Fathers Who Could Do With A Spot of Sinning
Draco is perched on Harry's oak desk; it is the furthest point of the room from the door that he can reach without being obvious. He does rather wish he could sit behind it, though. Half a tree is the minimum he would like to have between himself and Harry if this conversation is to have a hope of staying neutral. Harry opens his mouth, as though to speak, so Draco waits. Harry closes his mouth again.
Harry continues to smile. It's an attractive smile. And bloody annoying.
Draco busies his mind by giving it a stern talking to about the tingling it is still attributing to his shoulder. Grown men do not come over all flustered at a brush of fingertips through fabric – and if they do, it's certainly not the case for brushes of shoulders.
Draco gives up on waiting. "I like being your friend," he says.
Harry glances up at him, surprised. "And?"
Draco shrugs. "That's it. I like being your friend. We worked hard to get here and I don't want to risk it for the sake of one kiss twenty-five years ago."
Harry is smiling again, but now he looks at Draco. "Two kisses," he says, "And a spot of hands-down-pants action."
Draco rolls his eyes. "The point, Harry, the essential and to my mind quite meaningful point, is that it was twenty-five years ago."
"I like being your friend, too," Harry confides. "You're fun to work with and you're entertaining to be around."
"Exactly," Draco grins. "So let's just accept that our sons are far better at the schoolboy relationship thing than we ever were, be supportive, and move on with being friends ourselves. We can consume beverages and argue Ministry politics in pubs."
Harry frowns. "We don't argue Ministry politics, we are Ministry politics." Draco pointedly ignores him.
A happier thought follows. "Our boys are going out!" Harry laughs brightly. "Can you imagine what your dad would have said?"
Draco laughs, too, somewhat more darkly. "Absolutely. He'd have said: 'Well done, Scorpius! There's a political alliance worth having! Make sure you have access to the drinks cabinet in case we need to poison somebody.'"
Harry rolls his eyes at him, but accepts that this is true. "Sirius would have kidnapped Al and spent a weekend checking him for Imperius or other curses. And when he found nothing, he'd have spent about a year looking at you and Scorpius intently, then occasionally shrugging and saying: 'I suppose they do have that Black magnetism, it's the only explanation.'"
Draco does not reply to this immediately, because he can't talk with his lips pursed together to hold back gales of laughter. After a few minutes his shoulders stop shaking and he flicks his hair back from his face. "This is true," he deadpans. "Black magnetism has made recent generations of Malfoys pretty much irresistible."
"I know." Harry is smiling that enigmatic smile again.
Draco throws a block of Post-Its at him, which Harry catches with ease. "You are an enormous pain, you know that, don't you, Potter?"
"This opinion has been advanced in the past, yes. Usually by you."
"Exactly," Draco says. "And, since I have a signed letter of thanks from you, as head of your department, commenting on my intelligence, resourcefulness and reliability, I think that we should give that opinion the weight it deserves."
"Back to the kissing, I remember it perfectly," Harry says, grinning.
Draco shuts his eyes. "I am not looking at you until you start to act like a reasonable adult."
"I am!" He hears the laughter in Harry's voice. "It's entirely reasonable that, as an adult, I point out that I have never forgotten the fact that I was quite prepared to shag you senseless back at school."
Draco opens his eyes, and they are cooler now. "A quarter of a century ago. In the interim, we've both married and had kids. I am fairly convinced that your marriage, like mine, was very real at the time."
Harry's face is serious now, too. "It was," he agrees. "We just grew apart, and it didn't seem fair to the kids to keep pretending."
"No," Draco says. "It's not. And they were old enough to understand." This last reassurance is spoken partly to himself.
"They were," Harry agrees again.
After a minute he adds, "Ginny was jealous of you."
Draco is genuinely shocked. "You told Ginny? As if she needed more reason to hate me!"
"Of course I didn't tell her, don't be ridiculous." Harry rolls his eyes at Draco again. "It was just that you were always there, always such a focus …"
Draco shakes his head. "That doesn't make any sense. I saw you during the war proper for a grand total of six hours. And prior to that we spent six years hating each other."
"Hating each other with vigour and devotion," Harry agrees, nodding.
Draco begins to laugh. "Oh no you don't. You do not get to rewrite that as some kind of subtextual longing. You thought I was a Death Eater and I thought you were a self-righteous prig."
Harry laughs, too. "Yeah, but I thought you were a fanciable Death Eater."
Draco threatens to throw Harry's stapler at him. "Six years of hating, then six hours of terrifying near death over the course of a year," he reminds him.
"That last year was so strange," Harry goes on. " I had such a lot of time to think, and I kept worrying that you'd do something stupid and get yourself killed, or do something really stupid and turn into a fully fledged Voldemort supporter."
Draco grimaces slightly. "Always my Father's dream more than mine, no matter how cheerfully I bought into some of his prejudices at the time." He pauses. "You were thinking of me? Why?"
Harry shrugs. "Was stuck in a tent. With Hermione, who was in a foul mood about Ron most of the time. You were a pleasant option." He smiles at the face Draco pulls. "That's the thing, I should have been thinking about Ginny, and I did, but I always knew where she was and what she was doing. I could never work out what you were on about in those days."
