It’s raining, the night he stands waiting to see if Potter will show up to the meeting he requested by Owl.
Well, of course it is.
Draco turns up the collar of his cloak against the wet gusts being blown in under the eaves of the train station’s roof. The ends of his hair are damp, and they drip cold water down the back of his neck. He wonders if Potter will come; he wonders if he even received his owl. There’d been no reply.
Draco is watching a man struggle to fold down a child’s pram, his flailing toddler under one arm, when a voice speaks behind him.
“Going somewhere, Malfoy?” It’s Potter.
Draco turns and shrugs. “Would you believe any answer I gave?”
Potter squints at him in the dim, watery light. The lamps are struggling against the night’s gloom. “We might surprise ourselves,” he says, milder than Draco expected.
He looks away, back at the stairs down to the platform, where the announcement had just come over the speaker, signaling a train is about to pull in. He looks back; Potter is still there. The rain has made streaks on the lenses of his spectacles.
“I need to ask a favour,” Draco says. It sounds like something he’s worked at, something he pulled painfully through his teeth. It is.
Potter’s lips go thin as he presses them together, and he cracks the knuckles of his index fingers with his thumbs. “Listen, Malfoy— I can’t get them to do anything in the Auror department. I just finished my training. I’m nobody there.”
Draco seriously doubts that Potter is nobody, no matter where he is. “No, that’s— no. I need to see Professor Snape’s portrait. I can’t just wander into Hogwarts, can I? I thought—.” He stops, and focuses on pulling in a deep breath, then letting it go again. “McGonagall would let you. She’d let you have almost anything you asked.”
“It’s almost like you didn’t have her as a professor for seven years,” Potter says, looking at him strangely. “Why do you want to see Snape?”
Draco grits his teeth together, tries not to look as resentful as he feels. Potter waits.
“Powdered moonstone,” he says quietly. Almost a whisper. “Hellebore. Shrivelfig. Lacewing. Lavender and valerian. Foxg—“
“You got the post-mortem report,” Potter interrupts. “What’s Snape got to do with it?”
“I have questions,” Draco says. Potter looks like he’s waiting for more, but if that’s the case, he’ll be waiting a very long time.
Finally, Potter sighs and rubs at his cheek with the cuff of his jumper. “I thought you were going to ask me to convince them to keep investigating. I thought your mother was calling in a favour.”
Draco twitches, involuntary, but doesn’t respond to Potter's assumption. Instead, he says, “I know you owe me nothing, Potter. Less than nothing. But I’ll never ask you for anything else, ever again. You’ll never see me again, I swear, if—“
“Malfoy.” Potter rubs the bridge of his nose. “I’ll see what I can do.” He looks at Draco for a moment, and then past him. They can hear the train pulling in on the platform below, slowing down until the doors slide open and people start to get off, and then more people on again. Coming and going, coming and going. Draco thinks about going often, truth be told.
“I’ll owl you,” Potter says, and then he steps back out into the darkness and is lost to Draco’s sight.
It’s ugly, of course. Almost breathtakingly ugly, extraordinary in its clashing ostentation. If it were a person, it would be a brash East Ender, a woman wearing too many prints in colours just the other side of too bright, high heels smacking the concrete on Brick Lane, yelling at cyclists to get out of the way. A walking wince. Someone you’d fall in love with, too, in spite of yourself.
“There.” Draco taps a finger against the glossy photo tacked up on the Extremely Rare board on the back wall of Zabini Imports. “That’s the one. I need it.”
Pansy glances over her shoulder from where she’s sorting through the stacks of vinyl behind him. “Ha!”
“Greg?” Draco looks around. “Greg!”
Greg lumbers out from the back room, a sausage roll dripping mustard all down his fingers. “Yeah?”
“I need a listing for this piece.”
Pansy turns around as Greg takes another enormous mouthful and searches for a quill. “Draco, you can’t be serious. That might be the most ghastly thing I’ve ever laid my eyes on.” She comes over to stand beside him, her shoulder bumping his, and they stare at the picture in front of them.
It's a standard-sized, heavy-quilted tea cosy, trimmed top and bottom in royal blue, but the fabric is a loud, lurid orange checked with a red so bright and vivid it borders on neon pink. There are stripes of fake embroidery—crowns and tiny, repeating British flags. And in the middle, a large circular likeness of a young Queen Elizabeth, the image stretched strangely so that she appears to possess enormous jowls, like a peculiarly upsetting cross between the monarch and Cornelius Fudge.
“It’s the perfect piece to complete my collection.”
Greg comes close, squinting, and writes down the listing number. He smells like Doritos and sticky lemon-lime fizz.
“Greg, you’ve got to lay off the Muggle junk food a bit,” Draco says, “or St. Mungo's is going to be forced to flush all those chemicals out of your system soon.”
Greg shrugs. “Maybe they should flush your eyes out,” he says, moving back over to the desk. “Something’s wrong with ‘em if you like that thing.”
Pansy turns her head to look at him, delighted. “Even Goyle questions your taste, Draco!”
“Greg doesn’t understand about collecting. It’s the rare, distinctive pieces that really make a set.”
“Distinctive is certainly one word you could use to describe this. I can think of several others. Shall I list them?”
“No,” says Draco.
“Tacky,” Pansy begins.
“It’s a limited edition of…” Goyle pauses, flicking through the binder set up on the desk. “One. There’s only one got made.”
“See?” Draco turns back toward Pansy.
Draco rolls his eyes and walks back toward Greg. “How much?”
“It’s a consignment, so you have to put a bid in with the seller,” says Greg.
“Alright,” Draco replies. “Get me their name.”
“Garish. Overpoweringly offensive to the eye,” Pansy drones on.
Greg starts scratching something down on some parchment and then stops, the tip of the quill quivering slightly. “Ah,” he says, and looks up at Draco in something like apology.
“What?” he demands.
“The seller,” says Greg. He turns the parchment around so that Draco can read it. “H. Potter.”
Draco closes his eyes as Pansy chokes on the next word she’d been about to throw at him. Harry Potter, the very last person on earth he wanted to ask anything from.
Draco opens his eyes. “Can I bid anonymously?”
“We don’t do anonymous transactions. Blaise says it keeps everything above-board. Not like the old days, with the—“ Greg stops.
“With the dark artifact trade,” Draco finishes.
“Well,” Pansy says from behind him. “Let’s think of this as a narrow escape from decor disaster, and you can take me to lunch now. There’s a little French place around the corner.”
Draco grits his teeth, grinding the back molars together slightly, then consciously forces his jaw to relax again. “I didn’t say I was giving up.”
“Draco, please—“ Pansy makes a sudden movement at his side, then stops. “It would be best to just let this go, wouldn’t it?”
“I want to speak to Blaise,” he tells Greg, who raises his eyebrows and shrugs.
“You know where to find him,” Greg says. Pansy looks momentarily deflated when he turns to look at her. A little far away; a little sad.
“Rain check on lunch?” he asks.
Pansy comes back to herself. “Tell him— well, tell him.”
“I will,” he says.
Regno Hall has its long, carved wooden shutters pulled closed as usual, but Draco can remember the days when they were always thrown wide open to the lawns and gardens around the house’s warm beige stone walls. He can remember the scent of lemon verbena coming off the window boxes, and the sound of a woman’s heels clicking on the smooth stone floors inside. A bright trail of laughter and birdsong from the cages in the music room.
The pink bougainvillea is still spilling in riots over the low walls that form the outdoor patios where there had always been a lunch or party or lazy siesta happening, but now all the lounges and tables and benches are stacked against the walls, growing moss and dust.
As soon as he passes through the wards on the front gate, the air turns from the cool, crisp Cotswolds afternoon to the warm, sun-washed sigh of the Mediterranean. Guido, the only Zabini house elf left, answers Draco’s knock in his usual black tie. His only concession to the way things have changed is the lack of a jacket and shirtsleeves rolled midway up his arms— an unheard of informality in the old days.
Guido inclines his head slightly, and ushers Draco into the large foyer. Lucius hated the way the Zabini elves never bowed and scraped. Their full sets of clothing and their apartments in one wing of the ground floor, and most of all the ease between them and the family.
“I thought you were a smart man, Lucius,” Madam Zabini said one evening out on the terrace after dinner. “I am surprised you think it wise to parade your preference for slavery in front of me. In front of my family, and our long hall of ancestors.”
Draco can still see the candlelight flickering over the adults’ faces as the house elves removed the empty plates, still feel the way something opened up inside him like a door to hear someone, anyone, stand up to his father. He hadn’t really understood at the time, had looked again as they left at the portraits lining the main space that ran right up the middle of Regno Hall like an artery, every room opening off from it like an afterthought. Merchants and artists, a famous opera singer and a magistrate of Venice. Royalty wearing heavy ropes of gold from Africa and Rome and medieval London.
