Chapter 8 : Only One Child
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Sometimes Draco did a self-examination at home of the remaining testicle, not as often as the doctor had recommended, but whenever he thought of it. He was always uneasy when he began the exam and relieved when it was over without his having found anything. After two years the clinic check-ups were only annual, and after five years Doctor Medven said he could consider himself cured.
Scorpius was growing up, from infant to runabout baby to little boy. Draco’s highest priority became to be the best father he could possibly be. Not business, not money, not status in the eyes of the wizarding population, but the guardianship of Scorpius’s childhood. Scorpius’s life would be different from what his own had been, Draco vowed, but he felt as if he was playing it by ear, going on instinct, making it up as he went along.
So Draco took pleasure in teaching Scorpius about the natural world, he read him books, bought him building toys, taught him to fly on a child-sized broom. They just reveled in being silly together.
An ancient oak tree stood on the Malfoy estate with a thick, low limb growing out horizontally on one side. The feet of generations of children had worn its upper surface smooth, and a heap of boulders beneath it served as a rude staircase. Three-year-old Scorpius would climb up the rocks to this branch and stand on it, declaring, “This is my ship! I’m in my ship!”
“Can I go up to your ship?” Draco would ask.
“No!” was the imperious tot’s reply.
“Can I go up later?”
“Yes, you can come up later.”
“Can I go up pretty soon?” was Draco’s next question.
“Yes, Daddy, pretty soon.”
“Can I go up in a moment?”
“You can come up in a moment.”
Then Draco would begin to count backwards, “Ten, nine, eight…” and Scorpius would chime in because he knew these numbers, “…three, two one. Okay, Daddy, you can come up now.” And Draco would climb the rock pile and sit on Scorpius’s ‘ship’, next to his little boy.
Scorpius was his and Astoria’s joy — each new year, each new stage of development was a marvelous manifestation, and yet at night Draco would sometimes lie sleepless, wondering if he was doing it right. He was doing so many things differently from his own father, sometimes it was hard to sort the wheat from the chaff.
What was too strict? Too lenient? Too much direction or not enough? How much tradition and how much innovation? Discussions with Lucius about child-rearing were usually testy and strained. Draco always insisted that his own ideas were best, even when he wasn’t certain in his heart. Being a parent wasn’t easy, he thought. Maybe it was better to rear one child and do it right than to try to rear several and mess it up.
When Scorpius was five years old, Draco and Astoria enrolled him in a private wizarding primary school instead of following his grandparents’ choice, which would have been tutoring at home. What was worse, in Lucius’s eyes, was that the school admitted half-blood children as well as purebloods. Draco was tired of the constant undertone of disapproval. He didn’t want to be fighting these battles over and over with each new child.
Scorpius was a cheerful, outgoing boy who made friends at school easily, and Draco began to realize that by now, any new sibling would be too far removed in age from Scorpius to be a childhood playmate.
It became harder to think of any good reason to have a second child.
Draco knew that Astoria had been worried that perhaps the cancer had been present as a tiny growth even before Scorpius’s conception and had tainted him somehow. The usual anxiety of wizarding parents about whether their infant children would eventually prove to possess magical capability was magnified in her mind — she sometimes spoke about what they would do if Scorpius turned out to be a Squib — and Draco feared that she would always doubt the quality of his sperm, even now, when Doctor Medven had assured him that he was cured. So there was no point in having a sperm-count done.
Her faith in the frozen sperm was even less. She was unconvinced by the cryogenic service’s printed assurances that children conceived from frozen sperm were completely normal.
“They’re talking about Muggles,” she insisted. “ ‘Completely normal’ by Muggle standards. They’d think that a Squib was a howling success. They don’t know anything about magic.” So even as he paid the yearly fee to maintain his frozen sample, Draco doubted he would ever use it.
Astoria’s fears about Scorpius were relieved shortly after he started primary school; he showed the first signs of magical ability, his mother relaxed, and Draco stopped feeling irritated about her lack of faith in his ability to have fathered a good child in 2005.
After ten years, when he had to make a decision about renewing the contract with the cryogenic service, it seemed a foregone conclusion to let it lapse.
