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Benefaction

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~*~

 

BENEFACTION

 

By Slytherincess

 

*

 

Thousands of candles can be lit from a single candle, and the life of the candle will not be shortened. Happiness never decreases by being shared.

---

As the name of the shop was The Optical Owl, it was unsurprising that Draco Malfoy walked straight into the door upon his attempt to enter.

"Oww." He pulled a splinter from his nose.

"Honestly, Draco," Pansy said, pulling him away by the back of his robes. "Why didn't you tell me it'd got this bad?"

"Because I didn't want you bugging the ever-loving shit out of me."

"Look, you don't have to do this. There's the new Oculus Reparo surgical procedure. Uncle Egg had it done and his vision's—"

"First? Your Uncle Egg only has one eye. Second? Nobody's getting near these perfect, beautifious orbs with some dodgy laser wand. No way. What if I were maimed?" Draco flung open the door and ponced into the shop. It might have been a magnificent show if he hadn't smacked up against a display of frames, sending them flying.

"Oh for God's sake," Pansy said, rolling her eyes. She took Draco's elbow, guiding him as the optician objected.

"Oi! Mind you put them back in order."

"Is this how you treat all your disabled clientele?" Draco asked. He bumbled about, making his way. "A specialist like you should know better than to set up the optically-challenged for failure."

"Too right," Pansy clucked, surveying display after display of frames on square, rotating racks that were placed throughout the shop. "I'm surprised you don't have everything up against the wall, where they'll be safe from, say, clumsy, stubborn berks who won't admit they need glasses." She emphasised the last bit especially.

"Pansy," Draco moaned, holding his arms out in her general direction. "Help me."

"Have your husband take a seat over there," the optician said, motioning to a small fitting table with three chairs and a mirror. "I'll be there shortly, after I finish with your mess." He gave Draco a pointed look as he pulled his wand to put the pile of split frames back in place, not that Draco could tell.

"Oh, we're not married."

"We're friends."

Pansy got Draco situated. "There you go, love." She took up his hand. "Now this is silly. How did it get this bad? You never answered me."

"I have no idea!" He refrained from telling her of how six months prior he'd driven his broom into a tree one night; he'd blamed it on the rain at the time. And it seemed that almost overnight he'd had to hold his books and magazines closer and closer to his face to read, until at last he was holding them all the way up to his nose, yet he couldn't see the text at all. Squinting hard didn't help; it wasn't eye bogies. When he looked down, everything further than perhaps a foot away was blurred. He couldn't discern designs or patterns any more. The world was a strange mosaic of colour and shapes, the far distance a swimming blurry view. It had come to this: Draco Malfoy was about to officially become a speccy, wally git.

The optician, Maurice Wallingscomb, seated himself. "Prescription?"

Draco fumbled in his pocket and pulled out his dog-eared order for glasses and slid it across the table. "Here."

"Malfoy, eh? M-A-L-F-O-Y." Wallingscomb spoke aloud as he filled in the invoice. "Have you had glasses before?"

Draco sneered. "Of course not."

The optician considered the rumpled prescription, its edges frayed and smudged with the dirt of a thousand pockets. "How old is this prescription?"

"Quite possibly it may not be exactly new."

"I'll have to check your eyes again, to be sure the prescription's still all right."

"But you're not a healer proper." Draco blinked in his general direction. "I can't trust my eyes to a layman."

"Yes, because you've been taking such stellar care of them," Wallingscomb said. He brought up a device not unlike omnioculars that had multiple sets of lenses branching from it like wandering arms of ivy on brick. "Hold this up to your eyes. What do you see?"

"Is that Arabic?"

"No. Read the top line please."

"That is quite clearly Arabic."

"I didn't know you knew Arabic," Pansy said, her mouth twisting into a thoughtful frown. "Huh."

"It's not Arabic," Wallingscomb said. He switched out the lenses. "Read the top line please."

Draco was squinting, trying to make out the tiny letters. "K, L, it's a C or an O, R or F, X."

Wallingscomb flipped the lenses around again. "Give it another go."

"Oh, that's much better. M, O, Q, G, F, R, N."

"Not quite."

They continued like that, switching out lenses until Wallingscomb was satisfied that he'd updated Draco's prescription. "This old prescription's a full point off on your left eye and half a point on your right. You've astigmatism."

"How dare you!"

"Oh, Draco, shut it!" Pansy said, poking him in the side, making him wince. "It just means your eyeball's an odd shape now."

"My eyeball isn't an odd shape, thank you." It was as if he were six years old. "You're an odd shape!"

"Shut it," she said for the second time, "you right royal tit."

"I'll thank you to watch your language," Wallingscomb advised Pansy. "Your eyeball's fine. It's just your lens that's changed shape. Your retina's fine, too. That's the sagittal plane of vision. You've been having trouble seeing detail?" he asked Draco.

"Yes. Right."

"And when you look at the wall, it looks tilted?"

When he could see the wall. "Sometimes."

"That's your tangential plane, all out of sorts. It's not refracting like it should."

"Ah." Draco had no idea what Wallingscomb was talking about, but it hacked him off nonetheless. He, Draco Malfoy, had been a visage of perfection until this point. So pale as to be luminescent, his pointy face not as severe as when he was young, having filled out beautifully. He garnered attention and want and desire wherever he went. And he went lots of places, on a regular basis. His image could be found splashed across page 6A, the society page, of the Daily Prophet at least once per week, more often alone than with his wife, as she didn't much care to socialise. Astoria was strange in her own right. Draco cheated on her without compunction, with only half-hearted attempts at discretion, and she simply didn't care. She didn't ask him to stop, was as engaging and funny with him as ever, and hadn't stopped shagging him when he felt like having her. Draco was obscenely rich, a darling of the upper echelon, reckless and self-centred, and he got everything he wanted.

Everything.

"May I bring you some frames to look at, then?" Maurice asked.

"Just give me whatever's most expensive," Draco said with a wave of his hand. He leaned back in his chair and crossed his legs, waiting.

"I could do that, Mr. Malfoy, but—"

"Just do it, then."

"You might want to look at several choices."

"I believe I made myself quite clear."

"Well, then," Wallingscomb said, rising, "by all means." He excused himself to the back.

"How do I look?" Pansy asked from across the room, turning and flashing Draco a brilliant smile. She'd donned a pair of fuchsia cat-eye frames with gems sparkling at the points. From each point a cluster of light pink feathers sprouted. They wafted at him as Pansy waggled her fingers. "Brilliant?"

"It's all a pink blur," he said. "What is it with you and pink?"

"You know I love pink!"

"Pink does not love you."

"God, you're awful." She put the pink frames away and selected a pair of glittering red stars reminiscent of Professor Sinistra. "Better?"

"I'm sure." Draco pretended to examine his nails. "I need a buff up."

"Here we are." Wallingscomb lifted an enormous glasses case onto the fitting table and began undoing the fastenings in a series of thick clicks. "Our most expensive pair."

"My God!" Draco squinted hard at the shape before him. "Is that a French horn?"

Mr. Wallingscomb revealed the frames.

They were sparkling white. Mostly.

"Mother-of-pearl and polished ivory with pearl accent jewels," he described for Draco, "and abalone shell arms." He began speaking to Pansy, as Draco was too blind to follow along. "You'll see here the hand-etching on the arms, each side with a different saying. The decor on the top portion of the lenses is enchanted albino peacock and diricawl feathers. They will always keep your lenses clean and free of streaks and dust."

Pansy lifted the frames for inspection. They weighed a tonne. "The most important responsibility," she read from the inscription, "for a celebrity is to set an example and be a role model. Oh, bloody hell, Draco, these aren't for you." She turned them around, reading from the other arm, "And now, this is the sweetest and most glorious day that ever my eyes did see."

"I'll decide for myself what suits me," Draco said, gesturing for Pansy to hand the frames over. Pansy made a big fuss about sliding the glasses onto Draco's face until she had them resting in place on the bridge of his nose; the feathers occluded his forehead. As he sat there blinking, they dipped down and polished the frames, and then ruffled themselves, settling back into place.

Wallingscomb pointed his wand. "Oculus," he incanted, touching the tip of his wand to the frames. Temporary lenses in Draco's prescription filled the frames with a *pop*

Draco blinked at Pansy and Wallingscomb through lenses the size of salad plates, just as the front door chimed. Draco's face split into a lopsided grin. "I can see." He turned in his chair, looking from side to side and then shifted back. He met Pansy's eyes. "Pansy! Oh, you look so beautiful! Quite a lot older than I remembered, but fetching all the same—"

"I'd hope you'd be able to see, what with those telescopes you're wearing." Pansy swatted him on the arm. "And I don't look old. As if!"

But Draco had frozen in place, and was staring over Pansy's shoulder across the room, the ridiculous white frames slipping crookedly across his face. Pansy turned.

Harry Potter, wearing his usual plain wire rims, stood transfixed, staring at Draco, a look of predatory satisfaction snaking across his dark features. And then he laughed at Draco, openly and with gusto.

"Sod off, Potter!" Draco spat, scrabbling at the glasses. He pulled them from his face as fast as he could. Wallingscomb hovered, keeping watch over the most expensive frames in the shop.

"Looking fit there, Malfoy," Potter snerked. "Elton John making a man of you?"

Draco hated it when half-bloods and Mudbloods caught him unaware. "You— No!" He had no idea what Potter was talking about. Or who. "It's just a— I just—"

"You just need glasses?"

"It's none of your concern," Pansy snarled at Harry, clutching at Draco protectively. "Mind your own business, why don't you."

From across the room Draco thought Potter looked rather artfully tousled. He couldn't remember the last time he'd seen the bloke. He certainly wasn't on the social circuit any more, not since Ginny Weasley-Potter had—

"They suit you," Potter said, still amused. "Feminine. Poncy. Ostentatious. I'll bet they're even expensive."

Draco turned to Wallingscomb, poking at the white bejewelled glasses. "Are you quite sure these are expensive?" he accused the optician under his breath. "Because I won't wear anything poncy."

"Just because something is expensive doesn't mean it can't be poncy," Pansy whispered to Draco, while Wallingscomb placated Potter, telling him he'd be right there.

"Really?"

"Draco, those are ridiculous glasses and I won't let you buy them! A true friend wouldn't, although the papers would have a field day. Put them away. You look like someone wrapped a swan around your head!"

"What am I supposed to do if the most expensive ones won't work?"

"You'll have to find another pair that suits you."

"But what if they're not expensive?"

"Offer to pay more, then, if it means that much to you. Come on," she said, rubbing his hand between her own. "You could wear a pair of glasses from a knut gum machine at a greengrocer's and people'd think they're ragingly expensive. Let's find you a pair of sexy, brilliant glasses. You'll look smashing by the time we're done."

"Yeah?" He looked up at her in the earnest way that he had that pulled at her heart and made her want to be in love with him again. Almost.

"Of course. I promise."

Mr. Wallingscomb had stowed away the hideous circus frames. "Now, may I show you the latest designs from Europe?"

"Yes," Draco said, sombre. "Please."

*

An hour and a half later, Wallingscomb was finishing up Draco's lenses in the back room, Harry Potter's new set of glasses resting to his left on the counter. M-A-L-F-O-Y. Malfoy. Wallingscomb brooded as he set the lenses in the frame and sealed them in place. He knew three things.

Number one, he did not like Draco Malfoy.

Second, Draco Malfoy was the son of Lucius Malfoy.

Finally, Lucius Malfoy had killed Wallingscomb's brother, David, for his refusal to provide a broom to a Death Eater who had chosen David's door at random to pound on whilst trying to escape a pack of Aurors back in 1997. Malfoy had never been brought up on charges, despite four witnesses to David's murder.

It had been all about fear.

And now Lucius Malfoy was dead himself, of natural causes, which was patently unfair, and the æons of wealth and material trappings Malfoy had possessed had passed down to his son Draco without the Ministry even batting an eye. The hundreds of restitution orders put in place following Lucius Malfoy's endless criminal trials went unacknowledged and unpaid while the younger Malfoy lived a carefree, privileged existence. Wallingscomb and his wife had scrimped and saved and worked their fingers to the bone to help David's widow raise the five children he'd left behind, the youngest of whom had left Hogwarts just this past June. Wallingscomb had his family business, this shop, and around fifteen thousand galleons in Gringotts, enough to cover a plumbing emergency should one arise, or perhaps a month's worth of expenses.

There are trades that people just don't think about, Wallingscomb thought, and optometry was one. People came in, picked out their frames, handed over their prescriptions, and sat in his waiting room for thirty minutes or so while Maurice filled their order. But they did not realise, nor did anyone care, what a specific and exacting craft it was to enable people to see the world, where once they had been blind. Maurice was an outstanding optometrist, having learnt the trade from his father and grandfather, the latter of whom had created the infamous magical eye for Alastor Moody. Such items weren't just pulled out of a hat. It took craftsmanship and skill and stellar wizardry to make a magical artefact like Moody's powerful eye.

Maurice didn't give much credence to the saying the eyes are the window to the soul, for he'd long ago learnt that it was actions that revealed more about one's soul than fleeting shadows of emotion or furtive glances, so he could only assume when he pulled his wand that his soul was a little bit dark, for that was the only explanation for what he did next.

"Vidi Verum." He touched the tip of his wand to Draco Malfoy's gleaming crystal lenses until they glowed a faint rose colour for several long moments, and then faded back to clear.

Let Draco Malfoy see the real world, see how things truly were, the spoilt, self-centred playboy.

For once.

*

Draco and Pansy sat in the two chairs closest to the till.

Harry Potter was casually slumped in a chair opposite them, picking at a cuticle and ignoring them entirely.

For Draco the tension was thicker than the porridge Narcissa had made the one time she'd attempted to cook for him when he was a child. It would be impossible for him to admit that he'd been fearful of coming to The Optical Owl for glasses; glasses changed a person's look, sometimes so much that they became unrecognisable, and the last thing Draco wanted was that. He thrived on attention, on being noticed. He was an unabashed silk stocking who'd never held a regular job. His vocation was to show up at certain places at certain times and to be seen giving donations to various causes and projects. Draco never deviated in his charitable contributions. He didn't want to appear a stingy benefactor — although, truth told, he kind of was when it came to spending on those other than himself and his family — and he certainly didn't want to be seen as girly. So he stuck with a charity that provided prosthetic limbs to war heroes and poor children, and magical creature rescue and relocation. He wrote tonnes of cheques and sent them via owl. Why, he didn't even know where the charities were located.

And because he kept track of such matters, Draco knew that Harry Potter, conversely, threw his money at almost any charity with a letterhead and some semblance of a storefront. Potter gave away far more money than Draco, but he was nowhere to be seen on the social circuit. Draco had no idea what Potter even did for a living, for Harry wasn't an Auror any more. What he did know was that Potter was at the centre of the most delicious scandal to hit the wizarding world in recent years. It was so unbelievable that it far surpassed Harry surviving the killing curse as a baby, as far as shameless gossip went.

Two years prior, Ginny Weasley-Potter had been found beaten almost to death in the Potters' bedroom. She'd been eight months pregnant at the time, and the baby had not survived the attack. She'd lain in a coma at St. Mungo's for over a month with what was deemed irreversible head trauma. Somehow she'd survived, and upon awakening she had immediately accused Harry of perpetrating the attack.

It had been absolutely shocking. Shocking! The wizarding world had been utterly scandalised.

There had been, according to every article Draco had come across, no physical evidence connecting Harry to the crime and the Aurors had had no probable cause to arrest him, one of their own. Potter had claimed that he'd gone for curry at Ginny's request, and had returned home and discovered her beaten, bloodied, and unconscious in their bed.

Potter had a receipt from the takeaway place and the employees confirmed his presence and had indicated nothing appeared amiss about him. Harry had passed a Veritaserum interrogation. Although it had been stifling hot that night, and the bedroom windows had been left open, the Aurors had determined there had been no signs of sexual assault or robbery, so those two motives had been kicked to the kerb. That made the crime personal, the papers had said, and who else would have had the means, motive, and opportunity? Ginny took their children and left Potter straight away, and she was to this day vocally adamant that Harry had tried to kill her. It was seriously the most bizarre thing ever.

"Well," Draco said, feeling vicious, after the stony silence became unbearable to him, "if it isn't the Boy Who Killed."

"And if it isn't the Dark Tortoise of the North," Potter said, not bothering to look up from the fascinating state that apparently was his cuticle.

"Excuse me?"

"Maybe you prefer the Draco dwarf?"

"Are you mental?"

"Judging by the frames you were wearing earlier, I'd say I'm not the mental one here."

"I'll have you know those were very expensive, very authentic—"

"Yes," Pansy interrupted loftily. "They were made from real illegally-harvested ivory!"

"Anyhow," Draco said, "I'm taller than you, so I don't know where you get off on calling me a dwarf."

"He was talking about the constellation, Draco," Pansy said, as if it were obvious.

Draco had always felt odd about being named after a constellation, even if it was the dragon, and even if it was family tradition. Even for the wizarding world it just seemed unlike a name for a man and rather unfortunate. He'd whinged at Narcissa on more than one occasion, but she'd remained unmoved. When he had his own children, Narcissa had said, he could name them as plainly as he wanted, although that would be going against Malfoy tradition. "How would you know he's talking about the constellation?" he asked Pansy. "You never paid attention in Astronomy."

"I did on Draco."

"Aww." He gave her hand an affectionate squeeze. "Then you'll be happy to know I paid attention to heartsease in Herbology." Pansy laughed, seeming happy at this.

"God, you two are still as revolting as ever," Potter observed, at least deigning to look at Draco square on.

Yes, Draco thought, a strange and warm sensation blossoming in his gut. Potter was delightfully, deliciously, artfully tousled. He held Potter's piercing gaze. "Right. Because nothing says 'I care about you' to a woman quite like a good arse-kicking. My mistake."

"Fuck right on out of it, Malfoy."

"Ooo, tetchy."

"Did you do it?" Pansy asked straight up, training her dark eyes on Potter.

"You too, Parkinson."

"Not exactly an implicit denial," Draco noted.

"Here we go." Wallingscomb interrupted them at what was probably an opportune time, as Potter had reddened and seemed to be clenching his fist. Wallingscomb appeared from the back, carrying two velvet-lined trays, each with a set of glasses. He set them on the counter. "Mr. Malfoy? You'll be first. And then Mr. Potter." Pansy'd helped him pick out a pair of stylish black glasses, sleek and slightly square. He helped Draco slide the glasses on and adjusted the arms with small taps of his wand. "Have a seat. Here, take this." Wallingscomb pushed The Daily Prophet across the counter. "Read it to me."

Draco took the paper and seated himself. He shook it out, thumbing his way through it, looking for page 6A. "Ah," he said, as various headlines came into focus without him holding the Prophet against his nose. Firewhisky-Crazed Erumpent Accidentally Floos From Africa to Leaky Cauldron — Faces Execution; Erumpent Applying for Political Asylum. Visiting Native North American Wizard Association Issues Urgent Request: Please Don't Squeeze the Shaman. Giant Cornish Pixies Invade Russia: Russian Minister Says 'I'll Ask You All to Just Nip Them Into Their Cage.' Draco read them easily. He looked up. "Brilliant!"

"I'll take that," Wallingscomb said, trading The Daily Prophet for a hand mirror. "Here you go."

For the first time in quite a few months, Draco got a really good look at himself.

He was as gorgeous as ever.

He smiled. "Beauty crowds me 'til I die!"

"Lovely!" Pansy said, hugging his shoulders. "You look amazing. See? I told you."

"I suppose it's not so bad," he said, turning this way and that to get a look in the mirror. He looked at Mr. Wallingscomb. "Do I have to wear them all the time?"

"If you want to see."

"Bugger."

"Yes, well, it's either that or the surgery—" Pansy said.

"No surgery."

"What, scared of surgery, Malfoy?" Potter said. He was now standing at the counter trying on his new glasses. They looked exactly the same as the old pair Potter'd laid on the velvet tray. He slid them on expertly, adjusting them here and there.

"I don't see you getting surgery," Draco said. "So who's scared?"

Potter shrugged, checking out his new glasses in the mirror. "Just used to the glasses."

"I'll never get used to these bloody things." Draco felt self-conscious wearing his new glasses, as if he'd suddenly put on five stone. "I look like a right git!" he hissed at Pansy, low so Potter wouldn't overhear.

But she refused to indulge his ridiculousness. "You look brilliant. And you can see again. Isn't that fantastic?"

"I guess."

"Come on, Draco. Pay and let's go. I'm starving."

He forked over four hundred and seventy-five galleons and thirty sickles.

Wallingscomb watched Draco leave. He smiled slightly.

*

"It looks like rain," Draco said, turning his face up to the sky. They were seated outside at La Société Dangereuse, an upscale cafe, and both of them had ordered a tangle of spring greens with De Louis vinaigrette, brie de Meaux, and baguettes with sweet cream butter. Pansy was also having an herbed sole.

"Ohmgod—" Her mouth was full of salad and she had closed her eyes in relish. "—this is the best thing I've ever had."

"You always say that when you're starving."

Pansy swallowed, and then looked up at the sky. "Dunno what you're going on about. It's beautiful."

"What? You hate overcast days."

She looked at him. "It's not overcast. It's beautiful. Look at the sky."

"You're a nutter." He pointed his fork at the sky before reaching over the table to nick a bite of her sole. "Look."

"Draco, stop joking," Pansy said, jabbing her fork at the top of his hand, shooing him away. "You're not blind any more, so I'm not buying it."

He managed to get at her sole anyway and leaned over the table conspiratorially, chewing. "Everyone is staring at me."

"No one is staring at you."

"They're not? Why? Don't I look good?" Glasses or not, he ought to command attention.

"Merlin." Pansy rolled her eyes.

"That's not sole, by the way," Draco said, sure of it. "It's tilapia."

He could tell just by looking.

*

Dad dead. Mum gone. 2 little brothers 1 little sister. Anything helps. Merlin's blessings.

The sign wasn't magical. It didn't blink, change images, sparkle, or glow. It looked . . . ugly and Muggle and it seemed to be written on an old scrap of box.

Draco had never in his life seen anything like it.

"What do you mean 'anything helps'?" he asked, giving the sign the once over again.

The young girl holding the sign looked at Draco warily. "You don't have to have a go at me. Just keep walking, yeah?" She was the skinniest thing Draco had seen since that pathetic, spotty Hufflepuff Eloise Midgen. Her hair was dyed black as ink, but at the crown Draco could see messy inch-long mousey roots. Her thick-soled boots had lots of buckles that fastened all the way up to her knees, and the robes she wore looked as if they'd been pilfered from a rubbish bin. They were covered with skulls, coffins, bats, Egyptian ankhs, and even the Dark Mark. Her fingernails were chewed down and painted black, she wore a black skirt the size of a bandage over black leggings, and she was obviously filthy.

Draco was both revolted and confused by the presence of this odd Muggle-like creature. She was sitting on the ground between La Société Dangereuse and Bobbin's Apothecary, tucked away against the platform there. "What are you doing?"

"Can't you fucking read?"

"I just—" Draco couldn't stop looking at her. A terrible feeling of dread and fear filled him, the unexpectedness of this reaction compounding his panic. He felt as if he'd been blindsided by something unknown and dreadful, and then he was filled with a bleak hopelessness and not just a little bit of anger. What the hell was going on? "What do you—"

"You're dodgy," the girl accused, her brow furrowing. "Go away."

"Let's go," Pansy said, not bothering to appraise the young girl holding the sign. "Don't give them money. They just use it for illegal potions and Firewhisky."

"But— how old are you?" Draco was inexplicably compelled to ask.

"Fifteen." She held out her hand to a passerby, who had stopped to give her a galleon. "Thank you very much." She opened a worn leather pouch she had hanging around her neck and dropped the galleon in. It didn't clink, indicating it was empty.

"Use it well," the older witch said with a wag of her finger before tottering off down Diagon Alley.

"Then why aren't you at Hogwarts?"

She rolled her eyes. "Like the sign says? Anyway, it's the summer."

"Wouldn't a job pay you more than just sitting here?"

"You have a job for me?" There was a long pause. "I didn't think so. Sod off already!"

"Hogwarts can teach you—"

"I'm a Squib, arsehole." The girl stared at him defiantly, raising her chin a notch. "And there's no one else to take care of my brothers and sister. So either give me some money or leave off."

"You shouldn't be out here holding a sign—"

"And you shouldn't be giving lectures on morality, Malfoy,"

Draco turned. Harry Potter stood several feet away, one hand stuffed in his jeans pocket, the other holding a plain paper bag. He was looking at Draco with what appeared to be amusement.

"God, not you again."

"Harry!" The girl was up and running, her sign abandoned. In a wink she was clinging to Potter.

"Oh, gag," Pansy said, waving her hand in front of her nose as the girl zipped by. "It's time for a bath, stinky bird!"

"I reckon you can have one when you get home then, Parkinson," Harry said, patting the girl on the head before extricating himself from her grip. "Here you go." He handed the girl the paper sack which Draco assumed had a sandwich or something in it, as it looked like a regular lunch bag.

"Thanks!" She looked at Harry expectantly.

"It's in there," he said. "Ten galleons."

"Thanks, Harry!"

"So, is this pathetic sod bothering you?" Harry asked the girl, thumbing towards Draco.

"Yes," the girl said, throwing Draco a look. She plopped herself back down in her spot and rummaged through the bag, immediately finding the ten galleon coin. She added it to her pouch and this time Draco could hear the distinct clinking sound of coins. "He thinks he’s the greatest."

"Yeah?"

Potter fixed a gaze on him and Draco was hit with a cold wave of contempt. He was out of his element. He found himself looking at the girl again, just so he wouldn't have to look at Harry, but that wasn't really any better. He was small and insignificant here. He stepped backwards until he was bumping up against Pansy; his back touched Pansy's shoulder and he was enveloped by her warmth and affection again. "Let's go," he said, clutching at Pansy's hand. He looked at the girl again. "What's your name?" he asked her.

"What do you care?" Potter asked, as the girl ignored Draco in favour of a pumpkin pasty.

"I wasn't talking to you. Besides, I'm as charitable as the next bloke," Draco said.

"Right. Sure."

"I am!"

"You're really not." A smile played at Potter's mouth, as if he were advising Draco of a juicy secret.

"I've got more money to throw around than you do, I’ll bet."

"But you don't throw it around."

"How the bloody hell would you know what I do with my money?"

"People talk, Malfoy."

"No they don't!" Did they? "Not about things like money anyway."

"Especially about things like money."

"You're lying," Draco said, both pissed off and chagrined. "Nobody knows my charitable gifts except my accountant—"

"Malfoy, everyone knows you're stingy as hell."

This was completely unacceptable. "I am not— What?"

"Yep. ‘Fraid so." Harry took a seat on the platform of the apothecary, next to where the girl was sitting on the ground. She'd pulled a fully trussed turkey from the sack and was hacking away at it with a plastic knife and a spork. "Can you float this for me?" she asked Harry.

"Sure." Harry pulled his wand. "Wingardium Leviosa."

"How did you fit an entire turkey in there?" Draco asked. This was all so surreal. What the hell was he doing standing in Diagon Alley with Harry Potter and a homeless fifteen-year-old squib discussing roasted poultry?

"An undetectable extension charm."

"Let me see that," Draco said, disbelieving. "Oww!" The girl had stabbed him with her spork, much like Pansy had done at La Société Dangereuse.

"Get away from my food!"

"Look," Draco said, genuinely interested in the spell, "just show me the charm. I won't touch your bag."

The girl considered him for a long moment and then tipped the bag forwards, still clutching it protectively, until the top opened.

"Lumos." Draco shined the tip of his wand over the bag. "Bloody hell! It's like a bloody pantry down there." He was quite sure he saw a refrigerator, loads of canned and dry goods, and at least two hams wrapped in foil and tied off with netting floating mid-air.

Potter smiled slightly at Draco, which made Draco's stomach flip-flop. "Useful charm, that."

Draco looked at the girl more closely. She had an interesting face underneath all the dirt and kohl, strange jewellery and patchy mismatched robes. "What's your name?" he asked again.

"Eliza," she said, her mouth full of turkey. "And what am I, the fucking zoo?"

"No, I—" He didn't even know what.

"Draco, I'm going to Twilfitt and Tatting's. I told you I have a fitting at one," Pansy said. She seemed disinterested to the extreme. "Do you want me to pick anything out for you?"

"Uh—" Potter was staring at him, as was Eliza; he felt on display. Draco turned his back on them. "Yeah," he said, under his breath. "The ball . . . I need something white tie." He turned into her, meaning to give her more instructions.

"What are you doing?" Pansy hissed at him, now that she had his attention. She pulled him a few steps away. "Do not give that little grub any money. If you're experiencing some kind of weird moment of generosity, then give to a charity. That way you'll know it won't be going for potions!"

"She kind of just looks . . . hungry?"

"She looks fine. Thin is in. Buttons or cuffs?"

"Cuffs."

"Please don't be long," Pansy whinged, and with that she was heading down Diagon Alley.

"Do you always run around with fridges and sides of beef or whatever in enchanted bags to give to strange kids?" Draco asked Potter, as he turned back to them.

"No."

"Oh." Draco didn't know what to say

"You're going to the Dormiens Ball, then." It was a statement rather than a question.

"Pansy's picking something out for me right now at Twilfitt and Tatting's," he said, lifting his chin. His new glasses slipped down his nose. "Crap!" He scrabbled at them, keeping them in place.

"Better get used to that. It'll happen all the time."

"And are you going?"

"To the Dormiens Ball?"

"Yeah."

"I'm not invited."

Draco snorted, a triumphant grin spreading across his face. The Golden Boy, shunned. "Oh really? What a shame. Why ever could that be?"

Potter immediately looked like he wanted to retract the admission. "Well, Ginny's invited. So, yeah."

"Not on my watch, she'd better not be." Draco'd never liked Ginny Weasley, agreeing with Blaise that Ginny was from a family of full-blown blood traitors, but the invitation committee for the Dormiens Ball was an eclectic bunch. Apparently they all liked Quidditch. "But, so what if she is?"

Harry stared at Draco as if he were daft.

"Divorced people attend the same events all the time. It's no big deal," Draco continued.

A long pause. "It's not quite the same thing."

"Why? All the ladies afraid you'll beat the bloody hell out of them? Can't quite manage a plus-one?" So much for the art of discretion.

Potter's jaw was set tightly; he remained silent.

"Well, there was that time you attacked me after Quidditch in fifth year." Draco clucked reprovingly. "So it's not much of a stretch to consider you—"

"Oh, please."

"And, of course, there was Sectumsempra. Incredibly violent, that—"

"Malfoy, you're a real prick."

"A prick who holds the invites to the Dormiens Ball." Draco flicked an eyebrow.

"Balls aren't my thing."

"How do you know? How many balls have you seriously tucked into?"

"A fair few," Potter said, holding Draco's gaze, unflinching. A small smile played at the corner of his mouth.

If it had been anyone else, Draco would've known a come on when he heard it.

Potter's mouth was rather lush. His bottom lip was full and tinged just the perfect shade of pinkish-red and Draco wanted to touch the indentation just underneath it there with his forefinger, wanted to press down there lightly. He noted a thin scar just about the length of a central incisor, as if Potter'd sucked in his lip and bit down through his own flesh.

"Oh, really?" Draco said, raising an eyebrow. "How come I've never seen you at any, then?"

"Yes, really. I've been through enough balls to know I can take them or leave them. The reason I've never seen you at any is because I don't look for you."

Draco ignored this insult. "Why leave them when you can take? Some might consider it a challenge."

"Whether I take or not depends entirely on the terms of the challenge. Sometimes I take." Harry slid his hands into his pockets, rocking back on his heels. He looked right over Draco's head. "Sometimes I don't."

"So you like a good challenge?"

"I expect you would know enough about me to gather that much." Harry looked at him then and Draco distinctly felt a surge of desire. And he didn't think it was from him; it was only for a moment, but Draco's impression was that it came from Harry. How very intriguing.

"Fancy a new challenge, then, Potter?"

"Depends."

"On what?"

"There's your challenge, Malfoy," Potter said. "If you put your mind to it, you just might find out."

"I've never been to a ball," Eliza said, oblivious, shoulder deep in the lunch sack, rummaging. "Mum always talked about how maybe I'd get to go to the Yule Ball someday if the Triwizard tournament came back to Britain, but then I never got a Hogwarts letter," she said matter-of-factly. "Harry, you should go to this ball. Go, because I can't. And then you can tell me all about it."

"I don't have an invitation."

"So?"

"That means I'm not invited," Harry explained, quite patiently.

"Who cares? Gate-crash. I do it all the time."

Harry tweaked Eliza's bony shoulder affectionately. "Gate-crashing's fun when you're fifteen," he said, fixing a gaze on Draco. "Right, Malfoy?"

"Oh, yes. Tonnes of fun." He was still bitter about the Slug Club. "And I was sixteen, thank you."

"Harry," Eliza said, opening a box of Fizzing Whizbees, "anyone who really matters knows you didn't do it. Oh, thank you!" She nodded to a wizard who stopped to give her a galleon. "I'll use it well."

"Doesn't it bother you to not be invited?" Draco asked. He would have been infuriated, not to mention mortified. It would have been so not on. That said, the Dormiens Ball wouldn't be held without Draco in attendance. He was just that prominent. Well, that, and the fact that Draco himself had established the Dormiens Ball in 1999, at the young age of nineteen, as a fundraising effort for Hogwarts (which he had come to appreciate during his stint as a Death Eater; Hogwarts was a reprieve of the infinite kind). Hogwarts had a solid endowment, thanks to Draco. So, perhaps the Dormiens board was, well, obligated to invite him . . . Draco didn't want to think about that scenario. Surely he was nobody's obligation.

"No."

"Oh, come on. Be honest."

"I said it doesn't bother me."

"Everyone tries to save face."

"Yes, Malfoy, because I've always cared for what other people think. Just like yourself."

"What? There's nothing wrong with maintaining a good image."

Potter tilted his head, his gaze piercing through Draco. "Oh, is that what you maintain?"

"Of course." Right?

"I suppose 'good' is subjective, then."

Draco sneered. "Not really. Some images are saint-like, heroic to the point of sheer nausea. Some people can do no wrong in the eyes of others."

Harry snorted. "Until they actually do no wrong, that is."

"You mean Ginny." Draco laughed. "Oh, boo-bloody-hoo. Poor Saint Potter. Got the tables turned on you, yeah? I've read the papers, so let's see. There's no physical evidence. You passed Veritaserum. There's no motive. And you've an alibi. But sod that. People love to believe you almost beat your wife to death. So much for the benefit of the doubt, eh?"

"People enjoy assuming the worst," Potter said, scowling.

"Yes," Draco said, grinning malevolently. His eyes were flat and not friendly at all.

"Suppose you think that's brilliant."

"In your case, yes."

"Why? Why do you have to think like that?"

Anything he might have said would have been the understatement of the century. "I appreciate a good comeuppance."

"Have you two always been this in love?" Eliza interjected sarcastically, eyeing them both. "You sound like my mum and dad."

"I thought your dad's dead?" Draco asked.

"He wasn't always."

Draco felt beyond uncomfortable at her comment. Were he and Potter like some kind of old nattering couple? Granted, they hadn't seen each other in years, but it was always the same whenever they were together. Their open animosity for each other had always superseded any semblance of maturity.

The truth was that in his lifetime Draco'd had dream after dream of how sublime Potter's arse looked in his jeans and — because all teenage boys suffered through regular, inconvenient arousal — how Potter seemed decently endowed when Draco could see the outline of an inconvenient erection through Potter's trousers, although Potter would always do his best to hide his arousal under his robes or behind his rucksack.

Draco had dreamt of Potter's crazy, flyaway hair and the breathtaking way it curled up at the nape of his neck, and in those dreams he kissed Harry, sucked on his tongue and slid his hand under Potter's t-shirt and up his side, the warm, gentle rise of Potter's ribs expanding under his touch. The dreams plagued him all through his Hogwarts years, which had both pissed him off and terrified the shit out of him, and ultimately caused him to be even more vicious to Potter than he might normally have been.

Now, here he stood, with Harry Potter staring right at him, with disgust, yes, as per usual, but he also was considering Draco with a new curiosity of sorts, as if he were seeing Draco for the first time. Draco's insides fluttered and turned over in that way that they did when something new and exciting was imminent. He'd felt it with Pansy when she'd agreed to go to the Yule Ball with him back when they were fourteen, and he'd felt it when he'd been introduced to Astoria.

And he was feeling it now.

Bloody hell.

He pushed up his glasses again. "Pansy's waiting for me at Twilfitt and Tatting's."

The corner of Potter's mouth lifted. "Buttons or cuffs?"

"Uh, cuffs."

"Classy."

"Too right," Draco said loftily. "Why?"

Potter shrugged. "I just figured."

Draco considered Eliza. "Do you drink?"

"Everyone drinks."

Draco raised an eyebrow. "Oh? What's your poison?"

"Huh?"

"What do you drink? Firewhisky? Mad Krup? Gosh Golly Old Tom?"

Her brow furrowed and she looked at Draco. "What?"

"What do you drink, Eliza?"

"Well, I rather like chocolate mooncalf milk," she said, as if embarrassed to admit it. "Or Pixie Pop." She glanced away, her cheeks pinking.

"I mean alcohol, girl. Pansy said that you lot pander for money for alcohol and illegal potions. So, what do you drink?"

"I don't drink alcohol, you twat!" Eliza said, visibly affronted. "I've got— my brothers and sister— You're an arsehole!"

"It's a legitimate question if I'm to make an investment."

She seemed rather enraged. "I've got three younger siblings who've got no one but me. What use would I be to them if I were pissed all the time? I don't drink like that. You know—" and Draco thought he could hear a hint of frustrated tears behind her hard façade, "—I didn't ask for this to happen!"

"Where are your brothers and sisters anyway?" Draco asked. "How old are they?"

"Brothers and sister." She corrected him. "Harry's ten, eleven next week. He'll go to Hogwarts in September—"

"Harry?" Draco asked, rolling his eyes. "Let me guess."

"My parents named him after Harry Potter," Eliza said, motioning towards Potter with her chin. "Harry saved my aunt Mary from the Dementor’s Kiss when they questioned her blood status at the Ministry. Uncle Reginald and Aunt Mary didn't have any more kids, so mum and dad did the honours when Harry was born."

"You have relatives, then? How come you're not living with them?"

"They died with dad."

"How do you afford Hogwarts for your brother?"

"They've special funds."

Of course Draco knew of these funds. He'd just never met anyone who actually used them. "And?"

"And what?"

"Your other siblings?"

"Finlay's seven. Madeleine is two."

"Two?" He thought of Scorpius, who certainly wasn't two any more, but Draco couldn't imagine his son without parents or family, under the care of a lone fifteen-year-old squib. "Where are they now?"

"I won't say. Think I want them taken by the Ministry? Hardly."

"But—"

"Forget it!"

"Potter," Draco snapped, flicking a glance Harry's way. "What do you know about this?"

"I expect more than you, but Eliza will tell you what she wants you to know."

"What, that she likes chocolate mooncalf milk, Pixie Pop, and that she's got three kids stashed away somewhere?"

"What's your name?" Eliza asked. "Seeing as you think it's your business to know all about me."

"Malfoy," Draco said. "Draco Malfoy."

Eliza cocked her head. "Really? The bloke from 6A?"

Draco couldn't help preening. "Oh, you recognise me?"

"I recognise your name." She squinted at him. "You look different from the papers, though. It's the glasses."

Fantastic. "What are you doing reading 6A anyhow?"

"What, reading's illegal now?"

"What about potions?" Draco asked abruptly. "Do you take potions?"

"When I'm sick." She looked at him, shaking her head. She was rummaging around in her lunch sack again, this time pulling out a plain apple. She crunched into it with a huge, sucking bite, staring at Draco.

It was the oddest thing, really, because Draco didn't feel any hesitation when he pulled out his money pouch and reached in blindly to extract some coins. He didn't even know how much he'd selected. "Here, then."

Eliza shrunk from him, suspicious. She stopped chewing and looked towards Harry for direction.

"It's all right, I expect," Potter said, after several long moments. "Right, Malfoy? Nothing funny's going to happen?"

"Right. I have hexed money." Draco rolled his eyes, feeling self-conscious because he was standing in the middle of Diagon Alley holding out Merlin only knew how many galleons to a waif who wouldn't take them.

But then she was reaching out, tentatively. She snatched the coins from him, as if expecting them to disappear before she could get to them. She continued to watch him.

"Don't tell Pansy," Draco said to Potter, unsmiling.

"I don't even talk to Pansy."

"Use it well," he said to Eliza, and then he stepped into the crowd flowing past and was on his way to Twilfitt and Tatting's.

*

"Hello," Draco said to Astoria, giving her a peck on the cheek. "Well? What do you think?"

"Very dashing," she said, looking straight at him, smiling serenely, and Draco was hit with a wave of hatred so strong that it made him draw in his breath sharply.

"All right, Astoria?" he asked hesitantly, confused.

"Why wouldn't I be?" She was still smiling.

"I— I don't know. For a moment there— You just seem—"

"Seem what?"

"Have I done something?" Oh, he'd done plenty of things. Draco wondered for the first time how much Astoria truly knew about his goings-on. She was so stoic. He remembered how, when they'd first met, he'd found her intriguing and slightly mysterious. After years of marriage, he simply found her to be reserved. She was a good person, an excellent mother, and even a witty and quietly entertaining woman. She was also like a roommate.

As far as Draco knew, she had never done anything to him. Unlike what he had done to her.

His innate hedonism was irresistible when it called, and it called fairly regularly.

"What could you have possibly done?" Astoria asked neutrally, tilting her head as she considered him. "How's Pansy?"

"Loud. Obnoxious. Bossy."

"So she's well?"

He smiled. "Very well. She found these frames. What do you think?"

"You always look good."

"Thank you," he said, feeling a dreadful body shiver mounting. "Astoria, the strangest thing happened in Diagon Alley while we were there." He sat across from her at the small breakfast table in their sunroom.

"Tea?"

"Sure."

She poured out. "Milk?"

"No."

"So what strange thing did you see, Draco?"

He took up his tea and matter-of-factly described what happened in Diagon Alley earlier, telling Astoria in detail about Eliza and her funny sign and filthy clothes and younger siblings.

Astoria snorted lightly. "And why is this strange?"

Draco boggled. "Did you not hear what I just said?"

"There're beggars all over Diagon Alley. And don't get me started on Knockturn Alley. Vagrants of the worst variety."

"What?"

"Yes."

"Excuse me, but I've spent my entire life in Diagon Alley and I've never seen anything like that before."

"You've always seen what you want to see."

"What'd'you mean?"

"Do you mean to say you've never seen a beggar with a sign in Diagon Alley?"

Her tone was rather derisive, which made Draco scramble to find an appropriate lie, but he wasn't quick enough.

"Oh, Draco," Astoria said, shaking her head. "You're worse than I thought."

In light of the icy wave of loathing he'd felt from her earlier, he didn't feel encouraged by this pronouncement.

"I'm sure I don't know what you mean."

"You wouldn't." She took a sip of her tea. "There're beggars on every corner in Diagon Alley. The Ministry's prepared decrees to banish them, but the Wizengamot's been slow on processing them."

"How would you even know this?"

"It comes up all the time at the Society for Squib Assimilation meetings. A lot of those beggars are Squibs. Like that girl you happened across."

"Really?"

Astoria'd been a member of the Society for Squib Assimilation for as long as Draco had known her, and it had been a source of considerable contention between them. Draco believed that Squibs should be trained up in useful vocations such as caretaking or janitorial services. Astoria firmly believed that Squibs were pure-blood magical beings, whose magic was somehow different, who could be taught magical theory and perhaps even magic proper if only given appropriate educational opportunities. Squibs were freaks, were abnormalities, Draco thought, not particularly considering feisty little Eliza. Aside from verbally abusing Filch, Draco'd not had a conversation with a Squib, well, ever.

Astoria, on the other hand, spent quite a lot of time working with Squibs. She and her fellow society members interviewed Squibs, keeping meticulous notes and records on each of them. They collected information from the Squibs themselves on what the Squibs thought their best bet at a productive future included, asked them how they wanted to be included in wizarding society, the goal being full inclusion and assimilation, as the name suggested.

"What, do you think Mr. Filch is the norm?" Astoria asked. It was as if she were angry with Draco for never asking these questions before, for never questioning his position on the matter. "He's lucky, comparatively. Most Squibs end up with nowhere to go and nothing to do, for their magic doesn't work in the normal way."

"Squibs don't have magic." They'd had the argument a thousand times.

"They do. It just manifests differently."

"It doesn't manifest at all."

"Did you come here to have a go at me, Draco? Because, trust me, I've far better things to do than to indulge one of your tantrums."

What the bloody hell? She'd never spoken to him like that, ever. "What?"