"Have you worked it out now?" Draco raises an eyebrow, amused.
"Of course!" Harry laughs. "You're the most like me of all my friends."
Draco is so surprised to hear this that he forgets to make the joke that has sprung to his mind.
Harry continues: "That's why you used to make me so furious. I couldn't work out how you could believe the crap you did, and then, during the war, I realised that you didn't. But when we were all at the Manor, I couldn't see any way to get you out of there, and I realised that I was just as capable of making bad decisions for the sake of the people I loved as you were."
Draco is frowning now. He tries not to think of that day. Harry doesn't appear to notice. "And so I thought of you again in the weeks that followed. I worried more, because I knew, then, that you were in danger. And then all of a sudden you were there at Hogwarts."
"Being ineffective, Harry," Draco reminds him. "I think the best I was hoping for was that I could keep Greg and Vince from killing themselves. So, one out of two ..." Draco's voice is low and dark, Harry ignores him.
"And then there you were, trying to save me again," Harry continues.
"As I recall it, you were the one who flew me from certain death in a burning room …"
"And your arms were the most solidly human thing I'd felt in months. And you were crying for Crabbe, and Ron and Hermione ran off, and …" Harry's voice is thick with remembered emotion.
Draco's is crisp. "And we both thought we were going to die and wanted to feel alive one last time before we did. That's all, Harry. And a few hours later you were back to hating me again. And after the hell my family put you through, I can't say I blame you. But you were always decent to me at work, and the last few years have been great. Really great. I don't want to lose any of that."
"Draco …" Harry shakes his head. "We won't lose that, we can't lose that."
"Pott-ter…" Draco drawls in an exaggerated fashion. "Have you seen your relationship history? It's abysmal. Poor Cho Chang spent years wondering what happened, and your wife appears to have run off with Luna Lovegood."
"They're just friends," Harry answers automatically.
There is a moment of silence and shared looks, then both men explode in laughter. They laugh so loudly that it takes a few minutes for them to hear the voice calling their names.
Harry opens the study door, Ron Weasley is in the garden, looking about. Harry calls to him and Ron waves, meeting up with them in the sunroom. "Rose sent me to check that no one needed rescuing," he says.
Harry and Draco exchange grins. "She told you about the boys?" Harry asks.
"No need," Ron replies, rolling his eyes. "Seriously, why do you all overlook the fact that I am astute and observant?"
Draco pats him on the shoulder. "Sorry, Weasley, no matter how great an Auror you are, I always see the boy who didn't notice the girl he hung out with every day at school fancied him. Six years of thickness made quite the impression."
"I swear, it's worse than Aberforth and his goat …" Ron mutters. Glancing at the table, he cheers up. "Is anyone eating this lunch?"
Harry passes plates to his friends and the three men sit about scoffing sandwiches for a comfortable while.
"So Rose was really worried?" Draco asks.
Ron laughs. "She had me clean out the barn in case Al and Scorp needed it. I told her she was being overly dramatic, but she's been reading a lot of Muggle literature lately. Hermione says too much E.M. Forster can turn anyone's brain. Anyway, I told her I'd pop by, and Hermione thought I might need an afternoon of sanity before I'm clobbered by four kids this evening."
Draco smiles. "Tell Rose I knew," he says.
Harry looks at him. "You knew they were both serious about each other and didn't tell me?"
"Not my fault you're thick," Draco replies, taking the second-last éclair from the lunch spread and tossing the last to Ron.
"D'ye think he might be thicker than me?" Ron asks, trying very hard to keep his face straight.
"It's close," Draco concedes. "But when it comes to people, yes, he may just be."
"I can't believe I feed you two …" Harry mutters.
"You love us," Ron tells him, around a large bite of cake.
"You do," Draco agrees. "You think we're great. We make you look good at work, and because he's so ginger and I'm so pale, it adds to your whole dark brooding effect. If you stopped talking to us, you'd immediately seem less interesting."
Draco is pleased to see that Ron is nodding as earnestly at Harry as he is. The sight of their combined alleged sincerity is too much for Harry. He walks out of the sunroom in search of cold butterbeers, so they chat in his absence.
"How's your mum coping?" Draco asks. "It's still a Malfoy and one of her precious grandkids."
"Haven't mentioned it to her, yet. She didn't seem too fussed about Scorp going out with Rose – at least not after her first bout of apoplexy – but then we hardly saw him for most of that time, due to your lot being under protection, and when we did he always treated her so delicately."
Draco smiles knowingly. "That's how you worked it out, isn't it?"
Ron grins at him. "That and Hermione spending a week saying 'Rose and Scorpius. Are you sure? Not James? Not Scorp and Al?'"
Draco laughs. "She can't have been any more startled than he was, I think. Your daughter is a force to be reckoned with." He and Ron exchange smiles. "I was a little sad when they broke up," Draco confesses. "I hope she still comes to visit the Manor, she's clever and witty."
"She is indeed. But she gets her Quidditch skills from me." Ron knows a good straight line when he is fed it.
Harry returns and hands out chilled bottles. "I don't know why I am doomed to have such appalling friends," he sighs.
"Neville's nice," Ron reassures him.
"So's Dean, don't forget Dean," Draco adds.
