The negotiations needed to be somewhere that wasn’t the Ministry, so they could be unofficial until everyone had agreed; and wasn’t Hogwarts, because nobody wanted Hogwarts touched by the war any more than it had already been; and wasn’t a sensible conference room in a hotel conveniently located on the Tube, because the first time they arranged the meeting, only three wizards on the Slytherin side even managed to find the place. So Shacklebolt asked Harry if he’d mind them using 12 Grimmauld Place.
“As long as you don’t mind Kreacher,” Harry said: Kreacher had mostly reverted to type since the war. He took care of Harry in an insistent dogged way, but he still kept sighing endlessly for the good old times when the House of Black had reigned. “At least the other side ought to feel at home.”
He didn’t know how true that was going to be until the Slytherin delegation stepped in. Draco looked round the dusty hall with an expression of disgust. “No, I’ll keep them,” Draco told the coatrack, when it stretched out a hook for his cloak and gloves. “Potter, what are you doing, letting the place go to rack and ruin like this? What’s happened to the house-elf? Did you throw the poor old thing out to satisfy Granger’s principles?”
“Of course not!” Harry said hotly. “Sorry if it doesn’t meet your standards, Malfoy, I don’t let him slave away day and night. He’s old.”
Draco rolled his eyes. “What you mean is, you can’t be bothered to care, so your elf’s got depressed and given up.” He looked around again, his lips compressed. “This is one of the great wizarding houses of Britain, and you’re treating it like a dormitory.”
Kreacher came shuffling out of the dining room, where everyone was assembling. “Guests in the house and nothing to put out for them,” he muttered. “No hours of polishing. No scrubbing the floors and windows. Oh, what my poor mistress would say!”
Draco looked down at him, and then gave Harry a meaningful look, like he’d just proved his point or something. “You, elf,” he said imperiously. “Kreacher, isn’t it?” Kreacher’s head came right up, fixing his gaze on Draco. “Just because your master doesn’t care, doesn’t mean none of us do. I am a son of the House of Black, and I expect to be properly looked after in the home of my mother’s line.”
Harry was about to tell Malfoy just where he could stuff his family line, but Kreacher’s eyes were opening wide as saucers, his ears rising, and he breathed out in tones of ecstasy, “Yes, Master Draco, of course,” like the greatest ambition of his life was to see that Draco Malfoy was properly looked after, and he immediately vanished with a pop.
Draco gave Harry a superior look and swept past him into the dining room. Harry went after him and stopped short, because as Malfoy walked along the length of the room to join the rest of the Slytherins at the other end, the whole room changed around him. It wasn’t a transfiguration; nothing actually changed shape. It was more like—looking through a dirty pane of glass as someone wiped it clean. The heavy curtains shivered themselves out, little rains of dust falling, and suddenly they looked blue instead of grey; they pulled themselves more tightly to the window frames, so more light spilled into the room. A thin line of some sort of tiny bugs went marching out of the long carpet and dived for a crack in the floor, and in the dark corners of the ceiling, Harry could just make out spiders bundling up their webs and rolling away. In the main fireplace the flames roared up bright and crackling, and all the shining lamps and candleabrae came alight. The slouching drowsy portraits on the wall sat up, stretching, and looked down into the room with interest.
The chair at the end of the table pulled itself out, and Draco seated himself with a flourish of the skirts of his robes. He looked down at the table, which abruptly folded off its entire top layer. Harry blinked. He hadn’t even realized there was a cover, the thing was made of perfectly nice wood itself. But underneath, a tabletop of darker wood shone like a mirror, all the lights reflecting in the surface. Plates began appearing along the length of it, cups and saucers and tea service, dainty cakes and perfect little hors d’oeuvres. Draco gave a small approving nod and did take off his gloves, then, putting them down on the table: then Harry blinked, and they’d vanished.
Nobody else really seemed to have noticed; they were all sitting down as the chairs pulled themselves out, starting to help themselves to the food. Harry frowned: he didn’t like Draco coming in and pushing his house around, but it was hard to see how he could go in and make a fuss without looking ridiculous—what was he going to say, stop eating the snacks? Let’s close all the curtains and have the place dark and dismal again? He sat down at the other end of the table and glared at Malfoy down its length, and Draco smirked back at him.
The negotiations went on for a week solid, morning to night, during which Harry discovered that the kitchens could open up to twice their size, the library had a second beautiful wood-paneled room exactly right for private conversations—Draco had pulled two of his colleagues aside for a chat, and a section of the wall had just swung itself open for him invitingly—and the clanking in the cloakroom on the ground floor, which he’d always assumed was just old pipes, was actually a small nest of sewer grindylows. Harry found Kreacher attacking the sink drain with a long wiggling piece of metal, and was about to ask what he was doing when the grindylows burst out into the air, carrying a hideous stinking mass of knotted hair and sludge with them like luggage, and went squirming furiously across the floor and jumped one after another into the toilet, which flushed them away determinedly as Kreacher did a mad triumphant dance of victory on the sink’s edge, and fell off and nearly hit the floor before Harry caught him.
“Look, Kreacher, you really don’t need to do all this,” Harry said. “Not for Draco Malfoy!”
“Kreacher is not letting the house be mortified!” Kreacher said. “Kreacher is happy to be of service!”
Harry wanted to argue with him some more, but—Kreacher actually did look happy, and healthier; his eyes were less dull and his ears had pricked up, and his skin looked somehow less grey.
The whole house looked better. Everything seemed to be somehow brightening and straightening up, rising determinedly to the occasion, which Harry would have appreciated more if the occasion wasn’t the honor of Draco Malfoy’s presence. To add insult to injury, the change was only in the public rooms. Whenever Harry went upstairs to bed, it was like climbing up into a layer of smog. He’d just thought that was what the house was like, a dusty old tomb of a place, and he hadn’t really minded—it certainly still didn’t compare to the cupboard under the stairs—but seeing the contrast every single day was like having his face rubbed in it that his house liked Draco Malfoy more than him.
He was glad when they finally reached the end of the negotiations. They’d hammered out agreements on prison time and reparations—Harry was fiercely glad that Teddy Lupin would never want for anything a day in his life at the expense of the Lestrange estate. It wasn’t like it made up for it, nothing could make up for it, but at least it was a little bit of justice. And on the other side, though Lucius Malfoy deserved to spend the rest of his life in Azkaban if anyone did, Harry was pretty sure Draco wasn’t lying when he said shortly, unsmiling, that his father wasn’t well, and under the care of a full-time staff of mediwizards. He wasn’t going to fight to send a sick and broken man to the Dementors. Some people on their side wanted to get more of their own back, but they followed his lead, and he didn’t want to be vindictive. He wasn’t going to be vindictive.
The chairs were pushed back, the handshakes were exchanged, the cloaks were gathered, and the delegates all trooped out of the house for the last time. Draco brought up the end and took his time leaving: he walked the length of the dining room slowly, looking at each portrait in turn and exchanging nods with them before he came out. The coatrack tenderly reached out and put his cloak over his shoulders, and handed him his gloves. Harry stood with his arms folded as Draco looked round one last time, letting his eyes rove over the house—Harry’s house. He looked at Harry. “I suppose you’ll go back to eating Muggle food and putting your trainers on the furniture now,” he said bitterly, like that was a crime to do in your own house.
“Bye, Malfoy,” Harry said insincerely, through gritted teeth. “Thanks for coming.”
Draco turned and reached for the door. The knob wouldn’t turn. He tried it again, and the door still wouldn’t budge, not even a rattle. He stopped, standing there with his hand on the knob, and then he let go and turned round. “I’m sorry,” he said, head up and speaking to the air, like the whole house could hear him. “I’d claim you if I could. But the Wizengamot wouldn’t hear a petition from me now if it came sung by angels from on high, much less over him.” He jerked his head at Harry. “I have to go.”
He stopped talking. There was a strange heavy silence in the house for a moment, and then the front door swung open wide to let him leave. He threw one last hard look at Harry and swept out and down the stairs. The front door stayed open even while he ducked inside the Malfoy black-pumpkin carriage and was carried away. Harry went to close it as the carriage finally vanished out of sight around the corner on its stumpy legs, but before he could touch the knob, it slammed itself shut in his face with an angry bang.
The smog layer sank back down over the ground floor like it had never lifted. Harry came down into the dim stifled rooms the next day, and with his jaw clenched told Kreacher, “Look, it’s all right if you want to keep it up a bit more.”
“Yes, Master,” Kreacher said listlessly, and pushed a broom around the front hall for half an hour with no effect.
Harry couldn’t find the hidden room in the library any more, and the kitchen had shrunk down to the level of a bedsit: two burners and an oven the size of a shoebox, and a toaster that Harry couldn’t remember ever having seen before, which burnt any piece of bread put into it if you looked away for even a split second.
“I wonder why it’s happening now,” Hermione mused. “Have you tried asking Kreacher what’s wrong?”
“Yeah,” Harry said. “He won’t say. He just says he’s sorry for not serving master properly and begs forgiveness until I have to tell him to stop, and then he moans about the state of the house all the time, but he doesn’t do anything about it.”
“Hm,” Hermione said. “Maybe try having a party?”
“What I mean is, maybe the house was excited about having guests,” Hermione said. “So invite people over, make it an excuse to tidy up and put on a show.”
Harry made a face. “I feel like a tosser, showing off my wizard mansion or something.”
They were in the library together. One of the heavy crystal candlesticks on the mantelpiece tipped off with a loud bang and smashed on the floor: they both jumped, looking over at it startled. Harry got up and picked up the pieces. “It must have been right on the edge,” he said. “Ow!” He sucked the side of his thumb: he’d cut himself.
Hermione was frowning. “Harry, I think you’re hurting its feelings.”
“It’s a house, Hermione!”
“It’s an old wizarding house!” Hermione said. “It’s not like an ordinary place. And I’m sure it’s worse because you’re not properly family. That’s probably why it behaved so well for Draco: his mum’s a Black. I looked it up, you know: he actually does have a claim to the house, legally. I don’t think he’d win the case, Sirius’s will was completely straightforward and the entail was definitely broken, but wizarding law allows you to claim a property by right of blood occupancy even if you haven’t proper title, especially if you can prove neglect by the present holder.”
“I’m not neglecting the place!” Harry said. “It’s neglecting me, if anything.”
“All right, look,” Hermione said, “let’s try having the party. We’ll come over and help decorate beforehand, too—make the place feel festive. Show the house that you like having it and want to make it nice, and I’m sure it will respond. You are the rightful owner, after all.”
Harry sent off the invitation as an owl chain, a quick note letting everyone know when to come over, and talked to Kreacher about the food. “It doesn’t have to be anything over the top,” Harry said. “Just—drinks and snacks, that sort of thing.” He didn’t want a stuffy, Victorian affair, where everyone would feel awkward, and anyway he was fairly sure the kitchen couldn’t produce anything more elaborate right now.
“Yes, Master,” Kreacher said with a dull heaved sigh.
Hermione and Ron and Luna all came round to help put up streamers and lights. It didn’t seem to have much of an effect: if anything the bright lights and colors made the room seem more dingy than it had been. They all stood surveying the dining room together uncertainly. “It doesn’t quite feel right, does it,” Luna said.
It was too late to try anything else, though, because the guests had started arriving. For a while Harry thought it wouldn’t matter. People streamed in, smiling, happy to have a good time, to talk and just relax for once, like the Common Room at school writ large. The house hadn’t put out anything besides a bowl of slightly stale crisps and a horrible jar full of liquefied American cheese and one half-full bottle of peach schnapps, but Hermione and Ron had run out and bought supplies: hummus and carrot sticks and twiglets, and a couple of platters of fruit and cheese.
The drinks were only big bottles of pop and a random assortment of beer and wine mostly brought by the guests, and the carrot sticks and twiglets disappeared at some point and were mysteriously replaced by pickled onions, but nobody really cared. Harry walked from room to room full of his friends, the people who’d stood by him and by Hogwarts. He didn’t care if the house would’ve laid on a twelve-course banquet for Malfoy and his Slytherin pals, this was fine with him.
“This place is an absolute gas, Potter,” Justin Finch-Fletchley said to him in the dining room, waving his cut-crystal glass full of Lilt around at the room. “All decaying splendor and the decline and fall and so forth. Will you host Halloween, too? All you need is a few ghouls moaning in the basement and a handful of rattling chains and it’ll be perfect.”
His glass exploded in his hand, splattering him and Harry and the two Ravenclaw girls standing next to him, to shrieks and a vivid tropical stink.
Everything went horribly wrong from there. Doors shut and stuck, leaving people trapped and banging to get out; the toilet overflowed with a horrible black tarry goop; the streamers in the sitting room caught on fire and had to be beaten out with sofa cushions. Everyone gave up and started leaving, and the house was empty by nine o’clock. “Sorry, Harry,” Hermione said apologetically, leaving with Ron. “I suppose it didn’t work. We’ll think of something else, don’t worry.”
“Yeah,” Harry said, and shut the door behind her.
“Kreacher has cleaned the bathroom. Kreacher will be cleaning the dining room or the sitting room next?” Kreacher asked, peering up at him a little timidly.
Harry looked in at the whole giant mess of the dining room and said, “Oh, just forget it,” and shut the door.
The agreements went through the Wizengamot the following week. Shacklebolt signed them at the Ministry with the delegates from both sides in attendance, and afterwards Draco said unexpectedly, “Have you decided where to hold a ceremony of reconciliation? I’ll open the Manor for it, if you like,” as though that was obvious and everyone knew there was going to be a ceremony of reconciliation, and Harry didn’t know what that even was, but from the faintly disgruntled looks on the faces of the wizards on his side, they should have planned one.