Two spots of colour had blossomed in Astoria's cheeks. "You're exhausting." A long pause ensued as she refilled her tea. She added milk and glittering pink sugar crystals and seemed to take several deep breaths, as if trying to refrain from completely going off on him.

"I'm not . . . exhausting . . . "

"I'm sorry," she said mildly. "I'm just a bit tired, that's all."

But Draco didn't think Astoria was tired at all. Normally he'd let it go, but this time he was compelled to prod her.

"If I've done something, you can tell me, you know."

She reached across the table, gesturing for his hand. He gave it to her warily. "Where to start?" she said. Her eyes were clear, unreadable.

"What have I done to you?" And Draco found that he actually cared.

"Tell me what else you saw today. Anything else at Diagon Alley that I should know about?"

Because the day couldn't have possibly been weirder, Draco said it. "Harry Potter was there."

"Oh really?"

"Yeah." He pulled his hand away and helped himself to another spoonful of sugar.

"Was it not sweet enough?"

"It's fine. No worries." He always found her apologetic mode to be annoying. "But, yeah, I ran into Harry Potter." He leaned in conspiratorially. "Pansy and I asked him about Ginny Weasley."

"You did not!"

"Yeah. And he didn't exactly deny it." Draco was loath to admit this next bit. "I don't think he did it. Too bad, really. It'd be brilliant to think of the golden boy fallen that far." A thought occurred to him. "Why do you invite Ginny Weasley to the Dormiens Ball, anyway? What with her family, what's she got to offer?"

"The invitation committee feels the Dormiens Ball should reflect a diverse representation of Hogwarts' alumni."

"And why's Potter not invited?"

"He never came when he was invited. So we just stopped issuing an invitation."

"Is that all?" Draco was vaguely disappointed. The idea of Potter being banned from society for attempted murder was far more satisfying. Astoria didn't let him down.

"Well, that, and the fact that he tried to kill his wife."

"Ah, that is it, eh?"

"It's too bad, really. It would be quite a coup to have Harry Potter at the ball. Everyone knows he's one of the most generous donors in Britain."

"Hey!" Draco said defensively. "What about me?"

She rolled her eyes. "Draco, I give more money than you. Plus, I vary my charities. I think you've given enough money to the magical prosthetics organisation that the entire UK could be afforded a new limb."

"There's nothing wrong with prosthetics!"

"You just don't give anything much thought."

"What's the matter with you?" he asked, wondering who this stranger was.

"There's nothing wrong with me. I'm just offering you my insight. I know you, Draco Malfoy," Astoria said, "and you like to be seen as the most generous, the wealthiest, the supreme charitable donor. Problem is, you're not. Everyone knows it."

Harry's words floated unbidden through his mind. Malfoy, everyone knows you're stingy as hell . . .

"You're wrong," he said tightly.

She looked at him straight on. "No, I'm not."

"You are."

"Action speaks louder than words."

He plunked his cup and saucer down with a rattle.

"Don't break the china!" Astoria admonished.

Draco stared at her sullenly, unsure who this stranger was across from him. Feeling vicious, he pushed at his cup and saucer, until it tipped over the side of the table. It fell, crashing to the floor, and broke into shards. It was her favourite set, too.

Her blistering hatred was back. It permeated the room, stifling them like a thick blanket settled over desert travellers at high noon. He didn't know where it was coming from. Why now? After all these years of marriage . . .

"How long?"

She stared at him silently, her pretty mouth twisted into a frown.

"How long?"

"How long what?"

"How long have you hated me?"

"As long as it took you to notice." Her eyes glittered coldly.

"Clean up this mess," Draco said, "and if you have an elf do it I'll break every one of those sodding cups until you do it yourself."

Astoria's eyes were dewy as she dropped her gaze to the shattered remnants of what had been her grandmother's favourite cup and saucer. She had always shared it with Draco, after he'd complimented its design the first time she'd made him tea when she was eighteen. She always saved it just for him.

Draco didn't care at all that he'd hurt her. In fact, he was glad. She'd spent Merlin knows how long lying to him, pretending she loved him and accepted him just the way he was.

He tried to sit there, self-righteous, but instead dark clouds of memories roiled inside him, and Pansy's voice telling him that it was indeed a beautiful day, even though it looked grey and overcast to him. Eliza's dirty, impertinent face swam before him and he imagined three tiny children hidden away while their elder, Squib sibling sat in the dirt in Diagon Alley with a non-magical sign begging for money. He thought of Harry Potter who, despite being shunned yet again by the wizarding world, seemed to have nothing but altruism on his mind. And he thought of himself, apparently selfish, disliked, and alone.

He stood, pushing his chair back and he splashed through the spilt tea on the floor until he'd rounded the table and was staring down at Astoria. Her eyes snapped with hatred. "You have literature for the Society of Squib Assimilation?"

Astoria's chest and neck were red and blotchy, which happened when she was horrifically angry. "Yes."

"You're to put copies on my desk within one hour. I will read them." He stalked towards the kitchen, stopping only for a moment. "But this?" he said, gesturing between them, "is not fixable."

"Draco, I—"

"Shut up."

*

"So," Blaise Zabini said, throwing down a yellow card with a black cauldron on it onto the centre of the table, "you found a dirt-covered Muggle in Diagon Alley and Harry Potter was feeding it turkey from a paper sack and we're supposed to be impressed?"

"Not a Muggle. A Squib." Draco laid down a yellow card with a cauldron on top of Blaise's.

"Same thing." Theodore Nott tossed a yellow card with Draw Two onto the pile. "There you go, Greg."

"Bloody brilliant," Gregory Goyle whinged. He seemed to have half the deck of Wizard One! cards in his hand. He struggled to hold them all, several cards dropping to the green felt-covered card table in Blaise Zabini's gaming room. He selected two cards and added them to his stack. "Ha!" he said, throwing down a multi-coloured Draw Four card onto the pile.

"Greg, you're holding half the deck," Theodore pointed out. "You've got to have a yellow in there."

"So what if I do?"

"You have to play the colour that's up before you can play a wild card. You know that! But nice try. You can only play that multi-coloured wild card if you don't have a yellow."

"Bugger." Greg took back his Draw Four card and slapped down a yellow five instead. The game continued.

"Yeah, so Potter was bringing the little Squib food. Have you ever used an undetectable extension charm?" Draco said.

"Once," Malcolm Baddock said, putting down a yellow Reverse card. "Back to you, Greg."

Greg played a yellow Reverse card as well. "Baddock."

Baddock and Goyle began a series of Reverse plays, leaving a gap in play for the rest of them.

Draco shook a cigarette out of his poker pack (he only smoked when he drank or during poker night) and drew it out with his lips. "Incendio." Draco touched the tip of his wand to his cigarette and puffed, inhaling. He blew smoke across the table. No one complained.

"Let me have one," Blaise said, and Draco tossed him the pack. "What did Potter have to say?"

"Pansy asked him if he did it. You know, if he tried to kill Ginny Weasley."

The table erupted in laughter.

"Leave it to Pansy to actually ask," Greg said, moaning with laughter. "Well? What'd he say?"

"He didn't say one way or the other," Draco said, smirking. "I got the feeling that no one ever asks him about it."

"No shit," Malcolm said. "I bet nobody talks to that poor sod at all."

"Poor sod my arse." Draco sneered at the mere suggestion. If anyone was privileged, it was Harry Potter. "But seriously. Why'd'you say that?" He hadn't really given it much thought, of how Ginny Weasley's accusations had affected Potter on a social level.

"Think about it, Draco," Blaise said. "Potter married his best friend's sister. She accuses him of beating her brains in. Who's Weasley going to choose? His sister or his best friend accused of the crime? The only parents Potter'd ever had were Arthur and Molly Weasley, and who do you think they're going to believe? Again, Ginny." Blaise ticked off on his fingers. "Dumbledore's dead, so no protector there. Slughorn probably couldn't get Potter's picture off the shelf fast enough. McGonagall's busy with Hogwarts. The only one who might still speak with him is that Mudblood Granger. She always seemed to stick with him at school. On the other hand, she's married to Weasley, so who knows?"

"How d'you know so much about Harry Potter?" Greg asked Blaise, throwing down a blue Reverse card. "Baddock, that's you again."

"I read," Blaise said witheringly, his cigarette dangling from his lips. "A lot. You should try it. Keeps you up on current events."

The game went around the table nicely for several rounds.

"Did you read Rita Skeeter's book on Potter?" Draco asked Blaise.

"Nah. Nothing she writes is true and her prose is way too purple. Actually, there's this small biography on Potter by Piers Egg—"

"Is he related to Pansy's uncle?"

"Dunno. Maybe? Probably. It's a strange last name. Anyway, you should get it. It's called Serpentine Lion: In the Shadow of the Scar. Piers Egg. P-I-E-R-S E-G-G."

"I know how to spell 'Egg' thanks." Draco put the tip of his wand to his temple and incanted silently. The cloudy, silvery strand of a memory snaked out from his temple. "I need a phial."

"Use this," Malcolm said, rummaging in his pocket. He extracted a small white glass jar with a yellow screw-on lid. "It's almost all gone anyway."

"What is that?"

"Just some lip stuff."

Draco took the jar and coiled his memory inside it and capped it, tightening the lid. "Will that mess up the memory?"

"No. It'll just smell like camphor in the Pensieve."

Draco could handle that. He pocketed the memory, stubbed out his cigarette, and then played a wild card. "There you go, Greg. Draw four."

"Fucking hell." Greg smacked his beefy hand down over the deck and grudgingly drew four cards. "Why do I suck so hard at this game?"

"Why Serpentine Lion?" Draco asked. "Shouldn't it just be 'Lion'?"

"That's the thing," Blaise said, leaning forwards and dropping his voice. "Egg got the Sorting Hat drunk—"

"How do you get a hat drunk?"

"He stuffed it into a stein full of Firewhisky and let it soak," Blaise explained. "Anyhow, he interviewed the hat while it was pissed, and the hat let slip that it was originally going to sort Potter to Slytherin."

"What?"

"Yeah."

"No." Draco's mouth was tightly drawn.

Blaise put his hands up. "I'm just telling you what the book said."

Was there not anything that could be Draco's shining star alone? On top of Quidditch, duelling, and being an insufferable heroic golden boy, Potter even got to claim Slytherin now? The unfairness of it all smouldered away in him. He made a mental note to owl Flourish and Blotts the next day and order Serpentine Lion: In the Shadow of the Scar.

"It would have been a mistake. The Sorting Hat doesn't get it wrong, so, see, Potter was meant for Gryffindor." Draco threw down one of his last two cards. He held the last one between his fore and middle fingers and smirked. "One!"

"I am not letting you win," Theodore said, playing a green Skip card. "Malfoy, give me a cigarette."

"Dunno why you all don't just bring your own." Draco motioned to Blaise, who passed the pack over to Theodore.

"Because I will never admit to being a smoker. A few cigs once a month? Totally doesn't count."

"Yeah, what Blaise said." Nott lit up. "Who're you taking to the ball?" he asked, changing subjects.

"Cho Chang," Blaise said. Blaise and Cho worked together at Borgin and Burkes. They were responsible for procuring, well, interesting artefacts. Cho was exceptionally good at dark detecting, perhaps a side effect of her days in Dumbledore's Army. The darker the object, the faster they snapped it up. That said, Cho had a sunny disposition and volunteered her time at the local library and taught Mandarin cooking on the weekends. "What about you?"

"Pansy," said Theodore.

"Hey!" Draco said, miffed. "You're taking my plus-one?"

"You're married, Malfoy. Try taking your wife."

"I don't think so."

"Trouble in paradise?"

"Something like that. Greg?"

"Daphne Greengrass." Greg had matured into a decent-enough-looking bloke. Getting rid of the pudding-bowl haircut had really helped. Pansy, ever vigilant of her boys' images and personal style, had dragged him to her father's stylist, who'd managed to find an attractive look for Greg.

"Oh? Astoria didn't say."

"Seriously," Blaise said, "is Astoria going to go with you this time?"

"I doubt it," Draco said. "We had a bit of a row."

"You had a row with Astoria?" Blaise seemed surprised. "She's, like, the most serene thing on the face of the earth."

"I broke her grandmother's tea set." He threw down a green Skip. "On purpose."

Malcolm snorted. "Why?"

"Because she hacked me off."

"What'd she do?"

"Let's just say she's withheld some important information from me."

"She's not shagging someone else?" Blaise asked. "Draw two," he said to Nott.

Theodore drew two cards. He considered them for a minute and then played a six, which turned the game over to Draco.

Draco's last card wasn't green, nor was it a six. He drew a card. No dice. He began drawing cards, one after another. "What's with all these blues?" he whinged, after his twelfth draw. Finally a green Draw Two came up and he threw it on the pile. "And, no, she's not shagging someone else. I'd toss her out."

"You're lucky she hasn't tossed you out."

There was a palpable change in the air and Draco's stomach fluttered in anticipation, so when a wave of contempt washed over him, it wasn't entirely unexpected.

His friends didn't like him all of the time.

Astoria Greengrass Malfoy's ambitions manifested in more subtle, composed ways, as opposed to, say, Pansy, who went after whatever she wanted vigorously, loudly, and by whatever means necessary. Astoria was staid, decorous. She was polite to a fault and practically unflappable. She had even managed to be demure in childbirth. It had been a quiet, sedate affair, when Scorpius had been born; Draco had felt like he wasn't allowed to say anything. So he hadn't.

Draco knew whose side everyone would take up, if it came to that. "We have an understanding," he said, studying his handful of blue cards.

Malcolm snorted. "Is Astoria actually aware of your understanding?"

"I would think so by now."

Theodore threw down a Wild Card. "Draw Four," he said. "You might want to clarify your 'understanding', you know. Make sure she knows about it."

"What is this?" Draco pushed his glasses up on his nose. At least they hadn't given him crap about his eyesight. He drew four cards.

"People talk, Malfoy," Malcolm said, considering his cards as if they were the most interesting objects ever.

It was the second time he'd been informed of this in as many days.

"Really?" he asked lightly. "I haven't heard a thing."

"That's because people are talking about you," Goyle said, ever stating the obvious. "And when people talk about you, they don't want you to know, so they talk about you to anybody but you. Blimey, Malfoy, aren't you used to it by now?"

Draco looked around the table. Derisiveness weighed down on him, filling his insides and making him feel mocked and cold and alone. That was the thing about Slytherins. They ate everyone, even their own. "If you've got something to say . . ." He trailed off.

"Astoria's a lady," Goyle said.

"Of course she is."

"You should treat her like one," Nott said offhandedly, but Draco understood that Theodore was being quite serious. He looked around the table. No sympathy was forthcoming.

"Perhaps Astoria's the one who gets to decide how lady-like she really is." Astoria put up with his bullshit! It wasn’t like she objected or complained or asked him to change. She was like, well, a friend, a friend with benefits. Draco complained about things loudly and with considerable gusto, so if Astoria had a problem with him, why wouldn't she do the same? "Besides," he said, his tone low as he didn't want to admit the conciliation, "I asked her to put her Squib Society information on my desk."

"Squibs are, technically, pure-bloods, you know," Blaise said. "Distasteful, but true. Problem is, they're mental, too."

Draco was more than happy to change the subject. "I don't know about that bit. Where'd you hear that?"

"It's a well-known fact."

"If it's so well-known, how's it I've never heard of that before?"

"Oh, yes, I forgot you know everything," Blaise said.

"Define 'mental’."

"You know — barmy. Seeing things, hearing things that aren't real. Also? They're less intelligent."

Draco thought of Eliza, who'd seemed sharp as a tack. "Oh, come on, Blaise. That little Squib I met in Diagon Alley? She seemed intelligent enough. And she didn't say anything about seeing things that didn't exist. Why, I bet you could drop her into a room full of wizards and witches and they'd never know."

Blaise leaned forwards, snapping a red Reverse down onto the pile of cards. "Care to make a bet?"

"Bet? What sort of a bet?"

"The little Squib you found. The Dormiens Ball."

"Oh, very fun—" Draco looked at Blaise fully. "You're serious."

"Very."

"What's the bet?"

"You drop a Squib into the Dormiens Ball and no one finds out? A hundred thousand galleons to the charity of your choice."

"That's all?"

Blaise shrugged. "Two hundred fifty thousand."

"I'll throw in a hundred thousand," Nott said.

"Fifty thousand," Malcolm Baddock added.

"Fifty thousand, too, Malfoy," Goyle said.

"And if you throw in another fifty grand, then it'll be a cool half million," Blaise said to Draco. "Just think what it'd do for your image."

"My image is stellar, thanks." But Draco had to admit the idea was intriguing. "So, the only guideline is that no-one can make a public accusation of her being a Squib?"

"Yep," Blaise said. "Pretty straightforward."

"Caveats?"

"If she behaves like a mental person, all bets are off."

"Fine."

"If she tries to grift anyone, all bets are off."

"All right."

Draco stubbed out his smoke. "I'm not interested in shagging this girl. I assume you're all wondering."

"If you shag this fifteen-year-old girl, it's off."

"You lot are a bunch of bloody pervs," Draco said, offended. There were lines that even he didn't cross.

"You know what? You should make it this year's game."

"You mean at the ball?"

"Obviously. Where else?"

Draco knew the Amusement Committee had likely already set up this year's Dormiens game, but it was his ball. He could make them do whatever he wanted. And, truth told, it was an interesting whim.

"Squib hunting, eh? Hmm."

"Oh," Blaise said, amusement glittering in his dark eyes, "and an extra bonus . . ." he paused for effect ". . . if you can get Harry Potter to make an appearance."

Draco was already lighting his second cigarette. He shook his head, laughing. "Yeah, I don't think so."

"Why not?"

"Potter says, and I quote, ‘balls aren't his thing’."

They roared with laughter.

"Imagine! How naïve can you be, to say something like that?" Malcolm asked, swiping at his eyes with the backs of his sleeves. "Unbelievable."

"Oh, it wasn't naïve," Draco clarified. "Potter's not naïve. He knew exactly what he was saying."

"Another reason to read Piers Egg's biography," Blaise said. "He's pretty clear about Potter liking blokes."

"Really?" Draco asked. Really? If it were true, it put their earlier conversation into a much different light. Which was . . . intriguing. Fancy a new challenge, then? Draco had asked . . . "He was married, though. Has kids."

"So?" Blaise caught Draco's eye from across the table and Draco could make out the words Blaise mouthed at him: Sound familiar? Draco merely inclined his head, saying nothing.

Maybe he fancied a new challenge, too.

*

All the wizarding manors in Wiltshire were generally creepy-looking, favouring black stone foundations and even blacker interiors, profoundly antiquated furnishings and decor, rococo-esque accessories, candles and gas lamps, and an abundance of dark artefacts. These manors were thoroughly hexed up and more often than not Unplottable. Grounds were protected by intricate wards and often Apparition within these properties was tricky. Many of the manors had been built during the Gothic revival period and their architecture was unusual, with black slate steeples and spires and turrets. And, of course, there were labyrinthine cellars and what might be called dungeons, as well as hidden stairways and halls for people to slip through unseen.

It was at one such manor that Draco Malfoy found himself standing at the massive, curving front door, dressed from head to toe in black, holding a heavy cream-coloured envelope.

"Hello?"

Draco actually boggled. "What the bloody hell are you doing here?"

Potter raised an eyebrow. "I live here?"

"No, you can't possibly."

"Uh, yeah, I can."

"No way. I mean . . . why?" And how come Draco had not been made aware that Harry Potter had moved into his stomping grounds? Why the hell would Potter want to live in Wiltshire?

"What do you want?"

"I mean, of all places to live, to pick. Must you shadow me to this extent? People will think you're a stalker on top of everything else."

"Are you always this big a drama queen?"

"What, are you insane?" Draco continued as if Harry hadn't spoken. "It's like you taking up residence in Voldemort's personal flat."

"I thought it rather ingenious, Malfoy. Figured it'd be the last place people'd look for me."

"Why, yes, thank you," Draco said, pushing past Potter, making entrance into the foyer. "I'd love to come in. Oh, it's lovely. Black, black, and more black. Anyhow," he continued snottily, "there's a fine line between genius and insanity, Potter. You? Have erased that line. Completely."

"Please," Harry said, making a sweeping motion, "do come in, seeing as I've invited you. Oh, wait . . . "

"Where's your sitting room?" Draco asked, setting off down a random hall. "We need to talk."

"Petrificus Totalus—"

"Protego!" Potter's curse bounced off Draco's shielding charm nicely, rebounding and hitting a large banana tree in a giant planter located just inside the hallway Draco was heading down. The banana tree shook as the curse spidered up through its trunk, and then all the bananas unpeeled at once, freezing in place, their peels petrified dumbly. "Watch it, Potter," Draco said, pleased he had anticipated that rather nicely.

"Malfoy!" Potter called, sounding miffed. "Get the hell— what are you doing?"

"Where's your sitting room?"

"I don't want you in it."

"Too bad, for I've a proposal for you. Merlin, what is that?" Draco stopped to stare at fiery orange square rug with lime green Progrebins hooked into it. "My God that's ugly."

"My daughter made that. For me."

"I hope you're discouraging her from becoming an artist."

"I'm encouraging her to become whatever she wants to be and to do whatever makes her happy."

"Aren't you the progressive parent. Ginny lets you see them?"

"I've got Wizengamot-ordered visitation."

"How often do you—"

"Petrificus Totalus!"

Well, okay, Draco had not been expecting that one, so all he could do was mutter to himself inside his head and stare at the hideous orange and lime-green rug, and contemplate the peeled bananas that were still hanging stiff from Potter's tree in his foyer as he was deposited outside Potter's front door, face down onto the pavement. Hovering mere inches above the pavement, Draco managed a wince before Potter released him.

"Finite Incantatem."

Draco smooshed into the ground and he tasted dirt.

"You owe me bananas," Harry said, and the front door slammed shut.

*

When he got home he passed through the kitchen and sunroom on his way to the back stairs.

Astoria's grandmother's cup lay smashed on the floor still, untouched. A wave of anger coursed through him, and he stopped only long enough to crunch down on the remnants and grind his heel back and forth, pulverising the pieces of antique bone china to dust.

She should have just done Reparo and cleaned up the puddle of tea, he thought viciously. Stubborn bint.

*

Later that evening he, Astoria, and Scorpius sat in the old drawing room, an enormous fire roaring on the hearth. It was so domestic it was practically nauseating. Draco was reading the Daily Prophet — 6A, naturally — and Astoria was working on the Muggle-style needlepoint that she liked to do. Scorpius was doing his Arithmancy homework.

"Dad," Scorpius said, his voice full of concentration, "Why doesn't the Chaldean method use the number nine?"

"Merlin, who knows?" It'd been years since Draco'd cracked an Arithmancy book. "It's your job to find that out. I've already done Hogwarts."

"Would you at least check my numbers?"

That Draco could do. "Let me see." He took his son's parchment and quill and began to review the numbers. "Character number, three. Yes. Heart, seven. Social, five. That's right. Are you enjoying Arithmancy?"

"No," Scorpius said shortly. "It's like Divination, and Divination's a load of bunk, even if it is numbers."

"Agreed in principle," Astoria said, from the sofa. She was sitting with her legs tucked under her. "But think of it as number puzzles and not Divination. It makes it go easier. Scorpius, you've always been good at maths."

"I guess. I'm to do three people's numbers. Can I do yours?" he asked his parents.

"Of course."

"Yes, of course."

"Mum," Scorpius said after working the equations, your numbers are two, character, six, heart, and five, social." He read the interpretation from his text. "Twos are imaginative, creative, and sweet-natured. Peace, harmony, commitment, loyalty, and fairness are characteristic. But two also introduces the idea of conflict, opposing forces, and the contrasting sides of things, such as night and day, or good and evil. Twos can be withdrawn, moody, self-conscious and indecisive."

"Spot on," Draco said, looking at Astoria.

She ignored him. "Let's hear your father's."

"Dad's character number's a five. Five is the number of instability and imbalance, indicating change and uncertainty. Fives are drawn to many things at once but commit to none. They are adventurous, energetic, and willing to take risks. Fives enjoy travel and meeting new people, but may not stay in one place very long. Fives can be conceited, irresponsible, quick-tempered and impatient."

"Spot on," Astoria said coolly, deigning to look at Draco.

Scorpius looked between them. "Is there something strange going on? You aren't getting divorced are you? Because Pucey's parents are getting divorced and Pucey's dad is making his mum sleep at the Leaky Cauldron—"

"We're not getting divorced," Draco said. "And no one's sleeping at the Leaky Cauldron."

"Your father and I are having a disagreement over who should clean up whose mess. I say, since your father made the mess, he ought to be the one to clean it up. Apparently he thinks otherwise."

"My point," Draco said, absolutely livid that Astoria would say anything about their disagreement in front of their son, "being that when one deliberately puts another in the way of a mess, without warning or concern for making a mess to begin with, then perhaps that person should be the one to clean up the mess."

Scorpius looked at them both as if they were daft. "Why don't you just have Bitty clean it up?"

"Or I could have you clean it up," Draco noted dryly

Scorpius put up his hands. "Hey, I was just saying . . . " He looked down at his Arithmancy notes again. "I need a third person to run numbers on. I'll ring up Anna—"

"No," Draco said, glancing at the clock. "It's only six. It's not too late to go calling on someone. Get your things. I've an errand to run and you can come with me. You'll get your Arithmancy homework done, to boot."

"Dad, I don't want to run errands." Scorpius rolled his eyes. "I should've stayed with Flint this weekend."

"We love having you home, son," Astoria said, rising. She put her needlepoint aside and tousled Scorpius's hair lightly. He cringed and shied away. "No worries. Your hair is as gorgeous as always," she said, planting a kiss on top of his head.

"What is this?" he asked, smoothing his hair down. "You're both acting very strange, you know. Are you sure you're not getting a divorce? Because I can handle it—"

"Get your cloak," Draco said, ignoring the question about divorce. "We're going to go see The Boy Who Lived."

"Seriously?"

"Seriously."

"But I thought he hated you?"

"Excuse me—" Draco couldn't let this go by, "—he does not hate me. I hate him."

"Naturally," Astoria said dryly.

"And I'd like to thank the mandrake gallery," Draco said with a flourish, raising an eyebrow at Astoria. "Thank you, mandrake gallery." He spoke rather affectionately, which was about the closest Astoria was going to get to an apology from him regarding her grandmother's teacup. Draco kissed each of her cheeks. "If all goes according to plan, we might be a few hours. If not, then I won't be long."

*

"Dad, is this really necessary?" Scorpius could barely wrangle the awkwardly-shaped box that Draco had special-ordered from Greene and Sons. The contents of the box had come all the way from Chile.

"Yes. Just hold on to it tight."

*

Draco made a calculated guess. He knew how the Floo network worked with the older manors. In an antiquated show of propriety, anyone Flooing into a manor of a certain age or older would announce themselves approximately five seconds before arrival, by means of a small bell that would chime upon approaching visitors. This gave only five seconds to react; a wizard had to be very quick in order to close off the Floo in five seconds or less if they didn't want visitors. The older Floo grates were heavy and ungainly and difficult to open and close, so often five seconds wasn't enough time to shut a Floo, even with magic. Because it was such an enormous pain in the arse, most of the older manors kept their Floos open. Draco also surmised that Potter's Floo would be open, because Potter would figure, being the outcast that he was, no one would bother to come and visit him unannounced.

He wasn't about to send his son first, just in case, so Draco advised him of Potter's address and got into the Floo at Greene and Sons and dropped a handful of Floo powder into the grate and called out, "Harry Potter, Wiltshire!"

Of course he'd had years of practising how to Floo properly, so when he landed in Harry Potter's fireplace, he was perfectly at ease, upright, holding his box, and unmussed. He stepped out of the grate, stomping his feet lightly to clear them of any residual ash. "Hello?" he called, his voice echoing. He was in an enormous kitchen. He could hear the residual chime from the Floo, and then it rang anew.

The fireplace spat Scorpius out. He bounced head over foot, coming to rest on his bum with a flat smack, his rucksack spilling across the floor, the large box Draco had made him carry flopping onto the floor, breaking open. Approximately thirty bunches of bananas scattered throughout the kitchen, rolling end over end this way and that, coming to rest on Draco's feet, under the kitchen table, against the feet of the stove, and all over the stone floor. Scorpius looked up at Draco balefully, blowing his fringe out from his mouth.

"Good God, boy," Draco said, offering a hand. He pulled his son to his feet. "What a landing."

"Mum says the Floo is common," Scorpius said haughtily, dusting himself off. He managed to smear ash all over himself.

"The Floo is common, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't know how to use it. It's like not knowing how to change the twigs—"

"WHO IS THE STRANGER?" The croaking voice came from the sink area.

"Who are you?" Draco said, not missing a beat. "Are you a house-elf?"

"What business is the stranger having here?" The sink cabinet opened and spindly fingers curled around the door, searching for the knob. Even by house-elf standards, the creature that emerged from under the sink was ancient. Tufts of fluffy white hair covered the elf and its eyes were just starting to go milky.

"This is Potter's house, yes?"

"This is Master Harry Potter's manor. What is Mister Draco Malfoy doing here when Master Harry Potter is not telling Kreacher there would be guests?" The old elf transferred his gaze to Scorpius. "There is two Draco Malfoys?"

"How'd'you know who I am?"

"Kreacher is serving the ancient and most noble house of Black, and Kreacher watches and sees. Draco Malfoy is the son of Mistress Narcissa Black, yes?" Kreacher neglected to mention his espionage assignment in Draco's sixth year.

"That's right. Narcissa's my mother."

"Kreacher is knowing who Mister Draco Malfoy is." The elf was collecting the bunches of bananas as fast as he could manage, surprisingly spritely.

Draco motioned for Scorpius to help collect the bananas. "Is Potter here? I need to speak to him. Now."

"Kreacher is fetching master."

"No need." Harry Potter's voice sliced through the mild chaos. "I'm here. Malfoy, what do you want?"

"Potter." Draco inclined his head. "I've come to replace your bananas. It's only the right thing to do."

"Because you're all about doing the right thing."

"My son, Scorpius," Draco said, fixing a flat gaze on Potter, bringing Scorpius forwards. "Seeing as I was obligated to replace the petrified bananas — which, may I note, I have done —" He swept his arm, gesturing at the pile of bananas on the kitchen table. A large, furry, orange and black spider was crawling out from between two bunches of bananas; it was as big as his hand. "— I brought my son with me on the off chance you might be willing to help him by allowing him to run your name for Arithmancy. As it's good form to ask a person first, we're here."

"What?" Potter said, befuddled. He held up his hands, shaking his head. "What are you on about, Malfoy?"

Draco counted off on his fingers to make it easy for Potter, who was obviously addled in the head. "I've brought you bananas. My son, Scorpius, has a class assignment that he'd like your help on. And I have something else I need to speak with you about, preferably without Petrificus Totalus and a faceplant on your doorstep."

Harry kept his eyes on Draco for quite a long time, until he slowly shifted his gaze to Scorpius. He extended his hand to Draco's son. "Harry Potter," he said.

Scorpius didn't shy away. "Scorpius Malfoy." He shook Harry's hand. "I was wondering if I could use you for my Arithmancy homework. I need three people and I've already used mum and dad."

Harry looked like he wanted to shoot daggers at Draco, for Draco obviously knew that Harry was not going to turn away a polite young wizard with an academic request. "All right," he said to Scorpius. "You can use my name for Arithmancy. First and last name, or middle name too?"

"Just the first and last names."

"Well, have at it. You can sit at the table here. Your dad and I will discuss his business in the dining room."

"Excellent! Thanks."

Potter motioned for Draco to follow him through the room off the kitchen. They went through the old scullery, through the butler's pantry, and then down a small hall leading to a formal dining room.

"Merlin," Draco said, looking about at the fancy decor, "who knew you were such an entertainer?"

Harry glanced up at the triple crystal chandeliers and then down to the formal dining table large enough to easily serve thirty. "They came with the house." He indicated a chair. "Sit?"

"I'll stand." Draco inclined towards Harry, reaching into his inner robes pocket and extracting the thick cream envelope he had attempted to deliver previously. "As chairman of the board for the Dormiens Charitable Ball, for the benefit of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, I am extending the following invitation to you, requesting your presence at the Dormiens Ball, the seventh of August, Saturday, at eight o'clock in the evening." Draco held the envelope out for Harry, daring to catch Potter's gaze. He held it firmly. "Go on. Take it."

Harry stared at Draco as if he had just grown a head full of ears. Then his brow furrowed suspiciously. "What's in this for you?" he asked, taking the invitation from Draco. Flipping it over, Harry broke the sealing wax on the flap. He lifted it up and slid the invitation out. It was addressed to Harry by name. The R.S.V.P. card and envelope fluttered to the floor. Potter didn't bother picking them up. He looked at Draco expectantly.

"Well, surprisingly, there's nothing in it for me," he said, "per se."

"Per se?"

"'Per se' means—"

"I know what 'per se' means."

"Oh. Right, then. Yes, so, per se."

"So what's the 'per se,' then?"

"What? Oh! Well, Blaise Zabini and I made a little bet—"

"Get the hell out, Malfoy."

"Would you just listen?" Draco said impatiently, lying like an extra-large, ancient, Arabian magic, well, carpet. "Blaise Zabini and I — you remember Blaise? — made a bet that I couldn't persuade the invitation committee to extend you an invitation to the ball. And I'll have you know that the reason you haven't been invited in recent years is because you never went when you were invited, and not only that but you didn't return your R.S.V.P. card." Draco clucked his tongue at Harry. "The height of faux pas, Potter."

"I thought you were supposed to send the card if you are going to attend."

"You send the card whether you're attending or not, you social moron." Draco stooped and picked up the R.S.V.P. card and envelope from the floor. He handed them to Harry, who accepted them. Their fingers brushed, sending a delicious tingling shiver through Draco. "No wonder no one invites you anywhere."

"And here I thought it was because people believe I tried to beat my wife to death."

"Ex-wife," Draco clarified, more for his own edification than anything else. Yes, Potter was on the market. Yes, indeed.

"Yes, my ex-wife." Potter didn't seem particularly morose about it. "So Ginny doesn't have anything to do with why I've not been invited to the Dormiens Ball for the past three years?"

"Well. There's that too—"

"Oh for the love of Maude—"

"But, well, you know how people are—"

"You can't expect me to want to be around those kind of people—"

"Who cares what those people think?" Draco asked hotly. "As someone who's spent a lifetime being, well, who I am . . . who cares what other people think?" He looked Harry squarely in the eye with no sneer, no haughty countenance. "Did you do that to Ginny? Did you hurt her?"

"No," Harry said emphatically. Apparently forgetting who he was talking to, he continued. "I've lost everything because of the sick toerag who beat her. I've lost my life, my home, my children, my marriage, the love of my life." He snorted with a defensive shrug. "Some days I think I've lost my sanity."

"You've absolutely lost your bloody sanity," Draco said, holding a hand up and turning, gesturing at Harry's property. "What on earth drove you to buy this dinosaur? This's got to be the oldest property in the county. Isn't this place falling down around you?"

"Yeah," Harry said, rubbing at the back of his neck, as if it hurt. "It's falling apart all right."

"Seriously?" Draco had been kidding.

"Seriously." Harry looked at Draco over the top of his glasses and Draco thought Harry's eyes were the strangest colour. He'd never met anyone else with eyes like that. "I'm fixing it up."

Draco had a mental vision of Potter hanging from the top of a slate-roofed turret, roped haphazardly to a gargoyle, attacking a weather vane with a Muggle hammer. He snorted. "Are you serious?"

"Why would I not be serious?"

"Never figured you for Filch."

"Reckon you've never figured me for anything. What do you know about me?"

"That's not true. I've figured you for— I know things about— You cheated at potions in sixth year." Draco finished lamely.

But Potter seemed to find this incredibly amusing. "I cheated at potions?" He laughed, genuinely. "I did not."

Potter did so cheat, Draco was convinced! "Yes, you did! You had to have."

"I did not cheat," Potter said, firm. "As a Slytherin, you ought to appreciate utilising alternative learning methods. Hey." He shrugged. "I merely employed supplemental instruction, if it's sixth year you're referring to. Besides, come on. Everyone cheats at potions. It's practically tradition."

"Ha! Not so. Slytherins didn't cheat at potions."

"That's because you didn't have to. At least not until Slughorn came along. You could have turned in blank parchment and Snape would have given you an O."

Draco smirked. "True. It was convenient." He looked around again. "This room's rather attractive. Did you fix it up? How long have you lived here, anyway?"

"I've been here a year. And, yeah, I spiffed it up a bit."

"How is it I never knew you moved in?" Draco mused.

"Dunno. Didn't exactly throw a housewarming party."

"I'll bet."

"So, yeah. Fixing the place up."

"Why do you need such a big place?"

"What business is that of yours?"

"Harry?" A female's voice cut through their conversation like a bubble burst. "The boy in the kitchen said you were in here—"

Draco and Harry turned.

It was the girl from Diagon Alley. And she had clearly just got out of the bath. She wore Harry's dressing gown — it was undoubtedly his, because it was black and huge; it trailed on the floor behind her, like a king's cape — and her hair was wrapped up in a towel.

*

Draco was horrified.

"You—" He wheeled on Potter, stepping backwards, away. "She's only— You're a sick sod—"

"Malfoy, you don't—"

"Oh!" said Eliza, tilting her head. "It's you." She considered Draco, as if what she was doing with Potter was perfectly acceptable.

"You know you shouldn't be here— You don't have to— with him— There are charities, other ways—"

"What?" She looked at Draco, confused. "Harry's brill—"

"Malfoy, you have entirely the wrong idea—"

"Hi!" Draco recognised his own son's voice. He watched, wide-eyed, as Scorpius extended his hand towards Eliza. "I'm—"

"Scorpius!" Draco crossed the room in three gigantic strides. "We're going—"

"But I'm not done—" Scorpius looked down at Draco's hand, which was clutching at his sleeve. "Dad," he hissed, apparently dying of embarrassment, "let go." Reflexively, Draco loosened his grip, but he suspected it was only due to the level of shock he was experiencing.

Scorpius shook himself free of Draco's grasp. "Hi," he said again, extending his hand to Eliza, "I'm Scorpius. Scorpius Malfoy."

Eliza looked at Scorpius as if he had just offered her a cup of bubotuber pus. "So?"

Scorpius lit up like a beet with flaxen leaves. He stuffed his hands into his pocket sheepishly, clearly mortified.

"Eliza," Harry said sharply, "That was rude. Scorpius is trying to be friendly."

Eliza was looking between Scorpius and Draco. "Is he your dad?" she asked Scorpius, her eyes suspicious.

"Uh, yeah—"

"Oh," she said, sneering slightly, "so you're a 6A boy. How great for you."

"What?" Scorpius was confused.

"Scorpius, Eliza's a—" Draco didn't even know how to explain her without sounding unkind.

"Eliza and her family are my guests tonight," Harry said.

"Just tonight? Or all nights?"

"Malfoy, you're being completely inappropriate—"

"I'm being inappropriate? I'm being inappropriate? I'm not the one shag— she's fifteen!"

"I am aware of Eliza's age," Harry said through gritted teeth.

"That makes it even more unseemly."

"Malfoy, stop it." Harry dropped his voice, and stepped in so close to Draco that Draco could smell him, which was wonderful. "Can I speak to you alone please? You're completely misunderstanding this."

Draco watched Harry suspiciously for several long moments. "I," he said, keeping his voice equally low, "may be a complete tit myself, but there are levels to which I won't stoop."

"Then I think you'll be fine with what I have to say."

Draco glanced over at Scorpius, who was yet again offering his hand.

"Come on," Scorpius cajoled, "just one handshake."

"That's what they always say," Eliza said, looking at Scorpius from head to toe appraisingly. She now seemed to be mildly amused as she made quotey signs with her fingers. "It'll just be this once!"

"Well," Scorpius said, smiling genuinely, "that's one thing you can truly only do once. Meet for the first time."

The corner of Eliza's mouth twitched. "I suppose."

"Well?"

"Fine."

Scorpius waited. "Well?" he prompted her again, when she failed to continue, instead standing there with her arms crossed over her chest.

"What?"

"Can we at least meet each other?"

"We have."

"But you haven't told me your name."

"You heard Harry."

"Yeah, but—" It was clear that Scorpius Malfoy was not used to this rather cool, indifferent reception from females.

"Son!" Draco ordered Scorpius from across the room. "Finish your Arithmancy. We won't be staying long and you'll want to check your work before we go."

"Uh, right, but Dad—"

"Do it now," Draco said, far more harshly than the situation warranted. "I've directed you to complete something and I expect you to obey."

Eliza stifled a snort, coughing delicately into her small hand. "Yes, well, nice to meet you, 6A. Scorpius," she snarked. "Nice name."

"Eliza." Harry warned her again. "Scorpius has been nothing but polite. When you're here, I expect you to be respectful to others."

She looked slightly abashed. "Yeah. Okay. Sorry."

"What did you need?"

She glanced sideways at Draco and Scorpius. "It's personal," she said to Harry.

"Look in Lily's room."

"Not that." Eliza rolled her eyes. "I'd rather not say."

"Well, then you can wait until I'm done with Malfoy. Go and wait in the kitchen with Scorpius. Kreacher will make you something to eat. I shouldn't be long."

"Fine." She made her way past Scorpius, undoing her towel as she went, scrubbing at her wet hair. She threw a glance over her shoulder at him. "Well?"

"What?"

"Are you coming or not?"

"What? Oh! Right. Yes!" Scorpius practically sprinted after her.

"And conjure me up a wide-toothed comb. I'm too lazy to go upstairs."

"I can do that. Well, I can try and transfigure one of the bananas . . ."

"That'll work."

*

"Are you shagging her?"

"Of course not!"

"Explain why she's here, naked, and wallowing in your dressing gown, then."

"She's not naked, one. And, two, she simply had a bath. Eliza and her brothers and sister come here once a month. I let them bathe and wash their clothes, I feed them, and I make sure they're all right physically."

"Where are their parents really?"

"The father's dead. He was killed with his brother and sister-in-law, and two of Eliza's cousins, in an Apparition accident. They accidentally Apparated onto the M20 at Aylesford on a flying carpet and were killed instantly."

"Flying carpets are illegal," Draco said sceptically.

"Well they're still used as family vehicles in Africa. They were on holiday in Morocco. I'm not sure who was driving, but they probably were distracted when they Apparated or something."

"What about the mother?"

"She's on the streets as well."

"What?"

"Yes."

"How do you know that?"

"Eliza's introduced me. Their mother, Frances, is a potions addict. She used to work as a potions chemist, but she dipped into the stores and became addicted. When the father was killed, she just mentally checked out. Eliza's got one cousin who lives in America, but they're not in touch."

Draco was still stuck on the fact that the mother was alive, but had abandoned her children. "And— But . . . she just left them?"

"Yes."

"When?"

"Right after Madeleine was born."

"Madeleine?"

"The two-year-old."

"Wait," Draco said. "You've got a two-year-old alone in the bath?"

"Harry and Finlay are with her, and I expect Eliza's back there by now as well."

"So you bring them here once a month?"

"Yes."

"What good's that going to do them in the long run?" It was all Draco could do to not sneer at Harry. "Where do they stay? What do they do?"

"And what's your solution, Malfoy?" Harry said sharply. "Laugh at them because their dad's dead? How about having a go at them for having an addict mum? Or, better yet, you could tell them their mum's porky and poor. Or, I know! You could give each of them a prosthetic leg. Sound better?"

"I— You— I'll have you know that Leg, Limb, and Liberty has helped thousands of— what good are you, bathing a bunch of homeless kids once a month?"

Spots of colour had appeared above Harry's cheeks. "Yeah? Name one person who's got one of your fake legs, Malfoy. Go on."

Draco stared at Harry, feeling uncomfortably hot and put-upon. "Well, I expect— it's all private— We guarantee anonymity—"

"You can't name one, can you? You don't know. You don't know the names of any persons who've received one of your charity's limbs."

"So?"

"At least I know Eliza's name. Know her story, her circumstances." Harry's face was dark, angry. "You do know there are actual people who rely on charity, yeah? Charity's not there just for you to feel like you're worth more than the next bloke. You're just as much a waste of space on this rock as anyone else."

Draco's lip curled. "Oh really? Well, hear this, Potter—"

"That's the whole bloody damn thing about charity. Either it's all an anonymous sea of unknowns, or you get all wrought up because you can't help the entire world one-on-one. I can see why you'd prefer the hands-off approach. Because it doesn't matter what we do or how hard we work at it — there will always be human suffering. Compared to some? Eliza's got it good. Haven't you figured it out, Malfoy?"

"Figured what out?" Draco said haughtily, raising his chin a notch. His glasses slipped, ruining the effect. Bloody things. Angrily, he pushed them back up his nose.

"The way of things," Harry said, and he managed it without sounding self-pitying. He was merely matter-of-fact. "You can never get enough of what you don’t really need. It's in abundance. That's just the way of the world. I think there’s quite enough suffering in the world but, you know, irony? She's a ruddy bitch."