"I plan to Owl them immediately the two of you leave and arrange to have you replaced," Harry vows, attempting to look serious.
Ron shakes his head. "Won't work. Dean's darker and handsomer than you, and Neville is a bigger hit with the ladies."
"There's a terrifying thought …" Draco is finding it very hard not to laugh again.
Harry gives up. "I'll have to keep you both on, clearly no one else would put up with you."
"You're soft, Potter," Draco says. "At the very least you should consider Imperiusing us so that we're nicer."
"Alas, not enough magic in all the world for that …" Harry sighs.
"Too true," Ron agrees, and stands, stretching out his long legs. "And on that note, I'm headed home to reassure my beloved daughter that she can stop her plans for a sensitive wizards refuge in the garden. Harry, Draco, say goodnight to the boys for me, I'll send your other horrors home in the morning." He addresses this last to Harry.
"Bugger that, I'll send Al and Scorpius over, you and Hermione should come and hide here." Both men exchange grins at the prospect of teenager-free homes.
"They could all come and stay at the Manor for a week," Draco offers. "It's big enough to house an army and we have house-elves, who, you can assure your lovely wife, are all paid at union rates and with conditions."
Ron and Harry exchange a quick look. "That'd be great, Draco, cheers. We could do with some adult time, and Harry could hang around and practise brooding and looking enigmatic."
"Ignore him," Harry says quickly. "He's been reading The Quibbler again."
"Britain's Sexiest Wizard yet again, what lies in store for the single saviour?" Ron quotes.
Harry looks pained. "I'd say wait till Luna gets back, but I'm starting to think that this is her idea of an elaborate joke."
Draco grins. "I think it started that way, then she saw the increased circulation figures. It's your own fault, for as long as you prat about in knee-high leather boots and tight trousers, photo spreads of you will sell."
Ron indicates his own Auror-standard apparel with a look of disbelief. "Tell me, in all seriousness, how they can be weak at the knees over Stumpy McScarface there, while ignoring the perfection that is?"
Draco nods soberly. "I know, Ron, it beggars belief. If it's any consolation, I think hoi polloi are terrified of your wife."
Ron laughs. "As well they ought to be. And I am really going home to her, right now. See you soon, I'll let you know about the kids on Monday, yeah? I'll sort it with Hermione and Mum."
"Sounds good, bye."
Harry walks with Ron outside, where they exchange goodbyes before Ron Apparates away. Draco is always amused to see how Ron hunches just that little bit so his height advantage over Harry -- and over Draco, too, if truth be told -- is minimised. For a moment Draco imagines the look on his mother's face when he mentions to her that he has invited the whole Potter-Weasley clan, then he consoles himself with the knowledge that she can always escape to one of her many friends' homes, probably taking Helene with her. Draco considers that as long he pays Lily Potter well, she should be able to control the worst of it.
The afternoon sun fills Harry's black hair with red as he turns to come back inside. Draco frowns as he realises that he is, again, thinking things like this, and forces himself to recall last week's Quidditch scores. Because it would not end well. And he doesn't think Luna Lovegood likes him that much.
Harry grins at him as he walks back in the door. "Another thing," he says, as though Ron had never interrupted. "When you were blown up, you called out my name. Despite the fact you know I'm useless at healing charms. I heard you. And it led me to suspect in a vaguely optimistic fashion ..."
"That I wanted my last words to be 'Harry, you bloody idiot, I thought you were on top of the protection part of this plan'? Yes, quite right, I did." Draco's grin is back.
"You're no help," Harry shakes his head. "And no fun."
"I'm going home," Draco tells him. "Before you propose and I have to stop your son from dying of parental embarrassment."
"It'll toughen him up." Harry's tone is as light as Draco's, but his eyes are hopeful.
Draco reaches up and pushes Harry's hair back from his face, shaking his head gently. "It's a bad idea. Albus may actually kill us, and I think he and Scorpius were both planning on having fathers who were focused on them this summer. Besides, when you cast me aside, I'll have to compete with Ginny for Luna Lovegood's attentions, and at least one of them would hex me."
"So that's a no." Harry's smile doesn't fade.
"It's a no," Draco agrees.
"Fine, back to pub lunches, death-defying adventures and the odd Quidditch game. And we should definitely organise for you to take all the kids, because it's ridiculous that they only visit you for cake. You should have to scream at them to go to bed and shut up, too."
Draco smiles at Harry. "And this is the other reason. I want to believe that you've really been my friend for these five years, and not that you were just trying to get into my pants. I want to believe that you want me to tell your kids to shut up and come round to water your flowers when you're on holidays. Because while we both have a natural genius for the death-defying dramas, I want to believe that we both honestly think it's worth working hard to just be each other's friend."
"Never doubt that," Harry answers, all seriousness.
"I have to go."
Draco touches Harry's hand lightly as he walks past him, and keeps walking into the garden, not looking back.
It is late in the evening when Harry's owl appears. Draco is sitting out on his balcony with what he would tell anyone is a glass of finest brandy, but is actually a mug of cocoa because he likes the taste.