“You’re referring to a Muggle folly,” Lucius said stiffly.
“I am referring to a human one,” said Blaise’s mother. “Every elf in our Hall is free, and may come or go as they please. It shall always be so.”
“It’s skin colour,” Blaise told him as he walked Draco out that night, trailing the adults and looking at the portraits. Blaise had always sounded idle and unaffected, even when they were boys. “In many parts of the Muggle world, my family would have been sold in chains until rather recently.”
“That’s barbaric,” Draco said. “Muggles are so backwards and savage.”
Blaise raised his eyebrows. “Ah, yes. And there’s nothing like that in the Wizarding world, of course.”
Draco shakes the memory off as Guido says, “Master Blaise has not come downstairs yet today. Shall I announce you?”
“No thank you, Guido. I’ll go up and find him.”
The portraits come to life as he walks through, as only magical paintings left long neglected and bored do— smiling, waving, turning to show off their best angles. The opera star begins an aria, one delicate hand lying across her low-cut bodice. He waves at them, then takes the staircase at the back of the house. The door to Blaise’s bedroom is ajar. Draco peeks in; the bed is unmade but empty, so he continues down the hall to the study.
Blaise is scrolling down an Ebay page on his lap computer, feet up on the big oak desk that takes up most of the wall where the bank of windows are— windows that remain closed, curtains and shutters drawn. He’s still the only wizard that Draco knows who uses a computer, or the small rectangles that work like a Floo call. He looks up at the sound of Draco’s knuckles rapping against the doorframe and waves him in.
“Looking for anything in particular?” Draco asks him, taking the arm chair across the desk.
“CDs and discmans. They’re flying off the shelves now.”
“What’s a discman?” Draco asks.
Blaise opens a drawer by his knee and rummages around, then sets a thin box just slightly bigger than his open hand on the desk. There’s a cord attached to it leading to one of the weird head pieces Draco has seen Muggles wear on the Tube. Blaise presses a button and the top pops up, revealing a shiny disc.
He leans forward. “Is that like a record?”
“But smaller,” says Blaise. “And portable. You just carry it around with you and listen with the headphones. They’re dead cheap to get, and the discs even cheaper, because Muggles barely use them anymore.”
“Why not?” asks Draco, closing the lid and popping it open again.
“Made something better already.” Blaise holds up one of the small rectangles, but it looks a little different— just a tiny screen and a big circle button. “But you have to download music onto it from a computer, so it’s not very useful to wizards yet. Pansy came up with a charm to make these run on magic, so they’re perfect.”
Draco fiddles with the discman, closing the lid and popping it open again. “She asked after you, just before I came. She misses you.”
Blaise pushes some keys, the slight clack the only noise in the room.
“You should see her soon,” Draco presses. “How long has it been, since you’ve been out of—”
“What do you want, Draco?” Blaise interrupts, never looking up from the screen in front of him.
“Why do I have to want something to come see you?”
“Why indeed,” says Blaise. “Can we just get to the point rather than repeating tiresome, circular arguments?”
Draco sighs. “There’s a listing in your shop. A consignment.”
“So bid on it.”
Blaise looks up from his screen finally and leans back in his chair. “Why not?”
“The seller. It’s Potter.”
“Mm.” Blaise raises his eyebrows, lacing his fingers together across his stomach. He's still in his maroon silk dressing gown. “And?”
“And he’ll say no, of course. Potter wouldn’t sell my own piss back to me.”
A faint smile softens Blaise’s mouth, and Draco’s heart clenches in spite of everything. He wishes the sight wasn’t so rare.
“Well, you won’t know until you try,” says Blaise.
“It’s… complicated. I asked him for a favour two years ago, and told him I wouldn’t bother him again. Actually, I was hoping you might bid on it, and I could just pay you for it.”
“You know I don’t do that. I own the business. I don’t buy my own stock or bid on consignments because I am the agent. What’s the item, anyway?”
“A tea cosy. One of a kind, literally.”
Another ghost of a smile. “I really don’t see the appeal of this obsession, Draco.”
“Collection,” Draco says.
“As you say. You never go for the obvious, though, I’ll give you that.” Blaise gets to his feet, pulling the knot around his waist tighter. “Just bid on it— people sell things because they want money for them. He might give you an exorbitant price, but you’ve got the galleons.”
Draco stands, too, and follows Blaise to the doorway.
“Drink?” Blaise asks, as Draco trails him down the hall. Guido is down on the ground floor, looking up at them from the inner courtyard, the centre of the entire Hall. A high, sweet voice is still singing down among the portraits.
“Alright,” Draco says. Anything to prolong the visit a little longer.
Blaise mixes some negronis, and Draco presses his tongue against the roof of his mouth, chasing that bitter note and the brightness of the orange peel. The ice clinks in the cut-glass tumblers as Blaise moves toward the far end of the library, turning on a stained glass lamp as he goes. Draco joins him in front of the only wall not lined with books. Draco can’t remember what used to hang on it, before. Now it’s home to Blaise’s own new obsession: his collection of Muggle photographs.
Blaise has all kinds. Old black and whites, and some older still, faded yellow and crumbling along the edges. Newer photos in colour, large photos and very small ones of schoolchildren looking at the camera with stiff smiles. Some are portraits and some are just random, everyday moments frozen into a single second of frame. It’s those ones—the ones with a person turned away, looking in the distance, or someone stuck in the air mid-jump, or a single chaotic moment at a birthday party— that still make Draco uncomfortable, although he can’t quite pinpoint why. Their stillness is strangely upsetting.
Blaise loves them, though. He points to one of them, where two young girls are looking over the edge of some sort of long cart on a track like the one at Gringott’s, except the track rises into steep inclines and curls in the air before returning back to the same spot. Their mouths are open, stretched into shrieking smiles, their hair flying away from their heads on a perpetually sunlit afternoon.
“It’s called a rollercoaster,” Blaise says. “Muggles are so strangely inventive, really. Less to work with, and yet they come up with all these things anyway.”
He taps another one Draco hasn’t seen before; an older man in a suit, jacket draped over one arm, his face in profile as he looks out at the sea from the edge of a ferry. “What do you suppose he’s thinking?” Blaise asks. “Where he’s going?”
It’s always like this; Blaise sits and studies these photographs like other people might read a book. He dreams up stories and names, relations and problems, and always, always wondering at what the Muggles might be thinking in the moment they were immortalised, as though it were the great mystery of his life.
Draco shrugs. “Maybe he’s just gone on holiday. Somewhere warmer than he’s used to, hopefully.”
Blaise hums, and Draco can see he’s lost already in his head, in stories he can never know about people he’s never met. On his best days, Draco thinks it’s all Blaise can handle right now— to be involved obliquely, in the small moments of people who are, for all intents and purposes, fictive. On bad days, he thinks it might be as far as Blaise is able to care about anyone, or anything, anymore.
“I told my mother I’d see her for dinner,” he says, suddenly desperate to be away.
“See you later, Draco,” Blaise replies, still studying his wall of photographs of strangers.
Draco pauses in the doorway. “Send Pansy an owl, would you? Just a few lines. Anything.”
Blaise doesn’t answer, but then Draco hadn’t expected one.
His mother is in her solar when he gets home, writing in her calendar at the small table in front of the windows. The elves bring dinner as he sits down.
“Hello, darling,” Narcissa says, still flipping through pages. “Good day?”
“Fine,” he says. “And you?”
“Oh, busy. I had a steering committee meeting for the new wing at St. Mungo’s, and Mrs. Greengrass’s luncheon. Apparently Daphne is traveling to America next month. Can you imagine?” Narcissa shakes her head slightly, her smooth, silky hair spilling slightly over one shoulder.
They never eat in the dining room anymore. There are many rooms they do not enter. Since Lucius’s death, his mother has been going almost non-stop, from one commitment to another. Draco wonders what would happen if she paused.
“Speaking of, I told Daphne I would take her by my stylist tomorrow evening. You can amuse yourself for dinner, can’t you?”
“Of course,” Draco says. “Enjoy your evening, Mother.”
In the morning, Draco waits in the Ministry Atrium, hovering as unobtrusively as possible near the Floos. He’s become good, over the years, at blending in, at fading into a crowd. There are a few second glances and stares, but most people are too busy heading up to their offices, chatting to colleagues on the way, seemingly buoyed by the fact that it's Friday, and thus almost the weekend.
