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Chapter 4 : Trouble of the Rain
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‘Do you want me here with you?’ asked George, the two of them stood before the Potter family home in Godric Hollow.
Albus drew a deep breath and nodded. ‘Yeah. It might stop Dad from killing me.’
‘He’s not going to kill you. He might shout. He’s really good at that, but he gets over it.’ George nodded at the door. ‘You knock. It’s that simple. I’m not actually giving you a joke.’
A muscle in the corner of Albus’ jaw twitched. ‘I could really do with one.’
‘I’m a professional purveyor of magical entertainment, not a street-magician with -’
‘Oh, bloody hell,’ Albus muttered, and slammed the door-knocker to drown out George’s ramblings. But there was a tight smile on his uncle’s lips, and he suspected George knew what he was thinking: he’d been reminded of Scorpius’ antics, just for a moment. And even though his throat was dry as the desert, his palms sweating, for once the reminder wasn’t a punch to the gut, because it brought with it the memory of a smile.
But after all that, there was no answer. The knock echoed through the house, Albus chewed on the inside of his lip so hard he knew he’d get an ulcer when this was done, and the two men waited in taut silence for twenty seconds. Forty. A minute.
‘Did you do it right?’
‘It’s a door-knocker,’ said Al. ‘How do you do it wrong?’
George frowned and bashed the knocker for himself, to no avail. ‘Where the bloody hell are they?’
‘It’s a Sunday -’ Realisation dawned. ‘Oh. There’s only one place they might be on a Sunday if they’re not at home, isn’t there.’
Albus rounded on him. ‘No -’
‘We are not going to the Burrow! Everyone will be there!’
‘Not everyone, because I wasn’t invited. If your Mum and Dad have gone, then I bet it’ll be with Teddy and Victoire, maybe Bill and Fleur. I think it’s perfect. Your Gran will go ballistic and she won’t let it turn into a row, and by the time your Dad has the chance to get pissy, lunch will be over and he’ll have gotten over it.’ George tugged on his sleeve. ‘And I get fed. Come on.’
Summer had wept golden tears of grief at its own demise all over Godric’s Hollow. Dead leaves dragged up and down the road like kids chasing the ball in street football, and the mere sight of home at the threat of winter started to warm something small and afraid in Albus’ heart. He’d spent his first Christmas away from home in Australia, thinking the warmth might stop it from hurting so badly, haunted by the ghost of the year before - of that huge feast in the Great Hall of Hogwarts with the five of them together and a glimmer of proper happiness and hope. Last year he’d been in Alaska, and wondered if he could freeze with the ice and snow.
He had not looked forward to a third. But neither did he relish the prospect before him.
You did this. To Scorpius, to your parents…
Then George was Disapparating them and there they were a cracking heartbeat later, at the rickety wooden gate before the Burrow. The cold wind was cut off by the steep hills and trees that sheltered the ramshackle house from the eyes of the Muggles of Ottery St. Catchpole, but the chimney puffed away merrily and lights glimmered from inside, and so he was under no illusions. Outside was the cold, and inside, where his family waited with all the hurt he’d inflicted on them, was the warmth.
George grabbed him by the sleeve and jerked him, still disoriented from the Apparition, into the front garden. Before Albus could complain or pull himself free, George called out in a loud, clear voice, ‘I hope you’ve got space for two more!’
‘What -’ Albus yanked his sleeve back, frozen on the gravel path, and clutched the shoulder-strap of his bag with whitening knuckles.
‘I thought you might run,’ said George, unapologetic. ‘This is a much better -’ Then the front door of the Burrow swung open so hard it was almost knocked off its hinges, and Albus’ breath caught as he saw his mother.
She looked paler and older and more worn, or so he thought, and he knew that had to come from two years of not knowing where in the world her son was. He took a step back before he could stop himself, felt every muscle coiling in a fight-or-flight reflex, and his dried throat closed up.
‘Albus?’ Ginny’s voice quavered as she trudged onto the gravel path, cautious like he was made of glass that might shatter if she rushed.