The upshot was Shacklebolt agreed to letting Malfoy host the thing. “I think it a wise idea, in fact,” he said to Harry, afterwards. “Too many of us have a dread of the Manor, after the war. Better not to let such a thing build up. It can have its own kind of power, if permitted to grow.”
So Harry steeled himself and went, after all. He expected to find the brooding hulk of a place he’d been tortured in; Hermione’s hand was gripping his almost painfully as the three of them Apparated over. But the iron gates were covered in pale-spring vines, and golden lights hung all the length of the walk down to the house with its enormous windows so ablaze you could barely make out the walls around them.
“Harry, my boy!” Horace Slughorn called, and took Harry’s arm to lead him around the gardens on a meandering stroll. Harry went with him, letting Ron and Hermione go on ahead: he wasn’t in any hurry to go inside the house. The garden walks were full of wizards and witches talking and laughing, faint music playing from somewhere and pedestals with silver trays full of canapés and glasses of champagne standing at regular intervals.
“It’s been many years since I was here, Harry,” Slughorn said, as they moved past the flower beds full of glowing silver-bells and red-tipped marigolds, trees showy with blossoms, fireflies and pale-green moths dancing around them. “Not since the wedding, I believe. Now that was quite the occasion! The union of the houses of Malfoy and Black: it was the event of the decade, of course. A thousand guests for seated dinner, not counting the ghosts, and the revelries lasted three days. Ah, I’m glad to see the place hasn’t suffered permanent harm from the war. There are few places even in the wizarding world with this kind of history, Harry. It is good to see them preserved and cherished. Come, let’s go inside. Have you seen the ballroom? It was laid down in the seventeenth century.”
Slughorn took him inside through a side door, at least, which let Harry give the receiving line at the front door a miss. The last thing he wanted was to shake Malfoy’s hand. Dancing was in full swing in the ballroom, spirits whirling above and the living whirling below, with occasional exchanges. An orchestra of thirty was playing on an enormous balcony at the back that overlooked the floor, with a narrower part that ran all around the room and formed a passage over the dancing. Slughorn led Harry up. “Splendid to see you, old fellow; how are you, my dear,” he said, beaming and shaking hands with every wizard and witch they passed as they descended on the other side and continued on into the Great Hall.
Harry had a weird double-take moment when he realized it was the same room where Bellatrix had wanted to hand him over to Voldemort. The whole space seemed at least four times as large. There were floating chandeliers illuminating the ceiling, turning graceful slow circles, and the tapestries that had hung oppressively dark and shadowing were vibrantly alive, figures moving and dancing through the weave, colors glowing in the light.
Draco came through the room a little while later, making a kind of gracious progress. Harry was irritated to see people turning to him, smiling at him, congratulating him on the arrangements. It was one thing not to be vindictive, but seeing Malfoy be toadied to after everything, that was something else. And he moved through the crowd like there was a spotlight on him, the whole room seeming to shift to keep him the center of attention. The flowers in the vases stood up taller when he came near; the lights brightened around him. Furniture shifted itself unobtrusively and the carpets even nudged people around a bit to make way for him.
Harry would’ve liked to make an escape, but Slughorn had a hard grip on his arm, and he was standing in Malfoy’s path and beaming. “Hello, Professor,” Malfoy said. “It’s good to see you. We weren’t certain you could come. I hope you’ve recovered entirely?”
“Why, yes indeed, thank you, dear boy,” Slughorn said. “But I would have had to be in a sorry state indeed to have missed the happy occasion. We must all be glad to put a proper end to this painful affair.” He turned his beam on Harry. “Indeed, it does my old heart good to see both of you young men here, together, after everything. The new generation rising to take its place, hopefully to avoid the errors of the old! Come, let us all see you shake hands, a symbol of the true spirit of reconciliation.”
Harry gritted his teeth, but Slughorn’s fingers had dug sharply and meaningfully into his elbow, and he could see eyes on them all over the room. He put out his hand, half hoping Malfoy would turn it down, but Draco reached out and took it instantly. He even shook it properly, not trying to oversqueeze or go limp. “Potter,” Draco said. “I hope you’ve been well,” like something meaningless out of Debrett’s guide about how to behave at your own party, as though he’d suddenly woken up one day and decided to behave like a civilized person instead of a childish bully, as though there wasn’t a Dark Mark carved into his flesh beneath his fine silk robes.
“Fine,” Harry said. “Thanks for hosting us. The place looks a lot better than the last time I was here,” he added meanly, unable to help himself. One of the lamps on the wall shifted a bit and shot a glaring light directly in his eyes.
Draco’s mouth tightened. “Yes,” was all he said. “It does.”
He nodded to them both and moved on, the focal point of the room moving right along with him, faces turning to follow him. “Well, Harry,” Slughorn said, watching him go with an approving expression, “whatever mistakes Draco may have made, he’s certainly made himself master of his own house. It can have been no easy task.” He patted Harry’s arm. “Come, my boy, let’s go and have dinner.”
Harry drank more than he ate, and went back to Grimmauld Place early, still simmering. It just wasn’t on. Malfoy had just sailed out the other end of the war with his manor and his money, and everyone was so happy to be finished with the war that they were going to let him get away with it. No, worse than that: they were all ready to line up and bow and scrape to him, like he was wizarding royalty or something.
When Harry opened the front door, the chandelier didn’t come on, and he tripped over something squashy and horrible and nearly fell. When he threw up a Lumos, there was a dead rat just inside the door.
He stared at it a moment then turned in a fury. “Yeah, I get it,” he snarled at the house, into the air, not caring anymore that it looked mental. “Bet you’re jealous of the Manor: you’d love to have Draco Malfoy to fawn over, too. Sorry I’m not a fathead Slytherin like him. You’re just going to have to put up with it.”
Then he yanked open the door to the shut-up dining room and threw the rat corpse inside with a Levitation Charm, slammed the door back on it, and went to bed.
A few days later, Shacklebolt asked to use Grimmauld Place again for one last off-the-record meeting with a few of the delegates, to iron out a few tangles that had come up. Harry knew he was being childish about it, but it made him feel a little viciously glad, saying, “Sorry the place is a bit of a mess,” and getting to see Malfoy’s mouth go hard and disapproving as he came into the library where the dust had been getting a bit thick on the shelves. He even tried to run his hand along a shelf, and it didn’t magically clean itself up for him, just left his fingertips sticky.
“I suppose you’re proud of yourself, reducing the house to this state,” he said to Harry icily, stopping across from him by the door of the room, after everyone else had left. “Muggles would be kinder to it.” He threw one last look around the library. “When I think of what this place was, when my great-aunt was alive—”
“What, the raving mad one whose portrait we had to pry off the wall and stuff into the attic?” Harry said. “Must’ve been a treat.”
Draco wheeled on him. “You filthy little—”
Harry gripped his wand, a fierce hot satisfaction rising in him. “Yeah?” he snapped, stepping in closer to him. “Go ahead, Malfoy, want to start something?”
Draco glared at him, his jaw clenched and his fists tight, and then he jerked away and stormed out into the hall. Harry followed him, and both of them stopped short, staring.
The front door was gone.
“Well, that’s just wonderful,” Draco said after a moment. “Congratulations, Potter, you’ve driven your house to the brink.”
“What?” Harry said. He pulled out his wand and pointed it at the dead end wall where the door had been. “Alohomora!”
“Yes, because that’s going to work,” Draco said, rolling his eyes.
Harry glared at him and turned and went down through the kitchen to the back door.
It was gone, too.
“What happened here?” Draco said from behind him. He was standing in the doorway of the shrunken kitchen, staring around in genuine horror. “What—did this just happen? How long has it been like this?” Like he’d just caught Harry with a basement full of tortured wizards or something—but no, wait, the Malfoys didn’t have any problems with that.
Draco whirled and went dashing back upstairs, and Harry went after him: Draco was flinging doors open one after another, looking into every room. Harry looked into the sitting room behind him: the shutters were sealed over every window. He went in and tried to open one: it wouldn’t even budge. Harry gave up and went back out: Draco was standing at the entrance to the dining room, rigid, and when Harry caught up to him, Draco turned around and punched him.
Harry had a lot of youthful experience of being punched, and Draco wasn’t any good at it. Harry just moved with the blow and slugged him back in the gut, twice, and dumped him gasping to the floor with a hand over his belly.
“Want to try that again, Malfoy?” he said sarcastically, breathing hard. He felt satisfied. Then he looked past Draco, into the dining room—the decomposing rat still on the floor in a black stain, the dining table with glasses and half-full bottles of pop left standing on the polished surface from the aftermath of the failed party. The lights were all out, the curtains hanging askew and loose, and even the portrait frames were empty and abandoned. It looked—it looked like a derelict ruin.
“You’re pathetic,” Draco said, still kneeling on the floor, his voice coming out trembly and thin. “You couldn’t stand seeing what the house could be in the hands of a real wizard, so you’re brutalizing it. I’m glad it’s turned on you.”
He wiped his face and pushed himself back up to his feet, and limped down the hall and went back into the library. Harry didn’t follow him. He had an sinking ashamed twist in his stomach, remembering the way the room had looked when Draco had walked out of it, three weeks before. He went inside. A quick hex disintegrated the rat, and a Cleaning Charm got rid of the wet part of the stain, although there was still a discolored patch on the floor. Maybe Kreacher would know some way to fix it. Harry put the curtains back up as best he could—they kept sagging and sliding down—sent the glasses flying back to the kitchen and disposed of the plastic bottles, and ran another quick Cleaning Charm over the table.
But the candles wouldn’t stay lit, no matter how many times he tried to light them, and the fire wouldn’t catch. It wasn’t even three o’clock, and it had been a sunny day outside, but no light was coming in through the shutters. He finally gave up and lit the room with a handful of Lumos spells, but they only gave the whole place an eerie, abandoned quality, the light taking on a faintly greenish cast. His breath was even starting to mist in the air.
Harry shook his head and gave up: he’d done everything he could do. He went back out, calling, “Kreacher? Where are you?”
There was no answer. Harry frowned and went upstairs. The windows in all the private rooms were all shuttered too, all the way up to the tiny round window in the attic, and there wasn’t any sign of Kreacher anywhere. The whole place was really getting weirdly cold, too. “All right, this is getting ridiculous,” Harry said, climbing down from the attic into the upstairs landing. He was going to go and get some help. He shut his eyes and visualized the street outside. “Apparate!”
It was like walking directly into a stone wall. Harry staggered back from the impact so hard he sat down on the floor with a thump, rubbing his forehead, dazed.
“What the hell’s going on?” he demanded, stalking into the library, and halted in the doorway. It was like coming into a different world. A crackling fire was going in the grate, and there were candles lit all around the old desk. A pot of tea was standing on a tray, a cup at Draco’s elbow. The shelves immediately around him had shed their dust, and the gilt letters on the book spines were catching the light, leather covers in warm colors. He was writing something on a piece of paper.
“What do you think’s going on?” Draco said. “The house is completely finished with you, Potter.”
“I wouldn’t expect it to lock me in, then,” Harry said.
“Wouldn’t you.” Draco put down his quill and blew on the paper to dry the ink, then held it out to Harry.
The contract was a few paragraphs long, unnecessarily formal, but Harry got the idea immediately. “Are you joking?” he said. “You think I’m going to give you my house?”
Draco waved a hand comprehensively around at the shuttered windows and the vanished front door. “What were you planning to do?”
Harry crumpled up the paper and chucked it into the fire: it roared up with an angry crackle. “Nice try, Malfoy,” he said. “But no. Whatever you’ve done, I’m going to find a way to undo it.”
Harry spent the rest of the day trying to undo the spell, whatever it was. Finite Incantatem had no effect, and neither did any of a dozen other counter-charms. He couldn’t even see the spell under any kind of examination: it was like the house was just—cut off from the world. It occurred to Harry that he had no idea where the house went when it was hidden between its neighbors. He wished he could ask Hermione, but the Floo wasn’t working either.
He stayed in the library because he wanted to consult some of the books, and because it was the only place in the house that wasn’t increasingly frigid. Finding anything he wanted was an exercise in frustration, though: books slipped out of reach, or somehow moved between shelves when he glanced away, or their spines said one thing and when he got them down they said another.
Draco had stretched out on a sofa by the fireplace with a book and a glass of wine. Harry had no idea where the wine had come from: it was a dusty old bottle he’d never seen before. “How long before you start to get hungry, do you think?” Draco said, leafing over to the next page.
“If the house doesn’t want me to eat, it’s going to have to starve you, too.” Harry walked over to the sofa and picked up the bottle and swigged from it, pointedly. He couldn’t help noticing it was good wine, too, which only annoyed him even more.
Draco scowled up at him. “What do you even want with this house? You obviously don’t appreciate it.”
“It’s my house!” Harry snapped. “I live here! Just because you’ve—I don’t know, seduced it—”
“Oh, yes,” Draco said. “I’ve clearly had to go to enormous lengths to suborn the place, I’ve been here twice since you took ownership.”
“It doesn’t matter!” Harry said. “You can’t have it. Why do you want it, anyway? You’ve got the Manor, don’t you? What’s the matter, not enough room for you?”
