Actions

Work Header

Slithering

Work Text:

Draco found the nest down in the Manor’s cellars, while he was clearing them out. It was late in the afternoon by then. The fighting had started at dawn, but they’d had a long slog through the countryside before they’d got far enough away from the magic being thrown around the battlefield to think of Apparating anywhere, and it hadn’t been clear they had anywhere to go, in any case. But half an hour or so after they’d walked away, a stab of pain in his forearm knocked him to his knees.

Draco shuddered through waves of agony, trying not to hear the noises his father was making, as the Dark Mark burned for five minutes solid, writhing horribly across his skin until it finally hissed out one last sigh and deflated into a flat, twisting line, scarred across the skin. Wrung out and heaving for breath, Draco stared down at it and didn’t really feel anything, regret or pleasure. But it seemed to mean they could go home.

They Apparated to the gates and he followed his parents down the walk and into the house wearily, dust dragging at their feet. It was dark, shadowed inside, and the doors shut behind him with a dull clanging thud that made him flinch. He looked involuntarily towards the kitchens, thinking about the cellars. What was down there, in them. “Father,” he said. Lucius was already halfway up the main stairs. “Father, what about—”

Lucius paused and half turned back towards him, red-eyed and unshaven, his mouth turned soft like butter someone had left out too long, defanged. He didn’t meet Draco’s eyes. He didn’t say a word. After a moment he turned back and just kept trudging up towards the master suite.

Draco slowly went into the Great Hall. The fire had gone dead and the candles had burned down, but Narcissa was already at work there, tidying away all the wreckage of the last feasting with brisk strokes of her wand. “We’ll be some time straightening up the mess, I’m afraid,” she said to him when he came in. She sounded as though there’d been a slightly over-exuberant party. The dishes bundled themselves up with the tablecloth and floated out of the room behind her as she swept off to the east sitting room. The great table folded itself down and slid over against the wall, out of the way, everything left clean and tidy. Draco stood alone.

The corridor towards the kitchens was dim and darkened with years of cooking smoke. Only the undesirable paintings hung on the walls here, the most annoying of the family portraits. Scarivor Malfoy was nearest the cellar doors: he’d always been described to Draco as a priggish ascetic who’d once handed his own brother over to the authorities for a bit of skylarking fun in the Muggle village down the road. He’d never been cosseting of Draco, unlike most of the other ancestrals, but then, he was only his great-granduncle, no closer relation. He’d stubbornly refused to marry and produce pureblood heirs, so the brother had inherited in the end—which had possibly been somewhat hastened along—and his scowling portrait had been tucked out of the way to mutter its disapproving remarks alone.

The last two years, Draco had hurried past on the rare occasions he’d had to go this way. He hadn’t wanted to hear anything it might say. But Scarivor hadn’t been buried with his wand—there was some suggestion in the family records that he might still have managed to make use of it at the time if he had—so it was preserved behind a small glass window at the base of the portrait. It had a unicorn hair at the core, like Draco’s old one.

Draco stopped in front of the portrait. “May I take the wand?” he asked stiffly, half expecting a refusal.

The portrait glared down at him fiercely from under bristling silver-white eyebrows, but said, “You had better, it seems,” and the window slid open. Draco took out the wand. It felt all right: old-fashioned and heavier than a modern one, the wood a little pitted and more knotty, a bit too long, but it would do. He closed his fist around it and opened the door. He went down the stairs.

#

The cellars were really one large vaulted space, but over the years a line of smaller rooms had been divided off along the north wall, mostly to organize the wine collection. The nest was in the last room, the one with the boilers. There weren’t any bottles kept in here, and it was warm and humid in the back corner close to the vent. Draco came in numb and sour-mouthed: he’d been sick twice already.

He’d found a dozen Muggles, still alive, in different stages of distress. They hadn’t been tortured with Crucio; it looked like knives on most of them, and beatings, and all for no possible reason he could think of. They’d been chained up to the walls or tied up on bare cots. They cringed from him even as he tried to tell them he was going to let them go, and they flinched from every Healing Charm. He’d always known that Muggles would look at him with determined hatred, as soon as they knew what he was; that they’d want to drag him to a stake and beat him senseless and burn him. That was what Muggles did with wizards. You had a right to do to them what they’d do to you, first. But they all just looked terrified and sick, just wanting to huddle away from him. None of them even spoke. Keep your tongue still, Muggle. Dumb beasts shouldn’t try to imitate their betters. He’d overheard Voldemort saying that once, and screams after. A lot of screams.

After he did what he could with their injuries—he wasn’t very good at Healing Charms, but the wounds weren’t magical, so he could manage them after a few tries—he Obliviated them and sent them to go stumbling onto the Muggle road along the north of the estate with a false memory of getting lost after a drugged-up party in the woods. It didn’t seem enough to just send them on their way, but he couldn’t think what else to do, and they all clearly just wanted to be away. As soon as he’d taken their memories and their eyes went vague, they all started to move for the door, as if they remembered on some instinctive level to flee.

The more important prisoners—the current ones were two Muggle-born wizards, one of them a defiant Ministry official—hadn’t done so well. He found the first one in the fifth room. He’d died sometime in the last day. It might even have been while Draco had been going through the other rooms. His body was still a bit warm. Draco swallowed and went back out. He didn’t know what to do with the body. He’d take it to the family crypt, he supposed. The preservation spells would keep it until the man’s family—if he had family who knew about—or—Draco didn’t really know. He opened the door of the next room over.

The Ministry official was—she was still alive. That was the horrible thing. There was magic keeping her alive. Draco stood in the doorway shaking, and then he slowly went in and knelt by her head. Her eyes moved to his face. “I’ll—I’ll go for a Healer,” he whispered, just because he didn’t know anything else to say. He didn’t know healing magic for what they’d done to her. He didn’t think there was healing magic for something like this. There wasn’t enough left to heal.

She couldn’t move her head, but her lips moved a little. He put his ear down by them and she whispered, “Ffff. Ffffiiin.”

He shuddered all over and backed away. But her eyes were on him, demanding. He stood trembling and then he took out his wand and pointed it. “Finite incantatem,” he said, but it didn’t work. He wasn’t actually casting it, he was just saying the words, like a Squib with a stick. She kept looking at him, waiting, and he gasped desperately for breath and shouted, “Finite incantatem!” A bolt shot from his wand and struck the green cloud of magic covering the last scraps of her. It faded out, and she made a last inarticulate sighing noise and was dead, too.

He threw up in the corner there, and knelt shivering for a while, crying. But there were three rooms more to face.

He didn’t find any more survivors or corpses in the last few rooms. Only a stink of blood and wine. The Death Eaters—the other Death Eaters—had taken bottles off the racks to refresh themselves after their hard work, and then they’d smashed the bottles and used the glass for other things. Efficient, when you thought about it, which Draco was trying very hard not to do, but it was impossible not to see too much, to know there had been many more people here. He wondered involuntarily what they’d done with the rest of them.

When he finally came into the boiler room and saw the nest, his first horrible flinching thought was it was another person, twisted up into an inhuman contorted shape, and then he realized with relief it was just scraps and bits of clothing, worked into a heap of twigs and branches and even a few pieces of cutlery. He still didn’t understand what it actually was until he went closer and saw five eggs inside it, each a dark glossy green and the size of a dinner plate, and—starting to crack, like they’d heard his footsteps coming. Draco had one frozen moment staring, and then the first shell burst open, a palm-sized snake’s head coming out straight at him, all fangs and hissing.

Draco yelled, “Stupefy!” in a blind panic and grabbed the stunned snake and threw it into the roaring oven of the boiler just in time for another two of them to come out and launch themselves at him. He blasted them both, but the fourth one slipped round and sank its teeth into his leg just above the ankle: sharp as needles, with a horrible burning pain that shot straight up to the knee. He fell heavily to the ground with a scream, kicking at it desperately with his other leg. He just managed to knock it off with the heel of his boot, and then he fried it and the fifth one in a single Blasting Curse as they both came at his face in a slithering rush.

He dropped his wand and grabbed at his leg with both hands, breathing in choked sobs, his hands shaking as he jerked his boot off. The leather had saved him from the worst of the bite, ichor glistening around the edges of the holes, but even so greenish lines were shooting up his calf towards his knee, radiating away from the two neat punctures. He scrabbled for the wand again and cast half a dozen Healing Charms on the bite. The lines receded a bit, the worst of the stabbing pain fading, but his whole calf still burned faintly. Draco looked desperately over at the completely charred bodies of the snakes, cursing himself for his panicked stupidity: he wouldn’t be able to use any of them in an Antivenin Charm. He’d have to get to St. Mungo’s—if the people at St. Mungo’s would even help him. They probably weren’t even there. They were probably all at the battlefield, trying to save the people who’d fought Voldemort, not the ones who’d let him use their house for—

Then he heard the faint tapping noise coming from the nest. He struggled back to his feet and limped slowly over, wand shaking and ready to fire away again. There was a single egg left among the wreckage of the other shells. It had been buried underneath the rest: smaller than the others and pale green instead, and although it had cracked, it wasn’t breaking all the way. A chunk of it opened like a trap door, pushed out by a pale yellowish-white head, smaller than the others. Its mouth gasped open, and then it sank back inside the shell.

Draco stared at it and gulped. He looked at the nest and managed to fish out one dirty half-unraveled scarf. He transfigured it into a thick leather glove after three tries, and then he gingerly prodded the egg with his wand and broke one piece off after another, cautiously, until the snake poked out again. He jerked several steps back, but the snake crawled out slowly, exhaustedly, glistening with ooze, and only sank into a small limp heap in the base of the nest. It wasn’t a quarter the size of the others, and yellow-white all over, with red eyes: an albino.

Draco warily reached out with his gloved hand and managed to seize it round the neck, just below the head. He lifted it up out of the nest—its tail lashed weakly, coiling around his arm, but it didn’t have the strength to get loose. He limped out of the room and went slowly up the stairs carrying it, back to the kitchens.

He didn’t know where anything was, though; he’d never cooked in his life. The kitchens were where he came to steal cakes he wasn’t supposed to eat until after dinner. It took him twenty minutes to find the rest of the ingredients for the Antivenin Charm, and then the last one, the tiny bottle of dittany, was locked in the cooled cupboard right next to a bottle marked Rethelby’s Remedy, with a label reading, Guaranteed sovereign against all magickal venoms! To be applied externally ONLY. He stared at it, then in a second he had the cork out with his teeth and was pouring it over the reddened punctures. In a moment a cool wash of relief went running up his leg, and he sagged against the counter with a gasp.

The snake still in his hand gave a faint feeble hiss. Draco jerked and ran over with it to the cutting board where he’d got all the rest of the ingredients and snatched up the big knife. He put the snake down on the board. He was still gripping it by its neck. Its tail uncoiled limply from his arm, and its head sagged, helpless, the red eyes dull, the tiny red tongue flickering out. Draco stared down at it, imagining its head coming off under the knife, and his stomach heaved suddenly. He had to let go and turn away, vomiting helplessly onto the floor, and when he wiped his mouth and turned back, the snake was still just lying there, its sides moving ever more shallowly. It would go ahead and die on its own, if he just left it there. He could just leave it there.

He shuddered all over again, and then he went and got some milk out of the fridge. He poured it into a saucer, and then he gingerly picked up the snake again and brought its head to the saucer. It stirred a bit, its tongue flickering to the milk, and then it stretched for it and drank a bit. It paused, breathing, and then it drank a bit more. Draco sat down heavily on the nearest stool and watched it, keeping his wand ready, but the snake didn’t seem inclined to leap at him, even as its eyes brightened back up and it finished lapping up the entire saucerful. Even when it was done, it only raised its head and hissed at him in a hopeful sort of way.

Draco stared at it. He slowly reached out to the milk bottle and poured some more in: better milk than him. The snake put its head back down and went back to drinking. It slowly but steadily drank through the entire bottle of milk. Draco was half asleep by then with exhaustion, and while his eyes were half closed the snake moved. He jerked back awake and heart thumping again, but it had only coiled itself tightly round his arm, tucked its head onto the back of his hand, and gone to sleep.

#

The snake slept on his arm as Draco got the remains moved to the crypt. At first he was too afraid to try peeling it off and possibly wake it up angry, and by the time he’d finished, he’d forgotten it was there. He’d been awake for nearly a day and a half that felt like centuries. He was so tired he climbed upstairs and fell into bed without even undressing.

The snake woke him up late the next morning hissing in his ear with a crumpled shed skin already discarded next to the pillow. After a flailing panic that landed him in a heap of bedclothes on the floor, Draco nervously let it crawl back onto his arm the way it kept trying to, and he carried it downstairs to feed it again. The snake drank another bottle of milk, making more demanding hisses whenever it ran low, and then crawled back on and wrapped itself snugly over his forearm. The next morning, Draco gave in and named him Coil.

Coil retained a preference for milk, but was also happy to eat raw meat, cold ham, bread, and even broccoli, although he rejected apples with enormous prejudice. By the end of the week, he was big enough to go around the entire length of Draco’s arm, and he somewhat disgruntledly had to accept being turned right side up to sleep with his head on Draco’s shoulder instead of on his hand.

Narcissa had set on a determined round of what she called a late spring cleaning. She talked brightly at the dinner table of how delightful it was to do everything herself for once—so charming and domestic—one couldn’t rely on hired help—that sort of thing. Lucius talked of nothing, and ate only a little more than that. His hair hung in lank clumps around his face, and he’d begun to stink noticeably. Narcissa sometimes asked Draco about his day, but she didn’t really want to be told the answer. He was scouring the cellars, one room at a time. He had to use half a dozen spells on each stain, and then Scourgify the whole room down again afterwards to make it stick. He had no idea what was happening outside the Manor walls. The rest of the world might have gone away.

But the next afternoon, he was coming tiredly up from the cellars when he heard the bang of an Apparition and went running to find Mulciber standing in the hall with a thick black furring of a beard, drinking thirstily from a vase: he’d dumped one of Narcissa’s carefully arranged bouquets on the floor. He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand as Narcissa came into the hall and growled, “Filthy Muggle-loving bastards are everywhere. I’ve been dodging them for a week. What’s there to eat in the house? You, boy, go bring me whatever you’ve got.”

“How did you escape?” Narcissa said after a moment.

Mulciber snorted. “Rolled in some blood and pretended I was dead. Fooled them easily enough until nightfall. Did you hear me?” he demanded, turning on Draco.

Draco stared at him. Mulciber had been one of the lot who’d liked to spend time in the cellars, hanging out with the Dark Lord. He’d spent quite a lot of time down there, actually. Draco remembered the sound of his laugh, loud and uproarious, drifting up the stairs.

“Well?” Mulciber snarled, taking two steps towards him. He reached out to grab the front of Draco’s robes, and Coil reared up his head and hissed ferociously, baring his fangs. They’d grown to highly impressive proportions.

Mulciber jerked back, his face going startled and foolish, and he wasn’t a Death Eater anymore. He was just a ragged beggar who thought he could come into Draco’s house and bully him like some snot-nosed first year, and Draco jerked out his wand and snarled, “Petrificus Totalus!

Mulciber’s arms and legs locked to his sides and he toppled over with a thud. Draco stepped over to him and said savagely, “If you ever set foot on my lands again, I’ll set the wards on you. Animatio!” One of the suits of armor by the door stirred and clanked down rustily, one step at a time, from its pedestal. “Take him to the edge of the estate and chuck him onto the other side.” It bent and slowly heaved Mulciber up like a slightly ungainly log and tramped out the doors, carrying him across its arms.

Draco put his wand back into his sleeve, and turned away from the doors. His mother was standing with her wand half-drawn, staring at him with a peculiar expression on her face—bewildered, as if she hadn’t thought he had it in him—and then Draco abruptly realized that he hadn’t thought so, either. He didn’t know why it had been easy, all of a sudden, when it had been so impossible before. He looked down at his own arm. The remnant of the Dark Mark was still there, under his sleeve, under the heavy golden bands of Coil’s body, but it wasn’t a living thing anymore, and he felt strangely untethered, like someone had pulled his stakes out of the ground and let him drift loose.