George took one look between them and blurted out, ‘Look what I found!’
‘Well, not just him,’ Albus says in a rushing mumble. ‘But I got the wedding invitation and I spoke to Uncle George and then I thought - I mean, you weren’t at home so we came here and I can - I don’t want to interrupt your -’
But he was cut off by a muffled sob escaping Ginny’s throat, and she hurled herself at him, a red-haired blur of upset and hugging. He’d felt like his shoulders were made of stone, tense and carrying such burdens, and though his mother pulling him into a warm embrace wasn’t enough to undo that, he felt the impact chip away. It took all he had to not collapse there and then, to just bury his face in his mother’s shoulder - no mean feat since he was, these days, so much taller than her - and grit his teeth against the wave of rising emotion. ‘I’m sorry.’ His voice was muffled by control, guilt, her jumper, and it was probably for the best this stopped him from saying more.
The next minutes passed in a rushing blur. Ginny didn’t let go of him easily, not even when Grandma Molly showed up and joined in the enormous pile-up, and for long, thunderous seconds all Albus knew was that there were people who desperately wanted, needed him back, and it was almost, almost enough to fight back the fear. It kept him going long enough for him to untangle himself from his mother and grandmother and be corralled into the house to shake Granddad Arthur’s hand, get a clap on the shoulder from Teddy, a less-tearful but still tight hug from Victoire, while in the background George was assaulted just as much by the Weasley matriarchs.
So he didn’t have time to think, didn’t have time to panic, didn’t have time to consider bolting until Victoire faded from in front of him and then there was his father, looking as paralysed as Albus had felt at the sight of Ginny.
He realised this was the moment he’d feared the most. Because Harry Potter had saved the world from Voldemort and never broke, and if ever there was proof Albus was just playing at hero then surely running scared after taking a hit was it. If anything made him a failure -
‘Dad, I -’
Harry Potter crossed the distance to pull him into a backslapping embrace, and for the first time in over two years, Al thought that maybe everything would be alright, after all.
‘James - you should thank James,’ Albus managed to choke once they’d broken apart, everyone swarming around him. ‘He was the one who found me, he got me the invitation…’
He waved a hand at Teddy, who beamed, but George gave a sniff of mock-indignation. ‘Scions of the Potter brood taking credit for my deeds, again…’
‘Oh, George, don’t be like that -’ Molly swatted his arm and dabbed back tears. ‘Everyone should sit down, there’s more than enough dinner for everyone and we can catch up.’
‘Roast beef sounds like a good reward for a good deed…’
If he’d been less frazzled and tense, Albus might have put more thought into the fact that even when he and George were sat at the dinner table, there were two empty places. But food wasn’t ready yet, and Arthur cracked open some good Muggle ales he’d been harbouring for a special occasion. Flanked by his parents, across from Teddy, Albus found himself beset by innocuous updates and yammering about the wedding as everyone took great pains to bring him up to speed while neither prying into his adventures or making it seem contrived, and he was satisfied to listen until there was a fresh knock at the door.
That, he gave no thought, as Victoire and Teddy were mid-anecdote about wedding cake shopping, and the innate barbarism of making the animated figurines atop the cake edible, which ran the risk of making the reception end in a brutal blood sport. So it was only when Arthur returned from letting in the latest arrivals with a jovial explosion of, ‘And look who’s here!’ that he glanced to the door.
Matt was helping Rose out of her coat, and all three of them froze - but it was Matt who rallied first, with a nervous but certainly pleased grin. ‘Al!’
But his hand came to Rose’s shoulder in a gesture Albus couldn’t possibly mistake, and his spine was like granite once more as he got to his feet. ‘Rose. Matt.’
Rose worked her lips wordlessly for thudding heartbeats as everyone fell to silence. ‘When - when did you get back?’
