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Chapter 1: Chapter One.
It doesn't matter who my father was; it matters who I remember he was. - Anne Sexton
Smooth green lawns swept down from the great house towards a huge, shimmering lake. Hedges surrounded orderly flowerbeds and dotted here and there, stone fountains splashed and sparkled. The gardens were meticulously pruned and perfected, their straight lines and symmetry referencing the ancient Roman appreciation of the beauty to be found in order and control. On that bright summer day, the man responsible for the care of the magnificent gardens was limping stiffly behind a wheelbarrow, which was overflowing with the tangled roots and vines of ousted weeds. Mr Fowler paused by a bed of roses, peering suspiciously at a curling green tendril; he seemed to be muttering crossly to himself.
‘...just can’t get the staff! I remember the days, house-elves as far as the eye could see - planting and pruning, never missed a single weed, always happy to see you, always willing to please,’ he stooped and plucked a blackened petal from an otherwise perfect rose, ‘...damned government and their House-Elf Liberation -’
Fowler paused in his musings and straightened up as a tall figure approached him. The young man hurried lightly down a wide set of stone steps, his white blonde hair almost blinding in the sunshine. He was holding a thick book in one hand and from the other dangled a large bottle of sparkling lemonade.
‘Good afternoon, sir,’ said Fowler, inclining his head, ‘Another book, hmm?’
The boy grinned at the Head Gardener and waved the dog-eared pages at the old man.
‘Nothing like reading in the sun, Mr Fowler.’
Fowler shook his head as the man continued down the path. The young master had been home from his studies for three weeks and had spent most of that time glued to various books, only coming inside to dine with his parents and to sleep. The old gardener was fond of the young master; having been with the family for three generations, he’d known both the boy and his father since their births, and could see the similarities between the two. He was glad that the young master seemed to be happier than his father had been at twenty - he supposed that the boy had had a much easier time of it.
Tutting then at his own sentimentality, Fowler frowned down at the pristine lawn, silently cursing the family’s penchant for peacocks; their droppings were an irritating and a constant presence in his life, and he grabbed a trowel from the wheelbarrow to continue the battle.
His knees creaked and complained as he crouched low, but even after forty-eight years of service Hibiscus Fowler had never contemplated retirement. He merely longed for the good old days when he’d had the assistance of a quiet, helpful house-elf named Dobby.
Past the sun-drenched Roman courtyards and neat hedgerows, nature had been gently encouraged to reclaim some of the grounds, the grass tended only by a small flock of sheep. As the young man made his way to a shady hollow, a ewe eyed him suspiciously; he chuckled softly to himself and gave her a wide berth as he approached his favourite part of the gardens, which was a carefully uncultivated grove, surrounded by slightly unruly hedges and filled with a riot of tall English flowers. Bees buzzed lazily amongst spotted foxgloves and fragrant lavender, and snails trailed their glistening paths over greying fragments of Grecian statues and urns.
Scorpius inhaled the summer air, settling himself on a wide bench as he unscrewed the top of a bottle of lemonade and took a long swig of the clear sparkling liquid. He gave a satisfied sigh whilst wiping at the corner of his mouth with a sleeve and paused for a moment to enjoy his surroundings before opening the worn pages of his book. He knew that it wasn’t exactly masculine to have a favourite flower - although he’d never say so to Fowler - but recently he’d found himself feeling most at peace when settled on that particular bench by a great bank of vibrant fuchsias. Scorpius reached out absentmindedly and touched one of the flowers, watching as it swayed its heavy head in response. They would look so miserable, he thought, if it weren’t for those bright pink petals.
Taking another gulp of lemonade, he stretched out onto the bench, determined to enjoy the sunshine on his skin for a little while before moving to a shadier bench; he was twenty years old, but his mother still fussed over his pale skin as if he were a child. He had read only a few pages when he saw something move between the hedges; he sighed, hoping that Fowler hadn’t decided to spend that particular evening tending this tiny corner of the vast grounds of the Manor.