#

Summer started coming to England at last, after cold and rain and long delay. Draco spent the next week aimlessly wandering the grounds, in the open air as much as he could be, with Coil riding along wrapped twice up and down his arm. “But you’re going to have to crawl for yourself soon, if you keep this up,” Draco informed him, lying with his eyes closed and stretched out on a patch of fresh grass in the full sun, soaking it up like water.

Coil, sprawled over his body, hissed drowsy displeasure, but he was already a good twenty pounds at least, and if he meant to get anywhere near Nagini’s size, the sooner he got out of the habit of treating Draco as his personal carrier, the better. But possibly because he’d been warned, Coil decided to stop there, at least for the moment; he only shed his skin once that entire week, after twice-daily installments previously. So he stubbornly clung to his perch, and Draco only made a half-hearted effort to chase him off; he’d got used to the weight and the presence. No one had ever touched him that much, and oddly he liked it. He liked the company, too. He’d never understood people who kept pets, before; who wanted the bother of taking care of something, just because it purred at you occasionally?

Coil didn’t purr, but in his favor, once his initial growth spurt ended, it turned out he only needed to be fed once a week, although he liked a snack of milk mornings and evenings, and his meals were prodigiously sized. “I ought to make you hunt for yourself,” Draco said, but Coil showed not the least inclination to put himself to any more trouble than hissing plaintively at Draco until he gave in and provided more food.

The house had been stocked to feed—an army, albeit a small one, but even so, the larder soon started to look bare. Draco didn’t know where the food had all been coming from, but everything had stopped; the shipments, the intelligence reports, the newspaper. And all the torture and murder and rape, so he hadn’t really any complaints about it. But the night Coil ate up the last three chickens, Draco steeled himself and opened the Floo to their usual grocer, the one they’d always used in the past. The clerk working on delivery accounts jumped and stared at him and said a little nervously, “Er, yes, Mr. Malfoy?”

It was the first time in ages that Draco had spoken to—to anyone outside of it all, not on either side, and about something ordinary. It almost didn’t seem real. “I’ll need an order delivered tomorrow,” Draco said. “All the usual, and a side of beef as well.”

“Um, an—an entire side of beef?”

“Yes. Cut it into fist-sized pieces.”

He settled into the library with a book the next morning to wait, but the gates chimed the approach of the delivery early in the morning, so he went down to open them. It wasn’t the grocer, though. It was a whole band of Aurors, with Harry Potter himself in the front, his face hard and stern, and Draco stopped short, staring down the long drive at them, his stomach twisting down into a knot. He felt irrationally angry at himself: as though he’d invited them to come by opening up the Floo and reaching back out to the world.

He walked the rest of the way up to the gates, his hand tight on his wand, Coil a comforting heavy weight around his arm and draped across his shoulders. The Manor had wards on it, ancient ones; if they thought they were going to barge in here and drag him away—drag his father away—well, Coil could learn to hunt, there were deer in the forest; and they’d grow vegetables or something if they had to. He put the thoughts into his head like armor and halted on the other side, looking through at them. “Well?”

Harry said tightly, “We’re here for the prisoners, Draco. Open up.”

Draco stared at him blankly. “What?”

“The prisoners!” Harry snapped. “The Muggles your Dark Lord rounded up so he could get in a bit of recreational torture whenever he was bored. We know about them, so open the bloody gates or I swear we’ll—”

“What kind of an idiot are you?” Draco shouted at him, almost breathless with sudden rage. Harry stopped, open-mouthed. “It’s been three weeks! Why did you even bother? If I’d left them down there all this time—did you just come to collect up the corpses or something?” He stopped, panting.

After a moment, Harry said, uncertainly, “What—what did you do with them?”

“What do you think? I healed them, I Obliviated them and sent them on their way home!”

One of the other Aurors snorted. “And that’s likely, I suppose.”

Draco shot a cold glare at him, and Coil lifted his head and thrust it through the bars of the gate and hissed. All the Aurors took a large step back immediately—except Harry, who looked at Coil and said something to him, in an odd tangled hissing way—Parseltongue. Coil swung his head round in surprise and then hissed a complicated reply that made Harry blink.

“What did he say?” Draco demanded.

“Er,” Harry said, “she, actually.”

“What?” Draco looked at Coil. He—she—flicked her tongue at him.

“She said you’re not lying, the cellars are all cleared out, and, er, then she told me we should all piss off.” Harry sounded rather bemused.

Draco folded his arms across his chest. “She is a remarkably clever creature.”

“So.” Harry paused and stared at him through the gates, evidently at a loss when he couldn’t yell and stamp his foot any longer. “Thanks. For doing that,” he said, finally—politely—

“Oh, don’t mention it, no trouble at all!” Draco said, deliberately drawling it as far as he could go. To be thanked like something out of an etiquette manual, for being down there— “Thanks yourself for killing Voldemort. Ta very much, thoughtful of you to clear out the tiresome old bugger.”

The other Aurors all looked outraged, but Harry just gawked at him and then coughed out a half-snort of laughter, a bit frayed round the edges and said, “Yeah, he, er, did get a bit annoying there, didn’t he,” and Draco had to swallow down his own burst of slightly frantic laughter before it escaped.

That took the outrage down with it, and he found himself just asking, straight out, “So do I need to raise the wards to keep from having my father dragged off to prison?”

“What? Oh—no. No. There’s—there’s more than enough people gone to Azkaban as it is.” Several of the others looked as though they might have liked to disagree with Harry on that subject, but obviously no one was going to pick a quarrel with the hero of the hour. “Your—your aunt’s dead,” Harry added abruptly.

Which wasn’t at all a surprise, or even something Draco could regret, and yet he was going to have to tell his mother, now. He swallowed and nodded. “And the rest of them?”

“Most of them were arrested. Dolohov’s dead…Crabbe’s dad. Gibbon. Selwyn. Mulciber—”

“Mulciber’s not dead.”

“What?” Harry said.

“He played dead on you,” Draco said. “He turned up here two weeks ago, looking for a bolt-hole. I threw him off the property, but he’s still alive, as far as I know.”

“Just as well there’s no honor among thieves and Death Eaters, I suppose,” an officious long-nosed weasel of an Auror muttered, deliberately audible, and Draco whirled on him.

“If you’d cleaned up after what they left in our cellars, I suppose your opinion on the subject would count for something,” he spat. “Funny how I didn’t see you making any heroic frontal assaults to save the prisoners during the Dark Lord’s tenure. Didn’t fancy throwing yourself uselessly in front of the knife? Then maybe you should shut it as long as you’re standing at my gates.”

“Draco!” Harry said, breaking in. “I’m glad you told us. We’ll track him down.”

Draco noticed he’d clenched his hands. Coil was tightening and loosening around his arm, uneasy. He forced himself to relax and inclined his head to Harry. “There were two Muggle-born wizards in the cellars too,” he said abruptly. “They—they weren’t—I’ve put the remains in the crypt. But if their families want to claim them…”

Harry rubbed a hand across his forehead tiredly. “There’s a lot of missing Muggle-born wizards. But their families…they were mostly all…” He trailed off. “We’ll let you know if anyone comes looking.”

They stared at each other through the bars another moment, and then Harry gave a quick final nod. “Right, then—we’ll be going.”

Draco nodded back, slowly, and watched them go. He stood at the gates a while even after they’d all Apparated away, looking out past the bars, and abruptly he pushed them open with both hands and walked out onto the road before them. “I’m out,” he said aloud, and then he shouted it, “I’m out, do you hear me? You didn’t drag us down with you! I’m out!

“Er,” said the delivery man, from behind him, and took an alarmed step back as Draco jumped and whirled on him: he’d Apparated in with a large cart full of food, a heap of enormous chunks of raw meat piled atop the whole. Coil made a pleased hiss, stretching her head towards them. “Does—does that mean you won’t be wanting the groceries?”

#

Of course, grandiose declarations of liberty notwithstanding, Draco didn’t exactly rush to start leaving the house daily. He hadn’t any illusions about the likely welcome he would receive outside the gates. Potter might be in a generous mood, but most wouldn’t be. The tradesmen were still ready to take their money, at least the ones who could discreetly deliver with no one the wiser, but the number of owls coming to the house remained decidedly thin.

Draco mostly wasn’t surprised, but—he had half expected something from Pansy, he realized. She hadn’t ever been an acceptable match for him; the Parkinsons weren’t rich enough or pureblood enough by Malfoy standards. He’d carefully made clear that it could only ever be a school romance. But the circumstances were different now, and she might reasonably have made a play for him after all. Assuming she’d wanted him, which evidently she didn’t. It stung more than he would have liked.

Three days later, the Ministry released the bodies. Draco and his parents buried what was left of Bellatrix and Rodolphus alone, just the three of them standing silently in the cold, drafty mausoleum on the Lestrange estate. He missed Coil’s heavy weight on his arm: he’d left her back at the Manor. At least his father had pulled himself together and bathed, finally, although his hands still trembled and his eyes roved around the crypt, twitchy.

His mother wiped tears away, once only, when they stepped out: she paused on the threshold, looking over at the gardens all gone to seed and the enormous mouldering abbey staring hollow-eyed down the hill back at them. “We were the queens of society once, you know,” she said softly. “The Black sisters. Bella’s wedding was the event of the year. Our parents were so happy. The Lestrange heir. Such a splendid match…” She trailed off.

Draco couldn’t feel much of anything. She might as well have been speaking of a stranger. There had been pride and beauty somewhere in Bellatrix’s face, he’d caught glimpses of it sometimes, if he saw her at odd angles. But it had mostly been eaten away before he’d ever met her, and all that had been left was the Dark, hungering. And Uncle Rodolphus had barely even existed, it seemed; like the Dark had already devoured whatever there had been in him, too. Draco had never dreamed of caring about either of them.

He felt a little more sorry for that when they went inside the half-rotting house and the doddering old Lestrange solicitor creakily informed him that they’d named him their heir, in a will written the day after his birth. He would have to go and sign papers at the office in London to get the keys and complete the transfer. Draco nodded, but didn’t say when he would come. He didn’t want to go to London.

They drove back home in silence, and arrived after dark. Draco couldn’t find Coil at once, which usually meant she’d wriggled her way into some exciting new warm crawl space in the depths of the house to doze in, usually alongside the hot water pipes. He didn’t think anything of it until she woke him hissing frantically the next morning, just at dawn. “Ugh, you wretched creature, what do you want,” he muttered, and tried to roll over and pull his pillow over his head, but she wrapped herself around his leg and squeezed painfully, and when he roused enough to complain, she just hissed at him again, a sharp urgent note to the sound. “All right, I’m getting up, what is it.”

She led him down the stairs. He’d expected to be dragged to the kitchens to pour her another gallon-size bowl of milk, but instead she turned the opposite way and slithered at speed into the twilight-dim Great Hall, where she curled up urgently in the middle of the floor and started moving her head up and down in a bizarre parody of a dancing cobra.

Draco stared at her. Coil twisted the whole length of her body around in a wild circling loop and came back around with her red eyes fixed urgently on him. “Is this some sort of mating dance?” he said warily. “Do you need me to find a male snake? Because I’m afraid they’re rather thin on the ground in your size. I suppose we could go to the zoo—”

She flopped her entire body over onto her back and sprawled limp on the floor as though she’d died of sheer irritation. Draco scowled at her. “I have absolutely no idea what you want!”

She flipped back over and came rushing at him, wild enough to make him take an instinctive flinch back, and she spiraled her way rapidly up his leg and round his waist and ended with her face right in front of his and hissed furiously and at length. “I don’t speak snake!” he yelled back at her, and then he paused and said grimly, “Right.”

#

Potter wasn’t going to be at work at six in the morning anyway, and Coil grudgingly allowed him to go get properly dressed, since she was dragging him out in public. But then Draco had to stop, halfway through buttoning up his favorite dove-grey robes. The process was taking five times as long as it should have: normally the tiny ivory buttons just slid right into their buttonholes, mostly before he even actually touched them, but he was having to push each one through with an effort.

He dropped his hands and stared at himself half-dressed in the mirror. The whole ensemble was exactly right, according to the current mode: polished and subtle and subdued, the expense and quality of the fabric and tailoring only visible to a connoisseur, nothing that would make him stand out garishly in a crowd except by contrast to those beings of less taste and less money who couldn’t afford to follow the heights of fashion. Of course, everyone was going to stare at him anyway, no matter what camouflage he wore.

He abruptly jerked off the robes: the buttons all slid free in a single go. He put them back into the wardrobe and grabbed the hangers at the far edge of the bar and pulled them all the way along, shoving all his clothes out the other end, and all the old clothes packed away in the recesses came sliding out: it had been nothing but black and white in his grandfather’s time, which wouldn’t do either; then the Victorian browns and gold, and the Regency pastels; but he kept going until the grandiose sweep of the eighteenth century filled in: a riot of deep jewel-bright colors and elaborate embroidery, and he took out an ensemble in purple, embroidered nearly the full width of his hand along every hem with golden flowers gilded by a light Dazzlement Charm, and a matching brocade waistcoat in gold to peek out from underneath.

He kept the coat and waistcoat nearly as they were, only altered to his size and the wrist cuffs taken off for a cleaner line, but the knee breeches would be one step too far. He had to sacrifice his very best trousers and transfigure the two into one pair to get the purple and the cut to come out right, but when he was done, he stood in front of the mirror again to tie a formal cravat. His hair brushing against the shoulders looked deliberate now, and when he finished and let his arms fall to his sides, Coil came slithering up his body and settled herself over his arm and shoulders, the pale mottled yellow of her hide vivid against the color.

He went downstairs. His mother was at the breakfast table, dressed and sipping her tea, staring emptily into the middle distance, but when he came in, she paused after her perfunctory automatic greeting, her cup halting in mid-air, and blinked at him.

“I’m going to Diagon Alley,” Draco said. “I’ll stop by the solicitor’s. Is there anything you need from the shops?”

She stared at him a moment longer, her mouth open a little with surprise, and then she put down her cup and straightened in her chair. “Why, yes, darling. Would you ask Madame Granvin to get in some jewel tones for me? And set aside a half-day appointment for later in the week. I’ll want to get two dozen ensembles, and a court dress. In the Old Venetian style, I should think.”

She sounded so much like her old self his throat tightened. He only nodded and said, “Of course,” and then he went to the Floo and took it to the eastern end of Diagon Alley, deliberately the other side from the Department of Aurors. It was still early in the morning rush: he moved through the crowd and felt it parting around him, but he kept his head high and made the attention only his due. Coil didn’t object, so he stopped in at Madame Granvin’s on the way. She and her assistant were alone in the shop, setting up, but he was still visible from outside through the glass front window. She started to glance towards it, instinctively, before her eyes caught on his clothes, and she stopped, staring, with her hands full of pins.

He didn’t let her speak first. “My mother will be needing a half-day of fittings this week,” he said, peremptory. “Two dozen ensembles, and a court dress in the Old Venetian style. Jewel tones, enchanted embroidery. Only the best suppliers, of course. How soon can you accommodate her?”

She and the assistant were both open-mouthed by the time he finished, visions of Galleons and an entire cresting wave of new fashion quite obviously dancing in their heads. The racks of garments waiting for adjustment were looking a little thin, in fact: there hadn’t been much of a social whirl lately. After a moment Granvin swallowed and said, faintly, “…Thursday morning?”

He nodded and wrote her out a draft on their account. It was going to be just as well he’d inherited the Lestrange money.

