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A Thousand Apologies

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A Thousand Apologies

They say they're going to release me today. I'm inclined to believe them considering they've never promised me anything, not even that the soup they'd serve me for dinner wouldn't be stone cold. It was cold, of course. I've spent three weeks in a cold holding cell beneath the Ministry with nothing but cold food and cold stares and an allowance of one cold shower every three days.

Occasionally some cold-hearted bastard of an Auror will ask me questions after I've swallowed Veritaserum. It practically freezes my throat on the way down. The Auror's only reaction to me is the scratch of his quill against the reams of parchment he brings into the cell. He's crazier than Mad-Eye Moody if he thinks he'll fill up more than a few inches. I know less than a garden gnome. I was just trying to stay alive. For what, I have no idea; certainly not this.

They escort me into the Wizengamot chamber and I see Mother. She looks ghostly. I've never seen her so unkempt. Her hair is in an untidy ponytail, she has no make-up, and the dark circles under her eyes make her look twenty years older. I have no doubt that she's been held here as long as I have. I'd been hoping that wasn't the case. She looks me in the eyes and I almost start to cry. Mothers have that power. One look. One word.

"Draco," she says. It's more than my name. It's everything that I am to her. The despair in her voice is painful and it pierces my eardrums. I want to curl up into the fetal position and rock myself into oblivion.

They don't let me go to her. They keep me on the other side of the room as a secretary reads the findings of the official war inquiry. It rings like a buzz in my ear. I don't recognize any words until I hear: It is the opinion of this panel that Narcissa and Draco Malfoy not be held for trial and that they be released under the following provisions…

The woman drones on, but I don't hear any of it. I can only make eye contact with Mother and hope that she heard what I did. The faint smile she gives me tells me that I'm not crazy. They're going to release us.

~ooOOOoo~

The Portkey drops us just outside the front gates. I'm disoriented until Mother grabs my arm and walks me up the front path. I turn back to see that the Manor gates had been blasted open. Probably a Reductor Curse. Twisted and melted iron remnants are strewn over the front lawns. The peacocks are nowhere to be seen; neither are the front doors as we reach the front entry.

"Steady," she says. It's only then I realize that I've been pulling back.

I have no idea what time it is, but the sun is almost to the horizon. The house is dark and cold. She leads me past the carnage of smashed glass and furniture and up the stairs to my bedroom. It doesn't look so bad. Mother picks up the bedding from the floor and gives it a good shaking before she spreads it across the bed.

"In," she commands as if I were four and sneaking about the Manor after bedtime.

Too numb and exhausted to do anything but obey, I kick off my shoes and climb under the bedclothes. I keep my eyes on her as she walks over to the fireplace. Mercifully, there is a basket of wood. I've never seen my mother light a fire by hand. How strange to see her do any sort of manual labor. A lump forms in my throat at the realization that neither of us has a wand, and until we somehow acquire one, we are as helpless as Squibs. It takes her many strikes of the flint to light the loose twigs at the base of her wood pile.

After Dobby had been freed, we hired an old Squib of a hag to work around the Manor. She stayed on a few years and lucky for us most of the fireplaces still had the flint. Naturally, she had to be dismissed after the Dark Lord returned. I shiver at how the most inconsequential things in my life – the lighting of a fire – bring up thoughts of both Potter and the Dark Lord. Perhaps I will never be able to shake either one of them.

Mother stokes the fire and soon warmth trickles into my surroundings. Dusting off her hands, she smiles at me with a look of accomplishment. "There."

"Is there anything you can't do?" I ask.

"I haven't discovered it yet. Rest, and tomorrow we shall start anew."

She says it so confidently, as if she failed to levitate a feather and simply needs to try again. The Manor is in shambles. Our lives are in shambles. Father is Merlin knows where, and we haven't a wand. I desperately want to believe her, but for now can only defer to her strength and character and close my eyes. The comfort of my own bed swallows me and soon I sleep.

~ooOOOoo~
I wake and stumble to my bathroom. It looks almost untouched, in stark contrast to the rest of the house. As I relieve myself, I mentally cross my fingers that all of the charms on the plumbing are still in place. The water is wonderfully hot, and mutter, "Thank Merlin." I am truly thankful for such a small mercy. I take what is possibly the longest shower of my entire life.

My hunger leads me downstairs to the kitchen, although I can't imagine what I'll find there. Perhaps it is my imagination that the scent of fresh baked something is in the air. Mother is sitting at the kitchen table with a quill in hand and looking quite serious. I'm not sure what I'm most shocked by. I've never seen her in the kitchen before, never mind that there is a pot of tea and plate of scones that have no explanation other than she must have made them.

"Good morning, darling. Here's a cup of tea." She pours with a smile, but her eyes look as if she hasn't slept all night. "Sorry to say that there wasn't much in the pantry, but enough for some plain scones. Eat; you need it."

"Thank you," I say softly, and sit down across from her. I rarely visit our kitchen except on late night raids, and not since... well, not since long ago.

I'm careful to take a small bite of the scone and chew slowly. I have an overwhelming urge to stuff the whole thing in my mouth. I give my mother a smile of approval.

"I do know how to cook and bake," she says. "I just never needed to after I married your father."

I have no idea what to say to that, so I take another bite and nod.

"As soon as you're finished, I need you to go up to the owlery and see if we have any owls left. We've been gone so long, I wonder if they haven't gone rogue or if the Ministry confiscated them."

"All right."

She picks up her quill and resumes her writing. There is a significant pile of letters, and I imagine she has been writing all night.

"Who are they for?" I ask.

"Everyone." She takes a breath and then says, "I won't lie to you, Draco. We're in a precarious state right now. We will need to call in every possible favor and tender mercy that we can."

I nod. I will do whatever she tells me.

~ooOOOoo~
Mother looks relieved when I tell her that all four of our owls are still with us. Even my Eagle Owl, Duke, has returned from Hogwarts. I suspect they can fend for themselves much easier than we can.

Her top priorities are letters to the market, Gringott's, and the Ministry. She has a fourth letter that she clutches close and doesn't let me see the addressee as she attaches it to the leg of her own personal owl, Maven.

"Let's start with the front hall," she says as we descend the staircase.

"Start?"

"We have much work to do, Draco, and until we secure a wand, I'm afraid we're going to have to get our hands dirty."

"Of course. Whatever you need me to do."

"I need you to be strong. Can you do that, my darling?"

"Yes."

"As soon as one of the owls returns, I'll send off the letter to the Cranes."

"The Cranes?"

"Builders. They've worked for us before. We need the front doors repaired, more likely new ones."

We spend the rest of the morning sweeping up the glass and debris from the front entrance and main halls throughout the Manor. Burgess Crane arrives in the late afternoon.

"Thank you for coming so quickly. You are a dear." Mother has changed her clothes and fixed her hair. She looks like she's entertaining. I find myself wondering why she's putting on such a show for this oaf.

"Of course, Mrs. Malfoy. You've always been such excellent customers."

"Well as you can see--," she gestures to the empty doorway, "--the Ministry has left us in quite a state of disarray. I tried a few repairing spells to no avail. Not my forte, I'm afraid."

She is a masterful liar. Her grand show becomes clear: show no weakness.

"Well, I commend you for trying, but there's no spell that's going to fix this mess. You'll need new doors."

"I suspected," she says with a smile. "In a way, it's quite fortunate. I'd been planning to change the doors to mahogany. The oak had faded to a dreadful color. Naturally, we need this taken care of straight away."

For some reason, he is hesitating, so she adds, "Money is no object."

"Everyone with any skill is at Hogwarts right now."

"As they should be. I have plenty of work for you inside as well, but the doors are the pressing matter. I can set you up with quite a tidy bit of work whenever you're ready. Lots of changes to be made; a fresh start."

"I'll personally put up something temporary for you tonight. Won't be pretty, but it will hold until I can make something more suitable. It may take a few weeks. I'll probably need to get them made out of the country."

"That will be fine. Perhaps something Italian."

"I'll have a few designs for you to chose from in a few days."

"Excellent. I knew I picked the right man."

By that evening, we have front doors on the Manor and food in the larder. Mother has even secured an appointment at Gringott's tomorrow afternoon. If the Prophet is to be believed, the bank vault visits are appointment only for at least another month until the Goblins complete their repairs. However, there is no word from the Ministry on father, and Mother seems anxious about other replies and keeps a vigilant eye out for approaching owls.

~ooOOOoo~
There are scrambled eggs and toast waiting for me in the kitchen along with Mother, who is still quite busy with her quill.

She waits until I finish eating, watching me chew every last bite. I can tell she is worried, but the return of my appetite causes her to smile.

"I have a few more letters to send this morning, but you should start writing," she says.

"Writing? To whom?"

