Actions

Work Header

A Ghost in the Garden

Work Text:

The flat is smaller than his old bedroom, back at the Manor. Tiny sitting room, minuscule kitchen, a bathroom with a standing shower, and another room only big enough for the mattress he’d just purchased at a furniture store down the road. He looks at the dresser he brought and shrugs, banishing it to a corner, shrunk, along with the sofa that was too long and the dining table that was too wide. They sit on the floor, looking like dollhouse furniture, and so does Draco, since there’s nothing else to sit on in the front room. There’s a clean tumbler in his hand filled with Ogden’s, and this is his; he is paying for this with his own money from his own job and the small, fierce happiness of that is something he could never have imagined when a spoiled, rich, only child had been all he was. He looks around at the bare space, and the evening falls down around him in splashes of grey and lavender across his empty walls.

When it’s nearly dark he stands up and takes his now empty glass to the kitchen. Leaning over the sink, he looks out the little window to the back, where an old, crumbling stone wall runs around a small patch of green. Toward the back there’s a hedge of anemic-looking roses growing, and some scrubby vines that cling to the stone and reach sad fingers over the top. There are a few flower pots on the patio, but they’re empty except for a pile of cigarette butts from the previous tenant.

“I have my own garden,” he’d told his mother when she came by yesterday, and smothered a smile as she blinked and tried not to cringe at the sight. The Malfoy gardens were sprawling, manicured blankets of flowers and combed lawns.

As he watches the shadows lengthen and stretch out, a wisp of silver catches his eye. It bobs and flutters against the stone wall, skirting broken pieces of an ancient lawn chair and lingering around the roots of the scrawny vines, before growing and settling into shape in front of the roses. A human shape. The evening is still hanging onto the last grey light of the dying day, so he can only make out an impression of its form, but it seems small. Young, he thinks, and alone. Its head turns toward the window, toward Draco, and he stands as though struck in place— one breath, two— and then the silver child turns away and blinks out of sight. His garden is empty again.

 

 

December 12th — Monday

 

Monday mornings are very close to being universally hated at the Ministry, but Draco is hard pressed not to grin as he weaves around and between grumpy secretaries, office staff, and junior officials on his way to the lifts, glad as always to be the perverse exception. Mondays mean a new week, a new bottleneck of petty crime waiting from the weekend and the chance of something bigger, something darker to chase. He rubs a thumb against his index finger and watches the floor numbers light up as he climbs the great veins of the bureaucratic beast with a crowd of still-fuzzy peers.

The Auror office is at its habitual low buzz, trainees running reports from the woken wires around the office, secretaries sleepily running through their datebooks, the sleek Ministry owls shifting on their legs and ruffling their wings. A mediwitch is working her way around the bullpen, wand out, cajoling and threatening Aurors into updating their medical profiles. He breathes it in, feels a tingle in the back of his throat. It’s better than any drug he’s ever tried, this simmer of anticipation, this charge of energy rumbling around him like a hive.

He passes through the center of the room on his way to his desk, which is in the back, in the Investigations section. He’s quite good at investigative work, it turns out. He’d mostly envisioned a lot of wand fights when he’d applied to the Auror force, but he liked the puzzle of the cases that weren’t upfront, weren’t obvious.

He notices Potter is already at his desk, right in the middle of the bullpen, right in the heart of the entire room. That was unusual. He could count on one hand the number of times Potter had ever beaten him to work. He watches him out of the corner of his eye. He watches Potter a lot without ever appearing to notice him at all. He’s reading through a report right now, pushing his glasses absentmindedly back up his nose where they’ve slipped. He’s got his crimson uniform robes on, but he hasn’t buttoned them up, and the t-shirt he’s wearing underneath has a slight v-neck that reveals the dip at the base of his throat and the angles of his collarbones.

Draco looks quickly away. They are careful, he and Potter— very careful— to move in polite circles around each other.

He sighs and sits down, pulling his own stack of new files and memos to review. Reports of large quantities of illegal ashwinder eggs flooding the black market. A spate of vandalism. He squints at this one, reading down the family names who’ve filed a complaint— they’re all old Pureblood families.

“Need you on another assist,” barks Robards, slapping a file down on his desk as he passes.

Draco pulls it towards him. “What department?”

“MLE.”

He sighs. “Not Granger again.”

“Cheer up, Malfoy.” Robards says, sending a pile of memos flying across the room with his wand. They shuffle themselves in midair, and fall singularly, like giant snowflakes, on desks all around the bullpen. Draco can hear a chorus of groans start up. “You’ve got more time to ingratiate yourself to our future Minister of Magic.”

“Granger?” Draco flips open the file and pulls out five photographs, laying them out in a line. “You think she’ll be Minister before Our Patron Saint Potter?”

His boss stops in the doorway and raises his eyebrows.

“Yeah,” says Draco. “Minister Granger it is.”

“I’ve blocked you out for tomorrow, too,” Robards says with a little smile, and leaves before Draco can lodge any more complaints.

Granger isn’t bad to work with, really. She’s actually more competent than most of the Aurors he gets paired with, and she’s still a total swot so she’s always got lots of interesting information about everything she’s investigating. Usually the missions he spends as her back-up are some of the more interesting ones.

It’s just that Granger comes loaded with a lot of baggage he’d rather forget, and doesn’t know quite how to deal with now. He’s apologized to a few people, since the war, with varying degrees of reception, but he’s never been able to bring himself to apologize to her. To bring up the time he’d watched her screaming and bleeding on the floor of his drawing room. She’s warmed to him, over the years they’ve worked together, from painful politeness to cautious friendliness.

And still, sometimes it almost hurts to make eye contact with her, like looking directly at the sun.

She’s waiting for him in the atrium today, a round, brass globe in hand. Ministry-issue Portkeys are usually reserved for travel outside England, so the first thing he says is, “Where are we going?”

“Oh, hello, Malfoy,” Granger says. She tucks a section of her great, bushy hair behind her ear and continues, her voice fakey bright and overly courteous. “It’s so lovely to see you, too. I’m doing very well, thanks for asking.”

He just raises his eyebrows, and she rolls her eyes.

“Wales,” she says. “Ynys Llanddwyn.” She holds her hand out toward him, the portray resting in her palm. “Ten seconds.”

He touches the smooth brass on the count of seven, and two heartbeats later the familiar tug starts behind his bellybutton. They swirl out of the Ministry, only to land abruptly on a large dune, kicking up dust and reedy grass. Granger’s heel gets stuck too deep in the soft sand and she stumbles backwards, her free arm rising and flapping to try to find her balance. He grabs it and pulls her forward, holding her up until she manages to yank her heel out. She kicks both shoes off and bends to pick them up.

“Thank you,” she says, out of breath. He turns to look behind them. The sea is crashing in foam-crested waves onto the beach below, and down the curving coastline, about a mile away, on top of a rocky outcropping, is a white stone lighthouse.

“Twr Mawr,” says Granger behind him. “Run by the same wizarding family since it was built in 1873.”

“Thank you, Encyclopedia Granger.”

“We’re not going there, though,” Granger continues. “We’re going that way, over that hill.”

He looks where she’s pointing, away from the beach. Dunes rolling up and into the distance with nothing else in sight. “What are we looking for? How far is it?”

But Granger is already climbing. “I wouldn’t dream of burdening you with too much knowledge,” she calls back, and he sighs deeply before he starts climbing, too.

 

///

 

“Dragons?”

“Dragons,” says Granger, wiping her forehead. “Draig Sanctuary, to be precise.”

“I didn’t know there were dragons left in Wales.”

“It’s new. A man called Iwan Rhees got it approved a little over a year ago, and they’ve been slowly adding dragons since. They’ve reported some minor damage the past few months— a portion of the perimeter wall blasted in, some graffiti, a little petty theft.”

“And we’re here because—?”

“Because a dragon has been found intentionally mutilated this morning, and the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures is taking this very seriously.”

“But that merits the Deputy Head and an investigating Auror? I’m not complaining, mind you—“

“You’re not complaining? That’d be a first.” Granger nods her head toward a low, rectangular building on the edge of the complex, and he falls into step beside her. “We can’t figure out a motive. This sanctuary has been really popular with locals— it created jobs, and the goal is to have Welsh Red dragons back on their native ground. They’ve been endangered for years, and only bred in Romania. It’s a public relations boost for magical Wales. So we’re looking at anti-government groups, or possibly some kind of personal grudge against Rhees.”

There’s a younger man in denim overalls standing in front of the metal doors to the building. Granger pulls out her badge and he nods at her, glancing quickly over Draco’s distinctive crimson robes and away again. The doors are barred on the outside, and he taps his wand on a mechanism to the side. Tiny springs pop open along the seam and the man forces the thick bar up with a grunt, letting he and Granger slip through a slim margin of open door. It shuts quickly behind them.

After his eyes adjust to the low lighting, he sees a long line of stalls, like a stable for horses only with much bigger spaces. The bottom three quarters of the doors are solid metal, and the last quarter have thick bars running all the way to the metal ceiling. He brushes his knuckles across the cool, slightly rough surface.

“Tungsten,” says Granger, softly. Something about the building makes him want to whisper, too. “Highest melting point of all metals.”

At the end of the long corridor, it opens up into a bigger space facing a single walled pen. Three men are standing at one of the judas gates in the door, looking in at the poor animal making sounds he can now make out— low whines deep in the throat, a kind of wheeze with every exhale. When the men see Granger, they step aside.

“Watch yourself,” one warns them, voice low and slow. Granger leans forward first, and her knuckles tighten around the frame of the little window at what she sees.

The dragon crouched into the far corner is smaller than he imagined: a juvenile. Deep garnet, sparkling scales down its back, fading into a rich russet color along its sides and into a fiery shade of bright red on the bit of belly visible. Its triangular head is tucked down against its chest, the ear flaps pressed tight to its skull and its eyes wide and darting around the holding cell.

Its wings, once a lovely, shimmering ruby-color, are stained in darker red gore now, shredded messily and brutally from the shoulder cartilage to the tips.

“Whoever is doing this has savaged a dragon,” whispers Granger. “A dragon. I don’t understand why anyone would do this to any animal, but to this creature—.”

“Aside from why, how did they do this to a dragon, and survive?”

“Exactly.” Granger turns away from the poor beast in front of them slowly, like it pains her. “And that’s why we’re here.”

He swallows, and nods.

 

///

 

Back outside, he takes a deep breath of cool, coastal air, trying to clear the sharp tang of blood from his nose. Granger goes off to find the owner, and he makes a circuit of the sanctuary’s perimeter, looking for signs of any kind of forced entry. He finds nothing.

On the north side of the property he runs into a familiar face leaning against a post, smoking. Charlie Weasley waves him over.

“Malfoy,” he says placidly, holding out a fresh cigarette. He lights it with the tip of his wand. “You here about the dragon attack?”

Draco nods at him in thanks and takes a deep drag of tobacco. “Came with Granger,” he says.

“Ah,” says Weasley. “Good. Anyone can get to the bottom of this mess, it’s Hermione. I sort of hope you get to the bastard first, though, to be honest. He deserves something a lot rougher than just a simple arrest.” He shakes his head. “That poor beast. A dragon’s heart is all about the flyin’, you know? Worst thing you can do to ‘em, to take that way.”

“Can’t their wings be healed?”

Weasley shrugs his massive shoulders. “Doesn’t usually work. Have to keep them completely still for weeks, and they usually throw off the tranquilizers after one week, tops, and rip all the wounds open again. A few cycles of that, and infection starts to set in, and the wings have to amputated.”

They both look down at the medical building. Draco tries to imagine how he’d feel if someone told him he could never get on a broom again. Never see fields and forests streaming by beneath him and the wind pushing its fingers through his hair, across the planes of his face. Never feel as if the sky was holding him up in a pool of winking starlight, ever again. And for an animal born to fly, adapted over centuries to live half its life in the air…

“The owner, Rhees. You know him well?”

“Yeah,” says Weasley. “Iwan’s alright. Really excited about having Welsh Reds here again. He came into a bit of money, after the war. Reparations. His family was all killed in a raid right before the Battle of Hogwarts.” Charlie glances at him, a tight, careful kind of smile, like he’s sorry he mentioned it.

Draco ignores it. “Where was Iwan?”

“He’d been recruited by the Order by then. He was a crack flier, Iwan was. Coulda played professional Quidditch, if he cared about anything but the flying part. He did a lot of surveillance for us. Completely secret, of course. I think his cover was that he’d moved to America for school. He was away from here, from his family, for a good while. And then they all died, except his wife, and he couldn’t even come home until after it was all done with.”

“Does he still have the wife?”

“Carys,” says Weasley. “She’s known for her food, draughts and spells. The Kitchen Witch, they call her on the island.”

“Where do they live?”

“Cottage is that way,” Weasley points back toward the beach, but further south. “Only other building on that side’s the lighthouse.” Weasley puts his cigarette out against his boot.

“Charlie!” Granger says from behind him, and Weasley breaks into a smile.

“Hermione! Malfoy said you were here.” He steps forward and catches her in a half-hug, one of his big, tattooed arms going round her shoulders. “You keeping that little brother of mine in line?”

“Oh,” says Granger, going a little pink. “You know Ronald. I’d ask George that, if I were you. I don’t want to know what they’re getting up to at that joke shop some days.”

“I’m going to go by the Rhees place, Granger,” he interrupts. “Just to check with the wife, ask some questions. I’ll meet you back at the Apparition point when you’re ready.”

Granger and Weasley wave him away, and he takes a path through some small, twisted trees and sea grass until he gets to the top of a small ridge, and a stone cottage just below. A young girl, seven or eight years old, is skipping rope in the front yard. She watches him climb down the soft sand, and stops jumping when he gets to the gate.

“Mam’s in the kitchen,” she says. There’s a thick gap between her front teeth and a spray of freckles across the bridge of her nose. Her thick, dark hair is plaited down both sides of her head. “Through there.”

“Thank you.” He follows where she’d pointed, and finds a wooden door, painted sky blue and the top half open, and inside a big, old farm kitchen with a hearth burning and pots bubbling on a old iron stove against another wall.

“Hello?” he calls.

“Come in,” a woman calls, and he pushes open the bottom half of the door. As he’s latching it behind him, the woman comes in briskly from another room off the kitchen, wiping her hands on a large homespun apron. “What can I make for—oh.” She stops, her hands still tangled in the apron. “Are you an Auror?”

“Yes, ma’am. Carys Rhees?” When she nods, he reaches into his breast pocket for his badge, and holds it out. “Malfoy. I’m here to support the investigation into yesterday's dragon maiming.”

“Oh.” She relaxes, giving a cursory glance to his badge. “Alright then. What do you want to know?”

He shrugs. “Just if you’ve noticed anything out of the ordinary lately.”

“I’d said already, if I had. We’ve had some local Aurors by the place, when someone took out a chunk of the containing wall.”

“Sometimes people only remember things later. When they’ve had some space to really think about it, in their own time.”

“Sit down,” she says. “I’ll pour us some tea then.”

When they’ve both got steaming cups in front of them, she says, “I haven’t seen anything down here. The sanctuary business never reaches us here, except when Iwan brings all the news back home at night.”

“You don’t go up and see the dragons? Your husband’s work?”

Carys shrugs. “That’s Iwan’s dream, and good on him. I’ve got my own work, and I do it here at the cottage.”

“Kitchen witchery, I heard someone say?”

She smiles. “Cakes to reveal your heart’s true desire. Teas for sleep, teas to calm nerves. Soups for sickness. Wine for creative inspiration. Poultices for chest infections and drops of tisane to sooth a fussy baby. That kind of thing.”

“And what’s this for?” He holds up his mug, tea untouched.

“It’s a general wellbeing blend, with a slight Know-Thyself charm. Things you need to work out, things that maybe you haven’t dealt with and need to, these leave a taste behind. The tea clarifies them.”

He stares down at the light pink brew. “It’s a passing effect,” she says gently. “And then it’s only herbs for immune support.”

He tastes sugared lemons, at first, and a hundred feasts laid out on long, wooden tables. Sweat, ash, something sour. He tastes a creeping, crawling fear— how fragile skin truly is, how easily it gives way to spells and knives and knuckles. He tastes copper and water from an old faucet. Then he blinks, and all those things are gone. Only a slightly herbal taste remains on his tongue, and an impression of a fading sweetness.

“Am I supposed to tell you what I taste?” His voice comes out rough, like it scraped along his throat.

“No. I’m not a fortune teller.” Carys takes a sip from her own mug. “It’s only for you to know, and address as you like.”

“What do you taste in the tea?”

She just smiles again, and takes another drink. Behind her a big, triple-paned picture window looks out toward the ocean, and the white-stone lighthouse framed in the distance.

“That lighthouse,” he says. “Is it your family that runs it?

