity that surprised neither Harry, nor Ron. He set Eric down, watching as the boy toddled off in the direction of McGonagall, chirping happily at her. 'Is it weird that I know if someone were to express a desire to hurt him, I'd risk casting an Unforgivable as long as it saves Eric?'

Harry and Ron shared a glance that spoke volumes in that they needed to utter no words. 'No,' Harry said. 'I felt the same way even before James was born.' He considered the intense devotion Dudley and Aaron displayed for Sarah, evident even in the first few days when they'd brought her home with them. 'Scary how much you love them, isn't it?' he said reflectively.

'Scary how fast it happened,' Neville admitted. 'When Hermione gave me that photograph of him...' Neville shook his head. 'I was a goner. Then when she actually brought Eric to us, there was no going back.'

'Love at first sight,' Ron added.

'Yeah,' Neville sighed. 'I wonder if I could convince Hannah to try for another... Eric could use a little brother or sister...'

'No.' Hannah materialized behind Neville as suddenly as if she had Apparated. 'I can't handle the Ministry poking through our lives like that again. The mess and noise? That's nothing.'

Ron gestured with his chin across the room. 'Did you ever think you'd see McGonagall smile like that?'

McGonagall sat on a small, overstuffed sofa, Eric on her lap. Her wand waved over his head, making silvery animals dance in midair, while she murmured into his ear. She closed her eyes for a moment, listening to Eric's chatter, nodding approvingly as he named each animal. She let herself think for just a bare moment of what might have been.

As the party wound to a close, McGonagall made her way to where Neville sat, Eric drowsing in his arms. 'Past his bedtime,' she commented.

'It's a special occasion,' Neville countered.

'Your grandmother would be very proud of you.' McGonagall stiffly folded herself into a chair. 'Not just what you've accomplished, lad, although she would be quite proud of that. She would be proud of the man you've become. That includes taking on the wee lad there.' Her expression grew wistful once more. 'You and Hannah are becoming good parents.' She stroked the hair from Eric's sweaty brow. 'You'll be excellent parents.'

'Thank you.' Neville tracked her hand as it trailed over Eric's glossy black hair, struck at how gnarled it looked. It was as if McGonagall had aged fifty years overnight. 'I learned from one of the best. Two of the best, really. You and Gran.' McGonagall's face creased with a small smile, and she nodded once in acknowledgement of Neville's praise.


The train slowed to a crawl as it arrived at King's Cross. Payton stood with his nose pressed to the window. Spying a figure standing on the platform, he began to jump up and down with barely suppressed excitement. 'He's here! He's here!' The train lurched to a stop and Payton stretched for his knapsack.

'Go on,' Jacob said kindly. 'I'll get your things.'

Payton needed no further encouragement. He took a flying leap to the platform, and ran headlong to Parker. 'Parker!' Quite unembarrassed, he threw his arms around his older brother. 'You're home!'

Parker grunted from the force of Payton's hug. 'Can't... breathe...' Payton relinquished his grip and tilted his head back. 'Are you home for good?'

'For the next two weeks,' Parker said. 'I promised the school in San Francisco I'd help out until the spring term is over in May. But I'll be back in March for another week.'

'But I'll be at school,' Payton said sadly.

'I can come up and see you,' Parker reminded him. He took Payton's bright blue knapsack from Jacob with a mouthed, 'Thank you.' Turning, he steered Payton to a Floo connection. 'Let's go home, yeah? Mum's got all your favorites on the menu for dinner tonight...'

Al stood just inside the carriage, searching for either of his parents. 'Boxing Day?' he asked Scorpius in a low voice.


'Good.' Al started to go down the steps to the platform.

'Al?' Scorpius grabbed the back of Al's coat, arresting his forward motion. 'Whatever happened with your parents, let it go,' he whispered intently.

Al turned his severe green eyes to his friend. 'Would you be able to forgive betrayal?' he hissed. 'Bloody hell, Scorp, they let my uncles beat me to a bloody pulp!'

'I know,' Scorpius replied steadily. 'But take it from me, you don't want to let this eat at you until you don't have a relationship with either of your parents. Or to let it spiral out of control until it's so broken, you have no hope of repairing it.' Al said nothing, but continued to stare at Scorpius. 'Do you want to have my life?'