Draco stood up. “Listen, you rotten little halfblood peasant,” he spat. “This house has sheltered the Black family for twelve generations! Half the portraits on the walls are my ancestors. My mother grew up playing in this house, she used to bring me here when I was a child. Do you know where the secret passage is? Do you know how to open the cabinets on the second-floor landing? You can’t get a book off the shelf, you can’t have even seen the ballroom. I don’t need a roof over my head, Potter. I just don’t want to stand by and watch you abuse and trample over the place.”
“That’s rich, you talking about me abusing and trampling,” Harry said. “Go to hell. I wouldn’t give you a sack full of broken glass you wanted, much less a house.”
Draco stood there, hands clenched, and then he said, “Fine. I’ll buy it from you. I’ll sell some of the lands.” He made it sound like he was going to sell an organ. “Five million Galleons. You can buy yourself a charming Muggle flat with all the mod cons and have enough left over to do whatever you want.”
“Five million—” Harry stared at him, speechlessly.
“That’s all I can raise!”
“I don’t care if you can raise twice as much,” Harry yelled. “It’s not for sale.”
“You don’t want the house, the house doesn’t want you, you can get rid of it and drain my vault at the same time. What more do you want, Potter?” Draco snarled.
“What do I want?” Harry was shaking suddenly, rage like a wild animal trapped in his throat, clawing to get out. “I want my godfather back! I want my mum and dad back! I want to be living in my own home with my own family, not in an empty mausoleum I’ve only got because they’re all dead!” He was shouting, furious. “But I can’t have any of those things, Malfoy, thanks to you and your hateful crowd and your filthy Dark Lord and your murderous bitch of an aunt; I only have this house, and I’ll burn it to the ground with us both inside it before I ever give it up!”
The words came up like bile, horrible and true, something he meant without wanting to mean it, something he’d tried to keep buried inside. He stopped, trembling all over. His throat hurt.
Draco was staring at him, a strange expression on his face, and then he said softly, “So, Potter, you’re one of us, after all.”
Harry stalked into the kitchen still shaking, the anger boiling on. He gripped the handle of the fridge and said to it, the words still coming out of the knot in his gut, “There’s going to be something decent I can eat in there, and no canapés.” He opened it and found a plate with just a normal bloody sandwich: ham and cheese and pickle on white sliced bread, and he sat down at the big kitchen table and tore into it savagely.
Draco came downstairs and glanced at Harry’s plate. Harry half wanted him to make some sort of comment, but Draco only shook his head with a faintly exasperated look. He seated himself at the table, and by the time he landed in the chair, there was a place setting waiting, and he put a napkin in his lap and the wine glass filled itself and three amazing-looking canapés did pop up for him like colorful mushrooms, and after he’d eaten them one at a time, his plate changed out for a bowl of pale green soup with little golden fried things that wafted a ludicrously good smell all the way across the table and made the pickle taste go metallic and off in Harry’s mouth.
He glared down at his suddenly unappetizing sandwich and forced himself to keep eating it. When Draco had finished delicately eating the last bit of whatever the fried things were and rinsing his fingers in the finger bowl, he pushed the plate back. “All right,” he said. “We’ll start in here. God knows it’s a disaster.”
“Start what?” Harry said.
“Teaching you how to look after your house properly, Potter,” Draco said. “Without having to cow it into miserable submission,” he added, with a pointed jerk of his chin at Harry’s plate, with the quarter of the sandwich he hadn’t been able to force down. “I don’t fancy spending the rest of my life locked in here with you.” He stood up. “Now come here, and start looking through the cupboards with me.”
Draco took him through every cupboard in the place in a row, telling him as they went about what was kept in each one, making Harry open them up and touch the things and the wood of the cupboard doors. There were dozens of different kinds of glasses, and Draco told him what each one was used for, lining up one of each kind on the counter. “Malfoy, I don’t care about this stuff,” Harry said, halfway through the first shelf. “What difference does it make whether someone uses the right glass for red instead of white?”
“Shut up, Potter,” Draco said. “Are you trying to offend? If you want the house to treat you nicely, you need to show some appreciation.”
Midway through the third cupboard, Draco paused, holding a squat cut-crystal whisky glass in his hand, and said, “There’s a photograph from Christmas dinner maybe five years before I was born, right before Sirius ran away. He pitches one of these at my dad and then all the guests hex each other like mad before they settle back down to the table. I used to laugh myself sick over it when I was a little kid. I didn’t even know half the people in it—he was in Azkaban, so was Aunt Bellatrix, Uncle Rodolphus—all the older relatives had died.”
He put it down on the counter in the row. Harry stared at it and picked it up in his own hands. He tried to imagine Sirius holding it—he found himself half smiling; he could just see Sirius, the younger Sirius out of the Marauders photo, sitting at a family dinner table, brooding, sneaking drinks he shouldn’t have had while Lucius Malfoy preened and talked pureblood nonsense at the head of the table, until he just couldn’t take it anymore and let fly—
Draco gripped his wrist suddenly, and Harry looked down: the glass had filled with an inch of some deep amber liquid, around a perfect globe of ice. Draco took it out of his hand and sniffed, then took a sip. “Black Private Reserve,” he said, and held it out. “Don’t gulp it like a barbarian.”
Harry glared at him, but took a sip. It burned on his tongue, bitter and strong and strangely deep, like nothing he’d ever tasted before except things that food couldn’t taste like: the drop of his stomach when he went after a Snitch, the hot satisfaction of snapping off a successful hex. He held it in his mouth without really meaning to, until the feeling faded and he swallowed.
“We may actually get out of here before midsummer,” was Draco’s comment.
It took a really long time to go through all the cupboards, but after four hours, Harry belatedly realized that it was taking so long because the rest of the kitchen had started to come back: the room was at least thirty feet longer than when they’d begun. “Time to set this right,” Draco said, going to stand before the big fireplace, which had grudgingly opened back up again in the north wall.
“What’s wrong with it?” Harry said.
“It’s shriveled, Potter,” Draco said. “It ought to be big enough to roast a whole deer. There’s a painting my mother inherited that shows it. Help me try these bricks.”
He started poking bricks to the sides and above the fireplace with his wand. Harry had never seen the fireplace look any bigger, not even when Sirius had been alive, but he took his wand out and started nudging along with Draco, and then he frowned and leaned in: there was a tiny sliver of a crack between two bricks. “Malfoy,” he said, and Draco turned round.
“Right, let’s have it open,” he said, and took hold of one side. “Pull!”
Harry grabbed and pulled—it did feel like he was pulling on something, although his fingertips were barely caught on the edge of the worn bricks, and he put his back into it, teeth gritting, every muscle straining until suddenly there was a loud grinding noise and both he and Draco went sprawling as the whole wall popped and the fireplace erupted to ludicrously huge proportions. It wasn’t big enough to roast a deer, it was big enough to roast an ox, with six massive cauldrons hanging in a row on an iron spit.
“There we are,” Draco said, looking around the room, and let himself flop backwards onto the ground with a sigh. Harry looked over his shoulder and sat up, staring. The south wall had opened up too: a pair of massive fridges, the stove tripled in size from what it had used to be, and the cupboards all different with brass knobs gleaming and wood shining brown. There was even a door he’d never seen before, a big wooden door with an iron lock set into a stone archway.
“Where does that even go?” Harry said.
“The cellars, obviously,” Draco said. “Where d’you think the wine comes from, Potter? Not that you’ll be getting in there anytime soon,” he added. “Malfoy Manor took a month to let me have the cellar keys, after Father…” He stopped and sat up and pushed his damp hair back from his forehead: they’d both worked up a sweat. The room wasn’t ice cold anymore. “That’s enough for one day, anyway,” he said abruptly. “I need to eat something and get some rest.”
“Wait, where’d the table go?” Harry said, scrambling up.
“Put away, of course: the kitchen’s using the space,” Draco said. “And you’re not going to be getting it out again for years, if you know what’s good for you. Our kind don’t eat in the kitchen, Potter.”
“Why on earth not?” Harry said, baffled.
“I’ve already told you! If you want the house to make an effort, you’ve got to let it,” Draco said. “And if you don’t, there’s no sense your living here at all. You’re just going to make yourself uncomfortable and the place miserable. We’re not going to fix the horror of the dining room tonight, though,” he added. “We’ll eat in the sitting room. It looks like you hadn’t had a chance to do any real damage there yet.”
He led the way upstairs. By the time they walked into the room, a fire was going, and there was an elaborate meal fitting itself neatly on an intimate table: roast duck and venison, two kinds of sauce, five vegetables, rice, a bottle of red wine, and the first set of china, which Draco had informed him was for private family meals only. “Where’s the food coming from, though?” Harry said. “We’re not making it, and I haven’t been able to find Kreacher anywhere, I don’t think he’s in the house with us.”
“Of course he’s in the house, he’s a house elf,” Draco said. “You’ve driven the place to the edge of madness, and then you act surprised your elf is hiding. He’s probably down in the cellars, that’s where they go when they’re really terrified. He’s borrowing from future work so he doesn’t have to come out.”
“Er, what?” Harry said.
Draco waved a hand. “He’ll make this dinner next week or something.”
The table moved itself away when they’d finished, and Harry discovered his chair had turned into a sofa. Draco was already stretching himself out on his own—putting his feet up on the furniture, Harry noted indignantly—with a table sliding up to his elbow with a plate of small chocolates and a glass of some sort of liqueur. Harry scowled a little, but he rather wanted to put his feet up himself: he felt like he’d been doing hard labor all day, not just poking into cupboards, and his lower back still ached from the effort of hauling out the fireplace.
He lay down, and his glass of whisky reappeared when he consciously thought about having it back, remembered the taste of it on his tongue. The fire was crackling, and the room was pleasantly warm. Harry hadn’t used the sitting room much before this: it had always felt stuffy and old-fashioned, wallpapered with dull olive-colored vines, a handful of overstuffed chairs and a little antique music instrument—a harpsichord? Harry didn’t know—standing in the corner.
But now as he lay there half-drowsy, staring at the pattern and following the vines with his eyes, he suddenly started to notice there were flowers among them, tiny buds. When he looked at them long enough, one by one they opened, colors blossoming over the walls, and small golden honeybees began to dart busily in and out among the blooms.
He just watched them for a long while, charmed: they were like something out of a dream. Draco hummed a little snatch of song, picking up some of the faint musical humming of the bees, and the instrument opened itself up with a faint tinkling noise that was somehow hopeful. “Oh, all right,” Draco said after a moment. He swung his legs over and got up and went to it. He tapped a few of the keys, sour notes going sweet under his fingers, and then he started playing.
Harry listened to him, bemused. “Where’d you learn to play?”
“With Madame Tournet, obviously,” Draco said. Harry vaguely remembered the tall, reedy-looking Hogwarts music teacher with her straight black hair and long fingers: there had been a couple of Gryffindor girls who took lessons with her. “My mother made me start in second year, to get the brooms for the Slytherin team.” He made it sound like a hardship, but he played well, as far as Harry could tell. It wasn’t anything fancy, just a melody that wandered pleasantly, and the bees sang along.
Finally Draco closed the instrument up again. “We’d better find out the state of the bedrooms, I suppose,” he said unenthusiastically.
Harry didn’t feel any more excited about the prospect as they looked up the stairs. The banister was ice cold to the touch, and their breath frosted as they climbed. Draco took the lead and went up, wary and slow, placing his foot carefully in the middle of each step and shifting his weight forward, step by step until they reached the next landing. He stopped. Harry looked up to the darkness of the next floor. He felt uneasy too, even though he didn’t quite know what there was to be worried about. The bedroom doors were all shut, even though he was pretty sure he’d left them open earlier, when he’d looked in all the rooms.
“My mother always liked the rose bedroom,” Draco said out loud. After a moment, the door on the right swung grudgingly open. He beckoned Harry on with him and walked over. He stepped partway into the doorway and backed up to the side of the frame, silently motioning with his head for Harry to get inside.
Harry hadn’t ever slept in this room. The four poster was a little princessy, with the pink hangings and rosettes gathered at the corners, and the rose-trellis wallpaper. A portrait of a woman in a rose garden had hung above the fireplace, but right now it was only showing an empty garden in winter, dead brown bushes with no flowers in bloom. Harry glanced back at Draco, who was still standing in the doorway. Draco jerked his chin at the empty fireplace.
Harry went over and knelt down by it, though he wasn’t sure what he was meant to do: there wasn’t anything to light. He looked at Draco, who made an impatient gesture of his hand, as though all he had to do was want fire, and it would appear. Of course—it did do that, for him. Harry said slowly, “We could probably use a fire for the night. What do you think?”
“I wouldn’t mind,” Draco said, and suddenly there was warmth on Harry’s cheeks, a small fire blooming in the hearth. He got up and looked round the room. The light helped, and the warmth, and the—the pinkness of it, actually. Even sort of faded it was hard to make it really creepy. He went to the side of the bed nearest the door.
“D’you want a light?” he said, picking up the candlestick.
“Yes, of course,” Draco said, and Harry turned to take it to the fire, only to find it already burning in his hand. He looked over at the other side of the bed, close to the wall. The space was still mostly shadowed, and somehow he really didn’t want to walk over there. He looked back at Draco, who didn’t look any happier than he felt.
“Have you ever opened the old dressing table?” Draco said abruptly. “I think it’s my mother’s favorite piece. It was built in France, ages ago, for the Queen of the Night.”
The dressing table stood between the shuttered windows, small and delicate. When Harry carried over the candle, the light went dancing over the almost impossibly carved surface, fanciful shapes of castles and vines and wings, tiny faces peeking out at him from behind leaves for an instant as shadows moved across them, vanishing just as fast. When he touched the lid, it raised up, unfolding a large but somehow still airy gilt-edged mirror, two branching candleabras full of small narrow candles swinging out to either side.