“No.” She looks away, over her shoulder. “The Evers family. They’ve always had the running of it. It’s only Tom left now, though.”

Through the window, he sees Granger appear on the bluff between the cottage and the shore. He drains the last of his tea. The crockery is too dark to make out the shape of the tea leaves. “If you remember anything,” he says as he stands, “anything that might be relevant, or you see anything new that’s suspicious, Floo us at the Ministry.”

Carys nods, but she’s still looking through the window, out toward the sea crashing onto the beach and the tall landmark in the distance.

 

///

 

When they land back in the Ministry’s Portkey entry room, Draco follows Granger back through the Atrium, into the lift, and back up to Level Two. He doesn’t turn toward the big oak doors leading to the Auror Department, but turns the opposite way. At the end of the corridor is the Wizengamot Administration Services; Granger’s office is midway, and she holds the door open until he walks through, then shuts it firmly behind her.

Draco sits in one the severe-looking wooden chairs she’s got pulled up to the other side of her desk. She’d explained to him once, after he’d complained about how damned uncomfortable they were, that it was entirely on purpose— she didn’t want people she called in for difficult discussions or negotiations to get comfortable. There was a big, squishy armchair pushed back against the far wall, but it rarely got use. “It’s effective,” he told her, grimacing, and she’d just smiled at him, like a cat who’s already caught the bird. A hundred birds, probably. He’d been newly impressed with her instincts.

The chair creaks under him now, rather threateningly. He wonders if she charmed it to do that.

“Well?” she says, settling into her own chair, behind her desk.

“The wife says she hasn’t seen or heard a thing. She seemed rather disinterested in her husband’s project, actually.”

“What’s her name again?” asks Granger, reaching for a fresh bit of parchment and her quill.

“Carys Rhees.” Granger nods and writes it down. “The only structure near them is the lighthouse we saw when we Portkeyed in. She says a Tom Evers runs it now.”

Granger writes that down, too, then taps the end of her quill against her mouth, gazing unfocused toward her hulking bookcase. “I can’t shake the feeling that there’s something more going on with this.”

“What do you mean? More than the one dragon?”

“Than any of the dragons. More than the sanctuary itself.” Granger sighs and puts down her quill, leaning back in her chair, which Draco is jealous to note is nicely padded. “Iwan Rhees, he’s a big war hero there. Bringing the Welsh Reds back is about more than just the dragons themselves, you know? It’s national pride, a celebration of Wales and of its future going forward.”

“That’s a rather nebulous motive— we’re looking for someone who’s anti-Wales?”

“Not necessarily.”

Draco drags his hand through his hair. “Against the future? I don’t know, Granger, that’s—“

“You might have something there,” she interrupts, leaning forward again. She pulls out a copy of the Prophet and pushes it across the table toward him. It’s from this morning; he’d vaguely noted the front page photo of a smiling Cormac McLaggen as he walked past a newsstand on the way to work. He looks at the headline now— MCLAGGEN SURGING IN POLLS!

“We might actually elect a man to a seat on the Wizengamot who’s running on a promise of moving backward. His party’s platform leans on severing ties with the Muggle world completely,” she says, as he skims the story.

“That doesn’t explain the dragons, though,” he says slowly. The Prophet appears to be doing a bit of a brush-up job on McLaggen; the photographs all show him in a library somewhere, or rolling up the sleeves of his robes at a Care Home for elderly witches and wizards. Draco is pretty sure McLaggen has never willingly gone to either venues on his own initiative. “I haven’t been paying much attention to the Traditional Wizarding Order, but dragons are inherently magical, and traditional, so wouldn’t the sanctuary be something they’d heartily approve?”

Granger sighs, and rubs at her temples. “Maybe. I mean, it would make sense. I don’t know— I can’t pin down where this feeling is coming from.”

Draco flips the Prophet closed again, and folds it up. “I’ll go back tomorrow and interview Tom Evers. Maybe more of the sanctuary workers. Who knows? Might turn something up.”

Granger nods, but she’s staring down at her parchment as if it might speak, and give her answers.

“Let that intuition brew awhile in the back of your mind. I figure you have plenty of experience telling you to trust it.”

Granger looks up and blinks. She looks surprised, and before she can say anything he says, “Mind if I take this?” and waves the paper at her.

“No,” she says. “Go ahead.”

He nods and stands. “I’ll let you know what I find out tomorrow.”

 

 

December 13th — Tuesday

 

The next day he goes straight up to the sixth floor to arrange for another Portkey to Ynys Llanddwyn, and so he’s already in the Department of Magical Transport when the first alarm goes off. The witch behind the Portkey desk immediately turns to the big map on the wall behind her, winking and sprawling in magical, living lines across the entire back wall. She touches her finger to the suddenly glowing spot somewhere in London, and the red dot seems to pulse forward, the area around it enlarging into a bubble that now shows street names, buildings, precise latitude and longitude. A loud, relentless ringing is filling up the room, and all the halls of the top levels of the Ministry.

The witch touches her wand to the red dot, and the address and vectors pull off like a ribbon or bit of web now stuck to its end. She hurries over to a large basin in a corner, waving open the little locked gate that usually protects it, and drops the destination inside. A yank at the lever on the wall sends a cascade of emergency Portkeys, small rings with holes in their middles, in a line down into the basin as well.

Draco’s not a First Team Responder, but it hardly matters right now. Alarms are only rung for very serious emergencies: large-scale hostile takeovers, city fires, terror attacks.

“Here,” he says loudly, urgently, holding his hand out over the counter toward her. “Give me one.”

Her eyes skim over his Auror robes again, and she waves her wand his way, sending one of the newly-made Portkeys into his waiting grasp. Another complicated twist and turn of her wand, and the mass of them rises from the basin and begins to organize into lines, hovering ready in the air.

Draco turns and runs out into the hall. The doors have disappeared, a built-in charm for times like this, and he passes other Aurors coming up the hall for their Portkeys as he goes down. “I can take someone with me,” he calls, and a dark-haired witch wearing the green robes of the MediCorp peels away and runs with him down to the emergency Portkey point. She gets a finger on it just as they step over the warded line, and they are immediately whisked away.

When they land a few seconds later, Draco takes a quick, involuntary step back. Everything is smoke and ash, screams and blaring confusion. The building in front of them is gone, or at least mostly; where the solid brick and graceful curving pillars of the Society for Magical Historical Preservation once stood, there’s only a blackened pile of rubble and twisted metal. Part of the buildings on either side are damaged, too, and there are flames leaping through the blasted-out windows.

“Those are flats,” whispers the Mediwitch beside him. He’d forgotten she was there, and he pulls himself together now. “I have a friend who lives in that building. Oh, the people still inside!” She starts toward the bigger building, but he grabs ahold of her arm and turns her to face him.

“There are trained rescuers to get people out of that building,” he yells over the chaos. Soft pops begin to come from around and behind them as other Aurors and Ministry rescue workers arrive. “You’re needed here, for the wounded. They’ll be bringing them to you.”

It takes her a moment— she looks as startled and dazed as he feels— but she nods, and he lets go of her arm. “Put up your flare,” he reminds her, and she quickly sends up a bright ball of green that hovers above her, a beacon for those who need medical help.

“Good luck,” she yells after him as he runs forward. People are leaning out of windows, coughing and crying and screaming for help. It is only much, much later, after everyone but the Aurors and other investigators have been removed, that he realizes he’s been repeating the same word to himself, over and over in his head.

Tomorrow, tomorrow, tomorrow.

Tomorrow, he’d told Granger just yesterday afternoon. Tomorrow he would get answers. He remembers now, how that word can bend and shake, can tremble and break along fault-lines that had been invisible to the eye only moments before. Tomorrow feels vaguely threatening again, a tenuous, reversible kind of promise. He hasn’t felt like this since the War ended.

Granger finds him in the blast zone, looking around the rubble for anything that might provide some answers. “Go home, Malfoy,” she says tiredly. “You’ve been here all day.”

He looks around, and realizes it’s growing dark; the sun is slinking down behind London’s enclosing skyline. “So have you,” he reminds her. “And there’s something not right about this—“

“There’s nothing right about any of this. Draco,” Granger insists, and he stops and turns to look at her. She’s never used his first name, not in the whole time they’ve worked together.

“What’s that smell?” he says. There’s something— something lying on top of the smell of century-old brick turned to dust, something beside the tang of melted steel twisting in on itself— “It smells like old fruit.”

“It’s acetone,” Granger says. She sounds sad, resigned.

“What’s—“

“It’s a highly flammable liquid compound.”

“Why have I never heard of it then?”

“A highly flammable, mostly Muggle ingredient in all kinds of things: beauty products, industrial solvents, transferring images on paper. We even produce it naturally, in our bodies. Wizards have other potions for the same uses, though.”

“I see,” Draco says. “I’m beginning to have that same niggling feeling you described yesterday.”

Granger just looks at him. There’s soot on her forehead. He knows he must be covered with it himself. “I’ll need you in the morning,” she says quietly. “Please go get some rest and come in early tomorrow.”

There was that word again. He wonders how she can sound so sure that there will be a tomorrow. But he just nods, and picks his way slowly over to the makeshift staging point they’d created earlier. There’s a witch handing out return Portkeys to people too tired to Apparate back; it’s the same witch that made the emergency batch earlier. She manages a brief, tired smile and drops something into his palm. It’s a small piece of metal shaped like a witch’s hat. As the tug grabs him in the belly, and the world begins to swirl, he glances one more time back toward the carnage, and catches sight of Potter standing on the pockmarked sidewalk in front of the destroyed building. His head is tilted back, and from this distance he looks quite small. Draco could almost imagine he was the boy of the last War again, young and doomed and stupidly noble. He stops that line of thought, though, as Potter spins out of sight and Draco cracks through the ether, back to the Ministry. He doesn’t want to think about the boy he had been then. He doesn’t want to think about that boy at all.

 

///

 

Silver blooming on the patch of raggedy grass behind his kitchen. An unfolding, a sharpening of the suggestion of a human form. The ghost is a woman, her hair spilling in thick ropes down her back and over her shoulders. She turns and turns in his garden, in circles and disjointed loops, looking and looking, her pale mouth open and calling, but the words have no sound, even though the kitchen window is open to the cool, clean breeze outside.

She reminds him a little of the woman he’d seen hanging out of a fifth floor window of her flat, flames behind her and shaking her head at the Aurors telling her to jump, to fall, that they would catch her with a charm. Something had anchored her to that spot, some reason she couldn’t leave it. He wondered if she made it; he wondered who didn’t make it.

The ghost spins and spins, a dizzy, lurching dance, and he shuts the window. He grabs a new bottle of Firewhisky, and cracks open the seal. Three fingers, four. He stops counting, just fills the glass up to its top and takes it back with him to the bedroom.

 

 

December 14th — Wednesday

 

“Thank you for your hard work yesterday,” Robards says to the assembled Aurors. “Whatever you had on deck, whatever you were doing when the alarm went off, try and clear that today. Be cognizant of our priorities, though— our highest is catching whoever did this and preventing any new attacks.”

“Sir, do we know why they targeted that area?” asks Pickens, one of the newest recruits.

“We know very little so far, about anything,” Robards answers, and Draco listens to the swell of murmuring around him.

“What about casualties?”

Robards looks around at them. “Thirty two people were taken to St. Mungo’s. Most of them women and young children. They were in the flats beside the building that was bombed, and a few were workers who had just arrived at the flower shop on the other side. Most were released by nightfall after receiving treatment for minor injuries, but nine are still there receiving intensive Healing. There was one death at the scene— a young mother who couldn’t find her daughter. The child made her own way down a stairwell right after the blast and is fine.”

It’s silent now in the bullpen, all the murmuring ended. “I want the full weight of the Auror Department behind this,” Robards finishes. “Let’s get to work.”

Draco turns, planning to go through the paperwork on his desk first. “Malfoy!” says Robards, and Draco turns back to see his boss weaves across the room toward him.

“You’re wanted up in the main office.”

“Sir? But I have—“

“Minister’s direct request, Malfoy. Your other duties can wait.”

“Yes, sir,” he says, and Robards nods. With a quick clap on the shoulder, he’s gone again, into the fray.

 

///

 

When Draco steps out of the lift, the waiting room outside the Minister’s office is stuffed with people hoping for a moment with him. Draco hesitates on the edge of the crowd. This feels wrong, somehow. He doesn’t know what he’s doing here.

After a moment, he straightens his back, tilts his chin, and winds his way over to the Minster’s secretary. “Excuse me,” he begins, “I was told—“

“Oh,” says the man, looking up. He seems familiar, but Draco can’t quite place him. “Malfoy. I’ve got orders you’re to go straight through.” He waves over his shoulder at the little hall behind him, and turns again to the witch beside Draco. “I’ve told you already, Midgen, no one’s getting in to the Minister without an appointment. Not today, not tomorrow, not the day after that, so don’t start with—“

The sounds fade quickly as he makes his way down the hall; there must be a Muffling Charm built into it. He knocks on the giant, carved mahogany door, and one of the birds entwined in the branches of a large tree twists to life from the relief, flapping its wings and looking down at him. It opens its beak, and says, “Come in, Mr. Malfoy," and the door swings open.

Shacklebolt offers him a polite smile from his place at the back of the room, and Malfoy nods at him. Granger is there, seated on the Minister’s right hand side, a large roll of parchment in front of her and a quill moving quickly and independently over it as she speaks. And in seats pulled up directly in front of the desk are Potter and Weasley. For a brief moment, Draco wonders if this is some kind of latent childhood punishment, some trap about to spring years later than expected. Shacklebolt waves his wand and a chair appears on the left side of their group. Weasley turns to look over his shoulder, then nudges Potter when he catches sight of Draco. Potter glances behind him, too, but his face betrays nothing.

Draco sits stiffly, and waits. The Minister is listing press points for the statement he’s scheduled to make later in the morning, and Granger is nodding, clarifying a point now and then. He can feel Weasley staring at him.

“What’s Malfoy doing here?” Weasley finally asks. Potter shifts in his chair, and Draco thinks he’s about to say something, but it’s Granger who speaks.

“I asked for him,” she says, waving the quill still and sitting back in her seat. “Just like I asked you to be here for this meeting.”

“I thought this was secret. Top secret, you said. So I really—“

“You’re not even an Auror anymore, Weasley,” Draco drawls. “In fact, you hold no Ministry position at all, as far as I’m aware.”

“That’s got nothing to do—“ Weasley is getting red in the face. “This is about trust, Malfoy, not that you—“

“Yes,” interrupts Granger. “It is. And I asked Malfoy here because I trust him, and because he’s good at his job.”

“You trust him?”

“I do.” Granger is calm, but firm. She’s got her boss face on. “Malfoy assists me in a lot of work, and has for awhile now. Years, in fact. I request him specifically. Are you questioning my judgement?”

Weasley opens his mouth, then closes it again. His lips form a flat line.

“Good,” says Granger briskly. “Then let’s get down to it. The building that was bombed was the Society for Magical Historical Preservation, as you all know. The Traditional Wizarding Order, a political wing of The Sacred Twenty-Eight and the party putting McLaggen up for a seat in the Wizengamot, applied for a permit to host a rally there. The rally was supposed to happen yesterday.” She pauses, and shuffles some papers in front of her. “And yet, we received an anonymous tip late last night that they didn’t plan to hold any event at all yesterday. I had some people do some digging, and the information seems to check out. They did no liaising with the staff to set anything up. No orders were placed with the usual crews for banners or refreshments. The only invitations sent were to the press who usually cover these things— there was no advance notice to the public.”

“Who were they expecting at their rally then?” Weasley is still a bit pink in the face, but he seems willing to let the previous matter drop for now, and he asks the question quietly.

“They weren’t expecting anyone,” says Kingsley.

“Precisely,” says Granger. “McLaggen’s public schedule was cleared, but our anonymous source says he was up in Scotland on a hunting trip, and that he never left the location.”

Potter finally speaks. “Why would they plan a rally, and invite the press, if they had no intention of carrying through with it?”

“Don’t you know, Potter?” Draco asks. “Martyrdom looks so very good, especially during an election cycle.”

Potter is looking at him, his brows furrowed. He’d nearly forgotten how the full attention of Harry Potter felt. It’s encompassing and heady. It makes him aware of every breath he takes in and out of his body. “You think they planned the bombing, then. To make it look like someone was attacking them, and drum up sympathy.” It wasn’t a question.

“There’s more,” says Granger, before he can reply. “The Ministry did receive a request for a security detail, and the roster had Harry down to do it.”

Potter blinks and leans forward, resting his elbows on his knees. “I’d forgotten about that,” he says. “With everything that happened.”

“Was that public knowledge?” asks Kingsley.