Draco felt the fight go out of him. "True, that."

"Really? What do you have too much of, Malfoy?"

Draco looked at Harry. "Everything, you twat. What do you think? What about you?"

Harry was silent for a long time. "Socks."

"Socks?"

"Socks. Thick, woollen socks. I've got way too many."

"The Boy Who Lived has too many socks?"

"The Boy Who Lived has too many socks. That's right."

"Well, for God's sake, Potter. That's easy. Give them to Eliza to sell! Let her make an honest living."

"She already makes an honest living."

"I've something I want to talk to you about."

"About Eliza? Because I've already been quite clear that—"

"It's about Eliza, but it's not about you and her. I—" Draco had to think carefully before he continued, to ensure what he was about to say was what he really felt. "I'll extend the benefit of the doubt. About her, I mean. And I don't want to talk about it ever again."

"Fine by me."

"But the way you're going about this is all wrong. The authorities should be involved."

"So you know what it's like to grow up as a ward of the Ministry, eh?"

"No, obviously not. But that baby can't just be living on the streets. A two-year-old baby? That's just not on."

"I don't want to discuss the Ministry with you," Harry said. "Just keep your pointy nose in your own business."

"Do you remember how I told you I made a bet with Blaise Zabini about whether or not I could get you to come to the Dormiens Ball—"

Harry snorted.

"Anyway. I happened to mention to my friends about Eliza. Told them all about her. She's such an interesting little creature—"

"Any plan you've got involving Eliza you can forget about right now. I'll no more stand by and let you—"

"Would you just listen?" Draco interrupted. "It's nothing bad."

"Fine." Harry pursed his lips, watching Draco suspiciously.

"I told my friends about Eliza, about my encounter with her. They found it as intriguing as I did, seeing especially that she's bright and sharp-witted and shows no evidence of being mental. You know what pure-bloods think of Squibs—"

"I should tell you that I don't believe in calling them Squibs. I think they're witches or wizards, as much as the next person."

"You and my wife would get along swimmingly," Draco said, in a way that wasn't exactly complimentary.

"Good to know." Harry raised an eyebrow at Draco. "I guess?"

"Anyway, Blaise bet that it would be impossible to have a Squib at the Dormiens Ball without him or her getting discovered as non-magical. I say it can be done—"

"You're mental."

Draco continued on excitedly, "Every year at the ball we have a game, you may have heard. So, this year, I thought we could use Eliza for—"

"Absolutely not."

"Just hear me out. There's a—" Draco thought very quickly and on the spur of the moment added half a million of his own galleons to the purse "—one million galleon bet. The money goes to charity—"

"The last bloody thing I'm going to do is facilitate Leg, Limb, and Liberty getting yet another million galleons. At the rate you're going, you'll have enough to replace the limbs of the entire population of Great Britain."

Astoria had said as much. Draco had a fleeting image of the entire population of the UK coming at him on artificial limbs, like angry zombies, tottering on plastic legs, synthetic arms outstretched. "No, you don't understand," he said, making it all up on the fly. "The winnings would go— They're not going to Leg, Limb, and Liberty. They're going to the Society for Squib Assimilation. Yes. Right." What? Draco neither had any idea why he impulsively made this claim nor how he would convince Blaise Zabini and the boys to donate outside the parameters of their original agreement. Since when? Since now.

"What?"

"It's true."

"You're telling me that you — you — are prepared to give one million galleons to the Society for Squib Assimilation?"

"Not only that, but any additional private donations we could solicit on top of the usual funds raised at the Dormiens Ball would go to the Society for Squib Assimilation too."

"Which is potentially how much money?"

"How much can I put you down for?" Draco asked, reaching inside his robes for a small quill and notebook.

"Oh, seriously, sod off," Harry said, incredulous.

Draco flipped open the notebook. He looked at Harry. "Fifty thousand? One hundred thousand? Blaise Zabini's down for a quarter mil." Naturally, he couldn't resist bragging. "And of course I'm down for half a million." Never mind the fact that he had decided this randomly, impulsively, the desire to ingratiate himself with Harry foremost.

"You're not joking."

"What do you mean? Of course I'm not joking!"

"Why are you doing this?"

Why was Draco doing this? Well, first, Draco thought Eliza could possibly pull it off and, second, he was constantly bored and, three, he thought he ought to make nice-nice with Astoria and, four, anything for a chance to get into Harry Potter's trousers.

"Well," Draco said, "let's just say it's time for me to diversify."

Harry stared at him for a very long time. "Diversify."

"Diversify."

"You don't strike me as . . . the type to diversify."

"The same goes for you."

"Oh. Really."

"Really. You seem . . . so vanilla."

"Vanilla."

"Yeah, vanilla. You know — plain."

"But you," Harry asked, his voice low and steady, "are diversified?"

Draco smiled, touching his tongue to the bottom of his teeth for a moment. "Whenever possible."

"I see."

"I get bored with the same old thing."

"Who doesn't?"

"You'd be surprised. A lot of people don't."

"Yeah, like the board of Leg, Limb, and Liberty?"

Draco tsked. "Like I said, I'm diversifying."

"How . . . surprising."

"Do you like surprises, Potter?"

Harry smiled slightly. "Absolutely."

Oh, Draco thought. I can think of a thousand surprises for you . . . "I'll remember that. But back to business—"

"Oh," Harry said nonchalantly, looking at Draco with a very gorgeous, very practised innocence, "we weren't talking business?"

"The bet."

"The bet. Right."

"That you haven't petrified me and shoved me up a chimney seems to be a good sign, so I'll continue," Draco said. "By the way, you're certain you saw the bananas?"

"Yes, Malfoy. Obviously."

"Good. Just so we're square. Anyway, one million galleons to the Society for Squib Assimilation if Eliza attends the Dormiens Ball as a Squib and isn't found out."

"She'll be spotted right off," Harry said, "because nobody will know her. Of course she'll be pegged as the Squib. And just as an FYI, I'm using the term 'Squib' only for purposes of this conversation."

"Fine," Draco said, not caring whether Harry used Squib or not. "And I've already thought of that. In addition to Eliza, we would also have in attendance nine additional witches and wizards who are homeschooled and who do not receive their magical education through Hogwarts, Beauxbatons, or Durmstrang. That way, if she doesn't know something that any Hogwarts student would be expected to, it wouldn't stand out as unusual under the circumstance of being homeschooled."

"What if someone knows about her family history? Or recognises her from Diagon Alley? She's panhandled there for years."

"That's where Pansy comes in. Once Pansy's done making her up and dressing her properly, there'll be no way in hell anyone'll recognise her."

"I hate Pansy."

"Too bad. She's brilliant at style."

"I can't imagine in a million years Eliza wanting to go along with something like this—"

"Who're you kidding? You heard her! She was begging you to go to the Dormiens Ball, remember? And I quote, 'because I can't'." Draco reached out and grasped Harry around the wrist, emphasising his point. "She'd kill to go!"

"How does Eliza benefit from this?"

"Well, like I keep saying, the money'll go to—"

"She won't care about that. She doesn't utilise charity. So what's in this for her?"

"She gets to be a princess for one night and pretend that her wretched existence is only a bad dream."

Harry looked down to where Draco was holding his wrist. Twisting it, he renegotiated their touch, their palms meeting. They stayed like that. Draco's heart began hammering in his chest. He felt like a sixteen-year-old schoolboy again, hesitant and full of want. He wondered what Harry was thinking, what Harry might be longing for.

"But," Harry said slowly, "it's not a dream. That is her life. In some ways, one night as a princess might make the return to reality even worse."

"Well then, you tell me," Draco said, pressing his palm against Harry's. "What do you think she'd like in return?"

Harry pushed back. "I don't know."

"Fancy finding out?"

"For a million galleons? Reckon I should ask."

"And there's your plus-one."

Harry shook his head, holding Draco's gaze. "Grossly inappropriate."

"Then go stag."

"It wouldn't be the first time."

"You know you'd have to be there if Eliza were to come, all bets aside. She'd need you there."

"I know."

Their fingertips were brushing and Draco was extremely glad he was still wearing his robes. It was strange and mesmerising and quietly erotic. Draco wanted to ask What are we doing? but he didn't want to break their spell. This unexpected intimacy had come from nowhere and Draco wasn't about to send it back. His groin ached and prickled with need, and here he was, touching Potter's hand, and Potter wasn't killing him for it, and the doors of enmity had just silently closed on them, thousands of possibilities at the ready. Merlin, Draco was so painfully hard; the legitimate reason for his visit was falling quickly to the wayside.

"And you will be there," Harry asked, so low it was practically inaudible, "Draco?"

"Yes." He had to say it twice before his voice would work.

"With your wife?"

Even this potentially mood-killing reference didn't penetrate their spell.

"Possibly. But that wouldn't matter."

"Reckon it matters to her."

Draco shook his head. His glasses slipped again, but no way was he going to move his hand to attend to them. Not at this moment. "No, not really."

"Sorry to hear it." The pads of Potter's fingers were slightly rough against Draco's soft ones as he moved them back and forth imperceptibly . . . was he caressing Draco? Or not?

"It's all rather mundane. It makes for a boring story."

"True," Harry said, "it's not exactly the kind of story I'm thinking of right now."

"You're thinking of a story?"

"Oh yeah. Definitely."

Draco was starting to panic because he realised he liked Harry. In that way. And he had done for as long as he could remember. He just could never admit it before. Reluctantly he pulled his hand away and made a fist. He pressed it into Harry's palm, as if making a congratulatory gesture. "I fully expect you to tell me your story. Someday."

Harry was regarding Draco strangely, and Draco knew Potter was just as intrigued by their moment as he was. He let his hand drop and he cocked his head. "Fully."

"But, er—" Draco coughed into his fist, silently willing his cock to not explode clean away, "We were discussing Eliza . . . "

"Eliza."

"One million galleons, Potter."

"She does like a good challenge. She's very clever." Harry looked at Draco. "It will have to be her choice. One hundred percent."

"One hundred percent." Draco nodded vigorously. "No coercion. Just present her with the facts as I've told you."

"And if she says no?"

Draco thought about this and made another impulsive adjustment to the arrangement on the fly. "Tell you what. If she says yes and nobody picks up on her being a Squib, then two million galleons to the Society for Squib Assimilation. If she says no or she's found out? Then one million. It's win-win."

It seemed to Draco that Potter was considering him as if he'd never seen Draco before, as if they'd never met. "You'd do that?"

"I just said it, didn't I?" Draco said. The benevolence was beginning to become like a sundae, too sweet, too much, too extravagant. Another bite and he would be sick on the rug, for this was against his very nature. He didn't like the feeling at all. Being benevolent and overtly generous was weak and poncy.

Harry commanded Draco's hand. "Shake on it."

Draco clasped Harry's hand in return and they spent the next thirty seconds being ridiculous and trying to outclench one another. When they let go, Draco had to resist the urge to shake out his hand and flex his fingers, to ensure they hadn't been crushed. "There."

"There."

"You'll speak to her?"

"It'd be a right fine day to see her excited about something besides a coin in her hat."

"Think she'll say yes?"

"She's rather impulsive. I wouldn't be surprised." Harry returned to the long, elegant dining room table and picked up his invitation. He considered it for a long moment. "Give me your quill."

"Why?"

"Just give me the sodding quill."

Draco handed it over, a tremendous spread of triumph surging. Eat it, Blaise. "Got a spot of etiquette, finally, eh?"

"Just a spot." Harry scrawled out his R.S.V.P. and handed it back over to Draco along with Draco's quill. "All yours."

"Excellent."

"So you can tell Zabini to pay up." Harry shook his head, looking confunded. "I can't believe this." He gestured for Draco to follow him and they left the dining room, Draco tucking Harry's R.S.V.P. safely inside his inner robes pocket. Harry led the way back to the kitchen, Draco following behind wordlessly. They both pulled up short, spotting the kids.

Eliza sat with Scorpius, who was writing as quickly as he could on his Arithmancy parchment. A pile of discarded banana peels sat between them and they each had a tall, partially-drunk glass of what appeared to be chocolate mooncalf milk.

"Harry's character number is two," she said. "Twos are empathic and have a lot of concern for other people, yeah? They are non-judgmental and are able to put themselves in others' positions and empathise with others' troubles. Some people think being empathic means being able to read other peoples' minds, but in my opinion that's a load of shite. Twos are cooperative." She put her arm down on the table, unconsciously brushing her fingers over Scorpius's forearm. "Twos play nicely. Me? I'm no two."

"Don't you play nicely?" Scorpius asked, the corner of his mouth lifting in a small smirk as he considered her.

"Ha! Hardly."

"What number are you, then?"

Eliza grinned slyly. "If you knew my name you could figure it out for yourself. I just happen to be bored tonight," she said loftily, "which is why I'm doing your homework for you. Anyway, like I said, twos are cooperative and they're considerate. They look out for others and are concerned for the well-being of mankind in general. They are ferociously protective of their loved ones. Oh, and as for the negative, they're sometimes overly sensitive or co-dependent."

"What's co-dependent?" Scorpius asked, his brow furrowing.

"It means you can't stand to do anything without a certain other person. Like, you can't go to Diagon Alley without your mummy or whatever. Or, more like your mummy can't let you go to Diagon Alley without her."

"Sounds like my parents. They don't let me do anything alone."

"I'm not co-dependent, for the record," Draco whispered in Harry's ear, resisting the urge to sneeze when Potter's hair tickled the tip of his nose. He stepped closer, closer still, allowing his belt buckle to press against Potter's back. He was just tall enough to manage it quite nicely.

"Right," Harry whispered back, turning his face to look at Draco. "Because you were never a nancy mummy's boy." Then, Potter bumped back against him, lightly but unquestionably, which surprised Draco. He stepped back, having to pull his robes closed to hide his insane arousal. They were hidden in the shadows of the narrow hallway leading through the scullery to the kitchen, and it would have been so easy to shove Potter over the butcher block there, to stuff his hands down the front of Potter's trousers, to fondle his cock and sac and to unzip— Instead, he made a concerted effort to observe his son and Harry's little waif.

Eliza had combed out her hair and now had it tied in a knot on top of her head, and apparently someone had done a colouring charm on her because her inch-long, mousey brown roots were gone, leaving it all an inky black. Her hair had been so matted when Draco had first met her that he couldn't have gauged how long it was. Her freshly-scrubbed face was pink and clean, and relaxed at the moment, and she wore no jewellery or the heavy kohl eyeliner that made her look aged and road-hard. At that moment she looked as average as any young girl her age. In fact, she vaguely reminded Draco of a young Pansy.

"She's . . . almost pretty," Draco whispered.

"Yes," Harry said matter-of-factly, not sounding inappropriate at all.

Eliza, as if suddenly detecting she was being observed and talked about, looked up. She smiled at Harry. "Took you long enough."

"We're done now."

"He's not," she said, thumbing towards Scorpius.

Draco raised an eyebrow. Scorpius was an efficient student, who always wanted to get his homework done as quickly as possible. In all this time he'd only managed to get through Potter's character number? Draco knew a stall when he saw one. "Scorpius. Finish up."

"Eliza's helping me."

"Well, that's bloody brilliant. But we need to get going."

"Ten minutes," Eliza said, cocking her head, looking at Draco with an unspoken plea, and Draco understood that she was simply feeling normal and liked it.

"Ten minutes," he agreed, nodding tacitly. He and Potter proceeded across the kitchen, Potter leaning up against the stove, legs crossed at the ankles, and Draco taking up residence next to the sink, where Kreacher the house-elf lurked.

Scorpius and Eliza stared at them, Scorpius frozen, his quill poised over his parchment.

"Do you mind?" Eliza asked, shaking her head as if it was obvious that Harry and Draco were being absurd.

"What?" Harry asked, oblivious. "I— Oh. Right." Hurriedly, he looked around. He picked up one of the bunches of bananas and looked at Draco. "Er, want one?"

"I hate bananas."

"Malfoy," Harry said, a fake smile plastered across his face. "Let's have a banana."

"I said— oh." And then Draco found himself snapping the stem of a perfect yellow banana and folding its peel down. He forced himself not to gag as he took a bite. He truly didn't like bananas.

"Malfoy and I are going to have a look around this place, Eliza. By the time we're back, Scorpius needs to be done with his homework."

She shrugged. "Talk to him. He's the one revising."

"How come you're not?" Scorpius asked Eliza, suddenly wondering. "How come I've never seen you at school? What House are you in?"

"There's tonnes of people at Hogwarts. You can't possibly have seen everyone."

"I'd've seen you."

Eliza pinked up. She took a deep breath and Draco could see the wheels turning in her head, as if she were deciding on something important. She lifted her chin and when she spoke her voice was haughty and defensive. "I'm not at Hogwarts. I'm a—"

"Eliza's homeschooled," Draco said loudly, through the revolting mouthful of banana, drowning her out.

Eliza snapped around to look at Draco, her eyes narrowing. He held her gaze unflinchingly, chewing, and when Scorpius glanced down at his parchment to make a note, Draco put a finger up to his lips.

Shh.

She opened her mouth as if to say something, but then closed it. She gazed at Harry, who nodded almost imperceptibly at her. She looked back at Draco once more before leaning back in her chair and plucking a fresh banana from her nearly depleted bunch. She peeled it, and Draco could see she was taking another deep breath, as if calming herself.

"Anyhow," Harry said, motioning for Draco to follow him out of the kitchen, "we won't be gone long. I'm just going to show Malfoy around the place. So finish up your assignment."

*

Harry's manor — which lacked a properly pretentious name — was huge. Like, hugely huge. It was far larger than Malfoy Manor.

But Draco didn't care.

For when Harry'd led him up one of the back, hidden staircases — a staircase so narrow Draco's elbows and shoulders brushed the walls as they made their way up; they were stairs meant for servants — Draco and Harry found themselves suddenly plunged into near darkness as they passed between the evenly spaced torched wall sconces.

Draco, when he later revisited it, honestly couldn't say who touched who first.

All he remembered was one moment they were passing under a torch dancing with an eerie purple flame and he was watching his and Potter's shadows stretch across the opposite wall, and in the next moment their hands were all over each other and their lips were barely touching as they breathed into each other’s mouths, their bananas discarded thoughtlessly on the steps.

"What is this?" Draco whispered into Potter's mouth. "What is this?" He was absolutely one hundred percent certain he had never been so hard, had never experienced the level of explosive desire that was currently eating his insides alive, like Fiendfyre out of control.

"Dunno," Harry said breathlessly, and Draco thought he heard the sound of water dripping, echoing in their empty, forgotten stairwell. "Make me come . . . "

Draco grabbed Potter up by his robes, tugging at him desperately. He flipped Harry around and slammed him up against the wall of the curving staircase and plunged his hands downwards as Potter's face squashed up against the cool stone. In an instant he had Potter's trousers undone and he was easing them down, easing them over the perfect curve of Harry's arse. Draco couldn't stop himself — he grabbed onto Potter's arse, kneading, stroking, and when Harry reached back to fumble at Draco's belt, Draco let go of Potter's arse long enough to take up his hands and smack them against the stone. "Keep your hands on the wall," he hissed, grinding against Harry's arse so hard he was surprised the zip of his trousers didn't somehow cut right through Harry's pristine skin.

"Touch me—" Harry's hands were high up on the wall, as Draco required, and he leaned back against Draco, grinding, completely unabashed.

Draco stroked Harry's cock until Harry groaned and began thrusting into his hand, fucking Draco's hand shamelessly, and Draco squeezed until he'd made Potter's foreskin into a slick, velvety sheath, which, he knew from experience, would have Potter coming hard and fast. With his free hand he undid his own trousers and, although it was awkward, he managed to push them down, untangling his erection from the band of his shorts. He went down one step with his left foot, giving himself angle and leverage, and he concentrated on guiding his bobbing cock, sliding and circling against the back of Harry's legs until he managed to slip his cock between Potter's thighs. "Put your legs together— yeah— like that— oh yeah . . . "

Draco established their rhythm, him fucking the tight space between Potter's thighs from behind, Potter thrusting desperately through Draco's fist. Draco loved the way Potter's taut sac felt against the top of his cock as he thrust and ground, and then Potter was crying out and his come was warm and slicking up Draco's hand, and Draco grabbed onto Potter's hips and dug his fingers in deep as he slammed against Harry from behind, over and over until his own orgasm gushed forth, harder than anytime he could remember before, and he came in hot, wet spurts against Potter's balls. "Ooh . . ." he groaned, more because what he'd done was hitting him like a landslide than because he was spent. He knew one thing for certain.

He never, ever wanted this to end.

He clung to Potter, burying his face in the damp crook of Harry's neck. He inhaled deeply, pressing up against Harry's back, his heart hammering away ferociously, trying to catch his breath, and Potter was smooth and warm against him. Draco could feel Harry's heart pounding too as Potter let his head drop. A single bead of perspiration trailed down Harry's nose to splash onto the floor.

"That—" And for a moment Harry covered Draco's hands with his own "—can't— That probably shouldn't ever happen again."

Draco snorted. "What, are you effin' crazy?"

"It . . . was better than I thought it would be," Harry admitted.

"And that's exactly why it won't only be this once." Draco allowed himself to brush his lips against the skin of Harry's neck, just once, and he touched the tip of his tongue there, tasting the vaguely salty, pure essence of human skin. A full body shiver rose then, rippling through him and raising goose bumps. He squeezed Harry's hips one last time, and then pushed away from him, his cock still hard as he slid out from between Harry's thighs. Draco stuffed it back into his shorts and pulled his trousers closed. Harry did the same.

Harry turned around as he did up his trousers. He and Draco considered each other, neither embarrassed nor particularly regretful.

All things considered, it was probably the best headspace to be in following a frantic, unplanned encounter with one's declared mortal enemy.

"You did very well," Harry said, looking like he wanted to eat Draco right up.

Draco decided that being eaten up would be just fine. He was unfulfilled, still horribly randy, and an overwhelming sense of need buzzed inside him.

This was what he had been waiting for most of his life.

Slowly Draco undid his trousers again, and he peeled the damp fabric of his shorts away from his cock, which was showing no signs of softening. "Look at me," he said to Harry, as the strange purple flames in the sconces leapt and fell, and he didn't even have to ask for what he wanted, for Potter was getting down onto his knees, right there on the brutally hard marble stairs.

Draco didn't care that he'd just come and that the slightest touch would make him flinch. He wanted Harry Potter's mouth on him now, no matter what.

Harry's mouth was just as warm and wet as Draco had dreamt it would be, and Harry didn't really do much, just let Draco thrust slowly, leisurely, enjoying the sensation. Harry let Draco wallow in the view of his cock disappearing into Harry Potter's mouth, again and again. Once, Draco reached up and put his thumb on Harry's lightning bolt scar, caressing it for a moment before pulling away. "I can't come again," he said in a low voice, lamenting this fact, and after a few more strokes, he slipped free of Potter's mouth, leaving his cock all tingly and sore. "But some other time . . . "

"My knees are killing me." It was all Harry said as he lumbered to his feet. He touched the corner of his mouth with the back of his sleeve, and then sucked on his bottom lip for a split second. "The kids should be done. Make sure and clean up that banana."

*

"Harry?"

It was an hour and a half later. Harry looked up from Modern Quidditch. Eliza clung to the door frame.

"What's up?"

"Madeleine — well, you know those Gobstones you gave her?"

"Was it the wrong thing?" Harry asked, immediately worried. "Is she too young for those? I didn't even think about the choking risk—"

"Oh, no, they're brilliant — she loves them. But — and I think she's just really tired — well, she had a tantrum and she was screaming and crying, and she made the bag of Gobstones explode—"

"Oh! Well, that happens with children. They don't mean to do magic, it just happens—"

"I've got one up my nose."

"Come again?" Harry boggled, putting his magazine aside.

"I've got a Gobstone up my nose." Eliza pressed at the side of her nose, looking worried. "It's killing me, Harry! I can't get it out, and of course the kids don't know any spells and they don't have wands anyway, and I don't think I can wait twelve hours for Mungo's clinic right now—"

"No," Harry said, trying not to laugh at her predicament. "You don't need the clinic. Come over here." Harry sat her on the sofa and stood facing her, tilting her head back. "Lumos." He looked around. "Oh, yeah, I see it." He passed the tip of his wand over her nostril several times, ensuring he was seeing it properly. "Okay, I want you to breathe in deep and I'm going to count to three. When I get to three, breathe out as hard as you can through your nose. It might hurt, but only for a second or two, all right?"

She nodded. "All right." She braced herself and took a deep breath and held it.

"One. Two. Three! Waddiwasi!"

"AHH!" The Gobstone shot out from Eliza's nostril and ricocheted from floor to ceiling and then back down to the floor again, where it bounced along on the carpet until it disappeared under the wireless cabinet. "Bugger, that really hurt!" Eliza held her nose; a thin trail of blood trickled from behind her fingers.

Harry found her a tissue. "A useful little spell," he said. "Remember it. Say it after me. Waddiwasi."

"Waddiwasi!"

"A little more emphasis on the 'ah' at the end. Waddiwahsi."

"Waddiwahsi!"

"Right Now teach it to Harry, but tell him he's not allowed to use it to shoot bogies from people's noses and he's not allowed to try it until he gets to Hogwarts."

"Why do you teach me magic?"

"Because you're a witch."

"No, I'm not."

"You are. Your father was a wizard, your mum a witch. Therefore, you are a witch. You need to know as much about magic as possible."

"I'm a Squib, Harry."

"You told me that when you were three you bounced when you fell from a tree. You've got magic in you."

"No," Eliza said, rather forlornly. "I don't. That was the only time anything like that's happened to me. I'm a Muggle."

Harry thought fondly of Neville Longbottom and his story about bouncing. "A Muggle would never, ever bounce. Never. Not even once."

"Sometimes I think about going into the Muggle world and making my way there."

"But, it's not your world. You'd be unhappy."

"How'd'you know?" Eliza lifted her chin proudly. "Maybe I'd feel more at home there, where I wouldn't be expected to know magic."

"How long have we known each other?"

"Since I was thirteen."

"I feel confident in saying that I truly believe you'd be unhappy in the Muggle world. Have you been studying the books I've been giving you?"

"Yes." And she had been.

"So there's no reason you can't know just as much as your peers about magic."

"I helped that boy with his Arithmancy." She seemed pleased.

"Who, Scorpius?"

"Yeah. And I did it right."

"Scorpius took a fancy to you."

"He doesn't know I'm a Squib."

"You're a witch," Harry said emphatically, privately agreeing that someone like Scorpius Malfoy — a generational pure-blood — might not be ultimately impressed by a witch who couldn't do magic. "And once you develop your gift it will be your business how and when you choose to use magic, just like it is for any other witch or wizard. You don't owe anyone any explanations or proof that you're a magical being."

"I got Scorpius to transfigure me a comb," she giggled.

"That's because you're very resourceful."

Eliza covered her mouth with her hands, giggling like any normal fifteen-year-old girl ought to, losing the careworn look about her. "He didn't even ask where my wand was."

"You know, someday we'll go to Ollivanders and we'll see if a wand wants to choose you. You never know."

"My mum's told me about Ollivanders. It sounds brilliant — all old and historic and dusty with lots of little boxes. I like little boxes." She dabbed at her nose, which had stopped bleeding.

"So don't stop revising, yeah? You can never know too much, and you never know what life's going to hand you."

"All right," she said. "It keeps me out of trouble anyway. The books." She looked at him. "Our washing's almost done. Then it'll be time to go. Will you Apparate us back to Diagon Alley?"

"Sure."

"Thanks, Harry."

Harry looked at her for a very long time. "Eliza, I want to talk to you about something."

Her face fell and she swallowed hard. "Oh?"

"Malfoy and I had a long talk tonight—"

"You don't need to worry," Eliza said in a very small voice. "We won't bother you ever again. And we're so—" her voice broke "— so grateful for everything you've done for us. I promise I'll bring back all the books you've lent me, and you don't have to bring the bags of food — we'll get on all right. I've been thinking lately that it'd— it'd probably be best—" She was crying now, as if the precariousness of her reality had fully hit her for the first time.

"Eliza—"

"—to turn ourselves into the Ministry, because I'm tired, Harry. I'm so tired of living this life, and I'll never have a normal life no matter what, and people always leave—"

"I am not leaving you. Or Harry, or Finlay, or Madeleine." The quiet tone of his voice managed to penetrate her mounting hysteria. "Eliza. As long as you'll have me—" he didn't dare say 'need me' for she was far too proud for that "—I am here."

She blinked at him, her cheeks shiny and wet. "Yeah? You mean it?"

"Of course I mean it."

"Because I'd totally understand why you'd want to—"

"You let me decide what I do and don't want to do, all right?"

"All right." She swiped at her eyes, seemingly embarrassed. "Sorry."

"I have something to talk to you about that I think you might like," Harry said. "When you're ready."

She steeled herself after one more swipe at her eyes. "I'm ready. What do you want to talk to me about?"

*

"Hello?" Draco answered the door, chewing, with a half-eaten sandwich in one hand and Serpentine Lion: In the Shadow of the Scar in the other, where he'd marked his page with his finger.

Potter stood there with a large box of bananas. "Malfoy," he said, inclining his head ever so slightly.

Draco choked on his roast beef, inhaling the entire mouthful, which caused him to cough a wad of chewed up, soggy bread and meat into the middle of Potter's chest. The glob of food fell into Potter's box of bananas and Draco whipped his other arm around behind his back, hiding the book. "Potter," he hacked, still coughing and wheezing.

Harry raised an eyebrow. "And have you got to the part where I grew up in a cupboard, slave to a family of mad Muggles?"

"What? Oh!" Draco brought the book out guiltily. "This? Blaise Zabini recommended it. Say, is it true that you took out that Mountain Troll in our first year by sticking your wand up its nose? Because that's just vile—"

"Ron and Hermione helped."

Draco pushed the book against Harry's chest, in the spot where he'd just spat his sandwich. "A-ha! So it is true."

Harry grabbed the book, balancing the bananas on one thigh, and flung it backwards over his head as hard as he could. It scuttled down the road leading up to Malfoy Manor, kicking up a tiny dervish of dust as it bounced down the drive, until it came to rest spine up, a chunk of its pages crumpled on the pebbles and dirt.

"Hey! I was reading that." Draco drew his wand. "Accio Potter biography."

They both reached for it at the same time as it soared over their heads, but Draco was taller and he caught it with ease.

"Fantastic," Potter said, gritting his teeth. "Why are you reading up on me?"

"You mean to say if there was a bio out on me that you seriously wouldn't read it?"

"I seriously wouldn't. Your biography could easily be composed of tiny cuttings from the Daily Prophet. Like a comic."

"That's completely false and you know it." Right? Draco wondered what he would want written in his biography. He couldn't think of a single thing he'd want the entire world to know about him, except perhaps that he was Scorpius's father and that he was Chair of the board of Leg, Limb, and Liberty. Practically everything else was too sordid, too embarrassing, too cowardly, too selfish, too solipsistic.

He didn't do anything worth writing about, he realised. 6A was perfect for him. It kept his image, his name, foremost in peoples' minds, but rarely coupled with negative quips or comments. He had to give Rita Skeeter credit: she had had his back for far longer than was in character for her, owing to all the information he had passed on to her during the Triwizard Tournament in his fourth year. Although Rita mostly wrote feature pieces these days, she was in tight with Teeny Timms, 6A's editor and the Daily Prophet's society reporter, and, knowing Rita, given the right circumstances, she'd give up every dirty little cringeworthy secret about Draco she knew, and he was quite sure she knew plenty. So he remained exceptionally cordial with her and even continued to feed her the occasional tidbit.

"There's certainly things in my past that could warrant a biography," Draco said, raising his chin and looking down his nose at Harry. "Things you bloody well couldn't imagine."

"I can imagine a lot."

"You can't imagine everything."

"Anyway," Potter said, shifting his box to the other side, "I've come to return your bananas."

"You're rejecting my bananas?" Draco was aghast.

"Well, technically, yes, but it's not because there's anything wrong with them. I just don't need thirty bunches of bananas."

"I don't like bananas."

"I don't either."

"Which would explain why you have your own personal banana tree."

"That," Potter said, the corner of his mouth twitching, "is a long story."

Draco lounged in his doorway, having banished his sandwich. He fanned himself leisurely with Serpentine Lion: In the Shadow of the Scar. "I may have more money than time, but I guess I can carve out a moment or two to hear of your banana tree escapades. Or," he asked, holding up the book for a moment, "is it in here? I don't recall noting a chapter on banana trees."

"I hardly know you well enough to discuss the origins of my banana tree. Here." Potter shoved the box of bananas at Draco, jamming it into his gut until Draco reflexively grabbed hold. Serpentine Lion fell again to the ground. Harry nicked it up, stuffing it into the pocket of his robes.

"Oh, come on," Draco whinged. "I'm reading that. Don't make me go out for a new copy."

"Hey, you're the one with more money than time. Besides, whenever someone buys this book, a portion of the proceeds go to St. Mungo's urgent care clinic. It'd be refreshing to see you give a little to something new."

"You mean this is an authorised biography?" If Draco hadn't been holding the box of bananas, he would have plundered Potter's pocket straightaway, and reclaimed his book.

"Not exactly." Harry shrugged. "I made a deal with Piers Egg."

"Why?"

"Because he was going to publish it anyway and he's no Rita Skeeter, I'll give him that. We played a little quid pro quo. I talked with him, he agreed to donate."

"I like quid pro quo." Draco said, remembering vividly the other night, he and Potter hidden away in a servants’ stairwell, quid pro quoing like whoa.

"Mmm," Potter said noncommittally. "Anyhow, you've got your bananas. I kept ten bunches."

Potter was so fine standing there that Draco had to do something. He dropped the box of bananas to the ground and stepped forwards, and in one fluid movement his hand was inside Potter's robes pocket, searching for his book. He'd be goddamned if Potter hadn't done one of those extension charms. "Aww, come on," he whinged, groping around blindly.

Potter clamped his hand around the back of Draco's neck, squeezing tightly, tugging there, trying to get Draco to move away.

Draco liked Potter's grip on his neck, so he dug in deeper. "What's this?" His fingers closed around a slim metal object that was obviously a knife of some sort. "Weapons, eh?"

"It's just a pocket knife," Potter said, straining to pull Draco free from his robes. "Would you get out?"

"Is that a bicycle?"

"One of two." Harry was now attempting to prise Draco's arm from his pocket using both hands.

Draco located several books that were too big to be Serpentine Lion, a pair of trainers, a largish wad of clothing, a variety of tins, a bag of acid pops from the feel of it . . . and a Golden Snitch. He would know the cool feeling of the little metal ball anywhere, anytime. He pulled it out of Harry's pocket and held it slightly aloft, pinching it between his thumb and forefinger, shaking Harry off in the process.

"Well, well," Draco said, rather quietly, "those were the days." The Snitch's wings unfurled from its tiny golden body, humming away. "What happens if I let it go?" he asked, challenging Potter.

"Let it go and find out."

"Fine." Draco flicked it into the air. The little Snitch whirled mid-air for several moments, and then zipped over to Potter and tucked itself against Potter's neck, just under the spot where Harry's ear curved into his jaw, and it hovered there almost lovingly.

Draco caught Potter's gaze and held it, unconsciously pushing his glasses up on his nose. It only took a moment until Draco felt Harry challenging him — to what exactly he didn't know — and he felt Potter's latent desire bubbling red and molten, contained but dangerously so. He felt Potter's disgust and dislike and noted, in the way of the optimistic Slytherin, that dislike was a step up from hatred. He sensed intrigue and sadness and anger and loneliness, and Draco knew one thing: he was nobody's rebound, especially Harry Potter's.

Nevertheless, like a Kneazle, Draco had never been able to resist a good ball of yarn. He liked to play, liked to bat about his prey. Mmm, Draco thought. Cat and mouse. Well, then. Meow. He reached out slowly; Potter didn't waver. Carefully, he closed his fingers around the Snitch again, taking care to not crush its delicate wings, and he moved his hand ever so slightly, stepping forwards, and he trailed the Snitch down the side of Harry's neck, letting its wings flutter against the sensitive skin there just long enough until Potter tipped his head slightly, until he swayed into the Snitch's touch.

"You like that?" Draco whispered. Their eyes were locked.

Harry said nothing. He clamped his hand over Draco's. The Snitch struggled in vain, trapped by two hands now.

"I remember our match in fifth year," Draco said, continuing in a low tone, remembering how Potter's Quidditch glove felt under his scrabbling fingers as he'd frantically lunged for the snitch, his Nimbus 2001 simply outdone by Potter's Firebolt. "If I'd had a Firebolt too, I would've won."

"But," Harry said, squeezing Draco's fingers, "you didn't win."

"You're the only one—" Draco was loath to admit it.

"The only one who what?" Potter was moving his hand over Draco's now, as if trying to intertwine their fingers so they'd be holding the Snitch together.

Draco could not say aloud to Harry Potter that he was the only person that Draco could never beat, and so it was his turn to remain silent, but he was at least bold enough to continue to hold Harry's gaze. It stirred his insides and for Merlin's sake he prayed he wasn't flushing.

Harry curled his fingers all the way over Draco's hand and dug his fingernail into the underside of Draco's wrist, in the sensitive spot where the veins came together, and Draco opened his hand. Harry scooped the Snitch out from his grasp, and as he did he pulled Draco viciously, almost causing Draco to stumble, until they were practically nose to nose. Potter's breath smelled sweet, like mint gum, and Draco felt the fluttering of the Snitch's wings against his cheek.

Harry smiled. "I guess I win again." And he pushed Draco away. He stumbled backwards, but managed to stay upright, and he caught his copy of Serpentine Lion when Harry tossed it at him with a victorious smirk. "Read up, then. I couldn't care less."

*

As it turned out, Potter had more business than bananas on his mind when he came calling on Draco.

Draco'd introduced Potter to Astoria, who was ever the gracious lady, and had taken Harry's hand without the slightest hesitation and had shown him into the lounge, all the while making perfect small talk. It was just four, so she offered tea, which, Draco supposed, Harry felt obligated to accept, and within fifteen minutes they found themselves sitting rather primly in Draco's formal lounge, staring wordlessly at one another, each of them holding a tiny teacup and saucer.

"Mr. Potter," Astoria said finally, "I was so pleased when Draco told me you'd be coming to the Dormiens Ball. You know, for years we figured you—" she hesitated for only the slightest moment "—and your former wife would never join us."

"I'm a homebody," Harry said, rubbing his thumb unconsciously against the delicate handle of the tea cup. It was so small he actually had to crook his little finger. "So was— so is Ginny."

"Yet she comes to the ball now."

"She changed. After what happened."

"Such a dreadful incident," Astoria said, very sincerely. "I'm sure it's the last thing you want to talk about. Please don't feel compelled to."

Harry shrugged. "It's, ah, yeah. Not a contingency I expected."

Astoria nodded. "Will you be bringing someone? I believe we have you down as just one."

"That's right. It'll just be me."

"You've been extraordinarily generous to the Society for Squib Assimilation over the years — a true benefactor. If you'd like to escort someone to the ball, I'm sure I could help arrange—"

"Oh," Harry said, holding his hand up. "No. No need. Thank you, but I'll be fine."

"If you change your mind, just say the word."

"Well, thank you. You're very thoughtful."

Astoria made to rise. "I'll leave you and Draco to your business—"

"Actually," Draco said, putting a hand out, indicating she should stay, "you might be interested in this."

*

An hour later, Astoria had traded in her tea for wine and was flushed, but Draco couldn't tell if it was from the alcohol or because she was hacked off. He let his eyes wander downwards. Yeesh, he thought. There was the telltale splotching spreading across her neck and chest. Yep. She was pissed off. How she'd managed to pull it off, Draco didn't know, but Astoria'd spent the last fifteen minutes barking orders via firechat, and he presently found himself, along with Potter, Zabini, Nott, Baddock, and Goyle, whom she had summoned, standing in a line in front of Astoria as she considered them angrily.

"What in the name of Merlin is wrong with you lot?" She crossed her arms over her chest.

They all spoke at once, except for Potter, who remained silent.

"It was Zabini's idea—"

"It's not my fault Draco's never seen a Squib before—"

"That's a fair amount to charity! What's the problem?"

"Does Daphne like gardenias, because I've read that gardenias are a good August flower—"

"Hush, Gregory," Astoria said, talking over all of them. "How could you use a poor innocent girl like this for your own amusement?"

"It's not for amusement," Draco said defensively, although it was. It was just that Eliza wasn't the plaything he was after. "It's for charity."

"For charity! You're putting her in a terrible position — imagine the stress! Why not just give the money?"

"We are!" Draco said. "We're donating a million already to the Society for Squib Assimilation. See? And that was—"

"Excuse me," Blaise said, interrupting, leaning over to stare pointedly at Draco, "since when are we donating a cool million for no reason at all?"

Astoria pointed at Blaise. "See? I knew this wasn't about charity."

Draco waved Blaise down. "I'll explain it later."

"You'd better. And you'd better be paying me back."

"And you." She turned to Harry. "I thought you had this girl's best interests at heart. How can you possibly condone this?"

"It's not about whether or not I condone it. It's about Eliza's choice and she's chosen to go. She looks at it as a challenge."

"Well she doesn't have an invitation," Astoria said huffily, "so she won't even be able to get in."

"Uh—" Draco looked at Astoria. "About the invitation . . . "

Astoria put her hands on her hips. "You forged an invitation to the Dormiens Ball? Oh, for God's sakes. Of all the contemptible—"

"I did not forge anything," Draco said indignantly. "I went to Griselda Marchbanks—"

"For shame!"

"What?"

"Griselda's in the nursing ward at St. Mungo's! She's practically two hundred years old!"

"Well, she's still on the invitation committee for the Dormiens Ball. If you thought she was too old to issue invitations, then you would've taken her off!"

"That's neither here nor there—"

"Potter says the Squib wants to play along," Malcolm said, shrugging. "What's all the fuss about?"

"Her name is Eliza, not 'the Squib’," Harry said. "And she very much wants to go to the ball, yes."

"And— and— Who will escort her? If she's there alone, people will automatically know that she's the Squib—"

"Ha!" Draco said, pointing at Astoria. "You said 'Squib.'"

"I mean the witch in question," Astoria clarified haughtily. "Draco, you just make me so angry."

Draco spread his arms and flashed a brilliant smile at her. "It's all part of the package."

"You're truly impossible!" She rolled her eyes.

"Anyway, we thought about that," Draco said. "We've got nine homeschooled witches and wizards coming to the ball, all between fourteen and sixteen years old, so Eliza won't stand out."

"And I supposed you weaselled those invitations out of Griselda Marchbanks as well?"

"Griselda was extremely helpful, I admit."

"I'll bet you even held the quill for her."

"Well, she is almost two hundred years old. Our elders sometimes need help with those things."

"Look," Harry said, cutting through Draco and Astoria's exchange, "I know Eliza. I know she is up for this challenge." He clarified. "I'm not saying she's guaranteed to win or to not be found out, but she's up for the challenge. She's a tough girl."

Astoria considered Harry. "Many women are tough, Mr. Potter. It doesn't mean they can't be hurt."

"I understand that."

"Do you?"

"Yes."

"I doubt this lot does." She made a sweeping gesture at her Slytherin fellows. "They don't think like that."

"That's not true!"

"I know as much as the next bloke about— about—"

"I know that women can hurt!"

"There's nothing wrong with a little emotional gambling—"

"Why, I reckon if this girl were at Hogwarts she'd be Slytherin, too."

"That's got nothing to do with it," Astoria said. "It doesn't matter what house a person's in—"

"I went out with a Ravenclaw once," Harry pointed out, "and she cried all the time. But my other friend, who's also Ravenclaw, would've done just as well in Gryffindor."

They all spoke at once, a gaggle of sneering, snotty toerags.

"Who wants to be in Gryffindor?"

Feigned coughing and gagging followed.

"Oh, honestly," Harry said, "really? How old are we?"

"And who's going to look after this girl?" Astoria asked, continuing to express concern over Eliza's welfare.

"I am," Harry said.

"I am," Draco said.

Astoria raised an eyebrow.

"And Pansy," Draco added.

"Pansy's in on this too?"

Draco nodded vigorously. "As soon as I tell her."

"Well," Astoria said, drawing herself up, "I feel obligated to ensure this girl's welfare now too. If it were up to me, I'd call this entire ridiculous bet off, but I realise it's, what, me against seven of you? The best I can do is stamp out your fires."

Draco took her up by the shoulders and kissed both her cheeks. "I knew you'd come around."

"I have not come around. I totally disagree with what you're doing."

"You're right, though. Some matters take on a life of their own. And remember," Draco said to Astoria, "you've been harping— you've been wanting me to balance out my charitable giving for a while now."

"Oh, yes. Let's make this all about me. Of course."

"I'm just saying."

"Well, don't," Astoria said, shooing the lot of them out of the lounge and diverting them towards the kitchen and dining room. "I believe it's time for dinner and I'd better have a bite before I'm even more vexed at you." She looked at Harry. "Will you join us, Mr. Potter?"