He is smiling at his recollection of Helene's greeting when he arrived home this afternoon. Kissing his cheek fondly she had nodded at Narcissa. "She knows. I, of course, already knew, and we both know that you know. Did they tell Harry?" She had been happy when he had filled her in on parts of the afternoon's events -- but not all of them, because although he strongly suspected that she suspected, he was not prepared to indulge Helene's belief in her own omniscience.
And now there is that owl. Tawny and large, it drops a parcel into Draco's lap and then sits on the balcony railing, waiting.
Draco blinks. There is a folded sheet of parchment under the string tied around the parcel. He opens it, and is not surprised to see Harry's handwriting.
I was planning to give you this when I saw you at the station, then over lunch, but the moment never really seemed appropriate. Happy Birthday, D, I know it's late again, but I'm useless with dates. All the best, H.
Laughing quietly to himself, Draco unwraps his present. It is a paper knife, silver, with a finely wrought handle in which an M twines amid foliate fripperies. Solidly Muggle and a wholly lovely thing. A strip of parchment is tucked into the bottom of the box.
-- I do have excellent taste.
Laughing more, Draco shakes his head. He steps back into his room and quickly dashes off a note.
Excellent taste, appalling timing. Thank you, it's a marvellous gift. See you Monday.
He takes a handful of nuts out to Harry's owl, and is still laughing long after it has flown off with his message.
Monday begins with Draco running late for work, clutching the handful of Owls that have arrived over the weekend. Ginny Weasley, giving in to the Owled pleas of her three children, is staying on North Rona to investigate rumours of magical puffins with Luna. Her letter is full of lists:
Do buy in fish fingers for Lily.
Do see if you can convince them to do something cultural, even if it's the cinema.
Do convince James that vegetables won't kill him.
Do convince Rose that sleeping with James might see her father kill him.
Do keep an eye on Lily and make sure she doesn't kill anyone.
Do believe Albus's version if they all give different stories.
Don't feel you need to fill me in on the specifics of any of the relationship details of the older four. I'm very happy for them but am frantically picturing them all as eleven and twelve year olds.
Don't listen to James or Lily when they tell you we regularly eat caviar and pheasant. Or drink vintage wine.
Don't mention your father.
Don't start any international incidents.
Don't forget that I'll hex you even if Harry won't.
Thanks very much, see you in ten days!
Hermione Granger-Weasley's Owl is much shorter:
Just make sure they both come back in the same condition they arrive.
Harry's four Owls are a list of every food his children eat, then a list of every food they don't eat, an exhaustive list of things they've packed to bring, and then a note apologising for hovering and asking Draco if he's reconsidered the possibility of more snogging.
See you at three. Cheers, R.
Draco is growing to like Ron a great deal.
The morning is spent terrifying as many underlings as possible since Draco plans to take much of the next week off. By eleven o'clock he has rejected three proposals and sent two trainees scurrying; he suspects one may now be hiding in the toilets.
Harry Potter appears at his office door, knocking on the jamb.
Draco looks up at him. "Is this work or chatting?"
Harry wears a look of hurt innocence. "Work, of course. Do you have five minutes?"
"Come in." Draco refuses to acknowledge the manic grin of wickedness that Harry plasters over his face as he closes the door.
Harry sits down. "Anything on your scans?"
"Why do you ask?"
"I have a source who says he's been hearing noises about an imminent attack. No details, no real information, but he says it's persistent gossip."
Draco thinks carefully. "No, not as of twenty minutes ago, but if you can wait ten minutes I can check you out."
For the very briefest of seconds he hopes that Harry didn't hear that. Harry's explosion of laughter removes any doubt.
Draco shakes his head. "Check it out. IT." He rolls his eyes and threatens Harry with his diary.
Harry laughs even harder. He manages to gasp out, between laughs: "I've decided that airborne stationery is your idea of flirting."
Draco drops his head onto the desk for a moment and wonders if anyone would notice that the head of Magical Law Enforcement had been turned into a hatstand.
"Where are you going?" Harry asks as Draco stands quickly and moves towards the door.
"To see if there's anything on the scanners."
"But we were having a conversation!" Harry chuckles as Draco opens the door.
"It was doomed from the start," Draco says, loudly enough to be heard as he strides through his assistant's office without looking back.
He is halfway to the Room of Futures by the time Harry catches up with him. Draco is relieved that it takes Harry this long, since he has only just wiped the grin from his own face. He knows it's ridiculous, but that doesn't stop it being funny.
They walk in silence until Draco opens the door to the room and ushers Harry in ahead of him. Thirty Unspeakables are bowed over sundry scrying devices. In the far corner of the barn-sized room is a small area that is surrounded by glowing wards. Two witches and four wizards are frantically working over small silver objects there.
"What's that?" Harry nods his head over in the direction of the warded area.
Draco's smile is slightly smug. "We warded that area against magic. They're keeping an eye on all the Muggle sources."
"Computers?" Harry is astonished. "You warded against magic? That's both brilliant and crazed."
Draco nods happily. "It was Fotherington's idea, although I did the spellwork. He had to leave his laptop at home when he went to Hogwarts and he never got over it."
All thirty-six Unspeakables are staring at them expectantly. Draco smiles at them approvingly. "Anything astray? Potter says there are rumours afoot."