“Dawlish told me someone from the party owled, asking for the list. Said they wanted to make sure everyone was on the same page. I couldn’t find any paper trails that show them asking for Harry directly, and Dawlish couldn’t remember if they did.” Granger sounds regretful.

“But why would they target Harry?” Weasley asks. “He’s definitely not one of them. Everyone knows that. And why bomb it before Harry arrived, anyway?”

“We believe the bomb went off early due to a mechanical failure,” Kingsley says. “The timer was jammed when we managed to uncover it.”

“And— it was made to look Muggle,” Granger appears rattled for the first time. “This was a Muggle bomb, and Muggle methods, made to look as if it were targeting a Society whose entire purpose is to preserve traditional wizarding history.”

“You think they want it to look like someone is attacking their history?”

“I think the most important piece of it is that Muggleborns look to be the ones responsible,” says Granger.

“Fear,” Kingsley muses, “is a powerful motivator. It makes people react in ways they wouldn’t normally, as all of you here well know.”

“And distrust of the Muggle world is exactly what the Traditional Wizarding Order wants,” adds Granger. “So we need to know what else they’re up to— who their real leaders are.”

“That’s going to be difficult.” Potter leaned forward, his hands clasped on his knee. “How are we going to do that?”

“Well.” Granger clears her throat, looking slightly apprehensive. “You’re not going to like this, Harry, but—“

“We need you to disappear for awhile,” continues Kingsley. “Take you off the game board. It will confuse them, and also alleviate one of our concerns.”

“I can take care of myself,” Potter bristles. “I don’t need to— run and hide.”

“No one expects you to run,” says Kingsley calmly.

Granger speaks up again. “It’s not just for your protection, Harry. You want to work on this, and we want you to work on it, too. But you can’t work on it as Harry Potter. Not effectively.”

“What’s your plan?” Weasley looks between Granger and Kingsley. “I can tell you’ve got one.”

“Potter will disguise himself as someone else, and stay with a partner until we get this thing settled.”

“He’ll stay with me,” says Weasley. “I’ll take time off from the shop. George will understand.”

“Ron.” Granger’s voice is gentle. “You can’t. Our house would be the first place they’d look.”

“And we need him paired up with someone who has access to members of and backing the Traditional Wizarding Order,” Kingsley says.

“But Hermione, you can’t expect me to—“ Weasley rubs his hand over his face, agitated. “And anyway, who do we know that can cozy up with some Death Eater wannabes?”

The room is very quiet, and Draco closes his eyes for a brief moment as the shoe drops. “Me,” he says. He opens his eyes, and sees Weasley’s head swivel his direction. “You know me.”

“I’m sorry we have to ask you, Draco.” Granger does looks apologetic, but he knows it doesn’t change anything. They’re both too pragmatic for that.

“How difficult will it be for you to make those connections, Mr. Malfoy?” asks Kingsley.

Draco shrugs. “A word with my mother. Getting in isn’t the problem. Being trusted with information is the real issue.”

“Let me get this straight,” says Potter. “You want me to infiltrate pureblood society, disguised as someone else, and I’ll be doing it with Malfoy?”

“And living with him in the meantime,” adds Granger. She’s firm again, all plan and logic. “You’ll be partners, and no one outside this room will know exactly what you’re doing, or where you are, Harry.”

Potter lets out a long breath, as if he’d been holding it this entire conversation. Draco waits for the explosion, but it never comes. “Well,” says Potter. “What could possibly go wrong?”

 

///

 

It feels weird, unlocking the door to his flat with Potter standing behind him. He’d just carved out this space for himself, this place where only he belonged. And now he has to bring Potter here, the boy who was his childhood nemesis, the man who is his— what?

The door creaks as it swings open. “Lumos,” he says, and feels Potter walk in behind him. He shuts the door after himself.

“This is—“ Potter pauses. “Stark?”

“I just moved in.” Malfoy shrugs off his robes and folds them over his arm, moving to the kitchen.

“What’s the posh word for ‘bare’?” Potter calls from the mostly-empty living room.

“What’s the common word for ‘manners’?” he calls back. “And do you intend to employ any while you’re staying with me?”

“I’ll have to remember them,” Potter’s voice is much closer and Draco startles, just a little. “We haven’t had much practice at that.”

“No.” Draco pulls down a new bottle of Ogden’s and looks at Potter. “I suppose we haven’t. Firewhisky?”

“No, thank you,” says Potter, in an overly courteous voice.

Draco rolls his eyes, and pours himself a healthy glass.

“I hate to bring it up right now, while we’re being so well-mannered,” Potter says after a moment, “But I am wondering about the sofa situation. Or the, er, lack thereof. I don’t suppose you have a guest bedroom?”

“Shit.” Draco takes a long draw from his glass. “I didn’t think about where you were going to sleep.”

Potter raises an eyebrow, and his lips almost look like they’re turning up into a smile. “The fabled courtesy of the upperclass does not disappoint.”

“Oh, do shut up, Potter. I was as blindsided by this as you were.” He walks past Potter to the doorway, looking at the empty room. “My furniture didn’t fit, so I shrunk it down and stuck it in the corner until I could get some that does.”

“You were going to buy all new furniture because yours was a little too large?” says Potter beside him.

“What else would I do?” He’s genuinely baffled.

Potter looks incredulous. “Alter it?” When Draco doesn’t respond, he continues, “There are spells to make something just a little shorter or longer, or more narrow or what have you, without shrinking the whole thing down.”

“Well, I don’t know them.”

Potter shakes his head. “It’s fascinating, really, the magic rich people don’t pay any attention to. I know them. Come on, put them back and I’ll show you.”

When Potter is standing over his sofa, his wand drawn, he pauses, and says, “It’s permanent, this charm. I mean, you can alter it again, but you can’t reverse it back so that it’s in its original state.”

“That’s fine,” says Draco.

“It’s just, if these are— well, priceless pureblood heirlooms or something, you might not want—“

“Just shrink the damned sofa, Potter. I’m not attached to it, anyway.”

“Right.” Potter looks at him for a moment, then starts spelling his furniture to fit his flat.

 

///

 

After they’ve made everything fit, and Draco has found the extra linens, he throws back the rest of his second full glass of Ogden’s and sets the glass in the sink. Potter eyes it briefly, then fills his own glass from the tap.

“Well, goodnight then.” Potter nods, and Draco turns to go, then pauses. “Maybe I should mention,” he says, glancing at the window. “There’s a ghost that comes around sometimes. There.” He gestures at the back garden.

“Oh? What kind?” When Draco doesn’t answer, Potter says, “You know— man, woman? Old, young?”

“Yes, I know what you meant,” Draco says. “But it looks different each time I see it.”

“Then you have more than one ghost.” Potter puts his glass beside Draco’s in the sink, leaning over and looking out the window.

“No. It’s the same ghost.”

Potter turns back to look at him. “Ghosts don’t change their shape, Malfoy.”

“This one does,” he insists. “It’s the same ghost. I can just— tell.”

“Hmm,” says Potter. “Well, it’s your flat. Goodnight, then.”

 

 

 

December 15th — Thursday

 

The next morning, Draco prepares himself to visit his parents. When he comes out of his bedroom, Potter stares from the newly-perfect sofa.

“Bit early for a fancy dinner, isn’t it?” he asks. He’s wearing some old sweatpants and a Chudley Cannons t-shirt. “It’s only nine.”

“I’m going to the Manor now. Best to get the inevitable over quickly. I’ll need my parents’ help to get a foot in again.”

“You look like you’re off to a funeral.”

“That doesn’t feel as inaccurate as it should.” He straightens his collar one more time in the little mirror by the front door. “They’re still not pleased with me finally moving out.”

“Finally?”

“Yes. It took awhile to— extricate myself. I was never supposed to leave at all. There’s a lot of expectation around family and tradition.”

“I wouldn’t know,” says Potter.

“Right.” The word sorry hovers on his tongue, but he holds it back. It doesn’t feel right somehow. “Well. There’s not much by way of groceries, I’m afraid, but help yourself to whatever’s around.”

“Sure. Looking forward to living in this lap of luxury for awhile.”

Draco narrows his eyes. “If this flat is such a disappointment, you could always stay at the Manor. No one would ever suspect you of being there.”

Potter smiles up at him. “And people say you don’t have a sense of humor.”

Draco pulls out a pinch of Floo Powder from the pot on the mantle and throws it in the fireplace. He steps in and says, “Malfoy Manor.” Potter’s face, and his bare feet stuck up on Draco’s coffee table, is the last thing he sees before he swirls out of sight.

 

///

 

An elf blinks into sight as he’s brushing off the front of his robes. “Master Draco!” she says.

“Hello, Twinks. Is my mother at home?”

“Missus is having her tea right now with Lady Greengrass. We was not expecting you, sir.”

“No, no, I know. It’s fine. I’d like to avoid that, if you please. Don’t tell her I’m here until Greengrass is gone, alright?”

“Yes, Master Draco.”

“Is Father in his study?”

Twinks ears droop, and she wrings her hands, but nods.

“I’ll announce myself,” he says gently. The elf bows and disappears.

 

The doors to his father’s study swing open from the middle, like a gate. These days, they are always closed. Draco takes a moment to look at the gold-etched handles, each ringed with an elaborate wreath of roses and thorns. He can remember looking at those handles when he was eye level with them, can still almost hear his father’s voice bidding him come in, warmth underneath the careful modulation of his voice. He steels himself now, and knocks.

“Enter.” Lucius’s voice is all winter now, all ice.

The doors still open soundlessly. “Father,” he says.

Lucius glances up from a book laid out on his desk. There is silver at his temples now, mingling in with the pale blonde. “Draco. To what do we owe this unexpected honor?”

He ignores the barb lying there, and says, “I came to speak with Mother, but I hear she’s engaged at the moment.”

“Quite,” says Lucius dryly. “Lady Greengrass is filling the parlour with her inimitable stream of prattle.”

Draco lets a smile break through his face. “I told Twinks not to tell her I was here until Greengrass is gone.”

“A wise decision,” Lucius allows, inclining his head toward the chair across from him.

Draco sits down and runs his hands over the deep blue velvet arms. Lucius waits, silent. Draco has seen him use this tactic on visitors all his life; it’s a subtle power play. He wonders, not for the first time, if his father uses it on him now because Draco is that much of a disappointment, or if he’s still pulling the shreds of his dignity around himself post-Dark Lord. He’s an elegant man, but Draco still remembers him straggly-haired and groveling. Panicked, toadying, completely without control.

It hangs between them, the ghost of that Lucius.

“I need to get into some of these society events again,” Draco says, giving in.

Lucius sits back in his own chair. “To what purpose?” Draco hesitates, and Lucius pounces. “To take your rightful place, or to betray our friends? Is this for—“ He curls his upper lip in disdain, drawing the next word out. “Work?”

Draco ignores the last bit. “I suppose it depends on your definition of ‘betray.’ Also of ‘friends.’”

“Don’t try to play with me, boy. I don’t know why you insist on thumbing your nose at all of our—“

“Perhaps because they’re all wrong,” Draco interrupts, and his father’s eyes flash dangerously. “It sometimes seems to me that you’ve forgotten who lost the War. And how close we were to losing a lot more.”

“I forget nothing,” Lucius says, voice brittle and sharp. “But losing a battle doesn’t mean the principles themselves were wrong.”

“They were,” he says. “Those things you taught me— they were wrong. The world outside the Manor is not what you told me it was.”

Lucius sneers. “How nice for you. As you have surely not forgotten, for me there is no longer a world beyond these walls.”

Draco can’t see the magical monitoring charm encircling his father’s ankle, but its presence reverberates. He stands. “That is not my fault,” he says quietly. “I’ll go see if Mother is available now.”

Lucius doesn’t call him back as he leaves, shutting the door again behind him.

 

///

 

“We’ll begin with my parents’ annual Yule dinner party,” is all he tells Potter when he returns to the flat. “You’ll need dress robes.”

He can feel Potter watching him as he pulls down the Ogden’s and pours himself a small amount. The first swallow burns going down and he welcomes it. He wishes he were alone. He wishes his furniture was still shrunk in the corner, the living room empty. He would like to lie on the bare floor for awhile, with the Floo cut off, and revel in the now-fleeting feeling that no one could find him unless he wished it.

“I’m going to bed,” he says. “I don’t feel well.”

 

///

 

When he emerges around midnight, Potter is asleep on the sofa, snoring. He moves quietly around his tiny kitchen. Out in the garden, the ghost is moving around the perimeter, touching the wall here and there, looking over the rose bushes and shaking its head. It has long hair, but the build of a man, and it pulls an old pocket watch from a front pocket. It moves fretfully, as if searching for a way out. Draco watches for awhile, something hard and icy growing and spreading inside his chest, until finally he pulls the curtains so that the garden is hidden, and goes back to bed.

 

 

 

December 16th — Friday

 

“I need to follow up with an investigation I was on before the bombing,” he tells Potter the next morning. “I’ve owled Granger for a Portkey. Any chance you’ll stay put like a good boy?”

“None,” says Potter, spreading butter on his toast.

“I assumed as much. I suppose you can use this as practice being someone else. I’m leaving in an hour.”

Potter is waiting by the door when Draco comes out of the bathroom, only he’s used a bevy of cosmetic charms on his face, so he doesn’t look like Potter. The scar is gone, and his eyes are brown instead of their usual, vivid green. He’s done something to his nose, too: it’s wider across the bridge, and shorter. His chin is more pronounced. His hair is a light brown now, but—

“Potter, can nothing control your hair? Will no magic restrain it?”

Potter runs a hand over it. “What? I changed the color.”

“It still looks like your hair— all cowlicks and shag, as if you’ve never seen a comb in your entire life.”

Potter turns and looks in Draco’s little mirror by the door, patting at his head as if that’s going to do any good.

“Oh, turn around,” Draco says impatiently, and he points his wand at Potter’s hair. Potter freezes, just for a second, and then deliberately relaxes his body. Draco pretends not to have noticed, and murmurs a spell. Potter’s hair goes limp and shiny, and then arranges itself into a parted style swept back from his forehead.

Potter turns back to the mirror. “You know this charm, but hardly any household ones,” he notes, turning his head for another angle. “Weird,” he says, then looks at Draco again. “My hair, I mean. It looks weird.”

“It looks neat, for once in your whole existence. Now remember, you’re not Harry Potter, even to the people you know.” Draco stops. “Actually, who are you? We didn’t talk about a name.”

“Oh,” says Potter. “Er… What’s a suitably pureblood kind of surname that isn’t going to make people think too hard about extended family members?”

Draco considers. “Use Sayre. There are several branches of that family, and most of them are in Ireland and terribly difficult to keep straight. No one will find it odd if you say you went to school in the Americas, either. Lots of them do.”

“Alright,” says Potter. “Dudley Sayre, then.”

 

///

 

Potter looks excited as soon as their boots hit the sand. “I’ve been wanting to come see Draig Sanctuary since it opened,” he says, following Draco up the sand dune toward the little path leading to the compound. “Never found the time. Charlie has all good things to say.”

“Just remember,” Draco says, “that you’re a stranger to him right now. We can’t risk anyone else at the Sanctuary overhearing who you are.”

“Relax, Malfoy. I do know how to do my job, you know. Whatever else you think of me, I’m a good Auror.”

“I didn’t say you weren’t,” Draco says, a little snappish. “I’m just reminding you.”

At the gate he flashes his badge and the fake one they’d made up for Dudley Sayre. It was good to be Harry Potter, apparently, even when you actively were being Not-Harry Potter. Draco spots Weasley as they near the pens.

“Any new incidents?” he asks, coming to stand by him along a thick metal fence.

“Morning, Malfoy,” says Charlie. “Nothing new.” He gestures to the door in the barn near them. “We’re letting the injured dragon out for the first time in just a moment. Get him a bit of sunlight and fresh air, poor beast.”

Draco notices that there’s a heavily-woven net hanging about six feet above the entire enclosure. “What’s that,” he asks, pointing at the fine web of strands catching the morning light.

“A no-fly net,” says Weasley. “We’ve lowered it so he doesn’t try to come up off the ground at all and make his wing injuries worse. Ah, here he comes,” he says, pointing at the building.

The young dragon’s head becomes visible as he comes up to the door of the building, He stops, turning his head left and right and back and forth again, peering out at the outside world. He seems wary, unsure. Finally he stretches his neck and his head comes out into the sunlight. The dragon closes its eyes. It looks like he’s relishing the bit of warmth, like a cat. After another long moment, he stalks out into the pen. His wings are covered with thick, splinted bandages and there’s a strong herbal smell from the salves.

“We’ve had a hell of time keeping those bandages on him,” Charlie tells them. “He just incinerates them when he’s not feeling it, silly bugger.”

“How’s it looking?” asks Draco. He can’t take his eyes off the young dragon, his glittering scales in the sunlight, the lithe way his body moves even under the pain of a terrible injury.