"Oh," Harry said, looking uncomfortable. "Thank you, but no. I—" he gestured clumsily "I— There's a hole in the roof that needs attention— It's supposed to rain . . . "

"Another time," Astoria said smoothly, offering her hand again. "It was a genuine pleasure to meet you and I look forward to seeing you at the Dormiens Ball on the seventh. You'll ring me if the girl, Eliza, needs an extra woman's touch with her preparations?"

"Er— sure. That'd be fine." Harry stuffed his hands in his pockets. "Thank you."

"Do you need the Floo, Potter?" Draco asked, decidedly amused.

"No. I'll Disapparate. Just show me the front door again."

"Shall do." And Draco was suddenly reminded of the duel they'd had in his drawing room, all those many years ago, and he remembered declining to identify Potter, Weasley, and Granger to his Aunt Bellatrix, which, he doubted Potter knew, could have cost him his life if Lord Voldemort had found out that Draco had known all along who the trio was.

It wasn't until that moment as an adult that Draco figured out why he'd done it. Or hadn't done it, as it were. He had chosen not to identify Potter to Bella because he had liked him — in that way. He'd buried it under heaps and layers of hatred, animosity, and genuine anger, but the fact remained that Draco had liked Harry Potter. And he'd saved his life accordingly.

*

Dormiens means 'sleeping'. What made the Dormiens Ball unique was that it was actually a pyjama party — the fanciest, most elegant, classiest pyjama party ever, where witches vied to outdo one another with gowns styled as nightwear in the most tasteful of ways. For a lady to wear off-the-rack to the Dormiens Ball was unheard of, and since Draco had established the event in 2000 — wearing stretchy striped pyjamas with feet, for what it was worth — Madam Malkin's, Gladrags, and Twilfitt and Tatting’s had done a brisk business in custom robes specifically for the Dormiens Ball. The wealthiest witches patronised private designers, and thus a fashion show of sorts had been born.

Halfway through the ball, the best-dressed women would slink down a conjured runway that wound its way through the ballroom and the men would vote on the most beautiful set of robes. It was painfully patriarchal, yet all attempts to rid the ball of this particular event by the younger, more progressive witches had so far fallen on deaf ears. The older ladies loved it.

It was for this reason that Pansy Parkinson found herself at Astor Twilfitt's private boutique — for Astor had gone solo from the family business, her design studio housed right above Twilfitt and Tatting's shop — paying triple the normal amount to fit Eliza Cattermole for custom robes.

It was two days before Eliza's scheduled monthly bath at Harry's and she was at the height of bad form and as ripe as a turning mango.

"The shower's this way," Astor Twilfitt had said, at first whiff. She was a no-nonsense woman, like Pansy. "Don't come out until you're spotless."

Astor had popped downstairs to Twilfitt and Tatting’s and procured a new set of knickers and a plain, shapeless camisole — "For I'm not touching those tatty knickers," she'd said, pointing her wand at the festering pile of clothing Eliza'd left outside the bathroom — and she'd put the freshly scrubbed girl up on a fitting stool once she was decent.

"It's fucking cold in here," Eliza said sulkily, arms crossed over her chest. Every inch of her was rough with goosebumps. Astor was taking measurements with her wand, muttering numbers to a Quick Quotes Quill which scratched away at a fat design book floating mid-air.

"You'll need to not do that," Pansy said, considering the girl darkly. "Swear, that is. Ladies don't swear. And before you even say it? Let's both acknowledge that, no, you are not a lady."

"Ha! Neither are you," Eliza said back, just as catty. "Besides, being a lady's too constraining. Who'd want to be a lady?" She continued with a singsong sarcastic tone. "Don't do this, don't do that. Don't say this, don't say that. Don't like this, don't like that. Study this, don't study that. Find a good wizard to take care of you before you end up an old maid. No sex before marriage—"

"Now that's a load of bunk," Pansy said, looking up from the magazine she'd been perusing, interrupting Eliza's tirade.

"I doubt that."

"Everyone has sex before marriage." Pansy looked Eliza up and down, as if she were a piece of rubbish. "God knows what you do to pay the bills in a pinch."

Eliza's eyes narrowed. "That's not true."

"I doubt that," Pansy parroted, a vicious tone creeping into her already mean voice.

Eliza fixed her eyes on the clock over the fitting room door and refused to speak to Pansy for the rest of the fitting, only addressing Astor's questions about her preferences with clipped replies, her main answers being "I don't know" or "I don't care”.

"This is ridiculous," Pansy bitched, setting aside the magazine. In an instant she was in front of Eliza, pinching Eliza's chin between her thumb and forefinger, inspecting her face and colouring. "With the dark hair and eyes I'd say either scarlet or white—"

"Agreed," Astor said, noting this in her design book.

"As I'm wearing scarlet, it'll be white for this one." Pansy tilted her head, her eyes raking over Eliza's thin frame. "She's too skinny for an empire waist, so let's go with a full bodice with lots of puffy, floating skirt to emphasise her waist. What can you do with white?" she asked Astor.

"Plenty. How much do you want to spend?"

"I've already given you triple. I'm sure that'll cover whatever we want."

"There's two things I could do that would be brilliant. I could weave unicorn hair through the fabric, which will make the dress sparkle like the night sky. Or, I have an interesting new product — Chizpurfle."

"Chizpurfle?" Pansy crinkled her nose. "Parasites?"

"They're new from Paris. They're strings of Chizpurfle that I would also weave through the fabric of the dress. Just spritz the dress all over with any clear potion and the Chizpurfle start to glitter very subtly whenever air flows over them. They're interesting because people wonder if the robes are glowing or not. It's similar to unicorn hair, but so far all the witches I've tried to talk into trying Chizpurfle won't do it. They're afraid the Chizpurfle will damage their wands."

"Sounds like a tacky form of Lumos," Pansy said, sceptical. She deliberately refrained from commenting on the wand issue, mustering all the restraint she could to resist the opportunity for a nasty comment.

"Oh no. They're incredibly elegant. Whenever a slight breeze picks up the Chizpurfle light up. It's more like a faint glitter than a full blown light. Here, I have a sample." Astor flicked her wand. "Nox." She held a piece of fabric up to Eliza. "Go on, then. Blow on it gently."

Eliza complied. "Oh," she sighed dreamily as the fabric shimmered under her breath, apparently unable to help herself from liking the beautiful fabric.

"Interesting," Pansy said.

"I thought you'd think so." Astor lit up the room again.

"How many robes have you made with unicorn hair?"

"Seven, I'd say. About that."

"I want the parasites," Eliza said, finding an opinion at last.

"You would," Pansy sniped. "Fine. We'll give the Chizpurfle a go. Not like it matters as it's just her."

"Oh, she won't be a 'just her' in this dress. It will be truly unique."

"It'd better be." Pansy sized Eliza up once more. "I trust your judgment, Astor, but I do think the robes should have a lot of chiffon."

"Chiffon. Fine. Very appropriate for her age." Astor's quill made a note of this. "Do you have a sleeve preference?" Sleeves were de rigueur for Dormiens robes. For really, no witch wore sleeveless, strapless nightgowns to bed at night. The ball wasn't a tarty function.

"Either cap or princess. She'll have gloves."

Eliza rolled her eyes. "Oh God."

"That's right," Pansy said. "Very chaste."

"Fine." Eliza looked at Astor. "Can I keep the knickers?"

Astor looked at Eliza as if she were a complete nutter. "Obviously."

*

*CRACK*!

It was half one in the morning and Draco couldn't sleep, and so he'd slipped out from bed, got dressed silently, and sat for an hour in the kitchen nursing a large vodka tonic, hoping it would help lull him to sleep. But, in hindsight, he acknowledged, this was completely disingenuous, for if he were truly trying to get back to sleep, he wouldn't have got dressed.

In the kitchen, on the counter, was Potter's box of bananas.

Draco decided he needed to return the bananas to Potter at that moment, and so he had drained his glass in three long gulps, grabbed up the box, and Apparated from the kitchen straight onto Potter's doorstep, where he currently found himself standing.

He felt a surge of heat as the vodka kicked in and in a moment of terrific daring he pounded on Harry's door. He set the bananas down.

Before he understood that the door had even opened, Draco found himself staring down the length of Harry's wand, which was pointed directly at his forehead. His hands flew up of their own accord. "Christ, Potter!" He looked up into Harry's eyes and realised instantly that he was not the only one who had been drinking that night. Excellent, he thought, a predatory smile pulling at his mouth. "Pissed?"

"No," Harry said in a clipped tone, but Draco could tell that if Harry wasn't drunk now, he was bloody well close.

"Fancy another drink?"

"No." And then Draco was being yanked forwards by the front of his travelling cloak, and he tripped over the doorjamb as Potter pulled him into the house and slammed the door closed behind him. Harry pushed Draco up against the door, and then he was so close to him that they were pressed up together. "What do you want, Draco?" Potter said, his mouth at Draco's ear, hot and dewy.

Draco turned his head into Harry's. Their noses bumped and their lips brushed and Draco smelt Firewhisky. The entire situation felt so beautifully impulsive. Draco brushed his lips against Harry's again, but this time he flicked his tongue against Harry's bottom lip. "I don’t know," he whispered. "A little of this . . . a little of that . . . "

"I," Harry said, "have had a lot to drink."

"Why?" Draco found that his hands were under Potter's t-shirt and he was trailing his fingers back and forth over Harry's smooth stomach, not yet daring to dip lower.

Harry sighed and for the first time his voice sounded slightly slurred, and Draco wondered if Harry had been concentrating hard on keeping his voice steady before. "Sometimes I just do." He was licking at Draco's ear, nipping at the tender lobe there, his hands at Draco's waist.

Draco shivered and the hair on his head prickled. He allowed himself to close his eyes, to savour it.

"I'm'a finish what I started." Harry announced. And then he was kneeling in front of Draco, fumbling at his trousers.

"Oh my God," Draco breathed, helping Harry to undo his trousers. Harry tugged them down a bit, until he'd released Draco's cock, which was already half up.

"Nice. You're rather long."

Draco thought it was these words that got him rock hard even more than Potter's hot tongue on his cock. He threaded his fingers through Potter's hair, steadying him. Draco began rocking, the smooth muscles of his arse tightening with each thrust. "God," he said again, hoarsely, "why are you doing this?"

Harry pulled off and buried his face in the dark blond thatch of hair surrounding Draco's cock, moving it back and forth before inhaling deeply. "I could stop."

"No!" Draco said quickly. "No, there's no need for that sort of talk."

"Mmm. Tell me what you want."

"You were doing fine." Draco's voice was slightly higher than normal.

"Tell me what you want."

Draco hated clichés. "I want you to not ask." He tightened his grip in Harry's hair and rubbed the tip of his cock over Harry's lips until Harry opened up his mouth to him again and he was surrounded by that wonderful, hot wetness, and Potter was holding his arse. Draco wasn't going to risk missing the opportunity, so he thrust faster and faster, and then he was coming and coming and Harry swallowed.

He swallowed Draco's come.

Draco moaned and another full body shiver snaked through him, and then his cock was cool from the air as Potter pulled off. It occurred to him that he might be expected to reciprocate.

"I could . . . ?"

Harry had stood and he was shaking his head, and when Draco looked down to do up his trousers he saw that Potter was stroking his own cock quickly, efficiently. He watched wordlessly and Harry grasped onto his shoulder for leverage, and he assumed Potter came because he sucked in his breath and slowed his motions, and then stopped.

Draco kissed Harry.

He kissed him thoroughly and Potter kissed him back, and he could just imagine the redness he'd have on his pale face in the morning, owing to Harry's stubble scraping at his chin, but he liked the way Harry kissed — hot and confidently. Draco wondered if it was the Firewhisky.

He broke the kiss, pulling back, and his bottom lip lingered on Potter's for a second.

"Why did you come here?" Harry asked.

I don't know? To see you? To touch you? To taste you and suck on your tongue? To see if you'd see me or if you'd kick me to the kerb? These thoughts filled Draco with momentary panic and he snapped defensively, "You just nearly ate my cock off and you're asking me that? I told you what I want: for you to not ask me questions."

Harry snorted, which was not the reaction Draco was expecting. "You know, Malfoy? Your wife is absolutely lovely. I really mean that. Yet, here you are . . . "

Draco felt a wave of the old hatred wash over him, felt it coming from Harry, and he realised he had just reinforced to Potter what a complete and utter piece of shit he was.

"You think I'm rubbish," Draco said, voicing it. "But you're no better. You weren't thinking of my wife—" he couldn't even say her name "—when you couldn't wait to get down on your knees for me. For me."

"I'm not the one cheating."

"You may as well be," Draco said, outraged. "You know I'm married and that hasn't stopped you, and you haven't said no."

Harry said nothing, but Draco had the distinct feeling that Potter thought himself morally superior despite Draco's point.

"Your bananas are on the front step." Draco said coldly, as shame washed through him, a feeling that he did not readily recognise because he was such a hedonist. He turned and yanked the door open, stepped over the box he'd left in front of Potter's door, and Disapparated.

*

"Scorpius?"

"Yeah?"

Draco let himself into his son's room, which used to be his room when he was a child. He eased himself onto the window seat there and leaned forwards, elbows on his knees, fingers clasped. "What are you doing?"

Scorpius indicated with his quill. "Potions," he said, rolling his eyes. "Did you have this much summer work when you were at Hogwarts?"

"We had a fair amount, like you."

"Yeah, Slughorn wants forty-eight inches by our first lesson."

"Seriously?" Draco raised an eyebrow. "That is a lot."

"Did you need something, Dad?" He asked politely.

"Do you remember the girl you met at Harry Potter's? Eliza?"

Scorpius looked at Draco as if Draco were completely daft. "Sheeyeah?" He laid his quill down. "She was brilliant."

"How would you like to escort her to the Dormiens Ball?"

"What?"

"That's right."

"But you said I couldn't go to the ball until I was seventeen," Scorpius said questioningly. "Not until I was of age."

"And what was the reason I gave you for that?"

"You didn't. You just said I couldn't go."

"Not a very good reason, is it?"

"No, not really."

"Will you escort her?"

"Well, yeah." His eyes narrowed. "What's going on? Why're you asking me to do this?"

"Eliza's attending the ball as a favour to Potter," Draco said glibly, not feeling that Scorpius needed to know exactly what that meant. "But this is her first major social event. It would just be nice for her to have a friend with her, someone who could show her the ropes and make her feel comfortable."

"I don't think she liked me very much."

"I'm sure you'll win her over."

"Does she know that you and Harry Potter arranged this?"

"Well, no, because I wanted to talk to you first. I didn't assume you would want to take her." Draco knew, though, that Scorpius would do as he was told, if it came to that.

"Well, yeah, I'll take her."

"Excellent. So, now, it's your turn to invite her. I want you to send her an owl with a formal invitation."

"All right!" He'd pushed his Potions essay aside and was rummaging in his desk for stationery. He looked up at Draco. "Silver ink on black parchment?"

"Nice. Sure."

Together they penned Scorpius's owl. Well, Draco dictated and Scorpius wrote.

Dear Miss Cattermole: It was good meeting you the other night. I am asking to escort you to the Dormiens Ball this coming Saturday, 7th August. If you agree to come with me, I thought we could have dinner on the Hogwarts Express on the way to the ball. Please let me know by return owl if you will come with me. Very truly yours, Scorpius H. Malfoy

As if an afterthought, Scorpius added AKA 6A. He looked up at Draco. "Where do I send it?"

"Send it to Harry Potter. He'll know how to get it to her."

"Why can't we just send it to her directly?"

"Because we don't have her address." Draco didn't want to have to explain why they would be addressing an owl post to the platform between La Société Dangereuse and Bobbin's Apothecary.

"Can't we just get it from Harry Potter?"

Draco truly did not want Scorpius to know about Eliza's situation. "I doubt he'd give it to us."

Scorpius shrugged. "All right. Hey, should I use a wax seal on this? I never have a reason to use the sealing wax."

"Why not?" Draco found the emerald wax stick and lit it with Incendio, and handed it over to Scorpius. They watched as it dripped onto the flap of the envelope.

"So you're going to get me white tie, then?"

"I have to, now, don't I?"

"This is seriously cool!"

"Glad you approve."

*

Scorpius got his reply later that evening.

All right, 6A, I'll go with you. Harry says for me to tell you that I'll be wearing white - M.E.C.

"M.E.C.?" Scorpius said under his breath.

PS — I love ice mice.

*

 

2019 DORMIENS BALL

 

~*~

 

LE JEU DE CE SOIR

 

Here a Squib * There a Squib * Everywhere a Squib Squib

"Sonorus!"

Draco pocketed his wand as he turned to the crowd, beaming as best as a Malfoy could. He waited for the polite, yet thorough, applause to wane.

"Good evening, friends! I truly hope you all are enjoying the ball so far—" He was interrupted by enthusiastic applause and cheering "—and may I extend my personal gratitude for your presence here tonight and for your unrivalled generosity towards Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry." Draco looked around at the crowd of a thousand, smirking pompously and with great satisfaction. "As a special treat, for the first time since 1902, the London Wizarding Orchestra will be performing Musidora Barkwith's Wizarding Suite, complete with the exploding tubas. Very illegal, don't you know." He waited as the crowd oohed and aahed and clapped politely. "And if you will join us for aperitif and hors d’oeuvres starting promptly at nine o’clock—"

"What's the game?" a voice shouted from far back in the crowd. "The game!"

"Ah," Draco said slyly, "so that's what you all want to know? You're not interested in the food, are you?"

"No!"

"Or the exploding tubas?"

"NO!" roared the crowd.

"The game!"

"GIVE US THE GAME, MALFOY!"

"The game." Draco took great pause, allowing ample time for more cheering and encouragement from the crowd. "All right," he said, "I'll give you your game. Now, to participate in Le Jeu de Ce Soir—" his French accent was terrible "—a minimum entry fee of five thousand galleons is required. All donations from tonight's game will be diverted to various scholarship funds for Hogwarts students. Along those lines, Headmistress McGonagall has asked me to encourage you to fully fund academic and magic-based scholarships and has furthermore informed me that all Quidditch-related scholarships are currently overfunded. C'mon, folks. Show a little love for the swots and the poor kids, won't you? Not just the athletes!"

The patrons roared with laughter.

Draco held up a thick envelope, which contained the directions for the night’s game. "Are you ready to hear the rules?" he asked grandly.

"YES!"

"You're sure?"

"YES!"

"How many of you feel like hunting tonight?"

The crowd roared again, clapping and banging their goblets on the tabletops.

"Well, then, let's not wait!" Draco extracted the instructions. "The usual basic rules apply: no cheating—" he waited for the booing and hissing to stop "—and no stunning spells or Unforgivables. Also, this year I'm disallowing Venomous Tentacula. Well, all right," he conceded, "you can cheat, but the rest remains! Please do not ask underage witches or wizards to perform magic in the course of the game. Please do not use physical coercion. Blackmail? Eh." He shrugged. "Use it with discretion. If you choose to play, you are on your own and may not partner up with another player. Tonight," Draco said dramatically, "we are hunting . . . a Squib!"

He might have heard a pin drop. And then the sound of excited mutterings filled the ballroom as the patrons began to discuss the prospect amongst themselves.

"And now, your clues, as provided by the ever lovely Allyson Aslett-Diggle, chair of our Amusement Committee." Draco said, pushing his glasses up on his nose. Lifting the parchment, he read out loud to the ready crowd.

"Here a Squib, there a Squib, everywhere a Squib Squib," Draco began, to pleased and delighted laughter. "Ladies and gentlemen, the Amusement Committee of the 2019 Dormiens Ball is pleased to offer a most unique challenge to those generous sponsors who have opted for additional charitable donations this fine evening."

His glasses slipped again. Stubbornly, he pushed them up and continued.

"Amongst your fellows tonight dances and laughs and converses a Squib. A cleverer Squib won't be found. Put aside what you believe you know about Squibs, for you shall not find what you seek in archaic stereotypes or preconceived notions. If you rely on the descriptors of yore, you will look straight through our elusive guest tonight and never guess the truth. Your clues, in the form of a rhyme, are as follows.

"If you wonder who I may be
You will not tell by what you see
For I am a clever witch
Or wizard — you know not which
The magic that resides in me
Manifests quite differently
I am born of magic blood
although you may think me a dud
Though you may not think it true
I am magic, just like you
Dementors, true, I cannot see
But a Patronus I can, quite happily
Ghosts and goblins catch my eye
Poltergeists I can see fly
I can ride with others on a broom
I can find a magic room
A boggart scares me, just like you
Tea leaves tell me what is true
I see kneazles more than cats
And salamanders, bats, and rats
I can stroke a unicorn
And explode a rogue Erumpent horn
A perfect potion I can make
Alas, the last step I cannot take
For here is where our paths diverge
For magic, hand, and wand won't merge
At least not yet
I know not how
To cast a spell
Or conjure well
Charm or hex
Curse or jinx
I cannot do
But I can think
My brain is stellar
Sharp and fine
I'll enchant your
ready mind
For I am handsome or pretty, and very glib
You'll be surprised that I'm a Squib
And now that all the bids are in
Let our little game begin"

The loudest applause yet burst forth. Draco smiled.

"In attendance tonight are ten wizards and witches, identifiable by opal-coloured thornless rose boutonnières and wrist corsages. One of these young witches or wizards is a Squib. You may use direct lines of questioning, but you may not solicit outside assistance in your effort to identify our Squib guest. Tonight's game is one of individual endeavour. You may not ask for wand work or conjuring demonstrations as part of your sleuthing, or ask to examine wands. You may not use Veritaserum or revealing charms. If you believe you have correctly identified our Squib guest, write that person's name on a piece of parchment provided at the Amusement table, with your own name and tonight's date and time, and seal your guess into one of the provided envelopes. All answers must be submitted by half eleven with winners to be announced at midnight. Good luck and good spirits!"

*

"Very clever instructions."

"Of course they're clever."

"Did you write the rhyme?"

"God no," Draco said, his lip curling. "What would I know about Squibs?"

"Right," Harry said, rolling his eyes. "Of course not."

Draco and Harry were by the bar, Harry leaning against the wall casually, one foot crossed over the other at the ankle. He was nursing a Venom Vodka on ice.

"Having fun?"

Harry snorted a laugh into his glass. "Oh, yeah. Tonnes."

Draco desperately wanted Harry to like his ball.

The thought pleaded at him, unbidden and with alarming clarity. Draco felt as if the floor had spun away from under his feet, as if he'd been cast into a dark, never-ending chasm of shame, for Draco had never cared one whit before whether anyone enjoyed the Dormiens Ball. In fact, it was a given to him that people would like his party. Of course they would!

He took in the Great Hall. It was simply stunning.

The enchanted ceiling glowed with swirling clouds of nascent stars, and in place of the usual floating candles was a full blown galaxy, providing the perfect level of effervescence. Stardust sprinkled downwards onto the guests, a fleeting shimmer alighting upon their upturned faces. Brilliant meteor showers lit up the ceiling, a bright contrast against the softly glowing stars, and the fiery vapours of nebulae cast purple, orange, and magenta light. Jewelled asteroids chased each other through the hall, scrupulously avoiding making contact with anyone's head (not that Draco would have necessarily minded if the asteroids had hit a few select buffoons on the conk; he didn't like everyone he was supposed to).

The walls were draped in shimmering fabrics the colours of the nebulae up above, and the solid wood tables arranged around the dance floor were covered with the same material. The place settings were of the finest bone china, the stemware crystal. The silverware was pure and each place was fully set for a proper seven-course French meal. Magical star-shaped flowers spilt from the centrepieces and at each place was a velvet gift bag of little treasures, individualised for each guest. The London Wizarding Orchestra was playing and the dance floor was full.

But for the first time ever Draco noticed that not everyone present was having a royally fun time.

Tandy Hookum-Toots sat alone at a table, watching her parents — Daisy Hookum and Tilden Toots — dance happily. The three Hookum-Toots were all dressed identically, in orchid-covered formal sleepwear. The orchids affixed in Tandy's hair had wilted, like drooping Streeler antennae, and she looked quite lonely and forlorn. Kenneth Towler was across the table from Tandy, but he paid her no mind as he picked at something small, a piece of parchment perhaps. Hector Dagworth-Granger — possibly older than Griselda Marchbanks — had approximately fifteen cocktails in front of him. Using a variety of spoons in his shaky, ancient hands, he added bits of one cocktail to another, puffs of coloured smoke rising, the sound of tiny explosions muffled by the orchestra. Tracey Davis, clearly intoxicated, was busy vomiting into an Orion tree pot, and Draco could pick up bits of slurred crying as Millicent Bulstrode and Su Li patted Tracey on the back.

"I can' believe he's here wi' her! How coul' he bring her . . . How coul' he leave me . . . ?"

Throughout the room Draco began spotting loners, most of them insanely wealthy, yet ungainly and unattractive. It made him uncomfortable to watch the hope climb in their eyes as a lady or gentleman approached, only to pass by without speaking, much less asking for a dance. Several held thick violet-coloured envelopes, indicating they'd paid to play Le Jeu de Ce Soir, but they were making no attempt to mingle, to ask questions, or to hunt Squibs or treasure of any kind.

Draco followed Harry's gaze to Eliza.

Eliza was practically holding court with Scorpius, the chairs at her table all occupied, with a large group of young witches and wizards standing two deep craning to get a look at or a word into the animated conversation. Pansy had done beautifully for Eliza at Astor Twilfitt's and the Chizpurfle gown had proven a brilliant gamble. Not a single other witch was wearing anything like it.

Earlier, Draco and Astoria had stopped in to assess Eliza prior to leaving for the ball. Pansy had chosen to thicken Eliza's eyelashes with a cosmetic charm, and had given her a touch of eye shadow and lip gloss. She'd charmed Eliza's fingernails so they were clean, even, and polished neutrally. She did up a perfect chignon and lent Eliza simple, yet elegant, diamond jewellery, with the warning, "If you steal my jewellery I will hunt you down and personally stake you to the side of Bobbin's Apothecary."

To which Draco had relayed to Eliza, "Just so you know? She's not joking."

Eliza had dismissed this proclamation with a sniff and had held out her left wrist in front of her, admiring the corsage of thornless white, opalescent roses that identified her as a Le Jeu de Ce Soir contestant.

"C'mon," Draco said to Harry, under his breath. "Let's go and see what they're up to."

"No," Harry said, draining his Venom Vodka, and setting it back down on the bar for a refill. "Leave them alone."

"Speak for yourself," Draco said, taking his own drink with him as he made off towards Eliza and Scorpius's table. "That's my kid and I'm checking up."

He was quite pleased to sense Potter following behind him and that he wasn't going alone after all.

*

Gawain Robards was a highly competitive and ambitious man. Now head of the Auror Office of the Ministry of Magic — having taken over from Rufus Scrimgeour over twenty years prior — he'd three times submitted his name for consideration for appointment to Minister for Magic, and each time he'd come close to the appointment, but had ultimately been passed over.

Every year he attended the Dormiens Ball out of obligation to his wife, who loved the occasion. Typically bored here, this year he found himself intrigued by tonight's game. It was rather up his alley, solving mysteries, finding out who was who. Thus, he surprised himself by attacking the Squib game with intense vigour. He'd figured out he had approximately two hours to determine who the Squib was, and with ten contestants to choose from, he had exactly twelve minutes per person to ask questions and interrogate the candidate, and that was not accounting for dinner, bathroom breaks, or soliciting specific wizarding questions from the numerous dignitaries and higher-ups present this night. He'd revised his allotted time to nine minutes per contestant.

He had no compunction in barrelling his way through a group of teenage witches and wizards and interrupting their chatter. His luck was in. Judging by the boutonnières and corsages present, he had six contestants cornered.

"You," he said, to a tall, blonde witch who appeared seventeen or so. "Which spell enables one to set conjured creatures to attack?"

"Oh," the girl said, her brow furrowing. "I— I don't know. I've never had to do that before."

"Just because you haven't had cause to set conjured creatures on another doesn't mean you shouldn't be prepared to," Gawain said.

"Oppugno," a tall, dark wizard wearing glasses said seriously. "That's the spell."

"Mmm," Gawain said, making notes. "What's your name?"

"Longbottom," the boy said. "Androcles Longbottom." He wore a boutonnière. "Andy."

"And you?" he asked the tall blonde girl.

"Seraphina Bagshot."

"Related to Bathilda?"

"Yes, she's my great-great grandmother."

"Had a Squib for a son," Gawain noted. "Sometimes these things can run in families."

Seraphina Bagshot shrugged, adjusting her corsage. "I'm no Squib. It's not me."

Gawain looked around the group. A small, dark witch's neck was covered in red splotches. A-ha! he thought. "You," he said, directing his next question at the splotchy girl. "Tell me who is Glover Hipworth?"

"Oh," the girl said, "that's easy. Glover Hipworth invented Pepperup Potion. He lived from 1742 to 1805."

"Good at regurgitating names and dates, are you?"

"Well, uh—"

"Name?"

"Ximena." She smiled slyly. "Ximena Hipworth."

"Oh, for the love of Merlin's beard." Gawain rolled his eyes at the coincidence. "You get another question, then. Ingredients for Polyjuice potion, if you please."

"Oh, I'm rubbish at potions!"

"Whenever you're ready."

"Oh," she said again, "bugger. Okay, well— wait a minute. Polyjuice potion's not until sixth year. I've only revised up to fifth year so far."

"Polyjuice potion's complicated," another small, dark witch said, "because you have to brew it for so long. The lacewing flies have to stew for twenty-one days."

"Your name?"

"Eliza Cattermole."

Gawain made a note of it. "What else goes into Polyjuice potion?" Truthfully, Polyjuice was one of only three potions that he knew all the ingredients to. He'd been rubbish at potions himself, never taking to it like his wife, who could rattle off the ingredients to just about any potion without batting an eye.

"Well, there's the lacewing flies and there's leeches, powdered bicorn horn, shredded boomslang skin . . . knotgrass . . . a bit of someone else." She clarified, "The person you want to turn into, I mean. And . . . oh! I remember now. Fluxweed."

"What about the fluxweed?"

"It has to be picked at the full moon."

"Describe Polyjuice potion."

Eliza took great pause, thinking. "What does any potion look like?" she said. "It's wet and gloopy."

"Well, everyone knows that. Even so, different potions present differently. So, Polyjuice potion? What does it look like?"

"Oh, honestly." Eliza rolled her eyes. "It depends on the person?"

Gawain paused over her answer before making more notes. "You're a sixth year, then?"

Eliza shrugged. "Sure. Why not?"

"You homeschoolers are a strange lot. Don't know how you keep your studies straight if you don't even know what year you're in." He moved on to his next candidate. "You, boy. What's your name—?"

*

Dinner was served and Harry found himself seated at a table of single attendees, all of whom had summarily ignored him despite his pleasant greeting upon taking his chair.

Each table had its own small army of servers and wait staff. Ladies were served first, naturally, and Harry waited patiently to be served last.

"Compliments of Mr. Draco Malfoy, sir," the waiter said, setting down a silver dome-covered plate in front of Harry. With a flourish, the server removed the cover.

On the plate lay a single miniature banana. Harry picked it up.

Draco had obviously charmed the plate, for at Harry's touch bunch after bunch of bananas appeared and quickly overflowed the plate and tabletop. Like tiny sponge animals thrown into water, the bananas expanded exponentially until each bunch had reached its normal size. Bunch after bunch flowed from the enchanted plate, just as the cursed, Geminoed treasure in the Lestrange's vault had done all those many years ago. Caught off guard, Harry pulled his hands back in surprise as the barrage of bananas spilt across the table and onto the floor until they'd buried him up to his knees. The other patrons seated at his table froze, forks mid-air, staring. There was a small, plain white card that had appeared. Harry slid his thumb upwards and opened the card.

* Bon Appétit * Bon Appétit * Bon Appétit * Bon Appétit *
* Bon Appétit * Bon Appétit * Bon Appétit * Bon Appétit *
* Bon Appétit * Bon Appétit * Bon Appétit * Bon Appétit *
* Bon Appétit * Bon Appétit * Bon Appétit * Bon Appétit *
* Bon Appétit * Bon Appétit * Bon Appétit * Bon Appétit *
* Bon Appétit * Bon Appétit * Bon Appétit * Bon Appétit *
* Bon Appétit * Bon Appétit * Bon Appétit * Bon Appétit *
* Bon Appétit * Bon Appétit * Bon Appétit * Bon Appétit *
* Bon Appétit * Bon Appétit * Bon Appétit * Bon Appétit *
* Bon Appétit * Bon Appétit * Bon Appétit * Bon Appétit *
* Bon Appétit * Bon Appétit * Bon Appétit * Bon Appétit *
* Bon Appétit * Bon Appétit * Bon Appétit * Bon Appétit *
* Bon Appétit * Bon Appétit * Bon Appétit * Bon Appétit *
* Bon Appétit * Bon Appétit * Bon Appétit * Bon Appétit *

Harry sat holding the card, and then a slow smile crossed his face, and he laughed and laughed and laughed. His tablemates considered him as if he were mental and either sniffed their haughty noses up into the air at this clearly uncouth turn of events, or continued to pretend that he didn't exist, just as they had been doing before.

Draco didn't know it, but he'd just given Harry a new happy thought to add to his repertoire.

*

They stood outside later, the sounds of the Dormiens Ball drifting lazily across the warm night and over the Hogwarts grounds.

"So?" Draco asked expectantly. "What do you think?"

"A bit." Harry managed a crooked smile.

"A bit what?"

"I may perhaps be having a small amount of fun."

"Yes!" Draco said, giving a small fist pull at his hip.

"The bananas were funny."

"You admit it!"

"I just did, yeah. Unfair, but amusing."

"Unfair?"

"Yeah. As if I had any expectation of bananas tonight? I'd say that's unfair."

"Ah," Draco said, flicking an eyebrow, "keeps you on your toes. Fair is foul and foul is fair."

"Brilliant."

"So, aside from the bananas, what else has your evening consisted of?"

"Hmm, let's see," Harry said, swallowing a mouthful of vodka, "my ex told me off for making an appearance here, I've been hissed and booed, tripped, hexed twice, and been offered a thousand galleons to just leave. Oh, and also? I've been harassed for autographs. It's going swimmingly."

"What rubbish!"

"Yeah, well."

"It's worth at least two thousand galleons to try to get you to leave, in my opinion."

"Thanks for that."

"Yep. You bet!"

There was an awkward silence until Harry took another gulp of vodka and gestured towards the Great Hall with his glass. "Kind of reminds me of the Yule Ball."

"Please," Draco scoffed. "The Yule Ball pales in comparison." He rustled around in his pockets for his pack of cigarettes. They were far enough away from the majority of the party goers that Draco felt comfortable relaxing a bit. He lit up, exhaling over Potter's head.

"Sometimes I wish I was a smoker," Harry said, quickly shaking his head and putting a hand up when Draco offered the pack. "It seems like a soothing, if disgusting, habit."

"I don't have a habit," Draco said, the cig dangling from his lips. "I only smoke occasionally."

"I never have done."

"Goody two-shoes. You're such a square, Potter."

Harry laughed. "Right. I'm a square."

"I picked it up in seventh year."

"What, smoking?"

"Yeah."

"Why?"

Draco rocked forwards, swaying somewhat compulsively on the balls of his feet. "Stress management." He was almost always a ball of nervous energy.

"Smoking was the best you could do?"

Draco was aware that Harry Potter knew very well what kind of year it'd been for Draco, never mind the fact that Potter'd had it worse.

Or had he?

Draco thought about this. Who'd had it worse, Draco or Harry? Assuming Serpentine Lion: In the Shadow of the Scar was a correct version of events, which Potter'd indicated it was, then Potter had spent a year starving off charred pike and trotting about the countryside whilst wearing an ugly, old locket, running from the Dark Lord.

Draco, in kind, had spent a year running from Voldemort in his own home, where the Dark Lord had become a permanent guest. Hogwarts, in turn, had become Draco's sanctuary, but weekends and holidays were torture. Of course since Snape had been headmaster, Draco had been free to return home as often as he wanted, and he was summoned practically every Thursday to return home that coming weekend. His home had become a strange place, no longer the warm and comforting refuge he had grown up in and loved.

Once, Voldemort had just shown up in his bedroom for no particular reason while he'd been doing homework.

"This is so very endearing, Draco," Voldemort had said softly, taunting him with mere whispers. "Revising. You are such a good boy."

And then he had looked around Draco's room, touching this and that, examining things. The Dark Lord had stood in the shadow of a corner and had steepled his long, cadaverous fingers together and had commanded Draco to continue working on the Transfiguration assignment that he had spread out in front of him. Draco's hands had shook so badly that he'd spilt his bottle of night-coloured India ink across his parchment and had had to re-do the entire thing.

He'd slept with all his lights on for years afterwardss. The thought of the Dark Lord deigning to engage in something as mundane as looking at photographs on Draco's bedroom wall had terrified him, for it meant nowhere and nothing was safe from the evil, insidious master Draco had served. He'd burnt everything the Dark Lord had touched in his room, even priceless heirlooms. He'd taken to stealing cigarettes from his fellow Death Eaters after Travers taught him how to inhale one night when Voldemort had gone elsewhere for two nights and everyone decided to get pissed in relief.

"At seventeen? Yeah, that was the best I could do."

Harry was silent for several long moments. "I myself preferred Firewhisky."

"It seems you still do," Draco said, nodding at Harry's glass even though it was full of vodka and not Firewhisky. "How many've you had?"

"Oh, not nearly as much as I could." Harry stared at Draco. "I don't spend my time pissed. Only occasionally."

"When you particularly don't want to think about your life?"

"Something like that."

"I don't understand. Why don't you defend yourself?"

"I do defend myself."

"I mean pro-actively. Why do you just take it?"

"Because I know I didn't hurt Ginny. I know the truth."

Draco thought of the fact that Harry had children with Ginny. "Your life must be a right royal mess."

"A little bit, yeah. Not totally."

"Were it me," Draco said loftily, "I would defend myself vigorously. None of this hiding in Wiltshire nonsense."

"What are you talking about? You lurk in Wiltshire, too."

"Yeah, but I always have done. And I don't lurk, I'll have you know."

"I don't care what people think." Harry indicated towards the Great Hall. "I don't even know them. I live my life."

"Yeah, alone."

"Not entirely."

"So, what, your kids don't treat you funny? Everything's bloody brilliant there? You think they don't wonder if you tried to kill their mother?"

"Shut it, Malfoy."

"And how's it going with Granger and Weasley? I'm sure they visit you all the time now."

"Hermione—"

"Granger does, sure. But Weasley? I reckon he doesn't."

"Ginny and Ron—"

"Are siblings. 'Course he's going to choose her over you."

"What the hell do you care?"

"I don't," Draco said quickly. "I'm just pointing out that you're a bloody coward."

It took Harry what seemed to be an inordinate amount of time to process this. "What?"

"That's right," Draco said, blasting Harry in the face with a mouthful of cigarette smoke. "You heard me."

"You don't understand—"

"What's to understand? You profess you have nothing to do with this crime, but you won't do anything to assert your position. If it was me? I'd be taking out full-pagers in the Daily Prophet and screaming like a bloody damn woman in protest."

"You don't know that. You only think you know what you'd do if you were in my position."

"Bollocks. Never in a million years would I take that shit lying down." Draco looked at Harry darkly. "At least I learnt that much from your stupid war. You survived for this?" He shook his head, disgusted, and dropped his cigarette on the ground. Grinding it down with his heel, he stuffed his hands into his pockets and marched back to his ball.

*

It was almost half eleven and Gawain Robards had narrowed down his Squib choices to three major contenders: Emma Ann Powell, Simon Ackerly, and Warren Warrington. Warrington he figured because the boy had spilled his water all over the table and had jumped so quickly to clean it up that Robards had figured he might have had janitorial training, as many Squibs did. Emma Ann Powell was just a dense bit of a girl and Simon Ackerly had a stutter, and if someone had a stutter perhaps they had something else wrong with them, he thought unfairly and unkindly.

The more he thought about it the more he considered that Emma Ann might just be shy and socially awkward rather than dense, so he decided to scratch her off his list of possible Squibs, and he was busy thinking about who it was — Warrington or Ackerly — as he waited in the queue at the wet bar. He was ready for a refill after expending all that brain energy. He stood behind two gentlemen he recognised — Miles Bletchley Senior from the Ministry and Cuthbert Mockridge, Head of the Goblin Liaison Office — and he couldn't help but overhear their conversation, even though they were speaking in low tones.

"—wish I had paid the five thousand galleons to play the game this year," said Bletchley.

"Why's that?" asked Mockridge.

"I know who the Squib is."

"How is it you know?" Mockridge seemed rather intrigued.

"Remember Reg Cattermole?"

"No. I don't believe I know anyone by that name."

"He used to work in the Department of Magical Maintenance at the Ministry. Good at his job, I remember. He was the only one in the department who properly learnt the Meteolojinx Recanto spell back in the day. It'd been raining in my office for days. Meteolojinx Recanto was the only spell that stopped it. I passed it along to Reg."

"Really? That's a rather advanced spell for a maintenance worker."

"Reg was a smart man. Asked him why he didn't apply to go further in the Ministry." Bletchley shrugged. "Said he liked working with his hands. Tragic, really. The fellow was killed just two years or so ago."

"How? What happened?"

"Apparition accident. Killed his entire family, just about."

"Bloody hell, really?"

"Yes. But I remember old Reg talking about his trip to Morocco when he was planning it. He and his wife had never been on a foreign holiday. Took a couple of their kids, too. Anyway, we'd chat here and there. He mentioned his brother would be coming too, and he lamented how his brother's oldest had never received a Hogwarts letter and that's how they knew for certain that she was a Squib. Unfortunate. Apparently the girl is quite bright. Did you hear the names of the Squib contestants as they were introduced?"

"Yes, but I don't remember them."

"All I know is there's a girl named Cattermole here. She's got to be the Squib."

Gawain took great pause and looked back over his notes. Eliza Cattermole. Yes, the name fit. And the girl had been very intelligent when it came to Polyjuice potion, but, he remembered suddenly, she had hesitated to describe it. As an Auror he'd had it happen hundreds of times: one bit of information would completely change the course of an investigation. He knew Bletchley had no reason to lie; he wasn't playing the game. The information was spontaneous and authentic. And it fit the clues given. The girl was clearly bright and knowledgeable, feisty even. She was interesting looking, to boot, maybe even pretty, as the clues had implied the Squib would be. She was dressed to the nines at least.

And so he scratched out Warrington and Ackerly and circled Eliza Cattermole's inked-out name. After he refilled his drink he'd turn in his guess at the Amusement chair's table, and see where it led.

*

Scorpius Malfoy, while generally an average student, was exceptional at charms.

"Expecto Patronum!" His bear patronus burst forth from his wand and landed silently on the cobbled footpath surrounding the fountain where he and Eliza sat.

"Oh," she said, practically breathing out the word. "It's so beautiful." Eliza's eyes shone brightly, and if it weren't so dark, Scorpius would have seen the edge of longing on her face.

The bear ambled around as Scorpius directed it with his wand, leaving silvery, wispy vapour trails in its wake. Finally, he drew his wand up sharply, propelling the patronus down the path, loping along until it disappeared into the darkness.

"I thought you couldn't do magic when you're not in school," Eliza said, gently taking Scorpius's wand. She gave a swish and a flick, but did not incant anything.

"I am at school. This is Hogwarts." Scorpius smirked triumphantly.

"Nice technicality."

"Well, it's true. Besides, I've done that charm four times tonight already and have I got a letter from Mafalda Hopkirk? No."

"Who's Mafalda Hopkirk?"

"What?"

"Who's Mafalda Hopkirk?"

"She sends the warnings from the Ministry when an underage wizard does magic."

"Oh."

"What about you? Doesn't the Ministry watch over the homeschooled kids as much as the ones in school?"

"Who wants to talk about school?" Eliza said sharply. "If you keep talking about school, I swear I'll leave. It's summer hols, for fu— for Merlin's sake."

"Oh, you'll leave? And how exactly will you get home? You can't Apparate. You didn't come by broom or Portkey—"

"I'll Floo."

"In a white dress and gloves? You might as well walk."

"Walk? Not bloody likely!" She pulled at the fingers of her gloves. "God, these fu— these gloves are so hot."

"Take them off."

"I'm not supposed to ruin my outfit."

"You couldn't possibly ruin your outfit." Scorpius was very earnest. "You're—"

"I'm what?" she asked when he didn't continue. She'd apparently decided taking her gloves off wouldn't ruin her outfit completely, for she was pulling at the fingers, easing the gloves off one at a time. She worked them free, paired them, and folded them neatly.

Scorpius took up her hand, manoeuvring until they were palm to palm. He curled his fingers against hers, twining them together. He squeezed her hand gently. "You're— You look really pretty."