Harry lit all of them one after another, and finally the light managed to barely reach into the dark corner. He squared his shoulders and felt for his wand with his free hand, and walked over to the small table by the bed. There was a tiny stub of a candle there, and it didn’t quite want to light even when he held it hard to the candle he was holding. Finally he managed to get it to catch, a small flickering.
“Potter,” Draco said sharply. Harry looked up at him, across the bed. His face had gone even more starkly pale than usual. “That’s enough light, I think. Get into bed and warm the sheets, will you? Keep looking at me,” he added, low and fast, and Harry had a hideous creeping feeling all along the back of his neck, a kind of horrible that wasn’t like Voldemort, not even like Dementors, a kind of yawning hunger.
“Yeah, sure,” Harry said, trying to make his voice sound normal. His heart was pounding in his throat. He kept his eyes on Draco and took off his robes, and his belt, and heeled off his trainers, and that was all he could bear to do: he couldn’t strip down any further with whatever it was behind him. He climbed into the bed, gritting his teeth: the sheets were the kind of ice cold that managed to leach away body heat even through his clothes. They didn’t want to warm up at all. “What we need is a hot water bottle,” he said loudly, trying to keep his teeth from chattering.
“What’s a hot water bottle?” Draco said, also too loudly.
“Oh,” Harry said. “Er. It’s a—it’s a big soft rubber watertight bottle, and you fill it with boiling water and put it in bed. It warms up the sheets.”
“Why wouldn’t you just use a Warming Charm?” Draco said.
“It’s for Muggles,” Harry said. “But it’s—it’s nicer than a Warming Charm, actually. It sits in bed all night and if you’re cold you can put your feet on it, and if you’re too hot you can shove it away.”
He was really glad to keep talking about hot water bottles. Horrors and hot water bottles didn’t go together at all, and the sheets were warming a bit around him, and then Draco let out a sudden gusty breath, his eyes darting around the room, as though something had gone away. “Right, I’m coming to bed,” he said, with elaborate calm, and then dived inside the room the rest of the way and yanked the door shut behind him. He ran to the bed and stripped off his own robes and scrambled onto it. “Let’s have the curtains, it’s cold enough,” he said hurriedly, and the filmy hangings all fell shut with a united swish, making the bed a big pink cave.
As soon as they’d closed, Draco let himself fall back limply on the pillows with his eyes shut, putting his hands over his face. He was shaking. Harry wanted to ask him what it had been, but he had the feeling that would’ve been a bad idea. He could feel Draco shivering—he was chilled through, cold even to Harry’s half-numb fingers. “Here, get under the covers,” Harry said, pulling the blankets open enough for Draco to squirm in at the top. They huddled in together, and little by little warmed up. Outside the bed, the candles flickered, as if something was stirring the air in the room.
“What was that song you were playing, downstairs?” Harry whispered, shivering. “Does it—does it have words?”
Draco was silent a moment, and then he started singing in French. A few moments later, the air around them went softer, like something had crept out of the room, gone away.
“Draco, last night,” Harry said, tentatively, and stopped when Draco shook his head sharply.
“Reasonably comfortable,” Draco said, in a determinedly cool voice. “The bed’s a bit soft, perhaps—but it’s a matter of taste. Pass the milk, would you?”
The room seemed perfectly all right now. There was a scrappy bit of sunshine coming in through the shutters, and a breakfast corner had opened up, with two seats embroidered in flowers, and tea waiting for them on the table when they’d climbed out of bed. And apparently, they were going to sit here and eat their eggs and pretend that there hadn’t been something really awful in here with them last night.
“Right,” Harry said grimly, handing on the jug of milk. The spread was lavish, with black pudding, two kinds of sausages, and a glorious heap of mushrooms, not that he considered it much of a consolation for nearly getting eaten himself.
“We’d better look in on the kitchen, then we’ll have a go at the dining room today,” Draco said, drinking his tea.
“Look, Malfoy, why are you helping me?” Harry said. Draco looked at him. “Why didn’t you just—shove me down the stairs or something,” improvising, since he wasn’t supposed to say why didn’t you just let me get torn apart by the monster in my house.
“Because that would be the end of it,” Draco said. “Don’t you understand? There’s a line, and once it’s crossed—” He made a sweep of arm taking in the whole room, the whole house, gone. Then he frowned into his cup and added abruptly, “Besides, you know I owe you for my father.”
“You—why do you owe me?” Harry said.
Draco shot him a hard look. “Do you think any of us don’t know you’re the one who kept the Aurors from our doors? Shacklebolt and the rest of them would’ve banged half our delegation into Azkaban in a heartbeat, much less my father.”
“But—if that’s how you felt, why didn’t you help me before?” Harry said. “What was all that with trying to get me to sign the house over—”
Draco rolled his eyes. “Potter, you’re good at putting on all this meek and mild nonsense. I hadn’t any idea you didn’t mean all that rot about not being ruled by hate, wanting justice without vengeance. If that’s what you really felt, I wouldn’t owe you a thing.”
“I don’t understand you at all,” Harry said.
Draco turned cold eyes on him, grey and glittering. “Yes, you do. You understand me perfectly.”
He threw down his napkin and stood up. “Come on, let’s go and see how the kitchen is looking. We ought to make sure it hasn’t backslid.”
Harry clenched his teeth, but he stood up and followed Draco downstairs, and didn’t argue.
The fireplace had shrunk by half, but they managed to get it open all the way again without too much effort, Draco telling Harry about the legendary dinner of the three fairies that had supposedly been held in the house centuries ago. “That was before they all went underhill, of course,” Draco said, and Harry had a sudden vision of a dark road going away between two dark hills, and glimmering lights vanishing away along the curve, an odd sharp taste of loss. The fireplace came sliding gently and easily open under his hands.
He followed Draco upstairs to the dining room, trying to shake off the sensation, and they stopped just inside the door, looking down at the still-stained patch of floor. “A rat,” Draco said to Harry, cold and condemnatory. “A dead rat.”
“It was in the hall!” Harry said, defensively. He did feel guilty over it.
“Your house left you a rat and you didn’t think that was worthy of some action? How long ago was this?”
“The night of the ceremony of reconciliation,” Harry said. “I thought it was—jealous,” he admitted, grudgingly. “Of the Manor.”
“Not jealous, Potter,” Draco said. “London townhouses and country houses don’t get jealous of one another. They’re potential partners. But it undoubtedly felt as though its standing was slipping. They loathe that, of course.”
They poked the fire and tried to light the candles and fiddled with the curtains, but nothing really happened. “Right,” Draco said finally. “This calls for stronger measures.”
“Like what?” Harry said.
“Redecorating,” Draco said, in grim tones.
Harry had seen Hermione kit out a whole bedroom with one spell. “Yes, I’m sure it was work for the ages,” Draco sneered. He insisted on their going one step at a time—first they had to dig into the attics and find a heap of old curtains and literally unravel them into raw silk threads, bleach out the old colors, and choose new ones. Harry opened his mouth to say I don’t care, and found Draco glaring at him warningly, so he tried to think of what he’d like. “Red and gold, then,” he said.
“You’re not making a replica of the Gryffindor common room in this house,” Draco said. “Try again, preferably something an adult might possibly choose to live with,” and Harry remembered suddenly the photograph of his parents’ house, the living room in pale blue and white and green. An hour later he was shouting at Draco over the particular shade of the blue, because it wasn’t right, and Draco hissed, “Fine, do it over yourself, then!” and Harry ended up bleaching and re-dyeing the thread all over again twice before he was satisfied. Then he looked down at himself and his clothes and hands were seven different shades of blue, and he was hot and sticky and vaguely sick—for some reason the dyeing spell Draco had taught him smelled awful, an explosion of lilacs and overcooked cabbage—and he had fine cuts all over his hands from the thread and his back hurt.
“At least you’re getting the idea,” Draco said grudgingly, as they heaved the sacks of dyed thread out of the attic trap door. “All right, where in this house would someone keep a loom?”
“A loom,” Harry said, feeling fatalistic.
“Were you planning to knit?” Draco said. “And you’ll be doing your own weaving, incidentally. Come on and help me look, it’s going to take at least a full day to get the fabric woven anyway, I don’t want to lose the time trying to hunt out the loom tomorrow.”
The house was a bit warmer than yesterday, even upstairs, and Harry kept waiting to feel that nighttime dread again and didn’t. He wanted desperately to know what was going on, but the couple of times he hesitated and drew a breath to ask questions, Draco glared at him so furiously Harry let it out again without saying anything. So at any moment for reasons he didn’t understand whatever the thing was that he didn’t know anything about might come back. He kept looking over his shoulder the whole time.
They poked into every corner of every room on the fifth floor and the fourth, without luck, until Harry suddenly remembered—“Wait a minute, there’s a picture of a weaver in the master bedroom.”
“Naturally you only think of this now,” Draco said, and they went down and into the master bedroom—“You must be joking,” Draco said, on the threshold, and Harry grimaced. He hadn’t actually looked in the place since Sirius had died. There were still drifts of Buckbeak’s feathers scattered across the hearth and in the corner where he’d nested, mixed with the down from the pillows and bedclothes he’d torn apart, and scraps of silk and velvet. The floor and the carpet were badly clawed up, and Buckbeak had sharpened his beak on the bedposts.
“Sirius—didn’t like his mum,” Harry said. “She was pretty dreadful.”
“I don’t care if she beat him with sticks, it wasn’t the fault of the house,” Draco said. “And if you mean to excuse his behavior, much less emulate it, you’d better sign that contract now and save us both any more trouble. What a pathetic bastard.”
“Shut it, Malfoy,” Harry said tightly.
“No, I don’t think I will,” Draco said, turning. “You know, your beloved godfather wasn’t anything like a saint. From everything I’ve heard, he was an lazy ne’er do well who resented being asked to live up to his name, failed half his courses, and only ever wanted to get in trouble with his mates. His ‘dreadful’ old mum had to make a substantial gift to the school to keep him from being expelled in fifth year—I don’t know what he’d done, but it must’ve been remarkable.”
Sirius had sent Snape down the Whomping Willow to a waiting werewolf, that year. “I said shut it,” Harry said. “I don’t claim he was perfect, but he wasn’t” —a murderer— “he wasn’t one of you lot, signing on to follow Voldemort and go after Muggle-borns.”
Draco made an impatient jerk of his hand. “Oh, if you’re going to line him up against Voldemort, fine, he wasn’t a soulless abomination who wanted to devour the earth. I’ll even grant you he wasn’t stupid enough to think he could make use of the monster, like my father was,” he added bitterly. “It was all pointless, anyway. There’s no sense trying to force people to follow the call of the old ways. The ones who don’t feel it can’t, anyway. But it’s people like Sirius, like you, that drive the rest of us mad. You do feel it, but you pretend you don’t because—I don’t even know. Because it’s easier, because you’d rather pretend you’re kind and sweet and nothing to be afraid of? And meanwhile a little more wonder fades out of the world, every time one of you turns away.”
Harry tried to stay angry. He wanted to argue, to snap back, but Draco didn’t even sound cutting by the end, just—weary, almost defeated. It put that strange ashen taste of loss in Harry’s mouth again, like it was contagious.
Draco turned away and stalked into the room. The painting was in a corner half hidden under a torn scrap of wallpaper: a large loom abandoned by its weaver, mostly in darkness, but a square of light from a window in the painting lit the floor and Draco squinted at it and said, “That’s the parquet in the third floor sitting room.”
They went back upstairs. There was still no loom, and not even a window that matched. Draco sighed and said, “Right, let’s get the carpet up,” unenthusiastically. After they’d finished pushing all the furniture to the walls and rolling up the greyish Oriental rug, he conjured up a bucket of floor cleaner and a mop, then dropped himself into one of the armchairs and waved a hand at Harry. “Get to it, Potter, and make sure you pay attention to the direction of the grains.”
Harry glared at him, then started in on the floor. The direction of the wood grain did matter, actually: he realized a piece of the herringbone parquet ran in the opposite direction every so often, and when he went back to check, the reversed grain was the second one, followed by every third one, then back to the second. The floor began to shuffle slightly away from him as he mopped onward, pieces surfacing to keep the pattern in place, the room expanding; abruptly a long rectangle of shuttered sunlight spilled out onto the floor, and when Harry looked up, the window had appeared there in the wall, and the massive loom was standing in the back end of the room.
“No, you can’t leave it half-done!” Draco said, and to be honest, Harry could see his point: the floor looked wrong, half mopped and half dusty. He finished the rest, and when they put the carpet back, it unrolled into fresh vivid color, half a dozen kinds of green, a cloud of dust rising and disintegrating mid-air as it thumped down on the floor.
“That’s the day gone,” Draco said, looking at the fading sunlight. They went downstairs and ate dinner in the ground floor sitting room again. Night had darkened the house, and somehow the room felt like a very small oasis of safety. Harry wasn’t in any hurry to go back upstairs, and Draco didn’t seem to be, either, lingering over his dinner and fidgeting with his cutlery.
“Would you play again?” Harry asked him.
“If you like,” Draco said, with the air of being imposed on, but he wasn’t laggard about going to the harpsichord. He played a bit of something Harry was almost sure was Mozart, then some Bach, and finally ended with the French song, familiar enough already to hum, and Harry deliberately did hum it, as they slowly went upstairs to bed. “We could—” he tried to suggest, looking at the sitting room couches, but Draco shook his head fiercely.