‘Just now. I didn’t know you’d be here.’ Albus looked up and down the crowded table with the now-apprehensive eyes of their extended family. ‘I should - I’m crowding in here, I bet Ron and Hermione are coming, too -’
Molly almost dropped a cooking pot. ‘Don’t be ridiculous! Two more mouths is nothing at this rate -’
‘And I can go,’ said George, and Albus felt a ridiculous wave of affection for his uncle, so willing to sacrifice one of his mother’s legendary Sunday roasts on his behalf.
‘This is family,’ Matt blurted, hand dropping from Rose’s shoulder. ‘If anyone should go -’
‘Nobody,’ exclaimed Molly, ‘is going! And you’re certainly not, Matthias, you know you’re always welcome here.’
Rose coloured at that, eyes not moving off Albus, and when she spoke again her voice was hoarse. ‘Where’ve you been?’
She might have meant it as a casual conversation-starter. It still came with a stab in Albus’ gut. ‘Lots of places,’ he said, not taking his seat again. ‘I’ve been busy. And I can see you’ve been, too.’
Matt winced. ‘Er -’
‘Gringotts,’ said Rose, cutting him off. ‘Curse Breakers.’
‘I hear. Both of you.’
George leaned towards Teddy, eyes frantic. ‘Teddy! I think you should make the cake figurines edible but also flying.’
Victoire gave him a look despairing both at his interruption and his suggestion. ‘That’s going to make a small child cry when they escape,’ she pointed out. ‘And then I’ll blame you.’
‘You’ll be too loved-up to be angry -’
‘We had a lot of time at Hogwarts to think about what we wanted to do,’ Rose was saying, her chin tilting up that familiar, defiant half-inch. ‘It was a decision a long time coming.’
Albus’ gaze flickered between her and Matt, who looked like he wished he were somewhere else. ‘Yeah.’ His throat grated. ‘You two clearly took your time.’
The table fell silent. Rose narrowed her eyes. ‘What’s that supposed to mean?’
Matt slowly, deliberately, put Rose’s coat down on the nearest armchair, and took a step towards the door. ‘I’m going to -’
‘How long was the bloody grieving period?’ Albus hadn’t expected this anger. It had bubbled inside him on some level since James had mentioned Rose and Matt were working together. The suspicion had worked away only to be confirmed now, and with it came blossoming resentment mixed in with his guilt. She’d begged him to stay, only to forget about Scorpius and then got on with her life while he wouldn’t, couldn’t…
Her eyes flashed. ‘How would you know? You weren’t here.’
Matt pulled his coat back on. ‘I’m leaving you to this. Molly, thank you very much for inviting me.’
Rose at last looked at him. ‘Matt -’
‘This is a family affair,’ said Matt in a low, tight voice as he turned his collar up against the impending wind and rain, ‘and I don’t need to be here for you two to have an argument about him!’
Molly had looked like she was going to try to stop Matt, but at that last she fell into the same stunned silence as the rest. Rose lifted a hand but couldn’t summon words before he’d stormed to the door, taking great care to not slam it behind him. She whirled on Albus, eyes flashing. ‘You don’t get to judge me for how I coped -’
‘Enough!’ The snap, at last, came from Harry, roaring to his feet with his hands slamming on the table. That made everyone jump, including Rose, and Albus’ eyes swept to his father with the cringing instinct that came whenever an authority figure was angry with him. It didn’t happen often. He wasn’t used to it.
Harry’s eyes dragged across the table before landing on them. ‘This family,’ he said, voice lowering, ‘has been broken up for a long time. You two went through so much, and this is how you’re reunited? Is this really how you want this moment to be remembered?’
Albus found his feet taking a catapulting step to the door. ‘I can -’
‘Al.’ His father’s voice softened. ‘Please, don’t.’
Albus was facing away from the table, and knew when his eyes slammed shut that the only person who could see his expression was Rose. He’d started this, he’d jumped down her throat, and it was as much from jealousy as it was rage. But he’d ruined this reunion. Still, his father’s words made him stop, though his shoulders squared and for a moment he couldn’t do anything but take a shuddering breath to try to steel himself.
