The stately homes of England, though rather in the lurch,
Provide a lot of chances for psychical research
There's the ghost of a younger son who murdered, in thirteen fifty-one,
An extremely rowdy nun, who resented it,
And people who come to call meet her in the hall.
The baby in the guest wing, who crouches by the grate,
Was walled up in the west wing in fourteen twenty-eight.
If anyone spots the Queen of Scots in a hand-embroidered shroud
We're proud of the Stately Homes of England.
"Stately Homes of England", Noel Coward
Harry looked up from where he had been industriously doodling a stick figure succumbing to fits of scrofungulus. He pushed aside what he had dubbed the Leaning Tower of Pain in his Arse, a stack of paperwork that rose up for several feet and then listed slightly to the left. It gave a faint and unpromising wobble before going blessedly still. “Sorry, did you need me for something?”
Ginger Assistant, whose name may or may not have been Jenny, glanced down at her admin parchment and ticked something off. “Just a quick one. There’s been a report of a few breaks of the Statute of Secrecy in Fugglestone St Peter.”
Perhaps Ginger Assistant was actually called Penny. Harry had assiduously avoided using her name in conversation for going on a year. It was now too awkward to correct. “In Wiltshire? Shouldn’t that be one for the Obliviators?”
“This is the third incident there this month, so we’d like an Auror to… check in. The problem is the perpetrator — Robards isn’t about to trust the word of a Malfoy.”
“The Malfoys were acquitted,” Harry said, blinking up at her. “Or — mostly.”
Ginger Assistant shrugged. “Malfoy Major may be deceased, but we’re apparently still concerned about Malfoy Minor. Robards wants you and MacDougal to pay a visit, do a little sniffing. See if he’s up to something.”
Harry snorted, wishing Ron had been in the cubicle to hear an actual human person ask him to see if Draco Malfoy was up to something. Alas, Ron was on assignment, and Harry’s private joke went unappreciated.
“I mean, have you seen Morag?”
“Snacking or smoking, those are the only guesses you’re getting out of me,” Ginger Assistant said, and wandered off to delegate more responsibilities.
Harry frowned at the Leaning Tower of Pain in his Arse. Life as an Auror had seemed much more exciting during his careers meeting at Hogwarts. In reality, Harry’s professional life was either monotonous desk-work or running through pints of blood, with very little middle ground. The latter was meant to be something he was made for, but he had found that the more altercations he got into, the worse he had started to feel at the end of the day. He wished, not for the first time, that Robards had let Harry partner with Ron. Morag MacDougal was a good Auror, and Harry liked her, but she didn’t seem to appreciate his ‘think last, act first’ tactics. This was meant to be a good thing.
Harry was starting to think there was something wrong with him. He had his dream job, but here he was waking each morning with a pit of dread in his stomach.
Surely everything would come out in the laundering charm. Maybe once Ron and Harry could be partnered together, or once Harry started to get some really useful cases, Auroring would start to feel like a grand adventure again.
Morag was not snacking, which led only to smoking. Harry took the lift up to the smoking room, found a knot of unfriendly Unspeakables who stopped speaking immediately upon Harry’s arrival, then shrunk his Auror robes and made his way to the rainy Muggle street above. Sure enough, Morag was leaning against a brick wall and watching the Muggles go by. She claimed this helped her ‘process’.
Harry took up the space next to her and cast a water-repellant charm with his wand hidden up his sleeve. “How’s your process?”
“Disgusting,” Morag said, blowing smoke away from Harry. “What’s our new assignment?”
Harry explained about Fugglestone St Peter, and the Malfoys. He considered asking Morag what Ginger Assistant’s proper name was, but then thought better of it.
“Ah, Malfoy Manor,” drawled Morag. “Haven’t been there since my ruffled-up childhood.”
“You’ve been there before?” Harry was surprised. Morag, with her dragonleather jackets and heavy boots, didn’t seem the ruffled-up childhood type.
Morag squinted at him. “You do know I’m a pureblood, don’t you?”
Harry had not known. Had she mentioned this at some point? Honestly, he couldn’t remember. “I’ve been too,” he said. “During the war.”
“It’s the accent, isn’t it. Not toff enough.” Morag stubbed out her cigarette, and then discreetly vanished the remnants. “Or is it the Sacred Twenty-Eight. You know we’re not listed, and it offends you.”
“I don’t know what that is,” said Harry honestly.
“Which in itself is refreshing,” said Morag, “My mother doesn’t stop going on about the bloody thing. She was a Burke before she married, and she won’t let you forget it.”
“We all are, especially at Christmas.” Morag shoved her hands into her coat pockets and started off towards the public toilets that were still the undignified entrance to the Ministry of Magic. “Come on, Potter. I’d like to get there before two.”
Harry followed, amusing himself by imagining various hated and starchy politicians flushing themselves down the loo. It cheered him up considerably.
Harry and Morag Apparated to the edge of a small market town. The narrow country lane might have been picturesque in better weather: it had not been raining in London, but the grey Wiltshire sky seemed determined to unleash a bout of windy drizzle upon their heads. Harry wiped his glasses off on his shirt. Ten feet ahead of them, a squirrel paused atop a sign that read FUGGLESTONE ST PETER, then scuttled up a nearby tree.
After faint grumbling about the weather, they started their walk away from town. With a great mass of brambles on one side, and rather overgrown hedges on the other, the already narrow lane began to feel more like a rather verdant corridor.