He stopped in at the solicitor’s, too, and came away with the keys to the vault and the abbey; and then he couldn’t put it off any longer. The great hall of the Department of Aurors was full of bustle and hum, and people who jerked and took double takes at him as he walked in. More than a few drew their wands. Some of them fell in behind him, and a pair of secretaries at the reception desk followed him with their eyes as he approached, obviously hostile. He pretended he didn’t notice the ones behind him, and looked down his nose. “I’m here to see Harry Potter,” he told the secretary, which threw the lot of them: they all traded looks around him.

“What is this about?” she said, stiffly.

“I haven’t the faintest idea,” Draco said, in tones as bored as he could manage, which was literally true, and also neatly implied Potter had asked him to come. She traded another frown with her partner and then grudgingly said, “Fourth floor down.”

Harry was standing in the corridor talking with Granger when Draco came off the stairs, and they both stopped mid-sentence to gape at him like he’d just leapt out of a cupboard like a boggart. Oddly, he realized, they were only gaping because of the clothes. The two of them were both in ordinary Muggleish drab, of course, and no one who could afford woven Dazzlement would have been caught dead wearing it anytime this century, so they’d probably never even seen anything like it before.

“Er,” Harry said, still staring as he came up. “Draco?” It came out like a question.  

“Potter,” Draco said, trying to make it cool and civil, the way he’d have spoken to a pureblood Ravenclaw with a decent little manor in Derbyshire, no one he’d ever have picked a quarrel with unnecessarily. “I need a moment.”

“For what?” Granger said icily, instantly and thoroughly wrecking the tone of the exchange.

Fortunately, Coil rescued him at that moment by unwinding her head from his shoulder and sticking it right out at Harry, making Granger jump back a bit, and starting up the urgent hissing again. “Wait, what?” Harry said, and then started talking back to her in unintelligible hisses.

Draco immediately resolved to find some damned way to learn Parseltongue, it couldn’t be that hard, and it was really intolerable for Harry to be able to talk to Draco’s snake when he couldn’t himself. “Well? What’s she upset about?”

“Wait a minute, are you saying you—you swanned in here just so you could get Harry to translate your pet snake for you?” Granger said, swelling with outrage. “When we’re all desperately working to clean up the mess your lot made, and everyone and their brother is after his time—”

“It’s—it’s all right, Hermione,” Harry said, with half a smile. “At least it’s easier than what they all want. She says there’s a thing she doesn’t like under your Great Hall and you’ve got to get rid of it right away,” he added to Draco.

Draco stared at him. “A thing she doesn’t like? Could you be more specific?”

“Not really,” Harry said, unapologetically. “She says it smells bad.”

“And what does that even mean, under the Great Hall? There’s nothing in the cellars down there, I’ve just finished cleaning them out.”

Coil hissed impatiently, and Harry said, “It’s not in the cellars. It’s in between.” 

Granger folded her arms across her chest. “Maybe a rat died under the flagstones. Obviously a matter of grave importance.”

Coil hissed at her, too. Harry coughed and didn’t translate it. “That’s all I can tell you.” 

“And you dragged me through all of Diagon Alley for this,” Draco said to Coil after he’d got outside, more scowling looks hurled at his back all along the way. Coil only flickered her tongue at him, and when he got back to the house she slithered down off him just inside the doors and headed straight for the Great Hall, turning her head and waiting expectantly for him in the archway.

Draco glared at her and stalked into the room. He waved the chairs and the antique rug out of the way to the walls. “If I break up my floors and there really is only a dead rat down there, there’ll be no milk for you for a month,” he said threateningly down at her; she was coiled up in a heap by his leg, watching.

She only hissed at him, and he raised his wand and cracked the three flagstones across in front of the fireplace, and floated the broken halves up and into a neat stack by the hearth. Then he peered down inside and fled to the nearest plant pot and vomited heavily into the hydrangea, then again as the sweet crushed fragrance filled his nose, mingling horribly with the stink of his own bile. He fell back on his heels gasping, pressing the back of a shaky hand to his mouth. Coil slithered over and pressed her cool diamond-shaped head against his cheek, and he put his other hand on her smooth skin, shutting his eyes.

“All right,” he said after a moment, his voice shaking. “How far do they go?”

#

So now he knew what had happened to all the bodies. The bones had been packed into a neat and compact layer tucked between the floors, in the hollow space where the pipes ran, in and around them. An entire regurgitated skeleton with other assorted indigestible bits fit tidily beneath a single flagstone, arms and legs folded tightly up, spine broken into loose pieces, skull cracked. Nagini had evidently taken a lot more feeding than Coil did.

Draco cleared them out one at a time, transfiguring the houseplants and then the chairs one after another into large urns, lining up the horrible row of them in the front hall. He had to drag his arm across his eyes over and over, leaking tears stupidly. There were so many. They couldn’t even have tortured them all. Voldemort had to have brought them in by the dozen specially for the purpose, and Draco couldn’t even understand why. The woods on the property were full of deer, it would’ve been easier.

Then the next morning, he got to the flagstones in the middle of the room, where all the machinery of the house wards sat. He ripped them up anyway, in case Nagini had packed any remains in there among the works. They’d been upgraded to mechanical works in the eighteenth century and last cleaned ten years ago. The antique gears were grimed now but still ready for work, the gently pulsing orb of magic still at the center, except it wasn’t small and pale violet the way he remembered: now it was an enormous roiling green, stinking of nightshade. The smell of the Killing Curse. Draco stared down at it, his hand tight on his wand, and Coil wrapped herself uneasily round his leg, peering in.

That’s what you smelled,” he said, half whispering. She gave a small frightened hiss.

He didn’t know what the spell was meant to do, but he could make a handful of guesses about it, all of them terrifying. Voldemort had gone to a great deal of trouble to hook it into spell machinery, which he’d only have needed to do to make the spell work after he’d died, and he’d gone to even more to hook it up to the house wards in particular, which meant their purpose was aligned. Draco shuddered all over: if he’d actually raised the wards, the spell would’ve fired; he’d have set this thing off. And with the amount of death Voldemort had poured into this thing—it was meant to kill people, a lot of people.

Draco sat down trembling in a chair and wiped his hands over his face. He stared down at it. What if all the Death Eaters had died, or been taken prisoner, including him and his family? The wards were meant to go off automatically if an enemy came to the house in force, either enemy wizards or a Muggle mob. If Potter and his Aurors had smashed through the gates to rescue the last handful of prisoners—and it suddenly occurred to Draco, how had they found out about the prisoners? The Aurors would have come sooner, if they’d known sooner. If Voldemort had somehow arranged that they’d find out, too late to actually rescue anyone, but knowing they’d come anyway, in a futile hope…

But this spell was meant for something bigger than just blowing away a bunch of Aurors. The ordinary wards would have done for that. Draco stood abruptly and broke up the rest of the flagstones all the way to the targeting mechanism. It had been modified, too. He couldn’t really follow the altered lines of force, they were more complex than any magic he’d ever seen, but he could tell that the separate triggers had been linked up. Muggles or enemy wizards, put them together and you got—Muggle-borns?

That’s who it would target. All of them. Every last Muggle-born wizard, and that bit over there was a bloodline binding, so it would go after their kids, too; it would chase Muggle blood down the generations as long as the spell’s power lasted. And this spell had thirty generations of Malfoy magic built up behind it, besides everything Voldemort had poured into it. It would take out every Muggle-born in Wales and London for sure. It might get Potter himself; his mum had been Muggle-born. It might stretch as far as Ireland and France.

And looking at it some more, Draco was pretty sure it would go off if so much as a single wizard with Muggle blood anywhere in the last five generations so much as set foot on his grounds. Someone could trigger this thing by accident. If his mother hadn’t been a stickler from even ordering groceries only from a good pureblood family shop—

“What the hell do I do?” Draco said to Coil in horror. She only looked up at him and hissed in equal alarm.

He ran outside and got his mother from the gardens. She’d obviously been deliberately keeping out of his way since he’d started in on the flagstones, but when she tried to speak to him brightly about the arrangement of the new shrubs she was putting in along the walk, he yanked out his wand and blasted them all into scorched cinders and grabbed her arm. She stared up at him, shocked, and he snarled, “Did you know what he was doing?”

“Draco, what on earth,” she said, and when he dragged her inside and made her look at it, her face went pale and still as her eyes traveled slowly over the mechanism and she worked it out just as he had. “No,” she said, in deadly composed calm, lifting her eyes to him. “Draco—”

“I’m going for help. You need to set the grounds for a siege. Wake the trees on the border, send the suits of armor out to the gates. I’ve already shut down the Floo.”

 She paused and nodded. “Go.”

He flew to the Owl Post at Wilton on his broom and took their Floo to London and went straight back into the Department of Aurors. It was just midmorning and the place was packed: he was still wearing the same shirt and trousers as yesterday, smudged and filthy from the work, his hair dusty and matted, and two Aurors intercepted him before he reached the stairs. “Get out of my way,” he snarled, and Coil swung her head at them, hissing, long enough for him to get past.

Potter was in the third office down the corridor, working on papers, and he looked up with an air of irritation. “Look, Malfoy—”

Shut up,” Draco snapped at him. Harry blinked just as the two Aurors caught up and burst in behind him. Coil slithered off him and rose up in a threatening column at his heels, body swaying and her fangs bared and glistening. One of them raised his wand to strike her—

“Hold it!” Harry said, standing up, putting out a hand to stop them. “Draco—”

“Voldemort left a spell tied to the wards on my house,” Draco said flatly, and Harry stopped talking, his mouth flattening into a grim line. Granger and Weasley had appeared in the doorway, their own wands drawn, and the other Aurors made room for them to come in and listen to him. “And it’s set to murder every Muggle-born wizard in Britain.”

#

The problem was, it turned out they couldn’t help. The Aurors did put up a cordon about a mile out from the borders, and staffed it with the most pureblood wizards they had, but no one was particularly inclined to find out if the wards would accept that the Longbottoms and the Weasleys weren’t Malfoy enemies anymore—Draco wasn’t any too sure himself, the way Weasley scowled at him constantly—and too many of the other safely pureblood wizards in Britain had been—even if not precisely on Voldemort’s side, at least sympathetic enough not to be reliable. Most of the others on Potter’s side had a Muggle somewhere in the mix.

That left roughly one person in Britain they knew could safely try to undo the damned thing: him, and they couldn’t even work out how. Granger kept asking ten questions about the wards for every one he could answer. Three-quarters of the machinery wasn’t even visible from the top. And every day that went by was another where the wrong person might accidentally stumble past the cordon or the even more wrong person might find out what was going on and decide to shove some hapless Muggle-born across his borders and set the whole thing off. The Aurors still hadn’t caught Mulciber, or a handful of the werewolves.

“Wait,” Harry said suddenly, after the third fruitless day of trying to figure out if Draco could risk so much as lifting out one of the gears to at least disable the trigger. “Hang on a second. When we came to the house, you said there had been Muggle-borns there—two Muggle-born wizards, you said.”

“As prisoners!” Draco said. “The wards don’t care who comes in with chains on.”

“So I’ll put on some chains, and you can lead me in!”

“Even if that would fool the wards, what good are you going to do? If I can’t take out the gear without triggering it, you certainly can’t, and it doesn’t put us any closer to knowing one way or another.”

“Yes, it does,” Harry said. “You can’t go look at the machinery from underneath, but Coil can, and I can understand her when she tells me what she sees.”

Nobody really liked the idea, but they didn’t have a better one by the end of the day. “As soon as we’re on the other side of the cordon, put up the strongest barrier spell around the place that all of you can, together,” Harry told Granger and Weasley. “Just in case.”

“Harry, if we do that, and the spell does trigger, it’s still going to blast you,” Granger said. “And the rebound will probably incinerate the entire house.”

“It doesn’t matter,” Harry said.

“It bloody well does!” Draco said, but Harry wheeled on him and snapped, “What else do you want to do?” and Draco still didn’t have a better idea himself. He clenched his jaw and said tightly, “Fine. But I’m sending my parents away, first.”

His mother looked at him fixedly when he told her, and nodded a little. “We’ll go to our house in Tuscany. I’ll pack our things.”

He climbed the stairs to his father’s study to tell him what was going on. The room was dim and shrouded, all the curtains drawn but one, a crack, left open so Lucius could peer out at the world. The line of light striped down his face. He turned slowly to look at Draco, his face moving through the narrow bar, and for a moment there almost seemed a gleam, cold and hard and familiar, in his eyes. Draco stood in the door. A strange wave of nausea rolled prickling up his spine. “There’s—some work that needs to be done on the Great Hall,” he said abruptly. “It’d be best if you and Mother went to the villa to wait it out. The carriage is coming round in ten minutes,” and closed the door, his heart pounding.

He waited until they’d gone, and then he went down to the cellars and dug out one of the sets of spell-chains he’d chucked into a crate, shoved into the back corner. He met Harry just beyond the gates. The barrier was already up on the other side, shimmering faintly pink against the sky. When Harry held out his wrists, Draco locked the shackles on him, properly secure, and drew the chain tight. Then he turned back to the open gates. His heart was thumping wildly. If he took Harry through, and the spell triggered, and however much of it rebounded off that barrier—well, on the bright side, it would probably be too quick for him to notice.

“Let’s go,” Harry said.

“How do you just do this sort of thing?” Draco said, not quite under his breath. He was helplessly terrified.

Harry didn’t say anything a moment, and then he said, “Because there’s nothing else to be done.”

That did, oddly, make it easier. Draco took a deep breath and took hold of the chains and shot through as fast as he could. Harry gave a startled yelp and stumbled after him, but a prisoner wouldn’t have been warned, and—they were through. They were on the other side, on the drive, and nothing had happened.

In the Great Hall, he slowly and cautiously loosened the chain between Harry’s wrists, one eye on the gears, until he thought he saw a faint flicker and yanked them five links tighter again with a jolt of panic. It wasn’t that much range of motion, but better than nothing. “Right,” Harry said. “Hermione said you’d better order me to do things.” His voice was still steady and even, as if he wasn’t afraid at all, standing three feet from a spell meant to slaughter him, in chains, in the house of his—well, his second-worst enemy. By a wide margin.

“Just what I’ve always wanted,” Draco forced out shakily, trying to keep up appearances. Harry actually snorted a laugh with no visible effort involved. “Fine. Tell Coil to go down there and let us know if the gear I’m pointing to is hooked to anything but the ones on either side.”

Granger had labeled every gear in the triggering mechanism in the order she thought they should try. There were sixty-eight of them. Coil inspected more than twenty-seven that afternoon, and every last one turned out connected to something else underneath, which she couldn’t describe very well but smelled like frogs, she said. Draco finally sent his owl out to the barrier with a note, and they waited until a reply came from Granger: Don’t touch any of them! It sounds like a Contradiction Ward, they’re cast with toadskin slime. It must be set to notice if you take out a piece that would disable the mechanism, and if you do, it’ll replace it and fire, right away. I don’t think we should risk touching the triggering mechanism at all. I should have realized: it’s too obvious an avenue of attack on the spell. We’ll have to come up with another approach. We’re working on it now.

“Oh, that’s wonderful. What are we supposed to do in the meantime, just sit here with it?” Draco demanded, his voice rising as he got to the end of her note.

“It’s not doing anything, Malfoy!”

“At some point the wards will notice you’re not actually—” One of the gears gave a tiny twitch, and Draco jumped and grabbed up the loose end of the chain, which he’d put down, and gasped out, “Move that chair!”

Harry rolled his eyes and shoved the chair over with his foot. The gear settled back into place again. “Calm down, Draco.”

“There’s a bomb under my house set to go off if I so much as say the wrong thing, and you’re telling me to calm down?” Draco glared at him. “Go get me a drink, that will help me calm down.”