Charlie sighs. “The wings are actually looking pretty good. They’re healing. If we can keep him from using them until the potions do their job, we can save them and he’ll fly again.”

“But?” Draco senses Weasley has another reservation.

“It’s still early,” Charlie says. “We just don’t know how he’ll recover— how he’ll be after this. Most dragons with injuries like this that survive the healing have to be put down later, anyway. The skin heals over but something inside doesn’t. They get sad, and then mean. Go out of their way to hurt things. People, animals, doesn’t matter. They get too dangerous to keep alive.”

Draco watches the dragon for awhile. He’s only half the size of an adult Welsh Red, which he imagines is what’s saving him now, making it possible for the Sanctuary people to treat his injury and keep him still long enough to heal. Draco hopes he gets to grow; he hopes the dragon has the chance to fly once more, over fields and mountains, along the coast of Wales like the Reds used to do two centuries ago.

“Does he have a name?”

Weasley shakes his head, a smile breaking out on his face. “Not officially yet— he’s new, and there’s been so much going on we haven’t gotten round to it yet. But I’ve been calling him Phoenix.”

Potter makes a sudden movement on his other side, his fingers tightening on the rail of the fence.

“Weasley,” says Draco, “This is Sayre, my partner today. Mind taking him round to Rhees to check in? I’ve got to go ask some questions down at the lighthouse.”

“Sure,” says Charlie, stepping forward and extending a hand to Potter. “Nice to meet you.”

 

///

 

Tom Evers is locking up the door at the base of the lighthouse when Draco arrives. His thick, dark hair is curling against the collar of his shirt, like he’s gone too long without a haircut.

“Got a warrant?” he asks as soon as Draco introduces himself.

“Do I need one? I just came to ask if you’d seen anything out of place on the island recently?”

“Like twenty dragons?” When Evers steps into the sunlight, the freckles on his nose stand out.

“Do you have a problem with dragons, Mr. Evers? With the sanctuary?”

Evers lets out a low chuckle. “No problem. Would have been nice for Iwan to ask our opinion before building it, though.”

“Are you angry with Iwan Rhees, then?”

“Are you accusing me of something?” asks Evers, as he starts walking away, down toward the water.

“I’m trying to assess the likelihood of you harming the Rheeses,” says Draco, falling into step just behind him.

Evers stops abruptly, and turns to face him directly. “I would never harm Carys, no matter what Iwan does. We grew up together, on this island. That’s her family’s cottage, and this is my family’s lighthouse, and it’s been that way since before we were born.”

“So Iwan is the foreigner, then.”

Evers cracks a smile, showing off the thick gap between his front teeth. “That’s right. Just like you. We take care of our own here on the island.”

“Like the dragon has been taken care of? Like its shredded wings?”

He holds Evers’ stare until the man turns back toward the sea. This time he doesn’t follow.

 

///

 

Granger listens to him repeat the encounter on a Floo Call that evening. “That really only points to a personal grudge for Iwan Rhees,” she points out. “I can’t see any larger significance to link the Sanctuary’s troubles with the bigger picture— the bombing and everything. I’ll see if we can spare someone to bolster their security and keep an eye on this Tom Evers. We really don’t need anymore headlines about attacks on magical traditions.”

“Did I miss something?” asks Potter, and Granger sighs.

“There was a protest in the Ministry today. Supposedly a group of Muggleborns complaining about the Wizengamot. A small fire was started in the Atrium.”

“Why do you say ‘supposedly’?” asks Draco.

“Because when the fire began and all the protestors disappeared, I looked into the names the newspapers had taken, and all the identities dissolved after a little digging. They don’t exist, by any of our records.”

“Magic,” says Draco sarcastically.

“Sloppy journalism,” Granger shoots back, and the severe disapproval on her face reminds for a moment of a McGonagall. He restrains a smile.

“What about the Wizengamot were they so angry about?” asks Potter.

“The legacy seats.” Granger glances at him, and then back at Potter. “The twenty-eight spots we gave up in compromise when we pushed the reforms.”

“The non-elected ones,” Draco adds.

Granger sniffs. “I think it’d be a sympathetic cause to most of wizarding Britain, if it weren’t for the violence breaking out.”

“But it’s a good way to motivate pureblood support,” Potter says, looking thoughtful.

“Quite.” They’re all quiet for awhile, and then Granger continues, “I want you to keep a low profile for the next few days, Harry. Don’t go out and risk being recognized. People are starting to ask where you are. They’re noticing your absence. The Ministry will not be commenting.”

Potter doesn’t look happy, but he nods— reluctantly.

“I suppose that means I’m on house arrest, too,” Draco drawls.

Granger smiles grimly at him, and his McGonagall comparison has never been more accurate. “I’ll send over all your paperwork to keep you busy, Malfoy.”

 

 

December 17th — Saturday

 

It’s not that he often does much on the weekend— he usually stays in, except for getting takeout. But there was something about being told to stay inside that made him immediately want to get out of the house, so to speak.

He has a feeling Potter is experiencing the same contrariness. He’s been pacing around the flat’s main room for three quarters of an hour now, stopping periodically to slide the curtain on the window over a few inches and peer down into the street below.

It’s not that Draco would normally be doing anything in his living room to be ashamed of, either, but just knowing Potter is here, that he knows everything Draco’s doing— that he is a witness to Draco’s free time— keeps him from doing anything but read a book.

And so Potter paces like a caged animal, and Draco watches him and reads.

 

 

December 18th — Sunday

 

They’ve begun snapping at each other now. Draco wonders whether they should institute a no-wands rule within the flat, out of caution.

He decides that a blazing row and duel would be a welcome diversion from this.

 

 

December 19th — Monday

 

Draco pours the rest of the carton of milk down the sink, and then goes out to the shops for more. This is the highlight of his day.

 

 

December 20th — Tuesday

 

Potter’s face is not entirely symmetrical. One of his ears is ever so slightly higher than the other, and that’s why his glasses are always slightly askew. He’s also got a very faint birthmark in the dip below his left cheekbone. It’s shaped vaguely like Portugal.

Potter does this thing with his fingers where he rolls his thumb over each one beginning with the index fingers, cracking the knuckles as he goes. A succession of little pops, at least twice an hour. He clears his throat often, even though he hasn’t got a cold, and he makes endless cups of tea. Potter’s insides will soon float away in a wash of the stuff.

He also hums little pieces of songs— just long enough for Draco to almost recognize the melody, but not for him to identify the composition.

Potter is maddening and Draco can’t stop thinking about him.

 

 

December 21st — Wednesday

 

Draco performs the hair charm on Potter’s head again, before they Floo to the Manor. “Remember, Potter,” he says, watching the lighter-colored hair smooth and shape itself into place. “You’re my close friend Dudley Sayre, back in the United Kingdom from a long stint in the United States, originally of the Dublin Sayres.”

“I know. I know this.”

“Try not to speak with anyone on your own— I can smooth over any gaffes you make, hopefully.”

“I’m not an idiot, Malfoy. I know how to behave at a dinner party.”

Draco hopes the look he’s giving Potter conveys the depth of his skepticism. “Let’s go, Potter. Sayre. We don’t want to be late. My mother is not very forgiving of lateness.”

 

///

 

Twinks is there to take their coats as soon as the arrive. He asks her which guests have already arrived and she rattles off the names of most of Pureblood society still free to roam at large.

“Thank you, Twinks,” he says to the elf, and turns to Potter. Sayre. “Keep your ears open. That’s the best thing you can do for me tonight. I’m going to have to talk their damn ears off as punishment for not mingling among them in so long. I need your ear.”

“I’m good at my job, Malfoy.” Potter is very quiet, and very serious.

“I know,” Draco says, and Potter blinks, but relaxes just a fraction. Draco can tell now. “Alright,” he says, giving Potter a small nod. “Into the breach, then.”

 

///

 

Draco wonders how he ever enjoyed this. How he ever enjoyed these people. He wonders what Potter thinks of him— if he could think worse of him by now anyway, even seeing him slithering around in his natural habitat. Draco is surprised by how much that thought bothers him. He grabs another flute of champagne and downs it, quickly and methodically.

Pansy raises one of her well-groomed eyebrows at him and pointedly sips from her own. “Anyway, darling, as I was saying, I really am put out that you missed it.”

“Missed what?” Draco asks. He’d been distracted watching Potter, who is seated across the table from him and has been accosted by the elderly Madam Bulstrode. She seems to find him quite charming.

“My engagement party.” She clucks at him. “My, you really are quite besotted, Draco.”

“What?” He tears his eyes away from Potter— Sayre— smiling encouragingly at the old bird. “What on earth do you mean, Pansy?”

Pansy, as always, seems to bloom under direct attention. “Don’t be coy, darling. We’ve known each other much too long for that. I can see why you find him so—“ She pauses archly. “—engaging.”

“Damn it, Pansy, I said I was sorry about that. You know I haven’t been getting all of my correspondence since I told my parents I was moving out.”

“Oh, yes. I’m sure that’s the reason you missed it.” For the first time that evening, some bite creeps into Pansy’s voice.

Draco takes a deep breath, and looks at her— really looks at her. Her hair is bobbed; the ends rest just at chin level, precise and boxy, with thick bangs covering her forehead right down to her eyebrows. It suits her in its severity; Pansy had tried vainly to be delicate and wispy for years; she looks herself these days. There are signs of strain, though, that he hadn’t noticed earlier. Her makeup is as impeccable as ever, but in the glow from the candelabra above he can see the bluish shadows ringing her eyes and the lines around her mouth where she held her lips tensed and mask-like.

“I truly am sorry,” he says more warmly. “I’ll try harder not to let work take over every part of my life. I hope you’re happy with… Warrington, right?”

Pansy softens, too. “Cassius,” she confirms. “My parents arranged it.” She picks at her creme brûlée with a spoon. “It’s funny how we still do that, isn’t it?”

“Money?” Draco asks quietly.

Pansy nods. “The Warringtons didn’t have to pay reparations. They have the money— we have the seat on the Wizengamot.”

“He’s not here tonight?”

“No,” says Pansy, and then more loudly, “Cassius had a business dinner, I’m afraid. But that reminds me of how you can make things up to me. We’re having a house party right after Christmas, at Cassius’s place up in Scotland. You must come, Draco.” She looks across the table and catches Potter’s eye. “And you, too, Dudley.”

The bell rings and people begin to stand. They move to the big double doors, the men splitting off toward the library for brandy and cigars, and the women to the drawing room for— whatever they did there. Draco wasn’t sure. Pansy pauses, and puts her hand out to rest on Potter’s arm for a moment, looking at Draco.

“Come on Monday, in time for dinner. I’ll owl you the Floo address.” She looks at Potter now, and winks. “Bring your… partner.”

“Do you think she knows?” Potter whispers, after she’s slipped away with the other ladies.

Draco glances at him. “Knows what?”

“That I’m— well, me. She said ‘your partner,’ like she knows we’re working together.”

“You ridiculous imbecile. She doesn’t think we’re working together, she thinks we’re sleeping together.” At Potter’s blank look, he rolls his eyes. “Partner as in ‘boyfriend,’ not partner as in ‘Auror.’ And no, she has no idea who you really are.”

“Why would she think—“ Potter stops.

“I don’t normally show up to formal events with a friend, P—Sayres. I show up with a date. Surely you can imagine why some people would have that impression? If it bothers you so much—“

“I didn’t say it bothered me,” Potter hisses. “Don’t put words in my mouth.”

“Don’t be so… dense.” Further argument is stalled when Lucius appears at the doors to the library.

“Draco,” he says smoothly. “Would you come show Avery our collection from Alexandria?”

“Of course, Father,” says Draco. He straightens his collar and walks toward the entrance, Potter a few reluctant steps behind him.

 

///

 

He feels like he’s suffocating. Like the library is a tomb and someone is throwing dirt on top of it. The fire is blazing and there are too many people inside this room, people he’s seen eating off his mother’s silver and also kneeling in the dirt before the Dark Lord, clamoring to be his best dog. He’d seen some of them do unspeakable things. He’d heard more of them say casually terrible things. There is a particular dissonance in his head, like two incongruous images being shuffled over and over behind his eyes until they begin to blend into one. Like he can’t trust which one is the present.

He drinks heavily. Sometimes Potter— Sayre— scowls at him from across the room, where Goyle of all people is talking his ear off. Draco doesn’t care, or maybe he can’t care. What does Potter know? How can he understand? This is how he stays rooted to the floor; how he doesn’t leap to his feet and run wildly, loudly from the room.

This is survival.

Eventually, he realizes that the crowd has thinned considerably. Lucius is gone. Draco rises to his feet from the chair he’d slumped into, and stands very still for a moment as he gains his balance. He moves toward the door, and he seems to be walking faster than normal while his surroundings struggle to keep up. He thinks he can just make it to the Floo—

“Draco.” His mother is standing in front of him. “How much have you had to drink?” Her voice is cool and calm and he focuses on it.

“Just the right amount,” he says slowly, and she wrinkles her nose.

“Too much, clearly,” she says, and then she’s looking at something over his shoulder. “I think it’s best if Draco goes home for the evening. Could you make sure he gets there, Mr. Potter?” Her voice is very quiet, and the hallway is empty, but Draco startles.

“You knew?” he asks her.

Narcissa looks away from Potter and meets his eyes. “Draco, my darling— did you really think I would ever allow anyone into our home again if I was not absolutely sure who they were?”

He stands there, stricken. Her blue eyes looking into his, so clearly, like the sky through a window when the curtain has just been drawn aside.

“It’s an old charm. Very effective.” She looks back at Potter. “Perfectly legal, too.”

“It never occurred to me to think otherwise,” he hears Potter say, close.

Most people wouldn’t notice the slight surprise on Narcissa’s face, but he does. “Well,” she says. “Thank you. And no one shall know of this but me. I promise you that. Now, here—“ She puts her hand on Draco’s elbow and calls for Twinks. “Get these gentlemen to the Floo, discreetly,” she tells the elf, and then, “Goodnight, darling,” to him.

 

///

 

Draco begins to feel sick after he emerges from the fireplace in his own flat. He goes into the kitchen and fills a glass with tap water, leaning over the sink and looking out the back window. The ghost, that damned ghost, is back in the garden. It’s wearing the same form as the last time, male and well-dressed and with pale hair. He can’t tell now, though, if it reminds him of Lucius or of himself. Bile rises in his the back of his throat. He lets the glass fall into the sink with a loud clatter and turns away.

“What was that?” Potter is standing in the doorway. He’s loosened the top of his robes and he runs a hand through his hair now, messing up the perfect lines Draco had formed earlier. Draco prefers it. He prefers Potter a little disheveled. A little real.

“That was a glass. My glass. In my sink.”

“I meant at the party.” Potter is doing that quiet-yell, where his volume doesn’t match the intensity of his words and expression. Draco wants to laugh, a little, but his lips won’t do what he wants them to.

“The ghost is back,” he says. Potter looks confused, like Draco isn’t making sense. “In my garden,” Draco explains. He’s being very patient with Potter, really. Potter, with his messy hair and his eyes turning back to that electric green as he watches them, as the charm wears off. Potter with his earnestness and his smiles for people who aren’t Death Eaters. Who aren’t Draco.

Potter edges around him, and Draco turns to watch him lean over and peer out into the garden. He looks back at Draco, over his shoulder. “There’s nothing there, Malfoy.”

“Don’t be stupid.” Draco is starting to get angry. “I just saw it.”

Potter looks once more, then turns his entire body back around, watching Draco closely. “The garden is empty.”

Something is crawling up Draco’s spine, something with claws and teeth and it wants to come out through his mouth. There’s a burning pressure behind his eyes and Potter doesn’t get it, he doesn’t understand. How could he?

“Did you enjoy that, Potter? Seeing me there?” Potter just looks at him. Potter used to look at Draco a lot when they were at Hogwarts, but he hasn’t looked at Draco much at all since then. “Did you like having all your worst suspicions confirmed?”

“What are you talking about, Malfoy?”

“That’s where I came from. That’s who Draco Malfoy is. Was. Both?” He does laugh now, and it sounds ugly. It sounds like the thing now lodged in his chest, a dark and growing thing.

He can’t read Potter in this moment. He can’t tell what he’s thinking. He’s just looking at Draco. He’s just watching him fall apart.

“What’s that phrase— Blood will out? Isn’t that funny, Potter? Isn’t that just ironic?” Draco is breathing very hard now. His chest is moving up and down, rapid and against his will.

“Malfoy,” says Potter, slow and quiet. “You’re drunk. Let’s just drop this. Get some sleep.”