Rose was staring at her feet when he turned around to face the dining table, and he couldn’t look at her. ‘Mum. Dad. Maybe we should go home?’ Albus said. ‘Talk properly. This was maybe a bit… much, to drop on everyone.’
Harry hesitated, but he and Ginny exchanged glances and then he nodded and turned to his mother-in-law. ‘Molly, thank you, but we’ll… we’ll do this next week?’
And then there was a renewed array of crushing hugs and back-slaps and hand-shakes, and that at least killed the awkward hum in the air and took some of the edge off Albus’ apprehension. But all the while, through the tearful farewells from his grandmother, and the reassuring smiles from Teddy and George, he still couldn’t look at Rose, and the two of them parted, once again, without a word.
Selena arched an eyebrow when she saw the drenched figure sat on her doorstep. ‘I thought not replying to your note was pretty self-explanatory.’
It was raining hard in London. She’d brought an umbrella, but Matt’s coat hadn’t protected him from doing a drowned rat impression, the fabric sodden, his hair plastered against his sunken, drawn face. When he got to his feet without an iota of a defensive, plaintive air about him, she realised something was up.
‘I’m sorry,’ he said, voice a low, strained mumble. ‘I know I don’t deserve this.’
Selena headed to the door and extended the umbrella so it covered them both. Not that this was worth much considering how sodden he already was. ‘What’s happened?’ Did you and Rose finally explode into that unhealthy fireball that’s been in the making since you got together?
‘Albus is back,’ said Matt.
It was not the reply she’d expected. ‘Back?’
‘We went for Sunday dinner at her Gran’s. He was there. Looks like it was unexpected for everyone.’ He stared at her front door. She wasn’t about to open it. ‘They rowed, of course.’
‘Of course. Two years apart and the first thing they have to do is have a blow-out. I assume about Scorpius?’
‘About Albus abandoning her.’ Matt’s gaze tensed. ‘And then he implied me and her wasted no time getting together -’
Selena’s throat tensed. ‘Why did you come to me? Why not John?’
‘I don’t know. You always understood it the most. And John and I argued.’
Selena swallowed undiplomatic words, then remembered she didn’t give a damn. ‘Gee, about the fact that your relationship is a horrible, unhealthy rebound that’s fucking doomed, and you refuse to see it?’
Matt took a step back like he’d been beaten about the face with a second hammer. ‘I didn’t - Rose and I -’
‘You know what’s going on, Matt!’ Selena jerked her umbrella back. He didn’t deserve it. ‘This has been going on for months; you didn’t just support her, you waited and you chased her! You two only got together because Rose is bloody well trying to feel like there’s something real and reliable in the world and she’s got so used to it being you that she can’t make sense of her feelings!’
‘It’s not like that!’ Matt barked. ‘I know you’ve been saying it for -’
‘Months? And then you decided you didn’t like me telling you the truth, so you stopped paying me any attention because I pointed out things you didn’t want to hear?’ Selena’s lips thinned. ‘Why do you think we stopped talking? Why do you think I didn’t answer your bloody letter?’
‘Selena, we’re friends -’
‘Friends don’t ditch each other because they want to dedicate more of their time to the woman they’re obsessed with who will never, ever love them back.’ The cool, calm, collected part of Selena Rourke’s mind knew this was the cruelest way she could make these points. The hurt, angry part of her didn’t care. ‘Friends don’t ditch each other because they’re being told truths they don’t want to hear.’
‘I didn’t ditch you -’
‘No. You just gave Rose more of your time, because a part of you hoped she might love you when she was done grieving. You just talked to me less, because I pointed out, and will keep pointing out, that it is never, ever going to work, Matt.’ She tightened her grip on her umbrella to stop her shaking hand from turning her into a water-spout. ‘And I couldn’t stand around and watch you destroy yourself, and watch you ignore me.’
‘And have you even told her about half of what you get up to? With your father, with de Sablé, with the Templars?’ She stalked back to him, reached out to yank the glove off his right hand, and her thumb brushed against the ring. ‘Does she ever ask about this? Or does she pretend it’s just a trinket, even though you both bloody know better, but the two of you don’t even talk honestly about a damned thing?’