"Everyone. Everyone and anyone you know. We can't count out any possible ally at this point."

"And ask them for what?" I can't imagine Pansy or Greg being much influence with the Ministry. I chuckle at the thought and Mother gives me a serious look.

"Ask them for nothing," she says in the gravest tone. "Tell them that you are now home at the Manor and want to see how they are doing. Ask them if you can be of any assistance."

It finally dawns on me what she's been doing-- just like the silly lies to the builder, the letters are a show of strength. We'll get nothing if we look desperate. She wants us to appear as if we have something to give them.

I nod. It's a sound strategy. I start my letters straight away. She gives me several helpful edits. Her vernacular is exquisite. I am learning from the master.

~ooOOOoo~
Gringott's is utter chaos that the Goblins are managing to keep under control. It is easy to spot that there are two crews. One for dealing with the Wizarding customers and the other relegated to rebuilding. To keep the crowds away, they have an appointment system. There is a sign that reveals the next appointment is in three days. Our name might not mean much to wizards, but I can only assume that our gold still holds great value for the Goblins.

It has been years since I visited the vault with Mother. I can remember the occasional errand to the bank long before I left for Hogwarts. I'd hide behind her skirt at the sight of the Goblins. They still make me feel uneasy, but today I stand tall and proud, knowing that's what Mother needs of me.

After we are alone in the vault, she pulls out two small sacks and hands one to me. "Fill it with as much gold as you can. They're the only two I could find that the Charms hadn't worn off."

"What else do we need?" I ask as I see here sifting through a chest of jewels and old family heirlooms.

"Anything that might be useful in trade. For some wizards and witches, gold won't be enough."

"Any wands in here?" I ask, knowing it's a stupid question. If there were a wand, it would have been the first thing she touched.

"Sadly, no."

Once she's satisfied that we have everything of use, we head back to Flourish and Blotts to use the Floo Network. The grit of the Floo Powder covers me and the taste lingers in my mouth, but I am grateful that we are able to travel at all.

Luck is not my mistress. Potter is also at Diagon Alley today and there's no possible way he can miss us. I haven't laid eyes on him since Hogwarts. He looks different, not just in a simple physical way like his hair is groomed or he's gained a few pounds, but in a way that I can't describe. He's not as I remembered him.

Panic sets in and I have no idea what to do or say as he approaches. He walks with a fast determined pace. Our eye contact is only a split second of agony, before he turns into the next store. I look up and it's the Weasleys'. The door closes behind him. He is gone.

"That's a letter for another time," Mother says.

She must be joking, but the fear sets in that she is dead serious.

~ooOOOoo~
Late that evening I wrestle with the flint in my bedroom fireplace. Over and over I strike those bloody rocks in a futile attempt to light crumpled up parchment beneath my odd looking arrangement of wood. I'm determined to be of more use to my mother. My skin begins to blister from my tight grip and I can only bite my lip and groan with frustration. I want to throw the rocks through the window, but know that will simply create two problems that I can't solve.

When she comes in to check that I'm in bed, she gracefully strolls over to the hearth and lights the fire on her second strike. "I'm getting better at it," she says. "It's a matter of practice."

I'm such a child.

~ooOOOoo~
In the morning, she's writing letters again. The stack is quite sizable, and makes me wonder if she's writing every witch in Great Britain.

"These are ready to mail," she says, pushing several towards me. "Apologies are more difficult."

"Apologies?"

"Yes, we must, if we are ever to regain our place in society."

"But apologize for what?"

"To express regret for what happened, that we didn't try to resist, that we watched as... well, you get the idea." She turns her face away from me and composes herself for a moment. "You write after lunch. I need you to start on your father's study this morning. I'd like to go through it before Crane's men come tomorrow."

There is so much information in her reply that I can't quite process it all, so I nod and take her letters up to the owlery. Who am I going to apologize to? What can I do in father's study without a wand? It is in utter shambles.

As I climb the staircase, I sift through her letters. To my shock, one of them is to Ollivander and another to Xenophilius Lovegood. What could I possible say to these people? Sorry you were locked up in our cellar. I didn't do anything because I didn't want to be fed to a giant snake.

Mother sends so many letters, and her heart is heavy with the lack of replies. What did she expect? The least I can do is help her comb through the rubble in father's study for anything that needs to be tucked away for safekeeping. We find nothing. The Ministry was thorough. My back aches, so I promise my mother that I'll start writing more letters tomorrow. I need a long hot bath. I do, however, offer to help her make dinner.

After seeing that my culinary skills are non-existent, Mother decides to step up her search for a cook and housekeeper.

~ooOOOoo~
There's a Ministry owl waiting for us at breakfast. I have spent more time in the Manor kitchen the past few days than I have my entire life. I wish I could find amusement in that thought, but I simply can't.

The Ministry is going to let Mother visit Father this afternoon. She convinces me that I must stay to keep an eye on Crane's men. I'm thankful for the excuse. I don't believe my stomach could handle seeing my father at this point.

Burgess Crane arrives just after ten in the morning and annoyingly repeats how all his normal workers are at Hogwarts and only his son and two friends are available. I'm well aware, as is Mother, of the Rebuild Hogwarts campaign. Everyday there are at least four pages devoted to it in The Prophet. Crane introduces the young men and assures us that we will be satisfied with their work. He gives them a stern look that implies 'or else' before he hurries off.

Mother leads them to Father's study and declares that it is the most important room to start work on. It needs to be ready for Father's imminent return. It is probably the least important room, as Mother and I both know the Ministry is going to milk every last drop of information and public humiliation out of Father's detention, but she continues to put a show on for these buffoons. They have wands and she means to make them work without thinking they can get away with anything. With a warm smile, she asks them to fix the broken windows, furniture, and walls (I'm guessing left by the Ministry searching for secret rooms or passages). Then she hands them a list of the countless items and rooms that need attention and leaves them in my charge.

Elijah Crane and his friends were seventh year Slytherins when I arrived at Hogwarts. They didn't play Quidditch and were barely eligible for a Newt class or two. I deemed them unimportant when compared to Flint and the Quidditch team or even several of the fifth years that were the sons of well respected wizards. Elijah Crane wasn't particularly bright or well connected, considering his family was known for building and basic labor. He could've been either the Crabbe or Goyle of his year, except for one profound difference. He was divinely handsome, not in that perfumed up Gilderoy Lockhart way, but in a dark and rugged way with deep piercing eyes. In my naiveté, I'd assumed he had a reputation with the ladies, and was surprised several years later when I found out it was the young men of Hogwarts that he'd seduced in large numbers.

Watching Crane and his cohorts clear out the debris from father's study, repair the walls and replace broken windows, I savor the arousal in my blood, a presence that I haven''t felt in years. Not since my fifth year dalliances with Draper Fox, before everything turned to utter shite, have I even considered the existence of my sexual urges. Coincidentally, it was Draper who confessed to me that Crane had been the one who had absconded with his virginity the previous summer hols, and he told me of some of the tales of Elijah's sexual exploits at Hogwarts.

The three young men labor with their wands in their thin shirts and even thinner trousers. It is dreadfully hot in the Manor, and I can see the sheen of sweat on their skin as they roll up their shirtsleeves and undo another button around the collar. They are all fit, but it is Elijah who keeps me captivated. He's grown even more attractive since Hogwarts, and I wouldn't have thought it possible. With self-importance, I act as if I'm overseeing their work. What a joke. I'm as helpless as a Squib.

Despite my impotence for lack of wand, my cock is alive for the first time in ages. It's as if my body realizes that the dark days have passed before my head accepts the fact that I am finally free. How strange to think that the demise of my family and home has brought me freedom.

Elijah's deep smooth voice rouses me from my thoughts, when he asks me to show him the Gazebo that needs repair. It is low on the list of priorities, but the fresh air and the opportunity to be alone with Elijah sounds like a perfect idea. He sends his two mates to work on the upstairs parlor, and follows me out to the garden.

The weather is kind despite the contempt of the rest of the world. The sun is shining in an almost cloudless sky, and there's a light breeze. We find the gazebo overrun with vines breaking through much of the lattice work. One of the two benches is shattered beyond repair, but the gazebo itself is still standing strong and supports Elijah as he leans back against one of the main posts. He's sweating and his musky scent reaches me all the way on the other side of the gazebo.

"If you don't mind, I'd like to work out here," he says.

"That's fine." I shrug. It's makes no difference to me. I pretty much live in my room or the kitchen. Mother's preoccupation with the ballroom is a total farce.

"You know, I used to think you were a snotty little brat," Elijah says as if making casual conversation. "Such a haughty attitude and big mouth."

Only it's not casual. I can hear a veiled meaning in his words. It becomes more obvious as he saunters toward me. He eyes me as if I'm a conquest, and the truth is that I'd like nothing more than to be a notch on his bedpost.