He knows exactly when Potter arrives; there’s just something about him still, something that draws the eye and holds it. He’s still pulling his red Auror uniform on over his left shoulder when he turns from the Floo, looking down to fasten the buttons across his chest as he strides closer to where Draco is waiting. Draco’s often seen his picture in the papers over the years. But as Potter draws closer, he finds himself almost overwhelmed by a strange feeling of vertigo, memory mixing with the present in a way Draco is usually careful not to allow.
Potter was a boy he knew a long time ago, a boy he envied and hated and could never ignore. Potter was a teenager he resented and admired, grudging in equal measure. Now Potter is a man Draco doesn’t know at all— an Auror and a hero and something else behind that. And what connects this Potter and the ones he’d known at school is Draco’s continued, unwilling fascination; not with the hero or the boy who lived, but with the something behind them.
Draco closes his eyes, just for a few heartbeats, and takes a deep breath. When he opens his eyes again, he steps away from the wall, right into Potter’s path.
Potter sees him right before they’re about to experience a collision, stopping so suddenly his glasses slip down nose. He catches them, pushes them back up. “Sorry,” he says, in a way that sounds automatic, then he blinks, squints as though maybe his eyesight can’t be trusted. “Malfoy?”
Draco clears his throat. “Do you have a minute? I want to ask you about a listing.”
Potter blinks. “Listing?”
“A consignment. At Zabini Imports.” Potter continues to look confused. “You’re selling something there, aren’t you?”
“Oh,” Potter says. He tries to brush down the front hem of his uniform, but it stays a little crooked. “Right. Which item?”
“You’re selling more than one?” He’s not sure why this surprises him so much. Potter just raises his eyebrows, and Draco hurries on. “The tea cosy.”
“And you— want it?” Potter looks confused, and then suspicious.
Draco sighs. “Yes. The one you’re selling is very rare. I am of course willing to pay the appropriate price for such a valuable piece.”
If anything, Potter looks more amazed than ever. “You tracked me down here at the Ministry to ask about buying my aunt’s tea cosy? Why didn’t you owl me?”
Draco doesn't answer the last part, because he isn’t quite sure himself. It would have been easier. Less mortifying. Stubbornness, maybe? Penance? Perhaps simply the pull of seeing Potter again himself, bad idea or not.
“I hope that’s not a problem. You’re listed as the seller. Should I contact your aunt instead?”
"No,” Potter says, looking around them and running a hand through his hair. “No, I’m selling it for her. Why do you want it?”
“Why are you selling it?” Potter just looks at him; Draco wonders if this is an interrogation technique they teach their Aurors. He notes, with no small amount of dismay, that it’s working on him. “Look, I collect them, alright? I told you, it’s one of a kind.”
Potter looks around again, his eyes darting from Draco to the Ministry workers passing by, and then to the watch on his wrist. “I have to go, Malfoy. Just— just come over tomorrow and we can talk about it, alright?” Potter sticks his hands into his pockets and rummages around. He pulls out a wrinkled scrap of parchment. “Ah, shit,” he says, wincing. “Not tomorrow. Sunday?” He’s still looking for something.
Draco isn’t sure what to say. He reaches inside his jacket and pulls out an ink pen, holding it out toward Potter, who stares at it. Then he takes it from Draco’s hand and scribbles something on the parchment.
“Sunday,” Potter says again. “Dinner time?”
Draco can only shrug and nod, and Potter looks around them again before shoving both the parchment and pen back at him. “Sorry, I really do have to go.”
And then Potter is gone, across the Atrium and into the lifts, and when Draco looks down at Potter’s scrawl, he sees that it’s an address.
Draco still doesn’t know quite what he’s doing when Sunday afternoon arrives. He stands there on one side of a seemingly normal street, the scrap of paper in his hand, and watches the brick townhouse slide into view among the row of its Muggle neighbors when he whispers the address out loud. He straightens his spine, pulls back his shoulders, and crosses the street.
He can hear things happening behind the door when he rings the bell— thumping getting louder and closer, and some sort of muted wailing of words he can’t make out. Then the door is wrenched open and Potter appears, looking harried.
“In,” Potter barks, and then, more softly, “Come in, please.”
Draco does, and Potter closes the door quickly behind him. “Will you shut it?” he says loudly at a pair of heavy curtains hanging on the wall. The wailing is coming from behind them. “It’s one of your kind, anyway!”
“Portrait,” he explains to Draco. “Your aunt, actually, I think. Great aunt. Anyway, go through to the kitchen and she’ll calm down.”
The kitchen is dark and somewhat messy, with old tea cups and takeaway containers littering the big wooden table. “This is the Black house?” Draco asks.
“Yeah.” Potter sweeps the trash into a bin, then carries the teacups to the big sink on the far wall. He looks tired. “Walburga Black’s house, forever. She put a permanent sticking charm on that portrait.”
Draco winces. “She was not known as a pleasant woman.”
The ends of Potter’s mouth twitch up into a small smile. “Understatement,” he says. “Anyway, have a seat. I just got here myself, actually, so I picked up a pizza. Sorry, best I could do.” He slides a big, flat box onto the table, and nods at a seat.
Draco sits. He watches Potter open the lid and pull off a triangular piece of the pizza, melted cheese trailing off it. He’s still confused, off-balance. Why is Potter serving him food at all? Why is he even here, in this house? He wonders what his mother would say, if she could see him having dinner with Harry Potter in what was once a Black family home.
Potter starts eating— slice in hand, no silverware in sight, no mention of a plate. He nudges the box a little closer, so Draco reaches in for a slice, too. It’s too hot, but delicious. There are little pieces of pepperoni dotted across the top, their edges curled up all crispy, with puddles of delicious grease inside.
“This is good,” Draco says, before he’s even finished chewing. “Really good.”
“Yeah.” Potter looks at him a little strangely. “You can’t go too wrong with pizza, really, but the place around the corner does a really good one.”
They eat, and eye each other across the table. Draco’s skin feels too tight, as if he might split it right down the middle and emerge as something that looks more like he feels on the inside— awkward and strange and anxious.
“So,” Draco says after awhile, rather lamely, “Busy weekend?”
“Yeah. I had to go in for work stuff.” Potter looks kind of dismal for a moment, then switches gears. “So, about this tea cosy. You really want to buy it?”
“Because you collect them.” Potter discards the edge of his slice and reaches for another.
Draco picks at the end of his own slice. “Why does anyone collect anything, Potter?”
Potter shoots him a distinctly unimpressed look, but his mouth is full of pizza, so Draco hurries on. “Why are you selling it through Zabini Imports?”
Potter finishes chewing and wipes his mouth with the back of his hand. “I put several things up for sale through Zabini’s. It’s my aunt’s stuff. She wanted to get rid of some things, and I figured with the boom in the Muggle artifact market”— Potter makes air quotes with his hands— “I could help her out and list them for her. Supposedly, that tea cosy is the only one they made. Some sort of manufacturing error. Luna told me that made it more valuable.”
“Yes,” Draco says. “She’s right.”
Harry shrugs. “I don’t really understand this whole mania anyway. Why—“
A bell rings suddenly, from a room beyond the kitchen, and there’s a whooshing sound followed by a loud crash and someone cursing.
“Ah,” says Potter, getting up. “That’ll be Dudley. Hang on.”
Draco takes the opportunity while Potter is gone to look more closely around him. The place has the distinct look of neglect, a specific kind when someone lives on their own and probably doesn’t take much care of themselves, either. And yet, there are magical photos of smiling people tacked up on the wall by the old hob and a huge copper kettle ready and waiting. There are stacks of plates and cups and jars of utensils on the open shelving and Draco can imagine a large group of people in here, laughing and dining and enjoying themselves. He remembers when he was a child and the Manor filled up with visitors, and thinks about long weekends and school breaks spent with Blaise. The chatter, the laughter. The wreck of their dining table when everyone stood up, full and happy. He allows himself a brief moment to feel the loss like a physical amputation, and then he pushes it away.
Potter comes back with another young man, large and lumbering. “This is my cousin, Dudley. Dudley, Draco Malfoy. He’s interested in one of the things your mum is selling.”
“That you’re selling for her, you mean,” says Dudley, who holds out an enormous hand to Draco. He shakes it, Potter’s eyes on him the entire time. This must be some kind of test— whether he’ll be rude to Potter’s Muggle cousin.
“Nice to see you,” says Dudley.
“Quite,” Draco says. “I didn’t know Potter had a cousin so close in age to us.”
“Yeah, well, I wasn’t too good to him, when we were kids,” says Dudley, opening the pizza box to get himself a slice. “None of us were.”
“Beer, Dudley?” Potter asks, opening the fridge. He seems vaguely uncomfortable.
“Go on then,” says Dudley, taking the seat next to Potter’s.
“I wasn’t, either,” Draco finds himself saying, and he isn’t sure why. Dudley reminds him a little bit of Greg; he can see where a bully might once have taken up all the space inside him, and he can also see that someone else had taught him how to be one.
