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After dinner, Cassie deserted Derek and Julie to follow the adults to the study. By the time she reached the spot behind the sofa from the secret passageway, there was some interesting yelling going on.

“I NEVER SLEPT WITH PADMA PATIL! THAT KID ISN’T MINE! I DON’T KNOW WHAT ON EARTH IS GOING ON HERE, BUT DON’T TRY TO TELL ME WHO I HAVE AND HAVEN’T SLEPT WITH!” Harry stopped to take a breath, and immediately turned on Draco. “UNLIKE SOME PEOPLE I KNOW WHETHER OR NOT I’VE REPRODUCED!”

“This isn’t about Ginny and me or the twins, Harry. You know the registry comes from enchanted birth records. It can’t be a screw up, because his last name is Potter. You’re the last of the Potters, Harry.”

“It could be anyone. Potter is a very common name.”

“Not among wizards, and the certificate doesn’t list muggles. You know that. It was designed to find an heir for the prominent families.”

“That’s all well and good, but I can’t be his father because I never slept with Padma Patil. What is it going to take to get through to you?”

“Harry, if you look at Derek, he has a lot of his mum’s features, but . . . he has green eyes. Just like you and your mum,” Ginny whispered hesitantly. “Are you absolutely sure that . . . drunk maybe? You and Ron partied pretty hard after the war.”

Harry’s eyes narrowed. “After defeating the most evil wizard of the century, I think that I’ve earned the right to have a little fun without listening to criticism for it. I took the boy as a favor to you two, not to become a family man. He’s not really mine! I’m just giving him a place to stay because I owed one to Parvati, and her nephew is all that’s left. If you want him to have a cute little family with a dad, then you should have taken him instead.”

Cassie heard a soft sound and turned around, still keeping behind the sofa so that the adults didn’t see her. Derek stood in the entrance, and by the look on his face had heard everything. He dropped the glass that he was holding, but Cassie was up before it hit the floor, crying out, “Derek!”

The adults’ heads whipped around and she heard both of their names called, but she ignored it in favor of chasing her worst enemy, because it turned out that he was just a little boy who had gotten hurt in the worst possible way. She lost him outside but headed for the apple trees at the west side of the garden. Derek always got in trouble for climbing them when they were small. No sign of the boy. Cassie found him a few rows over, staring at the rosebush. “Derek?” He didn’t move. After weighing her options she stepped forward and placed a slim hand on his shoulder. “Derek, please?” He finally looked up at her. “What are you doing?”
“I broke this bush so many times. I fell on it, kicked it, pulled it apart, and snapped off limbs just for the heck of it. I took out my fury on it, and tried to trample it down where I couldn’t see it anymore. But it’s still here and more beautiful than ever, and now the thorns are so long and sharp that if I touch it, it will cut me deeply.”

“My mum took care of it. Used magic to heal it and strengthen it.”

“Taught it to defend itself.”

“We’re not talking about just rosebushes, are we?” Cassie plopped on the grass and motioned for him to move next to her.

“No. I’m such an idiot.” He reached over and pushed her sleeves up. “Reveal priori marks.” The dark purple angry bruises of long ago showed up vividly against her pale skin, although she felt no pain. “I never really thought about what I was doing to you. I hated you. You had parents who loved you, a twin who adored you, and my mother’s complete attention. And your dad spent so much time with you. I didn’t even know who mine was. I took out all my fury on you because I thought you were stuck up about it. That day I lashed out as hard as I could, and I hurt you. You were so scared and I didn’t see it, didn’t stop myself. When I heard the crack and realized what I’d done, saw you crumple to the floor like that, I had never felt so awful in my life. I couldn’t believe I did something so cruel to a little girl. And then all of a sudden your dad was there and I was jealous again.”

“It was a long time ago.”

“How could you have forgiven me?”

“I never realized how badly you were hurting before. I’ve done some nasty things to you like that itching powder.”

“I knew that was you.”

“Oh, yeah? Prove it.”

He laughed stiffly, and sobered immediately. “I’ve been trying so hard to be just like him all year and now I think that I’ve finally found him in me. What a temper he has. Just like mine.”

“Did you know?”

“I suspected. Since I was little. My mother would never ever go near him when he visited you guys, but she remembered him so fondly. I figured that I would find out when I went to Hogwarts, but then she died and I panicked. I thought that if I absolutely refused to live with you, then they would have to find my father. But they didn’t know either. At first I thought Mr. Potter came because he knew I was his son, but then I realized that he didn’t know, didn’t care. Isn’t that a laugh? Dobby watches me. When he’s actually home, I call him Mr. Potter or Sir because that’s all he really wants to be to me whether I’m his kid or not. Then McGonagall called out his name and I knew, but I was too afraid to tell him. Some Gryffindor I am. He doesn’t want me and he never did.”