“Are you sure you’ve got the Apparition point right?” asked Harry.
Morag shot him an annoyed look that reminded him distinctly of Hermione.
Harry’s hair was plastered over his forehead by the time Morag turned right, leading Harry up a long drive bordered with rather overgrown yew hedges. An expansive manor house loomed ahead of them. The grey mass seemed almost to grow out of the grounds. The rain darkened the stone and made the towers appear to glower in the distance, like great eyes. Halfway up the drive, a large wrought-iron gate halted their progress. Absently, Harry pressed his hand to the cold metal and pushed.
At once, the iron began to twist. A large face emerged from the coils and whirls to clang, “State your purpose!”
Despite its theatrics, Harry got the impression that the gate was rather savouring its time in the sun. Perhaps it didn’t often get the chance to frighten visitors.
“Auror Potter and Auror MacDougal here to see Draco Malfoy,” said Harry, hiding a smile. There was a long pause, and then the gates swung open.
The last time Harry visited Malfoy Manor he had been a little bit preoccupied by other, noseless things, but he was pretty sure he got a general sense of the decor: shiny mahogany and extreme gilt, with a side of peacock.
At least one peacock was still there, looking a bit bedraggled atop the hedge, but as the front doors swung open to reveal the interior hall, Harry was surprised at the lack of sumptuous furnishings. What once had been a plush rug was now threadbare, and the mahogany paneling appeared scratched and dusty.
More surprising still was the hand that opened the door. Instead of the obsequious house elf Harry had been expecting, there stood Draco Malfoy in grey trousers and a thick blue jumper.
This was not the first time Harry had seen Malfoy since the war. Harry had seen him at the Trials, of course. Then, after Harry’s testimony helped him get acquitted, Malfoy had popped up at various horrible charity events and mind-numbing Ministry functions, always wearing impeccable dress robes and probably doing his best to make people forget what his surname had grown to mean. Harry and Malfoy had, in fact, undergone multiple civil interactions, including up to a dozen courteous conversations about the weather, Quidditch, and how surprisingly good the food was. They had not received a prize for this, but Harry felt one ought to be coming.
This was, however, the first time in years Harry had seen Malfoy in the daytime. He didn’t exactly wear the change of lighting well. Malfoy looked pale even for him, and the dark circles under his eyes had the muddy bluish-green tint of an untended pond. He looked Harry up and down with an odd tilt of the mouth — probably judging his rather soggy appearance.
“MacDougal. Potter. To what do I owe the… pleasure?” Malfoy spat out the world like particularly sour grapefruit.
“Afternoon, Draco,” Morag said, unperturbed. She strode through the partially open door and went about wiping her boots. Harry followed. In the year and a half he had been partnered with Morag MacDougal, he had learned it was generally a good plan to follow her instincts.
“Don’t you need a search warrant to riffle through my home, or am I running a particularly lax bed and breakfast?”
Morag shook her head. “Oh, we’re not on the hunt. Just wanted to have a few words about your Statute of Secrecy problem.”
“We wanted to remind you there is one,” Harry added helpfully.
Morag raised an irritated eyebrow in his direction.
“I’ve paid the requisite fines,” Malfoy said. “I don’t see how this concerns the Auror department.”
“Three this month? And for all that you’re apparently flouting the Statute, it sure looks like you’re not swimming in cash.” Morag looked pointedly at the bare stone floor.
Malfoy stood up straighter, his mouth a thin line. “Well, after all of our holdings were seized —” He stopped, swallowing. “If you insist on doing this, we’ll at least meet in the drawing room, like adults.”
Harry would be twenty-three in six months and he had yet to ever feel like an adult, not even when he had been awarded the Order of Merlin, first class. Especially not then. “Are you sure you wouldn’t rather chat in the kitchen like pensioners? Hold court in the loo like teens?”
Malfoy and Morag ignored him.
Rows of pale-faced ancestors craned their heads to watch the unlikely trio walk by. Harry really ought to have been accustomed to scrutiny after this long as the Boy Who Lived, but the prickling press of eyes still rankled. Even from oil paintings.
“Sod off,” he muttered to one particularly contemptuous portrait, whose moue of disapproval turned into an indignant sputter.
“Well I never,” said the portrait, one hand to his painted mouth.
“What was that?” Malfoy turned back towards him. “Potter, are you talking to yourself again?”
“Usually,” Harry admitted.
Yet more disapproving relations awaited them in the drawing room. The ceilings were high, the mouldings were intricate, the furnishings antique, but the room still couldn’t quite shake the sense of being somewhat out of service.
Harry had been in a drawing room in Malfoy Manor before, and he did not think this was the same one. In a house this size, Harry figured the Malfoys probably had enough drawing rooms to set aside the one that had once housed the inconvenient torture of an Undesirable.
Malfoy motioned to a sofa thick with embroidered pillows. “Please sit,” he said, and then took the armchair directly opposite.
Morag knocked some pillows aside to make room and Harry gingerly sat on the edge of the sofa, wondering exactly what century it hailed from. A puff of dust emanated from the cushions, and Harry sneezed.
Malfoy rubbed his temples and addressed Morag, ignoring Harry completely. “This is absolutely none of your business, of course, but we have been having… Ghost troubles.”