“You don’t camp out in your own home,” he said pointedly, so up they went, wands clutched in their fists.
“The rose bedroom again?” Harry said.
Draco looked towards it longingly, but after a moment he shook his head. “No. Let’s try—yours, I suppose,” he said, and they climbed the extra flight and opened the door. Harry had never stopped using the room he and Ron had shared, back during the war. He’d just transfigured the second bed into a desk, which now that he looked at it felt suddenly all wrong. It was a squared-off blockish lump of a desk that poked a bit too far into the room and didn’t match any of the other furniture. “What a monstrosity,” Draco said, naturally.
“I just…” Harry trailed off and didn’t finish. He hadn’t thought about it. He hadn’t cared. Those didn’t feel like things to say. “Can you help me fix it?” he said instead.
“I can help you burn it,” Draco said. “Once you’ve transfigured a piece of furniture and left it that way too long, it forgets what it used to be. You can’t get back whatever you ruined to create that thing.” Harry winced.
Draco looked over at the remaining bed. It was undeniably sized for one. “Even more wonderful,” he said. “Why didn’t you mention this when I suggested we come in here?”
“I thought we could just change back the other one!” Harry said.
He was happy to stay where he was, in the doorway, trading snide remarks with Draco. He didn’t want to step into the room. He’d slept here for a year now, and he was completely certain there was something in the room that had never been there before, but he couldn’t actually figure out what it was. “If you want to try another—”
“No,” Draco said after a grim moment. “Go on, light the fire.”
Harry took a deep breath and stepped inside. The floor creaked oddly under his feet. The floor creaked everywhere all over the house, but he knew the particular way it creaked in here, and the feeling was all wrong. It felt as though the boards were lying on top of something swelling up, strange and almost liquid, as if something were going to come seeping up from underneath.
His next step—squelched, horribly, and Harry froze. He threw a look over his shoulder, his heart pounding. In the doorway, Draco was staring down at the floor with a terrified expression. Harry wanted desperately to turn back, to run, but he was sure he wouldn’t make it, that he’d just—sink, maybe, something giving way. He turned his head back towards the fireplace and forced himself to keep walking. Liquid was pooling up around his feet every time he put his weight down. He didn’t look down. It felt stickier than water. The floor around the hearth shone glossy-wet, inviting him to look too closely at it, but he stared determinedly into the fire and knelt down on the tiles and reached in and stirred up the coals—still a few embers left since he’d slept here two nights ago, and he breathed out on them and stared fixedly at the orange glow, making himself imagine warmth on his face and crackling flames, and then he closed his eyes and the heat leapt up.
He let out a breath, and then nearly screamed as something touched him, a single cold wet stroke like a tongue sliding across the back of his neck. Behind him Draco had made a noise of choked horror. Harry could have sobbed, or gone scrabbling right into the fire, or he could have said I take it back, Malfoy can have the house, he can have all of it, but instead he gripped his wand tighter and grated, “Get out, or you’ll find I meant it,” and then he stood up and whirled round in one move, his wand ready—
The room was empty. Draco was leaning against the door frame, shaking.
Harry wasn’t ashamed of flat-out clinging to Draco the whole night. They cuddled in tight, arms wrapped around each other and legs tangled up in complicated ways, both shifting around to find the best way to cram as close together as possible, until finally they ended up spooned with Draco’s leg curled over Harry’s thigh and tucked back in under his other calf and Harry gripping him to keep it in place, painfully grateful for Draco’s warm human breath puffing out against his neck and Draco’s chest pressed up against his back. The size of the bed wasn’t remotely a problem.
They both drank a vat of hot cocoa each in the morning before their hands completely stopped trembling. “Come on,” Draco said, tipping back the dregs of his last cup. “We don’t have time to waste. Let’s get to work.”
He made Harry string the loom, but he ended up having to do most of the actual weaving after all—Harry tried, but whenever he picked up the pace even a little, he immediately created enormous lumpy snarls all over the fabric. “This is just a tiny bit harder than my grandmother made it bloody well look,” even Draco muttered, pausing to wipe his forehead. But after a while the shuttle started flying back and forth for him, singing like a bird as it did, and the sheets of silk grew one after another on the loom. Then halfway through the third one he suddenly said, “Ah, there we are,” with a gasp of relief, and suddenly the whole loom began rattling along by itself.
He shoved up from the bench with a groan and dropped himself heavily onto the sofa, stretched out full-length, keeping one eye on the proceedings. “If you ever dare discard these curtains, Potter, I swear I’m going to curse your house in revenge. I want you and all your progeny a dozen times removed to look at the things daily and have to feel grateful into perpetuity.”
Harry was trying not to pet the fabric too much. It felt like velvet and water at the same time, the scattered slubs little textured bits under his fingers, the colors exactly right in an indescribable way. “Yeah, okay,” he said, putting his hands in his lap. He thought he’d probably blast anyone who tried to take them down himself.
The whole day went in weaving, the afternoon hummed away too fast by the clacking loom. “Where tonight?” Harry asked as they folded up the fabric, watching the sun slip away one slat of the shutters at a time.
Draco stared down at the heap of silk and then said abruptly, “This may be stupid, but I think—I think we’d better take the master.”
Harry stared at him: he’d just been thinking that however bad the dining room was, the master bedroom was going to be worse, that they’d have to do twice as much to fix it before anyone could set foot inside.
“I know. But I don’t think it’s wise to leave the master’s rooms empty,” Draco said. “It’s as much as admitting you’re not. And the condition of that room’s not your fault, at least.”
“Are you sure about this?” Harry muttered, after dinner, when they stood on the threshold. The ripe stink of hippogriff still lingered, and the bed was all but shredded.
“Not in the slightest,” Draco snapped. “By all means do inform me if you’ve divined something I don’t know.”
“Fine,” Harry said, and started to step inside. As his foot lifted, the whole doorway lurched violently. Draco went sprawling backwards into the corridor. Harry stumbled forward, turned, and had one glimpse of his shocked expression. Then the door slammed shut between them, and sank him into absolute pitch black.
His panting breath was loud in his own ears. He could feel his wand in his hand, the floor directly beneath his feet. The rest of the world was gone. He shut his eyes and opened them again. He might as well have left them closed. He tried to remember how many steps it had been to the wall, how far to the fireplace, but he didn’t think he dared move. His hands were shaking, and he didn’t know what to do, so he held out his wand and called, “Expecto patronum!”
The stag leapt from his wand, brilliant and silver shining, and some sort of hideous shadow fled away from it, back around behind him, something Harry couldn’t quite see. He whirled to try and follow it, but it kept moving, just out of the edge of his sight. He stopped moving, his heart pounding. He still couldn’t see the walls: the floor just stretched out in every direction. The stag stood beside him, pawing the ground uneasily, its tall crowned head looking around, and its light was dimming little by little. Harry stood shaking, trying to think of something to do, anything to do, and then abruptly a loud grating sound came from the side, and a crack of light opened up in the wall of the room, silhouetting a dark, misshapen form—
Harry flung his arm out, pointing, and the stag leapt for it. He only heard Draco’s gasp too late, as the Patronus struck him full on. “No!” Harry shouted, and flung himself over in horror as the stag dissolved. Draco was lying sprawled and bleeding and unconscious in the mouth of—of a secret passage, a narrow dark tunnel. A lantern was fallen by his side, sputtering out.
Harry dropped to his knees by Draco’s limp body. “You vicious, rotten—is this what you wanted?” he snarled out loud, sick with fury at himself, at the house. “Give me a light!”
The lamps on the wall abruptly came on, and the fire roared up. Harry got his arms under Draco’s shoulders and dragged him over to the hearth. The stag had gored and trampled him, badly. Blood was pumping out in regular spurts from a wound in his leg, the worst of it. Harry held his wand over it. “Vulnera sanentur,” he chanted, desperately. “Vulnera sanentur—” The wound was closing, the blood stopping. “Vulnera sanentur,” and it shut completely.
Harry sank back on his heels a moment to try and collect himself, panting. Then he pulled open Draco’s torn clothes and found the rest of the damage: broken arm, broken ribs, cuts, slashes, one awful gash across the forehead from a hoof— He gulped and started working, and Draco jerked awake under his hands halfway through, gasping up. “Lie still—just lie still, I’ve got you,” Harry said, holding him down by the shoulder.
“It’s your fault!” Draco hissed at him, panicky, hands trying to go to his wounds. “You did it!”
“I know!” Harry snapped, catching his wrists away. “Just shut up and let me fix it.”
Draco lay back, gasping, and Harry finished closing the rest of the wounds. “You need dittany,” Harry said, wiping his shaking and bloody hand across his forehead. “D’you think there’s any in the house?”
There was a faint creaking noise, and Harry looked up: a door he’d never seen before had opened in the corner of the bedchamber, going directly into a bathroom, with a tall cupboard of dark wood and cut glass built into the wall. Harry stood and heaved Draco onto his feet, got his arm over his shoulders and helped him limp over. The cupboard opened when they got to it, full of crystal vials and small drawers, and Harry found a small brown vial with a dropper that smelled like the dittany he remembered Hermione using. He squeezed drops out over the wound in Draco’s forehead and the rest of the cuts, rubbing them in, and the angry red faded.
“Thanks,” he said, staring down as he worked, without looking at Draco’s face. “Thanks for—coming after me.”
Draco didn’t say anything a moment and then muttered, “It was my idea.”
Harry helped him over to the bed afterwards. The blood had all disappeared, as if it had been absorbed into the floorboards and the stone of the hearth, and like an apology in exchange, there was a big wooden chest at the foot of the bed standing open, with a different duvet and two pillows inside. Harry stripped the old half-shredded ones from the bed and got Draco settled, and lit every candle and lamp he could before he shut the secret passage and climbed in with him.
“Ugh, I don’t even want to move,” Draco said the next morning. He still looked pretty rotten, pale and dark-circled under his eyes, even after they’d eaten; a breakfast tray had appeared in bed.
“Don’t,” Harry said. “Stay in bed. I’ll work in here today. This room needs it, anyway.”
He tore apart the old duvet cover to replace the ruined pillowcases, and collected up the hippogriff feathers strewn all over the room. There were more than enough to stuff the pillows over, once he’d wincingly taken apart the horrible dropping-covered nest and picked all the feathers out of it by hand, cleaning them thoroughly one by one. “I suppose there’s a certain distinction in having hippogriff feather pillows,” Draco said, in grudging approval. He made Harry change out his pillow for one of the repaired ones and curled into it for a nap with a sigh of satisfaction.
Harry put the bits of broken furniture from the nest on the fire and carefully levitated the bed—Draco slept right through—so he could roll up the ruined carpet and mop the floor in here, too. The hippogriff clawmarks weren’t going anywhere, but they looked better once he’d washed the floor and the walls, almost a kind of pattern. On an impulse, he went back down to his bedroom and got out the photograph of Buckbeak and Sirius he had in the desk.
The photograph obligingly expanded to larger size, and Draco yawningly agreed when he woke up and Harry asked if it was all right to take down the unrecognizably pecked-out painting that had been in the corner. Harry mended the frame and put in the photograph and hung it on the wall. Buckbeak turned his head out of the photo and squawked a greeting, Sirius smiling down at him, and Harry found himself smiling back.
When Harry turned round, lunch had laid itself out in the bed, and he climbed in and picnicked with Draco, who’d got his color back and looked perfectly fine now. Not that he got out of bed after lunch, though: instead he made Harry prop him up and plump his pillow and settle him comfortably and then spent the afternoon giving orders on how to clean the furniture and rearrange it one inch at a time. “And after that, you can run me a bath,” he added, imperiously.
“I’m the one who needs a bath,” Harry said, looking down at himself.
“You need to be Scourgified,” Draco said.
They took turns—the bath tried to shrink after Draco got out of it, but Harry glared at it and said, “I saw that,” and it grudgingly expanded back to its full size. Afterwards they had dinner in bed off trays again—Harry was abruptly grateful Draco hadn’t got out of bed all day, which felt like an acceptable excuse—and went to bed without ever leaving the room. A faint hostile chill crept into the air as Harry put out the lamps, but Buckbeak had come to the front of the photograph and was glaring watchfully into the room, and somehow the cold wasn’t able to penetrate the glow of the fire, reflecting in the floorboards and the polished furniture.
In the morning, they went downstairs and hung the new curtains in the dining room. They were perfect; the instant they were up, they brightened the room. But—something else had gone wrong. Harry stepped back further, frowning. The color of the wood didn’t quite feel right to him anymore: it was too dark, the wrong shade—
Draco glared at him. “So you’re saying we’re going to have to strip and stain over all the paneling, and the furniture, and the floor—”
“We don’t—” have to, Harry was about to say, but abruptly he stopped himself and said, “Yeah, sorry.”
Draco only said bitterly, “You had to have that particular shade of blue,” and stalked away to the kitchens to brew up a massive cauldron of stuff that burned in the nostrils like lye and stripped the stained wood down to the bare swirling grain wherever it was rubbed in. Thoroughly rubbed in. Draco refused to even be in the dining room as Harry worked: he spent the day in the library reading and wrinkled his nose when Harry finally staggered back in gasping for dinner, having worked straight through lunch.
“Don’t say a word,” Harry said hoarsely, drinking three cups of tea in a row to wash out his throat. “It’s going to take me days to finish this.”
“Serves you right,” Draco said snidely. “You won’t be ignoring any dead rats in the house from now on, I trust.”