"And what do you think of me now?" I challenge, hoping that I'm adequately hiding my desperation. All of my blood rushes to my crotch and pulses there, almost painfully.

"I like your mouth much more now," he says. The insult is buried deep beneath the seduction.

One more step and he's in front of me, gently pushing down on my shoulder. I can barely breathe as I sink to my knees.

Hesitantly, I reach for the front of his trousers and rub my fingertips along the bulge that's protruding.

"I knew it," he says, and smiles wide.

I couldn't care less that he thinks this is some sort of game and he's vindicated in triumph. I ache for physical contact and release. I want it so badly that I'm willing to chance that his mates aren't watching from a second story window. Besides, the overgrown vines obscure most of the gazebo. My mind clears of all thoughts except for my aching cock and the six inches of prick that I'm pulling out of Elijah's pants.

He cards his fingers through my hair and moans as I take him in my mouth. It's like riding a broom. You never forget. He's salty from the sweat and smells like a man should smell. There's no perfume, just the scent of his body, hard and wanting. I suck gently at first, but as I get lost in the act, I increase the pressure. His moan urges me to do more, so I caress his bollocks with my finger tips. He's thrusting only a bit, and I can tell he's holding back. After a few minutes, there's a light tug on my shoulder, directing me back to my feet.

Hungrily, he sucks at my mouth while grabbing my arse. I can barely breathe. A lightheadedness comes over me as he fumbles with the front of my trousers. I shudder at the first caress of his hand over my prick. A moment later he's pushing my pants and trousers down. Once they're around my knees, he steps on them to push them to the dirt covered floor of the gazebo.

He tries to spin me around, but I resist.

"Come on," he says, roughly grabbing my arse.

I swallow the panic. I don't know whether or not he realizes that I'm wandless and at his mercy.

"No, just this," I say as I sink back to my knees.

He doesn't protest, only moans as I take him back in my mouth. After a few minutes, I can tell he's close, so I finish him off with my hand.

"Fucking Malfoy," he says as he comes. Rather apropos.

When he catches his breath, he watches me with feral smile as I stroke myself. I'm on the edge and want to come so bad that he can probably smell it. At first, I think the bastard is just going to stand there and stare, but he shows he has some amount of etiquette when he grabs my arm and helps pull me to my feet. He leads me over to the intact stone bench. It is like a block of ice on my arse, but I'm so worked up that it barely has any effect on my cock.

Elijah kneels before me and takes my prick in his mouth. I should be embarrassed by the fact that I come about ten seconds later, but I can't be arsed to care. It feels so fucking good to let go. I close my eyes and allow myself to fall. Thank Merlin for small mercies.

~ooOOOoo~
At dinner mother asks, "How did it go today?"

"Fine."

"No problems?"

"None at all. How's Father?"

"Fine," she says, probably holding back as much information as I am.

I decide that I'm better off not knowing, just as she is.

I sleep well for a change.

~ooOOOoo~
Elijah and his friends return in the morning. There is still much to do to make the Manor habitable. I ignore Elijah's stare, despite the fact that it makes my stomach tingle. He's the day labor, and I need to move forward with my life. While I may have needed that quick suck in the gazebo, Elijah Crane is not anyone of consequence, and I am not in the market for a fuck buddy. Besides, I loathe the term.

Mother takes charge and puts them to work. Once they're settled, she turns her attention to me and I am put to work as well.

Father's study is in decent shape. They did a fair job of putting it back in order. I close the door behind me. I must write Ollivander. I've put it off long enough. We cannot survive much longer without wands, and the Ministry will not let us travel outside the country. Mother hasn't received a response to her letter to Ollivander; not that I expected it.

Taking deep breaths, I use my utmost concentration to keep my quill steady.

Dear Mr. Ollivander,

I am at a loss at what to say, but feel as if I should offer you some expression of my remorse. You matched me with my first wand. I used it proudly, knowing that it came from such an esteemed wandmaker.

It's probably reading far too much like I'm buttering him up, but at this point I have nothing to lose and I am sincere in my sentiment. I was proud. Perhaps too proud. It takes me over thirty minutes to finish the letter.

I never considered that it was a privilege and not my birthright. Only now do I realize that it was an honor, an honor that I squandered with my weakness of character. Harry Potter won that wand from me, and deservedly so. He used it for a far greater good than I ever would have. I take a tiny bit of solace knowing that I may have contributed to Potter's success, even if unwittingly.

I hope you are well and if there's anything that I can ever do to repay my debt to you, please call upon me.

Your servant,

Draco Malfoy

It reads heavy handed, but at least I didn't directly ask him for a new wand. I show it to mother before I send it off. She nods approvingly.

I decide to write Loony Lovegood next, and it takes me a minute to remember that her first name is Luna.

Dear Luna,

It looks positively bizarre on the parchment, but I forge ahead.

I'm hoping that this letter finds you well. I realize that I am the last person you expect to hear from. I find myself at a crossroads in my life and wish to try to make amends in any way I can, no matter how small. There's no possible way that I can make up for your suffering. I live with the knowledge that my lack of courage

I can't think of what to write next and pause to look over what I've written. It's clichéd to the point of nausea. My stomach actually twists and gurgles as I read it. I toss it out and start again. Lovegood isn't some political Ministry type. She needs no platitudes. She is Potter's friend and was part of their little band of defiance, but I doubt she has any serious influence on the current people in power at the Ministry. Her father and his Quibbler have always been seen as oddballs and I doubt the war has changed that. I have nothing to gain by writing her, but feel compelled to do so. Why is that?

Dear Miss Lovegood,

I hope you and your father are well. I truly mean that. If there is ever anything that I can do to make up for the cruel treatment of you and your father, please let me know. I'm sure I can never truly make amends, but I'd like to try.

Sincerely,
Draco Malfoy

Short and to the point. It's much better. As I get ready to attach it to my owl's leg, I dwell on the fact that I don't need anything from her. Do I even want her forgiveness? I send the owl off without apprehension. I have nothing to fear from her.

Neville Longbottom is another story. Next to Potter he's been portrayed as the greatest hero and fervent leader of the resistance at Hogwarts. Even his passive acceptance of me would help make it possible for me to show my face in public, whereas his condemnation could mean I'd be ostracized from the only world I've ever known.

In my wildest imagination, I couldn't have foreseen how that clumsy idiot, who was afraid of his own shadow, would have grown into a man of such character. I'm angry, jealous, and in awe at the same time.

What can I possibly offer him that he doesn't already have? What can I possibly say to make up for my endless childhood mocking or the suffering caused by spells that never should have been performed on or by children? I want to blame the Carrows for everything, truly I do, but that is the foolish act of a child, and it is time for me to be a man. I had always looked to Father to show me how to be a great wizard with his intense pride and cunning. Ironic how it is now my mother who is showing me the path of humility and concession, in order for me to become my own man.

I know I should write Longbottom and Potter, but I just can't. Instead I remember the names of a few of the students at Hogwarts and write simple apologies for my actions during the past year, and much like in my letter to Lovegood, I tell them to come to me if there's anything that I can do for them. It's strange to feel as if I mean it. Throughout my life I've made mostly empty apologies, usually something I was forced to do, like the time I broke Goyle's toy broom when we were six. I felt he deserved my wrath for sitting on one of my favorite Quidditch figurines. He cried and cried until Mother came in to see what the horrible noise was and demanded that I say 'I'm sorry'. I didn't want to, but her cold stare made quite an impression. There would be no dessert.

These apologies are different. I want to do this. I need this.

~ooOOOoo~
We've only received a few replies to the droves of Mother's missives, so I'm shocked when a barn owl shows up early the next morning with a letter for me. It's sealed with plain wax, no insignia at all. My hand shakes slightly as I open it. I scan quickly to the signature. It's from Luna Lovegood, unexpected, yet, not.

 

Dear Draco,

I hope you don't mind me calling you Draco. I was happy to receive your letter. We don't receive much post these days. I'm glad you are well and no longer being held at the Ministry. I don't blame you for what happened to me. That would be like blaming the sky for the rain.

I would like to take you up on your offer of assistance. We are trying to start up our newspaper again, but all of our equipment has been destroyed. I'd like for you to become an investor in The Quibbler, or at least secure a loan. We have tried Gringott's as well as a few wizard sources, but have been unsuccessful. If this is agreeable, I'd like to meet at your earliest convenience.

Thank you,
Luna

Apparently, I am to become part owner of what is possibly the biggest supplier of owl cage liner. It's a lunatic's folly. Why am I smiling? I need to tell Mother the news.