Harry sniggered at him, which almost provoked Draco to new heights of panicked fury, but then Harry did go and pour him a very stiff glass of whiskey, which helped considerably. So did ordering him to make dinner, set the table, tidy up afterwards, and feed Coil, which besides protecting all their lives had the excellent side benefit of making Harry stop looking serene and instead go increasingly purple with the burning desire to tell him to go fuck himself sideways. It all made Draco feel vastly better than he had in—in years, actually. It almost felt like he’d been allowed to step neatly back in time. 

“Just so we’re clear on this, there are limits,” Harry said through his teeth, scrubbing the gore off his hands.

Draco rolled his eyes. “Yes, sorry to disappoint you, Potter, I’m not going to order you to suck my cock or anything,” which made Harry blush violently, and also glare even more satisfying daggers at him.

“You know, Malfoy, for a minute there I started to entertain the idea you might actually be a decent person after all,” he snapped.

“As though I’d want your approval,” Draco said, luxuriating in the sneer he put into every syllable. “Now, I suppose I really should lock you in the cellars for the night—” Harry began to swell gloriously with indignation, “—but I might wake up and want something. Come along, you may as well turn down the bed.”

Harry ground his teeth delightfully, following him upstairs.

#

Granger’s next brilliant idea, delivered at sunrise by owl, was to suggest that they try to disable the wards by undoing the family binding in order to leave them without anything to protect, so Draco had to spend an hour writing her a detailed screed explaining just what thirty generations of binding meant so she could thoroughly understand how idiotic that plan was. Fortunately, it wasn’t an entirely wasted morning: he made Harry run him a bath and make his breakfast. “It’s like living with the Dursleys again!” Harry snarled out loud, chains clanking together as he slammed down the plate of eggs and bacon—overcooked eggs and singed bacon, but Draco didn’t even care; every bite was ambrosial.

Harry said something to Coil as he sat down with his own helping at the far end of the table: she was still full from her meal last night and dozing comfortably on the hearth in front of the kitchen fireplace. She hissed sleepily back at him. Draco scowled. “Tell me what you’re talking about!”

“I’m asking her why she puts up with you,” Harry said. “Where’d you even get her, anyway?”

For an instant, Draco lurched back down into the stained, stinking cellars—his leg still blazing in agony from the bite, terror pounding through him and the charred snake-corpses littering the floor—and when he came back to himself, hands shaking and gripped bloodlessly tight round his cutlery, Harry was staring at him. “She hatched in the cellars,” Draco said harshly. “There was a nest.”

“What?” Harry looked at Coil. “Wait, she’s—are you saying Nagini—and you kept her?”

“It’s not her fault, is it?” Draco snapped. “She didn’t kill anyone.” He put down his fork and knife and pushed away from the table. He wasn’t hungry anymore. He went out the back door into the gardens and sat on a bench staring at one of the gurgling fountains his mother had repaired, trying not to think. Harry came out a little bit later and sat down next to him. It was a lovely summer day, full of sun. They didn’t talk. 

An hour later, Granger wrote with wonderful news: she still hadn’t found any safe way to directly undo the spell, so they were going to have to inspect every last gear of the machinery, one after another, until they found a safe one to remove. There has to be at least one, she wrote. It’ll be too deep in the machinery to actually break the wards, but once you’ve found that one, and removed it, that will create another safe one to remove, and so on, until you’ve taken out enough of them to keep the whole thing from working.

“How long does she expect us to stay in here?” Draco said, appalled.

“The sooner we start, the sooner we’ll be done,” Harry said grimly. At least he wasn’t telling Draco to calm down anymore.

It took seven solid hours of tedious slow work to find the first gear, and then an absolutely heart-stopping ten minutes to extract it from the Stygian guts of the machinery without knocking against any of the others. Harry had to levitate it out mostly sight unseen, consulting with Coil every few centimeters along the way, his whole face tight with concentration, until it finally emerged threading the narrow space between two larger toothy gears, a tiny circle smaller than a Knut. Draco snatched it the second it came out and pulled it away from any chance of it tumbling down, and Harry sagged with an explosive gasp of relief.

Coil crawled out from under the floor and went to sleep on the hearth again, refusing to even think about trying another. Draco didn’t mind; he could do without another ten minutes like that—well, ever in his life, really, but at least until tomorrow.

It quickly became clear over the next two extractions that they weren’t going to get more than a single gear a day. Draco dug through the library and found the old disintegrating receipts from the eighteenth-century upgrade by Bollwidgers—they’d installed the machinery without providing anything actually helpful like schematics or anything, and had inconveniently gone out of business a hundred and fifty years ago—and discovered that this moft refined example of the wardmakers art contained over two thousand gears. And that was before Grandfather Abraxus had added on the new greenhouses eighty-three years ago, not to mention any additions Voldemort might have stuck into the works. He and Harry stared at each other over the papers with identical expressions of dismay.

Harry obviously wasn’t going to take slaving for him for five years, so Draco grudgingly helped with dinner that night, and even spoke civilly all evening, and then they went to take a look at the machinery before bed and found a gear in the triggering mechanism half-turned and just about to click over. Draco grabbed the end of the chain from where Harry had wrapped it around his waist, tucked into his belt, and yanked it tight again, and Harry jerked his head urgently and silently towards the cellar doors. Draco ran there, leading him down, and slammed him into one of the rooms, both of them panting in alarm and staring at each other through the barred gate.

He left Harry there and went up shaking and checked: the gear had settled grudgingly back into place. Draco went down and told Harry. Both of them sank to the floor on either side of the door, gulping for breath. “Well,” Harry said finally, “I suppose you’re just going to have to keep being wildly annoying. At least it won’t be hard for you or anything.”

Except it was. All the fun had gone out of it. They hadn’t gone back in time, after all; the war was still here, with them, perched up in the shadows of every room, hovering. Draco had to make himself a list of orders and set an alarm to remind himself to give one every hour or so when they weren’t working—that turned out to be the safe limit to keep the wards from getting twitchy. After he made Harry turn round like a pirouetting dancer for the fourth time in a day, Harry said, “There’s got to be a better way to do this. Even the Death Eaters can’t have spent all their time torturing the prisoners and ordering them about.”

“They were locked up!” Draco said.

“Didn’t you have any of them doing work?” Harry said.

Draco swallowed. Rosier had allowed one terrified cowed prisoner to scurry round the house, doing a bit of wandless magic here and there. She’d escaped in the confusion over Harry’s own capture; Rosier had been livid and roaring about it for days.

“Right, so—” Harry said, when Draco haltingly admitted it.

“He was making her,” Draco said harshly.

“He was making her what?”

Draco gave him a hard look, and Harry said, stifled, “Oh.”

They grimly established a routine. They got up, had their breakfast, extracted their daily gear, had dinner, and spent the rest of the evening with Draco giving Harry pointless orders every time the alarm dinged off until it was late enough they could go to sleep. They even had to start talking to each other to fill the time, despite regularly hitting conversational landmines like yes I do remember that tapestry from when I was imprisoned and nearly died here and that was the week I got tortured for six days and didn’t even know why Voldemort was angry.

“Er, right,” Harry said, uncomfortably. “I think it’s because we stole one of his—he’d made these artifacts, they—it’s complicated. One of them was in your aunt’s vault. We had to destroy them to stop him.”

Also talking to Harry wasn’t like talking to normal people. He just sort of said things, for instance, “I like that painting,” and after ten minutes of confused questioning, Draco gradually worked out that what Harry meant was he liked the painting, he thought it was pretty: he wasn’t complimenting Draco’s taste or showing off his own or anything like that. One truly bizarre morning, Harry was unusually quiet at breakfast and when Draco prodded him, assuming he was meant to inquire, Harry actually came out with, “Oh, sorry, I’m just feeling down. The dreams are bad sometimes.” What on earth.

Except after a few weeks of this sort of creepy straightforward conversation, it dawned on Draco that he was starting to like it—to like Harry. Everything he thought and felt, out it came, and what came out was all—safe. Harry didn’t seem to have any particular ambitions and didn’t want to hurt anyone. After the people Draco had been around the last two years, it was like climbing into a properly warmed bed on a cold snowy day and pulling up all the blankets.

And meanwhile, Harry started acting increasingly peculiar, throwing sidelong looks at him every time Draco gave him an order, biting his lip and occasionally flushing. He was fairly obvious in retrospect, but it nevertheless took Draco another week to work it out, since it had never occurred to him that Harry Potter really was some sort of bizarre pervert—it had only ever been an entertaining thing to accuse him of for taunting purposes. But it inescapably became clear that he rather did want to try Rosier’s solution. “I don’t believe you!” Draco yelled at him, when he finally figured it out. “No! I am not going to!”

“Who wants you to!” Harry yelled back, except he turned red, so the answer was he did, the freakish bastard. “I don’t! I—”

“What are you, some sort of submissive—”

“It’s not about being ordered around! It’s—” He looked away and ground his teeth and burst out, “Do you have to—to dress like that!”

“What?” Draco said, utterly baffled. He looked down at himself. He didn’t dress to be sexually attractive, he dressed to communicate his vastly superior social status, and since that was utterly pointless right now, he’d just been taking the first thing out of his wardrobe every morning, going down the line—of fantastically glittering eighteenth-century court dress, which apparently turned Potter’s crank like nothing else, as the lunatic finally confessed.

“You look like—like something out of fairy tales,” he groaned, running a hand over his face. “God, I don’t believe I’m even saying this out loud to anyone, much less you.”

“I am something out of fairy tales!” Draco howled at him in fury. “I’m a fucking wizard! So are you! It’s no excuse for your fancying me!”

“It’s not my fault I’ve been shut up in here for a month with you prancing around!” Harry yelled back, and then the alarm dinged and Draco snarled, “Go lock yourself in a room away from me,” and Harry glared at him and stormed off.

So of course after that there was no way on earth Draco could avoid thinking about it, and while he’d never before even imagined having Harry Potter suck his cock, once he had, it obviously sailed straight to the top of his remaining worldly ambitions. Those had been culled heavily by the unexpected discovery that when faced with the actual event, he didn’t actually want to serve the Dark Lord and rule over teeming hordes of downtrodden Muggles, torturing and smiting as he went. These days it had come down to living quietly in the country and perhaps occasionally a trip to the city without anyone spitting on him, so there wasn’t a lot of competition.

He held out for three days longer and then as they were getting ready for bed, Harry darted another look at him. Draco was wearing a silver brocade waistcoat over a full-sleeved emerald green shirt and velvet knee breeches—which he had certainly only taken out that morning by completely random chance—and Draco caught him doing it, and then Harry looked back defiantly, practically daring him, and the alarm went off right then, and Draco said in a stifled voice, “Fine, do it.”

Harry was well into the job, moaning while he slid his tongue luxuriously around Draco’s cock inside his mouth, sucking on the head, his hair thick and soft and wonderful in Draco’s grip, and Draco was sprawled sideways over his bed in a vaguely delirious glory under him, his whole body coming alive. He couldn’t quite believe he was allowed anything that felt this good, this simple: Harry’s wet mouth and honest hunger, his fingers denting into Draco’s thighs and hips, holding on to him—

Then Coil came slithering urgently into the room, hissing, and Harry pulled straight off and gasped out, “Order me! Something else! Quick!” Draco propped up on his elbows in horror and blurted, “Turn a somersault!” and Harry dived into it and came up and folded his elbows on his knees, head sunk forward, panting.

It seemed sex when Harry wanted it had the opposite effect. So evidently Draco wasn’t allowed; he’d only been allowed to learn to want it, and now they were still stuck in here together. For years.

“Words cannot possibly convey the depths of my loathing for you,” Draco said fervently.

“The feeling’s mutual,” Harry muttered, and then they slunk off to separate showers.

#

Draco had occasionally fancied this girl or that boy, nothing to make him inclined to ignore his own best interests even on the level of school alliances, but after another month of living with Harry—who couldn’t for the love of Merlin stop looking at him, even though Draco had gone back to wearing the most stolid grey and black robes he could find—Draco was seriously entertaining fantasies of whether it mightn’t be worth the risk of death and mass destruction just to have him once. They could do it right here in the Great Hall, watching the trigger; they could back off if it started to go—

“We can’t,” Harry said, mostly to himself. He was looking down at the trigger, too. They both groaned.

Meanwhile Granger and the rest of Potter’s useless friends were still sitting on the borders, sending in encouraging messages that all boiled down to, so how’s the miserable slog going, sorry we’re completely useless and haven’t found any answers yet. Occasionally they had a cheery report about some hapless idiot who’d nearly crossed the line and set the whole thing off.

In desperation, Draco flat-out begged Coil to help them find two gears a day, and Harry was evidently also getting worn down, because he joined in. After he and Harry both coaxed and cosseted her for a couple of days and Draco promised her a vat of clotted cream every week for the rest of her life, she finally agreed. They started going at first light, getting rid of one, taking a short rest for lunch, and going after another.

It helped: at least they didn’t have as much time to talk. Or not have sex. After another few weeks they were even starting to see a noticeable hole in the works when they jolted awake to a distant rumble like an earthquake, flares of light going off distantly on the other side of the gates. There was some kind of fighting going on. They stood at the window watching; Harry’s hands were clenched at his sides. “We’ve got to help,” he said fiercely.

“We’ve got to break the wards,” Draco snapped.

“There’s got to be a way to speed this up,” Harry said. “Whoever is attacking, if they get anyone over the border—”

“We haven’t come up with anything in the last three months!”

“We’ve got to try something!

Coil hissed inquisitively. They looked at her, and then Harry said, “What if—what if we—Polyjuice into her form?”

“You can’t Polyjuice into a snake!”

“She’s not just an ordinary snake!” Harry said. “She’s—look, it’s complicated, but Nagini had—a bit of human soul in her.” Draco stared at him. “I think Coil might have it, too. It’s worth a try. If we could take her form, she could show us how to get down there. We could find the gears a lot quicker—”

There were a few bottles of Polyjuice in the Manor cupboards. Draco dropped a scale into one grimly and handed it to Potter. “You first. If either of us is getting stuck as a half-human, half-snake thing, it’s going to be you.”

Harry rolled his eyes and tipped it up, and in a moment was twisting down into a perfect golden copy of Coil. He reared up and hissed imperatively. Draco stared down at him and took a deep breath and slugged down a gulp.

There was a long awful writhing moment like going through the Floo, or being Transfigured into a ferret—Draco wasn’t forgetting that anytime in his life—and then he was looking out at the world through a bizarre, fisheyed view that in a moment wasn’t bizarre at all. Coil said, “This way,” perfectly intelligible, and it was just as perfectly natural to go slithering after her through the heating vent, squirming along the lovely warm pipe and through a crumbled hole in the ancient brick and into the dark crawl space, past still more packed-in bones, and underneath the vast enormous tangle of the gears.

It was hard to keep thinking like a human while you were a snake, but he and Harry had been studying the gears for months now, and the patterns of interlocking mechanisms were thoroughly burned into their brains. They shot through two dozen gears in a row, pulling them out delicately with their fangs and just letting them drop down below, and kept going after that, desperately fast, slithering over one another and Coil without any consciousness about it, until suddenly Draco felt a shiver go all over his body, and he turned and shot back out, as fast as he could, Harry right on his tail. They burst out of the vent already swelling back into human shape, on their hands and knees gasping, and Granger was shoving open the front door, calling, “Harry! Harry, are you in here?”

They stared at her, and she turned and caught sight of them both. “You did it!” she said.

“And you thought you’d test that out by just coming in?” Draco demanded, high-pitched. She glared at him.

“Mulciber and a pack of Dementors attacked us, trying to force the cordon,” she said. “While they had us distracted, one of Greyback’s werewolves ran over the other side of your border dragging a Muggle-born girl with him, and then he let her go. She came back out of the gates just as we captured the last of them, so we knew then you must’ve broken the wards in the meantime—”

“No thanks to you,” Draco said, shuddering as he realized how close it had been.