“But here we both are,” says Dudley, as Potter sits down again, staring holes at Draco. “You go to school together?”
“Yeah, we did, Dudley,” says Potter. “How’s your mum?”
“Spitting nails. The roof’s started leaking again, right in the middle of the kitchen. She just had the contractor in a couple months ago to fix it, so she called him up and told him if he wasn’t there in less than an hour she was calling her solicitor. She don’t have a solicitor, of course— can’t afford one. But I reckon she’s hoping he don’t know that. Anyway, that’s why she didn’t come.”
“Probably a good thing,”says Potter, looking at the pizza box and then over at the dishes in the sink. “I didn’t get much together.”
“Work?” Dudley speaks around a mouthful of pizza, and Potter nods again. “You still having trouble with that—”
“Yeah,” Potter interrupts. Draco tries not to look like he’s curious about whatever Dudley had been about to say.
“Anyway, you know that tea cosy? The really— er, bright one? With the Queen on it?”
“Where she looks like an old bulldog having a fit?”
“That’s the one,” Potter says, glancing at Draco with a small smile. “Malfoy here wants it.”
Dudley’s eyebrows draw together. “Huh,” he says. “Well, I’ll tell her. I didn’t think it’d sell. Hope she gives it up— no idea why she’s so fond of it.” Dudley looks at him, apologetic. “No offense.”
“None taken,” Draco says. “Why’s she listed it, if she still likes it?”
“Money,” says Dudley. “Since my dad died a couple years ago, things have been tight. Turns out there wasn’t as much in the bank as she’d thought.” He looks sober suddenly. “It was a heart attack, came out of nowhere, and then with all the money trouble she’s been in a right state for awhile now. Totally different. Now she’s about to lose the house. I think she’d be better off in a different one, anyway, but I think it’s the last thing that makes her feel like herself anymore.”
“Yes, I know what you mean.” Draco clears his throat. “My father died recently, too. Just over two years ago. It’s been very hard on my mother.”
“How did your father die? Was it sudden, too?”
“It was sudden, yes. We don’t really know what the cause was.”
Potter looks at him, something sharp in his gaze, as if he’s weighing and measuring the truth of Draco’s words.
“Well,” Draco says, standing quickly, “I should be going. It was a pleasure to meet you, Dudley.”
Dudley waves around another mouthful of pizza, and Potter stands to follow him out of the kitchen. He starts back toward the front door, but Potter stops him.
“Don’t go that way,” he says. “We’ll just get her going again. Here, Floo’s this way.”
“Well,” Draco grabs a bit of Floo powder from the small pot on the mantle. “Do let me know, Potter, about the item.” The flames flare up, and Draco steps in. “Malfoy Manor.”
“Come back next week,” Potter says suddenly.
“What?” Draco looks back at him, the powder just escaping his frozen fingers before he can stop it.
“Sunday again. I’ll have an actual dinner,” Potter says over the rising roar of the fire.
“But— I don’t understand,” he says, as the room begins to fade. “Why?”
“To talk about the tea cosy trade,” Potter says, his face very serious even as it starts to swirl out of sight. Draco is beginning to suspect that Potter has a tremendously good poker face, which is a somewhat unexpected turn.
“But—”Draco Malfoy, he thinks, reduced to a stuttering idiot.
“Bye, Malfoy,” comes Potter’s voice, and then he’s gone.
The door to Pansy’s apartment clicks open as soon as he says his name into the little intercom above the doorbell.
“You’re early,” she calls from back where her bedroom is located. “The others aren't due for at least half an hour.”
“That’s fine,” he calls back. “Don’t let me interrupt the work of the masterpiece. I can entertain myself.”
He hears her scoff from all the way down the hallway, and smiles to himself. Pansy’s place is small— by any standards they’d grown up with, anyway— but the living room is big and open, with windows looking out over Regents Park. He looks down at it for a few minutes, as the street lamps blink on and people start to hurry to their dinners and evening plans. It’s hinting at rain outside, and he can’t stop thinking about that time Potter met him outside the Covent Garden tube station, even though he’d had no reason to.
He turns away from the windows. Pansy has gone all in on the Muggle mania. She favours square, upholstered furniture with wooden legs from the 1950s, jazz records on an old turntable, and everything art deco. She also has an old telephone box sitting in the corner of her living room. Blaise explained telephones to them one day, and she was so taken with them she went out and bought it the next.
Draco opens its door, running his fingers over where the red paint is chipping away along the handle. Pansy used an extending charm on the inside, once she got it home, and there were cushioned benches running around the walls now. Draco sits down near the telephone and pulls the receiver off its hook. There’s no dial tone because there’s no hook-up for it, but he likes the weight of the plastic when he rests it on his chest.
Two days after that meeting outside the tube, in the dark and the rain, Potter had owled him, and Draco had found himself following him to Hogwarts from Hogsmeade the next afternoon. They'd gone up the twisting staircase to the Headmistresses office, and McGonagall had looked at him so strangely— almost as if he was something fragile and still under her watch. He’d expected suspicion and blame, but all he’d received was the offer of some biscuits from the tin on her desk, and then she and Potter had left to go see something he hadn’t been paying enough attention to remember. And then he’d been alone with Severus Snape’s portrait.
“Professor,” he’d said, drawing near. It hung on the wall right beside Dumbledore, who looked at him and then pretended to be engrossed in a book.
“Draco,” Snape replied.
“You’ve heard? About my father.”
“Yes.” The voice was just right, the way the vowel seemed to stretch out inside the word, the deep, slightly nasal tone. Draco knew it wasn’t quite, but it felt real.
“I need to know,” Draco said. He’d listed them— everything they’d found lingering in Lucius’s system— a recitation of trace herbs and equivocation, even to himself.
Perhaps especially to himself.
“Digitalis purpurea,” Snape said, after a moment of silence when Draco was done.
Draco nodded, once. “Foxglove.”
“It’s a poison, but also an aid for the heart, depending on the dosage.”
“So—” Draco took a deep breath, settled himself. “So he could have had a heart condition he didn’t tell us about? Could it have killed him?”
“Foxglove affects the contraction of the heart. If your father experienced rapid and abnormal heart activity, spells of which tend to become both more frequent and more severe over time, then it could potentially have killed him without proper intervention, particularly dependent on the original cause. Spell damage, for instance, is notoriously tricky to reverse in the heart and the effects often linger.”
Draco waited, but Snape’s portrait just stared back, watchful and quiet. “But?” Draco finally whispered.
“But.” A pause of a heartbeat. “Foxglove treats atrial fibrillation by slowing the heart, which is why it is also one of the first choices a witch or wizard turns to when they wish to stop one altogether. So unless they found the potion he was using, it’s impossible to determine if it was intended to help him or kill him.”
“So you’re saying I can’t know, for sure. That I will never know.”
“You could have asked your father’s portrait,” Snape pointed out. “I know he has one in the Manor. It would certainly have been easier for you to access then mine.”
Draco said nothing.
“If you don’t want the answer he would give, why do you want mine?” Snape pressed.
“It isn’t really you,” Draco said. “Either of you.”
Snape inclined his head. “An echo,” he offered. “I think what you’re seeking is just beyond the question of Lucius’s intent. What can this echo give you, Draco?”
Draco swallowed. His chest rose and fell too quickly, his breath too fast to be entirely calm. He started to raise his hand, reached out toward the Snape painted into the heavy canvas and running on magic now rather than blood and pumping chambers of the heart. He let it drop back down to his side, though, with a new heaviness. There was no going back, not really. The flesh and the blood were gone— for Snape, and his father, too.
“How do you walk through the world?” he asked, his voice rough. A splintered thing. “How do you— go on? After you’ve done wrong? After everything is different?”
Because Snape had, somehow, and Lucius had not. Draco still felt like an open question.
“How did you do it?” Draco pressed on. “How did you make a life and— and make relationships with people that matter?”
“I didn’t.” Snape leaned forward inside the portrait, his hands braced on his knees, his face filling more of the frame. “I existed, Draco. You have to be better than I was, better than your father. I can only tell you how to live by listing the ways I didn’t. Care about people intentionally, even when it’s hard and tedious, and let them care about you. The more people the better, because you’re less likely to fall into the trap of thinking you are somehow different from anyone. But most of all, you have to be able to move forward. Do it, Draco— keep moving. Leave the house and go out and see people. Even when you don’t want to. Even when it hurts. Let the world change you. This idea of keeping people apart, and pure, was the worst thing that ever happened to us.”
Snape sat back again. “I’m sorry I can’t be of more help, Draco. But I think you will find your way by making the path yourself. It isn’t disloyal to leave your father’s shadow.”