The shadow hovered in the dark corners of the stairwell as they went upstairs, back to the master bedroom, but Harry had left the fire banked, and Buckbeak was still up at the front of the photograph on alert. When Harry closed the door, he felt that he was shutting the cold out, his shoulders relaxing instinctively.
Suddenly going to bed felt almost ordinary, comfortable: there was a new toothbrush waiting in the bathroom and a clean flannel, and an old-fashioned nightshirt laid out on the bed. Draco was already sinking back into his own pillow with a sigh. Harry climbed in and curled onto his side: the hippogriff pillow somehow had exactly the right kind of support no matter how you lay on it. The bedcurtains had drawn half-shut, and the candles were dimming little by little. He felt pleasantly sore from the work, tired but satisfied. “Have you ever had to do this sort of thing at the Manor?” he asked idly.
Draco gave a snort. “Do you think I’m recalling it all from childhood memory? I’ve spent the last six months doing over every room in the place just to get rid of Voldemort’s stench. At least the Manor let me buy some materials,” he added. “Why do you think I hosted the ceremony? I needed all of us that I could get to see the place cleaned up properly, and think of it as it deserves.”
Harry sat back up abruptly. “It makes a difference. What other people think of the place?”
“What else did you do?” Draco said suspiciously.
“Threw a—” but there was no sense trying to paint it any other way. “Threw a rotten half-arsed mess of a party,” Harry said, coming clean. “Crisps and pop and streamers—”
“Yes, you needn’t go on, I can imagine the horrors vividly enough already,” Draco said. “And invited every last one of your loyal Gryffindor friends, I’m sure, everyone you care about and everyone whose good opinion you value, and that’s what you wanted them to think of your house.”
“I didn’t—” Harry rubbed a hand over his face. “I didn’t want to care,” he said abruptly. “It never did anything for me like the way it acted after you just strolled in. I couldn’t get it to do anything like that.”
“Don’t try to blame this on me,” Draco said. “The place was a ramshackle mess the first time I set foot in the house. You never tried.”
“It was a mess when I first got here! I didn’t know what it could be like, I didn’t grow up with a manor and a house elf looking after me. And then you swanned in and the place just fell over itself to make clear I was—second-rate,” Harry said, but the word that had really wanted to come out at the end was unwanted, some useless hateful freakish thing left on the doorstep, only to be shoved in a dingy corner—under the stairs—and ignored as much as possible. He swallowed.
“Of course it did,” Draco said, unsympathetic. “You are second-rate, for one thing—you’re not remotely related to the family, the Potters and the Blacks have had a dozen feuds and not a single intermarriage in the last twelve generations. But even that wouldn’t really matter if you weren’t also pretending to be a—a lump.”
“I’m not pretending to be anything,” Harry snapped. “You keep talking like there’s some sort of enormous virtue to being a colossal arsehole and a bully and a snob—”
“That’s just to pass the time,” Draco sneered. “That’s not what I’m talking about, and you know it.”
“I don’t know it!” Harry said.
Draco sat up and turned towards him in the half-dark, his eyes glittering. “Most of us are gone,” he hissed, and Harry’s stomach knotted. “They were too much of the earth, too wild, too bound to tree and mountain and river. They couldn’t find the beauty in cold iron and carved wood and worked stone, woven cloth and tanned leather. And the Muggles cut down the forests, built farms and bridges and roads and railways, and so the others went under hill and they’ll never come back again. But we’re still here, what’s left of us, and the old blood can still run true in you if you let it, instead of shutting your ears and trying to pretend you don’t feel it.”
Harry stared at him—at his pale, peaked face, the sharp angles of it, the etched lines of his lips—the silver-blond hair catching the light of the fire and radiating it out again gone white and cold. All of it—odd, yeah, but not—there wasn’t any one thing that wasn’t—only all put together it felt somehow a little too sharp, a little strange and cruel and—wrong, except not wrong, and his breath was caught by the glittering grey of Draco’s eyes, where his own reflection ran upside down: like looking into the bowl of a spoon, something turned round inside.
It felt all of a sudden like the house was conspiring to shove mirrors in front of him. Harry did his best to concentrate on the wood grain coming out from under the stain and not on the polished shine of the rest of the dining table that seemed to be trying to show him the reflection of his own face. He didn’t want to see his face. He angrily shoved his hair—his hair, like his father’s, which wouldn’t stay cut and wouldn’t stay smooth—out of his eyes and kept scrubbing. Afterwards he went to the kitchen sink to scrub himself down, instead of the bathroom, and avoided looking at the glass-front cabinets and the polished handles.
But he had to go to the library if he wanted to eat, and Draco was there, stretched on the sofa again, cradling a book in his long-fingered hands with his head bent over it and the house putting a light on him so Harry couldn’t possibly miss it, couldn’t look away and tell himself there wasn’t something—wrong, wrong, with Draco, something unearthly and sideways from the world, one step down a long road between dark hills. Harry stalked in and sat down at right angles to him and threw his napkin down over the flat blade of the dinner knife.
They didn’t talk much the whole day. When they went to bed upstairs, Harry looked in the photo. Sirius smiled out at him with a few too many teeth, somehow, and Harry turned away with his stomach turning over, remembering his father smirking, gleeful and vicious, as Severus Snape hung upside-down in the air. Harry lay curled on his side away from Draco all night, and didn’t sleep well.
He forgot to worry about it for a while when he finished stripping the wood early the next day. The whole dining room stank, and it looked a disaster, all the chairs upside down with their legs in the air and the wallpaper a mess—he’d carefully taken the curtains out again before he’d started, of course—but every last bit of wood was bleached and smooth and clean. Harry heaved a sigh of relief and went and got Draco, who showed him how to coax the wood to take on new color. It took the rest of the morning trying one shade after another and holding the curtains up to compare before Harry settled on three that he liked, and then he couldn’t decide between them. “Could we make a pattern?” he said, looking down at the floor. “Maybe some sort of a—a border?”
He went to the library and found a book sitting at eye level about Visual Design Between The Wars that opened straight to an Art Deco pattern of different woods. “Hm,” Draco said, looking over his shoulder. “Rather modern of you, Potter, but I suppose there’s nothing wrong with it.”
It took forever to do the first three feet of the floor, having to redo each section four times—as soon as he moved to do the next part, the one he’d just finished would shift color to match its neighbor, until he’d set each one repeatedly. But then the floor seemed to get the idea, or maybe to be persuaded he meant it, and the pieces began taking the right colors with just a touch of his wand, the pattern growing steadily along the base of the wall, until he finished the outer border and turned round and discovered the rest of the floor had finished itself off into the middle.
He made the table and the chairs match the darkest shade, and the paneling the lightest, and then they hung the curtains again. Harry stood looking over the room with an almost painful lump of happiness and satisfaction in his throat. “We’ll need more fabric, to upholster the chairs,” he said. “Not quite a match, more of the green, less of the white and blue—”
“And I suppose you want me to weave this,” Draco said, with a cold look, folding his arms.
“Yes,” Harry said. “Come on, you can see they need it,” and Draco scowled at him and stalked upstairs. Two hours later, he came down with another heap of fabric, and a sack of padding from the attic. Harry had meanwhile stripped all the old wallpaper and painted the walls in a lighter shade of blue up to a white ceiling: he didn’t want new wallpaper, that would’ve just taken away from the curtains.
The sun was starting to go down, but they both wanted the room finished, and the lamps and the fire had all lit up for them—the house wanted it finished, too. So they just set the chairs in a row and worked out a method: Draco fired the cushions on to them, and Harry went all around the border of each seat checking and tidying up, nudging in any stray bits of padding and corners of material, putting a strengthening spell on each seam.
More and more chairs kept hopping up to join the line as they worked, the whole table stretching to nearly impossible length, two additional fireplaces unfolding from the walls and new windows opposite them. Finally Harry got done with the last one and straightened up with a groan of relief, and found Draco staring at a folding wall stretched along one end of the room.
Together they took hold of the wall at the middle and pulled the sides apart. Glittering light came spilling out, a chandelier the size of a boat with a dozen satellites all coming up together to illuminate a floor of smooth polished boards, a balcony stage at the far end overlooking the room, long golden-framed oval mirrors alternating with delicate statues in niches all around yawning and stretching their arms, blinking over at them.
“I don’t think this room’s been open in half a century,” Draco said softly. It looked nearly forty feet long.
“I’ll have to have a party,” Harry said, equally hushed. “A real one, this time,” he added, glancing up at the ceiling apologetically. He looked at Draco. “You know the right dances, don’t you? The old ones,” thinking of the Yule Ball, later in the evening when he and most of the Gryffindors had come off the floor and the music had changed. He’d been occupied with mooning after Cho, but he’d seen out of the corner of his eye Draco leading Pansy out into a dance with only the ghosts and the most snooty of the Slytherins joining them. Something elaborate and complicated and sharp that left any dancers who made a mistake looking stupid and clumsy. One by one they’d slunk from the floor red-faced, but Draco hadn’t missed a step, whirling Pansy expertly through the line, and for a moment, poised together perfectly as the music had ended, they’d looked radiant, dazzling, and Harry had—he’d looked away.
“Yes,” Draco said, and turned to him, offering his hand.
Harry stared at him, and slowly reached out his own. He wanted to feel stupid, letting Draco lead him out onto the ballroom floor, but he didn’t. There wasn’t any music but the sound of their footsteps on the floor, the click of Draco’s shoes and his own painfully wrong trainers. Draco moved him into position, standing side to side facing opposite ways, their hands together from palm to elbow. He said, “You don’t know the dance, so you have to follow. That means there’s nothing else for you to pay attention to, just me. Do you understand?”
Harry nodded and looked into his eyes, letting the cool grey trap of them close on him, and when Draco moved, he moved. A step backward, and then forward again, movements barely telegraphed by the slight pressure of a finger, the shift of his arm. A full circle paced around one another, then both of them whirling to meet with the other hand, going the opposite way, and the circle paced round again. It got easier with every step. Thought was sliding away, a faint music starting distantly, almost like a ringing in his ears. They were moving together, the walls of the ballroom beginning to blur around them.
Harry’s trainers kept annoying him—not enough to make him step wrong, because he didn’t look away from Draco, didn’t let them distract him that much, but he wanted to be wearing something else, and then between one step and another, he was, boot heels clicking on the floor. Draco’s eyes glittered with satisfaction and he moved in closer: his hand going across the body to the far side of Harry’s waist now, drawing Harry’s hand to his own, their bodies pressed shoulder to shoulder, and he started moving them faster, steps growing more intricate. The music wasn’t just in Harry’s head anymore: it was playing ghostly from the balcony, their footsteps striking the rhythm as Draco started them on matched whirling turns down the whole length of the ballroom. Harry didn’t hesitate, the long skirts of formal dress robes unfurling round him as he whipped along, breathless and nothing like dizzy at all as they landed back in each other’s hands at the other end.
They went on even faster, moving as seamlessly as if they weren’t separate at all. Harry did know the steps, suddenly, as if Draco was giving him the whole dance and not just a lead, and it was just as well because it was almost impossible to keep up anymore. And then it was impossible, and they did it anyway, the whole world somehow slowing down around them so they could manage the pace. A final furious interweaving of steps and movements, changing places thirty times with dust motes glittering suspended in the air, spiraling away and flying back in to one another in a last almost deadly move, moving so fast as the world sped back up that they would have hurt each other if either one of them had so much as put a finger wrong.
They finished standing underneath the chandelier pressed chest to chest, Draco in his arms and Draco’s hand perfect in the small of his back, a rush of completion like a small explosion right there at the base of his spine, running straight up to his brain, fireworks going off. Harry didn’t even hesitate as he slid his hand up to the back of Draco’s neck and pulled his head down.
Draco kissed him back ferociously, his mouth full of sharp edges and danger. Harry just pulled him in closer, something wild and terrible in him shuddering fully awake, hungry for it when Draco bit at him, when Draco’s hands tightened painfully on his arms. He wanted, he wanted, he wanted to pull Draco to the floor and—no, that wasn’t right; he wanted to take Draco upstairs, he wanted to spread Draco out in his own bed, where he belonged—
Draco broke loose, gasping, and stepped back from him. Harry swayed, dazed; he was gasping too, his chest heaving for breath. Draco reached up and blotted a small streak of blood away from his lip, vivid against his pale skin, his tongue licking out to wipe it away. “Not that it’s not a traditional ending,” he said, his voice gone low and velvet, like the silk he’d woven for Harry’s house, “but we’d be married, afterwards. At least, in the ways that matter.”
Harry stared at him, then clenched his fists and took a step towards him. He didn’t doubt it; he didn’t care. No—no, he did care, he cared violently, who the hell did Draco think he was going to marry, who else did he imagine he was going to dance with—
Draco was staring at him wide-eyed and alarmed, like he’d only then noticed that he’d given Harry a dance and he’d taken a kiss and now Harry had a right to him—a right to claim him, or tear him apart for the insult, and around that point the total lunacy of his own thoughts started to penetrate the haze of fury and Harry managed to halt himself. After a moment he even got his hands to unclench, although he was still trembling, jealousy and rage tangled up somewhere in his gut far beyond anything like rational thought.
“Sorry,” Draco said after a moment, a bit high-pitched. “I didn’t mean—”
“It’s fine,” Harry grated out to shut him up, except it wasn’t. Draco had refused him, the bastard, like he thought he could get away with that— Harry squeezed his eyes shut and pressed his palms to them, trying to make his brain just stop. “Let’s just go,” he said flatly, and turned and stalked off the floor, crossing the mile of ballroom in three improbable strides without actually trying, his robes seething around him.