Mother isn't in the kitchen, so I go looking for her upstairs. She's in her room sitting on the edge of her bed. There's a letter in her shaking hand. The window is open, and an owl screeches in the distance. I am not the only one who received a reply this morning.

She looks up at me for a moment, then goes back to her letter. I wait in the doorway as she reads. There's an anxiousness in her manner that I haven't seen before. Her eyes, which for the most part have been emotionless as of late, are filled with tears that threaten to spill down her cheeks.

After a deep breath, she wipes her eyes, schools her expression, and declares, "My sister Andromeda is coming this afternoon."

"Oh." I've never met the woman, only heard bits and pieces, derogatory, of course. "Why?"

"I invited her."

"But—"

"Draco, I'm going to ask you not to ask questions. She is my sister and until now, there was not even the most remote opportunity to have her in my life again. Now there is a chance. I suspect she needs me almost as much as I need her. Please, know that I know what is best and do what I ask of you."

"And what do you need from me?"

"Your humility."

"For Andromeda?"

"And Harry Potter."

The moment the words reach my ears a chain reaction begins. The bile rises in my throat and my stomach churns. Fear courses through my veins and my chest tightens to the point that it's an effort to take my next breath.

"Draco, darling," Mother says in her most calm and serene voice. "Draco."

"I'm... I'm alright." I take a few short breaths. "Why is he coming here?"

"He's coming with Andromeda. He's her grandson's godfather, and I suspect he's coming for her protection."

"Why would we--?"

"I can't blame her for not trusting us, but Draco, this is most fortunate."

"Fortunate?" I can't believe she's saying that.

"Yes, an opportunity that I couldn't have foreseen."

"I can't... I can't face him." There I admitted it. Out loud even.

"Yes, you can, and you will. This may be our only chance."

~ooOOOoo~
Watching Mother bake biscuitsis absurdly surreal. She finishes them shortly before Andromeda and Potter are due to arrive and seems more nervous than the day of our hearing at the Ministry. I'm not sure what it is until I see her greet Andromeda at the door, her sister, her older sister. In the same way that I've been feeling like a complete child since the war, I see the same in my mother's eyes and her posture.

Mother greets them, not with the grace and strength that she's exhibited to everyone else the past week, but with an air of servitude or as if they are doing her some incredible favor. Leading her sister to the kitchen, she looks as if she's going to show her some new toy or a drawing that she made.

Potter follows silently. He looks right through me as if I'm some insignificant spectator. Anyone else she would have entertained in the newly appointed dining room, but she wants them to see us as downtrodden and without pride.

We sit around the old oak table that prior to the war had been only used to prepare food or a quick meal for the servants.

Mother sets down the biscuits in front of Andromeda. "These used to be your favorites."

There's a slight crack in the veneer that my aunt had been attempting to maintain. "I... yes."

"Draco, please make the tea. I completely forgot," mother says. It's all an act. She wanted me to make the tea in front of them. Show them what has become of us.

"Of course." I struggle with flint to light the cooker. I didn't want to seem so ridiculously helpless, but for some reason I'm shaking and can't get the bloody thing to spark.

Suddenly there's a flame. I look up and see Potter with his wand extended. In that moment, I hate him more than I ever have in my entire life. I swallow the bile rising in my throat and say, "Thank you." Then I place the kettle on the fire and return to the table.

"I'm so glad you came. I didn't know if you would," Mother begins. She looks directly into her sisters cold eyes. I doubt biscuits and tea will do the trick. "I hope you're well. I hope the baby is well."

"The baby is fine, for a child without a mother."

The voice of the Dark Lord saying something about babysitting the cubs drifts through my mind and sends a cold chill down my spine.

"I am so sorry," Mother says. Her voice catches and her nose pinks up as if she has a cold. "I know you may not believe me, but I am truly--"

She stops short and then turns to me, "Draco, perhaps Mr. Potter would like to see the garden."

Potter looks over at Andromeda, who nods. Mother had hoped that once her sister realized that there was no threat that they'd be able to talk alone.

"All right. I'll be right outside," Potter says. As soon as we're out the front door, he seems only too happy to be in the fresh air and out of the Manor. It makes sense considering what had happened here. I don't feel particularly comfortable and it's my own home.

"Would you like to see the garden?" I ask as if he's a guest at one of our dinner parties.

Potter laughs. "I'd like to burn your garden and your whole house to the ground."

It's not the response that I had anticipated. For some reason I expected Potter to play along with my mother's little scenario. After all, he did speak on our behalf to the Ministry and he is here with my Aunt.

"Don't worry, I won't," he adds quickly. "But I'd like to. Look Malfoy, I don't need a chaperone. I'll just wait here until Andromeda's done."

"Oh." Mother would never forgive me if I left him alone. "I'll wait with you, if it's all the same."

"It isn't."

"Isn't what?" I ask. I have no idea what he's talking about.

"All the same. Nothing's the same, and I don't want to be here."

"Then why are you?"

"Andromeda said she was going, and I wasn't about to let her go alone."

"We have no wands. The Ministry has all but stripped the house of its magic."

"I don't care. I wasn't going to let her come alone."

"How noble of you." I shouldn't antagonize him, but I can't help it.

"Not noble, cautious. She said your mother had begged her."

"She wants a chance."

"Why?"

"I don't know. I'm an only child." I hold back the Thank, Merlin that I'm thinking.

"Me too."

In sharp contrast, I can hear the longing for a sibling in his statement.

There's a painful silence that follows. My mind strays to the last time he had been at the Manor and took my wand with him. He looks at me as if he knows what I'm thinking.

The tension is broken when Elijah and his friends come bounding out of the house.

"Well, we're done for the day. We're waiting for some cherry wood and the stained glass your mum ordered to come in, so we probably won't be back until next week."

"That'll be fine," I say, trying to impress Potter by exhibiting some sense of authority in my own home.

Unfortunately, Elijah has no such delusions regarding my role and crowds into my personal space. "Maybe we could get together later," he says in my ear, but undoubtedly loudly enough for Potter to hear.

"I'm busy," I say and step back away from his heavy breath. I sneak a glance at Potter and I can't decipher his expression.

"You know how to reach me," Elijah says confidently. He steps away and then he and his mates vanish with the pop of Apparition.

The jealousy coils deep in my guts. I can see Potter's pity at my envy and my desire to Apparate away grows ten-fold.

"On second thought, I'd like to see the garden," Potter says. He's trying to soften the blow.

Well, fuck him. I say nothing as I walk away and make him decide to follow or not. Of course he does. Why would he ever leave me alone when I need him to?

He's at least three steps back and I rattle off facts like a bloody tour guide. "These are the Everblooming Roses, these are the Blinking Bilibies, over there is the apple orchard."

Potter has to hurry and I can hear him breathing hard behind me. I stop in front of the gazebo. Crane didn't do a half-bad job.

"Nice gazebo," Potter says as he catches up to me.

"Yes, Elijah gave me quite the blow job there the other day." I have no idea why I blurted that out. Okay, maybe I'm trying to shock Potter.

He's coughing and sputtering behind me, so I add, "That strapping young wizard that--"

"I know who he is. His father's been overseeing a large section of the castle."

I hate this. I step into the gazebo and sit on the new bench. Elijah managed to match the old one perfectly. Potter sits down on the bench on the other side, the one where the aforementioned blow job occurred. I smile and it's as if he's reading my mind.

"Grow up, would you?" he says with a dramatic roll of his eyes.

"I'd say I've had to grow up quite a lot."

"We all have," he says. "Some more than others."

He thinks that it's been so easy for me. I don't doubt that it's been hard for him, but he has no right to presume anything about me. I look over and he's leaning back with his eyes closed, in an attempt to avoid fighting with me. He has much greater control than I've ever given him credit for. He's also much better looking than I've ever given him credit for. Well, fuck. Suddenly, it's obvious. Could it have been more obvious if he had long pigtails and I dipped them in ink? It's always been there, I simply couldn't allow myself to do anything but deny it. Great, now I hate him and want him, and from the way he's now staring at me, he just hates me.

Mercifully, Mother shows up a minute later with Andromeda. Their expressions are hard to read, but they seem at peace. I hope for Mother's sake that it went well.

As Andromeda and Potter prepare to Disapparate, Mother says, "I'll send an owl. I'd love to meet Teddy."

Andromeda nods before she vanishes. I suppose I will be babysitting the cub after all.

~ooOOOoo~
I've arranged to meet Lovegood at Flourish and Blotts in the afternoon to talk about equipment and supplies for The Quibbler. Her letters are so devoid of any suspicion or animosity, it confuses me that she seems so eager to work with me. I understand that she needs my gold, but the witch sounds perversely thrilled. She's always been odd, but this is downright unnerving.