He snatched his glove back. ‘That has nothing to do with this. I’m talking about you and me -’
‘What were we, Matt?’ Now her voice quavered, and she hated herself for it. ‘What was I? A distraction? Something you could play with and then put down when Rose needed you? We had something. We had a deal. And then Scorpius died, and you saw your chance.’
For a moment, he looked like he might fall over by the pummelling impact of her accusations. Then something in his gaze steeled. ‘You pulled away from me! I was trying to help Rose, because she was our friend, and you drifted away, back to Miranda, back to Abena!’ He stabbed an accusing finger at the house she shared with her old friends. ‘You’re damn right we had a deal! I tried! I tried to spend time with you, with you both! I didn’t ditch you, you kept avoiding me! I had to help Rose, and how could I help her and chase you while you ran? What was I supposed to think, other than that you’d discarded me like the nerdy distraction I’d been during the hunt for the Chalice, to be disposed of once everyday normalcy came back?’
I was protecting myself, she wanted to yell. But that was an admission of weakness, and she’d already blurted more than she’d meant to. She drew a slow breath and found the steel inside her again. ‘Why did you come here? To make me second choice again?’
His hand dropped with his expression, and his shoulders slumped. ‘Because you… I…’
‘Because I tell you the truth,’ she finished for him, voice chilling with the wind. ‘And you were hoping I’d tell you a truth you want to hear. Newsflash, Doyle. Truth doesn’t work like that. And it sounds like you’ve worn down even John’s patience.’ She stepped into her porch, the height of the townhouse blocking her from the rain, and closed her umbrella. ‘Go home, Matt. I didn’t answer your note for a reason: we could not be more done.’
But she ignored him, jammed her keys in the door and left him outside without another word, without so much as a look over her shoulder, because she could imagine the lost and forlorn look on his face. She’d seen it a thousand times before and didn’t need to see it again, because she hated what it did to her resolve.
She was home. She was away from him, away from her mother, away even from the hijinks of the Clarion’s office; it was a Sunday and she was with her friends, friends who would take one look at her, know she was upset, and do what they always did. Not ask questions. Not pry. Not make her face up to issues she was determinedly trying to not think about. But make a cup of tea and absolutely divert her from anything and everything which could be distressing.
Rose Apparated home alone after the most awkward Sunday lunch of her life. Her parents had arrived about five minutes after the Potters left, and everyone had managed to gush about how Albus was back, and wasn’t it lovely, while acting like they stood on a bomb about to go off. She would have preferred they either didn’t talk about the topic, or talked about it like absolutely nothing was wrong, but instead there had been this stilted, terrible middle ground.
It was George who’d saved the day. George who’d taken one look at her face and changed the subject back to the wedding, and Victoire and Teddy - bless their souls - were both conscientious enough to realise the day needed saving, and loved up enough to want to gush about the plans. Like happy, normal people.
She’d left as soon as was diplomatic, hugged her grandmother with a silent apology for causing the spectacle, and got a squeeze back which made her feel a little better. But there were other obstacles ahead, and so the knot in her stomach remained, iron-tight, as she climbed the wooden stairs in the converted old house which homed her new flat. They were not yet in the Floo network, thanks to Matt’s father’s obsession with security. So she’d had to Apparate down a back alley and tromp through the front door, which would have been fine except she had no idea if Matt had gone home or if he’d gone for a drink with John.
But she felt the heat of the fireplace when she stepped into the flat, saw his shape silhouetted against the flames, and wondered how long he’d been there, waiting for her. The flat was a tidy, modern sort of place by magical standards, refurbished despite the old-fashioned charm of the building, and she was still getting used to it as a home. She’d thought that coming back with Matt there would help.
Right then, it just made her gut twist into familiar shards of ice. She closed the door behind her, and drew a wavering breath. ‘Hey.’
He glanced over his shoulder, sharp features angular against the shadows of the flickering fire, and his pained frown looked all the deeper and more anguished for it. ‘Hey.’