Draco kept a wary sidelong eye on him all through dinner and even when they went upstairs, like he was more worried about what Harry might do than about anything lurking in the corners of the stairwell. As he ought to have been, a savage thought curled out of the black pit that was apparently lurking somewhere in Harry’s gut, full of snakes and suggestions of what he could do to make it clear to Draco that he’d trifled with the wrong wizard. Harry swallowed hard, trying to shove away his own thoughts, and when they got to the bedroom he said harshly, “I’m going to take a bath,” and shut himself in like shutting in a wild animal.
But there was a tall mirror over the sink, and the face that looked at him out of it was cold and pale and furious above the smooth silk of formal robes clasped at the hollow of his throat, black hair jagged like a knife and pulling in more light than it should have held, the lightning scar a violet gleam. There was a sharp inhuman glitter in his eyes, and for a moment they didn’t look like his mother’s at all.
He couldn’t sleep: after an hour lying on top of the covers fully dressed, curled away from Draco with his hands knotted into fists because he was afraid of what he might do with them otherwise, he got out of the bed and went and sat by the fire. It was leaping and crackling, flames dancing and whirling like—
Harry stood up and took his wand and went out into the dark corridor alone. “Well?” he said fiercely, and when nothing answered him, he stalked forward into the dark. But lamps lit up along the corridor as he walked, and his breath didn’t mist into the air. He went upstairs—went through the whole house, every dark-of-night room, but wherever he looked, whatever door he opened, the fires came up and the candles flickered instantly into life. The beds were all tidily made, a faint clean fragrance of lavender in the air; furniture polished, carpets clean, not a mote of dust in a single crevice to be seen. The loom was standing empty in its corner, the shuttle lying aside drowsily humming to itself, a melody like Draco’s old French song, which Harry suddenly knew wasn’t French at all; it was older than that, much older, and it had once had different words.
Harry shut the door on the music and went faster, almost running. He shot up the last flight and dragged open the attic trap door and sprang up the ladder—nothing but the squeak of an alarmed dormouse as it scuttled into a hole. All the bales and boxes and crates and trunks had sorted themselves out neatly, and all the dust and accumulated cobwebs of half a century were gone. Hanging lamps shone a warm amber glow over the stores. He jumped down again, not even bothering with the ladder. His robes didn’t trip him, swirling easily out of his way, and the stairs blurred as he rushed down them, all the way down, back to the front door. His heart was pounding. He didn’t know what he’d do if—
But the door still wasn’t there. The wall stood blank and impenetrable, all the shutters still were shut. He couldn’t get out. Draco couldn’t get out. Only that savage, hungry shadow had slipped away, as if it had climbed inside his chest and gone to live there, instead.
He fell asleep in the library and woke up the next morning to come out and find Draco standing in the hall, looking at the blank space where the door ought to have been. Like he’d come to see if he could get away, and Harry had one moment of blind rage and the next one of wanting to be sick. Draco turned round and saw him.
Harry looked away. “The door hasn’t come back,” he said harshly.
“Yes, I noticed,” Draco said. “Look, Potter, you do realize that if we came out of here married, your beloved friends would have me up on charges of entrapment as quick as winking?”
“What?” Harry looked back at him, involuntarily.
“I assume you’ve accused me of suborning your house to them before,” Draco said. “There’s two dozen of the most elite witnesses to the way the place responded to me, there’s every Gryffindor friend you have to testify that it wouldn’t give you so much as a stale cracker in peace. So I show up for another negotiation, wait until everyone’s gone, suddenly the place seals us in for a month and we come out married? They’d accuse me in five minutes, the Wizengamot would convict me in ten, and I don’t fancy being sent to Azkaban.”
“I wouldn’t—” let anyone send you to Azkaban, Harry managed not to say. “You don’t need to persuade me it’s not a good idea to marry you!”
“Apparently I do,” Draco said, with a pointed wave of his hand at the blank wall.
“That’s not my idea!” Harry said.
“Oh, isn’t it,” Draco said, and Harry was nearly breathless with rage again.
“Where’d it come from, then,” he snarled, an accusation, before he could help himself.
“I didn’t think that you’d actually want to,” Draco snapped back, but he looked guilty, of all things, like he knew perfectly well he’d done something wrong and he knew perfectly well Harry had every right to shove him down on one of those sofas in the library and rip off his crisp elegant robes and have him right now, whether he liked it or not, in fact he could beg and plead a bit while they were at it—
Harry jerked himself away into the library and stood there gasping. He whirled round as Draco actually came in behind him, like an idiot who didn’t realize—
Draco squared his shoulders and abruptly held out his hands, palms up and wrists crossed. Harry stared at him. His heart was pounding furiously. “I apologize,” Draco said, formal as cut glass. “I acted without intent, but I’ve trespassed. I’m yours if you wish,” and for one dizzying, hungry moment, Harry was about to—he didn’t even need to be told, he knew what to do. He would cross his own hands, and take Draco’s, and they’d twist through the loop of their arms, one more step of the dance, and then they’d lie down together and finish it.
And then Draco would be his, a trophy worth infinitely more than the stupid golden medal they’d given him—as though that were any sort of way to reward someone for slaying a Dark Lord. Draco—the shining jewel of the Slytherin set, cherished and envied since his birth by all the wizarding world, even the ones who didn’t follow the old ways. Either because he was rich, or his family was powerful, or for his breeding or his house—with a thousand wizards at his parents’ wedding, probably hundreds at his christening, two thousand more just weeks ago, paying court to him in his ancestral home.
And he was offering himself up for the taking: as much as to say Harry was worthy, Harry deserved to have him, and Harry wanted to have him, except that was crazy, he didn’t want Draco Malfoy at all, he didn’t. His house wanted Draco, but he didn’t care about Draco’s bloodline or his money, and Draco didn’t want him, he was only doing it because of the old ways, or possibly because he thought Harry was going to go completely mental and—
Harry shut his eyes and dragged in a deep breath. “No,” he managed to say. “No. Thank you,” he added, abruptly, because that was the right thing to say, and Draco let his hands drop, blowing out a breath, and the seething rage abruptly retreated. Harry sat down hard on a sofa that had slid up behind him, his knees suddenly gone wobbly, and Draco sank down himself on another.
“Merlin, that was stupid of us,” he said aloud, and Harry was about to say something indignant, but then Draco amended, “All right, stupid of me, I suppose you just didn’t know any better,” and then, because apparently he was feeling contrary, Harry scowled at that, too. He had a sneaking suspicion he had known better, he’d known that dancing with Draco would—mean something, and he’d done it anyway because—because—he’d wanted to use the ballroom, he’d wanted to—anyway, it was over and he didn’t need to think about it anymore.
He rubbed his arm over his forehead. “Er, do you want some breakfast?” he asked, awkwardly, and then there was a bang and a crash from the entry and he heard Hermione shouting, “Harry! Harry, where are you?” and they both sat up gaping as she appeared in the doorway of the library, wand at the ready. She stared between them a moment, then looked at Harry. “Are you all right?”
“Er,” Harry said staring back at her. “Yeah. How did you get in here?”
“The house finally came out,” she said. “I’ve been trying to get it to open up for the last two weeks! What’s happened?”
“You ought to sue him,” Ron said hotly. “The whole war, Voldemort, and you might have been killed in your own bloody home, just because that rotter couldn’t keep his mouth shut about trying to claim it.”
“I probably would’ve been killed if he hadn’t helped me,” Harry said. “It’s all right, Ron.”
“He doesn’t deserve any credit for it, Harry,” Hermione said. “If you’d been killed, it would’ve taken him, too! Even if it loved him to begin with. Once a wizarding house crosses that line—they absorb magic from their owners, that’s what makes them special, but once they go too far, if a house swallows up its rightful owner completely, it won’t stop there. It’ll just try to take any wizard that sets foot inside. There’s been twelve known cases in Britain, the houses had to be completely destroyed by teams of Aurors, and there’s still one hunting lodge hiding out somewhere in Scotland that no one’s been able to find since it devoured the entire Wrothling family and five houseguests and folded itself into the hills.”
Harry winced. He really wished Hermione wouldn’t keep talking about this sort of thing inside where the house had to listen to it. “What had they done to it?” Hermione gave him a double-take. “It didn’t just do it out of nowhere!” he said defensively.
“And what exactly had you done!” Hermione said.
“You said it yourself, Hermione,” Harry said. “I was hurting its feelings. I treated the place like—like a rented room in a cheap hotel. I refused to care about it at all, and Sirius was even worse. It took me and Draco all this time, both of us working nonstop, just to get it back into shape. I won’t neglect it again,” he added, glancing around, and the table at his elbow offered him a small plate of tiny flower-molded chocolates, the central part covered in gold leaf, just to let him know it had heard.
Hermione sniffed. “Well, I’m glad it worked, at least.”
“You’re sure you don’t want us to stay for a few days?” Ron asked dubiously, looking around the sitting room with a wary eye.
“No, it’s fine,” Harry said. “I mean, you’re welcome—anytime you want. But it’s okay. The house is fine. I’m fine,” except after they’d gone home, the house was silent and a little too empty. Harry went downstairs to the kitchen where Kreacher was humming to himself happily, the entire fireplace and both stoves going full-tilt, pots and pans everywhere and the air full of vaguely familiar smells from every meal they’d eaten in the last two weeks.
“Master is hungry?” Kreacher said, his ears coming up. He looked almost a different elf, bright-eyed and the pouches under his eyes smoothed out, the greyish cast to his skin entirely gone.
“No, thanks,” Harry said. “I just wanted to see if everything was all right. Do you need any more supplies or anything?”
Kreacher brightened even more. “The pantries are all open! Kreacher could replenish the stores! Kreacher will be needing money, though?” he added hopefully.
“I’ve got a chest in my—old bedroom,” Harry said. “Just take whatever you need from there and let me know if you need more. Do you think you could move it to the master bedroom, while you’re at it?” and Kreacher nodded vigorously.
Harry went back upstairs and wandered through the house. The windows were all open, fresh air billowing the curtains. In the third floor sitting room, the loom was standing silent in a deep shaft of sunlight.
Draco had left almost immediately, swinging his cloak back on under Hermione’s hostile eye. “Do try to keep the place in order from now on, Potter,” he’d said, carelessly, before sweeping out and down the stairs to his carriage, which had been so eager to snatch him up and carry him off that it had climbed sideways up the first two front steps and was waiting with both its doors flung wide open. The instant it had got him safely inside, it had shot away down the street.
Harry restlessly turned away and went back down to the master bedroom. It still needed something—a new carpet, he realized, and also he still had to replace the awful desk in his old room. He wondered where you’d go to buy the sort of thing that would fit—Kreacher might have known, but instead Harry went down to the library and got a piece of stationery and wrote a quick note to Draco to ask.
Mistress Mulvaney’s or Yendl and Sons will do for carpets, whichever you like, the letter that shot back out of the Floo said, under the thick green wax seal with the curling M impressed into its surface. But it has to be Baddington’s at the intersection of Diagon and Knockturn for the desk. I’ll meet you there tomorrow at eleven, you can’t possibly be trusted to choose furniture yet: you’ll just bang in something you like and it’ll quarrel with half the other pieces in the room.
The shop assistant at Mulvaney’s started out showing Harry a generic rug of cheap silk in the front room, the thread obviously spun by a Muggle machine. Harry had one brief nauseating vision of putting this thing under his bed, on the scarred floorboards, and he glared at the assistant indignantly. “If you haven’t anything worth looking at, say so and I’ll go elsewhere,” he snapped, and the poor man blanched and started stammering apologies like Harry had pulled out his wand and threatened to hex him.
A door to the back opened and a wizened old witch stuck her head out. “Don’t shout at my nephew, Mr. Potter,” she said in a creaky way. “He hasn’t learned better yet. Come in, and tell me about the room.”
There were two looms clacking away furiously in the back room, repairing a pair of vast ancient threadbare rugs, and an enormous rack of rugs was hanging from the thirty-foot ceiling, faint murmuring noises coming from some of them. Harry told Mistress Mulvaney about the clawed floor and the photograph and the hippogriff-feather pillows, and she nodded thoughtfully and waggled her wand at the rack. It whirred round for a long time until she stopped it on a large rug woven in grey and white and golden brown, with a few touches of vivid orange, Buckbeak’s colors, and the border a sort of scalloped pattern like the tips of his feathers.
“Yes,” Harry said immediately, and wrote her a cheque for two thousand Galleons without hesitating, and then after he’d handed it over, he realized with a gulp he’d just spent two thousand Galleons on a carpet and nearly bitten off a shop assistant’s head over it, and possibly he was still losing his mind.
“Sorry about that,” he said ashamedly to the man on his way out, and walked home along Diagon Alley trying not to look people in the face, wondering if they could see it in him, that he had it in him to be—whatever it was that Malfoy was proud of being, something vicious and cold down deep, the kind of person that could care more about a house than about people, who thought he had the right to—to—trample over others. He didn’t want to have it in him, but he went home and went upstairs to his bedroom, and the carpet was already there under the bed, exactly right, and he fell backwards onto the bed and lay there and was happy, even though he didn’t want to be.
Draco was already at Baddington’s the next day when Harry got there, ensconced in the back showroom in a deep armchair with a glass of wine and three obsequious assistants hovering while desks paraded by in front of him. “Pull up a chair, Potter,” he said, waving a hand. “I’ve seen a couple of possibilities so far.”