Mother is pleased, but reminds me that I have the morning to write more letters. I lock myself in father's study and hope for inspiration. After yesterday's horrible meeting, I know that I have to write some sort of letter to Potter. I have to get on good footing with him, no matter how much it pains me.

Dear Potter,

I can't believe I just wrote that. I can hear Mother's voice in my head telling me the need for grace and etiquette. I toss the parchment in the bin and start again.

Dear Harry,

That looks even stranger, but 'Dear Mr. Potter' is absolutely ridiculous. Perhaps 'Dear Potter' should be what I write. I'm over thinking the salutation. Mother will have to live with it, and it's not like Potter cares. I persevere.

Potter,
Despite my behavior yesterday, I was grateful for the opportunity to speak with you.

I'm fucked. I'm really fucked. I toss it in the bin and start again.

Potter,
I doubt there's anything that I can say that you'd want to read.

True statement, but hardly the way to start this letter. Into the bin it goes. I decide to switch to Longbottom. To my astonishment, Mother sent a letter to his grandmother. I'll just write the first thing that comes to mind. It's not like it matters. He'll be tossing it in the bin, just as I'm tossing all of my attempts to say anything of value to Potter.

Longbottom,
I hope you and your grandmother are well. Mother and I are back at the Manor, and I've had time to contemplate my actions toward you over the past years. I judged you unfairly and acted even more so. I apologize for my wrong doings and any pain that I may have caused you. If there were ever a way that I could make amends, please know that I would

What would I be? What would I do? These letters are proving harder than OWL exams.

be willing to use any and all means at my disposal to assist you.

I have no idea what else I could possibly say to him. Am I even sorry? I close my eyes and see him standing before the Dark Lord. He's a pillar of defiance as I cower in the shadows.

I am sorry.

I was wrong.

There is nothing else that I can write to Longbottom. I sign my name and send it off before I change my mind.

~ooOOOoo~
I'm dusting the Floo Powder from my shirt, when Lovegood practically tackles me in a hug. Her overt affection is beyond any comprehension.

"So good to see you," she says.

"Hello, Luna." I force myself not to say 'Loony' and wonder if I lingered too long on the first syllable as I stand back and smile at her. Her skirt is a strange floral of pinks and greens and her blouse is a blue and grey plaid. Her hair is a tangled mess of blonde and has feathers and ribbons of all colors hanging haphazardly. It hurts my eyes to look at her for too long, so I turn and gesture to the printing section at the back of the store, "Come and show me what you need."

"Oh, so many things. I brought a list." She hands it to me. Her script is filled with little hearts and flowers, the same as in her correspondence.

I look it over. It's mostly printing equipment and supplies. "Doesn't look like a problem. I'm sure we can order whatever you need."

"The hard part is where to put it."

"What do you mean?"

"The Quibbler offices were destroyed. Dad wants to build new ones next to the house, but we haven't been able to."

"I think I can help there as well."

She hasn't even heard what I'm going to propose, when she tackles me again with another hug. "I knew you would help."

"Why?" I ask.

"Why what?" She looks at me with her wide and innocent eyes.

How they are still innocent after everything that has happened is inconceivable.

"Why are you so sure that I would help?"

"You said you would. In your letter."

"And you believed me?"

"Of course. Why would you lie? And here you are."

I nod. She's right. Here I am. "Well, they're not that experienced, but we have a few young builders who've been working for us. I'm sure they'd be able to set up a rudimentary printing room with a few offices. Nothing fancy."

"Oh, we wouldn't want anything fancy."

She says it so earnestly that I have to hold back my laugh. "What else do you need?" I say, looking back at her list.

She tells me of her plans and about some of the equipment that her father used before the war. Luna actually wants to put my name on the paper as part owner. I tell her that I wish to be a silent partner.

"But you have to take a percentage of the profits," she says adamantly.

"That will be fine." I can't imagine what profits The Quibbler could possibly have. "But only after you and your father's salaries and any other overhead."

"Oh, I almost forgot to tell you, I'm supposed to bring you by Ollivander's after we're done here."

I stare at her blankly. I must have heard her wrong.

"To get a new wand," she explains.

"I'm sorry, what?"

"We're to head over to Ollivander's after we're finished here."

"Who told you that?" My heart starts pounding furiously.

"Mr. Ollivander, of course."

"When?"

"Last night." Mercifully, she recognizes my total confusion. There's at least some form of intelligent life in that head of hers.

"I've been helping Mr. Ollivander set up his store. He's not as spry as he used to be."

The man must be pushing 150. Several generations of wizards have come and passed since he's been spry. I nod at her so she'll continue.

"Well, last night, Harry came by."

"Harry Potter?"

"Of course, Harry Potter. How many Harrys do you know?"

She had me there. "What did Potter say?"

"He asked Mr. Ollivander if he'd sell wands to you and your Mother. He said he felt partly responsible, since he took your old wand."

"And what did Ollivander say?"

"That you and your Mother had sent letters. Very nice ones." Luna seemed to think that information was most important and looked straight at me to see my reaction to her comment.

"Okay."

"I showed Harry my letter, too."

"You showed him the letter? Ollivander showed Potter the letters?" Those were personal.

"Oh, yes, and Harry said that Mr. Ollivander should give you a chance, and Mr. Ollivander said that he had been meaning to write you both back, but got sidetracked. His mind wanders a bit, you see."

"So he's going to sell us wands even after we held him prisoner?"

"You were as much a prisoner as we were."

I shake my head. We weren't, not like that anyway. Her generosity of spirit shames me, but I let the feeling pass because by this evening, I'm going to have a wand. I borrow an owl from the shop and tell Mother to meet me at Ollivander's as soon as she gets the letter.

~ooOOOoo~
Potter,
Today I bought a new wand. I suppose I have you to thank in part for that. Mr. Ollivander spoke of wizarding tradition and the meaning of being a wandmaker, but I know that you must have influenced his decision. There are so many things that I should probably thank you for. I don't

Rubbish. Complete rubbish. What should I thank him for? Leaving me at the mercy of the Dark Lord? Slicing me open in the girl's bathroom? I know I should thank him, but I can't. I know I should apologize, but I'd sooner apologize to a Weasley. So I do.

Dear Ginvera,

I've w

No, I can't write this one either. I suppose I could change the salutation and write a similar apology to what I wrote to those first years that the Carrows had me use for Cruciatus practice. Unfortunately, she is more influential than those first years. She has Potter's ear, and perhaps other parts of his body as well.

Although, Potter's reaction to my boasting about Crane wasn't quite what I'd expected. There was something about the way he didn't recoil or seem too disgusted. Still, she's a Weasley, and their names are splashed all over the Prophet almost as much as Potter's. There's also a long history between their family and ours. That Chamber of Secrets business in second year comes to mind. I never fully understood what happened or Potter's accusations regarding my father's involvement. As much as it sickens me, I will have to write something. Later. I don't want to think about any of that right now.

Right now the only thing I want to do is use my magic and this wand. It was the second wand Ollivander selected for me to try. The magic pulsed and radiated the moment he placed it in my hand. He spoke about how he was merely a conduit to help match wizard and wand and was not allowed to judge. Throughout the ages wandmakers had always stood by their impartiality. I barely heard him above the buzz in my head that the connection to the wand was creating. I tried several simple spells with great success. There was an ease about it. Willow and unicorn hair. Ten-and-a-half inches. My wand.

Lumos!

It's such a simple spell. Light. My magic courses through my body and I feel drunk as if I nicked a bottle of Firewhiskey from Father's stores. I Levitate and Transfigure. I light the logs in the fireplace, then put them out over and over. I am whole again. Well, as whole as I'll ever be after everything that's happened. But none of that matters at this moment. I have magic. I have a wand. I am a wizard.

I suspect Mother is upstairs using her wand to her heart's content. She came into Ollivander's so timidly and left with a wide, triumphant smile. Even Luna and Ollivander were smiling at her overwhelming joy.

Later, when I ask Mother about it, she simply replies, "Some people have grace, despite disparity in life."

~ooOOOoo~
A week passes and Mother and I fall into a new routine. She writes. I write. We redecorate another room. She's hired a cook and a maid, thankfully. They're two sisters that barely have an OWL between them. They're in their early thirties and still single. I suspect they have as much interest in marriage as I have. Still, the house is taking shape and the food is warm and edible.

Today is an important day. I'm going to the Lovegoods' near Ottery St. Catchpole. I've never been there. Elijah Crane and his two lackeys are going to build the new Quibbler. For some strange reason, I'm excited.

My excitement is dampened when I arrive and find Potter there. Luna is drifting around the yard with strange body movements while her father and Potter watch. As I approach, I can see that Potter's trying to stifle a laugh.

"Hello," I say to Potter and Mr. Lovegood. Luna is far too entranced to notice my presence.