She rested her back against the door and realised she had no idea what she was supposed to say. ‘I’m sorry.’ That was always a good start. ‘I was startled, and then he got accusatory -’
‘You don’t need to be sorry. He was accusing. It’s not fair. He wasn’t there all this time; he really doesn’t get to judge.’ Matt turned to face her, hands open by his side, an invitation for her to approach he obviously didn’t want to push in case she rebuffed him. ‘He abandoned you. How can he think he knows what happened while he was gone?’
Her heart swelled as he confirmed what she’d told herself time after time. This was why he was her shelter; he always knew what was on her mind, always knew what to say to calm the demons that clawed at her guts. He’d silenced them for so long; Albus couldn’t undo that with just one row.
His hand on hers was a rope mooring her to his harbour when she came to him, and though melting the ice in her gut only revealed the stone underneath, no flesh and blood left in her, the nothing was always better than the cold. ‘He wasn’t here,’ she murmured, tilting her face up to his. ‘You were. All along.’
The corners of his eyes were crinkled, and there was a tension to his brow she knew, because she could read his every move and every instinct, and she knew there was something worming away at him. But she didn’t ask, and he lifted a hand to cup her cheek, touch gentle, coaxing, and distant troubles didn’t matter as much as the fact that he was here, now, warm, close. ‘Like I told you,’ Matt breathed against her lips as he leaned in. ‘I will wait for you.’
I’ll come back every time. The words were like a stab in her heart, slashing through her walls and defences, making the stone bleed, and so she did all she could do, all she could ever do when the past reared its head and scrabbled against scars she’d promised herself were healed.
She clung to Matt. She kissed him, let him hold her close in their new home, the first step of their new future, their new life, and reinforced that age-old promise that she was no longer beholden to the past.
It was late when Harry finally sank into an armchair opposite his son, and passed him a glass of firewhiskey. ‘Your mother’s gone to bed.’
Albus nodded, hunched his shoulders and wrapped his hands around the tumbler of the amber liquid that tried to melt him as he swallowed it down. ‘It’s been a big day. I’m sorry I showed up like I did…’
‘Don’t be sorry for that.’ Harry winced. ‘That’s not what I mean. You don’t ever need to be sorry for coming back. You don’t ever need to be sorry.’
‘I do.’ Albus tightened his jaw. ‘You and Mum let me go, because you thought I needed time and freedom. You didn’t fight me, you didn’t try to make me stay. You let it happen, and I repaid you by staying gone for this long.’ He frowned into the glass. ‘And… truth be told, I don’t even know why I’m back.’
His father tensed. ‘If you need to go again…’
But his voice trailed off. Albus could hear the rest of the sentence, an assurance that he was free to do what he needed - but they both knew how hollow that would be. To go again would be to inflict fresh wounds. ‘I don’t know what I’m doing, Dad. I don’t - I don’t mean that I’m going to go, I just… I have no more idea what I’m doing or what I’m feeling than I did two years ago.’ He swallowed a thick mouthful of whiskey. ‘Which does make the argument that running away hasn’t done me a damned lick of good.’
‘There is that point of view.’ Harry shifted his weight. ‘Your mother and I want you to be happy. And yes, we’d like you to stay. But we’ll - we’ll do whatever you need, Al. I know you don’t know what that is, but how about you stick around and we try to figure that out together?’
‘It sounds like a start.’ Albus looked to the stairs leading into the further depths of the Potter house. ‘I think that… I think that tomorrow I’m going to get that trunk out of the attic.’
His father’s expression creased, and he nodded. ‘I can help you with that, if you like.’
‘Yeah. Yeah, I would.’ He swirled the firewhiskey in the glass. ‘Invite James for dinner, too?’
Harry looked surprised. ‘Of course -’
‘He found me. He was looking for me, all this time. He and Teddy conspired with the wedding invitation to try to welcome me back, and when he couldn’t get through to me - though he tried - he sent Uncle George, because he realised Uncle George was the guy who’d be able to get through to me best because he’s lost…’ Albus slammed his eyes shut. ‘But he brought me back. And he should know that he was the one who brought me back.’