Thirty-five of them shake their heads, but one tall and pale wizard from behind the wards looks at him with a frown. "I don't know if it's really important," he says. "But the weather is odder than usual."
Draco waves him over. "Potter, meet Fotherington, our Muggle tech specialist. Fotherington, this is Harry Potter, Head of MLE." Harry nods and smiles at the young man.
Fotherington looks at Draco as though he is having a senior moment. "Yes, sir, I know. There are portraits."
Draco ignores Harry's sudden coughing. "Tell us about this odd weather. Is it the Gulf Stream?"
Fotherington's frown deepens. "I can't really say, sir. Despite our best efforts and the Muggles' best models, the climate is all gone to hell these days. There's a cyclone in South Australia that came out of nowhere, and the tides around Greenland are completely erratic. The Muggles are tying it all into the Gulf Stream's temperature changes, and they could well be right. But it's astray, as you say."
"Good work. Keep an eye on it and see if a pattern develops. If you need to borrow anyone, feel free. All of you, eyes peeled, let me know sooner rather than later if you see anything that could be something."
Draco and Harry leave together. Once the door closes, Harry lets the laughter he has been holding in out, though quietly. Draco takes him by the elbow and drags him down the hallway. "Hush," he says. "Fotherington does a good job even if his mind and body inhabit different spheres."
"I'm laughing at you, too," Harry informs him. "Anything that could be something is now my new motto."
"Harry, that's been your motto for years," Draco says with a smile.
They reach the circular room and wait while the doors spin about. Unerringly, Draco selects the door that leads to the lifts and walks Harry through. "I'll let you know if I hear anything more. Are you bringing the kids over this afternoon? I should be home by half-past two."
Harry shakes his head apologetically. "Too much on at the moment. Ron will bring them all. You still on for lunch?"
"I'll pop in, have Ron order me something, he remembers what I like."
"Will do," Harry answers as the lift doors open and he steps in. "Keep up the checking." He winks.
"Go." Draco waits until the lift doors close before he adds an affectionate, "You goose."
At three on the dot, he is at the inner gates to Malfoy Manor, welcoming his guests. To his surprise, Hermione is there with Ron. Hugo and Lily are each clutching an adult, having Apparated side-along, Scorpius appears holding Albus's arm, and James appears with Rose.
Hermione hands Hugo a satchel. "You can carry the luggage, since most of it's yours," she tells him.
"Hello Hermione, hello Ron," Draco greets his guests. "Hello terrible children come to eat me out of house and home."
Scorpius hugs him. "Hi, Dad."
Draco kisses his forehead. "Hello, Son." He smiles at the others. "Come in, my mother has been assembling miniature cakehenges all afternoon, I hear."
With a chorus of "HelloMrMalfoythanks" the six children stampede towards the house. Draco, Ron and Hermione follow at a more dignified pace.
Draco clears his throat, not wholly sure of himself. "It's good to see you," he addresses Hermione. "I could never quite work out how to invite you …"
She smiles crookedly. "Ron tells me you've redecorated."
Ron puts his arm around her shoulders. "I tell her that she cannot continue to avoid social visits with her daughter's best friend's family. Even if they're Malfoys who insist on owning bloody peacocks. Seriously, Draco, those birds are evil." To prove his point, a peahen runs across their path shrieking like the possessed.
Even Hermione starts to laugh at that.
"Come on, love, you thought it was a good idea when I told you about Narcissa's tea collection," Ron reminds her.
Draco smiles supportively. "I won't take it personally if you'd rather just go home."
Ron goes on talking. "Nah, it took too much effort to actually get here on time. It was a close run thing, and I was starting to wonder if even Hermione's shrinking charms could deal with the amount of rubbish five teenagers need to live for a week. I checked on Hugo last night and I suspect he is planning on making a bid for adoption since he has packed nearly everything he owns."
"Adoption?" Draco can't help smiling.
"Well, every time he's ever been to the Manor before, it has involved birthdays or cake. It may be that Scorp and Al have slightly over-emphasised the glamour of your home life."
"Oh, the indoor pool and cinema are real," Draco says airily. "But they made up the professional Quidditch Pitch, the fun pier over the lake and the Honeydukes shop."
Hermione rolls her eyes. "That's right," she says in mock revelation. "We hated you at school because you were appalling."
"That's right," Draco agrees. "Years before you met my mad and unlamented aunt. Come on, he's not exaggerating about the tea."
Hermione squares her shoulders and resumes walking. Draco and Ron exchange small smiles over her head.
As the Granger-Weasleys walk inside ahead of him, Draco watches the tall Auror's hand caress his wife's shoulder, and sees how she leans slightly against him. For a moment he feels a slight tightness in his chest, which is obviously a sign of an impending cold.
"Straight ahead, we're out in the conservatory, all the way to the end of this hall, yes, that door," Draco guides from the back. He sees Hermione's hand hesitate for just a second at the doorknob, and he realises why as she pushes it open.
His mother is on her feet, the children behind her acquiring platefuls of cake. She sees Hermione, and her face pales. She steps towards her, one hand extended, shaking slightly. "Oh my dear," she says. "I am so sorry ..."
Hermione steps forward, away from Ron, and takes the older woman in her arms. "It's all right," she says. "You saved Harry."
