He’s drunk when he tells you. One too many turns with the Elf wine. He never used to drink the stuff. Mead and Firewhiskey and the occasional extra-strong version of their childhood, Butterbeer. But Elf wine. That was new. About five weeks new. Seemed like such a random occurrence when he brought home his first bottle. Now you know it’s anything but.
He’s drunk when he tells you and that seems unnecessarily cruel. He could’ve at least offered you a glass or two first. A whole bottle of your own. Something to dull the edges of his story, something to dull the knife wound at your back. You feel its pulses, red-hot, between your shoulder blades with startling clarity.
“Shut it,” you say, and his rambling slur stops short.
“Gin, love…” he starts and the knife blade twists.
“Just shut up.”
You leave the room as fast as your legs can carry you. You can’t take the wounds. Not tonight.
You borrow your father’s car in the wee hours of the morning with dawn barely taking shape across the horizon. Creeping across the faded yellow grass to the garage with all manner of silencing charms to help. You hope both of your parents are having a lie in this morning because wouldn’t it be embarrassing to be caught like a teenager sneaking off with the car? You can’t bring yourself to face them. You can’t bring yourself to come up with an excuse.
Harry’s at your side. You hear the early morning air in his lungs: inhale, exhale, inhale, exhale.
It’d be romantic, twenty years ago.
Inhale, exhale, inhale, exhale.
Now it’s all you can do not to punch him. To feel his nose crack beneath your knuckles.
Maybe he’d like you better then. (Maybe he’d fall in love with you again.)
He takes the driver’s seat, and as much as it irks, he’s the only one who knows exactly where you’re going.
“Don’t see why we can’t just Apparate.”
“You know you’re not allowed—”
“You are, though, right? If it’s official Auror business?” You want to laugh even as his jaw hardens. It’s so ridiculous. One big joke.
“He’s in exile—“
“Not exiled enough,” you grumble under your breath.
“I could just go—you don’t have to…”
You silence him with a look. You don’t need words for him to know exactly what you’re thinking.
He turns over the engine, and with a silenced rumble, you’re off.
Three hours later, you’re pulling up a long gravelled drive. Three hours of silence, of tense shoulders and staring out the window, head pressed against the cool glass as roundabouts turn into gentle rolling hills and main streets lined with shops turn to forest and so much green as far as the eye can see. You’re a little bit nauseous but who can tell if that’s from the interminable car ride or what lies ahead?
You should have brought your broom for the return trip. Fuck the Statute of Secrecy.
A cottage squats in front of a small pond, a dock stretching out nearly halfway in, it seems. The sound of birds chirping greets you as you crack open the car door; fresh air fills your lungs.
It’s far too idyllic. Far more than what he deserves.
“I could just pop in, if you want to wait…”
Harry’s voice fades as you pass him by and march straight up the walk to the front door. Before the bile reaches the back of your throat, you knock.
If Malfoy’s surprised to see you, he doesn’t show it.
“Mrs. Potter.” He nods. His eyes flick behind you as you hear Harry approach. You want to spit in Malfoy’s calm, collected face. See if he’ll give you a sneer then. Call you a blood traitor. A weasel. A twat. Your wand burns in your pocket, aching to be used. But Malfoy doesn’t do anything more than blink. “Come in, why don’t you.”
You brush by him as he’s stepping back to open the door wider. You’re proud that you managed not to elbow him in the gut on your way. The cottage is terribly small. One room with hardwood floors and threadbare rugs to delineate different sections. The sitting area. The kitchen with its squished square dining table shoved into a corner. And out of the way, behind an old Japanese screen, the bed. Barely a double. Not room enough for two to sleep except curled into each other.
The back of your throat burns.
“Tea?” Malfoy offers.
“We’re just here for—“ Harry starts, but you cut him off.
“Yes,” you say. You force a smile. You force your eyes to meet Malfoy’s. You force yourself to stay still and bright against his impassive stare. “Tea sounds lovely.”