‘I’ll Floo him in the morning. And Neville, so maybe he can let Lily come down Saturday to see you…’
Albus’ throat constricted, and the firewhiskey managed to burn its way through. ‘Yeah. Yeah, that’d be - yeah.’ He coughed, and lowered his glass. ‘What’s the news with the Council of Thorns?’
Harry watched him for a moment before he accepted the topic change. ‘There are still attacks in Europe. Some blanket terror strikes just to keep them in the public eye, or thefts. They still make their money off the black market, but really, they’re more South America’s problem than the world’s.’
‘And Prometheus Thane?’
‘We’ll find him. He’s not working with them any more; he might have his own team, but he must have fallen out of favour and now he’s hated by both sides. He might not be our top priority but the man is a murderer and a danger and we will find him, Al. I promise you that.’
He looked at his father. ‘I believe you. And I know it’s not - if I wanted to go after him, Dad, I’d have been doing it. I don’t know if I’ve got that sort of fight in me any more.’
‘You don’t have to. You don’t need to fight any more.’
Do I know how to do anything else? Albus drained his glass. ‘I guess I should figure out what I do need to do.’
‘For now? Take it one day at a time.’ Harry hesitated. ‘Maybe, when you’re a bit more settled… maybe you should talk to Rose.’
‘I… should. Yeah. I owe her an apology. That was shitty of me.’
‘You were surprised. It’s been a heavy day. But she really hasn’t had an easy time of it. To hear Ron and Hermione talk of it, honestly, she’s spent most of the last two years shut down. Everyone was surprised when she and Matthias Doyle got together, a bit, but… she’s healing. She’s allowed to heal, she’s got to heal -’
‘I know,’ said Albus, a little sharper than he meant, and his father fell quiet. ‘And it’s a stupid, selfish sort of objection that I’ve got; this sort of defiance that I miss him the most. And it’s my own damned fault that she and I couldn’t heal together, because I left, but I…’ He bowed his head, and his shoulders hunched up. ‘She’ll move on. She might always remember him, but she’s moved on. I don’t know how I even begin to do that.’
‘One day at a time,’ Harry repeated, awkward.
‘He was my brother, Dad. I love James, and I want to make things better now with James, but Scorpius was - in a family like this, we’re so big, and everything is everyone’s, and - it sounds so childish to say that he was my friend, and that made him special ‘cos he was mine. And he didn’t give a damn who I was; he wasn’t there because we were related or because I was famous, and he was…’ His throat closed up again, the words choking, and he lifted his hands to scrub his face as if he could push the rising wave back. ‘I don’t know how I even laugh without his jokes…’
Then his father was knelt before him, his hands on his shoulder like he was eleven years old and again terrified he wouldn’t find a place at Hogwarts - and he had, because he’d found Scorpius, and the rest was history, but for a moment it was enough to know his father was going to love him anyway, whoever he was and whatever choices he made. ‘You tried time,’ Harry murmured, his hold tight, warm. ‘Or, time on your own. Try time with your loved ones, and remember, he would want you laughing…’
Albus burst into tears on his father’s shoulder.
He couldn’t remember the last time he’d cried. Had he? Not on the two year anniversary, or the one year. Had he cried when Scorpius was gone? Had he ever actually unleashed all of his agony and anguish, or had he just decided to lock it away and run?
It didn’t matter, because he’d never cried like this, clutching at his father like he was that scared eleven year-old again, and the grief came in waves that threatened to overwhelm him, drown him, wash him away. But his father held him firm, and he wasn’t lost to it, and when it subsided - eventually, after sobs racked his body and every inch of him until he didn’t know he had the strength or even grief left in him to weep more - he was still there.
And could believe, for the first time, that maybe feeling every inch of grief wasn’t letting loose a tide that would wash him away, but a wave which might, inch by inch, begin to cleanse, and heal.