"I couldn't save you," Narcissa says sadly. They hold each other.
Draco leans against the doorjamb. Ron looks back at him. "I forgot," Draco tells him. "I forgot they hadn't seen each other since that night."
"It's why she wanted to come," Ron says. "She's brave that way."
The tightness is back in Draco's chest. Ron pats him on the shoulder. "It's OK mate, she makes everyone feel like that."
"Yeah," Ron smiles proudly. "Yeah, she is."
Narcissa kisses Hermione's cheek. "Thank you for coming, I've wanted to see you for such a long time, but had no idea what to say."
Hermione smiles, and Draco is reminded again where Rose's looks come from. "I've wanted to talk to you, too," she says. "My daughter thinks you're wonderful. And after watching your career for the last twenty years, I think she may be right."
Narcissa's laugh is a rich trill. "Oh, jaunts abroad with friends hardly constitutes a career, dear ..."
Hermione grins conspiratorially. "Is the American Muggle liaison officer really writing a script for a Hollywood film?"
Narcissa takes her arm and leads her across to the cake table, whispering animatedly.
Draco is slightly embarrassed by the moisture that has sprung to his eyes. Ron, being a genuine friend, pretends he can't see it. "You should come to Christmas dinner with us," he says.
"Yes," Draco agrees. "And then we can pop over to the Middle East and solve the Muggles' ongoing crises for them."
"No, seriously," says Ron. "It'd be good. Besides, we have girls who Charlie's been going out with for three weeks come to Christmas. Scorp's Albus's boyfriend and Rose's best friend and Lily's conscience. It's only right that you be there."
Draco's eyes begin to dance merrily, he can feel a laugh bubbling up inside.
"What?" Ron asks, catching his amusement.
"I'm just imagining our mothers at Christmas dinner," Draco says. "'How do you do? I'm Molly Weasley. I believe your husband tortured my daughter.' 'So pleased to meet you properly at last. Narcissa Malfoy, I believe you killed my sister.'"
Draco's whispered impressions see Ron reduced to peals of silent laughter. "It's worse than that," he manages between gasps for air. "Andromeda and Teddy are usually there, too."
"Oh good." Draco bows his head against the door. He looks up brightly. "Let's your family and mine kidnap Al and run off to Monte Carlo instead. Healthy walks and lovely sea air."
Ron laughs. "It'll be fine. We'll just go to our place or come here. Mum's too polite to make a huge fuss in someone else's home. Besides, Dad likes you."
"And I like your father, even if I know his affection for me is based on a lifelong desire to see the Malfoy Dark Artefact collection."
Ron looks interested. "Oooh, is there really some left?"
Draco laughs. "Yes, and you should bring Arthur over one afternoon. We destroyed the worst of it, but left some ingenious curses intact."
"Cheers, that'd be great," Ron says enthusiastically.
"You're a strange man, Ron," Draco tells him.
"It's the company I keep," Ron replies. "Are those custard slices? We should visit more often."
"And there was Harry, trying to convince the Muggle to back away from the cursed wallet, but the bloke didn't speak any English, so I was all ready to immobilise him when Harry tries French and the bloke is all 'Parlez Francais?' and Harry's 'Bien sur ...' and the next thing I know they're chatting each other up and the Harry's giving him a fake name and contact details while frantically gesturing for me to decurse the wallet ..."
"Harry speaks French? Where did he learn?" Helene asks.
"Harry was chatting him up?" Draco asks.
Ron, several drinks down, seems to decide that Helene's is the easier question. "He was there for three months after the War."
The sudden silence at the table isn't needed to tell him he chose the wrong one.
Narcissa and Draco both wear the same patient, questioning look.
"Balls," says Ron.
"He was there for three months because of testicles?" asks Narcissa. "That really should have made the news."
Draco smiles at his mother's humour. But he can see Hermione's hand tighten on Ron's shoulder. He wonders if it is an encouragement.
Apparently it is. "He thought it was inappropriate that you were all exiled without trial. He went to check that you were all right, and to talk to the French Ministry about lodging an appeal." Ron shakes his head. "He is going to kill me when he finds out I told you."
"I always wondered who started that process," Narcissa muses. "I thought it was my cousin."
"I thought it was you," Draco tells her. "Father was locked in his study every day, I thought you began the appeal for a project."
"Goodness no," Narcissa laughs. "I spent that summer gardening. I don't think I lifted a wand or a quill. It was strangely lovely." She smiles benignly at Ron, then winks. "We won't let on. We know Harry well now. He can't help himself."
"I wish he'd told us sooner," Hermione says suddenly. "About you, I mean. You and Voldemort."
Narcissa waves her hand. "I think that he must have found it very hard to know what to say. It's not as though we were blameless. If my husband had not been so blinded, it is possible that Voldemort would not have been so successful. It may have even been that his first grab for power could have been stopped before so many died, including Harry's parents." Narcissa's face is quite serious now. "If I had had more courage, if my husband had had more sense, we could have stopped a lot of evil, and maybe even been successful with some of the things that he believed in that were worthwhile, such as a strong wizarding community, and good international relations."
Hermione takes her hand across the table. "You cannot hold yourself responsible," she says.