“Drop it?” he echoes. “How can I drop this? Tell me. How can I drop it? How can I still love someone after I’ve come to hate the very things they stand for? Still crave their approval— even as I actively shun it? To feel such disgust, and still not be able to quite bear cutting ties with him? What the fuck does that make me, Potter?”

“Alive,” Potter says. “Human.

Suddenly, all the fight goes out of him. He feels tired, drained. He closes his eyes.

There’s a hand between his shoulder blades, and another on his shoulder, and they propel him forward, out of the kitchen and down the short hallway to his bedroom. As Draco falls onto his mattress, a small part of him knows Harry Potter is putting him to bed, but he shoves it aside.

Draco has a lot of practice at shoving unwelcome feelings aside.

 

 

 

December 22nd — Thursday

 

The next day he doesn’t leave his room. He can’t— won’t— face Potter. Not yet, anyway.

Potter cracks the door open in the afternoon, as the light is starting to slant toward evening. Draco lies very still, feigning sleep. He counts the seconds in his head as Potter waits and creeps close. Probably to make sure Draco isn’t dead from alcohol poisoning.

He doesn’t know if Potter buys it, but he leaves without saying a word.

 

December 23rd — Friday

 

Draco sneaks out very early, while Potter is still snoring on the sofa. He only feels slightly bad about it; Potter may be chafing against being cooped up, but Draco is suffering from a deep need to perform some inadvisable Obliviates.

He walks around London for awhile as the sun comes up. He had been pleasantly surprised by Muggle London, when he first ventured out into it. It was nice, to be a small speck in a large sea of people. Draco felt like he could breathe. Like he could dissolve and then pull himself back together later, better than he’d been before. He tries to do it often these days.

When the sun has made its way high up into the sky, he stops in at a coffeeshop and picks up two dark roasts and some doughnuts. His destination is in Hackney; a thin slice of a big building covering two floors. He knocks on the street level door, but when there’s no answer he heads down the small staircase to the basement one. It’s unlocked, and there’s a Muggle radio station playing inside, so he opens the door and walks inside.

“Hello?” he calls, and the man painting in the far corner looks up.

“Draco!” says Dean. “Didn’t know you were coming over.”

“I didn’t know, either, until maybe twenty minutes ago.” He hands Dean one of the coffees and a doughnut.

“You’re welcome, of course, but particularly when you come bearing edible gifts.”

Draco looks at the canvas Dean is working on. It’s a large one today, washed in deep browns and soft golds. “Painting going well?”

Dean nods. “Just started this one.” He pauses to chew, and then says, “It’s been a good week for it. Finished up two others yesterday.”

“I’m glad someone is having a good week,” Draco says.

“Yeah. The Ministry must be in a right fix right now.”

“It is,” Draco agrees. He looks at the streaks of paint and washes of color in front of him while Dean finishes his doughnut and picks his paintbrush up again.

“Something else bothering you?” Dean asks as he hovers over the canvas.

“Is it that obvious?”

“No. I’m just very observant, and you’re unusually quiet today.”

Draco smiles. “Just dealing with old stuff. I’ve been spending time with a lot of people who knew the old me. And people who have known both, but— but I haven’t made things quite right with. I guess I feel like I owe apologies, but it’s too hard to begin. It’s too hard to give them. And I feel uneasy around them.”

“You apologized to me,” Dean points out. “And now we’re friends.”

“Yes, but it’s different. Somehow. You were never someone I actively hated.”

“It also wasn’t really your fault that I was in your dungeons.” Dean’s voice is light— he has an ease about him that Draco envies. “You didn’t kidnap me, and you couldn’t control the situation.”

Draco presses the edges of his fingernails hard into his palm, uncomfortable. “I could have done more. I could have done something.”

Dean shrugs, and then carefully dabs a bit of green paint onto the canvas with his brush. “Maybe. Maybe not. I don’t blame you. All I’m saying is maybe it’s harder to apologize to them because you feel more responsible for the things you’re sorry about.”

“Maybe,” says Draco. “Anyway, I should go. Save me one of the new ones, yeah? I’ll pay gallery price.”

Dean smiles and shakes his head. “You haven’t even seen them. How do you know you’ll like them?”

“I just know,” Draco says on his way out. “I have excellent taste.”

 

 

December 24th — Saturday

 

Draco has never put up Christmas decorations. The Malfoy house elves always did that, under Narcissa’s exacting instructions. He doesn’t even own anything holiday-themed.

But Potter looks kind of depressed, and Draco wants to keep him happy so that they can both go on pretending the other evening didn’t happen. So they go looking for a Christmas tree at the stand a couple blocks over.

Frankly, every tree here is a shameful abomination compared to the massive blue spruce that usually stands in the ballroom at Malfoy Manor, but Draco bites his tongue and follows Potter up and down the rows while he fingers all the branches, like some sort of pine needle perv. Finally, Potter stops in front of one of the shorter ones.

“This is it,” he says, with the air of someone making a grand pronouncement.

Draco looks at the short, fat little pine tree. “It’s crooked.”

“It’s perfect.” Potter looks strangely put out, so Draco looks again. It’s definitely listing to one side.

Draco shrugs. “I hope you know some decorating charms, too, Potter.”

Potter does, and it only takes one more stop at a hardware shop on the way back, plus shelling out about a hundred quid, to purchase some peace and good will. Not a bad deal, in Draco’s opinion.

Plus, the twinkly lights are rather pleasant.

 

 

December 25th — Christmas

 

Granger steps through his Floo with an enormous Christmas dinner, and her gangly husband pokes his head through warily behind her.

“You might as well come all the way in, Weasley,” he says. “I haven’t put any hexes on the rug.”

Granger is happy to hear about the Warrington house party invitation. “Scotland,” she says. “You know, that’s where our informant said McLaggen was when he was supposed to be here in London for the rally. What’s Warrington like?”

“He was a few years ahead of me in Slytherin,” Draco says. “Well-liked, played his cards close to his chest. I don’t know much about the Warringtons except that they’re rich.”

“We don’t have any other real leads,” she tells them. “So let’s hope this proves useful.”

Weasley is awkward at dinner. Tense. The whole situation is, really, but Granger is trying very hard and, surprisingly, so is Potter. And maybe there’s a strange sort of holiday magic that creeps out from people when you put some holly wreaths and candles up, but Draco doesn’t hate it.

It’s fine. It’s really fine.

 

///

 

Potter turns on the wireless in the evening, and Draco listens from the armchair, his stomach full and his eyelids heavy. They’re playing an old recording of a Muggle reminiscing about his childhood Christmases in Wales. He’s got a wonderful, scratchy kind of voice, filled with its own particular cadence.

One Christmas was so much like the other, in those years around the sea-town corner now, out of all sound except the distant speaking of the voices I sometimes hear a moment before sleep— Dylan Thomas says through the speakers, the space crackling and popping between his memory and Draco’s ears, and Draco lets it wash over him. The voice and the story, the darkened room and Potter rustling the pages of the Prophet over on the sofa. He lets himself relax, and the next time he opens his eyes there’s an orchestra playing on the radio and Potter is asleep.

Draco listens to his breaths, heavy and even, and matches his own to Potter’s rhythm until he drifts off again.

 

 

 

December 26th — Monday

 

Warrington’s Scotland house turns out to be a bloody castle. A small one, but definitely a castle.

“Did you know he was this rich?” Potter— dressed as Sayre again— mumbles under his breath.

Draco shakes his head as some elves appear and then disappear again with their suitcases. “Don’t gape.”

“Draco!” He turns to see Pansy striding across the hall to meet them. She’s wearing riding breeches and tall green wellies, and she looks strangely suited to her surroundings. “I can’t believe you actually came.”

“I told you I would,” he says as she reaches them, and leans in to accept her kiss on the cheek.

“Yes, well— I had my doubts.” She turns to Potter. “Dudley! I’m so pleased you could make it, too. I set aside one of the best guest rooms for you two. Do you ride?”

“Er, horses?” asks Potter.

“Hippogriffs. Cassius has a whole stable of them. It’s really caught on over in France, you know. I was skeptical at first, but it really is such fun— I try and go out every day. I’m organizing a trip down the beach in a few hours, actually. You should join us.”

Potter looks dumbfounded. Draco coughs. “I’m afraid Dudley will be on his own there. I don’t ride.”

“Oh,” says Pansy. “I forgot. Terribly sorry, Draco.”

“Not at all,” Draco says. “I’ve actually got a bit of a headache. Maybe I’ll lie down for a little awhile.”

“Of course. I’ll have an elf show you up. What about you, Dudley? Shall I have a mount saddled for you?”

“I— sure,” Potter replies.

Pansy beams. “About four o’clock. See you then.” She strides off toward what Draco assumes are the kitchens, blithely unaware she’s just invited Harry Potter on a hippogriff ride. Draco shakes his head; sometimes the world truly astounds him.

 

///

 

He can see why this is one of the best guest rooms; there’s a huge picture window looking down over the sea, crashing onto the narrow strip of sand below. There’s a large en suite bath with a copper soaking tub attached, and the normal finery he’d expect to see in a high society house. The bed is large, a tall four-poster taking up most of the center of the room.

There is only one bed.

“I can’t believe I didn’t think of this,” Potter says, his arms folded across his chest as he surveys the situation. “I knew she thought we were— well, you know. But it never crossed my mind.”

“I admit I didn’t think quite this far ahead, either.”

“We could transfigure that chair over there into a small bed,” Potter suggests. “Who would know?”

“The elves will know. They always know that sort of thing. They might tell Warrington, or they might not. It depends on how nosy he is.”

They both look at the bed silently.

“It might not be a problem,” Draco offers finally. “Even if the elves do tell Warrington. He might just assume we’ve had a falling out.”

“No,” Potter says, his voice very firm and decisive. “We can’t chance it. We don’t want anything setting off any alarm bells for these people.” He looks at Draco. “We’re adults. This is not a big deal.”

“Right. No big deal,” Draco echoes.

 

///

 

It is a really big fucking deal.

Potter had come back from his ride spattered in muddy grit and windblown, but grinning. “I didn’t expect to enjoy myself here, you know? But that was great,” he’d said, peeling off his sea-soaked sweater and tossing it in the basket just inside the bathroom door. He’d dressed quickly for dinner, which was a small, quiet affair since most of the guests were arriving the next morning.

“I’m so glad you two are here today,” Pansy had confided, ignoring the fact that she’d ordered Draco to arrive this afternoon. “Cassius won’t be back until late tonight, so otherwise I wouldn’t have anyone to keep me company besides his stuffy relatives.”

When they’d returned to their room, Potter had gone straight in for a shower. Draco listens to the sound of the water running behind the closed door. It occurs to him, in a particularly potent way, that Potter is naked behind those doors, a scant five feet away from him. Soaping up his various body parts.

It occurs to him that Potter will soon be lying down less than a foot from him, if he’s estimating the size of the bed accurately. Under the same blankets, all those parts of his body warm and close to Draco’s.

Potter comes out of the bathroom slightly damp, his face a little pink from the steam, and dressed in a plain white t-shirt and flannel pajama bottoms. Draco had, thankfully, brought a pair of silk ones from home just in case: he usually wears nothing to bed.

After fussing with his glasses, and where his wand was going to lie on the nightstand, and after Draco has used the bathroom himself and returned, there is nothing else to distract them; they stand on opposite sides of the double bed, looking at each other. A strange, excruciating detente.

“Well,” Potter says, too casually. “Guess we better get some sleep. Big day tomorrow. Lots of… spy stuff.”

Draco can hear the fake nonchalance dripping off every syllable. “Yes. Quite,” he says, playing along.

They continue to stand and look at the bed. Draco wonders if they will perhaps stand here all night, neither willing to make the first move. But as usual, Potter proves to be the braver of them, and pulls back the blankets.

“Nice mattress,” he comments inanely. “Better than your sofa.”

Draco quickly lies down, too, pulling the blankets up to his chest. When Potter stops rustling around beside him, he whispers, “Nox,” and sets his wand on the table beside him.

There’s just enough moonlight spilling in through the window to make out the tall, old-fashioned posts of the bed around them, and Potter’s profile close by. Draco doesn’t normally sleep on his back but doesn’t want to move now. He stares at the ceiling, thinking he will never get to sleep, but he concentrates on the sound of the surf and, eventually, Potter’s rumbling, soft snores, and at some point he drifts off between them.

 

 

December 27th — Tuesday

 

When Draco wakes up, the room is awash in the pale grey of first light, and the right side of his body is very warm. He moves sleepily toward that warmth, blinking slowly. Potter has rolled over in his sleep; he’s burrowed down into the space between his pillow and Draco’s, on his stomach, with an arm thrown over Draco’s side.

Draco carefully slides out from under the arm and walks silently to the bathroom. The stone is cold beneath his feet and when he opens the small, circular window above the bathtub the wind off the sea is cold, too. Draco stands in the coldness for several minutes.

Warm is dangerous.

 

///

 

“It’s good to finally meet you, Draco,” Warrington says at breakfast. “Pansy rarely has anything nice to say about anyone, so I’m anxious to know one of the few exceptions.”

Pansy’s face tightens, but she gives a little laugh, like it’s a grand joke. “Cassius finds honesty refreshing, you know. Qualities in such short supply often are.”

Draco watches the man, but Warrington’s either terribly good at acting or truly amused by Pansy. He merely raises his coffee cup and says, “Cheers, darling,” with a small smile on his face.

Potter— as Sayre— has frozen at the exchange, still holding his knife over the crumpet on his plate. Draco nudges him with his foot under the table, and he blinks, bringing the knife down to spread the melting butter that had slipped off.

“And I you,” Draco says to Warrington. “Pansy is my oldest friend, as you probably know. Her happiness is very important to me.”

Warrington inclines his head, still smiling. “Do you hunt, Draco?”

“Not animals,” he says and sips at his tea.

Warrington’s smile grows. “Yes, I was hoping to hear about your work in the Ministry. So many of our people look askance at the Aurors, and the prospect of a career with them, but I think it’s very smart, personally.”

“Our people?” asks Potter.

Warrington turns toward him. “Purebloods. Families with long, distinguished lines like yours, Sayre. Our control has been loosened in other Ministry avenues; we should try and get finger-holds in wherever we can. Don’t you agree, Draco?”

Draco holds Warrington’s gaze. “Of course. It’s— refreshing— to find someone who understands that as I do. My father has some trouble seeing the bigger picture.”

“He’s part of the old generation,” Warrington leans forward, his forearms resting on the edges of the table, wrinkling the thick, white linen cloth. “They have trouble seeing past a lot of things, because they’re so old-fashioned.” He raises his eyebrows and glances at Potter, smile still in place. “But I assure you, I have no such hang-ups. Our generation is the future. Isn’t it, Pansy darling?”

Pansy startles, very subtly. Her spoon knocks against the side of her porridge bowl just a little too hard. “It is,” she agrees, and she offers a smile up to Potter, who she thinks is a pureblood from Ireland and Draco’s lover. When she looks back to Draco, her eyes are sincere. “I’m so glad you two are here.”

 

///

 

“Tell me you’re getting the same creepy vibe from Warrington,” Potter murmurs as they leave the dining hall. Pansy had stayed behind to greet all the other guests with her fiancé, but they were expected to show up on the lawn for a pick-up game of Quidditch in the afternoon.

“I shouldn’t have made that comment about the hunting,” Draco says now, his voice quiet, too. “If I’d gone with them this morning I’d have more opportunity to watch him.”

“But you wouldn’t have heard his views on the Ministry, then,” Potter says. “Anyway, if Warrington’s out, maybe we can do a bit of snooping.”

Draco sighs. “I’m not sure where to begin, or what exactly we’d be looking for. I think our best bet is to mingle—“ he shudders. “And listen. There’s got to be some Traditional Wizarding Order members on this guest list.”

“My galleons are definitely on Warrington. He’s definitely got strategy on the brain.”

Draco shrugs. “He’s also Slytherin. Everything is strategy. Even marriage.” He thinks of Pansy now, and feels strangely sorry for her. “Which reminds me.” They stop at the end of the hallway, in front of the staircase. Voices are coming from the opposite direction, where the gardens are located. “Pansy’s taken a liking to you. She’s going to try and take you around to meet people with her. It’s a good opportunity. But—“

Potter looks at him curiously. His hair is light again, and his features obscured, turned into the fictional Dudley. Draco finds it unsettling, suddenly— speaking to Potter when he doesn’t look like Potter.

“I know you have reason— good reasons— to hold hard feelings against Pansy. But she’s not the girl she was at Hogwarts, anymore, and— look, she’s just trying to get by these days, in this stupid world her parents still inhabit and I would appreciate it if you could find it in yourself to be— nice to her. While you’re here.”

It’s harder to read Potter’s face while he’s wearing someone else’s, but Draco thinks he might be surprised. “We wouldn’t be here,” he says to Draco. “Working together like this, I mean, trusting each other— if I couldn’t get past things we all did as children, and give people a chance now.”