Granger had the nerve to look irritated. She turned away, dismissing him entirely. “At least it’s over now,” she told Harry. “We’ll still want to dismantle the rest of the spell and drain the death magic, but there’s no immediate rush. I think we’ve more than earned the rest of the week off.” She beamed at him. “Let’s go home!”

Harry stood there with his mouth open and said, “Er, yeah?” awkwardly, and looked at Draco.

Draco stared levelly back at him. There wasn’t any difficulty interpreting that look, since Draco felt exactly the same way, namely that Granger could take herself off anytime she liked and leave them to have at least three days of uninterrupted sex, but he wasn’t about to say so if Harry wasn’t.

“And let’s get those off you,” she added. “Alohomora!” The chains fell off with a clatter.

Evidently Harry wasn’t going to say so. Granger swept out without another word to Draco, and in a moment Harry followed her, after throwing one final longing look behind him, for absolutely no reason Draco could see, since he wasn’t letting it keep him.

So that was that. Draco shut the doors behind them and turned back into the Great Hall. The wards were broken, half the floor was a massive gaping hole, and there were probably still more skeletons to be taken out from under the other half. And he was alone. But at least he’d stopped Voldemort turning his house into a vast killing field. Well. Into more of one.

Coil came gliding across the floor and twined in a figure-eight round his ankles, looking up with a small hiss that somehow vaguely felt to him like she was asking, all right?

Draco wasn’t sure what he was feeling, and he decided he didn’t want to know. “As well as can be expected, I suppose,” he said, and then he went upstairs and went to bed.

#

Harry came back a few days later, with a crew of Aurors to keep working on taking apart the rest of the spell. The Daily Prophet had spent the intervening time trumpeting the capture of the last of the Death Eaters, except of course for the notorious Lucius and Draco Malfoy, who remain at liberty despite the questionable circumstances of their late defection from the forces of Lord Voldemort, and also commended Harry Potter and Hermione Granger, the quick-thinking heroes of the War, for having uncovered and dismantled a Death Eater booby trap intended to kill perhaps thousands of Muggle-born wizards.

Draco had toyed with the idea of calling up the paper and buying some advertising space for a handful of their favorite merchants, hinting strongly as he did so that there was more to the story, which would certainly have netted him an interview and a sorely-needed bit of favorable coverage. But somehow he hadn’t been able to bring himself to bother.

He’d spoken to his mother. She and Lucius had decided to stay in Tuscany for the moment. “At least while there are workmen tramping through the house day and night, darling,” she said. “Won’t you join us? I—I think perhaps we could all do with a longer change of air.”

 “I might,” Draco said. When he thought about the corpses still buried under the flagstones and looked too long at the angry pulsing green heart of Voldemort’s murderous spell still living in the open hole, he wanted to walk out of the house and never come back. But he couldn’t quite make himself go. Tuscany didn’t really beckon. Nowhere did.

When Harry showed up, Draco’s stomach did a deeply unwanted cartwheel of something that was probably hope, pathetically enough. It was entirely unfounded, anyway. Harry had a dozen Aurors behind him, including both Granger and Weasley, and he kept his hands in his pockets and said, stilted, “So you’ve—you’ve been all right?”

“Fine, Potter, and you?” Draco said, coolly. He’d got really very good at Occlumency during the War. He was certain none of his feelings showed on his face. He did wish he hadn’t worn the sapphire-blue coat.

He left the Aurors to the dubious pleasures of the Great Hall and escaped into the woods with Coil riding on his arm. Summer was gone, but the air hadn’t turned cold yet; he found one of the rustic benches scattered along the walks and sat down and watched the first leaves drifting to the forest floor, until Harry showed up. Draco stared at him, and Harry gulped and took a step towards him and said, “Draco—”

“Is that a joke?” he snapped, although his stomach did a quick constricting twist. “You can’t look me in the face in front of anyone else, but you still want a go?”

Harry’s jaw tightened. “It’s not over,” he said fiercely. “Ron’s brother is dead. Hermione’s parents—they’re gone, she sent them to Australia to keep them safe, and they’re not coming back. She was tortured in this house. And Luna— So many other people— It’s not over for them just because Voldemort is dead, and I’m not going to ask them, I’m not going to ask the people who nearly died alongside me, to have to argue with me, and get angry at me, or worry about me, just so I can have a shag. I don’t want you that badly. If you want to get it out of your system, fine, so do I. But it’s not going to be something more.”

Draco swallowed hard. Of course. He wasn’t—an acceptable match. Abruptly he felt a stinging belated sympathy with Pansy: what a complete bastard he’d been, and that was before he’d thrown in with a mass-murdering psychopath. And what a pity for him that Potter and his crowd felt little missteps like that trumped being fantastically rich and well-bred.

He almost said something vicious and face-saving, I don’t want you at all now that I’m not trapped in a house trying to save your precious mudblood friend’s life, but he didn’t really want the words in his mouth, and after all, Harry could hardly mock anyone for just coming out with things. “Sorry, Potter,” he said. “It’s not that I don’t understand your position, but I’ve run a bit low on self-respect lately. I’ve got to conserve what I’ve got left.” Harry flushed and looked away, and didn’t try to argue with him. Draco stood up. “Good luck cleaning up the place. Let my solicitor know when you’re done, will you?”

He turned and walked away. Behind him, Harry called, “Wait, Draco—Draco, where are you going?”

#

Draco didn’t answer him, mainly because he didn’t actually know until he found himself walking onto the Lestrange estate that evening, his broomstick in his hand and Coil around his arm and nothing else but his wand and the clothes on his back. The abbey loomed mournfully, and when he opened the front doors, a bit more of the roof fell in, narrowly missing his head. He’d worried about feeling Bellatrix’s presence or something, but the whole place just felt abandoned, open to the wind whistling through, empty.

It took a few days to fix up the least-wretched of the bedrooms into a livable state, and after that he started on the roof, since there wasn’t any point repairing anything underneath until it was keeping out the rain. He went to the nearby Muggle village pub to eat, and to buy food for Coil. The people there ignored him amiably: they clearly thought he was some sort of weird harmless lunatic, and possibly they were right two out of three, since he was camping out in the increasingly miserable conditions of a cold wet autumn and working like a dog to repair, by hand, a ruin of a house that had belonged to the most monstrous of all his benighted family, when he could have been eating gelato in Florence, or at least living in a decent flat.

Once, in the midst of the cleaning, he turned up a couple of family photographs in a glass frame that had slipped down behind a bookcase ages ago, and thus escaped the general wreckage: Bellatrix and his mother and their sister Andromeda young and beautiful and smiling out at him, a bridal party; and Bellatrix proud of herself, her chin raised, on the arm of a coolly smiling Rodolphus Lestrange. There was already something hardening in her face, though, and he looked at her and vividly felt that a shadow had only just passed him by, like the fingers of a Dementor barely brushing the ends of his hair against his neck. He shuddered and put it away.

He’d literally never seen a photograph of Andromeda before. It occurred to him afterwards—there’d been a child, hadn’t there? Andromeda’s daughter, who’d been killed in the war—she’d had a child. The one Voldemort had mocked them all for. It sat in the back of his head like an indigestible meal for a week, and then he wrote to his solicitor to discreetly find out where they were, their circumstances, that sort of thing.

The solicitor wrote back that Andromeda was living quietly with her grandson Teddy in a small cottage among Muggles, on her dead husband’s small pension. Draco silently sat with the letter by his fireplace—he had a proper hearth again by then, for which he was deeply grateful as he’d never been before—for almost an entire day, trying to decide, stroking Coil in his lap where she’d curled up to keep warm. As the night closed in and a sharp cold burst of wind darted through the last few cracks round the windowsill, he shivered with it and then abruptly turned to his pen and paper.

His mother had inherited a hunting lodge in Scotland and a farm in Wales from her parents; Bellatrix had inherited a townhouse in Bath, which had come to him now. Andromeda would have spent time there. He wrote a formal, stilted letter, offering her the use of the house, all expenses covered, and added that he would be glad to bear the costs of Teddy’s education. He sealed it and sent it back to the solicitor to be passed along before he could think better of it. He didn’t need to ask his mother what she thought; he knew, and he knew she hadn’t changed her mind. Only he’d changed, somehow.

Andromeda wrote back. She thanked him, but she was happy in her cottage, which was plenty of room for her and one child, and so far she wasn’t having trouble living within her means. She would be glad for Teddy to know him, however, if he would like to visit, which he couldn’t understand: what did she mean by it? She couldn’t actually want him to come. Except she’d suggested three weekends, which required him to either snub her or accept, so he somewhat warily agreed.

When he went, a week later, he braced himself for the resemblance, but the instant she opened the door, she wasn’t anything like Bellatrix at all, even before she said gently, “Hello, Draco.”

“Hello, Aunt Andromeda,” he said. It felt strange in his mouth. He’d never had any family, growing up. They’d all been dead or disowned or in Azkaban.

She invited him to hold the baby, which was highly alarming. He’d only rarely seen one of those before, either, and what if it—leaked on him or something. It sat on his lap chewing ruminatively on the ear of a stuffed Kneazle. “Er. It’s very nice,” he said, wondering how soon he could give it back. “It’s—a bit small?” It spat up on him in revenge, and she had to give him one of her husband’s old shirts to wear.

“I heard what you did at the Manor,” she said quietly, as they had tea. Her daughter had been an Auror; probably her friends still came round. “It was very brave.” He looked over at the crib: it hadn’t occurred to him, but of course—the baby would have died, too, along with the rest.

“There was nothing else to be done,” he said.

He tried to hint towards money again, but she just said firmly, “If we should ever find ourselves in difficulties, I’ll let you know. But there was insurance, and—and Dora’s death benefit. We’re all right.”

“You’re living in a shack,” Draco said in exasperation. “A Muggle shack. Shouldn’t he grow up in a proper wizard house?”

She laughed. “A proper wizard house is a house a wizard is in,” which he felt was missing the point entirely, and when she saw his expression, she said gently, “Draco, darling, I was very happy in this house. I wasn’t, in my own. That matters more than anything else, surely. Where are you living now? The Manor’s still being cleared out, isn’t it? I understand the spell is resisting being taken down,” which was more than he’d known himself.  

“I’m—I inherited the Lestrange place,” Draco said.

She frowned. “But no one’s lived there for nearly twenty years. Surely it’s all gone to ruin.”

“More or less,” Draco said, uncomfortably aware his own living arrangements were hardly beyond a sensible critique. “I’m fixing it up as I go.”

She kissed his cheek when he left, and then abruptly laid her hand on it, cupping his face and looking at him with a strange, half-familiar expression he couldn’t place until he got home and looked in his one uncracked mirror and saw it there on his own face: you made it out, too. They’d escaped the trap, with its waiting teeth, the one that had swallowed so many of the rest of their family.

Somehow the visit, the kindness, cracked through a protective layer he hadn’t known he had been wearing. He was horribly, painfully lonely afterwards. The next evening, he sat down to write to his parents and wrote Dear Harry instead, and had to throw it into the fire hurriedly before his traitorous hand could keep going. His proper wizard house felt cold and empty around him, and he was dangerously inclined to take what he could get. He sat with a lump in his throat watching the edges of the paper curl in and flare bright as the fire ate its way through. There was a sharp unhappiness in his chest, like something important was slipping out of his hands. Except of course it wasn’t his and wasn’t going to be his. He hadn’t been taking the Daily Prophet, but there had been a copy in Aunt Andromeda’s house, left open to the third page: just below the fold there’d been a photograph of Harry at a Quidditch match, standing with his arm round Ginny Weasley in a Chaser’s uniform. He’d been smiling.

So, very well. Draco didn’t get to have that, but it didn’t mean he couldn’t have anything. And—there were worse things than not getting what he wanted. He knew what the worse things were, and by some miracle he’d dodged them. He’d be grateful, and he would take what he could get. When the aborted letter had fallen completely into ash, he reached out and took a fresh sheet of paper, and after the usual greetings and hopes for his parents’ health, he wrote, perhaps it’s time I thought about courting.

#

The next morning he went to London to hire some real builders. He was reasonably sure there wouldn’t be any difficulty, but he stopped in at Gringotts to look in on the state of his finances, just to know what they were. “Left tunnel,” the goblin clerk at the vault desk said, as soon as he appeared, without even looking up.

“No,” Draco said. “I don’t want the Malfoy vault: I’ve inherited the Lestrange estate,” and before he even finished bringing out the keys, every goblin in hearing range had blanched and stopped working.

A senior goblin appeared and said hurriedly, “Please come this way, Mr. Malfoy,” and tried to usher him into a private room. Draco had an excellent nose for weakness, however, and he abruptly remembered that Harry had said that one of Voldemort’s artifacts had come out of the Lestrange vault. Which meant that in all the chaos and confusion towards the end of the war, he’d actually robbed Gringotts.

“I’ll stay right here,” Draco said, keeping his voice at normal speaking levels, not enough to be overheard from very far away, but with the threat of rising, “until it’s explained to me why a routine visit to my new vault should pose any difficulty. I do trust that all is in order? Gringotts security as ironclad as ever?”

“Ha, ha,” the senior goblin said, attempting to smile. It went about as well as that expression ever did on goblins.

After a pleasant conversation, Draco informed the senior goblins—three of them had gathered round him by then, including the chief of the bank—that he’d accept their assurances that the theft had been a horrifying fluke, never to be repeated and certainly never to be spoken of and even more certainly never publicly confirmed by the owner of the violated vault, in exchange for their taking all the abandoned vaults—from all those pureblood families that had died intestate—and handing them over to the Ministry to be used to compensate the victims of the War.

He felt quite smug about the solution: Aunt Andromeda would never know that the money had come through him, and she’d hardly refuse it when everyone else was getting some, too. There would be plenty to go round. The Rosiers had all gone, the Avery family, the Selwyns, the—the Crabbes— He swallowed a bit, but he managed to muster up a cool smile to shake hands all round with the deeply glum goblins.  

“Oh,” he added, as an afterthought, “and I’ll want a goblin construction crew for my house,” because that would move things along nicely.

By the time his mother showed up two days later—naturally the letter had brought her, and would have if heaven and earth and hell itself had been in the way—the house was already looking like a different place. Draco half missed doing the work by hand, but he couldn’t deny he liked being warm again when he dared to venture more than two feet from the nearest fireplace. Narcissa stepped into the hall amidst her trunks and looked all round with faint surprise as he came down the stairs to greet her. “Darling, you’ve done so much already. I almost don’t recognize the place.”

In the old days, all the machinery would just have launched smoothly into motion. His mother would have written all her acquaintance to drop the first hints and spread the word. They would have taken a suitable house in London, or Bath—the Bath townhouse had housed his own mother’s debut—and organized a select dinner party to signal publicly that he was beginning the courting process. People would have fought to come; he’d have had a stack of reciprocal invitations to the ceiling by the time of the occasion. Now they couldn’t have filled five seats at the table, and that would’ve been a stretch.

“We’ll have to begin indirectly,” Narcissa said with the grim pragmatism of an outnumbered general. “Fortunately, there are still a few old families left. The Carrows haven’t been entirely wiped out.”

One of their older dowagers who’d sat out even the first war on the excuse of her years agreed to host them at a dinner party, which she’d be able to fill with old school friends and distant acquaintances from his grandparents’ generation. It wouldn’t be ideal—he certainly wouldn’t meet any candidates there—but it would do as a starting point. “They’ll gossip, and you’re very rich, after all,” his mother said, with a hard smile. “But I’m afraid we will have to relax our standards considerably, darling,” she added. She was already beginning on the list of eligibles for vetting.

He found that he didn’t really care anymore himself, but he didn’t mind letting his mother assemble a list of candidates. It wasn’t as though he had anyone specific in mind, and surely at least one of them—he’d find something to say to one of them, and she to him. She’d have family, and friends, and all the connections he’d lost. “Not anyone whose family was—too involved,” he said, though, and Narcissa didn’t argue. Instead she said, “That’s quite wise of you, darling. It would go some distance to recovering our position. Perhaps I’ll add a few more names.”