Harry liked a dozen desks that Draco rejected, including one beautiful cherry wood piece that they nearly came to blows over, because Harry wanted it instantly and passionately and Draco flatly said he couldn’t have it. “It needs a larger room with more sunlight,” he snapped. “Obviously, and if you try and cram it into your spare bedroom, it’ll get sullen and probably lose half its drawers.” Then, to add insult to injury, he considered it again and added, “It might do for my sitting room at the Manor, actually.”
“I saw it first!” Harry said.
“You haven’t anyplace to put it!” Draco said. They shouted at each other for a while, and wands might have come out, except the showroom manager prudently dashed forward and put fresh drinks directly into their hands instead, while the assistants ushered in the next model.
Harry brooded indignantly through another seventeen desks until another small one trundled out, unprepossessing at first glance but with clean lines and beautiful handles, and it unfolded itself into at least twice its size, displaying a forest of drawers and cubbyholes that fit together like Escher artwork. “That’s nice,” Draco said approvingly, as Harry stroked its smooth surface. “Elegant, ideal for a small room, not likely to get into a squabble with the wardrobe,” and after yet another horrifyingly large cheque sailed out of Harry’s chequebook, he even grudgingly forgave Draco for buying the first desk.
“I need to give Kreacher a chance to catch up,” he said, when they left, “but I do still want to have a party.”
“You can’t have it yet,” Draco said. “It’s only March, the London Season doesn’t begin until April. But I suppose there’s no reason you shouldn’t open it: All Fool’s Day is the traditional first ball, and I don’t think anyone’s laid claim to it yet. Society’s been rather subdued lately,” he added dryly.
“Will you help me make a list?” Harry said.
“You’ll have to come to the Manor if you want my help,” Draco said. “The place has been frantic the last two weeks: it took me an hour of arguing just to get the carriage to come out of hiding this morning to bring me here. If I try to go back to your house, I’ll probably end up locked in.”
Hermione and Ron came round for tea later—the house providing pots of the special Black house blend and an enormous showy six-tier tray full of sandwiches with the crusts cut off and miniature cakes. “I can’t, I’m going to the Manor,” Harry said absently when Ron asked if he wanted to come over the next day to watch the Quidditch match.
He looked up after a long silent moment to find them both staring at him unblinkingly. “You’re going to Malfoy Manor,” Ron said.
“Um,” Harry said. “Yeah, Draco’s going to…” he trailed off, because saying he was going to get Draco Malfoy to help him with the guest list for his London ball probably wasn’t going to make Ron and Hermione less likely to think he’d completely lost his mind. “I need to have another party, for the house?” he tried.
“And Draco’s going to help you with this party,” Hermione said, in deceptively calm tones.
“Um,” Harry said. “Well. He—did a good job with the reconciliation ceremony.”
“He did a good job preening for the crowd and pretending everything’s all fine and mended, because that’s what he wants everyone to think!” Ron said. “Since when do you think Draco Malfoy is anything but the rotten little first-rate twerp he is—”
Ron’s teapot gave a sudden spluttering hiss and spat an enormous gout of tea all over his plate full of sandwiches, soaking them to inedibility. Hermione looked down at it and turned narrowed eyes on Harry, who swallowed guiltily. He hadn’t been able to help it, he’d had a flash of Draco’s mouth on his, in the ballroom; Draco offering his crossed wrists, and Ron had been talking like it wasn’t worth something.
“Sorry,” he said.
“But you’re fine, really, and so is your house,” Hermione said, with a martial light in her eye, and marched him off to the library and cast half a dozen counter-curses and protective spells on him while Harry tried to protest, until finally she said, frowning, “Well, I can’t find anything, but I’m sure the whole thing somehow affected your mind. It might be safest to Obliviate the experience—”
“You’re not Obliviating me!” Harry snapped.
“Well, then at least extract the memories into a Pensieve!” Hermione said.
“Harry, don’t you see you’re behaving in a completely uncharacteristic—”
“I don’t care!” he shouted at her. “It’s my house and I like it this way! I like that it cares and I like that it’s stupidly stuck up and I like that it’s beautiful, and I don’t care if it did try to kill me, I’m not afraid of it, it’s mine now—”
Hermione was staring at him with enormous, widening eyes, and then she said, in horrified tones, “Are—are we talking about the house?” and Harry stopped, panting, and realized in utter blank horror he’d let Draco go, he’d had him and he’d let him go, and he’d never have a second chance, and what had he been thinking.
Harry went slowly upstairs to the third floor sitting room, unable to stop himself, and sank into one of the armchairs staring at the abandoned loom. The shuttle wasn’t singing anymore. It was one of the thirteen blessings to have a weaver in the house, Harry knew suddenly, like remembering something he’d forgotten a long time ago. Draco had set his hand to the loom and he’d made an heirloom for Harry’s house; he’d given Harry a dance and an opportunity, and then he’d even made him a formal offer, and Harry had said—Harry had said no, thank you, like the most colossal idiot in the world.
Now what was there to do? Draco wasn’t going to hold his wrists out a second time. He’d snort and say you had your chance, Potter, do you think I’m going to give you another go? Even if Draco wanted him, that wasn’t something he could do; he couldn’t bend his pride that far, not and stay true. And now every day for the rest of his life Harry was going to have to go into his dining room, and see the work of Draco’s hands hanging there, impossible to take down or ever give away, and he’d remember all over again that he’d let slip something there wasn’t a way to replace, something that had vanished beyond reach.
The horrible thought kept trying to creep out of the twisting knot in Harry’s gut that there was another way—the old Dark way, taking possession. He could go to Draco’s house, and push Draco down onto the flagstones of his hall, and take what he wanted by force. There was something terrible and alluring in the idea; it came straight out of the underbelly of the old ways, the cruelty that could go hand in hand with the beauty, that could turn so easily to the Dark. He remembered what the Manor had been, under Lucius Malfoy’s hand, under Voldemort. It took me six months, Draco had said, and Harry’s eyes stung suddenly with a clear vision, Draco kneeling on the stained and blackened hearth in the Great Hall, alone in a dim struggling circle of light, scrubbing the stone clean until his fingers bled.
Harry swallowed hard. He wouldn’t, he wouldn’t, he didn’t want to, but knowing there wasn’t any other way, knowing he’d lost Draco forever— He got up and left the room, and pulled the door shut hard behind him.
In the morning he got out of the too-empty bed after a sleepless night and went and splashed cold water on his face and stood staring into the mirror with blank misery, cataloging every odd twist of eyes and face and hair, everything in him that marked him out, dangerous, magical—a freak, Uncle Vernon’s voice growling in his head, abnormal, filthy little creep, not like decent people. Harry’s stomach turned over. He couldn’t keep the appointment, he realized—he couldn’t go to the Manor at all; he couldn’t risk it. He couldn’t trust himself.
He went out and halted: a suit of sharp combat robes in grey and black patterning had been laid out on the bed, with old-fashioned dueling bracers inlaid with gold. The small glass case from under his old bed with the gold medal of the Order of Merlin First Class inside it was sitting on the desk, too, like one extra dose of intimidation. All of it waiting for him to put it on, to go and—
“I won’t,” he said, through his teeth. “I won’t. I’m sorry,” he added, with a gulp. “I’m sorry, I know I’ve fucked it all up. I could’ve—we could’ve had him. But I won’t do it that way.”
He went to the desk to write a note making his apologies, but the inkwell had run dry; he had to go down to the library, and then the drawer with the paper in it wouldn’t open. As he gave it a third hard yank, suddenly it came loose in his hand, and he went staggering backwards into the shelf. An enormous leatherbound book fell off the upper shelf and banged him hard on the head and landed on the floor, open to a beautiful painted illustration of a wizard in combat robes and bracers facing a dragon the size of a small mountain, with the caption Percivale and ye Fyrst Taske.
Harry stared down at it, and then he snatched it up and went to the beginning of the story, where Percivale went and asked for the hand of the Queen of the Night’s daughter, bearing three gifts, and got set three impossible tasks—
“Right,” Harry said, gratefully, and ran back upstairs and put on the robes. His hands were shaking, but the buttons did themselves up for him, all the way up the front and the length of the sleeves. He looked at the enormous medal, after he’d finished buckling on the bracers: he couldn’t really be meant to wear it, he realized suddenly. “Will it do as a gift?” he asked, out loud, and the glass case opened up approvingly. He took it out. When he turned round, there was a beautifully carved box waiting on the desk, with three compartments.
The compartments didn’t look big enough, but he gave it a try anyway, and as he put the medal in, it shrank down to fit and nestled perfectly into the space. He looked at the second compartment, and then he went and got the bag with the rest of the of hippogriff feathers he’d gathered and stuffed it improbably inside the second. That left the third, and he was stumped for a moment, until a small drawer he hadn’t noticed slid open, with a large ring of keys inside.
He took the keys and went downstairs with the box. Kreacher was humming over the copper pots, and he took one look at Harry and his eyes went wide as saucers. “Master is going courting.”
“Yes,” Harry said, with a swallow. “Kreacher, do you think you can help me find something that’s—worthy?”
He unlocked the cellar door, and Kreacher led him down the long stairs and past dusty racks and racks of wine bottles to a large locked cupboard all the way in the very back. The smallest golden key on the ring unlocked the doors, and on the very top above a shelf of the Private Reserve bottles there was a small round crystal bottle, the size of a fist, not quite half full of some pale green liqueur. It floated down to Kreacher’s hand, and he looked down at it with a tiny sigh, stroking the smooth curve of the bottle wistfully as if he hated to see it go, and then offered it up to Harry.
Harry took it and put it into the third compartment. He closed the box and went back upstairs. He meant just to Apparate, but when he opened the front door, a carriage house had creakily unfolded itself next door, shoving the neighbors over a bit more, and a post chaise rolled out of it and up to the steps. Harry climbed into it, let it carry him to the Manor, rolling through the countryside and the gates and all the way along the circling drive.
The front doors swung open as he climbed the stairs: Draco had come downstairs to meet him at the threshold with a mildly puzzled expression. “Having a go at riding in state, Potter?” he said, then looked at him and froze.
“I thought I’d try it, yeah,” Harry said, trying to keep his voice level. Draco was still staring at the box in his hands, and Harry gulped and held it out. “I’m—will you—tell me what you want me to do?” he blurted, desperately. He was sure there were words, graceful and appropriate ones, but he was too terrified to find them; what if Draco said no thank you, what if Draco didn’t want to—
“Potter, you complete bloody tosser,” Draco said through his teeth. “No one does it that way anymore! People get killed! I’m not sending you on some idiotic—oh fine!” He snatched the box out of Harry’s hands and shoved it onto a table. “There, your gifts are accepted, now bring me a rock, a leaf, and a glass of water. You wanker,” and he folded his arms and glared, furiously.
Harry stared at him, taken aback, and then he realized—Draco had just—he turned and ran down the stairs, grabbed a pebble from under the wheels of the carriage, pulled a leaf off the nearest hedge, and yanked off one of his bracers, transfigured it into a glass, and dipped it full out of the fountain in the middle of the drive.
He ran back up the stairs with his hands full. He’d accidentally got one of the tiny ornamental rubyfish, which was swimming round the glass in perplexed circles, but what the hell, it counted. Draco still looked massively annoyed, arms folded as he waited in the hall. “You could’ve just said yes please when I offered, like any reasonable person,” he was saying, even as he snatched the rock, made a cursory show of inspecting it, and chucked it onto the table next to the box of gifts. “You could’ve called a solicitor and drafted up a betrothal contract, completely acceptable these last two hundred years,” — “I could’ve what?” Harry said, but Draco wasn’t so much as pausing for breath, taking the leaf — “You could’ve just turned up and shagged me in the hall, but no, now all of a sudden you’ve got to do things in the most ridiculous and old-fashioned way possible,” and then he turned back and put his hands on the glass of water in Harry’s hands—“Don’t drink it,” Harry said breathlessly—and it was suddenly shining, light spilling out between all their fingers.
Draco stopped talking. He swallowed, and then he gently and carefully took the glass, and put it down on the table. The rubyfish had turned brilliant shimmering gold and looked suddenly pleased with its circumstances. The rock and the leaf were shining also, and the box of gifts, a glimmering radiance that wasn’t anything like an ordinary light spell. The whole table was catching the gleam of it, and then the walls and the stone floor, a quickening shimmer of light spreading out like a ripple in a pond.
Harry stepped in to meet Draco as he turned back, and they kissed and kissed again, moving deeper into each other’s arms and passing it between them, kissing until they lost their breath and had to stop to chase it down, like dancing. They were grinning at each other helplessly, breathing hard, and then there was a faint rumbling: the grand staircase shifted over towards them a bit, widening invitingly.
Draco took Harry’s hand, and they ran up the stairs together. The whole house was coming joyfully alight around them, the portraits smiling tolerantly as they dashed by, even the bedspread in Draco’s bedroom folding itself down welcomingly as they tumbled into the enormous bed together, kissing again, with the tall windows swinging open to let in a sun-warmed breeze.
Harry’s buttons were all coming undone as Draco stroked the tips of his fingers over them encouragingly. Harry tugged at Draco’s robes, which came slithering off to be tossed aside onto the floor. The light had reached the bed now, too, a faint opalescent shimmer, and Draco was lying beneath him, his grey eyes shining also, like lights on a dark road, leading the way home.
“I hope Grimmauld Place doesn’t get jealous,” Harry said, kissing down his throat and nuzzling in to his collarbone.
“You went out courting, it’ll understand,” Draco said. “Besides, the rule is it gets the reception.”