He looked up, surprised. His father rarely ventured towards this part of the gardens, generally preferring to patrol the neat gravel pathways and admire the lazy carp that dwelled in the fountains. Scorpius looked up at his father’s shape, silhouetted against the sunlight, but found his smile faltering; the older man looked nervous, his eyes tight and his smile clearly hiding a frown. This is it, thought Scorpius, feeling suddenly cold despite the summer swelter, it’s actually going to happen. He tried to swallow, but found his throat constricted. He willed himself not to panic; it couldn’t actually be happening ... not to him. Not to his family.
‘Dad,’ he managed, forcing a bright smile to his lips. If his father saw his own fake grin reflected in the boy’s face, he didn’t show it - in fact, he merely looked slightly relieved. ‘Want some lemonade?’
Scorpius swung his legs down and patted the bench. Draco joined him, taking the bottle and gulping down a mouthful of the bubbles. He grimaced.
‘It’s a long walk from the house,’ Scorpius countered, and saw his father’s mouth twitch towards a genuine grin. He watched his father’s face carefully; if the man was laughing, maybe Scorpius’ instincts were wrong. Then, Draco flicked him a quick sidelong look, and drew a deep breath. Scorpius’ stomach filled with butterflies, making him feel sick.
‘Scorpius... I need to tell you something,’ Draco began, looking anywhere but at his son, who had similarly now found that he could not bear to watch his father’s face any more. He didn’t want to see the words falling from his father’s mouth. ‘You’ll always be my son, my little boy - you know that- but you’re a ... you’re a grown man now, and I hope you’ll understand.’
Scorpius stared at the fuchsias, started counting and recounting the individual trumpet-like stamen in each flower. Deep down, he’d known that this was coming almost since that first letter had arrived during dinner one evening. As the owls had started passing each other in the night, the tension had grown and the family jokes about father’s old girlfriend from school had lost their humour and fallen gradually silent. He tried to brace himself, focusing his mind on the flowers but losing count over and over again. Next to him his father’s jaw tensed and his body stiffened; the words finally tumbled out. The pain didn’t hit Scorpius as he’d expected; instead, numbness filled his body, catching his breath and making his fingers tingle. His father was leaving. Leaving Mother, leaving Scorpius, leaving the life they all had together. And why? To be with her.
Scorpius listened patiently, trying to be the man his father thought him to be. He tried, he really did, to understand... but all he found were tears: unmanly, undignified tears. His vision blurred, eyes stinging, and the fuchsias melted into a sea of pink before him. For a while, that was all he could see.
Next to Scorpius, Draco had begun to weep. Despite his numbness, and despite the irritatingly sensible little voice in his head reminding him that his father was human, Scorpius was sickened by those tears. He had seen his father cry only once before; when grandfather died. This? This is wrong.
Draco cuffed his eyes, sniffing - pathetically, it seemed to his son.
‘I understand, Scorpius. I... I’m sorry for what I’m doing to you,’ - the lump in Scorpius’ throat began to burn as he listened, ‘ - and for what I’m doing to Astoria.’
The fuchsias swam back into focus, and Scorpius managed to unclench his jaw.
‘To Mum, you mean,’ he gritted, ‘Dad.’
His father dipped his head, still unable to look at the boy, afraid of what he might see.
‘I am sorry. But I’m... I’m in love. I have to be with her. Surely you understand that?’ Draco was almost pleading now and Scorpius began to feel pity and, horribly, disgust sprouting within his pounding heart. ‘You... you understand what love is like; you’d do anything for Rose, wouldn’t you?’
Anger flared again, almost drawing the breath from Scorpius’ lungs. Don’t say her name, he found himself thinking furiously. I would do anything for her, but we’re not married to other people. We haven’t hurt anybody. Don’t try and compare us to... to you. His father ploughed on, seeming to think he’d found a way to relate to Scorpius.
‘You and Rose - well, despite everything I said all those years ago, you’re clearly meant to be together. And, well, it’s the same with me and my... old friend. I just love her, Scorpius.’