Draco’s chest was so tight. His eyes were stinging. “I don’t know,” he said. The words poured out him. “I feel like I don’t know anything anymore, Severus.”
“Ah,” Dumbledore’s portrait said, giving up its pretense of privacy. “My dear boy, that is the best beginning of all.”
Draco is still thinking about those words when Pansy finds him still in the telephone box. “People should be arriving soon,” she says, coming to sit beside him. She smells like the jasmine perfume he buys her for Christmas every year, and her lips are painted a deep ruby red. “Who are you talking to this time?” She nods at the telephone in his hand.
Draco shrugs, setting it back in the receiver. “Ghosts, I guess.”
“We’ll never run out of those,” she says, and he reaches for her hand, bringing it up to his chest where the telephone had been. She smiles at him, bright and determined, and he loves her for it.
Potter told him to use the Floo, so he stands in front of the one in Malfoy Manor, watching the little clock on the mantle tick slowly closer to five. He pulls at the ends of his shirtsleeves, pressing a finger along the cuffs where they lie against his wrist. He’s still not sure what he’s doing— why Potter has invited him back— but there’s a part of him, a part he tries now to stuff down, out of sight, that is glad. Excited, even. It feels dangerous, this hope that he won’t name even to himself. Finally, he smoothes his hand down the back of his hair and then grabs some Floo powder.
He hears voices coming from somewhere else in the house when he steps out at Grimmauld Place, and he has just enough time to get really nervous before Potter comes into the room.
“There you are,” says Potter. “I think Ron and Hermione secretly didn’t believe me when I told them you were coming for dinner.” The look on his face must communicate at least some portion of his sudden misapprehension and dread, because Potter lets out a little laugh, his smile big and real. Draco realises he’s never seen one of Potter’s real smiles directed at him, and the thought brings a flush of warmth to his face.
“Come on, Malfoy, I know they aren’t the most frightening thing you’ve sat down with at a table.”
Draco searches for it, but he can’t find a barb in Potter’s tone. So he just says, “I suppose that’s true,” and follows Potter to the kitchen.
Granger and Weasley both look up from setting the table when he walks in behind Potter. After a brief, intense silence, Granger holds out an extra plate to Weasley, who rolls his eyes at her and takes it, setting it down with the other three.
“Ten extra minutes,” Granger says, a little smugly.
Draco wonders what Weasley now owes her the extra minutes of, but Potter screws up his face and says, “Ergh! You’re not allowed to be gross in front of me, you know that.”
“A foot rub, Harry,” Granger says, smacking him as she passes him with some silverware. “Honestly, whose mind is in the gutter, here?”
“I’ve been scarred one too many times by walking into a room too quickly.” Potter shrugs. “It’s your fault, not mine.”
Draco has been hovering in the doorway, hesitant about joining in and a little shocked to be privy to their easy, casual way with each other, but Granger holds out a pitcher of what looks like pumpkin juice and a stack of glasses in his direction now. “Malfoy,” she says. He steps forward quickly and accepts them from her. When he looks over at Potter, he nods at the table, so Draco takes them over and sets them in the middle, where everyone can reach them.
“Did you make this, Harry?” Weasley has a big aluminium casserole in his hands, and he leans over to smell it as he brings it over to the table.
“Course not. I picked it up from the pub. But I did heat it up myself.”
Granger snorts, and they all sit down. Potter squints up at him, from the seat he’s taken beside Draco, and raises his eyebrows.
Draco sits, and accepts a generous helping of cottage pie on his plate.
“It’s good,” grunts Weasley, stuffing his face. That hasn’t changed since Hogwarts, apparently.
Granger wrinkles her nose at him. “It is,” she agrees, after a bite. “I’m just glad to see you eating a decent meal for once, Harry. I worry about you, with the—”
Weasley nudges her with his elbow, and she falls silent, glancing at Draco.
“It’s ok,” Potter says. “It’s no secret.” He turns his head toward Draco. “I’m having trouble at work, that’s all. Just been a long couple of months. No time for balanced meals.”
Draco nods. “It’s a high stress profession, I imagine,” he offers carefully, surprised to be included in a confidence of any kind, secret or not. Potter flashes him a quick smile and goes back to his pie.
“So,” Weasley says, after a moment, and when most of his first helping is gone, “what is it you’re after again, Malfoy?”
Draco swallows, hard, but it’s Potter who answers.
“I told you, Ron. A tea cosy I listed.” Potter’s voice is neutral, but Draco gets the impression that Weasley had a great deal to say about Draco coming to dinner. Not that he can blame him.
“At Zabini Imports?” Granger says it with a weird tone in her voice that Draco can’t quite decipher.
She takes a sip of her pumpkin juice. “So,” she says, and the glass makes a sharp knock against the wood of the table when she sets it down. “You’re a collector of Muggle artifacts then?”
“Er, well, just the tea cosies, really. I do have a discman, too. Blaise just gave me one. I like some Muggle music.”
“And is Zabini doing a brisk trade, then?”
Draco lowers the forkful of mashed potato he’d been about to eat, and looks at her. “I think he’s doing alright. A lot of people in the wizarding world are excited about Muggle products right now.”
Granger snorts. “Oh yes,” she says, stabbing at her own plate. “Very excited about looking politically acceptable right now. Even if they have to dirty their pure hands with Muggle stuff.”
Draco opens his mouth, then closes it again. He tries to push down the instinct to feel defensive and just hear what Granger is saying. He thinks about how it must feel, to see the people who championed your inferiority for so long collect the things they’d once sneered at you for now, and for some of them to expect a pat on the back for it.
“I see what you mean,” he says, pushing a pea around his plate. “And it’s true, a lot of pure-bloods just started collecting and displaying Muggle things to appear as though they’ve given up whatever prejudice they had. Still have, probably.”
He looks up, and Granger is looking at him. He holds her gaze. “But there are also some people, including me— and Pansy, and Blaise— who truly saw something special in Muggle things. In art and inventions and clothes. Whose intention is not to— well, fetishise or use for political points.”
“That’s— I do see what you’re saying, Malfoy, and I do believe you, actually.” She pauses, glancing over at Weasley, who is watching the exchange closely. “But the intention doesn’t matter, if the effect is still the same. And I am not at all convinced that this Muggle Mania benefits any Muggle themselves. If this acquiring of Muggle goods and art only benefits pure-blood wizards, isn’t it just the same old one-way relationship, where wizards take and don’t even consider the needs or wants of the culture they’re taking from?”
“Is it one-way if Pure-blood money is being funneled into buying things from Muggles?”
“Well— I suppose not quite one-way. Although most pure-bloods buy from a dealer, like Zabini, who purchases items and then passes on a mark-up, so Muggle businesses don’t see the full amount a pure-blood is paying for an item.”
Draco nods. “True.”
“That’s business, though,” Weasley chimes in, looking thoughtful. “George sources his ingredients, and then the product he makes with them is marked up beyond the price he paid. Labor costs, of course, although I suppose purchasing and listing things for collectors is labor, too.”
“I know,” Granger says, turning her nearly-empty glass of pumpkin juice around and around in her hand. “I know. I just—” She looks up at Draco. She looks so earnest, like if she said exactly the right words he would understand her completely. “The thing is, I don’t want to share with them. I don’t want them to see our movies, or use laptops, or hear our music from an iPod. I want to keep it just ours, because pure-bloods, they— well they—“
“Don’t deserve it,” Draco finishes. He smiles at her, small, gentle. So she doesn’t think he’s mocking her. “You’re right, of course. They don’t. But— well, I just know that for some of us, this genuine enthusiasm about the things Muggles create, it’s led to real enthusiasm about Muggles themselves, and— I don’t know. I can’t think that is a bad thing.”
Granger pulls in a sharp breath. Her eyes are sort of watery; Draco very much hopes she’s not about to cry. “No,” she says. “No, that’s not a bad thing.” She smiles back at him. Draco doesn’t know what to do with himself.
“Why tea cosies?” Draco turns his head to look at Potter, who is watching him in a way he can’t quite pin down. He’s leaning his chin on one of his hands, his elbows on the table. The whole dinner has been casual and easy, and warm in a way that makes Draco ache, just a little.
“I’d never given much thought to the way people without magic did things. Everyday things.” Draco glances over at Granger and Weasley. Granger is nodding and Weasley still looks strangely thoughtful. It’s better than looking murderous, he decides.
“And I was having tea one day, at this little spot just off the Piccadilly line— I like riding the Tube, so I often try different lines and get off at random stops to look around.” Draco thinks about all the times he closed his eyes and let his finger fall on a random dot sprinkled across the Underground map. How frightening it was, at first, just to walk into one of the cars and find a place to sit or stand, and then to emerge from the stop, up into the bustle and light and everything he wasn’t familiar with.