“I thought your family didn’t have any ghosts,” Morag said.
“More like a poltergeist, perhaps.” Malfoy’s face twisted. “I’ll handle it, obviously. We have had some… issues with the house, and in town. Hence the Statute.”
“I thought poltergeists were pretty location-specific,” Harry said, furrowing his brow. “Why would it be in town, too?”
“Yes, yes, Granger taught you well. The situation is, er. Developing. But I have it handled.” Malfoy leaned back in his armchair, every inch the lord of the manor. “So we needn’t waste our time.”
“I don’t know,” said Harry doubtfully, “Your records aren’t exactly tales of extreme handling.”
“Sounds like an issue for the Spirit Division,” Morag said, getting to her feet. “ Anyway, if you don’t mind, we’ll do a quick scan of the area.”
Malfoy pursed his lips. “By all means, scan away.”
They divvied up rooms on the ground floor. Morag strode off to catalogue the front hall. Harry stayed behind, and began the complicated enchantment to survey the drawing room.
The charm spread like fairy dust, lingering on anything that had seen an encounter with Dark Magic. Harry had cast this spell thousands of times, in hundreds of places. Dark objects shone like small silver suns. Anything with a Dark enchantment looked more like silver firelight. Malfoy Manor was… odd. Silver glimmered off every surface in eyesight: the stone floor, the carved fireplace, and, most peculiarly indeed, off of Draco Malfoy himself, whose silvery hair glinted as if someone had shaken a Pixie vigorously over his head.
The silver light set off Malfoy’s features in the dim interior room. Harry examined him curiously. His Roman nose sat amidst features so sharp they could have been carved in marble — judging by the ancestral decor, eventually they would be. Malfoy’s eyelashes seemed to stand out in a shock of softness, long and curling in his marmoreal face.
If Malfoy had been a practitioner, he would have been lighting up like fireworks. Instead, he had the silvery tinge of someone who had been practiced upon. A few years ago this may not have been a very shocking result, but the war was over now. What had Malfoy gotten involved in?
“By all means, stare,” drawled Malfoy, sounding just as he had when he was sixteen.
Harry’s hackles went right up. “It’s the spell,” he said, then started picking his way around the small tables and sagging sofas to map the extent of the indicators. “Do you live alone?”
“Just myself and a truly geriatric house-elf.”
Harry frowned. “Where’s your mother?”
“That is certainly no business of yours,” Malfoy snapped.
“Well it is, actually, seeing as…” Harry motioned at his wand, the lit-up room, his Auror robes.
Malfoy sniffed. “Mother is on the Continent.”
“No,” Malfoy said at once, and then seemed to calm himself. “For the time being.”
“Do you have visitors?”
“I need you to make a list. Don’t leave anyone out.”
Malfoy surveyed him over his long nose. “I do so love being interrogated when I am the one suffering from this problem.”
Harry scoffed. “How do you think we’re meant to help you, then? Legilimency?”
“As if you could, Potter. And I have this handled. There’s no need for the Ministry to get involved.”
“I don’t know if you recognise the results, but this is a lot of Dark Magic, Malfoy, and that’s kind of my area.” Harry scowled at him and clenched his wand with white knuckles. The scanning spell trembled, but held. “If you’re being cursed, or hexed, or —”
“Don’t you think I know how Dark Magic feels? Me, of all people? ”
“I’m crying for you,” snapped Harry. “And, also, like — as an aside, you of all people? What am I, chopped flobberworms?”
Malfoy glowered at him. Harry glowered right back.
They were in the middle of what was shaping up to be a truly admirable glower-fest when Morag came tramping back into the room.
“Yikes,” she said. “I’d leave you to it, but Potter and I really have to go file this report.”
“File,” sneered Malfoy.
“Yeah,” said Harry, “At our job. Since we’ve got jobs, you know, instead of lazing about in our castles.”
“This is not a castle.”
“Oh, sorry, your perfectly ordinary two-up, two-down murder mansion then.”
Morag looked between them. “Not that this isn’t a nice rehash of school, but we really ought to be going.”
“Fine,” said Harry, and stormed off with another aborted glower at Malfoy. He would go right out the front door and slam it, or half of it, but he had trouble with the rusty hinges and it was too heavy to slam properly. He was still struggling when Morag caught up with him, looking supremely amused.
Harry glared at her. “What.”
Morag raised her hands in surrender. “Glad I didn’t know you two at school, that’s all. Lots of drama.”
“We didn’t have drama.” Harry started along down the drive, gravel crunching under his feet. “We had… a feud.”
“You were eleven. It was drama.”
Harry shrugged. He had been eleven when he started fighting Voldemort, too.
“It’s odd, don’t you think?” asked Harry, after recounting his visit to Malfoy Manor from start to finish. In the dim evening light Ron and Hermione’s small kitchen felt cozy and inviting, the opposite of the cold Manor. It didn’t hurt that the air smelt pleasantly of garlic, or that Harry’s stomach was warm and full of pasta.
“You know, I thought I had imagined the peacocks,” said Ron, reaching across the table to swipe more bread from the basket. “What with the trauma.”
“Yes, I’m sure it was very traumatising for you, Ronald,” said Hermione. Ron’s freckled face went white. She shook her head, and knocked their shoulders together. “What, I’m not allowed to joke about it?”
Ron managed a smile, and then gave Hermione his extra piece of garlic bread.