"Hello, Malfoy," Potter says, not looking away from Luna's odd dance.

"Hello," says Mr. Lovegood. He doesn't look at me either. "I'm surprised, but grateful that you are here. Luna's ecstatic."

"I can see that. What's she doing?"

"A dance charm to ward off the Wrackspurts from our building site." He suddenly joins his daughter in her strange dance. They both look like their having poison seizures.

"What the hell are Wrackspurts?" I whisper to Potter.

"Don't ask. Just..."

"Just what?"

At that moment, Luna and her father stop and bow to us.

"Applaud," Potter says.

So I join him in applause that is almost immediately interrupted by the crack of Apparition. Crane has arrived with all of the materials in tow. His friends arrive a few seconds later. I'm grateful that they missed the floor show. They were already suspicious when I informed them about this job. They shouldn't complain. I've agreed to pay them double their going wage.

I wave to Elijah and signal to the spot where Luna and her father are standing.

I turn to Potter. "Are you staying?"

"Yes, Luna told me about the plan and I'm guessing you'll need every wand you can get." He looks at my new wand sitting in its holster on my hip.

I should say some words of gratitude for his intervening with Ollivander. I should thank him for so many other things, not to mention my freedom. Instead, I gesture for him to follow me towards Crane and the immense pile of stones and wood that he and his mates are in the process of enlarging to full size.

We work through the morning. Potter and I learn the spells from Crane and soon we're building with far more efficiency than anyone else. It's become downright competitive. I put up a post, and then Potter is right behind me putting up another post. The frame takes shape by the time Luna comes with cheese sandwiches and pumpkin juice for everyone. Potter was right. We need every wand we can get. It's going to take much longer than I expected.

I sit next to Potter and eat silently, while Crane gives me a smoldering glance every few minutes. He's nothing if not persistent.

Luna is sitting next to one of Crane's men. She's nattering on about Nargyles and Wrackspurts and what she and her father are planning for the first edition of The New Quibbler. Oddly the bloke, whose name I never bothered to learn, seems interested.

The sun is low in the evening sky when we finally break for the day. Crane shows Potter and me how to cast a preservation bubble over the building. All three of us cast the spell together and the site is airtight, just in case it rains, which it probably will.

We're getting ready to go when a large barn owl swoops in and lands on the pile of dirt in front of Potter. He takes the letter nervously, and the owl flies off without waiting for a treat or a reply.

Crane takes the moment to pull me aside. "Would you like to meet for a drink later?"

"No, thank you."

"What's with the change in attitude?" Crane's annoyed.

"Sorry, Elijah," I say, hoping to lighten the situation, "The other week was a welcome dalliance, but that's all it was."

"Set your sights on someone, have you?" he says, looking at Potter.

"Don't be ridiculous. He's practically engaged to the She-Weasel. Don't you read The Prophet?" I'm alarmed at the fact that he's brought Potter into this discussion.

"The Prophet is rubbish. They print whatever they think will sell papers or please the Ministry. Potter likes men."

"And you're an expert?"

"I'm never wrong. Never."

"Oh, really?"

"I was right about you," he says with a sly smile, and trots off without another word.

Bastard.

I take a deep breath and turn around to see if Potter caught any of my exchange with Elijah. He's off in the distance hugging Luna with a sappy grin. That would be a 'no' then.

There are three loud cracks behind me as I approach Luna and Potter. Before I reach them, Potter Disapparates.

"He left in a hurry," I say to Luna.

"Oh, yes, but he said he can come back tomorrow," she says dreamily and completely avoiding eye contact with me.

"Did the owl bring good news?" I'm morbidly curious.

"The best," she says.

It's like trying to have a conversation with a Jarvey, only she's more polite. "And that would be?"

"Oh. You don't know, do you?"

"I'm afraid I don't. If there's any way that I can be of assistance," I add.

"You've done quite a lot already. Besides, it's all sorted now. That was the wonderful news."

She finally looks at me, so I stare at her to the point that my eyelids ache from being open so wide.

"It's about Hermione's parents. They're coming back by Portkey tomorrow night. It's so exciting. They've been in Australia all this time. For their safety, you see."

"Yes, I do." I can't help but feel respect for Granger. As much as I always wanted to only see her as a Mudblood busy body, she was quite smart. "Theu went into hiding?"

"It's more than that. Last summer, when Voldemort took control"--

She says it so casually. I shiver at the mention of the Dark Lord's name and can only nod for her to continue--

"she Obliviated her parents and gave them new identities and then relocated them to Australia. She even erased their memories of her existence."

My respect for Hermione Granger triples during the course of those few sentences.

"She and Ron have been in Australia the past few weeks working with a memory expert. They weren't sure they'd be able to restore them, but now they have. Isn't that the most brilliant news?"

"Yes, brilliant." I can't wrap my mind around the determination and bravery it would take to hide her parents away, knowing she might never see them again, and that they would never remember her. I know with unfailing certainty that I could not done have the same.

"So we'll meet up tomorrow just after sunrise," Luna says, already heading back to her house, although it's not like any house I've ever seen before.

"Yes, I'll be here." I pause to watch the sun dip into the line of the horizon. The orange-red light gives the illusion that the clouds have been set on fire. I think of Father sitting in some cold dark holding cell at the Ministry, and wonder when he might enjoy such a sight again, or if ever he could appreciate such a simple thing. I never used to, but I'm learning. There is magic all around me and I had taken it for granted. A sudden overwhelming urge to be in Mother's arms fills me. I draw my precious wand and Disapparate.

~ooOOOoo~
By the end of the second day, we have the building settled and even painted. Crane and company finish their part by lunch time, and Potter and I spend most of the afternoon alone as Luna flits in and out directing our efforts, taking delivery of the multitude of materials and equipment that we had ordered, or painting flowers and butterflies on the newly painted walls. Potter works hard through the day and it fuels me to labor harder than I ever have in my life. Luna picks the most atrocious, vibrant colors for the offices, but I say nothing. In fact, I say almost nothing except for "hand me that paint" or "that looks done" the entire day.

I'm exhausted and collapse with a large glass of Butterbeer that Luna has brought out to toast the new offices.

"It's just like I imagined," Luna says. She has a frothy Butterbeer mustache that she licks with her tongue. "Both of you worked so hard. Everyone else is so busy at Hogwarts."

I wonder why Potter isn't at Hogwarts. "Glad to be of service," I say.

Potter looks at me and I can't read the expression. I'm not sure if he's questioning my motives or my entire existence. "Me too," he says.

"Oh Harry, we'd better get going. We don't want to be late," Luna says.

Potter casts Tempus. It's after seven o'clock. "I need to shower first. I'll see you there," he says to Luna and places the Butterbeer on a nearby table. He's about to spin and Disapparate, when, obviously as an afterthought, he turns to me and says, "Thanks for your help, Malfoy."

I nod and a second later he's gone. I'm stuck thinking about him in a shower. For Merlin's sake, what's wrong with me?

"I need to clean up, too. I'm covered in paint."

She certainly is. It's a splattering of bright pink, gold, and blue over her clothes, skin, and hair. It reminds me of a picture of a Fairy that was in a bedtime story Mother used to read to me.

"Off to the Weasleys?" I ask.

"Oh yes, we're greeting Hermione and her parents."

"You have a nice night. I'm going to finish a few last touch-ups here and then head home."

"Thank you, Draco. You've done so much."

"It was my pleasure." I mean that. Helping her has been pleasurable. "And send me an owl if you need anything else."

"Goodnight, Draco."

"Goodnight."

I watch her skip back to her house, and then turn my attentions to several interior doors that need installation.

It doesn't take me too long, but the sun is setting in the distance by the time I go back outside. A ribbon of purple lines the horizon. Crickets are chirping, and as I close my eyes to listen better, a warm summer breeze cools the sweat on my neck.

Without much thought I'm drawn down the hill towards the village. I walk until night has claimed the light. It's peaceful when unexpected bursts of sparkling lights explode in the sky. It can only be Weasley fireworks. Bright, colorful displays continue to streak across the sky and I can hear the cheers of admiration in the distance. I'm at once joyous and jealous of the celebration, but I suppose it's just as bittersweet for them as well.

The finale is quite the spectacle of dancing Veelas atop an enormous rainbow. It's a brilliant bit of magic. After the last sparkles evaporate into the darkness, an eerie quiet reclaims the night.

I Apparate directly to my father's study, where parchment and quills await my return.

Potter,
I've been trying to write this letter for some time now, and have failed to express the multitude of thoughts that

It's awful. D for Dreadful. I toss it into the bin.