“Anyway, they brought out the pot of tea I’d ordered and it had a cosy over it. And I thought—oh, Muggles don’t have Stay-Hot charms. They can’t rely on magic to do it for them, so they make something to help, to keep it warm. They just make these things. I don’t know, I— I haven’t been able to stop thinking about that, since I saw that tea cosy.”
“It’s funny,” Granger says, after a silent moment. “My mum had a tea cosy. When I found out I was a witch, though, and started learning about spells and went to Hogwarts, I was so taken with charms like Stay-Hot. It’s never occurred to me to appreciate a tea cosy.”
Potter is still watching him, his head still propped up on his arm, but he’s smiling now, and the smile isn’t forced. It isn’t polite or unwilling or uncomfortable. Draco doesn’t know what to call that smile, precisely, but it makes him feel odd on the inside. A spreading warmth and a quiver, low in his belly. A pressure in his chest. He could get lost when Potter smiles at him like that.
“How do people get the things that run the discmans,” Weasley asks suddenly. “You know, those little cylinders, what are they called?”
“Batteries,” Granger tells him.
“Yeah. Batteries. Can’t picture that many wizards running to Tesco, you know? Does Zabini sell them, too?”
“Actually, he charms the discman so that it runs without them, just to get around that.”
“No power source?” asks Granger, leaning forward. “That’s a very complex charm. I’ve never seen it work on Muggle electronics before.”
Draco shrugs. “Pansy came up with it. She fell in love with Muggle records, and got herself a player, but she’s got a magical apartment and there are no outlets. Pansy’s always been really excellent at Charms. It was her only ‘O,’” he finishes with a smile.
“I’d love to know the details of that one.” Granger sounds regretful.
“I don’t know them, sorry. But you could owl Pansy.”
“Hmm.” Granger looks uncertain. He decides they’ve traversed enough minefields for one night, and doesn't press the point.
He helps clean up, taking wet dishes from Weasley to dry with his wand and send away into neat stacks. Weasley keeps glancing at him as if he’s speculating about Draco’s motives, but he ignores it.
When Granger and Weasley gather their coats and head toward the Floo, Granger sticks a hand out toward him. “Thank you for the discussion, Draco,” she says, and he’s so surprised he almost fumbles the handshake.
“Likewise,” he says, and Weasley actually nods at him from behind her shoulder.
He’s pulling his own coat from the rack in the hallway when Potter comes back from seeing them off, and says, “Fancy a drink and a smoke before you go?”
“A drink would be nice,” he says, before he can convince himself it’s a bad idea. Potter hands him a heavy-bottomed tumbler and a bottle of Ogdens. He pours a few fingers, and then follows Potter out the door he hadn’t really noticed in the kitchen’s far corner.
There’s a stoop, made of stone and looking out on a little patch of overgrown garden between the row of houses Potter’s home is part of, and another directly behind them. He sits down beside Potter, who lights up a cigarette. The tobacco is from one of the wizard places in Diagon— he recognises the scent of vanilla and clove of that particular blend.
“Nasty habit,” Potter says, exhaling a curl of smoke. “But I picked it up during Auror training. Helps me relax.”
“Work that bad?” Draco asks, then wonders if he’s overstepped. He’s not sure where the boundary is, after tonight. After Potter smiled at him that way.
“My new Auror partner doesn’t like me very much,” Potter says.
Whatever Draco had expected, that certainly wasn’t it. “What? Why?”
“I think he feels that my abilities don’t live up to my hype.” Potter says it drily. He taps the butt of his cigarette against the chipped concrete of the step by his boot until the smolder is completely out. “I didn’t want the hype to begin with, you know. You probably don’t believe that.”
“No, I do,” Draco says, and realises it’s true. “I used to believe you loved all the attention, but that was jealousy, I think. I can tell you don’t, these days.”
Potter’s head is bent down toward his drawn-up knees, the back of his neck illuminated by the light above the door behind them. He’s rubbing his thumb against the side of his index finger, as if the tobacco has left traces he is trying to erase.
“I think that’s all I’ll ever be, sometimes,” he says. “That I peaked at seventeen, on one very long night.”
Draco watches the small, slender bone in Potter’s wrist jump, over and over, with the movement of his hand. He can observe all the minute details of Potter, the tiniest, everyday, extraordinary things, and never feel satisfied.
Potter sounds so tired. “Work. Ginny— you know we broke up last year? Yeah, it was all over the damned papers. This house.” He throws a look over his shoulder, then turns back to the rather gloomy garden. “Sometimes it feels like the only thing I’ve done right is dying.”
Draco sucks in an involuntary, unsteady breath. It’s hard to imagine, that Potter could see himself like that— in such a small sliver, so achingly distorted— but then maybe that’s the problem with being too close. It's hard to make out the whole of yourself.
“I very much doubt that, Potter. I feel sure your friends and family would disagree, too,” he says after a moment. He stares down at the toes of his own boots. “Anyway, you didn’t exactly do the whole death thing right, did you? Here you sit, very much alive.”
He glances over, and Potter is staring back at him now. He lets out a loud burst of air, and then he’s laughing, helplessly. Potter’s whole body is shaking with it. The lighting is dim, but Draco can still make out Potter’s face, and how it breaks wide open when he laughs. He can’t look away. He can’t stop his mouth from stretching, too, into a grin to match. The air is still warm from this day that has already slipped away, and the traffic somewhere distant reminds Draco a little of the ocean heard from far off. The sweet, slightly acrid scent of tobacco lingers in the air, and Draco can scarcely believe he’s here, right now, in this slightly unreal pocket of time, laughing on a crummy back stoop with Potter.
“Next week?” says Potter, as he walks him to the Floo.
Draco nods. He doesn’t ask why, or mention the tea cosy. It feels like some sort of gift, and Draco takes it.
Blaise is already up when Draco arrives this time; he’s standing in the middle of his kitchen, fixing himself a sandwich while Guido mutters and moves around, cleaning up after him.
“Sandwich, Draco?” he asks, trying to tug the bread out of Guido’s hands, the elf protesting that he can make lunch for the young gentlemen.
“It’s alright, Guido,” he says in exasperation. “I can manage. Why don’t you take some time off?”
Guido shoots him a filthy look, and then stalks out of the room.
“Better sleep with one eye open,” Draco says, leaning against the counter. “Looks like you’re on his shit list.”
“Damn elf,” Blaise says, after he swallows a mouthful of chicken salad sandwich.
“He cares about you.” Draco tries to keep him voice neutral, but Blaise’s shoulders tense up, and he turns, heading for the door, half a sandwich still in hand. Draco waits— for the sound of a door shutting, for the inevitable silence.
“Coming?” Blaise calls instead, and Draco goes.
“How’s the quest for your ugly tea cosy going?” Blaise asks him when they reach the library. He’s still in the same dressing gown, but he’s wearing an old pair of boots now, too, and a soft grey cashmere wrap tossed around his shoulders. He reminds Draco more and more, with every visit, of some eccentric recluse wandering around his personal museum, curator of his own strange collectibles.
“Strangely,” he says. “I’ve had dinner with Potter twice now, and it’s been— odd.”
Blaise looks at him sharply. “Odd?”
“Civil.” Draco shrugs. “Almost friendly.”
Draco waits, eyebrows raised, but Blaise looks away, watches the wall of Muggle photographs in all their stillness.
“Be careful there,” he says finally.
“What on earth do you mean?”
Blaise sighs. “You’ve never been that subtle about it. Not to me.”
Draco sucks his top lip in, holds it between his teeth. He wonders if Blaise would be more careful, if he could go back. If he knew then what he knows now. Draco wonders if that’s why some wizards were so adamantly against divination. If we all knew every bad end, would we ever take any chances at all?
“Maybe I’m done being careful,” he says to Blaise’s back. After a moment, he walks up and stands beside him.
There’s a new photo tacked up; a young woman in an old fashioned dress he recognises as the style Pansy likes from the period between the Muggles’ big wars, her hair curling softly around her face. She’s looking at the camera, or rather, the person holding the camera, taking her photo. There’s a busy street just beyond her— people coming and going, a child caught mid-shout in the right corner of the frame— but she doesn’t seem to notice anything at all except the faceless, nameless person she’s smiling at. Draco can almost feel the artificial hush of that moment, the one that happened just between them, when the world faded away and all they could see was each other. A lump rises in his throat.
“What do you think she was thinking?” he asks roughly, echoing the question Blaise always asks him. Like other people were such a mystery; like the mystery meant something.