For a moment, Draco can’t speak. He hadn’t considered whether he and Potter actually trusted each other, but right now, he realizes he does. He trusts Potter. It’s more of a surprise that Potter finds Draco worthy of the same.

“Thank you,” he finally says uncomfortably.

Potter nods. “Let’s split up today. See what we can find out. I’ll see you at dinner.”

 

///

 

At dinner, he and Potter are seated across from each other, which is normally how couples are arranged at these dinner parties. It means they can’t speak privately, but it does give him an unobstructed view of Gregory Goyle talking enthusiastically to Harry Potter about broom models, which is not a sight he ever expected to experience, let alone enjoy.

Millicent leans over toward him. “My husband seems to like your boyfriend,” she says. “Normally can’t get much out of him at these things.”

“I can’t say as I blame him,” Draco says. “On either count.”

Millicent snorts, and stabs at her fish. She’s never cared much for fine manners; Draco used to think less of her for it, but these days he appreciates the transparency.

“When was the wedding again?”

“Last spring,” she says. “We did invite you.”

He winces. “My apologies. I tend to let work overwhelm me. I don’t really socialize much these days.”

Millicent shrugs. “I’ve noticed. It’s good to stay busy, though. I tell Greg that all the time.”

“What’s he doing these days?”

“He works our farm,” Millicent says. “I raise hippogriffs now, didn’t you hear? Granger was certainly all up my arse with inspections and such when she was still with the Magical Creatures Department. Everyone’s wanting them nowadays for riding and hunting. I like it.” She pauses to take another bite. “Greg helps me and does jobs for Cassius.”

Draco’s heart sinks. He’d hoped Goyle wouldn’t be involved in any of this. “What kind of jobs?”

Millicent’s brow wrinkles. “I’m not really sure. Just grunt work, running errands, that kind of thing. Cassius does a lot of organizing, you know? Politics. I don’t have the head for any of that— I’m well happy with my beasts.”

“Millie,” he says carefully. “Has Greg mentioned the Traditional Wizarding Order?”

She puts down her fork and turns her full attention on him. Millicent can be quite intimidating when she wants to be. “He hasn’t. What’s it about? I don’t like the sound of it.”

“It’s just a political party.” He takes a drink from his water goblet. “I think a lot of purebloods support it. I just wondered if that might be what Greg’s helping Warrington with.”

“Greg helps Cassius keep his new stables in order and does business Cassius is too posh to go and do himself. And don’t think I didn’t notice you call him by his last name.”

“I don’t know him very well,” Draco protests.

“And you don’t like him, either,” Millie says firmly. “If you know something— something that might mean trouble for Greg— you can just tell me right now.”

“I don’t, Millie. Calm down.” He looks around, but everyone is engaged in their own conversations. “I swear. It’s just a— feeling I have.”

Millie stares at him for a long moment, then picks her fork up again. “You’ll tell me, if that changes.” It isn’t a request. “You owe him that, Draco.”

Draco draws in a quick breath, but goes back to eating his own meal.

He definitely hasn’t missed what a minefield these things can be.

 

///

 

He takes his place in the bed while Potter is still in the bathroom this time, just to avoid the awkwardness of last night. When Potter comes out, he closes his eyes and listens— there’s a whispering sound like fabric sliding over skin, and a tinny rattle that he thinks are Potter’s glasses being laid on the nightstand.

Potter turns the room dark without a word, and the hairs on the back of Draco’s neck raise just a bit; he forgets, sometimes, just how powerful Potter is. The bed dips as Potter slides in, and the quilt pulls a little over his chest. Draco thinks about the conversation they’d had this morning, and he feels a flood of warmth for the man stuck in bed beside him. Once, when he was eleven years old, he’d thought they might be friends. There hasn’t been a day since then that he’s thought it could happen, though, until this one.

As he drifts off tonight, he feels a little lighter somehow. A little more… possible.

 

 

December 28th — Wednesday

 

Potter is sprawling out onto Draco’s side of the bed again, burrowed up against Draco’s ribs and snoring slightly against Draco’s shoulder. Potter’s snoring isn’t so bad, really. It’s never obnoxiously loud; more like the warm rumble of a small bear. Draco lets himself hover right between sleep and waking for awhile, drug under by the pleasantness of someone else’s heat and heft against his body.

The air in the room carries a chill, but in the bed it’s incredibly warm and it’s hard to want to pull himself away. To care about avoiding embarrassment. He’s aware of Potter’s leg against his, and as Potter shifts a little in his sleep his knee curls up until their legs are tangled together. Potter’s shins are bare and Draco can feel the coarse tickle of Potter’s leg hair on his lower thigh.

It’s been ages since he lay in bed with a lover. Ages since he allowed this easy intimacy. His body curls toward Potter’s without any decision on his part, like a flower turns its face to the sun. Potter’s hair smells like salt and his mint shampoo and Draco pulls a deep breath into his lungs, savoring the feel of cotton and skin, the slow hardening where Potter’s leg is creeping over onto him—

Draco sits up. Potter stirs and then settles, his head half on Draco’s pillow. Draco extricates himself the rest of the way carefully. He slowly pulls the drawer of the guest dresser open so that it won’t squeal on its hinges and rummages around inside until he pulls out a bathing suit, then he creeps quietly from the room, shutting the door silently behind him.

 

///

 

He swims, hard, heaving his whole body against the waves. The sun is coming up behind the castle and the gulls are crying overhead and he swims until his arms are burning, his mouth opening and closing only to pull the cold morning air into his greedy lungs. When he stops, he’s well beyond the breakers and the sea is calm. The shore is a dark line in the distance and the castle still splintering the silvery blue behind it. He puts his face up toward the sky, lets his arms and legs float loose around him. The water laps at his ears, sound going funny and muted.

He wonders how long it would take to swim until he couldn’t see land at all anymore. He wonders how that would feel.

 

///

 

He tries to find Warrington the next morning, but the man is like an eel, always slipping off somewhere. Potter is off riding with Pansy again; he saw them heading out to the stables a quarter of an hour ago. He sees Millicent out on the magically-warmed terrace, flipping through a magazine and drinking something that looks vaguely alcoholic, so he goes out to join her.

“I thought the house elves didn’t serve alcohol until dinnertime,” he says when he reaches her.

“They don’t.” She looks up at him over the top of Winged Beasts Digest. “If you don’t ask them to.”

“What’ve you got?”

“A grindylow gimlet.”

“My, we are enjoying our time away from the farm.”

Millie rolls her eyes and he flops down into a chair beside her. “These house parties are so dull after the first day or so. Why does anyone think they’re a good idea?” he asks.

“They like to show off,” Millie says, turning a page. “This gives them ample time to wear more of their outfits.”

There was a woman playing gobstones on the other end of the terrace with her son. He’d met them yesterday in the library when she’d introduced herself as Madam Flint. Her son had been reading a book on dragons. “Can you believe he’s reading that?” she’d said to him with a grin. “And he’s only four!”

“That Flint kid is going to be great beater when he gets to Hogwarts,” Draco says.

“Hmm?” Millie flips another page.

“Look at him. That’s an enormous four year old.”

“That’s because he isn’t four. He’s at least five, probably six.”

“Then why would she tell me he was four years old?”

Millie lets the magazine fall to her chest. “Because she had him before she got together with Marcus. Out of wedlock. Since they got married, they’ve pretended he’s Marcus’s. Everyone pretends Marcus is the father.”

Draco shakes his head. “What completely unnecessary subterfuge. Why?”

Millie shrugs. “Some people care about that sort of thing.”

“Mmm.” Millie goes back to her reading, and he tries to nap, but something is niggling in the back of his brain now. He leaves with an excuse about finding a house elf, and wanders deeper into the house.

Most the guests are out doing various planned activities, and the rooms are empty and quiet. He’s just thinking about heading upstairs to see if he can spot Potter and the other riders from an upper window when he hears a scuffle and whispers from the back stairwell behind the kitchens.

He eases forward, keeping to the shadows along the wall. A quick disillusion charm and he fits himself up against the balustrade. Warrington is standing on the landing just above, talking to someone Draco can’t quite see.

“You know better,” Warrington is saying in clipped tones, “or you ought to, at least. I don’t want you seen here.”

“You’re not answering your owls, Cassius! And I must talk to you about this plan. I just don’t think—“

“Why on earth do you suppose I’m interested in you doing any thinking? That is not your purpose. I assure you, I’ve got it well in hand.”

“People are very upset, Cassius.”

“I intend them to be. Right now, a lot of wizards are thinking that the Muggleborn agenda wants to take their remaining sliver of relevance left in the Ministry. They think their way of life, their traditions, their very selves are under attack. They’ll latch on to anyone who tells them they’re too important to go away quietly, and that’s you. We’ll use them to take that seat.”

Warrington shifts, and Cormac McLaggen comes to stand in front of him on the first stair. “What if you go too far?” he asks, looking up at Warrington. “What if we’re found out?”

“Oh, McLaggen— stick to your script. Leave the thinking to me. You’ve nothing to worry about. Now go home.”

When their footsteps have faded down the hall, Malfoy ends the charm and climbs the stairs himself, up toward the bedroom he and Potter share.

 

///

 

Potter comes in about an hour later, already shucking off his boots. He looks surprised to see Malfoy there waiting.

“McLaggen was here,” he says without preamble, and Potter stops with one arm out of his sweater.

“You saw him?” he asks.

Draco nods. “And heard him. He’s got cold feet about Warrington’s plans.”

“Did he say what those plans were? If there was more coming before the vote?”

“No,” Draco admits. “But Warrington is definitely whipping up the purebloods on purpose.”

Potter runs his hand through his hair, pale brown now, above a face that isn’t his and that Draco grows more uncomfortable seeing every day, for some reason. “This is good,” he says, and finishes removing his sweater. His long-sleeved shirt underneath sticks in damp patches to his abdomen, and Draco looks away. “But we need something more concrete if we’re going to bring him in.”

Draco clears his throat. “I’m going to break into his study. He’s probably not stupid enough to leave anything lying around where I can find it, but it’s worth a shot.”

“Wait until I shower,” Potter says. He comes to look out the window, down at the people gathering for a picnic on the beach below. Draco tries to do a headcount, but he can’t see very well from this angle. When Potter turns to say something, his face is suddenly right there, filling up his view. Draco watches his pupils blow wide, but the color is all wrong. Not that particular green that he sees sometimes in his dreams, staring down at him in fire or in bloodied water. Potter swallows, his throat moving slowly, and Draco realizes how close they are. He pulls back, and watches Potter tear his gaze away from Draco’s mouth.

“I’ll keep watch in the hall,” Potter says quietly, his voice strange and heavy with something new that sets Draco’s heart racing.

 

///

 

Draco searches Warrington’s desk drawers, the bookcases, the paintings to make sure they aren’t covering a safe. He even taps on the wooden paneling to make sure there isn’t a hideaway. The only cabinet in the room turns out to be storage for Warrington’s old Quidditch trophies. He’s about to give up when Potter cracks open the door and hisses, “Someone’s coming.”

Instead of holding the door open for Draco to leave, Potter closes it behind him and locks it again with a whisper.

“What are you doing?” Draco asks urgently.

“We won’t get out without being seen,” Potter says, looking around. “They’re moving too fast. There must be a lift I didn’t know about around the corner. There—“ he points at the cabinet. “We’ll wait them out in there.”

Draco thinks it’s a very bad idea, but there’s not enough time to complain about it. They squeeze into the cramped space and close the door, Potter muttering a spell to lock it. Hopefully Warrington doesn’t want to relive his glory days at Hogwarts right now.

“Make sure our friend understands he’s not to come here again,” Warrington is saying to someone as he enters the room. Draco can hear the door snick shut behind them. “And then I’ve got another task for you. Millicent is occupied?”

“Yeah,” says Goyle, and Draco closes his eyes, even though it’s pitch black inside the cabinet. He leans his ear carefully against the door. “Pansy’s taking her out to look at your pregnant hippogriff. She’ll be ages. She loves those beasts.”

“My fiancé is very occasionally useful, I suppose,” comes Warrington’s smug voice again. “Pity it’s never intentional.”

Potter twitches behind him, then stills.

“Go see our man in Wales after you talk to McLaggen,” Warrington continues. “Tell him I have a job for him in a few days.”

Potter shifts again, and Draco’s attention shifts, too, to where their bodies are touching, and where Potter is trying to hide his growing hardness between them. Draco fans his fingers out against the wall, so carefully. His breath is stuck in his throat, and he makes himself exhale. There’s a litany of reasons scrolling through his head about why this is a terrible idea— all the ways this could end in disaster.

He pushes his hips back, anyway. He pushes into Potter’s cock so there can be no doubt; he feels it. He wants it. A tiny noise— just a rush of air, really— comes from Potter behind him. Draco’s breath is coming quick and shallow now, foaming hot little clouds between his face and the wooden panels. Maybe it’s the complete blackness inside this space, maybe it’s the thrill of being hidden but discoverable, but Draco feels wild with it— with how badly he wants this.

Potter’s arm comes up to rest beside Draco’s, his hand joining his braced against the wood. His chest leans into Draco’s back and Draco moves slowly, pressing his arse into Potter, rubbing circles into this dangerous heat building.

Potter’s breath is on the back of his neck, and Draco closes his eyes. He bites his lip, hard, holds it between his teeth so no sound can escape him. Potter is moving against him now, a steady press and retreat, a rhythm that sets Draco on fire with no way to put the flames out. It’s excruciating and it’s divine and Draco wants, god, he wants everything.

He arches his back— Potter likes that, his fingers tighten over Draco’s— and shifts his upper body. Warrington is talking about the seating arrangement for dinner now, nothing important. He moves slowly and carefully until he can turn his body around flush against Potter’s.

It’s a shock, somehow. There’d been nothing left to interpretation in their previous activity, but feeling Potter’s cock straining against his own is something else altogether, and Potter’s face is so close to his, his mouth is so—

Potter’s lips slide against his. His breath mixes in with Draco’s, and he can taste the inside of Potter’s mouth now, that slick warmth. He puts a hand on the side of Potter’s head.

Potter is still rolling his hips into Draco as they kiss. The whole cabinet is warm and humid now; it feels foggy and encompassing, but Draco doesn’t feel claustrophobic. Not at all. He could stay in this heated unreality forever. He pulls Potter’s bottom lip into his mouth and sucks on it, careful to be quiet. Potter’s hip thrust forward, hard, and he grabs at the waistband of Draco’s trousers.

“I’ll make your excuses at dinner,” Warrington is saying, and the sound of footsteps can be heard moving around in front of the cabinet. They both stop, still pressed together. Goyle says something Draco can’t quite make out, and something bumps lightly into the door behind his head. Potter’s fingers tighten on his waist.

Then they can hear the door to the hallway open and close again, the sound of their voices fading away behind it. They both stay very still for another moment, and then Draco removes an arm from Potter to ease the door open.

The room is empty again, and the sun is sinking down toward the sea. “Shit,” Draco says, his voice rough. “Dinner soon. We shouldn’t be missed at that. Too risky.”

“Right.” Potter sounds winded, too, and his shirt is rumpled. They look at each other for a long moment, and then Potter says, “I’m going to try to make a Floo call to Hermione. If I use her home address it shouldn’t set off any alarms here.”

“Right,” Draco says. “Good idea.”

Potter leaves first, after making sure the way is clear, and Draco follows a few minutes after, still feeling like he’s moving underwater.

 

///

 

Draco switches a few name cards at dinner so that he’s sitting beside Millicent again. He waits for an opportunity, and watches Potter across the table from him. He’s put on a black necktie with his dark gray formal robes, and he’d obviously attempted the hair charm Draco usually did for him, but it’s not quite as neat; some of his hair is going rogue in little waves and ripples. It reminds Draco of Potter’s real hair, black and perpetually messy, and it makes him think about getting his fingers in it while he does something else with Potter’s mouth.

Potter’s eyes grow heavier and heavier the longer Draco watches him, and a slight flush starts to creep up his neck toward his face. He sends long glances back across the table between snippets of conversation with his neighbor, some young witch from Brighton that Draco’s never heard of. Draco stares anyway, unabashed. Whatever this thing is that’s happening with Potter, it’s a mutual madness.

Finally, most of the table is involved in a spirited discussion of the best summer holiday spots in Wizarding Greece, and he tweaks Millie’s elbow to get her attention.

“What?” she scowls, leaning closer to hear him.

“Is Greg back yet?” he murmurs into her ear.

“What? No. Why are you asking me that?”

“Millie, please listen to me,” he continues, and she tenses up but stays quiet. “When he returns I want you to take him and go back to your hippogriff farm, and keep him there. From now on, keep him home with you. Do you understand what I’m saying?”