Scorpius’ head was swimming, his jaw suddenly feeling wired shut. His mind span, trying to find a lucid thought; he focused on his father’s words. Scorpius had never heard him talk like this, and... he was ‘in love’? Love? Your parents were together until the moment grandfather died, he thought, ignoring the silence that had fallen. They were devoted to one another. They are buried together at the temple on the other side of the lake. You’ve forgotten; you should know what love is, from their example - from Mother’s unwavering loyalty. You do not know. This is not love. It is unhinged; it is a mid-life crisis; it is vanity. It’s just plain sad.
He took a deep breath, wanting to say all of this to his father; he looked at Draco, who was looking paler than usual and, despite being only forty-six, for the first time in Scorpius’ memory he looked almost frail. The words stuck in Scorpius’ throat; he couldn’t do it.
‘I understand, Dad,’ he said quietly, his heart beating hard against the lie. His father looked at him gratefully, his grey eyes tinged pink; Scorpius wondered if his looked the same. He turned his gaze towards the bright fuchsias again, feeling oddly surprised to see them unchanged. He felt unable to say anything more. He felt his father wrap an arm around his shoulders and squeeze him tightly. He inhaled his father’s scent, fresh and warm, and usually so comforting; on that day though, it felt like a goodbye.
They sat together in Scorpius’ favourite part of the gardens for a long while; there were swathes of time in which he did not even think. He just breathed, his shoulders constricted by his father’s tight hold, and stared at the flowers. Why did they not just droop and die in front of him? Why weren’t clouds rolling in front of the sun? Scorpius cringed at the melodrama taking place, unbidden, in his mind; his father was leaving, not dying. But still he mourned, his body still in shock from the first impact of grief. Life had changed forever; why had the world not noticed?
After some time, a figure appeared in the entrance of the grove; Astoria Malfoy froze, stared for a moment, then turned away with silk skirts whirling out behind her long form. Scorpius’ heart sank, feeling for the first time like a traitor. He made to run after his mother, but Draco held him fast, pleading quietly with him to stay. Scorpius felt that he might choke on the irony of it, but quelled the nausea and allowed his father to hold him a while longer; he had a feeling deep in his stomach that this was a moment of finality, one of those moments in life when you had to take everything in and store it for later.
Eventually, the sun began to sink in the sky and shadows moved across the grove. Draco hadn’t spoken in some time, and he felt his son begin to shiver in the evening breeze.
‘Time to go in,’ he said, briefly tightening his grip on Scorpius’ shoulders before releasing him. The two men stood up together, stretching out their aching limbs in a last act of solidarity. They walked in silence towards the house, where lights blazed in the windows despite the subtlety of the summer dusk. Fowler was still working, pointing his wand at each of the fountains to ensure that they would continue to bubble and flow. Draco gave him an overly enthusiastic nod and smile, which the old man tried to return; however, when Scorpius met his eye, he found sorrow in the lined, earthy face. The numbness was lingering, but something about the pity he found in the old gardener’s eyes made Scorpius’ heart begin to ache.
As he entered the drawing room at the rear of the house- his mother’s favourite for the view of the lake -Scorpius searched for something to say to his father. He realised suddenly that he didn’t know when his father would be leaving. Would it be tonight, without even a final family meal? Would that be too strange? Was there an etiquette for your family falling apart? Or would Dad linger, offering Scorpius and his mother the chance to convince him to stay? Did Scorpius even want his father to stay now? After all, the memory of the happy, loving family was already shattered. At the foot of the stairs, both Scorpius and Draco paused, the moment stretching painfully across the void that was rapidly yawning open between father and son. Draco moved, then froze, uncertainty on his face, as if he’d been about to reach across the distance but found himself afraid. Scorpius felt pity flicker once again, and wanted to offer his father some sort of reassurance if he could; he’d certainly never wanted for affection or comfort in his childhood, thanks to his parents. Shouldn’t a child be able to return the favour once they’d grown? He opened his mouth to tell his father that he loved him, that it would all be okay - but the words stuck in his throat. His father gave another bracing, winning, utterly heartbreakingly false smile, trying to take the responsibility from Scorpius’ shoulders.