Eliza seemed embarrassed. "I expect I should, what with all the fuss everyone's made." She rolled her eyes at herself, remembering her manners. "What I really mean to say is, well, thanks."

"Why'd Dad invite you to the ball? How do you know him?"

"I just met him in Diagon Alley. He offered to let me come to the ball. I dunno. I think he did a favour for Harry."

"Oh. Right." Scorpius didn't care why she was here with him now; he was just glad she was. "It'd be brilliant if you were at Hogwarts, too."

She stared at him for a long moment. "Hogwarts isn't for me. I learn . . . independently. It's better that way."

"Why?"

"Because."

"Because why?"

"Just because," she said, a snippy tone creeping into her voice. She wiggled her hand free from his and crossed her arms over her chest. "You couldn't pay me to go to Hogwarts."

Scorpius was confused. "Why? What've you got against Hogwarts?"

"Nothing, if you like being told what to do all the time."

"What're you talking about?"

"Don't tell me you don't have to follow a million rules at Hogwarts. You learn what the Board of Governors says you're to learn, right? What if you want to learn more than that, or something different? Bloody hell you wouldn’t have time, 'cause you're too busy revising compulsory work, too busy doing what your teachers tell you to do."

Scorpius laughed. "That's just the way school is, though."

Eliza lifted her chin and looked at him. "Not for me," she said. "I'm self-directed."

He returned her look, challenging her. "Oh yeah? Here." He pressed his wand into her hand. "Let's see what you can do."

She pushed it back at him. "No way. Maybe you can do magic because you're at Hogwarts, but I'm not a Hogwarts student and I can't do magic," she said smoothly. Scorpius had no idea Eliza was beginning to panic. "I don't need a letter from that Mathilda Hopscotch person, forget it."

"So, when can you do magic again?"

"Um, the first of September?"

"Tell me about your wand," Scorpius said. "What's your core?"

"I already said I don't want to talk about school any more."

"What's wrong?"

"You're just asking all these personal questions," Eliza said defensively. "I don't even know you."

"But you do know me." Scorpius was exasperated. "What's the matter with you?"

"Why do you think there's something wrong with me?"

"I don't— I mean—"

"Because there's nothing wrong with me."

"Okay, okay! I didn't mean it like that. Don't get your knickers in a twist."

"Don't you dare talk about my knickers." She was standing then, her hands balled at her sides, silk gloves abandoned on the fountain bench.

This was going very poorly indeed. "I'm not talking about your knickers— I— What do you want to talk about?"

"Nothing."

"Seriously?"

"Seriously."

The forbidden Wizarding Suite's tuba refrains drifted across the grounds from the Great Hall, and Scorpius stood there feeling like an idiot as the tuba section apparently exploded with a series of *BOOMS*, and the ball patrons squealed and shrieked in delight, applauding wildly.

"That was, er, exploding tubas . . . "

"Brilliant. Exploding tubas. I will never forget this night."

"I don't want you to forget this night."

"What about you?"

"I don't want to forget it."

"Why?" Eliza asked, seeming incredulous. "What's so special about—"

"Dunno. Everything." He reached for her, took up her hand again, and pulled her towards him, smiling as the twinkling glow of the Chizpurfle lit up. "Dance with me?"

She looked up at him. "You saw me earlier. I don't really know how to dance."

"It's not so hard."

She didn't say anything, but just looked at him, so Scorpius slid his free hand around her waist and very carefully pulled her into him. She was skittish as hell, he could tell, and he didn't want to send her running.

"Just put your hand— yeah, right there." And then they both jumped as apparently a second set of tubas exploded loudly enough to shake the fountain and slosh the water around, and Scorpius could swear he heard the sound of glass breaking. There was just enough light emanating from Hogwarts that Scorpius could see Eliza quite well and there was no danger of tripping and falling. "Just follow along." Narcissa Malfoy had ensured that he was prepared for these kinds of situations; Scorpius could dance all right.

Once the tubas stopped exploding the Wizarding Suite sounded quite lovely as the woodwinds took over. Eliza was clearly concentrating hard on keeping up with his steps and learning the dance pattern, but Scorpius felt her relax a bit finally. Her head fit just under his chin and this made his heart swell, and for the slightest of moments he thought he would do anything to see this girl walking the halls of Hogwarts at his side. It was strange, to be honest, for she was, frankly, stand-offish, secretive, and, well, kind of bitchy in an off-putting way, but he liked her eyes so much and her sharp wit, her obvious intelligence, and the way she commanded attention effortlessly. He knew absolutely that she didn't come from money like he did, yet he hadn't bothered to deeply question why his father was funding her presence at the Dormiens Ball that night in what was obviously rich and elegant attire.

"Sorry," Eliza mumbled, after stepping on his toe for the umpteenth time.

"It's all right." Her waist was warm under his touch, her palm slightly sweaty. "Look up here. Don't look at your feet. It makes it harder."

She looked up into his face and Scorpius thought he'd been shot clean through by Cupid's arrow. "Am I— How'm I doing?"

"Brilliant!"

"I've ruined your shoes."

"I've got more."

"I'll bet."

"Do you have something against—?" He couldn't bring himself to say "Do you have something against money?" so he settled for, "Do you have something against shoes?"

"That's a silly question. Why would I?"

"I don't know. Oh," he said, remembering something very important.

"What?"

"I ran your Arithmancy numbers."

She seemed surprised. "Why?"

"Because I felt like it. Do you want to know what your numbers say?"

"I've done it before."

"It figures," Scorpius said. "But I did go to the trouble."

"Fine. Go on, then."

"Well, both your character and social numbers are seven." Scorpius parroted from his Arithmancy book, "You're perceptive, understanding, and bright. You're far too serious for your own good." He smiled slightly and suddenly the clouds shifted and the full moon shone down on them. "But you're scholarly and you're mysterious. You don't like people knowing much about you. You disdain money and material possessions above originality and imagination. You can be pessimistic, sarcastic, and insecure. You work really hard and you like challenges. How'm I doing so far?"

"I could have told you that, 6A."

"Your heart number is nine, which is rare. Nine represents completion and achievement. It's the complete number, three, expressed three times, which makes it special. You are dedicated to service and caretaking and you do what you do tirelessly, but you can be arrogant, rude, and conceited when things don't work in your favour. You may dedicate yourself to service to others when you're older." Scorpius held her gaze as they waltzed awkwardly amongst the rose bushes, their fragrant scent lilting on the tide of a slight breeze. The fountain spattered and splashed behind them, the water crystal clear and bright under the light of the moon. "You are an inspiration."

Scorpius Malfoy, who had never in his life been afraid of a girl, was quaking on the inside with nerves. He was compelled to act, though. He pulled Eliza closer until their bodies were flush and they were belly to belly, and he tightened his grip on her hand, but not so much as to hurt her. He stooped slightly until her cheek was so smooth against his own and he could feel his hot breath rebounding as he whispered into her ear, "Did you hear what I said?"

"I'm not," she whispered back, after a long moment.

"You are," he insisted, nuzzling at her earlobe. They'd come to a standstill.

"I'm really, really not . . . "

He didn't know what else to say. She smelled so good and she was so close and they were pressed up together. It was the perfect shade of night. The moon shone beautifully, the breeze was warm and kept triggering the Chizpurfle to shimmer. The music was so romantic it was practically cliché, and no one else was anywhere nearby. She was allowing him to kiss her gently, lightly, right at her earlobe, and so when she sighed with a shiver and tipped her head back almost imperceptibly, he held onto her so tightly and he kissed her here and there, on her neck, on her throat, until his lips were finally brushing against hers and he tasted lip gloss and he lifted his chin until he was kissing her fully.

Eliza paused, but then returned his kiss tentatively, and Scorpius was elated.

The topmost Hogwarts tower's clock struck midnight.

*

When Eliza and Scorpius walked back into the Dormiens Ball, both of them practically radiating happiness, Scorpius clutching Eliza's hand, the Great Hall erupted in wild applause.

"There she is!"

"Look, it's Mary Cattermole."

"There's the Squib!"

"Good show, Squib."

From nowhere the society photographer for the Daily Prophet materialised and had them both seeing stars as he snapped pictures for 6A. "Smile, love!" he said cheerily, as Eliza put her free hand up in front of her face. "You're the belle of the ball!"

"What's he going on about?" Scorpius said through his teeth, maintaining a fixed smile for the camera. He gripped her more tightly.

"I don’t— There's something I need to tell you—"

"Tell me what?" Scorpius pushed past the photographer, dragging Eliza along.

"I—"

"Bloody hell," he snapped, as the photographer once again jumped in front of them, clicking away. "I think you've got enough photos!" He let go of her hand and put his arm around her shoulders protectively, pulling her against him. She was stiff as a board. Scorpius looked down.

Eliza's face was drawn and tight and she looked like a cornered animal.

"What's wrong?"

Her eyes were bright and sad. "I'm the—"

"There you are!"

Draco Malfoy strode towards Eliza and Scorpius. Sweeping his son's arm away from Eliza's shoulders, Draco took her arm and began leading her to the stage where the orchestra was playing. Eliza twisted frantically, turning back towards Scorpius, but he'd disappeared, swallowed up by the surging crowd.

"Let go of me!" she snapped, digging in her heels and coming to a halt. "What are you doing?"

"Don't be silly," Draco said impatiently, yanking her along in the way that parents do. "You're to meet the winner."

"The winner? What are you going on about?"

"Gawain Robards guessed correctly that you are a Squib," Draco said, at least having the decency to lower his voice and speak close to her ear. "You're to meet him and present him with the winner's trophy."

"You never said I'd have to do anything like that!"

"Well of course you're expected to."

"No! I won't!"

"What's wrong with it? It's all in good fun. Don't worry. Half of these sods are so pissed they won't remember a thing in the morning."

"It'll be in the Prophet, though," Eliza said in a pleading tone. She tried pulling away again.

"Well, sure, but you knew that going into this. You knew there would be a possibility that someone would guess your identity."

"I don't fucking care," she said defiantly, dropping all semblance of propriety, "about that. But I don't want to meet this bloke and I don't care about any trophy."

"You need to do it, Eliza."

"I don't need to do anything!" And with that she twisted her arm hard and wrenched free from Draco's grasp. Small and slim, she slipped right into the crowd and disappeared. Draco went after her by following the comments being thrown out by the excited, and somewhat drunken, guests.

"You're a beautiful girl. It's too bad you're a Squib—"

"Reckon she's mental, that one. Squibs are mental, don't you know? A shame and a waste, really."

"What do your parents think about you being a Squib?"

"Do Squibs run in your family?"

"What's it feel like to be a Squib?"

"Can Squibs have babies?"

"Eliza!" Draco called, doing his best to look over the sea of people. "Eliza! Come on back, now. There's no reason to—" He couldn't see her anywhere, although he thought he detected a trail of people parting and then coming back together again, as if making room for someone to pass. He ploughed through the guests, following. And then there was a strong hand pinching into his elbow, pulling him around. He tried to shake the person off, but he was held tight. "Let go," Draco said, angry to lose sight of Eliza's trail.

"What the hell have you done?" Of course it was Potter.

"What are you talking about? I didn't do anything. She just doesn't want to present the winner's trophy—"

"That was never part of the deal, Malfoy. You never said anything about Eliza having to make any kind of public appearance or that she would be on display."

"Well, that goes without saying," Draco said, confused. Wasn't it obvious?

Harry looked Draco in the eye, all the old loathing and disgust plaintive on his face. "You are an unimaginable prick. I can't believe— I should have known— Are you happy? Are you pleased with yourself? Yeah, you pulled one over on me, but why hurt—"

"What are you going on about now? I'm not having a go at you—"

"She's fifteen. What the— even for you that's low—"

"I'm not doing anything to her." Draco objected to this line of reasoning. "All she has to do is—"

"She's not a puppet! She's a human being. Do you even think that much of her?" Harry's face twisted, malice shining there. "Your pure-blood, magically talented, privileged son definitely seems enamoured."

"What? Scorpius did a favour for me. That's all. He would never—"

"You're despicable."

"Stop saying that," Draco hissed. "And keep your voice down for Merlin's sake. Teeny Timms could be anywhere—"

"I don't give two shrivelfigs about Teeny Timms, Malfoy. I care about Eliza—"

"Which is why you're standing here with me?"

"You're right. Get out of my way." Harry shoved past Draco, elbowing his way into the crowd. Draco could see Harry's messy hair making its way towards the entrance to the Great Hall. Swearing under his breath, he set out after him.

*

Even though Harry had only a five second start, he managed to throw Draco off. Draco had squeezed his way out of the Great Hall, finally spat out into the main foyer by the horde of people, and as he frantically looked about for Potter he couldn't see him anywhere. However, as luck would have it, he picked the right corridor to investigate first. Harry stood near a suit of armour and a statue of a gnarled old witch that cackled intermittently. There was a small table there, which Potter had completely covered with what looked to be several layers of old, yellowed parchment. As Draco approached, he was able to see the parchments were covered with writing — so much writing that it was practically shaded in — and that some of the writing was moving. He came up to Harry from behind.

"What are you doing?"

Harry threw a glance over his shoulder and tapped the parchments with his wand, but did not speak. The parchments folded in on themselves, layer after layer, until it was pocket-sized again. He tucked it into the inside pocket of his robes. "Not that it's your concern, but I'm trying to figure out where Eliza may be."

"What was that parchment?"

"Just something left over from my Hogwarts days."

"What is it?"

"It's mine is what it is, so don't worry about it."

"Where do you think she would go?" Draco asked, for the first time since she bolted realising Eliza wasn't a Hogwarts student and wouldn't know her way around the castle.

"Malfoy, go back to your party. I will find Eliza and I will get her and the kids home. And you won't have to bother yourself over it."

Draco felt funny, as if he were on the verge of solving a difficult Arithmancy problem or figuring out a complex spell. It was as if something was trying to burst through in his brain, and he wanted to reach out and grab it, whatever it was, and open it up and see what it was. Yet it remained elusive. "You know," he said, frustrated with Harry's daftness, "she got what she wanted. She didn't have to come or participate. She chose to."

"It's not so much that she's a Squib. She knows she's a Squib. It's that you put her on display afterwards and didn't tell her you were going to do that. You didn't tell me you were going to do that. If you had, I would have never brought this idea to her in the first place."

"Why don't you see that of course she would be expected to acknowledge the winner? Potter, it's just a game."

"Your principles are appalling." Harry's face was red, flushed with anger. Draco could not wrap his brain around it. What the hell was Potter's problem?

"Oh, that's rich."

"You're right. It is rich. You don't have principles."

"I certainly do," Draco said coldly. "Just because they're different from yours doesn't mean they're wrong."

"Some principles are wrong. Like using a fifteen-year-old homeless Squib as fodder for entertainment."

"You know what else is wrong, Potter? A father spending more time on a fifteen-year-old homeless Squib than his own children."

Harry had Draco up against the rough stone wall so fast that Draco's head knocked against it hard enough for him to see stars and Draco saw red. He pushed back, shoving Harry so hard that he stumbled backwards, and in a second Draco had advanced, his wand out.

"Do not touch me," Draco said, his voice low and dangerous. "Those days are over."

"Really."

"Yes, really."

Harry made to move Draco's wand aside with the back of his hand and Draco incanted quickly, "Petrificus Totalus."

Potter went stiff, his arms and legs snapping up tightly, and before he could clunk to the floor like a useless log, Draco cast Levicorpus and Potter was hoisted upwards, as if held by his ankle. Draco stood there, his chest heaving, still flushed, heat surging up and down in his gut, fiery and mad. And then he was nose to nose with Potter, staring him down as he slipped his hand inside Harry's robes, which were falling and bunching around Potter's shoulders. Potter's chest was warm and firm and he smelt vaguely of vodka. He found Harry's pocket. Without compunction Draco removed the folded-up pieces of parchment that Potter had tucked away.

"Now," Draco said, extracting it and leaving Harry to float dumbly in the corridor, "let's see what this is."

Five minutes later Draco was flushing anew. This time with mortification.

Mr. Moony lodges his astonishment that Draco Malfoy is able to overcome such advanced magic to reveal the contents of this document. Mr. Moony suggests that Draco Malfoy go and powder his pretty, posh, pointy nose.

Mr. Prongs agrees with Mr. Moony, and would like to add that Draco Malfoy is an overgrown, spoilt child, and wonders if they even make nappies in Mr. Malfoy's size.

Mr. Padfoot compliments Draco Malfoy on his beautiful eyes . . . All four of them.

Mr. Wormtail wishes Draco Malfoy a good evening indeed and regrets to inform that what remains of Mr. Malfoy's hair requires attending to.

"I have hair!" Draco objected, and then he caught himself. "Oh, no. You're not going to reel me in with this load of rot, Potter. But, nice try." Fascination overtook anger and he ignored what he could have sworn was amusement in Potter's eyes. "What is this— what sort of map is this?" He opened it slowly and layer after layer of parchment burst forth, all with moving, labelled dots, and familiar names leapt out at him: The Restricted Section; Slytherin Dungeons; The Great Hall; The Astronomy Tower; Charms; Lost Wands; Hospital Wing. And there were Peeves's and Filch's dots together, and Professor McGonagall's in the Headmistress's office, and there was Hagrid inside his hut on the grounds . . . Draco flipped through the layers, amazed. He let out a low whistle. "And it all comes together. This is how you got away with everything." He looked up at Harry. "This is why you kept turning up at the Room of All Things in sixth year. You knew I— you knew."

Harry blinked.

"Should I let you go? If I do you might have a go at me and I wouldn't want that at my own party. Hmm." Draco circled Harry, appraising him. "Should I? Or shouldn't I—"

"Draco?" A mild voice came from behind him. "What's going on? We're waiting for you and the girl. Gawain Robards is more than ready to collect his trophy."

Draco turned.

Astoria was looking Potter up and down. "Don't tell me you're duelling, like a couple of first-years? Honestly." She flicked her wand. "Finite Incantatem."

Harry crumpled to the ground like a sack of potatoes, his arms crushed oddly under his body. "Ahh."

"You'll be all right," Astoria said, as Harry lumbered to his feet. She flicked her wand again and a tiny hand broom appeared and began sweeping at Harry's shoulders, a pair of disembodied hands in formal white gloves tugging at his robes, straightening them. When finished, they dissipated with a pop. "See? Good as new. What's that?" she asked, indicating the map in Draco's hand.

"It's mine," Harry said, nicking it.

Draco snatched it back. "This? Is a map of Hogwarts. It shows everything."

"Really?" Astoria said, impressed, taking it from Draco. Neither Draco nor Harry were willing to grab from a female. Defeat admitted, they watched as Astoria pored over it. "Mr. Potter, this is quite a fascinating piece. Where did you get it?"

"Er—" Harry tugged at his collar. "From the manufacturers?"

She raised an eyebrow and glanced downwards again. "Oh dear." She covered her mouth with her hand.

"What?" Draco asked, craning to look over her shoulder.

"Everhart and Beatrice are apparently in the seventh-year boys’ dormitory," Astoria said, pointing at the Slytherin dungeons.

"Oh," Draco said knowingly. "Well, yes."

"So?" said Potter.

"They're married," she said, as if it were obvious.

"What's the problem, then?"

"Not to each other."

Harry laughed. "Yes, well, there is that about the map. It does show everything."

"Merlin!" Astoria was apparently discovering all kinds of scandalous behaviour. "Oh my God," she breathed, eyes widening. "Draco, look!"

Draco looked. "Oh— well. So Helen's not as much of a prude as she wants us to believe—"

Harry coughed lightly. "I was actually looking for Eliza."

"Oh, yes, an excellent idea," Astoria said, composing herself. She laid the map on the small table next to the suit of armour and the three of them searched it.

They couldn't find Eliza's dot anywhere.

"All right," Astoria said, staring fiercely at them both. "I told you this was a bad idea. What if she wanders into the Forbidden Forest?"

Draco and Harry glanced furtively at one another. Draco hadn't thought of that possibility . . .

"Do you see now?" Astoria asked. "And Merlin only knows what's hidden away in this castle . . . "

Harry's eyes flicked sideways, almost guiltily.

"We can't turn back time," Draco said impatiently.

"Why has she run?"

"Uh—"

"Well, Draco here tried to force her to present the winner's trophy to . . . what's his name . . . and she bolted."

"Gawain Robards," Astoria said. "And, Draco, why on earth would you do that?"

"I thought it would be fun. Besides, it makes sense that the winner's presented with his award by the Squib in question—"

"You? Are a complete arse."

"Hey!" Draco said indignantly.

"See?" Harry said, turning on Draco. "I told you—"

"Oh, shut it—"

"Wait. She's there." Astoria poked at the map. "Eliza. She's out on the grounds."

"Where?" Harry snatched the map, locating Eliza's dot. Her dot was traversing the perimeter of the Forbidden Forest, thankfully not going in, and it was heading towards the greenhouses. Just beyond the greenhouses was the road to Hogsmeade. Draco was well aware that Hogsmeade was in full view of Hogwarts and that Eliza wouldn't miss the glowing lights of the village.

"She's going to Hogsmeade."

"She's almost to the road. The map ends there," Harry said.

"I expect she'll try and find the station." The Dormiens Ball rented the Hogwarts Express each year for the committee members and their partners and, in this year's case, the ten Squib candidates and their families. Draco had found it rather amusing to watch the sheltered, reserved homeschoolers in awe at the size of the scarlet engine and its many passenger carriages, transfigured for the evening into elegant dining rooms. He had watched Harry watching Eliza and had felt it was . . . something . . . he wasn't sure what. Nice, maybe? Draco wasn't one for smarmy sentiment, but it had been clear that Harry appreciated the girl's wide-eyed amazement that she was actually on the train that carried students to Hogwarts and back, and it was clear by looking at Eliza that she had never imagined she would find herself on the Hogwarts Express, ever.

Eliza's dot had stopped by Greenhouse Eleven. The dots of several other people were in her general vicinity, and the three of them watched as Eliza's hovered over the dot of Demelza Robins.

Harry tapped the map with his wand and Draco could tell he'd just done a silent incantation.

"I'm going after her," Harry said, folding up the map and slipping it back inside his robes pocket. "Maybe Demelza will stall her."

"Where can I get one of those? Do they make one for the Ministry?"

Harry patted his robes where the map laid. "It's a one-of-a-kind item, Malfoy. Surely you'd know that just by looking. Anyway, I'm going." Harry looked at Draco strangely. "I should say thank you."

"That would be the proper thing to do, yes."

"Doesn't mean I'm going to. But I learned a few things."

"What do you mean? Like what?" Draco was confused.

"I told you before. I don't like balls."

"Oh, Mr. Potter," Astoria said, moving forwards, "It's terrible that you didn't enjoy yourself—"

"Call me Harry. Harry is fine."

"All right, Harry. If that's what you prefer. I'm sorry you didn't have a good evening. I was so hoping we might see you back on the circuit." She extended her hand, which Harry shook without hesitation.

"You've been very kind. Formidable, but kind." Astoria smiled at this and Harry continued. "I've left a donation with the Fundraising Committee with the express purpose that it be used to someday fund the magical education of Squibs. It's in Eliza's name."

"The Society for Squib Assimilation has been trying for years to get Hogwarts and Beauxbatons to develop curriculums for Squib witches and wizards. Naturally, they're reluctant to."

"Why?"

"They're afraid it will damage their reputations as institutes of superior instruction.

"How would that damage it? It seems like it would increase the schools' appeal. Show them as progressive and forwards-thinking."

"We continue to try and get them to consider it in that light."

"Good luck with that." Harry sounded genuine. He stepped back. "Astoria," he said, inclining his head. "Malfoy." He did not look at Draco.

"Goodnight, Harry," Astoria said, smiling kindly.

Draco said nothing.

*

"Astoria?"

Astoria turned. It was Allyson Aslett-Diggle. "Allyson, hello."

"Hello." Allyson held a gleaming platinum trophy shaped like a couple ballroom dancing. The woman's robes were inlayed with jewels, pearls, and beads. It sparkled brilliantly. "Where is the little Squib?"

"She's gone for the night," Astoria said smoothly, not batting an eye. "She was tired."

"Darling little thing, wasn't she? It's too bad that . . . " Allyson let her voice trail off.

"Yes, it's unfortunate. What did you need her for?"

"She won the fashion award for most beautiful robes." Her voice dropped and she spoke in a confidential tone. "Everyone will be wearing Chizpurfle now, just you wait."

"Oh, well . . . " Astoria took the trophy from Allyson. "I'll make sure she gets it." She thought for a moment. "How'd she win? She didn't participate in the fashion show."

"People wrote her in. She's just adorable."

"Yes."

"Anyhow, you'll see to it that she gets it?"

"I will."

"Thank you, Astoria." Allyson shook her head. "It really is a shame about that girl . . . "

*

Draco followed Harry.

He couldn't help himself.

It was a while before Harry said anything, although Draco made no move to hide his presence. They crunched their way across the grounds, to greenhouse eleven.

"Lumos," Harry said, and Draco followed suit. They searched the immediate area, including inside the greenhouse, with no luck. Harry checked the Marauder's Map again. "She's not here any more. Oh, but wait—" Harry walked around the side of the greenhouse, his wand held aloft. He called out softly. "Demelza?"

"Who's Demelza?" Draco asked.

"Demelza Robins," Harry said. "Gryffindor. We were on the Quidditch team together. Demelza?"

A half groan, half snuffle came from the ground, and then a fluffy sky-blue lump came into view.

"Demelza?" He knelt at her head, shaking her gently by the shoulder. "It's Harry. Harry Potter."

"'arry?" She slurred, clearly inebriated. "Harry Potter? Wha'm'I doin' here? Where'm I?"

"Here, let's get you up." Harry helped her sit up and grasped her upper arm, motioning to Draco. "Malfoy, help out."

Together Draco and Harry managed to get Demelza to her feet. She swayed and rocked between them. "'m sorry . . . dinnit mean t'drink so much . . . feel sick . . . "

"You'll be all right. Madam Pomfrey's on duty. Rough night, eh?"

"I hadda drink 'cos my date—" she put her hands out in front of her chest, swaying dangerously "—is this tall and dunnit speak 'nglish. An' he looks like a little mountain troll. So o'course I'm gonna get royally pished. Harry?" Demelza said, grabbing onto the lapels of Harry's dress robes. "I'm sick of bein' alone. Issit too much t'ask for sommun to share your life with?"

"Not at all," Harry said, patting her hand. "Let's get you inside."

"Did y'do that thing t'Ginny? I tol' everyone that there's no way you coulda done anythin' like that. You dinnit, did you?"

"No, I didn't," Harry said lightly. "Come on, let's go. Malfoy will walk you back to the castle."

"'Cos you're the best Seeker ever, Harry. I mean it. I know you couldna done that— Malfoy? Why's Malfoy walkin' me back?" She was busy patting around at her dress robes. "Where's m'wand? M'wand's gone . . . "

"Check again."

"No, no point. That girl took it. I remember now."

"What girl?" Harry and Draco said together.

"Dunno. Some girl. Dressed in white with sch— sch— schparkles."

They looked at one another. "Why would Eliza take a wand?" Draco asked. "She can't use it."

Harry consulted the map again. "She's right next to the road. Malfoy, take Demelza to Madam Pomfrey. I'll go and get Eliza."

"But—"

"Just do it."

"I hardly think that—"

"Do you have to be so bloody damn difficult about everything? Take Demelza."

"I'm not a nursemaid—"

*BANG!*

Harry and Draco jerked their heads around in time to see a brilliant flash of purple light far down the road leading to Hogsmeade.

"I'll be goddamned," Harry said, his mouth falling open in surprise.

"What?" asked Draco, craning his neck to see. There seemed to be some sort of layered lights down the road; two shiny headlamps blazed through the dark.

"She's got the Knight Bus!"

"The Knight Bus?" Draco wrinkled his nose in distaste. "There's no such thing as the Knight Bus."

"Right." Harry laughed before realising Draco was serious. "Wait. You don't know about the Knight Bus?"

"The Knight Bus is just a myth, Potter, a story that your parents tell you to keep you in line."

"Are you blind?" Harry said, pointing at the glowing bus down the way. "Because that? Is the Knight Bus."

"Bollocks." Draco pushed his glasses up on his nose.

"What?"

"Potter, how can you not know? The Knight Bus eats children who are naughty and takes them to Liverpool, where it spits them out and leaves them to die."

"Liverpool?"

"Liverpool."

"Are you completely mental?"

"My parents told me." Draco puffed out his chest. "And I was always a very obedient child — a wonderful kid."

"You? A wonderful kid? You were horrid. Completely awful."

"Not true. If I had been, I'd have died in Liverpool." He held Demelza Robins upright by the back of her robes as she was sick on the grass. What was it with drunk women puking this year anyway? How vile, honestly. "Hey, where are you going? I can't exactly leave—"

*BANG!* The bus was gone.

"Bugger it," Harry said, smacking the ball of his hand against his forehead. "This is a mess. I can't believe I let you — you — talk me into bringing Eliza here."

"It could be worse," Draco said, offended that Harry would consider his ball that much of a fiasco. "Eliza had a good time, I expect."

"Yeah. Brilliant time. At least she's on the bus. Ernie'll keep an eye on her until she gets to Wiltshire."

"Nasty place, Liverpool," Draco said confidentially.

"Like you've even been there before."

"That's right, I haven't been. Because I was a good kid."

"Eliza's not going to Liverpool, for God's sake." Harry rolled his eyes. "She's going to my house to collect the kids and then she's going . . . to where she stays."

Draco hadn't thought of where Eliza lived. "Where does she stay?"

"I don't know. She doesn't tell me."

"What? What about— it's cold in London in the winter—"

"What's this?" Harry asked sarcastically. "Care about her or something?"

"No," Draco said, giving Demelza's robes a good tug to ensure she stayed upright. She seemed to be asleep on her feet, her chin lolling against her chest. "What I mean to say— it's not that I care or don't care— it just is what it is."

"It doesn't have to be like that for her."

"That's especially rich, coming from you, Mister 'It-is-what-it-is' when it comes to your ex-wife and kids. God, you're a hypocrite. You make me want to puke too," Draco said, indicating Demelza, who was again retching onto the lawn.

"It's too bad I turned her over to you or else I'd hex you so hard you'd wish—"

"I don't know about that," Draco said, his lip curling. "Likely your duelling skills are quite rusty by now. How long have you been out of a job? Not a bloody big Auror any more, are you? No, you're just a regular guy, who can't see, who spends his time painting the gargoyles on his creepy old house."

"Sod off, Malfoy. You don't want to find out exactly how good my duelling skills are, because I will kick your bloody arse so hard your tailbone'll shoot out of your mouth."

"Yeah? I don't think so. Not any more."

Harry snorted. "Malfoy, please. You keep saying that, but what's changed? You're a sodding spoilt baby stuck in a grown-up's body, who goes to parties for a living and hoards money." He lowered his voice to a vicious hiss. "There's only one person who's hated more in our world than me, and that's you. The difference is that people tiptoe around it with you, but you've always been a wart on our arse."

Draco dropped Demelza; she crumpled forwards onto all fours, muttering drunkenly to herself. Slowly she let her head fall until it was resting on her arms, her arse sticking up in the air like a sleeping baby's. "Imma go t'bed now, 'kay?"

Draco reached for his wand, but Harry's was already pointing straight at him, and before Draco could react he felt himself being thrown through the air, tumbling, tumbling, but then he was caught up by the neck as the sound of a whip cracked. Helplessly, he scrabbled at his throat with his fingers, feeling the blood pounding away in his head as his circulation was cut off. The whip sounded again and this time Draco was dangling upside down, bound tight around the ankles, and then he felt as if he were on fire, a burning, excruciating pain spread through his body and his skin blackened in front of his eyes under the light of the moon, smoking and blistering with an acrid, nauseating crackling sound. "You're killing me!" he hacked. "You're killing me—"

And then it was over. Draco fell to the ground head first. Glass crunched as he faceplanted, his frames cutting into the skin at the bridge of his nose. A warm trickle worked its way down the bridge of his nose and tickled as it rolled down and underneath his left eye. His breathing heavy and sharp, he struggled upright, holding his hands out in front of him. It was blurry again and his cracked lenses made for a kaleidoscope effect. As far as he could see his skin was perfectly pale again, the horrific charring gone.

"Just a little taste of my rusty duelling skills," Harry said, advancing on Draco yet again. He lifted his wand.

Draco couldn't help it; it was reflexive. He threw up his hands and, well, he cowered.

"Look at me," Harry ordered. He spoke again when Draco failed to obey. "Look at me, Malfoy." And then Draco did as he was told. Harry's wand was pressing between his eyes, digging into his injured skin.

"Don't!" Draco hated himself for pleading, but Harry paid him no mind.

He drew back his wand slightly, and then tapped Draco's glasses. "Oculus Reparo," he said quietly, and Draco heard a strange stitching sound and something that reminded him of ice bending and squealing, and then he could see again.

"You'll want to remember that one," Harry said, slowly re-pocketing his wand. "You'll be needing it. A lot. Now, I'm going to find Eliza. Do not follow me. It's been interesting, but I'm done." I'm done with you.

"But—"

Harry walked away, disappearing into the darkness, the crunching of his feet on grass and gravel becoming fainter until Draco couldn't hear him at all.

*CRACK!*

Harry had clearly made it to the road outside the school grounds and had Apparated.

Draco sat in the grass, a passed-out Demelza Robins his only company, hated and separate and alone.

*

Breakfast the next day was rather stony.

Draco, Astoria, and Scorpius took to the formal dining room, the table of which seated forty-two. Astoria and Draco sat on either end while Scorpius took the middle. An enormous floral centrepiece occluded their view of each other, so they may as well have each eaten alone.
"So," Draco said, breaking the painful silence, "did Gawain Robards get his trophy?"

"He did," Astoria said, tapping on her egg with the side of her spoon.

"Who presented it to him?"

"Allyson."

"I'll bet he was chuffed."

"Yes."

"All right," Draco said, annoyed, "what's wrong? What've I done?"

"You should know," Astoria said, peeling the top of the shell back. She mucked around in the egg.

"Is this about the little Squib?"

"You mean Eliza?" Scorpius said in a tight voice. "Wow, imagine that. The 'little Squib' has a proper name."

"You know what I mean."

"How could you not tell me?" Scorpius asked angrily. "How could you do that?"

"It was meant to be a secret until after the game was over."

"I wouldn't have told anyone."

"Possibly not, but I didn't want to risk it."

Scorpius scowled and stared at his plate. "Where is she?"

"What?" Astoria's spoon froze halfway to her mouth.

"Where is she?"

"Why?"

"Because I want to see her again."

"No," Astoria said, shaking her head. "I don't think that’s a good idea."

"Why not?"

"You don't know her."

"I'd like to know her."

"I just think it would be ill-advised."

"Why?"

"She's a perfectly lovely girl, Scorpius," Astoria said, "but she's much different than we are. Sometimes differences are so vast that they create a chasm."

"You mean," Scorpius asked, confused, "like she doesn't have— that she comes from a— that I have more shoes than she does?"

"What'd'you mean?" Draco asked, his voice echoing in the large room. "More shoes?"

"Never mind." Scorpius sulked. "It's just that very few people have as many shoes as we do, so it's bloody stupid to judge a person on that."

"Are you talking about money?" Astoria asked, aghast. "Scorpius. Don't be gauche."

"You're the one who brought it up, not me. You're the one judging her because her family doesn't have as much money as we do."

"I suggest you cease talking about this straight away. You're being very unseemly. My concerns have nothing to do with that."

"Wait a minute." Scorpius stared at Astoria for a long moment. "It's because she's a Squib."

"Doesn't that bother you?" Draco asked Scorpius, forking a fried tomato into his mouth.

"I . . ."

"You haven't thought about it, have you?"

"Yes I have! Well, I mean I just found out, but—"

"Think about it," Astoria said severely. "It's complicated. You wouldn't want to get yourself mixed up with a Squib—"

"Just one sodding minute," Draco said, a predatory smile spreading across his face. "Do you not, Astoria, stand for Squib assimilation?"

"Of course I do."

"Just not here."

"I never said that."

"'It's complicated'?" Draco parroted back to her. "'You wouldn't want to get mixed up with a Squib'?"

"Draco, this is our son—"

"Oh bloody hell," Scorpius said, rolling his eyes. "That's bollocks."

"It certainly is not. The ramifications of becoming involved with a Squib are—"

"Whose ramifications?" Scorpius asked, interrupting. "Mine? Or yours? Admit it! You're ashamed. All that talk about Squibs being equal and Squibs deserving full status? Stinks like piss!"

"Scorpius!"

"Apologise to your mother," Draco said perfunctorily.

"I apologise, Mother," Scorpius said stiffly, not looking sorry at all. Draco could see disdain shining in his son's eyes as Scorpius considered his mother, and this made Draco feel savagely triumphant, as if he had managed to uncover a long-hidden secret about Astoria.

"I get it," Draco said, bemused. "I understand now. Squibs should be assimilated just so long as they know their proper place, which is below us regular wizards and witches."

"I never said that." Astoria's cheeks were like pink rosebuds and she was tugging at her collar as if she'd been caught being naughty. "Squibs have a rightful place in our society. I firmly believe that. Why else would I do the work that I do?"

"So they have a rightful place in our society . . . just so long as they stay over there," Draco said pointedly.

Astoria folded her hands primly. "The Society for Squib Assimilation believes in full and equal rights for Squibs, and that they should have access to all facilities and means of transportation currently enjoyed by all members of our community."

Draco laughed. "Is that the party line, then?"

"Absolutely."

"Just so long as the two shall not pass — Squibs and magic folk."

"My sense is that Squibs will be happier with other Squibs in general. Can you imagine? Not being able to do magic normally—"

"I thought you said Squibs are normal, just different from us."

"Yes, that's what I meant—"

"That's not what you just said." Scorpius accused his mother.

"That's what I meant, Scorpius."

"I think you said exactly what you mean." Scorpius put his napkin on top of his untouched breakfast. "Why? I don't understand. Why go to all the trouble of advocating for Squib rights when you don't really believe in it?"

She was vehement. "I absolutely do believe in it."

Draco smirked. "I believe that you believe you do."

"That's quite enough." Astoria's neck was covered in splotches, her eyes fiery. "Draco, this is not about me, it's about Scorpius and what's best for him."

"Your suggestion?"

"For what?"

"For what's best for Scorpius?"

"Hello. I'm sitting right here," Scorpius said, tapping the table with his knife.

"I think it best that he focus on his studies foremost. And should he meet a nice girl at Hogwarts, then—"

"You don't like Eliza because she's a Squib." Scorpius stated it as fact instead of posing a question.

Astoria snorted. "It's one of many factors that don't work in your favour. I'm not saying she's a bad person. In fact, she seems like—"

Scorpius had pushed away from the table. He left the room abruptly, not looking back even as he accidentally knocked his chair over backwards.

Draco looked at Astoria. "That went well."

"You are loathsome. How could you—"

It's not that he cared one way or another about Squibs, for he felt rather indifferent towards their plight, but he self-righteously had a go at Astoria. "How could I? How could you. The truth finally comes out. You're no different than me. Squibs are fine as long as they keep to themselves. Yes? Merlin." He laughed. "At least I'm honest."

"Honest?" she hissed. "You? Don't make me laugh." And with that, Astoria knocked her own chair over as she hastened from the room, leaving Draco to finish his breakfast in smug silence.

He opened the Daily Prophet and leisurely turned to 6A. The special Dormiens Ball section fell out.

And then an idea occurred to him. Slowly he laid his paper down and cocked his head, thinking.

*

"Potter? A word." Draco was arse-up on the kitchen hearth, attempting to firechat. "Potter?" He managed to reach Kreacher, who took his sweet time summoning Harry to the fireplace.

"What do you want, Malfoy?"

"A word."

"Well?"

Draco invited himself over. "I'll be right there."

"I meant by firechat."

"The hearth is hurting my knees. I'm sure you can imagine what I mean. The stone is digging right into my kneecaps. Bloody excruciating."

"Really." Harry raised an eyebrow. "Anyway, I'm not really up for—"

"Give me five minutes and I'll be right over, like I said."

"Are you deaf?"

"No," Draco said, pushing his glasses up his nose. "But I am very busy. You're lucky I can pencil you in at all."

"Um, you called me. Busy with what? Planning your next party? Or is it scrapbooking time. . . ?"

"Don't be stupid. My house-elves do all my photographs and memorabilia."

"Naturally."

"Look, I'll make it worth your while."

Harry looked at him, bemused and utterly delicious. "Oh, really?"

Draco's voice was raspy when he spoke. He coughed, clearing his throat. "Well, yeah." He didn't even know what he meant by it. Potter'd made it abundantly clear that he was done with playtime. At least that was how Draco had interpreted last night.

"Five minutes. I'm not dressed."

"So?" It was out of his mouth before he could control himself.

"Your wife and kid there?"

Draco was silent.

"Five minutes, Draco."

"Right. Five minutes."

*

Draco had already collected his things, so he sat at the small table in the kitchen and turned a miniature hourglass with a minute's worth of sand in it over five times, until it was exactly five minutes later. He stepped into the fireplace with a handful of Floo powder, and threw it down as he cleared the mantle. "Harry Potter, Wiltshire!"

The green flames roared over him and he felt himself being jerked upwards. He held his things to his body, clutching them tightly, and he closed his eyes, enjoying the sensation, and then . . . *BAM!*

Draco found himself crammed into one of the smallest Floos he'd ever encountered, his face mashed up against the closed grate so hard it puckered up as if someone had squeezed his cheeks in their hands until he looked like a goldfish. It was definitely not the same Floo he'd used the first time he'd come to Harry's home. "Ack." He gurgled, completely unable to move. He could see Potter sitting in a chair directly facing the Floo, legs planted firmly on the ground, his arms crossed over his chest.

"You're early."

"No, I'b dot!" Draco could barely move his lips. "O'en da Fwoo!"

"You should see yourself."

"Ur wary funny."

Potter took his time. He stretched and then sauntered over to the Floo, tapping it with his wand. "Alohomora." The grate flew open, expelling Draco onto the floor.

Draco stood, ash sifting from his shoulders. "Here," he said, shoving a new, clean bunch of bananas against Harry's gut as he pushed past. He set his belongings on the table.

Harry held the bananas, shaking his head. "Malfoy, why?"

"It seems to be—" Our Thing "—established."

"I don't know if I should accept these bananas."

"Why's that?"

"What do you want in return?"

"I've already told you I want you to not ask." Already he was leaping in with both feet? Admittedly, Draco's stomach had been flip-flopping in anticipation of . . . Harry. Yes, Harry. Draco liked him so vividly he verged on coveting Potter. Since he'd acknowledged it to himself within the past weeks, the floodtide had opened and he'd become obsessed. All he thought about was Harry Potter and the two reckless, heady encounters they'd had. Even thoughts of his son had fallen to the wayside, which was unheard of. Draco always had Scorpius on his mind, father that he was.

But he wasn't feeling fatherly at that moment.

"Ah, that's right," Harry said, drawing his teeth along his bottom lip for just a moment. "No questions."

"Don't do that with your mouth."

"Do what?"

"That thing you just did. Don't."

Harry was looking at him keenly, as if memorising Draco's face. "Dunno what you're talking about."

It probably hadn't been on purpose, Draco decided. It had looked, felt subconscious. But still. It had been alluring and he didn't like being teased. "I have an idea," he said, forging through the tension.

"Good for you?" Harry said when Draco did not continue.

"I—" He didn't know how to ask.

"You what?"

"Your assistance wouldn't go unnoticed, mind."

"You mean you need my help?"

"I don't need—"

Harry was laughing. "Colour me surprised. You need a favour. Don't be shy, Malfoy. Spit it out."

Draco scowled. He didn't like losing the reins. "It's just that McGonagall was Head of House for Gryffindor."

"McGonagall? What about her?"

"Well, she likes you."

"How do you know?"

"First, you're a Gryffindor. Second, I heard her—" He didn't really want to drudge up the past, so he said the rest quickly. "I heard her when she thought Voldemort had killed you. Trust me, Potter. She likes you."

Harry shrugged. "Going off the assumption that she does, what do you want?"

"Well," Draco said loftily, hoisting his chin, "it occurred to me that perhaps the reason the schools aren't willing to teach Squibs is financial."

"Why?"

"Well, they'd have to develop some kind of side-by-side curriculum, yes? Plus there'd be the extra expense of hiring staff experienced in working with the magically challenged—"

"The 'magically challenged'? You've got to be joking. That's horrible."

"What would you call them, then?" Draco felt like he was grasping at straws. "They're of magical parents and they're challenged. So—"

"How about we call them witches and wizards, like everyone else?"

"You really believe that Squibs are bona fide wit—"

"I do."

"Fine. These alternative witches and wizards will need their own instructors, ones who would not be put off by their Squib— alternativeness. Astoria's told me more than once that the schools are resistant to the idea of teaching squi— Alternative magic— oh, sod it. Squibs. They're Squibs, all right? That's what they are, sorry to tell you.”