"Oh my dear," Narcissa smiles gently, "of course I can. My husband listened to me. If I had been less of a fool I could have saved him. And you … and you …"
Hermione rises to her feet and moves swiftly around the table to hug Narcissa. "It's all right," she says. "It was so long ago."
Helene conjures delicate handkerchiefs, which she passes to her mother-in-law and friend.
Draco exchanges a look with Ron. It took the two of them some twenty years to cover the territory that these two have managed in six hours.
Ron grins at him. "Women."
"And their grace," Draco adds.
"Their practicality," Helene corrects him. "We are always putting things back together after you men take them apart, because otherwise they would stay broken."
"We never mention his name," Draco reminds her in a soft voice, for only the three of them.
"We fix what we can," she answers similarly, patting his hand.
Ron raises his wineglass. "To repairs," he toasts. The others lift their glasses.
"Morning," Harry announces. "How are you both?" He flops down in the office's remaining chair.
"Fragile," Hermione admits, gesturing at the remains of coffee and hangover potion on Draco's desk. "I went along with Ron yesterday, and we didn't end up going home till about four this morning."
Harry's eyebrows raise. "What, you were all at the Manor?"
"Yeah, Narcissa had a spread laid on when we got there," Hermione explains blithely. "And then there was dinner, and then there was wine, and then there was an epic scene of forgiveness and reconciliation, which, of course, led to more wine, and then we had to wait until we'd sobered up enough to Apparate and if you think I look shabby, you should see Ron."
"Draco looks fine." Harry's lips pout slightly.
"Draco is on his fifth coffee and has at least three spells counteracting the dark circles that threaten to engulf his eyes," Draco admits, much as it pains him. He has a suspicion.
"So you had a great night then?" Harry asks.
"Surprisingly, yeah," Hermione says with a smile.
"And no one thought to invite me?"
Inside, Draco does the gleeful dance of complete rightness.
"You were busy with work," he says, his exterior a carefully schooled model of propriety.
Harry blinks. "Yes. Yes I was. And I am here on work. Of course. Anything out of the usual today?"
Draco lifts a few sheets of parchment off his desk. "I was actually going to see you once Hermione and I had finished here. There are scanner alerts all over the place, but they're amorphous. The only concretely directional reading I can find points to the south coast of Sweden. I've alerted them to be on the lookout, but I can't tie things down to any location closer."
"So we have Swede-hating criminals. Great. I'll turn our investigations towards herring and Eurovision entrants."
Draco throws a stick of sealing wax at Harry's head. Harry snatches it from the air and grins fondly. Draco groans, and ignores Hermione's confused expression. "What I am trying to tell you is that your sources are right and there is something big on the way, we just can't tell where or when yet."
Harry nods. "All right. Update me if anything becomes clearer. How's your Muggle-tech boy doing, has he found anything?"
"Not as such, I have a memo from him saying that he'll be spending the morning out of the office chasing up multiple leads, which may be Fotherington for 'I have a cunning plan and am even now pulling together the finer details' or may actually mean 'I was in the office working till three-thirty this morning and plan to have a lie-in.'"
Hermione is looking at him with amusement. "Muggle-tech?" she asks.
"It's ever so sweet," he replies in a voice dripping condescension. When she has rolled her eyes enough for his taste he admits: "Muggles need to be inventive because they don't have magic. And while most of what they put on those computers is rubbish, there are many good things, too. Fotherington and his team understand it all, I trust them to sort it for me. All those cameras and satellites must be good for something."
"Nice to hear you admit it," she says, grinning. "And thanks for the breakfast. I should face the morning's horrors myself now. My belief that they can legislate without me is not wholly borne out by evidence."
Harry stands up, too. "I'll see you up." He tosses the sealing wax back to Draco. "And you should definitely invite me around to dinner some time if you're going to feed all my friends."
Draco rolls his eyes. "Oh Harry, it was hardly all your friends, I've never fed Longbottom so much as a cake."
Hermione sniffs. "I swear I'm still drunk, either that or you two are flirting. Tell Narcissa that she has ruined me today."
Slightly guiltily, Draco Accios a fresh cup of coffee and presses it into Hermione's hands as he escorts her to the door. "I'll have your office find you some nice greasy bacon and eggs. I'll tell them it's women's problems so they know not to pry."
"I will have to kill you the minute I feel better," Hermione warns him.
"Don't do that," Draco jokes, walking them down the long corridor. "Mother's just put you and Ron on the guest list for her seventieth, and it will be a great party. Kill me afterwards."
"She has to tell me what she's using on her face, I'm serious."
Draco laughs. "I'll snaffle some for you. I've been snaffling some for me for years."
"And here I was thinking there was a very unappealling portrait somewhere," Harry mutters.
"Well," Draco concedes. "That, too."
They walk into the circular room and wait for the doors to stop spinning. Draco calls the lift for them. "See you both soon," he says, holding the door for them to walk in.
"I want my dinner," Harry reminds him as the doors close.
Draco shakes his head in amusement. It is, he reflects, a very good thing that Hermione Granger-Weasley is not herself this morning. He hopes that her memory will be too full of larger things to start replaying small details for her later in the day.