“You know,” Blaise says finally, “I think she was just like anyone else. Muggle, wizard. I don’t think it matters. She thought it was worth not being careful.” He doesn’t look at Draco, but he doesn’t need to. “She was right, of course. You can tell.”
Back home, at the Manor, Draco takes a hallway that’s been unused for more than two years. He turns a handle and the door they’ve kept closed swings open to the portrait room. He walks slowly down a long wall of Malfoy ancestors, and stops at the end, where Lucius takes up his spot. He seems to be dozing, head leant back onto the blue velvet cushion of the chair he was painted on. He looks… peaceful. Draco tries to remember if he’d ever seen his father’s face like that in life, all the lines of his forehead smoothed out, his mouth soft and so very, very human. Maybe when he was very young, when Lucius could be persuaded to let slip the mantle of being a Malfoy. Maybe when they were out on the lawn, just the two of them, and Lucius was teaching him how to fly the little beginner broom he’d given him for a birthday.
He remembers now, the way Lucius had smiled up at him when he managed to hover a good eight feet up in the air. He remembers his own wild excitement, the joy splitting his cheeks around his grin. And Lucius, seen from above, his eyes wrinkling in the corners where he was smiling, too.
That was too long ago, Draco thinks now. Too much time had passed since then, wasted. Just wasted.
He steps back again, quietly. He doesn’t want to wake the Lucius in the portrait. Doesn’t want to shatter the memory. Back in the entrance, he eases the door shut again, and then leans against it for awhile, remembering. Trying to give the good more weight, that it might begin to equal all that had come after.
In the end, there’s only one thing Draco knows for sure: this new world had no place for Lucius Malfoy in it, and Lucius had neither the experience nor the will to adapt within it. Anything after that, whether it was his heart or his own hand that killed him in the end, was simply a question of dosage.
Potter is waiting for him when he Floos in this time, with his jacket on.
“We’re going to my aunt’s,” he says. “But I thought we could take the Tube, since you like it so much.”
“Alright,” Draco agrees, and they sneak out the front door, trying hard not to wake Walburga.
It’s a bright, crisp day, winter just beginning to fall hard on London, and Draco always enjoys watching the crowds that gather on train platforms. Today, he gets to watch Potter, too; from the corner of his eye, when Potter turns his head— any chance he gets, really. Potter looks more relaxed out among Muggles, and Draco supposes it has something to do with being so recognisable in Wizarding Britain. It’s something he can understand, albeit on the opposite side of the coin. Potter will always be The Boy Who Lived and The Boy Who Killed Voldemort, no matter what he does with the rest of his life. And Draco will always be the son of Lucius Malfoy and the boy who let the Death Eaters into Hogwarts, no matter how he tries to redeem himself. Their names don’t even belong to them, in a way; they're just symbols, just strangely similar conjurings for good and for evil.
“It’s weird, isn’t?” Potter says as they watch people get on and off the train, crowding in to where they’re sitting. “That a tea cosy is why we’re doing this. Why we’re hanging out, all these years after— well, you know.”
Draco knows. “Why did you invite me over, that first time?” He’s been wanting to ask. Now feels like the right time. “Why not just tell me yes or no?”
“I was curious.”
“About tea cosies?”
Potter smiles. “About you.”
“Perhaps I should buy stock in Zabini Imports,” Draco muses. “It’s clearly a miracle company.”
Potter snorts. “Is that all Zabini is doing these days? I haven’t seen him in years and years, and Hermione and Ron say they haven’t, either.”
Draco looks down, and picks at the buttons holding his coat closed. “I’m not sure anyone has, except me.” He sighs. “I can’t remember the last time Blaise left his house, to tell you the truth. I think I might actually be the only one his wards let in anymore, too.”
“What happened?” Potter asks, his voice gentle.
“He lost someone.”
“During the war?”
“No, just after. During the chaos.”
“She’s in Italy. Moved there as soon as Voldemort returned, and never came back. She’s never coming back, I don’t think. No, it was someone else, someone very important to him.” Draco looks up at Potter now, and meets his eyes. “But it isn’t my story to tell. You understand?”
“Yeah,” Potter says, after a beat. “Yeah, I do.”
Draco nods. The train slows to a stop, and he watches a new rush of people leave, only to be replaced. Potter clears his throat as the train picks up speed again, and Draco glances over at him.
“Did it help?” Potter asks. “Two years ago— speaking with Snape’s portrait? Did you get what you needed?”
Draco watches Potter’s fingers tapping against the hard plastic of the seat they’re sitting side by side on. “Yeah,” he says. “I didn’t get what I went for, but I did get what I needed, if that makes sense.” He looks up to Harry’s face. “It helped.”
Draco is about to say something else— to thank Potter for what he’d done, however poorly— but Harry is smiling at him again, and it’s so soft and perfect that Draco holds in any inadequate words, lest he spoil it.
“I think we’ll actually Apparate from here,” Potter says when they exit the last station. “It’s still a bit of a hike, and I don’t want to get a cab.”
He holds out his hand, and waits. Draco lets his own hand fall onto Potter’s, and then they swirl away.
Privet Drive is quiet on this Sunday afternoon. Dudley answers the door.
“Draco!” he says, happily. “Nice to see you again. Come on, Mum’s got dinner waiting.”
Potter’s aunt is a tall, gaunt woman with a neck like a giraffe and a face like she’s been sucking lemons for twenty years, but it changes when she smiles. Gets warmer, more approachable.
“Harry!” she says. “You made it.”
“Of course,” Potter says, and he leans up to kiss her cheek, a little awkwardly. “Told you I would.”
After supper— a slightly dry roast that they all smother in gravy— Dudley and Potter go off to look at a crack in the upstairs plaster, and Petunia brings a pot of tea over when she’s cleared the dinner dishes. Potter had told him on the way over that the death of his uncle had lifted some kind of dark cloud over Petunia. That instead of being devastated, she’d seemed strangely relieved, and had reached out to him.
She still seems tightly strung— nervy and difficult. It’s hard for Draco to picture Potter living here, or even being related to Petunia.
“So,” she says when she’s sat down and poured them each a cup. “You want to buy my tea cosy.”
“Yes. I collect them.”
She looks suspicious, and he supposes it must sound strange to her, but he doesn’t know how or even want to explain it to her. She reaches behind her and pulls open a drawer, pulling out a clear plastic bag with a zipper on the top. The cosy, all glaring colour and outrageous pattern, is inside.
She sets it on the table. “I laundered it, and sealed it up,” she says. “It works, too, if that’s a factor. I’ve had it longer than the boys have been alive, you know.”
“Oh?” He takes a sip of the tea. It’s a little weak, like it’s on its second steep. “How did you get ahold of it, anyway?”
“Lily gave that to me, actually,” she says, her voice very quiet and her eyes far away. “Harry’s mother. My sister.”
She blinks, and reaches between them to pour more tea into their cups. “She found it at a charity shop near the factory that makes them. It wasn’t supposed to be sold. It was a prototype that went wrong, and it was supposed to be binned, but somehow it wound up there.”
Petunia brings her hand up to her cheek. “She almost died laughing, when she gave it to me. ‘A proper British tea cosy,’ she said. ‘Just as proper as you are.’ I was spitting mad. I thought she was having a laugh at me, mocking me.”
She lets her hand fall into her lap and looks at him. “I was jealous of her, you see, and angry. Always had been, because she went somewhere I could never follow. It wasn’t until years later, long after she died, that I realised Lily didn’t want to laugh at me when she gave it to me. That she just wanted to laugh with me. And then it was too late.” She shakes her head. “Well, that’s the story of my life, I suppose.”
Petunia looks away, toward the window. “Lily had the best laugh I’ve ever heard.”
It’s funny— Draco never thought he’d ever feel as though he understood a Muggle so well, particularly Potter’s rather horrid, wizard-hating aunt. But there is something about her grief and her regret that strikes him like a bell, the ring reverberating all throughout him. He recognises things in her— his father, or maybe just himself as he could have been if he’d waited too long to let the world change him, to break free of all the bitterness and cast his own shadow, his own way.
Draco pulls the money he’d changed over to Muggle pounds from his pocket, and sets it between them on the table. Petunia looks at it, the spell broken.
“It’s very rare, as you say. That makes it very valuable to collectors. But—” He slides the money a little closer, and she picks it up and holds it in her hand. It’s a large stack of bills. “Well, you keep the cosy.”
Petunia looks at him sharply. “I can’t take money from you without something in exchange. Did Harry put you up to this? Did he give you that money to pass to me?”
“No,” Draco says. “And I hope it’s not too terribly crass of me, but rest assured I’ve got the money to spare. Think of it as a gift.”
Petunia opens her mouth, and it looks like she’s going to argue. “A gift for Harry,” he says before she can, and she shuts her mouth again. “I bet there are a lot of things you could tell him about Lily that he doesn’t know, and that he would very much like to hear. You should invite him for tea and tell him about her.”