At least by now everyone knew they weren’t going to Azkaban, and their family had always had a reputation for landing on their feet. Most remembered that Lucius had managed to land clear of the authorities after the last war, and had ended with power very little diminished. Not to mention, the Lestrange estate had been enormous before it had sat compounding untouched for seventeen years, and he’d inherited it directly. Most wizards his age wouldn’t get their hands on real money for decades more. If they could just manage to wedge him back into society—the money would open the doors from there.

He’d do the round of holiday balls there and in London, and then start on more informal visits and intimate dinners. By the time spring rolled round again, the house would be ready for country parties, and they’d host the two or three most serious candidates in turn, each of them bringing along the family friends whose opinions would be consulted, and at some point he’d decide, and she’d decide. If everything went well, he could be married by October.

He’d known boys who spoke about traditional courting with shudders, as if they imagined being marched into prison. He’d never understood that: he’d always liked the idea of finding a partner, an unquestioned ally, someone whose interests would be so bound up with his that he could trust them. Maybe not so soon as this, but he felt like he’d lived twenty years in the last two anyway, and what was there to wait for? He’d seen what his parents had, and wanted it, all his life. And he’d always wanted his mother’s help with it, too: he certainly didn’t want the disaster of a bad choice, and it was easy to make a mistake. Most candidates didn’t come pre-qualified for loyalty and steadfastness by having stood up to a Dark Lord, and the ones who were turned out to be a little too hard to get if you hadn’t done the same.

He tried not to have thoughts like that, and for the most part he succeeded. It was only the occasional stray that crept in.

It helped that the dinner party went well. At first, things didn’t look promising; most of the dowagers eyed him and his mother disapprovingly all through dinner. Then, in the sitting room afterwards, with whispers going round only just barely soft enough that Draco could pretend not to hear them, their sympathetic hostess said to Draco, “Of course we cannot be happy about the outcome of the recent events.”

He hadn’t been able to help himself: he’d drawled, “Yes, it’s such a pity about the murder and torture and persecution,” and walked away to get a double-strength drink, well aware he’d just smashed his chances completely, and would likely have to give up and go courting abroad next year instead.

And then the absolutely rigid Lady Harrowing got up—a stickler from a family who usually went half Gryffindor and half Hufflepuff—and went across the room to Narcissa and said, “My dear, it’s been too long since we saw each other, but I’m not feeling quite well. Perhaps you’ll come to dinner on Saturday? I should like to present my granddaughter Lydia to you,” which as Narcissa triumphantly said afterwards surpassed even her most optimistic hopes.

Lydia Harrowing wasn’t really on the market herself: she made clear early on that she was in it for fun and didn’t want to marry for ages yet, but Draco liked her, and she liked Coil, which was his own primary vetting process. She brought him round to the first few holiday balls as her escort: it was mutually useful, since she was seven years older than Draco. That was hardly to be considered late days and hadn’t been for more than a century, but her more elderly relatives were all trying to nudge her along anyway, because they were getting too old to properly enjoy a wedding.

Two weeks later, the Daily Prophet published a photo of him and Lydia dancing at the Devines’ New Year’s ball, and suggested that an announcement was imminent. That was on par with the society reporters’ usual accuracy, but communicated nicely that he had serious intentions, and the article made note of what they called the remarkable scale of his inheritance.

A few dinner invitations finally came to the house in his own name, cautiously, and then began to pick up after he accepted several and turned up with his mother, which made clear he was really on the market. Narcissa subtly but thoroughly worked through every room of every party, and later that week was able to invite enough people to form a small party at their own house for dinner and two teams for Questing Cards after—quiet but not insignificant. The very next morning, he was asked to his first ball, and the daily delivery of invitations went from flurry to blizzard in the span of two weeks.

So he’d cleared the bar. He would’ve liked to feel triumphant about it, a victory to celebrate, but mostly he was just relieved to be allowed to get on with it.

A few days after that, he was in Diagon Alley for a fitting at his tailor’s—everyone was in jewel tones now—when he bumped into Harry in the street. There was a knot in Draco’s stomach, but he was proud of handling it well: “Harry,” he said, in perfectly normal tones. “I hope you’ve been well. Any progress on the Manor, by the way?”

Harry glared at him like Draco had recently stabbed him and bit out, “I’ll let your solicitor know, isn’t that what you wanted? What are you doing in London? I thought you were getting engaged this weekend.”

“What, because the Prophet said so? Don’t be absurd,” Draco snorted, and then he stopped and stared at Harry incredulously. “Wait, is this a joke?”

“What?”

“You can’t seriously be jealous of my getting married, Potter. Witnesses are legally required for that one.”

Harry flushed. “I thought you weren’t getting married.”

“I am. Just not to Lydia.”

“Oh,” Harry said. “Well. Congratulations, then. I’m—I’m sure you’ll—”

It was like having a conversation with Coil, across species lines or something. “You can’t congratulate me when I haven’t found the girl yet,” Draco said, and Harry stopped with his mouth open and a frown descending.

“So you’re—are you just planning to pick someone out of a hat, or what?”

Draco glared. “You know, Potter, I’m sure if I took an hour I could explain traditional courting to you, but I can’t think of a reason to bother. I want to get married and have a family, and I’m not going to rely on random chance to bring me someone with intentions that go beyond a furtive shag. As yours don’t, the process really doesn’t concern you.”

He finished with that grandiose pronouncement and swept past Harry with his head held high. He rode the intense satisfaction of victory all the way back to his carriage, still indignant, and then it suddenly dawned on him like sunrise that Harry was mad with jealousy.

“Mother, I’m afraid I need a change of strategy,” he said, as soon as he’d got back to the house in Bath. “I have a prior attachment.”

She regarded him with some astonishment, as well she might. “Is it…Pansy?”

“No, I’d have told you if it were Pansy,” Draco said. “I’m sorry: I’d crossed it off before I even wrote to you. I didn’t think it was feasible.”

“Not feasible! Darling,” she said in what would ordinarily have been justifiable reproach.

“It’s Harry Potter,” Draco said bluntly, and she paused.

“Ah,” she said after a moment, with a shading of doubt.

“Yes, exactly,” Draco said. “But on the bright side, it turns out he’s completely out of his head over me.”

#

The initial difficulty was that Harry didn’t socialize—at all, as far as Draco could tell, much less in any circles he could get into. Fortunately, Lady Harrowing was on the boards of a wide swath of charities, and she was more than happy to invite Harry to exhibit himself as an attraction at all the upcoming benefits, which he evidently submitted to in a spirit of grim martyrdom.

Lydia was delighted to throw herself into the project as well. “Anything to keep off the great-aunts,” she said cheerfully.  By the time the first of the charity balls rolled around, she and Draco had been written up twice more, and he’d spent three thousand Galleons on their clothes for the evening. He wore midnight blue with silver trim, and Lydia wore the reverse, matched so obviously not even a dimwit could have missed that they were together, and both ensembles enchanted with Aethereal Glamors, so they would really look fairy-tale-like. And for good measure, Draco had put just a touch of Allurement Charm on the jewel pinning his cravat—nothing vulgar, of course, but it did the trick: Harry, who’d been stuck onto the end of the receiving line, spotted him before Draco even reached the first host. He stared so fixedly that the people in between had to grab his hand in order to shake it.

“Potter,” Draco said, with all the cool, remote superiority he could command, imagining himself a fairy king or something. “Have you met Lydia Harrowing?”

“Hi,” Harry said to her, shortly, and spent the whole night sitting at the host table like a lump and watching them dance, visibly tense.

So that had gone swimmingly, and the obvious second line of attack was on the main source of Potter’s resistance: his Gryffindor friends. That was more of a challenge. Even with Draco's slightly widening circle, it took a chain of literally twenty-three people to establish a connection to Granger when he tried working one out, and that only worked if he included people who were just on polite speaking terms. That was too unwieldy to work, and he couldn’t actually think of any way to make up to her.

Weasley was even less of an option. At least Granger only hated him personally; the Weasleys and the Malfoys had been hating each other and feuding off and on for centuries, not to mention Weasley’s sister was very likely Draco’s foremost rival. But anyway Draco was reasonably sure if he got Granger, he was in the clear: she was clearly the one really in charge of operations. Draco glared at the list, stymied, and then it occurred to him that perhaps he could try Harry’s tactics for once: after all, she was his friend.

There were fewer suspicious looks when he went to the Department of Aurors this time, and even a few grudging nods. It made him uneasy, so he just nodded back coolly and strode on as if he confidently expected to be welcome. It took a little while to track Granger down: she had already moved up to an enormous office on the first floor down, and her desk was so ludicrously over-heaped he could only suppose she’d plowed her way through all the intervening distance and collected up the work of all the foolish mortals who’d got in her way. She said distractedly, “Yes, just leave it there, I’ll get to it,” without looking up.

“I wouldn’t believe it for a second,” Draco said, eyeing the piles.

She sat up with a jerk and—flushed bright red. “Oh! Draco!” He’d half expected to be ordered out instantly, but instead she was looking distinctly guilty. “Um. Look, I’m really sorry, you’ve every right to be upset—” and after letting her flail on a bit longer he realized that she was talking about the Manor, she was apologizing because they hadn’t cleaned the place up yet, as if he were homeless or something until it was done.

That was as good a position to start from as he could expect, so he seated himself opposite and allowed her to apologize at great length, and then he said magnanimously, “I understand, Granger. Lives that are at stake in the moment do need to come first.”

“Oh, well, that’s…that’s very…” She trailed off because she obviously couldn’t bring herself to say nice. “But it’s still your home, and I promise we’ll get it done soon. I’m sorry.” She paused, and when he didn’t get up to leave, said warily, “Was there something else you wanted?”

“Yes,” Draco said, and took a deep breath. Ugh, this was so unnatural. “I want to mend fences with you.”

She stared at him. “Um. Sorry?”

He’d thought that was surely obvious enough, but evidently she wanted him to spell it out. He gritted his teeth. “I was a complete bastard to you all through school, and then I took up with Voldemort against you. I regret it now, and I want to make it up with you. Is there anything I can do?”

She just sat behind her desk in total silence for several minutes, and then she said suspiciously, “Is there some reason you’re doing this?”

Which was a ridiculous question to ask, and even more to answer, but he’d gone this far, so he soldiered on. “Obviously!” he said. And then she opened her mouth and he had to add, “I’m not telling you what it is!”

“Why not!”

“Because you’d likely ruin everything if I did,” Draco said. “So unless you feel like swearing an oath to keep it in confidence, I’m not telling you.”

She looked increasingly baffled. “Is someone going to get hurt because of this?”

Draco scowled and grudgingly admitted, “Me, in the most likely event.” He didn’t like it, but he recognized that the odds were still hard against him: Potter might be frantic with lust, but it hadn’t made him come running before now. “Look, Granger, I’m trying this straightforward honesty thing here, but it’s making me feel like a congenital lunatic. Can you just say yes or no already?”

“You’re doing that on purpose? I was just wondering if you’d been dosed with Veritaserum.” She sat there a moment longer with her face screwed up in distaste. “Ugh, fine. As long as you’re not lying about anyone getting injured, I’ll keep your secret, and I won’t act on it. What is it?”

Draco snorted. “Catch me just trusting you for it. Unbreakable Oath, or no secret for you. And you’d have to promise to tell me some way to make things up with you,” which he assumed would be the end of that discussion, except no, because, as he belatedly realized in dismay, if there was anything that Granger couldn’t stand, it was anyone anywhere knowing more about something than her, and once you offered conditions to an Oath, you couldn’t take it back. So after twenty futile minutes of trying to argue her out of it, he ended up being dragged in front of the clerk down the corridor so she could take the Oath, and when it was done she immediately dragged him back to her office and shut the door and demanded, “Well?”

“I don’t believe I’m doing this,” Draco said, glaring at her. “Potter had better appreciate this someday.”

“I knew it! I knew this was something to do with Harry! What do you want from him? If you’re planning anything—”

“I’m in love with him!” Draco yelled at her.

She stopped with her mouth open, in an enormous-eyed ludicrous gape. “Oh what have I done,” she said faintly, and sat down.

“I tried to talk you out of it,” Draco said resentfully.

She took a deep breath and put her hands flat on the desk. “It’s all right,” she told herself, or at least that was who Draco assumed she was talking to; she certainly wasn’t talking to him. “There is absolutely no chance of anything ever happening, even if I can’t warn him. Harry can’t stand you.”

Draco narrowed his eyes and threw himself back into the chair on the other side of her desk. “Funny how he didn’t let it stop him sucking my cock, Granger.”

“Stop telling me things!” she shouted at him. “I don’t want to know any more! And he didn’t, you’re making it up!”

“Pick one. Now will you answer my question already? What’s it going to be?”

“What was the question?” And then, “No! There’s nothing! There is not a single thing you can do to make up with me so you’ll have an easier time seducing Harry!”

“Granger, you’re not paying attention,” Draco snapped. “I don’t need to seduce him. I’m the one who refused to sneak around shagging him behind your back. I want to marry him.”

No,” she said, but it was really a whimper.

#

Draco went home deeply irritated and trying not to be anxious. Granger had promptly told him that to make it up with her, he’d have to bring her the live unhatched egg of a hippogriff, which, as he now knew thanks to a very brief conversation with the owner of Magical Menagerie, required the hippogriff to give it to you personally, since a stolen egg would hatch immediately and the hatchling would start emitting a scream that would draw any hippogriff within fifty miles to attack you.

Also, Granger was clearly gearing up to apply her monstrous brain to the problem of thwarting him without violating her Oath, and he didn’t trust her not to find a way given enough time. So not only had he not improved his position, he’d now put himself on a clock.

He sat down before the fire with a thump and Coil climbed up the leg and poured herself into his lap, as much as would fit: once she’d finally got too big to just ride him everywhere, she’d picked up the pace again. Each helping of clotted cream now seemed to produce at least five new inches in length. He stroked her hide and told her, “I should have known honesty would be the worst policy of all time. Just look at Potter: at least I didn’t end up having to personally fight Voldemort one on one.”

His chances of getting a hippogriff to give him its egg were nil. The things talked to each other: Voldemort had ordered a dozen of them caught and penned up, and every time Draco had walked past the pen, they’d all shrieked at him in unison. Thank God they’d all escaped before he’d got home. He scowled sullenly. Harry could probably get a round dozen for the asking.

Draco bolted straight up in his chair. Coil gave a mildly annoyed hiss. “Oh, of course,” Draco breathed out. He didn’t need a hippogriff egg. All he needed was a reason for needing a hippogriff egg—well, one that Harry would care about.

That, however, proved seriously elusive. He resorted to an extended brainstorming session with Lydia and his mother, neither of whom could think of a single solitary reason he might have for wanting it. Nobody sane wanted a hippogriff. Not even zoos would take the wretched things.

“Could you make that the point?” Lydia suggested. “You can’t tell him what the reason is, he’s just got to trust you?”

“He doesn’t trust me,” Draco said. “Not to mention he’s probably still angry from the time I nearly got his favorite of the creatures executed.”

“Can you make some kind of deal with him?” Narcissa said. “Offer him something he wants in exchange for him getting you the egg?”

“I can’t think of anything he wants that he can only get from me,” Draco said, and then paused.

#

“Er,” Harry said. “What—what do you want it for?”

“I can’t say,” Draco said, and he wasn’t offering any Unbreakable Oath as an option this time, he didn’t need to make the same mistake twice. “I’ll swear that no harm is going to come to it, though.”

Harry eyed him. “I don’t—you really think I’m going to get you a hippogriff egg without even knowing why, just for the asking?”