Al hitched his bag higher on his shoulder. 'No.' Scorpius sagged in relief that he'd finally gotten through to Al. 'I want my life. The one where I get to say what I do and they don't dictate it to me...' He left the train, leaving Scorpius gaping after him, mouth falling open.


The long table groaned under the weight of the veritable feast. Laughter rang out from time to time, and Percy smiled to himself. Parker would come home in a few months, and he had ceased all that foolishness with the Hathaway girl. 'How did you find Benjamin?' Molly asked Parker.

'He's fine. He and April have been very accommodating.' Parker took a bite of the succulent turkey and sighed with bliss. 'But she's not as good at the cooking as you, Grandmum.'

'Nobody is,' Teddy called.

'Flattery gets you apple crumble,' Molly told Parker.

'My favorite pudding...'

'I know.'

'So is there anything exciting in America?' George asked. 'Any fantastic joke Ron and I can twist and make better?'

Parker laid his fork down. 'Actually, I've got some news...'

'We already saw the pics,' Fred snorted.

'Had many a girl sighing into their pumpkin juice that they never knew what you hid under your school robes all those years,' Jacob added.

'You're just jealous you don't look like that with your kit off,' James chortled.

'Neither do you,' Al murmured.

'It's not about those bloody photographs,' Parker groaned. 'I've applied to a program at Stanford.'

'What's Stanford?' Alex asked.

'A Muggle university near San Francisco,' Parker replied. 'They have a program... It's rather selective and only the best students are accepted.' He drew in a deep breath. 'I'm going into their educator training program. It's specifically for witches and wizards. We have our own building and take most of the same classes as the Muggles, but we also learn how to teach the magical subjects.'

'So you're looking to come back and try for Hogwarts, eh?' Percy intoned jovially.

'Not especially,' Parker said evasively.

'Beauxbatons, zen?' Fleur asked.

'No there, either. Besides, I can't speak French without sounding like a tourist.' Parker picked up his water glass and gulped most of the contents.

'Surely not Durmstrang?' Percy blurted.

'Not there, either...' This is a lot harder than I thought... 'I'm staying in San Francisco -'

'Salem? Well, now, that's fine. That's just fine,' Percy said.

'Dad...' Parker's hand tightened around the glass. 'The elementary school. I want to teach kindergarten.'

Silence descended suddenly as Percy rose from his chair so quickly, it toppled over. Without a word, he blundered into the back garden. The back door slammed shut, making the glass in the windows rattle.

Parker looked down at his mother. 'Mum...?'

'Will you be happy?' Penny asked.

'I think so. I like working with the kids.'

'Good.' Penny's lips trembled briefly. 'That's all that matters. But I will miss you, living all the way in America.' Parker stood and crossed to Penny's chair, bending to kiss her swiftly on the cheek before grabbing his coat, and following Percy out to the garden.

Percy paced behind Arthur's tool shed, hands crammed into his trouser pockets. 'I know you're disappointed, Dad,' Parker said softly. 'But I'm good at it. I like doing it. I want to teach because I want to do it. It's my life, Dad. And as much as I love you, and I'm grateful for the opportunities you've given me, but I'm not going to try and please anyone but myself anymore.' He paused. 'And that includes my relationship Mackenzie Hathaway.'

'But -'

'But nothing, Dad. My relationship with her has no bearing on anything you do with her father.' Parker turned to return to the house. 'She'll be here after Boxing Day. Staying through the New Year. I'll go back to California with her.' He walked away slowly, shoes crunching through the snow.


Harry strode down the corridor toward his office, eyeing the pale purple paper aeroplane zooming in his direction. It stopped and hovered just over his head. Cursing to himself, Harry's hand closed around it and he thumbed it open. Conference Room Three, Level One, ten o'clock. KS. Frowning, he doubled back and headed for Hermione's office. He knocked once on the partially-open door, scowling at Hermione's pain-in-the-arse assistance, daring her to squawk because he dared to see Hermione without an appointment. He held up the note. 'Did you get one of these?' he asked.

She held up her copy. 'It was waiting for me when I arrived this morning.'

'Do you know what it's about?'

'No. I think all the Heads got one, though. Bernard was here not five minutes ago with one.'

'Bernard Thompson can read?' Harry scoffed.

'Just because he's the Head of the Magical Law Enforcement Squad doesn't mean Bernard's an idiot.'

'All brawn, no brains...'