“Gin,” Harry whispers. You can hear the frantic notes in his voice. “Love, let’s just get what we came for—“
“Don’t call me that.” You don’t force yourself to hide anything as you turn to Harry. Let him see everything. The hurt, the bile, the fire in your mouth and your eyes. “Don’t you ever call me that again.”
Malfoy acts as if he can’t hear, but you know better. You can see better in the stiffness of his back as he sets the kettle to boil, as he reaches for three cups, one chipped, and sets them on a tray.
You know it’s not your words that caused it.
Tea cups and saucers clanking together break the silence. You sip your tea. Earl Grey with one lump of sugar, no milk. “Fresh out,” Malfoy had said, handing the cup over. Neither smug nor apologetic. He’s expressionless as he sits in a grey arm chair, one arm slightly tattered as if a Kneazle spent days picking at it before it ended up in Malfoy’s possession.
“Your cottage is…quaint. Homey.” You smile, trying to soften the tightness you feel in your jaw. “Quite a difference for you, I’d imagine.”
Malfoy’s face betrays nothing. “It serves,” is all he says.
“I need the toilet.” Harry stands, teacup in hand, shifting from one foot to the other. He doesn’t want to leave; you know your husband well enough to read his pained look.
“Taking the tea with you?” Malfoy murmurs. The muscles in his cheek tic. His eyes drift towards Harry, and Harry shakes his head and puts down his cup. They both want to laugh. At least you know Harry wants to laugh.
You want to scream in your tea.
(You don’t know your husband at all.)
“I’m certain you know where the toilet is.” You try to bite back a snarl, but it comes out in your voice anyway. He pales, but mercifully disappears behind a door next to the kitchen. The weight of your body sags into the chair.
“Don’t be this hard on him,” Malfoy says. You scoff. The nerve of him renders you temporarily speechless. “It’s not his fault.”
The clock on the wall ticks time ever forward.
“I suppose you forced him, did you?”
“Maybe I did.”
“Imperioused him into your bed?”
He flinches; the first sign of a chink in his armour.
“Maybe I did.”
“You need a wand for that. I was at the ceremony splitting yours in half.”
His jaw hardens. It should be a victory; it feels anything but.
“Who says you need a wand? Your husband doesn’t. Not all of the time.”
You want to strangle him. Fuck using a wand. You want to push over his chair and jump on top of him and wrap your fingers around his thin pale throat and squeeze—
“You realize I could have you before the Wizengamot for this. Just for your confession.” Regardless of how untrue it is. You don’t need to say it.
“You could,” he acknowledges. Your mind is full of images of watching his already pale skin fade to white, gasping his last breath as your hands tighten around his neck. You squeeze your eyes shut. Your fist closes around your wand. The magic coils there, next to your thigh, angrily licking at your fingers, ready to strike.
You take a deep breath. You stand, knocking against the side table. Your tea cup falls to the floor with a thump, but you can only stand there and watch as the threadbare rug soaks in the brown liquid.
“Tell Harry I’m waiting for him outside.” You hate the way your voice shakes. But it doesn’t matter anymore. Somehow this whole visit seems like another massive joke at your expense. One you invited. Welcomed. Insisted upon.
You make it to the door. Your hand lands on the coolness of the knob. You turn back, and Malfoy is standing, ever the gentleman, hands clasped in front of him, fringe falling into his eyes.
“Why did he lend it to you?” you ask.
“The invisibility cloak?” Malfoy’s eyes widen just a bit. His gaze flickers down and back, but doesn’t meet your own again. Instead it feels like he’s staring at someplace far away. A memory.
“He took me to Diagon Alley.” Malfoy’s barely loud enough to hear over the hum of his fan in the corner. “I miss magic.”
The air in the cottage feels thick and hot and gets caught in your throat. You turn and open the door to escape.
You don’t wait for Harry. You only wait for however long it takes you to scrawl a note and affix it to the car.
I’m leaving. Don’t follow.
The gravel crunches under your boots as you walk. Away from the cottage. Away from the pond. Away towards the angry hot sun, drying tears before they fall.