A burst of music floated in from the ballroom as a couple hand-in-hand peeked into the room, obviously looking for a convenient private corner themselves; they hurriedly closed the door again. Draco took a deep breath. He’d spent the whole night sweeping elegantly around the floor with Lydia, so Harry was primed as much as he could be, and in fact he’d swallowed hard and followed Draco back here to the sitting room without so much as asking why.

“I was planning on asking very nicely,” Draco said, meaningfully, and Harry’s face flushed up.

“You—for a hippogriff egg!”

“Or you could ask me to the Candlemark banquet next weekend and explain to your friends after that we’re dating, but I had the idea you’d prefer to get me a hippogriff egg. Am I wrong?”

By Harry’s squinched expression, he wasn’t. Draco nodded. “I’m not going to fuck you for a hippogriff egg, Potter. That I’ll do for my own entertainment. But I’m not going to skulk about for your convenience without a considerable incentive. It’s a matter of principle.”

“So it’s—an excuse?” Harry visibly wavered.

Draco shrugged. “If you like. But you’ll need to decide now: Lydia has friends who will see her home, but they’re leaving now, so either I tell her to go with them, or I’ll need to escort her myself.”

“What’s she going to think about this?”

“I don’t see how that’s any of your affair,” Draco said. “Well?” He spread his arms, putting himself on display, and Harry groaned and said despairingly, “I can’t believe I’m,” and Draco rolled his eyes and didn’t let him finish.

Fortunately Lydia sensibly just went home without waiting for him to come back out, because they spent the next three hours in the room—Harry fumbled out his wand and locked the door with wordless magic at some point—and Draco discovered to his interest that he was good in bed, or at least he seemed to be, since Harry gasped and moaned a lot and came twice, shuddering deliciously in Draco’s grip, braced up over him and thrusting wildly through Draco’s hand as though he couldn’t wait another instant.

They collapsed next to each other panting afterwards, and Harry stared up at the ceiling and said faintly, “I—I’ll bring it over tomorrow.”

“Yes, all right,” Draco said. He had the terrible sinking sensation he’d made a mistake, which was confirmed the next evening when Harry showed up at the back door of the townhouse in Bath, looking nervously over his shoulder as if he thought the neighbors might be peeping into the garden to see if Harry Potter was stopping by.

“You have to promise me it’s not going to get hurt,” Harry said, a bit desperately, when he held out the basket to Draco: the hippogriff egg was sitting tidily inside, smooth-shelled and faintly reddish with gold speckles. Coil had come to the door: she reared all the way up to Draco’s shoulder-height—she was big enough to do that now—and peered in on the egg and made an interested inspection, hissing approval.

“Yes, stop fretting, nothing’s going to happen to it,” Draco said, and set it down on the kitchen hearth, where Coil promptly curled herself up around the basket in an enormous sheltering heap, as if to give proof.

“Wait, is that why you wanted it?” Harry said: he’d followed in after him. “Because she can’t find a mate and she wanted an egg from a magical beast? Why didn’t you say so?”

Draco stood up frowning: that would have been a good story. He glared at Coil, who could have evinced a desire for an egg at some point before now, and also was not getting to keep this one. She flickered her tongue out at him. “I didn’t think you’d help my pet snake,” he said coolly, and turned round, and Harry was right there in front of him—he still dressed like he’d escaped from some Muggle institution, and he hadn’t cut his hair in at least three months again, and he was looking at Draco’s mouth.

“Draco, will—do you want—” Harry said, and yes. It had been a mistake.

“Yes,” Draco said, calmly. There wasn’t anything else to be done, after all.

Harry slipped out of his bed a few hours later, and pulled on his clothes. Draco still hadn’t caught his breath yet, the sweat was cooling on his skin, and he hated himself for saying it, he knew he shouldn’t, but he said, “Coil almost certainly won’t strangle you in the night if you stay,” and the only good thing was he managed to make it sound cool and uninterested, as though he were just mentioning it, really, he didn’t care very much one way or the other.

Harry didn’t look up from pulling on his trainers. “I’ve got an early meeting tomorrow, in London. I’d better get home tonight. Anyway, Ron will wonder if…” He stopped talking, which was just as well.

“Then you can see yourself out, I trust,” Draco said. He rolled onto his side and pretended to be asleep until Harry closed the door softly behind himself, and then he got up and ran a bath and sat in it blankly, watching the heating bubbles rising out from the bottom in a steady gentle stream, until Coil came and nudged him, hissing for a snack, and it was morning.

He had to feed her, so he got out. He went downstairs with her at his heels and mechanically poured her bowl of milk. His mother wasn’t in; she was back at the abbey, supervising the final décor choices. She hadn’t torn up the list of candidates or anything; he’d still been going to parties. If the campaign failed, he’d still want to get married. Except Harry would just keep coming round as long as Draco let him, and if he let him, there wasn’t going to be a wedding this year, which meant that people would start to think he’d been trifling, which was a far less excusable sin than having been a Death Eater. So either he could give up the person he wanted, or give up everything else he wanted. Draco put his head in his hands. He rather felt like crying, pathetically.

Coil finished her milk and went to curl up round the egg again. Draco squared his shoulders and got up. He could deal with that, anyway. He went upstairs and dressed and went down and got the basket. He took it out to his carriage, only to find Coil following him. “You’re not coming,” he told her. “You’ve got too big! I don’t trust the Aurors not to panic and try to blast you.”

She sulkily curled up on the walk as he climbed inside, but as soon as he’d pulled the door shut, she must have jumped on, because when he got out in Diagon Alley, she slid down off the footman’s seat on the back and slithered up to his heels as he glared at her. All the Aurors going in and out were looking at her uneasily. Coil hissed at Draco insistently. “Fine, if someone starts flinging curses at you, it’s not my fault,” Draco said, and walked in.

Hermione was at her desk. The height of the piles hadn’t changed appreciably since the last time he’d been in. “What do you want?” she said, scowling. Obviously she wasn’t actually going to make it up with him, why would she, she hated him and he hated her, she was why, her and—and everyone else Harry knew, every last friend he had in the world, every one of whom would stand up in unison to shout out the long list of impediments if Draco ever did manage to talk Harry into it, and it had been idiotic all along. He shoved the basket at her and said bitterly, “There, do what you like with it,” and she stared at it and jerked her head up at him.

“How could you possibly get—”

“I asked Harry.” She stared even harder, as if she couldn’t imagine why Harry would’ve helped him, and his mouth twisted. “I asked nicely,” he added. A harsh laugh broke out of him, involuntarily, and he whirled on his heel and went.

He was walking quickly, half-blinded, flatly desperate to get out before anyone saw him humiliating himself, and he brushed someone in the upstairs hall, and the next instant he was dazed on his back on the floor, all the breath knocked out of him and sparkles floating over his vision, and someone was saying loudly, “You saw it, Richards, the Death Eater rammed right into me and went for his wand,” and Draco tried to take a breath to respond to that as it richly deserved, but he couldn’t get one; there was something tightening inexorably round his throat. A Suffocating Curse, he realized in sudden rising terror; he would die right here on the floor and they’d call it a freak accident—they probably wouldn’t even investigate it—

And then it broke and he sat up with a huge gasp, grabbing at his throat. People were screaming all round him: Coil had reared up to her full enormous height and was hissing furiously, and she’d knocked down the Auror. She spat the two halves of his wand to the floor and bared her fangs. “No!” Draco croaked out, struggling up to his knees; he still felt lightheaded and queasy. More Aurors were coming running, wands drawn. “No, Coil, stop,” and he grabbed her trunk and tried to tug her back down to the floor, but another Auror pointed his wand, starting to fire a curse, and she lunged in a blinding-quick strike.

No!” Draco rasped—but she’d kept her fangs covered; she only knocked him off his feet and batted his wand aside. 

But there were too many of them: dozens converging, and in an instant they’d all start blasting her together. Draco fumbled for his wand desperately.

Protego!” Granger shouted, and a shimmering blue wall fell down over him and Coil both, the first hexes and blasts splashing against it harmlessly. “All right, that’s enough! What on earth was that?” Draco whirled to tell her in no uncertain terms that it wasn’t Coil’s fault, but she wasn’t even talking to him. She was standing over the fallen Auror, her face furious, and she pointed her wand at the broken pieces of his and snapped out, “Priori Incantatem!”

The Suffocating Curse slid out of the broken halves, yellow-green and virulent, a thick cloud, and she waved it back into the air with a dispelling flick of her wand and glared down at him. “Trying to commit murder, in the middle of the Department floor, really? I’m sorry she didn’t bite you.”

“I didn’t mean to kill him,” the Auror muttered. “Just—pay him back a bit.”

“Funny how he nearly died anyway,” she snapped. “Take him in,” she ordered two of the others, and turned back and pointed at Draco—he started back involuntarily, but she just shot off a Healing Charm at him that rammed itself down his throat, ran into his lungs, inflated him like a bellows, and shot back out, leaving him with not even a twinge and a horrible sensation through his whole body like he’d spent the last ten years eating leafy vegetables and doing moderate amounts of healthy exercise.

She dropped her arm and stared at him and then grimaced and said, “Are you all right,” in an unenthusiastic way.

No, and never do that to me again,” Draco said. “I’d rather speak in a croak for a month.”

She rolled her eyes. “Boys are such babies. Stop complaining.”

Then she just stood there in the middle of the floor staring at him. Coil had settled back down at his side, although she was still making faint angry hisses to herself, and Draco felt healthier than he wanted to, so he couldn’t make sense of why Granger was still staring at him, until he suddenly realized— “Wait a minute, are you making it up with me?”

Her eyes narrowed. “We are not friends. We are never going to be friends.”

“Good Lord, no,” he said in horror.

“But I’m prepared to consider the possibility that you aren’t a complete waste of air,” she said. “But that’s it.” She folded her arms over her chest and glared at him challengingly.

He stared at her. That was—rather more than he’d expected. “All right.”

She deflated a bit. She looked at him again with a sort of scrunched up expression and then said desperately, “You’re not really, though, are you?”

“I’m not subjecting myself to this for the fun of it.”

“But—Harry didn’t?” she said, even more desperately.

“Twice last night,” he snapped, because she really was asking for it.

She put her hands over her face and moaned. “I don’t understand.” Then she glared at him. “I thought you said you refused.”

“You do realize if you talk about this loudly enough in public and at length that you’re going to break your Oath and die,” Draco said.

“Ugh, fine,” she said.

He thought that meant he could leave. It turned out it meant he could be dragged back to her office and sat down in a chair and interrogated privately. “Why is he friends with you, exactly?” Draco said after he was shoved firmly into place. Coil wasn’t being any help at all: she’d just followed him into the office and snuggled up around the hippogriff egg again in satisfaction.

“Shut it, Malfoy. I don’t know what on earth Harry is thinking getting involved with you, and as you’ve made it impossible for me to ask him like a normal person would—”

“Would not.”

“—I am going to find out from you,” she finished ominously.

“It’s hardly complicated. He’s thinking he’d like to shag me in peace until he gets bored of it without having to hear endless lectures from his nearest and dearest on the subject.”

“So Harry is skulking about and deceiving all of us just to have sex with you.”

“Well, it’s very good sex,” Draco said. “And if you keep me here any longer I’ll start describing it in detail.”

Ew!” She glared at him. He glared back.

After another dozen questions she sank back in her chair scowling. “I don’t understand either of you. First Harry apparently develops a completely appalling fixation on you for no good reason, and you take advantage of it despite being in a deeply unethical situation—”

“How was I taking advantage!”

“—and for some reason that made him want more, and then—why did you turn him down before if you’re so mad about him?”

“He made it clear I was only good for the one thing, Granger, and I had enough of being made to feel below standards under the last regime,” Draco snapped. “Granted, the standards involved are different, but the regular reminders I’m inadequate are oddly similar. What?” Hermione was looking at him with a disturbed expression.

“You—I can’t believe I’m saying this—you shouldn’t—” she grimaced. “You shouldn’t let Harry treat you like this,” she finished in a miserable sort of way.

He glared at her. “Thanks, Granger, it’s just what I need, you telling me Potter is bad news for me.” Then he frowned, because actually it was rather damning that even Hermione Granger thought he was being stepped on.

To crown the entire experience, she finished by saying, “And actually I haven’t any use for a hippogriff egg, so you may as well take it with you,” to Draco’s outrage and Coil’s immense satisfaction.

“What the hell am I supposed to do with it?”

“I’m sure you’ll think of something,” she said.

#

Draco banged back into the townhouse seething, and dumped the basket on the hearth. Coil made a warning hiss, nosing over the egg carefully before she settled back in to nurse it. “I am not keeping a hippogriff,” Draco told her. “I’m drawing the line. I refuse to have a pet that wants to savage me on a regular basis.”

Coil made a sniff that suggested strongly that she could fulfill that role anytime he liked.

On the very-slightly-brighter side, it saved him having to come up with an explanation for where the egg had gone when Harry came in again that night. Through the back door, of course. He even knocked quietly. Draco wouldn’t have heard it if—well, if he hadn’t been waiting for it. For a moment he tried to pretend to himself he wasn’t going to answer, but he was already standing up, so it wasn’t very convincing.

Harry was standing on the stoop with a lowered head, as if he were ashamed of himself. He raised it and said, “I’ll—I’ll go if you want me to.”

“Are you actually asking me to make you feel better about it?” Draco said. “Come in or don’t.”

Harry grimaced. “Right, sorry.”

The sex was once more magnificent. Harry once more climbed out after. Draco lay staring at the wall with dry hot eyes, with something old and familiar clawing up the back of his throat: rage, pounding against the inside of his skull, and the curling thoughts of how to—how to hurt Harry back, how to get revenge, and he shuddered all over and sat up.

He stared at Harry, at the back of his neck where the hair was curling damply, and forced himself to say, “Harry. Don’t—don’t come again.”

“Draco—” Harry ran his hands over his face. “Fine,” he said harshly. “The party this weekend—”

“No,” Draco said, his throat tight around the words.

Harry stopped. “What do you want from me?” He sounded—desperate, and there it was, Draco could just say it: marry me. Everything had worked out brilliantly: giving Harry a taste of it had been just the right thing. He might waver, but he’d been hooked, and hadn’t that been the idea, all along? Draco felt queasy and hot, and suddenly he wondered if—if it had started like this, for Bellatrix. If she’d chosen—to be strong, to be hard and determined and take what she wanted, the prize of the matrimonial stakes of her generation.

He’d been lucky, perhaps. His own first choice had been so much more clear. Just him in a high tower with an unarmed old man and murder. It made it easier to recognize the trap when the door was that clearly marked, but it wasn’t always. There could be a slow gentle slope leading down, the light going steadily more dim around you. You could even walk it with company. And that was why Harry didn’t want him for anything more than this. Because he didn’t want to go down that road, and Draco had been born halfway along its length.

He couldn’t grab on to Harry and pull himself up. All he could do was pull Harry down. Harry might marry him, and cut himself off from the friends he wouldn’t ask to forgive a Death Eater, but sooner or later the lust would fade, and he’d be sorry. They wouldn’t have that partnership that had saved Draco himself. That his parents had loved him, more than the Dark.

“What you can’t give me,” Draco said, tiredly. “And what you want, I can’t give you. I’m sorry. But I can’t keep doing this without hating you.” Draco looked away. “And we both know my family can’t hold our hate.”

#

Lydia studied his face when he told her lightly that it was all off, after all, and thanked her for her help, and she put her arm through his and said, “I think it might be just as well, darling: the press has been having a bad effect on the great-aunts. Floria and Rowelle have been trying to trick me into going out with them to look at wedding gowns. We’ll go to the Swindon ball tonight, shall we? Have you met Cynthera yet? We went to school together. She got back from Paris two weeks ago, I hear she’s thinking about settling down herself.”