Scorpius and his parents stood on the platform next to the trolley holding the trunk, and Astoria asked her son, “Do you see any of your friends from primary school here? Maybe you could ride with them in the carriage.”
Scorpius looked around amongst the children closest to him.
“No,” he said. “Not yet.” There had been only six students at Scorpius’s level in the school, so to spot the other five in this crowd would not be easy. All the adults, being larger, tended to block the view of the shorter, younger children.
“It’s okay to ride with people you don’t know yet,” Draco remarked as he cast his gaze farther afield, trying to locate any of Scorpius’s friends through the steamy haze and the shifting mass of people. “That way you get to meet some of the other students and start to get acquainted with them. It’s a long ride. About ten hours, as I recall.”
He continued scanning the crowd, concentrating on faces. He knew the faces of the parents of Scorpius’s schoolmates, and it was easier to search for adults. Suddenly his eyes locked onto a group of familiar faces, but not the ones he was seeking. They were faces from his past, but easily recognizable, even after nineteen years. Famous faces. Harry Potter, Ron Weasley, Hermione Granger, Ginny Weasley.
They were all staring at him, not just one or two of them. That wasn’t a coincidence. One of them must have spotted him through the mists of steam and nudged the others.
A crowd staring at him. How odd. Uncomfortably odd. Draco was not accustomed to that sensation, although he knew how it had been, in earlier years, to have people turn their gaze away in his presence. Potter probably had people staring at him frequently, even after all these years, but those were gazes of admiration, Draco was certain, just as he was certain that these were not.
What did they hope to see? Signs that he was still a human being? A macabre curiosity to see what kind of family a former Death Eater could have? Were they making comparisons? Were they thinking, “Oh, no! There’s a Malfoy coming to school this year to pollute everything?”
He couldn’t pretend he didn’t see them.
They were too far away for him to say any greeting. The crowd noise on the platform would prevent their hearing any spoken words. And it would be inappropriate to cross that distance, leaving Astoria and Scorpius behind by themselves, to weave his way between all the carts and trunks on the platform, to clasp their hands and say, “How nice to see you after all this time; we really should get together some time,” as if they were long-separated friends, which of course they weren’t.
Draco steeled himself. He had to acknowledge the eye contact somehow, to continue the play-acting that pretended they were all just normal people and overlooked the undeniable events of history. With his eyes locked on Harry’s, Draco gave a curt nod and turned away as quickly as he decently could.
He wouldn’t mention it to Astoria. This had not been her issue, although she had associated herself with it by marrying him. He didn’t deserve such love and loyalty. He would spend the rest of his life trying to make it up to her.
He wouldn’t say anything to Scorpius either. May his child not be tarred with the same brush that had blackened his own name! Scorpius was his hope to finish the task of redeeming the name of Malfoy, so that the stain would eventually fade to nothing more than a footnote in history.
There had been so many of them, he had noticed during that brief eye contact. The Weasley-Potter clan, a whole gang of closely-related adults and children and in-laws. Eight or ten in that particular cluster alone, and that was only a small part of the extended family. Any place they went, they constituted a crowd.
And he and Astoria and Scorpius were only three. Plus his parents of course, with whom he got along rather stiffly, and a few more distant relatives whom he knew but to whom he did not feel close.
I could have had more children, he reflected. In another reality. If things — a lot of things — had turned out differently.
But what he did have was good. It was enough. In fact, it was priceless. He had no regrets, envied no one.
Draco knelt down on one knee next to Scorpius and enveloped him in the tightest hug his arms could possibly achieve. If he could have held him so tightly that the two of them fused into one being, he would have done it.
“Just never forget,” he said, “that I love you more than words can possibly say. No father ever loved a son more than I love you. And your mum feels the same way. You are our special, special boy.”
To his happiness, Scorpius did not pull away or say, “Aw, Dad.” Instead he said, “I love you too, Dad. Really, really much.”
They hugged a moment longer, and then Draco released his grasp and stood up. They all had everything that mattered.
“Okay,” he said. “Let’s see about getting your trunk on the train.”
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