"I can't stop you from calling them Squibs."

"No, you can't. Anyway, I think they don't want to teach Squibs at least partly because of the cost."

"And why have you concluded this?"

"Because everything, when you boil it down, is about money."

"And?"

"We find out from McGonagall how much money they need."

Harry processed this. He looked at Draco with suspicion. "Are you proposing procuring funding for—"

"For Squibs to attend Hogwarts and receive their own education."

"Why?" Harry narrowed his eyes. "What's in it for you?"

You, hopefully. "I don't know."

"You haven't figured that bit out yet?"

"No."

"Yet you want to proceed anyway?"

"Yes."

"Does this have to do with Eliza?"

"What other Squib do I know?" He wouldn't outright apologise for the trophy incident.

"You like her."

"I appreciate her tenacity."

"That's all?"

"Well, she can be wonderfully bitchy."

Harry snorted. "She'd probably be glad you think so."

"Anyway, I was thinking 'The Draco Malfoy Foundation for Alternative Magic' would be a good name for a scholarship fund."

"I don't believe this."

"What?" Draco looked at Harry, putting his hands up.

"So, you're going to fund this scholarship programme by yourself?" Harry asked sceptically.

"Of course not. But it was my idea—"

Harry was shaking his head again. "You know, Malfoy, it's amazing what you can accomplish if you don't care who gets the credit."

"But I thought of it!"

"No you didn't. You don't think the Society for Squib Assimilation hasn't been after all the old schools to teach wizards and witches like Eliza for years?"

Draco thought of Astoria. "Let's just say I'm not impressed with the Society for Squib Assimilation at present."

"Why's that?"

"Or," Draco said, as if Harry hadn't asked, "it could simply be called 'The Malfoy Foundation'."

"What, there isn't already a Malfoy Foundation?"

"Oh." Draco's face fell. "There is. Bugger."

"You could call it 'Malfoy's Magical Money Market'."

"I'm not sure I like the—"

"I was joking, Draco."

"Well, I'm not joking."

Harry was watching Draco closely still, examining him as if expecting him to shed his impostor skin at any moment and reveal the vicious, posh little bully of years ago. True, he was doing this mainly for himself, but the difference was that for the first time he had experienced the phenomenon of putting himself in someone else's shoes — he had imagined what it might feel like to not have magic. He had looked at Eliza Cattermole and he had . . . sympathised. He had understood on a logical level that she had not asked to be a Squib nor done anything to deserve it. And Draco had wondered for a fleeting moment what it would be like to exist as Eliza did, in a society surrounded by magic, without being able to cast spells. He had thought of what it must be like to have to defend one's self without magic. Just for a moment he'd thought of these things. It made him uncomfortable to be feeling this way, so he'd refocused on his obsession with Potter. That was easy to do.

"So, what's the favour?"

"Come with me to talk to McGonagall. I'd be willing to bet that Astoria's got enough information on the Squibs to put a curriculum into place."

"For this year?"

"Why wait?"

"Ambitious."

"Yes."

"Figured out what's in it for you yet?"

Draco thought for a moment. "No."

"And you're positive you still want to proceed, even without knowing what personal gain is involved?"

"Would you stop asking me that? You make it sound as if I've proposed blowing up the Ministry with Longbottom's potions cauldron."

Harry smiled slightly. "Neville's a steady hand at potions now."

"I would bloody well hope so. Took him long enough."

"Do you even know if McGonagall's at school right now?"

He had no idea. "No. Why don't you call her up on firechat."

"It's your party, Malfoy," Harry said. "As Dumbledore would say."

"I wouldn't know," Draco said coldly. "Dumbledore never bothered to talk to me."

"You wear self-pity about as well as you do altruism."

"I'm just saying. I'm not asking for pity for sod's sake. I was making an observation."

"We both know Dumbledore had plenty to say to you."

"Yeah, when he had to."

"Oh, wah. Dumbledore only talked to you when you had him at wandpoint, trying to kill him. So unfair."

"Because clearly you were the only one who needed the Headmaster's protection and guidance."

"Shut up, Malfoy. You—"

"Anyway." Draco didn't want to talk about that time in his life. "McGonagall."

"Call her up. Be my guest."

"She won't mind?"

"I have no idea."

"You're no help." Draco considered the prospect for several moments. He strode over to Potter's Floo and grabbed up the Floo powder and tossed a handful into the green flames licking there. "Minerva McGonagall, Hogwarts."

*

An hour later found Draco and Harry scurrying after Headmistress McGonagall as she swept through the corridors and classrooms in the aftermath of the Dormiens Ball, with a keen and roving eye, picking up stray items and making notes for the house-elves.

"Potter," McGonagall said, handing Harry a silk scarf and a used pair of wax teeth that tried to bite her wand as she Accioed them from under a desk, "if you please." Quickly Harry incanted a charm and touched his wand to his pocket and stuffed the teeth and scarf inside. His arm disappeared to the elbow. "You too, Malfoy." She shoved a fully potted Venomous Tentacula plant at him. The vines immediately went for his throat.

"Bloody hell," Draco said, trying to shove the pot down into his pocket. "I specifically said no Venomous Tentacula! Potter, what's the incantation for that extension charm? Oh, come on."

But Harry wouldn't tell Draco the word. Instead he tapped Draco's pocket with his wand and incanted silently. Draco felt a coolness, like someone had blown a nice puff of air up his trousers leg, and then the pot of tentacula slid into his pocket, seemingly weightless.

"That's a right useful charm." He had to admit it.

"It's one of Hermione's."

"Even so."

"I'll tell her you approve."

"Oh, she knows we're— that you're . . . ?" That they were what?

"She knows we're no longer trying to kill each other, yes."

"Really?"

"Well, yeah."

"You told her. Why?"

"She's my best friend." Harry said this as if it were obvious. A surge of envy welled up inside him, and Draco hated himself for the weakness. It wasn't so much that he imagined himself as Harry Potter's best friend, because he didn't and no one could ever replace Pansy, but he did imagine a place with Potter beyond a mere lack of open hostility. He thought it likely that Harry did not imagine any such thing with him and he hated being the only one to need.

"The logistics of teaching Squibs is just too complicated, Mr. Malfoy," McGonagall said. She strolled briskly down the corridor where Draco, Harry, and Astoria had pored over the Marauder's Map the night before. Lifting the faceplate of the suit of armour, she stuck her hand in all the way to her shoulder, rummaging. She tipped its head back and managed to extract a school broom, a Demiguise cape that shimmered under the low light from the wall sconces, a three-point Admiral's hat, and a yo-yo. "Potter, if you please."

Harry wrestled with the broom, trying to get all the twigs to fit inside his pocket.

"Put it in handle first," Draco said, stating the obvious. "Professor, is there always this much cr— junk left here after the Dormiens Ball?" He'd had no idea.

"Oh, yes. Two years ago someone left a Heffalump in the ladies’ toilet."

"Why would anyone bring a Heffalump to a ball?"

"Who can say? The behaviours of the bored and rich are often inexplicable."

"True." Draco was picking up a stack of books. Inside each book the pages had been carved out and when the book was opened a bouquet of dandelions sprung out. "Do you want these put back right?" He made to draw his wand.

"Not now. I collect first, then sort, repair, and organise, and then everything goes into the Lost Items room."

"Ah. So, professor, what logistics are you talking about?"

"Foremost is staff. The Hogwarts teachers already have full timetables and asking them to teach another set of subjects to children who don't even have magic is a rather fruitless endeavour."

"What if they do have magic?" Draco asked. "But it's just dormant?"

"Eliza told me she bounced once," Harry said. "Just once. But wouldn't you think that means she has magic?"

Professor McGonagall paused. "She bounced?"

"She says she bounced when she fell out of a tree when she was three. Bounced high enough that she grabbed the branch she fell from in the first place."

"How high was the tree?"

"Dunno," Harry said. "She didn't say."

"Perhaps she wanted to believe she bounced. It would be understandable."

Harry shrugged. "It's possible, but Eliza's pretty accepting of being a Squib."

"At least that's what she says to you," Draco said. "How do you know how she really feels?"

"I can only go by what she says."

"Imagine what it would be like to be without magic in our world. Of course one would put on a brave face," Draco said, holding his hand out.

Harry raised an eyebrow as Draco accepted a pair of shoes and a woman's brassiere from McGonagall. "What's this? Empathy?"

Draco didn't know what to say. A rush of self-conscious heat spread through his gut and his face suddenly felt hot.

"Malfoy, you're blushing."

"I am not. I— I—" Draco quickly put his wand to his forehead and cast a cooling charm. "It must be a hot flush."

"Mr. Malfoy," Professor McGonagall said dryly, "you are a man."

"Right. What I mean to say—"

"One bounce does not a wizard make," McGonagall said, continuing as if Draco had not spoken. "It could have had something to do with the particular spot of earth the tree was planted in, or another witch or wizard could have been watching and cast a bouncing spell, or it could merely have been subconscious—"

"Right, professor," Harry said. "That's what we're saying. Perhaps for Squibs magic is triggered on a subconscious level. Which would explain why the harder they try and do magic consciously, the more they fail."

McGonagall paused. "Well, it is an interesting theory."

"I thought of it first," Draco interjected, feeling compelled to point this out.

"Shut up, Malfoy, you did not," Harry said. "You read the Society for Squib Assimilation pamphlets, that's all."

Draco looked at McGonagall and pointed between himself and Harry. "I read them first, though."

"Christ almighty." Harry rolled his eyes.

McGonagall finished searching behind a tapestry and emerged empty-handed. "One would think after all this time you two would have learnt to behave like adults with each other."

"Oh," said Draco, meeting Harry’s eyes, "we do act like adults."

Harry stared back, unabashed.

"Well, then, I expect we won't have any more bickering. So, moving on, the lack of magic is completely prohibitive of a magical education. Surely you two can understand that."

"There's no reason Squibs can't learn the theoretical foundations of magic as they work on utilising practical magic," Draco said. "Squibs are pure-bloods."

McGonagall stared at Draco so long and hard that he found himself holding his left forearm, unconsciously rubbing there, as if hiding the scar of his Dark Mark from her. "Blood status aside—"

"Well, it's important in this instance. Under every other circumstance a child of two magical parents would get a Hogwarts letter. It's not the fault of the Squib that he or she's born without magic— the ability to easily cast magic."

"I think Malfoy's right, Professor." Harry sounded reluctant to make the concession.

She thought for a long moment. "There's the matter of keeping them safe. We don't know what they can and cannot do, can or cannot see. They must be able to protect themselves."

"I'm sure they'd be more than willing to tell you those things," Harry said. "Has anyone ever asked?"

Something Astoria said niggled at Draco's memory. "My wife is deeply involved in the Society for Squib Assimilation and she says the Society has been collecting information on Squibs for years. There's a resource right there. Have you thought much about Squibs before, Professor?"

"To imply that I am uncaring towards the plight that Squibs face is neither fair nor true."

"Forgive me, that's not what I meant." Draco was at least cognisant enough to know when to soft-pedal. "Most people don't think about Squibs. Astoria calls it a 'secret, silent shame’. She says that most Squibs are almost hidden away by their families."

McGonagall looked at Draco knowingly. "Mr. Malfoy. What's in this for you?"

"What? Nothing. I don't know."

"But there might be something in this for you?"

"Respectfully, so what if there is?"

"You say you are unsure what this may be?"

"As of this moment, I am unsure what's in it for me, but I'm open to suggestions."

"Your tongue has always been far too glib for your own good," McGonagall said, unsmiling.

"That might be true."

"It is."

"I think," Harry said quietly, "that Professor Dumbledore would have liked this idea. You know. His sister. She wasn't a Squib, but her magic was damaged too. I think he always, well, mourned that."

"It's useless to speculate on what Professor Dumbledore may or may not have felt. Regrettably, he is no longer with us."

"He and I had a long talk about it once."

"He talked to you about his sister?"

"Yes."

She looked mildly surprised. "Potter, we don't even know who the Squibs are. They're not required to register with the Ministry. For all intents and purposes, they don't exist."

"And you're all right with that?"

"I haven't given it much thought."

"Most people haven't. But Hogwarts could make a real difference."

"Again, the logistics. There's the matter of locating the Squibs, and then speaking to their parents and convincing them to entrust their non-magical child to a magical institution, not to mention we'd have to suss out what supplies to request in order to teach them. They can't be Sorted—"

"How do you know?" Draco asked, interrupting.

"I beg your pardon?"

"How do you know?" Draco clarified. "How do you know a Squib can't be Sorted? It's been tried before?"

"Well, I—" Professor McGonagall's brow furrowed. "I suppose— I don't believe a Squib has ever been Sorted."

"Has anyone ever tried to Sort a Squib?"

"Not that I know of."

"Then how do we know they can't be Sorted?"

"I suppose we don't know."

"I," Draco announced, a gleam sparking in his eyes, "have an idea."

*

"You've no right! No right, I'm telling you. You might think it's funny, but I'm here to tell you it's not. Oh, yes, very amusing. Let's laugh at the— Let's hex the— Here's poisoned chocolates for the— I've a right mind to beat you over the head with this here mop, boy, as I do to wipe that smile off your face with Aunt Arnica's Acid Astringent . . . mark my words, I'll tar your hide so hard—"

"Argus, that's quite enough," Professor McGonagall said severely. "No one is here to force you to do anything. You are at perfect liberty to leave this office should you see fit."

"Damn right I'm leaving this office," Filch growled, his beady little eyes glaring at them from under his caterpillar brows. What little hair he had straggled down his shoulders, white and lank, and Draco was quite certain Filch was wearing the same outfit he'd always had on when Draco'd been a student at Hogwarts himself. The familiar knee-length paperboy pants were filthy with grit and dirt, the blousy white shirt yellowed with age. His waistcoat bore no buttons and he'd topped off his look with argyle knee socks and work boots with no laces. An absurdly bright purple cravat lay knotted at his throat. Filch wore a perpetual scowl so severe that his brow practically touched the bridge of his nose, permanent lines etched in his face like a map. Mrs. Norris had fared no better. Although the cat's roving eyes were as sharp as ever, nobody could deny that she was covered in bald patches and that her tail didn't seem to swish as keenly as it always had done.

"By all means," Professor McGonagall said, gesturing towards the door. "Would you like me to show you out or can you get the door yourself?"

"A stunt like this calls for some punishment!"

"Your suggestion?"

"Like I keep telling you, Headmistress, there's a place for classic discipline—"

"And like I keep telling you, Mr. Filch, the word 'discipline' means to teach, not to punish. Now, I assure you, sir, no one here is making a joke at your expense. Mr. Malfoy and Mr. Potter are here because they wish to establish instruction for non-magical wizards and witches, or Squibs, at Hogwarts."

"What'd'you mean?" Filch asked suspiciously.

"Exactly what I've said." McGonagall apparently made the decision to speak to Filch using his language. "Mr. Malfoy and Mr. Potter wish to see Squibs receive a magical education."

Draco thought the caretaker's face shifted. He wouldn't say softened, but there was perceptible change.

"Why?" he asked, his voice rough. He raked his eyes over Draco and Harry.

"Are you not a pure-blood?" Draco asked, appealing to what was likely Filch's only source of heritage pride.

"'Course I'm pure-blood!"

"The Society for Squib Assimilation believes that all pure-blood witches and wizards should be afforded a magical education."

"You're a member of that there Society?"

"My wife is."

Filch remained quiet, looking at Draco suspiciously.

"If you please, Mr. Filch, will you agree to be Sorted or not? If not, I have a to-do list a mile long."

"All right, all right. I'll do it. But I want a raise."

"And what were you thinking of?"

"Five galleons a week."

"I'll give you two."

"Six."

"One."

"Seven."

"One."

"Five."

"Two, and that's my final offer."

"Two," Filch said grudgingly. "What I wanted to begin with." He looked around. "What'm I supposed to do?"

"This way." McGonagall led Filch across her office to where the Sorting stool sat next to a small writing desk. She dragged it out. "Have a seat."

Filch looked ridiculous on the stool, it was so small. Filch's knees were raised practically to his chest and he rather resembled a sitting bullfrog. McGonagall summoned the Sorting Hat, catching it neatly as it soared from its shelf. Carefully, she placed the Sorting Hat on Argus Filch's head. It did not fall over his eyes, as it would for an eleven-year-old child. It fit his head perfectly.

The hat frowned.

Draco, Harry, and McGonagall leaned forwards expectantly.

"Hmm," said the hat. "Right. Right, then. It's been hundreds of years since I've been asked to place a Squib . . . "

"You've placed a Squib before?"

"Ah, dear lady, I said I've been asked to. Now, let's see, Argus Filch, where is your magic?"

"Keep it to yourself, you ruddy stupid doffer." Mrs. Norris wound her way around the stool where her master sat.

The hat pursed the split in its brim and leaned forwards on Filch's head and thought.

*

Two full minutes went by in silence. The hat seemed to shift and sigh at times, and Filch periodically nodded or shook his head, as if answering questions. Finally, the hat spoke. "While it's not impossible to Sort a Squib, depending on what's inside, it's an unusual request. Colour me out of practice, but here's an individual who is fiercely loyal—" Mrs. Norris meowed at this, purring "—who desires to see great places and do great things, who is exceptionally resourceful as a wizard, and one who is committed to hard work."

"Hufflepuff," Draco said under his breath to Harry, who nodded discretely.

"Here is a pure-blood wizard," the Sorting Hat said, and then fell silent again.

"Any year now would be fine," Filch growled, the hat looking like an absurd stem on the top of his head, as another minute crawled by. His face was as red as a beetroot. "Because the swamp on the fifth floor needs to be dredged. Damned Peeves's put a bloody Kappa in there and Merlin himself knows Hagrid's all out of cucumbers which means I'll have to go into Hogsmeade—"

"SLYTHERIN!"

*

For a moment no one said anything. Including Filch.

And then Harry coughed into his hand, his fist hiding an amused smile. Draco, McGonagall, and Filch regained their senses.

"What?"

"What?"

"What?"

"I believe," Harry said delicately, "the hat said 'Slytherin’."

"Slytherin, eh?" Filch's ugly face split into what was probably the only genuine smile Draco would ever see the caretaker sport. "Must be the pure-blood in me."

Draco was horrified. Did this mean that Squibs were all Slytherins? Squibs? Forgetting propriety, he snatched the hat from Filch's head, leaving the caretaker's hair even more askew. "Are you sure?" he asked the hat.

"Draco Malfoy," the Sorting Hat said, bending its peak forward towards Draco. "Didn't even need to touch your head to sort you. I always knew you'd need glasses one day."

"Never mind that."

“Why would you not think this man a Slytherin?"

"Because . . . " Draco searched for the right words. "Because he's Filch, for Merlin's sake."

"Salazar Slytherin
Praised the purest blood within.
A Squib comes from the purest blood
Devoid of magic, deprived of love.
A Squib must be clever to live within
This magic world of their brethren.
A Squib must figure how to do
That which comes from magic for the rest of you.
A Squib must do work all by hand
In a world that fails to understand.
The toils and troubles day-to-day
Whilst all the while they're hid away.
Ambition courses through their veins
They only want to be the same
They wish to cast a magic spell
Or else Kwik-Spell books would never sell
They try everything for Merlin's sake
To raise their magic, get it to take
While unexpected, yes it's true
Filch is Slytherin, like you
Ambitious, pure-blood, and clever too
Means Slytherin's the House I choose."

"What," Draco said, disbelieving, "do you just come up with these rhymes as you go along?"

"I'm a thinking cap it's true
There's little else for me to do.
I sit all year upon that shelf
All alone and by myself—"

"Merlin, spare me. That's all I need to hear, tales of woe from a lonely hat."

McGonagall replaced this Sorting Hat on its shelf, brushing dust off its brim.

"Thanks," the hat said, and then fell silent, its slash of a mouth closing.

"So Squibs can be Sorted, then," Harry said. "Interesting."

"But what if they all go to Slytherin?" Draco said. "This is a terrible idea. I don't know what I was thinking—"

"Shut up, Malfoy," Harry snapped. "You're the one who's always gone on about pure-blood this and pure-blood that, so . . . "

"Well, I didn't mean like this."

"Thought you wanted to teach Squibs," Filch said to Draco, smiling malevolently. He turned to McGonagall. "I'm ready for my patch."

"I beg your pardon?"

"My patch." Filch puffed out his chest, pointing to the left side of his waistcoat. "Right here, if you please."

"Mr. Filch, you are not a student here."

"Yeah, well, I mighta been." He pointed at the hat. "That says I'm a Slytherin, and I bloody well want my patch."

"Oh for heaven's sake, all right." McGonagall pulled her wand and tapped Filch's waistcoat twice. From thin air the House patch for Slytherin appeared, along with a needle and thread. The needle whirred and whipped around the edges of the patch until it was affixed perfectly to the grungy tweed fabric. "There you are, Mr. Filch. I should say congratulations on your placement."

"And I'll be expecting a scarf, too," Filch said, as he made to leave McGonagall's office, Mrs. Norris slinking after him. "You can put it in my in-basket on my desk."

"Indeed." McGonagall raised an eyebrow as Filch skulked from the room.

"Well?" Draco demanded, crossing his arms over his chest. He could not believe that Filch was a Slytherin. "So, Squibs can be Sorted. That changes a lot, doesn't it?"

"It is, of course, very interesting." Professor McGonagall sat behind her desk and clasped her hands together, resting her chin. It was quiet for a very long time. "And you say this would be fully privately funded?"

"Fully," Draco said, "by a private foundation. I've been thinking on the name, and I keep coming back to the Draco Malfoy Foundation for Alternative Magic—"

"The fact," Harry said, interrupting Draco’s self-indulgence, "that Squibs can be Sorted shows that they're magical beings. Wouldn't they then be entitled to an education through Hogwarts, just as any other witch or wizard is?"

"Well, I don't know . . . "

"What's the law say?" Draco asked.

"I'm not sure it's even addressed in the by-laws."

"How do we find out?"

"I do have the book of laws and by-laws from the Ministry. Dumbledore left it when he died. It updates itself whenever a new law is passed or a law is modified." McGonagall waved her wand and a huge tome slid from one of her bookcases, the book being well over twelve inches thick.

"Oh, God," Draco moaned.

"It's surprisingly well-organised," McGonagall said briskly. Draco blinked and there were three copies of the enormous book on the table.

"How'd you do that?"

"I am, Mr. Malfoy, a professor of Transfiguration."

"Oh, yes, right."

Draco settled in a chair and Harry did the same. He dragged the book towards him. "I guess I'll start with 'Squib’."

*

"Holy shit on a shingle."

"I'm exhausted. I can't even see any more. Have you ever seen print that small?"

"Not even in The Invisible Book on Invisibility," Draco groaned, collapsing into one of the chairs at the end of the long butcher's block in his kitchen. It was after nine o'clock and they'd finally given up after no one could focus any more, their fingers criss-crossed with cuts from the stiff pages. "Have a seat?"

"For a minute." Draco heard the legs of the chair scrape against the stone floor as Potter sat down.

Draco snapped his fingers loudly. Immediately Bitty the house-elf stood before them. "Dinner," Draco said. "You know what I like." He paused, and then looked at Harry. "Potter? Fancy a bite?"

Harry considered him, not saying anything, and Draco's heart soared, for he understood that Harry did indeed want to stay, but didn’t want to admit it. He wants to stay! Draco thought. He wants to stay with me . . .

"It's just dinner," Draco said, his heart pounding expectantly. "What'll you have?"

"I suppose . . . " Potter said this very faintly, which was most unlike him. "Just dinner's all right."

"What'll you have?" Draco's heart burst with elation, which embarrassed him and made him feel like he were a bumbling teenager again, and while he understood that he was in his marital home and that Astoria was somewhere around, he couldn't find it in him to feel guilty. It wasn't that he hated her. Quite the contrary. He thought Astoria was brilliant — smart, pretty, kind (far kinder than he deserved, he knew). She was Scorpius's mother. And he had treated her horribly.

But none of this changed the fact that something had irrevocably changed. And what made him sad was not so much that he was having this realisation, but rather its future implications. If he could come to feel platonically for Astoria, then what was the point of leaving her? He could move on, he could have other relationships, but they would end up just the same. There would be the initial whirlwind of romance and sex, which would progress to a deeper connection . . . love . . . and then it would be cheerful and friendly and pleasant and really quite mundane. Draco was the sort who always needed a roaring fire lit underneath him. He thrived on a constant diet of thrill and titillation and excitement.

Except for the death of his son, Draco couldn't imagine anything that would break his heart more than falling out of love with Harry Potter. He didn't love Potter yet but these thoughts gave him great pause. Some things were inadvisable.

"What'll you have?" he asked, repeating himself for the third time.

"Uh . . . spaghetti?"

"Spaghetti?"

"Well, you asked."

"I just— spaghetti?"

"You don't like spaghetti?"

"Of course I don't like spaghetti. What am I, four?"

"What's age got to do with it?"

"There just comes a point where one moves on from spaghetti to more sophisticated forms of pasta, such as linguini."

"And why is linguini more sophisticated than spaghetti? They're practically the same."

"Except one's on the children's menu and the other's not."

"Then you'll be glad to know that I like meatballs."

"Potter, gross."

"And garlic bread."

"No wonder you're single."

Harry snorted.

"Bitty," Draco said to the house-elf, "Bring some adult spaghetti and meatballs for Potter here."

Bitty looked at Draco. "Master Malfoy is having red wine with dinner?"

"Good call," Draco said, with a nod of approval. "Bring four bottles."

"Christ, Malfoy."

"Like you won't drink it."

"Bitty is bringing four bottles of red wine."

"Pick a good year," Draco said to the house-elf, looking at Harry.

He was hungry.

*

"You know," Draco said, after they'd been eating for five minutes or so, "Voldemort killed Charity Burbage right where you're sitting."

Harry had his fork halfway up to his mouth. "Is . . . that your idea of small talk?"

"Well, no," Draco said, suddenly feeling embarrassed. Had he said the wrong thing? "I just thought you might want to know."

"Why would I want to know that?"

Harry was sitting halfway down the table for forty-two. Draco had said "Sit wherever you like," but since Draco always sat at the west head of the table, and wasn't about to switch things around, Potter had ended up far enough away that they practically had to call to one another to be heard.

"Well," Draco said loudly, so Potter would hear him, "I feel I ought to tell you, so you can make an informed choice."

"An informed choice."

"Because I personally wouldn't want to sit where someone had been murdered."

"You're absolutely right." Harry picked up his plate with one hand and used his other to give a flick and swish with his wand until the rest of his utensils and ware floated upwards, following him as he headed . . . away from Draco. He put his dinner down at the other end of the table and made to sit.

"Sorry. That's Astoria's seat."

Harry moved again.

"Oh, that's reserved for my Great Uncle Hyperion. He always knows if I let someone else sit in 'his' chair." Draco made little quotey marks with his fingers.

"I see." Harry moved yet again.

"Oh, yeah, no. That one's a no-go. The upholstery needs re-doing."

"The upholstery."

"Yes," Draco said earnestly. "My Great Aunt Marge—"

"You have an Aunt Marge?"

"Yes?"

"I do too. That's all."

"She's married to Uncle Hyperion. Anyway, she's—" Draco lowered his voice, speaking confidentially "—a woman of size, and her backside's worn out the upholstery. It would have gone much sooner than it did, but she eventually outgrew the chair. We have to do an undetectable widening charm whenever she comes to visit, with a shielding charm to boot. But she's worn down the seat anyway."

"Oh. My Aunt Marge is 'of size' too. Or, as you would say, she's 'porky’."

"Hey!" Draco said, indignant. "Did I not just use 'of size'? Wait, don't sit there. It was Auntie Bellatrix's favourite chair. You probably wouldn't like that. No, not there either. Walden Macnair—"

"Malfoy, where should I sit?"

"Hmm." Draco took a full minute to pretend he was surveying the table. "Well, you can't sit there because that's where Scorpius sits, and Pansy sits there, and Theodore cast an arse-zapping jinx on that chair when he was drunk—" Draco sat up, almost primly. "You can sit here," he said, indicating the seat next to him on the left and then the one directly on the right, "or here."

Harry chose the chair to Draco's left, which give him a momentary thrill because Draco was left-handed and Harry was not, so the likelihood of them bumping hands was increased.

"If you wanted me to sit next to you, you should have just said so."

"I didn't— that's not what I meant." Draco lifted his chin a notch, pulling a haughty face. "If you don't like the seating arrangements, there's always the kitchen—"

"The seating arrangements are fine, Malfoy." Harry looked at Draco as he settled back into his new seat. "Your house-elves cook well."

"Of course they do. Do you like your adult spaghetti?" The house-elves had switched the meatballs for a good marinara and some top-notch lamb sausages.

"I do." Harry wiped his mouth with his napkin. "Just so long as you aren't secretly poisoning me."

"First, if I were secretly poisoning you, I wouldn't say so, and, two, I thought you couldn't die?"

The corner of Harry's mouth twitched. "Everyone dies. Eventually."

"Even you?"

"Eventually."

Draco gulped down the last bit of his wine and refilled his glass. He offered the bottle to Harry, who took it. "Did you hear from Eliza today?"

"Well, you were with me all day, so you know I didn't. But that reminds me that I have Pansy's jewellery." Harry took a generous bite of his pasta and sausage, chewing thoughtfully and swallowing before continuing. "By the time I got home last night, she'd already been and gone. She took the kids with her and she left all her stuff for the ball in a heap, like she couldn't get it off fast enough."

"That's gratitude for you."

"I think she stayed close by the house, though, because she got into my Daily Prophet before I woke up this morning."

"What'd'you mean?"

Harry looked at him. "What do you think, Draco? What do you think she was after?"

"I've no idea. Why would I know? Coupons? She is on a tight budget."

"What's the first thing you read this morning?"

"Well, 6A, of course."

"Exactly."

Draco tried to recall all the pictures that had been splashed over section six and, yes, he recalled a few of Eliza and Scorpius. The thought occurred to him that he’d rather thoughtlessly let his son be photographed with a Squib. He hadn't read the headlines or captions yet, as Astoria had called him for breakfast, and then that morning's argument had ensued.

"She took the pictures—"

"Of her and your son."

"His name is Scorpius."

"Whatever his name is, she took those pictures."

"Why?"

Harry looked at him as if he were daft. "Are you really that thick? Scorpius fancies her."

"No he doesn't." He recalled their argument that morning. When can I see her again . . . ? "He couldn't possibly."

"Of course he does. How thick are you? Don't you remember what it's like to fancy someone?"

Draco coughed. "Uh, yeah, I suppose I can remember . . . "

"Don't you remember how he fell all over himself for her at my house?"

"My son does not fall over himself for any girl—"

"Well, he did for Eliza."

"He was just being polite."

"Malfoy, I'm as thick as they get when it comes to girls, and I'm telling you that he fancies her."

"Scorpius would never fancy a Squib."

Harry's face darkened. "You mean he wouldn't or you wouldn't let him?"

Draco was silent, considering this. He didn't know what to say. He preferred the former, but the latter was acceptable if it came to that.

"And you know," Harry continued, "there's nothing that makes kids in love want to see each other more than being told they can't."

"They're not in love, for God's sake! They've just met."

"You know what I mean. Reckon if you asked them, they'd say it was true love, destiny, meant to be, foreseen in the stars—"

"All right, I get it. I'll have a chat with the boy tomorrow."

"If he hurts her, I will be very unhappy."

"What's that, a threat?"

"Hmm. Yes. Yes, it is."

"And if anything happens to my son, I will be very unhappy."

"Noted."

It actually hung between them, tense and unsavoury.

The evening was turning sour and Draco wanted to act quickly to keep Harry from pulling his wand, or, worse, storming off. "We both are interested in the welfare of our children. So noted. I hardly see the need for violence!"

"She's not my child."

"She's more yours than anyone else's." Draco shrugged.

"She has a mother and father."

"You know what I mean."

Harry said nothing.

"How'd you meet her anyway?"

"She lent me a galleon. I had my broom too long outside Bobbin's. They were going to impound it if I didn't pay seventy galleons on the spot. I only had sixty-nine."

"So she lent you a galleon?" Draco laughed, amused by the idea.

"Yep. At one hundred percent interest."

"Did you pay her back?"

"Of course I did!"

"Amusing."

"Anyhow, that's how I met her."

"How long have you known her?"

"Two years? About that."

"How is it she's evaded the Ministry this long? They don't let minors live on the streets like that. Do they?" He realised as he was speaking that he didn't really know what the Ministry’s position on homeless children was.

"Well," Harry said slowly, pausing for some wine, "you've met her. You know how clever she is. Truthfully? I'm not sure how she's stayed out from under their noses this long."

"Especially with the younger children."

"Yes."

"Didn't you— Did she say that her brother's going to Hogwarts this year?"

"Harry? Yeah, he is."

"Oh."

They ate in silence until neither could pack in another bite. As Draco had suspected, the wine had not gone to waste. He felt comfortably buzzed, his stomach was full, he'd had a productive day. (He still wasn't over it. Filch? A Slytherin? Christ.)

Draco stretched his arms over his head, laced his fingers together and leaned sideways in his chair towards Harry. Under the table he slid his foot until it bumped up against Harry's trainer. He nudged at Potter. "So," he asked, stifling a yawn. He let his arms drop and he grasped the sides of his chair. "Fancy dessert?"

*

Draco's study was as typically austere as a manor of his size would suggest. Rich walnut wainscoting ran the full perimeter of the room and old-fashioned gas lamps lined the walls. It was a sea of forest green walls, black leather furniture, and Malfoy memorabilia.

"Lumos." The gas lamps flared to life, but settled down immediately, casting soft shadows up the emerald walls.

"No," Harry said, in a low voice. Draco felt Potter's warm hand close over his wrist. "Nox . . ."

Draco stood in the darkness, his heart hammering away in his chest. The anticipation was so delicious he almost didn't want Harry to touch him. What would he do first? He imagined Harry's hands slipping into his trousers, rubbing his hardness, imagined his wet, hot mouth closing around his cock, and the feeling of Harry's fingers trailing across his stomach. His belly hitched just thinking of it, his muscles quaking. Harry was touching only his wrist, yet Draco's cock was getting harder by the second. It was like he was fifteen again, not just the rate of his arousal, but the niggling fear in the back of his mind We'll be caught . . . we're going to get caught . . . . He debated throwing a locking charm at the door, but he was too excited.

"I can't stop thinking about you . . . " It just gushed out, again like he was an inexperienced teen. Draco would never forgive himself for this particularly vulnerable moment of weakness. Ah, but it was so true.

"Yeah?" Harry had Draco by both wrists, but it felt rather hesitant, almost as if Potter were merely trying to steady himself.

Harry's feigned innocence made Draco sneer. "Like you don't think about me." Draco could now tell that Harry was smiling slightly because their mouths were touching.

"When I want to get off . . ."

"God," Draco groaned, grabbing up Potter's chin in his hand and closing in.

For several long moments only their tongues touched and Draco swirled his against Harry's and then kissed him until Potter tipped his head back under the pressure. Draco wanted to eat him alive. He sucked on Harry's tongue hungrily, kissing and kissing until Harry’s arms slipped around Draco's hips to cup his arse. Draco followed suit, pulling Harry into him and grinding.

Harry thrust back, but it was clumsy. They were standing up and had no leverage and Draco wasn't interested in a slow, drawn-out session. He'd been thinking about this for so long, dreaming of it, that he couldn't control himself. Lust exploded inside him.

"Get down on the floor," Draco said, surfacing just for a moment. They eased each other down, grappling as they went, and then Draco was atop Harry so that they were cock to cock and Draco kissed Harry again, deciding that as long as he felt fifteen, he might as well recreate the experience — the experience of not being able to wait, the experience of kissing and rubbing each other raw, trying to banish the never-ending longing, the dull, aching waves of perpetual arousal. It was completely intoxicating.

"Say something," he hissed, into Harry's ear.

"Don't stop?" Harry sounded amused, but he was not messing around when it came to Draco's cock. Draco didn't know how he was doing it, but Potter was squirming against him in a way that threatened to have him coming in seconds.

"No, you arse—"

"You look really nice in that jumper?"

"Merlin, shut up," Draco said, groaning, his eyes closed even though it was pitch dark. He kissed Harry again, long and hard. "You suck at small talk."

"This," Harry said, nipping a trail from the corner of Draco's mouth to his earlobe, where he caught the soft lobe between his teeth and tongued it until Draco shivered, "coming from the bloke who organises his table by who’s been murdered where . . ."

"It's not my fault this house has such a dark history," Draco said, thrusting slowly, deliberately against Harry.

And then Potter's mouth was warm at his ear. "I do think about you."

There was something in the way Harry said it that tipped the scale. "Ohh," Draco gurgled, and he came in his pants like a stupid schoolboy, the pressure against his cock just too much. "Oh, fuck." Another full body shiver overtook him, crawling through him as if someone had trailed a fingernail right up his spine.

Through the inky black, Draco felt Harry searching upwards, and then his warm, calloused hands were cupping his face.

"Oh God," Draco groaned, dragging his teeth along the ball of Harry's thumb and sucking lightly there. "I came . . ."

"Well, that was fast." Harry put his forehead against Draco's, their glasses knocking hard together, and it surprised him that it hadn't happened before this. And then Harry whispered, "Put your mouth on me . . ."

Draco'd never given head in his life.

He'd been happy to receive from many an eager mouth, but he'd never deigned to reciprocate. Hands and cock-to-cock had all been fair game, but, no, he'd never taken another man into his mouth before.

"Uh—"

"You've never done it before—"

"How do you know—"

"—just do it."

"But—"

"You said no questions. So I'm telling you. Come on, get up." Harry shoved Draco aside and lit his wand, the tiny glow of Lumos like a shining star filling the night sky. Harry looked around and spotted the sofa. "There."

They kissed all the way over to the couch, Harry undoing his trousers hurriedly and easing them down as he walked backwards. Draco gave him a light shove, pushing against his shoulders. Harry flopped back against the cushions and Draco dropped down onto his knees and slid his hands up Potter's thighs, and then Harry's hands were grasping his face, pulling him up and in. Harry's cock brushed the underside of Draco's chin.

"Potter—" He was nervous.

Harry apparently sensed this. "Can't do it wrong, Malfoy, unless you try really, really hard." Draco could tell by Potter's tone that he was still amused. But then the humour slipped away and Harry was whispering again. "Come on, Draco . . ."

And so Draco found himself laving Potter's cock with his tongue. It tasted like skin, unique and a touch tangy. Potter's cock was generously sized. Not the biggest Draco'd ever seen, but Harry was nicely endowed.

"Now."

Draco took a deep breath and sucked the head of Harry's cock into his mouth, taking it in as far as he could. It was strange and the head of Potter's cock felt oddly spongy as it glided against the roof of his mouth. Potter had his hands on Draco's head, and he began guiding him up and down.

"Oh, fuck, mmm . . . yeah . . . just like that is good." Harry grabbed up Draco's hand and brought it to the base of his cock. Automatically, Draco began stroking the thick shaft, the part that he couldn't fit into his mouth, and soon it was slick with his saliva, allowing his hand to slide effortlessly. He did this for a while, but then he thought about what he liked and what felt good to him, and so he let his fingers creep lower until he was tickling the back of Potter's sac, which was taut with arousal. Carefully he pressed his palm against Harry's balls, rubbing and rubbing there, and Potter groaned and writhed underneath him, thrusting upwards as best he could. Finally his breath hitched in his throat and it seemed that Potter could barely choke out, "Yes."

And then Draco was flooded by a generous mouthful of salty come and he couldn't help himself. Popping off from Potter's cock, he coughed and gagged it out onto the carpet, which was really rather humiliating. Surely he had just given the worst blow job ever.

But then Potter's hands were in his hair, stroking there. "That felt fucking good."

Unconvinced, Draco didn't respond. He couldn't believe he'd just sucked another man off, and horribly at that. "Lumos," he said, and then he waved his wand, igniting the gas lamps. Potter was sitting low on the couch, his legs slightly splayed, his trousers and shorts still pushed down. His spent cock lay stiff against his belly. Draco searched for the little puddle of come on the rug. "Scourgify," he incanted, satisfied when it disappeared. He couldn't believe he'd been unable to stomach Harry Potter. As it was, he was resisting the urge to clear his throat repeatedly and to spit into the rubbish bin. His own crotch felt cool and damp. Harry looked towards Draco's cock as he did up his own trousers. Pulling his wand he tapped gently at Draco's zip.

"Better clean up. People might wonder."

"Right." He incanted again. "Evanesco." He'd always found that one worked better on fabric. Looking up at Harry, he moved forwards, running his fingers back and forth across Harry's waistband. Impulsively, he pushed Potter's shirt up and laid his face on Harry's bare stomach, rubbing his cheek there and hugging Harry's thighs. Don't go . . . Don't go . . . Stay . . .

Harry twined his fingers in Draco's hair again, and they stayed like that for a while, saying nothing at all.

*

It was a most interesting owl post that Harry received the next day. He'd just got up and was rubbing the sleep from his eyes when a great greyish-blue barn owl with a white face was suddenly scratching at his bedroom window. Harry opened the window, admitting the owl, and he instantly recognised it as a Ministry bird.

9 August 2019

Potter—

We've made an arrest. Wanted to get you in here and brief you before it hits the press. Come before three, after which time I shall be in meetings for the rest of the day. Knew this day would come. Am sure you're glad to hear it.

— G. Robards

Harry couldn't begin to describe the feeling that coursed through him at this. It was electric and jubilant and fantastical, and he wanted to scream from the tallest turret in his gloomy manor: I'm free!

He strode from the bedroom, padding quickly down the grand staircase that was the beautiful, if not mouldering, centrepiece of his foyer and entrance hall, not caring in the slightest that he was starkers underneath his dressing gown, which he had forgotten to tie shut.

He knelt by the fireplace in the kitchen, throwing some Floo powder in as he did. "Draco Malfoy, Wiltshire!"

Harry got Bitty, who scurried to fetch Draco.

"Potter?" Draco sounded genuinely surprised.

"I've got an owl," Harry said, "from Gawain Robards—"

"He's not still going on about his trophy, is he? Because I did my best to ensure that Eliza—"

"No, no. It's not about that. Robards says they've made an arrest in Ginny's case!"

Draco boggled. "What? Seriously?"

"Yes!" And Harry read Draco the owl from Robards.

"Does this mean I can't call you The Boy Who Killed any more?"

"Bloody well right it does."

"Well, rats."

"Yes, bully for you."

There was a very pregnant pause.

Draco cleared his throat. "So, uh, what'd Granger and the Weasel have to say?"

"Don't call Ron that," Harry said. "I haven't told them yet. I wanted to wait until after I meet with Robards. Figured they'd want to hear from Ginny first."

"Ha," Draco said, snerking. "Awkward."

"Just a bit."

"They owe you one hell of an apology."

"Nah." Harry rubbed at the back of his neck, as if weary. "I get why it's this way."

"That's a very forgiving attitude, Potter. Me? I don't apologise."

"Well, that explains a lot."

"Whatever do you mean?"

"Yes, you know, the matter of you being a rude prat."

"I am affronted by your assertion," Draco said. "I am not rude, you tit!"

"Anyway," Harry said. "I'm leaving for the Ministry around one."

"Okay?"

Harry was quiet, but tilted his head questioningly, as if conveying a secret message that Draco should somehow miraculously understand. Draco stared at Harry.

"Well?"

"Well what?"

Harry was flustered. "Can you come or not?"

*

Excitement effervesced. Potter was inviting him — him! — to come along to the Ministry for what was clearly a highly personal errand. He'd skipped over Granger and the Weasel and he'd asked him, Draco.

"Oh." Draco said. "You want me to—"

"Well, I just thought—"

"My schedule is, of course, very busy, but I could probably knock a few things around."

"Yeah?"

"Sure," Draco said, resisting the urge to kick up his heels. "If we leave at noon, we could—"

"Oh, you mean—?"

"Never mind. Your schedule's probably full—"

"It's not full."

Harry's words came back to him: I do think about you . . . "Then there's no reason to not eat first."

"Oh. You want to eat?"

"Only if you want to."

"I can always eat."

*

Harry picked fish and chips.

"Haven't had this in ages," Draco said, digging around in his newspaper cone. He dashed in some vinegar. The fish was piping hot and crunchy and good, the chips just salty enough.

"So," Potter said, "this thing that we have."

Draco immediately felt defensive. "What thing?"

"You know what I mean."

"What about it?"

"Exactly."

"Exactly? Exactly what?"

They moved away from the little kerbside stand into the shadow of Gringotts, whose corner it occupied. "Is it a game?"

"A game?" Draco repeated. Was it? It had certainly started out that way, what with Potter practically issuing a challenge, complete with subtle overtures, feigned innocence, the hot, irresistible encounters fuelled by built up tension, mutual desire, sometimes alcohol, and the fine line between love and hate. Draco chose his response carefully. "Some game."

Harry smiled slightly. "Some game."

Draco ate a chip, taking his time. "Why? Do you— I mean, are you done or something?"