The social round carried him on, and he did like Cynthera Swindon, and Astoria Greengrass, and Wisteria Montclare, all of whom passed the test of not flinching when Coil slid into the drawing room after dinner, and Cynthera even absently stroked Coil’s head and asked if she might give her a milk caramel when Coil lifted her head inquisitively over the arm of her chair to look into her plate. They all had other suitors, too, of course; but when April came round, they accepted his mother’s invitations to the house parties, so they liked him as well, enough to keep him on their own shortlists.

Mother said quietly, while they discussed who else would be asked, “I’m sorry, darling—but I think perhaps Lucius may not be able to return in time. He takes chill so easily these days, and the abbey is still a bit drafty.”

Every window in Lestrange Abbey was now as airtight as a Gringotts vault door, and every door and chimney had been fitted up with the very latest Wind-Barrier Charms, but Draco knew what she meant. She wouldn’t have said it if his father was even remotely ready to go into society; they had a very thin bench of family and close friends to call upon.

He took a deep breath. “Mother.” She looked up from her list. She looked a little tired; it couldn’t have been easy looking at all the names of people they once could have relied upon, now gone. “There’s Aunt Andromeda,” he said.

The subsequent row lasted for two weeks. He and his mother didn’t shout at each other, of course, she only turned absolutely icy and stopped speaking at the dinner table. But Draco steadily didn’t apologize, and so it stayed out there, and she couldn’t deny it was even sensible. They had no one left. After she unbent enough one day to ask him to pass the salt, inviting him to argue it further, he went upstairs after dinner and took the photographs down to her, in the drawing room. He hadn’t put them up anywhere, he didn’t want to look at Bellatrix’s hard smile, but he’d kept them safe in a drawer.

She held the photographs and stared down at them a long time, her and her two older sisters, and afterwards she said softly, “Perhaps you might like to take the invitation to her yourself, to re-establish the connection.” He of course didn’t say that he’d visited Andromeda a dozen times in the last six months already; what Mother didn’t officially know, they didn’t have to fight over.

He took it over the next afternoon. Aunt Andromeda’s house was looking considerably brighter thanks to newly enlarged windows, and she’d had an expandable garden put in by a landscaping crew. Supposedly Teddy was beginning to crawl around the paths, but whenever Draco came in the door, these fantastical abilities vanished, and he demanded to be held so he could continue his relentless campaign of spewing things onto Draco’s clothes, or occasionally smearing him with jam or mud or some other horrible unidentifiable substance.

Aunt Andromeda opened the door with Teddy in her arms, and he immediately held out his pudgy grabby fists and started leaning dramatically forward. “Darling, what a lovely surprise, come in,” she said. “Teddy, do stop squirming—yes, I know, you want to go to your cousin,” and Draco grimly held out his hands and took him on. “We’re about to have tea, darling, I hope you’ll stay?” she asked as she led him into the living room: the kettle was going off in the kitchen. “I’ll just get the kettle: do you think could you answer that,” she added. There’d just been another knock on the door.

Draco eyed Teddy; there was a kind of thoughtful expression going on his face that generally heralded an eruption of some sort, and it would undoubtedly happen in the most annoying situation possible, such as while Draco was opening the door to some tradesman or his aunt’s next-door neighbor, a nosy Muggle woman who liked to find excuses to come over when he was here and ask inconvenient questions that kept him skirting dangerously close to the Statute of Secrecy.

He carried Teddy gingerly back to the door, and opened it and stared: Harry was on the stoop.

Harry stared back. “What are you doing here?”

“I’m visiting my aunt,” Draco said, too baffled to have any other thought. “What are you doing here?”

“Teddy’s my godson,” Harry said.

Thank God,” Draco said, waking up. “Here, you hold him,” and he shoved the baby into Harry’s arms, in the nick of time, as a loud, sonorous emitting noise blattered out of the nether regions.

Aunt Andromeda had Draco finish making the tea while she got Harry a change of clothes. Teddy sat on the floor of the living room sullenly playing with his toys, thwarted. Draco smirked at him victoriously and flicked out a spread of small pastries and cookies and finger sandwiches from Floyd’s Finest Foodstuffs onto the table, in a celebratory mood. Then he realized he’d just prolonged his own agony, too late: Aunt Andromeda came back out and said,  “Well, that certainly looks festive. Come sit down; how are you, darling?”

Harry talked a bit stiffly about work, and Draco talked about the final repairs to the abbey, and Andromeda told them about all the delightful new ways Teddy had found to make a mess of things, and then they’d finished eating and sat down in the living room and she said, “So what brings you by, darling,” and Draco gave her the invitation.

She saw Narcissa’s handwriting, and her face went stunned. She looked up at Draco. He said quietly, “Mother asked me to bring it,” and Andromeda said, a little brokenly, “Oh.” She just looked down at it in her hands for a long time, and then she wiped her eyes and opened it and read the letter, her other hand pressed to her lips, and then she swallowed and put it away in the envelope again and said, “Well, of course I’ll come. I’d be delighted. Will there be any other guests?”

So there wasn’t any way round it. “Yes,” Draco said. “The Swindons, the first two weeks of June, and the Greengrasses the second half; the Montclares will be visiting in July,” as subtle as he could be about it, but of course Andromeda sat up instantly and said, “Draco! You’re courting?” with real pleasure.

And of course Harry didn’t control himself and talk about how nice the weather would be in the country in June or anything like that; he sprang up and went to the window to stare out into the garden, as much as to say he was still there for the taking, any time Draco felt like putting out the net, and it was like having Crucio applied directly to the base of the skull by a soulless Dark Lord, a comparison Draco was qualified to make, except he wasn’t even allowed to scream.

They managed to get off the invitation when Aunt Andromeda murmured about the clothes she’d need, and they shifted to the revival of jewel tones, and the best robemakers, and Harry managed to get hold of himself and sit down, so Draco thought the worst was over. But the visit hadn’t been quite disastrous enough yet.

Draco naturally offered to foot the seamstress’s bill, so Andromeda wouldn’t get suspicious, but of course she said, “No, darling, there’s no need, we’ve received quite a generous settlement, you know. I can’t think how the Ministry has found the money for everyone.”

And then Harry for no earthly reason immediately popped out with, “It came from the goblins, actually. They’ve handed over all the funds from the abandoned vaults—the ones where there was no one to inherit, after the War.”

Aunt Andromeda wasn’t a nincompoop, of course, so she blinked with surprise and said, “Well, Harry, you must have made quite the impression upon them,” and Harry snorted and said, “Er, if you want to call it that. I’m still worried I’m going to be stabbed with knives every time I go and get a single coin out of my vault,” and Andromeda said faintly bewildered, “Whatever for?” and Draco just barely managed to edge over on the sofa enough to kick Harry hard under the table in the nick of time as his mouth began to open to say something idiotic like, I robbed your nephew’s vault.

“He set their guard dragon free, during the War, Aunt Andromeda,” Draco said, shooting Harry a glare. “You must have seen it in the Prophet. Did you use the settlement to put in the garden, also?” which fortunately got them taken outside and off that dangerous line of conversation.

Andromeda got sidetracked after Teddy, who’d made a crawling dash for the marigolds, and Harry caught Draco’s arm. “What the hell was that about? Why don’t you want Andromeda to know I got the cup out of the Lestrange vault?”

“Potter, my aunt wasn’t raised by wolves, so she knows that goblins don’t give charity,” Draco hissed at him. “And she also isn’t an idiot, so if you pop out with the fact that you robbed my vault, she’ll put the whole thing together, and then I’ll be in for it, so shut it.”

Harry only looked more confused. “What are you talking about? Put what together?”

Draco rolled his eyes. “The only reason wizards put their things in Gringotts instead of keeping them in the best vaults their own money and magic can provide is because Gringotts is impenetrable, so if it gets out that it’s not—as if for instance I should make a loud stink about there being a priceless antique cup missing from my vault—out the money would sail. So I blackmailed them.”

“What? You—why?” Harry said.

Draco waved an arm at the house. “Look at this place! This is where she lives!”

Harry looked at the house. “Er, a nice three-bedroom in Croydon?”

Nice, that’s a word for it,” Draco said. “She was living in poverty in this hovel and meanwhile Bellatrix left a vault crammed full of gold and a twelfth-century abbey. But Andromeda wouldn’t take anything from me, not even for the child. So I had to get her the money some other way, obviously.”

Harry was looking at him with a peculiarly blank expression. “You’re the—you made them—”

“And if you’re expecting me to be sorry, you can save your breath,” Draco snapped. “Why should the goblins get to just hoard away all the Death Eaters’ money forever? At least this way it can do some good for the people who—” He looked away. “Did any of it get to the prisoners?” he demanded abruptly. “The Muggles.”

“Yes,” Harry said after a moment. “The Ministry arranged—they got a surprise settlement, some of them won a lottery…”

Draco nodded shortly. Andromeda was coming back up the walk. “Good. Then do me the tiniest bloody favor: practice some discretion and try not to blow it.”

He turned to go back into the house; behind him Harry said, in a strange voice, “I think I already did,” but Andromeda was smiling, herding Teddy along in front of her, and when they came back inside, she asked Draco a few more questions about the kinds of outings they were planning, and whether she’d need one formal ballgown or two, without any signs of suspicion. Harry sat silently on the sofa and didn’t say anything more at all.

#

Draco went home and sat down in front of the fire with Coil instead of going to dress for dinner. She left the hippogriff egg for once and put her head and a few loops of herself into his lap, comfortingly. He still hadn’t found anyone to take the blasted egg, and Merlin only knew when the thing would hatch a lovely needle-taloned bundle of murder. He ought to have asked Harry today where it had come from in the first place and got him to take it back, but he hadn’t been able to think about anything nearly so practical.

He wondered dully if he needed to tell Cynthera and Astoria and Wisteria about Harry. Draco didn’t mean to pine the rest of his life, but this was clearly going to be with him a while, and they’d be sure to run into each other occasionally, now it turned out there was a family connection—and wasn’t he glad he’d gone to such lengths to formally re-establish it. It was the kind of potential unpleasantness a prospective wife had the right to be warned about in advance. It certainly wouldn’t improve his chances with any of them, but if the whole point of this was to find a true partner, he wouldn’t start well by not being one.

He finally dragged himself upstairs to change; he was promised to a dinner party tonight, and if he didn’t go, the table would be unbalanced. The hostess had thrown two informal small parties this season where she’d invited him along with Cynthera and Astoria in turn, a quiet favor for his mother, so he couldn’t leave her in the lurch now. But it was just as well. He stayed late, playing cards until his head was full of nothing but numbers, and by the time he went home he had a headache and he drank a large glass of firewhiskey and fell asleep on the sitting room sofa.

The next morning he jerked awake; someone was banging on his front door loudly and angrily. Draco stumbled out and opened it and gawked. Ron Weasley was standing on his front stoop, scowling. Draco didn’t even ask him what he wanted, just stared. Weasley glared back at him. “Hermione says I have to come tell you that you can have what she can’t tell me about unless you’re an idiot and really don’t want it anymore. What the hell is it and what d’you do to Harry?” he demanded.

“What?” Draco stared at him. “What’s happened to Harry?”

“He came home yesterday looking like death warmed over and wouldn’t say anything to me except he’d fucked up, and he should’ve told me sooner but there wasn’t any point anymore, it was too late. I told Hermione and she says she can’t tell me anything about it and she can’t do anything about it, and the only thing I can do is come here and say that to you of all people, so what’s it all about?”

“That’s a rather clever workaround,” Draco said blankly, because he wasn’t quite ready to let himself believe what it seemed to mean. “I suppose it only works if you’ve got someone who’ll do things for you unquestioningly.”

Ron grabbed at his robes, crushing the embroidered panels in his fists and shook him. “If you’ve hurt him, I swear—” Then he yelped as Coil loomed angrily up over Draco’s shoulder, hissing a protest.

“No, it’s all right,” Draco told her, putting a hand on her neck. “He’s Harry’s friend, so we’ll have to put up with him. Weasley, stop crushing my coat, I’ve got to go propose.”

“Er, what,” Ron said.

“Here,” Draco said, and pulled out his wand and struck his own wrist. “Finite Incantatem!” The line of the Oath flared white and fell off in sparkling bits. “Go tell Granger I’ve released her from her Oath, she can explain.” He pushed past Ron and got into the street and Apparated straight to the Department of Aurors.

He then spent the next eight hours chasing every rumor out of every person he could find who so much as had a vague idea of where Harry might be, with absolutely no success. He would have asked Hermione, but by the time he gave up and went by her office, the door was locked and Silenced, and even so Weasley’s continuing howls of protest were faintly audible from the other side. He left her to it—no less than she deserved for saddling him with the damned hippogriff egg—and kept trying fruitlessly on his own.

It began to be ridiculous; he finally went back home and stalked into the living room to start writing: he was going to send out six dozen owls with Beacon Charms set on the letters, and find Harry wherever the hell in England he’d gone—and then he pulled up short, staring in outrage: Harry was there, pacing the room. Narcissa was sitting on the long sofa, doing an excellent job of pretending to read a book, but when he came in, she looked up at him and gave him a small, tremulous smile, then rose and said, “Draco, darling, Harry called for you.”

Harry jerked round, white-faced, his hands clenched, and Draco said, “The one time it would’ve been useful for you to say something straightforward,” just as Harry blurted, “Marry me,” thereby making up for the whole lunatic day, and Draco pulled him into his arms and kissed him.

They eventually ended up on the sofa, getting out of their clothes piece by piece whenever they got so hopelessly tangled that they had to interrupt long enough to jettison another one. Draco vaguely hoped that his mother had left the room some time earlier, but he couldn’t make himself care enough to stop and check. Harry kept kissing him, over and over, and he wasn’t—in a rush anymore; he was cupping Draco’s face and kissing him slow and deeply, luxuriating, like they were just beginning; like they had all the time in the world; like they had the rest of their lives.

Coil got annoyed or something after an hour or so and started hissing at them, but Draco wasn’t in the least done. “You’ll just have to wait for your milk,” he said, without looking round, between breaths: he’d pulled Harry on top of him, stretched the full length of the sofa, and they were moving together a little, still half-dressed, but mostly just kissing, Harry’s strong capable hands sliding over his sides, his shoulders—

Coil butted his arm. “I’ll transfigure you into a hatstand, see if I don’t,” Draco told her, and Harry murmured against his throat, “What’s that noise,” and then they both frowned and turned their heads just in time to see a wet, sharp-beaked head come cracking out of the top of the hippogriff egg and emit a loud squawk.

#

Several hours and a significant chunk of flesh later, Draco fell exhaustedly back down on the couch. Harry sank down next to him. The baby hippogriff had settled back into its basket, already fluffed out to twice its original size after a large meal of fresh liver, not to mention a bite of Draco’s arm, and Coil was wrapped around the basket protectively again, pleased but with a vaguely perplexed air, nosing at it occasionally from time to time.

“This is all your fault,” Draco said to Harry resentfully. The hippogriff hadn’t bitten him. “I think it’s going to scar.”

“You’re the one who asked me for it,” Harry said.

“Fine, it’s all Granger’s fault.”

“What does Hermione have to do with it?” Harry sighed. “I don’t know if she’s ever going to speak to me again, actually. She literally didn’t say a word when I told her.”

Draco snorted. “Oh, she will. You should have enjoyed the silence while it lasted.”

The hippogriff chick started making a faint steady whirring noise, evidently asleep. Coil disengaged from the basket and slithered across the room to them and pulled up, thrust her head out and hissed very softly. “What now?” Draco said, fatalistically.

Harry coughed. “Er, she wants to know if we think there’s anything odd about the new snake.”

Draco looked over at the hearth with the baby hippogriff—it was already kneading its cushion into a shredded mass of velvet and feathers in its sleep—and back at Coil, who was swaying her head from him to Harry and back, expectantly. He huffed a laugh, suddenly so happy he couldn’t help it. “No, nothing at all,” he told her. “I’ll double the order of raw meat tomorrow.”

# End