“I meant the poltergeist,” said Harry. “Have you ever heard of a poltergeist leaving its usual haunt?”
“Well, no,” said Hermione, slowly. “But I have heard about Malfoy Manor at work.” She leaned across the table, looking conspiratorial. “Apparently, the Spirits Division has been called in seventeen times since November. They aren’t ordinary poltergeists at all. An ordinary poltergeist is a sort of spirit of chaos, organic to the location. The poltergeists at Malfoy Manor, however, appear to be ghosts.”
Ron raised an eyebrow. “What, like they’re more see-through? Can’t chuck things at you?”
“Not exactly. More that they’re taking the appearance of specific individuals. Malfoy ancestors, I believe. There’s no one form; the spirit shifts depending on the haunting. It’s highly peculiar. No one quite knows what to make of it.”
“And now they’re leaving the grounds of the Manor,” said Harry. “Almost like it’s escalating.”
Hermione and Ron exchanged a glance. “It’s nice that you’re nothing if not a creature of habit, Harry,” said Hermione, but Harry wasn’t listening. What was going on at Malfoy Manor, and why was it happening outside the house? For that matter, what was Malfoy doing in a Muggle town? None of it made even the slightest bit of sense.
In the morning, Harry’s odd fascination with the state of Malfoy Manor had disappeared, leaving only the memory of Malfoy’s sneer and Harry sneezing from dust, which made his new assignment even more galling.
Ginger Assistant examined her fingernails. “Don’t crucio the messenger, Harry.”
Normally, Harry quite appreciated how Ginger Assistant never treated him with the startled, fearful deference that most of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement employed, but right about now would be a good time for her to start with the deferring. “Malfoy and I hate each other.”
“And the rest of the department really gets on with him.”
Harry frowned. He couldn’t think of a way to say how it was different between him and Malfoy, more personal, without sounding like an enormous prat.
“You did testify for him,” said Ginger Assistant reasonably. “At the Trials.”
“Because it was the right thing to do, not because we’re mates,” Harry sputtered.
“And you speak to him at parties,” Ginger Assistant continued, with a Hermione-esque righteousness.
“Maybe four times! About, like, the cheese plate.” Harry put his head in his hands. “Couldn’t Morag bloody do it? She’s, a, er. Holy Fifty-seven, or something.”
“No good.” Ginger Assistant reached over Harry’s bent head to grab a quill, and went about using it as a cuticle pusher. “We need someone who can blend in with Muggles. You were raised by Muggles, weren’t you?”
“In a manner of speaking,” muttered Harry, getting the sense that the deck was stacked against him.
“Well, you can speak Muggle and you know Malfoy. You’ve been to the house —”
“And Morag can stay and work the Fishleburn case. If there’s a break in that I’m sure you can Floo in for the heroics.” Ginger Assistant returned his quill. “There’s no use arguing.”
Harry spoke directly to the desk, not bothering to lift his head. “What if I tried crying? Just for a change.”
“You start right away. We don’t want more Obliviators in Fugglestone St Peter, all right? Not to mention the Dark Magic readings you two found. Robards thinks there’s a decent chance Malfoy’s behind it all, so you may as well keep an eye on him.”
“An eye, a wand, a decorative sword…”
“Cheers, Potter. Glad we’ve got that sorted.” Ginger Assistant ticked off her list, rapped on his desk once, and left his cubicle.
“If I just poisoned him, we wouldn’t have any more Obliviators in Fugglestone St Peter,” Harry informed his desk. His desk didn’t respond. His desk probably thought he ought to just get on with it. Harry let out a muffled groan.
“Was it the fancying fruitcake?” Ron’s voice sounded amused from the entrance of the cubicle. “Lempke tried it and said she felt like she’d had a hernia.”
“Malfoy,” Harry mumbled.
“Malfoy,” Harry repeated, raising his head. “I’ve been assigned to ‘watch him’.”
“And by watch, they clearly meant swap all his china with nose-biting teacups?”
“I should have died when I had the chance,” Harry sighed. Ron shot him an odd look. “What, I can’t joke about it?”
“Listen, mate,” Ron said, sitting on the edge of Harry’s desk. If he leaned or breathed slightly too hard to his right he’d knock over the Leaning Tower of Pain in Harry’s Arse. “I know this is a rubbish assignment — believe me, I know — but there’s also… You’ve been…” Ron’s freckled face went splotchy as he tried to formulate his thoughts.
Harry braced himself. “You’ve been talking to Hermione.”
“Well, yeah,” admitted Ron. “She mentioned — and I agree, mind you — that you’ve seemed a little, er. Down. Lately. In the past — year.”
“I’m fine,” Harry said, like he had told Hermione about twelve times that month.
“Right,” Ron said dubiously. “Well, I just wanted to say, like. I’m here for you. If you wanted to — talk, or drink too much, or whatever.”
Ron looked so earnest that Harry felt his chest go warm, despite himself. “I’m all right, but thanks, Ron.”
“Okay,” Ron said, looking relieved. “Glad we got that out of the way. Good luck on the wanker assignment.”
“Fuck off,” Harry laughed. “Though, if you had any nose-biting teacups you wanted to donate…”
“A couple boxing telescopes, a fungus fancy.” Ron sighed happily. “The possibilities have an end, but it’s bloody hard to get to, am I right?”