Millicent’s earrings tremble, but it’s the only sign she gives that he’s spooked her. “I understand,” she says, her lips barely moving. She straightens again. “Thank you, Draco,” she says in a normal voice.

She excuses herself right after dessert.

 

///

 

He meets Potter at the foot of the stairs. “Did you see Goyle return?”

“I saw him walk in, but Millicent grabbed him and took him back toward the kitchens.” Potter looks confused. “They haven’t been back since.”

“Good,” says Draco. “I told her to get him out of here. We can question him anytime, but I doubt he’ll know enough to be much help.”

“I agree. It’s not Warrington’s style to let his henchman know too much.”

Draco hadn’t expected Potter to agree about Greg that easily. He’s a bit nonplussed.

“Hermione would like something tangible, some kind of hard proof to connect Warrington to a crime before we bring him in,” Potter continues.

“I’m sure we’ll think of something.” He wishes Potter looked like Potter, suddenly. He doesn’t want to stare at Sayre anymore; he wants to watch and touch and taste Harry Potter.

Potter puts his hand on Draco’s collar, slowly pulling at the fabric like he’s straightening it. “Might as well turn in for the night,” he says. “Don’t you think?”

Draco has never agreed more.

 

///

 

As soon as the bedroom door closes behind them, Potter’s got his mouth all over Draco’s. It feels a little like he’s dreaming, and he runs his hands up and down, all over the man currently exploring his mouth with his tongue. He wants to feel every bit of Potter, he wants to taste every part of him. But there’s something not quite—

“Take off the charms,” Draco orders, pulling back just a little, his voice hard and low.

Potter ’s breath is shallow, uneven. He swallows, then pulls his wand out from his back pocket. “Finite,” he says, and he’s Harry again. Finally.

Draco falls to his knees. The button on Potter’s pants gives way easily, and he pulls them apart and down until Potter’s cock bobs out in front of him. He’s breathing so hard now, looking at the swollen length in front of him, and so is Potter. He looks down at Draco. His eyelids are heavy over his green eyes, his lips parted and his cheeks are flushed and his dark hair is messier than usual. Draco leans in the remaining few inches and takes the tip of Potter’s cock into his mouth. He tastes it, slowly, his tongue swirling and lapping, and Potter groans low and deep.

“Merlin, Malfoy.” Draco slides his lips up further, watching Potter all the while. He loves how every inch feels sliding through his lips and into his mouth; loves how every bit sends Potter further over the edge. “Just like that— oh— oh, don’t stop. You’re so good, so—“ Potter’s eyes close as Draco reaches up and grasps him with one hand as he pulls back with his mouth, sucking lightly as he goes.

“So good,” Potter keeps whispering, and he’s making breathy moans in time with the rhythm Draco sets up. His hands tighten in Draco’s hair and his forearms are tense, tightly controlled like he’s holding himself back. Like he might lose himself entirely in Draco’s mouth. In Draco.

It’s a haze, a trance almost. Draco feels lost in it himself, in what he’s making Potter feel and sound like.

“Draco,” Potter groans above him. “Draco.”

Just a few more hazy moments, and Potter is pulling at his hair and urging him up to his feet. He kisses Draco deeply.

“I want you on the bed,” he tells him. “I want to see you. All of you.”

The sight of Harry Potter completely naked is something Draco is glad he didn’t pass up this time. His own clothes join Potter’s on the floor, and then Potter presses him down onto the blankets, crawling up over him, letting his mouth drift on Draco’s skin as he goes.

“Is this ok?” he asks, with his fingers pressing lightly into Draco. He wishes he could say yes in every language, could scream it with every part of his body.

“Please,” he whispers instead, and Potter knows exactly what to do.

It’s a sharp, overwhelming pleasure, Potter thrusting into him. He wants more, curls his heels into the back of Potter’s thighs to pull him deeper, to feel his belly pressing and sliding against his swollen, desperate cock. Potter laces his fingers into Draco’s, their hands fisted together above Draco’s shoulders, on either side of his head. Potter pushes his weight into them; he pins Draco to the bed and he moves him with only the force of his hips snapping back and forth against Draco’s. In and out of Draco, stroking and burning him up on the inside.

Potter’s mouth is all over Draco’s throat, and then he lifts up to nip at Draco’s jawline, and all the while he keeps rocking Draco into this huge hunger, this enormous need that will only always want more.

“Potter,” he breathes. His voice is all gasp and groan. “Harry. I’m going to come. I’m going to—“

“Thank god,” Potter whispers into his ear, and he kisses him, his tongue curling up to lick at Draco’s teeth. He pulls one of his hands away and reaches down between their bodies. When Potter’s hand wraps around his cock, Draco arches up off the bed and Potter thrusts into him, hard. Draco shouts, he thinks, but he’s beyond caring. He’s coming and Potter is coming, too, and his pleasure is loose and liquid and wordless in Draco’s ear.

When they’re both breathing normally again and they’ve cleaned each other up, Potter doesn’t bother with the pretense of moving to one side of the bed. He just throws an arm over Draco’s chest and a leg over Draco’s thighs and he falls asleep exactly like that. Draco tries to stay awake so he can listen to Harry breathe against him, but sleep pulls at him, too, with insistent fingers, and he lets it take him under where Potter is already waiting.

 

 

December 29th — Thursday

 

It occurs to him in stages that Harry Potter is curled up against his back, with an arm lying across his waist and one of his legs between Draco’s, and that he doesn’t need to run away from it this morning. He lies still for a long time, as the room turns from still-black to shades of blue and gray like the sea outside their window. After awhile Potter’s breathing changes subtly, and he presses his hand flat against the skin below Draco’s belly. His fingers skim and skate over Draco’s skin, and Draco breathes and grows hot with want all over again.

When he rolls over to face him, Potter’s eyes are already open. There’s just enough daylight to make out their color, and he smiles at Draco.

Draco leans in to kiss him, and then they come together with their hands and mouths again, and Draco is very, very careful to memorize every second as it happens, like a film he wants to replay. Again and again.

 

///

 

“Hermione already knew McLaggen had been here,” Potter says. He’s standing at the window, looking outside. Draco takes a step toward him.

“How?”

Potter turns, and pulls his wand, adding the cosmetic charms he’s been using to his face. “Our informant.”

“Then—“ Draco stops.

“It’s someone here, now,” Potter finishes.

“Merlin. It’s Pansy,” Draco says.

Potter looks at him. “Are you sure?”

“Yes. I’m sure. I feel like I half knew it all along, if that makes sense.”

Potter nods. “Do my hair?” he asks, and Draco goes to him, mouth twitching into a small smile. “After breakfast,” Potter says. “We can get her alone after breakfast.”

 

///

 

“We have to talk now,” Draco says to Pansy, when they get her alone in her little solar on the second floor. “About Warrington.”

“Cassius?” Pansy opens a drawer in the side table, and pulls out a little silver holder and a pack of cigarettes. The silver glows, briefly, when she puts one in and suddenly the smell of fine tobacco and a touch a clove begins to permeate the room. “He’s a bit of a shit, of course, but—“

“Pansy.” She stops, surprised. “About the election,” he continues. “And the bombing, and the anonymous tips to Granger.”

The cigarette trembles on the way to her mouth.

“Are you alright?” asks Potter. She looks at him, but her face is blank. Empty.

Potter pulls out his wand. “Finite,” he says, and the charms all vanish at once.

Pansy staggers back, her face gone pale and frozen. She holds herself up on the corner of the table. Draco hasn’t seen her composure shatter like this since the War.

“Pansy,” says Potter. He holds out one of his hands to her; she looks at it for a moment, and then up at him, at his face. Her hand is shaking when she holds it out to him, but he takes it calmly, wrapping his other hand into a nest around it. He leads her to the sofa and she sits.

Draco kneels on the floor in front of her. “Pansy, you’re the anonymous source that’s been sending information to Granger, aren’t you?”

She takes a deep breath. Potter is still holding her hand in both of his, sitting beside her on the cushion. “Yes,” she says. “Since the bombing. I knew Cassius was leading a political revival, knew he wanted to regain power for the old pureblood families and separate us from the Muggles, even the Muggleborns again. I knew he was stirring things up, but—“ Pansy closes her eyes. “I didn’t know until then that he would actually hurt anyone.” She opens her eyes and looks at Draco. “McLaggen came here, the night before the rally was scheduled. The night before the bomb went off. He was agitated, scared. He’s come before and Cassius has had to talk him down, but I thought it was all campaign stuff. And that night was different. He kept saying he thought they were going too far. And then— then I saw the newspapers the next afternoon, and I knew.”

“Is Warrington the party leader?” Draco asks.

“It’s not a party,” Pansy says, with a curl of her lips. “It’s Cassius, and a few of his cronies. He’s smart, and he knows what people like our parents want to hear. He knows what makes them feel afraid. I think he’s probably been studying them all his life, resenting all that old influence that his family’s money couldn’t quite buy.”

“How involved in the plans is McLaggen? Does he—“

“McLaggen is an imbecile,” Pansy says harshly. “He loves the attention and he’s easy to manipulate. He’s just a puppet for Cassius. But he was here last night, and every time he comes in a panic something bad happens.”

“We know, Pansy,” he says. “You realize we’re going to have to bring him in?”

Tears begin to slide soundlessly down her cheeks. “He’s going to know,” she whispers. “He’ll know I gave him away.”

“Pansy,” says Potter now, rubbing her hand between his and leaning toward her. “We’ll take you somewhere safe. I promise you. I’ll take you there myself.”

“Why?” Pansy’s crying harder now. “Why do you care? I was so—“

“You’ve been so brave,” he interrupts gently. “It was so brave, sending us that information. We wouldn’t have put the pieces together if you hadn’t.” Pansy looks up at him in astonishment, and Potter gives her a big, gentle smile, still holding on to her hand. It’s a kindness that goes right through Draco; freezes him up on the inside and then shatters him with a burst of heat, like trees thawing in the springtime, giving over their sweetness in gasps of surprise.

“Can you do that now, Potter?” he asks. “Before we take Warrington?”

Potter nods. “I can Side-Along her myself. Just give me a moment to send a quick message to Hermione.” Potter squeezes Pansy’s hand one last time, then stands and walks over out to the balcony. Draco can see a large silver stag erupt from his wand, and Potter talking to it. He gives Pansy a quick hug and hands her a handkerchief.

“Cheer up, Pans. It all gets better from here. You won’t have to marry that prick, for one.”

Pansy attempts to laugh as she wipes her face. “It’s a whole new world,” she says. “If I’m pals with Harry Potter.”

“It really is. What do you want to do, in this new world?”

“Do you know,” Pansy says shakily, “I don’t think I actually want to marry anyone.”

Now it’s Draco’s turn to laugh.

 

 

///

 

“We can hold Warrington for a week before we file charges with the Wizengamot,” Granger says. “Plenty of time to get statements from Parkinson and Goyle. I’ve got Aurors out picking up McLaggen, too. I imagine he’ll have a lot he wants to tell us, once his lawyers start angling for a plea deal.” She wrinkles her nose.

“Is that the end of the Traditional Wizarding Order, do you think?” he asks. “Out with a whimper?”

Granger shrugs. “I’ve found it best never to assume the worst is over, unfortunately. Constant vigilance, and all that.” She smiles to herself, like she’s thinking of a private joke.

“I still feel like we’re missing something,” Draco says. Guests are leaving, the appearance of Aurors being a great deterrence to fun, apparently. He watches Madam Flint hurrying her son along, and he realizes what it is. “Granger, have you got this covered?”

“Of course,” she says, and he pulls his wand out, already walking away.

“And you can start without me, back at the Ministry?”

“Why should I?” she calls after him. “Malfoy!”

“Because—“ he grins at her over his shoulder. “I’m going to bring in more evidence.”

 

///

 

There are storm clouds forming out on the ocean when he lands on the beach at Ynys Llanddwyn. Sand flies out from under his boots, and he turns his face into the wind whipping up off the water for a moment. He looks at the lighthouse. The top is still dark. He turns toward the cottage of the Kitchen Witch and makes his way over the dune, to the little path of crushed shells among the tall grasses.

Carys is standing at the door when he arrives, the top half open to the coming evening. She makes a strangely lonely silhouette against the brightness of her kitchen beyond.

“I had a feeling you were coming,” she tells him when he reaches the yard.

“Read it in the tea leaves?” he asks.

“It’s not that kind of magic.” She turns her face back toward the light. “Alyce!”

He sees the little girl jump off the last step and into the kitchen, then sidle up to her mother. “Run up to the sanctuary,” Carys says, cupping the girl’s cheek with her palm. “Tell your da to come.”

When Alyce has left, that thick dark hair of hers swinging in snarls and the splash of freckles standing out boldly across her face, Carys holds the bottom half of the door open for him to enter. The kettle is whistling on the big, iron wood stove, and she pulls down two mugs and fills them up, sifting in the herbs from a big crock on the counter.

He breathes in the smell when she sets his cup in front of him— lemon balm and a complex crush of herbs— and watches as Carys takes a sip.

“Ash in the mouth,” whispers Carys, staring down into her mug. “Babies you never get to hold. Roses dripping petals two day past their prime. Salt. So much salt. An ocean of it. That’s what I taste in the tea.” She looks up at him, and her eyes are dry but burning. His own sting in sympathy. “I thought he was dead. I thought Iwan was dead. I hadn’t heard from him in nearly a year, and everyone else was—“ She closes her mouth over the sound trying to escape with her words, and closes her eyes. “Everyone else was dead. The Death Eaters had gotten them all. His family in England, my family here. And I was all alone. Tom has always— always had a thing for me, you see. I knew. And I thought, what’s the harm? Iwan is dead and I’m so alone.”

She falls silent. Draco can hear the ticking of the clock on the mantle and the dull roar of the sea in the distance, the way it flings itself again and again onto the rock-crusted shoreline. The way it breaks and flows backward, only to dash itself again, and again.

“And Alyce? Does Tom know she’s his?”

Carys shakes her head, but says, “I don’t know. I never told either of them. Iwan or Tom. I had only just realized I was carrying her when Iwan came back.” She’s looking at Draco, and not at Draco— her eyes focused on something only she can see, something happening in a different time than they sit in now. “It was like someone coming back from the dead. I didn’t believe my eyes at first. And to my everlasting shame, as soon as I felt the joy I knew I would never tell him. I told myself Iwan couldn’t bear it, but I— I think it was me who couldn’t.”

A tear finally slips down her cheek, and she bends her head down toward the table. “You’re sure it’s Tom?”

“I’m sure. And I think he’s done some other dirty work for some bad people as well. In London.”

Carys shakes her head. “He hated them same as the rest of us. Why would he— why would he help them?”

“I don’t think it’s about helping them,” Draco says. “I think it’s about hurting Iwan. They say fear makes us do things we’d never do normally, but I think pain twists us even more.”

Sometimes Draco thinks the War never really ended at all, that it's still running beneath their world like an underground stream. He wonders if it will just keep on echoing, and echoing; thousands of individual hurts passed along, only to wash up somewhere else downstream.

“He’s at the lighthouse,” Carys says after a long silence. She doesn’t look up. “He never leaves the lighthouse after sunset.”

 

///

 

He waits on the dune until the top of the lighthouse flares into life, the long reach of the mirrored fire blinking and circling its way across the bay, out to where the ocean hides its face.

Tom Evers is sitting on an overturned crate when he gets to the top, looking away from him, out toward the darkness. Draco wonders if he wishes he could go back and make a different choice. If he feels locked into his current path, no matter how many doubts he has. He wonders if the pain and the rage have grown bigger than the love that started it all.

“Evers,” he says, and the man jumps up, reaching for his wand. “Expelliarmus.” Draco catches the wand and tucks it into the front pocket of his robes, his own still trained on Evers.

“You must be very good at Apparition,” Draco says. “For a man to get from here to London and back again in time to tend the lighthouse is impressive.”

“Don’t know what you’re talking about,” Evers says.

“Don’t you? There’s a peculiar smell in the storage room downstairs. Like rotting fruit. You should have a care— I’m told that stuff is very flammable.”

Evers tightens his jaw. He looks tensed up all over, like fight or flight is kicking in.

“Was it worth it?” Draco asks, and he’s walking a careful line now. “The woman who died? The dragon you maimed?” Draco moves a little closer, on an angle, the glass of the walls all around them getting closer. “Was it worth betraying the woman you loved, and both of your dead families, just to get at Iwan?”

Tom Evers looks nearly unhinged now, still frozen in place but blinking rapidly, fingers clenching and unclenching on nothing. Draco takes another step forward.

“She’ll never leave him for you,” Draco continues. “Especially now that she knows what you are. And Iwan still has the girl, doesn’t he?”

One more step.

“He’s still got the daughter, too.”