Ms. Granger,

I'm sure this letter comes as a surprise. I was helping Luna Lovegood set up offices for her Quibbler Magazine, and overheard the news of your parents return. I doubt I can adequately express my respect for you in a manner that you might find plausible, but I shall try. I never gave you one shred of respect at Hogwarts, and in the moment of hearing what you had done for your family, profound regret overwhelmed me. I have deep regret for not only my actions but also for the dogma to which I subscribed. You suffered at the hands of my family, and for that I am sorry. If there is anything that I can ever do to make amends, I shall be honored to do so.

Respectfully,
Draco Malfoy

Nausea burbles upwards from my stomach as I mark the wax with my seal. Father would not approve, but I suspect Mother agrees that such concessions must be made. She wrote a letter offering condolences to the entire Weasley family after all. I decide that I can write a Weasley as well.

Ms. Weasley,

I hope you are well. I wish to express my deepest regret for the pain and misery that I caused you with my actions. I was too scared to do anything but what I was told. A poor excuse for the name wizard. Please know that I am sincere in my offering of any restitution that I could make to you and your family.

Regards,
Draco Malfoy

In some ways the apologies are liberating, but in other ways they burn a scar into my soul that I hadn't yet acknowledged. What exactly am I guilty of? Loving my parents? Following the lessons that they had taught me my entire life? What is my sin? Ancient philosophy might dictate hubris, but isn't my humiliation enough, or do I really need to put it on display?

I don't sleep well, but decide to mail the letters in the morning.

~ooOOOoo~
Mother tells me that we are having tea at the old Black house in London with Andromeda. She informs me that I will meet my baby cousin. I don't know anything about babies, and this baby is Potter's godson.

"I've never held a baby in my life," I say, as if this excuse will get me out it.

"There's nothing to it," she says. "You coo and speak sweetly to him."

"What if I drop him?"

"Draco, don't be ridiculous."

~ooOOOoo~
Potter,
I met your godson, Teddy Lupin, today. The first word that came to mind when I held him was 'innocent.' He is new life, innocent, and yet so many horrific things have happened to him. He doesn't know yet. He's lucky to have you.

It's not an apology letter. I don't know what it is. I'm rambling on about Teddy Lupin, as if that child has anything to do with all the bad magic between Potter and me. Mother should have told me about the effect babies have on you. You look at the world with intense scrutiny and feel emotions that rarely get exercised. It's all because of this tiny human in your arms. You feel every heartbeat, hear every breath, and see the slightest flutter of his eyelashes. I'm under his spell. I toss the letter in the bin and try again. I clear my head and try to think diplomatically.

Potter,
I don't suspect there can be apology and forgiveness between us. There can only be promise. Promise that I shall endeavor to do better.

I am insane. Why can't I write Potter's fucking letter?

~ooOOOoo~
An owl arrives at breakfast. Luna wants help with the photography equipment, and asks if I have time to come by this morning. I suppose I can read the manual. It takes a little over an hour, but we finally get the bloody thing printing.

Unfortunately, not soon enough to avoid Potter. Apparently, he's here for his interview. Luna and her father are going to lead their first edition with an exclusive. Smart but hopelessly awkward for me.

"Malfoy," Potter says, "I didn't expect to see you here."

"Just helping sort out the new equipment."

"Thank you, Draco," Luna says in her typical dreamy tone. "I couldn't have done it without you."

As soon as the words leave her lips, I begin to realize that she could have very well puzzled it out. She may be silly, but she is far from stupid.

She's heading for the door. "I'll go fetch us some cold pumpkin juice. Be right back."

As she leaves, my mouth is hanging open, but I can't be arsed to shut it. She set me up. Why?

"So," Potter stutters over the word, "how are you?"

"Fine, and you?"

"Fine."

Dead silence. It's excruciating. I blame Lovegood.

Potter takes a seat in one of the chairs. It's bright orange and so soft that half his body sinks into the folds. I certainly wouldn't have picked such atrocious furniture. If she wasn't such a meddling harpy, I would help her decorate.

"Help?" Potter says quite meekly, and holds out his hand.

I roll my eyes and offer my hand to help Potter out of Lovegoods' man-eating-chair. His hand is dry and warm. His grip is firm as I pull him out with a quick tug.

"Thanks."

"Sure."

With a quick wave of his wand, Potter Transfigures a nearby stack of parchment into a simple wooden chair.

"Working on your NEWTs?" I ask.

"Working on being able to sit through this interview."

My eyes drift to the door and I can't believe it takes a witch so long to pour a few glasses of pumpkin juice. I should just leave, but Potter's lack of enmity keeps me rooted to the spot.

"Why not me?" Potter asks, and it catches me completely off guard.

"I'm sorry, what?"

"You wrote everyone imaginable but me." His eyes bore into me. He's searching for more than an answer.

"I..." I don't know what to say. I'm completely tongue-tied.

"You wrote Luna, Ollivander, Ginny, Neville, even Hermione. Luna says that you been writing for a while."

"I have. Mother has as well."

"I know. Do you mean them?"

"What?"

"Do you mean the things you say in all these letters?" He's suddenly upset, very upset, with me.

"I don't see how any of this is any business of yours." It's not.

"They're my friends. My family."

"My letters."

"Forget it," he says, and turns away from me.

"Tell Luna goodbye for me." I'd like to tell her a host of other things, but instead I Apparate to the Manor gardens.

I know better than to Apparate angry, and I'm lucky I didn't Splinch myself. After a second check that all body parts are accounted for, I take a long walk to cool off. I've tried to write a letter to Potter. I truly have. Now he thinks that I haven't written him as some sort of slight. Bugger.

I head to the study to try again.

Potter,
You're angry with me and you have every right to be. Believe it or not, I've been trying desperately to write something of substance to you. It isn't out of lack of respect that I haven't written you. It is my own inadequacy to be able to express the multitude of thoughts and feelings that I have on the matter. There are so many things that I should thank you for and even more for which I owe you an apology. I

I don't know what to say that doesn't sound utterly trite. Thank you for saving all of our lives. It's ridiculous. He's not a savior. He's just a young man, with more courage and conviction than the rest of us. Should I list all my transgressions? There isn't enough ink in this bottle to record my failures, and frankly, I'm not sure I could handle seeing them all in print. The simple truth is that no words can capture the complexity of the feelings that I have for Potter.

I scribble I wish I could tell you. You'll never know what you do to me. at the bottom of the parchment, before I crumple it up and toss it at the fire. It hits the side of the hearth instead, and rolls to the floor. I can't even throw it away properly.

~ooOOOoo~
At dinner, Mother notices that I'm merely pushing around the food on my plate.

"What's wrong, darling? I think the lamb is quite nice."

"It's fine. I'm fine." I hate to burden her. She's worried about Father. She misses him. Alone she takes on the role of Atlas with the Malfoy name. "Really, it's nothing."

She doesn't buy it. "Something happened today?"

"Potter."

"Oh." She looks like she knows what he does to me, but I don't see how she possibly can.

"I was helping Luna over at The Quibbler and he showed up."

"What happened?"

"I've tried to write him an apology letter. I've tried to thank him. I truly have. I can't find the right words. There's too much that's happened between us. How can I sum that up in a few paragraphs."

"I'm sorry, darling, you've lost me."

"Potter's angry that I've written everyone but him."

"Sometimes an apology can only be delivered in person."

"I wish I could. I don't know how."

"It will come to you. Patience. All that is meant to be will happen in good time."

~ooOOOoo~
There is still so much work to do around the Manor. I clean out one of the small guest bedrooms in the east wing. I think Wormtail had stayed there. The Ministry confiscated all of his personal things. I burn the sheets and paint the walls. I'm almost finished when a small owl pecks at the window.

It's a message from Potter to meet him in Hogsmeade near the Shrieking Shack. Why he would choose such strange place puts me on edge. I take a few minutes to freshen up and try and calm my nerves. Potter can wait.

As I walk down the road in front of the Shrieking Shack, I don't see anyone, and begin to wonder if I took too long. Potter will be even more irate with me. Then as I turn toward the old relic, I see Potter is sitting on the front steps. He watches me intently as I approach. My palms are sweating and I try to be inconspicuous as I wipe them in my trouser pockets.

"Hello," I say, feigning confidence.

"Hello," he says. He looks up at me as if he's expecting me to speak.

"Why are we here?" I gesture to the dilapidated building behind him.

"In my experience, it's been a place for revealing secrets, and besides, I was working on the Hogwarts grounds when your owl arrived. This was close by and private."

"I'm sorry." I'm truly lost. "My owl? You sent a note to me."

"We obviously need to talk."

"Yes, but... I didn't send you an owl."

"All these arrived this morning."

He pulls out a stack of parchment from behind him and places it on this lap. He says nothing. As I look closer, I can see that they were previously crumpled and an attempt was made to smooth them out, perhaps even by magic. After further examination, I realize what they are and the urge to flee floods through my veins.