There was a sharp knock outside the cubicle, and Ginger Assistant poked her head in. “Fugglestone St Peter,” she reminded him, then disappeared.
“Say, Ron,” Harry began, “What’s her n —”
At that same moment, Georgie Lempke hollered, “Oi, Weasley! What’s that alias Viveka’s got, again?”
Ron stood up, watching the Leaning Tower of Pain in Harry’s Arse anxiously for a minute as it shifted alarmingly. Harry steadied it on one side. “See you later? Drinks?”
“I’ll need one. Or, like, eight.”
“Cheers,” Ron said, and left to join his partner.
Reluctantly, Harry started off on his way to Fugglestone St Peter, and the headache that would surely join him there.
On Thursday, Draco had planned to devoted himself to the rot in the Blue Bedroom. He woke early, washed, choked down a few slices of toast and made his way to the second floor to begin promptly at eight. Unfortunately, Draco only got so far as vanishing musty portions of the carpet before an imperious cough broke his concentration. He almost tripped over an ottoman and a half-open chest of drawers.
Draco eyed a portrait of an ancient great-aunt. “Yes?”
Lysistrata Malfoy adjusted her magnificent dress robes and observed him witheringly. She sniffed her rather large and overly pointed nose, a feature Draco had unfortunately inherited. “There is a boy at the gate, nephew.”
“If it’s another collector —”
Lysistrata continued as if Draco had never started speaking. “He was here yesterday, if I recall correctly. The dark boy with the shameful manners, who came with that MacDougal Auror —”
“He’s an Auror, too,” Draco corrected her absently, and then, as his brain processed the information, his face went hot. Potter. What on earth was Potter doing here? More investigating, perhaps? Fancied a few more groundless accusations? The nosey, arrogant prick.
“Aurors really ought to have more decorum; he’s arguing with the gate.” Lysistrata frowned. “Bad breeding is what it comes down to, Draco. One would expect —”
Draco ignored her and peered out of the grimy window to the lawn below. Sure enough, an irksomely familiar messy black head appeared to be chatting with the front gate.
“Of all the bloody cheek,” Draco snapped, and stormed out of the Blue Bedroom, down the back stairs, through the front hall and out into the drive. By the time he had reached Potter he was red-faced, panting, and far too annoyed to care. “Just what do you think you are doing?”
Potter looked almost surprised to see him, the idiot. He had visited Draco’s home, whomever else could he possibly expect? “Hello,” Potter said, with an aborted half-wave. Thin winter sunlight gleamed off his high cheekbones, yet another in a long line of irritations. “Your gate thinks I’m a wastrel.”
“The gate isn’t wrong,” Draco muttered.
“Sorry, what?” Potter asked, all flawless brown skin and sharp jawline, the arsehole.
Draco folded his arms across his chest. “What are you doing here?”
“YOUR BUSINESS, SIR,” roared the gate, sounding rather thrilled. “STATE IT NOW. THE ANCIENT HOUSE OF MALFOY —”
“Auror business,” Potter said, pitching his voice at a half-yell so it carried over the clank of the gate. “Could you let me in, please? This would be a lot less awkward without the gate.”
“I doubt that,” muttered Draco, but he took out the family wand anyway. With a few swivels, the gate melted away and Potter came striding through. His skin, unfortunately, was just as flawless up close.
“What Auror business,” Draco demanded.
“Oh,” said Potter, “Right. They haven’t told you?”
“Told me what?”
Potter frowned. “They should’ve owled you in advance. I’ve, er. I’ve been assigned as your Auror detail. Because of the poltergeists, you know. And the Dark Magic scans. To be safe.”
Draco blinked at him. “Absolutely not.”
“That’s what I said.” Potter looked almost like he wished to commiserate with Draco, which was simply unacceptable. Draco was a delight. Potter, on the other hand, may have been visually acceptable but that was simply where the appeal stopped.
“Have them assign someone else,” Draco snapped. “Don’t they know —”
“We had a feud, yeah, I brought that up.” Potter shook his head ruefully. “Listen, Malfoy, I’m not any more pleased about the situation than you are, but we’d best just get on with it — oh, we ought to go inside.”
Draco scowled as ferociously as he could manage. “Why would I let you into my home yet again?”
“You’re shivering a bit,” Potter pointed out.
Draco looked down at himself. Without him noticing, the flush from careening out of the house to admonish Potter had disappeared, to be replaced by the realisation that this was February, and he had not put a coat on. He folded his arms tightly across his chest. “Fine.”
Potter kept on Draco’s heels as they crunched up the gravel drive to the front door. Draco, feeling off-kilter as he had been since Potter’s visit the day before, kept up a long stream of complaints regarding the Department of Magical Law Enforcement, the Spirit Division, the Ministry of Magic, and Potter himself, who was utterly unsuited to — whatever it was he was meant to be doing.
“Are you meant to be some kind of bodyguard?” Draco asked, once they were inside. Truth be told, the interior of the Manor was hardly warmer than the grounds. Unless Coote had lit a fire — unlikely, these days — each room had the sort of damp chill you wore like a waterlogged jumper. “For me — or for the poor Muggles?”
Potter went a bit red. “It’s easy for you to be cavalier, Malfoy, but it sounds like the poltergeist business isn’t exactly easy for them.”
“That’s not what I — regardless. Am I expected to have you skulking around after me at all bloody hours?”