Harry eyed him. "Why, are you done?"

"Do you want me to be?"

Harry was silent and Draco thought of how much he’d sodding hated Harry Potter when he was young. It had been visceral, his hatred. His subconscious aside, the dreams aside, the tampered down fantasies aside, Draco didn't know if he could ever fully shed his duty to loathe Potter. God almighty, if his mother found out . . . or his wife or son . . . Draco didn't care as much if his friends knew; they understood the quest for power, and Potter would easily be seen as that sort of pawn, and they certainly understood hedonism. Of all the dalliances he'd had, this was the one that would be taken seriously. By everyone.

"I asked," Draco said, rather coldly, bracing himself for the cold hard truth, "if you want me to be done."

"No," Harry said, after great hesitation, "I don't want you to be done."

"You don't?"

"I don't."

"So . . . what now?"

"Does there have to be a plan?"

"No," Draco said, holding up a hand. He shook his head. "We don't have to— there's no reason that— Don't you want to make a plan?"

"No," Harry said. "I don't want to make a plan."

"Why not?"

"Because plans . . ." Potter's voice trailed off.

"What?"

"Plans end."

"You don't want it to end?"

Harry looked over the top of Draco's head, which Draco had come to suspect meant Harry felt uncomfortable or aloof. "I just don't want to make a plan."

Draco shook his head. "I don't believe this."

"Yeah, well, queue up."

There was a niche in the building next to where they stood and the street was deserted aside from the fish and chips place. Draco grabbed up Harry's forearm and walked him backwards into the small crevice, not caring about the trail of chips they both left behind. Draco stepped on Harry's toes as they went. Potter smelled very fresh. "This? Is probably going to end very badly." They were practically nose-to-nose.

"Yeah?"

"Yeah." Indeed Draco ached already, just thinking about it. He was positive the end would come.

"Pessimist," Harry said, daring to touch his mouth to Draco's just for a moment. "We'd better get going. We've got a lot to do."

"All right," Draco said, trying to quash an awful welling sensation that was moving through his throat and threatening to hit his eyes. The last time he'd had this feeling was when he thought he'd be losing his life. He leaned in and kissed Harry in return, pushing a slew of guilty feelings aside, and he hated this because he didn't know what was happening to him. Just weeks ago he wouldn't have given two shits about cheating on Astoria, about doing whatever he wanted and what felt good. And Merlin knew he would never have considered becoming involved with Harry Potter, just on principle alone. He thought perhaps the guilt rose from the fact that this — Harry — was the only true threat to his marriage he'd ever entangled himself in. He knew it. He was skating on very thin ice.

"Draco," Harry said, looking almost offended, "don't look like someone's died."

"Right." Draco took a deep breath, bolstering himself. "Nobody's died."

"Anyway, I need to get over to see Gawain Robards."

"Right," Draco said again. "Do you want me to—?"

"Come along? Yeah."

Draco managed to turn around in the cramped space as he made to leave, and as he did there was an enormous flash and then a plume of smoke rose into the air from the extra-large bulb of Edwin Macintosh's camera. Draco's heart started pounding, for the presence of Edwin could mean only one thing.

*

"Hmm," Rita Skeeter said, her eyes raking over them, a predatory smile casing her plasticine face, "Draco Malfoy and Harry Potter. All tucked away in the side of Gringotts. How intriguing. Care to make a statement, Harry?"

"Yeah," said Harry. "You're a twat." He put his hand at the small of Draco's back and pushed. They squeezed out from their niche.

"Ooo. Sensitive topic?" Rita asked, used to this kind of abuse from Harry.

"Actually," Draco said, catching Rita's gaze in a friendly show, "I'm glad you're here. Potter here and I were just discussing an extremely ambitious project."

Rita examined her talon-like nails, apparently bored by Draco's proclamation. "And you're quite sure this 'extremely ambitious project' doesn't include regularly stuffing yourself into tight spaces with Harry Potter?"

"Rita," Draco said, sounding quite a lot like Professor Lockhart used to, "Rita, Rita, Rita. Your thirst for the salacious is rival to none. I understand this. But, no, sorry, I can't personally help you there, but I do have a few tidbits from the Dormiens Ball that you might enjoy."

"Oh?" Rita perked up at this.

"Malfoy," Harry whispered to Draco, rather aghast, "what are you doing telling her anything?"

"Oh, our relationship goes back years," Draco whispered back blithely. "All the way back to Hogwarts."

"Yeah, I know that, you prat." Harry rolled his eyes, shaking his head.

"And," Draco continued without compunction, "Harry's got an exclusive for you. It'll require a little patience on your part, mind, but you'll find it worth the wait."

"Reeeeeeeeeeeeally," Rita drawled, raising a pencilled brow. "Is that true, Harry?"

Harry jerked his gaze over to Draco, motioning him aside. "Wait," he said to Rita, putting a hand out to keep her from advancing.

"What's the problem?" Draco whispered to Harry, once they were out of earshot.

"What are you talking about? Are you completely mad? I'm not telling her a sodding thing!"

"Yes, you are, and here's why. Trust me, she knows—"

"Knows about what?"

"Us." It felt weird just saying it. "Anyway, she'll sit on it if you play her right. What would you rather have splashed across 1A? 'Arrest Made in Potter-Weasley Beating Case' or 'The Boy Who Lived Batting From Both Side of the Bludger'?" He continued when Harry remained silent, apparently considering this. "You feed her that exclusive and she'll return the favour by not running a bit accusing you of, like I said before, salacious behaviour."

Harry rubbed the back of his neck absentmindedly. "I don't think it's a good idea."

"Trust me."

"Sheeyeah. Right. That's easy."

It stung at him. "Look, I'm not much in the position for this to get out either."

Harry looked up at Draco, still gripping his neck. Although Draco was positive Harry wasn't trying to be alluring, it made his stomach flip. "All right."

They moved back over to Rita.

"Okay," Harry said to Rita, loathing crossing his face, "I'll give you an interview about—" He looked at Draco, who nodded. "—a certain unsolved crime that has been the source of considerable strife for . . . my family."

"Oh reeeeeeeeeeally?" Rita said, seemingly impressed. She drummed her talons on the leather cover of her notebook. "Has an arrest been made?"

"I'm headed to the Ministry right now to meet with Gawain Robards." Harry clarified. "At his invitation. I'll be available after three."

"Hmm," Rita ran the end of her Quick-Quotes Quill across the point of her chin, back and forth, "why are you deciding to talk with me now, after all these years?" Her eyes narrowed suspiciously. "Why is that, Harry?"

"Take it or leave it."

"Well," she said, after a long moment, "it is a very high-profile case."

"Yes, it is."

"All right, then. I'll play along and see how you do."

*

Scorpius Malfoy sat glumly at his desk in his room, a stack of owl posts from his friends unopened in front of him. He held a rumpled letter that his majestic eagle owl had just delivered to him. Normally Scorpius loved getting letters, but seeing as this time he was receiving back, unread, a letter he'd written himself, he was moody and upset.

Mary Elizabeth Cattermole
General Delivery

The owl had obviously found her because the three words on the envelope had been scrawled by hand:

Return to Sender

Scorpius slid his thumb under the flap of the envelope and prised it open. He took his letter out and re-read it, analysing it for even the slightest mistake or offence.

Dear Eliza,

All right?

If I had known you were a Squib I would have taken you anyway and it would have been just as brilliant. It doesn't matter to me. I thought you should know this. You looked smashing, by the way. I feel completely stupid writing this letter, for what it's worth, but I don't know where to find you. I'd rather talk to you in person. When can I see you again? Let me take you to lunch. Have you been to La Société Dangereuse? The food's good. Let me take you there.

Write back.

-Scorpius Malfoy

What a ruddy dumb letter, he thought, embarrassed. It was in fact so awful, Eliza could probably just tell by osmosis, hence her Return to Sender.

He pulled out the pictures of him and Eliza that he'd cut out of the Daily Prophet from the corner of his blotter. His favourite was the photo taken just after midnight as they were walking back into the ball, hand in hand, after dancing by the fountain. In the picture he was looking down into Eliza's face as she gazed up at him, and they were both smiling. It had been taken literally seconds before the crowd had started shouting out at her. He'd already sent an owl to Edwin Macintosh requesting the actual photograph so he could frame it, rather than have just the newspaper cutting.

"Scorpius?" His mother knocked as she opened his door, peeking inside. "Dinner's served. Were you going to join us?"

"Yeah," he said, not putting the cutting down.

"Son," Astoria said, laying a hand on Scorpius's shoulder. "Is there anything I can do?"

"No."

"I know you don't think so, but things tend to work out in the way they're supposed to. It's for the best."

"Are you just trying to hack me off?"

"No. I'm just being realistic."

"No, you're just being a snob."

"Scorpius."

He didn't say anything, but scowled, picking up his quill and tapping it sulkily on his desktop.

"Look," Astoria said brightly, reaching over his shoulder and picking up his stack of owl post. "Your friends miss you. Here's an owl from Anna Urquhart. She's such a fun girl."

"Yeah, she is," Scorpius said, giving a deep sigh. Up until a fortnight ago he'd been positive the next girl he pulled with was going to be Anna Urquhart. She was vivacious and popular and although she wasn't the most beautiful girl in school (not that that mattered particularly), she had gorgeous hair, a great smile, and a wicked sense of humour, and Scorpius had always found her intriguing. They'd been friends since their first ride on the Hogwarts Express, and Scorpius had actually spent a fair amount of time trying to figure out how to take their relationship to the next level. Now, it was as if Anna could not possibly be anything other than a great friend. He didn't know how he could have even imagined it otherwise.

As it was, Scorpius moped, he may as well fancy a Muggle.

"Why don't you invite her over? You could go to Diagon Alley for the day."

He felt utterly defeated. "Yeah, maybe I'll do that."

Astoria shuffled through his post. "And Christopher, C.R., Jamie . . . "

"Yeah."

She handed his post back; he took it. "I'm sorry this happened," she said. Scorpius could tell, even though he just wanted to be angry and huffy at her, that she meant it. "I should have put my foot down."

"Dad would have done it anyway."

"You're right." She smoothed his hair. "Come and eat. You'll feel better."

"Yeah, all right."

*

"What evidence do you have?"

"Well," Robards said, "and this is absolutely off the record, the individual who assaulted Ginny left an Oompah in your bedroom."

"What?"

"Yes."

Harry was shocked. "Why— I didn't see an Oompah . . . an Oompah?"

"Clearly it went invisible. We believe he has been leaving Oompahs at the scene of his crimes—"

"Who— Wait. Crimes? Plural?"

Robards scratched his head, considering Harry. "There's been a series, yes."

"How is it I don't know this?" Harry's voice rose. "How could you not tell me this? You have no idea what it's been like—" Heat coursed through him in angry waves.

"You know protocol. You'd left the Division by the time the second and third attacks occurred and we linked them. I couldn't confide in you, a civilian, any more than I could a stranger. I'm doing you a favour now."

Harry felt mildly guilty about what he was going to do with this information in just an hour's time, but his fury rose above his sense of propriety. "So, there's been other attacks."

"Yes."

"How many?"

"Five."

"And why wasn't it in the papers?"

"Because none of the other victims were married to Harry Potter."

"Bollocks," Harry said. "What's that got to do with it?"

"Potter, we're not going to seek out the press, and no one came inquiring."

"Was anyone killed?"

"Two of the women died, yes. An Oompah was the ultimate cause of death. The victims bled to death."

Harry was livid that the Aurors had somehow managed to miss a five-foot flowing Lethifold-like creature that lurked under beds or behind wardrobes, waiting for its prey with its small, round mouth, not unlike a Dementor’s. Rows of razor-sharp teeth would sink into its victim's skin, cutting and incising until the Oompah sucked its victim dry of blood. When done, the creature, swollen into the shape of a teardrop and too heavy to fly, would squelch away, making an Ooooom-pah noise as it went. It was monstrous to behold and highly illegal to own.

"Ginny had an Oompah injury?"

"We believe we've determined this, yes. At first St. Mungo's staff thought it was some kind of gouging stab wound."

"Why didn't you tell me?"

"You know very well in assaults the partner is often the perpetrator and you know we have to withhold certain elements of a crime. We withheld it."

"Is it his signature?"

"Yes."

"I just— An Oompah? You found an Oompah in my home?"

"No. There was only the injury. It wasn't until Mabelline Markham was found beaten last July, with an Oompah injury, that we made the connection."

Harry was doing his very best to not reach over the table and throttle Robards. "That was a year ago! My name could have been cleared a full year ago—"

"We didn't have a suspect. Your name wouldn't have been cleared."

"So there've been four attacks besides Ginny?"

"Yes. He escalated."

"Well? Who is it?"

"We arrested Rabastan Lestrange yesterday morning. Oompah droppings were found in his cellar along with blood."

"Rabastan Lestrange?" Draco said, interjecting, incredulous. "Really?"

"Yes, really," Robards said, clearly not wanting Draco present. "If I recall correctly, he is your cousin by marriage, yes?"

"Something like that. I don't know him."

"Well, here's what I know. I know he should have been in Azkaban all these years, what with his Death Eater activities. I've never been one for making deals with Death Eaters," Robards said, looking pointedly at Draco, who fell silent at this, but appeared unabashed.

"All you have is the Oompah?" Harry asked. "Is that the only evidence you've gathered?"

"No, but I can't divulge any more, Potter. You know—"

"Yeah, I know how it goes," Harry said in a clipped tone.

"I didn't have to tell you at all, you know. The only person I'm obligated to keep updated is Ginny herself."

"You've told her?"

Robards hesitated, looking suddenly uncomfortable. "Yes."

"And?"

"She maintains her version of the events."

"What?"

"I'm sorry. Eyewitness testimony is dodgy at best, but that never changes the fact that people believe what they believe. I wish I had better news for you."

"Can you at least give this information to the Wizengamot? I'd like to see my kids more than once every two weeks."

"It's got to work its way through the Wizengamot just as any other case would. I can't fast-track it. Not a case this big. Everything must be perfectly documented, perfectly presented. We're in the process of submitting the inquiry for charges."

Harry sighed.

Robards put on a positive face. "Well, good news and bad news, eh, Potter?"

"Yeah."

"I am," Robards said, highly uncomfortable, "regretful of Ginny's response."

"No," Harry said. "Don't be. It's not her fault this happened. I know Ginny. She wouldn't be doing this if she didn't believe it with every fibre of her being."

"We'll be doing a Veritaserum interview with Lestrange this evening. I'll arrange to have her see it in the Pensieve."

"Thanks, Robards." Harry understood that Gawain Robards had gone out on a limb for him, and for that he was grateful. "I know this isn't an easy case."

"Bloody well right it's not."

"I appreciate you telling me."

"Figured after your years of service I owed you one."

"Good."

*

Harry spent an hour with Rita Skeeter, doing his best to avoid answering her questions. In the end, he was able to get away with dropping Rabastan Lestrange's name and telling her that he'd heard the information from Lestrange's neighbour — a total lie — and encouraging Rita to investigate the matter herself.

"Not exactly what you promised, Harry," Rita said. "I'm not sure this is enough to run a story on—"

"You make up stories!" Harry pointed out. "What're you talking about?"

"That's a strong statement. I like to think of my prose as cohesive, thorough, and colourful."

"I think creative fiction is more like it."

"Well, Harry," Rita said, the predatory smile back in place, "let's see how creative I'm feeling after our meeting."

Five thirty found Harry back at his home, glowering on the enormous back balcony, which overlooked brambled, neglected gardens, cupping his chin in his hand as he leaned against the balustrade.

"All right?" Draco asked tentatively.

Harry didn't answer. He turned his face into the late afternoon sun, which rendered his complexion warm and ruddy, belying his foul mood.

"Potter, Rita Skeeter—"

"Don't talk to me about her."

"She might still sit on it."

"It's done."

"It's not just you who's—"

"Fucking shut up, Malfoy. It's not that."

"What is it then?"

"I should be over at Ron and Hermione's."

"Oh," Draco said, stung. "Well if you didn't want me over you shouldn't have asked."

Harry was clearly exasperated. "It's not that. I should be with Ron and Hermione."

"Well, you can't be," Draco said, rather viciously. "They dropped you."

"So here I am with you," Harry sneered in return.

"You asked me," Draco said, anger rising in his gut, spreading through his insides. "You called me."

"Maybe I shouldn't have."

"I don’t know what you're on about, but don't take your shit out on me."

"Like you wouldn't on me?"

Draco squeezed Harry's wrist tightly. "Potter, stop being a prick."

Harry's shoulders slumped ever so slightly. He took a deep breath and pulled his arm free from Draco's grasp.

"I'm going to go," Draco said. "I'll show myself out."

"Fine."

"What do you mean 'fine'?" Draco snipped. "You actually want me to leave?" Unimaginable.

"Go, if you need to."

"You want me to go."

"Stay if you want."

"You want me to stay?"

"No— I mean, do what you want."

"You're—" Draco's ire was rising. He wasn't about to be Harry Potter's plaything. He had playthings; he wasn't one himself. He didn't appreciate Harry's reticence. "Whatever went on today— whatever's between you and your friends—" he practically spat the word out "—has nothing to do with me. I've got my own shit to deal with. Take it out on them."

"Like you've ever cared about reining it in."

"What is wrong?"

Harry exploded. "I am standing here with you! I haven't seen my kids in a month because they were sick the one day I was supposed to have them. My ex — who I never thought would be an ex — still thinks I tried to kill her, even though someone else's been arrested. Rita Skeeter's dogging me and God knows what'll be in the paper tomorrow—"

"You think I want to be in the paper—"

"I dunno, you seem to make a living at it—"

"That's not the same thing—"

"It ought to make you happy."

"Are you mad?"

"Yeah," Harry said, "I must be to have tangled myself up with—"

Draco wasn't having it. "Just shut up. Shut up. Seriously, just shut it. I am not your problem."

"You're one of them now."

What the hell was this? Draco Malfoy was nobody's doormat. He prowled around Harry, curving around the back of him, bringing his mouth up to Potter's ear from behind. "You chose this. Don't give me a load of crap, like you were somehow coerced. You know what? Fuck this. I'll find the Floo on my own. Sorry about your ex and your kids and your stupid sodding life. God, you're pathetic. I don't know what I was thinking."

"What you were thinking? What were you thinking—?"

Ornate, wooden, carved doors lined the hallway, which was spookily dim. The walls were a darkish moss colour and they blended with the tatty carpets that lined the floors. Dark walnut wainscoting sheathed the lower halves of the walls and the ceilings were also covered in panelling. The light from the octagonal centre of the house faded as Draco made his way down the corridor, feeling that surely it would empty out any moment into the kitchen or dining area.

"Where are you going?"

"Home."

"The Floo's the other way."

"Then I'll Apparate."

"Malfoy—"

"What?"

Harry seemed unwilling or unable to continue. After a long moment he spoke. "I understand what I said to you today."

Draco thought this was as close as he was going to get to an apology, but it wasn't good enough. "Good on you. Where's the Floo?"

"I said I understand—"

"I heard you. And I'm going home now. Where is your bloody damn Floo?"

They were far enough along down the corridor that it was nearly dark; Harry was a shadowy outline.

"Stop."

"Why?"

"I'm just— it's just—"

"It's just what?"

"I'm a real berk when I'm . . . "

"Just don't take your shit out on me," Draco said again. Like he wanted to be outed by Rita Skeeter on the front page of the Daily Prophet to his wife and son. And for the first time since starting their . . . yes, it was an affair . . . since they'd begun their affair, Draco hadn't stopped to think of the potential ramifications to his family should he be caught in a blatantly precarious position. He recalled when Edythe Sinclair and Margurite Hood had declared their relationship. The charities couldn't have dumped the couple more quickly. They'd excised Edythe and Margurite from their boards, ignoring the fact that, one, nobody Draco knew had cared (in fact, nobody had been surprised), and, two, both ladies were richer than sin.

Draco'd had dalliances with a handful of men, in all instances the other bloke being far more interested in Draco than he'd ever been in him, sometimes indiscreetly so. He'd always managed to laugh it off publicly by making self-deprecating pretty boy jokes, and he'd turned a blind eye to Astoria's rare questioning look. He'd never cared what people said about him, publicly or otherwise, had never given a single thought to how his behaviour affected his family. In fact, it had never occurred to him to consider it. He just did whatever he wanted. As far as he knew Lucius had never cheated on his mother; he tried to imagine what he would have felt like if Lucius had, and everyone had known it. The thought made him squirm a bit on Scorpius's behalf. He'd never thought of his son in this context before.

Just hours ago his future had seemed so certain, so sure. Of course he would go off with Harry Potter. Who wouldn't? Never mind the fact that Potter hadn't asked him to go anywhere, but had only consented to a covert sexual affair, and Draco had automatically thrown his eggs all in one basket. Just like that. He'd fallen in love with the idea of falling in love with Harry Potter, although at a base level it was far more complex than that.

But he had a son. His son. His son who deserved to grow up with both parents, because he hadn't done anything to deserve a broken home, and Astoria had certainly been nothing but the perfect wife.

A little something died inside.

"You know," Draco said, with all seriousness, "today wasn't the greatest day for you, but it was good for me."

"What?" Potter was confused. "What are you talking about?"

"I had a good day."

"Why?"

Because I was with you, dolt. "Oh, Potter, figure it out." He looked at Harry seriously. "Where is the Floo?"

"And what if I don't tell you?" Harry asked in a low voice full of promise.

"Well, then I guess we're at an impasse," Draco said, holding Harry's gaze.

"Oh yeah? Are you sure?" Harry moved closer and Draco understood something. Harry had to be a hate sexer. He fucked his way through anger and rage, shagging his way to the other side. And while Draco could be down with that, tonight he decidedly wasn't. He got it. Potter craved him like he craved Potter, but everything felt decidedly wrong. His stomach felt sick as he prepared to walk away from Harry Potter.

"Positive."

And with that Draco Disapparated.

*

"The logistics are impossible."

"What?"

"I'm sorry, but the logistics are just impossible," Professor McGonagall said the next day, via firechat to Draco. "I've given it great thought, and if any programme were to be put into place, it couldn't be for this coming term. There's not enough time."

"Bully that," Draco said, actually feeling genuinely elated. She hadn't said no; she'd said not right now, which was always negotiable, Draco'd found. "I've pored over the bylaws, Professor, and there's nothing that says Squibs should be excluded from formal education."

"Be that as it may, there is no time to put together an appropriate curriculum by the first of September. It's not that I'm unwilling to consider—"

"So you're saying yes? That's brilliant!"

"I'm not saying yes, Mr. Malfoy—"

"You're saying no then?"

"No, I'm not saying no—"

"Brilliant! That means you're saying yes. What's next then?"

"If you'll let me get a word in edgeways—"

"Sorry, it's just—"

"Mr. Malfoy," McGonagall said sternly, in that teacherish way she had when being firm, "hold your tongue." She waited until she was sure Draco was listening. "It occurs to me that this is a matter that needs to be brought to the board of governors."

"Fine. When do they meet?"

"Thursday evening, but—"

"We'll be there."

"The meeting agenda's already set. Perhaps if you wait until September, you can petition the board to be heard at that time."

"No," Draco said, shaking his head. "Unacceptable. We'll see them this month. Who do I need to call?"

"Ernie Macmillan." McGonagall seemed to pause. "You understand that the board of governors is likely not to take up this cause."

"Ernie Macmillan?" Draco ignored her last statement. "Since when has that swot been on the board of governors?"

"I'll have you know Mr. Macmillan has been a stable, thoughtful, and wise member of the board since 2010. Surely you know the leadership of the school that you so generously love to fund."

"I don't hear anyone complaining!"

"My point being that you should be more involved in the school as a cause, not just as a financial repository for your tax write-offs."

Draco's mouth fell open. "I'm sure I don't know what you mean. I am more involved. Am I not pioneering this programme? Am I not single-handedly pioneering this cutting-edge, exciting new programme?"

"No, you are not. I believe both Mr. Potter and I have been of some assistance to you," McGonagall said dryly.

"Well, perhaps, but—"

"No buts. It's a yes or no question, the answer being, of course, yes."

"I'll talk to the board. I'll convince them."

"By all means, try."

"And would you advise I involve the Society for Squib Assimilation?"

"You yourself said they maintain extensive information about the Squibs. It would seem a logical contact."

"What about half-term?"

"What?"

"What about half-term? For the Squibs to start at Hogwarts?"

"I believe you're being overly ambitious."

"There's no such thing."

"Indeed?"

"Quite. Will you meet with me, then?"

"Whatever for?"

"To discuss curriculum."

"I don't think you're qualified to adapt a curriculum for Squib instruction. Such a thing would best be carried out by experts or—"

"Who's an expert in Squibs? Name one person."

"I would have to look into the matter. I am unaware off the top of my head of any Squib experts."

"What about through the Ministry?"

"They don't even require Squibs to register, Malfoy. Why would the Ministry maintain an office for experts in Squibs?"

"Professor," Draco asked, tilting his head to look at her with a piercing gaze, "what is your position on it?"

"Well." McGonagall hesitated. "Truthfully, I believe you argue a compelling case."

"So I can count on you, then? You'll back this?"

"Yes, I think so," McGonagall said slowly. "The bylaws are specific. Children born of magical parents are either witch or wizard. There are no qualifiers for Squibs, only that they're not required to register with the Ministry. The laws further state that all witches and wizards shall be offered a placement at Hogwarts. Again, there are no qualifiers regarding Squibs. I can only use the constructs of the law and they point to a duty to educate these children. Which I am happy to do should appropriate accommodations be put into place. I am willing to work with a committee of professionals, but I simply don't have the time to devote all my energies to this project. I have a school to run."

It was the most Minerva McGonagall had ever spoken to Draco Malfoy and Draco realised she was taking him seriously without disdain or animosity. Not that McGonagall had every been anything other than stern with him, but she had been Head of Gryffindor House after all, and this all seemed very profound, like he was being treated . . . other than what he was. A visceral uncertainty filled him, for he wasn't sure if he wanted to be anything other than what he had always been, wasn't sure if he wanted to be that person to step up. Stepping up meant commitment, grace and subservience, all of which Draco eschewed. He'd always expected the world to bend to him and it wasn't that he was feeling the opposite, that he might like to fit into the world instead of vice versa, but rather he felt conflicted about either choice. He was walking a fine tightrope, the safety net dodgy at best, for he didn't feel himself any more and he didn't know what the payoff for him would be, or if there was any at all, and not in a million years would he have considered anything other than quid pro quo. Not until now.

"I should chair the committee," Draco said, ignoring the fact that he knew nothing of educational curriculum building or research. He could learn. He'd been a fine student at Hogwarts and had more than two brain cells to rub together, so surely he could learn as he went along.

"That is between you and Mr. Potter and the school governors."

He felt almost nervous in asking, "But I can count on you in a support role?"

"As I said." She didn't seem fazed by his request.

He paused for a very long time. "Well," he said, feeling a weird flushing heat rise within him, "thank you."

McGonagall raised an eyebrow. "You're welcome, Mr. Malfoy."

*

Draco took Pansy to lunch at La Société Dangereuse, where they went every Wednesday, barring illness or an unimaginable act of God, and he laid out his grand plan.

"Are you right royally mad?" Pansy stared at him in revulsion. "And I'm sorry, but did you say you're collaborating with Harry Potter? Harry Potter, Draco? Really?"

"Forget that it's Potter," Draco said blithely, doing everything he could to not trip Pansy's suspicions regarding Harry. She was shrewd and could read him like a book and always had done. Even now her eyes were narrowing and he prayed that she wouldn't guess what he'd done with Harry. She was fully aware of his proclivities. "This could be epic, Pansy."

"An epic disaster."

"You know I like a challenge."

"There are far better ways to challenge yourself. For example, Gobstones or hunting unicorns."

"Very funny."

"What will everyone think, Draco?"

"What do I care? I've never cared."

"Yes, but this is extra embarrassing—"

"Oh, shut it, honestly!"

"You've let that little Squib get under your skin. Why?"

"She's not under my skin. She's just the catalyst."

Pansy looked at him sceptically. "Right. Some catalyst. Shall we pop over on the way out and throw some galleons her way?"

Draco had thought he might.

"You were actually considering it!" Pansy said, aghast. "Draco, what's wrong with you?"

"Nothing's wrong with me!" He forked a bite of his stuffed artichoke and shoved it into his mouth. "Taste this," he said through his mouthful of food. "It's fantastic."

"Don't try to change the subject." She reached across the table and managed to get a generous bite onto her own fork. "Mmm," she said, closing her eyes as usual. "Brilliant. Divine. When did they add this to the menu?"

"Dunno. Recently, I suppose."

"Anyway, yes, you are mental. Associating yourself with Squibs? Social suicide."

"For me?" Draco snorted. "No such thing."

"I suppose you want me to help."

Draco was rather taken aback. "Do you want to help?"

"Of course not, but someone's got to keep an eye on you." Pansy ripped a piece of baguette from the cut pieces of loaf and buttered it before popping it into her mouth. "I think what you're doing is insane. But . . . "

"But what?"

She spoke guiltily. "Well, not that there's anything wrong with Leg, Limb, and Liberty . . . but . . . well, what I mean to say is that it's a rather dull charity."

"What?" How could anything even remotely zombieish be considered boring? "You've never said this before."

"Well, it was important to you."

"Not really." He voiced it as the realisation blossomed.

"No?"

"It was a safe bet."

"So now you feel the need for the polar opposite?"

"No, it's just—" He was frustrated, unable to find his words. Maybe he did? "I don't know." He hesitated, but since it was Pansy, he went ahead and opened up slightly. "Lately I've been feeling . . . different."

Pansy was immediately concerned. "Are you all right? Are you ill?"

"No! Nothing like that." He was immediately sorry he'd said anything. "I don't know. I just feel different. And I don't know if I should worry or not."

"Well, what's different?"

"Everything just feels strange." Everything was strange. There was the Squib thing. There was the Potter thing. There was the vision thing. There was the Astoria thing. He couldn't put his finger on why within the past few weeks he'd increasingly felt surreal, as if he were living someone else's life. The world was the same, but it felt and looked oddly unfamiliar, to the point where it was causing a healthy dose of anxiety. He was almost to the point where he wanted to ask his personal healer for calming potions and Dreamless Sleep.

Pansy reached across the table and took Draco's hand. "Is everything all right with Astoria?"

"No. Not really."

She gave his hand a squeeze, her usually fierce face softened and relaxed sympathetically. She didn't pry, though. "Are you eating?"

"Mostly, yes."

"What about your glasses? You're not having headaches, are you? Because maybe you need different lens."

"No, it's not that." His glasses were still noticeable to him; he wasn't used to them yet. But there wasn't anything wrong with them per se, he didn't think. Why would there be? He could see perfectly with them so he knew he had the right prescription.

"What else is there?"

I'm on the pull with Harry Potter and I'm inexplicably obsessed with Squibs. "Nothing."

"What can I do?"

"Nothing."

Pansy tilted her head and gave his hand a final squeeze. "I love you," she said, her brown eyes shining as her cool fingers slipped through his grasp.

"I know."

"Let's eat some more and get dessert. That'll help you feel better."

"All right," he said. "So you'll help me with my project?"

"Oh, ugh." Pansy rolled her eyes. "I don't know if I love you that much!"

Draco smiled. "I knew I could count on you."

"What'll I have to do?"

Draco thought for a minute, trying to figure out where Pansy's skills would be best put to use. "Well, someone needs to terrify Ernie Macmillan into letting me and Potter address the board of governors on Thursday, at their next meeting."

A predatory smile snaked its way across her face, her eyes sparkling devilishly. "Ernie Macmillan, eh? You know, I think he secretly fancied me while we were at Hogwarts."

"Seriously?"

"Don’t act so surprised," Pansy said, rolling her eyes. "I'm as fanciable as the next person!"

"Why do you think he fancied you?"

"He wrote my name on his Arithmancy book cover. Several times. Daphne told me."

Draco burst out laughing. "A Hooflepoodle, eh?"

Pansy shrugged, still grinning. "Yeah, allegedly."

"Well, seeing as you look even better now than you did back then, by all means pull out all the stops. Whatever it takes."

"How do I get hold of him?"

"Just show up. The board has their offices in London, in the Ministry."

"I'll do it tomorrow."

"Why wait? It's only one."

"Draco, God—"

"It's important."

She looked at him funnily. "It really is, isn't it?" she asked. "But why?"

"Squibs are pure-bloods."

"Oh, don't give me that rubbish. What is it really?"

Draco didn't know. At least not precisely. He just knew the world was a different place, almost paralysingly depressing, with nothing but evidence of human suffering. Why was he seeing this now? He would have been perfectly happy to maintain a blissful oblivion, but no matter how hard he tried, the world continued to intrude. "I don't know . . . but did I tell you I came up with a great name for the funding?" He proceeded to tell Pansy about The Draco Malfoy Foundation for Alternative Magic.

"You actually want your name associated with this? Couldn't you be a silent benefactor?"

"Well, yes, I could be."

"Think very carefully about it."

"I have," he said, surprising himself at his vehemence.

Pansy raised a sceptical eyebrow at him. "Right."

"I don't know." He shook his head, causing his glasses to slip. "I just— It feels like everything's different."

"Different how?"

"It's the same, but it's different." He understood this made no sense.

"Should you see your Healer?"

"I've thought about it."

Pansy now looked genuinely worried. "Draco, you're starting to scare me. You don't think you're going mental, do you?"

Draco snorted. "Please. As if." But privately he wondered. Before, he'd breezed through life with few distractions. Lately, though, he'd found himself creating distractions and turning things over in his mind almost obsessively. For some reason he'd taken to reading the entire Daily Prophet, front to back, and not just taking in 6A. He'd never fully realised before the hopeless way of the world, the never-ending dirge of humanity told one story at a time. It made him feel trite and insignificant, a feeling he'd been unable to shake for a few days.

"Because you can tell me anything. I'll be as nonjudgmental as possible."

"Putting my mind to this project keeps my head on straight. It's a bloody brilliant challenge."

"Then I'll go and see Macmillan straightaway. Now, dear heart, eat that artichoke before I tuck in."

*

Pansy Parkinson knew exactly how to pretend to be nice, so it wasn't really a surprise that she emerged from Ernie Macmillan's office with not just twenty minutes for Draco's presentation to the Hogwarts board of governors, but thirty. She also — this, surprisingly — came out of it with a dinner date that promised some excellent Italian.

She only told Draco about the first item, though. He didn't yet need to know she'd found a Hufflepuff — a Hufflepuff! — slightly endearing and a lot more handsome than she remembered him from their Hogwarts years.

*

Draco put a galleon into Eliza's outstretched hand. "Morning, sunshine," he said, seating himself next to her on the platform for Bobbin's Apothecary.

"Thank you for the galleon," she said, refusing to look him in the face. "I'll use it well."

"Come on, Eliza," Draco said, nudging at her foot. She was sitting cross-legged in the dirt and cobblestones between the apothecary and the cafe, as per usual. "Don't be like this."

"I don't know what you're talking about." She dropped the galleon in the money pouch around her neck and tucked it back under her shirt. "I'm always like this."

"At least look at me. Come on."

She trained her dark brown eyes on Draco. "What do you want? Haven't you humiliated me enough for one lifetime?"

"Now, now," Draco said, extracting another galleon for her. "No one humiliated you. It was all in good fun."

"Some fun." She took the second coin.

"Remember, you had a choice. You were all enamoured of the ball, and I gave you the opportunity to attend. I'm surprised at you."

"Yeah, well, I didn't know it was going to be like that."

"You absolutely knew that it was possible that someone would guess you as the Squib."

Eliza looked at Draco. "I didn't know how it would feel."

Draco blinked, considering this. He tried to imagine what Eliza would have felt, but he couldn't wrap his brain around it. "But you know you're a Squib!"

"I know," she said, clearly frustrated at what she perceived as Draco's denseness. "It's not that. It's just—"

"Just what?"

"Nothing. Never mind."

"No, what?"

"It's just that I've never— It's never—"

"Well, spit it out."

"You know, my mother, she's on the streets, and she may not be the best mother, but she's my mother, and my father he may be dead, but they never— they never made me feel like a freak."

Draco's brow furrowed as he contemplated the meaning of this.

"But you," she continued, "you made me feel like a freak." And she was looking at him so plainly, so openly, that Draco felt his insides curl.

"I never said you're a freak."

"You may as well have."

"Well, be that as it may—" Draco sputtered, heat rising in his neck and face, making him want to pull at his collar "—there's no reason to— What about Potter? He was in on this too!" He wanted to shift the blame, didn't want to be on the spot.

"Oh, don't worry. I'm pissed off at him too."

"Well, good. You should be!"

"Oh, so glad you approve," she said sardonically. "Look, your dumb ball's over. Just leave me alone."

"I'm not leaving you alone," Draco said, holding out another galleon. Eliza eyed it, and then crossed her arms over her chest, hoisting her chin. "Go on, take it."

She ignored him.

"Fine." He laid it down on the dusty cobblestones next to her. "I guess you don't want to hear about my grand plan for Squibs."

Eliza rolled her eyes, saying nothing.

"It's a very grand plan."

"If it's anything like your grand plan for the ball, then I'm sure you'll understand that I'm not interested."

"It's nothing like the ball."

"At least that."

"Eliza, would you like to go to Hogwarts?"

"Fuck off. Seriously."

"Language, Cattermole. Seriously."

"Well, you're not very funny," she said, her voice wavering slightly. Tears seemed close to her surface.

"I'm not joking, I promise."

"Your word is shit."

"What are you talking about? That's entirely unfair."

"You said you'd watch out for me at the ball," she accused.

"I did! We bought you a gown, got you a date, let you have dinner on the Hogwarts Express—"

"What do you mean you 'got me a date'?"

"Well, Scorpius, of course," Draco said without even thinking. "I asked him to bring you to the ball and he was—"

"Go away!"

"What? Why?"

Eliza pulled her knees up to her chest, circling her arms around them, and buried her head. Draco was wholly alarmed when he saw that her slight shoulders were shaking. Crap, he thought. A crying female.

"Have I said something?" he asked tentatively, doing his best not to cringe. He started to reach for her shoulder, but hesitated, thinking better of it.

But then she was digging in her rucksack, rummaging. "Here," she blubbered, pressing a handful of rumpled newsprint into his hand. "Give this to Scorpius. And tell him to stop owling me."

"He's owling you? What'd'you mean?" He looked. They were, of course, the pictures of Eliza and Scorpius from the ball. Understanding dawned. "He— You fancy my son?"

"No!"

"Then, why— Could you stop crying? It's distracting."

"S-s-so sorry to bother you." Eliza swiped at her eyes and then pressed against them where she'd pulled her sleeves down over the back of her hands. "I just thought—"

"You and Scorpius've just met," Draco said, logically. "You hardly know each other."

"Well, didn't you know?" She sobbed anew, and Draco grew more and more uncomfortable. He asked himself why he didn't just leave, as he would if it had been Astoria crying like a baby.

"Didn't I know what?"

"Didn't you know when you met someone special?"

"How do you mean?"

"You just know," she said. "You just know that this is the person. I thought . . . I thought . . . I thought it was something it wasn't."

"There will be other boys."

Eliza looked at Draco as if he was the most disappointing thing ever. "I'm sure."

Draco regarded the handful of newspaper cuttings she'd pushed into his hand. "Take these back," he said. "You'll want to remember the ball."

"Just go and leave me alone! I don't want to remember any of this!"

"What are you talking about?" Draco asked, thoroughly confused. "It was beautiful! In fact, one of the most successful balls— Where are you going?"

Eliza had folded up her sign and was hurriedly stuffing it into her rucksack. His galleon coins were left on the cobblestone road, unwanted. The pictures of her and Scorpius danced into the gutter where they slowly stained through with mucky, brackish water, and those that didn't hit the gutter she made sure to stomp on with her thick-soled boots until she'd ground them, ruined, into the dirt. Still crying, she took off briskly, ducking out from her niche.

"Eliza!"

"What's going on?"

Draco turned.

*

Harry Potter stood there holding a plain, brown lunch bag, undoubtedly enchanted to hold an enormous amount of food.

"You!" she screeched, and then flung her rucksack aside. It hit Draco in the legs and then fell to the ground, rolling down the tops of his shoes into the dirt. "You!" And she began smacking Harry as hard as she could, just wailing on his upper arms.

"Eliza!"

"I thought I could trust you!"

"Eliza, stop. You can trust me—"

"No, I can't! Otherwise I wouldn't have let you talk me into going to that stupid ball with that stupid, stupid boy—"

Harry was ducking her blows, finally grasping her by the upper arms and giving her a slight shake. The lunch sack fell to the ground and then Eliza was crying. Just crying and crying.

Draco had no idea how to respond to this. He remembered when Pansy used to tantrum, and he hadn't known what to do with her either. But Potter seemed to react instinctively.

"Shh, shh," Harry said, awkwardly patting Eliza on the back until she tipped forwards and was crying into his chest, and even as emotionally retarded as Draco was, he could, at least, recognise grief when he saw it, so he stood back and said nothing, afraid if he did he would somehow manage the most inappropriate words imaginable.

"Why, Harry?" Eliza sobbed into the front of Harry's jumper. "Why?"

"I don't know."

"I thought I’d get magic someday—"

"And you still might . . . "

"I want to see my mother!"

"We can try and find her, yeah? When's the last time you saw her?"

"L-last month."

Harry looked at Draco accusatorially. "Why is she like this?"

"Well, uh—" How to explain it without making himself look like a complete and utter turd. "We were discussing the Dormiens Ball . . . "

"Why are Eliza's pictures ruined on the ground?"

"She did that," Draco said, holding his hands up. "It wasn't me—"

"He made his son take me! I thought— I thought—" She wept anew.

"Malfoy, what a right royal dumb thing to say," Harry said, over Eliza's head. He continued to pat her back. "You know your son was more than happy to jump at the chance."

"Well, I don't know about that . . . "

"You?" Harry said. "Are not helping." He rubbed Eliza's back, making jerky circles between her shoulder blades with his hand. "Come on, deep breath."

She took a long, shuddering breath and let it out noisily, and then seemed to relax under Harry's touch. Draco watched as she shivered. Not knowing what else to do, he leaned over and picked up her rucksack and held it dumbly.

"Come on. Have a seat." Harry directed Eliza back to her platform at Bobbin's. He patted his pockets and, not finding any tissue, conjured a handkerchief. "Here you go," Harry said, holding it out to her, and Draco was relieved when Eliza took it, for the girl was looking decidedly snotted up.

She snuffled. "I don't really want to see my mother."

"It's normal to want to see your Mum."

"Yeah, well, fat lot of good it'd do me."

"Accio photos." The pictures from the gutter splatted against Harry's feet, the crushed ones rolling like tumbleweeds to rest in front of him. "Reparo," he said, pointing his wand and going from photo to photo. "Scourgify. Evanesco. Reparo. Reparo . . . " When he finished, the pictures were still rumpled slightly, but were basically restored. Draco could see Scorpius dancing with Eliza, could see them walking back into the ball right before she'd been outed as the Squib. "You want me to keep them for you?"

She shrugged, sniffling again. "If you want. I don't care."

"So, what happened?"

"It was him," Eliza accused, pointing at Draco.

"What'd you do, Malfoy?"

"I didn't do anything!" Draco denied. "Is it my fault she's overly sensitive?"

"Over there," Harry said, pointing down between the buildings. Draco followed him down the narrow way. "What did you do, Malfoy?" He repeated himself.

"Nothing."

"I've known her for two years and I've never seen her cry like that."

"We were just talking about the ball and how lucky she was that I made sure she was properly dressed and that I got her a date—"

"Tell me you didn't really say that."

"What? It's true. There's nothing wrong with being set up on a date. She had a good time. Scorpius had a good time. It's fine."

"Draco, she thought that Scorpius asked her because he wanted to."

"Well . . . " Draco hesitated. “He did.”

"That's not how you're making it sound, though. You're making it sound like you forced Scorpius to escort her."

"Well, I— Not exactly."

"What exactly, then?"

"I let Scorpius go to the ball on the condition he take Eliza."

Harry groaned and put his hand up to his forehead. "God."

"Look," Draco said, frustrated, "I'm not trying to be a prat—"

"And yet it all comes so naturally."

"I was trying to tell her about my plan."

"Your plan. For Squib assimilation, you mean?"

"Yes, exactly!"

"Why are you telling her about it? If we can't get it past the board of governors, then it's a moot point. Why get her hopes up?"

"Why do you have to be so negative?"

"I'm not being negative, I'm being realistic. Look at her!"

"I'd rather not," Draco said, wrinkling his nose. "I hate it when women cry."

"How'd you get Astoria to even consider marrying you?" Potter asked, exasperated. "Eliza's fifteen. She's only a kid."

"I'd hardly call her a kid."

"And that's part of your problem. You fail to see what's right in front of your face."