Tom Evers bursts into motion, throwing himself across the room and flying into Draco before he can get his spell off. They crash into the paned glass behind him, and it makes a loud cracking sound. Evers is strong, full of helpless knowledge that there’s nowhere to go from here. The pane they’re leaning against shatters, and with a gust, the outside air rushes in, overwhelming and blowing out the light.

 

///

 

Granger tries to send him to the Infirmary, but he can’t leave yet. He’s standing on the other side of the one-way glass, watching Tom Evers, who is slumped at the interview table, waiting to be questioned. His head is bowed, his cuts and scrapes already healed over by the mediwitch Draco waved away. Something roots Draco to this spot, some vague feeling that he might have been Tom Evers once, or in some future that didn’t occur. He wonders if that makes them the same. He wonders what it means, that he understands, somewhere hidden inside his bones, what drove Evers during the long nights he spent alone, on his cot, thinking on all he’d lost or never had at all.

“What the fuck was that?” He turns to see Potter striding into the room, looking livid. His eyes scan the cuts, the blood soaked into Draco’s shirt. “Look at yourself. Why would you do that?”

“I don’t know what you mean, Potter. Why would I do Auror work?” It’s so easy to slip into his accustomed sarcasm.

“Why would you go after him alone? Why did you go there without me?” Potter insists.

“I’m a big boy, Potter, I—“

“I thought we were partners.” Potter’s eyes are blazing, all green fire and Draco looks away. “We were in this together, Draco, and I—“

“It’s over, Potter,” Draco cuts in. He chances a look back at him; Potter is very still and very silent. Draco had been wishing he could see past the Sayre disguise all week, but now it would be easier to look at. It would be easier not to see Harry. “All that is over now.”

“You’re a real piece of work, Malfoy,” Potter finally says, and turns to go.

“I know,” Draco says, but it’s only an empty room that hears him.

 

///

 

That night Draco dreams, and he is the ghost in his garden. He is both silvered figment and his own solid and flesh face pressing against the window, watching. Spinning and spun, haunting and haunted. Turning and turning, an open mouth with no sound.

 

 

December 30th — Friday

 

MCLAGGEN AND WARRINGTON ARRESTED FOR ANIMAL CRUETY, ARSON, MURDER! — INDICTMENTS EXPECTED

Draco throws the Prophet down on his table. It’s getting dark, and he hasn’t left his flat all day. When the bell rings, he assumes it’s the Chinese he ordered.

It’s Potter.

“I’m just here for my stuff,” he says, and Draco stands aside silently. He goes into the kitchen, because watching Potter look under the sofa for his socks feels sad and creepy.

The ghost is back. He can’t tell what form it’s taken yet— it’s still just a vague human shape, this continual presence that keeps creeping up in his garden and in the back of his mind, driving him crazy. He feels bile rising in the back of his throat, and he goes to reach for the bottle of Ogden’s only to pull out an empty bottle.

“I poured it down the drain,” Potter says behind him. Draco turns to look at him. “Before we left for the house party. You have a problem, Malfoy.”

“Who the fuck are you to tell me I have a problem, Potter?”

“No one, I guess.” Potter looks tired, and kind of sad. “But I’ve watched you. I know you, Draco.”

“No,” Draco says. “You really don’t. You have no idea.”

Potter sighs, and Draco glances out the window again, just to check. The ghost has drifted closer, and he feels a strange, skittering dread crawl up his spine. “It keeps coming,” he whispers.

“What?”

Draco blinks, and looks back at Potter. “Never mind. It’s just the ghost.”

Potter has an expression on his face that Draco can’t read, and Draco thought he had learned all of Potter’s expressions in the two weeks they’d lived together. Potter walks over and looks out his window. This close, Draco can smell the mint shampoo he prefers and feel the warmth coming off his body. It makes him think about the mornings he woke to Potter pressed against him in the bed, makes him want

“There’s nothing there,” Potter says. “Draco, there is nothing out there.”

Draco looks. The yard is empty.

He shakes his head. “I just saw it. It was just there.”

Potter bites his bottom lip and runs one of his hands through his hair, making it stick up even more than normal. “I can’t— I won’t— force my way into your life, Draco. I can’t fix things for you. It just doesn’t work like that.”

Draco stares at him, and Potter reaches slowly and takes his arm, pulling his hand away from his body and turning it so that his wrist is held up between them. Potter pushes at his sleeve, pushes it up his forearm until it’s all wadded up around his elbow. When Draco looks down, the remnants of his Dark Mark are clear on his skin between them. It’s a pale gray, the outlines smudged. Some days he even forgets it’s there, for a while, until he flips on the light in the kitchen or dries himself off after a shower. Like a ghost, it haunts his arm.

Draco tries to pull away, but Potter holds on tight to his hand. He traces over the mark with his index finger, gentle loops over and over, and the skin starts to tingle underneath his touch. It’s like Potter’s finger has a tiny flame, etching some strange magic into his skin. After a moment, Potter stops, and Draco can see the letters glowing there, right over top of the old mark.

Human, it says.

Draco blinks back a sudden rush of moisture in his eyes, and tries to get free again. Potter holds on for another long moment, his fingers wrapped around the bones of Draco’s wrist.

“Get over yourself, Draco,” he says. “You aren’t the only person who went through a war.” He lets go now, and Draco is already growing cold where his touch had been.

“Everyone— everyone— has a ghost in their garden.”

And then he’s gone. Draco hears the door close quietly behind him, and he slides to the floor, strangely out of breath and with tears spilling down onto his cheeks. When he finally looks down, the word is gone, and his arm is the same as it always was.

 

///

 

The bar is a dive, dirty and overcrowded, but it was only two blocks from his flat and it stocks Firewhisky. He sits at the bar, and the glasses pile up beside him.

Before he’d left, he owled in a request for leave. In all the years he’s worked with the Aurors, he’s never even taken his allotted vacation, so he figures they owe him some time off. He doesn’t go back to his flat. He can’t be anywhere near the ghost in his garden. He asks for a room, and a girl with blue eyes and a quick, fake smile hands him a big brass key.

 

///

 

The convenient thing about living above a bar is that he doesn’t have to go far for the next bottle of Firewhisky. In fact, since he opened a tab with the owner, all he has to do is tap his wand on the nightstand and a fresh one appears. That’s good, because after the first week Draco realized he was a little unsteady on his feet every time he tried to walk away from his permanent sprawl across the bed. Sometimes he twirls a heavy-bottomed shot glass across the scratched floorboards to see if he can get it to the opposite wall. He doesn’t bother with the glasses that get sent up with the whisky otherwise. He drinks it straight from the bottle, like any merciful god intended.

He also stops keeping a precise track of time after that first week. It hasn’t been a month, but that’s all he can say for certain, and it’s in this wave of lethargy and unreality that he cracks his eyes open and realizes Ron Weasley is standing over him one afternoon. He knows it’s afternoon because the git has ripped open the curtains covering his windows, and the sun is slanting its way down the sky and shining directly in his face.

“Weasley,” he spats. “What the fuck do you think you’re doing?”

“Bloody hell, Malfoy,” Ron breathes.

“Why are you here?”

“No one’s heard from you in over two weeks,” someone else says. He squints around the arm he threw over his eyes and sees Dean. “No one’s had even an owl from you. Your mum Flooed me at the gallery.”

Draco hadn’t known his mother was even aware of who Dean was, let alone where he lived.

Weasley starts in again. “I had to track down the last place you’d been seen and finally asked the bartender if she had any idea where you might be.”

“Well now you can sod off.” He pulls a pillow over his face.

Weasley sits down on the edge of his mattress instead. “So you live above a bar now? Why aren’t you at the Manor, being catered to by house elves? You’d at least smell better.”

“Why are you running errands for my mother now?”

Weasley sighs. “A much as I don’t want to, I feel inclined to help her if she asks for it. Call it a debt. Also Hermione is upset and up my arse about it, too.”

“There are people who care about you, Draco, and you’re worrying them,” Dean says, and the sound of the window being wrenched open fills the room.

Draco concentrates on the throb of his head. If he pretends they’re not here, eventually they might leave.

“What are you doing, Malfoy?” Weasley asks, shattering his hopes.

Draco pulls the pillow away. “I am drinking my own weight in whiskey, Weasley. I am pickling my internal organs and drowning every thought in my head. I’m ceding my flat to a ghost. And I’d like to invite you once again to sod off. This is a solo performance.”

“This isn’t like you. This isn’t Draco Malfoy.” Weasley’s eyebrows are drawn together and he’s looking down at him with his stupid freckled face in a twist and his stupid red hair lit up by the light coming in through the window. This would enrage Draco at any other time, but now he can’t seem to dredge the feeling up.

“I don’t want to be Draco Malfoy, Weasley. Haven’t you ever wanted to be someone else, someone other than yourself?”

Weasley’s voice is quiet. “Yes.” He sits in silence and Draco lays there, breathing. “It never works,” he says finally, and Draco moves his arm off his eyes. “You can only change the things you do, not who you are. You could drink yourself to death, I suppose, but you’ll still die Draco Malfoy, the vain prick who lashes out at anyone who gets close enough to his claws.”

For someone who’s done absolutely nothing besides raise a bottle to his lips for weeks, he feels so very, very tired. “What’s it matter, Weasley?”

“I can think of someone it might matter to, if you would crawl out of your self-indulgent, drunken sulk and pull your head out of your whiny arse.”

Draco swallows. His throat feels tight. “It’s too late.”

“Maybe,” Weasley says. “Maybe not. Maybe you’ll luck out and he’ll give you another chance. He’s like that, and he’s always seen you clearer than you think. Besides, there’s other people who seem to like you, for some reason.”

“I like you,” Dean says.

“Don’t be an arse-kisser,” Weasley tells him. “He needs ‘tough love,’ according to Hermione.”

“Holy fucking Merlin,” Draco mutters. “Would you please stop speaking, forever?" He hesitates, digging his fist into an eye socket. “I think— I might need help.”

“Yeah,” says Dean. “You have an alcohol problem, Draco. You need to dry out.”

“I can’t even imagine the horror that must be your liver.”

“Shut up, Ron.”

 

 

January 24th — Tuesday

 

“This is horrifying,” Granger says, picking up another empty carton of takeout. “Do you two eat nothing nutritious?”

“New-what?”

“Good for you.” She glares at him.

Draco shrugs. “That’s all subjective.”

“It’s not,” she argues. “It’s science.”

“That sounds made up to me.” Draco tries to peer around her at Dean’s television, and she swats at him.

“I’m pretty sure I could talk to Wizarding Resources about this abuse. You being my boss, technically.”

“Go on then,” Granger says, finally moving out of the way. “That will be entertaining for everyone involved.”

“How’s the case going, Hermione?” Dean asks from the kitchen, where he’s washing his brushes in empty jam jars.

“Good,” she says. “With confessions from McLaggen and Tom Evers, and with Pansy’s statement, we’ve got a very tight case. I’m expecting convictions for both, and the full sentencing, at least for Warrington.”

“How is Pansy?” Draco asks.

“She’s doing well. You know, I wasn’t sure how we’d get on, because of— well, you know. Old history. But I quite like her. She’s very funny once you understand her tone.”

“I should go see her. I bet she misses her hippogriffs.”

Hermione hums, emptying the spent tea bags from some mugs on the counter into the trash can. Draco has been drinking enough tea to wash himself out to the Thames since he came to stay with Dean. “The Goyles took in most of Warrington’s stable. She goes over and sees them almost every day. That reminds me, Charlie wanted me to tell you he’s got something you’ll want to see, when you can make it over to the sanctuary.”

“Why would thinking of Pansy remind you of Charlie Weasley?” he asks.

Granger glances at him and then away again. “Oh, no reason.”

“I’ll find out myself, anyway,” he tells her. “I’m going home tomorrow, and when I see Pansy I’ll give her the full grilling.”

Granger gives him a worried look. “Are you sure you’re ready?”

“Stop mothering me. You are so bossy.” His tone lacks all bite, and Granger smiles at him. She's been extra annoying since he sat her down and apologized for the things he'd done at Hogwarts. For the things he hadn't done that day at the Manor. “I’ll be fine,” he assures her.

When Granger leaves, she slips a folded piece of paper under the book he’s been reading.

“For when you’re ready,” she says.

 

///

 

The next morning, he goes back to his flat. It smells musty, unused. He spends some time practicing the cleaning charms he’d looked up while he was drying out at Dean’s, and then he goes through the paperwork he needs to take back to work with him in a few days.

When the sun is lost behind the buildings to the west of him, Draco pulls a kitchen chair out the back door and sets it on the little concrete slab in his back garden. He sits down, and he waits. The air turns colder and bites at his bare hands and his face, but he stays. The street lamps down the alley flicker on, and he can hear the noise of people going in and out, rattling dishes and talking to their families or friends. It’s a distant but familiar swell of sound, like the ocean.

The sea of living people do.

It’s almost completely dark when the ghost comes. It starts with a pulse of pale light in the corner, by the bare, craggy rose bush. As he watches, it seems to shake itself into existence, a pulse and a sputter and now a human shape. It floats around the broken pieces of lawn furniture and discarded garden tools, seemingly without purpose or direction. Finally, it seems to notice Draco, and it comes a little closer, facing him.

The ghost is a man; a boy, really, probably a teenager when he died. He’s wearing clothing from a much older time period— breeches and a rough homespun coat. He doesn’t look like anyone. Not Lucius, or the woman who died in the fire. Not Draco himself, or any of the ghosts he carries along with him, the ones of his own making.

The ghost in his garden is just a kid who died here a long time ago. Draco wonders if he’d been happy, while he was alive. If he thought about that life at all anymore; if he had regrets. The ghost quickly loses interest in him, though, and bobs away toward the little gate at the back of the garden. Draco stays, and watches as he inspects every barren plant, lost in whatever world he left behind.

Draco stays and sits with his ghost.

 

 

January 28th — Saturday

 

Draco holds tight to the little slip of paper in his hand, scanning the row of houses in front of him. He looks down at the address there again, in Granger’s neat, precise handwriting, and he mouths it aloud to himself, like a mantra.

Suddenly, the houses rumble and creak, shifting apart to reveal the number on his paper. He takes a deep, steadying breath, and walks up the steps to knock on the door.

Potter is wearing jeans and a red sweater with a giant ‘H’ knit in gold across the front. His hair is a mess, of course, and he hasn’t had a shave today. He looks surprised to see Draco, so he probably wasn’t aware that Granger had given his address out.

Oh well— this was never supposed to be easy.

“I was just in the neighborhood,” he says. “And I wondered if you might like to take a small trip with me.”

Potter raises his eyebrows, but his lips twitch at the corners, just a little. “What an incredible coincidence,” he says dryly. “What kind of trip?”

“The good kind,” Draco assures him. “The kind that begins with me telling you to bring your broomstick.”

 

///

 

Charlie is waiting for them when they get to the sanctuary. “Been waiting to do this until you two arrived,” he says, beaming. “Wait here.”

“Malfoy, what exactly are we doing?” Potter asks, scratching his head and looking out at the large pasture in front of them. The long grass is bending with the breeze, rippling away from them.

“You’ll see,” Draco says.

They hear him before they see him— a low rumble like a cat’s purr, but louder and much, much deeper. Then the young Welsh Red bounds out from the large barn and down the little run leading to field.

“You ready?” Charlie calls, running from the barn behind the dragon. “I’m going to take the last of his bandages off now!”

The dragon’s scales are shining like gems under the winter sun, and Draco turns his head toward Potter. “Do you remember that radio program we listened to at Christmas?” he asks him.

Potter looks at him, too.

“The one with the man talking about his holidays as a child?”

“Yeah,” says Potter.

“Do you remember that line at the beginning? When he talked about the voices he sometimes heard right before falling asleep?”

Potter’s face is all soft now, and Draco missed it so much. He’d missed Potter cracking open under his gaze, like Draco somehow had the power to see straight through to the Harry no one else got to see, not in his entirety.

“I always hear yours,” he finishes, and Potter’s smile warms him from the inside out. “I’m sorry. Harry—“

“I know,” Potter says. “I know you are.”

“Time to go, boys,” cries Charlie, and he gives the dragon’s rump a sharp slap. Phoenix slides forward, then jumps into the air, his healed wings snapping out around him with a loud beating noise. They flap, and the dragon rises, little by little. He seems surprised, like maybe he’d doubted that he would ever feel the air bending to his will again.

Harry and Draco kick off with their brooms, flying up beside him, and the dragon roars in delight, tossing his brilliant ruby head back and forth. Phoenix shoots forward, and Potter laughs, aiming his broom in the same direction. Out toward the sea spending itself on the shore, the sun shining on the water until it was a mirror for the sky, the two of them, impossibly, racing toward the clouds with a dragon.

Racing toward whatever world they could make together.