“Just the standard nine to five,” said Potter. “Anything else, I’m going to want overtime.”
With this amount of fuel, Draco could swear for England. Through only the greatest of restraint, he managed, “I just wish to know the parameters of your assignment.”
“You were a lot less formal with me at those balls,” said Potter, almost absently.
“They were charity events, and we were exchanging banal pleasantries.” Draco drew himself up even straighter, his shoulders going rigid. “This is an entirely different situation.”
“Yeah, I’m only here to help you.” Potter put his hands in the pockets of his terrible robes and tilted his face away from Draco, which was quite a trick, with the light, and his cheekbones.
“Help I do not need. As I said yesterday, I have it handled.”
Someone behind them cleared their throat, and Draco glanced over his shoulder. An entire line of Malfoy portraits was watching him and Potter with great interest. At the far end of the hall, elderly Cymbeline Malfoy peered through mother-of-pearl opera glasses, and the dissolute Cygnus had got hold of a pair of pince-nez. Lysistrata Malfoy seemed to have descended from the Blue Bedroom for the occasion: she was leaning over Cymbeline’s shoulder to get a turn with the opera glasses.
“Really, Draco, the young Potter cannot aggravate the situation,” said Septimus Malfoy II from beneath his powdered wig.
“Tis exceedingly suitable. Prithee, young Potter, tarry here longer,” added Gaius Malfoy, adjusting his ruff. “He is a most comely boy. Zounds, had I my youth —”
Draco aimed a swift silencing charm at Gaius, who wagged his finger playfully in Draco’s direction.
Potter’s mouth twitched at the corners.
Salazar, Potter was going to try to sympathise with him.
“I’d listen to your elders,” Potter said, which was not sympathy. Draco found he was cross about it.
“I wouldn’t expect you to understand anything about family,” Draco snapped.
Potter’s face darkened. “I don’t want this any more than you do, Malfoy, but I’m going to do my damn job, all right? Even if I have to cite you for contempt.”
Draco avoided meeting the eyes of any portraits. “Fine,” he said. “Don’t — cause any trouble. I have a lot of work to do, and I don’t want you hovering.”
“Sure,” Potter said, clearly unconvinced.
Draco refrained from continuing his work in the Blue Bedroom. The disrepair on the ground floor was quite enough to show to outsiders. Instead, he tried to go over finances in the small library. He had all the papers laid out and was performing calculations, but every time he held a number in his head, Potter would sneeze or drop a book or ask a banal question, and Draco would have to start again from the beginning. Such as —
“Where is that?” asked Potter, gesturing above the desk. Draco craned his neck to see the small oil painting, its trees waving gently in an invisible wind.
Draco pointed at the south wall.
Potter peered out of the indicated window. “Hey!”
“There we are,” Draco said, and turned back to his parchment.
“Did some ancestor do it?”
“Yes, my great-aunt — oh, for Merlin’s sake, Potter, I have actual work to do.”
“What work? You don’t have a job.”
“The house doesn’t run itself, you realise,” Draco said, scowling.
Potter looked around as if assessing the situation. There was no missing the damp chill, or the cracked gas lamps, or the many uneven floorboards they had trod upon in the journey from the front door.
“You could bring work of your own. I wouldn’t want to hold up your important Auror business.” Draco leaned back in his chair, which groaned disconcertingly. “Instead of just walking around being a nuisance.”
“It’s not my fault,” grumbled Potter, sinking into an ancient chair. “I thought a poltergeist would’ve descended on us by now. And none of the books in here are on Dark Magic, anyway, I checked.”
“They wouldn’t be,” said Draco. “The Ministry seized all Dark objects back in — oh, our second year, then again before our sixth, and then again after the War. Will you please sit still.”
Potter stilled his fidgeting for a brief moment, then went on tapping his foot. “What? There’s nothing for me to do.”
“If you wanted constant doing, I would have thought you’d have gone the Hitwizard route.” Draco turned a page in his calculations. “Everyone knows Aurors mostly sit around tracking people. But no, I imagine you had to go for the glory, didn’t you.”
“Yep, can’t have enough of that,” said Potter dryly.
Draco ticked off a sum under ‘Floo cost’. Potter started jiggling his foot, then his hand, then he leaned back so far in his chair it gave an ominous crack.
“Do not,” Draco snapped, but it was too late. Potter jumped to his feet, looking comically guilty. His eyes went huge like a repentant crup.
“I didn’t mean to,” he said, half to the chair.
Draco eyed him curiously. “A reparo should suffice.”
“Oh, right,” said Potter. He drew his wand from his terrible Auror robes and repaired the chair, which fused back together in a languorous and unconvincing way. “I don’t think I should…”
“No,” Draco agreed. “That chair is about four-hundred years old.”
“Oh,” said Potter. He goggled at the chair, making guilt-ridden eyebrows all over the place.
“There’s no need to look like that, Potter, nearly bloody everything in this place is.” Draco glanced at the portrait of Lucius III who was clearing his throat to correct him. Draco made a face in his direction. “Or older.”
Lucius III nodded graciously.
“Oh,” said Potter, looking around him for somewhere safe to sit. He seemed to be considering the floor, which — Draco really had enough on his plate.
Draco took pity on him. “The rose sofa is a bit less rickety.”
“Thanks,” said Potter, grudgingly.