"Anyway," Draco said, through clenched teeth, "I was trying to tell her about the Draco Malfoy Foundation for Alternative Magic—"

"Still on about the name, yeah?"

"Well, yes, obviously. It's important!"

"And it'll make you important by proxy?"

Draco puffed out his chest. "I'm already important, Potter. Very important. Why—"

"Why, 6A would have to shut down without you!"

"6A is important—"

"To who?"

"Well— A lot of people!"

"Meaning the people who actually appear in it."

"Society is wonderfully delightful. To be in it is merely a bore. But to be out of it is simply a tragedy."

Harry snorted. "And who said that?"

"Oh, some Muggle."

"Quoting Muggles now, are you?"

"If I admitted it would it get you to stop bothering me?"

"Never mind the fact that you don't seem to recognise you're a complete arsehole."

"Well, that's rather harsh!"

"It's rather true." Harry looked over his shoulder back towards the apothecary. "Look, Eliza's still there. Can you please be nice to her?"

"I'm not the one who should be apologising really," Draco said as they made their way back out onto the pavement. "It wasn't me who made a big old scene out there. It's this one—" Draco clapped a hand on Eliza's shoulder as he passed by "—who should be doing the apologising."

"Trust me, I won't."

"Colour me surprised."

Eliza looked at Draco warily, untrusting. She spoke slowly, as if despite herself. "And how exactly would I go to Hogwarts?"

"That's the spirit!" Draco said, fishing out a fourth galleon. He placed it on her knee, balancing it there. "Let me tell you all about it." An idea struck him then, and he looked around for Harry. Harry stood leaning against the side of Bobbin's Apothecary, watching Draco and Eliza beadily. "Eliza," Draco said, under his breath. "I want you to give me a galleon."

"What? Why?"

"Trust me."

"Sheeyeah, right!"

"No, Eliza—" and he laid a hand on her shoulder, gentle, all semblance of plutocracy and entitlement gone "—please. Just trust me. It's only a galleon, but it may as well be the world."

She regarded him. "What's it for?"

"It's a surprise. And . . . I'll pay you back. With one hundred percent interest."

"Two hundred percent. Plus ice mice."

"Deal." He offered his hand. After a moment she took it and they shook solemnly. "You've made a sound investment. You won't regret it."

~*~

 

Epilogue

 

But for a few phrases from his letters and an odd line or two of his verse, the poet walks gagged through his own biography.

Some stories end in no particular order, in different voices and space, but this biographer will do her best to sort it all out. And so, moving on.

---

 

Three Days Later

The scandal was unparalleled.

Harry Potter made a spectacle of himself at the Board of Governors meeting on Thursday, 12th August 2019, the week following the Dormiens Ball. He rather rudely interrupted Draco Malfoy in the very beginning of Draco's presentation to the board. Draco, unbeknownst to Harry, had brought along Eliza, who was in fine form and was attracting Billywigs, and he'd just introduced the subject of funding, holding up a gold galleon for the board to consider right before Harry completely lost it.

"In my hand I hold a single galleon." Draco put the galleon down on the podium where he stood to address the board of governors. Behind him sat a variety of people in the gallery, including Eliza and Harry, and Rita Skeeter and Edwin. Draco could hear the scratching of Rita's Quick-Quotes Quill as he paused to shuffle through his notes. He'd no idea Rita had been assigned to the board of governors meetings; was she slipping? It seemed a paltry assignment for such a big name. Nevertheless, Rita did not seem bothered.

"I hold a single galleon," Draco repeated, continuing, "a galleon that may lay the foundation for a very unique population to gain a magical education. I am, of course, talking of Squibs."

While most stayed impassive, several of the board members shifted and seemed to lean forwards in anticipation, a curious look crossing their faces.

Draco spoke for several minutes, pointing out Eliza and promising her backstory, and briefly outlining the status of Squibs as pure-bloods, and the right of pure-bloods to a magical education. His background as a Death Eater was well established; he'd ignored the whispers and second glances all of his adult life, his money allowing him to supersede the qualms of society, but it was all he could do not to cringe under the scrutiny of the Hogwarts board of governors when a handful looked at him in contempt and with disgust. His father's stint as a disgraced board member probably didn't help either.

"Surely you must realise," said Donald Element, principal board member, "that one galleon is hardly representative of the cost of educating one normal magical child, much less one with special needs."

"Of course," Draco said genially. "No one is suggesting the Squibs be afforded advantages that other students don't receive."

"Continue."

"Thank you. This is a very special galleon. This galleon was donated by—" Draco indicated Eliza "—this girl, Eliza Cattermole. Eliza has given the first galleon towards a private scholarship foundation for Squibs—"

"And how much money is this foundation endowed with?"

"Ten million and one galleons."

Behind Draco Eliza smiled. Quickly she ducked her head and covered her mouth, as if she was about to get into trouble for being happy. Her eyes shone with something, a sense of pride perhaps.

"That's a rather ambitious fund, Mr. Malfoy," Element said, raising an eyebrow.

"The Mary Elizabeth Cattermole Foundation for Magical Excellence was registered today with Gringotts. I have here the paperwork showing everything is in order, and verifying the foundation is a tax-exempt organisation—"

"Malfoy." Harry had risen from his seat in the gallery.

Draco discretely waved him down. "—and I will take the board's recommendation as to an appropriate trustee—"

"Malfoy!"

"Excuse me," Draco said to the board, putting up his index finger. He turned. "Potter," he whispered, leaning over the rail, "I need their undivided attention. Shush!"

"Do you need a few minutes?" Nabhitha Singh asked, pulling off her reading glasses. She had been perusing her copy of Draco's proposal as he spoke.

"No! Potter here just— No. It's fine. To continue on, the Mary Elizabeth Cattermole Foundation for Magical Excellence—"

"MALFOY."

Draco turned again. "Stop it," he hissed, glaring at Harry.

But Harry was actually climbing over the banister from the gallery to the floor. He hopped down and came right up to Draco. "A word."

"When I'm done!" He faced the board again. "I apologise. As I was saying—"

"Actually," Harry said, also addressing the board, "we do need a few minutes."

"Adjourned," Ernie Macmillan said, banging his gavel. "We shall reconvene in five minutes, so at eight seventeen."

Harry was hauling Draco from the room before the gavel stopped echoing.

"What are you doing?" Draco said, furious. "Do you have any idea what Pansy had to go through to get us thirty minutes with—"

"What did you say?"

"I said do you have any idea what Pansy—"

"No! What did you say in there?"

"What do you mean?"

"The scholarship foundation. What did you say?"

Draco was aware of people milling about. Out of the corner of his eye he saw a flash of magenta robes and Edwin's large camera. "What?" he asked defensively.

"Tell me what you said."

"Weren't you just there? You obviously heard." Draco was completely confused, not to mention hacked off. What the hell?

"The name."

"The name?"

"Say it."

Ah. So Potter had caught on. "The Mary Elizabeth Cattermole Foundation for Magical Excellence."

"Who's it named for?"

"Eliza, Captain Obvious."

"Let me understand this. You've named the foundation after Eliza and you've contributed ten million and one galleons."

"Well, no." Draco squared his shoulders, ready to argue. "I gave ten million. Eliza opened the fund with one galleon. And frankly I don't give a rat's arse if you don't approve. I made an executive decision."

"I thought you had decided on The Draco Malfoy Foundation for Alternative Magic."

"Yes, but it's changed now."

"Why?"

"I don't know, I just changed it!"

"You just changed it?"

"You're objecting?"

"Uh, no," Harry said bemusedly, "I'm not objecting."

"Then let me get back in there—"

But Harry had him against the wall; Draco's first instinct was to scrabble for his wand. "What're you—"

He was kissing Draco, that's what Harry was doing. And at first all Draco could was to stare, shocked and wide-eyed, at the tops of Harry's glasses and his dark brows up close and personal, but then his eyes closed and he grabbed onto Harry's upper arms and he kissed Harry back and never again in his life would he love Squibs more than he did at that moment.

"Get it! Get it! Get the picture!" Rita Skeeter was clearly beside herself as she ran towards Draco and Harry, and although Edwin easily captured their kiss for all the world to see, Draco wasn't sure if Harry had scooched his foot back purposefully or if it was merely reflexive. Whatever the cause, it sent Rita Skeeter sprawling hard enough that she split her chin open and later had to replace two of her gold teeth.

Harry cupped Draco's face. "How's this for ending badly?"

"Happy endings are for twats."

~*~

 

On the 31st of July 2020
at St. Mungo's Hospital for Magical Maladies and Injuries
born
Exley Jack Macmillan, a son
of
Pansy Pandora Macmillan, née Parkinson
and
Ernst Thomas William Macmillan
Weighing 7 pounds
7:30 a.m.

---
01 Andover Park
London
W1O 6DT

 

~*~

 

2101

A Pensieve sits alone in its cabinet, the thick, rejuvenating liquid that gives rise to memories long forgotten and partially evaporated and cloudy from disuse; a sediment of sorts floats at the bottom of the bowl. Lined, freckled fingers prise at the brass key, unlocking the heavy wooden doors holding the Pensieve inside. The large soapstone basin glides forwards silently as the doors swing open, the liquid inside swaying ever so.

A beautifully artisan glass phial appears and the fingers unstopper the bottle. There is a slight hissing sound, one that might come from a container long shut up tight, released at last from the expectation of eternal sleep.

Ginny Weasley Potter is one hundred and twenty years old today and she's paid an enormous sum of money to have this particular memory stolen from deep within the Ministry's Department of Mysteries, from the Magical Law Enforcement section.

Her grip is sturdy and she pours the memory into the Pensieve, watching as it billows like inky clouds, expanding quickly, and then she leans forwards and touches her nose to the fragrant liquid until she's engulfed by a familiar tumbling sensation.

Here, she glances around. She is in her bedroom of 2016 — yes, that is her sleeping right there — and she is curled up on her side, her sleeping arm outstretched to the cool, empty slide of sheets where her husband normally would be. Only this night she's asked him to indulge her, asked him to go for curry, for she's eight months pregnant and feels like she could eat the entire universe for Merlin's sake. There is a noise from the doorway, and a greyish-white being undulates smoothly there, rippling like a ribbon on a stick, and then it snakes under her bed to wait.

A man's knee dips the mattress, pulling at her covers slightly, and Ginny watches herself as she moves in her sleep, readjusting. And then the man's hand is at her throat, squeezing viciously, pressing her head so far into her pillow that she nearly disappears, and at the same time he is straddling her and shoving his other hand over her mouth to snuff out her cries. Ginny watches herself as she stares, horrorstruck, only able to affix her gaze on the picture of her husband, Harry Potter, which sits atop his bedside table on his side of the bed, and she remembers how she cajoled him into placing it there, on his own table, so that she could see it when she was facing him in bed.

Ginny vividly recalls screaming out on her mind: Harry! Harry, help me! Oh, God, Harry . . . It became a mantra of survival: Harry. Harry. Harry. Harry. Harry. As the attack had been happening, Ginny had imagined Harry standing in the queue at the curry shop, had pictured him paying, had counted down in her mind the minutes, the seconds, until he'd be home, until he'd save her, for she doesn't want to make a single sound. Her children are sleeping in the house and what if the monster goes after them? She tucks in as best she can, cradling her swollen belly, shocked into a horrified silence even as the blows rain down.

Ginny watches the back of the intruder from this angle — he is tall, strong, with dark, wild hair. His robes are dark blue, like Harry's. His shoes are brown suede, like Harry's, and he's wearing jeans, like Harry. And there's Harry's face, smiling at her from the photo in the frame on the night cabinet, self-effacing and reticent, and it when the man brings down the round length of cold, steel pipe onto the side of her head, she can only guess that it's Harry striking her, Harry wanting her dead.

And now, here, in this new, stolen memory, she sees the top of Harry's head reflected in the mirror above the headboard. But wait. When did Harry get those streaks of grey? Harry doesn't have grey streaks. The steel pipe rises again and again as he beats her to death, and the mirror is saturated with castaway splatters of blood, and the pipe clips the mirror and it shatters, but does not fall. Harry looks up, into the mirror . . . and it's not Harry. It's Rabastan Lestrange. She'd never seen this man before, had no idea how he might know her or why he'd want her dead, and after what seems like an eternity, he stops beating her and says, presumably to the partner whose memory she's currently watching, "She's gone."

The Oompah slithers out from under the bed, lured from its hiding place by the smell of warm blood, and Ginny recalls the cold, slimy sensation of the Oompah's skin on hers, as it winds its way around her body and affixes its lamprey-like mouth to the tender skin just under her ear. Its razor-sharp teeth slice into her skin, this way and that, cutting so fast it quickly looks like an abrasion rather than a collection of incisions. It clamps its rubbery lips down and begins to suck, and whatever blood hasn't already been let from her broken, beaten body is steadily siphoned off by the Oompah.

But still there's Harry everywhere, and as she tries to open her eyes, tries to blink away the blood pooling under her lashes, his picture continues to loom in her periphery, his slight smile becoming a cold leer, and it makes sense that it's Harry who's tries to kill her, for who else would have access to the house? And then her suspicions are confirmed. The last glance of the stranger's memory shows Harry standing in the bedroom doorway, a puddle of steaming curry slopped over his tan suede shoes. Plastic utensils slip from his fingers as he moves towards her, shocked and sickened.

"Ginny!" Harry chokes out. "Ginny! Oh, God . . . Oh my God . . . No . . . "

The Oompah is nowhere to be seen.

Inky smoke obscures; the memory is spent. Ginny feels herself being tugged upwards, until her feet smack down onto the floor, causing her to wince. She has a bum hip.

She had been positive that it had been Harry. She had vividly remembered it had been Harry. All these many, many years, she thought it had been Harry.

She just stands there numbly, her hands starting to tremble. She feels physically ill.

There's a hand at the small of her back.

"All right, Ginny?"

She turns.

"I am truly so very sorry," she says to Harry, her voice hollow and wan.

"I've always known," Harry says, as Draco watches silently from the back of the room, "that you would never had lied. I know you didn't make it up."

"Harry—"

"I've always known the truth. And that was enough."

"Enough for you, maybe. But what about James, Lily, and Al . . . Oh, Harry, what've I done?"

"You did nothing. This was done to you."

"I don't know what to say . . . what to do . . ."

"Put the memory back in the phial."

Ginny lifts the memory from the Pensieve, her hands fully shaking, and Harry covers her wrist, steadying her as she lowers the smoky wisp of a memory back into its container. Yellowed spell-o-tape down the side is inscribed with Weasley-Potter, Ginevra — 2016*12*12 — CLOSED BY TRIAL 2020*19*10 in blue ink. She has less than twelve hours to spend with this memory before she must sneak it back to her connection at the Ministry. She is enormously grateful to finally know, yet grief, toxic and dark, blossoms inside her, filling her as steam would a hot kettle.

"What was it . . . ?"

"A girl," Harry says.

"A girl."

She weeps for her daughter. Harry does too.

Draco slips from the room, leaving them in private.

~*~

 

2120

"Hey, Hermione's got seats for the swan upping. With Ron ill, she's trying to find takers. Would you be game?"

"What the bloody hell are you talking about?"

"The swan upping," Harry said. "It's a Muggle tradition. Each year the Queen's Swan Marker conducts a swan census on the River Thames. Hermione says it's really rather inter—"

"Potter, don't even try and tell me there's anything interesting about swans. How much of an old fart can you be?"

"It's royal," Harry enticed. "You know, royal. The very posh, the very rich—"

But Draco waved his hand. "Forget it. If you think I'm spending my golden years chasing honking Muggle birds around the River Thames, then—"

"They're actually mute," Harry said, pouring out. The teapot made his wrist ache. "And they're better than Auguries, thanks. At least we wouldn't need umbrellas. Hermione says—"

"Oh, Granger can get stuffed."

"She loves you too. Now, you'll need to know this because she'll ask—" Harry set the pot down and pushed himself to his feet, the end of his foot-long beard just missing the tea "—but a male swan is called a cob, and the female's a pen and the little swans are cygnets."

Draco motioned for Harry. Harry was no longer spry so it took him a minute to kneel down, to rest his forearms across Draco's knees as Draco sat regally in Lily's old rocking chair that they'd actually managed to salvage from Godric's Hollow after their first year together. Harry looked up at Draco.

Draco wore no beard. In fact, what little hair he did have stood in short tufts, as flaxen as the day he'd been born. His dark-coloured glasses frames stood in stark contrast to his pale features. "For the love of Maude, please shave."

"Who's Maude and why do you love her?" Harry said, his eyes twinkling. "You know, maybe I will. Tell you what. You come on the swan upping with me and I'll shave. Even cut my hair, trim it up nicely."

"What else do I need to know about these ruddy swans?" Draco rolled his eyes. "Ridiculous. Honestly."

Harry relaxed into Draco, resting his cheek against Draco's thighs, his arms encircling his calves. His hair was as white as Draco's, the lightning scar so faded it looked like someone had taken their thumb and just lightly brushed the skin above Harry's right eye. It was the slightest of blemishes now. "Swans begin to breed when they're three or four years old."

"Did Granger give you a brochure or something?"

"Or something, yes." Harry smiled, Draco's flannel trousers soft against his face. "Last year one hundred eighty swans died of duck virus enteritis. It was like a mini-plague."

"A mini-plague. For swans. How appropriately dramatic."

"The swan upping goes from Sunbury to Oxfordshire. You like Oxfordshire."

"Hmm," Draco grumped. "Oxfordshire."

"We could pick Snake's-head Fritillary!"

"Oh please."

"You prefer the chequered daffodil?"

"I'm thinking chasing swans under your invisibility cloak is sounding appealing after all."

"Well, there's always the Mop Fair,” Harry said, mischievous. “It'll be in Marlborough next week. Or, better yet, there’s the Cornish Floral Dance. It's a day of dancing and merrymaking!"

"All right, all right! I'll go to your ruddy dumb swan upping."

"I'm having a go at you. You know it's just for Hermione."

"I know," Draco said gruffly. "Granger, that mad bint."

Harry took a deep, shuddering breath and let his hand slide down the back of Draco's leg.

"I suppose if we didn't go swanning," Draco continued, "she'd never let us hear the end of it. I can see it now. We'll both receive swan feather quills with interchangeable nibs and a copy of Swan Upping: A History. We will then both be presented with Muggle-style porkpie hats with swan wings on the sides and faux plastic beaks to complete the experience—"

“And you’ll wear that hat with pride. It’ll match your hair.”

“The day that I’m found to be wearing a Muggle porkpie hat is the day you are legally obligated to assassinate me. Just so you know.”

“Do you prefer Avada Kedavra or would you like something creative?”

“Oh, be creative, Potter. We all know Avada Kedavra and you don’t mix.”

“And aren’t you the better for it?” Harry smiled crookedly and lumbered to his feet, using Draco’s knees for leverage, and as he strained and grimaced, Malfoy’s eagle owl scratched at the window. “I’ll get it.”

“Anything interesting?” Draco asked, after the bird had been properly treated and sent off; Harry was sorting through the post.

“Looks like Binkbiddle finished with my affairs,” Harry said, holding up a thick, legal-sized envelope that seemed to be bursting at the seams. He set it down on the table.

“You mean your will?” Harry hadn’t mentioned anything about having his will attended to.

“I wanted to add a little something for Mandy.”

“Your side is far too proliferant.” Draco rose and shuffled over to the table. His gait was amusing and decidedly old. He lifted each knee higher than necessary, giving him the appearance that he was about to break out into a broken-down cha-cha. “By the time you’re done, there’ll be nothing left for me.”

Harry snorted. “I’ve left you all my woollen socks, you ingrate.”

“Oh, thoughtful. Leaving me the leftovers.”

Harry grasped Draco’s wrist, squeezing. “And a galleon.”

“Ever the benefactor.” Draco picked up the post and shuffled through it.

“What’s that?” Harry asked, reaching for a largish, strange-looking letter.

“Don’t grab!” Draco held the pile of mail up and away, but Harry pulled it back.

The envelope was cream-coloured, reminiscent of . . . something. It was rich and thick and was clearly an invitation.

“The Dormiens Ball,” Harry said, moving up behind Draco to look over his shoulder. Draco ripped into it, pulling the invitation free.

“Well,” Draco said, after a long moment. “What’d’you know?”

Harry read. A smile slowly crept across his face. “Those kids.”

~*~
The Children of
Harry James Potter and Draco Lucius Malfoy
request the pleasure of your company
as they celebrate their one hundredth Anniversary
Saturday, 10 August 2120
at six o’clock in the evening
at the home of Mr. and Mrs. Scorpius Malfoy
in
the ballroom
Price of Admission: One Banana


R.S.V.P. to Mrs. Mary Elizabeth Malfoy no later than 1 August 2120

In lieu of charitable donations, large floral displays, opulent gifts, gilded furnishings, intricate artefacts, original artwork, cash and treasure, fine sculpture, and expensive trinkets are encouraged for Draco. On behalf of Harry, we invite you to bring one pair of wool socks. Please enjoy cocktails with us prior to dinner at eight o’clock. Dress shall be formal attire.

---


“The prats,” Draco said, chuffed.

“Buttons or cuffs?”

“Cuffs.”

“Brilliant.”

Spectacularly dour, on occasion even Draco Malfoy couldn’t help but smile. This was one of those times. “Well, I do say. Did you know about this?”

“Not a thing.”

“Reckon Lily and Eliza cooked it up. Wenches that they are.”

“A hundred years,” Harry said, seemingly incredulous. “Have I stood you for that long, really?”

“See? I told you. All those years ago, next to Gringotts.” Draco smiled again and took Harry’s hand. “This is going to end very badly!”

“Oh, yes, very badly indeed. You know what this means, don’t you, Malfoy?”

“I’m afraid to ask.”

“It means we’ll be having to dance. In public. With your spastic leg and my sore arm.”

Draco smirked, pushing his glasses up on his nose. “Scared, Potter?”

But Harry only smiled. “Please. You wish.”

*

 

2126

"So, that's how you and Granddad are husband and wife and brother and sister?"

"That's right," Eliza said, ruffling her youngest grandson's hair. "Very scandalous, isn't it?"

"Very!" Rex Malfoy was mesmerised by the tale. "I wondered why I have so many sets of great-grandparents."

"This is why."

"Well, for pure-bloods, at least our family tree has more than one branch."

"A perfect way to look at it! Tea, darling?"

"All right, yeah."

Eliza led the way into the kitchen, stopping only to adjust the perfectly ripe bunch of bananas in the bowl in the middle of the kitchen table, remembering the Arithmancy lesson from so many years ago. She always made sure there were fresh bananas.

"Mistress Eliza is requiring tea?" A spritely voice sounded from under the sink. Eliza watched as a tiny hand slipped out from behind the cabinet door and grasped the knob. The door opened and wide tennis-ball eyes stared out at her, the colour of bright green garden snakes. The tiny elf emerged from the comfortably decorated space below the sink. She had all the best amenities. "Katrina is making tea for Mistress Eliza and Master Rex—"

"Thanks, Katrina, but I'll make it myself today. But we could do with some biscuits."

"Shortbread would be brilliant," Rex said. He could eat it by the pound. Katrina's ugly face split into a delighted smile.

"Katrina is bringing shortbread. Katrina noticed that Katrina's father Kreacher is awake, and with Katrina's help, Kreacher will make his famous shortbread." Indeed the house-elf's shortbread routinely took first prize at the county fair. No one dared ask him what his secret ingredient was. For all they knew it could be Muggle axle grease, but with Kreacher many things were best left undiscussed.

Eliza pulled her wand. "Incendio." Nothing happened. "Incendio." She directed its tip right at the burner of the stove. Again, nothing. "Incendio." She stressed it extra hard this time, but, again, no flame ignited. She slid the wand into the pocket of her robes and took up the matches, striking one and lighting the burner effortlessly. She put the kettle on.

"Gran, when you were out on your own, where did you stay?"

"Here and there."

"No, really."

Eliza hesitated for a moment, but, deciding the kettle had more than a few minutes to boil, she opted to lead him out of the kitchen and through the back entrance of Harry's manor.

"No one's ever asked me that, except for Harry," she said.

"Not even Granddad?"

"I don't think he wanted to know."

They waded and crashed their way through a thick underbrush of bramble. It all seemed like a forgotten jungle of a place, but Eliza knew exactly where she was going.

They reached an area in the surrounding forest that was barely still within sight of the house. Rex and Eliza stood in a small knoll with a hill lopped into the earth, and Rex could see where a worn footpath led straight into the side of the knoll. "I read about them," Eliza said. "Earthen houses, built into the side of a hill. It was something I could do without magic."

Rex boggled. A small window was carved from the hill, as well as a fully reinforced, heavy oak door. Atop the hill, a rusty metal chimney pipe poked up. "Can we go in?"

"All right."

"So you were here near Harry the whole time."

"Yes. Well, it was after he started bringing us home once a month that I relocated us to here. Before that, it was whatever Muggle shed or doorway we could find."

"Why did great-grandma Frances—"

"Never mind. It's moot," Eliza said sharply, not wanting to revisit her mother. "It doesn't matter why she did what she did. What's important is what's here and now. There's a candle on the table. Would you light it?"

"Incendio." The tiny earthen room lit up as Rex touched the tip of his wand to the wick, the flame's shadow flickering up the wall.

It was an amazing little place.

The hand-made paper flowers, put together from the pages of old books, started right around the door and they spread out, lovingly placed, like a printed canopy, blending into the enchantments, the walls fully lit by an enchanted mural of flowers, and fauna and vines.

"I made those," Eliza said, pointing to the paper flowers. "And when Harry went to Hogwarts he learned the enchantments for the floral garden. Look at the ceiling."

It was not as elaborate as the enchanted ceiling in the Great Hall at Hogwarts, but, sure enough, the plain blue sky stretched over them, a wisp of cloud floating here and there.

"It's only ever night or day here," she said. "It doesn't change with the weather. That level of enchantment was too advanced for us kids to manage. It's either stars or the blue sky."

Rex followed the zipping light of a fairy as it zoomed around the walls. "It's beautiful."

"We slept there," she said, indicating towards two blue-and-white-striped pallets that lay on the ground. "Straw ticking. I read about that, too. And of course there's the table, our books, Madeleine's toys . . . " Everything was pristine and well-kept and it was clear this was not an abandoned enclave.

"You still come here," Rex said, mildly astonished.

"For the longest time it was the only safe place to be," Eliza explained.

"But you had great-granddad—"

"Rex, it took many, many years before I believed that Harry wasn't going to give us back. It was always here that I came to feel safe."

Rex sat down at the table, reaching for a photograph album there. "What're these? Pictures? How old is this?"

"Pictures. This and that. Open it."

"Oh my God," he said, as the first page came into view, "how old are you here?"

"Fifteen. It was my first social event."

"Is that granddad?"

"Yep!"

He flipped through several pages. "Nice hair," he said, ribbing her. "What's this?"

"Surely you still have yours, too."

"No, sorry," Rex said, and read.

HOGWARTS SCHOOL
of WITCHCRAFT and WIZARDRY
~*~
Headmistress: MINERVA McGONAGALL
(Order of Merlin, First Class, Grand Sorceress
Mugwump Extraordinaire, International Confed. of Wizards)


1st July 2020
Miss Mary Elizabeth Cattermole, the younger
Between:
The Platform at Bobbin's Apothecary
and
La Société Dangereuse
Diagon Alley
London
United Kingdom

Dear Miss Cattermole,

We are pleased to inform you that you have been accepted at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Please find enclosed a list of all necessary books and equipment. As is our duty, you are hereby informed that all personal expenses shall be assessed and provided for by a generous benefactor who wishes to remain anonymous. It is further our duty to advise you that you have been selected by the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry's Board of Governors to attend the first year of an exciting, progressive programme developed specifically for those of magical ancestry who do not demonstrate traditional magical powers, but whose gifts and magical talents must be developed by individual curriculum. You have further been nominated by the board as the first recipient of the Mary Elizabeth Cattermole Foundation for Magical Excellence, as established by Mary Elizabeth Cattermole in memory of Rex Gordon Cattermole, Reginald John Cattermole, Mary Elizabeth Cattermole, Maisie Elaine Cattermole, and Ellie Elizabeth Cattermole.

Term begins on 1 September. We await your owl by no later than 31 August.

Yours Sincerely,

Ernst Thomas William Macmillan
Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry
Board of Governors


Rex looked up at his grandmother. "You were the first to go to Hogwarts under the scholarship?"

"I was. The galleon that Draco borrowed from me when I was fifteen? He used it to establish the fund."

He was continuing to flip through the photograph album. "Your house patch," he noted, running his fingers over it briefly. He paged past photo after photo of his grandmother at Hogwarts, watching Quidditch, revising, socialising in the Great Hall, dressed in costume for Halloween, at various dorm parties. She looked so very young, and vibrant and happy.

"And these were my roommates," Eliza said, pointing individuals out. "That's Mary. There's Emily. Oh, and that's Sophie. And there's Julia and Jane, the twins."

Rex studied the pictures. "They don't look like twins."

"I know, it's strange, isn't it?"

"Where was this one taken?"

Eliza looked. "That one was at the Ministry." Pride crept into her voice. "See there? I'm signing the registry as a witch. We were the first group of Squibs to register with the Ministry. Before, Squibs weren't counted or tracked in any way. It was like we didn't exist. This," she said, tapping at the photograph, "meant we did."

"That's brilliant, Gran!"

"I thought so."

"What's that?"

A round little creature stared at them from a photograph, its little nose quivering, ears up, covered from head to toe with sparkling, enchanted quills. "Oh!" She laughed. "That's Carl the Knarl."

"You had a Knarl?"

"The Knarl became a mascot of sorts for us Squibs at Hogwarts, after Thaddeus Thurkell. You must know the story. He was so angry at siring seven Squibs that he turned them all into hedgehogs. The Knarl seemed a perfect familiar."

"Who gave it to you?"

Eliza smiled. "Your great-granddad, actually." She clarified. "Your great-granddad Draco."

"Really? It doesn't seem that Draco was the sentimental type."

"He wasn't. He thought it was a practical gift."

Rex laughed. "How could a Knarl be a 'practical' gift? They destroy garden ornaments and plants!"

"Yes, well, Draco saw the world through a different lens, that's for sure. Which reminds me . . . " Eliza went over to the shelf and rummaged around in a covered pot that looked like a cookie jar. She extracted two rectangular objects and regarded them fondly. "Harry and Draco's glasses," she explained, sliding Draco's free of their case for just a moment. They were rectangular themselves, the lenses having darkened slightly to a rose colour, presumably from age. Eliza felt an electrical shiver pass through her as she touched the glasses; she turned them over in her hand. Harry's round spectacles were next. "Try them," she said, passing over Draco's pair to Rex. "They were both blind as bats." They each slipped a pair of glasses on and peered at one another, grinning.

"Merlin," Rex said. "Couldn't they have got their eyes fixed?"

"Harry didn't care. He was fine with glasses. Draco?" Her eyes gleamed, a hint of her impishness there. "I think he was afraid."

"Ha! Seriously?"

"He would've never admitted it."

They fell quiet. Eliza put Harry's glasses away, and then slid Draco's from Rex's face. Both pairs went back into the jar, and for a moment the only sound was the clinking of the ceramic lid.

"You will keep this to yourself?" she asked. Of all her grandchildren, Rex was the only one with whom she'd shared the little knoll house.

"Well, sure, but why?"

Eliza didn't know. She'd often thought herself lucky for having the opportunity to have had three brilliant fathers. It was almost enough to make up for not having even one mother. Almost. The closest she had got to a mother was Astoria, but sometimes that could be awkward, especially when Astoria was feeling particularly vicious about Draco, and then there was always the matter of Eliza's Squibness. Astoria was a good woman who meant well and fought her entire life against her innate prejudices, and she'd come to accept Eliza as best as she could. But Eliza could never quite forget that, on top of her not having magic, Astoria had seen her straight off the streets. Eliza herself could never quite get past this particular humiliation. There was just that little residual part of her that retained her tragedy, that she couldn't shake. And she held it close, protective to a fault.

"Just if it could be between you and me, I would like that."

"All right."

She paused in the doorway, looking back at Rex. "The kettle'll be boiling," she said, gesturing for him to pass her by. "Come on."

"It's brilliant, Gran, it really is." Rex looked back one last time.

"Come on." She shooed him out. "Go." The shadows danced and dipped as the door opened, a slight breeze blowing through the tiny space. "I've got the light." She took her time and pulled her wand as she made her way to the table. "Nox." The shadows soared across the walls, leaping higher. "Nox!" She imagined she could hear the kettle whistling for her back at the manor, and she was filled with gratitude as she considered her lot, unconventional as it was. She looked around one last time, taking in the fauna and fairies, remembering clearly the sensation of library paste on her fingers as she fashioned torn, weathered pages into flowers all those many years ago. Her favourite ghosts lingered here.

Eliza lifted the candle and blew.

Nox.

* Finite *

 

---

 

AUTHOR'S NOTES:

Regarding Draco's glasses:

The most important responsibility for a celebrity is to set an example and be a rolemodel: Clay Aiken, American Idol contestant — Google search: cheesy quotes.

And now, this is the sweetest and most glorious day that ever my eyes did see: Donald Cargill, 17th century Scottish Covenanter — Google search: cheesy quotes.

Vidi Verum: To see the truth.

Regarding the Mary Sueness of the OFC Eliza Cattermole:

I put Eliza through thirteen different Mary Sue Litmus tests, each time getting either a "borderline" or "probably not a Sue" result. I tweaked her characterization numerous times to try and avoid Sueville. She does have some Sue characteristics, particularly her background of having been abandoned by her mother and her father dying in an Apparition accident. Of course any author's goal is to not create a horrific Potter!Sue when doing an Original Female Character (OFC), especially when dealing with a character who has a disability (let's call Squibness a disability here, for lack of a better term). A great essay on disability fanfic can be found here: The Radical Act of Telling in Harry Potter Disability Fanfic. Eliza's Squibness does not go away; she can't overcome it and it doesn't mean anything special or teach her a life lesson. She simply has to learn how to live within the parameters of being a Squib because it's likely she will never learn magic in the traditional sense. While she does go on to Hogwarts to participate in the new Squib instruction curriculum, she does not miraculously become a magical being. I imagine a curriculum for Squibs as focusing a lot on studies such as Runes, Divination, Arithmancy, and History of Magic - more academic than practical studies. Eliza is pretty to Scorpius, but when I picture her in my head, I think of more interesting-looking actresses to compare her to, such as one of my fav actresses Kate Maberly. I mean, take a look at Bella Swan in the travesty book Twilight — she's a plain-looking girl in her canon, and a bigger Mary Sue we will not find! Eliza has a hard exterior because of her life's circumstances; however, when she's rude, she's often called out on it. Hopefully I was able to show that she has a different side to her, too, because no one likes someone who is irrationally bitchy all of the time (except for Draco and Pansy <3). I wanted to show that she is of normal intelligence and values education, that she has a deep caring about her siblings and the normal desire to be wanted by a potential partner, that she is uncertain about her future, and that she has street savviness. Eliza's aunt and namesake, Mary Elizabeth Cattermole (Deathly Hallows), I've assigned as Muggleborn and is married to Reginald Cattermole, who I am assigning as a generational pure-blood. Eliza's father, Rex Cattermole, Reg's brother, is therefore also a generational pure-blood, as is her mother Frances Cattermole née Figg. Hence the recessive Squib gene being present in Eliza. We know Squibness runs in the Figg family at least.

Regarding Scorpius's Arithmancy assignments:

All Arithmancy information taken directly and reworked for dialogue purposes by me from The Sorcerer’s Companion website at http://www.sorcererscompanion.net/arithmancy.html — consider all the Arithmancy information sourced and notated.

Regarding the Dormiens Ball:

Le Jeu de Ce Soir: French for "Tonight's Game"

Tilden Toots is the award-winning radio personality who hosts Toots, Shoots, and Roots and describes himself as the "wizard with three green thumbs." He is married to Daisy Hookum, author of My Life as a Muggle, which she wrote after giving up magic for one year. Tandy Hookum-Toots is their daughter invented by me. (Harry Potter Lexicon)

Hector Dagworth-Granger was the founder of the Most Extraordinary Society of Potioneers and was referenced by Professor Slughorn in Half-Blood Prince when he asked Hermione if she were possibly related. (Harry Potter Lexicon)

Eliza was unable to tell Gawain Robards what Polyjuice potion looks like because Squibs cannot identify potions, presumably by sight or smell. Filch's inability to detect potions is mentioned in Half-Blood Prince.

If you're wondering where Harry, Finlay, and Madeleine Cattermole are, Harry hired Mrs. Figg to babysit!

"Fair is foul and foul is fair." William Shakespeare, from Macbeth, Act 1, Scene 1, Lines 11-12.

"Walk? Not bloody likely!" George Bernard Shaw, 19th/20th century Irish writer, from the play Pygmalion, 1912.

Eliza was able to summon the Knight Bus by stealing Demelza Robins's wand. In order to summon the Knight Bus, you simply have to hold a wand out in your hand and be a witch or wizard in need of emergency transportation.

Additional Quotations included at the request of the recipient (and a couple on my whim):

"You can never get enough of what you don't really need" Eric Hoffer, 20th century philosopher.

"Beauty crowds me until I die" Emily Dickinson, 19th/20th century poet, from the poem Part Five: The Single Hound.

"There is a thin line between genius and insanity. I have erased this line." Oscar Levant, 20th century American pianist, composer, author, comedian, and actor.

"It's amazing what you can accomplish if you don't care who gets the credit." Harry S. Truman, 33rd President of the United States.

"I suppose society is wonderfully delightful. To be in it is merely a bore. But to be out of it is simply a tragedy."
Oscar Wilde, 20th century Irish dramatist.

Thousands of candles can be lit from a single candle, and the life of the candle will not be shortened. Happiness never decreases by being shared.” Hindu Prince Gautama Siddharta, the founder of Buddhism, 563-483 B.C.

"But for a few phrases from his letters and an odd line or two of his verse, the poet walks gagged through his own biography." John Updike, 20th and 21st century American novelist.

Regarding Squibness and pure-bloodedness:

It's my theory, obviously, that a witch or wizard is "pure-blood" if they have two magical parents, presumably of a couple of generations or more. We don't hear anything about a witch or wizard being a two-thirds-blood or a three-eighths-blood. We know of half-bloods, where one parent is magical and one parent is not, and Muggleborns, where the recessive magic gene manifests seemingly spontaneously. So that leaves only pure-blood status for those with two magical parents. There are a lot of theories out there regarding what constitutes a pure-blood, and I can see the merits in arguing that pure-bloods can only be multi-generational, but when I boiled it down, I went with the simple theory that a pure-blood is a child who has two magical parents. From there, I extrapolated that Squibness is akin to a recessive genetic trait, because Squibness in Muggleborns and half-bloods (half-blood meaning a child born of one magical parent and one Muggle parent) would go entirely unnoticed, as the child would merely be thought of as an inherently non-magical being. That they did not exhibit magic would not mean anything if they were half-blooded or Muggleborn.

Miscellaneous: Stuff I Would Have Told You If the Fic Wasn't Already Way Too Long:

You want to know which House Eliza was Sorted into? I'll let you be the judge of that.

Draco never knew about the spell Maurice Wallingscomb placed on his glasses, which caused him to see the world as it really is, rather than as the comfy, problem-free microcosm he was used to. The ambitious Slytherin in him rolled with the punches, though, I think against Wallingscomb's hope, and instead of being driven mad by all the sadness and despair in the world, he attacked what misfortunes he could, one project at a time. But, oddly, he wore the same pair of glasses for his entire life, never changing prescriptions or frames. Go figure.

It's impossible to write a Harry/Draco fic without dealing with Ginny and Astoria. I feel badly that Astoria was the one to pretty much get the shaft, but, you know, marriages break up sometimes, and there will always be hurt and sadness when that happens. In this story, while occasionally bitter and angry, Astoria goes on to remarry and finds a much happier and equitable relationship than the one she had with Draco. She and Draco manage to be amicable for the sake of Scorpius. Scorpius, despite his bravado in the story where he says he can "handle it" if his parents were to divorce, had a really rough time of it emotionally and was estranged from Draco for a period of time, taking wholeheartedly his mother's side (understandably).

Ginny's story was based on the true story of American Kevin Green, in which his pregnant wife Dianna was beaten while sleeping, and when she awoke she insisted that Kevin was her attacker. Kevin was subsequently arrested and convicted of the crime based solely on Dianna's eyewitness testimony. Sixteen years later, DNA recovered from Mrs. Green identified another individual as her attacker. However, Mrs. Green maintained that it was her husband, Kevin, who assaulted her for at least a while following the DNA evidence coming to light. Very interesting case!

The annual swan upping is a real tradition, complete with a royal Swan Marker who monitors all the swans on the River Thames. All information on the swan upping taken from The Official Website of the British Monarchy. It just seemed like such an UN-Harry/Draco thing to do, but something Hermione would find fascinating! I couldn't resist.

ORIGINAL PROMPT:

Preferences:
~ fic please! (longer = better)
~ plot please!
~ in their 20's or 30's
~ angst! angst! with a happ(ier)/content ending and some UST!
~ fighting/quarreling, bickering!
~ get-together fic!
~ Draco chasing after Harry
~ stubborn!Harry; scared/nervous!Harry; witty!Harry (and Draco!)
~ not too much mention of the War
~ cunning!Draco; suave!Draco; filthy rich!Draco; musically talented!Draco
~ utilisation of other characters (Neville, Luna, Teddy, etc.)

Squicks:
~ mpreg; OOCness; OC's done poorly/have too much of the story focus on them
~ pet-names; excessive fluffiness
~ creature!fic; bonding!fic; crack!fic; non-magical world!fic; period!fic (ie: pirates/Victorian era, etc.)
~ scat; watersports; bloodplay; BDSM; cross-dressing; feminine!boys
~ character-bashing
~ smoking!Harry; goth!Harry; prostitute!Draco; whiny!Draco; slut!anyone
~ Draco being instantly good buddies with Ron/Hermione and vice versa with Harry and the Malfoy's/Pansy/etc. Maybe a build up over time to tolerance but I can't picture a big dinner with everyone invited and getting along!
~ too much Ginny; clueless!Ron; excessively meddling!Hermione
~ abuse; drug use
Preferred rating or range: Whatever best fits the story! I have no limit!

OPTIONAL
Additional prompts:
(of course for inspiration only and any/all of them don't have to be included!)
~ glasses (Harry's or Draco having/having to get glasses)
~ drinking tea with a pinky-finger extended
~ "Fair is foul and foul is fair."
~ "“There is a thin line between genius and insanity. I have erased this line.”
~ double entendre
~ simple-minded (Draco, in reference to Harry)
~ "Yes, Siree!"
~ meddling Weasley twins
~ "Holy cheese and crackers, Batman!" "Who's Batman and why do these cheese and crackers have holes in them?!"(or something akin to that)
~ "The distinction between children and adults, while probably useful for some purposes, is at bottom a specious one, I feel. There are only individual egos, crazy for love."
~ "Being normal isn’t one of my strengths.”
~ "You should not confuse your career with your life, Harry.”
~ "If at first you don’t succeed, redefine success.”
~ “You can never get enough of what you don’t really need.”
~ “Those are my principles. If you don’t like them I have others.”
~ "Draco, it's amazing what you can accomplish if you don't care who gets the credit.”
~ use of the Waddiwasi spell
~ "Beauty crowds me until I die."
~ "It's time to take a bath!"
~ headline: "Fire Whiskey-crazed ________ Faces Execution!"
~ "Please don't squeeze the ___________"
~ headline: "Giant Cornish Pixies Invade Russia!"
~ Seamus finds a pot of gold
Scenario:
Hm. A few ideas but nothing that must absolutely be used!
~ in the style of Taming of the Shrew (Draco in the Petruchio role and Harry in the Katherina role. If not familiar with TotS, you probably know 10 Things I Hate About You (Julia Stiles as Katerina and Heath Ledger as Patrick), which is based off this play.)
~ Draco always gets everything that he wants... except for Harry. He tries everything under the sun to woo Harry to no avail and it isn't until he loses everything that he understands what it is that Harry wants.
~ To Draco, Harry is the 'one who got away' (either they were too young when they had their first/only encounter, or Harry broke it off, etc.)
~ in the style of Pygmalion (or, if you're not familiar with this play... My Fair Lady or She's All That). Someone (Blaise? Hermione?!) bets Draco that he can't: fix Harry's tarnished image/turn Harry into a cool-sexy man/tear Harry away from his job/get a date with Harry/can establish a long-term relationship with commitment-phobic Harry/insert other scenario, and Draco accepts. Fails. But ultimately wins in the end.
If there's questions:
~ Anon comment?!
Other:
~ Thank-you very much! I feel that I'm being too picky on the details yet too vague on the setting at the same time, if such a thing is even possible! I'm honestly not hard to please! Thank-you, thank-you to anyone who picks this! ?
[edited to clarify! and add some prompts~ and then to edit because I can't type ;____;]