“You can cry. I won’t tell.”

“No, he doesn’t deserve crying. I haven’t lost anything because I never had it to begin with.”

“Seems like a good enough reason to cry to me. And maybe Uncle Harry doesn’t deserve it, but you deserve the chance to cry. You never cried. Ever. When you were in trouble, when Uncle Severus is mean to you, not even when your mother died.”

“And I’m not going to start now,” he said determinedly. “I’m not a baby. I can take care of myself. I’ll ask your parents to find me another home and apologize to them for not taking them up on their offer when I was nine. Come on. Lets go in.” He pulled her to her feet and started back towards the house only to turn back abruptly. “For the record, Princess, I’m sorry.”

“Apology accepted. And thanks for coming to get me after that Quidditch game.”

“Somebody had to. That was really lousy of your sister to do that to you.”

“I’m over it. After all, we totally creamed Hufflepuff, and Puffer never even saw me coming. I’m actually looking forward to crushing Gryffindor next month.”

“Never happen.”

“Watch me.”

“You’re on.”

The light-hearted banter dissipated as they reached the house. Taking a deep breath, Derek squeezed her hand one last time, before pushing open the study door. All three adults looked up at them with relief. Draco stood by the fireplace, consulting the map of the property. Ginny sat at the desk, and Harry sat on the sofa, shoulders bowed and head sunk in shame. Cassie went and sat beside him, and gestured for him to look Derek in the eye.

“I’m sorry that you heard that, Derek. It came out wrong while we were fighting and I apologize. I’ll make it up to you tomorrow. You can come to work with me, meet the team and all that.”

“I accept the apology but not the terms. You can’t make something like that go away. Nothing will ever make up for it.” Derek stood ramrod straight, and looked the man straight in the eye. “Nothing.”

“Look, we’ll talk about it tomorrow. I have an early practice so we’ve got to get home . . .”

“I’m not going home with you. After I apologize to Mr. And Mrs. Malfoy, I’m going back to school until summer. Then . . . I don’t know. There’s got to be somewhere I can go. Maybe Mr. And Mrs. Longbottom will let me come home with Alan for the summer.”

“This is ridiculous. You can still stay at the house. I’m not kicking you out or anything.”

“I’m not staying with you any longer. My mother taught me pride. I only want one thing from you. I want my birth certificate. I want to know for sure who my parents were. If you are my birth father, then you can get it from the Hall of Records,” Derek shrugged. “If you’re not, then I guess it doesn’t matter anymore.”
Draco stepped forward and placed a hand on Derek’s shoulder. “We’ll go after your birth certificate tonight, but no matter what it says, you’re not going back to school tonight. You’ll stay here. If you still need someplace to stay this summer, consider the manor your home.”

“I couldn’t accept your hospitality after I threw it in your face last time, sir.”

“I insist, Derek. Stay with Cassie Starr and Mrs. Malfoy. I’ll be back in a little while. Come on, Harry.” Draco hauled the shorter man to his feet and pulled him toward the fireplace. “Hall of Records.”

They took a long time. Cassie almost fell asleep, but Derek didn’t so much as twitch from his place by the fire. No prompt from Ginny or Cassie could convince him to sit. Finally the fire flared green again and the men stumbled from it. Harry collapsed on the sofa a beaten man. Draco wordlessly handed the paper to Derek.
“Derek Andrei Potter born the thirteenth of December, 2006, son of Harry James Potter, and Parvati Shiva Patil.” Derek’s voice shook. “My mother’s name doesn’t matter to me. Padma or Parvati, she was my mother. You’re my father, sir, and I apologize, but I am a Potter.” He turned to Ginny. “Mrs. Malfoy, I’m tired. Can I go lay down in my old room?”

“You’re staying in the nursery with Julie and me,” Cassie said sharply. “Don’t even try to weasel out of it.” She jumped up and wrapped an arm around his shoulders defiantly. “We’re going to bed. Good night all.”

Julie looked shocked when Cassie appeared in the nursery doorway, and even more so when she saw her leading Derek. “It’s not permanent,” Cassie warned. “We do need separate rooms, but Derek needs someone tonight.” Julie just nodded. Cassie felt grateful for once that she was a twin. Julie didn’t need to ask questions, she just trusted Cassie’s judgement. Cassie dragged the mattresses off the beds and onto the floor, adding the mess of pillows and blankets to them. She sent Julie to the linen closet for more, and then she sat down and made herself comfortable leaning against the nightstand. Derek wordlessly sat beside her and all it took was Julie’s sympathetic squeeze of the hand and he started to cry. With his head nestled in Cassie’s lap, he cried himself hoarse while both twins petted his hair and murmured soft words of comfort.

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