That appeared to be the détente of the afternoon. Potter occupied himself flipping through books and pacing the floor of the library, occasionally doing whatever fidgety spellwork he had been so keen on the day before. Draco found it difficult to concentrate, but he would absolutely die before he let Potter realise that.
Draco had been staring at the Gringott’s balance for a solid fifteen minutes without fully processing it when a sharp knock on the door startled his eyes from the page.
“Enter,” he called.
The door swung open to reveal Coote in her linen shift, the remnants of some nineteenth century pillowcase. Her white hair looked like it had been freshly curled. She shuffled forward, a silver tray in her arms. “Master Draco, Coote has brought luncheon.” Her high, quavering voice rang out in the quiet room.
“Thank you, Coote,” said Draco, and he moved his papers aside to make room on the desk.
“Coote was unsure what our guest would prefer, so Coote procured a variety of sandwiches.” Coote looked down at the tray hesitantly. Draco knew without asking that she meant to add, within our ability. Coote had done wonders with the kitchen garden, but supplies were otherwise paltry.
Potter seemed to goggle at the elf, and then started. “I’ll eat anything,” he said. “I also — I mean, I brought lunch, I think. Did I bring lunch?” Potter pulled his bag towards him and rifled through it. “No, I didn’t. I didn’t bring lunch.”
“You ought to eat more, begging your pardon,” said Coote with her typical nanny-ish concern, fixing her massive eyes on him. “Very thin, you are, like Master Draco.”
Potter appeared torn between laughing and continuing the goggling to which he had been partial.
“All right, Coote, I’m sure Potter gets enough coddling from his admiring followers,” Draco said, waving Coote off.
“Very good, Master Draco,” said Coote, although she looked unconvinced. “Coote will just be working in the Violet Parlour, sir. Mistress Narcissa wishes for us to prioritise it.”
“Did she say she was —” Draco looked at Potter. He was curiously picking through the sandwiches, not paying any attention. “Never mind. Thank you Coote, that will do.”
Coote nodded and left, tottering a bit as she closed the door.
“Is that the elderly house-elf?” Potter picked a sandwich and sat back on the sofa, eating carefully with one hand beneath the bread for crumbs. “I had expected a whole fleet.”
Draco examined him for a moment, and then shook himself out of it. “At the most, we had five house-elves. Four of them belonged to my father. One of them was held in trust for the heir.” Draco stared at the crown moulding and added, unnecessarily, “Me.”
“Hermione wouldn’t like that,” Potter said. “Held in trust.” He picked a very small crumb that had escaped his hand off of the sofa.
“You have a house-elf,” Draco pointed out. “What does she think about that?”
“How do you — Er, never mind. I try and pay him a wage. He just leaves the money where it is and cleans around it.” Potter looked as if he found this baffling.
“Typical. You know nothing about house-elf culture,” Draco muttered.
“House elf culture?” Potter looked genuinely interested, which was horrific.
“Excuse me,” Draco said, and got to his feet.
Potter immediately stood as well. “We going somewhere?”
“Surely I don’t need an escort to the lavatory.”
Potter stowed his half-finished sandwich carefully on a cloth napkin Coote had thoughtfully provided. “Poltergeists can appear in toilets, can’t they?”
“Uncouth,” muttered Lucius III.
Draco took a deep, steadying breath, and summoned his last reserves of patience. “Fuck off, Potter.”
Disappointingly, this didn’t faze Potter at all, possibly because he was a masochist. He followed Draco out of the library, into the long hall, across the courtyard and up to the first floor.
“Nice hike,” Potter said.
Draco ignored him. The sky was darkening outside, and the flickering light in the corridors was particularly kind to Potter’s complexion. Plumbing had only been added to the Manor sometime in the late nineteenth century, and he wasn’t about to tell Potter how the plumbing remained nineteenth-century quality.
“When was the last poltergeist?”
“Yesterday,” Draco said slowly, like he was reminding a child, “In town, which is why you were summoned to call on the Manor, and which is why you are currently an assault to my blood pressure and self-restraint.”
“Likewise,” Potter muttered.
“Evening's greetings,” said the portrait of some distant cousin next to the door the lavatory.
“Hi,” said Potter.
“Do not talk,” Draco demanded, and went into the lavatory. Sure enough, when he came out, Potter was in deep conversation with the bloody portrait.
“So you’re a Black, then?” Potter was asking.
“Indeed, good sir,” said the distant cousin.
“My godfather was a Black.”
The distant cousin nodded approvingly, which surely he wouldn’t do if he knew which Black Sirius Black had been. “The young master is of Black lineage as well, on his mother’s side. Though between you and I, her colouring seemed rather —”
“Come along, Potter,” Draco announced. Potter started. “Stop gawping, we’re leaving.” Draco strode off. He didn’t grab Potter by the arm to tow him manually, but it was a near thing. He wanted to demand that Potter stop making the bloody house like him, but he couldn’t think of a way to phrase it that wasn’t horrific.
Draco only had to endure Potter by gaslight for an hour before he finally, blessedly, took his leave with an awkward “see you tomorrow.” He slumped back in his chair the second Potter had left the room, only to sit up straight wondering if he’d be able to leave without getting lost.
“Gaius has taken it upon himself to show the Potter boy out,” warned the painting of Lucius III.