'Yes, well,' Hermione allowed. 'No use worrying about it until we know more,' she said briskly.

Ten o'clock found every Head in the Ministry of Magic packed into the largest of the conference rooms. Kingsley edged into the crowd to stand at the head of the oblong table, looking somber. Harry nudged Hermione with a questioning look. Hermione shrugged. 'I have some difficult news,' Kingsley began. As he spoke, the blood rushed through Harry's ears. He couldn't breathe. It felt like someone had aimed a body blow to his solar plexus. Hermione's hand flew up to cover her mouth and Harry put a hand on one of her shoulders. She stepped into his side, shaking. Gasps of disbelief echoed around the room. Harry followed Kingsley from the room, and instead of returning to his office, he took the Floo to the Prophet. Thankfully, Ginny was alone in her office.

'Gin?' Harry called softly from the door.

She looked up, a slightly irritated look on her face at being interrupted that faded into concern at the stricken light in his eyes. 'What's the matter?'

Harry just shook his head, unable to speak.


The enchanted ceiling of the Great Hall was grey and swirled with thick snow. Appropriate in Harry's mind. The House tables were gone, replaced by row after row of spindly chairs. Spindly black chairs. Harry perched on one, surrounded by the Weasleys and all their children. He kept his eyes on the floor, unwilling to look at the polished mahogany coffin. He gazed at the assembled witches and wizards. Generations of students gathered in the Great Hall to memorialize Minerva McGonagall.

'She seemed fine when she retired for the night,' Neville was telling Ginny. 'Then she didn't show up for breakfast in the morning, Gareth went to look in on her. You would have thought she was sleeping.' He sounded hollow. Harry remembered McGonagall and Neville's indomitable grandmother had been friends. The last link to Neville's parents was now gone.

Harry reached forward and gripped Neville's shoulder tightly. 'Sorry, mate,' he said quietly.

'It doesn't feel the same without her...'

Harry continued his perusal of the crowd, noting Draco sitting in the back, almost in a corner, with Daphne. They seemed to be clutching each other's hands. Draco stared straight ahead, his head tilted toward Daphne's, lips moving. 'I wanted to apologize to her,' Draco told Daphne in a bare murmur. 'I'm never going to get that chance now...' he said with no small regret.

'Bloody hell,' breathed Gareth, sitting behind Harry. 'I didn't know he was still alive...'

'Who?' Harry twisted around to peer at the spare figure walking up the aisle, with an energy reminiscent of Albus Dumbledore.

'Jack Hashimoto. He was the Head of the Auror Department in America for... Oh... must have been over fifty years...' Gareth whistled softly. 'I thought he'd died a year or two ago.'

'That was his cousin, Takeshi. He was Hit Wizards' Head,' Rafa corrected.

Harry watched Jack Hashimoto climb the steps to the podium. 'How did they know each other?' he wondered aloud.

'The way I've heard it,' Rafa began, 'he and Minerva knew each other from the war.' At Harry's confused grimace, he clarified, 'World War Two. He helped integrate wizards into the Normandy invasion, then spread them around different battlefields. Bastogne. If he hadn't put a few wizards there, it would have been worse. He's in American wizarding history books. I used to teach him at Salem...'

Kingsley joined Jack at the podium and held up a hand. The conversations died with a rustle. Harry leaned back in his chair and closed his eyes. They slowly opened, and he kept his gaze glued to the whorls of snowflakes overhead. He recalled the first time he'd heard of Minerva McGonagall. Her signature graced the bottom of that first letter he got from Hogwarts. He still had it, carefully pressed in his first year Transfiguration textbook. The way she bent the rules for him to play Seeker. He could still hear her anguished cries of denial when Hagrid carried his seemingly lifeless body from the Forbidden Forest. Standing up to Umbridge on his behalf, vowing to see him become an Auror. Harry was grateful she'd not only been able to see that, but see him become the Head. To make her proud. A dull ache settled in the pit of his stomach.

It was the end of an era.


A/N: This is not the end of the story! But this chapter serves the purpose of allowing me to skip ahead a couple of years, and get to some meaty plotlines I've had in my head for months that I really want to write. I have lots of story left in this, and I promise, it's going to be good.

In case you're wondering when I'm going to end this one, I've gone back and forth for a while and have settled on taking it to the end of Al, Rose, and Scorpius' seventh year.