Draco sets the cosy back over the teapot. “And use this to keep the pot warm.”
When he and Potter step out onto the street later, the sun is hanging low in the sky and the air is sharp with a deeper chill than before. Draco pulls the collar of his coat higher.
“Fancy a bit of a walk?” asks Potter. Draco looks at him. His cheeks are pinking up in the cold and his eyes are bright behind his glasses.
“Yeah,” Draco says. “Yeah, I do.”
They walk through the rest of the housing development, all of them so eerily similar that Draco finds it disorienting. “I can’t believe you grew up here,” he tells Potter.
“Why not?” Potter looks curious.
“It’s just so—drab. It’s kind of tedious and boring.”
“And?” Potter looks amused now.
“And you’re not,” Draco says, and then wonders if he’s gone too far.
Potter stops, so Draco does too, and turns to see his face. He doesn’t look angry, or uncomfortable. He’s looking at Draco with that same expression that confused him at their last Sunday supper, but Draco thinks maybe he recognises it now. It’s as if Potter is looking right through Draco’s skin, into some part of him that he’s seeing for the first time, and he finds that part something special. Something magical, even.
Draco recognises it because it looks like the expression of that woman in the photograph, and maybe Draco isn’t alone in feeling like there are only the two of them in this moment.
Harry reaches out and presses his fingers into Draco’s cheek. The air Draco pulls into his lungs is cold, and he holds it, slow and deep, feels the ache under his ribs. Worth it, he thinks. This moment with Potter, this possibility, it’s worth the chance of pain.
“Draco,” Harry says. “You help me remember.”
“That I’m more than the Harry Potter that gets talked about in the papers, or whispered about in the Ministry. I— I hope I help you remember, too.”
There’s a catch in Draco’s throat, but he swallows around it and whispers, again, “Remember what?”
“That so are you. If I’m more than my best deed, you’re certainly more than your worst.”
Potter traces the line of his jaw, and Draco watches his eyes. Their warmth, the way they know Draco. The worst of him, and now maybe the best.
Potter leans in, his other hand coming up too and he’s got Draco’s whole face caught up in his gravity. Draco closes his eyes when Potter’s mouth lands on his; the shocking heat waiting for him there, the taste he’s only imagined, and poorly. Nothing tastes as good as Harry. Nothing feels as good as Harry’s fingers tightening, spreading out into the hair behind Draco’s ears, holding him close as though there is any chance Draco might pull away.
His own arm finds its way around Harry’s waist, a fist against his back. Draco can feel Harry’s muscles bunching up underneath his jacket as he presses in closer.
“Draco,” Harry whispers, and Draco turns his face just a fraction, so Harry’s breath can spill into his ear, so Harry’s voice can shiver up his spine and lodge in his chest. His lips drag along Harry’s cheek, up into the wisps of hair at his temple.
“Draco,” Harry breathes again. “Do you want to come home with me?”
Draco opens his eyes. He can’t see the station from here, but it must be close. They might get on the train and travel back the way they came. Maybe the car would be crowded and Draco could press up against Harry as they held the bar above their heads.
Or maybe they’d just Apparate to Grimmauld Place, Harry’s fingers laced with his, his nose against the delicious skin where Harry’s neck met his shoulder. And then there’d be just the two of them, and no one else. Just Harry and Draco and this new thing he was allowed, despite everything.
“Yes,” Draco says, and he’s never been more sure of any answer he’s given. “Yes.”
It’s been a damp spring, dreary and mud-splashed, but there’s no sign of that today in Regno Hall’s pleasant, balmy embrace. Draco can hear the Zabini elves clearing plates off the table, and Blaise’s deep, familiar voice telling Guido which spirits to take outside.
It’s a small group milling around outside on the Hall’s patios and gardens, but Draco can’t remember the last time he felt so surrounded by people he thinks of —firmly or still hopefully— as friends. He stands just apart from them all, drinking it in.
Pansy is out on the lawn with Weasley, urging him on in some kind of Muggle game that involves several small, multicolored balls. He watches Weasley roll a green one toward the somewhat smaller one that appears to be a goalpost of sorts. It stops about a foot away, and Weasley looks at Pansy with the air of being so underwhelmed that Draco can’t help laughing out loud.
“Don’t be mean,” Granger says, coming up next to him. “I don’t think he’s ever done anything with a ball other than play Quidditch.”
“No, neither have I. It’s very sporting of him to let Pansy boss him into this one.”
“Yeah.” Granger smiles as she watches him, and Draco can feel the fondness in her expression. “He’s a good one.” She turns and holds something out to him. “I’ve got something for you,”
It looks like a knitted hat, but there’s a big hole on one side. It’s where the spout of a teapot would go, he realises as he takes it from her.
It’s made from a warm cream yarn, with bright, cheery swirls of red and burnt orange running in circles up to the slightly misshapen top, where a teal pompom is perched like a fat, startled bird.
“It’s not quite the same, I know,” Granger says, looking ever so slightly self-conscious. “And Harry says it’s not as— er, well, that it doesn’t have quite the extensive range of colours all together.”
Draco smiles, and then he laughs around the light, full feeling in his chest. “No, he’s right. But don’t worry— this would never, not in a million years, have been allowed to grace the table at Malfoy Manor growing up.”
She blinks, and stares at him.
“By which I mean: it’s completely perfect. I love it. Thanks.”
Granger smiles. “You’re welcome. I, uh— I owled Pansy and we went out to some Muggle charity shops together. Did she tell you?”
He nods. Pansy had talked of nothing else for a week, actually.
“I had fun,” Granger says. “I really enjoyed showing her different Muggle clothes, and introducing some Motown into her record collection.”
“Yes, I’d like to thank you for that myself. I was getting really tired of all that jazz.”
“It’s got me thinking,” Granger continues, “about how to share, between our cultures. I suppose it’s a matter of balance.”
“Well, the balance has shifted, hasn’t it? In terms of power, I mean. Muggleborns hold at least half the positions of power in the Ministry now. And I guess I feel like I can— let go, just a little. Like I don’t have to guard it quite so closely. Loosen my grip a little, I suppose.”
“You weren’t wrong, though,” he says carefully. “About any of it, except maybe some people’s intentions.”
"No,” she says, “and I still maintain that intention doesn’t absolve anything, but— well, it’s not just about right and wrong. If all we’re doing is accounting, I’m not sure anything changes. And friendships can’t be about a ledger.”
Draco just looks at her. This enormously talented Muggleborn witch, with her wild, untamed hair and her kind, kind heart. It’s odd, but grace is such a heavy thing, so unexpectedly hard to hold. He wants to tell her so, but he can’t find the words.
“Besides,” she says, cutting a hand through the air between them, her eyes hard and sparkling. “It’s our generation’s story now, and we decide what it looks like. And I won’t let it look like it did before.”
Draco finds his voice. “I look forward to your reign.”
She smiles, and snags a mimosa from Guido as he passes. “Thank you,” she tells the elf, and he nods his head on the way back into the house.
“I think I’m going to go argue with Blaise some more now,” she says. “There’s Harry. Try to keep the snogging to a minimum, will you?”
He feels Harry’s hand on his elbow just as Granger disappears into the kitchen, and he turns to find him smiling, that secret, quiet little smile that only Draco receives.
“Where’s she going?”
“To terrorise Blaise. It’s good for him.”
Harry snorts, and pulls them over to the low patio wall. They sit on the smooth stones and watch the other guests laughing and talking.
“I keep thinking about these Sunday suppers,” he tells Harry. “Keep imagining more people at them. My friends, your friends. Your aunt, my mother. Packs of Weasleys, even.”
Harry is smiling at him. Draco can’t get enough of his smiles; he hoards them, a now ever-growing collection of the way Harry Potter’s face looks wearing happiness, and the way that happiness pointed back toward Draco is the best thing he’s ever seen.
“We’re not there, though,” Draco says. “Not everyone is ready.”
Harry touches his fingers to Draco’s wrist. Draco can feel the warmth of him, all up his body where they are nearly pressed together, sitting side by side on the low stone wall of the patio.
“Not yet,” Harry says, tracing along Draco’s thumb and then down into his palm, a slow, promising drag of skin on skin, before he tangles their fingers together. “But they’ll get there, I think.”
Draco can feel his heartbeat pushing against Harry’s hand, the pulse in his wrist rising to find him. He squeezes, just slightly, to feel the give of Harry’s fingers laced with his.
“We all will.” Draco watches as their shadows merge together on the old, smooth stones, the sun sinking further down the sky, their shared silhouette getting longer, reaching further, stretching slowly forward.