‘I’m glad we had our little chat, then, Scorpius. I knew... I knew you’d understand,’ Draco said. Scorpius blinked; how could his father be so casual, so blind? The feelings of pain and betrayal stirring in Scorpius’ mind might well have turned at that moment to hatred, had he not seen the smile fall away, the handsome face crumble into an expression of utterly pitiful weariness as his father turned and walked up the sweeping stairs.
Scorpius sat down heavily on the bottom step, holding his head in his hands. He took deep, careful breaths. The realization that he had left his book outside arose, unbidden, into his thoughts. He almost started laughing; Rosie would find the humour in the incongruity of his thoughts - here, the Malfoy family was falling apart, and sensible old Scorpius was worrying about his library book. He briefly considered sending an owl to her, knowing that she’d apparate to his side in an instant if he needed her, deadlines and meetings be damned. And he did need her; but not yet. He didn’t want to talk about it all, couldn’t tell the story yet... he wasn’t even sure what the story was.
Suddenly, Scorpius was filled with a sense of loss - not for his father, nor even for his family or childhood: that would come later. No, this emptiness was a rather more familiar sensation. He needed his grandparents, missed them more than he had since their deaths. He knew that they couldn’t possibly approve of what their son was doing, that Grandfather would know what to say and Grandma would know what to do. He considered visiting their huge, ornate portrait in the ballroom, but it was never the same. What he needed was Grandfather’s hand on his shoulder, Grandma’s kiss on his brow; oil paint could only capture so much of a person. For the first time in his life, Scorpius Malfoy felt utterly alone. God knows how Mother feels, he thought as he slowly climbed the wide oak stairs.
Passing a pair of uniformed maids in the long corridor, Scorpius didn’t even acknowledge them. He knew it was rude, had been brought up to at least nod his head on seeing the help, but he didn’t want to give them the opportunity to read the story in his eyes. He knew they’d talk about him anyway: ‘Passed us by like a ghost, the poor boy...’ He grimaced at the thought of it.
The door to his parents’ bedroom stood ajar, but no light spilled out into the hallway. Scorpius hesitated before knocking - this was usually a private place that he rarely ever entered. There was no reply to his knock, but he stepped quietly onto the dark floorboards and peered around the door. The dark green curtains were parted before long windows, allowing the remaining sunlight to infiltrate the room. It crept across the canopied bed on which Scorpius’ mother lay, her long blonde hair streaming across a pillow, her face looking red and swollen. She stared at him for a long moment through bloodshot eyes; Scorpius realised with a jolt that she’d briefly mistaken him for his father. She took a deep, shuddering breath and closed her eyes, exhaling slowly. Scorpius hurried to her side, perched himself carefully on the edge of the bed and grasped his mother’s hand tightly. He felt encouraged as she squeezed his hand in return. As he sat there in silence, Scorpius looked at the deep green and silver coverlet, the pristine pillows, and wondered if his mother would miss sharing a bed with his father. A thought that he previously would have found disturbing and distasteful, he now found desperately sad; his lips twitched towards a small smile at the sudden shift in his perspective.
Scorpius looked down at his mother’s tearstained face, hoping that she was asleep, away from the pain for a short while. As if in response to his thoughts, Astoria’s eyes opened and she stared, unseeing, straight ahead once again.
‘Mother?’ Scorpius whispered.
Her gaze wandered, and then focused on her son’s worried face. She gave a sad half-smile and lifted her hand from Scorpius’ fingers. Laying her palm gently against his cheek, she frowned suddenly.
‘You’re sunburnt, darling,’ she murmured.
Scorpius sighed, mostly in relief at the familiar remonstration, and was about to say something when the sound of a floorboard creaking in the hallway made him freeze - he saw his mother stiffen, waiting. Was Draco out there, wanting to come in and somehow make it all better? Or was it just some nosy servant hoping to eavesdrop? Nobody appeared in the doorway, and only silence remained. Scorpius turned his gaze towards the window, through which he could see the sky darkening, and found that he no longer cared where his father - who for so long had been the centre of his universe- was.