"Mother," I murmur.

"What?"

I take a deep breath and sit down next to Potter. I can't look him in the eye, so I stare off into the village. "I didn't send them. My mother must have."

"But you wrote them? Right?" Potter sounds scared.

"Yes," I assure him. "But..."

Potter looks at me like he's been defeated. "You never meant to send them."

"That's not entirely true. I did mean to send them. I mean, I wanted to send something. I... I..." Damn it, Mother. I should have burned them. "I'm sorry. I don't know what to say."

"Me neither." He smoothes his hand over the letter that I had started yesterday.

"Thank you for saving my life." I blurt it out so fast that I barely understand the words myself. "Thank you." I say it slowly the second time, desperately trying to convey the deeper meaning of that simple phrase. "I am sorry."

"For what?"

"Everything. There aren't enough words."

Ever so gently, he takes my hand in his. As surprising as the affectionate gesture is, it feels as if it's preordained. This is meant to happen. I turn my head to face him and he's right there, a mere few inches from my face and looking into my eyes. I wonder what he sees. Does he even remotely fathom the way he makes me feel? He makes me want to be a more honorable wizard.

And then he's kissing me. Again, shock and the fulfillment of destiny in the same breath. His lips are dry, but not chapped, and they press against my own and guide them to open up for him. I can only comply. Every drop of blood rushes to my crotch and there is only want. I want him. I want this to never end.

He cups his hand against my cheek as he deepens the kiss. His want is every bit as transparent as mine. He kisses me again and again until both of us gasp for air in between kisses. I feel him pulling away, wrap my arms around him to hold him steady. I'd rather pass out than let this kiss end. I am dizzy and desperately clinging to the moment.

"Inside," he breathes the words more than speaks them.

We somehow manage to get to our feet and through the front door. It smells as if it's been recently cleaned. I sneak a peek between kisses and the room is completely empty. It doesn't matter. The floor will do. We sink to our knees and he slams the door behind us.

He tosses the pile of unfinished apologies into the air and the flutter and fall to the ground in a shower of parchment. The kisses continue; long, wet, intimate kisses of desire, but also apology. This is my apology. These kisses are everything, and I can only hope that he understands just how many things I am trying to tell him. They say actions speak louder than words. For me, these kisses are the volumes of my soul.

I run my fingers through the unruly mop that he calls hair. It's softer than I expected. His hands creep under my shirt and he touches my bare back. The intimacy of the skin to skin contact makes me shiver.

Potter kisses across my cheek and down to the base of my neck and I'm finally able to catch my breath.

"I... I..." he says, gulping for his own breath against my neck.

"Shhh." Words will only destroy this. I grab the back of his neck and pull his head up. I want his lips again. They taste of pumpkin juice and cherries.

This time the kiss is softer, more exploratory, less desperate. We savor it, knowing that it can't possibly last. I let my tongue linger against his. I take my breath from his.

The kiss runs its course, and after a minute, we're resting our foreheads on each other's shoulders.

Potter looks up at me, his eyes wide and dilated. "That was... in--"

"Inevitable."

He smiles. It's soft and conciliatory. I know that wasn't what he was going to say.

"I can't stay," he says.

I don't like the sound of that.

"I need to get back to Hogwarts. I promised Hagrid... well, I promised him something."

He takes my hand in his, and I can merely nod. The kisses have left me lightheaded and without the energy for a fight.

"Tomorrow," he says. "Oh, wait, no, I told Luna I'd help print the first edition."

"I'll meet you there," I say.

"You don't have to."

"We'll get it done twice as fast." He forgets that I'm still a Slytherin at heart.

"Brilliant." He hobbles to his feet.

"Don't forget your letters," I say, gesturing to the papers strewn around us. "They're yours. To keep."

One Accio later, and he's stumbling out the door with the sappiest of expressions, an incredibly messed up head of hair, and an armful of apologies.

~ooOOOoo~
They say they're going to release him today. It's been three months since I last saw my father. My mother kept her promise not to let me visit. I don't know if it's because he didn't want me to see him that way or if he couldn't bear to face me.

I escort Mother to the Wizengamot chamber. She looks so perfect. Her dress and hair reflect only the finest witch of high society. She gives me a smile of confidence. In that one look, she tells me that everything is going to be all right.

We are allowed to sit in the back of the chamber as Father receives his sentence.

It is the opinion of this panel that Lucius Malfoy not be held for trial, and that he be released under the following provisions…

The woman drones on, but I don't hear any of it. I can only squeeze Mother's hand as I focus on the back of Father's head. They've cut his hair short and it's darker than I remember. They're going to release him. He's coming home.

~ooOOOoo~
Harry gives me time to welcome my father home and help him readjust. Whatever is to be between Harry and my father can wait. For now I can have them both, but separately.

After a week, I send a note to Harry.

Harry,
I miss you. Can I see you tonight?
Draco

A few hours later, I have my reply.

Come as soon as you can.

I Apparate to his flat.

He's not in the living room, so I venture to the bedroom. It's dark except for a few candles and fire in the hearth warming the room.

"Hello?" I call softly as I enter.

The bathroom door opens. In an instant, I've got a broom handle in my pants. He's dripping wet wearing nothing but a towel. An extremely small white towel that leaves nothing to the imagination. Lucky me.

"Hi," he says. "Thought I had time for a quick shower."

"I couldn't wait."

"I missed you, too." Stepping towards me, he wraps his arms around me. He's cold and wet. I'll warm him up.

"You used that spiced soap I got for you." I could eat him. I think I will.

"I told you I liked it."

I tip my chin down to meet his lips and kiss him. He uses a peppermint toothpaste that reminds me of summers at the lake house. I skim my hands down his damp skin, grab a handful of towel, and pull.

With a devilish grin, he leads me to the bed. His eyes are dark and the candlelight flickers within them.

I quickly toe out of my shoes and join him atop the coverlet which I recently bought for him. The man had a beautiful brand new flat and he was living out of boxes and old cast offs from his friends.

He wastes no time and unbuttons my shirt as I lean back on the pillows.

"I missed you," he says again. This time it's throaty and filled with desire.

"Want you," I mouth.

"Want you," he mouths back, and then leans over and proceeds to undo the ties of my trousers with his teeth. When he reaches the growing wet spot, he lifts his head up and gives me a feral grin.

As it turns out, I was his first. First everything. Harry was the first man I ever let fuck me. We were nervous in the beginning. Hesitant. Tentative. Now it's about how best to please the other. At times, it's strangely competitive, but we both win.

I relish the pressure of his naked body atop mine. His cock leaks on my stomach as he writhes against me. As much as I love fucking him, I really want him to fuck me tonight. I reach under the pillow behind me and find the lube in its usual spot.

One finger and I beg him to take me. I need this as much as I need air, food, a wand.

I close my eyes as he penetrates me. I don't know why I always do. I suppose there are some things that I still can't let him see. There must be those precious moments that we keep only for ourselves. It's the miracle of coming apart and being put back together. He does that to me. He always has.

When he's finally moving back and forth, deep inside me, I'll open my eyes and let him know the pleasure he gives me. Harry likes it when I moan. Tonight, I'm a tad louder than usual. I rock to the side to let him know that I want switch positions.

Harry holds me close, and we roll towards the center of the bed. I like it on top. His moan as I bare down and squeeze is an extra reward. It's a rush to ride him hard and feel his back arch under me. When I hear the short, rapid breaths, I know he's close.

"Come for me," I say.

"Yes. Want. To come," he chokes out, husky and raw. "You. You first."

Harry, ever the Gryffindor, wraps his sweat slicked hand around my cock. He uses my pre-come as additional lubricant. His hand strokes over the top of my prick and I shudder.

"That's it," he says.

I ride him harder, hoping to make him come first. He's not having it, and strokes faster, holds me tighter.

"Fuck," I moan. "Fuck."

"Draco," he whispers. "My Draco."

His claim of possession sends me over the edge. I moan like a Knockturn Alley whore. I'm coming in his fist. My arse spasms around his cock. My entire body may well be spasming. I can't tell. I'm clenching over and over.

I barely catch my breath before Harry grabs my hips and furiously pumps into me. It's desperate, but I'm too boneless to do anything except let him do all the work and take me.

Harry groans when he comes. It's completely unrestrained. He used to bite his bottom lip, but I've since taught him that it's far more satisfying to let it all out.

I'm tired and want nothing more than to sleep curled up next to him. A few months ago, I didn't have a wand, I didn't have a life, I didn't have my family, I didn't have anything. Now, I have everything. I am very grateful. I have to tell him.

"Thank you, Harry."

"Goodnight, Draco," he murmurs half asleep, but I know he heard me.

~End~