In fact, it is his own mind that latches onto details as the day progresses. Fotherington appears around lunch. He has a case full of satellite images of clouds and sea currents and is clearly frustrated. "It's something to do with the weather, sir," he says. "It's not right, not even for the current always not rightness."
Draco presses for details and Fotherington mutters about collating data and developing models. For the second time that day, Draco calls up a large pot of coffee from the kitchens and sends his brilliant young eccentric away with both it and orders to report regularly.
At three, he is upstairs chatting with Ron when one of Weasley's junior Aurors runs up to them. "Bust down at Tilbury, sir, Dark Magic users on one of the barges. It's big, Fawcett and Radford are there already, they've asked for back-up."
"Take three teams. Hang on, I'll come with. Sorry Draco," he apologises, striding away.
"Go, I'll see you later," Draco calls after him.
At five, with several hours' work still ahead of him, Helene calls on the departmental Floo to tell him that she will not be able to join him and the children that night as her friend who is coming in from Oslo has been delayed by a terrible storm.
At quarter past five, Fotherington appears with a sheaf of parchment and a deep frown. "There's something happening with water temperatures, Sir, and the Met Office have begun forecasting a storm surge. We're still getting the erratic readings on the scans, I'm sorry, sir, I'm just not …"
Draco stands up suddenly. "There are Aurors at Tilbury …" He can feel the pieces sliding into place, one by one. "What's the weather like outside?"
"Today?" Fotherington looks at him. "It's nice. Forecast to turn ugly later on, but it's warm and pleasant."
"The Muggles all stay in town on nights like this, don't they?"
"Some, the others are all driving home or on the Tube."
Draco can feel the answer coming towards him. And there it is. He grabs Fotherington's arm. "Find everyone. Everyone. If they've gone home, bring them back. Meet me upstairs in the Aurors' offices in ten minutes, hurry!"
Draco takes off at a run. He pauses only for the time it takes the lift to reach level two, and then he is running again, down the long corridor, past a surprised Ron, freshly back from the Tilbury operation, straight to Harry's offices, and long before he reaches them he is shouting: "Harry! You're needed! It's the Barrier! Potter! Now!"
Harry appears at the run. "Draco – what's going on?"
Draco grabs Harry's arms, insistent. "Storm surge coming, up the Thames, the Tilbury bust is a trap, they're at the Barrier, they're going to hold the Barrier open."
Harry looks at him for a long moment. "Shit," he says quietly. Draco can all but see his mind working behind those eyes. Three seconds later he looks up at the Aurors who have come out into the corridor at Draco's shouts. "Right. Everyone's on duty. Warn the team at Tilbury, get them up to the Barrier Park. We need brooms, we need concealment charms, we need curse-breakers."
"I have my team coming up, we have curse-breakers and we can erect a disillusionment field," Draco says swiftly. "How many brooms do you have? We'll need to have some of our people in the air to keep the field operating."
"We've fifteen. We'll need a dozen to take them from above; it's safer than Apparating to a spot they already occupy. Do you think they're still there? What if they've set up a series of destructive charms?"
Draco shakes his head. "They're still there. The Barrier control constantly monitors for problems. They'd have picked up anything that was already wrong. This will be last-minute. This will be done on the spot."
There are footsteps running down the corridor. It is Fortherington and the team from the Room of Futures. "The others will be here soon," he announces. Draco notes that he has his computer tucked under his arm. "I raised forty of them. Six curse-breakers. I was right, there is a surge, and it's moving faster than it should."
"How long do we have?" Harry asks the question at the same time as Draco.
"Forty-five minutes, maybe fifty."
"We need to move," Harry announces. "Draco, can you take your team to Thames Barrier Control? Ron, you join with the Tilbury set on the other shore, take four of the brooms, I'll need you to come in from there when we hit. Abbott, you're with Draco. Get them to wherever they're needed, keep them safe. Put your best four in the air, I want them ready to attack from the south. I'll sweep in from upriver with my team. Draco, I can spare your people three brooms. Will that be enough?"
"There are six gates, should do."
"Right. Those on the ground protect the Unspeakables. Concealment is half the mission."
The lift doors can be heard in the distance, forty sets of feet are running towards them. The rest of Draco's Unspeakables arrive. He speaks quickly: "Thames Barrier, we think there's a team using dark magic to hold it open. Storm surge is coming, a big one. I want all of you from the Time Room down at Woolwich. Do what you can to stretch out the time we have. Prophecy team with Ron at the park, the rest of you are with me."
Harry, Ron and Draco exchange looks. The plan is sketchy and will have to come together on the fly, but it is what they have. They nod. "Go. Wait for my signal to move in," Harry announces.
Draco is already moving when Harry calls his name. He turns back in time to catch the Firebolt that is being thrown at him. He looks at it carefully. "This is your best broom," he says, smiling.
Harry doesn't look to see who else is still there before taking his hand. "Just stay safe. This is going to be a bad one."
"I will. You too." Draco is too surprised to do anything more than answer honestly, and squeeze the hand around his. He wheels about and strides towards his Unspeakables. "We get it right, or we doom thousands. Understand?"
"Yes, sir!" comes the answer in chorus.
"Good," Draco barks. "Let's go."