“Oh, splendid,” muttered Draco. At least Potter probably wouldn’t be able to understand Gaius’s medieval leering, and Draco didn’t have to deal with Potter himself. He put his head down on the heavy oak desk and attempted to let death claim him.
“Your melodrama must come from the Blacks,” mused Lucius III. “There may have been strains of madness in the Malfoy line, but —”
“Strains? More like waterfalls,” Draco said, half into the desk.
Lucius III tutted. “Insolent. In my day —”
“In your day I’d be lashed by whips of hawthorne for cheek, yes, so you’ve told me.”
“Your father would tell you the same thing, were he here. Where is his portrait, Draco? He should be in the Grey Gallery, with —”
Draco aimed a silencing spell behind him without looking. His father’s portrait was not going in the Grey Gallery for some time, and he wasn’t about to be lectured about it again. After an aborted sulk, Draco dragged himself to his feat and made his way up to the Blue Bedroom. He could work on the damp for about an hour before Pansy arrived.
Draco made the tea and laid the plate of biscuits himself. Coote had fallen asleep cleaning the Violet Parlour, and Pansy was not enough of a guest to warrant Draco waking her. He held the teapot with one arm and guided the tea tray ahead of him with his wand, avoiding the usual pitfalls along the long walk from the kitchen to the drawing room.
“I was beginning to think you fell to your death.” Pansy was sprawled across a sofa with her turned-up nose in a magazine. Her blunt bob was freshly cut and her nails freshly manicured, her robes the very height of fashion. Draco suppressed his irritation. It wasn’t Pansy’s fault that her family hadn’t lost everything. The Parkinsons had sensibly supported the Dark Lord when it looked like he was on the up, and now they sensibly supported the reform government. Luckily for Pansy, the Parkinsons never had the bad taste to actually join anything.
“One could only hope,” Draco said, laying the tray on the coffee table and pouring their tea. He put two sugars in Pansy’s before she could order him to.
“Remember when we used to get sloshed on a Tuesday and snog regrettable strangers?”
“No,” said Draco.
“Sad,” said Pansy. “We ought to have more memories like that.”
Draco eyed the drinks trolley. “We could still get sloshed on a Tuesday.”
“No regrettable strangers,” Pansy pointed out. “Although we could go to a club.”
Draco raised an eyebrow, and thought briefly of the complete and utter humiliation of rejection.
“So dull,” whinged Pansy, tossing her magazine over the back of the sofa. One of the elderly Malfoy portraits muttered some very unkind things about modern young girls, which Pansy ignored with aplomb. “It is too awful about your Auror detail, but do we have to talk about it all night?”
“It’s not just the Auror detail. It’s who the Auror detail is,” said Draco, for about the tenth time since Pansy arrived.
“Why couldn’t they have MacDougal do it? At least she’s, you know, our sort.” Pansy considered this for a moment, along with her fingernails. “Approximately. Although the MacDougals don’t have your estate problems.”
“They need someone with Muggle fluency.” Draco glowered at a portrait of Araminta Meliflua, who seemed entirely unconcerned. “So that’s Potter.”
“Well aren’t you a treat tonight,” drawled Pansy.
“I hate Potter seeing the state of the house,” Draco managed through clenched teeth. “Do not offer some emotional support, Pans, I have honestly dealt with enough today.”
Pansy put up her hands in a show of surrender. “You are eggy, Draco, when have I ever offered emotional support?”
Draco lay back and covered his face with his hands. “Every single day, he’s to be here, until this whole business is resolved — and I’m going to have to find other things to do. I don’t want him seeing…” Draco’s mind cycled through all the most pressing concerns: the tree growing through the orangery, the rot in the Blue Bedroom, the infestation of pixies in the Grey Gallery.
“At least you aren’t as badly off as the Browns,” said Pansy, examining her heel with interest. “They have umbrella charms in place of a roof.”
“I doubt that.”
“May as well, for all the good their roof does them.” Pansy wandered over to the drinks trolly and started mixing something with vodka. “And Teddy’s thinking of selling.”
“He isn’t,” said Draco, shocked.
Pansy sipped her creation, then added more vodka. “What else is he supposed to do? No money, and his relations are all dead and dusted. His father’s utterly senile in Azkaban, they say.”
“But to sell,” said Draco, furrowing his brow. “That’s a bit drastic.”
“Teddy’s never cared for Nott Hall, Draco. He’s not going to sign a life sentence to some decaying ruin — he’s not you.”
Draco leaned back sharply. “Low blow, Pans.”
Pansy’s face tilted in a contrite sort of way. “Sorry. It’s just so hopeless, darling. I don’t know why you bother. Drink?”
Pansy hovered an overfull drink in his direction. Draco took the glass from the air before it sopped vodka onto the carpet and ignored his tea in favour of the precious, precious alcohol.
Hopeless. Was it really? He supposed it looked that way from the outside: this great pile, and no way out. Half his friends thought he was barking for trying to keep it. They had seen what his people had done to some of the rooms. The War had not been kind to Malfoy Manor. The disrepair would have been bad enough, but the poltergeists were just the glaze on the cauldron cake and now everyone was calling the Manor cursed. Even his mother didn’t want to stay here.
Draco drank deep. Malfoy Manor may have been a mouldering pile of relics and mouthy portraits, but it was his mouldering pile of relics and mouthy portraits. Salazar save him if he was the link in the chain to break.